Running Track Helped Me Gain Confidence and Succeed

I struggled with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) in school, but found success -- and confidence -- on the track, and later at college, and now as an adult, at work. Today, I am a high school principal.

I Hit My Stride Hilarie Noes

As a child, I felt like I was in Charlie Brown’s classroom. The other kids heard what was going on, and all I heard was “waa, waaa waaa, wa wa.” Words were spoken, and I knew them, but I couldn’t figure out exactly what it was I was supposed to be learning.

I Was Different

By the second grade, I was identified as learning-disabled and hyperactive -- today they would call my condition attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD). I had no idea what any of it meant. I only knew that, three times a week, my teacher told me it was time to go to my “other” classroom. Once I returned, my classmates inevitably asked, “Why do you go there?” I knew I was different, and by my late elementary years, I was convinced I was stupid.

My junior-high years found me being driven across town to a special school. When I got off, kids asked me why I rode the “short bus.” I remember being so tired of hearing it that I grabbed one kid gruffly by his coat, pulled him eye to eye, and said, “Because I’m retarded! OK! That’s why.”

Everything changed in the seventh grade, when I decided to join the track team. School had so far been one failure after another and a constant reminder that I was inferior to the other kids. But when I stepped on the track, it was different. I could keep up.

For my first race, I lined up with 15 other seventh- and eighth-graders to run the half-mile. After two laps, my chest burned and my arms felt like rubber, but I came in seventh place. I was elated. Not only was I as good as everyone else, I was better than half of the team. I felt confident -- for the first time ever.

My coach suggested that I run the mile. After lacing up my Converse basketball shoes, I started running. Suddenly I found myself at the front of the pack. Was it possible that a dummy like me could win a race? The faster I ran, the more excited I got. No burning chest, no arms like rubber, I was winning a race! I came around the backstretch with the finish line in view. I gave it one last burst of speed and, sure enough, I came in first. I shot up my arms in victory and elation.

It took me about 30 seconds to figure out that I had only run three laps, not four. By that time, four or five guys had passed me by. I still managed to finish third, and, more important, I found out I was actually good at something. I began to set my alarm for 5 a.m. to go running before school.

Getting on Track

Running became my obsession. My mom bought me a subscription to Runner’s World magazine. I read it cover to cover. I don’t know if it was due to my time spent reading that magazine or my newfound confidence, but, after eighth grade, I was allowed to attend the regular school with the kids from my neighborhood.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, my parents had been talking to my special education teacher. She informed them that I would never be able to get a high school diploma. I just didn’t have the skills needed to graduate. She suggested I might be able to get enough credits and attend a vocational school. Fortunately, my mom and dad did not listen to her, and I went on to ninth grade.

High school was hard. I sweated my eligibility before every track season. My mom, a special education teacher, helped me focus on homework. My math teacher, Mr. Caldwell, seemed to know when I was totally lost in his class. Discreetly, he would call me up to his desk and ask me to solve the problem. He made me stay at his desk until I figured it out, guiding me along the way. Some days, I was so lost that I wanted to go back to my desk, and would tell him, “I understand it, Mr. Caldwell, really.” Thankfully for me, he never fell for that.

I graduated with an uninspiring 2.1 grade point average (thank goodness for band and physical education). Several of my teachers told my parents that sending me to college was a waste of money. I didn’t know whether I could survive college either, but I wanted to run college track. I couldn’t let go of the only thing that made me feel good about myself.

I enrolled at Ohio University, in Athens. Four years later, I had set stadium records and won many races on the track. And I won a different kind of race, as well, graduating with a degree in education.

Leaving the Past Behind

Since that time, I’ve completed a master’s degree and have spent 17 years as a teacher. One of my fondest memories is that of returning to my old junior-high school to teach. When I got out of school, teaching certificate in hand, I couldn’t find a steady job, so I taught as a substitute. I walked straight to the classroom of my special education teacher, the one who said I should skip high school. Her door was partially open. I pulled it open a little more so she could see me. To her shock, there I stood. I didn’t say a word, nor did she. I nodded and walked on to my class. We never talked that day.

Sharing My Story -- Finally

Now I’m a high school principal and a special education director, with a beautiful wife and three great kids. And I’m thinking about pursuing a Ph.D. Not long after I became a principal, a mother came to my office in tears, worried that, if her child was tested for a learning disability, he would be seen as disabled and never be successful. For the first time, I shared my story with her. I had never told anyone, not even my wife. Later, I decided to write it down, to encourage parents of children with learning disabilities.

I credit my mother, for helping me with homework, and my teacher, Mr. Caldwell, for having the patience to work with me. But I often wonder how my life might have been different if I hadn’t found my confidence on the track. I hope that every special education kid finds his own “track.”

Read More ADD/ADHD Life Stories About Success with Sports

ADD/ADHD and a Success in College!

A Hollywood Writer on Life with ADD/ADHD

How One Family Successfully Raised Their ADD/ADHD Sons

Best and Worst Sports for ADD/ADHD Children

Inspiring ADD/ADHD Atheletes

Can Determination Help Kids Overcome ADD/ADHD Challenges?

This article appears in the Spring 2010 issue of ADDitude.

To read this issue of ADDitude in full, buy the back issue.

TAGS: ADHD Role Models, ADHD and College, Sports for ADHD Children, Exercise and ADHD, Comorbid Conditions with ADD

No judging! No doubting! Just understanding!
Join ADDConnect's support groups for parents to discuss discipline challenges, school solutions, treatment options and much more.

Copyright © 1998 - 2016 New Hope Media LLC. All rights reserved. Your use of this site is governed by our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.
ADDitude does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The material on this web site is provided for educational purposes only. See additional information.
New Hope Media, 108 West 39th Street, Suite 805, New York, NY 10018