In middle school we had the chance to order long sleeve t-shirts with the school logo on it. You could put your name on the back and then a word that describes you down both arms. My art teacher said, “April… I’ve been thinking about those school shirts. I think you should get one and you should put “Nonconformist” down the arm of it.” I didn’t have any idea at the time what that word meant or her purpose of this conversation. She explained, “You’re like the girl from My So Called Life…. you’re a thinker. You’re always going to get things done, but do it outside of the way that everyone else is doing it. You’re unique and proud of that uniqueness. You are a nonconformist… if you don’t realize that you will some day.”
In elementary school there was a girl named Cassi. Cassi was like a gazelle. She could sprint and I was always envious of her ability to do that. She would go on for miles like she was just stepping on clouds. We did this fundraiser for heart disease sort of like a walkathon. The more laps you could run the more money we raised. I was always the last one picked for sports. I came in dead last because I couldn’t even play kickball without looking like an idiot. Prior to this fundraising event we had only run the one miler. My classmates all started in for the run. It was along the soccer field of the school and the PE teacher Ms.Tyree was keeping score of how many laps we went around for the fundraiser. The first few laps it was like normal. I went a little slower than my normal pace and Cassi started like a bolt of lightening. She lapped everyone continuously. The few lazy students did the first few laps and the gracefully bowed out and watched on the sidelines. There was the future baseball star, a few other fairly athletics kids, Cassi the gazelle and then me. I could hear from the sidelines the murmur of “April… she’s still in?” The few other athletic kids started to trickle out and Cassi was still doing laps around the rest of us on the field. I just kept going and eventually it was just me and Cassi. I doing my more relaxed pace and Cassi sprinting and lapping me as she went along. I hit the sidelines too after many more laps… I’m certain that Cassi and I ran for over a hour that day. I grabbed a water and plopped on the sideline to watch Cassi as she kept going. The high fives and congrats from the sideline of classmates was an amazing event for me. The girl who never got picked for anything had shocked the class. Ms. Tyree who had been my PE teacher for several years came by to tell me how impressed she was. I said, “Yeah it was good but I will never be like Cassi. I wish I could sprint like that.” I should have been elated. I should have been proud. Instead I was just jealous. Ms. Tyree hearing my disappointment kneeled down and said, “You shouldn’t be upset. You should be proud. Maybe you’re not Cassi, but do you realize that you just beat everyone else except Cassi? Second place is an okay place to be. One of these days you will realize that Cassi will be a speed runner and you hon are a long distance runner and there is a difference.” I dismissed Ms. Tyree’s opinion and pep talk. I was too bitter to hear her words. I wanted to win, but I couldn’t see beyond my jealousy that I had already won. I may not have won the lap contest but I won a whole lot of respect that day. I stopped getting picked dead last after that moment.
During driver’s education we studied all types of terms and one was the wolf pack. My teacher was adamant that traveling in the wolf pack statistically is a safer place to be. If people know they are surrounded by cars they are more careful about how they bob and weave through the traffic. If you are in a smaller group or alone you are more likely to be in an accident. My thought about this term was “but I don’t want to be around everyone else. I’d rather have space and be on my own.” I never liked being in the wolf pack… running, driving or socially speaking.
These conversations and moments have stuck with me for years. This weekend I laced up for my last long run before my next half marathon. I headed out the door alone in the early morning light for this twelve mile run. I ran along the river greenway and enjoyed the breeze and scenic views. I was constantly passed by chipper happy sprinters and I kept with my regular pace. The Cassi’s of the world were lapping me so to speak. I was alone for twelve miles and that can get a little lonely and I was envious of the wolf pack runners. They have their support group and they are always looking out for reach other. It’s safer to not lag behind or just call it quits when you need to keep up with everyone else. I’m the nonconformist runner. The runner off to the side going in their own style and at their own pace but still getting it done. I was pretty emotional during this run. It was sheer elation that I had broken the mold. I am off the course of my own making.