How Endurance Sports Saved My Life
How Endurance Sports Saved my Life
I firmly believe in the power of endurance sports and the change that it can play in a person’s life. From increased confidence, to a better body image, and the ability to endure anything; I could go on and on. Without them (endurance sports), I am not sure the person I would have become. Here’s my story.
In life there are up’s and down’s and I’ve learned that the human spirit is more powerful than anything that can happen to it. But I don’t think that I have always known that or felt that way. For myself, like many of us, the real challenge comes when we “get knocked down” and something unexpected happens. That’s when we learn who we are, what we’re made of, and more importantly what we are capable of.
As far back as I can remember, I have been a runner. When I was in 6th grade my mom made me choose a sport to get involved in. To be honest I tried quite a few including volleyball, basketball, and even softball. I guess what I am trying to say is that if it involved a ball, I just wasn’t very good at it. Then came track and field. I started track and field in middle school and absolutely loved it. Flash forward to high school and I was running cross country as well as track and doing pretty well.
You see, my mom was a single parent (my father passed away when I was 12) and on top of working and all her responsibilities she NEVER missed a meet. I had so much respect for her because I just didn’t know how she did it all. But she did. I knew that every finish line would have her smiling face and encouraging hugs and kisses. While I grew up in a single family home; I’ve never once felt as if I missed out on anything because of the love that my family shared with my siblings and I. We were (are) so truly lucky for that. She had more than enough love to go around and made sure we knew and felt it.
After high school I went to Slippery Rock University to major in exercise science. I didn’t play sports in college but running was still a huge part of my life. It helped me deal with the challenges of being a new college student and balancing being away from home. Then, in my sophomore year we found out that my mom had cancer. My whole world changed and I never knew how impactful running would become in helping me cope.
As a young adult knowing that your only parent might not make it to your college graduation, wedding, or see their future grandchildren is really tough. It’s especially hard to watch them go thought the most challenging time of their life and somehow find a way to stay positive and strong for the rest of the family. It was hard, really hard. It was one of the most trying and chaotic times in my life. But in the midst of it all – my form of stress relief and hope came from running. In a world that seemed to be spiraling out of control, running gave me a feeling of empowerment and peace that I just can’t really describe.
I thought that if my mom could go through treatment after treatment and fight so hard to live another day, I could run 26.2 miles in her honor and to help support others.
In the fall summer of 2008 I trained for my first marathon as a fundraiser for the American Cancer Society. I thought that if my mom could go through treatment after treatment and fight so hard to live another day, I could run 26.2 miles in her honor and to help support others. I raised over $1500 and ran the race of my life with her at the finish line waiting. I didn’t know it at the time, but that was the last race she would ever see me run.
She passed away that following year but my love and passion for running and eventually triathlon grew even stronger. After she was gone running became my stress management and a way to deal with grief. It helped me to process what had and still was happening and even saved me from coping in other negative ways (like so many do fall into). At one point I was diagnosed with depression and rather than taking medications long term I was able to manage my symptoms and feelings through endurance sports and talking with a counselor.
When I am out running or in a pool by myself it has given me time to reflect and heal. I can sort out my feelings, make decisions, and cope in my own way. I’ve never been much of a crier but the athlete in me cries over and over again by raising my heart rate and sweating my heart out. It’s time for me to be in the driver seat and take charge in my life and feel really powerful. But it’s also time to reflect and grow and look towards the future.
I used to wonder when I would “recover” and if people ever do. In my opinion I recover every day when I lace up my shoes and head out for a ride or run. When I am training or racing for a cause better than myself I feel as if I am out in the world the way I was before my entire life fell apart, at peace and calm. I can work hard for something for me AND for others.
I often think about what could have happened if I did not have the love and joy of physical activity in my life. Since my mother’s passing I have used my passion to have a purpose in helping to support causes important to me and help others in need by racing for organizations like The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association, Challenged Athletes Foundation, and Team Phenomenal Hope.
My advice to anyone going through something from a disease, illness, divorce, death, ect cetera, is to view your life the way that I do when training for triathlon. You know that there will be good days, hard days, and absolutely terrible days. All you need to do to be successful is keep moving forward relentlessly. That’s what all this has taught me; to keep moving forward because the sunrise is just beyond the horizon!