When I was grammar school age, I was a tomboy. I was always outside playing football, baseball, and climbing trees with the neighborhood boys when all of the neighborhood girls were playing with their dolls.
When I was in elementary school, I remember playing kickball during PE in the school gym. Up to kick was one of the strongest boys, Mike R. He always kicked hard and he always scored by making it back home. No one could get him out. Ever. Until…one day! He was up to kick. The kickball headed in my general direction. I shifted towards it and was going to make an attempt to catch it. I felt the rubber ball hit my chest, my arms flung up to secure it before it would bounce out. I grasped hard. I knew I had to or it would drop. The ball stuck! I got Mike out! My team was jumping up and down and hugging me. Mike gave me a look of disbelief. My arms were stinging and they were still red hours later. War wounds. I liked these war wounds. A temporary reminder to those around me of my accomplishment that day.
So, I was good at kickball. Another day in the school gym, I was up to kick. The ball was rolled towards me, I set myself up, and I kicked it. The ball hit the far back basketball backboard on a fly. An automatic home run! I was in shock as I ran around the bases.
What is it about these stories? I was athletic but not once did I call myself an athlete.
As I entered junior high and high school, I focused on scholastics instead of athletics. Athletics seemed like a thing of the past for me now. In junior high, we had to run a mile on Fridays in PE. I HATED Fridays. I wasn’t the fastest but I wasn’t the slowest. I was somewhere in between. Even so, I hated running.
Now, fast forward a lot of years…and I mean a lot of years to my late 30s. I was going through my divorce and started working out at a gym with my best friend. She loved the treadmill, and she would hop on it. I hated the treadmill but only went on it so I could walk and talk with her. One day, she said, “let’s try running half a mile.” I laughed and said, “half a mile? Seriously? I haven’t run in decades!” She convinced me to run it. I struggled. My breathing was labored. My legs felt like lead weights. My body screamed for me to stop. Despite my body seemingly telling me to stop, we continued to challenge ourselves in our running. We built a base. One night she said “let’s run a mile.” Ugh! The pure thought of running a mile brought me back to junior high. “Fine” I said as I reset my treadmill. My first mile wasn’t pretty but it felt strangely great to accomplish it. As I continued to run daily, I felt the stress of my divorce was peeling off of me. Did I like the post run bliss? Absolutely! That was what hooked me. Running actually helped relieve me of my stressful divorce. Endorphins. Those were my drug.
Eventually, my best friend and I worked our way up to running an hour nonstop. Then, I dropped a bomb on her. I told her that I signed up for a half marathon. This was 2008. That was my first of now over 30 half marathons. I still wasn’t fast but I enjoyed running. Placing in my age group seemed like an impossibility…only athletes place, right?
In 2016, I found that I actually started placing in my age group. This was something which I thought was reserved only for athletes. In 2016, I placed 4 times. I came in 2nd place for a 5k and a 10k. I came in 3rd place for a another 5k and a half marathon. In 2017, I found myself placing first in my age bracket for a half marathon. First? Really? Pinch me.
I started to realize something when I started placing, I broke through two decades of inactivity of my 20s and 30s. I shredded off those layers and rediscovered the athlete I used to be. A few years ago, someone called me an athlete. I laughed in response to their description of me. I now think they were right. They saw it in me before I saw it in myself. I am an athlete.
My childhood temporary war wounds from grammar school kick ball used to be the stinging and red arms. My adult temporary war wounds from running are the chafing on my inner thighs, lower back and maybe a blister here or there. I am proud of them. They are temporary reminders of something I fought for and symbols of pushing through something which is not always easy.