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Gwyneth Young: Running Through Life Divergently

Divergent (adjective): tending to develop differently or in a different direction. Divergent can sometimes have a negative connotation, but it really just means that the thing that it is describing is special in its own way. For me, running made me feel “normal”. I always knew I was different. I would cry easier than others, I reacted differently, I liked doing things my way. In 3rd grade, my parents asked my teacher if I should get tested for autism. Teachers from that point on just told my parents I was a troubled kid and had struggles focusing. Luckily, on December 6th, 2021, I was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and social communication disorder. That explained many of my special quirks that many put aside as “troubled”.


When I would run, I felt as though all of my quirks went away, and I was just me as a competitor, not me as who I am. It’s sometimes hard for people to understand why I would cry after some races, or just run away and be alone. I had so much pressure on myself from not only the general public but also myself, that if I didn’t win, I was a failure. Looking back, I might have looked ignorant for crying after a district runner-up race, or crying when I got 7th at states and not top 5. However, in my mind, I was so overstimulated with how I felt, how I thought others felt, and the surroundings of everything being so loud.


If you read my Oval article, you know I struggled with an eating disorder before I got diagnosed with autism. I could have named this article something with adversity, but I wanted to stay positive, since the gap semester I have just finished showed me that I am getting so much better. To recap for those of you who don’t know me, in April 2021, I was diagnosed with a tibial stress fracture, a strained gastrocnemius, and a torn Achilles. I went through 8 weeks of boots and physical therapy. I felt like everything was better, and I would be able to race in the fall. However, my fall was worse than I could have imagined. After much consideration, I eventually decided that I needed to leave UPenn and take a gap semester to clear my head. I eventually entered the transfer portal, and committed to Elizabethtown College, a powerhouse of a D3 team. During this time, I also had a metal rod and 2 screws implanted into my tibia on December 8th, 2021, after finding out I did not have osteosarcoma, or bone cancer. After about 2.5 months of learning to walk, I was able to run, and have been slowly coming back ever since.


Before UPenn, I dealt with a lot of adversity, or divergence if you will. Before I got diagnosed with my 3 injuries, I knew something was wrong. I could barely run the first mile of my runs. However, even if I cried, people thought I was dramatic. Something I learned from that experience was that coaches should be required to take a special education course. I have discussed this with multiple coaches and other athletes who have autism, and we all agreed. I was told that if I had Starbucks more than once a week, I wouldn’t make districts or states. I tracked what I ate to prove I was a “clean eater” and could show what I ate for lunch before practice. I got told by so many people in my community (not by my teammates per se, my teammates were quite supportive) that I got fat, and peaked in high school.


Why am I mentioning all of this? I am not trying to pull a pity party. I am not trying to make me sound like the victim, because while I can be seen as one for some situations, I also was at fault for multiple occurrences. I am bringing this up to bring awareness. Many people know I have started to document a lot of my life, whether in my gap semester, coming back from an eating disorder, coming back from emotional abuse and PTSD, or dealing with autism. I want to show people that it is ok. You are enough. We all can fight through this together. I also want to bring awareness to toxic situations. I dealt with emotional abuse and trauma throughout my high school and it trickled over into my early college career. No matter how hard the specialists at Penn tried to help, I was stuck in a war zone. I wanted to feel pity for myself and even wanted to ride the Amtrak to an unknown place and run away. I also wanted to fight back and get myself better, hence why I took the gap semester. I also want to destigmatize mental health in athletes, and also gap semesters or gap years. We have seen so many athletes sadly take their own lives because of peer pressure and coach pressure. I totally understand the pressure we all go through, especially us who have made states and are expected to succeed every single time we race. If you need a break, take a break! In my gap semester, I started to work for the Hershey Trolley Works, I started seeing my therapist, Pam, every other week, and started to learn better coping mechanisms.


I have had a rollercoaster past two years. I even made a TikTok to make light of everything I was diagnosed with during my semester at Penn, so people knew it was ok to talk about it (PTSD, depression, anxiety, autism, SCD, severe dehydration, bone marrow deficiency, borderline hyperthyroidism, the list goes on). But, I have also learned so much about helping myself, and also helping all of you guys. Therapists are a good outlet. Medication is ok. Destigmatize anything you think is weird or not normal. I can assure you that you are more normal than you think. But is anyone even really “normal”? Aren’t we all even just the slightest divergent? We all have setbacks, but we can all grow from them and learn to move forward.


To those who contributed to some of my setbacks, I forgive you. I believe while some people didn’t help me when I needed help, I have now grown enough (thanks to Pam) that I realize I don’t need to dwell on the past and what went wrong. Does this mean everything is fine? No. Does this mean the readers need to forgive those who have wronged them? No! Grow at your own pace. I have smashed plates with my feelings on them (highly recommend). I have tried other techniques, but at the end of the day, forgiving and moving on and letting them be in the past works best for me, and might work best for you.


While autism and SCD will forever change how I act and react in certain situations, it does not make me weird. It makes me even cooler that I have something that makes me stand out from the crowd. I run through life divergently, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t do certain tasks others can. I might just do it differently.


If I can leave you with one piece of wisdom, it would be that you are worth it. You are not weird. You are you for a reason, because you are so special being just you. Believe in yourself, and reach out to someone if you need to. You can do this. I believe in you. I am proud of you.


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