As a kid, I was an avid "Oprah" watcher, and when she did a marathon at age 50, I wondered if I could too. I was a fat 16-year-old who dreamed of being fit.
That same spring I got a postcard from the Whitman Walker Clinic in D.C. about the AIDS Marathon. The card explained that participants would raise $1,800 for the clinic by training for the race and getting sponsors.
I signed up immediately. Then I went on my first run. After about minute, I was wiped out. At that point, my only fitness glory was that I could speed walk faster than anyone else and throw the shot put further than any other girl in my gym class.
I thought, "How in the world am I going to do this?" I was also trying to raise $1,800, an amount of money I couldn't really conceive of, but my parents, my church and my community were making it happen.
The training started slowly, first 3 miles, then 4, then 6, on and on. Despite some sleepless nights and worries that I might get injured, each week I ran with my pace group and grew. I was the youngest, so I got to hang out with adults who were quirky and funny and having the same challenges I was.
When we weren't talking, I would sing Alanis Morissette's "Head Over Feet" or Sisqo's "Thong Song" in my head -- anything to distract me from being hungry because I hadn't figured out how to eat and run. And when I had that figured out, it was anything to distract me from how bad the energy goo tasted.
Sometimes I'd notice that the runs were getting easier and that kept me going.
I had pictured myself running with the whole pace group on race day, but instead it was me and one other teammate. As the miles and time passed, the streets started to open again. Eventually someone from the program found us and warned, "If you don't finish in the next 30 minutes, you're not going to get a medal!"
I thought, "Hell no! After all this?" So I said, more assertively than I had ever said anything before, "I will finish when I finish, and when I finish I will get a medal." They put the medals aside for us. I was proud to do the 26.2 miles regardless.
Months before I had simply thought, "Oprah can do it, so can I!" But I realized she could do it because she's Oprah, and she had a personal trainer and a nutritionist and a whole team of people helping her. Sometimes it can seem like you're doing something on your own, but actually you're doing it in a larger community.
Learning this, and crossing the finish line, made me feel like I should take my other dreams seriously and not be so afraid. I learned it was possible to accomplish something big and not know exactly how when I started.