"Gold Medals aren't made of gold. They are made of sweat, determination and a hard-to-find alloy called guts." - Dan Gable
Growing up, I use to put all my medals in a shoebox in my room. One day I came home and my dad was busy building a rack in our living room. He took the shoe box and hanged my medals on display, and since then every time I got a medal, trophy or certificate it went to my dad's wall.
The past month, I have been staying at my parent's house while undergoing medical treatment for my back. I did my rehab in the living room since all my exercise equipment were placed underneath the medal rack. Some days I really didn't feel motivated to do my rehab exercises at all (I just wished I was just out running instead!) But, diligently, I did the small repetitive, boring movements day after day. Why? Because, when I looked up, I saw the medals against the wall...
A constant reminder of how far I have come, what I have done and where I have been. If I have been there, I can do it again! I know what it feels like to be at the top, but I also know what it feels like to be rock-bottom.
Every little thing you do adds bricks to your wall. I have had mine knocked down to the bottom a few times and I had to rebuild it from scratch, but every time I learned and I started building a stronger foundation so that my wall won't crumble that easily! If you are struggling with an injury at the moment, don't see your rehab or cross-training as a waste. It is part of your foundation and it all adds up! It makes you a stronger athlete or runner - both physically and mentally. So don't neglect it, treat it the same way you would have treated a run. I won't just skip my run for no good reason, so I can't just skip my rehab.
I decided to share my favorite medals with you. I added a reason why they are special to me when they happened, as well as a picture of the race and medal. There is a lot of my medals and trophies that holds special memories and big victories or personal achievements, but these are definitely some of my highlights - tell my story best! I had a lot of fun recalling my memories, I hope you have fun reading them...
MY FAVORITE MEDALS:
ASA 0/19 JUNIOR CROSS COUNTRY TRIALS: THE DARK HORSE
WHEN: February 2015
WHY: I was selected for the WPA team to run at the ASA Cross Country Trials in the 0/19 Junior Girls 6km. This was a big opportunity since the South African team that would compete at the IAAF world cross country championships later that year would be predicted at this race. However, a week prior to the race I twisted my ankle during a cross country practice session on the fields. The whole week leading up to the trials I was unable to run and the following Friday I got on the plane with my swollen and painful ankle. Arriving at the race the next day I had a lot of pain, and the thought of racing was unimaginable for me. I saw how some of the seniors race and pull out after a few laps; I thought to myself that is what I will do - at least start and then just pull out after a lap. When we lined up at the start the starter called out all the names of the top girls and gave them applause. Then he stopped in front of me and said: "If the leader lap you, once, you pull out, your race is over!" In my mind, I was thinking: "Never-mind I was going to pull out anyway!" When that gun went I off I ran in last, but as the pain shoots through my leg, my mind cried stop, BUT my heart cried: YOU WANT THIS MORE THAN ALL OF THEM! I started running like I was mad, through the mud and up-and-down the hills. I was in a lot of pain after the race and could barely walk without limping, BUT I ended up coming third that day securing my spot in the South African Team, booking my ticket to the IAAF World Cross Country Trials in Poland later that year.
ASA JUNIOR GOLD 5000M: BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS
WHEN: April 2013
WHY: I raced my first 5000m on the track at the Western Province Track and Field Championships in 2013. It was a cool evening and I ran in the 0/19 and 0/23 Girls combined 5000m race. I ran cross country barefoot, so I decided to run the race barefoot. I won that night and secured my spot to compete at the South African Youth, Junior & 0/23 Track and Field Championships. The championships were held in the Johannesburg, in the inland at altitude, and the 5000m race took place on the heat of the day at noon. It was a scorching hot day and the track felt like it was on fire when I stepped on it. By the last few laps, I could feel my burning, but the burn gave me a reason to get it done faster and I started lapping the field. I crossed the finish line, stumbling across towards the grass, I looked back and I saw the blood trail on the grass...I BURNED THE FLESH OFF MY FEET. I was in a lot of pain, and couldn't walk properly for two weeks after this race. BUT at least I had a gold medal to prove my pain wasn't for nothing.
