Saturday, February 7, 2009

My Body...My Property

Every man has a property in his own person. This nobody has a right to, but himself. ~John Locke

What motivates us to run? In the early day, what motivated me to train for marathons wasn’t what it is now. There was this kind of physical self-loathing that put me through the rigor of training…this unrealistic and tough expectation of myself, rooted in the need to prove something to somebody. I would get easily irritated when something interfered with my training schedule. Injuries were a nuisance and I would have them frequently, not willing to slow down long enough to let them heal. What I ate, how much I slept and what I did on Friday nights was largely determined by the long run I would take on Saturday mornings.

In 1993, on July 7th all that changed. A sudden increase in awareness during a 6 mile run revealed to me what I'd been seeking in all that marathon training and even in the self-loathing. A need for oneness, a union between body, thought, action...the revelation that running provides for me the one time in my day where I have complete and total ownership of every cell, every thought, every breath. Running is THE space in my day where my body is not an object...separate from the "me". It IS me, my thoughts, my flow, my essence. I own it and no matter what surrounds me, I own the space, the breath, the voice, the body, the spirit that is uniquely mine.

I know I'm not alone in that experience. Sierra was in fifth grade. Sierra was a big girl--some of the other girls in her class called her fat. Sierra was about five two and probably weighed about 160. When Sierra read magazines, all the models were thin, beautiful and sexy. They all had really nice cars and didn’t have to work when they were fifteen. All those actresses wore makeup, smoked cigarettes and confused her because her mama, a good strong woman told her, “That stuff isn’t good for you,” but she thought maybe if she tried it she’d be beautiful too.

Sierra was in Girls on the Run.

Two thirds of the way through the 12-week program the girls get a chance to practice a 3.1 mile run or walk. Sierra did not believe she could do it. While the majority of girls in the group were running by her, I could see Sierra look on with envy. “My body can never do this.”

While Sierra had stubbornly drudged through two miles, all of the other girls had finished and were already socializing on a nearby picnic table.

Among them was Jordan. Jordan was the fastest runner. She was skinny and in third grade. Jordan always finished first. Jordan noticed something special on that day. She noticed that Sierra had gone further than she ever had. She walked to the edge of the track. “Sierra, you’ve gone further than you ever have. Come on, you can do it,” she yelled joyfully.

And in that moment, I witnessed a light—THE light—sparkle in Sierra’s eyes. The realization that “I can do this” transformed her stroll into a jog, her attitude into a kick and her body into a machine. With every ounce of her being, Sierra started jogging first, then running, huffing and puffing every step of the way. She smiled with each step--moving that big, strong, bold body effortlessly around the pavement.

Before the last lap was complete all 16 girls had joined her. She had done it. The body that never would--could. A smile, as big as California, stretched across that beautiful brown face; sweat glistened on her brow.

On that day, Sierra took her body back. She took it back from the magazines, from the movies and from the MTV images. She took her body back from the teacher that told her she was lazy and from the girl who called her fat. Big. Strong. Beautiful. Bold. Her body was her body and she took it back.

What motivates us to run varies as much as those who run. But for me, thanks to Sierra and the other beautiful and diverse girls that I celebrate at finish lines all across the country, I now run for joy, wonder and gratitude for this remarkable thing we call the human spirit.

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