Who are you?
I’m you, but stronger.
The girl on the top has just fallen in love with running.
Even though she does not think she is good, she knows she gives her entire heart each time she steps onto the line and that she loves her sport. The girl on the top does not think she will run again after high school or that she is fast enough, experienced enough, strong enough or fit enough to do so.
The girl on the bottom is the same girl, but stronger, faster and now a collegiate student-athlete. The two girls look the same; the only difference is the school on their singlet. They have the same face, same form, same thumb-under-the-index-finger, same love for running and—of course—the same semi-relaxed look when they see the team photographer.
If only the girl on the top knew her capabilities and who she could become with a combination of hard work and persistence. The girl on the bottom is strong as ever, because the girl on the top motivates her. She remembers why she’s a runner; she remembers everything she’s endured to become who she is today. If only the girl on the bottom could tell the girl on the top that her smile and her some determination could take her anywhere she wanted to go.
The girl on the bottom is strong, but still has the same worries as the girl on the top once did: that she isn’t fast enough, experienced enough, strong enough or fit enough. But then she remembers that she is enough. She never runs alone; the girl on the top is always with her and cheers her on with every step she takes. No matter what the clock says, in the end, the girl on the top watches, in amazement and awe that she made it to the starting line in the first place.
“Success isn’t how far you got, but the distance you traveled from where you started.”Steve Prefontaine
When I first saw the bottom image from my race at the Watts Invitational in Edinboro, PA, I immediately thought of one of my favorite pictures from running in high school. When I looked at these images, I couldn’t help but reflect on how different a person I am today, yet my passion remains, as do my worries. I started running cross country my senior year in high school, the year of the first picture. Girls surrounded me who had ran since childhood, as well as girls relatively new to the sport but with seemingly natural talent. I couldn’t help comparing myself to those girls. But one of the greatest lessons I have learned since is that running is about your personal progress. Each runner has a different journey. I’m still shocked I’m on a team at all; the fact that I am now running more than 12 minutes faster than the first race I ever ran shows that I am doing something right.
Am I the best? No. But I am doing my best, and that IS good enough.
I’ll never become a record-breaking runner who makes headlines or one who makes people say, wow, she’s fast. But I am better than before, and I know I can become even better. What’s more, I do it all with a smile on my face; my smile keeps me going. In a sport like cross country, it is incredibly difficult not to compare yourself to others, because that is the nature of the sport. If you beat someone, that means you’re faster than them. Your time equals your performance and your speed on one given day, but it is important to not get caught up in what the clock says.
Because the clock doesn’t say how long I’ve been running, or how many miles I ran during the summer or how much I’ve cried over my sport. The clock doesn’t show the expectations that I’m afraid I won’t meet. The clock shows one thing: time. But that’s just one thing. I can’t let a number define me. A number does not define my self-worth: I do.
No matter what the clock says, the true measure of my performance and abilities IS how I feel about my own performance, which is something I’m still learning. The whole reason I started running in the first place was because I liked it and thought it was fun; I still run today for that reason, not for validation from a clock. Writing things like this helps remind me of why I make time for this sport day in, day out, and of what I can take from it long after I step to the line with “Bonnies” across my chest for the final time. I can bring these things to my job and hopefully show them to my future students and athletes when I am a teacher or a coach.
It is also important as an athlete to have an identity outside of the sport, because athletics do not last forever. I am not only a runner, but also a writer, reader, musician, dog lover, friend, daughter, sister, future teacher and lifelong learner. This is my first year writing for The Intrepid, and one thing I hope to gain from my experience is to learn more about myself while conveying my thoughts and feelings to others in a relatable way.
If you have made it this far, I sincerely appreciate your time, and I only hope you find something meaningful in my stream of consciousness.
Don’t forget to smile today.
(Iris Archer is a feature contributor to The Intrepid and a junior cross-country and track runner for St. Bonaventure University.)
Top photo courtesy RunningWorksPics 2018. Bottom photo courtesy GoBonnies 2021.