shoe shopping with Jack

My Journey to Me

Daycare pickup is my favorite part of the day – a shocking revelation if you consider that halfway into my first pregnancy, I still wasn’t sure I wanted to be a mommy.

Some of my friends know that I struggled with depression throughout college but especially during my first semester at the University of North Carolina (UNC), when I transferred to North Carolina State and moved to Raleigh to live with my grandparents shortly after exams ended.

It seems like a lifetime ago, especially after my sister’s Batten disease diagnosis and the 12 difficult years that followed forced me to finish growing up more quickly than most of my early-20-something peers. In fact, nearly two decades passed before I understood exactly what happened that unhappy autumn in Chapel Hill.

I got injured my senior year of high school and couldn’t play soccer when I arrived at UNC. That, coupled with severe homesickness and a general lack of self-confidence, sent me spiraling downward.

Lots of kids get homesick, but my situation was more complex than that. I had identity issues. Suddenly, at 18, I had no idea who I was. For most of my life, I’d let “things” define me. The sport I couldn’t play. The visual arts I gave up to focus on creative writing. The school paper whose editorial staff I couldn’t crack (I wrote for my high school newspaper for three years, but the Daily Tar Heel turned me down). The serious boyfriend and parents and siblings I left in Charlotte. The close friends who chose other schools.

When all of those “things” went away, I thought I had nothing left. The damage ran so deep that I needed years, not months, to recover.

I’m older and wiser now, but I’m still the same person who lost her way among the leaf canopies and winding brick sidewalks of the UNC campus all those years ago. That’s why, as a working adult who runs races and a nonprofit and writes books and blog posts and travels to far-flung national park trails to lose herself on purpose, I secretly worried that if I became a mommy, I’d have to pull back and once again lose the “things” that make me who I am.

I went through with it, of course, and my brother and sister-in-law threw a gender reveal party for us on Mother’s Day last year. The moment those blue balloons burst out of the box? That was the first time I experienced what felt like excitement about my baby. And the moment I saw him for the first time? That was when I fell in love.

gender reveal

Fast-forward to the smile that played on my lips during my drive home from the office this afternoon. To the love that flooded my heart when I leaned down to lift my sleeping son out of his crib at school, and he opened his eyes and grinned at me.

I’m seven months into this thing, plenty long enough to learn that I don’t have to give up who I am to be a good mother. I have to navigate more challenges and be more creative about how I tackle my to-do list and survive on less sleep. Like anyone else, I’ve always fallen well short of perfect, but for the first time in my life, I’m okay with it.

But Jack hasn’t asked me to give up any of my “things,” and I feel certain he won’t make that kind of demand even after he starts talking. Motherhood hasn’t robbed me of anything that makes me who I am. Instead, it’s made me into a better version of myself. I still work and write and run and hike. I’ve learned to train for races with a jogging stroller at less-than-ideal times and pump while making dinner and answering emails and write blog posts while sitting cross-legged on the floor with a baby who won’t let me out of his sight.

This motherhood thing isn’t easy. But more than ever, and maybe even for the first time in my life, I know exactly who I am and what makes me happy. My “things” are important, but they’re still just things. And my heart is full.

the road ahead

19 Goals for a Joyful 2019

It’s 62 degrees outdoors, and a high, thin fog hugs naked branches painted on a flat, gray sky. Though unseasonably warm, the gloomy weather feels appropriate in this moment, on the last day of 2018. The gifts once nestled beneath my Christmas tree have been unwrapped, the plaid tree skirt left bare, and while the tree’s white lights still twinkle, they’ll soon be extinguished, too.

I’ve never really made New Year’s resolutions, at least not the classic, eat-better-and-exercise-more variety that pack gyms throughout the first few weeks of January. Instead, I view the holiday as a chance to reflect on the past 12 months and set goals for the next 12 and beyond.

In some ways, my own 2018 will be difficult to beat. I ran four races in three states. I took a top-three finish in a 10K and wore a blindfold in a half marathon. I landed national coverage in Runner’s World.

CLT Marathon 2018

My sweet son, Jack, made me a mom in September.

newborn Jack

I appeared in a short film, “At the Edge of Hope,” highlighting inspiring stories in the fight against rare disease. I spoke at TEDxCharlotte again, this time as a special guest. I published my first book, “Run to the Light,” a true story of what it means to believe. My peers at the agency where I work in content marketing named me employee of the year. I also said goodbye to my sister, Taylor, a true hero and the inspiration for everything I do. Taylor died following her long battle with Batten disease just six days after my son was born.

When I look back at 2018 years from now, I think I’ll remember it as a rare collision of indescribable pain and immense joy. There won’t be another one like it, yet I’m excited to look forward and make the best of this next trip around the sun. So, without further ado, here’s a quick look at 19 goals I hope to accomplish in 2019.

  1. Eat clean. Not a diet, this is more of a lifelong commitment to eating whole, minimally processed, satisfying foods. I cook from “Run Fast Eat Slow” and its sequel, penned by American distance running icon Shalane Flanagan and chef Elyse Kopecky, almost every day of the week. Following the principles outlined in these books gives me more energy and happiness as well as fewer migraines and burnouts.
  2. Save more. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to see and experience some of the most beautiful places on this beautiful planet, from the blue glaciers of Montana to the green fins of Kauai. By finding creative ways to save, I can ensure my son grows up experiencing the world’s wonders, too.
  3. Choose time over money. This may seem like it contradicts the previous goal, but in those instances where spending a little more money gives me more time with the people I love, I’ll always spend more. This may mean using a grocery delivery service or ordering my clothes online.
  4. Get more sleep. Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to sleep with a newborn. Caring for my son, especially now that I’m back at work full-time, makes me so tired that I’m more than happy to turn out the lights at 11 p.m. (early in this house).
  5. Try new things. Whether it’s a new restaurant or a new trail, I’ll welcome new experiences and treat each one like an adventure.
  6. Get back on the trails. I was pregnant for 75 percent of 2018, so I didn’t get to spend much time hiking or running trails. In 2019, I want to get back to getting lost in nature, and this time, I’ll get to take my son along for some of the ride.
  7. Run in at least three states. With 21 states in the books, I’m almost halfway to my goal of running in all 50 to honor Taylor’s legacy and raise awareness of Batten disease. Those daycare tuition bills may make it tougher to hop on a plane in 2019, but I’d like to aim for at least three states. California and Wyoming are already on the books. Where else should I go?
  8. Set a new PR. I have almost all of my pre-baby fitness back, and I’d love to set a new personal record (PR) for at least one of three distances – 10K, 10 miler and half marathon – in 2019.
  9. Make more music. I inherited a grand piano in 2010. I grew up playing this piano when I visited my grandmother, and I can’t wait to teach Jack to make music with it.
  10. Start book number two. Whether I finish the young adult (YA) novel I drafted in college, start writing the YA fantasy idea I’ve been chewing on for months or pick up something entirely new, I need a project.
  11. Dabble in a new book genre. I studied fiction writing in college, and my first book is a memoir. Having a small human under my roof has rekindled my love for picture books, chapter books and middle grade novels. I’d love to start writing (and illustrating) stories for kids again.
  12. Keep showing book number one the love. I like to tell Jack thanks for making me a mommy. Well, “Run to the Light” made me an author, and though it hit shelves in November, I know I have to work hard to keep it in the eyes and minds and hearts of readers. I’ll get started with a book signing and reading at Greensboro’s Scuppernong Books on January 5. Want to hear about other upcoming events? Follow me on Facebook and Twitter.
  13. Grow as a pro. I’d love to write books all day, but I’m blessed to have a job that allows me to write about different things all day. I’m committed to building and developing my content marketing career in 2019, especially on the strategy side as well as mentoring younger writers.
  14. Be a good mother to my son. Becoming a mommy is the best thing I’ve ever done. And no matter what goals or challenges I take on in 2019 and beyond, raising Jack is my most important job.
  15. Be a good wife. This may mean something different for everyone. For me, I married my best friend and won’t let that change, even as we tackle new stressors like parenthood.
  16. Have fun. I’m hyper focused, but I still like to have fun. In 2019, I’m giving myself an unlimited free pass to eat ice cream, play games or do nothing at all – whatever I need in that moment to relieve stress and be happy.
  17. Be present. I’m not sure real balance exists, especially for working moms. But if I can’t be all things to all people, and if I can’t be everywhere at once, I can at least commit to being present and focused on the moment at all times, whether I’m working on the computer, running in the woods or having dinner with my family.
  18.  Choose joy. Confronted with terrible loss and great pain, my sister always chose joy. And living as she did is one of the best ways to honor Taylor’s legacy.
  19. Don’t forget to look backward. I think people celebrate the New Year as a fresh start and a chance to move forward. But I’ll never forget where I’ve been – the pain or the joy.

