I got caught in the rain yesterday. I was driving East on 270. It was sunny and beautiful outside. There was not a cloud in the sky, that I could see. If I would have checked my rear-view mirror, I would have noticed the dark and daunting clouds approaching from the West. Instead, I was focused on the sunshine and blue skies ahead of me.
Then, the rain hit. It caught me off guard. After all– I hadn’t seen any clouds. As far as I was concerned, I was driving into what seemed like a perfect summer day. But the rain came from behind. It was the kind of rain that slicked up the road in 30 seconds or less. It was the kind of rain that required the turbo-speed on my windshield wipers. It was the kind of rain that required all of my attention, all of my focus, with zero distractions if I wanted to safely navigate my car out of the situation. It was the kind of rain that required me to pull over at a gas station, put my trip on hold, and decide whether or not the conditions were safe enough for me to get back on the road.
Yesterday’s rainstorm felt like a real life metaphor of my past 10 months.
The Time I Was Looking Ahead But Should Have Been Checking My Rear-View Mirror:
Last November, I began to struggle with some health issues. I lost a lot of weight very suddenly. I was on and off sick most of November, and had the flu for three weeks in December. At the time, I didn’t think anything of it. I brushed the weight loss off as a natural byproduct of more intense training and the sickness off to a really bad flu season that was impacting everyone. Training had been going well, and I was excited to get off the roads and onto the track. I was looking at the sunshine and blue skies ahead. I probably should have checked my rear-view mirror.
January hit, and I still couldn’t shake off the sickness. I was over the flu, but was still spiking fevers in the afternoon. Despite these sickness bouts, I ran my fastest indoor season opener of my life, so I ignored the fact that I wasn’t feeling well because clearly my health was not impacting my running– or so I thought.As February (and the Indoor US Championships) approached, my health continued to spiral. I was exhausted all the time, felt sick constantly, and had some pretty achy joints. I chalked all of this up to “Indoor track is hard, I’ll feel better outdoor!” I was relentless in pursuit of my goals, and stubborn to the fact that my body was trying to tell me something. My friends and family were worried about me. One of my friends in medical school encouraged me to go see a doctor saying something about “auto-immune” or something… I didn’t listen. I should have listened.
Outdoor season started in March, and my coach began to pull me from workouts. I was not myself. At this point, I weighed significantly less than I weighed the previous year. A couple times over Spring Break, I had to move workout days because sometimes I would wake up, and my knees would be so swollen that even getting out of bed was difficult. I vividly remember being down in Raleigh, stepping off the plane, and feeling incredibly sick. That same weekend, I did something to my knee during pre-race and DNF’d my first race of my entire running career.
After all of this, my natural thought was that I was over-training. My coach and I sat down and made a new training plan. I took a few days off, then a few weeks for cross training. When I returned to running, my workouts were not much harder than they were when I was in high school. Even after these extreme changes to my training, my health continued to worsen.
The Time When I Finally Checked My Rear-View Mirror, But The Rain Had Already Hit:
I was in the middle of a workout one afternoon in April when I sat down on the track mid-500 and started crying. Everything hurt. I was tired of being tired. I was tired of having swollen joints. I was tired of having stomach issues and losing weight. I was tired of being 100% committed to keeping my body healthy, but feeling like my body gave me nothing in return.
Running, the thing that I used to love so much, was now the cause of pain, hurt, and frustration both physically and emotionally.
It was time to go to the doctor.
The Time When I Decided The Safest Thing To Do was Pull Off the Side of the Road at a Gas Station (Or a Doctor’s Office):
It was hard to email all of the meet directors on my spring schedule and drop out of meets that I had worked hard to get into. But I had to take a break– I had to “pull over”– to figure out how to get healthy again.
After lots of blood-work, tests, and doctor visits, we figured out why I felt so terrible. I had a high presence of Antinuclear Antibodies (ANA) in my body. Simply put, these are antibodies that attack your own healthy cells and tissues in your body and cause inflammation. No wonder I felt so awful!
