Senior approaches open trails

“Ready to run?!”
I fumbled with the door of the Astro van. It slid shut on the third try, slamming with a sense of finality, shaking the whole vehicle and the jar of butterflies where my stomach used to be.
“No, not really,” I buckled my seatbelt anyway. Again, a dreadful sense of finality.
“Don’t worry! It’ll be fun!” Mary chirped, yanking the The Whale on Wheels in reverse and swerving its boxy bulk on the road.
Mary, of course, had nothing to worry about. An experienced runner with abs of steel and the fortitude to match, Mary could tackle 10 miles in a little over an hour, without breaking a sweat and still have enough energy to immediately knock out a hardcore core session, counting off crunches like a Navy SEAL.
Then there was Rachel in the passenger seat, built like a whippet and twice as quick. She had down five donuts and 10 miles, a millisecond faster than Mary, without a break conversation.
These were the people I was running with—Oympic athletes in training.
Before I continue, it is imperative to make a few things clear. Before signing the cross-country participation forms, I had (A) never run more than three miles, few and far between, on a track or treadmill, and (B) when I say “run”, I actually mean “walk.”
I was the kind of person to admire athletes from afar, then return to the familiarity of my home, schoolwork and books. I loved knowing exactly what I would do every morning, every afternoon, every week and weekend. Nothing changed; I reveled in routine.
Now I huddled in the slouch of half-asleep, gym shoe-tying, raggedy teens in two inch shorts and legs light-years long. How did this happen? How soon could it be over?
The first run took less than an hour.
It was hot and slow and anxiety-driven, a messy conglomeration of running, walking and labored breathing. I stuck with kids I knew from school, kids whose paces clocked slower than mine. Mary and the elites galloped away like a herd of spandexed, sportsteched gazelles.
But slogging down the sunlit trail, I felt something. Listening to my shoes pound out the final stretch, the feeling continued. My legs pumped faster, mind focused on the task at hand. Sprawled across gravel during core, the feeling resumed, bringing a realization: I loved running. More specifically, I loved running with people. I was exhausted and anxious and already fretting over shin splints. But I was part of a team. Looking at their sweaty, tired faces, they were also exhausted, anxious and fretting over injuries. More noticeable were bright grins cutting through the sweat, Luke cracking jokes at every opportunity and all of us making Mary laugh hard enough to stop counting pushups.
“Good job, you guys! Same time tomorrow!”
Returning home, I dove into my books and summer homework like nothing changed. Flipping the dog-eared corner, highlighter in hand, I reunited with Tom Joad, relaxed deeper into my blanket, snuggled closer to my sleeping dog.
I ran with cross-country the next day and the next and the next. I attended every summer practice not because it was required but because I wanted to. Having a comfortable, familiar sanctuary was wonderful (I still come home to it every day) but the scope of opportunities extends farther. I have since branched out, becoming Activities Coordinator for my school’s Key Club, volunteering at an indie theater in Tacoma and spending late nights on deadline with the school newspaper staff as Graphics Editor. Through the instability of trying new things I found balance in my life, in and out of school. The familiarity I feel with books and homework, I now feel as part of the cross-country team, newspaper team and community service team.
Since that first sweaty summer practice, I have enjoyed being involved in my community. I have made new friends, new experiences. I have achieved equilibrium between curricular and extracurricular. I run faster, farther, longer.
When I attend college, I plan to experience many of the opportunities in store, in and out of the classroom. I will take a variety of classes, try new clubs, maybe tryout for Crew. Without a doubt, I will run—cross-country or through the school’s running club.
I will miss running in Puyallup with my teammates, miss The Whale on Wheels and Mary’s customary core sessions. But…
…I am ready for the unfamiliar and whatever college has in store.