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Withdrawals & Confusion of identity

I am no virgin to making bad decisions.
Bad decisions like arrogance and assuming. While growing up, assuming led me to believe that I needed to be a mean girl. That it was better to be a bully than to be bullied. I was a target for foul horseplay in my younger years. I sat and said nothing to defend myself while being ridiculed; I never fought back. Slowly I added on layers of trapped emotions until one day I cracked. I had turned into a person that had had enough. I screamed at people and punched girls. I gossiped and didn’t always stand up for a friend. I betrayed a best friend and I threw beer in a girl’s face. I stole and lied countless of times. My immaturity kept me from seeing the right and wrong way to act.

By 18, I was ready for a change. To a new place where I could rest and restart. I moved to California to start something new, far away form home. I was able to change my whole life down in the Golden state; I had a home and a whole second family in Turlock, CA.
The change, as you know, brought difficulties. Difficulties like your first “this could be a career stopping injury”. Learning how to deal with such a burden brought me much sadness and confusion. Training stopped and I didn’t know how to go on without it. Training was a perfect way for me to de-stress and let go of the day. The layers of my days without running were getting heavy and I knew I had to go elsewhere to fix myself before I cracked, again. I knew I had to walk away from the track to find a way to peel the stress from my life. I knew I had to go places I had never been before. To be who I never intended to be. (Again)

Is the grass greener on the other side?

I found myself at the never changing college party with the same people, music, and drama. This whole scene was way out of my element, I never belonged there; as a wallflower I enjoyed people watching.

The typical hot shot guys and party girls.

Party girls where mythical creatures to me. I could never understand how they partied all night and still played a sport. These girls worked in a completely different way than what I was familiar with. In my past life, Friday nights were reserved for recovery from either a hard workout or a track meet. Saturday nights were usually the same and Sundays were not meant for sleeping off the hangover, they were there for long runs. My past lifestyle of a dedicated runner was being consumed. I was transforming into something that was beyond my control.

It seemed like everyone had to comment on how I was a runner. I was in new territory and they were wondering if I was lost. Defending myself, I challenged the “runner’s don’t party” with my offensive display of self-importance. Deeper down the jagged path, my depression took a seat. I got the edge off by being what I thought was the complete opposite of Denali the runner. But I realize now that I was still being the competitive girl I had always been, out partying someone became my new way to compete. The many people that came into my life all became my competitors; I used them to get far far away from Denali.

I feel bad for anyone who interacted with the girl I became. They never got the chance to meet the real Denali.

I created this mischievous girl.

I found myself, again, being someone I wasn’t. I found myself acting in a manner that was way out of control. I became another woman. I created an identity to cope with the real problems. While Denali hid away, my body was occupied by someone who was reckless and cared for no one, not even herself. There were moments where I could feel Denali peeking out but shortly she would become lost again. It felt like something was consuming the real Denali and no matter how much I screamed at myself, Denali took a backseat while someone else drove
Out the door to another party

I was a terrible party girl. I couldn’t keep the balance of everything in my life. I chose drugs over everything. I acted like a fool countless of times and I’ll never be able to forget that. I’m glad something in me snapped and I made the move to get better; the long journey to find Denali.

It took a lot of energy to defeat the inner battle I was having with myself. I once again had to make the decision to change and live the life I knew I needed to live. I would rather be known as a lame runner than a party girl, just like I think I’d rather be bullied than be a bully. I had to create small goals that gave me little victories; I had to patiently win a little at a time. Each victory brought the wall I created down and slowly the true Denali started to emerge. It was the hardest thing I had to do.

Withdrawals

It was so painful to go through withdrawals; it exhausted and hurt my body. I suffered from suicidal thoughts and a couple of weak attempts. I had to say no to the “give up” thoughts and keep pushing even though I needed a fix. Coming off of meth made me hungry and depressed. I became sad so I ate and then I gained a bunch of weight so I became sadder. I was in this twisted loop of eating and depression.
I needed my fix and to loose weight.
This mess led me to try the quick weight loss drug cocaine. I got my fix. I became skinny. I also lost sleep.
Loosing sleep almost made me loose it. Without sleep, I was mentally weak and my fighting skills were damaged. I relapsed the most while using coke. There is nothing more heart breaking than relapsing. After each relapse, I would cry while I angrily torn down the calendar that marked each day I went without using. Each failure made me break down and want to die. I literally was so delusional that I thought ending it all would be the best solution.

Wish I could say what it was that helped me stay alive. I don’t know how I was able to find the strength that saved me. That’s the strength I’m searching for during every workout and race. I was able to find it once before. I just have to believe it’s still there.

