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This will not define me

Share Your Story Series: Running with Lyme Disease

"You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.” — Maya Angelou


my name is ava augustine & this is my story

Cross Country & Track and Field - University of Chicago

April 2023

I was diagnosed with Lyme disease, but before we get ahead of ourselves let's go back to the fall of 2022, cross country season.

september 2022

Our first official race took place in early September and I raced fairly well. I ran a few seconds off my personal best in high school. Overall, I was satisfied with the first few races of the XC season. However, as the season progressed into November I was beginning to feel very unwell. I felt symptoms of extreme fatigue, and my legs were very heavy by 2k into the 6k race. I assumed the issue was low ferritin or iron, as is always the case with me. So, I began taking more iron. That did not help.

Flash forward to winter track, and my symptoms kept getting worse. I ran my first indoor race (one mile), and I ran one minute OFF my personal best. My personal best is 5:06, and I ran 6:05. I was comparing myself with my high school self, which was my first mistake. I remember sitting at my desk in my dorm room crying that night because so much of my self-worth was defined by my running performances. This was my second mistake. I thought this race was a fluke, so I came back and trained harder each day. I ran another 6:00. I was in such a dark place by then, and with school work on top of athletics, my mind was not ready to race again. I felt like my hard work was slipping away, and I could feel myself falling behind. I tried to run workouts with the team, but I found myself unable to complete the workouts. A few weeks passed of training. I was training quite hard, with a pool swim in the mornings and runs in the afternoon. At this point, I could no longer keep up with the team during easy runs. I missed racing, but the truth is, I was terrified to get back on the line again. I was afraid of failure. That was mistake number three.

In January, toward the middle of the winter track season, I could barely run 2 miles at an 8:45 pace. I would have to take numerous walk breaks. I tried my best, and toward the end of the season, I had the courage to get back on the line again. I pushed through the pain and kept training hard. The next few races were alright, as I ran a 5:45, 5:35, and 5:29. I shaved quite a few seconds off my time in the beginning of the season, but I still knew something was not right. Throughout this whole season, I knew something was off, and my coach knew it too. My teammates were very supportive, and my coaches were very encouraging as well. However, I was not focused during races, and even though I seemed cheerful during practice and meets, I was so defeated on the inside.

After I was diagnosed, I spoke with my coach and told him I think it would be best if I took the spring season completely off. I basically took the winter track season off, with the exception of three or four big races. The joy I once had for running was slowly disappearing, and I felt small. I was being too hard on myself, and I never gave my body the rest it needed. I came home during spring break, and my mom had me tested for Lyme. She had Lyme a few months prior, so she knew my symptoms matched up with hers.

back to April 2023

In early April, I finally found out the culprit behind my constant fatigue, bad racing, brain fog, and depression. It felt nice to know what was wrong with me, but at the same time, I didn’t know how long it would take to get this disease out of my body completely.

I want to be completely honest. During this period, I was weight training a lot. With extra muscle and Lyme disease, I gained some weight. I finally filled out and had to adjust to running in a new body. This was very difficult for me mentally because I no longer had the very thin frame that I did in high school. But I quickly realized that everyone has different body types, and no one body type defines a runner.

After I was diagnosed, I spoke with my coach and told him I think it would be best if I took the spring season completely off. I still attended track meets and cheered on my teammates, but I was barely at practices. My coaches and teammates were very supportive. I am very grateful for the support system I had during this process, especially my mom. Being away from home and dealing with Lyme was tough. I began weight training a lot because I did not want to lose my strength completely. There were days when I couldn't even lift weights for more than five minutes. I called my mom a lot to tell her, and she told me that it'll take time to heal. I had to take it easy on myself, but as an athlete, it's never easy to take time off for an extended period.

I continued this for weeks while being treated with antibiotics. I tried to run on the treadmill every other day for 1 or 2 miles. I swam a lot in the pool. I took this opportunity to build my ab muscles. There were countless nights where I thought I was never good enough. I questioned whether I belonged at a top-tier university like UChicago, and I questioned my abilities as an athlete. I pushed through the hard times though, and eventually, I saw progress. I took it day by day, and I never gave up on myself. I realized I should not try to be the person I was in high school in terms of running but be the new person that I have developed into.

Honestly, I am glad I experienced this because it taught me so many lessons. I believe everything happens for a reason, and I am still not completely sure why this happened, but I will find out someday. The lessons I learned are as follows:

  • Never give up on yourself because you are your biggest cheerleader at the end of the day.

  • I have a new definition of failure: failure is not the absence of success; rather, it is the absence of trying.

  • Work hard, but know how to take it easy on yourself too.

  • This sport is 90% mental.

  • And perhaps, the most important one: take a step back and think about your growth (physically and mentally). Be proud of this growth.

  • Hope is the most powerful thing.

  • Take it day by day.

  • You need to be comfortable with being at the bottom if you ever want to get to the top.

This experience challenged me in new ways, and it made me realize how much I love running. If you love something, you will fight for it. This sport is something I am willing to fight for, and I am so grateful to be able to run.

july 2023

On July 7, I ran my first long run in three months. I ran 11 miles at an 8:29 pace. I couldn't be prouder of myself.

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