Sully Shelton is a senior at Harrison High School in Kennesaw, Georgia. He's a three-time Georgia state champion across cross country and outdoor track and field and qualified for Team XC Nationals in 2019, where he finished 47th. He has opened his final season of cross country and has logged a 3-mile best of 14:51.95, along with two other races. In this Dear Running essay, he explores his feelings in this sport and the path it's created for him.
By Sully Shelton - Harrison High School
The human brain is something that we have yet to fully comprehend. The brain is made up of millions of electronic pulses and signals, all telling us how to move, react, feel and think. Science has shown us that our brains fire neurons and electric impulses at tremendously high speeds to all parts of our body in order for them to function properly.
So the question I ask myself every day is, 'Why did these signals tell me to run?' I still don't have an answer to this ever-evolving question; however, I believe that running encompasses the true meaning of the human body and everything that comes with it. And regardless of the impending pain, this sport brings me joy like no other. Running is something that I have thrown my entire heart and mind into and it is something I will not give up, no matter the cost. This sport is my home, and for that reason, I run.
A bad day, a failed test, or an ended friendship is simply irrelevant when I get to practice. The bad things immediately flush out of my mind, the same way lactic acid flushes your legs during a hard workout. If the world is gray, it turns sunny the minute I lace up my trainers.
I began like everyone else. On the playground, around the house or even to the jingle of the ice cream truck rounding the block. Running was simple, an inborn quality that was inherited naturally as I progressed through childhood. I enjoyed running but never thought of it as a sport. It was just something I had to complete in order to get away from the chaser in the pressing matter of recess tunnel-tag.
As time progressed, though, running become more and more evident in my life. Running culture swept under my feet like a massive wave and I became completely engulfed. I boarded my boat and embarked on my strenuous and exhilarating voyage into the unknown world of running. Much like everyone else, it brought me elation, just as much as it brought me heartbreak. I've experienced hurt, love, resentment and immense amounts of pain, but over the past seven years, running has also become my shelter. It's my getaway from the world around me.
* Shelton at the 2020 VA Showcase, where he went down in the final lap but would still finish the race
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A bad day, a failed test, or an ended friendship is simply irrelevant when I get to practice. The bad things immediately flush out of my mind, the same way lactic acid flushes your legs during a hard workout. If the world is gray, it turns sunny the minute I lace up my trainers. If running were to give me anything, it has given me an out. It has gifted me with incredible experiences that I would not change for the world. I have traveled the country, made lifelong friends, won state championships and competed at national meets. Every step, every drop of sweat, every weight lifted, and every moment of suffering will always be worth it. This sport is like no other.
The cameraderie and the moments of glory are experiences that my heart will always remember. I will not remember the ab work after practice, or the seventh rep of a 1K workout. I will not remember the burning in my lungs after a tempo run or the soreness that unfurls through my muscles after a race. I will not remember my coaches screaming in my ear or the 95-degree weather on a 15-mile-long run. These things are meager, just tiny fish swimming along next to my vast boat as I continue my voyage into running. However, what I will remember are the friends I've made, the races I've won, the trips I've taken, the team bonding we've done, and the love I have for this sport.
This sport is something that many don't understand. I have been asked 'Why do you run?' hundreds of time throughout my life, and to that question, the answer in my heart is too elaborate to ever explain to a non-runner. The passion and drive we all have flowing through our bodies is something that they could not comprehend. Even though they might not understand, we always will. We run because we want too. No, we run because we have too. The need to run is something that I feel every day. I yearn for the time I get to slide on my shoes and go hear my own thoughts deep in the woods as my feet strike the rough gravel. I wait for the day I get to attach my bib to my jersey, smelling the early morning dew as I head to the race line. These are things I must have, for without them, I don't know how I would live. Do I want to run? Yes.
But more importantly, I need too.
The human brain stimulates signals from the day we are born. It tells us how to move, with running being one of the vast options of movement in our brain's storage unit of motion. Running is natural, born into us. Everyone can run, but the only thing we change is how far, how fast and how hard we do it. We have made running our nature and our passion. It is our shelter, our weakness and most importantly, our oasis.
As I continue my journey through the vast world of running, I will always remember that I love this sport for a reason. It may be hard to see at times, but the moments of glory will always suppress the minutes of heartbreak. My ship is far from docked, even though it may be anchored at times.
Running is everything to me, and I can promise you that my ship has a lot of sailing left to do.
Next port, Chapel Hill.
Harrison High School senior, '21
CONTRIBUTE TO THIS SERIES
If you are a cross country athlete or coach interested in contributing to this series at the state or national level, please send your essay to MileSplit USA editor Cory Mull at firstname.lastname@example.org, or to your local MileSplit editor in your respective state.
Read the full series here.