11071167_10206689484776721_651366185582254077_n

The First Boy I Brought Home from College

This is not what you’re thinking. He wasn’t a jock, a rebel, or a nerd, and this wasn’t a love affair. It goes more like this…

A 20-year-old white Jewish girl and a 40-year-old Tibetan monk walk into 7-Eleven. They buy Slurpees, smile incessantly, and take selfie, upon selfie, upon selfie.

IMG_3043_2

My friendship with Jamyang Gompo, “James Lama,” began in the fall of my sophomore year. We were both in a small interdisciplinary course called Science and the Nature of Evidence: Are We Our Genes? James was one of six monks in his cohort of the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative, a partnership between Emory University and His Holiness the Dalai Lama designed to bridge western science and eastern spirituality. Every two years, Tibetan monks from various monasteries are chosen to study science at Emory for four semesters, after which they return to India and teach science to their peers.

While I didn’t personally interact much with James during class, I couldn’t help but notice his smile-he was constantly radiating this jovial energy, and his vibe intrigued me. On a whim, I invited him to get lunch in the Emory dining hall. Shortly after our first meal together, he asked me to be his philosophy tutor for the following semester. I had never taken a philosophy class, but I agreed. The rest is history. Just five months later, my family was on our way to O’Hare to pickup James from the airport. Some of my fondest memories are from James’s time in Chicago- riding on the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel, ordering Lou Malnati’s pizza, playing board games, cruising around in my dad’s convertible, and watching lots of Tom and Jerry.

This blog post is much overdue, purely because I could not (and still cannot) conceive how to express our relationship through words. If you know me well, you know that when I talk about James I get so excited and happy and just can’t shut up. For now, I’d like to share the most integral lessons I’ve learned from our friendship, along with some photos that I guarantee will make your heart smile.

Simplicity is a gift.

This was going to be James’s first and only time staying with an American family, so I wanted him to choose all of our adventures, meals, and daily activities. I was struck by the distress that choices brought James. He insisted that I choose everything, and I quickly learned that the plethora of trivial choices that we all make each day is a foreign concept to James. In the monastery, every single monk eats bread and jam for breakfast every single day. There is one kind of bread and one kind of jam. When my mom offered James various types of cereal, oatmeal, bagels, and toast for breakfast, he said just bread would be fine. When she put orange marmalade, grape jelly, and strawberry jam on the counter, James could not believe the myriad number of breakfast options in a single house. The same thing happened when I asked James what pizza toppings he wanted or what board game he would like to play- he always insisted that I choose.

In the United States, we are conditioned to think that more choice is better, yet having to make countless minute decisions each day exerts cognitive resources that could perhaps be conserved, and thus devoted to more valuable pursuits, if our lives were simplified. I can’t help but think how many hours I’ve wasted standing in front of my closet throughout the years, when I could just be wearing a red robe like James!

 

Full presence is powerful, and patience really is a virtue.

Before James came to Chicago, I wanted to plan where to meet at the airport, so I asked him if he would be checking a bag or only bringing a carry-on. James could be an icon for the growing minimalist approach and downsizing movement in our country- he arrived with solely his school backpack. The bag I carry around campus weighs significantly more than what James brought for a four-day trip! But because he was not carrying around any extra baggage, he was able to be fully present, aware, alive- something we should all be striving for.

Living in the present frees us from dwelling on the past or fretting about the future, but reaching and maintaining full presence is quite difficult for many people, including myself. When Uber was taking ten minutes longer than expected to arrive to take us to Union Station, I became extremely frustrated and worried that we would miss our train home. Based on my visceral reaction, James grew concerned as well. I explained that if we missed this train, we would have to wait 30 minutes for the next one, and that the train ride was an hour long. He informed me that the train ride from his monastery to the closest airport is three days. Well, that sure put things into perspective!

IMG_2955_2
Living with a family of runners, James was compelled to try foam rolling!

Cultural barriers are an illusion.

