Karen Guerra – Spain: “8 Kilometers to Heaven”

Come on! Keep on going! You can do it! Don’t stop! These phrases were being repeated over and over again, while I ran what felt like the longest mile of my life up until that point.

Being in Sagunto, Spain, as a volunteer I decided to sign up for a race that is done annually. Many people train and during the whole year they prepare for this event. I was definitely not one of them. I just signed up a week before the event. There were two categories: a half-marathon of 21 kilometers, and an 8 kilometer race. Of course I signed up for the 8 kilometer race.

Even though I am not a great runner or a good athlete by any stretch of the imagination, I decided to sign up so I could cheer on and help my friends. At that moment I believed that it would be easy—after all 8 kilometers isn’t that much. So the stage was set, so to speak; the plan was ready. Together with the other girls, we would start slow and even walk a little, we would enjoy the view, and spend a different morning, and what a morning it was!

The day of the race arrived and at the starting line we all looked like marathon runners, even though we obviously are not. (I mention this more because of myself rather than for everyone else.) We were all wearing our tennis shoes and wearing our sports clothes while there were runners who had uniforms and were sponsored by stores and local brands.

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So the question now was: Do I stretch or warm up? Nothing over the top, it seems crazy and not very smart, but that was exactly what happened. We left our belongings with other friends and we placed ourselves at the starting point with only our water bottles in hand.

It was exciting when the starting signal was given. I had never been in a race and much less in one that was as important to the city as this race is. So I started trotting on. Those first few minutes I felt like a champ, just as if I were born to do this. Soon enough though, those good vibes were interrupted by the beating of my heart, the thirst, and the feeling that my legs weren’t able to give one more step. Now you might think that I’d run a great deal but I hadn’t even made it to the second kilometer. This is reasonable bearing in mind that I don’t really do sports very often, and I hadn’t really trained for this race basically didn’t warm up and, lest I forget, my breakfast consisted of french fries and an apple.

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I started to slow down—walked for a bit and regained my strength. Well, at least that’s what I thought. All the other runners were slowly fading from my view. Some were still behind me while others ran by me. I remember that as I was rounding a corner, I wanted to stop once again, but the girl behind me said: “Don’t stop! If you stop it’ll be worse. Just try to build a rhythm. You can go slow but never stop.”

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I kept on going and the thoughts in my mind started to change a little: In what moment did I sign up for this race? Karen, where did you get the idea in your mind that you’re an athlete? I’ve made a mistake. Hopefully I won’t die during this race. Karen, people have trained for this race, and you get tired just running up the stairs in the girls dorm! What were you thinking?

The girls I’d planned on running with were nowhere to be seen. I’d left them behind, but they hadn’t passed me. After the race I found out they were eliminated because it wasn’t allowed to walk. So there I was—alone, or during some moments, next to a stranger. In a moment of desperation, I felt my legs shaking and my body forcing me to stop, but when I tried to stop, I realized if I stopped I would fall flat on my face! With this in the back of my mind, I was compelled to keep on going.

From the balconies of their homes, many people were spurring us on. One more kilometer! I felt I would never finish. What a long kilometer that was! During those final moments of the race, when I felt like I was drowning, I was running next to a couple. The husband kept on telling his wife that they had started the race and that they had to finish it; she stopped a lot of times to catch her breath. Thanks to her husband she was able to finish the race.

I felt so happy when I saw the finish line. I crossed it, and everything was finished. I started walking with my shaky legs toward my boss, who has actually been more of a father-figure during my volunteer year. He congratulated me, hugged me, and the only thing I was able to tell him was, “Don’t let go of me, or I’ll fall!” I was even a little pale. So while I drank an energy drink, he had to hold me so I wouldn’t fall. All I needed to do was recover, and I’d be all right.

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What a day! While I ran, as I regretted my decision to sign up, I tried to make the most of it and think of some life lessons:

  • Respect your limits. Don’t try to be Superman or the Hulk.
  • On your path to heaven, make plans, believe that you will walk with your family and friends, but there may come a time where you have to walk alone, trusting God will be beside you.
  • Preparation is important in any life situation. It’s true that sometimes you have to take risks to do something, but it’s better if you train and acquire the tools necessary to succeed with your goals.
  • In your life you will come across strangers who will help you keep moving forward. And hopefully you can also help other people in the same way.
  • Even when you think you can go no further, that your legs are shaking and your heart is about to burst—if you trust God and keep trying, you will reach your goal.
  • Keep your gaze ahead always.
  • At the end of the Christian walk, it won’t be your boss, father, spouse, or friend. A more important Person will be there: Jesus. He will be there with His arms open, holding you and reminding you that everything is over, and it will all be all right from that day forth.

Don’t stop. Keep on going, and finish the race you started.

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Karen Guerra is originally from Costa Rica, is 23 years old, and recently finished her Bachelors in Education. She served as a volunteer Assistant Spanish Coordinator at Rogers Adventist Elementary School in the U.S. in 2014-15. In 2015-16, Karen served as a volunteer assistant at the Spanish Language school at the Spanish Adventist Seminary in Spain. This story happened in Spain, where also she enjoyed making new friends, learning more about the culture, traveling to various parts of Spain, and trying to do her best in all that she did. Her responsibilities in Spain included helping in the office, befriending and tutoring students, and managing the school’s Facebook account.

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