Guest Post: How Running Helped Me Walk Away From My Career
When I was 16, I won a modeling contest. Unlike the competition of running a race, there was no preparation for a brisk 100-meter-strut up and down the runway. I was up against dozens of fresh-faced hopefuls from my hometown of St. Louis and the judges were looking for the next big thing. They called my name and I was granted the grand prize of a trip to NYC to meet with top agencies.
Perhaps the greatest irony of my modeling career is that one of the other contestants went on to be one of the highest-paid supermodels to this date. While I had initially won the local townie contest, Karlie Kloss quickly took the entire fashion industry by storm, landing all the Vogue covers, walking the big shows, etc. She was the real winner, not me. But, I wasn’t a total flop. I was just going at my own pace.
After I won that contest I went on to sign with Ford Models. I shot for Glamour, Marie Claire, and Seventeen. I landed the cover of Elle, and things just kept getting better. In the height of my moderately lucrative career, I lived in a luxury apartment off the park, with a doorman and a pool. I caught a glimpse of the finer things in life. On the outside it seemed like I was living the dream, but something just wasn’t right.
I was in a constant state of panic. Every minute of every day felt like I was on the brink of burning out. My sense of self was constantly being challenged and I had the daunting fear that time was running out. I never knew when my next big job would be, or whether my skin and body would be in perfect shape to perform. Despite this stress, I kept on working. Every time I attempted to quit, some miraculous job fell from the sky: Another big national cover. A beauty campaign. An advertisement. So I’d stick with it.
It wasn’t all bad. It’s always fun to walk into Barnes and Noble and say, “That’s me on the cover!” One time, I walked into a Sephora and saw my face and shaggy hair above tons of hairspray. Just a few feet away there was another picture of my face, but with shorter hair, touting a different product. But those fleeting moments were few and far between compared to all the hours of worry I faced.
Then a real catastrophe happened. Hurricane Sandy swept through New York and brought so much rain and wind to the city that it completely shut everything down. My scheduled shoots for Target and Anne Taylor were put on hold. Thrilled by the mini-vacation, I sought refuge in my apartment’s gym. I hopped on the treadmill and pressed GO. And I just kept going. Miles and miles later, it was the furthest I had ever run in my life, even if I hadn’t gone anywhere. I looked around and the storm had cleared.
That was just the beginning. I started to see that running was different than all the other exercise I’d tried. In the midst of repetitive motion I could unravel and process my stressors. I also realized that nothing ever felt quite as bad or daunting after I’d gone on a 10 mile run. This inspired me to run that distance just about every single day for the next several years.
I only got faster and ran further, out there on my own. I was running back-to-back 20 milers through rain, sleet, and snow. Soon, I was running over 10 miles in an hour. As I continued to improve, I felt strong and confident. Absolutely nothing could bring me down as long as I had running.
Running was therapeutic. It provided time for me each day to focus on what I wanted to do with my life. I’d think about things that seemed to add unnecessary tension. I began to weed out some of the clutter, and it dawned on me: I was in charge. I finally felt strong enough to admit that I had nothing left to prove out there in the fashion world. If anything, I dreamt of having a less erratic life that included a more steady job along with modeling only for brands that align with my identity. After it became apparent that going on castings or shoots felt like I was just spinning my wheels, I finally had the courage to walk away.
As I look back to all those memories of shoots and magazines, I think about how lucky I was to be able to move to New York and travel the world. A decade-long modeling career taught me about business, responsibility, and how to work with people. I will always have those experiences and skills. In a way, the stress of it all fueled my desire to run. Now, I don’t run to get away from my problems. I run to get closer to where I want to go.