This was it, the Olympic Trials. I had been dreaming about this my whole life. Since I was a little nine-year-old kid lining up for my first 5k road race with my dad, I had dreamed of making it to the professional level. And here I was, on the starting line of the Olympic Trials steeplechase prelim in an Asics racing kit. “Just make it through the round,” I reminded myself in an attempt to calm my nerves as the starter called us to the line. I just needed to be in the top three of this race to make it to the final and then I could really go after my goals. “Set,” the starter called, raising the gun. Bang! The race was off!
I’m used to people carrying guns around; I’m from Texas, born and raised. I grew up in Plano, a suburb of Dallas, and went to college at Baylor in Waco, Texas. I finished my NCAA eligibility after the 2015 track season and for the last year I had been running for ASICS while I finished up my college degree. The summer of 2016, I had a big decision to make: Stay in Texas or move to Greenville and join the Furman Elite team? Since I wasn’t on the Baylor team anymore, I didn’t have training partners and my coach was two hours away in Dallas. Obviously, choosing to move to Greenville was an incredible option. Coach Gary was a great steepler and had already coached some great steeplers, I would have training partners, and I would have a much better support system than in Waco. In my mind, however, I wasn’t choosing between logical vs. illogical, I was really choosing between familiarity vs foreignness, between comfort vs discomfort, between complacency vs. risk.
Complacency vs. risk. I wasn’t going to be complacent in this race. I had dreamed and worked my whole life to be in this moment and I knew I belonged at this level. From the first stride off that line, I made up my mind that I would run with confidence and gut. I got off the line and positioned myself near the leaders of the race. “Good work, stay there,” I told myself. I tried to relax but my breathing had never felt so unsteady. By the first thousand, my legs already felt heavy and lactic like it was the last lap of the race. “What is going on?” I asked myself. “Don’t think, just stay in it.” The past couple months, I had been feeling this burden to breath while I was running. I thought it was just the sweltering Texas heat and humidity, but maybe not… Why was I feeling like this? I had never felt this terrible at this point in a race. My arms were going limp. Girls were passing and passing and I was trying to tell my legs to speed up and make a move but I was stagnant. It felt and probably looked like I was jogging. The only thing I remembered from the last 800 of the race was the lap counter telling us we had two laps to go. Could I even run two more laps? And if I could, could I run two more laps with barriers and a water jump? Questions, questions questions.
So many anxious questions were going through my mind. What if I get up there and my training partners hate me? What if I can’t make friends? What if the training doesn’t work? What if I hate it there? What if… What if… What if… But what if I don’t go? Deep down, I knew that moving to Greenville was what I needed to do but I was so terrified to do it. I was scared because change isn’t comfortable. The unknown isn’t comfortable. But when has it ever been?
So many times in my life, change has been a catalyst for success. I changed from my high school’s training to a club team’s training and became a state and national champion, I changed some of the “little things” in college like getting good sleep, recovery, and nutrition and went from being an average runner to All-American, and I’ve done things like changing who I hang out around, what I read, and what I watch/listen to and I’ve become a more relaxed, confident person due to that change. So when I was faced with the decision of staying in the Texas comfort zone or moving to Greenville to train with the best steeple coach and some of the top steeplers in the world, I asked myself one question: How badly do you want to chase your dreams? I made a promise to myself when I started running professionally that I was going to do whatever it took to be the best runner I could be. It was all or nothing and I was not about to back down on that promise, I was going to Greenville.
My track season ended at the trials. I had hoped to race later on in the summer but I felt so terrible running that I knew I needed to figure out what was going on. The rest of the summer between the trials and moving to Greenville was filled with uncertainty, nerves, and random headaches and dizziness after runs. Endless questions floated through my mind about what was wrong with me and what Greenville would be like. After seeing some doctors in Dallas, I found out that I have exercise-induced asthma that may have been brought on by allergens at that time of year. It’s not an excuse for doing badly at the trials- I should have seen the warning signs and gotten it checked out earlier- but it was good to know what was going on. I got on some allergy and asthma meds and slowly started feeling better. I packed up for Greenville, still stressed and nervous about the move. Driving out of Texas, thoughts were flying through my mind… I’m not going to know anyone. It’s a totally new place. The training will be totally new and different. But wait…
I wasn’t going to know anyone so I get to meet a ton of new people. It’s a new place but it’s a new place that I’m choosing to be and I’m getting the chance to explore a different part of the country. The training will be totally new and different because I’m being trained by one of the top steeple coaches in the world. When has change not been good for me?
People, myself included, get so comfortable where they are that they are often too timid to take a chance. We have the choice each day to step out and explore the world. If I decided when I was five that I was too scared to go to school, I wouldn’t have met my childhood best friend or have gotten the chance to play on an awesome playground at recess. If I had been too uncomfortable to take a risk in seventh grade and race in a track meet, I never would have experienced that rare feeling of fluid running where your feet are barely touching the ground and it feels like you’re flying. If I decided after I graduated high school that I was too scared to leave Plano, I never would have gone to college, met the most incredible life changing friends, and eventually have the chance to run professionally. In reality, life is constant change and the people who adapt to change the best are the ones who thrive. It’s easy to get caught up in patterns and habits but I’ve found change is the vibrant color that paints life’s beautiful portrait and without it, my life is a boring blank canvas. Now I can say that if I never took the chance and moved to Greenville, I would never be trained by one of the best steeple coaches, have some of the most amazing training partners, have an awesome support team of physios and doctors, and train/live in one of the most beautiful places (in my opinion) that I’ve seen.
Hopefully I can add to that list of what I wouldn’t have achieved if I didn’t move to Greenville later on with lots of personal bests, fun relationships, and wonderful experiences but it’s a good start. For now, thanks for reading and thank you to everyone from doctors to coaches to fans to donors who have brought Furman Elite from an idea to reality. Each of you are helping me grow and thrive and you are giving me the chance to paint my life canvas with many more different, vibrant colors.