ASA JUNIOR 10K CHAMPIONSHIPS: SICK-AND-TIRED
WHEN: May 2013
WHY: I ran at my first South African 10K championship at the age of 16. After winning the Western Province Junior 0/19 girls 10K race I was certain I was going to run well at the national championship. However, the morning of the race I got sick and ended up running a disappointing time and coming in the 10th position. The next year the National 10K championships were held in Durban. I was stronger and fitter than before and hoped with all my heart to come home with a medal this time. But things weren’t looking in my favor since I got flu right before the race and climbed on the plane coughing and feeling sick, but the next morning I lined up still with a hopeful heart. We ran two 5K loops, and the first 5K I ran quite a bit behind the leaders, but then, as we went through that stadium a second time I made my move. I wasn’t going to settle for tenth like the previous year. I was sick-and-tired of being sick. I gave it everything. I crossed the line in a new personal best time and went home with a gold medal.
PRISON TO PRISON HALF-MARATHON: MY FIRST
WHEN: December 2013
WHY: The first will always be special. I ran my first half marathon at the age of 17. It definitely wasn't perfect conditions with a strong wind, and a slight wrong turn, costing me the Western Province Junior half-marathon record with 5-seconds. However, I walked away with a new course record of 1:19:40, and of course a bonus automatic PB because it was my first half marathon. The following year during my last year as 0/19 Junior girl, I did manage to break the Western Province Junior Half Marathon record at the West-Coast Athletic-Club Half Marathon clocking 1:19:15.
RAVENSMEAD 15K: DYNAMITE COMES IN SMALL PACKAGES
WHEN: March 2014
WHY: In the last year I struggled a lot with my health and I wasn't able to train at great volumes neither was I able to race frequently. We didn't even plan my races ahead, we just went when I was healthy enough to run. In the midst of all the struggles this race came. Unexpected and unexplainable I won the race, running a new PB with almost 2-minutes, while clocking a National list leading time over 15K for Junior and Senior women in the country in a time of 54:48. It was also the tenth fastest time on the all-time list by any Junior girl in South Africa. The next morning the heading in the media read: "DYNAMITE COMES IN SMALL PACKAGES."
GUN RUN HALF-MARATHON: COACH ALWAYS KNOWS BETTER
WHEN: October 2014
WHY: During my last year of high school I was out running one dark morning and fell in a manhole without a lid. My leg/foot went down the hole, my body hit the tar, and my head the pavement. Broken ribs, bad bone bruising on my knees, and stitches had me out of running for six months. Two weeks before the Gun Run I was back running and although the initial plan was to only run the 10K race, my coach said the half marathon would be more suitable since it would be a slower more consistent pace than a fast 10K. I thought he was mad - I wasn't ready to run a half marathon. BUT my coach has always known best and I had a great race, placing second overall in the Open-category while still only being a Junior girl at that stage.
DAN LUYT 15K: THE BREAK-THROUGH
WHEN: January 2015
WHY: Winning Junior Races is one thing, but winning Senior races is another ball-game! I turned nineteen on the 26th of December 2014, meaning the following year I would have to start running in the Open-category as part of the Senior women. My first race was going to be a hilly 15K in Durbanville. It was one of the oldest races in South Africa, which my coach ran himself when he was still competing. I remember collecting my number and the official laughing when I said I don't need Junior tags, I am running as a Senior Women now. I definitely didn't look or feel like a Senior woman yet at the height of 154cm and weight of 31kg, I still looked like a little primary school girl. But when the gun went off I didn't run like a primary school girl, I ran fearlessly like it was my last race, not my first race as a senior woman. I even had some kilometer splits under 3-minutes per km during the race - something that I was unable to do as Junior girl. It was truly one of the best races I have ever run. I ended up winning, with a 4-min gap between me and the next women, placing 6th in the over-all field among the men.
ASA SENIOR CROSS COUNTRY TRIALS: STEPPING-UP
WHEN: January 2015
WHY: RUN, EAT, REST, REPEAT. That's all I did in my December holiday after I finished school. The South African Cross Country trials were going to take place in January the following year and I wanted to be part of that South African team that would compete IAAF World Cross Country Championships with all my heart. It was going to be my first year running as Senior and I knew that I was going to have to step up if I wanted to compete against the best women in the country. Before the start of the race, I heard people whisper: "Does she know it is a senior race?" "She in the wrong race?"...after a lap when I was leading the race, the comments disappeared and they started shouting my name. I couldn't believe what I was doing, I was running among the women I looked up to and admired my whole life! I finished second winning my first South African Senior medal and booking my ticket to my second World Cross Country Championship in China.
