“Running in Faith” by Colette Gnade

Colette Gnade

Running to Faith Reflecting back on my last few years is a nauseating, frightful, humbling, exciting, and satisfying experience all at once. I am extremely thankful that I had the opportunity to compete against such outstanding middle distance athletes during my high school years. The blue oval will forever hold a special place in my heart, and I will cherish all the memories I have had at Drake Relays and the State Meet my entire life. Those opportunities have allowed me to go to one of the best universities in the country, the University of Virginia. The combination of top notch athletics and academics at UVA made my decision to attend easy. Unlike high school, on the other hand, my collegiate experience with running has been filled with injuries and disappointments. However, I would not change my experiences at UVA for anything. Looking back, I realize how much I’ve emotionally matured and grown in my faith as a result from all my disappointments and successes at UVA. Most importantly, I’ve learned that running does not define me as an individual, and I have received many other blessings in my life. I had my first major injury at the end of my indoor season in high school. I was diagnosed with a stress reaction in my second metatarsal, but I managed to stay fit through swimming. Determination and support from my coaches, training staff, parents, and teammates allowed me to come back and contribute the team State win. During the summer, I regained my health through rest during the entire summer. However, the injuries continued to pile on as I entered college. When starting at UVA in the fall, I could barely do a 2 mile run without total exhaustion. A sense of urgency and panic fed my fear to prove myself, so I, for lack of better words, ran myself into the ground. In the winter of ’09, I was diagnosed with a calcaneal stress fracture and torn peroneus brevis. This injury was severe, unexpected and, most of all, made me feel depressed and lonely, especially being 1,000 miles away from home. Both of my indoor and outdoor seasons were lost, but, despite my bad feelings, I was determined to have a better second year. After some hard work during the summer, I was in shape again and eager to compete. However, I received another blow. However, my year started with more bad news as my coach, who recruited me and was the main reason I attended UVA, announced he was leaving the program before the start of the classes. I cannot express how disappointed I was. However, I was fortunate to stay healthy and compete in cross country at conference with my teammates, which has been my only healthy season at UVA. During the late fall, we got a new coach, for other purposes we will call her TJ (in spirit of UVA’s founder!). From the moment I first meet her, I knew she was a woman of an unwavering faith in the Lord. This intrigued me coming from a woman who has had many disappointments in her running life as well. Despite my thoughts that my life was finally ‘on track’ again, I was diagnosed with a stage 4 sacral stress fracture (yes SACRAL!) after two indoor races. For me, this was one of the most trying points in my life. Thirteen weeks of no activity and crutches is something that I do not wish upon my toughest enemy. I really began to question my intentions with running: Why me? Why such great success then three fractures in 2 years? What am I doing wrong? Not one second passed before TJ told me that it was God’s plan. God’s plan? To make me suffer? To feel completely alone? I was skeptical and felt no one could ever understand how I felt. However, TJ and my teammates were extremely supportive, and I found that my support system could be broadened for eternity. With persuasion, I started to go to church with TJ and a few of my teammates, and I can honestly say that I found the Lord in the spring of ’10. I could not believe how selfish and self-centered I had been the first 19 years of my life(and quite frankly still am). Everything was about ME getting good grades, ME running fast, and ME pursuing MY dreams, but what about God’s plans for me? Having my 3rd stress fracture was like God smacking me in the back of my head to try to get my attention. I finally saw how selfish, impatient, and ugly I was being and that I simply was not ‘on my own.’ At first, I felt completely undeserving. God is perfect. He put Jesus on this earth, whom was perfect as well – forever loving, humble, patient, kind – to die for me. However, one of the most important lessons that I learned from this is that I will never be perfect. There are no works, actions, or other humanly things I can do that will make me ‘better,’ but only true faith in God. I have realized this is still hard to do in the midst of life. There are many questions that I would like to ask; however, I need to trust God and His will. My running career has brought me immense joy but also crippling pain. Despite all that I’ve been through, I know God has a purpose for everything in my life and that being at UVA and running here is integral in his plan. “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” These words from 2 Corinthians 12:7-10 speak to me: I know all of my suffering has humbled me and brought me to Jesus. Since TJ left as well, I have had two more coaching changes and have continued problems with foot injuries that have prevented me from racing a track season my first three years. Thinking about this is heartbreaking. However, I have very supportive teammates and loving parents, am getting an awesome education, and will be a part of Jefferson’s academic village (The Lawn) next year. God has really looked out for me in my life outside of running, and my biochemistry education has allowed me to perform leukemia research and given me numerous opportunities after graduation (Med School? Grad School? Who knows!) Most importantly, I have learned that running does not define me – only my Christian faith should. He has given me so many blessing in my life that I never will deserve and have received through grace, and I am eternally grateful. With my faith, I have found true joy in the things I do and will continue my pursuits in education as well as track. I am truly blessed and try to count my blessings every day. Why count the blessings I don’t have?

Colette Gnade

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