Hello Nashville running community, my name is Jenna Harwell and I'm the newest member of the NRC family. I moved to town in July after college graduation and was warmly welcomed by Nashville Running Company. On and off season, running has invaded my life in the best way possible. From cross country in high school, to summertime races, to working at a local running shop in my college town, there's been a similar theme in my life. Perhaps it's because you can always take running with you no matter where life finds you. While running, health, and well-being are a few of my passions, so is writing. So this is the space where my passions collide in a blend of literature and activity. Below is an excerpt from a book I recently wrote, Onward and Upward. I hope it inspires you to hit the pavement with your family or the trails with your thoughts. I hope it leaves you encouraged that no matter where you're at in life, you will always have the choice to be active and pursue that which makes you come alive.
"There’s something about the wind brushing your face that makes you come alive. Whether it’s driving with the windows rolled down, biking down a hill, or simply running, it’s a gentle reminder that the world around you has a pulse. And that pulse is beating quickly. I suppose that’s why I have an innate desire to run long distances, despite the aches and pains that sometimes accompany. I’d like to say my love of running has always been part of me, just like my love of a gentle summer breeze, but my passion for running snuck up on me slowly.
It was a hot August afternoon; I was fourteen and physically prepared to run two miles. Mentally, I was prepared for even less. The combination of the high summer heat and the low desire to finish what I had started almost led me to quitting on that first day of practice. My lungs felt like the midday sun and my calves blazed just as brightly. It’s a miracle I went back to practice the next day, but I am so grateful that I returned. Because that next day, it didn’t feel so hot, and I didn’t feel so awful. Slowly but surely, I got used to the buildup of miles and the building of friendships. It was there I met my Cross Country Family, a team of brothers and sisters to run side by side through life.
Maybe it was the miles that bonded us, or maybe our common interest in coming alive like the wind, but my teammates quickly became my closest confidantes. Mile after mile, we’d trot through town and become better versions of ourselves. Our coach emphasized discipline, which is a tough virtue to instill during the season of invincible teenage-hood. But Coach taught us all about delayed gratification. We wouldn’t improve our race times or endurance without practice. Our physique wouldn’t change instantaneously, we needed to gain patience before we’d gain muscle mass.
Graduating from high school didn’t mean graduating from the cross country team. My teammates have ran through life with me, and stood by my side when I needed stability most. Upon first glance, this extended family is an odd conglomeration. We’re comprised of extraverts and introverts, adventurers and home-bodies, chill and spastic, medical field and education field. But we all have one thing in common, and it’s not the love of running. Some of us made it through the four years of competition, while others remained active cheerleaders during the races. No, that one thing wasn’t a love of running, but rather a respect for our ability to be able to. We all have bonded over the years of how tough life, like racing, can be. And we’ve all grown closer through cancer, divorce, abandonment, and broken-hearts. We’ve grown closer because we learned the importance of perseverance, both on and off the pavement.
A group of people that taught me the most about perseverance were my patients in Ireland. Through my internship, I had the daily pleasure of working with multiple sclerosis patients. This group of patients had a unique set of goals. Instead of striving for complete recovery, they used physical therapy as a means to keep their baseline of physical activity and try not to waiver any further away from their current mobility. Despite loss of muscle movement and control over motor functions, these patients remained optimistic. However, each one admitted how much they craved the normal, healthy life they once lived. These cravings and longings led them to offer me some advice: live to the fullest. Each day, we wake up and assume that our health will be similar to when we fell asleep the evening before. But, I realized I was not guaranteed any more healthy days than any of the patients that sat before me. So instead of concentrating on the sadness that accompanies disease, I let it spur me onward to a healthy life. Working with multiple sclerosis patients rejuvenated my zest for life.
My lungs, they’re full of air, not tumors and liquid. My muscles, they respond when my brain signals for movement. Today, I am healthy; tomorrow is still unwritten. I am not promised any cancer-free moments, but here I am without it. So, I will take these healthy lungs and breathe out words of hope and encouragement to all I encounter. And these working muscles, I’ll suggest day after day that they adventure. I’ll tell my working legs to hike along my favorite trails and run until my heart’s content. This is what I’ll do with each morning I still wake up healthy. How will you acknowledge your health? Will you bike to school and work? Will you lend a helping hand to those around you? Whatever you choose, always remember that we’ve been given the divine gift to be human. With that in the back of your mind, it’s hard to do anything less than living life to the fullest. So take that sweet knowledge and run towards all that’s good and beautiful."