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Fierce Flyer: A Bird Set Free

May 13, 2016

Heather Stephens
Volée

Strength doesn’t always come from the things you can do. It comes from the struggles in life you think you can’t get through. Facing adversity is possible with a support crew, a backing of believers, a TEAM. In 2011, Tara Caudle went through (for lack of a better word) hell. She used running and a group of supporters to pull her through. Five years later, she’s applied that same approach to life outside of prison. She’s flying strong and facing life’s challenges, big and small, as a proud member of the Volée. 

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On Monday, November 14, 2011, my amazing husband did one of the most brave and commendable things imaginable: he drove me to the entrance of FCI Coleman, the largest facility in the U.S. Department of Justice Federal Bureau of Prisons, and said goodbye. According to him, it was one of the toughest days of his life; I think I was a little too shocked to even register the trauma.

I smoked my last cigarette in the parking lot, walked up to the door marked “intake,” removed my watch and begged to retain two pair of prescription glasses (contact lenses were not allowed). I waved to him and stepped over the threshold into my new world; it would mark the beginning of a life-changing journey.

As one who has spent the majority of life trying to control situations, surroundings and outcomes while limiting the unknowns, this experience provided an excellent education in adaptation; from the time I was handed my sentence to the time I walked out of that place, nothing was as I’d expected or been informed. The single constant was running.

Through some online forums and overhead pictures (thank you, Google), I discovered before my arrival that my assigned “camp” (yes, that’s actually what they call it) would have a track; it looked strange, but it was there. I wondered if/how I would obtain running shoes; turns out, that would be the least of my worries.

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I’ll never forget that first day, the first time I was introduced to my roommates (yes, plural, there were three of us in a 10’ x 12’ cubicle); one of them jumped down from her top bunk, took my new “belongings” from me and gave me a huge hug. She would become my best friend during this ordeal and she will always have a place in my heart.  

For the most part, I tried to maintain a familiar routine; I couldn’t walk outside until clearance was granted at around 5:30am and it could be delayed for any number of reasons. No matter what, I was ready to hit the track as soon as the signal was given; I ran almost every morning, grabbed a quick breakfast in the “dining hall” and then rushed back inside to take a shower and make it to my prison job by 7:30am. Running, and this routine, offered me a sense of normalcy and a way to create a little order within the chaos.

Other women in the camp observed my routine and began to ask questions about running: How did I get started? Could I help them “learn” to run? Did I really enjoy it? There were few women out on the track early in the morning, and I was reluctant to give up my peaceful refuge, but it was a way to connect.

During those laps, either walking or running, we talked about our pasts; we shared information about ourselves openly and discussed the struggles and decisions that led to these circumstances. We celebrated anniversaries and birthdays; we shared goals and dreams; we cried over losses and memories; we raged over injustices; and we discovered our authentic selves.

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After just over 17 months, it was time for me to return home; while I was excited and enthusiastic, I was also terrified. How would I fit into my old environment again? How would people receive me? Would my husband and I still get along? And, interestingly, I wondered what I would do without these female friends. I boarded a bus on Monday, April 15, 2013, the day of the Boston Marathon bombings, and tried to leave that place behind me.

I was offered an opportunity to begin a new career and I made several meaningful connections through my work, upon returning home; I rejoined my Saturday running group, none the wiser since runners are often accepting of everyone, yet I still longed for the camaraderie and support that I’d found through the women of Coleman.

Then, in the spring of 2014, I started a Runner’s World running streak; it was to continue through July 4 and I shared my miles with other participants via social media. I connected, virtually, with a gal named Lynn; we found each other thanks to our mutual love of Oiselle Distance Shorts, through the #flystyle hashtag. We motivated each other through the streak and then joined the Oiselle Team in July 2014; we’ve been cheering for each other since. I’ve yet to meet her, but Lynn and I will finally get to spend some time with one another this summer at the USATF Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon. 

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It’s been a long road, but thanks to the amazing running community and the Oiselle Volée, I finally found the support that I needed to share my authentic voice.

Wings out. 

- Tara Caudle

 

Read more Fierce Flyer stories from our Volée.

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