I wanted to be just like my big brother, so to his annoyance I followed him around the track. I ended up being pretty good at running myself. Training started to go from 2 times per week to 3 times per week plus soccer practice. I slowly developed a love / hate relationships with running. Love because it was fun to be good at something and hate because of the inevitable losses. Much of my self-worth became intertwined with the outcome. My worth balancing on a sea saw, changing depending on if I was healthy, injured, or what place I got.
My first injury was when I was a sophomore in high school. I endured a stress fracture in my hip, mostly likely to fast growing bones. That year I ran through the pain until I crossed the finish line at the cross country state championships. For the first time I learned I was tougher than I realized.
As a prep runner in Missouri, I crossed the finish line in first place 5 times at our state championships. I ran 2:12 as a freshman, 2:09 as a sophomore, and 2:08 my junior in the 800m. Although I ran cross country, a few 400s, and miles, the 800m quickly became my specialty. I was building a nice resume when I was sidelined by my second injury. This time I had a stress fracture on my navicular bone, which put me out for my entire senior year.
Fortunately, I was still offered a scholarship to attend the University of Florida. After a fairly successful freshman year (qualified for the indoor and outdoor NCAA championships, ran a PB of 2:05 and represented the US at the IAAF junior world championships), the following two years I was plagued with injuries. This ultimately lead to my termination at the University of Florida (read more about this story).
For my senior and 5th years of eligibility I transferred back home to the University of Missouri. My injury had tricked me into thinking I forgot how to run fast. With the coaches help I rebuilt my confidence, self-worth hinged on my effort and the journey rather than the outcomes. I found success on the track, again, qualifying for 3 additional NCAA championships, becoming a two time conference champion, and managing a PR of 2:04 in the 800m before losing my final track season to, yet, another injury.
With no outside support from sponsorship and feeling like I had more to give, I enrolled in the Ph.D. program in special education so that I could work towards my future goals in academic while I continued training. But I quickly learned that a doctoral degree was a lot different than an undergraduate degree or even my Master’s degree. I started spending more time in the classroom and less time on the track. My first year out I had no coach and no direction. I ran a SB of 2:12. Instead of chasing a dream, I was in the classroom day dreaming.
To the credit of my support network, my second and third years I started to find a balance. My actions were aligning with my values. I was running at the bookends of work and school. I found the best routes for running at night. I found a coach and teammates to hold me accountable. I built my curriculum vita with guest lectures, teaching, research, and volunteering. I put my head down and tried to lived day to day. By God’s grace I ran a PB of 2:01 and qualified for the 2012 Olympic trials. This was just the success I needed to keep going. In 2013 I defended my dissertation 2 days before toeing the line at the USATF national championships and 3 days before my 26th birthday. Somehow I also found time to help my family create an immune support supplement, ZAMboost. (read more about my company).
I was looking forward to finding out just how fast I could propel my body over 800m without the stress of school and 3 part time jobs. I wanted to be in the mecca of running and special education. All signs were pointing to Eugene, Oregon. So, I asked the head coach for the Oregon Track Club if he would train me as one of his developmental athlete. Then, I applied to the University of Oregon to be a research assistant in the department of special education. Both said yes.
After a year of training in Oregon, I had the opportunity to work under Joaquim Cruz, the Olympic gold and silver medalist in the 800m. Coach Cruz was the Paralympic coach at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, which meant I was moving to California.
With a little money saved from work and my new jobs as an online university instructor and teacher at an autism clinic, I was financially supported to chase my dreams in San Diego. I also solidified support from two sponsors — Brooks running and Speed Factory Athletics. Although the first year was an adjustment, I managed to run a small PB of 2:01. This brings us to the present day — another Olympic year.
Many people who know me, know that I’m at my best when I’m balancing my many passions, even if they fall on opposite ends of the spectrum. On days running has taken a turn for the worse, I have my kids and academic goals to focus on. Likewise, on days in which my personal or professional life takes a detour, I can throw myself into running. Each and every one of us has a story filled with setbacks and triumph, whether it’s an injury, loss of a loved one, financial hardship, or a new home or job. We are always balancing something. During an Olympic year when these upsets and wins seem only to be intensified, I encourage you to focus more on what you can give and less on the outcomes.