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Running or racing? It’s such a simple question and most of us would probably choose running. But is that really the case? Do we really run for enjoyment? Or for speed? I once trained the slowest girl in our whole grade to be the fastest on the Cross-Country team. I would say that I have loved running, but what I really loved was my times and medals. It was not until a devastating break from running due to scoliosis (a curvature of the spine) that I’ve come to truly love running.

My story begins with the only track I know that is made up of grass instead of rubber, a track that has always held very special memories for me. It's where got my first sports medal in 6th grade’s Cross-Country meet, my only two gold medals from last year’s track tournament, and also this year, as it was one of my first runs after my scoliosis recovery. As I’d expected, my results weren’t ideal; I couldn’t possibly believe that I got so much slower from 6th grade! But, I guess that’s just the consequence of taking such a long break from running.

I’ve always participated in cross-country meets. Starting off as a 9-year-old, I felt proud of just completing the race, even if I finished last. Finishing a race was already a huge accomplishment for a girl who couldn’t even play tag with her friends, as I would always remain the tagger because I ran slower than everyone else. However, after a summer of rough training, and joining the swim team, I got a lot more serious about sports. I began to run frequently. I developed a true, ardent passion for running when I was the first to finish the 800m in Track and Field Day in 5th grade. I no longer felt forced to run but genuinely enjoyed it, feeling all my anxieties vanish and burn off through every step. Running then wasn’t just a sport to me, but the only escape from all the negativity in my life. It became a part of my life that I couldn’t live without.

Then, in the fall of 6th grade, I attended WAB’s Tiger Classic Cross-Country meet and felt anxious about running three km without stopping. I definitely didn't expect to achieve my goal of stepping onto the podium—I got 2nd place, which was completely unexpected, but super exciting for me. On one hand, running was still my haven outside of all of my stresses; but on the other, I became overly competitive with the sport and found it hard to be at ease unless I achieved a fast time or tangible medal to prove my ability. I feel ashamed to think about how many times I’ve cried in the bathroom after not achieving ideal places or times at sports meets. I blamed and hated myself for not achieving what I aspired to, but I should have realized that was just all part of the journey, something every athlete must go through eventually.

 

I remember the moment I finished the race on October 9th I was on the verge of tears. I didn’t even bother asking my time because I was so scared, certain that my performance wouldn’t be ideal—judging from the swarm of familiar faces that ran past me. I can’t believe that I used to be ahead of all of them. Just as I was about to cry into my sleeves, my coaches came up and regarded me kindly, asking how I felt after not running for such a long time. Not about to cry in front of a whole crowd, I held my tears and spilled out to them all my fear of not achieving an ideal time, and how I felt ashamed that I was able to get a medal at this meet when I was only 10, but not when I was 13.  “Well… welcome back! We’ve all missed you a lot and it’s wonderful to see you running again! There are still a few practices, and I’m sure that now you’ve recovered you’ll be all fit for track season!” The coaches replied, with a nudge on my shoulder. My friends all came and comforted me, congratulating me for finishing the race after not running for such a long time. I felt so ashamed that I felt the way I had after finishing the race. The positive spirits of my peers really got me, and at that moment I felt much more confident.

I used to only value the gold, silver, or bronze medals, ignoring the participation ribbon. But this time, I hurled out my participation medal and wore it like a badge of honor. Because this is sportsmanship. Not everything is about the time, but rather the experiences and lessons you learn from it. After my break from running due to scoliosis, I have learned not to blame myself for every "mishap." Some things are just out of my control—no one could’ve guessed I would have to take such a long break so suddenly. And not just that, but I've learned that mistakes and failures are just fine—they’re an essential part of your growth. Instead of purely focusing on my times, I should take a look at the beautiful scenery, be grateful for such supportive teammates, and be happy just to be a part of this bigger picture. In the end, if I had to choose between running and racing, I would always choose running, so why not just focus on that more?

Thinking back on it, I am prouder of myself after that meet than I ever was before. Maybe I didn’t achieve a PB or get a medal, but I finished the race and didn’t blame myself for not achieving my goals. I wore my participation medal proudly and cheered on all the others. The medal from that race will forever remain an epitome of not my best times or places, but of the difficult journey that I’ve made it through. Now, looking forward, I will still try my best to improve my times; on the other hand, my primary focus will be on enjoying the time with my team and savoring every stride that eradicates my worries. My experiences have helped me to finally understand that I am not an athlete because of my times, but because I have a passion for this sport.

Best of luck to all runners on your next season! I hope you all achieve personal bests and no matter the outcome always have a smile on your face while running!

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