This article originally appeared on jewishpress.com.
At certain points in each of our lives, we are given challenges – some big, some small. Some people embrace it, welcoming every chance they get to grow and mature, while others are deathly afraid of any sort of change in their blissful, comfortable routine.
I was given many challenges over the past year and a half, none of which I would have ever chosen to face had I been given the choice. But as we face the challenges head-on that come our way and overcome them, we grow and become better, wiser and more understanding people. Our struggles are what make us who we are and determine how we relate to others. And hopefully, we can look back at our challenges and appreciate the level of trust G-d has in us to overcome them.
Regardless of the painful experiences I was dealing with, there was one challenge that I took on with anticipation and determination. Running a half-marathon – 13.1 miles – is not something I ever thought I would do, yet that’s exactly what I did this past January in Miami Beach. Along with 134 other members of Team Yachad, I ran in support of Yachad, the National Jewish Council for Disabilities.
My adventure started about six months ago in a New Jersey high school with my first meeting with some of the dedicated staff members and runners. I also met with Coach Jasmine (“Jaz”) Graham, who patiently answered every question I threw at her, and who provided me with my very own training regimen to fit my schedule.
Training for the half-marathon was a challenge I both dreaded and looked forward to. Unfortunately I have never before been able to incorporate regular fitness into my daily routine, as there never seemed to be enough time in the day to get to the gym or enough energy to hit the treadmill. Training with Yachad was the motivation I needed to start moving, and thus began my personal journey to fitness, awareness, and self-discovery.
I was extremely self-conscious the first time I went running. I kept looking around to see if there was anybody that I knew, and comparing my speed with the numerous other people who were running through the park. At the end of my run, I was both exhausted and exhilarated. The fact that I was able to run the few miles, despite never accomplishing this before, gave me an enormous feeling of pride. I felt like I wanted to do this every single day.
That feeling lasted about 10 or 12 hours – until every bone in my body began to ache and bring me pain. Yet the incredible rush that running gave me motivated me to continue, and I was determined to support and run along with Team Yachad in the half-marathon. Running gave me an opportunity to be alone with my thoughts, to clear my head, and to escape (at least for that hour or so) the chaos that was going on in my personal life. Something about the fresh air, the rhythmic sound of my feet hitting the pavement, and the peace and quiet through the park was soothing. It was exactly what I needed at that point in my life.
After a few weeks of training, I began to notice a change in myself, both during my workout and in general. I was feeling more confident, more sure of my abilities and myself. I ran with better posture, I wasn’t comparing myself to the other runners in the park, and I felt like I could do anything. I never realized the impact that the training alone would have on my life.
After several months and a few bumps along the road, including a bad fall and a torn ligament, I finally arrived in Miami Beach for the Yachad marathon weekend. The Shabbaton (Shabbat weekend) was incredible, and I met many special people during my trip. The marathon itself was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will stay with me forever. The incredibly gratifying feeling of satisfaction and pride after finishing the race with Team Yachad is indescribable. It was also quite inspirational to see the display of unity, the inclusion of every single person – including 15 runners with disabilities – and the dedication each runner displayed toward Yachad and each other.
Looking back, I am honored to have been part of such a moving experience. It was humbling to meet Yachad’s special people, along with its staff, members, volunteers, and everyone who participated in the event. I still continue to run when I can, feeling much more secure and comfortable when I do. Yachad has influenced my life in many ways, and inspired me to take on something I never thought I could do. For those feelings alone, I am truly grateful.
Shaindy Urman is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn. She can be reached at email@example.com.