On Running | Jackie Kim

Do you remember how we met all those years later? We had never been on the best of terms. You’d be the bain of my playground clout, my position in the running pack translating directly to my popularity in the 5th grade food chain. Ah well, I wore it like a second skin. I wore it like a personality trait, that you and sports hadn’t been encoded in my genes and my strengths lie elsewhere. My mother took an odd pride in my lack of athleticism, this extra leg of common ground between us, another area of identification “like mother, like daughter.” I had never questioned you as anything more than an inconvenience.

And yet, you found your way into my life in odd, quiet moments. 

Like the morning after my friend’s sleepover in the 7th grade, and my limbs felt all soft and tender in the muted wash of early morning violet. I jogged in place in her kitchen and could feel the new, tentative pleasure of what it was like to feel my own strength.

Or in the empty hallways long after school had ended and I would race my friends down those corridors in my socks, laughter echoing through the halls, feeling exhilarated being one of the few to witness the school sigh and decompress at the end of a long, bustling day.

Maybe it was that afternoon I ran from the house, angry (or was I restless?) from who knows what, and I needed to breathe and feel the pavement underneath my feet, the sight of the road unfolding in front of me to alleviate my nagging claustrophobia.

Maybe that’s why you were my first thought in the vice of claustrophobia, in the oppressive haze of overthinking, in the slow acid drip of stagnation. Why I had reached for my shoes when analysis and dreaming failed to give me anything more than decay. Maybe you were always there, vibrating excess energy in my legs that could only find release with the feel of pavement under my feet. Every step on the road washes me head to toe with new waves of clarity and peace.

I could never measure you in terms of goals. Not rankings and gold and silver medals. You, you were the antithesis to the blight of goal-oriented striving. You were my salve to the heavy mental weight of anxiety. It was never about me and other people and where our abilities stood in comparison. You were the freedom and strength I was made to believe I never had.

The feeling of strength in my own legs. The sound of my feet on the pavement. The warm flush of my skin and the pleasant buzz of vitality in my limbs. It’s you and me and our union. You taught me the meaning of time. You taught me patience. You taught me how good it feels to be in my body, that I don’t need to fly away into daydreams for refuge. You taught me it is a joy to be a part of the world around me. You taught me what it is to be strong. You are my ground and my best kept secret.

I’m glad I found you the way I did. You weren’t drilled into me by a sense of duty and resignation, but rather found in the gentle, organic discovery in listening to my own body, the thrum of life I didn’t know was there. I melded you into my life by my own terms. I had found you, and it was a beautiful thing. Like the pleasant surprise of finding daffodils on the side of the road on a summer day.

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