One hug. Two stories.
The Story behind Runner No. 1:
How One Runner’s Short Life Inspired Another’s Amazing PR Race
By Anoush Arakelian
When I was a senior in college, I was the RA for a dorm of students. Because of my ability to become friends with the troublemakers, the floor remained calm and friendly. Then one day, everything on that floor changed. Blaine Steinberg, a girl who lived just two doors down from me, passed away suddenly of a heart attack. She was just 20 years old, a star lacrosse player, and known on campus for caring deeply for those around her.
That year, I was also a trip leader on our Dartmouth orientation trips. One of the freshmen Summer and I became particularly close—especially after the first day on campus, when I drove her to her routine cancer scans, which came back positive. I remember running from RA training to her dorm to find her crying (the only time I saw her cry), but not for the reason you would expect. “Anoush, I need to take three classes, have a normal semester, and play soccer.” To Summer, cancer was only an inconvenience to all the important things in life she had to get done. Summer fought many battles with cancer and chemo—but more importantly, she fought the battle to do everything a normal student would do with her family and friends. She lost her battle to cancer this past July.
Right after Blaine had passed away, her family started the Live Like Blaine Foundation in her honor. To me, this organization stood for everything that I stood for as a female athlete and leader on campus. LLB supports a variety of organizations, all with the purpose of empowering women leaders through athletics. Summer also supported LLB, wearing a “Live Like Blaine” bracelet every single day.
To me, running has always been a way to get through life, deal with emotions and clear my head. When I started training with Gotham City Runners in NYC, I realized that what was most incredible about running was how strong you realize you are—emotionally and physically. I also realized there was a way to use my passion to make an impact. Blaine is from Philadelphia, so I reached out to her family to run the Philadelphia Marathon in her honor.
After setting a fundraising goal for myself, I created a Live Like Blaine tattoo that has been distributed to everyone who has donated. The result has been a smattering of photos of beaming athletes, all getting out there and living as Blaine and Summer would be.
Although these two women may no longer be physically present, they are still teaching me so much and truly making an impact. I wore Live Like Blaine tattoos and a bracelet for Summer, which read “Forever Positive—Summer’s Way” for all 26.2 miles of the Philadelphia Marathon. When I thought my feet were going to fall off, I turned my thoughts to these two women and pushed all the way to a 39-minute PR—a Boston qualifying time of 3:16.
From them, I have learned to push through pain, as it is temporary, to push my teammates to be the best runners they can be, as we should empower fellow women, and that I can do anything I set my mind to, as they are with me every step of the way.
The Live Like Blaine Foundation honors Blaine Steinberg, an accomplished athlete, student, and leader who passed away suddenly in March 2014, just two weeks before her 21st birthday. The glass of Blaine’s life was always overflowing with joy and energy. Her relentlessly positive outlook inspired her family, friends, teammates and coaches. We hope to share Blaine’s spirit with young female athletes and leaders so that they will see life as a series of opportunities rather than hurdles. It is our goal to support projects that will encourage these women to lead by example with Blaine’s combination of grace and determination.
The foundation’s mission is to empower and inspire young women to become leaders through fitness and athletics. In addition to supporting future projects of Live Like Blaine, donations will go to support at least two deserving organizations. These are the Julie Foudy Leadership Foundation and Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative.
The Story behind Runner No. 2:
I have had almost every kind of PR (personal record). My Boston qualifier that was meticulously planned and executed. My half marathon that came as a surprise when I shaved 20 minutes off my previous time. My 10 miler that I took for granted by staying out late the night before. My 10K where I took second place in my age group, despite having terrible shin splints. My 5K where I went from defeated at the halfway mark to taking 4 seconds off my previous time at the finish.
I have also had almost every kind of terrible race. My humbling and lonely marathon through the Adirondack mountains. My half marathon through a pool of humidity that was slower than any half I had run in the last three years. My 10K where I went from defeated at the halfway mark to completely defeated at the finish.
We run for those two letters. PR. We mistakingly internalize them as a measure of what we are worth as runners and as people. We tell ourselves that they can erase the bad memories of those races that were terrible for whatever reason. And they can. They can erase any terrible combination of numbers and semi-colons after your name.
