A true life story of mental toughness & transmuting pain into power
I was in the 5th Grade at P.S.6, running in the gym, and the gym teacher pulled me aside. She asked me if I wanted to run for Colgate Woman’s Games & after asking my grandmother, I joined the team. It was only five races a year, but it made me feel special inside. I remember looking at my grandma before the gun went off at the starting line; her eyes were different. The way my grandma looked at me changed, I can’t describe how she looked in words, but it was like she saw hope in me. I decided to keep running, and in 2005 I moved from Brooklyn, NY to Hasbrouck Heights, NJ. I was the shyest girl you could ever meet. I was the youngest in all my classes, I sat in the back, hidden with a mouth full of metal & I hardly spoke, and my grades for D’s and F’s. Later in life, I discovered I was dyslexic and it went undiagnosed. As a child, I could go days without speaking because I stuttered horribly and had to leave P.S. 91 to go to P.S. 6 due to bullying.
I joined the track team in the 7th Grade and made Varsity. I changed schools again two years later, but they didn’t have any track. It was not running for a year that I noticed what running did for me internally. It gave me confidence in myself, and my legs would move so fast & even I was shocked. While running, every single negative thought was gone, and I became Jackie Joyner Kersee.
The summer between middle school and High school, my mom put me in a summer sports camp that was at my High School. The first day we had to measure our strength, flexibility, and speed, so they had a lot of physical tests. In the push-ups test, I did 27 push-ups, out doing another boy, and people started to notice me. I remember people cheering me on, I cracked a smile, my heart was racing, but my ego felt great. I passed my physical fitness tests far above my expectations, and they moved me into the older kids group to run with them. We had to run a mile on the track, which sucked, but I was keeping up with the big kids. After I completed the mile, this super tan bald man came up to me and asked my name. Honestly, I was freaked out and was going to get my camp counselor, but then he walked over as well.
Fast forward six months later, the Italian man was the head coach at West Orange High & he recruited me to run on his team. I tried out for Varsity and made the team at only 14. By the end of my freshman year, I was #27 in the N.J. Eastern State for the open 400-meter sprint. I became popular on the track team, and they invited me everywhere! I made friends & at this point, my life changed. My braces were off, and I got the nickname “BEAST.” Sophomore year my coach made me stay after practice, and he told me to hop a hurdle, and I couldn’t get over it. Every day he made me practice over them & come Spring track he put me in my first race. I was so upset, these hurdles were up to my hip bone & I was too short for them. I finished dead last in my race & I was disqualified bc I walked around the final hurdle. I was so embarrassed and didn’t understand why Coach Pic would put me in a race like this. He kept making me practice every day, and I got better, but I still sucked.
Finally, one day he told me to go over the hurdle of how I feel comfortable. In practice, I ran a mock 400 hurdle race, clearing all ten Hurdles but in my way. In your typical 400 Hurdle race, runners use the same leg to clear the hurdles. The hurdles are evenly spaced, so you have to take a certain amount of steps in between to stay consistent without hitting the hurdle down( which will disqualify you) or stutter-stepping, which will slow you down. I did something different! I switched legs, which was a big no-no, and “switchers” were rare. I was able to calculate my steps proportionally while still switching my legs, and in every race, after that, my time got faster. My coach and my team were shocked. I went from running a 400m hurdle race in 1:38 to 1:11. By the end of my sophomore year, I qualified for the state championships and broke a school record. I was the youngest person on the team ever to qualify, and I became number 4 in the School record books.
Now, this is where life takes a plot twist. By senior year, I was well known for my races, and I brought fashion to the track. I had bright purple spikes ( sprinting shoes with sharps pins on the bottom for traction), and funky socks that went along with it. I warmed up alone, beats blasting, and my confidence was through the roof. I knew I was going to win every race, and so did my team. One of the biggest races of my life was Millburn Relays in N.J. The name Shontel Clarke was all over the town newspaper, and I was favored to win.
I got to the starting line, and it was my time to shine. When the gun blew, I flew out the blocks, but within seconds, I knew something was wrong. I went out too fast, and my steps were all off. It was too late, and I couldn’t adjust my speed at this point, and I crashed into the hurdle and fell. I remember seeing feet pass me, and at this point, I knew I blew it. I laid there for what felt like minutes, but then I had a memory of when my coach first met me at the summer sports camp, and I loved him so much that I didn’t want to disappoint him. I got up, and I started running again. I was so far behind everyone, but I just wanted to finish the race. As I began picking up speed and momentum, I caught the girl in 7th place, slowly caught the girl in 6th and 5th. At this point, my team got up from the bleachers, and I heard them yelling, “WHOOOOOOP WHOOOOOPPPP BEASSSSST!!!” My team, aka my family, was cheering me on, and anytime you hear “WHOOP WHOOP” on at a track meet, it means PLOT TWIST, someone else is winning.
I dug deep within my being, and I pushed through the pain of my legs wanting to stop. I caught the girl now in 4th and 3rd and coming around the turn I was in second. I crossed the finish line and fell over. Paramedics arrived and believed it or not; I was covered in blood. I found out I broke the hurdle, and the metal cut my leg and rib area. Nurses were trying to help me, but I didn’t care, I wanted my coach. Coach pic came running to me with his bright smile, and he yelled: “You did it, Telly, you did it!” I started crying because I never had anyone that proud of me before — my whole team was now on the track. A few minutes passed, and they released the times. I didn’t get first place in the race, but the overall time of mine and my two other teammates in the race made us win. By winning that 400m race, we scored enough points to win the whole meet.
I was out for two weeks due to my injuries, but one day I got called into my coach’s office. He sat me down and told me that a College Recruiter was at that same meet, and they wanted to offer me a full scholarship. I had no money for college, and my mom wasn’t helping, so this was a blessing. For a few months, I would have people come up to me at Meets and ask, were you that girl who broke the hurdle? At this point in my life, I become a confident person.
I signed to run D1 Track and Field and Cross Country for Saint Peter’s University. I have 4 MAAC titles and two rings. Joseph Picataggio saw in me what I didn’t, and running made me believe in myself when the odds were against me. I was a lost soul & I didn’t defend myself or take pride in who I was. That race changed my life, and it was the day I became a fighter. Since then, when obstacles aka life’s hurdles, so to speak, come my way, I transmute & clear them. No challenge has ever been too big & becoming a runner made me passionate. The Universe always sends you people to help you at the right time; it’s called Divine Timing. Trust the process and remember who you are. #Fall7TimesStandUp8