Lighting the Flame

Lighting the Flame

My first-ever run was on a hot summer afternoon at sixth grade cross-country practice. I hated it. Every afternoon I purposely ran on roots, sticks, and uneven ground hoping I would trip, fall, break an ankle, and never have to run again. I quit the team within two weeks.

Three months later, I was watching a video my science teacher had created about his mini-marathon training program. His classroom was adorned with race bibs and finisher medals, and he had an infectious endorphin-fueled outlook on life. In the dimly lit halls of my middle school, this teacher was a ray of light. Every year he coordinated a program for students to train and race the Indianapolis Mini Marathon together. It was a daunting challenge, especially considering I had declared my hatred for the sport, but with encouragement from my teacher and pressure from my peers, I signed up. My parents doubted me, and for good reason, I couldn’t finish a three-kilometer race — but I was determined.

Training began in February. We ran laps inside the middle school, and by “ran,” I mean we sprinted down hallways, giggled at boys, and walked until we had to run and hide from our pre-pubescent emotions again. It was fun.

As we shifted our training to the outdoors in the spring, my dad decided to join me. Twice a week we ran, together. Slowly, deliberately, gleefully. While it wasn’t quite as “cool” to be running with my dad, I cherished these miles. My father taught me the mantra, “slow and steady wins the race,” which became the soundtrack of my journey as a runner. Miles ticked by as I vented to him about the tribulations of being a twelve-year-old girl. He listened as I lamented about cliques, classes, and life’s lack of fairness. He provided insight and wisdom, laughter and inspiration. He taught me confidence, self-belief, and humility. He believed in me when I didn’t know how. He could see a soft flame flickering within me, waiting to be ignited.

Middle school Samantha racing the Indianapolis Mini Marathon

We ran my first half-marathon together, stride for stride, without walking a single step. It took three hours, and most of my peers beat me. But I finished my first race, with my best friend and greatest training partner, and it was exhilarating.

I kept running.

Over the next three years I ran multiple half marathons, each faster than the last. There was no more chasing boys, just miles. My dad continued to be my trusted training partner, and I started to run with my mom as well. She became my sounding board for life’s conflicts, failures, frustrations, and victories. We shared laughter, tears, wisdom, and love on the pavement. My parents were so much more than training partners; they became trusted confidants and mentors. They taught me to run, and eventually, like a child riding without training wheels for the first time, they let me run without them.

It was in this solitude that I found myself.

Every footfall, mile, and race was an opportunity to discover another layer within myself, to dig deep into my adolescent mind and find so much more than a mess of hormones. I unraveled every layer, finding my relentless drive, deep anxiety, and enduring tenacity; I found my need for acceptance, longing for validation, and hunger for a challenge. I continue to peel away these layers today. The solitude of a quiet run pulls back each layer revealing my vulnerable, raw, and unearthed remains, building this intricate account of myself I aspire to know.

Running is my sanctuary. It is where the push and pull of my muscles brings stillness and calm to my mind. It is where the comforting rhythm of my breathing reminds me that I’m alive. It is where I find myself — broken, grateful, whole, and yet never complete. One footfall after another, running is where my story begins.


This story was originally published with the Lane 9 Project here.

NEDA Week Day 3: Running Away

NEDA Week Day 3: Running Away
NEDA Week Day 3: A (complicated) relationship with running

I started running when I was 12. The sport taught me resilience and the merits of grit and determination. During a time of social angst and growing academic stress, running was my sanctuary. It freed me from my anxiety and fears – every mile a reprieve from this internal battle. I relished my strength and marveled at what my body could do. There came a point, however, when things shifted. Continue reading “NEDA Week Day 3: Running Away”

Part II: Lighting the Flame

Part II: Lighting the Flame

As promised, Part II of my journey as an athlete and woman begins with my first-ever run. This fateful run was on a hot summer afternoon at sixth grade cross-country practice. I hated it. Every afternoon I purposely ran on the roots, sticks and uneven ground hoping I would trip, fall, break an ankle and never have to run again. I quit the team within two weeks.

Three months later, I found myself watching a video my science teacher had created about his mini-marathon training program. His classroom was adorned with race bibs and finisher medals, and he had an infectious endorphin-fueled outlook on life. In the dimly lit halls of my middle school, this teacher was a ray of light. Every year he coordinated a program for students to train and race the Indianapolis Mini Marathon together. It was a daunting challenge, especially considering I had declared my hatred for the sport, but with encouragement from my teacher and pressure from my peers, I signed up. My parents doubted me, and for good reason – I couldn’t finish a three-kilometer race – but I was determined.

