Running Full

sascha brooke

dear running… i’m fighting a war

heyyo it’s been a REALLY long time since I’ve produced any content on here (oops). I’ve had quite a hectic year since the last time I posted and I thought now would be a reasonable time for an update – an honest, vulnerable update.

the past year has truly been one of the most challenging periods of my life, not only in the physical sense, as my body was compromised by mysterious aches and pains, but also in terms of my headspace. I’m an exceptionally stubborn person (just ask my parents) and my stubborn tendencies carry with them a drive so fierce that I’m not afraid to steamroll obstacles in pursuit of my desires.

endure the position of a child of divorce? I’ve overcome it.

lose a sibling to an overdose? I’ve seen firsthand the impacts of this crisis.

compete for a coach who shamed my body? dealt with that too.

hospitalized for my anxiety? I’ve sported that medical wristband. #breakthestigma

forbidden to run with the boys on a team without a girl who pushed me to excel? I ran alone.

could barely run a ten minute mile? I’m now chasing the 4-minute range.

barely knew anything about myself when running was stripped from my life? I’m proud to say that I’ve pushed myself to cultivate new passions.

I’m not in any means trying to beef myself up or compare my challenges to those that others may face, I’m just attempting to display the level to which resilience is fundamentally ingrained into my personality. I’ve never met a challenge that has uprooted my confidence… until this one.

I hate to beat a dead horse by talking about this, but as some of you may know, I’ve been dealing with a lot of pain and injury for the past year. in fact, its been 13 months since this whole journey started. I’ve seen over twenty different specialists, received a plethora of physical therapy and manual treatments, and somehow have still managed to progress even further into a black hole of pain.

when my injury first started, I would spend anywhere from sixty to ninety minutes a day literally jumping up and down to save my fitness, fitness that I had been told by coaches and former olympians would likely carry me to a state championship the following year. I kept a list on the whiteboard in my hallway of every exercise that I thought would restore my health, and every night I went through, one by one, checking them off as I recited the Nelson Mandela quote that I had written below the list: “may your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears”. I’m no stranger to the slick feel of the rubbery athletic bands or the rigid lacrosse balls whom I spent many difficult nights with, praying that if I manipulated the band to just the right amount of tension or positioned the ball on just the right location of a spasmed muscle, I might be able to get my glutes to fire one ounce more, which would give me the strength and mobility to get back on the track. after a night of physical therapy and frustration, I’d drag myself out of my warm bed at five am to plunge into the icy pool, determined to master the art of swimming in order to hold onto every ounce of fitness that I could.

I read books on mindset, believing that I just didn’t have a “holistic” approach to running, leading me into the cycle of injury. I read books on training and performance, ultimately deciding that the reason my comebacks kept failing was because I wasn’t following the right “training philosophy”.

I stood up in classes, shifting my weight from side to side in an attempt to shake the constant ache in my hips that was brought on by sitting. I finished my work early and begged my teachers to allow me to go to the athletic training room, praying maybe another session of physical therapy would fix it. I changed my diet, going vegan in the hopes that I could curb the inflammation in my body and reduce my pain.

alas, none of this gave me any relief from pain or return to running. I used to strive for perfection, but now I found myself clinging to any sliver of progress. I fought back tears every time I watched my former teammates and competitors toe the start line that I was present on just a year before. I felt alone and powerless, and in a night of fear, anger, and desperation, I wrote this poem:

dear running,

my address to you is long, long overdue. 

pain, elation, joy, heartbreak, dreams, and desire

all wrapped into the same, repetitive motion

every step chisels me

chisels me, but also strips me,

strips me of my dimensions

much like the slip of a hand on an intricate carving of soap,

turning a masterpiece into a disaster.

yes, you’re a dangerous game,

yet i’m addicted to rolling the dice

lungs screaming, legs burning, heart pulsing

i play on

chasing

chasing these visions you put inside my head

visions i can not erase

dreams that don’t leave when i open my eyes

stupid dreams

they don’t matter, i tell myself

i can’t do it

the odds aren’t in my favor

it’s been too long

too long since i’ve made my last move

but the dreams don’t leave

even when i shove them out the door

angry with what you’ve initiated,

a violent battle between my heart and my body.

