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Out There: Going Back To College

Susan Lacke takes a trip down memory lane with a run through her old college campus.

Susan Lacke takes a trip down memory lane with a run through her old college campus.

“Are you here for your child’s freshman orientation?”

I choked on the sip of water I had just taken. “I’m sorry, what?”

“Freshman orientation for new students! Parents get a discount in the bookstore today!” The sprightly sorority girl looked at me with a smile.

“Do I really look like I’m old enough to be the parent of a college freshman?”

Last month, while traveling through the Midwest for work, I took a side trip to my hometown of Stevens Point, Wisc. In between long walks in the woods and even longer chats with my mother, I decided to lace up and take a run through my old college campus to see what had changed in the years since I graduated.

My miles took me past the academic buildings where I once sat with the sound conviction I would one day change the world as a respected doctor or scholar (unless class met before 11 a.m., in which case respect was so overrated).

I ran past the basement bars, where my friends and I played darts late into the night; through the nature reserve, where we’d drink beers away from the prying eyes of campus police; and under the streetlights where we’d light cigarettes and laugh at our failed attempts to blow smoke rings.

I went past the student fitness center where my best friend and I would appear once a semester, convinced that 30 minutes on the elliptical machine could undo 90 days’ worth of midnight deliveries from Topper’s Pizza.

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I ran past my old dorm, the site of many all-night study sessions fueled by espresso and Marlboros. A gaggle of residents poured out of the front door for a smoke break, full of energy and laughter. They looked so carefree, so vibrant, so … young. When did they let fetuses enroll in college? As I looked at those kids, I suppressed an urge to yell at them to put out their cigarettes, hit the books, and get their act together.

Forget asking when college kids got so young—when did I get so old?

As I continued my run through the campus, I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of regret: What if someone had told me to make smarter choices back then? What if I had partied less and taken life more seriously? What if I had actually started exercising and eating healthy foods, like I swore I would—“Starting tomorrow, after I finish off this pizza!”—almost every day of my academic life?

I’m not sure what the answer is, but I can say with certainty the answer doesn’t matter. Had someone yelled at me to get my act together when I was a college freshman, I probably would have said “good advice, old lady,” and then proceeded to make the same dumb choices.

In the final mile of that run through the grounds of my alma mater, I realized those dumb choices eventually gave way to smart ones—without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today. Sure, I could have done without the weight gain, but then I wouldn’t know the amazing satisfaction of weight loss. Had I started running in college, it’s possible I would be a lot faster today, but it’s just as possible I would have given up because I couldn’t afford good shoes. I’m not a respected doctor or scholar, but now I know they’re not the only ones who can change the world (or start their day before 11 a.m., for that matter).

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Dumb decisions can be good sometimes. I needed to be reminded of that—even if that reminder comes with a side of “What the hell was I thinking back then?”

As I caught a glimpse of myself in the reflection of a classroom window, I saw someone who looked almost identical, yet completely different, from the girl who graced the same sidewalk years ago.

I know how my dumb mistakes got me to where I am today—what I don’t know is what dumb mistakes I’ll make next. And I will make more dumb mistakes. After all, I still have room to grow and lessons to learn (lots of lessons to learn).

Starting tomorrow, after I finish off this pizza.


About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she serves as Resident Triathlete for No Meat Athlete, a website dedicated to vegetarian endurance athletes. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete boyfriend. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke