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Doing Hard Things with the Help of a Still I Run Scholarship

Amber kept seeing the Still I Run Starting Line Scholarship come up online after she searched for running and mental health. She was interested but hesitant to apply at first. Was it worth applying? Would she even get in? Turns out the answer to both of those questions was “yes.”

Running had given Amber a sense of purpose in the past and she was excited to get started. She set her sights on completing a 5K and began looking for an event. When she came across the Syracuse Ugly Sweater 5K in Liverpool, NY, she knew she found the one. Both the date and place were right. She would have time to train and it was close enough that her mom and brother could come out to support her. 

Mostly, she loved the swag. Participants of the Ugly Sweater 5K got ankle bands adorned with jingle bells and a finisher’s medal with Santa emblazoned on one side and the Grinch on the other. She could imagine holding onto that medal as a reminder of her accomplishment after she finished the race.

Doing Hard Things

Amber was matched with a Still I Run coach and they put together a training schedule, but then life set in. She injured her foot, which made it painful to run. Plus, she had to manage the strain of health issues in her family. If it wasn’t for the Still I Run scholarship program, she may have thrown in the towel. 

Her coach was patient and compassionate, giving her the encouragement she needed to keep moving forward. She was also motivated by other Still I Run scholarship participants who supported each other through an online group. Knowing they had her back made her feel connected and less alone.

Getting to the starting line and finishing the 5K was going to be hard, but Amber had done hard things before. She competed in cross country and track in high school. She pushed herself at boot camp training for the Marine Corp. And she made it through a mental health emergency that was so serious it landed her in the hospital. This crisis led her to mistrust her own thoughts and it took a lot of work to rebuild her sense of self and get back on solid ground.

As part of her recovery, Amber learned to pay close attention to her thinking and found ways to manage her negative self-talk. While doubts about herself continue to pop up to this day, she’s gotten better at playing whack-a-mole with them so they don’t derail her well-being. “Reset and start again” is her mantra, and that strategy helped her stick to her training and make it to the 5K.

Jingle All the Way

Race day was cold and windy, which wasn’t unexpected for winter in upstate New York. “Jingle Bells” was playing over the loudspeaker as the runners waited for the race to begin. Amber’s layer game was on point and she danced around to keep warm. Although she was anxious, she focused on the excitement in the air and imagined how she would feel when she crossed the finish line.

Finally, the race started. The street was lined with festive holiday lights and Amber used them to break the run up into manageable bits. Just run to the snowman. Now to the dolphin. And next to the Santa. Halfway through the race, she got a gentle nudge from the Grinch that propelled her forward. She swatted back negative thoughts and cheered herself on with positive inner chatter. She thought about her mom and brother who had come out on this blustery day to support her.

Amber finished the race slightly out of breath but beaming with pride as she accepted her Santa/Grinch medal. She cringed a little when she saw her time, but quickly brought herself back into the moment. She had done it and she wouldn’t allow anyone to take that feeling of accomplishment away—not even herself. Even months after the event ended, Amber can still look at that medal and feel her self-confidence surge. 

Looking Ahead

Amber has a new goal now. She writes monthly(ish) posts on Mindfully, Amber Brown where she shares self-reflections, poems, and activities to help readers cultivate a practice she calls “noticing.” Too often, we go flying through our days without taking the time to notice and connect with our surroundings. She’s passionate about helping others embrace their precious lives by reminding them to pause and soak in the beauty of life’s ordinary moments. 

This passion flows into her work with Women Veterans Empowered & Thriving. This organization offers a reintegration program that uses writing and performance to help women veterans reconnect with their mind, body, soul, and joy for life. Amber is both a participant and facilitator with this group, which gives her a powerful creative outlet and a valuable way to make a difference in her community.

Amber also has advice for anyone considering applying to Still I Run’s Starting Line Scholarship program, which strives to unblock barriers preventing people from improving their mental health through running. Just go for it. If you don’t, you may regret it. 


By Heather Mansfield

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