These types of antibodies are present during cases of autoimmune diseases. My friend in med school was right. I had an autoimmune condition. There are HUNDREDS of autoimmune diseases, but a couple common ones are Lupus and Rheumatoid Arthritis. After further testing, doctors did find some specific antibodies associated with each of those diseases. Doctors went back and forth, but since my organs were properly functioning (YIPPEE!), they decided to leave my diagnosis unspecific as “an un-diagnosed autoimmune disease.” Autoimmune diseases are SUPER WEIRD, and sometimes it takes years of continuing flare ups to pinpoint exactly which disease a person has 😦
The Time I Evaluated Whether It Was Safe To Get Back on the Road (or Back to Running):
Throughout this process, I attempted to train when I could. Unfortunately, high intensity running made my symptoms much worse. I would go to work out and come back with swollen ankles, swollen wrists, or a high fever.
Stress on the body causes autoimmune flare-ups (increased disease activity). Running– especially anaerobic 800 meter training– causes lots of stress on the body. Autoimmune diseases do not go away, so I knew I would have to figure out how to navigate this whole running thing without putting too much stress on my body. For me, that meant that while running could still be part of my life, I was going to have to chill out a bit if I wanted to stay healthy and flare-up free.
The Time I Got Back on The Road, But On a Slightly Different Route:
I talk a lot about athletic goals and dreams on this blog. I talk a lot about having the courage to take risks and chances. But I don’t talk as much about goals and dreams or risks and chances outside the scope of running.
My goals and dreams have always been to end up in education after I was done racing and traveling every weekend. Not just education, I wanted to end up in urban education teaching math. I thought that would probably happen later in my 20s. Due to the state of my health, I really started to think about what it would look like to teach this year.
Since I knew that running was going to look different for me moving forward, I also knew that I no longer wanted my work-from-home digital marketing position. That job was great for me while pursuing my on-the-track running dreams. But since racing most weekends and training at the intensity I was training at was no longer in the cards for me, that digital marketing position didn’t make much sense anymore.
I literally googled something to the tune of “Urban teaching jobs, Columbus.” I was able to obtain a form of an Ohio Teaching Licence due to all of my math and sciences classes in college. I took a huge risk and went through a lengthy interview process for a teaching position at Columbus Collegiate Academy (CCA). I eventually got hired to teach 6th grade math at CCA-Dana through United Schools Network.
I accepted the position– my dream job off the track.This summer, I have been going through intense training, coaching, and professional development to get ready to welcome 100 6th-graders on August 22nd. I could not be more excited to be part of the passionate team of educators at CCA-Dana. I strongly believe that a student’s zip code should not determine their educational opportunity. I love that I get to teach alongside coworkers who feel just as passionately as I feel about closing the opportunity gap that exists in today’s education system.
This summer, I also started taking medicine to suppress my immune system from being over-active and attacking my own body. At first, this was awesome! I stopped having joint pain, joint swelling went down, and I felt much better overall! But then, I got mononucleosis due to having a suppressed immune system. I decided that being on medicine had some pretty nasty side effects, and I wanted to find a more natural remedy outside of medicine to prevent my immune system from going rouge.
My doctor talked to me about cutting gluten out of my diet. At first, I was not a huge fan. How could cutting gluten out of my diet help me actually gain weight back, fix the joint and fatigue issues I was having, and bring my immune system back to normal again? But after looking at the research on it, I bought in.
It made the world of a difference. I gained all of my weight back in 4 weeks, and the joint issues went away almost entirely. I still have flare ups every once in a while (and usually it happens when I push my body too hard on a run), but minor flare ups once in a while are something I can deal with in comparison to what I felt like prior to figuring out what triggered these flare ups.
I am (slowly) trying to get back to training. I know that running will never look exactly the same as it did before. But I am okay with that. This health hiccup allowed me to pursue another dream, a dream off the track.
The Time I Found More Peace With Being Re-Routed:
It took a long time for me to have the courage to sit down and write this post. Part of me feels like I’m quitting on a dream I’ve been relentlessly pursuing and working towards for a long long time. The realistic part of me knows that even if my heart and my attitude are in the right place, it would be foolish of me to keep beating my body and putting it back in the position it was in five months ago– sick, unhealthy, and weak. And the emotional part of me feels like putting this into words has a sort of finality to it that I wasn’t quite ready to face.
Yesterday, my sister tagged me in a post that gave me the nudge I needed to share about what The Lord has been doing and teaching me in my life.
The post was from the wonderful Olympian Abbey Cooper (D’Agostino). First, she referenced Ephesians 3:20:
“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever amen.” – Eph. 3:20
Then, she wrote this:
I still have dreams, lots of them. My detour hurt. A lot. But it led to another dream. A dream that I might not have had the courage to pursue had I not, quite literally, been forced into it due to my health. A dream that God put on my heart far before I ever dreamed any of my lofty running goals. A dream to help close the education gap. A dream to teach kids how to dream.
