Growing up, I never saw myself as a runner. I always had this picture in my mind of a skinny tall man running in short racing shorts on his second mile of a three-mile race, but never saw the image of me running that race. This all changed drastically in middle school when I decided to join the Hill-Gustat Run Club with Mr. Doty.

The only thing I can remember when I joined was thinking that running was an easy sport. I had this false idea that running required no skill set and since I played soccer, I was guaranteed to be a great runner. Today, I can say with pride that I was completely wrong.

My seventh grade self could not even keep a solid pace for a half mile when I first began to run without gasping for air. I wanted to quit as quickly as I had joined Run Club, but something told me to keep going.

I kept showing up my seventh grade year despite dreading it all day because of that voice in the back of my head. While I did not know it then, the motivation I found in seventh grade would lead to a lot of great things in my life.

My runs in seventh grade were terribly slow. We would run for over 45 minutes and that was not enough time for me to be able to finish my third mile. My slow-running pace would cause me to watch my fellow Run Club members speed by, which would lower my morale. Regardless, I kept going.

Little by little, I saw myself get further without stopping every time we ran. Eventually, I reached the mile. Then I reached the second mile, then the third mile. Soon enough, I was able to complete my first 5K in 27 minutes. It seemed like an amazing time to me back then, considering that I had not been able to run that same distance in 45 minutes. This boosted my morale massively and motivated me to keep running through middle school.

In ninth grade, I joined the Sebring High School Cross Country Team with Coach Ayala. Here, I saw my times improve massively. My personal best for five kilometers went from 25 minutes all the way to 20 minutes and 42 seconds.

It was the race that I reached my new best time that I began to appreciate the little voice inside of me that kept pushing me. I went from the kid that was unable to run for a quarter-mile without stopping to the one who could run three miles in 20 minutes. To this day, I truly appreciate that voice.

To many, Cross Country seems like a sport for lunatics. Often I tell people how many miles I run, and they are left questioning my sanity. What they do not know is just how much this sport has done for me. Physically and mentally, I am a much better person. My fitness levels are higher than I ever thought they would be and I am a lot more confident in myself.

This sport has also brought great people into my life. From Principal Doty to my Sebring High Cross Country teammates, they have become some of my closest friends.

Ultimately, while the sport may seem fit for a crazy person, it is worth being crazy sometimes. I took the risk by trying the sport, which has become the greatest decision I have ever chosen.

Miguel Arceo is a student athlete at Sebring High School.

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