Zoe Duffus is a senior at Fort Wayne Carroll High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and a Penn State University commit. She's a three-time Indiana state cross country championship finisher -- and that includes a sixth-place finish in 2019. She was also a top 10 finisher at the Team XC Midwest Championships this past season, and then went on to qualify for Team XC Nationals, where she finished inside the top 50. Duffus is looking to secure her first state title in Indiana in 2020-2021. In this Dear Running essay, she explores how the hardships in this sport have made her into the person she's become.
By Zoe Duffus - Fort Wayne Carroll High School
I wish I could hold my bitterness against you. I wish I could blame you for the months I spent in the freezing water, or the miles I rode on the bike, or the strides I numbered on the elliptical. I sometimes wish that you could give me back the miles I lost and the seasons I could not compete to my full potential. But we both know that where miles were lost, valuable lessons were learned. And although I am reluctant to say, we both know that was for the better.
We both know what was right, despite my grand plan of a perfect high school career; all roads don't always point forward, and it is not what I needed. You gave me what I needed. I needed to be knocked down again and again and again before it was my time to get it right. I needed to feel the disappointment of being sidelined for season after season. I needed to hear the whispers from the outside of those questioning my abilities.
You knew what I needed. I needed time away.
* Duffus after the 2019 Team XC Nationals
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My dependence on you back then grew too much where my identity started to blur between the lines. I could not separate myself from you. So, you gave me time (usually months at a time) to get it right. You let me feel the pain of not being able to feel your joy at the end of a hard session or a momentous race. You gave me time to see those around me. You gave me time to appreciate the blood, sweat and tears of my teammates and let me know that my self-worth was more than the PRs and championships I gained.
You showed me to value myself outside of performance, and ultimately you opened my eyes to the person I truly was, and the worth that I needed to hold. You made me stronger, and I thank you for that.
Now, despite the tribulation we both know took place, we also know the true work has just begun. The lessons you have taught me through the past three years, and the momentum I have gained within the last season of my high school career, are adding up before my eyes faster than I could have imagined.
You gave me time to appreciate the blood, sweat and tears of my teammates and let me know that my self-worth was more than the PRs and championships I gained.
I thank you everyday for the joy I feel as my feet grip the ground. I thank you everyday for the bliss held in the silence between a rep or on the line moments before the gun goes off. I look forward to the pockets of peace you grant my day with when it's just you and I and the ground beneath me.
It is not for me to say, but I think we both know it is time to get it right. We both know that although this journey has just begun, there are some clear objectives that are soon to be finished, and I trust more than ever that you have truly equipped me with all the tools needed for this.
So, thank you running.
For the highs. But also for the lows, because we both know that without the lows the highs wouldn't exist.
Zoe Duffus :)
Fort Wayne Carroll High School, '21
Contributed by Zoe Duffus
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 email@example.com, or to your local MileSplit editor in your respective state.
Read the full series here.