Growing up with cystic fibrosis made me stubborn and determined to accomplish everything that I was told I could not do. At my elementary school track and field day, I would make sure to always choose the longest distances to run around the track. When I graduated to the real track and field sport, that didn’t change.
Before I joined track and field in junior high, I told many people that I wanted to run the mile, but I was not met with blinding optimism. My friends, and even my coach, suggested that I should run mid-distance or maybe even just stick to sprints. When I tried dual sporting with soccer and track, I stood over the sign-up paper listening to a teacher tell me, “It would be extremely difficult, especially with your ... issues,” as she waved her hand up and down in front of her chest.
These people weren’t trying to be upsetting, they just hadn't seen how capable I was. After a few of the first track meets, the coach let me run the mile. With that, I fell in love with running distance and joined cross-country the next year.
The start of my running journey wasn’t a show of activism against CF — rather, I started my journey as a determined girl who wanted to prove to others and herself that she could be great. I didn’t have a clue how far this sport could take me because at first, even with my unhindered spirit, I didn’t have my sights set on breaking records or qualifying for state. My freshman year track season was cut short due to COVID, and with all of the extra time I had, running became a staple of my life. On top of that, I had new goals to tackle — looking back, I realize just how ambitious I was. First, I wanted to qualify for the state cross-country meet, then I wanted to break the school record on top of that, and eventually I decided that I wanted to medal at state, too.
As the season progressed, I ran the planned track workouts every day, even with the season canceled. Summer approached, and the workouts turned to endurance training for the cross-country season. I started to join running groups, like Hilltoppers, and made many life-long friends, including Addison, one of my best friends. A year later I was talking to her, and she told me about a conversation she had with her dad after we first met at Hilltoppers. She couldn’t remember the name of the disease I have, and she described me as a girl who couldn’t run through the river water at practice. Her dad thought a moment and said, “The only [illness] I could think of would be cystic fibrosis, but she definitely wouldn’t be running at that level if that’s what it was.”
Those words have stuck with me for a long time now because I realized that I was breaking people’s perception of CF. Plus, I was fighting CF head on. A huge reason why I started running was because I wanted to prove other people wrong, but as I kept going, running changed into a way to overcome CF and the restrictions that it tried to put on my life. I soon realized that I had the power to show other people that they could do the same.
The season that I had this mindset shift, I medaled in the top three at every meet. I ran the cold, rainy district course that year and won, which qualified me for state for the first time. I don’t smile when I run, I always look serious and hold a straight face. However, at that district meet, coming down the finishing shoot, a picture of me was taken with the biggest smile. I thought that my smile couldn’t have been bigger, but I would soon be proven wrong. The following week was the state cross-country meet. The top 15 girls medal at state, and I was the 12th girl to cross that line. I got to stand on the awards deck and look at the spot I stood the year before in the crowd. As a spectator, I could vividly remember watching the girls walk onto the deck above me with each of their names called while a pink medal was draped around their neck.
I think what meant the most to me when it was my turn to receive that medal was that I wasn’t just good for being a runner with CF, I was a good runner who happened to have CF. I didn’t allow my circumstances to define what I wanted to do and my goals I wanted to achieve.
I have been open in sharing my story at events and to newspapers about the hours of treatments, clinic visits, infections, and the multitude of pills that I take each day. I have had infections take me out in the middle of races, and the fear of that recurring has tempted me to drop out before a meet has even started.
I think of life a lot like a race, not one against other people though. This race is me attempting to beat my own personal records and striving to be the best I can be. When life gets hard and CF takes a toll on my health, I think of those moments as the hills. You lean in a little more, swing your arms a little harder, and make your strides a little longer. I’ve learned to love the hills in cross-country — they have the ability to show you how strong and capable you are even if you didn’t believe it before making it to the top.
I set out to run so that CF wouldn’t define me, but in the end, it defined me in a way that I would have never imagined. I am no longer just a poor girl with a lung disease. Instead, I am the girl who is strong in her mentality, endurance, and dedication. Nothing this life throws at me can hold me back, and CF prominently puts that on display. Running will forever be a part of my life. I will have no more medals or podiums to display my successes, but that’s not what measured it in the first place.
What my success is measured by is the determination to keep going against the grain of the circumstance I was placed in, and that lesson is carried far past the finish line to be incorporated into every inch of my life.
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