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Kim’s Note: It’s been a long time since I was a college student (ahem…cough…10 years…achooo…grumble, grumble), but I still remember it as one of the most amazing times of my life, as well as one of the most stressful. College is when I first discovered my love of fitness. The Crunch in Downtown Crossing (no longer there, sadly) in Boston, was a home away from dorm for me—a place to get away from the stress of classes and my work schedule, and the overarching feeling that I needed to figure out my whole life IMMEDIATELY and just focus on myself for a bit. I’ve never stopped using exercise as my stress reliever. Having said all of this, now seems like a good time to introduce you all to my intern, Julie. Julie is an amazing young woman, a college student, who has impressed me with her thoughtful approach to everything she does and her amazing work ethic. I’m so excited to have this remarkable young woman working with me. Okay, now for her…

First and foremost, let me just say that I, a college student, cannot believe I have the opportunity to write a guest-blog for a best-selling memoirist. To say this opportunity is completely surreal would be a gross understatement. A little bit about me-I am currently studying be a speech-language pathologist with double minors in Linguistics and Psychology. I am an avid runner and “fitness fiend.” I love hiking, elliptical-ing, swimming, basically any activity that involves copious amounts of movement. If you asked me five years ago why I run I would have told you simply to maintain my once, extremely-low weight . A self-proclaimed perfectionist, I viewed running as a tedious yet necessary chore comparable to doing the dishes or taking out the trash. Overly concerned with my physical appearance, I pounded pavement on autopilot, religiously tracking the miles I completed and the calories I burned. Running the same loop around my former neighborhood, I obsessively chronicled my time, my speed and my heart rate. Avoiding sugar at all costs, I adhered to a strict diet regimen that eventually became detrimental to my overall health. It took me years to realize that my mechanical approach to my work outs, was entirely, intrinsically flawed. In fact, I completely overlooked the integral reasons why I ran, to challenge myself and to achieve and extraordinary sense of accomplishment once the challenge was met.

In many ways, running proves extremely similar to life. When faced with a new obstacle, or a seemingly uphill route, we must adjust our stride to better adapt to the shifting course. As we age out of the innocence of childhood and angst of adolescence, we are expected to move a little faster, become a bit more versatile and acquire more endurance. As life becomes more difficult and the path more convoluted, greater responsibility unexpectedly thrust itself upon us. Inevitably, these overwhelming obstacles sometimes cause us to stumble or to sometimes cease running all together.

Everyone has a “breaking point,” a crossroads where our metaphorical “run” is abruptly short. Receiving a difficult diagnosis, being terminated from a job or are dealing with a slew of family issues that would make for a great soap-opera pilot may all trigger this severance. Generally, at this point, we begin resigning ourselves to less-than our less desirable life circumstances. In essence, we lose sight of the finish line. I unexpectedly arrived the summer before my freshman year of college, when my father decided to abruptly divorce my mother, who had recently lost the first of two jobs. While all of my friends were enjoying their newfound independence and establishing a sense of identity separate from that of their nuclear family I was picking up the pieces of my seemingly idyllic childhood’s sudden implosion, attempting achieve a lost semblance of normalcy. Facebook became a despised adversary as with every log-in I was reminded of X’s acceptance into a college I could never afford or Y’s vacation to Hawaii with the family I would never again have. I had become, in essence, depressed and highly disillusioned.

Yet, relating this all back to fitness, one of the most amazing components of running is its interminable nature. Despite its physical pains, we can always catch our breath, stretch out our limbs, and start up again—this time, on an untrodden path. As a speech-pathology student, one of the most fascinating concepts I have had the privilege to study relates to “muscle memory.” This amazing phenomenon allows a brain injury victim to regain a capacity for speech or an injured athlete to return to the field. Through its establishment of new neuronal pathways, which bypass our malocclusions, our brain truly reveals its true plasticity. This is, in essence, what allows us to “run” again— to resume our stride. Personally, I find this concept to be true to form. Despite extreme familial turmoil, my first semester of college somehow I earned a 4.0 GPA. While I am sure that my dedicated, intelligent professors definitely contributed to my academic success, to this day, I have no idea how I was able to accomplish this in my state of perpetual narcosis. It was through this experience that I came to recognize the true adaptability of humans thrust into undesirable circumstances.

However, as humans, we are also creatures of immense self-doubt. I will never be successful. I don’t deserve that scholarship. I will never get into graduate school. We are constantly bombarded with messages seemingly-innocuously informing us of our short-comings. No matter our accomplishments, we are never smart enough, rich enough or pretty enough. Our smile will never quite look like that girl in the Crest commercial and no shampoo will make our hair “silky-smooth.” I remember, in seventh grade, I was labeled as an “albino creature” due to my pale skin and shy mannerisms by one of my classmates. This offensive, undesirable moniker replaced “Julie” until middle-school graduation. After a while, messages such as these become engrained so deep into our psyche that we soon begin to internalize them, negatively affecting our overall sense of self-worth.

Generally, one of these two contrasting traits, adaptability or self-doubt, will eventually supersede the other. Fortunately, despite a bombardment of societal negativity, it is ultimately up to us to determine which one will “win out.” While a simple concept, the unbelievable power of positive thinking proves more effective than one may realize. One of my favorite quotes from Henry Ford states, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t—you’re right.” If we do not believe that running that extra mile or shaving that minute off of our 5K time is in reach than (surprise) it isn’t. If we believe that who we are as a person can be defined by our skin color, our socioeconomic status or our familial circumstances then in it can. However, if we think we truly believe we have some semblance of control over our own life we will work tirelessly to change it. Perspective is key. We are all natural born runners. First, we just need to step foot on the track.

Question: So Why do you make fitness an integral part of your life (or have not given it great priority)? Has it helped you overcome a difficult obstacle? Is running truly the best form of therapy or does catching up on Netflix give you the same release?