Before meeting James, if you had told me that one of my closest friends would be a Tibetan monk, I’d tell you that you were crazy. What could two people of such disparate cultural upbringings possibly have in common? A lot- intellectual curiosity, a love of learning, a desire to find and emit positivity, and a drive to develop meaningful connections with others.

James is the Knenpo of his monastery, which means he has achieved the highest level of Tibetan Buddhism philosophical study and now acts as president. But our typical conversations do not concern philosophical principles or scientific inquiry. I have not become a devout Buddhist monk. I do not turn to James for spiritual guidance. Rather, I turn to him to feel happy. I do not think of James as a holy religious figure, but simply as a good friend. He loves Starbucks coffee (but the closest one to his monastery is 10 hours away!), wearing Ray Bans, and telling jokes. His favorite American joke is why was 6 afraid of 7 (my mom had to bite into an imaginary apple to explain that 7 “ate” 9!) and for his birthday, my family sent him a selfie stick, a Tom and Jerry (no words makes for easy understanding!) DVD, and a children’s joke book. He exclaimed that we “knew just what he needed”- not what I would have ever expected a Tibetan monk to say!

In a world full of religious, ethnic, and cultural conflict, our friendship highlights the ability of humans to find meaningful connections regardless of background. Sure, the language barrier creates challenges at times, but we usually just end up laughing- acknowledging how hard we are trying to express our thoughts so that the other can understand. Smiles and laughter make up the most potent language of all- the universal language of friendship.

So that’s the story of the first boy I brought home from college! It’s definitely not what I expected, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. James is now back in India. His two years at Emory ended a few days after his stay with my family, but we still talk via Facebook multiple times a week. He is truly one of my closest friends, and I am confident that it will remain this way for many years to come.

IMG_2994_2

 

 

More Unique Than Most

Note: I have been a bit apprehensive about posting this piece. The tone may strike as a contrast from my typical upbeat stories, but it’s just not everyday that I get hit by a beer bottle while running, spontaneously cross paths with inspiring individuals, or develop a guiding life mantra! I initially created this blog to share my active adventures while living with chronic illnesses, and I feel that accurately depicting the daily struggles of dealing with autoimmune conditions is imperative. I promise that my next post will be more cheerful, but in the meantime, I hope you enjoy a raw look into my mind.

 

American parents are notoriously known for making their children feel special. They truly believe, and instill in the minds of their offspring, that they are different from the rest, outstanding, exceptional. But there are some realms where being special is a curse rather than a blessing. The medical field is one of them. Throughout the past several years, I have been told by countless distinguished physicians that my body is “very interesting,” that my medical history is “quite strange,” and that I am “unique…more unique than most.”

While I do hold an enormous appreciation for research, tremendously value the heartfelt relationships I have developed with my physicians, and am glad to ignite their intellectual curiosity, perplexing the University of Chicago’s most decorated doctors certainly has its costs. Comorbidity is the norm rather than the exception when it comes to illness, but I take that to an extreme. If I was just a “typical” patient-  one with diabetes who responded to insulin in a predictable manner, one with food allergies who reacted moderately, or one with a defining set of connective tissue disease symptoms, rather than symptoms from a variety of clusters- my medical trajectory would be fairly straightforward. But I am unique. My conditions are labeled “undifferentiated,” as they do not fit a presently defined syndrome. My hematologist suggested that I attend medical school and try to study individuals like myself, whose autoimmune systems have gone awry. I appreciate her confidence in my scholastic ability, but no patient wants to be told to go find her own cure far into the future!

Most of the time, I am able to maintain a relatively positive attitude- focusing on what I can control and pleading that my body cooperates. But sometimes I just cannot stand feeling that my body is constantly fighting against me. I exercise for a minimum of 90 minutes a day and weigh 97 pounds when I wake up, yet I often get so bloated throughout the day that children ask me if I am pregnant. I rarely eat dessert, and when I let myself have a treat, my blood sugar skyrockets so high, becoming pretty much unresponsive to repeated insulin injections and leaving me feeling quite ill. When I wear a dress on the train to work, I get an itchy red rash on the back of my thighs from the seat, perhaps due to some residue of food I am allergic to. So I often do feel angry, but then I get mad at myself for feeling this way. I have a loving, supportive family and have had a very successful college career. While many adolescents are stuck in the hospital, I am out living an active life. I should be grateful; these thoughts of anger are absurd.

