I was 15 years old when I was cut from the varsity soccer team for being too short. I remember laying in my bed that morning, too despondent to even make the effort to get up and get breakfast, contemplating what I was going to do. Up until that point, soccer had been a lifelong passion that had fueled me to strive for greatness. I had reveled in the thrill of the game, and I felt that nothing would be able to match my excitement when I had the ball at my feet.
One of my friends, in an effort to break me out of my funk, suggested that I join the cross country team and go to practice with him. I had never liked running, I argued, and I felt that there was nothing for me in the sport that could match what soccer made me feel, but he was persistent. I relented, thinking that it would only take one practice for me to hate cross country.
How very wrong I was.
Two years later, I graduated from Mount Sinai High School as a recipient of the Mustang Award for Cross Country and Track and Field, one of the top 7 runners on the varsity squad. I had built friendships on that team that I had never even contemplated while I had been a soccer player, and I had formed a bond of trust and understanding with my coaches that still persists to this day. I was apprehensive about college and yet excited to be running at such an elite level at a prestigious a school such as Stony Brook University.
I felt like the world was at my feet, that as long as I worked hard and persevered I would make it through whatever challenges lay ahead of me. At that time, my parents had not truly understood the significance of what I felt whenever I ran, and how important the sport was to me, how much I loved and was proud of my team, my second family.
I thought that I could show them the strength of my character through my work ethic and discipline, that I could make them see who I was for me, not their expectations of me. I was sure that with a good summer of training, I would be ahead of the competition and ready for the grind of collegiate XC.
The very first week of my college career knocked me flat on my back and reminded me that I was starting from the bottom of the totem pole and that I had to work my way up just like everyone else. The very first practice I attended ended up winding me out and left me heaving out my guts on the side of the track afterward, looking for all the world like a lost cause. I felt exhausted and could barely stand, and that was the moment Coach imparted a life lesson that I would never forget:
“Pain is temporary, pride is forever.”
It’s no great secret that distance runners are the epitome of insane. Running 75+ miles a week, nearly 365 days out of the year, might sound like torture for most people, but that’s the lifestyle that we crave and thrive off of. Our collective madness fuels our desire to aspire to new heights and compete against ourselves to exceed the limits of our own human capabilities.
It is that mental drive to fight at all costs, to drive oneself through hell and back for the sole purpose of being able to do so, that united myself and my teammates and brought us together as a family during every crazy interval workout, every agonizing tempo run, every shit-hits-the-fan scenario that could possibly have occurred within the grueling confines of an 8K cross country race all the way to the endless varieties of distances that Track and Field consists of.
We were molded by our training to become something more than individuals - we became a family through the crucible of our struggles, understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses and supportive of each other through our own respective journeys, and we held firm to each other as a unit through thick and thin.
In my darkest hours, my teammates were there to save me from my own bleak perspective, when all I wanted to do was give up and let myself go. Running inevitably gave me a sense of purpose, a reason to strive forward despite my self-doubt clouding my ability to believe in myself.
I found myself pushing past thoughts of pain and breaking through barriers I never would have thought possible, all for the sake of my teammates; if they were training so hard to succeed, who was I to give up and back down after having come so far? That sense of “we before I” became the fuel that drove me, and it was through running that I found myself and learned to love myself, for I was capable of far more than I had ever known.
I think back now to that day I was cut from the soccer team, nearly seven years later, and I laugh. I am thankful that it happened now because that adversity showed me that God had given me wings on my feet and that I could fly beyond the limits of my own human capabilities and transcend expectations beyond measure.