photo © Amy Sly

Jessie Zapotechne: I Want to Talk About Running. 

I want to talk about running.

I want to talk about why I chose and continue to choose to help others run. I want to talk about the Bridge Runners and how they embody what I love about running. I want to talk about why running is a gift. To do this I must first talk about how I found running and how running found me. I found running the same way that I have found most everything I love in life. Pure accident.

I remember the day so vividly well. I was in the sixth grade and it was the last day of school. It was the (ugh!) middle school track and field day. For some reason my parents came. This was unusual because I was the oldest of eight children and they were most often too consumed to notice much of what I was doing. That day was the kind of day where you just wanted to be in the class tug-o-war and then get your hot dog and say goodbye to school. I was never that lucky. When I arrived at the high school field that day I found my name hand written onto a paper for the 4x100 meter relay. I had never set foot on a track before and I was scared. I can remember the feeling of my stomach tightening, feeling that for certain I must have had to pee, tingling legs, hands and fingertips. I was the third leg of the relay. All I knew was that my job was to grab the stick out of the other person’s hand and go. When the time came, and I had the baton in my hand I ran my little heart out. I had never experienced such a feeling before in my life. It was the feeling of flying and I felt so free. Later my mother told me that my father leaned over to her and said, “Hey, look
at that girl she is really fast,” and my mother said, “That girl is your daughter.”

I found running again the same way I have found many things I needed in life. It found me.

Many years went by. I had gone to college, pursued a passion to study art and had found love. In my post-college adult world life had gotten in the way and I believed at that time that being an athlete had come and gone. I had forgotten running. I had picked up some bad habits and a less than healthy lifestyle. The drawn out painful ending of a long emotionally abusive relationship coupled with a damaged courage to pursue an art career pushed me to pack everything up. I moved home to regroup. I remember telling my mother, “When I get there mom I’m going to be really depressed. I don’t want you to worry, I just want you to know.” I got myself there, and when I did a close friend was waiting. She was home for the summer on the way to graduate school. She had picked up running. She called me on our landline and said, “Jessie you want to go for a run? You can tell me about what’s going on in your life.” Almost every day, in between my early morning job and my night shift tending bar, we would find the time to jog a mile or so super-slow and spill our guts about everything. I started to get strong again.

Running any distance for the first time is a triumphant and powerful experience. It is the realization that “I can,” and then the next thought is, “What else can I do?” Helping others set goals and work towards them is incredibly exciting, and inspiring even when you have been running for a while. Somehow it doesn’t get old when you share a running experience with someone else. Each runner shows up to the run for different reasons. Sometimes they might share why they are running today, or what they want to get out of it. Sometimes we share private talks, hopes, dreams, and challenges while we run. Today we are here and it is marathon season. I have been working with the team of Bridge Runners over the past few months to build up a base of miles that will prepare them for whatever races they may have in the coming weeks. Many of the runners are new to running this year, or in the past year or two. In addition many of these runners are doubling or tripling their longest miles ever ran. Some of them have never raced or trained for one. I am excited for them. It
pushes me.

I think about a new runner who pushed herself to her limit, and then with a little nudging pushed on past that. It feels good to know that soon she will run beyond me.

This excerpt is from American Dreamers, available now from Sharp Stuff.

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