By, Sara Hall
When I first started running professionally, I never thought I would want to continue competing when I had kids. I imagined being pulled in two directions, always feeling guilty that I wasn’t giving 100% of myself to each. I like to be “all-in” in whatever my endeavor, and wanted to fully enjoy motherhood and be present for my kids.
However, here I was having taken 4 kids out of the orphanage and I still had the same desire and love for the sport just as I anticipated when we began the adoption process. Of course having the responsibility of nurturing and leading 4 human beings to become thriving people would be an endeavor that would trump all else, but I hoped that the girls’ adjustment to their new life would allow me to continue to do what I love.
Adoption is like signing your name on a blank contract, agreeing to love and commit to these children “come what may”, and from talking to many adoptive parents of older kids, I have learned that “what may” can include some life-altering, traumatic new normals. I prayed that would not be the case in our family story.
Our time becoming a family together in Ethiopia really could not have gone much better. The little girls begged their way into our bedroom where they took up permanent residence, and each morning they would wake up with an excitement from their new-found freedom. All the girls proved to be just as obedient and loving as they had been when we visited them in the orphanage and we spent each day enjoying meals together, doing school, and being active in our beautiful surroundings. We had one day with one girl being a bit moody for some of it and some quiet meals where I got a bit anxious that this would forever be my fate (which is hilarious because now our dinner conversations are over an hour and we have to police the “wait your turn” rule to talk) but nothing traumatic. My parents came out almost the entire time which was an incredible treat for all of us and a big help in their schooling. I trudged through my last week of high mileage and mega-workouts before starting my Chicago Marathon taper, and since I had endured a disastrous tune-up half marathon at the Great North Run prayed that the freshness would come back in time. Fortunately I had run well placing 2nd at Falmouth Road Race a month before Great North, so I tried to recall those memories and discard the half as the byproduct of a possible stomach bug or marathon legs.
We had left plenty of time (2 1/2 weeks) to finish the immigration process before our tickets were booked to fly home, but thanks to a glitch on the immigration website our codes were not being inputted and in the final day we spent the entire day at the US Embassy in Addis Ababa hoping it would get fixed in time for us all to fly home together. We got three of the four finished that day, and Ryan and I decided I would fly home with the younger three since i desperately needed some sea level, and he would take Hana the following day. I was a bit hesitant to travel alone with 3 youngish children, but the girls made it easy on me, taking every new experience in stride without the shock I
expected and even fighting over who would carry my stuff!
When Hana and Ryan flew in we treked back to Redding, and the moment I was waiting for finally came to pass: the girls got to see their new home! I (half-jokingly) told Ryan I expected them to bust out intochoreographed song and dance to Annie’s “I Think I’m Gonna Like it Here” so he’d better make that happen. Alas, they did not, but they did love our home and surprisingly even the dogs! (Dogs living inside as family members is a foreign concept in Ethiopia) My favorite memory of this night is (now 9 year old) Jasmine finding her
pink bunny hoodie towel and stripping off all her clothes and wearing it around everywhere the rest of the night and following morning! It was surreal to have these girls we had prayed for and knew would be coming to be sound asleep in their bunk bedsand sleepily coming down for breakfast in the morning. This was real!
In Week One, we broke all the rules the adoption books and therapists recommended like keeping them from being overstimulated by hunkering down and “cocooning” at home as a family. Instead we took on our large, loud churchon Day 1, Bra shopping at the mall on Day 2, throwing a large birthday party with 20 wild kids soon after… and they handled it all beautifully. It was a short 4 days before I had to head out for Chicago Marathon, but I had total peace seeing how miraculously they had adjusted to our home life, even peace to let Ryan follow a few days later and leave them in his parents’ care! Fortunately my legs adjusted to sea level similarily smoothly and I was excited to toe the line and run my “debut redo”.