But every now and then, my conflicting emotions are validated. While reviewing an extensive array of symptoms at a new rheumatologist last week, the fellow remarked, “Any symptoms of anxiety? Depression? I mean, how could you not!” The next day, at my annual checkup, my pediatrician took a break from thinking about my puzzling body to discuss my plans to pursue a Ph.D. in clinical psychology and future career goals.

“So what’s the secret? How do you do it?”

“Do what?” I asked.

“All of it. What keeps you going? Most young people who have grown up with chronic illnesses have given up by now.”

I do not think either of these people intended to induce so much emotion, but I was crying the whole ride home. I cannot pinpoint why, but I have felt a plethora of conflicting feelings in the days since. Frustration at the voids of modern medicine. Anger at the seemingly impossible feat of attaining mind-body harmony. Grateful for the resources that have allowed me to cope relatively successfully. Miserable for all those children and young adults who have fallen victim to their illness. Most of all, though, validated.

That night, the suggested intention in my yoga class was, it doesn’t get easier; you just get stronger. I felt as if the teacher had read my mind. My body is exceptionally unique, and my chronic illnesses will not relent. They will continue to throw me physical, social, and mental curveballs for years to come. There will be good days and bad days. I can work towards accepting that. Unless some miraculous medical discoveries are rapidly made, it will not get easier. But I will continue to get stronger.

FullSizeRender

Radiating Positive Energy

 

Once again, this blog has seen a lengthy hiatus. For a time, I had mentally resigned. I created Miles with M.E. to share my “running reflections and autoimmune adventures,” but my running career for the past year and a half has consisted of countless orthopedic and physical therapy visits yet little progress. A blog chronicling my frustrations with my body’s seemingly inability to heal would certainly not prove enlightening. Thus, in a mental slump and confusion of a worthy purpose of this blog, I simply gave up- until two special people came into my life. We all know those corny sayings about people walking into and out of our lives and those special individuals leaving footprints on our hearts. More profound, and less corny, I feel, are those who stay in our heads- fundamentally changing how we think, how we interact with others, how we see the world.

You may remember Jim, the cancer survivor who befriended me at the Winship 5k in October of 2015. I think about Jim quite frequently, and last month, we met for lunch at the Emory Farmers Market. We hadn’t seen each other since the race but had emailed back-and-forth every now and then, and Jim suggested that we get together. In my original post about Jim, I discussed how he restored my faith in humanity, and our recent discussion had an even stronger effect. Jim came to lunch extremely prepared. He had spent the previous day analyzing my running form in online race photos and subsequently researching corrective exercises, and he brought resistance bands with to demonstrate them. He also pulled a supplement beverage out of his backpack and informed me of the vast benefits he had seen with his own autoimmune issues by incorporating fermented foods into his diet. Most meaningful of all was the extent to which, explicitly and implicitly, Jim informed me that I was in his thoughts and prayers. I have often questioned whether pure altruism exists, but if it does, Jim embodies it. This man, whom I have spent no more than a couple of hours with in my life, truly cares about me. He is a compassionate healer seeking to rejuvenate my body and mind, and he has encouraged me to believe in the goodness of the world.

