Good enough.

Today there are three things I want to share with you… okay, no, more like four things.

1.) In one week from today I will have landed in Uganda and be (hopefully) miraculously adjusted to the time zone, gracefully embracing the culture shock and not the least bit jet-lagged. (Start praying people!)

2.) Runner’s World will soon be publishing an article about the project in Uganda! Hooray! The Sports Information Director at Pacific University is also planning on writing an article. Double Hooray!

Which brings me to my next point…

3.) Because of the article(s) that will soon come out I was asked, “What is official name of your project in Uganda?” Well, the first thought that came to mind was, “Good freaking question! Ummmmm…. official name?!?” When my slight  panic attack subsided I started seriously brainstorming. Long story short, this is now known as the Children’s Running Project Uganda. In the future if there is a website, NGO, etc. it will be known as the Children’s Running Project and each country or city served will be inserted at the end of the name (such as “Children’s Running Project Tanzania”, “Children’s Running Project Belize”, “Children’s Running Project Portland”).

And lastly…

4.) This morning the writer from Runner’s World sent me a follow-up email and asked me to elaborate on something I had said in our first phone interview earlier this week. Here’s what she said, “…you mentioned that running has saved you from time to time, helped you heal… what (has) running helped you heal from?”

My internal dialogue went something like this… “Oh sh*t,” and other expressive thoughts.

How much do you say to someone who is writing an article to an audience of a few hundred thousand people? I mean really?! How personal do you get? I wanted to be authentic, honest, and explain the depth of what running has done for me– but I also wanted to be cautious and not totally unload on this woman and then see my own words in print. That could get ugly.

After I calmed down I decided to call my college coach, Tim Boyce, to hear what he had to say. He knows me really well..and he operates with a level of calmness that I could only dream of. After talking with Tim I wrote out an answer to RW question to be a guide for answering this and other questions that might come up in the pending phone conversation with RW. Here is that answer.

you-are-good-enough

“People worldwide suffer disappointment, sickness, the ache of broken relationships, and experience humanity— it’s beauty and pain— uniquely. Every life has a story, one worthy of telling for it’s ups and downs. My story is a testament to this and running has been my way of working through the hardest parts of life.

Though my struggles seem to pale in comparison, I can identify in some ways with the children of Northern Uganda. They too have lost loved ones, been told negative things about who they are, been forced into awful situations outside their control, and miraculously survived and even thrived against the odds.

No child is exactly alike; each has suffered, struggled and survived in their own way. My story is also unique, I have suffered losses, heart ache, the brokenness of my own humanity, the consequences of poor choices and learning the hard way—but also the redemption that comes from picking myself up again, putting one foot in front of the other. The children of Northern Uganda have courageously picked themselves up again and again too and kept moving forward.

Running became hugely significant in my life in high school and continued into college. However, between 2004-2006 I had some especially hard years. Some of those difficulties are too personal to tell here but I will say, without a doubt, running kept me going; running kept me alive; running gave me a purpose; running gave me intentionality each day.

In 2004 I entered college at Northern Arizona University and struggled to keep up with the team and the training. A year into my time there the then head distance coach told me, “You will never be good enough to run for me.” After saying so, he cut me midseason from the team. I heard his words much like feeling a knife. They were sharp, they cut deep and they wounded me. I wondered if he was right, and if he was right should I really run at all? If I could not be on a team, what would I do? My dream had been to be a college runner, at that point this dream was over.

Most poignant in that coaches statement where the words, “good enough.” “Good enough” was a phrase that had already caused me pain; “good enough” traced back to my own internal struggles and questions, wondering if I was loveable, valuable, and worthy of inclusion and care. His words cut me and for many years to follow I’ve worked through that phrase, “good enough.” Those words have haunted me on and off the track, in competitions and in relationships.

I left NAU, returned home and began looking for another school to attend. In this process I also began working through the questions that being cut and being told “I’d never be good enough” brought up. I spent months rising out of the disappointment and embarrassment of being cut, I felt like a failure. The words that were used, only made things worse. They were personal, that coaches assessment of me as unworthy to be on his team mirrored how I thought of my own worthy and value in all areas of life. His words were not just about running, they were about me, all of me.

But slowly, somehow I began to reconsidered a thing called hope. I began to have hope that I could someday run again, maybe for a team and maybe even fast. I began to dream a little bit and I realized that I had a voice inside me, almost like a whisper, encouraging me not to quit, not to give up on myself or the sport I loved.

It took some courage to start running again, but each day that I went on a run was like sending a message to myself, “You are here, you are worthy, you are doing something, you can do this, you are good enough.” Running helped me express myself, even if it was a slow-self at the time. Running was an art form. It became my artistic expression, just like racing is described as an artistic expression by the incredible Steve Prefontaine, “A race is a work of art that people can look at and be affected in as many ways they’re capable of understanding.” Running was the work of art that helped me understand myself and a catalyst for internal redemption.

Within a year and a half of being cut and transferring out of NAU I found out that the slow and hopeless fitness and racing times I had been experiencing were not because I was not “good enough.” I also was not lazy, or wimpy, or a case of talentlessness. But in fact my slow times, lethargy, sluggishness and even depression were because I was fatally anemic. At the time of my first iron test (April of 2007) my results showed that my Iron level was 9, and my Ferritin, 2.

I admit fully that my experience at NAU and the subsequent discovery of anemia was not the only difficulty I was facing during that chapter in my life. I had other challenges at the time that contributed to the soul searching I underwent. Having shared this story with people before, some have accused me of using running to run from those difficulties, however that does not capture the essence of what I was doing. I was running through the difficulty, much like we runners run through the burn of a tempo run or push through the discomfort in a race. Running helped me find myself. I spent that time, mile after mile, sorting out my own heart, wrestling with demons, sharpening my character, maturing my faith and feeling alive.

By the fall of 2006 I had transferred to another college, Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon. It was there that I met coach Tim Boyce, a coach who undoubtedly believed I was good enough, worthy of his coaching, and could see in me an outstanding potential, beyond even what I could have hoped for. Thankfully I had not given up on running or myself and soon after training with Coach Boyce I saw the fruit of my perseverance. After discovering my anemia, seeking treatment (I actually have to receive iron intravenously, supplementation doesn’t cut it for my body) and partnering with Tim, the coach I credit my success to, in a few short months I went from barely able to complete a 5k race to setting multiple school records. Coach Boyce’s belief in me, investment, time and mentorship helped me become not only a better person, more secure and confident in myself, but also Pacific’s first cross country All-American.

Today, I am taking the lessons I learned in those hardest years, the hope that developed by not giving up, and the wisdom and experience of training and competing, to the children of Northern Uganda. My journey through running now extends around the world to a worthy and deserving group of children—who often are not treated as such. I believe running will help them as it has helped me. Like Coach Boyce and others believe in me, invested in me, and gave their time and mentorship, I too will give to these children. There is more possible for them, they are worthy, valuable, good enough.

Running is a catalyst for that. Running is the mechanism I can use to help them heal and recover, giving them more purpose, gifting them an artistic way of expression emotion, a beautiful and positive tool to move them from their painful pasts to a positive future.”

-KO


 

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