Fame to shame and back again

The high school’s athletic department spelled my last name wrong on my first-ever MVP plaque for varsity cross country in 2006. Trevor, the men’s MVP recipient and my then-senior-in-high-school brother, hadn’t noticed the misspelling on his own plaque.

The physical education teacher apologized profusely, taking them back and promising to have them redone.

34119_1433227322690_1029585_nThat plaque –– with my properly spelled last name –– hangs on the lime-green wall in my bedroom at my parents’ house… next to the 2010 version, and above the 2007, 2008 and 2009 versions. Five straight years; every season I ran for the varsity women’s team.

Under the 2010 cross country plaque begins a similar saga for track: 2008, 2010 and 2011.

I had no idea that, when I finally hung the plaques up last Christmas, they’d be taunting me in a year.

To shove my award-winning past down my throat even further, there are plaques for school records held and MVP plaques/sportsmanship awards for individual races/meets/seasons.

34579_1433228162711_6570496_nNow I find racing bibs, seed number stickers and individual metal spikes in my childhood bedroom and throw them out without a second thought or glance.

That 100-pound life of mine? It’s been over for more than two years since I decided to pursue a different kind of lifestyle in college. And I’ve found success –– a lot of success, actually –– but I’ve also let my body down.

I feel like shit probably 75 percent of the time now. My doctor says I’ve reached a healthy weight, proportional to my 5’2″ stature and the lifestyle I lead, but I’m reminiscent of those high metabolism days when eating my weight in food refracted on the scale instead of reflecting.

Achieving a healthy weight doesn’t mean I’m entirely happy with the loss of tone in my muscles, the weight gain in my face and –– while this may seem like a perk –– the need to buy new bras to support a larger cup size.

I’m fuller, more of the hourglass figure women so desperately want… but I’m about ready to trade it in.

I stopped running because I hated it, the running part, I mean. Not to mention the drama on my college cross country team (almost wrote “country” without the ‘o’…not on purpose, I swear!) and coaching methods I did not particularly agree with. Maybe building a method of my own and running on my schedule will be the breath of fresh, cold and wintry air my cabin fever needs in order to be sweated out. Not to mention the 10 pounds I’d really like to shed.

So I’ve invested $100 dollars in my new RUN-BECAUSE-IT’S-HEALTHY-FOR-YOU,-EMILY initiative.

$30 on new Sauconys (the comfiest running sneaker you’ll ever find; I snagged a deal at Dick’s).

$60 on a new sports bra (you pay a hefty price for…well…having a hefty chest).

$11 on bluetooth earbuds (originally $40; I had Amazon credit to use).

So screw you, lime-green wall.

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Make new friends, but keep the old

Karly, Nick and I sat in the front row of composition and critical thinking freshman year, but we didn’t really talk. Madison and Jordan sat in the second row. I didn’t really talk to them much, either. I rolled my eyes at their married-couple-esque arguing, instead.

I’m almost positive we all went from that class to another class together every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. We still didn’t really talk.

I didn’t get out much freshman year. I had meets on the weekends, plus the cross country team provided built-in friends for me; I felt like I didn’t need anyone else.

I would never have foreseen close friendships with any of the aforementioned people.

Mado and me at a Yankees game last April.
Mado and me at a Yankees game last April.

Now, Madison’s my housemate and I  practically spend my weekends either at Karly’s house or texting Karly. Nick and I talk on a regular basis and, the last –– and only –– time Jordan visited when he actually had a free moment, he hugged me before he left.

You may find your supposed “group” freshman year, but that shit can change. Be open to it. Meet new people. Establish new connections. Don’t be that clique in the dining hall that always eats together. Mix it up. Say “hi” to people when you pass them. Be friendly.

Next semester’s new classes could mean a whole new set of friends to talk to and hang out with. A whole new house to go to and someone new to meet in the café for coffee. New conversations. New stories.

St. Bonaventure University is a family and we often forget to be kind to our brothers and sisters. I judged Karly, Nick, Madison and Jordan freshman year. I tossed them aside and disregarded any potential friendships. They’re the ones who reached out to me. I’m thankful for that outreach. Having them as friends has provided me with laughter, someone to seek advice from, deep conversations and, yes, hugs.