TWO-OCEANS HALF MARATHON: PART OF THE GAME
WHEN: April 2015
WHY: The Two-Oceans is most likely one of the biggest, if not the biggest, event in South Africa. Finally, I got my opportunity to be a part of it. However, the timing wasn't ideal, although I was fit, health-wise I was struggling a lot with low-iron, and after competing at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in China the previous weekend, my body felt tired. I went to a sports doctor who gave me medication, but he gave me too high a dosage for my low-body weight at that stage and by the Friday before the race, I was experiencing serious side effects. We realized it was the medication causing flu-like symptoms such as coughing, dry/sore throat and dizziness. Yet, the next morning I woke up at 4am to get ready to race! The race is a complete blur to me and it felt like I only truly woke up when it was all over. Realizing that I ran top 10, placing 9th Senior Women Over-all and I also got another medal for being the second Western Province runner home. I also ran a new personal best on a course that was a lot harder than where I ran my previous best half marathon time!
SAFARI HALF-MARATHON: SUNSHINE THROUGH THE CLOUDS
WHEN: May 2015
WHY: I did not get a personal best time or a fast time at this race, but it was special since it was the first time in my career I won a really big prestige race breaking a tape when I crossed the line. To me it was a bit of sunshine through the clouds during a really tough time with my health. There will just always be something special about breaking a tape at the end of a race. I had a post-race interview and I was privileged to have both my dad and my coach at the race.
SUNBELT CROSS COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIPS: IT'S NOT THE SHOES, IT'S THE RUNNER
WHEN: October 2016
WHY: After being unable to compete for a whole year after my car accident in 2015, I finally got the opportunity to compete again after transferring to a different university. I was a barefoot runner, and except for my first IAAF Cross Country Championships in Poland where it snowed and I was given a pair of spikes to run in I ran all my cross country races barefoot. When we got to the venue of the Sunbelt Conference Championship I realized there was no way I would be able to run this course barefoot without damaging my feet, the biggest majority of the race was run on dirt trails with rocks. My coach took me to go buy a cheap pair of $16 dollar spikes, the only we could find in the area on such short notice. They weren't even cross country spikes, they were heavy sprinter spikes, but yet the next morning I put them on for the shake-out before the race. It felt very unnatural and I was very worried about the race. One of my teammates then said to me: "Annie, it's not the shoes, it's the girl in them!" The whole race, from the start of the gun until I crossed the finish-line winning my first Sunbelt Conference title I repeated that mantra in my head. Not only did I have a good race that day but my teammates ran so well and we ended up winning the team prize in our first year part of a new conference! At this race I didn't receive a medal, I received trophies.
THE NCCA EAST-WEST REGIONAL CROSS-COUNTRY CHAMPIONSHIPS: BULLET
WHEN: November 2016
WHY: After the Sunbelt conference our team went off to regionals. America has nine regions in the NCCA cross country; we competed in the East-West Region. The top teams then go to nationals to compete against the rest of the country. However, if your team isn't strong enough to qualify you can also qualify as an individual by placing in the top 4 runners at the regional championship. I wanted to go to the NCCA National Championship so badly, especially after having to sit out the previous year after my car accident. When that gun went that was all I thought about as a bullet shot from a gun, I ran fierce. I wanted to prove everyone wrong that said I wouldn't race again after my accident, everyone that said I was too weak and too thin. I wanted to show them I can run! After winning the race the bullet that was shot from the gun was given to me. "She is a perfect example of grace, because she is a butterfly with bullet holes in her wings but never regretted learning to fly." - Unknown
SUNBELT INDOOR-TRACK 5000M: CHALLENGES CREATE CHANGES
WHEN: February 2017
WHY: In South-Africa, we don't have Indoor-track-running, since we never really get snow or temperatures unbearable to run in. My first indoor race was a 5000m on a 200m banked track. instead of running twelve-and-a-half laps like on a 400m outdoor track you run twenty-five laps. This was a big adjustment for me, yet, I found it almost like an adrenaline rush and it went by super fast. After running my first indoor track 5000m in 16:25, I represented my university at the Sunbelt Conference Indoor Track and Field Championships. I was able to repeat my performance clocking the same time and winning the championship 5000m as a big bonus! I don't miss indoor or outdoor track running, but it is definitely something I will always remember as a good experience that challenged me mentally.