i’ve started over,

recarved that bar of soap,

but something’s missing

maybe i need the chiseling,

day in and day out

maybe you’re not an addiction,

but a therapy,

the wounds exposed when you leave.

sure, you create wounds,

but those are temporary,

just battle scars,

strengthening me for future wars.

dear running,

i’m fighting a war for you right now.

for the liberty you bring with every stride,

the rush of adrenaline at each starting line,

the five am alarm tones, 

the hotel oatmeal,

the karaoke bus rides,

the mountain summits,

the river ice baths,

the endless loops around the track,

the sweat stains,

the high fives,

the runner’s high,

the click of a stopwatch,

the swing of my arms,

the labored breaths,

the One above,

the people who’ve befriended me,

the purpose you have given me,

the passion you ignite.

dear running,

i’m fighting a war for the dreams you’ve ingrained into my heart.

fighting with hope 

that one day you’ll return

i’ll return

lungs screaming, legs burning, heart pulsing

to roll the dice again.

this summer was the tipping point for me, when I no longer had a distraction like grades or tests or friends to distract me from the reality of my pain, which was progressively getting worse. I reluctantly canceled college visits when it dawned on me that I’d struggle to walk around the campus. I accepted, teary-eyed, that I wouldn’t be able to join my dad on our annual backpacking trip in Washington. I closed off from friends because I wasn’t sure how to explain to them that – yes, I’d love to hang out with you, but I don’t feel like it’s fair to ask you to spend time with someone who can barely get out of bed or put on her own shoes (not that there’s anything wrong with that, I just felt like a burden). I felt frustrated as I was forced to stop exercising and watch my body transition from the ultra athletic frame of my freshman year to a physique more representative of the activities that I am now able to do, which consist mainly of lying in bed with the occasional trek to the kitchen or doctors’ office. I watched as friends traveled, got jobs, and enjoyed their summer break while I wrestled with deep depression, feeling hopeless and lost.

so, we made an appointment with the surgeon.

my mother told me that when I was a newborn, I would push my wobbly, flimsy legs against her chest, bracing myself in an attempt to walk. now, almost sixteen years later, I’ve forced the same legs to carry the dreams in my heart, but to do so with rotated femurs, as well as two torn labrums and extra bone in my hip joint. not the most productive scenario.

with this new diagnosis, my family and I have decided that it is best to proceed with a couple of surgeries to repair the damage in my hip joints and prevent my joints from ever becoming this damaged again. I’m not sure exactly which surgeries I’m getting yet, but probably the same surgery as Emily Infeld (so that’s pretty dope)! I’m going to have surgery on August 26th and October 7th, and I’m missing weeks of school for each surgery so I have a very extended summer break!!

anyways, before this diagnosis, I didn’t want to accept that there was something “wrong” with the way that my joints were made, because c’mon man why in the world would my body develop in a way that is prone to injury… like that does not fit the premise of evolution (or my idealistic views). however, as I shuffled around on the white paper that lines the chairs of every doctor’s office, listening to the surgeon tell me everything that was “wrong” with my hips, I realized that every “abnormality” – from my small labrums (prone to tears), to my rotated femurs, to my extra bone – was all a part of God’s perfect vision, for I am not flawed but “fearfully and wonderfully made”. I understand that there is a greater purpose for my suffering and I find that so empowering.

there’s always the chance that I’ll never return to running, or that I’ll never reach my previous level, or that maybe I just don’t have what it takes to really succeed at this sport. however, there’s also a strong chance that I will get back to running, that I’ll be even better than I was before, and that I’ll have the opportunity to achieve the success that I’ve always dreamed of. so in the words of Nelson Mandela, “may your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears”.

oh yeah, I’ll also get to backpack with my padre again and pursue all my other adventurous dreams, so hats off to that.

alrightyyy, that’s all for now. I’m taking suggestions of music to listen to while I’m on extensive bed rest so please shoot me a dm, I’m not picky! (I also love listening to TED talks and podcasts but I’m probably the only person my age who does so I don’t expect suggestions haha). okie bye for now.

xoxo

sasch

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