FullSizeRender-2

Now, let me introduce you to Lexi. I met Lexi in Club Med Sandpiper Bay over spring break. While her official title is fitness instructor, I think mender, warrior, or spiritual gangster are far more appropriate. Never before have I met someone who radiates such positive energy. I had practiced yoga occasionally throughout the years, but it wasn’t until Lexi’s class that I felt anything deeper than physical exercise. The quotes she read about calming the body and quieting the mind and the words she spoke about human interconnectedness- the oneness of the world- captivated me. I got to know Lexi quite well throughout the week, and what perhaps stood out most was her awareness of the world. During morning power walks, she would just notice ever little detail in nature, beauties that the rest of us would mindlessly miss. She was present and child-like, always trying out new ways of playing with her body and encouraging guests to do the same. I have learned about the positive effects of mindfulness, spirituality, and play through my interdisciplinary classes and various podcasts and articles that I read on my own. It wasn’t until I saw someone embody these qualities, however, that I gained the courage to incorporate them into my own life. I was quite comforted to learn that Lexi has not always been like this- that we can all actively change our ways of being- and that she still feels she is on a spiritual journey- that no one is perfect, that we can always grow if we so choose. Saying goodbye to Lexi was extremely difficult, but she reminded me that we are all connected. Before meeting her, I would have found this extremely cheesy. Now, however, I find myself wholeheartedly believing in oneness- I truly feel that her teachings are present within me.

FullSizeRender-3

So, you may be wondering- what do Jim and Lexi have in common, and what do they have to do with Miles with M.E.? These two individuals reignited my positive energy and instilled within me a creative purpose and determination to spread goodness in the world. While this blog may, at least for some time, not be narrowly focused on running, my hope is that my posts offer glimmers of happiness, spark creativity, or inspire you to actively choose to enhance your holistic wellness. I would be lying if I said I no longer complained every time I am upset or have an autoimmune flare, but Jim and Lexi have truly empowered me- allowing me to realize that I am in control of the energy that surrounds me. I have become increasingly aware of and bothered by the plethora of gossip and complaints in our daily interactions and thus made greater efforts to seek out environments that support my thriving.

It is difficult to fathom how one person can have such an enormous impact in such a short time. What I am still reconciling even further is the question of why I met Jim and Lexi. I find it hard to believe that the timing of these encounters was purely coincidental. Skeptics would deem it as chance, and I have previously expressed my rejection of everything happening for a reason. Religious folks like Jim would say that God brought us together. Perhaps I am somewhere in the middle then, feeling that some spiritual energy brought us together. I will continue to grapple with exactly what I believe, but I am alright with that.

Thanks to Jim and Lexi for radiating positive energy and empowering me to rekindle this blog.

FullSizeRender
The canvas I painted last night!

 

 

CQ-FII_WIAANBO3

An Unconventional Community

When you hear the word community, what comes to mind? I think of a tight-knit group of individuals who share similar backgrounds and familial upbringings, who really feel that they know each other, who possess some sort of mutual understanding, and who provide sincere support. In this sense, it seems that a strong community must be inherently small and develop overtime. Contrast this with distance running. Marathoners are in the athletic pursuit of an individual goal and are often seen as selfish, as they devote so much of their time to training, potentially at the expense of other familial or social responsibilities. At face value, running a marathon appears incompatible with community- they are almost opposites. Every time I interact with other runners, however, I am reminded that running provides the most beautiful sense of community I ever encountered.

For more than a year, I had been planning on running the Chicago Marathon. Prior to my injury, I would visualize every aspect of the next Columbus Day weekend on a daily basis- eagerly picking up my bib at the expo, entering the starting corral shaking from both the frigid morning temperature and nervous excitement, running hard through my Windy City home, and wrapping myself in my well-deserved silver blanket. Not being able to make these visions a reality has, at times, left me as an emotional wreck, but my dad was still running the race, and I wanted to make the most out of the weekend. Therefore, while the rest of my family was still sleeping, I took the 6:00 AM train downtown to the Runner’s World shakeout run with Bart Yasso, Sara Hall, and Deena Kastor. Initially, I was concerned that showing up at a shakeout run for a race I wasn’t running would be quite awkward, but I could not have had a more uplifting experience.

FullSizeRender-2
Deena Kastor

A hundred or so strangers gathered at sunrise to run along Chicago’s lakefront trail. While we didn’t know anything about one another before this morning, we were united by this common identity as runners. We shared the defining characteristics of self-discipline, intrinsic motivation, courage, and a zesty passion. We felt the same emotions of anxiety, enthusiasm, and joy surrounding our goal progression. While we came from different backgrounds, training for a formidable race joined us in a unique journey. Moreover, we each had a story, and sharing our stories resulted in powerful social support. We were not merely a group of selfish strangers – we were a strong community.

