I have always been active and “athletic” but I haven’t always been a runner. And I definitely haven’t always loved running. When I was three my mom put me in a gymnastics class because she said, “I couldn’t stop you from doing backflips off the back of the couch!” Which totally makes sense now why I have stitches scars next to my eye and on my chin! What started out as recreational and fun turned into serious training 4-5 days a week, progressing to a near elite level and traveling around the United States for competitions. My childhood was surrounded by gymnastics, training, conditioning and competing and I was trained that I needed to be the best and that was the only option. I trained under John Geddert, Olympic gymnast Jordyn Wieber’s coach, at Great Lakes Gymnastics Club – GLGC. Also, many of you may know was where Larry Nassar worked as the athletic trainer for quite some time before moving on to be USA Gymnastics national team doctor and later being convicted as one of the worst American serial child molesters. But that is a whole separate story…and although this level of training and very high expectations was quite tough on me as a child, became a fiery determined little girl which turned me into a hard working dedicated adult that is sometimes far too hard on herself.

When I entered middle school, John was fired from GLGC for reasons that are still unknown to me and he temporarily coached out of the Michigan State University’s gymnastics facility before opening up his own gym, Twistars in Lansing, MI. Knowing my heart wasn’t completely in it, faking migraines and injuries far too often, I considered this transition time as my out to have a hard talk with my mom and tell her I wanted to quit. As an adult I feel so guilty about this, now knowing how much my mom sacrificed to put me through gymnastics, getting a third job after my father passed away just to try to pay for my training along with keeping our house…But quitting gymnastics didn’t mean quitting physical activity and I quickly became bored. So in middle school and high school I participated in a sport every single season. I was a sprinter breaking records in track, a flier in cheerleading, went to states in diving and gymnastics and felt my competitive determined spirit from my childhood come back. And sports to me were still about ME. About winning, about medals, about the competition!

I, not surprisingly, majored in Physical Education with minors in Elementary Education and Health Education and wanted to become a Physical Education teacher. I also worked at the rec center at Grand Valley throughout college which seems like, what a perfect place for me! But I had realized I was burned out from my life of activity and I finally had a chance to be lazy and do whatever I wanted. I never, ever, worked out. I was a total hypocrite. I didn’t participate in sports, intramurals, exercise, or anything for fun. I went to my classes, got good grades, graduated with a good GPA, still had my dedicated drive but not related to physical activity. And in the 6 years I went to GVSU the only physical activity I got was from the required sports classes I had to take and the physical activity that came with my sports education classes. I was out of shape and suddenly felt that I severely lacked that drive. I dated a guy who started to run and wanted to train for a marathon, and I thought he was silly. I watched people take fitness classes at the rec center and never considered them even though they were free for students. I always said “oh, I HATE cardio!” remembering the awful feeling of running the timed mile in high school. Or “the last thing I want is to be sore when I have to do student teaching tomorrow!” and I always found excuses.

One day after college an old roommate of mine told me about a 5k she ran called the Yule Run. This ran through the Fifth Third Ball Park for the opening of the Christmas lights. Something clicked in my brain and I thought “that sounds fun!”. I honestly don’t know what changed in me other than feeling like “of course I could do that too…”. Maybe enough time had passed, and I missed something, but I found a treadmill on Craigslist and bought it the next day and signed up for the race. My husband (fiancé at the time) agreed to train with me since he used to be a swimmer and runner and it wouldn’t be out of his comfort zone. Plus we were getting married soon; why not get in shape? We set up the treadmill, he went outside to mow the lawn, I hopped on, turned it on to whatever speed felt comfortable and I started to run. Less than 5 minutes went by before I started to see stars, I stepped off, stumbled to the bathroom, threw up in the toilet and almost passed out. I felt ridiculous, embarrassed, and was so glad he wasn’t inside to witness it. It was comical really…I overdid it, I had no clue how out of shape I was, had no idea what pace I should be running at or what pace even meant, and I didn’t even know how to begin training.

I spent my life telling myself I hated cardio, and the first time I attempted it on my own doing something for myself I had the worst experience I could have. I ran a handful of times before the race and didn’t take it seriously because it wasn’t fun! I wasn’t winning, I wasn’t succeeding. On race day I overdressed, I remember saying to my husband “why are my elbow pits sweating?” and “are my toes supposed to be tingling and going numb?” and at the halfway point I couldn’t believe we were only at the turn around point! Fast forward to the following year and we did the same race, but I upped my training a bit to a few runs outside. When we crossed the finish line and our time was 29 minutes at 59 seconds I was in awe and I cried! 5 minutes faster than the year before and the goal I had quietly said my myself whenever I began a run: “I would love to get under 30 minutes”. I felt the spark…I felt the fire…and I went to finally buy myself a proper pair of running shoes where I saw a flier for the first ever Gazelle Girl 5k. And I signed up. This happened to be at the same time as I was doing a weight loss challenge at my work so suddenly running became much easier after losing about 10lbs. And it was that race that literally changed my life. On race morning I remember seeing the women lining up for the half marathon outwardly saying to my husband that they were crazy to run that far! I felt bad for them when I was driving home after the 5k, just as it started to snow, and the roads were slushy, and the wind was blowing. But deep inside my brain I thought about all the beautiful, happy, determined women. About their tutus, the glitter, the friendships. I saw all different body types, different paces, listened to the cheers and the laughs. I thought about the training they went through, the relationships they formed, how proud they felt and will feel when they cross the finish line. Their determination and passion doing something for themselves, for a friend running their first race or trying to PR, running for the women in their lives that maybe couldn’t run anymore, for their daughters watching in the crowd wishing they could be just like them someday. Or all the other hundred reasons why they were running. And I wanted to have all those reasons too…I wanted to have that passion back, to have something to look forward to and keep me disciplined and healthy. But not like it was when I was a child in gymnastics. Not forcing me to do something to be the best and win. Not doing it for ME. I wanted to be a part of all of it, to feel proud of not only myself but to also see other people succeed, to cry, to accomplish their goals. And that is what Gazelle Girl is and that is what I felt when I was there and what I feel every year I return; running the 5k, then the half marathon for a few years, one time pregnant with my son and then pregnant with my daughter running the 10k and then finally running for the first time last year as a pacer. As an adult and mother of two rambunctious kids I can proudly say that I am still active, and I am definitely a “runner” now. If you would have told me this would be my life when I was in college I would have laughed! I am probably the most active now as I have ever been, but I am active for VERY different reasons now. Now I run and exercise because I can. My legs work, my heart pumps, my body lets me move. Not everyone gets to do that. I run for some me time. I run to feel alive. I run to grow my relationships with others and make an impact on them. I run to show my kids that physical activity is the norm, to show them healthy habits and show them what it means to be dedicated and motivated to achieve a goal and have fun doing it.

In my 7 years running after college I can’t count how many races I have done or how many exercise classes I have taken; that doesn’t matter to me. But I can say that I don’t plan on stopping any time soon! And despite my upbringing needing to be the best and win, it isn’t about that for me. And I am so glad that, through the inspiration of others and a very special race called Gazelle Girl, I have become the person I am today. Happy, healthy, passionate, emotional, determined and a little glittery.