I never intended to run cross country. I was a soccer player, and I thought that people who ran for fun were totally nuts. But after a little peer pressure from my crazy runner friends, I decided to give it a try.

Since then, I’ve never looked back.

All the long practices, killer track workouts, strength training, and the good races and bad all taught me the most valuable lessons I could never have learned anywhere else.

I learned to challenge myself. Nothing is more challenging mentally and physically than running as fast as you can, for as long as you can. “It hurts,” “my first mile was too slow,” “my shoe’s untied,” “that girl next to me doesn’t even seem tired,” there’s always so many reasons to stop. I’d be lying if I said I never thought about what would happen if I “tripped” on the root in front of me. But success doesn’t come to those who quit, and I always kept going.

I learned to relax and not take myself so seriously. The best races of my life followed pre-race dance parties and nights spent dressed up in crazy costumes with my friends at team pasta dinners. Because looking back, those fun times with your friends are the ones you remember.

I learned that it’s ok to want the best for myself. It’s ok to want that new PR, and it’s ok to want to win the race, even if it means beating your friends. It’s ok to celebrate a good race, and it’s ok to be upset about a bad race, but it’s not okay to let your disappointment ruin others happiness.

I learned how to bounce back and not let myself get dragged down. High school is rough. Living in a world where we are pressured every single day to be skinny, popular, and “perfect” is ROUGH. I hate that I got sucked into holding myself to these unattainable standards, but my team and coaches were always there to pick me back up.

This sport introduced me to the best people I’ve ever met. My coaches became second parents, my teammates a second family. Together we celebrated all the PRs, podium finishes, and team victories. We also cried together and pushed one another to be the best that we could be.

One day I might take down my wall of medals, race bibs and team pictures (maybe), but lessons I’ve learned from this sport will stay with me forever.