It’s easy to get lost in the media’s portrayal of exercise being primarily a means of weight loss, building physical fitness and sculpting washboard abs. Sometimes exercise can be a vehicle for more meaningful personal development. That’s exactly how 38-year-old Krista Parry has long viewed running.
Parry, who lives in Park City, Utah, first discovered the sport as a coping strategy to deal with a difficult childhood. When nearly everything around her felt out of control, she’d lace up and head out the door.
“There was so much chaos at home, and running was always something I could rely on,” she says. “When there was craziness all around me, I could go for a run and it’d make me feel better.”
After a successful high school track career and a season of competition at Utah Valley University, she fell away from the sport. After college, she began working in the ski industry and soon found herself climbing the ranks as a corporate executive. Through the years, she dabbled in things like Crossfit and hot yoga, but in the end, found herself returning to running as a means of regaining balance, despite her demanding career — even making her way up to the marathon distance five times.
#TBT is about to get serious as I throw it back to when I was a kid… “I just want to be beautiful. God, please let me be beautiful. I don’t want to live. I have thoughts of suicide… I hate myself.” Words from my junior high journal but think I wrote these same words every night for over 10 years. I hated myself… but it was a silent hate that no one saw. If you were to ask anyone about me, they would say I was happy and probably an over-achiever. I was one of the fastest runners in the state. I was friends with everyone. Excelled at everything I did. And was happy… or so they thought. However, on the inside I was dying… I don’t know exactly when it started but I do remember a few poignant times: · Like the time in the summer before 5th grade when my grandpa made me get on the scale at his house and after seeing the numbers on the scale, telling me I couldn’t eat while I was at his house… which resulted in me sticking my fingers down my throat for the first time to make myself throw up, which continued into my early 20s · Like the time in the 6th grade when the boys called me pizza face because of my acne · Like the time in the 8th grade when my math teacher, Mrs. Dean, wiped my hair out of my face and told me to not hide behind my hair… I was beautiful · Like the many therapists and nutritionists offices I would sit in and smile and tell them everything was ok and they believed me · Like the time when I drank my way through college so I could be numb to just how much I hated myself But luckily, by the grace of God, I never tried to commit suicide… Somehow, somewhere, I had a little flicker of light inside me that told me I had worth. This light started to grow when I got a job traveling as the spokesperson for the 2002 Olympic Torch Relay, who’s theme was ‘Light the Fire Within.’ was on this journey that I was introduced to the kind, loving, empathetic, smart, talented girl that I had been so critical of… I am grateful for the hard times growing up as they made me into the person I am today. I am me… and that is all that matters. If you struggle with feelings of self-worth, know you are enough. Know you are amazing!
In 2004, Parry married her husband, Tim. After a five-year struggle with fertility issues, Parry gave birth to their first son in 2009 and second in 2011. Still, she had this nagging feeling they might not be done having children.
She knew her busy job was a hindrance to having another child, so she took a leap of faith and started her own consulting business with her sister, Lindsay, easing the stress at work and home. After an early miscarriage, though, she started to second guess whether the timing was right. She refocused her attention on her boys and her growing business and put the third baby idea on the back burner.
Particularly because of their past issues with infertility, Parry knew there was no guarantee she’d be able to get pregnant again. That’s why it came as a complete surprise when one day in June 2016, dogged by intense fatigue on a run, she was moved to take a pregnancy test.
“I could hardly make it around the track without breathing hard. I just felt so weird,” she recalls. “I thought, no way … I couldn’t be pregnant.”
Against all odds, the test revealed the good news.
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The initial excitement gave way to a scare the following week when she experienced spotting. Fearing the worst, she immediately went to the hospital for an emergency ultrasound.
“It was one of the scariest moments of my life. You think they’re going to bring up that ultrasound and not see anything,” she says. “But there was our sweet little baby kicking around, and everything looked great.”
