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.

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.

A Journey of Mascara, Dandelions and Spandex

A Journey of Mascara, Dandelions and Spandex

I used to be convinced endurance sports hated me, and I hated them. I lived under this idea for most of my life, but I also felt lost in the world of athletics for most of my life. I was sure I was going to become the star player of every sport I played, until I got about a month into it and realized I didn’t like chasing balls across fields or getting dizzy doing flips or being judged on appearance. I had never found my niche or passion; I just bought a lot of tie-dyed shin guards and tights.

1. Soccer – I set up drills in my front yard after watching “She’s the Man” in elementary school. I didn’t make the travel team, turns out you have to be able to do more than jump over strategically placed sticks to play soccer. I was also somewhat more preoccupied with the dandelions in the field than with the ball, which seemed to bother the coach for some reason.
2. Gymnastics – I have a theory most every girl did gymnastics at one point in time. It didn’t work out, but the foam pit was enjoyable.
3. Competitive cheerleading – Well, this was an interesting experience. All I can say is never again. Forcing mascara on to a six-year old as she jumps around in a short skirt may have slightly scarred me. I’m also now convinced my body was never meant to do flips. Or hold up other spandex-clad six-year-olds as  judges base our worth on how many fly-aways are in our perfectly curled hair.
4. Dance – This lasted a few years, which was impressive for me. I had a secret dream that I could be a prima ballerina. That dream was shot down rather quickly when I realized my hamstrings would never be the equivalent of rubber. They just won’t.
5. Half-marathons – This is where my love affair with running began. It wavered, and I was by no means an impressive runner (my first half-marathon took three hours). But I finished. And I was hungry for more.
6. Cross Country – This is where I was convinced endurance sports hate me. From the age of 14 to 17 I’ve had six stress fractures and one or two stress reactions. I’ve honestly lost count. I kept coming back to cross country thinking the next year would be better, but it didn’t matter how many ice baths I took or hours I spent rolling out on the foam roller. Every season ended the same as the previous, with crutches or in a boot watching my teammates race. Despite these setbacks, I transformed as a student, athlete and person during these three years plagued by injury, but that’s another story altogether.
7. Swimming – I was advised to do a non-impact sport. I loved the team, the difficult workouts and the meets, but I was by no means a star swimmer. Which was frustrating. I embraced the mediocrity through my love for my teammates, but I also constantly sought more.
8. Triathlon – It doesn’t require mascara, but I still have to get over my fear of spandex. This sport found me in my time of need and for good reason. Just a few years ago triathlon was a foreign concept to me, now it occupies my every thought, day and dream. I think I may have finally found my niche.