I’ve learned a lot about myself. I’ve changed. I’ve let people in whom I never saw myself opening up to. Most of all, I’ve learned how to be empathetic.

We lost a member of our Bonaventure family this past weekend. I didn’t know him; I’d only seen him around campus. But I’ll write it again: we lost a member of our family. In all the times I saw him walking around wearing a straight-brimmed hat, I never foresaw tragedy striking his life. I never knew what impact he might one day have on me and the rest of my family.

We gathered in the chapel tonight for a candlelight vigil. The beauty of it struck me. One flame ignites all of our candles. We’re in this together. 

He’ll always be remembered. He pushed us closer together as a family.

Let’s say “hi” to each other more often. Let’s be empathetic. Let’s embrace new relationships instead of shying away from them, sticking only to our comfort zones.

Karly and I have a hug planned for when we see each other tomorrow in class. Madison made me laugh hysterically tonight. Nick and I talked until 2 a.m. Jordan hasn’t been around recently, but that’s understandable.

Let it be.

Recreating the high

“One more lap, Em!”

“Gotta speed up on this one if you want that time!”

“100 meters left!”

“Kick it in!”

…I can still hear them in my head. Yelling at me. Screaming. Coaches losing their voices and freaking me out in the process.

Faster, faster. 

Legs and arms numb. Clock ticking. Each second costing me a new record, title, or trip to states.

The only person who ever put pressure on me was Trevor (“You can go faster than that, Emmie,” he’d say). But I put pressure on myself. I wanted to make Dad proud. I wanted him to say “You go, girl!” I wanted more records to post on the non-existent record board. I craved the endorphins, the runner’s high. I wanted that oh-so-hyper-and-excited feeling I experienced after every race when I could breathe again.

I associated running with the painful knots in my back and the ever-present butterflies in my stomach. I popped pain reliever before each race and numbed my back with Icy Hot. I snapped at loud, immature teammates and tried to think about anything but the girls whom I knew were my competition. I dreaded every single meet on the schedule, some more than others.

But I did well. And I made Dad proud. And I set several records and went to states several times.

But I regret not having a better attitude toward running.

I am so jealous of the team my high school coach has now. I had to run with the boys; it looks like all of these high school girls run together. And they do races together in the summer. And they’re always smiling.

…I wish I could have had the opportunity for their enthusiasm to rub off on me.

Maybe I could have developed a better relationship with running. Maybe I could have had fun. Maybe I would have – gasp! – loved it. Instead of sitting here, missing that high but not wanting to go through the pain of recreating it.

They always told me to go faster. I wanted to slow my life down.

Now I want to go fast again. I just lack the wherewithal.

A haven for the go, go, goer

But, wait –– didn’t I just write this post?

With one more exam to go, I’m sitting on the edge of my sophomore year. Tomorrow, Dad comes and hauls all of my belongings away, leaving me to brave senior week with my friends. I’m not sad that the year’s over, I’m merely shocked at the speed with which it came and went.

My dorm room shows a year of use. Picture collage on the wall, inspiring quotations to help me get out of bed in the morning, the clutter of a college student who is always go, go, going.

I spent the first weekend here bedridden and unable to stand up after a cross country meet literally knocked me over. From there, I chose to be bedridden on the weekends, placing an empty garbage can beside my bed should I feel, erm, nauseous in the morning.

I opened my door on my birthday to find cards on the floor and the walls practically covered with sticky notes, most of them containing messages of love from Robby. Those have since been peeled off the walls, but it’s something I’ll never forget. The women’s cross country team serenaded me that night and couldn’t wait to see all of the clothes my mother and I had purchased while on our weekend escapade to Erie for birthday clothes shopping. I just recently took down the “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” banner Robby had hung from the ceiling; it remained an essential part of this room for nearly two semesters.

I’ve cried in this room, stressed in this room and felt the touch of friends in this room. It’s a white box painted with my memories and experiences. Because it is such a cozy little nook, I can’t help but feel extreme comfort every time I cross the threshold. After my intense set of summer internship interviews, I returned to campus, entered my room and promptly curled up in the fetal position on my bed.

