What I Learned From Being a Subpar High School Athlete

I went to my first Cross Country practice the summer before my freshman year of high school. I was relatively new to the area, and the majority of my running career beforehand had been spent in a school system where the sport was considered more of a club than actual competition.

As I began to attend practice every week, I met the people I would spend practically every day with for the next two and a half years. We bonded over sore legs, stories told through tired breaths, and by helping each other through grassy, muddy, and generally unpleasant terrains.

After my first season concluded, I quickly began to realize I was mediocre at best, but that didn't mean the experience wasn't worthwhile. I continued to run until halfway through my junior year, and all of those miles culminated to teach me a multitude of life lessons.

These miles taught me that all things in time will pass. This workout, race, season, semester, will pass. Even when you cannot feel your legs, even when your lungs are burning with cold air, even after you have been passed by person, after person, after person; somewhere, there is a finish line and you will inevitably reach it if you keep moving. I thought about this as I studied for hours on end for a good score on the ACT, as I moved across the country and started over junior year, and every time I took a seat in my hour and a half long AP Calculus class. The mental endurance it took to finish our workouts and races gave me the stamina to work through hard times in all areas of my life.

These miles taught me the importance of being around people who inspire you. My cross country team was filled with an entirely awesome group of girls. They were the epitome of strength, intelligence, passion, and kindness. I have never experienced a group so encouraging as that one, and there is nothing more inspiring than being around people who are so completely passionate about everything they do. Their enthusiasm constantly motivated me to become the best version of myself. In short, I learned to surround myself with people who will make me better than I was before I met them.

These miles taught me the importance of listening to yourself. At the end of my freshman year, I had ran so much that my muscles tightened to the point of ripping off a portion of my hip growth plate. In that time, I had refused to listen to my body tell me that I was hurt and needed to slow down. The consequence was four months where I could not train, completely halting all of the progress I had made throughout the year. Through this, I learned to slow down and never to take short cuts. Do the warm up exercises, stretch, cool down, and stretch again. If your body or mind feels like it needs a break, there is no harm in taking a moment to take care of yourself and your well-being.

These miles taught me that progress isn't linear. There will be amazing days where you may PR, win a race, or even finish a half marathon. There will also be days where you cross the finish line dead last, where you can't complete a workout, or want to quit altogether and never lace up your spikes again. One week you may feel great and the next week you may see the slowest numbers you've had in months. It is all a process, and learning the ebb and flow of my own productivity has allowed me so much more peace in my overall life, whether it be in academics, music, or relationships.

Most importantly, these miles taught me to never compare myself to someone else. You don't have to be the best at something to love and grow better from it. We all set foot at different starting places, and ultimately the only person you should ever compare yourself to is yourself. Through the sport I was bad at, I was able to continuously fall, get up again, and improve every single day regardless of how my speed compared to everyone else's. I am so grateful that this team and community had allowed me run and learn alongside them in such a significant way.

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