by Lynn Doelger
My brother and I grew up playing in the vast woods of Alabama. I started running at a young age and recall running with my Dad in the morning before he went to work. My parents married at a young age. Home life was less than pleasant. Mom and Dad were constantly fighting with Mom always threatening suicide. She was later diagnosed as “manic depressive.”
Running was my salvation. It was a way to handle all the adversities. Cross-country was my favorite. I loved running free through the grass at every unique course and location.
I had a goal of being state champion and receiving an athletic scholarship. During my sophomore year I placed fourth in the state championship, then ran the mile, 800 meter and was part of the team’s mile relay. I qualified in all three events at regionals.
Despite the training and wins, I felt run down. I developed swollen lymph nodes and was diagnosed with mononucleosis. I was disappointed and disheartened by not being able to compete in the state finals.
That next summer was filled with surprises. My Dad received a promotion but it came with a move to Illinois. WE would be moving at the beginning of my junior year!
I wasn’t upset because I knew it was an opportunity for my Dad and I could survive anywhere. The problem was my parents’ rocky and unpredictable relationship. We moved to Iowa and Dad commuted to work. Bettendorf High School was like a college campus – modern with the best facilities. I joined the cross-country team, which was really good. At first, I placed fourth but I knew that with time that would change.
What did not change was life at home. My parents were not civil to each other. Mom would throw kitchen plates at Dad to get his attention. Dad ignored everything. My brother and I found our own outlets to vent frustrations.
My running began to improve and in the regional meet I was the only one who placed. I was the new girl from Kentucky, which caused a lot of stress.
My coach worked to get me ready for the state meet coming up at the Iowa State University golf course. Meet day arrived to a cool morning, coach was giving me a motivational talk and my parents wished me the best.
The gun went off and I was in eighth position and heard Coach yelled “move up!” I felt confident as I picked off each runner, one at a time. My competition and I were side-by-side and the in the last 100 meters we almost tied for second, sprinting to catch first. I ended up second overall in the Iowa state meeting. This win brought many scholarship offers. However, my goal was Number 1!
Life was good in the running world, but my family life was in a spiraling decline. Mom filed for divorce and then there was a moving van in our driveway. As we pulled away Dad, stood in the road crying. My brother and I were numb from the entire experience.
My senior year we moved back in Kentucky, which was difficult because people didn’t expect me to return. I felt like a ghost. Spring track had already begun and I was, once again, running the same three events (mile, 800 meter and mile relay.) I placed first in the mile at every meet. My time improved and I was considered one of the fastest milers in the state. I stayed focused on achieving my running goals.
I led at the state meet right away. Even though I started out front during the last 200 yards I was passed by a girl I had never competed against. I was disappointed, but this was not the end, just the beginning. Summer came to a close and cross-country season started. My new coach had already trained another state champion. We trained hard; all the workouts were tough. I tried to be a good team leader and at every meet I would lead this prayer asking for strength and guidance. “Please give us the courage to run to the best of our abilities and to find the strength within to not give up.”
I won every cross-country meet, but had a rival competitor from Louisville, Kentucky. She won on her turf and I passed her in the last mile on my home course. Kentucky Sport magazine and numerous newspaper articles wrote about me. This media attention drew potential athletic scholarship offers from across the United States, which was my dream.
The state meet approached and I prepared mentally and physically in spite of distracting conflicts – Mom moved us from the city to the country and Dad was getting married.
The day arrived. It was a beautiful morning and I felt great, even though my nerves and heart were pounding in anticipation of the most important event of my life. We lined up and the gun went off , I immediately sprinted to the lead. I prayed “Please God, give me the courage to run great. I’ve been through so much, give me the strength to fight through this pain.”
There was a gradual hill and I could see the finish line. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was going to be the state champion. People were cheering and there was nothing like the feeling I experienced when I broke the tape to win first place!
That was an unbelievable day. Besides accomplishing my goal, I felt there was an unknown force that lifted me off the ground, weightless as if I had wings. I can’t explain this experience, but I knew that running would always be a vital part of my life.
Lynn Doelger is a personal trainer and group instructor for Omni Barton Creek in Austin. She earned a full athletic scholarship to Ohio University . Lynn has completed 26 marathons and one Iron Man and is the winner of Amarillo and Dallas marathons.
She believes “there has to be a growth in our human experience to achieve the greatness we all strive for in ourselves and in others.”