When I was 11--a softball player, basketball player and proclaimed pitbull on the court and field--I walked into my middle school cafeteria and signed up to try track and field. I knew I was quick, I knew I liked running, but I never could have known that this was possibly the most pivotal decision I would ever make.
Ten years later, here I am as a senior in college, on the cusp of my final season as an collegiate athlete, and the most accurate word I could use to describe how I feel is grateful.
Grateful for every race, good and bad. Grateful for every workout that brought me to my knees, for the injuries that tested my dedication, for every tear shed. For the frustrations, for the personal bests. Grateful for my teammates and grateful for this relationship I have formed with a sport that sometimes is called “other sports’ punishment.” But truthfully, I have always hated that description. Rather, I like to think that it is a part of everything, that it is connected to everything, that running is a universal physical indication of immense strength.
And I am in no way only speaking of physical strength.
Of course, your legs must be solid and explosive. Your arms must be able to carry you when your legs feel like giving up. Your lungs must be able to accommodate grueling workouts and intense races. I am so thankful I have been shown how far I can push my body’s limits, how heavy I can lift, how fast I can run, how much I can surprise myself with my actual ability. But what I am even more thankful for is what it has taught me about mental strength.
Track has helped me to learn myself, to learn the perfect level of nervousness and excitement I need to reach in order to perform well. I have learned just how competitive I am, but also how much I enjoy seeing my teammates (and even opponents) succeed at what they love to do. It has taught me self-love, and all too often reminded me that I have value, especially when others have caused me to feel as if I do not. I have slowly begun to break my habit of disappointment, changed my mantra from, “Why me?” to “Why NOT me?”
There is a comfort in consistency, and while each race you are at a different track, facing different opponents, running different distances, each time you are, without fail, competing against yourself. You are beating the voices in your head that tell you to stop when it hurts, the ones that hold you back from meeting and surpassing your goals. Your strongest competitor is yourself, and in that way, no matter what your time is as compared to those in your heart, you have won if you can walk away and think “I am better than I was.”
Doubt will kill you. Mental weakness will let you down every single time. But track has taught me that with each step of my physical progress, my mind gets stronger. I adapt to challenges. I accept my failures. I celebrate my successes. I grind. And now, I begin to grieve for the moment I will hang up my spikes for the final time.
I am in no way selling myself short, or giving up and telling myself I am done before I finish this last indoor and outdoor season. Rather the opposite. I have loved this journey. I began with 100m hurdles and have settled on the 400m dash. I have torn muscles. I have switched schools, and therefore teams. I have learned. I have loved. I cannot think about the fact that in ten months time, I will be an alumni of track and field without bursting into tears. But what I can think about is that with every day, every training session, I am crafting my body and mind to be the best I can be. I am GRATEFUL.
This is my year.