I’ve spent the entirety of this semester exhausted, mentally, physically and emotionally. It took months for me to feel like myself walking around campus following the break up and my resignation from the cross country team. I could feel my former teammates’ stares as I went about living my life and knew my decision left them with a hot topic to discuss (not to mention the rumors they started). It took new friendships and relationships to help me get back on my feet.

At the store I worked in off campus all semester, I met some of the nicest people. I expanded my network, put myself out there and saw outgoing Emily show her face more often than she had in months. I worked over 20 hours a week, did my homework and still found time to hang out with friends, new and old. The weekends brought time for Emily to finally relax, though she often woke up with an empty garbage can beside her bed, just in case.

This year hasn’t been easy, but this room has always felt like a safe haven to me. I’m sad to let it go, even though I’m onto bigger and better things. Next year I’ll just have to spice up my room again to make it cozy. The best part about next year is the friends I’ll be living with whom I will be able to call my home.

Five minutes ago

This tab has been up on my computer now for a solid 30 minutes. Time to write and fill the white space, huh?

But, try as I might, I can’t get this worded correctly and succinctly. So another five minutes passes. And I’m no closer to writing this than I was five minutes ago.

Here we go.

One of my favorite Gertrude McFuzz lines.
One of my favorite Gertrude McFuzz lines.

I was told last year that I have a “swagger.” I walk with a purpose; head up, eyes forward, smile –– usually –– on. I wouldn’t call it swagger; that has negative connotations. Especially when nobody knows how hard it is for me to put that smile on and walk around.

I’ve been demolished several times. Shut down. Turned off. Doubted.

Eighteen-year-old Emily walked onto campus and acted like she owned the place.

Fast forward to the tear-stained, first night of my second semester.  Through hearsay, a friend told me the freshman girls in my major who knew me didn’t like me.

I sobbed. I don’t know why, but I sobbed. Then I learned how to say “fuck you” and got over it, but some of my confidence remained shattered on the floor. And I didn’t know how to fix it.

Having my boyfriend of nearly three years join me at school the next year was a treat. He pumped me up, overflowing my world with unnecessary, dare I say it, cockiness.

I had to. I just had to. I began this semester, sans boyfriend and basically parent-less after informing them I had decided to leave the cross country team.

The quotes on my walls served as my only vice, helping me through a terribly difficult time and inspiring me to climb out of bed, despite the urge to stay tucked in and continue hugging Strawberry, my barely-pink-anymore teddy bear. I read these quotes every morning and remind myself that everything is going to be okay and that, though I’m just a little girl in a big world, I have the power to change it.

Thank you, Papa.
Thank you, Papa.

As my Papa said and as the quote on my wall states, “Everything happens for a reason.”

I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in right now if I still had that boyfriend or if I still ran on a rigorous, D1 cross country team.

I made these choices. I stood by them. I defended them.

Now I’m waving to a scared, 18-year-old Emily from across the gorge, urging her to take a risk. Assuring her that she’ll land safely on the other side and I’ll be there to comfort her.

Hyperventilation and heart palpitations

“No one passes you on that hill, Emily.” I heard that in my head. On repeat.

I rounded the second-to-last flag and, dog-tired,  glanced up at the gully I had to climb.

“Show me the same guts you showed me last year.” 

Oh, he wanted guts? I’d give him guts. What have I got to lose? I thought.

I looked down at my feet and powered up the incline. Faster, faster, faster. I passed every girl who had been in my sight the entire race. With the speed came the whimpering. And the pain.

“I’m sorry … I’m being … so annoying … I don’t …. usually whimper!” I said to a competitor. She gave me a sort-of smile and I passed her before reaching the flag at the top.

My last step. [Photo courtesy of Dr. Denny.]
The usual man-made chute awaited before the finish line. The time flashed near the 20-minute mark. Oh shit. I tried to power up my tired legs, but they wouldn’t move. Wouldn’t move.

Someone grabbed my arm and someone else yelled “DON’T TOUCH HER!”

I collapsed.

I tried to get back up.

My legs still wouldn’t work.

I panicked (and I distinctly remember yelling out “I’m not usually this dramatic!” to the onlookers).