“#tbt to exactly two years ago when God put this ^ verse center stage. Often, the detour hurts. Always, the result is far more abundant than we ever dared hope.” – Abbey Cooper (D’Agostino)
While my body cannot handle the type of training required for the 800 (anaerobic training), my body has been able to handle some forms of aerobic training. My hope is that as my health continues to get better, I’ll be able to get to the point were I can at least run every day again.
It will be slow, and it will be a process, but I firmly believe that my story is not over… it just looks quite different now. While I never want to put myself back in the position I was in five months ago, I cannot help the fact that I am a competitive person 🙂
Health willing, I am shooting for an Olympic Trials Qualifying Time in the half marathon. Considering I was a half miler- this is a CRAZY BIG goal. I understand this might not happen. I greatly respect the difficulty level of the US B-standard in the half marathon. Half miler to half marathoner– that has a pretty interesting ring to it! But considering the fact that aerobic half marathon training is the only thing my body seems to be able to handle right now, I am going to take what God is giving me.
Ultimately, what God is giving me is the opportunity to pursue my dream of teaching with the level of effort, tenacity, and relentlessness that I used to pursue my track dreams with. I have the opportunity to focus on the kiddos I’ll be teaching, while also dabbling in my passion for running as much as my body allows.The past 10 months have brought moments of extreme sadness and extreme happiness, moments of piercing pain and sorrow, moments of elation, moments of frustration, and every emotion in between. I am so thankful to those in my life that chose to walk through a really tough season with me, hunker down, and face the storm I never saw coming.
Sometimes, it rains, and you know the rain is coming because you are facing West. You can see the clouds in the distance. You can anticipate how bad the storm will be. You can gather your things, go inside, and hunker down– ready to face the storm.
Other times, it rains, and you are facing East. The rain comes, and it totally takes over. You are unprepared. You get soaking wet. You can barely see. This is what happened to me. Literally, it happened yesterday. Metaphorically, this has been my life for the past ten months. I was facing East. The rain consumed me. I felt caught in a storm, trapped and unprepared.All times, when the rain comes, Our God fights. He fights for us. He fights with us. He fights when we cannot see, when we are barely breathing. He fights when we are sick and do not know our next move. He fights when we are pulled over on the side of the road because we can barely see the road ahead of us. He fights for our dreams, and then re-routes us towards His dreams, for His Glory.
I am thankful my journey was re-routed, no matter how much pain the process caused. There is so much to be celebrated.
-Ms. Weber, 6th Grade Math, CCA-Dana 🙂
7 thoughts on “Re-Routing a Dream”
Rachel, you have a perspective on life that is far wiser than your chronological age. So proud of you and as I have said many times to you in the past your God given talents are far more broad than what you have accomplished on the track. I look forward to seeing you excel in your new pursuit. As always, I am so proud of you.
You go Rachel! Great turnaround! With an attitude like that you are sure to be successful in your new endeavor! It can likely be even more rewarding than you can possibly know!
Wow Rachel! What a story this is. I’m glad you’ve found some of the things going on with your body and causing running issues. Hang in there! You’ll be a great teacher!
Hi my name is Nick. I’ve meet you a few times at some of the CRC runs, I just read your blog post and it really hit home. I have been running competitively since middle school and have struggled with Autoimmune issues since I was 14. I would highly suggest consulting with a Functional medicine Dr. Conventional Drs. will mainly focus on manipulating the immune system, which is not the root cause of auto immunity. See links attached..
http://kanodiamd.com (my Dr)
http://www.nourishbalancethrive.com (I have consulted with)
Gluten and Dairy are big culprits for autoimmunity but with the severity of your issues it sounded like you were dealing with, I would look into an AIP(autoimmune Paleo) diet for several months. This eliminates all lectins from the diet and will calm the immune system down. Then you can re introduce one food at a time to find out what your body is most sensitive too. In my opinion, with some lifestyle and diet changes, there is no reason you shouldn’t be able to train at or close to your normal intensity. I am happy to help if you want to chat or email. I don’t want to weird you out with my forwardness but I just know how incredibly hard these things can be having gone through similar issues. I am happy to help, here is my email:
Hi Nick! This is super helpful! Seriously- I will look into all of these things and will definitely be reaching out via email with more questions! This is so helpful and I’m so thankful you reached out!!