Many of us can look back on a decision we made with the knowledge that our life would be incredibly different if we had chosen something else. In my case, this is a decision my mother made for me.
In seventh grade, I transferred from a small and artsy charter school to your average North Carolina public middle school, and she was understandably concerned with my ability to make friends. Most people can agree that the time commitment and endorphins associated with sports facilitates close relationships, and given that my volleyball skills were less-than-stellar, and I would have to wait six months until soccer season, she all but pressured me into joining the cross-country team for the sake of my social life.
Eight years and thousands of miles later, I can’t say I resent that.
Still, I never wanted running to be who I was. I was a good student, a writer, a musician, a twin, and I like to think a nice person, all before I was an athlete. And that was something I took into my agonizing college decision as well; I didn’t want the fact that I wouldn’t be able to run at a Division I school (Duke and Georgetown were top contenders) to affect where I ended up. And for the most part, I don’t believe it did. I can, in retrospect, cite small class sizes and the inherent sense of community I sensed at Swat, and all of it would be true. But that doesn’t mean I can specify with any exactitude what led me to anxiously push the “accept” button on April 30th, 2015. That’s for another post.
I have a bad habit of asking people I’m not exactly close to direct and difficult questions. If the recipients are willing, this usually results in the discovery of some new intricacy in the minds of my peers. If they are not, I get the question flipped on me.
The latter route is how I ended up having to formulate a response to “What was your favorite memory of freshman year?” I sorted through memories of a “2 a.m. Delivery Pizza in Sci 183 Night” (an Orgo-induced celebration of misery), “ML 2nd Philly Trip for My Birthday Night” (a much more adventurous choice), and finally settled on “Team Cards Against Humanity Night,” an event much less formal than my capitalization indicates.
It was only the second or third week of the year, and I made a bold decision to contradict my introverted tendencies by following some team members to Hallowell to play Cards Against Humanity. It was a Friday, I didn’t want to go to bed just yet, and, like I did way back in seventh grade, I reluctantly acknowledged that I needed to make some friends.
I remember trying to pile as many team members as possible on one bed for no real reason. I remember laughing incredibly hard. I remember winning the game by a landslide, much to my own surprise, and taking that as validation that quiet freshman Kenzie Himelein-Wachowiak could be clever and funny if she wanted to be. And I remember feeling like these people, who I was laughing with and all but cuddled up with and beating at Cards Against Humanity, could be my friends for life.
It’s unfortunate that I can’t portray my whole experience with college running in such a positive light, although I don’t believe anyone could do so. I had days when I fell behind my workout group and questioned whether I deserved to be on the team at all. I had a race, the biggest race of the season, in fact, where I all but walked the last lap and cried about it for 20 minutes afterwards. And this summer, I had to experience what all runners inevitably do: I got injured.
“Your feet feel really crunchy,” commented my coach-turned-massage-therapist one day at practice. I think the more scientific description is plantar fasciitis.
So far this year, I haven’t run in the Crum at all. I haven’t done a 200’s workout, or a God-awful Parrish hills one. I haven’t been part of a mid-run discussion of the roses and thorns of the day, I haven’t basked in post-long-run satisfaction, smoothie in hand, and I haven’t worn the Garnet uniform that used to bring me so much pride.
But I think I need to realize that this doesn’t make me any less a part of the team.
I still love running, and I still am incredibly proud of my decision to continue it in college. I may not compete, but I still treat my body with the same respect as if I did. I still have the Matchbox as an alternative hiatus from academics (and lifting weights to make me feel like a badass), I still make time for “stretching” (gossiping) on the track until sunset, and I still have teammates who ask me how I’m doing every day, in a way that makes me feel like they actually care how I respond.
I don’t know when I can expect the texture of my arches to return to normal, and there are days when that’s pretty hard to deal with. But I think if I’m able to focus on all the ways that running has been there for me over the years, and all the manners in which it supports me even today, I can convince myself that it will be okay. And at the end of the day, as many of us do several years in retrospect, I’m forced to acknowledge that my mother had been right all along. The most important thing running has done for me is to introduce me to some of the best friends I’ll ever have.
Cover photo of a bridge over Crum creek from adventuresomehiker.com