I’m not entirely living life to the fullest
but I do know that I have a little better appreciation for life.
I am waking up every morning with a plan to be productive, keep focus, and be nice to others and myself.

I wake up reminding myself that we as humans make mistakes. As humans we are always going to be confused and we need to forgive ourselves for the trial and error periods of our past. I live a more non-judging life,
Who am I to judge someone for his or her journey of life?

Some of us will spend our whole lives searching for the answer of our own existence and purpose.

I’ve made a 180 with my life and I feel like I am still getting a lot of things wrong but I’m trying and that’s all that matters. I made my move back to Alaska where I am back training in the mountains. It might sound crazy but if it wasn’t for these grueling cliffs, I wouldn’t be alive today. The mountains have given me my life back. Though I am no track runner now, these mountains are my ticket back to the oval. I was able to open up to Max and Natalie about this journey I have planned for myself. It was strange to talk to people I had just met about my career goal/plan but once I voiced it, I felt a hell of a lot better about my decision. It was amazing how much support I got from these two!
Please go check their website out. These guys have been working hard on a documentary for the Mount Marathon Race in Seward Alaska. This film will allow the public to see what it takes to compete in this race. You’ll be able to listen to the stories of some of the top contenders. And what I think is the coolest part, you’ll see the mountain from 20 different cameras. A viewer will also be able to see the woman’s race cause though we run the same mountain, the coverage is all about the men. (love you Eric)
With your help, this thing could actually launch! Please support and spread the word!
Go to
3022 ft: A Mount Marathon Story

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What I’ve Learned

But How did this happen?

I woke myself up night after night with this question. I tormented myself, I beat myself up with this question; a simple five letter sentence that defeated me. I inhaled and exhaled those words. Five words shook weakly out of my mouth for three years.

But how did this happen?

But how, how could you Denali. It’s the one thing that keeps me from rescuing myself; I couldn’t let go of anger and embarrassment. I was a wilted flower screaming for light and water. But I had lost my voice.

Then,

I let it go.

Opened my eyes, life was pumping. I couldn’t remember the last time I was so awake.

I just got over it.

Took the first step forward and started walking.

 

You just get over it.

I could talk about the defining moment I knew I needed running again- 2011 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Turlock, CA- How that weekend was the most depressing and inspiring moment of my life. I could talk myself up like some Twilight meet Queen. How every year for three years getting to Nationals meant running a Twilight meet; where by myself I ran my personal best. How my second Twilight run ended in tears, lots of ice cream, and Netflix. Or how I came back for my third try and for the first time in three years broke 11 minutes; with tremendous help from my teammates. I could go further down the road and pull out memories of hating track due to Alaska weather and how the 2009 CCAA Championships in Chico showed me I could run a sub 5 min 1500 as a freshman. There have been lots of defining moments in my running career; lots of good and lots of bad. It’s pretty equal all across the board.

 

But the one moment that sticks out….was days ago.

 

Mount Marathon.

Follow Eric around and “try” this mountain thing out. My past training, besides my junior days, was a joke. My goal was just to be prepared enough to give it a good shot.

I used to be a trail runner and my cross country running strength came from playing in the mountains. But the past five years had been hard and my mountain running was thrown onto the back burner. My journey this winter was about running and not letting myself destroy myself. In the last couple of months, the one thing to hold me back was my mental game.

A little confidence boost that came a little too late

After my 8 min PR on Bird Ridge, I was ready for anything. I felt like for the first time since I started this training, I was a climber. I was confident. I was fighting for a top spot and not giving up. It was euphoric, dream-like really. I had a moment on Bird Ridge where I could have let myself fall into old habits, but I just looked up and ran. I ran up a cliff and kept running after it. I ran passed the two women and handful of men who had recently passed me. I ran until literally I smashed into a rock after the finish line. I had finally raced on a mountain, something I hadn’t been able to achieve since I was 18 years old.

So, Mount Marathon.

You walk up to that line wanting to win, but there are also fifteen other women who have the same thoughts. And you know what, I don’t care who the media hypes up before the race, literally there are fifteen women who could eventually win that race. So how the hell do you train for that? How do you train for a race that anything could happen? There could be rain, mudslides, snow, horrible wind, high temps, etc. The up could be slopping and the down could be incredible or vice versa. Someone could drop out and someone could surprise us all and take the crown for themselves. Maybe that’s why year after year we keep coming back; really, anything could happen and anything WILL happen. You just have to prepare for that “anything”.