Training began in February. We ran laps inside of the middle school, and by “ran,” I mean we sprinted down hallways, giggled at boys, and walked until we had to run and hide from our pre-pubescent emotions again. It was fun.

As we shifted our training to the outdoors in the spring, my dad decided to join me. Twice a week we ran, together. Slowly, deliberately, gleefully. While it wasn’t quite as “cool” to be running with my dad instead of chasing boys, I cherished these miles. My father taught me the mantra, “slow and steady wins the race,” and this became the soundtrack of my journey to become a runner. Miles ticked by as I vented to him about the tribulations of being a twelve-year-old girl. He listened as I lamented about boys, cliques, classes, and the constant lack of fairness in the world. He provided insight and wisdom, laughter and inspiration. He taught me confidence, self-belief and humility. He believed in me when I didn’t know how. He could see a soft flame flickering within me, just waiting to be ignited.

We ran my first half-marathon together, stride for stride, without walking a single step. It took three hours, and most of my peers beat me. But I finished my first race, with my best friend and greatest training partner, and it was exhilarating.

I kept running.

Over the next three years I ran multiple half marathons, each faster than the last. There was no more chasing boys, just miles. My dad continued to be my trusted training partner, and I started to run with my mom as well. She became my sounding board for life’s conflicts, failures, frustrations, and victories. We shared laughter, tears, wisdom, and love on the pavement. My parents were so much more than training partners; they became trusted confidants, mentors, and my best friends. They taught me to run, and eventually, like a child riding without training wheels for the first time, they let me run without them.

It was in this solitude that I found myself. Every footfall, mile, and race was an opportunity to discover another layer within myself, to dig deep into my twelve-year-old mind and find so much more than a mess of raging hormones. I unraveled every layer, finding my relentless drive, deep anxiety, and enduring tenacity; I found my need for acceptance, longing for validation, and hunger for a challenge. I continue to peel away these layers today. The solitude of a quiet run or ride pulls back each layer revealing my vulnerable, raw and unearthed remains, building this intricate account of myself I aspire to know.

The pavement is my sanctuary. It is where I leave the rubble in search of peace. It is where the comforting rhythm of my breathing reminds me I’m alive. It is where I find myself – broken, blessed, whole, and yet never complete. The pavement is where my story begins.

Middle-school Samantha realizing running is about more than chasing boys down the hallway.
Middle-school Samantha realizing running is about more than chasing boys down the hallway.

Running, Granola and a Fantastic Semester – Some Updates

Running, Granola and a Fantastic Semester – Some Updates

First things first – I am thrilled to share some exciting news: I am partnering with BeeFree Gluten Free, a Noblesville, Ind. based gluten-free bakery! A sponsorship centered around quality gluten-free food… this is a triathlete’s dream.

I first came across BeeFree’s products at a farmer’s market a few years ago; BeeFree was a beacon of hope in the mess that was my newly diagnosed gluten-intolerance. The way to my heart is through quality, healthy ingredients… and granola. BeeFree has both. And cookies. I’m very excited to join the hive and officially join the BeeFree family!

BeeFree thrives on using quality ingredients to bake gluten-free products that are not an alternative to the standard glutenous baked good, but the main dish. My favorite product is their Warrior Mix, BeeFree’s take on granola. It’s a paleo and wholesome mix of nuts, seeds, honey and the occasional bit of chocolate. While I am not paleo, I am in love with Warrior Mix. This stuff is more than granola – it’s fuel. It sticks with you. Warrior Mix manages to keep me full and satisfied between class, training and the occasional New Girl binge-watching session. I’m anxious to experiment with some Warrior Mix on hard training days, particularly on long rides.

In addition to this exciting new partnership, I have some other exciting news – I’m running again! After 15 weeks of aqua-jogging, physical therapy and patience, I laced up my running shoes for a slow and steady return to running. After nearly three months free from running, we are starting at ground zero – every run has a focus on form, cadence and learning to listen to my body’s cues and physical signals – something I had forgotten how to do since becoming more competitive with my training and racing. Every run hasn’t been perfect, but I am becoming more in tune with my body and developing a keen ear for its pains, strengths and weaknesses.

