Jenny Marshall was the youngest on the 2007 Arete trip, but her essays during the nine months of preparation were most impressive. She wrote beyond her years. Jenny is still "the youngest" when you consider her being a freshman at the University of California, Santa Barbara, yet having an essay posted on our web site. Off in her own world in certain ways, she always fought her way back and is a worthy veteran of Arete.
I'm not sure Mr. Taylor knows this, but the day he asked me to join Arête was the day I was going to quit cross country. It was several weeks into my first season, and I was beginning to realize I was not cut out for long distance running-hence my nickname "caboose" on the team. I first met Mr. Taylor as a 100-meter sprinter on the track team, so switching from that to long trail runs was a rude awakening. He asked me to ride up to the flatroad in his blue VW Bug, and I was sure that he would say something along the lines of, "Jenny, maybe you should just come back in the spring for track," to which I would avidly agree and be blessedly released from the aches and pains of four-mile runs that I found unbelievably strenuous in those days. But before I could turn in my resignation, he brought out a photo album of past Arête trips, and invited me to join the 2007 journey.
Instead of quitting cross country that day, I experienced my very first "runner's high," fueled, of course, not just from endorphins but images of crystal blue water, towering Alps, and heaps and heaps of gelato. Just the idea of Arête was enough to turn my dread of running into pure enjoyment. For the first time all season I felt like my stride came naturally.
Mr. Taylor could attest that it would be far from the truth to say that I became an Olympic runner after that. My nickname still stuck. But over the next nine months I certainly changed my attitude toward running. It started in the hills of Marin, pushing myself to finish a distance jog without stopping once. Willing myself to show up to a Saturday morning workout in the uninviting fog. Then, finally, our group went overseas, and my first experience running in a foreign country was on the top of a cruise boat in Egypt, pounding away at the deck so early in the morning that an old man in his underwear came up to scold us.
Even then, I couldn't say I loved running, but there is something transformative about doing your same sport half a world away, through a sunflower field near Troy or on the ancient track of Olympia. Suddenly running was becoming more than a strenuous way of competing-it was total immersion into our surroundings.
I didn’t even notice these small changes at the time, and if I were asked even a few months ago to write an essay about Arête, I would never have focused on the athletic component. I have thought about the trip in so many ways, how it changed me academically of course, but socially and emotionally as well. It certainly helped prepare me for college, and I'm hoping the Greek Mythology class I'm signed up for next quarter will be an easy A. Arête's five-and-a-half-week separation from friends and family was a surprisingly accurate precursor for the college transition, and there is nothing like gas station meals to prepare you for the tedium of college dining halls. There is no question that Arête sparked my strong interest in travel, and my intended major of Global Studies at UCSB. I plan on studying abroad for my full junior year, because five and a half weeks, or even a quarter, will never be long enough abroad.
Arête changed me in so many ways, but it is only recently that I realized its effect on my attitude towards running. It was during this first quarter in college that I discovered how important running had become to me. There is nothing more calming than a jog on the beach in the midst of writing a ten-page paper. Running is possibly the only way I've found to get a little peace and quiet from the frenzy of dorm life, or from the claustrophobia of three girls in a space about the size of a walk-in closet. And there are few places more gorgeous to run than on the bluffs surrounding the campus, overlooking the Channel Islands and the crystal Pacific. A close second, perhaps, to our morning jog through Ithaca, down to Telemachus's cove.
Maybe running takes me back to the trip, linking images of the ocean to memories of floating in the Agaean, or riding the ferry through the Ionian. But I think Arête helped me associate the act of running with the awe-inspiring feeling of so many new and unique places, an opportunity I only had the chance to experience because I stuck with running in the first place.
It strikes me as ironic that the girl who earned the title "caboose" just a few years ago is now running five days a week, without a coach with a stopwatch or some future race to train for. Maybe I'm still chasing that first runner's high, or perhaps that "Arête high," as I should call it. I'm not sure exactly how, but I know that Arête achieved something that flatroad repeats and hill sprints alone could not: it transformed me into a runner.