 

For the last five years my mountain training had been built from post-track mileage and a couple trips up the mountain in June. I felt like my body could take the challenge of climbing all winter. But still, I half-assed it and worked on my road speed as well. I still couldn’t choose between mountain and track. I focused on the wrong things and let my mental game take over. By the time the race came… I was exhausted.

While racing, it was the little things that ended my chance.

The way I was climbing wasn’t like how I had trained; I carelessly made it up that mountain. Placing my feet in wrong spots (sprained my ankle on the roots, about 5 min into the race) and taking the wrong trails because my eyes were straight down. I didn’t realize I had hurt my ankle so bad until I started my descent. I had never in my entire life had such a heavy down; I tried to make my moves to get back to the top 10. If it wasn’t for an old teammate and friend, I don’t know if I would of finished. Sarah Glaser and I literally finished together and I must have hugged her for a good two minutes. I couldn’t let her go; she had just saved my life and got me to that finish line. It just didn’t happen that day and sometimes that’s how it plays out.

Racing a mountain is such a different sport. It takes a certain training strategy and pure guts.

Up the mountain I scream words of encouragement to myself, but nothing helps the hurt that comes with pushing your limits. Everyone in that race is pushing their bodies off the edge. The struggle is real on that mountain. The pain and triumph is real and understood amongst racers.

To see the passion of Mount Marathon, go to the finish corral. Watch as these mountain racers of all types lift their weary legs and sprint into the shoot. Nobody looks “pretty” while finishing with pain smacked hard across their face. Watch how the volunteers are trained to catch the limp bodies and drag them to water; racers get cooled and cleaned off by hoses. The more and more racers who fill the corral, the more the excitement grows. Others cling to one another and embrace hugs of relief. Groans and pain noises uncontrollably escape mouths; “Oh thank God, it’s over…We made it”.

Laughter and conversation breaks outs; talk of the cliffs, a certain tree in the way…the trail you saw a competitor take…the moments where you out climbed and got passed by a friend…the challenging road(always a hot topic)

My favorite part of the race is the finish. Not only because it is the actual end of the race, but the finish is where you realize you just had a party on the mountain with about 500 of your friends. My favorite part is experiencing this pain with each and every racer. From winners to last place finishers, we all climbed that darn mountain and we all realize what we just accomplished. This community of runners is made up of some of the most inspiring people, it’s something that is so special and I know that everyone I meet makes me feel like I can achieve anything. It’s such a different kind of person you find playing in the mountains.

I have always had Mount Marathon in my life. It is something that runs deep in my family and now my new family (Strabel). I’ve worked hard but I can work harder. With the help from Eric, I have decided to change my original plan. My plan was to come back to the mountains, to where I began as a runner. To find the flower child that had fun with racing. And then, when I found my confidence, take it back to the steeplechase and give my track career another chance; to do the ultimate redemption.

I’ve decided to keep training for the mountains

Track will still be there in two years. I feel like the biggest mistake would be switching gears. That climbing takes years to build up. This whole year I’ve had to transform myself into this “climber” and I feel like I am just getting started. That Fourth of July 2014 came too soon but Fourth of July 2015 is perfectly far enough away. It was such a hard struggle to get myself here and why turn around now? I was so angry I didn’t do anything good for my last Mount Marathon as a Foldager but as a Strabel…

My heart is still lost on the track but my passion is waiting for me at the top of a mountain.

 ddddddddddd ddddddddd dddddd dddd

It’s a cocaine world

It has taken me over 60 days to finish this post.

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I kept going back to my computer very focused and determined, yet every time I came up short. My motivation wasn’t the problem. I experience memory loss, I hid things so far back into my head that I have created alter egos; at times I feel like a completely different person from Denali. So going back to write about it, made me uneasy. It felt like the wall I was trying to climb over never stopped and there was no way to make the foundation crumble. To protect myself I had to forget. Trying to release it all again wasn’t going to be easy nor mentally safe.

Telling people, is scary. Reaching in enough to remember is beyond terrifying.

I don’t know how it happen, but one day I was able to reach into the world I had forgotten about and come up with some faint memories….

The feelings created by the drugs were what I had been searching for. Internet searches can scientifically tell you the effects it has on your body and mind. But that is boring.

I remember how I felt.

When I first took in the chemical, I was at a low point in my life. Actually, I didn’t care for life anymore. I didn’t realize the effect it would have on me. Instant addiction. The euphoric drip of numbness down your throat. Instant satisfaction. Blurred lines of reality.

The once lost energy now pumping through your veins. The power surges straight to the brain. The world slows; like in the movies where all you hear is the ticking of the loud clock.

