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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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.

Welcome home

Home doesn’t feel like home anymore.

Sure, the dogs greeted me and Weezie the cat made a few appearances, but it’s not my home.

My childhood bedroom with its lime green, sky blue, raspberry pink and orangey orange walls close me in after branching out too far.

I can’t relate to 13-year-old Emily anymore. She’s the one who picked those colors and the bedding. I’m still very colorful, but I shed experiences every time I walk through the doorway. I’m back to the beginning, making the glow-in-the-dark flowers on the ceiling into triangles of Mickey Mouse’s nose and ears. My drawers are full of abandoned poetry books, cellphones and hair accessories. My bedroom door took a beating during my “nobody understands me!”, braces-clad phase. Returning is a bit debilitating and a hit to my morale.

I’m so happy with where I am now.

It’s a new place I am making my own. I’m discovering the area’s quirks, little by little. Thirteen-year-old, metal-mouthed Emily used to gaze in wonder as her oldest brother, Jordan, showed the family around the Chautauqua Institution, an area unbeknownst to us. Now 19-year-old Emily is doing what Jordan did.

I run and check out the neighborhoods. I brought my bike back with me from home this past weekend and discovered a really neat park tonight where I plan to spend a lot of my summer. And you just can’t beat the main, bustling street full of family-owned shops and boutiques. I find something new every time I walk/run/bike down it.

I’m secure with being alone and doing things for me. Running for me. Biking for me. Finding new nooks and new swingsets to swing the evenings away on.

And then watching the sun set every night:

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Keep running

“We have to do that every time I visit,” I told him between breaths.

“Okay,” he said.

Even when fall morphs into winter. I don’t care.

We walked. Instead of watching my footing, I watched him. Each careful step, every glance around at the surrounding foothills. Meanwhile, I stepped in a puddle. He looked at me and laughed.

“There’s a puddle there, you know,” he said.

I just scowled at him and kept walking. But then I smiled and laughed at myself, wet right foot and all.

A left turn began our ascent and we climbed, climbed, climbed. The grass licked and tickled my shins, leaving its wet residue. And, even though the rain had subsided before our adventure began, I hit the tree branches with my hand, spilling the bright green leaves’ contents onto our heads.

He just laughed.

He always does.

I took note of fallen, slippery branches in preparation for our treacherous descent.

Four soaked feet and a heavily breathing black dog later, we reached the top. The trees spilled more droplets onto us there and he held me as we looked at the thick, broccoli-floret foothills.

Then the fun part.

We took off, running down the hill fast enough to be positively thrilling. My wet feet slipped in my wet shoes as they pounded on wet dirt and wet fallen branches. I stuck to the middle of the path, away from the manmade trenches on its sides. His steps pounded close behind me and I let myself go, allowing my legs to absorb each impact, only to keep moving and moving.

Faster and faster.

Around the bend avoid that stick stay in the middle of the path keep running listen to his heavy breathing focus Emily focus don’t roll your ankle lift the branch away from your head keep running don’t let him pass you move to the unsafe side of the path to block him keep running balance your breathing watch where your feet land feel the mud kicking up onto your back keep running.

Laugh with him.

Faster and faster.

Over two mud puddles in a steeplechase-esque jump, landing safely on the other side. Keep running.

I kept going. Everything else fell away and I focused on the ground in front of me. The path in front of me. The obstacles in the way. I took them as they came instead of worrying about them in advance.

He taught me this.

Just let it happen. Just go with it. Whatever happens happens. It is what it is.

Back on the dirt road, I bent over to catch my breath.

“That’s better than a lot of things,” I said. And I meant it. So we’ll do it every time I visit. Rain or sleet or snow or shine.

He smiled. He always does. And he probably said something that I can’t remember now. But then we held hands and walked back down the road, escorting dark blue storm clouds and welcoming them.

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.

Brown, white, red, black and blue

We all wore different uniforms.

Brown and white covered my body, red and black for Kevin and deep blue and white for Christian (with much shorter shorts than ever before).

We’re the same people; the same friends. We’re just not on a team together anymore. We will never wear blue and white together again.

Kevin, me and Christian

Kevin and Christian are two of my very best friends. I can be myself around them and not worry about the consequences. I was back to my regular, snarky self. We met each other’s teammates, but we mostly hung around each other, cheering on kids from our respective teams.

Last Saturday, we traveled to the University of Rochester for a track meet. We’ve been training here and there, but nothing hardcore. The best part of the meet was being reunited with my former teammates. It wasn’t until our reunion that I realized how much I miss having them around at meets. When I grumble about running, they know how to deal with me. They grumble right along with me and then we laugh about our complaints.

That’s what is different about college. You’re thrown in with a group of kids that are your age, but you did not grow up with them. You don’t know anything about anyone; you have to trust what they say about themselves is the truth. I had missed the comfort of friends who have known me since I was four and seven (I think Christian’s known me that long…ish). At school, it’s all about where you are now, not where you were.

Being with my friends reminds me of where I was. Where I used to be. Who I used to be.

They bring it all right back.

