Thousands of brutal miles run, more than 150 hours of pounding pavement, trails, mountains and treadmills since the start of the pandemic: all taken from me. Despite the world shutting down in March 2020, that spring and summer filled me with optimism as I looked toward my exciting future.
I told myself that this pandemic was a mere blip in my life: a much-needed break and a time for deep reflection. I saw it as a privilege to take walks in the mountains pondering where the journey of life would take me.
Even with a pandemic, everything was going well for me. Then, on Dec. 1, 2020, the first day of the last month of an unforgettable year, I tested positive for COVID-19.
The virus conquered my body and has lingered like a sour aftertaste ever since.
During the middle of finals, I would stand to give a presentation on Zoom and promptly collapse back on the couch before I even finished my last breath. I have not been the same person I once was, full of energy and confidence.
Instead, I am now a shell of my former self, depleted with a lack of purpose. While I’ve gained back the majority of my strength, I would say I am at 80 percent strength. At the NCAA Division I level for cross country, where the slimmest of margins determine success, 80 percent is not going to cut it.
In my first meet of the season, I felt like an 8-year-old running in a professional race, lost and searching for answers. I was giving it my all and nothing was showing for it. The frustration was beginning to boil over as I yelled in anguish after another painful run on the track. I was terrified at the thought of not being at the fitness level I once was.
All of a sudden, every mile I ran and every assignment I completed felt meaningless. What was even the point anymore? Finding the motivation to get up every morning and train for my first college cross country season became a greater task each day.
One year in, my perceptions and emotions have changed. I ask myself things like, “Do I go out for my sanity or sit here and do nothing to prevent the spread?”
As someone who’s dealt with anxiety my whole life, COVID-19 pandemic accentuated these feelings, even when I felt like I was in the prime of my life and should have been searching for independence and forging unforgettable experiences.
I moved on and accepted the anti-climactic end of high school and the strangest of graduations with hopes of an authentic college experience on the horizon. This did not come to fruition, as COVID-19 cases only increased.
This pandemic gave me a virus and an identity crisis. I don’t even recognize myself as an athlete, which, until I got COVID-19, defined who I was. After years of rigorous training and putting myself through the wringer training, it felt like my whole body had betrayed me. Questions like “What am I doing? What is my purpose? Where do I go from here?” dominated my brain.
I hope this pandemic will shed light on the importance of mental health. But for now, the reality is I’m fighting to the best of my ability and seeking to rediscover life’s most beautiful gift: purpose.