CQ-FII_WIAANBO3

Not only is the running community sincere, but it is the most welcoming community that I know. I felt more support from this community than I often do from my peers, along with a sense of empathy. All runners know how much not running sucks, and sharing experiences with individuals from all walks of life was quite fascinating.  While I was unable to participate in the shakeout run itself, I felt a greater sense of belonging just casually chatting with fellow runners than since I have run myself.

Perhaps my most profound realization of the weekend was the unique accessibility of the running community. There is little social hierarchy in this sport- elite runners are just ordinary people. Runner’s World Publisher Molly O’Keefe and Chief Running Officer Bart Yasso smiled to see the girl who got hit by the beer bottle (at least my story is memorable to my favorite journalists!) Two of America’s greatest distance runners of all time, Deena Kastor and Joan Benoit Samuelson, are my biggest inspirations. I emailed Deena prior to this weekend, she sent me a sincere response within a couple of days, and greeted me with a big hug and warm smile on Saturday. To me, this hug was the equivalent of a typical teenager getting a personalized greeting by Taylor Swift! We had a friendly conversation, and the next morning, 42-year-old Deena broke the U.S. women’s masters marathon record by nearly a minute- proving that excellence can come later in life and that several months without running does not mean an end to my participation in this sport.

FullSizeRender
Bart Yasso

At the race expo, I approached Joan- who won a gold medal in the 1984 Olympic marathon, the first year in which women were allowed to compete- like a little kid in a candy store. We discussed the physical and mental difficulties of dealing with injury, and she stressed how young I was and how much potential the future held. Talking to her felt like talking to my mom- she was just so down to earth, caring, and kind. Joan emphasized the importance of listening to our bodies, and she could not have set a better example herself- she reluctantly sat out of this year’s Chicago marathon due to a stomach virus. As mentally tough as we might be, sometimes the body rules over the mind, and we just have to accept that and move forward.

FullSizeRender copy
Joan Benoit Samuelson

Immersing myself in this running culture when I am physically unable to run is a blessing and a curse. It makes me more upset that I cannot do what I love, but hearing stories of others, ranging from novice runners to world record holders, reminds me that I am not alone and gives me hope for the future. When I can run, I will be more passionate and determined than ever before. For now, however, I will continue to connect with others in this special sphere, this sphere in which I have been fortunate to find a profound sense of community.

Believe

Believe: My Personal Faith

It has been one year since I last posted on this blog- one year since my empowering encounter with Jim, and two years since the beer bottle incident. My introspection has skyrocketed in the past year, but I have failed to craft my thoughts into words. In one of my courses this semester, Ethics: Human Goodness, we have been discussing the power of narrative and the importance of documenting our experiences. Ideas for blog posts pop into my mind quite frequently, and I am grateful for this class for finally re-catalyzing my commitment to sharing my adventures and expressing my feelings here. One post cannot make up for a year’s absence, and I promise that I will get back to my lighthearted stories soon. Today, however, I will focus on something deeper, the greatest lesson I’ve learned in the past several months- the power of believing.

FullSizeRender-3

If you ask me to describe myself, my passion for running immediately comes to mind. My athletic identity is perpetually salient, as, to a large extent, I centralize my life around this sport and its culture. Aside from the physical activity of running, I begin each day by reading Runner’s World magazine, have a Twitter solely for the purpose of following elite runners, and schedule all of my holiday plans around races. When I think about the future, where I’ll be in five or ten years from now, I imagine traveling to different races, setting new goals, and surpassing them. I am a runner at heart- yet for the past several months, proximal hamstring tendinosis has kept me sidelined. I have felt an emotional overload like never before- anger from being entrapped in the dungeon of the gymnasium, confined to the elliptical rather than free to roam the forest preserves; anger at the time and money I have spent on failed treatments from orthopedics, physical therapists, massage therapists, and chiropractors. Sadness from missing out on an abundance of races, including next week’s Chicago Marathon, and simply of being unable to engage in my most beloved activity; sadness that causes me to cry myself to sleep more often than I’d like. Confusion as to why this is happening to me right now, when I was in such good shape and loving running more than ever before; confusion as to what I have done to deserve this and why all of my autoimmune conditions make healing so difficult for my body. My injury has made little improvement in several months, and I have not been able to run since February. But for some reason, perhaps irrational, I keep holding on to this little bit of hope, believing that things will get better.

