Though the Fourth of July was over a week ago, I still hear fireworks going off every night. I can only assume this is because Pioneer Day is around the corner and Utah’s pyros are just getting warmed up.
In honor of the blasts I continue to hear outside my window each night, it seems only fitting to revisit patriotic festivities, even though most of us have put away our flag-print shorts until next year.
On July 4, 2007, I was in Europe with the BYU track and field team. Though we crammed three meets into that short period of time, our team tour through Italy, Austria and the Czech Republic was unforgettable.
It was my first time out of the country, and though I loved it, I couldn’t help but feel homesick for America on our Independence Day. The Fourth of July I grew up loving consisted of a special breakfast at IHOP, swimming, shish kabobs on the barbecue, homemade ice cream and hiking up the hill for the best view of the fireworks.
In Europe, of course, no one batted an eye, and despite our team’s best efforts to muster enthusiasm by singing patriotic songs on the bus, I felt a little empty.
This year’s Fourth, four years after being a little homesick in Europe, I lined up for a 5K road race and found that I was homesick for the college-racing world I’ve lived in for the past five years.
Though my first road race as a post-collegiate athlete started well — warming up with my dad who also ran the race, good weather, cheering fans on the parade route and a great pace that felt comfortable — it ended less so.
When on the track, I never had to worry about where to go. As coach Patrick Shane so aptly says, “Just turn left.”
Though the Provo policeman I was following certainly had good intentions, leading me and the rest of the lead pack of runners an entire mile further than the race course, and up a hill no less, was not my favorite way to celebrate both the nation’s birth and my own new beginning as a former BYU runner.
While it may be impossible to get lost on a track, it is less possible that your father is creaming the other male runners in the 55-59 age category in your same race, or that your sister is winning a different road race on the same day a few states away.
On the other hand, in college racing it is less possible that I’m forced to duck under the flags that mark off the course to get back into the race after an extra mile of racing, just so I can cross the finish line. It is also less possible that I demand to talk to the race director once I do cross the finish line.
But will I stop running road races? No, because for now that is my best shot at coping with the BYU jersey laying folded up in my dresser and the dusty medals and yellowing newspaper clippings scattered in my desk drawer.
Instead of hearing the normal “Go BYU” cheer, I heard people say, “Look, it’s the first-place girl. Go girl!”
Will I miss my BYU jersey, my neatly organized and highly staffed college races? Yes, of course. But I suppose I used to miss a nice quiet high school dual meet when I first showed up at BYU. I suppose these road-racing methods will soon become my own.
And I suppose accepting prize money for the first time in my running life wasn’t so bad either. Happy Independence Day indeed.
Cecily Lew is a recent graduate of Brigham Young University and a two-time All American in cross-country and track.