The race was not everything I hoped for but definitely everything I needed and set out to accomplish. I went out conservatively in 1:14:45 much thanks to a solid pack of guys I joined including some Fleet Feet Chicagoers which was definitely a blessing as the “Windy City” lived up to i
ts name! After that I was flying solo for most of the 2nd half, passing guys as they came back to me but without anyone else running an even pace moving forward. I did my best to keep my pace up but was not able to and slipped a bit to a 2:31:14, good for 10th overall and 2nd American. The last mile, I was relieved to be finishing strong and feeling so different than I did in my LA Marathon debut. But as soon as I saw the clock and crossed the finish line the competitor in me thought “aw shucks, I wanted to run faster!”
Regardless, there was a lot to be thankful for, and I felt a wave of relief as I rushed home to get back to the girls. I had crossed two finish lines: the end of a long adoption process and the end of a long and challenging marathon training block that happened to coincide, and I was overwhelmed with gratitude that God had given me the grace to handle both.
Though the marathon may not have been great timing, the post-marathon break was excellent timing. I was able to be accessible to my kids all day, go on some jogs with them, and getting them situated in their new life, which included preparations for school, 3 long rounds of closet rehaul, water survival/“swim” lessons and exploring our city. Their first weeks at school I spent the day bouncing around making sure everyone was surviving English-immersion OK. Think about going back to junior high… now think about going in a completely different culture, not speaking the language, and looking different than most kids! My girls are brave and I am proud of them.
We treked down to SoCal to meet family and friends, visited the ocean for the first time, and once again each new experience was handled in stride by our amazing kids. On the trip to LA I had the opportunity to run the Olympic Trials course as it stood, and I excitedly took it. With jello-y legs from time off, I was glad the race was not that day but couldn’t help feeling very inspired. The fire still burned. Soon after I started back hard workouts and surprisingly felt better than before the marathon. My thoughts before this had been to not race until a tune up half marathon in January, but the competitor in me immediately started wondering “when can I race?” I love what I do and am not afraid of hopping into a race and failing. It was out of pure passion that I entered the US 12k last minute and managed a 2nd place finish against a great field of US women and Ioved every minute of it! I knew that Ryan was going to wake up the girls at 4:30 AM California time to watch the live feed, and as the camera followed us I thought of them cheering me on.
The last few weeks we have been able to find our rhythm as a family. A lot of the start-up appointments and shopping are starting to die down and our school-week groove has emerged. There is no doubt that parenting is a sacrifice and I would probably benefit from laying around watching Netflix all day, but that has never been me and fortunately after much practice from my student-athlete years I seem to handle “busy” relatively well. I am not a control freak (if you are, international adoption will be very VERY stretching). I do not need a clean house to function, and fortunately my kids like to help clean. I strive to be adaptable and keep the main things the main things. Life is much busier, but it is also much richer.
There are too many moments from our 6 weeks home that are forever etched in my brain, but here are a few that have made my heart smile: the post-dinner impromptu “dramas” they put on for us, running the trails with Hana and Mia and seeing them learning to enjoy pushing themselves, Lily spending as much time in my lap as possible and constantly declaring “Me with You!”, Jasmine accidentally taking the 10k route at a local race and running almost the whole way with complete joy, Jasmine’s overflowing enthusiasm about everything, Mia’s servant heart manifested in many deeds behind the scenes, playing in the waves for hours with them on their first trip to the ocean, the epic school outfits they come up with that always include one piece of ASICS gear (think Sporty Spice)…. I could go on and on about these awesome four.
I am very passionate about my journey towards the Olympic Trials, however I am equally passionate about being a mom and stewarding well these beautiful girls God has entrusted me with. My goal so far has been to be totally present when I am doing each one. I do what I can to finish my training and work by the time they finish school and put away my phone as much as possible when I am with them. But I also have to say no to field trip driving, teacher-aiding, Pinterest-home-making, and many other things I would like to do because when I am training I want to give that my all as well.
Many call this the “honeymoon period” for adoption, but I refuse to speak that over our story. We are in this “come what may”, but just as I always strive to live expectantly in my running career that the best is yet to come, so I believe for our family.