I’m not a natural athlete. While Alan is a semi-pro track racing phenom with a wardrobe of spandex bike kits that cost more than all my clothes combined, my only recollection of any willing participation in organized sports is comprised of one afternoon of little league t-ball. When I was seven. I remember trying to run the bases in my big winter coat while the rain came down in a steady drizzle. Cold and soaked at the end of practice, my mom told me I didn’t have to stick with it if I didn’t want to. And so I didn’t. I went to most of elementary and middle school at a tiny Alaskan one room school that didn’t have a gym, let alone a sports program. PE was going outside and trying not to be eaten by a black bear. By the time my family moved back to the lower 48 for high school, I thought sports and I were just not meant to be.
Over the past five years or so, I’ve wondered if my life might be improved by at least trying to be more athletic. Everyone in my family is good at sports, so perhaps somewhere in my genetic background a more athletic Leah was waiting to be unveiled. Starting small, I thought I would try running. I figured running was a sport everyone could be good at, as long as they could walk without hurting themselves. Now that I had matched my coordination level with an actual physical endeavor, I signed up for a half-marathon as a motivator. This was a few years back, Alan and I had just gotten engaged, and his sister and I agreed to train together, partly as an excuse to get to know each other and spend time together. I began to notice something when I ran. After awhile, it started to suck less, and I started getting faster. I also felt better. Not just physically, but mentally. Something about the rhythm of the run, the thrill of pushing yourself to go just a little longer, a little faster. And at the end, as I cooled down, a sense of accomplishment in a task well completed. No matter what I faced in the rest of life, it all melted away for the duration of the run, and a lot of the time, the solitude brought new perspective.
It’s been a few years since that half marathon. I’ve gone through a couple minor injuries, had my training ups and downs, and still struggle to find consistency in carrying out my running goals. At the same time, I realize that I can do it. I can be something, an athlete, that I had never been able to see in myself. All those years of hearing sports just weren’t my thing, that I wasn’t wired that way, that girls are supposed to be allergic to exercise. Today, I lace up my shoes, and I silence those voices. Today, I am strong.