World Champion triathlete and Olympic silver medalist, Hailey Danisewicz once told me I have the sexiest running stride she has ever seen. Hailey has cried watching me run because my stride is so beautiful. Another woman said she is always impressed at how effortless I make it look. My face and body are always so relaxed that she can never tell if I am at mile two or twenty-two.
Growing up, I was never good at sports. I made a little league all star team and had an MVP type performance in one football championship game. I was never the biggest or strongest. I was frequently, the fastest. In baseball, I scored from first base on a bloop single. In football, I caught the ball in stride and galloped for a long touchdown. In basketball, I went basket to basket faster than anyone. I never worked on my running. I just ran.
After losing my sight, I was the only blind/visually impaired runner on the track team running against sighted competition for a while. Not until Paula Radcliffe set the world record for female marathoners in Chicago followed by her breaking of her own world record six months later in London did I ever consider long distance running. I have since completed eight marathons yet I remain a sprinter at heart. My greatest joy comes when I start my final kick in a race. Some times, I start it half mile from the finish. Other times, I will begin one mile or even three miles from the end. It is always my favorite moment. Like Hailey, I cry. I get emotional because I often think of the little boy I was. Running fast because that is all I knew. I never trained. I never worked on form or technique. I just turned my legs and hips faster. I have topped out at 5:55 late in a race. I have topped out at 5:00 in training. My friend, Ryan, once said that he loves looking at my face just as we are about to pick it up because I get the biggest smile, my face lights up, and I come alive. When I run fast, I feel alive. When I run fast, I am the boy I use to be. In that moment, I am sighted again. I have always said I run for that boy I use to be who had big dreams. He is why I run. He is why I bleed! In that moment, I am not an athlete with a disability. I am not a blind runner. I am simply Israel the runner. As I decide what my 2017 races will be, I take this time to reflect on who I am. I need to embrace my running greatness more. I need to appreciate how special of a runner I am. I have achieved so much and have befriended some of the most amazing people through running. I debate if I will run Chicago Marathon for the eighth consecutive year. I hope to be on a team to run 200 mile race known as Ragnar Relay. In some ways, I need to remember why I run. I run for me. I run to live. I run to feel alive. I run to embrace how magnificent I am. I run so beautiful elite female athletes volunteer to be my eyes. I run so beautiful women say I have a beautiful sexy running stride because I do.