There are very few sports that allow for a late start in life. If you know someone who plays on a team of any sort, whether it be professional or amateur, chances are they started playing as a kid, maybe played in high school and possibly even college. Very rarely do you see athletes who will tell you they picked up the sport later in life.
The exception to that rule seems to be running. Not all runners ran track or cross country, not all runners were on a team and just opted to keep at it. No, some of the most avid runners came to the sport later in life. Because of that, most runners have a story to tell. One that proves anyone can run, if they really want it bad enough.
When people see me and learn that my life is largely dictated by the sport of running, they’ll often say, “oh, you look like a runner.” I still have a hard time believing them, as this body didn’t always look like it could run and it did a lot more sitting than anything else.
Furthermore, I’m always asked, “who did you run for?”. The first time I was asked this, I stared blankly as I didn’t even know what the question meant. People assume I ran for a university. All of these statements occur because it only seems natural to people that someone like me had a hefty background in the sport.
But, I didn’t. Not at all. Not even a little bit. That’s my favorite part of the story I get to tell these strangers.
The only running I did as a child was the required mile in gym class. It was slow, ugly, and littered with side aches. I never played a single sport. In middle school, an orchestra class conflicted with the required gym class. I pleaded my case to the principal and she excused me from an entire year of physical activity. I pretty much avoided breaking a sweat for the next several years. I ate like any teenager and eventual college student and the weight slowly came on. Through all of my first 20 years or so, I had attempted to run about twice and declared it was simply too hard for me and assumed I’d always be chubby.
Flash forward. I’m 22, a young wife and brand new mother. I was carrying more than 50 pounds of extra weight, I was overwhelmed, and pretty unhappy. I was able to start an effective diet and lose most of the weight. Trouble was, in order to lose that weight without exercise, I wasn’t eating very much. I was hungry.
On a warm June morning, I decided I was going to go for a run. I had no running shoes, so I grabbed the closest thing I had and I hit the road. I returned less than 10 minutes later, panting and soaked in sweat. I had once again decided running was too hard for me. However, for whatever reason, I went out again the next day, attempting to go just a little bit further than the day before. Eventually, I marked out a mile in my neighborhood and I attempted to cover that distance.
Before the month was over, I was able to run that far without stopping. It was a slow mile, but it was my first mile.
My father caught wind of my attempts and signed me up for a one-mile race. He agreed to run it with me. As scared as I was, I crossed my first finish line on July 4th, 2006. The rest is kind of history. History that involves a lot of work, but history that lead me to becoming a marathoner, breaking the 20 minute barrier in the 5k, becoming a top finisher, becoming a first place finisher, becoming a Boston Qualifier, a Boston Marathoner, being asked to join a race team, getting a coach, finishing the Chicago Marathon in 3:15, and simply having my life flipped upside down for a sport where I had no background. A sport that I hated, a sport that hurt, a sport that was too hard.
My story isn’t about my accolades, it’s about the fact that I’m not special. I’m just like you. I was overweight and out of shape. I was scared to get started and even more scared to keep going when it hurt. I love the unlikely path that lead me to this place. I’m able to savor the accomplishments because I shouldn’t have been able to reach them.
Now, I run with my son too, and it’s one of life’s greatest blessings.
Today could be your day to start. Your finish line is waiting.
images courtesy of Lacy Hansen