My Next Step
Words by Mary Cain
Photography by Thomas Hassler
I have always been a competitor. Whether on the track, in the pool, or in the classroom, I always strived to be the best. Of course, I always wanted to win, but my most satisfying accomplishments were rarely the result of coming first, but rather the result of a massive personal breakthrough.
My professional career started at 17 years old, only five-and-a-half years after I laced up for my first season of running. I believed that pursuing a professional career in track and field would help me hone my competitive spirit and continue to reach for self-improvement. Instead I found myself stuck in an imperfect system. At 21, I essentially quit competition, but I didn’t quit running.
In the past year, I’ve found myself craving a refresh in my relationship with the sport. I look back longingly at the girl I once was - the girl who laced up every day with a pure excitement and joy for the process. That girl embraced running for the joy that it is, and the love I felt propelled me to fast times. That’s why, as I’ve returned to competition, I felt that it was the right moment in my career for a significant change. Not just by changing the logo on my clothes, but by doing things totally differently. As such, I’m joining Tracksmith as an employee and an athlete, working within my New York community while also continuing to train for Tokyo.
Over the last year-and-half, I have lived in New York City and witnessed runners from many different backgrounds, careers, ages and training backgrounds devote themselves to training to be their best. Becoming a part of this vibrant NYC running community has helped reinvigorate my love for running and racing, as I have watched friends balance busy lives with their own training. They reminded me that running doesn’t have to be seen as a sacrifice or burden, but as the best part of your day. This community welcomed me with open arms and I want to give back and help our city’s runners thrive.
The traditional athlete-sponsor relationship is flawed. Rather than valuing an athlete for their whole personhood, they are often seen as a product. Monetary security is based on strict output parameters, which sends the message that the end goal is more important than the journey. I have an internal fire and drive to compete at the highest levels, but I never again want my career as athlete to warp my self worth or disrupt my relationship with the sport as a whole.
My desire to compete, improve, and grow is most powerful when it comes from within and is driven by hope, not fear. I want to keep this lifestyle of running sustainable, fun, and use that energy to drive me to be faster than I ever have been. As an athlete, I have many goals, but I know there are ways I can contribute to this sport beyond running fast. I want to work with people who want to know me. Not only the runner, but the person. I feel lucky to have found that.
As I look to the future, I am excited to hit the ground running. Fast times and fun races are waiting for me around the corner, but through my new friends at Tracksmith, I hope to also remember the present. Whether I have a great or bad run, I will always have my community to help me move on and focus back to the current work ahead. So here’s to learning from the past, looking forward to the future, but staying rooted in the present.