Kaitlyn Garofalo is a senior at Ramsey High School in Ramsey, New Jersey. During her first cross country season as a junior in 2019 she won the Group C Bergen County cross country title and qualified for the Group 2 State Championships where she finished 23rd at Holmdel Park with a course PR of 20:18. On the track this last winter Garofalo qualified for Group 2 States in both the 1600m and 3200m, she finished the season with PRs of 5:20.15 and 11:46.42. In this letter to the sport she covers how the sport has taught her to deal with adversity while coming back stronger.
You've taught me to pick myself up when I fall and to come back stronger...
Let's go back in time...
I was all into soccer. For years, it was a huge part of my life. Every weekend I would compete in a soccer game or tournament. It was what I considered normal. Out of the blue, I ran a town 5k for fun one year, placing top in my category. I really thought nothing of it and didn't dare think I would ever consider running competitively. My younger self would have never imagined I would be running cross country instead of playing soccer in the future.
It all happened so fast. Freshman and Sophomore year I was still focused on soccer and was just running track to stay in shape. Towards the end of my sophomore year I started to get this urge. This feeling of wanting to push my limits and wanting to be better. I was terrified! I was leaving everything I grew up knowing behind for a new sport that was still very foreign to me. I am normally not a risk taker, this was the first time you helped me take a leap of faith.
During my first season of cross country you challenged me physically and mentally. You made me push my limits each and every race. I was slowly starting to learn everything about you and myself, which I wouldn't have seen otherwise. Likewise, with track season, I proved to myself that if I worked hard I had potential. You taught me that I need to race like every race is my last and take nothing for granted. Although my season was cut short due to COVID-19, I couldn't have asked for anything more.
I am thankful that you gave me my best friends. The people who I spend countless hours laughing with, talking to, going on an unlimited amount of smoothie runs with. Teammates who helped teach me and introduce me to you. You gave me amazing coaches and mentors, who guided me through my high school journey, on and off the track. My coaches also helped shape me into the person I am today and always believed in me, perhaps more than I believed in myself. My coaches also taught me to take a risk, that leap of faith and to never be afraid of the outcomes.
They also taught me to not let a failure determine the rest of the season. Instead to pick myself up when I've fallen and come back stronger. I now have this running community I know is always there for me when I need them the most. You brought me closer to my coaches and teammates who are constantly teaching me life lessons day in and day out. You've made me realize that I am a part of something much bigger than myself and to put everything on the line, to give my all for my teammates. I now am not afraid to take a chance and run into the unknown. I toe the line for each race unaware of the outcome but, every time I put my best foot forward. None of my success would be possible without any of these people or experiences challenging me to become a better version of myself.
You taught me how to handle setbacks and failures. Whether that is getting sick right before the first indoor track meet of junior year or missing qualifying for the cross country meet of champs by seconds. You showed me that the hurt fuels the fire and is what keeps me going. Instead of giving up whenever things didn't go the way I planned, you continue to scream at me to keep going and get back up. But most importantly you have never and will never be linear.
That is the same with life as well. I used to think everything would work out like a fantasy. You were the one to teach me that unfortunately this is not how life works. I came in expecting a path with no faults but you continuously throw me on loops which I didn't see coming. You are still very new to me, yet you've broken my heart. Again you test me, you gave me a senior year stress fracture after training through a pandemic! Not racing in the spring due to Covid and now pulling me away from my final season of high school cross country.
It's really tough having something you love break you, but so far it's taught me so much. I've learned more about myself outside of running and I've learned to trust the process. I'm not invincible and setbacks happen. I've had a lot of time to reflect on my growth and appreciate the small things which I took for granted. This stress fracture, although rough, has left me more hungry and eager than ever. I know it will take time and I don't know what the future holds, but I am confident you are there waiting for me! Through it all: the good, the bad and the ugly. I'm ready for a big comeback.
I know I'm not done yet, I'm far from done. No matter how many times I fall, I will get back up. I'm still climbing and still learning, it's a part of the journey. The more experience and time I have as a runner, the more obstacles I can overcome and the more resilient I am.
Ramsey 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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or to your local MileSplit editor in your respective state.
Read the full series here.