There are only three letters a personal record cannot erase. DNF (did not finish). It is one of the most hardening experiences as a runner and as a person.
On November 17, I stood on the start line of the Philadelphia Marathon. A victory by itself after I did not show up to the Boston Marathon in April. As the National Anthem was sung, there were only two letters coursing through my blood: PR. I could feel it. It was a feeling so strong it brought tears to my eyes and chills throughout my body. For the first time in my life I valued the start line. The place where you get to stand after the real tests of strength: track workouts in the rain, 20 mile runs by yourself, sacrificing the Saturday night party for a Sunday long run. Strength. Endurance. Discipline.
My years of PR’s had conditioned me to only value the finish. I viewed running as an end to something. I thought that the end was the only place I could be my best.
So when I dropped out of the marathon somewhere between mile 3 and mile 4 due to an injury I was in shock. Not with the DNF, but with how it felt. I expected my whole world to collapse. I expected to feel guilty, depressed, and weak. I expected to internalize it and attribute these three letters to some kind of character deficiency or bad karma.
But quite the opposite happened as I walked along the course that had consumed my mind for the last six months. I felt stronger than I ever have in my life. Because I had to be a runner even when I couldn’t run. I realized this did not happen because I am weak or because I deserved it for the mistakes I made in my life. It happened because I am an athlete. And I had to start acting like one. Not just on the start line. Not just at the finish. Not just during the race. Not just in my training.
I am an athlete. 24 hours a day. 7 days a week. And every decision I make in my personal, professional, and running world affects my performance. Only when I strive to be the best version of myself will a PR be possible.
I didn’t hide when I walked off the course. I walked all the way to the finish line. I stood in the same place that I thought would be my glory. I stood in the same place that was bombed in Boston on April 15. I stood in the same place that has either filled me with strength or completely defeated me. I stood there not because I needed to prove to myself that I could do it. But because that’s just what you do when you have friends and teammates running a race. Especially one that’s 26.2 miles. And there was no where else I wanted to be.
As teachers, we have all kinds of PR’s. The ones that we expect due to meticulous planning and execution. The ones that catch us by surprise. The unexpected one we take for granted because we came into work on 4 hours of sleep or after a fight with a loved one. The ones that happen despite injury from the day before. The ones that happen after a terrible meeting with a co-worker or administrator.
We also have terrible runs in the classroom. The day where you feel completed isolated and alone from every adult in the building. The day you have only 1 period out of 6 or 7 that actually go as planned. The day where you take your kids to lunch after a terrible morning and think the afternoon can’t get any worse…and then it does. The day a parent blames you for their child’s behavior. The day an administrator blames you for that child’s behavior. The day it feels like all of society is blaming you for that child’s behavior. When in reality it’s not your fault at all.
But only until we experience a DNF as a teacher can we truly feel strength from our PR’s. In my first year of teaching, I was written up for a fight that happened in my classroom. I had plenty of evidence to support that it was not my fault, but it didn’t matter. I sat in a “hearing” where my inexperience was interpreted as indifference. I was told that I had received sufficient classroom management support before this incident and therefore must not care about my students.
I was basically told to walk off the race course. And as I did, I didn’t hide. I walked right to the finish line and decided there was no way I would ever let myself be put in a situation where I was seen as anything less than an outstanding teacher. Less than a month later, my classroom management was “under control.” With plenty of sufficient documentation to back it up.
I am a teacher. 24 hours a day. 7 days a week. And every decision I make in my personal, professional, and running world affects my performance. Only when I strive to be the best version of myself will a PR be possible.
I lived my nightmare. Any dream I have ever had about teaching is comparable to the fight that led to my disciplinary hearing.
I lived my nightmare. Any dream I have ever had about running was not that I had a terrible race. It was not that I PR’ed. It was that I did not finish.
I lived my nightmare, and it was the best thing that could have happened to me. I am not an elite teacher, but that DNF did not keep me from teaching another 4 years. I am not elite runner, but this DNF will not keep me from running another marathon.
I am the elite version of myself. My heart open. My skin hardened. My mind empowered. And I will never again be anything less.