The Follower

(Photo courtesy of the Goldsboro News Argus.)

(Photo courtesy of the Goldsboro News Argus.)

MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, N.D. --

I am a follower.

Throughout my life, anytime I made a new friend, their habits, likes and dislikes would become mine.

My experiences were dependent on others until I discovered something I loved more than following – running.

I started running in elementary school during those mandatory mile runs nobody likes. The only thing that kept most kids participating were the free items offered for every mile completed.

Gym was a mandatory elective in middle school. At the time, nobody I knew, including me, cared to run. They only wanted to pass the class and I followed in their footsteps.

During high school, I followed a few classmates into soccer, then my teammates into cross country to stay in shape during our off-season.

I found out the hard way that a 5k was approximately 3.1 miles. I cried the entire 30 minutes it took to complete my first 5k of the season. During the first mile, my chest was on fire and legs were moments away from giving in. To make it worse, I couldn’t figure out how to properly breathe. After that first mile, I felt as if I would collapse every other step.

I wanted to give up.

“I am not a quitter,” I told myself. “I need to finish this for my teammates and coaches.”

I knew I had to get my mind off my body’s pain, so I thought back to the reason I did anything – I followed the person in front of me. But, with a goal in mind, I picked up the pace. I caught up to them, passed them and looked for the next person to follow. If anybody caught up to me, I would set a goal to either run with them or run past them.

“Good job!” I would say to my fellow runners. “Keep running, we’re almost there! Finish strong!”

By the end of the run, I may have felt physically drained, but mentally, I was on cloud nine.

I didn’t see my teammates during that run. For the first time, I was pushing myself farther without the help of others. Passing someone gave me pride and encouragement to finish. Runners who stayed by my side thanked me for motivating them to run harder and faster.

I grew stronger over the course of the season and even began to pass the friends I initially followed. It was definitely not something I expected, but it made me proud. It also made me into something I never thought possible – a leader.

Before I knew it, I was leading our runs. When I would finish, I’d turn around to run with and motivate those in the back.

By the end of the season, my 5k time was down to 22 minutes and 52 seconds.

Many people believe the time is what counts, but it didn’t matter to me as much as the independence I had gained from this passion I discovered.

I continued running, not for competition, but for fun. I could run for 6 miles after the season and eventually for 10. There were some days I didn’t want to stop, even going as far as a half-marathon. My times weren’t very impressive, but my determination gave me confidence.

Over the next four-and-a-half years, many things have changed, but running isn’t one of them. I’ve made friends, joined groups, increased my health and found a way to decompress after tough days. I’ve learned when to follow and when to lead.

This is me, who I am and what I love to do. I am a follower. I am a leader. I am a runner.
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