Amplified movements…

I knew it was wrong

I knew I shouldn’t of

I knew a lot…

The way it feels for a person who is on a constant hunt for wholeness cannot easily be explained in words. There is a power that overcomes you, it takes away your humanness. You are no longer simple you. A new look at life. The colors, smells, sounds…all changed. Your vision and hearing are brand new. Your eyes burn and lips quiver. This chemical shot the negative energy to the clouds. All of a sudden the world, right in front of you; full of opportunity. You experience determination and focus; mind wide open, all systems were a go. The pain you were living was uplifted and you watched like a child as it floated up to the stars. Nothing could take this away from you. It was like nothing bad had ever happen…

You are on the verge of overload yet your body is handling it; always in a constant fear that you might go too far. You moved too fast to worry about the future; too fast to remember the past.

The world becomes slow

Your heart beat takes over

…in your eyes

…in your ears

…your throat, your fingers, and toes

Every move amplified

Every thought passed at hyper speed

…you now work well in hyper speed

…nothing is confusing, you understand it all

Life as I knew it was forever changed

I had experience hyper speed; its not something that can be forgotten. My body and mind had been through hell and back and now I was trying to forget it all.

BE NORMAL? JUST GO BACK TO THE TRACK?

My mind was forever altered, I was not the young talented girl I once was. I feared everything. I worked my ass off just to stay with the pack; no longer the pack leader and not a PR on the track since 2010. I know what it’s like to train and sacrifice, but my last year was pure mental hell.

Nothing could prepare myself for what happen. Every race entered became a failure. I practiced hard, lived healthy, and stayed positive. But with every mental loss, came a crack in my spirit. It didn’t matter that I was in the best shape of my life. Once I stepped on that track, I was back in a night terror. So unfocused, so scared, and never ready to race. I’d miss the gun due to flurry thoughts. I’d be racing and my mind would shut down. My body was weak and stopped hearing my commands. Hyper speed has now slowed me down. I had experienced the fastest of fast and now I could barely hang on for two laps. The moment my heart felt the racing, my mind shut down. My body had a memory of what the effects cocaine had on me. So I believe that the moment I started to experience any type of quickness, my body shut down to save it’s self. I don’t think it knew the difference from drugs and running anymore. I think I had destroyed myself so much that my body wasn’t trusting me. I had become my own enemy. 

I can’t end this post on some paragraph telling you how it turned into a miracle and I became better. I am still to this day a mental mess, especially when I run. But everyday has become a little bit easier. I don’t crave hyper speed and I’ve forgiven myself. I look forward to running; my spirit hasn’t totally been destroyed. I still fear a lot of things, but I became brave enough to admit I needed help and that I had made some terrible mistakes.

Yet, no matter what

I always remember that running was always there. I mean, I cry about spiders and would never in my life touch one…I cry about running too, but I hop on the treadmill everyday. It always makes me wonder how is it that the thing I fear most is the thing keeping me alive. 

I am human and I make mistakes

I guess I should talk about it.

I left you all on a little bit of a limb.

My first post had one sentence with more power than all the words before it.

 

In these future posts I’ll let you know a little about my world and the struggle that has haunted me for the last three years. 

 

Much feedback came to me after that post; positive and negative. I have since then helped two different athletes sort their lives out and hopeful we will be seeing them on the trails soon!

I have had to calm down my parents and fiancé. I’ve now experience some people treating me differently (don’t be that person, don’t do that…please). There has been lots of stuff happening because of that post! 

Most of all…My secret is out there for the public to easily access. 

 

But, it had to be this way. I believe this all happen to me for a reason. My history of silence was doing no good. In the end, I am proud of myself for letting go of the fear and letting everyone understand me a little bit more.

Yes, I believe our generation has lost the mystery in life due to social media. I have on many accounts shared too much. With a click we can constantly status update, take a photo, tell the world about our ACHING HEART! Ugh, we have all done it.

Luckily I have learned from it.

But the reason I am okay with blasting myself all over the inter web for all to see, judge, and gasp! is because when I was going through all this, I was completely alone.

Now don’t take that the wrong way, there were amazing people who helped me gain my confidence back and who loved me unconditionally even when I went a little crazy. I had the best support group and many love ones who kept me alive through all my healing. 

I was never “really” alone.

But deep down there was no one who understood, who had gone through anything comparable.

Deep down, I was battling demons alone.

 

As a runner, you are among the stereotype: Smart, dorky, good kids, etc.

I mean I never heard about any runners going through a drug phase besides sport enhancing advantages.

