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.

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.

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.