The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

Follow us on:
Share Youth Communication Follow Represent on Facebook Follow Represent on YouTube Follow Represent on Twitter
Follow Represent on Facebook Follow Represent on YouTube Follow Represent on Twitter
Running My Stress Away
D'nashia Jenkins

On a Saturday morning last November, I had to get up at 5 in the morning to be at the Armory track on 168th Street in Harlem, a neighborhood in Manhattan. I live in Coney Island, another New York City neighborhood more than an hour away.

At 5 a.m. my body didn’t want to move. But my coach and the team were counting on me, and I didn’t want to let them down. I was going to do the long jump and run the 4 x 2 sprint medley, a relay race with four runners.

I was excited because I love doing relays, especially at the Armory. It’s a huge building that takes up a whole block and holds 3,000 people. A lot of famous runners, like Marion Jones, raced at the Armory.

Going there made me feel like a big-time runner. My first time at the Armory I didn’t think I could run in front of all those people, but I did. After every race, I felt more comfortable.

I put on my uniform: a blue shirt that says “Abraham Lincoln” with the number 557, blue shorts, and cleats. As I got dressed, I felt proud of myself and the team.

I joined the team when I was a freshman at Abraham Lincoln High School. I hadn’t considered it until a girl came up to me and said, “You look like a good runner. Would you like to join the track team?”

She thought I would make a good runner because she saw that my legs and arms were built. She thought I already ran track, but I didn’t. I’m just naturally lean.

I was excited and surprised. “I don’t know,” I said. “What do I have to do?”

She answered, “It is a lot of hard work and dedication. It’s not easy.”

She was right. My team had practice every day from 3:30-6 except for Fridays. When we didn’t have practice or a meet, I’d run on my own on the boardwalk. I got faster and faster.

Track helped me get away from my troubles. Arguments with my mom, problems with schoolwork, and drama with the kids at school all made me stressed. Running helped me take some of the worry away, and I felt better after every race.

I felt emotionally stable when I ran because it was the one thing I could control in my life. I made the choice whether I was going to run my best, run poorly, or not run at all.

If I didn’t do well in a race, it was because of me. If I did well, I was able to say, “I did it on my own. I worked hard, and I won the race for me and not for anyone else.”

That’s what I was hoping for that morning in November—to do well. It was still dark outside when I met up with my teammates at the train station.

We got to the Armory at 7 a.m. and went to the second floor where the athletes work out and warm up before their races. Half of the team was already there, including the coach. They were all excited to see me, saying, “Hi, Nay Nay.” I gave them hugs and high-fives.

I had to wait two hours before my race started, so I read a novel (for fun, not school), listened to music, and talked with my teammates. At this point I was relaxed.

But when the officials called for the 4 x 2 girls sprint medley, I was suddenly so nervous that I was actually shaking. I jumped up and down to calm down. I told myself, “Nay Nay, you can do this.”

image by Kenneth Ng

We had to go downstairs to the waiting area by the track. I shook my legs, hands, and arms, and stretched. We stretched together as a team, then we huddled together in a circle, putting our arms around each other, and encouraged one another to do our best.

“It’s just another race at the Armory,” I said to myself, but I still couldn’t get rid of my butterflies.

They called my race again, and I went out to the starting line. I could hear the crowd rooting for different teams. As I stood at the line, I could feel the energy of the other runners.

I felt like all eyes were on me. It was like playing a basketball game, when one shot could send your team to the playoffs. The crowd is screaming “defense, defense,” and you hear a loud roar and the buzzer goes off.

That’s exactly how I felt, except I was standing in a lane next to five other runners waiting for the gun to go off to start the race. (No, it wasn’t a real gun—no bullets, just a loud bang and smoke.)

I brought all my problems to the line. I thought about all the pain I felt inside, the worries and stress. I worried about passing my classes, about finals and exams that were coming up in school.

I was stressed about my mom’s rules. She hadn’t wanted me to come to the Armory because she didn’t want me to walk to the train that early by myself, and we’d argued about it.

I was focusing so much on myself, I started to forget about the crowd. This is usually what I did at races.

Then the gun went off. I started running away from my problems. I thought, “My mom gets on my nerves. She doesn’t understand me,” and, “I just know I’m not going to pass math class if I don’t pass the final.” But these worries went away as I pounded the track. I was running my pain and hurt off my back.

I couldn’t see anyone or anything but the finish line. Everything else was just a blur. I fought to get to the finish line. I wasn’t only fighting against my opponents, I was also fighting to win my battle against stress at school and home.

I could feel the wind blowing against my skin. I felt like I was flying. My stress had disappeared.

As I approached the finish line, I could see the officials and the Armory’s photographer ready to snap my picture. People in the stands looked like they were jumping out of their seats in slow motion.

I could see other runners on the side screaming, but I couldn’t hear them. I couldn’t hear anything but my rapid breathing.

Then, as I crossed the finish line, I heard everyone screaming and everything went back to normal speed. I came in second as I passed the baton to my teammate. I felt proud of myself.

I hopped off the track and looked back at the problems that I left behind. I couldn’t see anything, but I knew they were still there. Still, I felt better about them because I took care of them my way—by running them off. I felt like the weights I’d been carrying were lifted off my shoulders.

I fell to the floor, but my teammate pulled me up so that I wouldn’t tighten up or get cramps. “Come on, Nay Nay, get up and walk it off,” Simone said. She extended her arm to me, and I grabbed her hand and pulled myself up.

Then we joined the rest of the team, and they said, “Good job, Nay Nay.” I looked at my coach and asked him how I did. “You did great. You should be proud of yourself.”

And I was.

horizontal rule