I was apart of “the cooler” sports in High School and I knew very well how other athletes viewed runners. 

Other sports have stereotypes of being crazy, lesbians, partiers, and them some. Through my life, I have found out that other sports, sometimes, are expected to be wild and easily get away with it.

(just generalizing here, not out to bash any sport!)

 

So what was an ex-drug abuser supposed to think about herself when she was in the sport that was dubbed the pure and innocent?

 

I was lost and alone and felt like the first runner to disappoint her sport. I mean, come on! I was amongst good kids, there was no pressure to do anything bad! Yet, I found myself at the bottom of hell engulfed by the flames and trying to end my life.

 

People could only help so much. In the end, there was always a missing element to my healing. I wasn’t on the same page as anyone and after my experience, I found myself even more lost on the track (the place that was supposed to be my home).

Every time I ran, I thought of what I had done. I couldn’t forgive myself. I kept freaking myself out and by the end of my final track season, I found myself scared to race. 

When I race, I have no sensor; my mind runs wild. So there is no more power to block all the bad thoughts I have. As I race, my mind fights against me. I was hurting myself more when racing. I couldn’t let it go, I couldn’t forgive and forget. For some reason, I had to keep bringing myself down; keep reminding myself that I screwed up and I shouldn’t be here. 

I have entered three races since Nationals but I have yet to “race”. I don’t allow myself to get intense and I defiantly don’t treat anything like a race. If I fool myself good enough, I won’t freak out. So I go out there, mess around, and finish. There is no strategy nor do I ever think about winning. If I think about any of that…

I go back to bad thoughts on the track

I start to hyperventilate

I want to throw all my racing gear in the garbage

I want to give up and order three Double Quarter Pounders and a McFlurry

But luckily I have some amazing people in my life right now who are helping me forgive myself and hopefully I can “race” again soon.

Though I am still struggling, I am perfectly fine with it. I’d rather struggle through trial and error so that one day someone who goes through this can maybe have some answers.

There were no answers for my questions when I first started all this.

I had the typical support groups to help you keep your promise to be sober.

I had an amazing team to help me run.

But I was missing a lot that I needed.

I wish I had someone I could of talked to.

Someone who had gave up their life and quickly worked their ass off to get it all back…

I’d ask about

The shakes when you ran and weak body due to anorexia

The hard breathing due to snorting

The depression due to wasted eligibility years

The insomnia that was still there due to the night terrors

The working harder than you ever had before and still seeing no results

and so on…

 

I know I am not the only one who has done a horrible thing like this. But in my sport world, it’s very lonely. 

 

It’s why I take pride in helping these two runners get back into it.

 

Side note…

These two runners have watched me race and have raced against me; I know them very well. They were not on the same team as me. They put school pride aside and came at me like regular runners who were struggling and just needed help. I don’t think they understand how happy I am that they contacted me even though at one point they were considered my rivals. 

 

They told me that they had no idea about any of this. They figured I was a great runner that burnt out. One even told me they had always wanted to beat me because I was the one with the target on my back; I was the one their coach screamed to stay with. 

These runners opened up to me and told me about their struggle. How they would lock themselves up in their room and just pray that someone someday would understand; someday it would all get better. They also thought of themselves as failures. That there was no one like them; runners don’t do these kinds of things. 

They were both so scared and lost, just like me. They just talked and I just listened. 

I hope that I was able to help them and let them know that they are not alone and that they are not failures. 

We are humans and we make tons of mistakes. 

 

There is lots of abuse in all sports, even running! But not everyone talks about it which is completely fine. I just know how lonely it was in the beginning and I would never want anyone to go through that. I don’t have many answers but sometimes its nice to talk to someone who is on the same page. Someone who can listen and actually understand and relate.

 

 It gives you a piece of mind; there are people who are like me and I don’t have to feel alone.

I now see the light.

I have recently come back from a little bit of soul searching. 

After Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and finally Florida… 

I found myself more lost. 

But

In a way

I saw some sort of light at the end of the tunnel.

 

I guess all of this, “being lost” is due to the fact that I have spent a good chunk of the last three years moving fast and driving hard to get back the life I had lost. Working harder than I had ever before and getting little results. I can’t thank my support group enough for letting me know I was on the right track and telling me not to give up, that all of this was going to pay off some day.

But what happens when you gain everything you had lost and them some? When your clock finally slows down and your not spending your hours constantly trying to figure out how to get your life back.

What do you do when you have everything you were fighting for? 

 …What do I fight for now?

 

I never thought the day would come. The day that I was dreaming about. Sober, running, happy, in love, and not feeling like I should be in a mental institution. 

