Years ago, I ran track and cross country. When I hurt my knee my second year of college competition, I decided to become a writer. I wore long flowing skirts, stopped brushing my hair and wrote embarrassingly bad poems.
I hitchhiked out West. I said things like, “The epiphany equals the mass.” I lived in really bad apartments, I slummed around.
Finally, I settled down in Alaska. My poems improved, and I slowly began to be published. I had, unexpectedly but with great joy, a son.
I worked my way up from really bad waitressing jobs to a really good journalism job.
And I stopped running. Oh, I kept in shape swimming, biking and hiking. But I lost connection with the running part of myself.
I was so busy trying to make a living that I forgot what it felt like to experience fierce and wild abandon.
Then one of my older sisters died of complications from an eating disorder.
Suddenly, nothing made sense. I kept going, of course. I moved up in my job, I published poems and essays, my son grew older and more beautiful.
But there was a hole inside me. I had no idea how to heal it.
Three years ago I was assigned to cover the Mount Marathon Race for the newspaper. I hadn’t wanted to; I thought running up a mountain was, well, kind of pointless.
Yet as I photographed women running down that mountain, many of them bloody and bruised, I suddenly remembered back to my childhood on the farm and running with my sister through the fields, both of us barefoot and heedless of danger. We ran because we loved to run, because of how it felt to move our arms and legs in unison.
We ran because it made us feel free.
I’m still not sure if I really heard or only imagined my sister’s voice whispering “Dirty, wild girls,” in my ear, those words we used to scream as we ran hand in hand through the creek and jumped over cow pies. But I knew I had to run the race the following year, as a tribute not only to my sister but also to myself.
Running soothed my soul, slowed down my sorrow, nourished my spirit. It gave me the confidence and fierceness to examine my life, to reach out and make the changes I needed to mend the hole in my heart.
And sometimes now, when I’m standing at the top of a mountain, wet with sweat and surrounded by all of that beauty, I swear I can hear the wind speak.
I swear I hear pieces of my sister’s voice.