Running the Mile

By Iriam, 12th grader at GALS Denver High School

Running a mile for the first time is hard. Some people finish faster. They run on a flat track, with the end in plain sight. Others have obstacles in their way, and it is up to them to figure out how to get to the finish line.

The whistle blows.

I start running. I feel good, but my eyes center on the hurdles in my lane. I look to my sides. People are flying past me. They have no hurdles to jump over. English is their first language. As I look ahead, my mind wanders to when I was first exposed to English. I am seven years old, entering a new classroom. Twenty small white faces stare at me. “I want to welcome this young lady to our class,” Ms. Dorothy says. She motions: “Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes.” Cabeza, hombros, rodillas, y pies, rodillas y pies. I clear my first hurdle. I read my first chapter book, in English. I conquer the second hurdle. I present my project to my classmates, in English. I jump over the third hurdle. I sit for the Advanced Placement English Exam.

Three more laps to go.

Lap two. I am running steadily, but suddenly bleachers appear, blocking my way. I start army crawling underneath them as others run past me. Their tracks are clear; they know of people like them who have finished this race. I am the first like me. I am the first Latino in my elementary school to be identified as gifted, and I will be the first in my family to graduate from high school and college. Around me I hear cheering. My teachers, my parents, and my friends are calling my name. I know I cannot stay hidden underneath the bleachers, even if it’s easier that way. I keep going. Soon, I feel the sun hitting my face. I crawl out from underneath. I see the faces of the people who believe in me, and I begin to believe in myself.

You’re halfway there. You can do it.

Lap three. In front of me is a tall, chain-linked fence. It seems insurmountable, but I know I can’t give up; I must figure out how to climb over it. I think back to tenth grade. My principal is talking to me in the hallway, holding back tears. “Iriam, we shouldn’t have gotten your hopes up. We are all just so proud of you and wanted you to go, but given your status, it is not safe for you to fly to New York for the school trip.” My legs feel weak and tired, and I am not even at the top of the fence yet. But turning back isn’t a choice. My mind wanders again. I think about not being able to legally drive or fill out a job application. I think about how just having a nine-digit number would make my race so much easier. But I keep climbing until I reach the top; I stare down and see my younger sister smiling and I smile back. I know I must finish no matter what gets in my way. I hold my breath, jump down, and start running again.

One more lap. You are really close, Iriam.

Inhale. Exhale. I’m starting my fourth lap with loud cheers erupting from smiling faces on the sidelines. I can now see the finish line. I picture my high school diploma in my hands. I imagine walking across the Brookings Quadrangle and sitting in my first college class, learning about philosophy, neuroscience, and psychology. These dreams make me run faster. I am close, but I am not there yet. I may not know what obstacles will later try to get in my way, but I know exactly how to get to the finish line. It just takes a little stamina and the courage to keep running.