Except Nickelback, of course

I used to be genre specific. Well, I’m definitely not anymore. Thanks to my best friend, I’m really into country; a genre I used to put away in disgust. Now, I’m open to anything. Except Nickelback, of course. *shudders*

For example, I have 114 songs in my iPod’s “Recently Added” playlist. Therein lies the art of some more Vitamin String Quartet, The Beatles, Thomas Newman, Inara George, Psapp, Feist, A Fine Frenzy, Miike Snow, Snow Patrol, Au Revoir Simone, Bishop Allen, Architecture In Helsinki, Taio Cruz, Rihanna, Timbaland, Regina Spektor and Boys Like Girls. I don’t care anymore. Give me something, and I’ll listen to it.

For track practice the yesterday, we had to go out on a long run. Since I seem to be lacking in the running partner department, my best friend gave me her iPod Touch (knowing that taking my 160GB on a run with me would kill me and that I didn’t bring in my old 4GB nano), set me up for her playlist to play and then sent me off on my way.

She’s country (like Jason Aldean’s song). Downright country. She lives on a farm and in their barn, the radio is always attuned to the country radio station. In the morning, she watches music videos on CMT, when she comes over to my house she switches our kitchen radio to 106.5 and in the car she always changes it to her station. She’s the reason why I am into country music now, but my run with her iPod surprised me even more. I listened to every song on her playlist of choice that played, and found that I could tolerate – and even possibly liked – every song that played. It carried me through what would otherwise have been a long, lonely and painful run (let’s just say that Emily needs new sneakers). It was still painful, but it didn’t seem nearly as lonely or long.

I’ve got artists like Lady Antebellum, Carrie Underwood, Sarah Buxton and Lonestar on my iPod. At this point, I can go from Marilyn Manson or Every Time I Die to Lady Antebellum on shuffle without even blinking an eye. I uploaded every CD I owned from when I was little onto my computer and now have all of them on my iPod (yes, this includes Hilary Duff, Lindsay Lohan, Avril Lavigne, Nelly Furtado and Dixie Chicks).

I honestly just don’t care anymore. Music is meant to bring people together, not tear us apart. I will always love bands like Escape the Fate, Bullet For My Valentine and AFI, but they are taking the backseat for a little while. I’m busy exploring other genres and broadening my taste in music. It’s a wonderful thing.

Believing ain’t easy

I almost started crying when I entered the room with the high ceilings. I could still hear our laughter and heavy breathing as we darted in and out of the rows of pews. Fresh in my mind was the vision of us kids running around in the darkness while our parents socialized in the next room. I could still see him looking up at me, for I was taller than him the last time I encountered his presence. That has changed, I’m sure.

It was weird to be back, albeit nice. Except, there were things that weren’t nice. My grandma was scowling like a jealous schoolgirl and things had changed too much. Not only was the basement a mess, but the parsonage had been burned to the ground. Stress was something I could feel strongly in the air. Its prominence burned me much like the charred pile of former house innards laying out in the January winter.

There was no choir. There was no organ; just piano. There were no children that I recognized, there was nobody my age up in the back, getting ready to snuff out the candles after the service to signify their job as an acolyte.

“We stopped doing that,” she said. Well, I think that kind of sucks.

There was no comfort. Or, at least there was very little. The only times I cracked a smile was when Papa fell asleep here and there and when I heard the voice of my favorite choir member singing behind me. At least he was there to provide me with a sense of normalcy; even if it wasn’t a very big chunk of it.

There’s also the issue of not necessarily believing. What am I to do about that? I know I pleased my grandparents by acting as their chauffeur and acting as something they could show off to their friends, but I don’t know if I see this becoming a regular thing. It was fun to make them happy, but if I don’t believe, what am I to do? Sit there every Sunday with a blank look painted on my face, much like I displayed today?

I’m glad I did it. I don’t regret it. I just wish I wasn’t so shrouded with disbelief. Believing comes to other people so easily…why can’t it be that easy for me?

For everything there is a season

It was like greeting an old friend as soon as my feet found the pavement. The snow had melted just enough and the air seemed balmy in all its glory of forty degrees Fahrenheit. I’ve always found it amazing just how different forty degrees can be, depending on the perspective you’re taking. When the seasons change from summer to fall, 40 degrees seems like the coldest temperature on earth. But, when the winter chill backs off a bit and lets in some of that 40-degree air, it’s as if spring has come early. It’s the same temperature and yet, it’s different.

I had considered making up a quick playlist of songs I could listen to while I ran, but I opted to leave my iPods at home, instead. The birds sang as I left the cul-de-sac I have lived on my whole life and let my legs carry me out to the main road and down the hill. I was surprised at how good I felt and let that carry me through the pain as muscles were put back into use after remaining dormant for nearly two months. The pain gave me something to think about and something to distract me from the mountain of homework I had to do and the hardships I had been dealing with on a regular basis.

When I was running, I didn’t have to feel anything but the pain from the exertion I was putting my body through. When I thought about it hard enough, I could feel my heart pounding in my chest, but if I just let my mind wander and let my legs do my thinking for me, nothing really mattered. I ran by a business that owes my dad money and considered trashing it. But, I didn’t. I kept running and made my way toward the hill that stood menacingly in the not-so-distant distance.

