A high school athlete shares how the running communities she's built through school teams have created within her a real love for the sport.

I started running in sixth grade when my best friend pushed me to join track and field with her. The only reason I chose distance (or even did track in the first place) was because she was in it. I remember her questioning my choice. “Are you sure?” she said. “It’s really hard. You might want to start out with sprinting.” But I stupidly ignored her warnings…and promptly died in the two warm-up laps around my school’s field.

I was so bad I couldn’t finish one lap around the field. I was walking a mile behind everyone else during the workout and crying when my coach found me. I told him I couldn’t run and I wanted to quit. He told me to just stick it out a few weeks, and sent me to jog/walk back to school (barely a half-mile away) with my friend. So I did, mainly because my parents had paid $300 for me to participate. I am not naturally athletic at all; I am super uncoordinated with virtually no muscle. So the majority of that season consisted of me jogging way in the back, then walking, then jogging, then walking again. You probably get the point. But somehow, even though my average split was a 10:30, I started to make progress. Every week I would walk a little less, go a few seconds faster. My first meet rolled around, and I finished third. Well, out of four people. But it wasn’t last, so I was excited. By the end of the season, I had a sub-8-minute mile and was given the Most Improved award.

Fast forward to today, and my mile PR is a 6:14. Very mediocre for high school times, but a whole lot faster than where I started. I run year-round, cross country is my favorite sport and my team is my family. Last summer I was even nominated for marathoner Neely Spence Gracey’s first Bronze Shoe Award, an award for inspirational runners. And I won, somehow, and got to meet her on my birthday. All just because I kept running when I hated it. Even though I was really bad and won’t ever be the fastest, I followed through with my coach’s advice and stuck it out. I will never, ever regret putting in the work every day, because it got me to a place where I have a purpose in life other than slogging through tests and homework. It helps me when my anxiety disorder becomes too much, and it makes me feel like I can go anywhere I want.

I’m still average compared to my teammates, and I don’t win many races. But when I get to do long runs with them or when I finished my first half marathon, I feel like now, after four years, I really am a runner.

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