Do you make New Year’s resolutions? What are your goals for 2019?


The Truth About Book Publishing

With so many books in the wild and politicians and celebrities writing and publishing memoirs in a matter of months, it’s easy to assume that the book publishing business is, well, easy. After all, some estimates pin the number of available print titles on Amazon at nearly 50 million (though Amazon keeps such information, and its formula for book sales rankings, close to the vest). But the instant bestsellers that garner six-figure advances and fuel nationwide book tours paint an unrealistic picture of the journey for most authors and, indeed, most books.

I majored in English literature with a minor in creative writing. I sold my first short story before kindergarten (granted, the buyer was my piano teacher, and the cover price was one dollar) and wrote most of a young adult (YA) novel during my senior year of college. I’ll admit that when I graduated, I thought I’d snap up an agent and a big New York publisher before I turned 25.

Of course, reality looks a little different. For two years after finishing school, I worked long hours at my marketing job and coached a soccer team and planned my wedding. I didn’t have much time to finish that YA manuscript or take the publishing world by storm. I was the quintessential modern writer, which is to say, I did many things in addition to writing. And when my 7-year-old sister, Taylor, was diagnosed with a devastating, inherited illness called Batten disease one month after I got married, my priorities changed.

I could have given up my comfortable, ordinary life in southern suburbia and chased my childhood dream. I could have lived on ramen noodles and cheap white bread and rented a studio apartment in New York instead of buying a house in Charlotte and cooking real food in the kitchen. I could have driven my Honda Civic for hundreds of thousands of miles and stared at the screensaver on my computer instead of buying economy class plane tickets to experience the images in real life. I could have done all of those things and still failed to achieve my dream. Because the book publishing business is complicated, and talent and effort aren’t always enough. Indeed, they rarely are.

Here’s a true story.

For seven years, I fought a monster called Batten disease. I did everything I thought I could do to save my sister’s life. I helped found a charity called Taylor’s Tale. Instead of writing the next great American novel, I wrote blog posts and brochure copy, speeches and scripts. I honed my craft, even if reality didn’t look quite how I’d imagined it. Meanwhile, Taylor kept getting sicker.

In 2013, the efforts and gifts of countless family, friends and perfect strangers started bearing real fruit. But it was starting to become painfully clear that we couldn’t harvest that fruit quickly enough to save Taylor. I almost quit (everything). Instead, I put on a blindfold and ran 13.1 miles – an act that served both as a publicity stunt and a deeply personal way to honor my blind sister. The run achieved those things, but it did something else: it saved my life, or at least my capacity to hope. And in August 2014, on a plane bound for Oregon and another race, I started writing a new book.

For the next 10 months, I turned piles of sticky notes and years of blog posts and thousands of pictures and memories into an 81,000-word manuscript. Meanwhile, I crisscrossed the country, running races to spread Taylor’s Tale. I wrote the final chapter on a chilly May morning in Fargo, North Dakota (state number seven), hunched over my laptop at the kitchen table of a friend’s parents, who’d taken me in for the race. The following weekend, I sat on my patio in the warm North Carolina sun and read my own book, cover to cover. One month later, I sent it to book publishing people, sure it’d quickly find a good home. In fact, I told my husband that when we boarded the plane for Hawaii in September (state number eight), I’d be celebrating a signed contract.

