I still remember my first race as if it was yesterday. That feeling before you get into the blocks, palm sweating, uncontrolled heart beating, deep breathing type of feeling.
I was only six when I started racing, and never in my life did I ever think this would become such an enormous part of my life. I am so grateful to have a grandpa and teacher who saw so much potential in me.
As a six-year-old, you never really think ahead, you just think about running as fast as you can so you can have a place on the podium. You just want that medal, but really track is so much more than just that gold medal.
What happens behind the scenes is what really matters.
I remember being known as that blonde, barefoot girl who had no idea that this would one day be her ticket to happiness. I always played different sports, but track had a soft spot in my heart from the start.
My parents knew I was very competitive from a young age, but it was my grandpa who saw potential.
After my first forced attempt at racing, a teacher told my grandpa that together they should coach me as they believed I had so much in me. So it all started, I started training every day.
First, they made me start small as I was not very fit at the time, but as time progressed I was given more challenging workouts. I trained every day, I practiced my block starts and I became better each day.
With my grandpa encouraging me and my teacher being right there for me made things a lot easier. I remember getting my first medal at a big meet. It wasn't first place, but third.
I was so proud and happy. I walked off that podium feeling so satisfied.
But, I still wasn't entirely overjoyed because I believe someone took my spot on that first place standing on the podium. I believed in the spotlight and that the podium was my spotlight. The track was my stage, but the podium was my time to shine.
As I continued to train, I started making track and academics my first priority... everything else took a backseat. As long as I could be on that track, on my own, in my room, working on school work I was happy.
I started prioritizing even from a young age, and friends didn't matter to me anymore, birthday parties or sleepovers didn't matter. I was so focused on becoming the best, my social life became non-existent.
At the age of 10, I finally reached the level I was working for. I had one race, and if I placed either first or second I would have the chance of competing at Nationals. This meant everything to me.
I remember countless nights lying awake just running the race in my mind. It would feel so real that my heart rate would get so high I'd get up and grab a glass of water.
I'd feel so stressed out even weeks before the event that I'd be moody. Even on race days, my parents avoided me. On race days they barely spoke to me because they knew how stressed out I'd be.
I've been like this for many years, in fact, I'm still like that. I hate talking to people on race day, I just want to be alone.
I think the only words that calmed me were when my grandpa spoke to me. At the time, he was ill, yet he was the one driving me to train, coaching me and at night, writing my programs for the next month.
He'd take me to practice block starts in our backyard or he'd run hills with me.
The night before the race that I had been preparing for he said to me, "Run your heart out, I know you can do it. I'm not sure how long I'll be here to see you run, but when I see you take that Nationals attire, I'd die happy."
To this day that meant everything to me, it wasn't just about me anymore. I remember thinking that every single day I stepped on that track. We were a team, and we wanted to win.
When I finally received what I had worked for, it wasn't good enough. I wanted to win nationals next.
After nationals, my goals for track just grew, nothing was ever good enough. Being a track athlete taught me so much about life.
It taught me that progress takes time, but if you stick to it you'll get there. It taught me how to prioritize family, sports, academics and friends. It taught me to never give up no matter what.
It taught me to be humble, to hate a second place, but to work harder. It taught me to push through tough days and to cry on the inside. It taught me to be happy when other people succeed. It taught me that the world doesn't revolve around me, and what I do affects other people too.
It taught me to adapt, to live healthily and to encourage others. Track is so much more than just a sport. It teaches dedication, because you train for so many years to run one or two minutes. You run for hours, gym for hours, eat healthy just for 10 seconds up to 10 minutes in a race.
It taught me to be grateful and not to take anyone for granted. I have lost a coach dear to me and I wish I was old enough to appreciate him more. I am still grateful to have amazing relationships with previous coaches, and each of them taught me so much.
It taught me that life is not a spectator sport. Life is what you do with it, you can't sit on the sidelines or in the stands if you want that gold medal or that chance in the spotlight. If you keep being a spectator in your life, then that's all you'll ever be. If you don't work hard or give it your everything, well then you won't get what you want.
It taught me that life isn't always a race and that you should stop and smell the roses, and to enjoy the journey.
I am grateful to have a grandpa who planted a dream in my heart that I still continue to chase. Who was there for me every step of the way, who dried my tears after a race, who shared joy with me. I am even more grateful to be able to spend time with him every time I go home. He might not be my coach anymore, but I am able to call him a friend. One of my best friends.
Track taught me that life has so many precious moments we don't realize at the time, but only when they're gone. That life goes by way too fast, and that you should love the people who love us because we never know if we'll see them again.
We never know if they'll be here the next day, so you should love them every day, with everything you have.
I have gained so much from track. I have gained forever friends, the best coaches, experience, opportunities and life lessons that I'd never trade for the world. I have gained so many support systems.
I have had setbacks many times, but what matters is how you recover from them. I have lost time with friends, family and I missed out on teenage life too, but to me, this was never a loss. I enjoyed every second I had on the track.
I'm still that 6-year-old girl on the inside who loves running, who loves every minute on the track and I would never change a thing.
I am still that dream chasing girl who won't give up. There are better starters than me, but I'm a strong finisher, and I know I'd be known forever by the tracks that I leave.