My first race!
by John Papanayotou
Soccer ruled my life.
I’ll repeat that in case you missed it. Soccer ruled my life. I would be lying if I told you that it didn’t motivate me for anything I did in life. So you can imagine the void in my soul not being able to play. July 12, 2011 was the end of what was supposed to be a summer full of soccer. Now I was relegated to the sidelines. I’ve been told there’s a silver lining in every cloud so I channeled my focus 100% to coaching. The summer was a success with 4 championships won for 2011. Wow. This was easily the most amazing soccer season ever. However, none of the championships were celebrated with my soccer shoes on my feet. This was my team. My friends. My passion. But something was missing.
As in years past, October rolled around which marks the beginning of training for the next season. This meant hitting the gym for strength training and some swimming accompanied by some indoor soccer action to keep on top of my game. The cycle never ends when you live and breathe something so much.
But all this would change one beautiful October evening. Who would have ever thought that this decision to go for a run would forever change my life. I had decided to stay away from the gym and just go for a jog. I ran 2.5km but to be honest, it felt more like 5km. I felt accomplished. Two days letter I did it again. This time it was 4km. Two days later I did it again. Two days later I did 5km. Do you see a pattern developing? I had found a silver lining.
The infection was starting and I was unaware. Unaware of a world I never knew existed. Unaware that this would be one of the toughest challenges I faced in life. Unaware that my eyes would fill with tears as I type this. Unaware of what I am capable of.
I could write a whole other story about the last few months. It would tell you about the running group I joined and about 2 guys who I now viewed as my coach’s. They probably have no clue how important this is to me, how competitive I am or how important they are to me. This story would also tell you about the challenges and joys I have encountered on all my runs. This story would tell you about all the wonderful people I have had a chance to meet and how much they have all meant to me…even the ones I have yet to talk to. I can’t say enough about it all so you’ll just have to ask me about while we’re out for a run. I just wish they high five-ed a little more or even better…a “pound it”.
Race day – Sunday February 26, 2012 – 10am
My very first race ever! Nervous as s#!t. I wasn’t here to be first. It didn’t matter who was last. I was here to face a fear. I came to race…against myself and the watch on my hand. I came to run.
My day started off by waking up at 6am, getting dressed in the clothes I had laid out just hours earlier, making breakfast and heading to the BMO indoor soccer center. I coach a soccer team of 10 year olds. There is nothing in this world other than soccer that I would wake up that early for…especially a 7am game. I coached and ate my breakfast at the same time. Every bite I took was fuel for my race. Somehow though, the game kept my mind at ease. When the game ended I relaxed at a table waiting to make my trek over to the race venue which was just next door. I was envisioning my run. Telling myself to stay calm. Remembering all the words of advice I have been given to this point…and trying to stay calm. Did I already mention that?
The time came for me to gather my things and head over to the race venue. It was such a beautiful day. It couldn’t have been any better. I was at a loss for words to even be able to tell you how I felt…besides nervous, haha.
I prepared for the group warm-up so that meant it was time to check my sugars. I was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes 3 years earlier. Again...this is a whole other story for one of those Sunday long runs. I pull out my meter and sample a drop of blood. Oh no…my sugars are high. Yikes. I had to have seen this coming. Nervousness, stress, anxiety….you name it….they raise your sugar levels. This was concerning. However, it was an hour before the race so it was bound to come down by then…especially after the warm up. Half hour before the race and the sugars are still up. I stretch and concentrate on taking deep breaths to help me relax. 15 minutes before the start of the race and I check again before making my way over to the starting line. Now they’re even higher. This was bad. What to do? I head to the starting line with a lot on my mind. Am I going to be ok? Am I going to meet my goal? Am I going to beat it? Am I going to finish the race?
There was no more time for questions as the race was about to start….and with the sound of the horn we were off. Bib 114 was proudly pinned to my shirt. I had my hat and gloves on. My Adidas pants concealed the soccer socks that were pulled up to my knees. My favourite tunes playing in my ears. The only thing separating me from the ground was my Saucony Mirage’s. With the blood flowing through my veins and the air filling my lungs my muscles and legs assured me they would take care of me.
This was the most amazing feeling in my life. My coach's told me to divide the race in 3 parts. Run the first part with my head. The second with my personality. The third with my heart. Who was I kidding...the day was all about emotion. My heart was on my sleeve. My head was in the clouds. My personality wanted to hug everyone I came across...but I had a job to do.
6km completed with an excellent pace but suddenly I was losing steam. Panic set in when km #7 was completed with an unfavourable time. My emotions pushed me forward but my head and heart made me believe that it didn’t matter. The heart told me that even going this far was already an accomplishment. The head kept me grounded and focused to think about 8,9 and 10. I had banked some time with my first 6km that only a catastrophic demise would ruin it for me. The focus was now to maintain the current pace saving my best for last. I had 2km’s to focus on building my strength to pour it on over the last km.
I have never run so hard and so determined in my entire life. I had just completed 9km and realized the time was now or never. I searched for an untapped fountain of energy, heart, desire, emotion…anything! Some say it was adrenaline that kicked in. My coach’s will tell me it was the training. Saucony would probably say it was the shoe. Regardless of what it could have been at the end of the day it was just me who would determine how this race would end. So I ran like this could be the last thing I would ever do.
The home stretch was met with a series of turns and a monstrous hill to climb in order to get to the finish line. On my trek over to the race I had an intimate but brief chat with the hill. What was said will remain between the two of us but I assured the hill that it would not defeat me. I wanted to make sure I conquered it and I wanted to do it with power. As I greeted the hill with a hello I felt vibrations throughout my body. I powered up the hill as if I had wings. My focus was intense and all I could hear was my coach motivating me to keep pushing. I was hoping for a fist bump as I passed him but wasn’t completely disappointed when it didn’t happen. He had done more for me in those few seconds than he could ever imagine.
As I rounded the corner and entered the building my sights were focused on the clock. My eyes widened, my heart pumped, my legs felt like rockets. I was going to do it. I was going to conquor my goal. Finished! How could I even begin to explain what it felt like to cross that finish line having met my goal. I was out of breath. I was f’n ecstatic. What an f'n rush!
No story would be complete without some sort of dark cloud to try and put a damper on my day. With such an emotional high up to this point I was suddenly faced with an emotional low. I needed to find out where my sugars were at so I got some water and headed to a peaceful corner to wipe some sweat off my face and just chill out for a moment. Time to decompress. As I pricked my finger and waited for the results I kept looking around the room. Wow. So much positive energy everywhere…except for my little corner. My sugars had come down a little…but not enough. They were still high. This pierced me deeply. My emotions had taken my sugars for a roller coaster ride. I could only think about how much better I probably could have performed if they were in a normal range. I was beginning to break down but forced myself to keep it together. I couldn’t show any signs of weakness, especially in public. Especially since I felt like a warrior up to this point.
As I sat on the ground slowly reassuring myself that this was to be expected I couldn’t help but realize one other important thing that was missing. Everyone there was supported by family and friends. How could I be there all alone? How could this be possible? How come nobody came to one of the biggest moments of my life? Well I know why...because I never told anyone how much this really meant to me. I didn't let this bother me however. My life is filled with so many people who love me. I know they care. They are always there for me. They are always everywhere I go. They are always on my mind and in my heart.
This is my story and I want everyone to know about it. Especially you.
Everybody has a story to tell. What’s your story?