My energy deteriorated once I reached the top, but I kept on running. I reached my halfway mark and kept going. I thought about how natural it is for me to run and how effortless it can be once I am in good shape to do it. I thought about the summer and how the three of us took part of this same route in an effort to be in shape for cross-country season. I thought about how fast the time goes and how it doesn’t make sense to try and cherish every moment. If you’re too busy cherishing, you’re not living. You’re just trying to keep it in your memory forever. A memory should be something you remember effortlessly, not something you save onto the desktop in your brain so you can click on it and wait for it to load.

I decided against taking a shortcut and instead went the whole way around and back to my street. I took a left, ran down to the green Pennysaver box and then took a right, thinking in my head about that last 200m that I face with every race I run on the track. I ran halfway up my slushy driveway and then bent over to catch my breath. I always do this, and then I bend my knees carefully before reaching my full height (5’2″ if you were wondering) and then walking around a little bit, my hands over my head.

I entered through the side garage door, made my way through the traffic blocking my way to the house door (sleds, snowshoes, etc) and shed my running sneakers (New Balance this year – a brand I never really gave a chance until over the summer), grabbed my already-full glass of water off of our butcher block-esque island and downed it in a second.

My ears stung from the cold and my breathing was wheezy with each inhale and exhale I made.

“How’d you feel?” my dad asked.

“All right,” I replied. “I started out too fast and was dead by the end, but it felt good to run. I’m gonna go lay down now.”

I entered the family room and plopped onto our brand-new couch to catch my wheezy breaths. After thirty minutes passed without my daddy turning on the TV, I went upstairs and grabbed The Lovely Bones and continued reading from where I had left off right before daddy had picked me up at the school just barely an hour previously. We sat there, father and daughter, reading our books of choice: his a Yankee book that someone had gotten him and mine a novel that had been made into yet another movie based off of a book. He wore one of his many pairs of $0.99 reading glasses and I wore the sweat and dirt of a girl who had almost made it through one of the toughest weeks of her sixteen years of living, and was coming out on the other side unscathed and perfectly fine.

At 4 o’clock, I tossed my book down and ran the shower upstairs in the bathroom that all of my brothers had vacated and bestowed unto me (we painted it a light brown and pretty light blue and got rid of the old Mickey Mouse theme that had previously reigned).

Before shedding my clothing, I focused on the length of my hair in the mirror. Back in ninth grade, it was a shock of bright-red curls. Now, it’s back to its normal color (brown/blond/red depending on the season and amount of sun received), though the curls have been kept (I have not dyed my hair since November 2008). I’ve decided that I want it to be long for when I take my senior pictures. I thought to myself Oh yeah, it will be long enough by the summer after this one!

And then it hit me.

I will be taking my senior pictures this summer. It’s crazy just how much time flies and how one change in your thoughts can create a chain-reaction of changes throughout your entire mind. At the moment, I am halfway through my junior year of high school. In June, I will sing in the Chamber Choir and watch some of my best friends ever don those white and blue robes and graduate from our little sliver of the universe and move on to bigger (and better) things. This hit me hard because I realized that I haven’t exactly enjoyed my high school experience that much. In recent months, Misery had taken over my entire being and forced me to look at everything pessimistically. But now, happy little Emily is back, and she plans on staying happy and little until she is forced to grow up in a year and a half.

The cherry on top

I had two choices.

Either I lose my sanity and do the musical this year, or I keep my sanity in check and just focus on school and running instead.

Guess which option I chose?

If you’re thinking the first one, you’re an idiot. I may be crazy enough as it is, but I still have my sanity. I think.

Anyway, they changed the musical to “The Wiz” and I was like, “see ya!” And, that’s that. I’m done. I chose my road, remember? It doesn’t involve the yellow brick one that probably appears in “The Wiz.” I chose the lovely red brick one.

So, instead of spending my nights at the school, I’ve gotten stuff done. Good stuff.

I did a project on the novel Jane Eyre. It definitely had the “wow” factor to it. I made a powerpoint, and modeled the sentences after the Dick & Jane books. (Ex: See Jane. See Jane run. Jane runs fast. Run, Jane run!) The best part? Because I was trying to get the point across that Jane Eyre is, in fact, gothic literature, I used Emily The Strange as Jane. Yeah, that’s right. 13-year-old Emily starred in my little movie as Jane Eyre. I was so proud of myself, and I could tell that my AP English teacher was impressed. The icing on the cake? The cherry on top? “Aha!” by Imogen Heap accompanied Jane (Emily) on all of her little adventures. I will never tire of that song. Ever.

Ever since I decided not to be involved in the musical, my life has gotten better. I have no unnecessary stress. Right now I’d be down at the school, but instead I’m here. I’m writing for two newspapers, a website, my blog, doing homework and running cross-country…I don’t have time to participate in silly musicals. There’s no point. It’s hard to walk away, but what’s done is done. My presentation wouldn’t have turned out as well as it did if I had had to be at the school rehearsing last night. And, that’s that.