Every Sunday, Bill and I watch a CBS show called Sunday Morning. Yesterday the program had a segment about a theater camp for kids somewhere in rural New York. As I listened to interviews with the children, who claimed their lives were changed by participating in theater during their three-week stay at the camp, I was transported back to high school.

As a student at Mountlake Terrace High School, I elected to participate in our drama program. I was not an athlete, a chess player, or a singer. I didn’t play an instrument, and I wouldn’t be caught dead in a cheerleading outfit. This left theater.

Our drama teacher at MLTHS was smart. Mrs. E, as we called her then, had a stutter growing up and understood deeply the experience of self-consciousness that most kids feel in their adolescence. As a result, she led her theater troupe from a stance of mutual respect and inclusivity. Everyone who wanted to participate had a role. If we weren’t on stage, we could help with costumes or lighting. No one was excluded. She gave speaking parts to popular jocks and social pariahs alike – and insisted we treat each other kindly.

I’m not sure I was much of an actress, but she gave me significant on stage roles more than once and, like the kids in the Sunday Morning segment yesterday, it changed my life and gave me confidence. I learned that I could memorize long speeches, cover for other people’s mistakes, change costumes in less than two minutes and share in putting together a product that elicited applause and appreciation from an audience.

Yesterday, as I reflected back on my high school theater experience, I realized that I have the same feeling of confidence when I run. I wasn’t the greatest actress – and I’m not the greatest runner. But just as I felt a great sense of being a part of a collective troupe back then, I feel a part of a running community now. I could have ended up in a competitive drama club (think Glee), but instead, I was taught to connect rather than compete, and that’s how I run now – to connect with myself and nature. I’m glad for this, since I wouldn’t stand a snowball’s chance in hell of winning anything even if I felt inclined to compete. Just as I did under Mrs. E’s tutelage, I get to be content with trying my hardest.

Thanks Mrs. E. I bet you never thought I’d be thanking you for helping me be the best runner I can be!

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