I fell in love with running my senior year in college.
I was a Chinese and Political Science major at Middlebury College in Vermont, and let’s just say I had a pretty heavy workload and needed a little stress relief.
My best friends at the time, a junior named Sonia, was a professional tennis player from Portugal and took fitness pretty seriously. When she invited me to join her for a run on a beautiful spring afternoon, something I’d never done just for the fun of it before, I was intrigued and eagerly accepted her invitation.
Little did I know that running would quickly become something l couldn’t do without.
Middlebury Vermont is beautiful in the spring! After the snow melts away and the sun begins to warm the earth, a lush blanket of green covers the ground… Naked trees put on a robe of tender leaves… Fragrant blossoms peak their heads everywhere… Birds joyfully exercise their vocal cords… The air is crips and sweet… And the warm caress of the sun a welcoming embrace.
That first run ended up being a 12 mile run… Never in my wildest dream would I have thought myself capable of covering such a distance. But the rolling hills made it exciting… Fun… Easy!
As I neared the top of the first hill, lungs burning, heart pounding, legs screaming … I thought I was done.
I experienced pure bliss!
Ah the ecstacy of the decent!
That moment of complete release…
It was addictive!
After graduating I moved to California, began working and doing all those “serious” things young adults do.
I never lost my love of running and was grateful California weather allowed me to stretch my legs year round, but I never really experienced the same euphoria I had become accustomed to in Vermont. I missed the rolling hills that stretched for miles on end, inviting me to keep on going… And going… And going…
I started working as an editor and as my work days stretched to 12, 14, 16 hours, running became a luxury I would enjoy less and less frequently.
But when running is in your blood, it’s hard to ignore that special call.
I always found a way to get back into running… At a friend’s urging I signed up for my first triathlon… A few years later, with yet another friend I trained for and completed my first (and only so far) half marathon…. I discovered the joy of breaking through the “runner’s wall”…
Then one gloomy day, it all came to an abrupt and painful end…
I was in my thirties and training to do back flips on the trampoline… My regular coach was on a stunt job and a new coach was subbing for him… Somehow, halfway through my rotation, I froze….
And came crashing down onto my head…
I heard the gasps, took in the frightened faces, and ever so slowly tried to move my head, then my neck, my arms, my feet.
I was dazed and clearly sore but somehow, by the grace of God, it seemed like I was okay!
I even insisted on working through two back flips before I left the gym, because I did not want to leave on a fall as I knew it would make it that much harder for me to work up the courage to try again the following time.
I know, that sounds insane, but at the time I felt it was what I needed to do.
The next day I woke up expecting to feel really bad. After all it is not unusual for the full extent of an injury to manifest itself a day or two later, when the effects of adrenaline have completely worn off. But somehow I felt fine… And I went for a run!
When I woke up the following morning, I panicked. I laid on my back and could not lift my head half an inch off my pillow! The searing pain was excruciating. Hot tears streamed down my face as I realized the gravity of my injury.
“I’m afraid you broke your neck”
My doctor’s words hung heavily between us as I took in his grave expression… I was scared.. praying he was wrong…
Time slowed down as I waited for the results from my X-Rays. My emotions ran wild…
Tears, hope, fear, denial….
“I can’t believe it!!! There is no fracture!”
I wanted to jump for joy as the most exhilarating wave of relief washed over me…
But I couldn’t. Although I did not have a fracture, I had dislocated my neck at the C1 C2 level, right at the base of the head. Those are the two vertebrae that allow us to nod “yes” and “no”.
My running days were over.
And that was okay.
I found new and exciting activities to throw myself into, aerial fitness being my absolute favorite..
And when the neurosurgeon told me a few years ago that I would eventually need to have those two vertebra fused I was more determined than ever to find a way to heal.
And for the most part I have!
Over the past few years, I’ve felt the urge to run again, to experience that wonderful freedom and I stretch my legs …
And yesterday I decided it was time!
After dropping off the girls at school I went to my old stomping ground…
And took that first stride… Then the next…
I planned on only running a mile or so, take a break, walk and call it a day.
Ah but old habits are hard to break and as my feet hit the ground, over and over again, I wanted to keep going, and going, and going…
And yes, I know I’m crazy, but I ended up running my old loop in it’s entirety … 4.3 miles, in 49 minutes…
I won’t lie, it wasn’t easy, but it felt ah-ma-zing!!!!
And I can’t wait to do it again!
Oh don’t worry, I’ve learned a thing or two since my injury so I’ll take it slow — meaning I’ll wait a few days before I run again, but I’m thrilled to be able to get out there again and experience that special peace that only running brings me.