Sports can either be the best outlet for struggling teens, or a life sentence seemingly designed specifically to torture already struggling pre-teens. For me, it was always the latter. In middle school, I was the girl who huddled in the back during dodge ball games, and wore skirts to school on the days we had gym class in hopes that meant I might be asked to sit out instead of running the dreaded four laps before whatever game the gym teacher chose to subject us to that day.
However, once I made the transition from eighth grader to Freshman, it became apparent to me that I wasn’t going to be able to get through High School without gym credits. So, in true middle child fashion (a story for another time), I decided that following in my big sisters footsteps was the best option. For me, this meant joining the Cross Country running team. While physical activity still wasn’t on the top of my love to do list, this seemed like the perfect option. At least there would be no complicated rules to follow or expensive equipment to purchase.
At the start of the fall sports season, I showed up to the track with my newly purchased running sneakers, dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, ready for anything. What I didn’t expect however, was to quickly fall in love with something that a few weeks earlier, looked like a death sentence. The moment my feet started pounding the earth, I knew I was in trouble. Running had been living in my veins, only to be awoken by what I thought was some stupid school rule meant to waste my time.
I was no where near the fastest runner on the team, and there were races I didn’t even want to start. There were practices I dreaded and days when Cross Country running was the last thing on my mind. There were also days that running saved me. It served as an escape, a shelter from the outside world that seemed determined to break me down. My team quickly became a family, the burning in my limbs and chest a welcomed pain that I even anticipated.
The irony isn’t lost on me. The one thing I hid from and actively avoided for years soon became one of the only things I looked forward to during my High School life. And unexpectedly, it also opened my eyes to a long road of learning to try new things, to step out of my comfort zone and stop being so closed minded.
Who would have known that a single High School sport could do all of that? Perhaps dozens of teachers and other various adults, but no one that I would have actually listened to as a sixteen year old girl.
Now, three years post High School, those running sneakers long ago discarded, Cross Country running is something I will never regret. Even the races after which I threw up and passed out, will always be moments of my High School career that I will hold dear.
So on that note I encourage you to take risks, to leap into the dark and do the one thing that scares you the most. Since High School, joining the Cross Country team has went into the books as one of the smallest risks I have now taken, but will always be the most important. It was the risk that started them all.