Natural Hair Mag

Running Through Illness

Running is in my blood.  I’ve always been a runner. I started “officially” running when I was in high school. Before then, I ran in street races. I ran at field day races. I just ran. I was fourteen years old, and I knew that in order to get into college you had to do extra curricular activities, besides my older was a runner. Running was a natural and easy choice. Though I never went to any of her meets, I knew she was fast. I wanted to be like my big sister. I tried out for the team. I barely made it around the track and through the drills of day one of tryouts. Even though I was disappointed in my performance, I showed up for day two of tryouts. I didn’t do much better the second day. My legs burned. My side hurt. I had these terrible sensations running through my whole body. I was on fire with an incredibly itching feeling.


Nonetheless, I continued to show up. Others showed up to tryouts too. Many of them were faster, stronger, and far better capable of handling the physical rigors of the workouts than me.  I showed up anyway, often watching quite a few of them put pace, out stride me, and basically out perform me at every turn. Nonetheless, I showed up. Being outperformed was not something I was used to. I was smart. I had a firm position at the top of my class. I couldn’t believe. To soothe my ego, I reminded myself that I was smarter than everyone else out there. After all, I was only joining the team because college admissions officers looked favorably upon applicants who played sports, especially girls. I convinced many of those who zipped by me or lifting their legs higher when they did strides did not know this. Of course, none of this stopped me from being hurt that I was not the fastest one trying out for the team. It was very humbly.

I wanted to be on the team. So, I showed up for day three, four, and five of tryouts. Not everyone showed up on days three, four, and five. I am sure they had their reasons. I wasn’t as fast or as strong as them, so I couldn’t afford to miss any tryouts. Throughout the process, I learned that I like to run fast and short distances. I made the team.


Looking back now, I realized that tryouts was not about whether I was fast or strong, but was I willing to show up when I wasn’t winning. At the time, I had no idea that I was learning about discipline and perseverance. My ability to be self-disciplined and show up in the face of adversity is attributed to the skills I learned on the track. Running opened up my world and provided me with great opportunities. The sport took me to places and introduced me to people that I would not have met otherwise. My teammates were some of my best friends. We did almost everything together. We shared a passion for being the best. By the time I graduated from high school, I was fast. My specialty was the 400 meters, and I often clocked times of 54 seconds. I won state and local awards. I still wasn’t the fastest one the team. Rather, I was among the fastest ones on the team.


When I got to college, I had to begin again. It was just like the first day of high school tryouts. Though I was stronger, fitter, and faster, my new teammates easily zipped by me. I had to begin again. And, I did. I ran until throughout my second year of college. Running on the collegiate level was another ballgame. Soon, I realized the lifestyle wasn’t for me. Practices were long and demanding. Our team was huge and it was hard to get to know folks. I was one of four black people on the team and that posed some significant challenges that I was ill equipped to handle. I wanted to pursue other activities. After having a frank conversation with my coach, I hung up my spikes.


I remained active, but I didn’t run. I began running again in 2012. It was March 16, the day the doctors said it was ok for me to be people. I had recently been treated  with a stem cell transplant for third recurrence of lymphoma, a cancer I was diagnosed with when I was 25. I laced up a pair of old running shoes, pulled a stocking hat over my bald hat, and took my weak body out into the world. I ran less than 25 meters before I had to stop and take a break. I ran 25 more meters and then I took another break. That day, I ran three miles. It took me over an hour. I didn’t stop. It was like that week of tryouts. I wasn’t winning, but I was showing. I was showing up to for my life.


Every time I lace up my running shoes, I am fulfilling a promise that I made to myself when I laid in my hospital bed in 2012, unable to move, much less think about running: to live a full-full life. Running helps me show up for life.

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