I run because I am alive.
I run because God has set my heart free.
My name is Kristin. My story of running is one of healing, a story that reaches back, way back to my life before a tragic accident and life-altering injury.
I grew up in a small town on the plains of northern Oklahoma. Somewhere between my elementary music class, Jr. High Chorus, and Po-Hi Chorale, I fell in love with vocal arts. When I graduated from high school, there was but one plan in my heart: to go to college and major in vocal music.
In college, I spent four years learning to sing like I never thought I could, four years working out my faith and learning to follow Jesus Christ in the daily adventure of life. I felt that making music, singing, and using my voice to invite others into moments of beauty was the very purpose for which I had been created. It was who I was at the very core of my being.
On April 28th, 1999, I delivered my senior vocal recital. It was the culmination of four years of hard work, an hour of solo vocal repertoire and an offering of praise to my God andappreciation to my peers and professors. When the last note reverberated through the recital hall, there was a moment of silence before the applause began. This moment of thick stillness almost felt holy. I had no idea that that recital would be my last.
The next month, I traveled overseas with an ensemble of which I had been a member since I was a freshman. On the last leg of our trip home, our plane crashed upon landing in a terrible thunderstorm. Eleven people died. Two of those lost were from our group, both dear friends of mine. I was with them both in the burning wreckage. One didn’t get off alive, the other died in the hospital as a result of her terrible injuries. I barely escaped with my life. The horror was far beyond anything words can ever describe.
I was on a ventilator for just over a week and in the hospital for nearly two months. The following fall, I was not student teaching as was my plan, but was at home undergoing agonizing physical therapy and follow-up surgeries. I was completely shut down, depressed, and in darkness so thick I felt no hope for the future.
Then, about a year later, I found myself on the witness stand. In trial against the airline, I testified in graphic detail about the horrors of the crash, the agony of the hospital, and the unspeakable sorrow that filled my days. Worst of all, I heard many experts give detailed predictions of the permanency and extent of the losses from my injuries. I saw ugly pictures of my 22-year old body and its angry red scars plastered on a large screen for all to see. I heard recordings of songs I had once joyfully sung echo through the cold, walnut-paneled courtroom as evidence of what would never be heard again. Silence again hungthick over the packed wooden pews, but it was not holy, it was one of horror. Going to trial was my choice. I didn’t want justice or money, I wanted retribution. I told the jury the whole graphic story and left it in their hands to decide just how liable the airline should be. Though I walked away with a seeming “victory,” it is hard to say who “won.” The anger and hatred in my heart that had been simmering under the numbness of dark depression was just beginning to boil. Perhaps we were all losers that day.
It is only by the grace of God that I am who I am today. The last decade has been a journey of healing. My good Father God has pulled back the layers of hurt, anger, loss and bitterness slowly and tenderly, just like the nurses had with the bloody gauze that once covered my freshly-grafted hands. Through the truth of His Word, wise and Godly counsel, the tender love and support of my precious husband, and help from dear friends, He has given me the strength and courage to face one ugly layer at a time. For years I prayed for a miracle, and now I look back to see that there were countless small ones along the way.
Five years ago this January I began to run. Spurred on by a couple of girlfriends and their passion for the sport, I downloaded a program that slowly eased me into it. On a hand-me-down treadmill in my damp and spidery basement, God began to peel back the last layer of pain, anger and bitterness.
You see, ever since the plane crash I had lived in fear. Fear of death. Fear of being sick. Without knowing it, I had bought into the courtroom testimony that I was “damaged goods,” permanently doomed to the chronic cough I had carried in my chest since the ventilator and the miserable, recurrent bronchial infections I had endured since the injury. I believed the lie that if I stayed sick, then the airline stayed guilty. All those prophecies from the witness stand were fatally being lived out in my life. I felt powerless to be anything but as sick as they, in their “wisdom,” had pronounced me to be. I was sure that there was no hope for me to be anything but sick. So, sick I was.
I woke up with a cold dread every day I was supposed to run. I dreaded every minute I kicked up the speed on that rickety treadmill. I dreaded the hacking cough that would inevitably begin each time. But most surprising was the immediate fury I felt when this all began. Scenes from the courtroom flooded into my mind while I struggled to keep running. Little demons of anger, doubt and bitterness whispered taunts that I was insane to even try this, I could never be well enough to run, and would make a fool of myself if I ever took this show on the road. I remember beating my heaving chest with clenched fists and screaming “Come on! Come on!” in fury at the top of my hoarse voice, to somehow exorcise the pain, sickness, and fear. It felt like torture, but somehow I knew it was my last lap to true freedom. And it was.
So, I signed up for my first 5K in 2009 with about 18 other friends. I crossed the line hand in hand with a dear friend, and when I got home I wept tears of sorrow, joy, and gratitudeon the floor of my kitchen. A new chapter had begun. One of complete healing. Since then, there have been long seasons where I’ve been off of my inhaled steroid, and my cough is not as persistent as it once was. The physical damage is still there, but running keeps me as healthy as I can be. More importantly, by the grace of God and His merciful pursuit of my whole heart, I am no longer angry or bitter at all. I run in the freedom of complete forgiveness, no longer afraid to embrace who I was, who I am now, and the promise of who He is making me to be. He has truly made all things new.
The Gazelle Girl race on April 13, 2014 in Grand Rapids, Michigan will be my 5th half-marathon. For me, running is about chasing after true freedom and celebrating and embracing all of life—painful though it may be. It is fitting that this race is my Palm Sunday offering. April 13th, 2014 is two weeks shy of the 15th anniversary of my senior recital, the last day in this life that I will offer a vocal song as a sacrifice of praise. This race is a new offering, a sacrifice of praise to my God for the life He has redeemed. Running with TeamWAR in support of such brave survivors will be the next verse to my new lifesong. While I would never pretend to know the depth of their pain or loss, I know full-well the depth of my own. I know the fear of leaving behind entrenched patterns of bitterness and the comfortable label of “victim.” This race shouts a story of triumph over tragedy and how true healing comes by walking the path of true forgiveness, or rather, running in it. When I cross the finish line, may it be a shout of victory and a song of praise to the greatness and goodness of my Almighty King!
This story was originally posted at Women At Risk International. We’d like to thank them for their sponsorship for 2014!