"Find Your Strong"

Dina Lastner-Sandruck

“Let’s race”! These were my favorite two words as a child. My parents always say I came out of the womb running. As a child, I “got it”. I understood the meaning of running free. No responsibilities. I felt strong. I was strong. I loved school…most of all, PE and recess. There was nothing I loved more than proving boys wrong (girls are capable of beating boys). My teachers instilled in me a love of learning and physical activity. My parents supported my every endeavor. I was involved in anything and everything that kept me moving: gymnastics, dance, swimming/diving, Taekwondo, horseback riding, high school and collegiate soccer, competitive mountain biking, rock climbing, and high school track and field. I suppose most would term me a “jock”.

I learned at a young age that with perseverance, and support from others, you can achieve anything you set your mind to. I knew from the second grade, thanks to my amazing teachers, that I was destined to be a teacher…a health and physical education teacher. This is exactly what I did. Not only did I earn my degree(s), I earned a job at my alma mater. I began coaching soccer and track and field as soon as I started my career. I felt accomplished. I wanted my students to understand and feel what I felt, a love for life…a love for sport.

Shortly after I began my career, I learned I was pregnant with my first child. After her birth, and a high-risk pregnancy, I had to give up coaching one sport to help balance family and work. After the birth of my second child, I had to give up coaching all together. I also had to have major abdominal surgery to repair the umbilical hernias and rectus diastasis caused by my pregnancies. My physical self was slipping away, as well as my emotional well-being. No one ever gets married with the aspiration of your marriage ending. The failure of my marriage made me feel like a failure. Broken. I felt lost. I felt I lost a part of who I was. Everything I had, all of my energy was solely to care for my beautiful girls and to continue to “survive”. I was working and surviving; however, I was no longer “living”. I missed my true self. I missed my self-esteem. I missed the teams I was once part of. I missed coaching. I missed competition. I missed my sense of belonging. I missed my smile. I missed my happy heart.

It was at the lowest part of my life that I heard the little girl inside of me…she was screaming to come out! She was screaming that it was time for me to step up to the starting line and to take charge of my life. No one could help me overcome my feeling of emptiness, but me and my God.

I decided to train myself for my first half marathon. I never saw myself as a distance runner, but knew I had the knowledge and drive to better myself. I wanted to start my journey to a better me. Slowly, but surely, I accomplished that goal in 2009. Through this journey, I began to find myself. I was happy and felt accomplished; however, it wasn’t enough. I missed the comradery of the sense of team…family. Along this journey, I reluctantly entered a store in Bel Air; a small store that welcomed me with open arms…Charm City Run. I felt comfortable the moment I walked through the front door. I wanted to be like them. I’d watch in awe of their performances in races, the way they supported the community, and other runners. I decided to join/register for my first training coach through Charm City Run. That was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. My love for life, my passion, my desire for health and happiness slowly returned. My once diminished self-confidence and self-esteem began to increase. I made wonderful, life-long friends and teammates…my extended family.

Fast forward to today, at 42 years “young”, I am the happiest and healthiest I’ve ever been, and am now employed by that “small store in Bel Air”. I am honored to coach athletes on their journey to find their strength; their greatness. I am a wife, a mother, and I still teach our future generation about living a healthy lifestyle by teaching health and physical education; but now, I lead by example. I practice what I preach, and am an example of what living a healthy lifestyle can bring.

Through running, I captured my youth. I’ve found that little girl that was screaming at me to get on the starting line. I’ve found my smile, my sense of belonging, my happy heart, my team, my family. What I’ve found through this journey, ultimately, is I’ve found “my strong”.