By Ginger Sullivan
It is hard to believe over 30 years have passed. I was a spry young thing. The mysterious underdog. Everyone worried if I ate enough. And why on earth would anyone be up at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning, dressed and out the door regardless of the weather?
Sometimes, I look back on those days and question my own sanity. What was I running from? Was I that intolerant of my own feelings? Was I masochistic to my own burgeoning body as a young woman? Was I trying to prove something to someone? Reflecting on those days, I often feel sadness and regret for all that I missed out on. The normalcy of adolescence. The girly-girl stuff. The endless giggling about sissy stuff that I passed up as superficial or uninteresting. And yet, there are the moments when I look back on that time with gratitude. I appreciate the life lessons that those experiences have embedded in me. After all these years later, I often find myself tapping into whatever it was that kept me going mile after mile.
As a nationally ranked, award-winning long-distance runner, I was a force to be reckoned with. When I started out, I just ran as long and as fast as my legs would carry me. It wasn’t until later that I learned that even the boys had a hard time keeping up with me. I moved through the system – elementary school track team, summer Junior Olympics, middle school cross-country. I was voted most valuable runner as a freshman on the varsity high school cross-country team. I was ranked nationally as a top miler, hitting sub-five minutes time and time again. I was awarded trips to national meets in California. The mailbox was filled with college scholarship interest. I won enough medals, trophies and ribbons to wallpaper a good-sized room.
But then, I grew up and in running years, I grew old. My knees creaked and cracked and could no longer bear the weight of the repetitive pounding. There were no more trophies to earn or newspaper reporters interested in talking to me. It was just me … facing life, without the constant pressure to perform and the corresponding glory of another race won. I had to find normalcy in the everyday that was not timed, recorded, applauded and rewarded.
The trophies are now packed away, gathering dust in a box in the basement. And I certainly have good stories to tell my children. However, the best showing I have for all that hard work are the internalized experiences that provide a constant supply of resources and reflections as my mid-life has taken on a different race – one that needs just as much stamina and strength. My life these days is like strapping on a backpack loaded with bricks, day in and day out. Some of those bricks are long-term challenges that need daily tending and care, with no immediate outcome or relief in sight. Others are shameful mistakes I have made and represent one step, one day at a time, climbing out of a hole I dug myself. Yet, just like that ten-mile training run, I start. One foot in front of the other. And then another. And then the next one. There is no end insight. You just do what you know to be right, mile after mile, day after day.