It’s been a slow build, and that’s the way it should be. Slow and steady will win this race. Here are some notes from my training log along the return to run progression:

Run No. 1 – 5 minutes of “running:” “I think my right glute may be super weak, in fact I don’t think it’s really working… But the pain went away as soon as I stopped running. Before when I stopped running I couldn’t move or walk… so that’s major progress!”

Run No. 5 – 3×5 minutes of running/5 minutes of walking: “… There were a couple of minutes where I felt like a bona fide runner again! It was awesome! I stretched, did core and drank Osmo after like a good triathlete.”

Run No. 10 – 3×12 minutes of running/3 minutes of walking: “This was awesome! My endurance is lacking, but I think that’s mental more than anything… I’m excited!”

Run No. 13: 2×15 minutes of running/2 minutes of walking: “I felt SO GOOD. I didn’t want to stop running. Ever.”

Run No. 17: 25 minutes, letting the stride open up and rolling into some effort: “Well this was awkward. Running a little bit faster confused my legs… they felt like they need to be screwed together a little tighter. My shins, and feet, and ankles were a nuisance.”

Run No. 19: 35 minutes“I LOVE RUNNING.

Run No. 20: 5×5 minutes of running with harder efforts: “Oomph. My legs forgot how to run again.”

Run No. 25: 40 minutes: “Best run of 2015! I FOUND MY STRIDE. It was glorious. It only lasted seven minutes, but it was the best seven minutes ever.”

So, the last few weeks have been filled with some ups and downs, but I’m excited about where we’re headed. The 2015 season is about reclaiming my health, physically, emotionally and mentally. We’re starting from the ground up, and every brick is going to be a solid one. I won’t be racing many big races this year, but I will be building a strong and solid foundation. You have to be strong to be fit, and you have to be fit to be fast. I’m setting my ego aside this year, taking it slow, and remembering to trust and listen to my body. It knows a lot more than I do.

House of Cards Trainer workout

House of Cards Trainer workout

With half of the nation blanketed in feet of snow and coping with sub-zero temperatures, the trainer has become my worst enemy and unfortunate fitness saver. Despite this testy relationship, I have found a way to salvage my training and numbing mind: House of Cards. More specifically, a House of Cards drinking-game-turned-turbo-session. With the third season on its way Feb. 27, there is no better time to Netflix-binge, via bicycle of course.

The House of Cards binge-watching drinking game turned cycling workout:

Patent pending.

(Warning: there may be subtle spoilers.)

This workout may only be completed while binge-watching House of Cards. Preferably for at least 2 hours. Follow these rules:

5 minutes big gear, low cadence – every time Frank uses the rowing machine or Clare goes for a run

30 seconds sprint – every time Frank raps his knuckles

2 minutes out of seat, big gear – every time Frank talks to the camera AND every time Stamper saves the day

1 minute high cadence (120+) – every action related to an extramarital affair AND every time Gillian talks about pregnancy (season 2 only)

2 minutes 100% effort: Freddy’s BBQ

Single leg drills – Every time you’re grossed out by Zoe’s apartment (season 1 only)

10 minutes tempo – Every time someone is murdered/”dies”

10 second supersprint/death – Every time someone drinks alcohol AND every time Frank and/or Clare smokes

Gratitude, Opportunity, and Another Injury

Gratitude, Opportunity, and Another Injury

Nothing goes according to plan. Especially when you don’t get the time to form a plan.

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed some tightness in my right hip. Nothing major, just a little stiffness after my weekly long run. Five days later, I noticed the pain again during a run. This time, it persisted. My right glute completely stopped firing. I stopped, stretched, and tried to run again; only it resembled more of a hobble. An extremely painful hobble. In a matter of seconds the pain had jumped from a two to an eleven (out of ten). I resorted to limping home. In my eight years of running I have ended three training runs in tears and a handful earlier than planned, but I have never had to walk home. I pulled out my phone and did what I always do when I don’t know what to do and feel tears welling in my eyes. I called my mom.

I’m not sure what I expected her to do, being two hours away, but it was better than limping home completely alone. That afternoon I went to the people who have helped me through every injury, blight and mishap of the last eight years: St. Vincent Sports Performance.

Now, one MRI and multiple puzzling looks later, I know the diagnosis: A stress fracture of the femoral neck.

The femoral neck is apparently somewhat important, who knew!
The femoral neck is apparently somewhat important, who knew!