Next thing I knew, a mess of faces stood over me in the sun’s unbearable heat. I could hear Robby, my dad, Dr. Denny, Coach and the two trainers from the university. All babbling at once. All trying to calm me down.

Nothing could stop me from breathing heavily. My panicked state, plus the heat and a roaring heart rate combined to create 90 minutes of hyperventilation.

Finally, vomiting seemed to calm me down.

My team placed second. We were looking to win that particular meet this year.

I couldn’t keep any food down for the rest of the day. Robby, saint that he is, tied my hair back while I vomited in my dorm room. He even dumped the bucket. (“I’d hold onto him if I were you,” Dr. Denny told me, when we talked about the whole ordeal later that day.)

I let the team down. I let myself down. Eight years of running and nothing of the like had ever happened to me.

We ran at Notre Dame two weeks later. I had exhausted myself with worries of a recurring incident.

It happened again.

I managed to finish the race (20:07 – not a time to sneer at considering the way I felt), but could feel it coming on again in the last 100 meters.

I basically have not run since. I visited my doctor. She gave me orders to see a cardiologist and not to run for awhile. The cardiologist can’t figure out what my problem is. I’m experiencing abnormal heart palpitations at night along with my running problem. They’re going to send me a heart monitor this week.

My coach told me that he doesn’t want the stress of races to interfere with my health. Last week he had goals of getting me to run in the championship race. Now those are demolished.

My season is basically over, but my goal is to run on Nov. 9 in the last race of the season.

I feel shitty in general because I don’t know what’s going on. And I know part of my problem is my mentality since the first race. I’ve never been one to have pressing health issues, or any health issues, for that matter, and now I feel like a faker. I feel like this isn’t even real. I have to convince myself that my symptoms are real. I have to keep convincing myself that I’m not missing the season for no good reason.

What makes me feel the worst is that I am letting my team down.

I wish I could make it up to them.

Stuck in the mud

I think I know what my problem is: maturity.

Several summers ago, I hosted a small bonfire. We roasted marshmallows and created our own ice cream sundaes to top it off. After awhile, my guests got bored just staring at the fire (I was quite content, I might add). They decided to play non-alcoholic Dizzy Bat, using a croquet mallet instead of a bat. They formed teams and spun around, then raced (or tried to, rather) to the waiting teammate. I looked on. It looked stupid to me. The idea of spinning around after consuming a giant bowl of ice cream did not appeal to me. I let them laugh. I let them have their fun. I looked on.

I think they could tell I wasn’t keen with the goings on. But here’s the problem: I really can’t help it. Something in me is programmed to dislike childlike behavior. I’ve been like this for as long as I can remember.

Teammates at a cross country meet were throwing acorns at each other and laughing like maniacs. I felt embarrassed to be associated with them.

My junior and senior years, I never rode the bus home from track and/or cross country meets. Looking back now, I found myself wondering why I hadn’t. I missed out on a lot (if you count going to Burger King and wearing the paper crowns as a lot which, when with the right people, I do). It comes down to my maturity problem. Kids on the bus drove me insane with their ear-shattering cacophony on the way to the meet that I rarely desired to spend more time with them.

My maturity is a blessing in the eyes of the adults in my life, and a curse in the eyes of fellow teenagers. I am probably known as a stick in the mud; a fun sucker. I hear tales of drunken high schoolers. People laugh as they tell me about the wild parties going on and who kissed whom or who shed every article of clothing possible. I don’t laugh. I feel sad or disappointed, depending on the party of people involved.

Get some alcohol in me, and I can let go. But if I’m sober in a room full of drunk people, I’m not a happy camper. I can’t be sober and think a drunk person is funny at the same time. I can’t be sober and hear about who-did-what-with-who and not feel a little sick. The idea of drinking casually is more tempting than drinking just to get drunk (especially since the shit tastes vile, anyway).

So many times, I’ve asked myself this question: why didn’t I socialize and hang out more with people in my own grade during senior year?

