February 13 2018
Colleen Kelly Alexander discusses the accident that changed her life and how she has rebounded in spite of the trauma to her mind and body.
JOB: Ph.D. Candidate
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As part of my work studying minority group politics in West Africa, I do things that others might consider difficult or daring on a regular basis. But until two years ago, there was one activity I was sure I’d never be able to do: run. I had a number of friends who ran, and it seemed to make them so happy. I wanted to experience that feeling, but when we went to the gym together, I’d watch them run for a full hour on the treadmill in the time it took me to workout on the elliptical machine, stretch and shower. I knew I couldn’t do that.
One day, a runner-friend mentioned to me that her boyfriend had finished his first 5k by following a run/walk program. I’d never considered a plan that incorporated walking—that I could definitely do! I began day one of this program the very next morning. Starting out slowly made all the difference for me. I didn’t have to run for an hour at a time, I just had to go a little farther than I had the day before. Within a month, I could run 20 minutes without stopping. I felt so amazed and accomplished.
I’m currently working towards my Ph.D. in political science at Harvard University. In Cambridge, Massachusetts, I love to run along the Charles River where I can see the Boston skyline. When I’m doing research abroad, however, running can be a little tricky. To keep myself motivated, I sign up for races a few months away.
Last summer, I traveled to Nigeria to complete an eight-week language program. I was living in the north of the country where the population is largely Muslim. It is socially unacceptable there for a woman to wear a t-shirt or shorts in public. Because the temperatures reached 110 degrees almost daily, this made running outside nearly impossible. But I had registered for a 5k the weekend following my return to Massachusetts, so I knew I had to figure out a way to make it work. Luckily, I was able to find a wonderful gym that had women-only hours where I could run comfortably in less clothing. I befriended the manager and staff, and soon watching Nigerian soap operas with them during my treadmill runs became the highlight of my day.
I am currently training for my first half marathon, which is the longest race I’ve ever attempted. The idea of running an additional 10 miles after I’ve already finished a 5k is both scary and exciting, but I know that I can do it. Every run is an achievement for me no matter what the distance, and I hope to continue running for the rest of my life—no matter where I’m living.