On October 26th, 2013 the seemingly impossible happened. An inner-city school won the CT state XC championships – the first time ever in the history of CT XC. In that race, I personally placed 5th, earning all-state honors.
This landmark victory would never have happened if it weren’t for the generosity of Fleet Feet Sports who has donated real running shoes to my teammates and I each year for over 7 years. Those shoes provided us with inspiration and courage - courage to follow a different path than many of our friends who were joining gangs that abused alcohol and drugs and embraced violence. Instead, we joined a gang of runners – embracing sweat and hard work. My running shoes became a prized possession. They represented my ticket out of the cycle of poverty that surrounded me.
You see, Hartford is a community plagued by poverty, drugs, and increasing gang violence. We have the highest poverty rate of any Connecticut city and a large number of single-parent families – like mine – that struggle to provide the bare necessities children need to grow and thrive- proper nutrition, good health-care, safe and secure homes, effective parenting, and stable neighborhoods. Growing up in poverty is tough. We face challenges every day that affect our physical and mental health. Many single-parents like my mom had to work more than one job to support their families which left little time for nurturing, tutoring and building self-esteem.
But those donated pairs of running shoes took me places, literally and figuratively. Combined with an incredible coach and the support of Fleet Feet Sports who embraced us like family, my teammates and I became distance runners. We used our sneakers as an apparatus to step out of our comfort zones - to develop patience, discipline and mental grit to overcome the obstacles of our environment.
Instead of looking for trouble after school, we looked for great places to run. Instead of staying up late and partying on Friday night, we went to bed early so we would be well-rested for our race Saturday morning. Instead of blowing off school, we diligently did our homework so we could remain eligible for the team. Our team became family and we looked after each other.
We allowed ourselves to dream big – like winning the state championships…and going to college. I finally understood what my mom had been telling me for years was true – a college education would be my only chance to escape the cycle of poverty. I began to work extra hard in school and was voted class president my senior year.
Well, we won that state championship and every one of my teammates went to college this year - including two on XC scholarships. I became the first person in my family to enroll at a four-year university and successfully completed my freshmen year last month while running on my college XC team in the fall and working at FF in the spring and summer. I am proud of my accomplishments, but know that I have a responsibility to pay it forward which is why I volunteered to help run the Shoe Library.
Thank you all for believing in kids like me and providing me with not only a FF college scholarship so I can achieve my dream of a college degree, but also investing in the Shoe Library so we can help more children in Hartford escape poverty through running.