We moved to north San Diego County on February 1, 2010. I didn’t know a soul here- not one for miles and miles. I didn’t have a car, and I had a baby who was about 15 months old. I spent my days (all 24 hours of each of them) in my new home with my baby boy. During the first weekend after the move, I made my way to the local swap meet and bought a used jogging stroller.
The jogging stroller was my pass to get out of the house, get some exercise, and get to know my new surroundings. Max and I spent hours and hours exploring our new town- sometimes traveling 10 miles or more in a day.
I remember in those first few weeks, while we were walking downtown or near the beach, the flyers for a missing local girl began popping up on telephone poles and in store windows. I remember her brilliant, blue eyes. Something about her caught my attention, something seemed amiss. There wasn’t an ounce of trouble in her eyes or her smile. She radiated a goodness that was apparent to me from the moment I first saw her. How could it be that that girl, Chelsea King, was missing?
For that reason, I followed her story closely. The picture of Chelsea that emerged in the media drew me in even more. I learned that there were quite a few similarities between Chelsea and my 17-year-old self. She was a very serious student- very focused on preparing for continuing her education. She was a passionate writer and devoted to the environment. She wanted to do good in the world. Nothing I read or heard contradicted the initial impression I had had of her. She was a good girl. A good person.
I prayed for her safety and her safe return to the bright life that she was building for herself. I prayed that she would be able to turn all the opportunities that would clearly arise for her into gold- in a way that I hadn’t always succeeded in doing.
After a few, short days, however, that hope was lost. Chelsea had been found. While out on a run in a local park, her path had intersected with the darkest evil.
Throughout the years since then, I have been reminded of Chelsea from time to time. More than once, when telling someone of my love of taking my son and the jogging stroller out for a run, I’ve been asked, “But aren’t you scared? Didn’t you hear about that girl in Rancho Bernardo?”
I had also heard that Chelsea’s family had created a charitable foundation to keep Chelsea’s radiant spirit alive… to do the good in the world that so obviously seemed to be her destiny. They called it Chelsea’s Light.
Alas, years have gone by now. In late summer of last year, Max outgrew the jogging stroller. He didn’t so much outgrow it as he outsmarted it. He learned to unlatch the safety belt and jump out while we were traveling at full speed. No good for anyone… so that was the end of our beloved jogging stroller. I wasn’t quite sure where to go with my running from that point, so I stopped for most of the second half of the year.
As 2013 approached, I resolved that I would lace up my running shoes again and get back out there. I’ve always been most motivated in my running when I’m training for a race, so I found a training program app for my phone and away I went. I also began looking for a race that would coincide with the end of my training schedule. I went on Google and searched for races in early March in the San Diego area. The first that came up was the “Finish Chelsea’s Run” 5K.
I knew immediately which Chelsea and why she hadn’t finished her run. My eyes filled with tears. I also knew immediately that “Chelsea’s Run” would be my next race.
In some ways, the preparation for this race has been the easiest ever and in others it has been, by far, the most difficult. There hasn’t been a single “running” day when I’ve thought of skipping my run or taking it easy. Running does not come naturally to me. Honestly, I only began running because the jogging stroller offered some physical activity and a sanity break. The race is just over a week away now. At this point in my training for races in the past, as the runs are growing longer and longer, I’ve had difficulty staying focused and motivated. Not this time. Motivation has not been a problem at all.
The emotional challenges that I’ve confronted in the past two months are unlike any I’ve experienced in prior races, though. There have been days when I have literally had to fight back tears as I was running on the treadmill (in a “resolutioner”-packed gym, no less), experiencing a mix of gratitude and confusion. I’ve felt gratitude that I get to be running, breathing, alive. I’ve felt confused… about why terrible things happen to wonderful people, about how to hold space for goodness in the face of incomprehensible evil, about why I’m feeling so deeply about all of this?? After all, I never knew Chelsea in life. She wasn’t a close friend or a loved one. I had never met her.
Coming to terms with all of that has been the greatest challenge. To me, this race has been the most meaningful one I’ve ever participated in from the get-go, but what is that meaning, really? As best as I’ve been able to determine, it is that Chelsea touched my heart with her radiant spirit, and I want to do my best to honor that. I want to do my part to hold space for positivity around her memory and in the world, in general. She deserves that. It is what she stood for in her life, and it is her legacy. Not one terrible, dark moment.
The “Finish Chelsea’s Run” 5K is the primary annual fundraiser for the Chelsea’s Light Foundation and its Sunflower Scholarship program, which provides educational opportunities for outstanding students who might not have access to them otherwise.
I was blessed and lucky to receive an education at some of the nation’s best universities thanks to scholarships, fellowships, and grants. Paying that forward by contributing to scholarships for today’s youth would mean a great deal to me in and of itself. But to do it in Chelsea’s name and in her honor is such a profoundly beautiful thing to me. It touches my heart in a way that I am having difficulty putting into words.
I know that even after March 2, 2013 has passed and the race is over for another year, I will carry a part of this time in my heart. I’ve gathered wisdom and insight in the past few weeks that I’ve absorbed into the very core of me. It drives me to give my best in every situation and to be grateful for every opportunity. Tomorrow should never be taken for granted. It is not guaranteed to any of us. The only certainty is that we have this moment to express our highest potential and to bring more of what we hold most dear into this world.
Thank you. Thank you, all. Thank you, Chelsea.
If you would like to join me in supporting the Chelsea’s Light Foundation and their Sunflower Scholarship Program, please visit my donation page by Saturday, March 2.