Yesterday two of my coworkers and I went for a five mile run in Central Park against the frozen winds and icy roads. As small as the group was, this was definitely one of the most social runs I’ve been on, only because of how much we spoke with each other and the stories we shared.
I don’t know what it was about the run that caused us to share these stories. Perhaps it did just creep into the conversation naturally from us speaking about how running how changed our lives. But I told them a story that I’ve seldom shared with anyone because of how deeply forlorn I feel when I think about it.
I think I’m ready to share the story with you all now.
In 2010, I joined the Army and shipped off to basic training in January of 2011. I ended up in Fort Sill, Oklahoma and I can still distinctly remember how the cold air felt on my face and how crisp and clean it smelled. As part of the Army’s physical fitness standards, you had to run two miles in a certain amount of time based on your age and gender. At that time, I needed to run the two miles at 19:36 in order to get the lowest possible grade to pass. At my diagnostic, I ran it in a devastating 24 minutes.
Over the next few weeks, every other day the drill sergeants took us running. I will never know the distances or speeds they had us going, and I don’t think I would want to know if I could. I tried my absolute best to push myself because I didn’t want to get held back for being unable to pass my run.
Halfway through basic, the drill sergeants gave us another fitness test and this time they made it interesting. Upon passing the test, we would be rewarded with 20 minutes of cell phone time. All I could think about was calling my grandmother to let her know I was okay, and to make sure she was doing well. Anyone who knows me well knows that my grandmother was my backbone.
During the run, I felt like I wasn’t going to make it. I felt like my heart was going to explode, my legs would give and I would just end up face first on the road. When I neared the finish line and saw the giant clock counting, I began to cry. I was seconds away from either a pass or a fail. My vision blurred with my tears and I ran past the finish line with a time of 19:30, just barely passing. My joy of passing the test was short lived once I was given my cell phone and it was dead.
Luckily they also gave me my charger so I scrambled to find a socket in the drill hall area. All I could find was a socket with a metal covering. Unfortunately the covering prevented my charger from being able to plug all the way in so I become furious and emotionally enraged. I punched the covering and cut open the knuckles on my right hand. But I didn’t care, I had 10 minutes left of phone time to figure something out.
I begged one of the other soldiers to let me use his phone card so I could call home. He agreed but I had to wait for him to finish speaking to his family. Once he gave me the card, I had just a few minutes left. I called home, and my grandmother picked up the phone. I was deliriously happy and still couldn’t stop crying. But again, my happiness was cut short when I realized that my grandmother couldn’t hear me due to a poor phone connection. She stayed on the phone repeating “hello?” while I kept saying “Popo, it’s Angela!” I remember Drill Sergeant Ellington coming to tell me my time was up and to get back to the barracks to turn my phone back in.
It was one of the most miserable moments of my life. But I can equate many of the things I felt at that time to runs I do now. I always get the feeling of my body wanting to give up but my mind wanting to carryon. And when I get to the point where my heart wants to explode, I get the feeling that if I can keep running, then I’ll get to talk to her again.
Another story actually comes to mind with me pouring out all these emotions on my keys. When I was 14, my grandmother was in a terrible car accident that nearly took her life. I visited her in the hospital as much as I could. I remember a day with torrential downpour. I waited at the bus stop to go to the hospital but the bus was taking too long. I decided to run to the hospital in the rain.
It was a short distance, about 15 blocks. All I remember thinking about was just being able to see her and that rain was not an important factor. When I walked into her room, my uncle scolded me for being completely drenched but I didn’t care. He asked me how I got there and I said, “I ran here.”
With the one year anniversary of my grandmother’s passing on the approach, all I can do is just think about her lately. She may have never been a runner, but she lived an active and healthy lifestyle that allowed her to live to be 100 years old. That’s an entire century of memories and moments of love, despair, success and tragedy. I know that one day I will be reunited with her and she will be able to hear me speak, she won’t be in a hospital bed and we can go for walks around the block like we used to. And when she asks me, “What took you so long?” I can answer with a smile and say “I’m sorry, I ran here.”