Wings of America Boston Marathon Pursuit Program
Hello fellow blog readers! It's okay, you can be honest, I know you've missed me and my updates. A lot has been going on in the last month, or the last few months! I have been coming back from a fairly serious back injury from back in February that left me of the track for a month. I have been getting settled in work, starting to find some consistency and stride, and last weekend I opened up my outdoor season at our local Sam Adams meet. I am now in full on track season mode which means track meets every other weekend, paying lots of attention to my body and how it's recovering week to week and as well some travelling (my favourite)!
This past weekend in particular I had the absolute pleasure to travel to Boston to be a part of a very special event. No, not quite the Boston Marathon. I was asked to be a speaker at an event called the Wings of America Boston Marathon Pursuit Program. Wings of America is a Native American run foundation, based in Sante Fe, New Mexico whose mission is to help build healthy Native communities through youth initiatives across the United States. Their initiatives focus on the power and positivity of sport, running and wellness. The Boston Marathon Pursuit Program partners Wings with the Harvard University Native American Program (HUNAP) and the Boston Athletic Association (BAA) to bring a selection of Native American high school student runners to Boston to participate in some of the marathon events, go on college campus tours and receive information about applying and attending college as future student-athletes. The students participated in the BAA 5k event, got an inside tour to the Peabody Museum at Harvard and ended their weekend by watching The Marathon itself. The program is meant to inspire, educate and motivate these students to strive for excellence in their future through education and the positivity of sport. You can read more about Wings of America and The Boston Marathon Pursuit Program here!
I felt incredibly honoured to be asked to be a part of the Pursuit Program. I heard about the program through my brother who participated last year as a panelist with HUNAP. After learning more about the program, I loved its spirit and how it chooses to promote healthy communities and Indigenous youth through both sport and education. To be able to represent Indigenous people, promote healthy communities and inspire Indigenous youth has always been a personal passion of mine and something that I have wanted to pursue. Pursuing Indigenous issues on a larger political scale and enacting viable and reconcilable change is also my ultimate career goal. I have just never really known how to get started or how I could begin to be involved with such things while I am living the life I am now, chasing down the Olympic dream. So when I was asked to be a part of Boston Marathon Pursuit Program, I felt this was something that not only strongly aligned with my personal values, but also my desire to use the platform I have as an Indigenous athlete at a high performance level to inspire others. It was an opportunity I could not pass up and I was incredibly excited to be involved. It was a true privilege to be able to share some of my own journey as an Indigenous woman in sport, my experiences as a student-athlete and now as a post-collegiate athlete with this amazing group of young runners.
While I have given some speeches in the last few years, I have never had to give a speech on this scale of length or importance. In all honesty, I am not the most confident public speaker. I always get nervous and start stuttering, talking too fast or just become a little weird...or weirder than normal. I typically would write a speech and then be glued to my paper trying not to stumble over my words and act super awkward. When I won athlete of the year at Western, I didn't even have a speech prepared. Cue nervous mumbling and forgetting one of my coaches names... whoops! So this time I made sure to really prepare for this speech. I asked some friends and my mom to let me read my speech to them ahead of time and ended up receiving a lot of good and constructive feedback. One of my friends was extremely helpful with her honesty by telling me that I had talked about my struggles, but I hadn't talked about my accomplishments. Being able to talk about myself and my accomplishments is something I struggle with. I love being open and honest about my personal journey and have come to be able to open up more about a lot of my struggles, including the bullying and exclusion I faced in high school and even my early years of university. But in my first draft of my speech, I intentionally glossed over my accomplishments and triumphs. I didn't want them to come across as me making myself seem bigger than I am or as if I was bragging. But by doing so, I had left out important parts of my journey: my moments of triumph and points of motivation. Rewriting this speech to focus on what I have accomplished, my "ah ha!" moments and my triumphs and successes, was something that required a lot of internal work.
The process became a real healing experience for me as I had to really confront my past and the people in high school who made me feel that I couldn't be excited or celebrate my accomplishments. Yes, this is a place where this fear or feeling stemmed from. I have felt for many years starting in high school that to celebrate or express my accomplishments to others was to brag about them and in return I would end up losing the people around me. It was wrong for someone to make me feel that about myself and the realization that I had taken this so deeply to a place where it was now preventing me from being proud of myself was a hard thing to realize. So I rewrote my speech, this time really feeling pride in what I have accomplished so far in my life, why that is important to me and what I have learned from each experience. When I started to write my speech from this angle I could feel my pride, my excitement, and my emotion growing through what I was writing. I felt more connected to it. I could see how far I had come, even through the process of writing this speech, and how much farther I have to go. Instead of running away from my fears of public speaking, I embraced my speech and became excited to be a presenter at my first big speaking engagement!
Now my stage fright didn't just disappear like that, but I felt so much more confident presenting than I have in the past. I felt like I was able to engage with my audience and be more myself and that helped relax my nerves. I also felt more passionate about what I was saying and I stopped worrying so much about how I was speaking or if I was stuttering. My brother and sister-in-law also got to be a part of my audience and listened to me speak, which was a real joy for me. I really felt like I was able to connect with the people I was speaking to and that was such a rewarding feeling. It was so wonderful to meet all of the Wings participants; they have such bright futures ahead of each of them and I hope they were able to take away something positive or inspirational from me. Just by being around them, they have inspired me in return.
This weekend came at a great time for me personally because it helped put new perspective on where I am in my journey right now and what I want to do in the future. I may not be where I want to be or where I thought I would be right now, but I feel more at peace with my place right now in my transition as a post-collegiate athlete than I have honestly felt in the last few months. I had a chance to relax and get away from the west coast for a few days, spend some quality time with my brother and sister-in-law in one of my favourite cities, and even catch up with an old friend serendipitously! I am back west now feeling refreshed and ready to take on the season ahead, not so focused on what I feel I have to accomplish, but more ready to start really enjoying this journey for what it is. Yes, it's hard; it can be a struggle, it can be lonely, and yeah sometimes I just feel stressed out and overwhelmed. But I am doing something I never would have dreamed I would be doing when I was back in high school and wow! Look what I have done for myself already! It's time I start retaking control of why it is I love to run and what it is I am truly running for. It's time now that I feel proud of what I have accomplished and be confident that I can do so much more. I loved being a part of the Wings of America Boston Marathon Pursuit Program with HUNAP and hope to be involved in initiatives and programs like this in the future. So thank you Wings for giving me back my own wings this weekend, I hope to make you all proud.
***Thank you HUNAP for the photos.