A. J. Windless
PCIAA State Track Champions
How Running Built My Self Esteem
I didn't even see it coming, but at the end of my sophomore year I was awarded a letter and a varsity jacket for my performance on the track and cross country teams. The difference in how I felt about myself was enormous. Up to this point in my life my self esteem had been hammered. My dad was both physically and verbally abusive, constantly screaming things like, "You worthless son of a b----, you'll never amount to anything." or "You no good b------, you ain't worth the powder to blow you to hell!"

To add to my emotional pressure he owned a bicycle shop and my fellow classmates were always trying to get the best deal they could from him, frequently complaining that my dad drove too hard of a bargain. When I was in the 6th grade, one day a group of friends started complaining. One boy that was with us said, "Your dad is a Jew!" Then his eyes grew wide open as he exclaimed, "And that makes you a Jew!" Then he started chanting "Jew! Jew! Jew!" Soon everyone in the class was calling me "Jew". This behaviour mushroomed into large crowds  pushing me back and forth across a circle of students in the parking lot  chanting "Jew! Jew! Jew!" I wasn't even Jewish, but this persecution followed me into high school where students would fake sneezing right in the middle of class with a loud "Ah, Jew!"

With my dad forcefully subduing me  and my classmates constantly persecuting me, I didn't feel very good about myself. But I could feel something different happening when I was awarded that varsity letter while still just a sophomore. For the first time in my life I could feel the respect of my classmates. Most of them still called me "Jew" (even though I abhorred that nickname) and some of them still kept interrupting class with "Ah, Jew!" but something definitely felt different. I'm in my sixties now, and as I look back on my life, the time I felt best about myself was while I was running. I know that while I was at the university running 10 miles a day the subsequent endorphins released into my brain made me feel better about life, but I think, too, that some of that feeling goes back to my sophomore year when for the first time I could feel the respect of my classmates.

Running has always helped me to feel better about myself. When I was nineteen years, during a long break from running, I had a discussion with one of my friends about my faltering sense of self worth. He advised that I should take up a hobby, find something to do that I could do better than most other people. He said that's what he tried to do and it always seemed to help. I can see now that during the course of my life running was that hobby that helped me the most.
(Above: This is one of 3 photos that were in the newspaper when we won the Catholic state championship my sophomore year. This photo portrays the runners, with me on the upper right  and my close friend, Peter Meier, whom I have mentioned in "My Chess Story" standing next to me, while Andy Sorg is second from the left in the middle row. A second photo included the field team, while a third photo showed the coach and team captains holding our trophy. Our running team was much larger than this, but I think this only shows those who scored at the meet.)
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