I took a run through my old stomping grounds in Denver today, while here for a visit with my very dear friend Suzy. It was a super nostalgic experience for me, and a pretty emotional one too. And because I think #KeepingItReal is just that important, especially in the athlete world where relevant backstories and the truly meaningful — but often personal — things are too easily left out (and I suppose also because I’m feeling extra courageous today), I’m going to get really candid and share a little bit about it with you all on the world-wide-web…
It’s been 10 years now since I called Denver “home,” back in college (for the first three years of my five-and-a-half anyway!). I’ve been back a couple times since then, but not in the way that I was today, where I totally re-immersed myself in my “old world,” running my way right back through it. When I took off on my run this morning from Suzy’s house, I knew I wanted to head back toward the school to do some reflection and evoke some nostalgia, but I didn’t know just how introspective, and ultimately healing, the experience would be.
“The Denver Chapter,” as I like to refer to it in the rare instance that it comes up these days, was by far the hardest and darkest time of my life. This city – or as I should say, the time I spent here – broke me down in a way I never could have expected. I “grew up” here over a few pivotal years from age 17-20, but ultimately had to do so much more quickly than I was ready for, and as a result I faced some tremendous challenges. Few people in my life today know the extent of the struggle I experienced here, and to be honest it’s something I almost never think about. Thankfully, I’m in such a vastly different place in my life now that the struggles I faced here are an incredibly distant memory — almost as if in an alternate lifetime.
But today, it all came flooding back as I went to look this chapter of my past in the face, following the same footsteps I took on so many days here all those years ago. I ran my way through the city, down University Avenue, and right into the heart of campus, running by (undoubtedly out of place) as students walked to class and carried about with their day as I used to. I looked right up into my old dorm window from freshman year. I ran the paved paths I used to walk to class, when I had no idea what I really wanted to do with my life or even who I really wanted to be, even though I thought I did. (Man, college was a confusing time!). I ran through Wash Park, where I’d clocked so many miles for no other reason than because I literally didn’t know what else to do with myself, perhaps hoping I might find something in a time of feeling quite lost.
I had all of the flashbacks, and all of the feels – all the way across the spectrum. At a couple points I couldn’t help but shed a few tears remembering many difficult things I’d felt in these same spots all those years ago, but at the same time I smiled and even laughed for my gratitude of knowing what I’ve overcome. Everything felt so familiar, but at the same time it was a completely different experience than the ones I’ve had here before.
I was surprised at how easy it was to find my way after all this time, and how every turn came so naturally and precisely, like I hadn’t skipped a beat since my last time running down these roads, even though it was so many years ago and I feel like a totally different person now following those same footsteps. I was acutely aware of the stark contrast between where I am now — and who I am — versus where I was then, when I ran these streets so regularly. I can look at these roads now; these buildings and this park; and see everything so differently, as if for the first time, despite remembering it all so distinctly. It feels inexplicably good to have the perspective I do now, but honestly I am grateful for both this one and the one that came before it.
My time at school in Denver and the weight of the challenges I faced then, despite its heavy impact at the time, seems so distant now, and in many ways so irrelevant to my present life. I am thankful to be able to feel so far removed from what was ultimately a pretty negative space and time for me; to know I’ve moved so far forward, and “left it all behind.” But, I realized today, as I coaxed all those memories back into the light and faced them head-on, that it’s really important to not lose sight of where you came from. Because that’s the only way to know just how far you’ve really come. It’s important to remember and recognize all parts of the story, and the role they’ve played in getting us to where we are today. It is all relevant — the good and the bad — and it all has a purpose.
I think so often it’s easy for me to disregard and essentially forget about the challenges I faced here, because I am a pretty forward-focused person, always looking toward the future and excited about what’s coming next. But I was reminded today that this chapter is a tremendously important part of my story and my journey, and I absolutely wouldn’t be where I am today without these struggles from my past, and all of the others. As distant as those experiences and memories may be, I know they remain an integral part in my becoming who I am now. And while they are still a little difficult to look back on under true reflection, I now fully understand their value.
Those challenges taught me that there is truly no obstacle too great to overcome, and that I am resilient beyond what I really knew – a great lesson to be able to draw from for the rest of life, and an important one not to forget. They showed me how crucial it was for me to not waste one more second investing myself into something I wasn’t 100% passionate about, and in many ways dictated the path I’ve followed ever since. They’ve made me a more compassionate, understanding and level-headed athlete, coach and person.
I had no idea how much I may have actually needed the run I took today, and the reflection, introspection and perspective it provided me. I didn’t know just how powerful and restorative it would be for me, or how relevant these lessons from the past might actually be to my present life. But today was a great reminder for me to be grateful for, and to value, every single step of the journey – even the ones that feel like a giant step backward. To take the challenges as they come, do our best to embrace them, and to always remember that they serve a greater purpose, even though we often can’t see it right away.
Remembering “where I came from,” and how far I’ve really come, was an especially relevant experience for me today. This off-season has been a difficult one for me on a number of levels, and though they certainly pale in comparison to those challenges in “The Denver Chapter,” at the moment I’m working through a new set of personal challenges and “growing pains,” so to speak, that do warrant my recognition and attention. These times are never easy, but I feel confident after today’s reminders that I will get through this chapter too, and come out the other side even stronger, just as I did all those years ago. And although it’s something I rarely acknowledge to myself, I was reminded today that to emerge from those past challenges in the way that I did, and to be able to once again hit the ground running as I have, is by far my greatest accomplishment to date. And that is not something that should be forgotten or overlooked, but appreciated. It’s okay to have struggles. In fact, I would say that they are absolutely imperative to “success,” whatever that may mean to you.
For a while after I first left Denver in 2007, I remember wishing so badly that I could have a do-over. I wished I could go back and do things totally differently; avoid some of the mistakes I made, be gentler on myself, and protect myself from some of the challenges I had to overcome. In a way, I think I felt like I needed to return to Denver at some point and prove to myself that I could “conquer” the city that at the time I felt had in many ways conquered me.
But I realize now that I don’t need to do anything over. I don’t need to change anything, and I certainly don’t need to have any regrets. I am at peace with the path I have taken, and so grateful for where it has led me today, which I know is in fact in many ways a result of each and every “misstep” along the way.
For many difficult months all those years ago, in my time of greatest struggle as an athlete and as a human being, I ran through these streets, feeling as though I was running from something – even though I wasn’t quite sure what at the time. But today, 10 years later, I ran this same route, but for something. I ran it for me, as I do each and every run these days. Moving forward, in whatever direction I choose, but always anchored — and made stronger — by the paths already behind me, the many miles I’ve put into them and the progress I’ve made along the way. And there are few feelings out there more liberating and empowering than that.