Overcoming Obstacles: Running Home
by Claire W.
I can’t cover the distance of this small town in a run. The unfamiliar surroundings, without a daily bugle call and the sense of connection I can only describe as knowing that others here, too, survive in the military community, intimidate me. I don’t know how to establish roots in Mechanicsburg, the first house I can remember off-post. My parents encourage me to attend cross country practices to meet new people.
But I am tired: tired of being new, and I want to skip past the introductions, past planting seeds to the flourishing, roots belonging.
At eleven, I have lived in three Army posts, five houses. I am an Army brat.
In my last two years at Fort Jackson, I watched trucks box and unpack, new orders uproot families that had somehow adapted, grown roots in this military community despite eight month stays. The hot pavement burnt my bare feet under the South Carolina sun, but I was too distraught to care. Screaming her name, I sprinted after the gray minivan that moved my neighbor and best friend 700 miles away. Emily was a central piece of my jigsaw puzzle, just recently completed by my dad’s return from a deployment to Iraq a few months ago. A rising fourth-grader, I knew chasing her car would not alter her destination, reverse her dad’s orders, unpack the dolls and jump ropes and memories I had once shared with her. Warm tears stinging my eyes, I ran after her anyway.
Without a coach or team, I ran, past empty houses and packed, insect-infested triplexes, on the rocky sidewalk and the bamboo forest behind my house until the Army decided I must also replant, in West Point, New York.
At first, I struggled to branch out at West Point Middle School. Too young to join their cross country team and too fascinated by the magical worlds in my head, I couldn’t relate to others my age. No neighbors came out to jump rope here. I had to run with shoes now. The clean, paved sidewalks become my friends while I ran and gaped at Trophy Point’s view of the Hudson.
Two years later, I raced home, one and a half miles on my tired legs, but I was too excited to care. Today, roots established, I became the middle school’s cross country team captain. I couldn’t wait to tell my parents. I opened the door of my seventh home, almost knocking my sister over as the words tumbled out of my mouth.
That night, I learnt I must dig up my roots again. Teary-eyed and speechless, I ran.
I watched strangers pack my notebooks and running shoes and memories into cardboard boxes headed to Pennsylvania. My friends hugged me goodbye, and I ran, one last time, from our gathering to the car, past smooth sidewalks and quiet houses, by marching cadets and biking professors.
I attend Mechanicsburg High School’s cross country summer practices, knowing no names, sharing no stories. I am the slowest person on the team. But I run, and the wind in my hair, feet pounding, make Mechanicsburg a little more familiar.
Somehow, I cut eleven minutes from my first 5k time. My legs scream when I sprint hills, but I am too happy to care. I qualify for districts.
My teammates become my friends. I join clubs, I explore.
I struggle still, sometimes, but I look to my roots, stretched across Pennsylvania and North Carolina and Kansas and South Carolina and New York to cement my resilience.