Cold air fills my lungs with each breath. It’s freezing, but invigorating all at once. It’s still dark out, but my headlamp illuminates my foggy breath creating that space between me and the trail. Each step, a forward motion, not thinking, but feeling. And then it happens. The long-awaited sunrise peeks through the pine trees and the trail awakens before me. The unknowing unfolds as the forest transforms itself within a matter of minutes. My pace quickens and breath evens as my feet dance across roots and rocks. I breathe in and let this moment carry me for the next seven miles.
I return to the hospital later that morning, an all too familiar setting at this point. She’s still in the same position as when I had left her the night before. I step up to the bed and take her hand. They’ve gone cold and swollen again as I begin to warm them up. I welcome her “Good Morning,” and begin to tell her all about my first trail run and how it was the longest distance I had covered yet. I tell her about my excitement for being able to complete such a feat and that one day her and I will run together in Asheville when all of this is over. I sigh a breath of content, wishing she could do the same. Instead, I watch the same mechanical rise and fall of her chest. Warm air fills her cold lungs with each quick burst from the ventilator. The beeping and whirring sounds of machines replaced my sister’s voice, while various tubes and cannulas became the structural support for her body. My sister had become a machine, plagued by an unforeseen rare pneumonia virus. Her ECMO treatment forced her into a medically induced coma, replacing liveliness with stillness and uncertainty. For a moment I had almost forgotten what my sister was like outside of all the ensuing chaos.
There have been countless runs where I’ve looked back on this moment. I always wonder how and why this all happened. It’s propelled me into deep thought while on long runs and it’s a question still unanswered. However, on that particular day, a part of me transformed and has since blossomed into something I would have never dreamed of. I like to think that I didn’t discover trail running, but that it discovered me, and since then has never let me go. It’s single-track lead me down a trail of recovery from severe major depression and loneliness and up to a summit filled with joy, love, and a community of inspiring people. It reminds me to continue being gentle with myself even if the climb seems never ending. Through running I’ve learned that life begins when you step outside of your comfort zone. The unknowing can be daunting at times, but there will always be a light that illuminates that purpose we all seek.
The trails later found my sister during her recovery. This included months of rehab learning how to walk, talk, eat, and breathe all over again. Running became her way to cope with the effects of PTSD and anxiety that she still struggles with today. Permanent lung damage and tattooed scars not only remind her of the nightmare she endured, but are physical markers that represent her unwavering strength and perseverance.
Fast-forward six months later in Asheville as we arrive to Beaver Lake for an early morning run. Lacing up our shoes, we stretch our legs and set out. We breathe in the fresh mountain air and gaze out across the lake watching the sunrise. I smile as she sighs for in this moment her breath not only represents a new start, but a renewed life.
About Abby Harris:
I live, work and play among the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains in Asheville, NC. I like to say that I didn’t discover trail running, but more that it discovered me about a year ago and and has since never let me go. Since last November, my passion for running has blossomed into a true love for the sport. I’m an active member in the NC Mountain Trail Runners group and the Run828 Foundation. In addition to working in a physician’s office throughout the week, I also work and race for a local running store called Foot Rx (I’ve been known to wear my running gear under scrubs –ha). This community of runners, both on trail and road, are nothing short of inspiring and talented. They’re family to me and I’m excited to share my experiences and their stories along the way.
Call for Comments:
- How has running helped you?
- What is your reason for getting out the door each day?