I guess I had worked so hard to get it all back… 

…I never thought about what I would do when everything was back. 

When I didn’t have to fight anymore.

So I left 

I became stir crazy and I left. Flew to Ohio and began my adventure of traveling to Florida (helping someone move). My adventure of finding myself, finding my next move in life. 

 

Well the trip was a bust and I found myself among repulsive people

South Florida is one horrendous scene.

I leave my trip ghastly disappointed in the human race. These “men” who have nothing more to them than money are constantly ego boosted by young women whose insecurities allow them to easily become prey. Though, these young ladies aren’t really idiots…they are using their cuteness to their advantage. With a smile, these ladies are gaining computers, cars, shoes, and pure money for “allowance”.

So, I’m not sure who is the smarter one of this situation.

 

Anyways, I found myself disgusted and depressed. 

So I went for a run. 

Isn’t it funny how running will always help you find the answer?

Amongst the beautiful sunrise and ocean waves in my ear…all of a sudden the world becomes clear.

It was clear to me that, three years ago I gave up everything because it was the easy way out. I had worked hard my whole life and when the opportunity to quit became available, I snatched it quicker than a child stealing candy. I was finally a person with little drive and spending her days cooped up in front of the TV, high, and laughing at cartoons (not my proudest moments). 

It became clear to me that the lifestyle down in south Florida was the easy way out for most of these people (I’m fully aware that there are normal people who live here, with normal lives). On my run I passed too many “gold-diggers” and more “sugar-daddies” than I had ever seen before. All of these people were taking the easy way out. These women didn’t want to work or have any ambition; just be cute enough to land a rich man and be secured for life. These men, didn’t want to put up with an aging woman, with a family, with anything that they couldn’t control (they got older and the women stay the same age). All were players in this vicious game. 

I realized that I was sick and tired of the easy way out.

That’s why I fought for three years to get my life back. That though the main fight was over, I was and always will be a fighter and there is always something to fight for. I was just in the eye of the storm, which is nothing to complain about. I should of been happy that nothing was going wrong in my life. I was so used to hardship that my mind couldn’t wrap around life without it. 

The grass isn’t always greener on the other side. But I will not judge, who am I to judge. I don’t believe that anyone on this world has the power to judge. It just showed me the light. Showed me that I am a worker and I will never depend on a man to give me an “allowance” to live off of. How repulsive.   

 To end my rant..

My life hasn’t always been hard and I’m not here to be a sob story. I just realized that I had gone through a patch of bad luck and then I went through a stranger patch of working my ass off to gain some luck of my own. Now, I am here…still working my butt off but for different reasons. I am back to training…Ive never been happier to kill myself everyday up secret mountains and crazy trails. Though, I am in constant leg pain, spend majority of my time napping, and planning my whole life around working out…

 

I wouldn’t want to be living any other life…I end everyday knowing that I tried to better myself, I got out of the house and worked my butt off…I rest my head every night knowing that I fought for the day because at one point I tried to end this life I have been given. 

 

 

 

COACH

There is a woman who has had a great impact on my life. Besides my mother, who is hands down the greatest creation God has ever made, this is the next woman I treasure dear in my heart. To know anything about me, you have to know this woman and what she did for me.

Coach Taylor

I was an easily frightened 18 year old traveling down the coast of California when I first met Coach Taylor. Coach Taylor was the young, new coach at California State University Stanislaus. With the biggest smile and joy in her eyes she fully took the twin and I under her wing.

When most coaches laughed or hung up on us when we were trying to find a college to run for, Coach Taylor and Kim Duyst (Associate AD/Senior Woman Admin) saw potential in us scrawny Alaskan runners.

You see, Alaska Cross Country and Track and Field is no joke. Cross Country races constantly tested our abilities and pushed us harder than we’ve ever been pushed before. Alaskan runners ran through rain, winds, mud, mountains, and played the occasional game of chicken with the local moose roaming around. We always had to wear spikes, sometimes longer than nails to even get good footing.

I now know that not everyone’s cross season is like this and some people have never worn spikes!!

I also found out that us sturdy runners didn’t even compare, by race times, to the runners down in the lower 48. Yet, we had just as much heart and guts…if not more.

