The Spirit of the Game: Reflections from Khloe Aragon and Elizabeth Wright of EU Cross Country

     Running is physically and mentally draining. In order to become faster, you do speed workouts. In order to gain endurance, you run up hills and work on core. In order to become mentally strong, you focus on your achievements and staying positive—especially during meets and grueling workouts where you just can’t do another rep. But how can one stay mentally strong when faced with physical failure?

     The physical failure that is known to every runner is the dreaded injury. Whether it is a shin splint or stress fracture, every runner faces at least one injury in their running career. In our case, we struggle with plantar fasciitis. According to the Mayo Clinic, plantar fasciitis is “an inflammation of a thick band of tissue that connects the heel bone to the toes.” To a runner, one of the most important body parts is the feet. This was not only a major blow to us physically but also mentally. Every stride was accompanied by a sharp severe pain that eventually led us off the trails and into the gym. Runs were replaced with long cross-training sessions on the stationary bike. Physical rehabilitation integrated itself permanently into our schedule. Workouts were modified, and race times were slow. Our resolute mindset began to crack. It was hard seeing the rest of the team break their personal records while we were struggling to just maintain. It was hard to remain positive while everyone around us improved. The fear of failing and not being good enough started to seep into the cracks of our minds and taunt our thoughts. Before we even knew it, we were trapped in thoughts cloaked with negativity and the ominous question: Why, God?

     Why, God, am I struggling with pain? Why, God, am I not getting better? Why, God, did this have to happen now? Why, God, didn’t You take it away? Are You even listening? Do You even care? It was hard not to blame God when it felt like things were getting worse. It was during these quiet moments when our minds would battle with God. We cried; we pleaded; we bargained with God for a sign of relief. Our parents told us to rely on God because He was near. But how could we when our mind was full of fear?

     It was the little things that God spoke through that pulled us through that hard time. Romans 5:3-4 says, “Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (NIV). These verses served as a soft reminder that suffering is not torturous. The verses spoken in our minds daily were God sending a simple message that suffering is bad only if we let it be. Instead of sulking, we were to be praising God in our suffering. Whenever we felt bad about ourselves and the pain we were in, we would turn to these verses. Though a struggle at first, the verses slowly turned into a reminder, a promise that God does not abandon us when we are struggling. Instead, God strengthens and encourages. We became stronger in that fact that we believed God could pull us through, and stronger in having faith that God would pull us through again. No matter the struggle, no matter how much we thought we were failing, we could rest in the reassurance that God was not leaving us to suffer on our own. Instead He was always with us, making us stronger and helping us trust that even though we face failure with Him, we can always trust Him to carry us through.

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