But the book business rarely works like that, especially for debut authors peddling a memoir centered on an ultra-rare disease. I started recording rejections in an Excel spreadsheet, copying and pasting the text of the personal replies I received (26, in case you’re keeping score). I looked for consistencies in the feedback. I read comp titles, taking copious notes. I reworked my query letter. I revised my opening pages, moving them to a later chapter and adding a prologue. And in moments of weakness, I complained to my husband about the so-called book industry experts who loved my writing but didn’t believe it would sell.

Then, on a cold night in February 2017, I got not one, but two offers. A few months later, I signed my publishing contract under a wide open sky in Montana, where I’d traveled to run the Missoula Half Marathon and hike in Glacier National Park. And on November 1, 2018, “Run to the Light” became a real book.

book and blindfold

Of course, Taylor didn’t live to see that day. She died on September 26, six days after my son (her nephew) was born. But I like to think that her spirit lives in many places – not just in the pages of the book she inspired, but also in the hearts and minds and souls of the many people she’s touched, and in the promising work Taylor’s Tale continues to do in her name.

Finding a publishing home for “Run to the Light” was, at times, as frustrating as writing it was rewarding – and took twice as long. I almost grew to prefer the form rejections over the long, complimentary emails from respected agents who took time to explain why they couldn’t make an offer. The form rejections felt like a first date without sparks, while the personal rejections felt like a real relationship that ended in heartbreak.

But I refused to let it go. My sister taught me that if you believe in something, you don’t quit. You keep chipping away, trying new angles, peeking beneath unturned stones. So that’s what I did.

The writer’s life isn’t for the faint of heart. For every overnight sensation celebrating that signed contract with happy dance GIFs on Twitter, there are thousands more on their third or fourth or fifth manuscript, still seeking publication – or who published their first but needed 10 years to write it. Thinking about it in that way, I feel lucky to have found a publishing home for the first book I finished (and only the second I started) while still in my mid-30s.

If you’re working toward a similar goal, I hope you’ll take a page from my sister’s story and keep at it, no matter how many roadblocks you hit. The intricacies of the modern book market have made it exceedingly difficult to jump from unknown author to bestselling author. But as an editor friend once told me, it only takes one (person who believes in your book and you), no matter how many rejections you receive. So keep working. Be willing to consider options b and c and d. If you’ve written a good book, you have a real shot.

The Cost of Doing More

I’m injured again.

The human body is a beautiful, capable, complex machine. Sometimes, it can also be fickle. I figure that’s why I can run a half marathon blindfolded without getting hurt, as I did four years ago this month, yet roll my ankle reaching for a shirt in my closet, like I did last week.

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How My Blind Sister Taught Me to See

Some days are so unforgettable, so moving, that we live them over and over again, immersed in the moment, for the rest of our lives.

Yesterday was one of those days.

On Friday, October 13, 2017, I accomplished something I’d never dreamed I could do until this year: I delivered a TED talk. After all, public speaking terrified me for most of my life. I hated the spotlight, more content scribbling sketches and stories with a No. 2 pencil in my treehouse than giving a class presentation or speaking up in a group. In fact, the soccer field was the only place I really felt comfortable using my voice, and even that confidence didn’t come till halfway through high school.

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The Importance of Running a Fast Race

Today is Global Running Day. And in about four weeks, I’ll run my 20th half marathon in Missoula, Montana, where I’ll aim to break 1:40 for the first time.

I’ve only run sub-1:45 three times while battling injuries for the past seven years. But the Missoula Half Marathon is a flat, fast course, and I might be in the best shape of my life. When I entered my first 13.1-mile race on a cold December day in 2009, I could outrun almost anyone on a soccer field, but I didn’t know the first thing about training or pacing. And when I crossed the finish line in Charlotte at the 2:37 mark, I was gasping for air.

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