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Running: When Nobody Looks Like Me

The Start Line

“There is nobody here who looks like me.”

This is often the first thought I have at a race.

As a transracial adoptee from India, I grew up in predominantly white spaces. I am used to being the “only,” the “other.” I’m used to the “Where are you from?” questions. But, still I run.



On Your Mark, Get Set:


I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety as an adolescent. Even at a young age, I strived for perfection in everything I did. I had to be good enough for my parents. They deserved a daughter who was as smart as the theoretical biological daughter they couldn’t have.


I had to fit in with my smart friends and be the leader my teachers made me out to be. The pressure continued to build, and I continued to break down inside. My parents sent me to a psychiatrist and a therapist. I was put on antidepressants and began my therapy journey.


One spring, my dad took me on a run to get in shape for traveling soccer season. We’d lace up and run around the neighborhood, race up a hill, and sprint to the home stretch back to the house. We sometimes went to the gym attached to my high school and ran around the track, sprinting the straight-aways and trying to keep track of how many laps we did. Little did I know, this was something that would change my life.


I went to a small liberal arts college that was full of white students. There were very few places I fit in and even fewer places built for people like me. For the first time in my life, I felt truly “othered.”


Like most college kids, I leaned into what was familiar. For me that was soccer. The recreational team I played on turned out not to be a good fit, so eventually I just started running around the track after class. I took what my dad taught me: sprint, walk, and count your laps. When it was nice out I tried running outside and eventually running became a habit.


Simultaneously, I was navigating all the challenges of being a college student of color and living with anxiety and depression. I used up my free counseling sessions at the college counseling center and was referred to a therapist in the community. I continued to see my psychiatrist when I came home to make sure my meds were working. I figured this was going to be how I managed my depression and anxiety for the rest of my life.





Go:


I was wrong. Eventually, I no longer needed medication for my depression. I worked hard in therapy and continued using the techniques I learned to manage my anxiety and depression. I continued running. I am a strong believer that running is not therapy — therapy is therapy—and there is nothing wrong with taking medication (the stigma and shame around medication is a real, systemic issue). However, running became MY medicine and I learned that there is a growing body of research to support that exercise is effective for managing anxiety and depression. Now, running helps me navigate my own life changes and continues to be a constant in a world and a sport that doesn’t always feel welcoming as a woman of color.




Earning the Medal:


In the tough moments where I don’t want to lace up my running shoes, I turn to the Still I Run community for inspiration, encouragement, and the reminder that sometimes, it’s okay to not be okay. And while I still look around at races and think that nobody looks like me, I know that I belong and that I deserve to take up space.




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By Makara Fairman

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