Running has always been a part of my life. Elementary school kept me busy with Girls on the Run, mileage club, and Champion of Champions (the mile competition among the elementary schools). So you could say my love of running was cultivated early on. There was never another sport I participated in; there was no other sport that felt right for me. And joining the track and field team in middle school was one of the best decisions in my life.

Middle school track was like the "practice years" to get your feet wet. Some took it seriously, but there wasn't intense competition. It was a great time to test out different events and stick with the ones you knew you'd be doing as much as you could be allowed. And it was a great time to build some confidence and start integrating the sport into your life. Once high school track season came along, I knew I had found my place, my people.

There is always that one thing every person has in their life that is "Their Thing." There is always that one thing every person has in their life that changes a person into someone they didn't even know they could become. There is always that one thing every person has in their life that saves them. Track was my thing.

It's always intimidating to join any kind of group, club or sport when other members are returning or already know how things work. And yes, I was intimidated at first by all the upperclassmen on the high school track team, but that quickly went away. I doubt there will ever be another situation in my life where making friends and becoming comfortable came so naturally. Sure cross country also holds a special place in my heart, but nothing compares to how much track meant to me during high school.

While we all joked about dreading practice or certain workouts or late nights because of meets, we all knew that track was something special. I don't know if it was the fact that my teammates and I spent at least two hours a day with each other six days a week or struggling through workouts together or just some crazy coincidence that the bond of being in track gave me my best friends. Not only was the sport itself such a major reason for my love for it, but the team was/is still a second family to me. Track helped me find myself and added some great people to my life.

This spring won't be the same without track. Not even the fact that I don't have workouts six days a week, but the fact that I don't get the excitement of looking forward to meets, PRing, and seeing the craziest bunch of people every single day. No more circuit workouts, no more long runs and slipping on ice, no more entertaining spin workouts, no more weird conversations that should have more content, no more laugh attacks. No more food runs after practice, no more blasting music in our cars, no more smoothie creations, no more "family" meals, no more sleepovers. No more bundling up in a million layers for meets that were always going to have terrible weather, no more pre-race anxiety, no more screaming at the top of our lungs cheering louder than any other team at the meets and no more excessively loud singing on the late bus rides home. Yes, some of these things can still happen, but it means something different now.

I consider myself extremely lucky to have found a family that supported me even more than I could encourage myself and that challenged me in so many ways while bringing me out of my shell. If it wasn't for my awesome teammates and coaches, I doubt I could have had the meaningful track career I did. From freshman year, they believed in me and pushed me to see that potential in myself, and I'm so grateful they did. As a freshman being able to compete with upperclassmen and against upperclassmen on varsity was terrifying but so motivational. It helped me realize that I should give myself more credit for what I'm capable of even if I would never have believed I could have done the things I did as a newbie. And, with each practice, each meet, each season, my confidence continued to get better along with my running. Track was such a major part of my life that it feels like I'm losing a part of me now that it's over, and no amount of words could explain my love for it or how it already feels without it in my life.

And, of course, I couldn't reminisce about track without mentioning the biggest love-hate relationship of all time: the 4x400m relay! This dreaded race became my friend too. Whenever I tell people my favorite race was the 4x400m relay, they just respond: "How?!" "Why?!" "Ew!" "Omg no thank you" "That's rough!" But track wouldn't have been the same if I was never put in that relay freshman year. And track definitely wouldn't have been the same if that relay didn't unintentionally break the school record...and then broke it two more times my senior year.

The 4x400m relay gave me motivation, focus, a goal. It gave me lots of anxiety too. Even if it wasn't a meet day, just thinking of having to run the 4x400m relay filled me with nerves (to this day)! It was an intimidating and painful race. But it was something we were good at. Working toward breaking the record again our last season and actually accomplishing/surpassing that goal is something I will never forget. It made the last season even more unforgettable and memorable and special. It would have been more than enough. And then we qualified for State which was more than I ever imagined was possible. We couldn't have closed out our final season in a better way!

It would have been a dream to continue my track career in college, but it didn't work out that way and that's okay. Nothing could come close to my time with Girls' Track at Libertyville High School; four years on varsity and a captain my senior year, breaking the 4x400m relay record three times, competing at State, gaining the best friends and family, immeasurable amounts of encouragement and love and memories, and four years that went by too fast.

So just a special shout out to everyone that made those four years some of the best years: all the parents (especially my mom and Brett for always facing the elements at all my meets and making sure I could hear them during my races), all my teammates throughout those years who made every day entertaining (especially my Fam Bam, you know who you guys are), and my coaches for giving us a chance (especially Biz - thank you for believing in my potential since day one - before I even knew it - and for motivating me to become a stronger, more confident runner and person).

With a new season starting soon, I'm wishing the best for the team! You all can do more than you think you're capable of! And I hope each of you can find a sense of home on the team like I did.