I Am a Cross Country Runner | Teen Ink

I Am a Cross Country Runner

November 28, 2018
By SabastienU BRONZE, Midland, Michigan
SabastienU BRONZE, Midland, Michigan
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

Frustration, disappointment, and exhaustion. Those were the only thoughts in my head after a grueling speed session the day before regionals. This workout was fueled solely by anger at myself for not being good enough, and this was when the switch flipped. I needed to do everything in my power to make sure I was at the regional meet the next year. After the last rep, both my coaches mention the idea of me running Cross Country. This wasn’t new for me, as the cross coach had been harping on me since I walked in the high school for the first time. This instance was different, I slept on the idea, and realized this was my chance to get better. So, the next day I got the information for cross country camp and made it official. I was a Cross Country Runner.

The energy was crazy with this team, we were all motivated and pushing each other through the early morning workouts, with our eyes always set on the next meet. Then, something strange happened. While out on an early morning tempo run with my best friend and teammate, I felt a flutter in my chest. Not a flutter from nerves, but like my heart actually skipped a beat. Then it hit me. My heart began racing and beating out of my chest, I lost all my energy and my muscles felt like jelly. I stopped for a little to take my heart rate, and felt around my neck for a pulse. 240 beats per minute. I was determined to finish this workout even if I had to run it slower than normal, because that’s what was expected, to push through. After all, I was a Cross Country Runner. 

The incident at practice was soon forgotten, and the season went right along. The progress every meet was exciting and the consistency was promising, then, the fifth meet of the year arrived. Coming in with a PR of 19:52, I was ready to give it my all. Our team gets into our assigned box and lines up. The official calls us up to the line, and then we’re off. The heat that day was suffocating, but the summer workouts had me ready for this. I was hitting pace coming into mile two, then it hit. I felt the flutter, my heart rate increased, and I felt the pounding everywhere. This wasn’t practice though, this was a race, and I could not let myself stop. My breathing was frantic, my chest was pounding, my mind was hazy, but I finished the race. 21:56 was the time. I was fixated on this performance for the rest of the week, blaming my bad run on me and not this recurring flutter. I would not let this one race define me, I was a Cross Country Runner.

The days went by, and then came the sixth meet of the year. The conditions and course were decent, but still 86 degrees at the start of the Division 4 guys varsity race. I was excited for the competition of all the schools, and then it began. I came out strong, ready to push for a PR and felt good coming into mile two. I was in a good pack, pushing the pace, and there it was. The flutter was back. It hit me like a truck and I dropped back, there was no hope for a PR. I clung on to a teammate for the rest of the race and finished. I stumbled across the finish line and through the chute, dazed and lightheaded my coach led me back to the tent and asked me what was going on, clearly seeing I wasn’t myself. I explained the flutter, how I felt, the other times it happened, and then he took my heart rate. 260 beats per minute. He was taken aback by the number, and the visible throbbing in my neck. He strongly suggested to get it checked out and I agreed, and I was at the doctors the next day. I knew I could get through this setback, I was a Cross Country Runner.

The doctors ran test after test, everything was normal. The only possibility was an arrhythmia, an irregular heart beat. They sent me home with a small box that was used to record episodes when I had them, and I was allowed to practice again. Sure enough, the first practice I got back the flutter was there to meet me. I recorded it and sent it in that night, ready to get some closure on what was happening. The doctors called the next day with some news, a meeting was scheduled between my parents and I, and the cardiologist I had been seeing. I was dreading the meeting, not knowing if I should be scared or happy about what I was going to hear. We entered the office and the doctor told us all to sit down, while taking off his glasses, he delivered the news. My season was over, right there. The doctor informed us that, based on the readings and symptoms I had experienced, I had a life threatening arrhythmia that could be triggered by any physical activity. It felt like my soul left my body. So many thoughts began racing through my head but it all boiled down to one thing. I was unable to run. My escape, my passion, my motivation for getting through the day, just like that it was gone. The doctor said it was a pure miracle that I was still alive, and that if either race had gone a little longer or I had pushed a little more, everything could have ended. The only good news out of this was that it could be fixed by surgery. That was the next big step, and I was ready. I was a Cross Country Runner. 

The weeks dragged by, I was still a part of team and attended every meet, but it wasn’t the same. From racing 5ks to not being able to walk fast for fear of dying, it was a huge change. I relied on other ways to stay healthy and occupied, and began falling in love with the process. I changed my diet, I fixed my sleep schedule, and became more of a coach than a runner. I learned the ins and outs of making a training schedule, I learned how to manage splits, and I learned how to become a leader in a way I couldn’t while I was running. Without running, these things got me by while I was counting down the days until the procedure, then finally the day came. 5am wake up, two hour car ride, and an eight hour operation. The road to recovery had begun. It was painfully slow, but I embraced every step. It began with me just getting out of bed to get water, to taking walks outside, then to slow bike rides, and finally two weeks later I was on my first run. I micromanaged every part of my life, made sure I took my daily aspirin, watched what I ate and drank, made sure I slept enough, and always worked towards getting back into shape. I was determined to get back to good health as soon as possible, and all of this was necessary for the process. These few months have been life changing, and to say the least it has changed me as a person forever. This sport has given me ultimate highs and ultimate lows, made me a strong leader, and gave me the mind and tools to succeed in any setting I am put into. Frustration, disappointment, and exhaustion are all steps along the way to find happiness, passion, and motivation. I am no longer just an athlete…

I am a Cross Country Runner.

The author's comments:

My name is Sabastien Upham, and I am a senior student athlete at Meridian Early College High School in Michigan. This piece details my experience with a very serious heart issue during my junior cross country season, how I handled it, and how it changed me as a person. I goal when writing this piece was to inspire others through my story, and show that no matter the circumstances, anyone can achieve their goals.

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This article has 2 comments.

on Dec. 14 2018 at 9:54 pm
sophieprince21, Hope, Michigan
0 articles 0 photos 1 comment
Amazing writing Seabass🙌🏼

EmilsM said...
on Dec. 14 2018 at 9:14 am
EmilsM, Trussville, Alabama
0 articles 0 photos 1 comment
Incredibly written!!!