Essay of the Week: “Fall Down 7 Times, Stand Up 8”

By: Rachel Da Silva

In my peripheral vision, I can see that I am neck-in-neck with the competition in lanes two and four. My eyes focus straight ahead on the fifty-yard line. I pull ahead of the girl in lane two and hold steady for a few paces. In an instant, excitement replaces my nerves and I overtake lane four, sailing through across the finish line in first place. To think – just six months ago, I struggled with tears in my eyes to merely walk from class to class.

On crutches, I would hold my leg. I endured the throbbing pain and the stares of pity from my classmates. The agony of my aching legs resulted from a surgery intended to repair a problem. Now I felt worse than ever and wondered if I would ever make it back to the track.

Throughout my athletic career I experienced lower leg pain. For two years the discomfort persisted, and so did the same message from doctors: “Give it time – rest, tape, ice.” After two years and dozens of doctors’ visits, I finally received clarity from a sports medicine physician: Exertional Compartment Syndrome. The solution was surgery in the fall of my junior year, on both legs, to relieve the pressure in my calves. Three days after surgery, I ditched my crutches, and a slight limp was the only evidence of an impairment. On day four, I woke up to what felt like bullets rushing up my leg. My right leg had doubled in size, and was incapable of bending. After a new series of MRIs, x-rays, and ultrasounds, I learned I had developed a hematoma and would need another surgery to remove it. A second surgery and an incredibly painful recovery prevented me from competing that winter and it was unclear if I could run track in the spring season.

I have always been optimistic and believed in myself. This time it was different. My inspiration to push ahead came from an unusual source – the first graders in my Sunday School class. I have been teaching for four years, but sometimes I feel I learn more than I teach. In the midst of my recovery, one of my students, Ava, told the class that she had been running toward the soccer goal when someone tripped her. She fell and left the game crying, but was back on the field the next day to score a goal.

Ava was my new role model. I was determined to recover as quickly as possible. I decided to do physical therapy three times per week instead of two, along with doing my PT exercises every morning and night.

A race off the field was a major distraction from my recovery. I ran for Teen President of my chapter of Jack and Jill: a national organization of African American families. It felt like my time to serve as President had come; I had chaired several committees and attended more national and regional events than anyone else in my chapter.

In between campaigning, I received great news: doctors cleared the way for me to run again!  At the next track meet familiar thoughts surfaced: Who is the competition? Are they faster than me? A new question emerged: Will I be slower after the surgery? Nerves flew through my body as I stepped onto the track.

The shot fired and I took off. It almost felt foreign to be painless while running, a realization that I relished as it carried me to first place.

Weeks after my victory, the Jack and Jill teens of my chapter elected another member for Teen President. The thoughts of my first graders inspired me once again to avoid letting a setback deter me. I still wanted to contribute and offer my leadership skills. I congratulated her and requested to be appointed Legislative Chair. She obliged.

Like Ava, I got back up after a fall.


Rachel Da Silva, a graduate of Dover Sherborn High School in Dover Massachusetts, is a freshman at Syracuse University.

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