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My father believed that no matter what, things will not turn out better than they will. And I stand by that. But it’s the process of getting there and giving it all you have so that the outcome is the closest possible to what you expected. It’s the work you put in, the burning passion and the tears, the sleepless nights and times of uncertainty that will pave your path to success. It’s the leap of faith.
But what exactly does it mean to take a leap of faith? Is it the simple act of committing to your goals and going after them or the process of putting one small step in front of the other, despite the paralyzing fear that makes you a hostage in your own body but also feel like you’ve never been more alive? What is it we’re so afraid of that we say things like “taking a risk” instead of “following our dreams” or “taking a leap of faith”? Is it the idea of failure or the uncertainty of the future? The truth is, we’ll never know what the future might hold. We’ll never know if things will turn out for better or for worse, if the view is worth the climb or if there really is a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. But what we do know is that every day is a new chance to get answers to the questions we kept asking ourselves, a new opportunity to look back and see how far we’ve come or even decide that this is the moment we’ve been waiting for all along.
I remember the nights before a big race, palms sweating, muscles shaking, and my heart beating out of my chest. I can still feel my mom lying next to me, her breathing so relaxed and the look on her face so peaceful. Or at least that’s what I believed. I now know she was everything but calm, probably reading the same phrase over and over again, all of her thoughts focused on the upcoming day and how she’ll execute her part of the plan. But to me, she looked at peace. She made me feel like whatever was waiting for me wasn’t as big of a deal as I kept telling myself. A top-three finish? Sure, why not? First in the world? Nothing can stop me. No dream was too big when she was next to me, stroking my hair, telling me everything will be fine. But weirdly, her soothing voice and the way she held herself were never what made me relax before a race. Neither was the short-overpriced phone call with my dad that I insisted on having before every race, be it important or not. Although it was always his words that I remembered while I was running and not my mom’s. It was that short moment when I was trying to fall asleep, just a little before going mental, that I would snap my eyes open and tell myself to stop being so scared of the immensity of my dreams and instead embrace my courage to commit to the process, express my wishes out loud and stand tall in front of the unknown.
The night before my last Mountain Running Youth Cup, I had tears in my eyes when I told my grandma I’ll be coming back home with a nice, shiny medal for her. Now, thinking about it, I realize how big that statement was. That medal I was promising wasn’t granted, but that wasn’t why I told my granny I’ll be bringing one home. It was because I knew that no matter what my odds were the next day, I was going to run that race as if I was, in fact, one of the best, as if that medal did actually belong to me. It didn’t matter that I had no previous results that would place me amongst the favorites – I was going to fight for what I wanted and believe in myself until the very last second, even if my legs were going to fail me and my lungs would collapse.
So, the next day, that’s how I raced. I raced as if I had already won. I ran with my heart full of love for the sport, my thoughts aligned with my beliefs and my eyes on the prize. From the moment the gun went off, I positioned myself in the first five, letting someone else dictate the pace while being mindful about what was going on around me, enjoying the race, and embracing the new adventure that was unfolding with my every step. There wasn’t a single second when I asked myself what was I doing there, leading the race, “taking the risk”? I was simply doing it. I believed in myself with such passion there was no room for doubt. Not even on the last 800 meters when my quads were burning, and I could no longer hear anything with my right ear. Nor when Nadia and Barbora passed me on the last hill and my mom was screaming from the top of her lungs for me to go, go, go! I was too present in the moment, too focused on the task at hand to even comprehend that, in fact, I have already passed the finish line and finished third. The realization only struck me as soon as I found myself lying on the burning pavement, dehydrated and exhausted after running in the 45 degrees Italian heat.
A few months later, I turned the page and wrote a new chapter. One that is similar but oh, so different.
Once again, the odds were not in my favor. Just one year before I was toeing the starting line of my first ever World Championships, my legs about to collapse under me and my eyes looking fanatically for a friendly face. That year I finished almost last, my name at the bottom of the list, close to the DNF ones. But that time, on the narrow streets of Italy, my heart was full of hope instead of fear and I was the one smiling at unknown faces in hopes that I could bring peace to someone the way I so desperately wished someone would do a year before. And there I was, flying over the mountains and finding my happiness on the hills of the course, not thinking about my place or about the medal I promised my dad this time, but about how grateful I was for this new opportunity to do what I love and put my effort into something I was passionate about. As the time went by and I kept finding myself passing girls for which I had nothing but respect for the ways they built a name for themselves in the sport I was now slowly discovering, there was never a moment in which I told myself I was better than them, but appreciated their work and felt empowered by how we were fighting the mountain, and not each other.
Having the courage to go after what you want doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get it. That day, on the last 50 meters of the race, driving my arms and telling myself I had it in me was not enough not to lose the bronze medal. But there wasn’t a second I was disappointed in myself or mad at Lauren for beating me fair and square. The tears in my eyes were of pure joy and amazement for what I’ve done, for the way I carried myself in that race and did not let my past stop me from setting new and bigger goals for myself. This is not a story about how I lost a gold medal at the Youth Cup and then finished fourth at Worlds, but about how I rose above my and everyone else’s expectations and got a bronze medal, a well-deserved fourth place in the World rankings, and a World team title that still to this day makes me shiver.
So, go ahead and take that leap of faith. Go against the odds and prove yourself nothing, and nobody can stop you from turning your dream into reality. There are so many blank pages waiting for you to write new stories and adventures. The time is now! What are you waiting for?