When people ask why I chose this ambitious endeavor, I often give lackluster responses, such as “It’s a great way to see the United States!” or “I love running half marathons!” While those statements may be true, I use them as a defense mechanism to avoid the harsh criticism and judgement that I am afraid I would face if I were to share the real reasons. The truth is, I embarked on this journey to pull myself out of a deep-rooted depression that I found myself in after spending a restless night on a cold hard jail cell floor. After hitting rock-bottom that night, I had a choice – either continue down a path of self-destruction or forge a new path of reflection and self-discovery. I ultimately chose the latter and developed a passion for running along the way. As I continue my journey running across the United States, I want to use my story to show that your mistakes do not define you as a person.
So how did a former straight-A student, goody two-shoes end up in jail? The short run-of-the-mill story is a DUI. However, my situation was far worse than having one drink too many and teetering on the edge of the legal limit. I was highly intoxicated and crashed into a construction zone while merging onto the highway. I blacked out right before the crash, and did not even grasp the gravity of the situation until a construction worker was banging on my window asking if I was ok. Although I totaled my car, I walked away without a single scratch on me and was fortunate enough to not have injured anyone else. Police eventually arrived at the scene, and gave me a series of sobriety tests that I was destined to fail. I was hauled off to jail in handcuffs, and my life was changed forever as I knew it.
I spent the night in jail internalizing what had led me to rock bottom. The most obvious, was drinking and driving. But why did I drink so much that night? Why did I choose to drive? And why was I so careless with my life? The answer to those questions was depression. The debilitating effects of depression and mental illness permeate my family, and unfortunately, I was not spared those genetic traits. In the months leading up to the crash in the summer of 2010, I was going through an extremely difficult time, mourning the loss of a friend. At that time in my life, I had not come to terms or understood the symptoms of my recurring depression and turned to alcohol to cope and self-medicate. The more I drank, the further I fell deeper into my depression, until I eventually hit rock bottom with the DUI.
The consequences of a DUI were extremely costly. I depleted my savings, lost my driver’s license for a year, and had to attend a series of AA meetings and alcohol education classes. In addition, I lost my freedom, independence, and the self-reliance that I prided myself on. While receiving the DUI would end up being a blessing in disguise, I spent the first few months of my probation hating myself. I moved in with my dad to save money, and had to rely on family and friends to be my chauffer.
I started to see light at the end of the tunnel with the help of my mother. Two days a week, she selflessly drove 30 minutes to pick me up and take me to the gym. She let me spend hours there, as I worked out my stress and anxiety exploring different weight and cardio machines. In the beginning of our gym excursions, I despised running and avoided the treadmill at all costs. However, after a particularly hard day at work, I decided to challenge myself and was surprised that I could run a mile without stopping. From that day on, I kept pushing myself to run faster and farther. As my mileage and speed increased, so did my confidence. Six months into my probation, I decided it was time to move out.
My roommate and I found an apartment close to a metro station outside of Washington, DC so that I could regain my independence. One day when walking to the metro station, I discovered a running trail called 4 Mile Run. At the time, I had only run on a treadmill but decided it would be a good way to explore my new neighborhood. The next day after work, I put on my running shoes and ventured out for what I thought was an out-and-back four-mile run. Unfortunately, I was sorely mistaken and found myself on an 8-mile run, where I was racing against nightfall in the woods. I joked with my friends that it was a 6-mile run and 2-mile walk of shame. Although I was being modest, I knew I had accomplished something to be proud of.
From that day forward, I was on the road to recovery. Running became my outlet for managing my depression and feeling good about myself again. Growing up, I dreaded running the mile in P.E., and here I was running several miles a day. While I still felt the stigma of having a DUI, each month I was getting better as I got closer to getting my driver’s license back. By the time the big day came, I had successfully turned my life around, living on my own and pursuing a new career path in graphic design.
After spending a year focused on putting the DUI behind me, I needed something else to focus my efforts on – and that became running a half marathon. After some research, I decided to run the Marine Corps Historic Half Marathon, which was held in Fredericksburg, Virginia in May 2012. Growing up near Fredericksburg, I often visited scenic areas of the course and was looking forward to participating in an event associated with “The People’s Marathon.” I spent the winter of 2012 researching different training plans and tips for novice runners. I eventually stumbled across Hal Higdon’s Novice 1 Training Plan and thought it was a perfect match for newbie runners like myself.
During the 12 weeks of training, I was committed to not missing a day. This was especially challenging while training during the tail end of winter. Finding the time to run five days a week was also a struggle. There were many early morning and late-night runs that left me feeling tired, exhausted, and cranky. When I was training, I also had to focus on fueling my body for long runs. I learned a few lessons the hard way, including my body cannot handle Mexican food or a large bag of kale before a long run. But I will keep the details of those disturbing incidents to myself. Although I was not the fastest runner, by the end of my training program, I was ready for the big day.
The night before my race, I was very anxious wondering what the hell I got myself into. I carefully laid out my new neon yellow running gear and bib to ease my nerves and settled in for a restless night sleep. I had come a long way since my last extremely restless night, which was spent on the cold hard floor of a prison cell. I knew that no matter what, the next morning would be better than waking up in a lonely jail cell having to face the disappointed look on my parents’ faces.
