By Ashley Walsh
If you really want to get to the bottom of my running obsession, it started when I was 5. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was just a little running game. Two boys bigger than me were running a race towards me. I was on my knees with both hands spread wide apart, waiting to see who could reach me and tag a hand first. The bigger boy of the two came barreling towards me fast, and accidentally ran into me. He was wearing cowboy boots, and they dug right into the side of my face, ripping out a huge chunk of it. After hours in the operating room, I was left with a hideous Frankenstein-like scar on my little face.
Throughout my entire childhood, I was teased and bullied about the scar on my face. The result was a very fragile and damaged little girl with serious self-esteem issues. I carried this heavy baggage with me to middle school, which was only worsened by even more harassment, and abuse by others. By the time I hit high school, I was completely absorbed in the “fact” that I was unwanted, unaccepted, and unworthy of any quality love or friendships.
At 15, I began to lash out in every form imaginable: alcohol, partying, sex, vandalism, and illegal drugs. I dropped out of high school in the 10th grade, giving up on life early on. I wound up addicted to crystal methamphetamine, which led to a stay in the ER from a serious overdose. I was completely out of control- a total wreck. I hit rock bottom- drugged up, dropped out, nearly dead and hopeless -but others had hope in me. My family and friends knew that the only direction I could possibly move in was up, and they all did absolutely everything in their power to get me there.
Somewhere along the way, I found someone willing to invest in a relationship with me, Daniel Walsh. He poured his life into loving me, and helped me get myself back together. With his support as well as my family, things started to improve. I went back to high school. My parents took me to a plastic surgeon to get facial reconstruction on the awful scar on my face. I was cruising down the road to recovery
Yet shortly after my 18th birthday, I became pregnant. I was terrified. But, much to my surprise, everyone loved me and helped me through the struggles again. I walked down the aisle to receive my high school diploma 5 months pregnant with a smile on my face- proud of myself for actually finishing.
I married Daniel and we had our son together. I loved my life as a wife and mom. However, motherhood wasn’t completely cake. I gained a ton of weight during my pregnancy- living off junk food. The bad eating continued well after I gave birth. I poured my energy into mothering, but completely neglected my appearance, and let go of myself almost entirely. This pattern grew worse with the birth of our 2nd child a couple of years later.
In the meantime, Daniel was working out ferociously. I resented his efforts, and wished I could be him. He would encourage me to join, but I would refuse.
Finally, I caved. I started to walk on a treadmill occasionally at a “speedy” 3.0 pace, but complained of the difficulty. One night, I wanted to walk for 20 minutes. 10 minutes in, I jumped off, complaining, “It’s too hard!” Daniel’s response was life changing, “I actually thought you were going to stick with it.”
It was at that moment that I realized my lack of care and motivation was just as toxic to my body as the drugs were so many years before. I refused to let myself slip back down towards another dark path.
I immediately began training with my sister, a fitness enthusiast, as a desperate attempt to gain control. I started with the treadmill again, but this time- I conquered it. Little by little, and mile by mile, I became a runner. With running I found something that I never imagined I would ever, find: a positive body image. And with that, I found confidence, happiness, and a love for myself I never knew before. I finally liked myself.
Running became my therapy-my way to hash out the pain and heartache from earlier in life. I easily progressed from walking, to 5k, to marathon. I just loved the pain so much, and I didn’t want to stop. What would happen if I went even farther…? I signed up for a 40-mile race to find out.
Nothing could have prepared me for the demons I would battle in that 40-mile race. I spent the miles battling everything from my past. Each time I would struggle with the pain of going so far, I would remember the pain from years ago. I would refuse to quit moving, reminding myself that every step I took was a step farther away from who I used to be. Each ginormous hill, every mile marker, I knew I was crushing old demons, so I just kept crushing them. Towards the end of the 40 miles, I started running faster and faster, and it dawned on me that this very thing I was doing- racing towards a finish- was the exact same movement that had destroyed my life in the first place, that silly scar-producing race! I began crying and smiling at the same time. I felt powerful, beautiful, and incredible. I had never felt so amazing in my life. I would cry, pray, laugh, thank God, cry and pray some more. It was an emotional journey like nothing I had ever experienced. And when I crossed that finish line, I knew I would never be the same. Those miles convinced me-changed me in more ways than I can explain.
I realized that my life, and running, had come full circle…and it was beautiful.