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A pair of track spikes hangs on my door. Colorway: teal/black/orange. Women’s, size five. They were the only ones available at A Runner’s Mind in my size. Those spikes sped my mile up by almost twenty seconds, and I loved them. Finding them was a blessing. Hanging them up for the last time was, too.
My Track and Field coaches value dedication over raw talent. Quitting, to them, is the worst thing imaginable; it jeopardizes the stability of the team. “The team comes first” is Coach’s catchphrase, and its constant repetition throughout each and every pre-practice lecture ingrained the phrase into my brain. “The team comes first,” I chanted silently as I braced myself to run another repeat of the workout, even though my shins, knees, and ankles were burning and throbbing in protest. “The team comes first” followed me through afternoons spent with bags of ice balanced precariously on my legs, through races where I pushed myself just a little harder to pass the girl in front of me and subsequently collapsed over the finish line, through the post-race patch-up that medics performed at each meet.
“The team comes first” echoed as I twisted the cap off my bottle of ibuprofen every four hours to dull the pain enough to allow me to limp across campus to class.
My friend, in pity, gave me an elevator key that he found on the ground to ease my suffering a bit and make it easier to get to my classes. “Why are you still doing this to yourself?” he asked in disbelief.
I’m not a quitter.
I didn’t quit that season. Satisfaction came from the fact that I remained on the team because, at least, I hadn’t given up and left. I accepted the crippling tendonitis and shin splints that kept me up at night in tears as affirmation that I was a fighter.
When it came time to register for the season next year, my body protested; I was torn between signing up and walking away. My body was still recovering from injury, but, as if in a trance, I filled out the paperwork anyway and attended the first day of tryouts. There, I learned that both my body and mind weren’t ready for that season of track—after face-planting during the warm-up and coming in last for the mile trial. On the second day, I left the stadium in tears, telling my coach that my body couldn’t handle it anymore. Quitting still hurt, but it was the first time I defied the belief that it was the worst thing I could do.
The word “quit” insinuates laziness, weakness, and inability to commit: “You aren’t defeated when you lose; you’re defeated when you quit.” Leaving the stadium that day challenged this idea. I used to feel that picking my own health and happiness was a bad thing, that honoring commitment should take precedence over my ability to function. I realized, however, that continuing would have cost me the ability to walk properly, to sleep, and to even sit motionless without waves of pain emitting from my lower body, and I shouldn’t have to endure that sort of pain just for the sake of blind commitment.
If things had been different, if my body hadn’t rebelled against me every time I laced up my spikes and sprinted off the start line, I would have happily stayed on the team. That wasn’t the case, though. Quitting track—prioritizing self-preservation over guilt-inspired commitment—is a decision that I never thought I would make, but is also one that I would never change. My spikes will remain on the hook on my door in commemoration of my first and last season running on the track team, and I will remain, performing the feat that had seemed so impossible during the season from hell: standing.
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