At around nine weeks pregnant, she was sent home with the instructions to cease running and take it easy for the remainder of her pregnancy. They began making plans to welcome a third child into their family — a little girl.
A little over a month later, in late August, however, came a day that would change everything. At 14 weeks, Parry went in for a routine ultrasound. Her belly had been growing and she felt healthy. She remembers smiling at other women in the waiting room, anxious to get a glimpse of her baby girl.
The next moments are particularly vivid in her mind.
“I remember so clearly the doctor started pushing really hard with the ultrasound — searching — and then looked at us and said, ‘there’s no heartbeat,’” she remembers. “Right there at that moment, everything in the world stopped for us.”
In addition to the physical suffering she experienced from a painful miscarriage, Parry was overwhelmed by a cascade of sorrow and heartache. Not only did she experience the crash of hormones that generally accompanies the postpartum period, the grief of losing her baby girl felt all-consuming. Postpartum depression set in and she spent weeks unable to get out of bed.
“I felt so broken lying in the bedroom and just thought, ‘how will I ever heal from this loss,’” she remembers.
The turning point came at her six-week appointment when her doctor gave her permission to run again. She started with easy jogging and soon signed up for MapMyRun’s You vs. the Year challenge for extra motivation. Just as she had done throughout her life, she returned to running to reclaim control over fear, anxiety and hardship.
“I wanted to feel strong again and to prove to myself that I could get through hard things,” she says. “I had to get back to running to get my mind back — to go back to the things I knew.”
With each mile logged, her confidence grew and the depression lifted. The grief remained, but somehow, it began to feel like an emotion she could draw strength from.
“I remember going out for that first run in early October and there was a chill in the air. I am pretty sure I cried the whole run, but it was still this feeling of ‘Yes, this is where I find peace,’” says Parry. “Anytime you go through something hard, something you think you’ll never heal from, I’m a big believer that strength comes from pain.”
Ever since my miscarriage I’ve been trying to gain my mental and physical strength back running has always been my solace. I should be 34 weeks pregnant and I have felt like I can’t get back to where I was before. Today I wanted to push myself. I wanted to prove to my body and my brain that I could do it. This is my face after I ran a 6:38 mile. My eyes were blurry. My nose was running. My heart was racing. But I felt strong. Strength after pain. We can do hard things. #miscarriage #runchat
Parry also discovered a burgeoning network of support in other women who had suffered similar losses. After posting about her miscarriage on social media, she was flooded with stories from women around the world.
“Hearing these stories has really helped lift me up in a difficult time,” she says. “There are a lot of things in life we can’t control, but we can control how we connect and unite together. We can be stronger when we go through these hard things together.”
It’s that fact that motivated her to start the Race with Angels, a race held in mid-October in Holladay, Utah, that involved a virtual component in hopes of attracting a global network of runners to participate.
“It’s a way to honor my little angel, but also honor all those other families who have had to endure this as well,” she says. “We are stronger together.”
As she has regained strength both physically and emotionally, Parry started running more and training harder this past spring. She’s now following a marathon training plan, although she doesn’t yet have an actual event on the calendar. An end goal, like a race, isn’t the point anymore. Her daily run is an exercise in finding peace and connecting with her baby girl who always weighs heavily on her mind.
“The other day I was out for a run and I looked up at the sky and saw these big clouds that looked like angels,” she says. “I can feel her with me when I’m out running because I’m in my own space. It’s my me time, when my sweet, crazy boys aren’t running circles around me. I can feel my baby girl’s presence. I think running will always be that thing that helps me feel closer to her.”
Written by Mackenzie Lobby Havey, a freelance journalist and coach based in Minneapolis. She holds a master’s degree in kinesiology from the University of Minnesota, and is a USA Track and Field certified coach. She has run 14 marathons and is currently training for her first IRONMAN. When she’s not writing, she’s out biking, running and cross-country skiing around the city lakes with her dog.