Growing up I wanted to be a lot of things: a teacher, a journalist, a lawyer.
Never did I ever say professional athlete.
I actually said quite the opposite, and this is a direct quote to my mom, “I don’t want running to be my life.”
Three years into a professional running career, a time in which running has literally been at the forefront of my life, we think back to the time I said that and laugh.
Of course, I love being a runner. I like being on a team, I like working out, and I like seeing hard work pay off. But I had not spent much time imagining myself doing this beyond Duke.
I had other plans.
When it became a real possibility, I really had to think hard about the decision. I was excited at the thought of continuing to do the thing that I knew best, but I also had some concerns that caused me to hesitate.
The biggest concern on my end was that I was settling into a life so far off from my plan. A life that was leading me further away from formulating an identity outside of the track. Further away from a career where I could make an impactful difference.
I decided to continue running, but told myself that it would just be for the one year and then I would be back to my original plan. I stayed training with my former college team and worked part time at the local Boys & Girls Club, which really helped me feel connected to my community and introduced me to the world of philanthropy.
Little did I know, I would finish that year with a significant new PR and decide to move my life to Washington D.C. to join the professional running group that I am still a part of today — District Track Club.
While I was busy worrying that I was moving away from my perfect plan and putting a halt on finding my purpose, I was actually entering a space in which there is unlimited potential to have a great impact. I still like to have a plan, but I always make sure to remind myself “your plans might go entirely awry, and that’s OK.”
You never know where life will take you.
My time with DTC has taught me many things, but the one I want to share a little bit about is that we can do what we love and at the same time have a greater purpose beyond performance in our sport. This discovery is important to me for two reasons. Firstly, when we solely define ourselves by one characteristic (example- “runner”) we face the risk of shaking our identity and self-perception when that chapter of our life does close.
Secondly, it’s nice knowing that being an athlete does not void one’s ability to help others.
As athletes, we can easily get caught up in our training and results. It seems like our one and only job is to run fast. But I think it is important that we also see ourselves beyond what happens on the track. The platform and experience that comes with years and years of athletic performance puts us in a perfect position to have a meaningful impact on the world around us.
While performing is important, at the end of the day the mark we leave on the world can go way deeper than the actual times we run.
I witness this firsthand with my team. For several of my teammates, the time they dedicate to the track far exceeds their own workouts. They’re back out there later in the day, coaching at local schools and putting their hearts into helping younger generations learn and grow through sport.
They’re working with other organizations to bring fitness to all populations in the DC area, whether that means facilitating programs for youth, collecting shoes to distribute, or sharing their knowledge and passion for the sport online.
Athletes are strong willed and persistent in reaching their goals and channeling this same energy into charitable pursuits can lead to some amazing results. I’m motivated and empowered by the athletes who are the best in the world at what they do yet still prioritize supporting the causes that they care about.
While I’m still learning how to find my place of influence, I’m glad I started participating in my sport in ways outside of my own athletic endeavors. I love that I have been able to bring fitness and fun to elementary schools in DC and talk to younger teams about my experiences with collegiate and pro track. I even started blogging about my experiences in the hopes that at least one person can find inspiration.
Now I see that by choosing to be a runner, I was actually opening the door to become so much more. While running is indisputably a huge part of my identity, and I want to do my best, I now know that the choice to run does not cancel out the rest of the things that I am.
And no athlete should let it. If anything, finding a greater purpose beyond our own athletic accomplishments makes the whole experience that much more special.
We are more than runners.
MADDIE KOPP — DISTRICT TRACK CLUB / DUKE UNIVERSITY
400 Meter Run: 52.74
600 Meter Run: 1:27.09
800 Meter Run: 2:00.88