By Audrey Lewis
When I was growing up, the idea that I would be associated with any form of fitness was laughable—especially running. In middle school, I developed exercise-induced asthma and had to limit myself physically because of it. I can still vividly remember watching my peers run “the mile” in PE class, while I walked the whole thing. In high school, I skipped the warm-up laps around the courts during tennis practice and instead became an expert in stringing racquets. In college, I walked a color run and didn’t make it to the end in time to be part of the color throwing party. As I tried to finish the course before they tore it down, I watched from afar as finishers threw swirling poofs of pastel powder into the air. Everyone went home with their tie-dyed race shirt; I went home with a white shirt and disappointment.
By the time I graduated from college, I was my heaviest weight with a BMI that concerned my doctors. My limited physical activity and absolute adoration for food, sodas, and beer resulted in obesity. I was sick constantly and purposefully missed out on any summer activities that involved being in a swimsuit. I reasoned with myself that this is just how things would be as long as I had asthma. It was a crutch I used to get out of doing anything athletic, and I just had to come to terms with it.
But then there was the crash.
In March of 2013, I was driving home at night in the middle of a very heavy rain storm. As I changed lanes on the Sam Rayburn Tollway, my car began to hydroplane, and I lost control of the steering. My car hit the side barrier of the highway, flipped three times, and landed upside down with me dangling by my seatbelt. It was nothing short of a miracle that I was able to crawl out of the car and walk away from the accident with few injuries. But this moment would change my life forever.
As my 5,500-pound car and I were flipping across the slick highway, time slowed down, and my life flashed before me. I thought about what I would leave behind as my legacy if this was the moment it all ended. Once my iron safety cage came to a halt and I was still intact, I had a newfound appreciation for what it meant to live, and I wanted to do it to the fullest. That night and the days following, a spark ignited in me, and I was ready to make a change and not allow my excuses to get the best of me.
I decided that in order to live my life to the fullest, I needed to become physically healthy. I started with diet change and the Couch to 5K program. I set a goal to finish a 5K in a time that would erase my color run tragedy altogether. Although I did lose some weight and learned how to portion control and meal prep, my lungs held a steel grip on me whenever I attempted to run. My inhaler became my constant sidekick, and I went through vials of albuterol sulfate during my nebulizer treatments. Nevertheless, six months later I found myself at the start line of the Arlington Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving Day, finishing in what I believe to be 35 minutes (unfortunately, I didn’t buy the timed bib). Either way, I had a newfound sense of self and, for the first time, I didn’t need my inhaler.
Following the Turkey Trot, I decided I should dabble in other forms of exercise and conquer those as well. Over the next few years, I would slowly lose over 65 pounds. I found myself enjoying activities such as Zumba, kickboxing, CrossFit, indoor cycling, paddleboarding, and yoga. The more weight I lost, the less I needed my inhaler. In fact, I had essentially eliminated my asthma with my lifestyle change. I continued to run a few miles here and there when I couldn’t make a workout class, but I never considered running another race until I moved to Dallas proper in 2017 to be closer to work.
I can remember the night I was sitting in my new apartment, with all my friends living over 30 minutes away, and trying to think about what I would do with my weekend. I started to look up events on Facebook and found a small 5K that was happening the next morning. I hadn’t been looking for a race, but the cause seemed charitable, and I hadn’t worked out since moving. I immediately signed up and went to sleep, excited by the prospect of my third race.
As I crossed the finish line the next morning, someone handed me a pink lanyard with a glittery medal on it. As I looked down at my finisher’s prize, I realized I had to sign up for another race, so I registered for the inaugural 5K of a local brewery, complete with free beer, food, and another shiny medal for me to claim. But as I walked around the joyous event, beer in-hand and a medal around my neck, I realized everyone was there celebrating their finish with someone else, while I was there alone. I wondered if I would ever have that kind of comradery between runners.
I did sign up for another race, though this time with hesitation. I scanned the crowd for anyone I might know. There was a face that seemed somewhat familiar, but I couldn’t quite place how I knew them until I was pulling into my apartment parking lot later that day and saw that person getting out of their car beside me. I introduced myself, and he returned the favor: Matthew Kingore, my neighbor. I asked if he knew of any groups I could get involved with to learn more about running. Turns out, he was the local coach of a Tuesday night track group and invited me to join. Track? Me? I asked if there was anything less intimidating, since just the word “track” made me feel nauseous. “Pint Striders,” he said. “Find Bree Redwine, and tell her I sent you.”
That week, on a Thursday night, I walked onto the patio at British Beverage Company in Dallas’ Uptown neighborhood and found the vivacious Bree Redwine. She welcomed me with open arms and began to introduce me to members of the group. Each one was patient and kind as I asked numerous questions about running and racing. Over the next few weeks of showing up and talking to people, I realized the range of goals and motivations that members had, and each person seemed as interested in me as I was in them. When they asked me about my next race, I fumbled to respond since I hadn’t signed up for another one yet. “You have to run RunProject’s Too Hot To Handle! We are all going to be there!” they told me. So I signed up.
The race’s name did not disappoint. Too Hot To Handle was a scorcher! However, on this race day, I had my beer, my finisher’s medal, and a host of Pint Striders to share it with, many of whom won awards for their time. I was so proud to be standing next to these athletes and calling them my peers. Internally, I was also glowing for having run my race in 27:20—without an inhaler. I was living on a runner’s high, and I didn’t want it to end.
I continued to attend Pint Striders’ events and run races, and the questions from my friends changed from, “When is your next race?” to “When are you doing a half marathon?” I scoffed at them. I was still having second guesses that I could even finish the 5Ks I had signed up for! In fact, right before RunProject’s Oktoberfest 5K, I told Bree that I wasn’t sure I could do it. I wasn’t a runner. I felt like an imposter. The girl who walked the color run was still inside of me, taunting me. But I brushed her aside and ran my race in 26:22, a new personal record!
After this, I knew I could do even more, so I signed up for my first half marathon with a goal of finishing in under two hours. As I crossed the finish line of the BMW Dallas Half Marathon on December 9th, 2018, with a time of 1:58:42, I finally crushed any remnants of the former me who couldn’t run that mile in middle school or run laps around the tennis courts or who couldn’t finish her first 5K. I had created the person I dreamt of being when I was rolling in my car on that dark slippery highway in 2013.
Since then, I have run several 5Ks, a 10K, a 15K, and most recently, my second half marathon. Just as the conversations at Pint Striders changed before, now I’m most often asked when I’ll run a marathon. And like I did with the half, I first scoffed at the idea of a full. But it was just this week that I decided to once again push myself as a runner and set a humongous goal, this time by signing up for the Houston Marathon in January of 2020. I cannot wait to cross the finish line. That medal and beer will be the hardest ones I’ve ever worked for, but I know I can do it and that I’ll have a host of Pint Striders and immediate family there to cheer me on and celebrate my victory.