By Kendra Chambers
November 15, 2023
I’ve been competing in track and field for nearly half of my life. And from starting track in middle school, to finishing my collegiate career at the University of Texas, to turning pro in 2015, I’ve always felt that it was better together. Let me explain.
From a young age track athletes are taught to either fear or hate the lane next to you. Outside of relays, track is an individual sport so I get it. Most coaches try to motivate you to beat the person next to you – that is literally the sport. But somewhere along the way, I decided to pick up my head and look at the courageous women around me. Ever since then, I’ve been inspired.
It all started in college. The brutality of workouts, the intense coursework, the constant reminder that everyone expected the best of you both on and off the field… it was a lot for a teenager from little ol’ El Paso, Texas. Nonetheless, that was the first time I truly realized that the women around me were more than teammates or competitors: they were family. The only way I got through some days at practice was if one of them literally picked me up off the ground before another set of 400’s and said “you can do this.”
I love to use the phrase “trauma bonding” when I think back to that time in my life, because that’s exactly what we did: we bonded over the impossible workouts, the mental heaviness, and the grueling days we spent together from lifting weights at 6am to study hall at 6pm.
Though we all went separate ways, took different career paths and landed in different cities after graduation, we still love to get together and reminisce on our successes, our medals and records and all the fun, tears and laughter in between. At times I look back and actually wonder how we did it all.
After I moved on from Texas, I took a year off, not sure if I ever wanted to run again. Then something inside me said I wasn't finished, so I joined my first pro group in 2015! I went on to experience a few professional groups, as I was trying to find the right training, the right city, and the right coach and group that worked best for me in the many different phases of life. I eventually joined a group in Philadelphia and began to feel that type of family bond again I’d come to rely on at UT.
Kevin Morris / @KevMoFoto
For a Texas Girl, winter in Philly was an adjustment. Running in the snow… it was a huge shock to the system. On my second day out there we had a long run and the snow had already started to stick on the ground. When I got home I was frozen solid, so I jumped into the bathtub, only to jump right out because my toes felt like a million bees had suddenly stung each of my toes. I immediately called my new teammate – an East Coaster – and asked what was happening? She laughed and said “oh yeah, wait until you're back at normal body temperature before taking a hot shower or bath!” Never again… this Texas girl was in trouble.
Being in a professional group is way different than being on a college team. But between our game nights, birthday and team dinners, venting sessions, and those few hours a day when we contemplated life at the track: we became a family. The relentless days of lifting, running, grinding, traveling, performing on some of the biggest stages, feeling the heartbreaks and the successes, and repeating the whole experience season after season… it simply bonds you. And one day, you look up and you realize you have a refuge after a sucky race, a safe place in a foreign country, a friend to eat dinner with at a track meet, a smile after a long travel day, a hug after a PR, or just simple reassurance in the midst of the constant chaos and competition.
When life on and off the track is hard, it’s okay when you have a group of women surrounding you, telling you that you can, that you will make it, and that they love you no matter the time on the clock.
People would ask us “how are y'all friends if you run the same event?” I would laugh and think, “because two things can be true at once.” At the end of the day we can be professionals, because this is our job, after all. We are getting paid to do this. We can show up to the track and whoever is in the lane next us, it doesn't matter – our job is to beat them. We’ve each prepared in our own ways to be there and to show up and run fast. But when we are done with the race; win, draw, fall or fall short, we're there for each other, too, because we’ve all been there and done that.
The joy I feel seeing one of my friends run fast is unexplainable. Even if I’m in the race! Remember, two things can be true at once. I can be excited for my friend and I can be devastated about my own race. And neither of those outcomes change how I truly feel about the other – even when it’s really damn hard to show, I am always more happy for them than I am upset for myself. And the same thing goes in reverse: I can be excited about my own PR and feel for my friend who is struggling through an injury. And I know they’d do and feel the same for me. There’s enough sunshine for all of us. At some point in your career, you gotta stop and smell the flowers and realize – hey it isn’t always about me. In that moment, you become more free, more loving and a better friend. There it is: better together, a million times over.
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Kendra Chambers was an 8x All-American at the University of Texas and now represents Oiselle professionally. She holds a personal best of 2:00.76 for 800m.