By Sherry Leung, FY15 McDonough Elementary School Team alumna.
Believe or not, I used to really hate running. Running was a constant reminder for me of all the things I had internalized as weaknesses and/or insecurities. I could never be the fastest, could never make it seem effortless, and couldn’t ever have the quintessential “runner’s body.” Yet, when 2018 started, I decided that I would just start running again. To add some accountability, I told friends and family around me that not only would I start running again, I would end the year by racing at least 100 miles and finishing a marathon.
The journey to start running was at first motivated by this desire to be healthier. Over the last year, I dealt with a health condition that left me feeling like the worst version of myself. Running would be the fuel to get me back on track with practicing healthy lifestyle choices like going to the gym and meal prepping. Although I knew of all the benefits that running could offer, getting started and staying consistent flat-out stunk. I remember going for my first two-miler, and barely being able to go for more than three blocks before needing to walk. I remember waking up to my first 5:30am alarm and thinking almost immediately, “Why am I up when it’s still pitch-black outside?” I remember the first time I sprained my ankle during a long run and the pain and frustration I felt as I hobbled my way back. Yet, I found myself still going out for a run every day because I was surrounded by a community of champions who believed I could.
This community of champions refused to let me give up on my goals. They joined me on long runs through freezing temperatures and wind storms. They created workout selfie group chats to add accountability and words of encouragement. They made signs and sent encouraging messages before, during, and after races that kept me going. I am proud to say that I have raced 111.7 miles this year and can now call myself a marathoner because I sat on the shoulders of giants who refused to let me give up or compromise on my goals.
When it came time to get ready to run the New York City Marathon, I knew that I wanted to do something to give back after I had received so much kindness and encouragement. As I thought about my running journey this past year, I couldn’t ignore how the excuses I gave were similar to the messages of “I can’t” that I had heard while serving as an AmeriCorps member in a 3rd grade classroom. I told myself that I couldn’t run just like so many of my students had told me that they could never understand division or could never be on grade-level in reading. I decided that I would dedicate running the NYC Marathon to the 26 third-graders who still, years late, continue to challenge me to be better. I wanted to run so that I could continue being a champion for them.
I decided to run a fundraiser to not only engage with the work that City Year New Hampshire does, but to also engage with those in my network about the power we all have to turn every “I can’t” into an “I can.” The concept was simple: I’d ask my community either to donate $26.20 and/or to run/walk/bike/swim 2.62 miles on the day of the marathon with me. The support I received was truly astounding. With the support of my community, I raised more than double my goal to support the work that CYNH does to ensure that students and AmeriCorps members alike get to continue to stand on the shoulders of giants. More so, I was touched by the number of people who shared a workout selfie with me that day of them doing 2.62 miles worth of cardio activity.
Running now has a different value. While every step I take offers me the opportunity to be a healthier version of myself, every step now carries for me two additional purposes. It reminds me to be grateful for the beloved community that I am surrounded by and more importantly, it reminds me that anything can be done. As a member of the City Year community, we all have risen to the call of service to #makebetterhappen. I have been reminded that rising to that call doesn’t end with a service year, but requires constant upkeep and bridge-building. As alumni, we all have the capacity to give whether that’s by committing to a monthly donation or sparing a few hours to review resumes. We can all be the shoulders of giants that can make every “I can” possible. As we head into the new year, I hope you’ll join me in adding to your list of resolutions ways to champion City Year and continue to make better happen.
If you would like to champion City Year through a walk or run like Sherry, contact Jen Little at firstname.lastname@example.org!