Beyoncé’s voice thumped through the loud speakers. An enormous, and rather garish, stopwatch beamed from afar, flashing the time elapsed: 48:15. I would soon learn that, of all eighty five participants, I was dead last. Not second to last, or almost last, but completely and unequivocally last. For most people, coming in last in nearly anything would qualify as an automatic failure. I, on the contrary, had quite possibly never been so elated to receive last place in my entire life. I had done what had seemed impossible only a short time earlier: finish a 5k race. As I crossed the finish line, tears (and perspiration, which, for the record, are not an attractive mix) streamed down my face. I had accomplished what may have seemed like a menial accomplishment to most, but to me, was quite possibly one of the most daunting tasks of my life: not allowing myself to quit after multiple opportunities to do just that.
If I were to sum up the first fifteen years of my life in one word, sedentary would probably be an overwhelmingly accurate adjective. To paraphrase a very long story, it turns out, that, despite my insistence of the opposite, a diet of Ben & Jerry’s and Pringles isn’t very forgiving. In all seriousness, I had let myself become so extremely unhealthy in my habits that I had eaten myself into obesity. At a doctor’s appointment for my annual check-up, my doctor would soon utter a phrase that will forever be ingrained in my mind. She looked at me, wide-eyed, and said pointedly: “You have become obese, you need to change now.” For the rest of that day, I remember walking around in a daze as I pondered her words. Up until that point in my life, I had never held myself accountable for my actions. I had simply made excuses for my habits my entire life; I found that the worse my habits became, the sorrier I felt for myself, and the more viscous the cycle became. So, at that moment, I made a promise to myself that I would change my habits; just how difficult changing habits that I had been practicing my entire life would be had not occurred to me yet.
If I were to sum up all of the wisdom I have acquired in my seventeen years on this planet, a three word phrase would most likely suffice: Oprah’s a liar. Well, probably not, but for me there was no “Aha!” moment: I was completely lost when it came to reforming my habits. My first mistake was going out and thinking that since I was a “natural athlete” I would be able to pick up on running, no problem at all. Well, it turns out, I’m not the natural athlete my parents (or I) had hoped for. In fact, my aforementioned 5k experience would probably be reason enough for most people to be convinced to never run again. But, running that race had actually taught me something: I had the tenacity to overcome obstacles, and not allow them to be stumbling blocks. I had done something that day that had seemed completely unfathomable the year before.
Shortly after I started running, I received the opportunity to coach a program called Girls on the Run at my former elementary school. I was extremely nervous on the first day; I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to relate to the girls. Fast forward ten weeks later and, as we were having our final session celebration, I was thinking about how far we had come as team. We all had to overcome obstacles, and we all had celebrated our triumphs together as we began the process of running. We sat in a circle, and all discussed the impact running had on our lives. As I listened to the girls’ responses, I was surprised the eloquence and thoughtfulness in their answers; the entire time I had been working with them, they were the ones who were actually teaching me. I realized it wasn’t running that had changed me; it was the fact that I had made the decision to stop looking at my obstacles as insurmountable hurdles. From a group of ten year old girls, I learned, that, even if I had previously failed at something, that failure was not fatal, life would continue to go on, and, I, and only I, would have the power to persevere.