The Healthy Heart
I am terribly uncoordinated. Kicking a ball? While running? Hah! Throwing the perfect pitch? No one’s going to catch my wildly inaccurate curve ball. Until my freshman year of high school, I was basically the exact opposite of athletic. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy being active, I just failed to find my niche. Going into my freshmen year, the dreaded physical education requirement loomed in front of me. What would I ever do to fulfill it? I was definitely not going to join marching band, I had been home schooled kindergarten through eighth grade, and I was fairly certain this would not heighten my already less than stellar social status. The only plausible solution was to become, well, a cheerleader. One year into this endeavor though, I quickly began to realize what my true passion would be, for the rest of high school, and the rest of my life.
“Come join us! Hey you, over there!” I remember hearing this from the track coach as he used to see the cheer team and I head out to the track for what most of the other cheerleaders dreaded: running the mile. To them, it was either a necessary evil of conditioning or a punishment for being late to practice. What can I say? I guess I was a rebel; I started coming to practice late intentionally so that I could spend more time running than cheering. The fact that the track coach was also fairly insistent on me joining the team offered some positive reinforcement for my intentions as well.
It wasn’t until the first day that I actually joined the track team that I realized he was kidding. “You’re here? You’re joining? I was kind of kidding…” Apparently, he had been joking. My noble efforts to go out there and run (albeit faster than the other cheerleaders), was nonetheless, well, amusing. Bottom line, I was slow. But my “little engine that could” mentality kept me going…and going… and going… Despite continuing questioning from the team “You’re back again today?”
The first season of track was largely unsuccessful, with my greatest triumph being that I broke 8 minutes (7:59) at the final track meet for the mile. It wasn’t until my junior year of cross country that I finally began to improve. By senior year, I became captain of the cross country team, and ran my first marathon in the spring of that year. Not bad for an ex-cheerleader.
Looking back now though, I realize that what motivated me was of course, improving to some extent. Not necessarily winning, but getting better, faster. Now, I’m a junior in college. Our cross country team is ranked third nationally, and I’m nowhere near fast enough for that. But I still run, everyday, at least once. Sometimes, I wonder “Why do I keep going?” Many times my peers have actually said, “You do realize you’re essentially running nowhere, right?” But it’s not about getting medals, winning races, or even improving all the time. On Thanksgiving of this year, this truly became apparent to me.
At the Turkey Trot 10K I have run every year for the past five years, I thought it would be a race just like any other. Warm up, stretch, panic a little, realize it’ll be ok, and just go with the energy of the race after the horn went off. But, halfway through this race, that changed. While I was running along, maintaining my pace, a runner dropped to the ground directly in front of me. Immediately, I put on the brakes, turned around, and tried to see what was wrong. Other runners around me stopped too and rushed over to help the fallen runner. I was so shocked; I barely knew what to do. In a wave of panic, cell phones were whipped out, others called for help, and I watched as the man’s eyes rolled back in his head. At this point, I realized I would no longer be of any help, and if anything, I’d just be in the way. But that image stayed with me the rest of the race, the day, and still today. Later, I learned that the runner had gone into full cardiac arrest during the race. Cardiac arrest can happen to ANYONE on ANY day.
Never before had I really worried about heart health. I knew running was obviously good for maintaining aerobic fitness, but I never thought much about it. Now, after witnessing this tragic event, I appreciate running more each day. Not only is it a way to ensure that I stay in shape, but I am thankful that I am able to participate in this great sport where I can run over dirt trails, over the asphalt hills of my favorite route, or along the boardwalk with a cool ocean breeze.
I try and share this experience and its benefits with my friends and family. It is not uncommon to hear someone say “Hilary converted another person into a runner!” And it really is “converting;” it’s something someone does as part of his or her daily life, and it becomes a part of them, as it has with me.
In the future, I hope to be able to run for the rest of my life. Maintaining a heart healthy lifestyle in all aspects of living, from diet to exercise, will always be important to me. I hope to also be able to share running’s benefits with others as much as possible, by encouraging others to incorporate it into their lifestyles, supporting organizations such as the Run Project, and just in general encouraging others to be active. I realize that the first step is the hardest, from experience. I was never the talented kid who won races without trying. It was always a struggle for me, but that’s what makes it worth it, the journey. The journey to a healthier lifestyle isn’t always easy either. It’s been said that distance makes the heart grow fonder, and I wholeheartedly agree.