I was completely lost at 22.
I hated my body. I would run my hands down my chest to my thighs, wanting to be swallowed up by the ground.
I had left an emotionally abusive and toxic relationship. I left my home. I left the people I knew. And my body had somehow left me.
So I fled to D.C. on a whim, without a plan. It’s very much like me to be adventurous, but it’s not like me to run from a problem. This also wasn’t some trip or a holiday. I moved to a strange city with a carry-on suitcase and no job. I didn’t know what I was getting myself into or what this new place had to offer.
DC was more white than I expected and filled with loud fire trucks, whirling police cars, fast walkers, and Lulu Lemon runners.
What the fuck was I doing here?!?
Six months in, I somehow convinced myself that I should go for a run. I hadn’t run since I was a kid, and there I was, lacing up my shoes and blasting Tupac. I was ready.
It was very bright, sunny, hot, and so damn sticky. I was going by monuments and tourists, and weaving in and out of these massive crowds.
It was chaotic, and the weather was unforgiving as if the sun had a score to settle with the earth. I was frazzled and stressed.
I wasn’t a runner. I started wondering how people did this for fun.
My heart was beating in my head, and my shirt was stuck to my chest, soaked in sweat. It wasn't long after that I turned around to walk back home, ashamed that my body couldn't endure.
A stark reminder: I’m not a runner.
I would do this over the next few months until I made it to the Lincoln Memorial, where it was always a bustling scene, a tapestry of colors and patterns as diverse as the people themselves.
Usually, I sat on the steps people watching and catching my breath, but this time I walked behind it, and it was completely quiet, as if I had entered another portal.
The juxtaposition felt like my life. A storm on one side and stillness on the other.
I had never imagined I would run every other day to the same spot for years to come. It was my secret where I claimed my space, and it defined my time in DC.
Running for me became the thing I could do without anyone's approval or permission.
Without expectations. Something I didn't have to share.
I was hard on myself at first - am I fast enough, am I running long enough, how does my body look…but the more I did it, the less I cared.
I remembered that part of me before the toxic relationship when I was savvy, resourceful, and fearless.
I somehow managed to tap into a reservoir of confidence that I didn’t know existed through a sport I initially judged and despised.
It eventually became my safe space.
I ran to escape.
I ran to center myself.
I ran to process grief, trauma, and anger.
I ran to celebrate and feel joy.
It showed me I was strong. It made me feel free.
It reminded me that I'm woman enough;
I'm queer enough;
I'm Indian enough;
I'm American enough;
and my body had always been enough.
©Priya Dhanani and © Gulabi Stories
Priya (she/her) is a queer feminist and women's rights/social justice activist whose mission is to dismantle systems of oppression and transform power structures to achieve justice and, ultimately, liberation. She loves adventure and has made it to all seven continents.
Southeast, United States