To put it in a way you might understand…

I am a State Cross Country Champion. My win was possibly one of the most epic races (in my eyes). It came down to two girls; one from Anchorage Christian School and myself from Seward. Every step I took, Nychele took the same. It was like we were one runner. No matter how hard she pushed, I followed. No matter how fast I sprinted down the mountainous hills of the Skyview ski trails, she easily stayed with me. We were both so tired, so spent. We had challenged each other and ourselves each step, so It came down to a sprint. My coach on the left and hers on the right of the trail. Both Screaming the same, “SPRINT NOW”. Both equally having the confidence that their girl could beat anyone in a sprint. But what do you do when you have two girls who beat everyone when it came down to a sprint…sprinting against each other? You sprint faster than you ever thought possible. You find whatever it is that moves your legs and you scream at it that it’s not over. I wanted to puke. Watching videos of it, one would think it was a 400m track race coming down to the lean at the finish. Some how I barely got out in front and crossed the line first. Puking, crying, and screaming for joy…it is to this day one of the most memorable races to me.

Our times…

Denali Foldager, Seward 19:51.9

Nychele Fischetti, ACS 19.53.9

And we were the fast runners?! Don’t even get me started on track times. Track in Alaska is mainly shoveling snow off the track and waiting for the first school to have at least five lanes open completely to hold a meet. Alaskan runners are some of the toughest kids I know and they are also some of the most overlooked and overshadowed. Unless you are Trevor Dunbar or the girls of West Valley, it was unlikely that big schools back in the day even thought of recruiting out of Alaska.

This has all changed since 2008 though, which has been such a great thing to witness over the years.

So.

Coach Taylor.

She had her hands full from the beginning. Rubye and I were good, but damn that Californian heat dug us in. I felt like no matter what, I was melting. It also didn’t help that California was having one of their hottest cross country seasons. I felt like a failure and that I didn’t belong on the team. I was a nobody and that was something I was not used to. But everyday the runs got a little easier and I slowly began to fall in love with Turlock and Coach Taylor’s program. I was on a team full of personality, there was just a huge age gap. There were the 5th and true seniors, a transfer, and a handful of freshmen. The team was spilt perfect, the ones who had been coached by Kim and the ones who were Coach Taylor’s kids. I believe it was a learning experience for both athletes and coach. Needless to say we had one heck of a fun year!

By the end of my freshman year I found my strength on the track. I had always been a cross country runner, but for the first time in my life I got to fully experience a true track season. In high school I was a state champion in the 300 hurdles, so naturally I tried the 400 hurdles. That quickly ended…Steeple was the next best thing. Coach Taylor was an expert at the 800/1500; multiple all-americans and running for the Nike Farm Team that was based in Palo Alto (Stanford). Coach Taylor was the most decorated athlete I had ever met. She was my hero right from the start.

So…We have a 800/1500 specialist, teaching kids how to steeple. This is where Coach Jon George and Martin Ramos came in. These two guys were natural Steeplers. They taught three boys and one girl how to water pit jump and ATTACK the barriers on the lawn in front of the dorms. Nervous as she was, Coach allowed a group of us “steeplers” the chance show off at the Chico Invite. And by showing off, we all eventually got hurt. But as steeplers, we were determine to do great things! I ran one more steeple that year, Cal/Neva Championships at UCLA. I was shy off my goal of breaking 12mins and Coach had me return to the 1500 for the rest of the year.

By the end of my freshman year…I was a steeple chaser (12:02 PR) with a 4:55 1500 under my belt. Proof I had speed, we just needed to find a way to tap into it. And I wasn’t done with the steeplechase. Whether Coach Taylor thought so or not.

Sophomore year was one for the books.

I was her first girl to get All-Conference honors in cross country (top 15) (I was closer to last in the whole race the year before)

Though I didn’t make it to Nationals in Cross country, I was hungry for it. That winter I trained so hard and followed every word Coach spoke. I wanted it so bad and Coach could see that. Still a 800/1500 specialist coaching steeplers, we took my speed and tried to combine that with my natural ability to dance over the barriers. I ran a whole indoor season and a good portion of outdoor before Coach finally gave in to my requests to steeple again.

Her words, “If you get hurt in this race (my 2010 steeple debut) you’re done.”

I knew I was a steepler…I knew I had to prove it to her. She never gave up on me, but she was right…why waste talent if it could be used in another event?

The race: Cal/Neva Championships UCLA

Past: 12:02 disappointing race, ending my steeplechase career that season

Goal: Prove I was a Steepler

Ranked 11th in the start line up

1) Denali Foldager 10:57.00

2) Brienna Morris (Division 1) 11:12.99

A PR that knocked everyone off their socks! 65 second PR

The race was epic, of course. The teen kid’s choice awards after party was in a tent by the back stretch of the track. The bodyguards watching were placing bets and all I remember was Rubye and other teammates screaming “Go for the blonde, #11″. I was embarrassed but I also loved the attention. During the race with every water pit jump I stretched my lead. I had never ran this fast and felt this good. I just heard Coach screaming her most used phrase…

“PERFECT, PERFECT, PERFECT”

It was a one man show that night on the blue track and the teammates that stayed to watch defiantly were entertained. I was a no body and I had no business running that fast, it was one of those moments…who the hell is this chick?

