MOVING TOWARDS MEANING
Movement has always been a huge part of who I am. I moved in my mother’s womb to the cadence of her lithe ballerina body. I moved on the hips of my Sierra Leonian nanny through fields of cassava. I have been moving my whole life. So what do I do when fear is paralyzing? When dread pauses all the things I was moving towards?
Sometimes the biggest movement that can happen is moving towards connection and embracing community. Last year a dear friend, Rachel Olexa, set out to run a 100K. She let social media know. She asked for support from her closest friends. I thought she was insane. And she was. And she accomplished her goal. She then invited me to partner with her to do a triathlon ( Swim, Bike, and Run). We quickly formed a group named TRYaya or Try As You Are of mismatched individuals who had a common goal of finishing the race and encouraging the hell out of each other. I do not take that phrase lightly. We encouraged the discouragement away. We encouraged healthy eating. We enforced healthy thinking. We trained with one another in a different way of succeeding. We succeeded together.
It was during one of our TRYaya trainings that I began to receive some self-therapy. I was the slowest runner in our group and what I was doing could barely be called a jog. As team mates passed me they cheered me on as I urged them to go ahead of me. I realized I did not actually care I was going slow. It was a beautiful day and I was passing a meadow of spring flowers and a lake which glistened with sunlight. It was one of the first times I have done anything physical where it did not feel like a competition.
If I stack wood, I try to make my pile rise quickest. In softball I try to make the most slides in a game. The list of my competitive nature goes on and on. And yet sometimes the thing I must compete with most is myself. Conflicting thoughts of faith and failure can happen in a single breath. And those times where I feel on top of my game and external forces knock me down. I am reminded of 16 year old me. I was in peak physical form. I played: Softball, Basketball, and volleyball. I was beginning to lift weight for completion and had just hit some national record in deadlifting and squat. Within moments my teenage sports life was over when a laced drink and sexual assault resulted in years battling depression and physical sickness. It also resulted in fertility issues that have clouded my entire adult life.
Each time I would try to re-establish an exercise routine, I would be overwhelmed with how far away I was from effortless energy and the free feeling I had once felt while moving my body. Now it felt like I had swallowed rocks as I tried to climb the mountain of Body/soul/spirit. All these thoughts flooded my mind that day as I was jogging behind all my TRYaya teammates. I was about to give up running for the day when I noticed a team mate had been making loops back and forth to make sure I was not alone. And I realized all these years I had felt alone. Alone in my failures. Alone in my fears. Alone. Yet I was not ever truly alone. How many people had made loops in the circle of life to make sure I was not alone? I now realized I had the chance to invite people into community with me. Sweaty and out of shapeand with a heavy heart I began to jog, feeling lighter each step.
The race was held in August. It was so powerful to see people of all shapes sizes and colors join together to finish this race. As I swam the first leg of my journey, I saw my sister sitting in a kayak. She was a volunteer for the event making sure no one drowned. I was overcome by gratitude, as she has always been instrumental in keeping me afloat. There were nights when I wanted to die and held life and death in my palm. It was wanting to remain for my sister that kept me here to this day.
As I ran out of the water, I noticed more family at the bike racks ready to cheer me on. It made my heart so full knowing there were people here to cheer me on. The bike ride was absolutely magnificent. As I climbed up hills, I remembered so many obstacles I have overcome in my life. I was relieved for the downhill parts that provided respite and momentum for what was to come. As I rounded my last corner, I saw my pastors leaning on a rock cheering me on. The last part of the triathlon was the run. I almost skipped that part as you probably figured out; I am an embarrassingly slow runner. Yet I wanted to honestly say I finished the race. So I decided to give myself the name of the painted turtle. I gathered a few wild flowers along the path and pinned them to my race bib and trudged on. Mile two hit me like a ton of bricks and I had to go to the bathroom. I was in a one-piece suit so I am sure you can fill in the humiliating blank. Yes, it was not a graceful way to end the event. Yet as I jogged to the finish line I told myself: “ Sara you can close the chapter of feeling out of control in your own body. You are a woman who bears much fruit. You can do what you set out to do.” It may not be graceful or smell good. But I can promise you that I will continue moving.