Finding My Courage on the Track by Charissa Newkirk

My daily schedule is this: I pull myself together for class in the morning, still sore from yesterday’s lift. I go to class, then into lab for hours at a time. I practice for two and a half hours in the afternoon. Then, I drag myself to the library to stay up and do work until the wee hours of the morning. I fall asleep, then wake up and do it all again.

At my medical school interviews in the fall, a reoccurring question came up: what has been my greatest challenge in college? It would be easy to point to many seemingly obvious aspects of my life. Being a woman of color in science at one of the most difficult institutions in the country is a big one-though the normal disappointments, heartbreaks and growing pains of college is another.

However, my response to the interviewer was being able to balance my life (academics and otherwise) with track. As my career as a student athlete begins to draw to a close, I have been doing a lot of self-reflection. This introspection became more pressing as I was filling out the grueling essays required on my medical school applications; I had to truly understand my journey into medicine, and what set me apart from the rest. I began to realize that much of this revolved around track.

Charissa competing at a track meet for The University of Chicago.

As rewarding as being a student athlete has been, it has not come without challenges. It was an ongoing struggle for me to balance all of my classes on top of all my extracurricular commitments. I thought that it would get easier after being in school for a while, but the work just got harder, and my busy schedule only got busier with labs, clubs, research, and frankly just time to eat in peace. Being a premed in my third year didn’t help, because the stakes became higher as competition among other people applying to medical school became very apparent.

I saw many of my fellow teammates struggle to find this balance, to the point where several quit. Year after year, promising athletes join teams at my school, only for them to quit sixth months later due to the pressures of coursework. I found myself questioning all the time as to whether any of the pain was worth it.

Division III athletes are athletes voluntarily. I was under no scholarship or contract. The only thing keeping me on the track every day was my love of the sport, which oftentimes just didn’t feel like enough. I was perpetually exhausted and stressed- what was the point?

Charissa with some of her University of Chicago track friends.


I typed all of this into my medical school applications, and finally resolved the conflict by saying this: I stay because I have the courage to pour my heart and soul into something I love. I risked not only my grades and other activities, but my own social life and sanity as well. However, what good is anything that I do if I don’t have the passion behind it? It takes courage to bring myself back to the track every day in order to contribute to my team.

Courage is being able to say no to a lot of opportunities I have because I know track is more important. In a world where young people have more options and decisions than ever before, it’s easy to become impatient if satisfaction is not immediate. It’s easy to become constantly indecisive. It’s easy to get caught up in seemingly better options due to the constant influx of information. Therefore, running track to me is having the courage to make sacrifices for something bigger than myself.

I strive for this courage because despite me hanging up my spikes at the end of this school year, the lessons I have learned through running will help me through situations throughout the rest of my life. The courage to be passionate is something that will never diminish, and despite its challenges, the reward is much greater.

Charissa is a senior at The University of Chicago, and a member of the the Women’s Track & Field team. In 2016 she posted the No. 4 time in school history in the outdoor 4×100-meter relay and was on the UAA All-Academic Team. Charissa’s writing has also appeared in The Huffington Post.


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