The answer is Robby. He can be silly at times, but when it comes right down to it, he is the most mature young man I know. Any adult who knows him would agree with me. He’s a nice boy. He’s not the typical, just-wanna-get-in-your-pants 17-year-old. He’s a genuine, sweet and caring guy who proved himself to be mature right from the start of our courtship on February 21, 2010. We have always been inseparable until, of course, college forcibly drove us apart. My infantile peers just couldn’t match up to him. I didn’t want them to. Robby and I are 17 and 18 going on 30, respectively.

The people in my life like Katie, Robby, Kevin, Mama, Tayler, Caitlin, Sarah and Tori really know how to draw the silliness out of me. Everyone else in the world will just have to deal with the me who is stuck in the mud.

Little running M&Ms

A sea of M&Ms took off as the gun sounded. Someone had carefully organized them into neat rows by color and then with the pull of the trigger they were mixed back together as if someone had shoved the rows with their giant hands. They ran by me and stirred up mud and sweat along the way. Never have I heard a crowd cheer so loud for what appeared to be little running M&Ms.

I became one of them. Donned in my own orange tee shirt and my tiny blue shorts, I stood in the box that was once marked with a six and took my place on the white line with my identical M&M friends. The rain poured down upon us all, and when the smoke showed, we all melted together in the midst of the heavy rainfall. My M&M-y vision blurred as we ran up the slippery hill and then plummeted back down. Several of my M&M sisters slipped into the vast mud pit at the bottom, but more of them stayed upright and continued their quest to the finish line where warm clothes waited.

More sisters were left behind in the mud as we all fought through the cold, cold rain but there was nothing I could do. I wanted to stop and help them up so bad, but knew that that would only slow me down. And, we couldn’t have that at the biggest meet in the state.

Before I knew it, I had broken away from my other M&Ms and became a lone orange one. Ahead I could see a few of my orange sisters and knew I had to keep up with them. Slipping and sliding in the mud and dirtying my poor little M&M self, I ran around the field and into the finish with a new personal record and a placing I could be proud of. Just like that, I became the 24th M&M to cross and with that the 24th best runner in the state for Class C.

When I watched that first race of the day take off, to me, they resembled a whole bunch of M&Ms running around due to the different tee shirts colors according to the different sections. All day, I was nervous, but I couldn’t wait to become an M&M and show off the orange for Section 6. I couldn’t wait to represent my school, my section, my family and most importantly, myself. I was proud of my nineteen minutes and fifty-eight seconds spent as just another little orange M&M.

A fantastic weekend

For the past month, I have been telling myself that the weekend I am experiencing right now could either be the best weekend of my life, or the very worst. It turned out better than I ever dreamed it could.

The obstacles I was to face this weekend seemed dark and ominously tall all throughout this week. I knew my birthday would be fun (it was my sixteenth; it had to be!), but I was dreading the thought of a Learner’s Permit test for which I had not had the time to study for. If I were to fail it, all would be lost and I would feel like such a loser. The day after my birthday was the biggest meet of the year; the meet every cross-country runner nervously looks forward to all season. I craved the thought of finishing the race and knowing that I had successfully reached my goal of making it to the state championship meet.

Well as you, the reader, very well know, the whole Learner’s Permit did not work out, and I couldn’t have prayed for a better miracle. I was disappointed at the time, sure, but then the weekend took off. I had received the check I had desperately been waiting for for two weeks that day (aka my birthday) and I could finally buy my new iPod. But, first, I had a race in my way.

My race was the last one of the day on a course I truly despise. I ran the best race of my life yesterday. I started out in the right spot and moved up from there. I finished 4th overall, though technically it was 3rd. I almost got a personal record and beat my time from last year at this same course by well over a minute. I got to the chute and screamed “I’M GOING TO STATES!” Friday was an awesome – though nerve-wracking – day. After years of narrowly missing the opportunity to go to States, I made it. And boy, was my daddy proud of me.

Today, I purchased my new iPod (and dubbed her Persephone – I decided that she was a girl) and even though I bought a new iPod, I went off and bought a case for good ol’ Pandora just so she wouldn’t get mad. I know, I’m referring to inanimate objects as if they were animate – get used to it. Right now I’m listening to a large range of music thanks to the computing power of this monster of an iPod. (Sorry, Pandy!)

