When I first started high school, I didn’t know what having friends really meant. There wasn’t much to my high school – no one had good school spirit, our football team was pretty trash, but I heard that the track team was united more than any other team at the school. I had never had that kind of unity, in my friendships or my family, so I went and joined track that semester. I have never regretted that decision since.
I ran track for a year before joining cross country with one of my best friends. It was there where we found the rest of our friends. Cross Country was grueling, especially with our coach, who loved winning more than our own health, but we all stayed because my friend group loved each other more than we wanted to leave. So we stuck it out and spent hours on that track with each other. It was nice to have that company, and soon enough, we started becoming a family. It was such a beautiful thing to be a part of, to spend most of high school with those friends that I always knew had my back.
Regardless of everything we felt, it never made up for the fact that our coach was not the most ideal person, and didn’t make it easier for us to want to stay. Sometimes it felt like all he wanted were the points, and if we didn’t give that to him, give him the days or push ourselves to the breaking point, he would yell like it was the end of the world. I loved running though, it gave me freedom, a runner’s high that compared to nothing else. It felt like the wind was pushing me every time I ran an event and it was magical, pushing myself like that. It was my junior year I realized after my coach had yelled at me in front of my dad about how it was my friend’s fault we lost that I realized I didn’t want to be there anymore.
Even though I had found running to be a passion of mine, and it let me have this freedom and friendship that I had never experienced before, I shouldn’t have stayed just because I loved my friends. I found that strength to leave in order to preserve my mental health through the family that had started from that very same sport. It was a decision I definitely wouldn’t have been able to make if I was that same girl I was freshman year, and I have track and cross country to thank for that. For helping me find a place where I hadn’t had one in so long, for helping me find beautiful friends who felt like my brothers and sisters on and off the field, and most importantly, for helping me realize that my strength will come with me wherever I go, no matter where or how I found it.