Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Free to Run. Free to Live. Free to Be.

I’ll be honest - I used to dread running. It might seem surprising that I did gymnastics for so long and could hardly run two miles at the end of my career, but it’s actually not that uncommon. After all, gymnastics is all about short bursts of power, and no routine is ever more than a minute and a half. Plus, long-distance endurance was never really my thing. I vividly remember Saturday morning workouts, when we would run countless laps around the gym with Madonna’s “Die Another Day” blasting in the background. Even though I was pretty convinced that those weekend practice “torture sessions” were going to be the end of me, I managed to scrape by, but I never imagined that running was something that I would ever really enjoy.

Looking back, I think that my love for running developed when I finally recovered from a nearly year-long injury. When I was fifteen, I blew out my ankle on the night before I was scheduled to leave for my first national competition. The next eight months were the hardest that I ever faced during my gymnastics career - I spent months on crutches and was completely sidelined for an entire season. Still, I went to practice every day, working on my upper body and core strength as much as I possibly could. I came to love strength training, but I still felt so trapped. Even as I watched my teammates struggle through the endurance conditioning that I had always hated, I wished more than anything that I could just take off running. But I had to wait… eight long months.

I remember the first day that the doctor finally cleared me to do some light jogging. I remember the excitement that I felt as I laced up my shoes, which he told me to wear for extra support even though gymnasts typically run barefoot. I remember the FREEDOM that I felt with those first few steps, the JOY that I experienced as my heart began to beat faster, and the sense of ACCOMPLISHMENT that I felt as I finished my first real run in almost a year!

Okay, so I only ran ten measly laps around the 40 foot by 40 foot spring gymnastics floor. BUT I WAS RUNNING. Just a few months prior to that I had hardly been able to hobble around. In that moment, I promised myself that I would never again take my ability to run for granted.

This morning, as I was running on the track at the student center, I was overjoyed with a sense of freedom! With my legs plugging along, heart pumping, and the News Boys’ “I Am Free” blasting, I laughed at the irony of how far I have come since the “Die Another Day” era. Now, running and exercise help me recognize the life and vitality that God has blessed me with, and I am motivated by my desire to remain strong and healthy so that I can lead the full life that He has planned for me.

After the Warrior Dash! It was so empowering to crawl under barbed wire and leap through fire!

Although we may not all be able to run or even exercise as often as we want, we do all have the power to become stronger in a wide variety of ways. A quick half-hour session of exercise each day, even if it is simply walking around the neighborhood, can make a huge difference over time. The important thing is to get moving! If you struggle with finding the motivation to exercise, here are a few tips that I find helpful:

1.     Learn about the benefits of exercise. Believe it or not, working out is great for your mind, body, and soul. People who move regularly tend to be less stressed, less likely to become ill, and more optimistic about what lies ahead in life!
2.     Reflect on the ways that exercise might help you live more abundantly. Maybe you want to have more energy when you spend time with friends or family, or perhaps you want to have the energy for volunteer projects that require you to be extra active.
3.     Exercise with a friend or family member. Walking or even hitting the gym with a loved one can be a great way to bond. Plus, you are more likely to stick with your plan if you have someone to hold you accountable.
4.     Write down your exercise every day. When you reach a short-term goal (like working out three times per week or walking two miles, for example), reward yourself with something like a subscription to a new magazine or a trip to the movies with a friend.
5.     Most importantly, remember that you were created to accomplish amazing things in this life! I believe that when we exercise and stay fit, we are better equipped to tackle our purposes with full hearts and strong bodies!

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