FullSizeRender-2

If you look around my apartment, it’s clear that “believe” is my favorite word- it’s plastered on my bulletin board, training journal, medal rack, and a canvas. This word has been special to me for a while, but in the past few months, it has become the mantra that I live by. I would be the last person expected to get a tattoo (can’t you just imagine me having an allergic reaction?!) yet connecting my mind and body through this word has definitely crossed my mind. Sometimes I wonder if I should just give up hope of getting better and returning to running- but I just can’t. I have a plethora of life goals, and running is what most excites me about the future. Running is engrained in my identity, and it is too important to simply discard. Based on experiences I’ve encountered and witnessed, I do not believe that everything happens for a reason. I am not a religiously devout individual, and I am not sure that I believe in god. Recently, however, I have coped with adversity by establishing my own faith- believing that things will get better. My personal spirituality is synonymous with “believe.” It has allowed me to make peace with my injured body, focus on circumstances that are in my control, and not let go of my dreams. Believe.

Believe

Jim

An Empowering Encounter

I have been pretty terrible about updating my blog lately. Since I’ve been back at Emory, I’ve only posted once. Thoughts of new posts constantly come to mind, yet with classes, research, volunteering, extracurricular activities, and of course, running, I just haven’t found the time to write. This weekend, however, was very special- in the midst of stressful schoolwork and homesickness, I had a chance encounter that completely restored my faith in humanity.

It began Friday afternoon when, after picking up my race bib and t-shirt for Saturday’s Winship Win the Fight 5k, I was walking to a lab meeting. Suddenly, an older man approached me and asked about my ankle. I was quite surprised, but he seemed friendly, so I briefly explained the beer bottle incident, which coincidentally happened exactly one year ago (the Friday afternoon before the Winship 5k, which I had been planning on running!) Surprisingly, the man seemed relieved. We continued talking, and it turned out that Jim is a melanoma survivor. His calf was affected by cancer, and the sight of my ankle had worried him. I asked him if he was running the race, which he was, and we began discussing our favorite races and times. As we parted ways, we wished each other luck, and he told me that he hoped to see me on the podium tomorrow. That would have been enough. Sad as it is to say, it’s not everyday that a random stranger strikes up a conversation with you. I thought about Jim for the rest of the day and what a special encounter it had been.

Come race morning, I was warming up with tears in my eyes. I could hear the Winship Cancer Institute speakers, which made me think about my cousin Jimmy, a pediatric oncologist, who passed away a few years ago. I hadn’t realized what an emotional event this race would be, and as I finished my warm up, I heard, “let’s hope there’s no beer bottles on the course this early in the morning.” I turned around, and there was Jim! We entered the start corral together and discussed our families and backgrounds while waiting for the gun to fire. This was the first race I’ve run without knowing anyone- in fact, I’d never run a race without my mom or dad on the course or in the crowds. While the race was held on Emory’s campus and had around 3,000 runners, walkers, and joggers, I did not see any fellow students! It wasn’t really the type of event one typically attends alone- there were teams with hundreds of people in matching t-shirts, groups of cancer survivors, and families running in honor of loved ones. But I did not feel alone at all- I had made a lovely acquaintance, and I was running for a compelling cause.

It was a challenging course (the name of the area, Druid Hills, gives it away) but my endorphins were in full gear. I was the third female to cross the finish line, but rather than analyzing my splits and cooling down, I just wanted to see Jim finish- and he did, in under 26 minutes, and was handed a white flower, indicating he was a cancer survivor. And Jim was right- we did see each other on the podium! We both placed in our age group, and he was elated that both he and “his adopted daughter for the day” had medaled.

