Ashlyn Minton is a senior at Fort Wayne Carroll High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana. The talented senior has recorded three sub-19 minute 5Ks this season alone, and has finished with the top 10 over her last three meets. She has been a part of the Chargers' last three state championship teams. In this Dear Running essay, Minton writes about the hardships of 2020, and overcoming them en route to what she hopes will be a succesful end to the fall.
I never thought I would miss you so much.
Ever since we began, I've taken you for granted. Maybe it's because I never was injured and I never missed a meet. I suppose I just conjectured life with you would always be that way. I know it sounds trite and unoriginal, but I know now that you truly never know how important something is until it is gone.
For me, that was racing. Other than sitting out with my teammates, I had run every meet over my high school career. Almost every Saturday, it was the same routine: I got up, went to the meet, ran, went home. The steps always repeated. I got into a routine. And it became customary to my weekly schedule. When cross season ended, it was the same with track. Freshman year, sophomore year, junior year ... like clockwork.
And then this year happened. I was just getting back into the routine. I was running great and was starting to see attainable goals in the not too distance future. I was so close to where I wanted to be.
But after participating in two cross country meets, I received particularly upsetting news that I had been in close contact with someone who had tested positive for COVID-19. And that was it. I lost nearly a third of my senior cross-country season. Suddenly, it felt like everything I had worked so hard for had been dismantled. Everything I had overcome mentally from the past few years buried me again. It almost did not feel real at first. I knew it was a possibility, but I never thought it would actually happen.
Each step I took, I pounded my foot into the ground. I ran harder. I ran faster. I wasn't going to let my situation take away what I had already worked so hard for. It wasn't easy. Those two weeks tested every single ounce of me, both mentally and physically
I guess I thought I was invincible in some sort of way. I didn't want to believe it. I didn't want it to be me.
But if there's one thing running has taught me, it's that you never give up. You don't accept defeat. If you let something break you, where will that get you? You can be physically fit, and you can be strong, but if you aren't there mentally, you can't unlock your true potential. The physical aspect is only half of it. The mental aspect is where champions are made. You have a bad race? Try harder next time. You have a practice that's going less than ideal? Don't stop trying. You regroup and refocus.
That's when I realized that I couldn't just stop and give up. I couldn't let my situation drag me down and consume me. That had never worked for me in the past. I had to fight it. I couldn't let it take control of me. I had to control it the best I could. Of course, there's not much I could do about it, but the one thing I could do was keep running. And so, I did. I went out every day and took my anger out on the pavement.
* Minton with her teammates after Fort Wayne Carroll's girls grabbed the 2019 IHSAA state team championship
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Each step I took, I pounded my foot into the ground. I ran harder. I ran faster. I wasn't going to let my situation take away what I had already worked so hard for. It wasn't easy. Those two weeks tested every single ounce of me, both mentally and physically. It was tough and it was difficult, and if I am being honest, it was absolutely dreadful to run workouts on my own -- especially on the weekends when I knew my teammates were out there racing without me.
But I couldn't give up. That's not what I was taught to do. I needed to return strong. That's what kept me out there running during my time away.
When I was able to return after what felt like an eternity away, I was elated. I had only missed two meets and was ready to make a comeback. However, our story -- my story -- does not end here. After returning just days before I would be able to run my next meet, I was told I didn't have enough official practices in to run the meet. And in that moment, I was heartbroken again. We didn't have a meet the next weekend either, so by that point I felt like I hadn't run in years (Of course, I had run, but I hadn't run, you know?)
Deep down, I just wanted to race. In the literal sense, that's what cross country is. We practice to get better so we can race harder. We practice with an end goal of making it to state and being the best we can be.
Fortunately, I was eventually able to run (sorry, I had to make a punny) back into my routine at our Sectional meet and at this point, I know things can only get better from here! I was able to place third and am overjoyed to be back on the course with my teammates and cannot wait to see what the rest of the season can bring!
Whether we are victorious in earning our third state championship or not, I will be happy either way, because I am able to be out there doing what I love. Life is full of disappointments and obstacles, but in the end they only make you stronger. When life gets tough, be tough with it. You cannot decide what happens in your life but you can control how you react to it. So if I had to thank running for anything, I would thank it for showing me that I can prevail over challenging situations and return triumphant.
So, thank you running. You taught me my greatest lesson yet.
Fort Wayne Carroll High School '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 email@example.com, or to your local MileSplit editor in your respective state.
Read the full series here.