I’m generally a 10 o’clock in the morning woman. I dodge obligations that would separate me from my sheets at an earlier hour. My alarm rings, and I luxuriate each time I get to slide the button to snooze. Usually. But yesterday I woke up at 6:54 a.m. because I wanted to run.
My mother pronounces my newfound affection for running as an act of God. She remembers, as do I, my woeful elementary and high school running days.
Do you remember yours? Were you once a sweaty adolescent gathered with other sweaty adolescents to pound four laps around a dusty outdoor track on the unequivocal worst day of the year? The Hated Mile Run. I remember the news flying in the school halls, just when it got warm in the spring: “We’re running the mile today.”
It filled us with dread. I never understood why someone would force poor children to run, to suffer humiliation and fill their sides with cramps. But with a heavy groan, I ran. I did not come in last, but I always came close.
My seventh and eighth grade phys ed teacher, Mrs. Smith, had short blond hair and bright blue eyes. She was a young married woman who exuded an athletic coolness that totally evaded me. She looked good in Nike clothes. Her feet and hands spoke the same language as hockey sticks and basketballs and could somehow combine with them into beautiful fluidity.
Not mine. My hands fumbled with a hockey stick. Basketballs always appeared in the corner of my eye, just out of my vision, just out of the reach of my too-slow hands. A soccer ball would sit in the wet fall grass, dumbly waiting for my foot to connect, and somehow my foot would slide right past it. When it comes to athletic activity, my feet and hands and eyes have never agreed. It makes me ashamed.
None of that has changed about me. I still cringe when asked to throw, catch, or kick a ball. In casual public games while others celebrate with jubilant high fives, I feel as though my head were on fire. But one thing has changed. Now I can run.
One year while I ran a mile for Mrs. Smith, a switch flipped in my brain. I ran the whole mile, in good time, softly singing in my own mind the Bible-verse words to Steve Green’s children’s song:
“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is desirable, think about such things. Whatever is excellent, whatever is praiseworthy, think about, think about, think about such things.”
The little melody made rhythm with my breathing, and I sang it over and over again until I reached the finish, astonished at myself. I hadn’t stopped, I hadn’t despaired, and I hadn’t been defeated. Afterward Mrs. Smith sat at her desk saying, “See, Chelsea, it was in your head.” And for a minute, she was proud of me.