12. Alive

12. Alive

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

Alive

Running is real. It’s all joy and woe, hard as diamond. It makes you weary beyond comprehension, but it also makes you free.
 ~Jesse Owens

I was born with very poor eyesight. Retinitis pigmentosa limited what I could do to a certain degree. Night blindness prevented me from doing a lot of things after dark. Sometimes I felt like a restless tiger trapped in a cage. There was a whole jungle out there to explore, and I couldn’t get to all of it.

I had to sit close to the TV to see what was going on. At school it was hard seeing the chalkboard and I usually sat in the front row. If I sat in the back with my friends, they would tell me what to write. Steps and bleachers were difficult, almost terrifying, for me, and I navigated them cautiously. I thought there was something wrong with me because I couldn’t bound up and down them the way my friends and classmates did.

Now I know why. My depth perception and peripheral vision were terrible.

Close activities, like reading, writing, and sketching, were things at which I excelled.

And running.

As much as I liked indoor activities, I was an outdoor tomboy too. Climbing trees, riding bikes, playing with my dog.

And running.

Running was something that didn’t require fine visual acuity. If I knew where the finish line was, I was there.

Speed is a gift. I didn’t know why I was blessed with speed when I was a young girl, but I was. My dad said I could run like a deer, and I did. But not in track. Our small rural school didn’t have track. It was in P.E. I was faster than all the girls, and faster than all the boys except for one, who was a basketball player.

Maybe this was God’s way of making it up to me?

I liked it.

It felt good to run. To be faster than everyone. To win.

It felt like flying. It felt free.

I didn’t need good vision to run fast.

Even then, I recognized it as something special. Power surged in my legs, muscles, lungs, bones, brain, soul. It was a natural high.

Running kept my self-esteem going. With it came a keen sense of the physicality of my own body. I had trouble with the stairs, but on the gym floor or in the field, or in a yard, it was a different story.

Pride — the good kind of pride — swelled inside me each time I came in first.

It was effortless.

Some of my classmates could sing, play the piano, sew clothes.

I ran.

When running laps around the gym floor, I would often pass my classmates a couple of times.

The farm I grew up on provided wide open spaces to explore and have fun. Lots of room for running.

My vision continued to deteriorate over the years, but my runner’s high didn’t. The strength and self-esteem it generated carried me through some challenging times — single parenthood, college, grad school, the loss of a man, the loss of one career due to my eyesight, the start of another….

I was never, never a professional runner. Never in organized sports. The trophy on my dresser is the one my son Travia got in T-ball. The medals awarded to me are two college degrees.

In a way I’m glad running didn’t become a sport for me, or part of an exercise regimen, or something I did for a living. It served a much different and personal purpose. The spirituality of it influenced me far more than my other talents and skills. It allowed me to experience success early. It showed me who I was and what I could do. It let me feel victory.

Were it not for running, I might not have met life’s challenges or pursued my dreams.

This may be another reason for my blessing of speed and strength: For what lay ahead. All my resources were called on to navigate life’s stair steps.

For me, the runner’s high has lasted a lifetime. It reached far beyond the moment when my legs were pumping and my muscles were thrumming and my brain was soaring.

It even reaches into my sleep at night, because sometimes I still have dreams where I’m running fast and free. My heart pounds, my breath quickens, my muscles thrive.

I guess not everyone understands this. But a runner will.

~Tammy Ruggles

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