On race day, I woke up at 5:00 am, while most of my family and support crew slept. My mom once again was my selfless chauffer and drove me downtown to the starting line. I anxiously waited for the race start, and was energized by all the adrenaline and nervous energy in the air. I had only one goal that day, to finish the race. Once my coral started, much of the race was a blur. The first eight miles, I remember feeling nostalgic as I passed by the streets and shops I visited while growing up. I also recall a group of spectators handing out tequila shots, and holding back vomit at the shear thought of drinking alcohol. I started struggling at mile nine, when I reached the infamous “Hospital Hill.” I debated taking a detour and checking myself into the hospital, but was motivated to continue by all the service men and women cheering us on. Although I spent the remaining 4 miles alternating between walking and running, I did not beat myself up – all I wanted to do was finish the race. The last half mile, I spotted my dad at a street corner eagerly waiting for me. This would be my favorite part of the race. My dad spent the remaining portion of the race running along beside me through the crowds, cheering and encouraging me to finish the race. Once I crossed the finish line, I was overcome with emotion and shed a few tears. The grueling 12 weeks of training had paid off, I had successfully run my first half marathon.
In the weeks that followed, I became eager to run another half marathon. My aunt, who ran a full marathon in every state, introduced me to the 50 States Half Marathon Club. After reading some inspiring stories, I decided to make it a personal goal to run a half marathon in every state as well as DC. Five years later, I have 15 races under my belt with two more scheduled in the coming months. I have come a long way in the past five years, from starting my own freelance business to pursuing a Master’s degree. After each race I complete, I push the shame of the DUI further behind me and become more comfortable in my own skin. I can confidently say that running saved my life and helped me see that my mistakes do not define me as a person. Although I made a terrible mistake the night, my DUI does not define me.Hide Full Text
Using a previous scholarship essay contest we hosted, where our judges received more than 4,000 essays, we noticed some frequent mistakes students make that can instantly disqualify you from an essay contest.
We thought to ourselves, "Hello, learning opportunity!
Here, an example of what NOT to do in an essay – and some tips on making yourself a better candidate for scholarship cash.
Here’s one of the essays we received for a previous scholarship contest, to help you learn the do’s and don’ts of essay writing:
“To be able to hold onto your money you have to know how to manage it. Money management is a complicated process. As teenagers we often have no idea how to manage money and we end up wasting a lot of it. But in a bad economy most of us have had a crash course in what happens when you don’t manage your money properly. We have had to delve into a world foreign and unfamiliar to us and solve our own money problems. The most successful of us have managed to still have some semblance of a social life without going over our small budgets. The keys to doing this successfully are actually quite simple.
Set up your own budget of expenses. Teenagers may not have to worry about paying a mortgage or rent but we do have to be able to pay for gas, insurance for our vehicles, and the never ending list of project expenses and supplies for classes. So you have to sit down and balance what you spend in a month with what you actually make, and whether that’s the money you get for your birthday that you manage to stretch with help from mom’s pocketbook or it’s the minimum wage that you get from the local fast food joint where you have managed to find employment the money comes from somewhere and it needs to be written down.
Review your expenses daily. This includes balancing your checkbook and reviewing your online statements, as well as calculating any emergency expenses that you were not considering. This needs to be fluid as sometimes things come up that you just couldn’t have forseen.
You have to get creative. You are not always going to have the time to sit there with a calculator crunching numbers so create small ways to keep thing balanced without having to. Send yourself easy phone reminders about a few of your expenses. Always bring your school id with you because a lot of places will give students discounted rates. And finally, just remember where your money is going it will help.”
So, what was wrong and what was right?
One thing the essay writer did correctly was to stay within the word count for the contest.
The essay contest stated within the rules that essays should range from 250-350 words and this essay comes in at 349 words. Good job!
Another positive is that the writer stayed on topic and answered the question that was presented.
However, even though the writer did stay on topic, the response took a meandering approach and didn’t take a strong or memorable stance. In short, the “meat” of the essay wasn’t there. Think of it this way: sum up in one sentence what you want the reviewer to know and remember after reading your essay. Did you get that across in a clear and concise way?
Each essay should get across at least one breakout idea (aka, the thesis statement) and the rest of the essay should focus on selling that point. If it’s a new, creative or off-beat idea, focus on selling and explaining that. If it’s a common idea, focus on trying to say it better than anyone else.
Here are a few more examples of what the essay writer did wrong:
Misspellings are the fastest way to ensure an essay is disqualified. When combing through a stack of essays, a judge will first rule out the essays with simple misspellings. Long story short: run a spell check and have someone else you trust look over it. It’s always best to get a second set of eyes.
Incomplete sentences – Remember, each sentence should have a subject (someone or something) and a verb (action). Wondering if your sentence is complete? Here’s a hint: A complete sentence tells a complete thought.
No capitalization –
it’s bad enough not to capitalize words at the beginning of a sentence, but at the beginning of a paragraph it stands out even more! Yikes!
Missing punctuation –
In this example, the writer does not have proper command over the use of commas — namely they are missing in places they should have been added and added places they are not required.
Poor grammar and sentences that don’t make sense –
The essay writer uses poor word choices, improper grammar and mistakes such as having too many spaces between words. Another example of poor grammar is the confusion of grammatical persons — in the beginning of the essay the writer uses the first person plural (we) and toward the end, the writer uses the second person (you).
Run-on sentences –
In this essay, one sentence has 72 words. As a rule, try to keep sentences no longer than 35 words each.
Keep these tips in mind the next time you write an essay. Remember, you don’t want to give the judges any reason to disqualify your essay right off the bat.
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