SUNBELT OUTDOOR TRACK & FIELD CHAMPIONSHIPS 10 000M: TURNING IT AROUND
WHEN: May 2017
WHY: After the indoor Sunbelt Conference my back flared up again and I was out for another 3-months. Four weeks before the Sunbelt Track-and Field Outdoor Championships I was able to start jogging again. I didn't feel ready at all to run my first 10 000m on the track with only one workout, but somehow that Friday night at 8pm on a 400m track in Texas I ran 25-laps in 34:11 winning the Sunbelt 10 000m Conference title. In the process I set a new Track record, Sunbelt Conference record and qualified for the NCCA Track and Field East Regional Championships. In the NCCA America is divided into two regions for a track, the East and West. The top 48 of each region compete in their respective events, the top twelve athletes out of each region then qualify to compete at the NCCA National Championships. A week later I became the first athlete in the history of my university to win the regional 10000m title, clocking 33:37, and ended up getting another track record in the process. It was a big race with 48 girls starting in a double waterfall-layout on a 400m track. I ran gun to tape since I was terrified of being trampled! After regionals, I represented my university at the National Championships in Eugene and became an All-American in the 10000m.
TOTALSPORTS LADIES RACE: THE COMEBACK
WHEN: August 2018
WHY: After studying in the states for three years, and not competing on the road, I made my return to the road racing scene on 9th August 2018 at the Totalsports Ladies Race. I only returned to South Africa for good about three months ago and was only back running for 8 weeks after being out for three months with a stress response in my tibia due to uneven growth. I managed to win the hilly 10km race in windy conditions claiming the Cape Town Totalsports Ladies Race title. At this race I didn't get a medal, I got a special bracelet instead.
WINELANDS HALF-MARATHON: UNFINISHED BUSINESS
WHEN: November 2018
WHY: Winelands Half Marathon was supposed to be my first half marathon. However, the morning of the race it was pouring rain and my parents said I wasn't allowed to go race, it was too dangerous to risk slipping or falling with my low body-mass at the stage. So, I was unable to run the popular local half marathon, which I trained so hard for. I didn't get the opportunity again since I left to run in the States for three years. Back in the country last year, I decided it's time to go deal with unfinished business and go run the Winelands Half marathon. It was like a long run without breaks on my home-ground! I won in a time of 1:15:15, breaking the course record with about 4-minutes and finishing almost 5-minutes ahead of the next women.
AVBOB 15K RACE: THE LEAD
WHEN: December 2018
WHY: Those that know me well know I love the 15K! To me, it's that perfect in-between distance (sweet spot!) between a 10K and 21K. So, whenever there is a nice 15K race, I will always grab the opportunity to race it. I ran my first in 2011 at the age of 15-years clocking 59:50. At the end of last year, after being in the States for three years from middle 2015 to middle 2018, I finally got the opportunity to race a 15K again. I came in in a time of 52:37, running a national list-leading time over 15K for 2018. What a way to end off my year!
GINO's 10K: THE SMALLEST OF THEM ALL - MY FAVORITE MEDAL
WHEN: February 2010
WHY: The smallest, but also my favorite medal on the wall. Why? Because this is WHERE IT ALL STARTED! I raced my first 10K on the road at the age of 14. It was a popular local 10K night race, called the Gino's, held in the streets of Stellenbosch. Although the legal age for racing a 10K in South Africa is 15-years of age, I wanted to participate in the main event, not just the 5K "Fun Run". I clocked a 38:17, placing 4th in the open-category for women that night. I was hooked, there was no more turning around - I knew this was the sport for me. I don't even have a picture of this race, but to me it will always be the most important medal on that wall...the day I fell in love with running.
I don't know if you keep your medals, throw them away or hide them in a shoe box like I use to do, but I would highly recommend taking a look at them again during times when you cannot run. Remind yourself of the success you have achieved or the good runs you had. Remind yourself of the fun times and memories you had. Also, recall the failures, reflect on them and then see how you can grow or learn from them. Don't underestimate any part of your journey...
Please send me a picture of your favorite medal and why it is your favorite. I would love to hear your story.