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I like to think that one of my top qualities is my mind, its inner workings, and the way it helps me find the good, despite the never-ending darkness around. It is also the one thing that I will never be ashamed of. Beauty, this exterior of ours constantly trying to adapt to society’s standards, won’t be like this forever. We’ll find ourselves in a place where the status of “it girl” and “golden boy” will no longer be enough, and we’ll need to rediscover who we are. My search for identity ended two years ago. I know who I am – someone shaped by grief. Someone who refuses to stop thinking. This mind of mine makes me who I am, it got me this far, and it’s brought me my biggest successes. I am a World and European medalist because of it. I’m at peace because of it. So, trust me, I don’t plan on giving up this overthinking of mine. I don’t plan on giving up who I am.
All my life, I wanted to be like my dad. I wanted to be intelligent, blunt, and unapologetically me. Fascinating, not in a sense of beauty, but in this captivating way. “Listen to me, look at the way I hold myself. Understand that you can only see the version of myself that I want you to see.” To say whether or not I have succeeded in creating this image of myself, that I cannot say. What I can tell you is that for all my life, I’ve been evolving. I’ve let the people and events in my life change me and make me who I am today. I let those things alter my edges, the way waves shape the coast, the way scars never leave your body.
I got my most painful scar this day, two years ago, when I said goodbye to my dad forever. I said goodbye to my best friend, my mentor, my anchor, my captain commander. The thing is, since then, my life took such a turn it feels like almost nothing changed. Look at me! I’m still here, doing the thing I always used to do. Some days, if I’m stressed, I almost forget that he’s gone. But then I pick up my phone and find myself trying to call him, and I realize no one will pick up. I won’t be reminded how annoying I am and how I should find myself a boyfriend because he’s sick of me hugging him a thousand times a day. No one to tell me stories about running or hold me tight when I cry. But what bothers me the most is that there simply isn’t anyone there. For the good or the bad. There’s just the memories and the melody of a broken heart.
Growing up dad’s laptop was this bottomless pit of music. Anything and everything was in there. It was our very own jukebox. ABBA, t.A.T.u, Michael Jackson, The Black Eyed Peas, those were all in there along with many, many others. Every day we used to sing from the top of our lungs, waiting for my mom to tell us to stop so we could sing louder. The second Ca$$a Loco was on, there was no way to stop us. If I was lucky, I would get a saying in what we were going to perform on that day. Although the options were limitless, I stuck to the classics – The Corrs. They were this obsession of mine, my card to the cool, grown-up world my dad and aunt were part of.
It was a week ago that their song “Forgiven, Not Forgotten” got a new understanding for me. You see, although I forgave my dad for leaving me, I will never forget him or everything that he taught me. He’s been one of the biggest influences in my life. He’s the one who though me to speak my mind, believe in myself, and own up to my actions. Not once was he mad at me when I got home and told him that I fought back when someone said something rude about me. And there were many times. I clapped back when I had professors make jokes with regards to my mountain running results, times when the choices I made were not in line with those in an authority position, but he always got my back. Because he knew I was right. I don’t bite if you don’t scratch me, but neither do I hold back when you cross the line. And yes, I might pay for all of those things. I might be viewed as rude, arrogant, or as someone who “doesn’t like anyone,” but I own up to it. Do you?
When was the last time you accepted who you are and demanded respect? When was the last time you looked in the mirror and liked what you saw, not for how you look, but for how far you’ve come? My mom? She’s still the kindest person I know, despite the people who tried to stop her from reaching her goals. My great-grandaunt? She lost her husband and misses her son, but she still loved my dad without asking for anything in return. One of my fellow mountain runners moved all the way to Italy without knowing the language and is now recovering from an eating disorder while also becoming the best version of herself. My dad? He was this diamond in the rough. His beauty was only seen by those who were brave enough to walk through fire and open their eyes to what was truly going on around them. To many, he was the big bad wolf, the perfectionist with the judging look on. But to those who knew him, he was the guy who held his daughter’s hand on the street, bought his wife flowers, and called my great-grandaunt almost every day, just because he enjoyed it.
I’m not telling you that you need to break all the rules and never respect anyone. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. I’m telling you to go out there and love yourself. For the good and the bad. When you succeed, but also when you fail. I’m telling you to remind your loved ones how much they matter to you and how grateful you are that they had an impact on who you are. Your family, your friends (yes, even those with whom you haven’t talked in ages), everyone who matters to you. I never got to say goodbye to my uncle, but I got to say goodbye to my dad, and for that, I’m grateful. Every day I told him that I loved him, that he meant everything to me, that he was the King Julien to my Mortimer. My last words to him were: „Call me after your run. I love you!” Well, he never called me back. I never got to hear how his run was. But I know everything about it. I saw the streets; I saw where it happened. All the way in Ravna Gora, Croatia, the sky, painted red and pink, had this mesmerizing thing about it. It almost looked like it was crying too. I wasn’t. I just stood there, at a loss of words, dreaming about the day I’ll see my dad again.
So, in memory of my dad, I ask you to tell your loved ones how much they mean to you. I ask you to love yourself a little more and show the world your true colors. Stand tall and speak your mind. What is there to lose, really?