Learning to break out of my shell


Exploring the unexpected may seem daunting at first, but developing self-trust can lead to the beginning of a memorable experience. Photo by Alex Garibashvily

As a cross country athlete, I like to think that I cheer as much as I run.

Hearing the crunch of silver spikes against dewy grass, I squint against the blazing sun. The first runner appears, and my voice slices the air with “You can do it!” and “Keep it up!” As “Livin’ on a Prayer” begins blaring from a small, blue speaker, my teammates join in, and our voices become a collective megaphone on the course.

During the six hours I spent at each cross country meet throughout my four years of high school, the prudent schoolgirl I always considered myself to be would transform into an energetic DJ jumping up and down on the sidelines. All fear and embarrassment would melt away, igniting the excitement and determination to be a supportive teammate.

As someone who used to be very shy, cheering on fellow runners required an immense amount of courage a few years ago. During parent-teacher conferences in middle school, my teachers would always tell my parents they wanted me to “break out of my shell.” Quiet as I was, I also considered myself a perfectionist. Although I enjoyed a string of activities and hobbies, I constantly feared the unknown and the unexpected, preferring to jog within the familiar boundaries of my comfort zone.

So, when I joined the cross country team my freshman year, I was more scared than excited. I feared that everyone would stare if I yelled someone’s name during a race. That my voice would crack if I counted out loud during team stretches. That cheering loudly was possible only for people who considered themselves to be extroverts. At the core of all these assumptions was the fear that, if I tried something new, failure would be inevitable.

I never imagined as a freshman runner I would soon be the one cheering wildly on the sidelines, clapping, jumping and yelling until my voice grew hoarse. I didn’t start cheering overnight, but with the encouragement of my coaches and teammates, the fear that once held me back transformed into the willingness to try.

Through cross country, my shell has cracked.

Whether it be cheering for teammates during a meet, counting to twenty at the top of my lungs or urging underclassmen to keep going during a long run, I’ve realized that the small spouts of courage scattered throughout my time in cross country have accumulated into a sense of trust and confidence. Cheering in cross country has expanded my comfort zone, allowing me to cherish things I never would have had the opportunity to cherish had I stayed inside my shell.

From contributing to class discussions to voicing my thoughts during Editorial Board meetings in Torch, breaking out of my shell has allowed me to accomplish achievements beyond yelling cheers of encouragement in cross country. I am no longer afraid to speak my opinion and defend my values, and I now strive to invite others into the conversation, to break out of their own shells. With that, I have freed myself from the constraints I once set for myself before trying something new.

So the next time you contemplate joining a club, apply for a board position or introduce yourself to people you’ve never talked to before, don’t limit yourself to what you think you’re fit for. Learn to embrace new challenges, because, although it may be difficult at first, exploring the unexpected can be the beginning of an amazing experience.

And as I tighten my laces for the race to come, I like to remind myself: although life outside the shell may seem daunting at times, I have no regrets about leaving it behind.