Friday, December 2, 2016

Moving Forward

When I was in fifth or sixth grade, I had to run a mile for phys ed class. (Back then we called it gym.) I wasn't a good runner.

I wasn't a runner at all, I was just a kid.

I didn't know what I was doing, how to pace myself, how long a mile was. It's likely I started way too fast and I definitely battled just to finish. I remember I was crying and afraid. I remember I was struggling to breathe. (I had recently gotten my first inhaler for asthma due to allergies).

I remember saying "I can't…I can't...."

My phys ed teacher, a woman, at a Catholic school, mocked me.

"I can't, I can't," she said in a singsong, high-pitched voice.

She did the fake  'wah wah wah' crying noises and twisted her hands at the side of her eyes.

I went from scared about my breathing to utterly humiliated. I remember the other kids didn't have as much trouble. I don't remember anyone sticking up for me.

In seventh grade, I remember running in the auditorium that was our pathetic gym during bad weather days. I remember I was at the front of the group of girls heading into a tight turn. I remember a girl in my class cut me off, tripping me. I flew forward and put my hands out to stop myself from flying face-first into a pillar. I broke my wrist.

You'd think that these experiences would be enough to stop me from ever running.

But in ninth grade, I started at a new school and I made new friends. And after we were cut from two different sports teams, a friend encouraged me to try running track with her. With her encouragement and laughter and total lack of negative judgment, I tried. And that spring I learned how to run.

After I learned how to run, I learned many, many things thanks to running.

Kathrine Switzer started running at age 12, a little younger than I did. She wasn't any good when she started. But she got better. And she learned a lot, too. She learned that running can make us feel powerful.

Powerful enough to stand up for ourselves when we are told we can't, when we're mocked, when we're excluded, even when they try to physically drag us off the race course.

People are going to tell us those things again, many times, for the foreseeable future.

We have to be strong. We have to be strong not just for ourselves but for our friends who don't yet know how to be strong. We have to stand up for ourselves and for others.

We have to push past barriers like fear and anger and violence (because there will be all those and more) and support each other as we move forward.