Finding My Stride
by Flo Gascon


When I was nine, I could run like the wind.  I liked being fast, but I was faster than everyone else and I liked that even more.  Tearing across the school playground and hearing the sounds of my classmates’ strides growing distant, my heart swelled with accomplishment.  Everyone said I was a runner.

In high school, I struggled to feel accepted until I remembered my elementary savior, my fast legs.  I convinced my best friend to join the track team with me, convinced I could race my way into the popular cliques.  Instead, weighed down by peer pressure and low self-esteem, I discovered I was no longer fast, but slow and short of breath.  I made the decision I was not a runner.  As my life proceeded, I declined any offers to jog with college friends, co-workers or boyfriends because I knew better than to even try.  My truth became one I’ve never questioned:  I am just not a runner. 

My husband, a cross-country star, needs to run like I need to eat chocolate; he enjoys the taste of it and the way it melts away his anxiety.  Five years ago he completed in his first adult race, a local 5K which is approximately three miles.  The next year, my four year daughter joined in by running a quarter mile. I felt that I should be in the mix, amid the mothers pushing jogging strollers.  But I told myself I’m not a runner.  Instead, I stand on the sidelines, choking back a lump in my throat as I cheer on the various groups throughout the day. 

I stand in my place on the sidewalk as a dozen men roll across the finish line, sweaty from propelling themselves with the strength of their arms.  Judging from the wild combination of determination and jubilation splayed across their faces, I decide their spirit is stronger than mine.  My emotion springs from disappointment.  I feel the pain of having full use of my body, though my mind doesn’t believe I am capable, powerful or strong.  This year, I walk away from this annual race with renewed purpose, asking myself, “If they can do that, what can I do?”  While believing anything is possible, running never enters the equation… because I am not a runner.

In the spring, I stumbled across these words from Goethe: 

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.  Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.

Inspired, I jumped with both feet into a major project with no prior experience or resources.  With no starting capital and a budget in the tens of thousands, I found courage in risk and magic in a dream.   I was bold, and it felt good!  I had found power!  I uncovered resources right under my nose, excitement from the market and ideas bursting out of my brain. 

It was then I encountered my first challenge.  It seemed that boldness equaled bigness.   It couldn’t be considered bold to simply clean and organize the kitchen.  It seemed to me, bold was ripping out the flooring and cabinets.  I wondered how my little efforts would ever feel valuable again.  For me, it wasn’t enough to just try or start small.  To be purposeful I felt all of my ideas, dreams and work needed to be extraordinary.  So I decided I needed another project, because one was not enough.  The thought of running again flashed through my mind.  It was late December when I set my sights on the springtime 5K run.  Since my record is running about a mile and a half, I decided I could walk the rest of the three miles.  Yet even with this decision, I wanted to give it my all.

I began lacing up my running shoes a few days a week to limber up.  Finally, I decided to try to run as far as I could, which was only a third of a mile.  I felt pretty tired so I continued walking on the rocky, windy trail near my home.  My legs burned, my lungs heaved and I kept my eyes locked on the loose rocks beneath my feet.  I suddenly stopped and looked up to see the beautiful panoramic view before me:  the vast horizon, ocean water perfectly reflecting a brilliant blue sky.  I knew immediately that it was my continued effort that was enough. 

Boldness lives in the putting of one foot in front of the other.

My walk to this place was just as worthy as my husband’s run there.  Most days, I don’t take a moment to breathe fresh air in solitude or feel my body pulsing with effort.  I was in a new place and it felt really good.  Even though my accomplishment was not as mighty as I had wanted, it was forward movement.   So I walked steadily along.  I began to realize it didn’t matter how far I ran in the upcoming race.  It was the possibility of standing at the starting line with a bib number pinned to my shirt.  If I keep trying maybe in five years I’ll run the whole race, but even if I don’t, that’s okay, too.  The journey of effort builds my character and strength of spirit.

Turning back to the rock, I hiked on, only to begin doubting myself.  I thought, What if I’m the last one across the line or the limpy solitary soul that everyone cheers for so desperately?   What if no one else is walking?  I can’t look weak.  How can I save myself from looking like a fool?  In an instant, all of those high school memories of wanting to be accepted flooded back and I saw that I was wrestling with the ghost of a shy girl navigating the fishbowl of a small high school’s culture.  As I looked at the path before me, I thought, I can run this easily. The young girl said, But people will see you and think you’re silly for running such a short distance.

But there was only me out there on the rocky ledge and not a cheerleader in sight.

My brain snapped to attention and my feet responded by breaking into a jog.  I can do this!  Even though I take it easy, it still counts.  It would be silly to not do that which I can do.  Doing it is huge!  It doesn’t matter if someone sees me.  I am bold!  I can run for a quarter mile.  Yea for me!

This April 4th is my date with destiny.  The gap is closing each day as I remember those youthful days of pumping my legs and feeling my feet rebound off the ground.  Knowing I’m strong and capable.  Knowing I am good enough.  Owning this joy embracing all I can do and living boldly in all moments, great and small.  I understand now that everything counts. 

I recognize now I am a runner… a quarter-mile runner.


2009 Copyright by Flo Gascon

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