I had been on cloud nine the whole day after my encounter with Jim when I received an email from him. Without knowing anything about me but my first name and that I was an Emory student, Jim had found my blog. He deeply touched my life, and it seems I made an impact on him as well. I don’t know what else to say about this weekend. Jim has the spirit of runner- a fighter, an unstoppable machine, a pure human being. We were brought together by chance, and I hope to see him at next year’s race. Jim made me appreciate running, living, and human goodness more than ever before. Miracle moments like these are few and far between, but they truly are empowering.

Jim

photo-22

Change: Goodbyes & New Beginnings

Change is something I have always struggled with. This is not unusual- as human beings, we are creatures of habit- yet I have always felt I experience more anxiety than my peers. Perhaps my medical conditions are to blame- a new environment means a new sleeping, eating, and exercise schedule, which can (and has!) thrown off my blood sugar (I have had to get up almost hourly in the night for the past week to check my blood sugar and often have glucose.) A new environment means new people to educate about my allergies (more detailed post coming soon!) A new environment means being away from the comfort of my family. So how do I deal with the stress of change as I transition from a relaxed summer at home to sophomore year at Emory? I cling to the activity I can always bring along- running.

photo-22

It might sound strange then, that the day before leaving for school, I finally decided to donate my old running shoes. Facebook was bombarded by the Ice Bucket Challenge and while I didn’t particularly want to dump ice on my head, all the hype lead me to think of an easy act of goodness. Just as I have trouble with change, I have trouble parting ways with the things and people that I love. Therefore, I had seven pairs of Nike Lunarglides piled in my laundry room, too worn on the bottoms to run in but otherwise perfectly fine. My mom had been nagging me (along with my dad and brother) to get rid of these useless shoes for quite sometime, but I always refused, explaining the value of all the miles each pair of shoes had carried me in and the memories that they brought back.

Heart

 

Well, since I was all packed and had nothing to do on that last day, I took all of my running shoes outside, got Daniel’s as well, and had a running shoe photo shoot. It provided an hour of entertainment, some of my favorite photos, and a realization- I had a ridiculous amount of shoes for no reason. I did some research online and found an organization called Share Your Soles, which donates shoes to severely impoverished people in several parts of the world. My shoes have been with me for a long time, but it’s time to give someone else a new beginning.

 

So next time you’re dealing with a change in life- however large or small it might be- find something constant to take with you. I find it best if it’s an activity you can do alone- something to bring you comfort and clear your mind- but even better is when you can take your passion and find others with similar interests. I’m trying a new strategy I’d like to call the “say yes” approach- when someone asks me to do something for these first few weeks of school, I’m going to say yes as much as possible. It’s worked- I’ve already found some great new buddies for morning runs!

photo.PNG

 

 

bibbook1

No Risk No Reward + DIY Race Bib Book!

Nearly every Saturday morning this summer, I have dragged my mom along to accompany me on my long runs. Perhaps dragged is not the correct word- she admits to enjoying biking alongside me on the trails. However, every Friday night, she questions my motives- “Why do you have to run ten miles?” She has a point- I have no upcoming long races on the calendar, and my body could probably use some rest- but these longs runs are the highlight of my week. While they can be physically and mentally exhausting, they are what make me happiest.

Whether or not you’re a runner, I think it’s nearly impossible not to be fascinated by the runner’s mentality. We push our body through pain, as overcoming doubt and challenge makes us feel like we can conquer anything. With each tough run, we grow stronger, eventually reach our goals, and thus set new ones. As runners, we constantly push ourselves through suffering because we know it will ultimately make us better people. This summer, I’ve collected a variety of quotes about this phenomenon. Here are some of my favorites:

“People ask why I run. I say, ‘If you have to ask, you will never understand.’ It is something that only those select few know. Those who put themselves through pain, but know, deep down, how good if feels.” -Erin Leonard

“If you’re doing it right, at some point you will want to drop out of just about every race you run.” -Mark Remy

“Stepping outside the comfort zone is the price I pay to find out how good I can be. If I planned on backing off every time winning got difficult, I would hang up my shoes and take up knitting.” -Olympian Desiree Linden

“Happiness is pushing your limits and watching them back down” -New Balance Ad

So challenge brings us the greatest happiness- quite fascinating, in my opinion at least!