Well I not only won, I did something I thought would never happen… I hit the B standard for Nationals. NATIONALS! The place where the best get to go. The club that only top 15-20 in the nation get into and I had just made the list. I was in shock for two days.

I bombed at nationals but it was a great learning experience and it made me realize that I did indeed belong on the track.

I worked harder than the year before but no one could stop what bad luck I ran into that summer and fall.

Injuries prevented me from even walking. I remember running a 14 min mile…painful 14 min mile. MRI couldn’t tell me what was wrong, doctors were confused, and that was the first time I saw fear in Coach’s eyes. Fear that we both felt…would this ever get better?

My depression got the best of me and slowly I quit going to the track and school. I found comfort in other things. Things that had never been in my life before but quickly I was addicted. I was a great actress and played it off but slowly I was falling apart and it was becoming easy for everyone to see that something wasn’t right.

I got my life back when I saw Coach cry for the first time and she was crying over me. I realize that I had just made my hero cry. I realized I needed to get my life back together. Enough was enough.

I was at peace again when I started to run. Before I knew it I was running everyday again. Before I knew it I was sprinting around the track. Before I knew it, I was able to breathe through pure lungs. Before I knew it, Coach was smiling again.

Now, Coach Taylor isn’t a hugger but I can say that through the five years I was under her wing, I remember four bear hugs. (many other hugs were received but these were the special, get over here let me squeeze you hugs)

1) CCAA XC Championships 2009 (All-Conference)

2) UCLA- NCAA Provisional and #5 in the nation at the time

3) 2010 Twilight meet- 10:46 to become 17th in the nation (advanced to Nationals)

….The biggest one…so far

4) 2013 Twilight Meet- One of my best friends Courtney Anderson helped me to a 10:52

- It had been since 2010 that I broke 11min for the steeple

- Though still have not had an official track PR since 2010

My dear friend Dawson was announcing and the whole track team was there. I did it..I finally ran like Denali.

-Coach Taylor Cried -Coach Sally Cried -Everyone cried

For the first time since 2010, I felt like I was a runner again and I was proud of myself.

The whole 2013 track season was an emotional roller coaster. I would prove I was ready in practice but freeze when it came time to race. I couldn’t forgive myself for what I had done, what I gave up…what I walked away from. If It wasn’t for the support of my best friends (teammates) and great coaching, I wouldn’t be running today. I put so much pressure on myself but Coach didn’t. Coach knew I would find my way. For me, time wasn’t an issue. I was a senior and this was all I had left, there wasn’t much more we could do. It was all up to me and she allowed me that freedom. But she was still there for me, every step of the way. Every meltdown, hospital visit, or just a bad workout…she, like I, was frustrated but knew there was hope.

She never gave up so no way in hell was I going to.

I ended my college career where I left it back in 2010, at nationals. I didn’t advance to the finals and I also fell for the second time in my life. (first time was when Coach Jon made me hurdle with my weak leg)

Yep, right in the water pit jump for all to see and take photos. But I did get back up and I passed one girl before crossing the line, running into my trainer’s arms for help.

Gary our trainer was a huge help that day. I was so disappointed and hurt. I mean I hit my head, scrapped my knees and legs, and still finished. The last three laps were pure pain and I just heard Gary scream “I’m here Denali. I’ll be there when you finish.” I was crying not because I hurt, but because he cared so much about me. I forever am thankful for his kindness and father like protection during that whole week. Actually I’m forever thankful for everyone that week. I was just proud I got to show my mother that her princess was okay and running again.

Coach Taylor never gave up on me. Never Never Never. She should have, I would have. But no…every day I would get texts from her telling me she believed in me and she never for a second thought otherwise. I was her first national qualifier but not her last. She has built a program full of ALL-AMERICANS. A dream we each shared and I have never been more proud to be a Warrior.

The last three years were hard for both of us, but both of us knew…deep down…that I had it in me to defeat any demons and get back to the track. That it took a special kind of strength to return to what I had given up.

I couldn’t tell you how many times I wanted to quit. But for every time I tried to quit, Coach Taylor got me to stay.

She is…

“PERFECT, PERFECT, PERFECT”

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