With every injury, I tell myself that I will come back stronger and faster; however, I rarely have the opportunity to find out if this hope is true, because I always get injured again, too soon to tap into my potential.

My first stress fracture came six years ago, the week before I started my freshman year of high school. I had just kept up with the top varsity group during a tempo run; it was a breakthrough workout. I had trained hard all summer and was finally seeing the results. After practice we ran some strides, and my lower right leg seized up. I went from bullet proof to limping in a matter of minutes. The school’s athletic trainer recommended I see a doctor. The next day I was diagnosed with my first tibial stress fracture and sentenced to six weeks in the boot.

I cross-trained like my life depended on it. I could come back. I could still race Sectionals. There was still time. Six weeks passed, and my healing was stagnant. Eight weeks passed, and I was still in the boot. Ten weeks passed, and I got to jog one lap around the track.

At Sectionals, I remember seeing my dry, chapped hand in the pile as we held our race start huddle. I remember collecting my teammates’ sweatshirts and carrying them back to the team tent. I remember hearing the gun go off. I remember bending over to readjust the straps on my boot.

I have endured seven additional stress injuries since freshman year. Each injury was a test: a test of my emotional, mental and physical resilience. And I failed many times. I’ve repeatedly fallen back into the rut I had fought so hard to escape. I was stubborn. I was anxious. I was in a dark place, and I saw no way out.

With each stress fracture came a feeling of losing control, over my body, over my future, over my outlook on life. Each time I came to love myself less and loathe myself more. Why does this keep happening to me? Why can’t I run like the other girls? Why are these doctors accusing me of these things? I was in a state of utter devastation. I had placed my entire identity on running, and I lost it, every year, every season. I searched for a sanctuary, for a place to feel safe. But it’s hard to find solitude when the thing you’re running from is yourself.

Looking back, I now understand why I never completely healed, physically or mentally. I can easily see the mistakes I made with each recurring injury, prompting the next one. I refused to stop training, fearful of the lost fitness from even a day’s worth of rest. I became obsessive and controlling over my food intake, irrationally fearing the effects of not running. I placed immense pressure on myself to control something I have no power over.

I lost control.

I sobbed in the corner of the trainer’s room. I blamed everything on myself. I channeled all of my love into my desire to return to my lost sport and all of my hatred into my broken body. Self-loathing became my sport. But, eventually so did healing.

With each stress fracture came a little more wisdom and a little more experience to tuck away for later use. Questions started to be answered. Adversity turned into opportunity. I was diagnosed with osteoporosis and discovered my body was not properly absorbing nutrients due to gluten-intolerance. I learned to fuel properly and build bone density. I joined the high school swim team. I completed my first athletic season injury-free. I fostered a newfound love for cycling. My yoga mat became a safe haven I continue to turn to today. I shifted my identity from athlete to student and turned to my studies for solitude. I developed psychological techniques to hone and sharpen my mental toughness. I learned to control the controllables.

And now, six years after my first stress fracture, my body is testing me. My body is forcing me to tap into these lessons, or face the consequences. My mind is toeing the edge of that rocky cliff I have fallen over so many times, drowning me in overwhelming doubt. It’s one thing to shake off others’ doubts and to know that no matter how many people question you and your abilities, you can always turn back to yourself. You know that this dream is legitimate and real. You know that stirring feeling you get deep in your gut is not the result of indigestion, but your untapped potential, stirring, waiting to be awakened.

But – it’s a little hard to believe in yourself when you’re the one halting the dream. When your body is the one preventing you from moving forward. When your brittle bones are filling your heart and mind with uncertainty. Knowing that your body is causing this gnawing disappointment and aching grief – that makes this whole believe-in-yourself thing a little harder.

Today, I am fighting the urge to degrade my worth with each swing of my crutches. I am battling the demons within my head telling me to start restricting my food intake. I am shutting out the uncertainty and doubts telling me that everyone else is training. That everyone else is healthier, faster, stronger. That I already had so much work to do. That I’ve lost any chance to ever catch them. I am fighting to keep that stirring, hungry potential deep down inside of me alive.

I have gone years thinking no one believed in me. That I was navigating this rocky journey alone. Low and behold, there was just one person who didn’t believe in me all along. And that person was me.

