My start into distance running has be unconventional to say the least. I’ve always had a strong prowess for athletics. For as long as I can remember fitness and sports have played a prominent role in my life. Early on in life, football was my passion. I’d ride my bike to practice, get beat up for two hours, ride home and play football in the street until dark with my friends. Early on in my high school career I developed a love for soccer. I’d go on to be pretty good, earning accolades and ultimately several scholarship offers. After a successful college soccer stint where I served as team captain, I was lucky enough to play post-collegiate soccer before trading my soccer cleats for running shoes in December of 2015.
It was actually in college that the thought of running competitively would cross my mind for the first time. I had a few history courses and one of my professors, Tony Baracco, was a former elite runner and the coach of the program at our school, which was a top XC program at that time. He inspired me to want to do better in regards to everything that I pursued. He also advised me on several issues and proved to be a real mentor to me. He tried to convince me to run for the school, but I was apprehensive and indecisive. I have to credit him with being a catalyst for me in regards to running. I've since lost contact with him, but I'll never forget his kindness and help in a time of need.
Throughout my whole athletic career I’ve had many great triumphs and failures. Like so many others, I’ve had incredible highs and lows. I know with certainty that my own self-doubt and unhealthy behavioral habits limited the success I had in my prior athletic endeavors. In truth, I’m still searching for the perfect amount of self confidence and still working to sharpen my emotional resilience, but I’ve gone to great lengths to grow mentally during my journey.
Anxiety and subsequent issues related to my anxiety have provided many challenges for me in day to day life and athletics alike. From an early age I displayed many classic symptoms of anxiety, which I ignored and that lead me on a collision course with the inevitable. At 20 years old I crashed. The effort to balance a full-time job, academic success and a very intensive athletic career with the demands of coping with anxiety proved to be too much. I was lost and ashamed. I didn’t know who to turn to for help. My family and friends did every single thing they could to help improve the condition. Because of the stigma around mental health issues, I was reluctant and embarrassed to reach out for help. One day I met my therapist Jim, who would provide me with invaluable tools in my fight against anxiety and depression. Getting treatment, extensive research and absorbing knowledge ultimately helped me improve. There are days when I still struggle, but now there are many more good days in between them.
Prior to committing completely to running, I dabbled in physique and bodybuilding competitions. It became apparent that it wasn't the appropriate hobby for me at that time. I'm very passionate, so it's easy for me to get enthralled in whatever I'm doing. I've always had a lean and stocky muscular build and I loved working out, so it seems like a match made in heaven. However self doubt and insecurities caused me to focus on every minor flaw in my physique. The intense dieting caused me to form an eating disorder and damaged my metabolism. I ultimately decided it was best to part ways with the competitive side of fitness.
Running and weight training helped me cope with anxiety and depression, without those two outlets I have no idea what my life would be like, but it wouldn’t be a pretty sight. After years of running for fun with absolutely no structure or desire to race, I decided to shift my focus towards running competitively in December of 2015. I'd been a student of the sport for years at that point because of friends, mentors and interests but I never took the leap. After 90 days of training I ran my first 5k. It took me 19 minutes and 24 seconds to cover that 5 kilometer race. I was underwhelmed to say the least.
I was disappointed and I thought I wasn’t cut out for running. Because of my newly-developed coping skills I was able to silence the negative noise in my head. I’m lucky I did, and didn’t give up, because over the last two years I’ve dropped my 5k PR from 19:24 to 16:15. (I’m currently faster, and will lower that time later this fall) I’ve won the overall title at my last 6 races including a huge course record at Seamus O’possum 10 mile trail race and a quick 51:00 15k on a windy course in front of my family and friends.
Because of running, I'm stronger than ever mentally and physically. I've learned to believe in myself. Running has taught me patience and resilience. Running has allowed me to explore places I never would have before. Running has taken me to places all around the country. More important than any of that - running has put me in contact with people I wouldn't have otherwise met, and they've had a major positive impact on my life. I don't know where I'd be if it weren't for all of these miles that I've logged.
I’m uncertain as to what the future holds, but I have ambitious goals in running, I also look forward to pursuing other areas of fitness and competition and I’m looking to continue improvement in my career path. More than anything, I look forward to continuing to raise awareness about mental health and partnering with various mental health charities is such a great outlet for that. Mile by mile I plan to keep growing, keep learning and keep grinding.
I only briefly touch on my struggle with mental health in the writing above, but it's had a profound impact on my life in both negative and positive ways. I'm always interested in hearing from others who have or are battling mental health issues. Please do not hesitate reach out to me for any reason.
I’d like to thank my family, friends, teammates, teachers, mentors and acquaintances for all of their support, kindness and patience. I'm really driven by all of your support and belief, and I'm hoping for a huge spring in regards to racing. More importantly, I'm hoping to make a positive impact on people in all walks of life. So if I never win another race, but I leave a lasting impact on those I interact with - then I'd consider my mission to be a huge success. Check out the slideshow below.