I used to be an athlete. In my mind I still am, but my body has decided otherwise. I still crave the run and the endorphins that endurance exercise releases. I miss lots of pieces of my former life and the future life I thought I was going to have, and I’m trying to pick up some of those pieces. But I’m also gathering new pieces and slowly learning to live this new life that I have both been forced to accept and willingly chosen.

In my former life, I was happy, and I thought I had everything I wanted. My husband was my best friend, loving and supportive. I had a beautiful son, and I loved my job and my profession. Then, my life changed dramatically because of circumstances over which I had no control. We don’t always get to choose the turns our lives take. I’ve learned that, for better or worse, eventually we all go through something that forces us to change the path we are on. 

Change is never easy, but when it comes, it’s our choice how difficult we make it. I could have given up, fought, and denied everything that was going on. Somehow, I didn’t. Somehow, I kept moving forward. Maybe it was instinct as an athlete to finish the race no matter what.

Change is not only difficult, but it’s also quite uncomfortable. In fact, some of the most important changes come out of the greatest amount of discomfort. My journey has been full of discomfort and change — the two things I’ve always hated most. But, when I step back and look at my experience from another perspective, I am surprised to discover that it may have been just exactly what I needed. My story is deeply entwined with running, but you don’t have to be a runner to appreciate my journey. Running isn’t just a sport. It’s a lifestyle and a community. So, losing it has forced me to redefine who I am, how I live, and where I belong.

Doesn’t everyone have to reexamine themselves and their lives at some point? I think they do. I never imagined a day when I wouldn’t be able to run. To say I love running is a gross understatement. I love the feeling of each foot as it hits the ground, the breeze in my hair, the sweat on my forehead, the peace I experience. I love the way running makes me feel mentally and physically and how it gives me confidence, freedom, and hope. Even every step in my career has been about incorporating the sport I love — from the moment I started running right up until the moment I was told I had to stop.

I ran for more than fourteen years, and it’s been more than a year now since I took my last run. I can still close my eyes and imagine myself running my typical five-mile loop in my neighborhood. I can still see the houses that line the route and hear the familiar sounds of kids laughing, dogs barking, and wind rustling in the trees. I can still smell summer’s cut grass and autumn’s crisp air. I can still remember how each hill felt to climb. I can still see the people I would notice each time I went out. Giving up my running lifestyle is the hardest thing I’ve ever done or ever hope to do. I will always miss it. Always.

Excerpted from Racing Heart: A Runner’s Journey of Love, Loss and Perseverance.