I’m known around the office for sudden bursts of speed—I’ll sprint to refill my water bottle, to answer the doorbell, to grab something hot from the printer.
These bolts energize me, keep me at the top of my game. I’m not one of those people who can’t sit still—in fact, I can do so, comfortably, for hours on end. But rushing here and though, getting the blood pumping, is, to me, always fun.
In my mind, running is the purest physical pursuit. One surveys a distance and decides to use their legs to cover it. There’s no need for a ball, for gear, for chalked lines, for rules of any sort, really. (Heck, some people don’t even wear shoes when they run.) It’s the most egalitarian form of exercise—and it keeps you in great shape.
So, yes, people around here know me for my running, but there’s also something they don’t know about me: I’ve struggled with depression for much of my adult life. It can come in predictable waves, can catch you totally off-guard, can make you feel like you’re never going to see a sunny day again. In the particularly bad moments, I’ve found that, for me personally, the simplest therapy is the best—getting outside and running. The fresh air, the wind in my face, the reminder that we live in a city with millions of other people, all with their own problems/needs/wants/desires, is something that calms me, that cools me.
So running, to me, is as much for mental health as it is for physical.
That said, I’m lucky enough to have found something that (usually) helps me. I’m in no way advocating for this to be an answer for everybody; all I’m hoping is that a habit gained in childhood might likewise help others.
That’s why I chose Chicago Run as my Regifting project this year. Chicago Run “is a nonprofit organization that seeks to improve the physical fitness and social and emotional well-being of Chicago children and youth.” Through in-school programs and race-day events, Chi Run serves over 18,000 students, from early childhood to teens. Nearly 90% of Chicago Run student participants qualify for the Federal Free/Reduced Lunch Program. So, along with working to enhance the health and well-being of Chicago children, the nonprofit also works to “[bridge] cultural and racial divides.”
These are all things that are near and dear to my heart, and that’s how I ended up volunteering as a Running Buddy for the Pumpkins in the Park 5K, in Lincoln Park, on October 20. Running Buddies help to pace CPS students throughout a course, giving the students encouragement, support and whatever else they might need during the race. (Water, usually.) I ran with a few different participants before I got connected with Alex and Zion. Zion needed a breather so found his teacher from school, but Alex wanted to kick it up a notch, and I was more than happy to oblige.
It was a chilly, windy day, and we finished the 3.1 miles in about 31 minutes. Not bad for a third grader and an out-of-shape 31-year-old. I felt better after the race—physically and mentally. My hope is that Alex, and Zion, and all the others there felt the same. And that they can, and will, continue to use running to make themselves feel better, now and in the future.