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Real Runners: Being “The Runner” In Rural South Dakota

Becoming “The Runner”

I was born imbalanced. My vertebrae, instead of nestling neatly on top of one another, wrench and turn like the tracks of a wooden roller coaster. Throughout my childhood, doctors X-rayed my back every month and repeated phrases like, “severe scoliosis” and “keep an eye on it as she grows.”

The first time I ever ran was during a three-week unit in middle school gym class in which students collected a popsicle stick for every lap they completed. The other kids in my class walked. I ran. It felt like something my body was born to do, even though the doctors and the Internet told me that running should be uncomfortable, if not impossible, with my condition. I left every class with a fistful of popsicle sticks.

I’ve now been running for 16 years. When I run, everything is in equilibrium. When people ask me why I run, I tell them that it never occurred to me not to run. It is simply something that I do. Running has been in my life longer than any man, job or home. It was in my life before the twin towers fell and before names like Sandy Hook and Aurora had meaning.

When I moved to South Dakota, it never occurred to me to stop running. I moved from Los Angeles, a city where a run on the beach is as regular as Sunday brunch. In South Dakota, I taught at the local school during the day and ran in the evenings, along the paved highways when I wanted speed and dirt roads when I needed solace.

When I lived in Los Angeles, I jostled for space on the Strand. In my new town, I didn’t see another runner (aside from my occasional training partner) for six years. What had once been a social sport for me—taciturn acknowledgments to fellow runners, group runs, high school teams, the camaraderie of starting line stretches—suddenly morphed into the most solitary of pursuits. Overnight, I went from being a runner to being the runner.

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