I decided I would make it in the sport of running in December of 2014 when I was exiting the Halifax QEII hospital with a little scar on my chest and a deeper one in my ego. A doctor had nestled a heart rate monitor underneath my skin, shallow to my ribcage, following my second fainting episode in a few anemic months. I had just missed my third consecutive season with the X-Men. I was 19, confused, a relative nobody with no credentials. Nothing mattered to me nearly as much as did running, and that pursuit had in no way been fruitful. Still, I wanted to put everything I had into it.
I was not even marginally successful, but I was hungry. I wanted to turn heads so badly. Back then, I was motivated by a combination of sources. There were the wholesome satisfactions of feeling fit and setting new PBs, and then the hellish desires to make incredulous jaws drop and gain recognition from my superiors. Like only an immature 19-year-old speed-obsessed teenager in an Eminem and testosterone-induced perma-trance could, I wanted to rub my nameless spikes on a seldom frequented East-Coast track and set the damn world on fire. It did not matter who cared. I romanticized the craft too much to notice that most people probably didn't.
I wanted so badly to get faster that I probably wished it into existence. Soon, things started clicking. By my arbitrary standards, I was fulfilling my promise - I was starting to make it. A few months removed from that small surgery, I won a conference bronze medal. Then silvers, then I finished my time at St. FX with gold. Our team won championships, our group travelled the country for road, cross and track races. I beat Cal's PB. He beat mine. Neuffer crushed both of us, we crushed him back. I beat Riley for the first time. I beat Lee for the first time. Angus came in and beat me for the first time. Scott stayed for a fifth year and raised us to his level. I chose to move to Windsor to keep running. There were new personal bests. I ran on Hayward Field. I chased Nick Falk on grass, on dirt, on pure hate. I came back to PEI for the summer, by then having run faster on the track than any Islander before me. I won road races at the Highland Games. I saw Luc, a runner from my hometown whom I helped coach make his first strides at St. FX. I wrote and published a book on our team's journey to the 2016 U Sports championship.
I love reminiscing on these moments, no matter how insignificant they may seem to whomever. Not because I want to boast - many would have much more to boast about anyway - but because they are rewarding to me. Lately, I have been inclined to reminisce, because the memory of these moments has been my crutch.
Immediately following a fun weekend of racing at the Antigonish Highland Games in early July, I gradually descended from a rarely-interrupted three-and a-half-year-long high. Now three months into a knee injury, I was told there is bone degeneration on my left patella. I am not surprised, as my knee hurts to walk on. The development of pain was insidious, and crept up on me so discreetly that I don't think I could have been more diligent in trying to catch it. According to the doctor I am working with, the healing potential for this kind of injury, like its best treatment option, is unknown. Tomorrow, I am being given a PRP (platelet-rich plasma) injection to stimulate healing. If it does not work, I might have to opt for something more invasive.
These last few months have been difficult. It's not so much the time missed, as it is the uncertainty about my return timeline that keeps me up sometimes. Hobbling the Windsor campus without answers just weeks since I excelled here makes the setting sobering and dystopian. The possibility that I will not run again - that I will not feel high again - scares me, and brings tough questions to mind: If I do not make a comeback, have I wasted all this time trying to make the unmakable? Have I lost years of my life in vain? Should I have quit years ago?
For four years, I elected running as the focal point of my life. I needed nothing else. Running with the X-Men (and now the Lancers) has pushed me to chase academic degrees. I found a social life during runs, team suppers and the odd after-party. I cultivated business relationships through the sport, and used running as a vehicle to develop other interests and passions I now have. My sport enabled my growth in multiple directions. I needed nothing else. At 23, I am convinced I still don't.
I now think that we never fully make it in running, but running makes us a bit more every time we get out the door. I've been incredibly lucky to stay healthy and grow within this sport over these last four years. Without health, I would not have gotten here. Not even close. I would not be writing, I would not be in a Master's program, I would not have the friends I have, and I probably would not be happy. So, regardless of what's next, how could I regret that rage-fuelled stubborn decision to blindly chase running that 19-year-old me stubbornly and miraculously nailed? I can't.
I am 23, and for the first time in my life, I am facing a career-threatening injury. Stuart overcame one. Myriam overcame one. They are beatable. They have to be, because I cannot stop here. I want to chase more track times. I want to wear the Maple Leaf. I want to move to the roads. Maybe become a Roadhammer. Maybe progress to the marathon. I want to meet up with the boys when I'm fifty-three and tired from my day job and get my creaky but healthy joints out the door. On some level, by chance and circumstance, I've been made. But, I want to be made more. I don't want to be done. I don't want to be done.
Alex Cyr is a competitive runner, Master's candidate, freelance writer, and author of Runners of the Nish.