Friday, November 19, 2010

I Can't Believe I Can Call Myself a Marathoner by Jenny Li

Jenny Li (left) and Sherrie Dougherty celebrate after crossing the finish line during the Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco, Calif., on Sunday, October 17, 2010.
Photo: Laura Morton / Special to The Chronicle

As my breaths puff in and out of my tortured lungs, I think, "My legs are hurting; my shoulders are sore and this rain will not stop." But the people are cheering me on and I know, deep down that I will not give up. Because when I think back on the days I have trained for this moment—this fleeting, evanescent moment—I know that this was what I was meant to do, to finish this race strong.

To this day, I can’t believe I can call myself a marathoner—a title of less than one percent of the world's population can claim. Running the 26.2 miles of the Nike Women’s Marathon in San Francisco, California transformed me inside and out in four hours and thirty-nine minutes.

During the summer when I first began training, I was skeptical about my chances of finishing the race. When I was younger, my parents had insisted that I take tennis and karate lessons. This experience seemed to dilute my natural passion for sports. However, as I undertook the marathon training, I found that passion being created and my drive to succeed being restored. Now, I understand the difference between having to do something you are supposed to do and simply doing something that you love. No matter how hard, how painful, and how incredibly impossible that sport is, you will always want to keep going when you love it—when your heart is there. In all, it took six hard months of training, incredible guts, strict endurance, and swollen feet for me to reach the starting line.

Still, despite all I had done to prepare, I found it difficult to outrun my own vicious doubts. By the 13th mile, my lungs burning and my feet as heavy as ingots of lead, I began to question myself. Can I really do this? Will I be able to run another 13 miles? Suddenly, an image appeared in my head. It was of my close friend, Doris. She was a girl I had met in China who had suffered from Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia in 2009. She was the key reason I had signed up for the race. When I found out about Doris’ illness, I had felt so helpless. This terrible disease was slowly killing my friend in China while I was in Georgia unable to even see her. So as I struggled to confront my doubts, I realized that my race, my pain, and even my fears were not about me. They were about a friend I love and millions of other cancer victims. It was about the lives that were saved with the money that was donated by generous hearts. And with that, my feet and legs began to feel better—muscles pumping, heart throbbing with emotion. Ironically at that moment, my friend had saved me.

They say that a marathon is divided in halves: the first twenty miles and the last 6.2. Thoughts of Doris had revived my flagging spirits, but in the final 6.2 miles my flagging body became an issue all on its own. All I could do was keep moving. These miles were a blur. There were people who were cheering but I could not hear them. The volunteers handed out water but I could not even drink. The scene was moving fast and I did not know where I was going. My leaden head tilted up and the finish line was 50 feet away... 25 feet away... 10 feet away. Swoosh. All of sudden, I could hear cheering, but my eyes were still a blur. I touched my cheek to wipe off the sweat, only to realize there were tears streaming down my face.

The first thing I felt was pain. When you stop running, your muscles immediately condense and the lactic acid fills the muscles. I felt the pain in my legs first when I started walking. But then, it became worse. I felt the pain in my shoulders and in my feet and in my arms and in my back. For the first time, I felt the cold. And I felt the rain.

But even then, this whole experience from beginning to end was worth every ache in my entire body, every tear that was shed, and every bead of sweat that coursed down my face. In this unique and solitary moment I felt truly alive, filled with a universal energy. I knew that these moments of unimaginable bliss was what I wanted to experience again, and that I could infuse each moment of my life with this depth and power.

There is a saying that goes something like “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breaths away.” At that split second when I crossed that finish line, I genuinely and wholeheartedly experienced what that quote truly means. In those seconds, I knew I could do anything. I knew I could take on the world. And I knew that I would succeed.

Jenny Li joined thousands of other Team In Training participants from around the country at the 2010 Nike Women's Marathon to complete her first marathon. A High School Senior, Jenny wrote and submitted the essay above with her college applications. Great job Jenny and good luck!

The photo above appeared on on October 18, 2010 and is credited to Laura Morton.

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