Megan Kafka is a graduating senior at Centerville High School in Ohio. A member of the Elks' cross country and track and field teams for the past four years, she reflected on her journey with the sport in a 'Love Letter To Running' for MileSplit.
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It's funny, the way fate works sometimes.
If I could go back in time and tell my eighth-grade self that I was going to start running, that I would join cross country and track and continue throughout high school, I'm sure my younger self would have thought I was crazy. Who would ever willingly choose to run?!
But here I am, a senior just days away from graduation, and I can hardly believe that you've been part of my life for five years and counting.
Maybe I am crazy.
Or maybe you and I were just meant to be.
I remember the first time I put on my running shoes and went out the door. We met when I was in eighth grade, during a time when I was naive to this sport, blissfully unaware of my potential. I had neither speed nor endurance, which you might recognize as two critical elements of this sport's top ranks.
But you believed in me, didn't you? And to prove it, you really put me through the wringer that first year! I remember coming home from practice drenched in sweat, having never exercised so hard in my entire life, flopping to the ground in an exhausted heap.
But you trusted I would do it again, that I would return to practice the next day determined to break through my limits and never give up.
That's what good partners do--they accept who you are and help make you the best possible version of yourself.
So for that, running, I thank you.
The best was yet to come, though. A year later, I showed up for my first day of summer conditioning, excited to give high school cross country a try. One 5K loop later, I proudly wrote "3.1 miles, 30 minutes, long run" in my new running log.
Clearly, I still had a lot to learn!
But incredible coaches at Centerville nurtured my newfound passion. Under their careful training, I found myself running times I once thought I'd never hit. And yes, my long runs eventually got longer, to the point where I looked forward to spending more than an hour running through shaded trails with my teammates.
What teammates they were! From my first to last season, my teams were filled with some of the most amazing girls I have ever met. They constantly inspired me with their enthusiasm, dedication, and utter kindness at every single practice and race.
Without you, I probably never would have met most of these girls and formed so many lifetime friendships. (I would like to give a special shout-out to my fellow cross country team captains: Maddie, Emily, Megan C., Megan K., and Kelli. Love you guys!)
But running, as I reflect on all the time I've spent with you, I am proud to say that I have no regrets.
That might surprise you, considering I'm not exactly a top varsity runner. My 1600 meter time astounds precisely no one, and my 5K personal record in cross country puts me nowhere near the top seven.
But a runner is a runner, no matter their time.
If I judged my relationship with you solely based on times, I would have driven myself crazy years ago. As you know, I made up for what I lacked in natural athleticism with plenty of heart. And when I graduate at the end of May, I'll be at peace with leaving high school running behind, because I know I gave it my all.
Doing anything less would have been unfair to me and to the teams that I'm forever grateful to have been a part of.
You've taught me so much, dear running, but I have never fully stopped to appreciate the gifts you've given me. From the bottom of my heart--a heart so full of joy and love for this sport that it just might burst--thank you, thank you, thank you.
Until next time,
P.S. And about my eighth-grade self? I wish I could go back and tell her that comparison is the thief of all joy, and that she is brave, strong, and passionate enough for this crazy, wonderful sport, and that she should never, ever tell herself otherwise.