My running career began in the 4th grade when we were instructed to run the mile in PE class. There was only one boy in the class that could beat me, and I loved the feeling of being competitive with him and all of my classmates. Nobody told me that girls weren't allowed to beat the boys, and thriving in that setting gave me a degree of confidence that I later carried with me when I joined my first track team, the Santa Rosa Express.
I continued to run in junior high and high school as part of the cross country and track teams. These experiences allowed me to forge great friendships with other runners. Like many other runners, I had been an all-around athlete throughout junior high school, but once I entered high school I was drawn to running and decided to make cross country and track my primary sports. I immediately loved the atmosphere at cross country meets, where I could duke it out on the course with other girls but immediately return to being friends after the race. I found that there is a level of compassion and respect that exists not only between teammates, but also among competitors, since we all share an understanding of the work it takes to get to the starting line, to say nothing of the colossal effort it takes to deliver your best performance within a race.
When I made the US Olympic team in 2012 this sentiment emerged again. At the Olympics, athletes from all over the world compete against each other, but the spirit of the Olympic Games rises above the competitive spirit. The world comes together to honor athletes and the process of being the best we can all be. While on the surface we are there to compete, underneath what is shown on TV there is a camaraderie that develops among the athletes as we live in the Olympic village together and train in the practice facilities for the most important race of our lives. We've all overcome the rigors of training and other adversities in life to reach the pinnacle of the sport and we understand the struggle and triumph that each one of us has undergone simply to be there.
My 5000m race in London was the most competitive race I had ever been in, and yet the experience brought me back to the roots of why I love running and participating in the sport. In the ensuing years I have continued to develop and improve in large part because I have to compete with other great women in this country who push me to be better. I now also train with the NorCal Distance Project, a team of female, professional distance runners, all of whom have Olympic aspirations. Training with my teammates every day makes me a better athlete than I could ever be if I were on this journey alone. As I look ahead to 2016 Olympics in Rio, I know that I am more developed athlete than I was in London because I am surrounded by women who are my friends and who are willing to help me demand more of myself.
It makes me smile to look back on that first mile I ran in 4th grade. At the time I took great satisfaction in engaging in an activity where I was able to beat the boys, but since that time the sport has lifted me to a place where I am proud to run and compete like a girl every day of my life.