A lot of people ask me how I came to love fitness to the extent that I do. My go-to response usually includes some medley of, “I just started working out and fell in love” or “My body is a temple and I like to keep it healthy” and sometimes even, “I love the results I see when I’m active.” These responses have almost become automatic and although there is truth in each statement, my passion for fitness was ignited by a catalyst that I do not often discuss—until now.
When I was 15, I fell head-over-heels in love with a boy named Travis. From the moment I met him, I felt a connection that I had never had with anyone before. He became my everything. There were few moments over the following year that Travis and I weren’t together or weren’t talking. He was the start and end of all my days and I couldn’t imagine a world without my boyfriend, my best friend.
On November 4th, 2007, a few days after Travis and I celebrated our one-year anniversary, I woke up without a “Good morning honey!” text like I always had. Confused, and frankly a little annoyed, I made my way downstairs for breakfast. I will never forget the look on my mom’s face as she said, “I have to tell you something.”
“Travis got in a car accident on his way home from here last night.”
“And he didn’t make it”
I immediately felt as though I was out of my body, watching from above, as I let out a scream from the depths of my chest, watching myself fall to the floor. I watched myself repeat “no” over and over again, as I tried to convince myself that there was no way he could be gone. He was just here the night before. We were watching TV. He had left at 11, the house rule, just like he always had. He was only 18. I watched myself call his friends one by one, repeating the words I didn’t want to believe myself: Travis is gone.
The rest of the day and weeks to follow felt like a blur. No one knew how to deal with me. I was suddenly thrust into the role of “the girl whose boyfriend died,” and I wasn’t prepared. At school, my friends and teachers would give me sympathetic looks of pity and as I walked through the halls, I would hear whispers of “that’s her,” as girls informed one another about the tragedy that had somehow become my life. In town, I would be approached by strangers who had seen my picture on the news or in the paper, asking if they could give me a hug. At home, my parents would try and hold me as I cried, suggesting that it might be in my best interest to visit a counselor. The panic attacks that ensued from the constant reminders and pressure of being the “dead guy’s girlfriend,” only furthered their efforts to have me seek professional help.
I didn’t need help. I needed Travis back. He was the one I would talk to when I was upset and now, when I was at my lowest, was the only time he couldn’t be there for me. No one knew how to deal with me; I didn’t know how to deal with myself. I didn’t want to even be myself anymore. I wanted to get away.
That’s when I started running.
I had always been relatively active. I was on the dance team all throughout middle and high school and would take a spin class at the gym here and there. But it wasn’t until Travis died that I seriously fell in love with working out.
I would go on runs to cry. No one would try to hug me or suggest solutions to something that couldn’t be fixed. It was just me, running until my body was numb and until I couldn't cry anymore. I became obsessed. I loved the way I felt with each stride—the monotony of the sound of each foot hitting the pavement one by one cleared my mind and made me feel alive for the first time in, what felt like, forever.
Running saved my life.
I used fitness as my escape and as a way to cope. As I got older, fitness remained a large part of my life. No matter the problem I faced, whether it be school, friends, or family, I knew that I could always put on my running shoes and everything would be alright.
I know I talk a lot about how great working out is to get the body you want. I also know the health benefits of being physically active are widely known and accepted. And both of these things are accurate and great, but I truly believe that the most important aspect of fitness is the benefits it provides to your mind. Working out keeps me sane. Being active provides an unparalleled way to cope with stress, anxiety, and depression.
I love my body. I love that I’m healthy and fit. But more than anything, I love that I am able to face whatever obstacle in life that may come my way because I start each day with a workout. A strong body yields a strong mind.
Travis’ death will always affect me but it no longer defines me. I have gathered the strength to break free from my role as the “the girl whose boyfriend died,” and instead, prefer to be “the girl who will kick your ass when it comes to fitness.” I am Happy Healthy Hannah, and that’s how I intend to stay.