Read Katie's story
There is yelling, and lots of it, but I can’t hear anything but a muffled roar in my ears. I’m in a hazy tunnel, with nothing but a camera lens-like circle in focus straight ahead. The roaring sound comes from the blood pounding through my ears combined with my breathing, which had started out steady and strong, but has now deteriorated in ragged gasps. Still, despite my blurring tunnel vision and locked focus, a few words and faces stick out, and their encouragement fuels the agonizing fire burning my quads, my chest, shoulders and throat. The human body has an inherent right drink in oxygen, but in this moment I’m defying that right in favor of my own dogged stubbornness. In response, my body is in full anarchy, setting fire to muscles and pouring gasoline on the blaze so that bones, blood vessels and skin are ignited in the process. It feels like there is a civil war taking place in my body, one against a thousand. I am at the decisive moment in a war, which has already been comprised of strategic decisions and sacrifices stacked on top of one another, all culminating in this single moment, the moment that I live for.
It’s in this moment that I need to make a choice: give in to my body’s demands, or keep fighting back, even when it seems impossible to resist. For how difficult it is, this decisive moment is not unanticipated. In fact, it is anything but. It’s a decision I have agonized over, walked up to and embraced, only to turn away and retreat with the promise of return the next day, all in the name of preparation. But today, retreat is not an option and there will be no backing down. Today the choice is simply before me: do or do not.
But unlike all other epic battles, only one person will know the outcome of this fight. Few will know a defeat has even occurred. It may be as subtle as a minute lost off a final time, no one will know; except me. And so the fight continues, feet pounding asphalt, arms pumping, lungs sucking air that doesn’t satisfy, just one more step, one more step.
I lied, one more.
Just when I thought it would never end, everything comes to a stop. Crossing the blue and red mat my legs buckle, and the dam of oxygen breaks loose. All at once I feel like I’m swimming in a sea of air after wandering in the desert; I’m walking, tumbling forward, breathing, blinking, and spinning.
Facing challenges and fighting battles, it is more than the life lessons you gain from them in the distant future, it’s also for the now. In a single moment when you hit the ground after jumping the hurdle and clearing it, that moment when your heart beats double, not out of fear, but out of relief. When you faced yourself and you came out on top. It’s the first moment when your hard work is consummated in the most painful, terrible, wonderful way and you did it and it’s done. You’ve won.
Though this is the lesson I learned in running, it is a lesson that goes beyond and will take me past running; to when my body is old and stiff and I can’t move with the same coordinated ease that I used to. It’s not a moment exclusive to running, rather, it’s found in a sigh after finally saying what you need to, or the drop of the shoulders as the orator walks off the stage. This moment comes seconds after staring in the face of your closet monster and choosing to say no, even if just for the sake of learning to say no. It can only be found in the doing of something you think you’re too weak, too slow, too dumb, too old, too young, too afraid to do, but you do it anyway. As I stumble off to regain my composure, it is the flood of lights and colors that fill my spotty vision and the cool embrace of the grass on my back that tells me I have arrived at this moment. Never have I been so exhausted or so thoroughly present. Even though everything hurts, and I feel like my head is floating somewhere between my shoulder blades, I have no regrets. Even though I lost 3 weeks ago, and I might lose tomorrow, today, this moment, is mine.
This is the moment. This is why I choose to live.