As I set forth on this recovery, I will be healing more than a broken bone. I will be mending the emotional scars from years of doubt, broken promises and untapped potential. I will be replacing self-doubt with determination. Fear of failure with patience and diligence. Self-loathing and guilt with love and gratitude. I am setting out to learn to love and believe in myself. I have the experience; I have the knowledge; I have learned the lessons, now it’s time to apply them. And, as long as we’re being completely honest, pop obscene amounts of calcium supplements.


I will be sharing insights, blunders and epiphanies throughout my recovery process on this blog and via Twitter and Instagram. 2014 was a rough year to say the least. Follow me along as I use this injury as an opportunity to prepare for a stronger, faster and healthier 2015 from the ground up.

Worlds Recap – what a race.

Worlds Recap – what a race.

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Unforgettable. Exhilarating. Bliss.

Running down the signature blue-carpeted finish chute, American flag in hand, smile across my face, hands high in triumph – that is the lasting image from my experience at the ITU World Triathlon Grand Final.

It was unforgettable. It was exhilarating. It was my bliss.

The race was fast, fun and left me wide-eyed like a toddler at Disney World, begging to do it again.

Here’s a recap: 

While the race consists of the swim, bike and run, my favorite part is in the minutes before the gun goes off – the brief moments where you are not competitors but companions. The friendship, the laughter and the mutual hatred for neoprene and spandex create lasting bonds among a group of international strangers. Prior to the start, I had the opportunity to reconnect with friends from Arizona, Colorado, Brazil and Mexico. We embraced without hesitation, thrilled to see a familiar face and share a nervous smile. The bonds fostered before the gun are stronger than the stitching in our wetsuits. As we were led to the starting corrals, by a Canadian with a bagpipe I might add, one would think we were catching up over coffee – discussing college, training and rekindling friendships. Laughter echoed throughout the pack, and you couldn’t help but smile. On the course we are fierce, fast and unforgiving, but in the minutes before that gun goes off, we’re smiling, huddled together for warmth and laughing at the awkward starts of the men’s waves before us (sorry guys…). Nothing can replace the camaraderie – with women from Australia to Britain to the cornfields of Indiana, for just a few minutes we are a team – we are in this together.

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As we lined up for the mass swim start, murmurs of “good luck” were heard, but it is the communal silence – the flighting seconds where weeks of preparation, or lack thereof in some cases, nerves, journal entries and doubts come together, creating an inescapable wall, a blockade between you and your potential. We were all facing this wall. As we waited, poised to strike, the silence, the stillness and the tranquility of those brief seconds unveiled each wall. Alone we cannot climb it, but together, we can.

The gun went off. We stormed into the water. My wall fell down.

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The swim:

I had one goal going into the swim: survive. After my experience at Collegiate Nationals I have feared every open water swim – fear of a repeat VCD attack. Fear of falling prey to panic and anxiety. Fear of failure. The swim course is two laps around a small island – I had swam one lap a couple days prior to the race and created a plan: if I was able to find stillness and calm around the second buoy of the first lap in the practice swim, then I should be able to do so within the third buoy of the race. I started on the far edge of the platform – hoping to stay out of everyone’s way.

“Strong and sustainable. Calm and collected.”

I repeated this mantra to myself throughout the first 300 meters. I made it to the first buoy without a kick to the head, being swum over or getting punched. I was safe. I got into my position in a small chase pack and held it. My ROKA wetsuit was comfortable, fast and didn’t pinch at my throat, helping me stay calm. I focused on breathing and sighting through the second and third buoy – and then something strange happened. I passed a couple of women. That never happens. I stayed calm and stuck to the plan – get through the first lap. I maneuvered around another buoy and found myself lodged in another pack – a combination of the lead pack from the wave after us and the chase pack in my own wave. There was some thrashing and contact, but I got through it unscathed and stuck to the plan. Strong and sustainable. Calm and collected. I held my position throughout the second loop and found myself smiling in the water, repeating a different mantra this time.

“This is Worlds, Samantha. YOU’RE RACING IN FREAKING WORLDS.”

I picked up the pace a bit through the final lap. I’ve never enjoyed the swim leg before. It’s much more fun.

T1:

Transition was long – as in over 400 meters of waddling in my wetsuit to get to my bike long. My ROKA was easy to slip off, and I took assessment of the bikes around me – some were still there! This was different. Like a robot I went through my automated transition routine, sunglasses, helmet, shoes, bike, go. While I have yet to find the confidence to manage any derivative of a flying mount, I had a faster bike mount that most of the women who did the flying mount. While they were fumbling with getting their feet into their shoes I flew past, strong and ready to go. On to the bike.