I got home from the shopping charade to find another check for me to cash and then we had my family birthday party. I got the portfolio I have been wanting and can’t wait to put it together.

Oh, and I got a cell phone. No biggie for most kids, because, you know, most kids have had them since they were, like, five, but, this is a big deal for me. This will be the first cell phone ever to come into my possession. That’s right, I am now sixteen years old and still don’t own a cell phone – but, have no fear! It’s on its way.

At first, I didn’t want one. And, I still don’t want one. The fact is, it has become a necessity. You can’t deny it. When I’m all alone and don’t have  a person who owns a cell phone nearby, I’m scared shitless. Now, that won’t be a problem anymore. On Monday, we’ll order my phone (and now, I’m not getting an ENV like everyone else seems to have) and I’ll have it just in time to take it with me on the States bus so I can text my mom and tell her where I am and such. It will be the first time in my life that I will totally be reachable. It’s scary and yet comforting at the same time. I’m rather excited.

So, I’d say it has been a fantastic weekend despite my worries. Even though I said goodbye to a friend I have known all my life, the world doesn’t seem so scary anymore. I’m looking forward to the meet on Saturday. I will get to go up against New York State’s finest runners; and I’m one of them. That has yet to sink in for me. Happy Birthday to me.

Now, my birthday is officially over. The best part?

The weekend isn’t over quite yet. Hello, second morning of sleeping in.

From death and funerals to stem cell research and abortion

Cross country season picked back up again. On Monday morning I was awakened by a song coming out of my iHome speaker at 7:30 (which is much too early to meet my approval, I’ll let you know). I got up, showered, grabbed some Cinnamon Toast Crunch and put it in my bag, and then was out the door and on my bike, heading for the high school.

We started running. That’s what you do in cross country, if you didn’t know. We ran up prison hill. Some were encouraged to go on and run around the entire prison (the prison that Lindsay Lohan’s dad was kept, oddly enough), and I was one of those encouraged. I felt great. I had started out in the way back with a couple of my fellow teammates on the girls’ team, but little by little I had inched all the way up to the people that had fallen behind from the leading pack. I passed two newly instated runners and then fell into pace with the smartest kid in our entire school. My plan was to catch up to the leading pack which consisted of my best friend, my boyfriend, and another friend, but instead, he (being the smartest kid) and I started talking. We started talking about stuff that really mattered. Important issues, problems, and beliefs. It was nice to have an intelligent conversation, and it distracted me so much that I didn’t even notice when we passed another kid that had fallen behind from that same leading pack.

Our discussions ranged from death and funerals to stem cell research and abortion. It was like we went through the entire endless cycle of life during that one discussion we had during our run. I told him about the funeral I had had to go to recently and the unfortunate situation it had to be under, and then he shared how once when he was younger he had two funerals in one day to go to. We discussed how we both are not sure if there is a God up there and the hypocritical actions that are associated with members of the Church.

Then came the abortion topic, which then lead to a conversation chock-full of stem cell research. I had heard about it, but wasn’t exactly sure what it was all about. He informed me of everything about it (seeing as how it had been the topic he’d chosen for the recent research paper he’d had to do). What I don’t understand is why people are against it. And, it ties in with the abortion thing. I think that women should be allowed to make the decision of whether or not they want to abort their pregnancy. Let people frown upon a mother’s decision to abort her pregnancy, but if that mother is not ready to be a mother, then why not? If that girl is carrying the baby as the result of a rape she doesn’t want to be reminded of, why not let her make the decision to rid her body of that growing embryo? And, if every woman or girl that decides to have an abortion also donates the stem cells within them, that could initially save lives. You go from “killing” something that doesn’t quite exist yet to saving someone whose liver is failing or is in vital need of a heart transplant and just needs a donor.

Let stem cell research carry on! Let it save lives despite the many frowns of disgust it is receiving! We were put on this earth somehow and are now being plagued by disease left and right. If we’ve discovered a way we can cure, why not carry on and finish it? It means having one less child to feed, sure, but it also means one less person hanging out in an isolation room in the hospital just waiting for that heart or liver or lung or whatever to come. I say that science makes more sense than God. Science can save lives when God obviously can’t.