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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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.

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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 🙂

Behind the Facade

 

It is a blessing yet a curse. A relief yet a disguise. While I am small and may appear young for my age, from the outside, I look like a healthy teenage girl. For the most part, I am- I eat a balanced diet of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins; I exercise daily; I try my best to prioritize sleep- I do all that I can to live a healthy life. What no one can see, however, is what is going on inside my body- what I cannot see, what I cannot control- an antibody overload.

I was diagnosed with my life-threatening food allergies when I was a baby, and I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes during my freshman year of high school, so about four and a half years ago. Therefore, you would think that, by now, I would be accustomed to the challenges of managing these chronic medical conditions. Numbers would verify your assertion- my last episode of anaphylaxis was to a bee sting (something out of my control,) and I have not had a food-related anaphylaxis episode since I was in elementary school and ate a cookie with trace amounts of milk (the cookie was then sent to the FDA, and the company was shut down!) My hemoglobin A1c is consistently near five percent- meaning that my blood sugar is comparable to that of a non-diabetic individual. Based on these scientific facts, you would think I am the perfect example of a teen successfully managing food allergies and diabetes. You would think that these conditions do not bother me on a daily basis. You would think that I have become fully acculturated to these medical hardships. I wish I could say you were right, but I cannot.

I want to illustrate my point with a hypothetical situation similar to one I’ve dealt with before. For situations involving multiple nights away from home or airplane travel, multiply the stress and preparation by ten.

It’s the afternoon of my sorority formal. Nervous excitement fills the air as my friends scamper to get ready. Does this dress make me look fat? Who is good at curling hair? Which purse goes best with these shoes? How far do you think they’ll go? I hope he likes me. I hope this night lasts forever. Typical college-girl anxieties.

In my head, quite different thoughts arise. Is it better to leave my comfort zone and possibly cause a scene at a restaurant I’ve never been to while trying to explain my allergies or to bring my own safe food? Is it worth it to fit in but risk a reaction? If I bring my own food, how will I keep it cold until we get there? The hotel assured me that they would provide a refrigerator for my room, but what if it’s not there? What if it’s too cold for my insulin (don’t want a repeat of the school nurse freezing my turkey on the 7th grade Springfield trip!)How many extra sandwiches should I bring? What if our group decides to stay in Atlanta later than planned the next day? How many cups of Cheerios? I need to measure mine out in advance to know how many carbs I’m eating- but what if my friends see my food and ask to share? I don’t want to be rude. Should I just bring the whole box? I’ll bring my own bar of soap, but what if the hotel’s soap contains milk or almonds (also don’t want a repeat of a playgroup party where everyone washed their hands in effort to keep me safe but ended up making me sick!) How many lancets should I bring? Pen needles? Alcohol swabs? Where will I put my purse during the dance? Most girls will hand their guy their cell phone to stick in his pocket, but I don’t think all of my supplies- two EpiPens, Benadryl, meter, insulin pen, and glucose- will fit. I hate looking like an obnoxious girl who can’t bear to leave her oversized purse- I wish everyone could just know the reason why. How left out will I feel when my friends are drinking? Will people think I’m no fun? What if my date and I hit it off and he tries to kiss me? I can pretty much guarantee he will have eaten something I’m allergic to within the past few hours. What if I need medical help and everyone is too drunk to notice or care?

These thoughts seem to belong to a ridiculously anxious person- one who fears everyday life. I do not fear daily life, and I take every opportunity I can to embrace my food allergies and diabetes. But these are the thoughts that run through my head- I presume that, upon looking at me, no one would imagine this. I am different. By no means do I wish that my medical conditions defined my outward appearance, but it does make it harder for my peers to understand. By no means is it their fault-only other individuals living with similar challenges would know how I feel.

So as we are getting ready, I reply to my friends- No, that dress does not make you look fat. My hair is naturally curly, so I cannot help with that. I think your silver clutch is killer with those platforms. I’m really excited for tonight too- but am I? Yes, of course I am- it’s my first college formal, after all. The nervous excitement is contagious, and I’ve heard spectacular stories about this weekend from the older girls.

I wish I could shed the weight that all of my medical preparations bear upon me. I wish I could have the same worries as a typical college girl. But my allergies and diabetes have made me the person that I am. While these medical conditions are sometimes considered disabilities, in several ways, it is easy to see them as abilities- instilling within me the persistence and perseverance that make me an endurance runner, the discipline and drive that make me a strong student, and the conscientiousness and responsibility that make me a loyal friend.