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Penelope Spurr on discovering a new community and overcoming challenges in senior year

As of this past summer I was not particularly athletic. My metabolism was depressingly low and I embraced the carbohydrate with loving arms. And until this past summer, I'd denied that exercising habits could bring me joy.

But upon joining my cross country team's preseason training, I found that increasing my heart rate, being outside and sweating with friends did give me a so-called "runner's high." Running provided an outlet from homework and phone screens. There were frustrating days, for sure — many of which involved hills and "race pace." Sometimes I had to step back and take a break, but more often these challenges taught me that I could prove myself wrong and persevere. I felt that I was on track to run faster than the previous season, and when I was nominated to serve as one of the team's captains, I also felt committed to strengthening the team itself. I started to see our team not just as a competitor, but as a community of passionate students.

Then the official season came, and I encountered a new and unavoidable obstacle: physical injury.

Neglecting my shin splints had left me unable to walk properly, and what had begun as soreness evolved into a building pressure in my lower leg, one that forced me to stop moving every fifteen minutes to stretch. When I competed in the team's first official race, I didn't even know if I'd be capable of finishing. I started running and the pain eased away, and then, for the remainder of the race, I felt virtually nothing. Then I crossed the finish line, my legs seized up, and I felt shooting pain up my calves. This was it: I'd reached a breaking point, literally.

Soon after, I learned that my leg had experienced a stress fracture. My team understood that I'd have to wear a cast, that I would not be able to run for the rest of the season. And for the next two months, they supported me not just as teammates, but as the community I'd come to know.

But I did learn something throughout this: Participation is more than just competition. Being present can still be meaningful. I've learned how to lift runners up after disappointing races and hugged others after successful races. My situation was disappointing, sure, but I know that my running hasn't ended by any means. Sometimes we have expectations and just can't follow through, so we have to take a different route to contribute to a community. And that is OK. The real task isn't how we'll cope with challenge, it's how we'll reorient ourselves to persevere.


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