We received this story from Haute Volée, Jess Barnard, before she made the decision to spread her wings and fly to Bend, OR to train with Little Wing. We are moved and inspired by her courage to not only share hardships from her past, but for her positive outlook on the future and what lies ahead. And fly she will...looking forward to getting her bearings in Bend and a solid base for Spring '16.
This is going to sound really cliché: but running saved me.
A little back story. Shit hit the fan the months leading up to college. My mom lost her job and we lost everything. The car, the house, etc. She decided to pick up and move back to the Philippines with my little brother in tow. I packed up all of my stuff and headed to college and my younger sister lived with her best friend to finish off her last year of high school.
At this point, I am like.. okay. We got this. We can get through anything. Then college said, “Nope!” My freshman year was a downward spiral of self-loathing, depression, fear and anxiety. But you couldn’t tell by looking at me. On the outside I was a happy normal freshmen. I went to all the parties, I ran on the team (poorly), and went to class (sometimes).
There is definitely a sense of freedom when not having parents in your life anymore, but really it’s just sad and sometimes scary. The times I have felt most envious in my life were times when my suite mate’s mom would bring her clean laundry and casserole. When my roommate’s parents would come take her out to lunch. Or when my teammate’s parents showed up to every single cross country and track meet.
My parents were never involved in any aspect of my life beforehand, so it wasn’t a hard adjustment...but I always wished I had that. I had a lot of friends and amazing teammates, but I had never felt so lonely. Where would I go for Thanksgiving dinner? What about Christmas? Are my mom and brother doing okay? They don't have service where they live so I can’t even call and talk to them.
I never asked for help. Terrible pride. I always wanted to figure things out on my own and do everything for myself. I made a lot of dumb mistakes that first year. A lot of things that could have been avoided if I had parental guidance or simply asked for help. Like hey, you need to make sure you check your engine oil, you need that for the car to run. Or hey, probably shouldn't open up a credit card account when you know you can't make the payments. Stuff like that. To top it all off, I ran HORRIBLE all year and did TERRIBLE in school. I was worried about getting cut from the team and not being able to handle being a student and an athlete.
Now let’s go to sophomore year. Took a break from school, things are getting a little better. But then shit hits the fan again. Let me tell you about my dad… My family had properties over in the Philippines while I was in high school. My dad was retired at this point so he would make trips over there every once in a while to make sure things were running smoothly with the farms, workers, etc. Within that time he had essentially started a new family over there without anyone knowing. The trips got longer and longer and eventually he just never came home.
He was an abusive man. He abused me for over half of my life and I never told a single person. A while after I knew he was gone for good I felt comfortable confiding in my two older half sisters. Now back to going into my sophomore year of college and he is now being extradited back to the US and put on trial. Instead of going to cross country camp that year I was in a court room, on the stand, testifying against my father. He is now serving his time, and that is that.
With this huge event, I finally told my coach what was going on in my life and I had never been so scared. But I was also relieved to tell him — happy that he would finally have some insight. I wasn’t just some freshman who cried and sucked at running… I was just dealing with some serious shit! It was all still so fresh and raw. Simply thinking about it was emotionally draining. I remember sending him an email that summer. I attached the recent local news article about my dad and that’s all I could manage. I couldn’t think of anything to say. Since that moment he became such a rock in my life. Coach Cunniff— I can never thank you enough for all that you have done for me! I started asking for help here and there, and what do you know, things got better.
I started appreciating what I had instead of what I didn’t have. My amazing older sister, Jaclyn, who lived just 20 miles away would come to my meets (#1 fan), invite me over for dinner, and help me with just about anything and everything. An amazing Uncle who let me live at his house for two years and treated me as his own daughter. And an amazing coach and team who supported me through it all. RUNNING. I say running saved me because running was my constant all along. Without it, I don't think I would of even been able to go to college. It got me TO college and THROUGH college. Running was the two hours of my day every day where I got to leave all my worries and life problems on the outside of the gates and focus on me. On running. And that is also the same year I found steeplechase. My own thing. I started focusing on myself, setting goals, and with every passing season I realized more and more how much I love this sport.
Not going to say it was all cupcakes and fun after my sophomore year. Things were always tough. But I managed my life better and I got smarter and stronger. I still made mistakes, but fewer. I had more control and a more positive outlook. I really love what Shante Little said in one of her recent blogs… “There is always so much focus on the success story, the triumph. It allows people to brush off the uncomfortable and sit with the happy ending. The before and the after, with this huge gaping hole where the real story goes.” That is SO true.
I never really liked sharing my story because I thought people would think less of me, judge me, or think I am just out for attention. But really, who the fuck cares what people think? Another important thing I learned in the last few years is that everyone has their shit. We all think we’re alone in our problems, or that we are the only ones struggling. But everyone has a story. Their story could even be similar to yours.
Everything I have gone through has made me the person I am today. It got me to this point… Writing a blog for Oiselle about my life. Even better, last week I moved to Bend, Oregon to live and train with this incredible group of women (and Daniel!) you may know as Little Wing ;). I have learned to overcome anything in life, running related or not. Injury, sickness, life changing experiences, I take them head on. I am pursuing my dreams. Again, like Shante said, “there is so much focus on the success story, the triumph.” But I haven’t gotten my triumph yet, and I am not stopping until I do. You gotta fall before you can fly and man I have fallen a lot — I am ready to fly.
Head up, wings out!