I had been searching for a creative way to display my race bibs for quite some time, so I decided to make them into a book. Like my medal rack, my race bib book is already giving me running motivation and exciting me for the future. This book was extremely simple to make and only cost a few dollars (not including hundreds of dollars in race fees!) All of the materials can be found at Target, and you can customize it however you like.

bibbook1

bibbook2

 

All you need is a bright polypropylene folder, two loose-leaf rings, Sharpies, a hole puncher, and scissors. Cut the folder to a size that is a little larger than your largest bib (I cut mine to about 9 x 9.5″) and decorate however you would like. Line up your bibs in chronological order and place on rings. If you have bibs of different sizes, you may have to punch holes in the larger bibs. Simply punch corresponding holes in the folder, place on rings, and you’re done!

You may be thinking, “I don’t have any race bibs to place in this book.” Well, if you create this, think of all the motivation it will give you to race🙂

photo 2-2

Southwest Salad

I’m calling this recipe Southwest Salad, but in my house it’s just known as “Melissa’s Salad.” I could go on and on about how much I love this salad- it’s bursting with flavor and is filled with healthy veggies. Many of the ingredients shown are canned, but it tastes even better with fresh produce from a farmer’s market (I had already depleted my weekly local supply when I decided to take this photo!) The recipe below serves three. I eat this salad almost every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night for dinner- and no, I never get tired of it! It’s evolved over the years, as I’ve based it off of a variety of salads that I’ve seen in restaurants but could not order because of my food allergies. It’s my go-to weekend meal, and I hope it will become yours as well!

photo 1-2

Southwest Salad

6 c salad greens

½ cucumber, sliced

1 carrot, chopped

1 tomato, chopped

Green onions, chopped

1 can black beans, drained and rinsed

1½ c corn

1 can beets, drained and chopped

1 avocado, diced

Fresh Gourmet Santa Fe Style tortilla strips

Kraft Catalina dressing

 

Combine above ingredients in large bowl. Sprinkle with tortilla strips and toss with Catalina dressing.

photo 2-2

 

Since my family couldn’t get over last week’s ice cream cake goodness, we decided to try a mint Oreo version! Instead of crushed candy canes, I added a cup of chopped mint Oreos to the vanilla ice cream, along with some peppermint extract. We can’t decide which version we like better- you should try them both!

 photo-22

Believe

This week, I finally got around to hanging up the medal rack that I purchased at last month’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon Chicago. It was a splurge, but I can already tell that it was well worth it. Every morning this week, I have woken up and immediately been reminded why I run. Each medal has a story, representing not just the physical race, but what was going on in my life at the time. But more inspiring than the medals themselves is the word they hang from- believe.

“Believe” is, in my opinion, the most powerful word, and I strive to think of this word in times of challenge- whether it’s ten miles into a half marathon, in the middle of a difficult chemistry exam, or even in certain social situations of doubt. In the absence of belief, where lies the mere possibility of success?

One of my favorite quotes, said by Thomas Jefferson, is “If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done before.” Believing in yourself is the first step.

Pick a word that energizes you and aligns with whatever your personal goals may be- whether they’re related to running, academics, or exercising vigilant care over a chronic disease. Perhaps your word may be “calm,” “preserve,” “strong,” “focus,” “forward,” “smile,” “patience,” “appreciate,” or anything that motivates you towards progress.

I haven’t had the best running week- I’ve gotten in my normal mileage, but I’ve felt quite exhausted and sluggish. However, every  time I see the word “believe” plastered on my wall, I know that I must get out the door and do my best. I urge you to choose a word and place it somewhere as a constant reminder. I hope you find as much encouragement as I have- comment below!