Pain Has a Purpose.

Why do some people throw in the towel when faced with disappointment and bleak circumstances while others find the courage to continue marching forward?

That’s a question I’ve had to ask and research pretty extensively the last two years.

More than half of my entire life I have been defining myself as a runner. Blows my mind, but it’s true.

Staying committed to this sport paid for me to go to school, it’s how I met my best friends and it paved a way for some of my world’s greatest treasures and accomplishments.

When I signed a contract with Adidas to run professionally out of college, my passion became my career.

Despite how all encompassing this sport can be, I would always assure myself and the people around me that, even if my feet were to be taken away from me tomorrow, I would still find a way to be a secure and happy person and that I would always be madly in love with running.

Looking back, that was a pretty easy statement to make having never been injured through grade school and college.

As irony would have it… since turning pro in 2015, I have been injured or healing up from injury in both feet (sidelined and/or rehabbing) for an added total of about 8–9 months.

Talk about being challenged to practice what you preach.

Out of college I found out I had a stress fracture in my left foot and then 10 months later, after healing up and running a time in the 3000 meter steeplechase that made me the third fastest American female in the history of the event, I found out I had torn my plantar fascia in my right foot.

That second injury hurt in ways I can’t describe and even though I tried my best to overcome it, my foot ultimately kept me from being healthy enough to contend to make the 2016 Olympic team.

There were days in the wake of that disappointment I felt so broken I began to question if my feet were even meant for running anymore.

I flew back to Michigan after the Olympic Trials. There, I began the process of cross training and rehabbing from injury again. Day after day, I had a harder time finding hope and motivation to even get out of bed to do my work. I felt like I had been beaten up by the sport that I loved so much and I had officially stopped having fun. I knew something had to change.

A lot of prayer and some big time realizations over the summer convinced me to stop training without a team in Michigan and pushed me to California to train with the NorCal Distance Project.

If I was going to be able to stand up and try again, I sure as heck wasn’t going to be able to do it training alone.

Joining this group almost immediately infused my life with loving friendships and incredible training partners. From a dark season in my career, choosing to surround myself with people who quickly delivered fresh perspective and healed my heart with kindness changed everything. Had I decided to timidly stick my head under my pillow and hide when I was feeling really low, I would have never found them.

When I go to practice and look around at my teammates, I see strength in action. I see grit. I see what it means to be persistent. When I don’t want to get out the door to run my miles, I’m met every day by inspiration — beautiful, clear examples of women who have been tested by this sport and life. Women who continue to persist fiercely and gracefully. Women who make it a point to make their job fun. Through every challenge. Every lap. Again and again. What a gift it is that heartbreak pushed me to stand up and move across the country to keep trying, because of that experience I get to call myself one of them.

My faith is an organizing principle in my life; being a Christian has given me the confidence and assurance that I was created with purpose and intention. My life (even with its occasional screw ups, despair and imperfections) is my breathing testimony.

As I see it, I don’t have any other choice but to lean in, pray, and persist. Especially when I mess up and life hurts. Especially when I try really hard to achieve something but don’t get what I hoped for. We are all imperfect and we are surely all going to stumble as we grow.

If you’ve had ups and down in your running career or in life, I hope that you find the inspiration to keep going. No matter what. There is no guarantee that there won’t be barriers down the road… but that’s what barriers were made for, jumping over.

I know setbacks hurt but trust me, you’re going to get through it. Think of them as the ultimate test of why you are doing this and remember why you started. I’ll be sharing more stories on here and would love for you to follow my journey. (www.instagram.com/leah_oconnor).