The Bike:

The bike was also two loops, winding through Edmonton and its surrounding countryside. It was beautiful, with just a couple of tougher climbs scattered on the course. I had one mission on the bike – to hammer. After months of injury, my run fitness was nowhere near where I wanted it to be, but I had been consistently on the bike all summer. While there hadn’t been a lot of race specific training, I got more miles on the roads this summer than I ever have, and I was ready to give it a go. Despite the race being non-drafting, meaning you have to stay at least three bike lengths from the rider in front of you, drafting was rampant. Women worked together in packs, even racing in rotating pace lines. It was frustrating. Half of the battle was keeping my legal distance, the other half was finding my edge and passing it. I’m still learning to ride hard and redline on the roads – I have no qualms with nose to stem death-wish trainer sessions, but when it comes to being a bona-fide cyclist, I have a lot of work to do.

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I pushed it. I rode as hard as I could, and I realized that I have the engine to be competitive, it’s just a matter of training it for the task at hand. I passed women, rode hard and tried to integrate some strategy into my race. My race strategy included:

Lap 1: Ride hard. Hammer. Smile.

Lap 2. Drop whatever is left of the hammer. Love it.

Watching Siri Lindley (renowned triathlete and world-class coach – she coaches many of my idols) on the sidelines of Paula Findlay’s race just two days before mine reminded me of the importance of loving it – without the passion, why race? With that in mind, I blazed through about two-thirds of the second lap, picking off women, picking packs to catch and embracing my newfound comfort and confidence on the bike. Around mile 20 of the 40-kilometer course, I didn’t love quite as much. The lack of race-specific riding hit me and hard. I continued on and rode as strong as I could into the venue, but the fatigue quickly set in. I had accomplished my goal – leave it all on the bike course. On to the run.

T2:

I need to practice transitions; it was a bit rough. The air was cold and beginning to mist rain, and I had trouble with fine-motor skills, such as taking off my shoes and unbuckling my helmet. As I fumbled with my race number belt, I crossed my fingers that I would find my stride running through transition. I quickly realized I left it somewhere on the bike course.

The Run:

I came into this race with zero expectations for the run – a month prior I wasn’t even sure if I could race. After four months of flirting with injury, a month of attempting a diagnosis and just three weeks of treatment – I was happy to be on the course. I logged diligent miles on the Alter-G leading up to the race; however, only two or three runs had been on the roads in the weeks leading up to Worlds– and they were not in a race setting. I set out to survive.

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The run was two laps, mainly trail and packed gravel – which was great for my recovering tibial stress fracture, but not so great for speed. I managed a consistent pace throughout the first lap; my energy ebbed and waned, but I fought through. My form gradually disintegrated. I broke the run into manageable pieces – at first running aid station by aid station, eventually using every other tree as a check point. While I wasn’t being passed, I also wasn’t doing any passing. I was surviving. Brief surges of energy revived me, and when I could see the grandstand in the distance, hold the American flag in my grasp and step onto the blue carpet, a feeling of relief washed over me.

I did it.

Within minutes of finishing it dawned on me – I just ran six miles at an all-out effort, with zero shin pain. I was free.

I finished with a personal record in the swim and bike legs at the International distance. I had my first completely pain-free run since March. I placed 34th in the women’s 20-24 age group, was the tenth American to finish in this age group, and placed fifth among 19-year-old women. In the world. What a weekend.

It has been a rough year – mentally, physically and emotionally. I have endured numerous setbacks, injuries, my first bike crash and hit-and-run, panic attacks, doubts and labels. I have taken myself far too seriously, given up on my dreams, rekindled them, and experienced an exhausting number of epiphanies. I have also made new friends, explored new places and sparked a flame that cannot be dampened.

My heart flutters as I relive those brief moments standing on the platform, staring into the calm water next to my friends, companions and competitors. It flutters as I remember watching the bricks come together building my wall – my anxiety and fears providing the mortar for my doubt-ridden bricks. The anticipation and anxiety, the stuttering mantras, the apprehension, and finally, the release – the moment where every demon that has taken residence within our athletic and inner personas is released and we begin our race.

The moment we are freed to take part in our art form, our passion, our love.

The unforgettable moment of sheer bliss.

What a race.