Salute to Seniors: Jonathan Chen of Livingston

Salute To Seniors is a medium for "senior farewells". We wanted to give everyone a chance to salute them one more time as well as invite those seniors to tell their stories from the past four years. We will be posting this series through July, and already have a number of submissions, if you would like to submit check out this article for how to do so.

There are questions for you to answer if you want but if you have your own idea such as what Johnathan did with this article feel free to run with it. 

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Dear Running: I'll Always Come Running Back

By Athlete: Johnathan Chen of Livingston

Dear Running,

I used to hate you.

    It started back in elementary school, when I couldn't even wrap my head around you. It was that one day a year-the gym class mile-the day everyone dreaded most. Laps and laps under the sun, heat scorching my bones, sweat pouring out of my skin. You came to me and immediately I pushed you away. We met and it was like everything I never understood and nothing I ever wanted came together. And back then, crossing that finish line each year in gym, I'd cross the line and be overwhelmed: the ache in my lungs, the energy wrung out of my legs, the exhaustion so heavy it consumed my entire body, and somewhere deep down, buried beneath all of that so much so that I could barely feel it, the desire to get better.

    In eighth grade I came back to you. Or maybe you came back to me. Either way, it was my first season of track, and to be honest, I thought it'd be my last. At practice I'd always be behind the main pack, trailing, chasing, never getting any closer. The gap between me and the lead runners was always widening, and for a while I thought I'd fall straight in. You left me lonely and discouraged, and when Coach asked who wanted to race, I'd always shy away.

    But despite all those bad experiences, somehow you still had faith in me. I can't explain why you did, nor can I say I could ever do the same. But somehow, by some miracle, you believed that I was more than the scrawny kid that thought he'd never know the feeling of being fast, and even after I left you time and time again, you still held out your hand.

    Thanks for that. I'm so grateful for you, and because of that, I really want to say that when I finally took your hand, when I ran to you, arms wide open, it all became smooth and easy, like running downhill with the wind at your back. But I can't say that, because that'd be a lie to anyone reading this.

    The truth is, it was still hard. It was hard, in my first track race, finishing last in the mile at 6:05, getting passed by everyone. Hard to face my coach who thought I was capable of so much more, harder to come back the next day and next season to practice and face everyone. It was heartbreaking the next year, having a huge PR of 5:19 at my first meet of the spring season and thinking that I'd had it all figured out, but then getting slower each meet after that, from 5:19 to 5:23 to 5:31. And junior year, it took everything-all of me-to not fall apart when I ran 5:03, when that goal that had always felt so surreal to that scrawny, unathletic kid - breaking 5 in the mile - was suddenly close enough for me to grasp but slipped straight out of my hand. 5:03 was beyond magical, but then came the 5:08, the 5:09, and the light that had seemed to be shining so bright before quickly dimmed into darkness. After enduring all those struggles, senior year should've been perfect, but that's just the thing about track, or cross country, or sports, or life in general-no season ever is perfect. I did eventually break 5 and ended my winter season with a PR of 4:55. But even now, I still have those moments every season when I wonder if I'm plateauing again, falling back into that trap that I've worked so hard to escape too many times.

    Fortunately, more recently, I've discovered that even though track and cross country mean you have to race on your own, running is always a team sport, and that's what saves me time and time again. When I have a bad day and my teammates are there to tell me that it was just that - an off day - and I'll be back and stronger than ever next time. When my coaches are there to remind me to get out of my head and trust myself, because they know, even if I don't, that the person I really am is so much stronger than the person I think I am. When I realize that the people I've spent every afternoon and many late nights with suddenly feel like family, that's what keeps me going.

    Even now, all these years later, part of me still wants to leave you. It's not always there; there's moments when it lulls, like when I have a big PR. But it's the days when you've known for me so long but still hurt me, when I give my all to you in the race but the time says otherwise, when I walk into practice and have to sit down and ask myself why I gave up so much of my life for you. It's on those days when I want to leave the most. But as much as you hurt me and you've broken me time and time again, as much as I've wanted to leave you for good and never come back, all of me knows I never could.

    I'll always come running back.

        See ya soon,

            Jonathan Chen