Before I became a runner, I struggled with an intense love-hate relationship with my body. Like many, I have struggled with loving it, embracing it and feeling beautiful in it. Before I found running I felt uncomfortable in my own body and I struggled with self love and respect. My lack of self esteem led to low self confidence in mostly every aspect of my life. It was the hardest when I was in high school. I was never good at sports, I couldn’t coordinate my body to do the things I wanted it to. I was always picked in gym class and I showed up in sweat pants and a baggy t-shirt. I put in minimal effort, walked most of our mandatory runs and was almost always the last to finish.
But it wasn’t just my performance in gym class that was affected. It was my entire personality. I found myself asking for attention, clinging onto harmful relationships and feeling the need to always have some kind of boyfriend. I figured because I didn’t love myself, if someone else did, it would balance it out. Looking back at this time, I feel really sad for my younger self. I have learned through life and experience that in order to be loved by someone else, you have to love yourself first.
This low self esteem carried over once I graduated. It wasn’t that I didn’t think I was doing amazing things; I had traveled over seas, was working towards getting into the nursing program and had an awesome part time job. It was more that I felt restless and unhappy with myself. I knew what I wanted to do with my life but I didn’t know who I wanted to be and that was an unsettling feeling. A month before my first day of my RN program, my brother broke his neck. That day shook my entire family and plagued us with uncertainty, sadness and confusion.
Starting the nursing program a month later was not an easy task. I was an emotional mess, a ticking time bomb of tears. An instructor could say one thing in class that made the slightest resemblance to a spinal cord injury or someone in a wheel chair and I would have to leave class crying. Seeing myself as a student nurse I knew I needed to quickly increase my self-confidence and push my personal life aside. I took everything personally that my instructors told me and had a hard time approaching patients with confidence.
Now it wasn’t just the stress of the program was weighing on my shoulders, it was exacerbated by my brother being in the ICU and now two hours away from me. I was living on my own, away from my family and I did not have an outlet for my stress. I didn’t confront my feelings about my brother or myself, I never gave myself a chance to work through it. I started going out with the girls at school, a lot. I started drinking more than I ever had in my life, going to night clubs and parties. This was my way of forgetting about it. If I had a social activity to go to, it meant I could avoid visiting my brother. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, it was that I felt I couldn’t, as selfish as it was. I couldn’t see him like that, in a wheel chair, with compression socks up to his thighs, with Respiratory Therapists shaking his chest so he could cough, with nurses asking me to step out so they could change him, with him having to drink thickened fluids and eat pureed foods. I couldn’t process the words my Dad had told me, that he might never walk again.
But we can’t put things off like that forever. We can’t just keep living and hope things that mammoth in size will just go away. We have to deal with our struggles, face them head on and come out the other side a better, happier and more at peace person. It all came crashing down on me and I guess it took loosing everything to realize what I needed to do. I had scraped by my first year of the nursing program, barely. 3 weeks into my 3rd semester, I failed a mandatory component and was kicked out of the program. I was at a complete loss. Never in my life had I failed at anything. I was always the girl who ended up on her feet. I spiralled down into depression and moved back home with my parents. I told everyone I did so to spend time with my brother has he transitioned back home in his new reality. But I knew the truth. I knew I had let my passion fade. I knew it was only me to blame for my short comings.
At the time I worked at an Outdoor store, which seemed like an odd fit for someone who had only been on a handful of hikes. I was constantly engaging with people, talking about trips and adventures they were going on. That is when I found out about the Inca Trail in Peru. With really hardly any knowledge about it I booked a spur of the moment trip to South America, alone. I told my brother about it and he was so proud of me. I remember one night the two of us went for a walk/wheel. I told him first that I had booked my trip. He told me that we all needed to keep living our lives and be happy, because he was happy and it hurt him to see us all so upset. With his support and a plane ticket in my hand, I left on the biggest adventure of my life.
There is something extremely special about travelling alone. About leaving the people who know you and the place you are familiar with for a place where no one even knows your name. I guess you could say it healed me because something changed in me over those 5 weeks. I was no longer that girl with the low self-esteem because I didn’t have to be. No one knew me so I could truly, for once in my life be myself. It was the most liberating and powerful experience of my life to finally find out who I was and who I wanted to be. I hiked most of the Inca Trail alone, away from the group. It was my first real physical challenge and I basked in it. Those four days were incredible. I was pushed and challenged like I never had been before and I loved it. Each day I felt stronger and more liberated with every step I took towards my ultimate goal of reaching Macchu Picchu. It was like with each step I shook pieces of self doubt off of me. When I reached the sun-gate the morning of the fourth day and looked upon one of the most incredible places I have ever been, I felt finally free of myself. I looked at what I had just accomplished. A goal that I dreamed of. I went out and I did it. This moment, I learned how to love myself, and I have never looked back.
When I got home for my trip, I did two times immediately. I registered for my first half marathon and got back into the nursing program. I started running on a regular bases and eating a more healthy, balanced diet. My brother was always there to ask me how my run was, how far I had gone, where I had gone. I started slow, I had good days and I had bad days. I had days where I thought this new goal was crazy, I had days when I couldn’t wait to toe the start line. And when I completed my first, I love it so much, I signed up for another one a few months later.
But in that first year of running something happened beyond running two half marathons. Beyond finally getting in shape, becoming healthy and toned. Something I never thought would happen from taking up a sport like running. My entire life transformed. I was setting new goals, finding motivation to dream big and having success with each new challenge. I was doing something to better myself. I was giving myself a gift, something that made me so happy, and was taking me to amazing places. I was feeling happier and healthier with every run, with ever challenge. I had more energy, more passion for life, a greater sense of exploration and adventure. Seeing how life can change in a split second, I knew I needed to squeeze more out of it. In a strange way, I have my brother to thank for that. Watching his life changed completely and seeing his positive attitude through it all inspired me deeper than anything to live life to the fullest. We only have one chance on this amazing planet, and I want to do as much as my heart desires.
Clearly, I have never looked back. Running has completely changed my life. It has become more than just a hobby. It has become a lot of who I am and what I do. It has integrated itself into so many aspects of my life from the friends I surround myself with, to the things I do on my days off, to the goals I am dreaming of, to the food I eat. I am a runner through and through. And I honestly have to thank my brother for it. Life has a weird way of changing us. Sometimes it takes being totally shaken up and thrown off course to truly find yourself.