By Esther Park
Within each of us is a desire to have purpose and make a difference in this world. We want to understand ourselves better and long for more to this life than just the day-to-day. When I lost my mother to cancer during my college years, this awareness of purpose and fleeting life became very loud inside of me. I lived with fear that one day I might face the same fate as my mother who passed away at such an early age. It took years for me to understand that for my mother, her gift and calling was her ability to find joy and fulfilment in the smallest of day-to-day tasks and duties.
For many in our endurance sports community, myself included, it is our interests and passions that lead us to find our identity and ultimately our purpose. I began running long distances in college because I wanted to be a stronger person mentally and physically. It was a way to shake off my deepest insecurities of days gone by without finding my why in life. Running grounded me whenever the world around me began to shake. It taught me to accept the hard days, to have patience through discomfort and helped me to realize that it’s through the difficult times that you gain a brighter perspective on the day.
Seven months ago, I took a hard fall on the trails, injuring my right knee with a laceration and tear of the patellar tendon. The orthopedic surgeon prescribed a knee immobilizer, pain medications and no running for at least 3 months. Even though I knew that this paled in comparison to what other people go through, many mornings I woke up thinking, “Here we go again. Another day of pain, my husband moving me from the bed to the couch, and going through the mundane routine of caring for my wound.” I lost the only outlet I had and was forced to learn other coping mechanisms.
When we go through things like this that are out of our control, it’s scary and frustrating; it really stretches our patience. It led me down a path of deep self-reflection because all of a sudden, I couldn’t run away. I literally could not move without pain and was forced to just be still. During this time, thoughts of my mother during her fight with cancer came flooding through my soul. I remembered how she smiled and asked for her coffee each morning. How she welcomed people into our home to visit and encouraged them with her calmness, joy and peace. One day as I helped her to the bathroom, she told me with tears in her eyes that ultimately she wanted to heal, to live a long and full life. However, she knew that her work here on earth was complete and leaned on her faith. In the same way, in whatever circumstance big or small, I resolved to accept and fight the good fight each and every day.
Over the last 15 years, running has gifted me with the most amazing community. Meeting people from all backgrounds and hearing their life stories have really been impactful and healing. A dear friend from our running community gave the best advice in a podcast when he said, “Find a way to get to the next day- whatever it is that helps you get to the next day. You can’t control the ‘what ifs’ but it’s your own mind and hopefulness we can control. Keep your goals small every day and before you know it you will get to the finish line.” One of the lessons I keep relearning is not to look too far ahead. Instead, notice the things and people right in front of you- your loving family and the deep profound love you share, your wonderful friends and community, and all the incredible life experiences and beauty in the world. Observe and accept the people around you because human connection is healing, and everyone was made uniquely with gifts and strengths on purpose, for purpose.
There will undoubtedly be another season when I feel discontented and confused. Life is unpredictable and constantly changes. And during these times, it’s important to zoom out and look beyond our limitations. Our ability to run won’t be forever so I’m embracing the miles I’m allowed at this moment and taking comfort in the fact that when things are rough, they will always get better.
Esther is a wife, mother of two, optometrist and ultrarunner residing in Los Angeles, CA.
She was the first LA runner to complete the 200 mile run across Haiti in support of Work’s mission to end extreme poverty in Haiti. She continues to build relationships with missionaries in Haiti in hopes to return and serve the beautiful country. Esther is passionate about the running community and believes there is a reason and a purpose as to why we run and work hard every day.