Saturday Spotlight- Munira Fuhrmann

My running journey started the summer before I went to college. My older sister invited me for a jog with her, and from that day I was hooked. Running felt hard but after the run I felt like I could handle anything. Certainly there were many things in my life over which I had no control; running gave me control of my body. In addition to discipline, it gave me perspective to take control of what was in my control and over what mattered for me in a long-term. I have one body, one me. I could leave it to chance or see what it was capable of.Escaping from aftermath of war in Bosnia at 17 years old was more traumatic than living through the war itself.

When you surrounded with people that went through the same experience you can talk, relate, laugh about, and heal together. When I arrived to the US, I spoke very limited English, and I remember feeling embarrassed by my situation. I wanted to be invisible and not be questioned about it; I just wasn’t ready to talk about it as I still processing it all myself. Needless to say, my journey to the US was an awakening in many ways, the start of a new life.A major aspect of starting over was the opportunity to learn a new language. As with everything in life, learning a new language is a process and requires lots of patience. So did making deep friendships; it all takes time. It took time before words that are being said in another language had deep meaning and emotional connections.The idea of me going to college came to me by my high school guidance counselor; I never even dreamed about going to college before. I remember all the students in a classroom were working on their application and I had nothing. I don’t even think at that point I was capable to fill out the application. My guidance counselor assisted me with the forms. I really didn’t think anything would come out of it. My English was so poor that they held me a year back. I started in alphabet class. I don’t remember a thing from that application; everything on that from was foreign at that point. Looking back, I am very thankful for that counselor, even though at the time I was afraid of her and found her abrasive without much patience. I guess dealing with students that is size of adult and with toddler type of communications skill must have been frustrating!SUNY Delhi was the first letter of acceptance that I received — I was super excited not so much about going to college but about being accepted. After applying I also forgot about it as the whole application thing felt surreal. Then came the letter being invited for orientation and was even more excitement. I had to go and see for myself. I didn’t want to even think about financial part as I decided to take one step at the time. At that point my English was at the level where I can understand what I am reading about with major help of dictionary. I was living with my sisters in Sunnyside, Queens, my parents stayed in Bosnia. If felt like everyone was busy with their own life. Among my family, it was sort of a joke that I wanted to go for orientation. My parents had zero desire to move anywhere else; they would rather die on their farm that move and start life over somewhere else. I get that!I don’t remember the details of planning the trip to college orientation; I somehow managed to take the bus from Port Authority to Delhi by myself. I remember stopping in Kingston for a break with zero expectation of anything.Again, taking one step at the time.I remember people on the bus saying that there was a shuttle that goes to the university from the bus stop in town. I was not prepared for that additional step, which made me late for the placement test. After we got off the bus, we had to wait for the shuttle. Some people started walking. I could see the school in the distance, so I started jogging the mile distance. Half way to the school it started to rain. I showed up wet, by myself. While students were taking the placement test, parents, stuff and faculty were in one room Farrell Hall. Delhi at that time was a small school so I didn’t go unnoticed, let just say people didn’t forget me when I came back as a freshmen.That experience left me shell shocked, especially seeing that their parents accompanied students. Highs School in Bosnia at the time was treated like college as far as demanding that students be independent. I don’t know if I can find words to describe how I felt, but it was hard for me to hold tears back during the campus tour. I remember feeling that I didn’t want people feeling bad for me. After living through a war it was hard to relate to others. I notice others had a hard time relating to me, based on the reactions of other people. Now I understand how much courage it took to do something like that on my own.After the unforgettable awkwardness orientation I fell in love with the school – the location, nature, the supermarket in town, the walk from bus to the university. The financial advisor ended up helping me, doing all the paperwork for the loan with Key Bank with me. Academic advisors made arrangement for me to take the placement test in NYC so I didn’t have the additional travel. It was so refreshing being with people that were so nice, so genuinely kind and helpful. It was really the people that I fell in love with, such a big difference from Queens and NYC pace of living (I found the immigration offices particularly difficult). My ability to take one step at the time got me into college.When I began in fall for my freshman year I loved being away on my own, and being independent and in charge of myself, and my life. I knew it would not be easy; I ended up reading chapters before the class so I would have idea what they talking about. I was placed in English 101. For the fist time I wasn’t placed with English Second Language students. All of my hard work, late nights, and summer school staring to show. I was excited but also very nervous about being able to keep up. I was able to keep up! Not just keep up but also experiencing true learning process, and first time starting to speak voluntarily in class and sharing my opinion what we were reading. I must say professors at the university and the classes that I took were phenomenal; not just one but all of them across the board. It made me want to study and they were so helpful anytime I needed help or had questions. With the beautiful weather and scenery I started running around campus on daily basis after class. I needed more than just focusing on school. Before I knew it I was bored just running around campus I would venture off the campus.One day I found my self in the office of a cross-country and track coach asking if I can be on the team. I am feeling embarrassed right now but I don’t know if I felt embarrassed then – at the time, I had no idea about what it takes to run on a university team. Ignorance is bliss; thinking about this makes me want crawl and hide under the table. I would like to be on a running team! I love to run! I remember him looking at me puzzled not knowing how to respond to this.Have you ever been on a team?NoHow long have you been running?Three months!How many miles have you been running a day?I don’t know –I just run.Okay, lets do your physical first and then we will go from there.I got my physical done same day and within two days I was on the team. When I met everyone for a first practice at the track I felt very out of shape and clearly out of place. Not that I was out of shape, more like I just “picked up” running. I felt like an ugly duck showing up with everyone super fit, girls in their sports bra, and shorts, and tan. Boys with their shirts off, I felt very overdressed with oversized t-shirt, and basketball type of shoes that I purchased at mega Nike store in NYC. I was very proud of them but they weren’t running shoes. I don’t know how it happened or when it happened, but I did this experiment where I choose to not compare myself to others because if I did I would become bitter. I reminded myself of my journey and my mission in life and that would make me happy to be where I am. I was just so happy to be part of the team that my thought process was: “you have to start some where and really just focus on present moments,” to just do the best that I could do right then. I was so accustomed to being out of my comfort zone. Obviously I chose to do this. I found a group of people that I looked up to and wanted to be fit like them. Everyone was welcoming and so nice.I don’t remember the fist run with the team probably because of all the emotions I felt, from embarrassment to inspiration. On my third day, the coach gave me new running shoes at a time when I didn’t even know there were shoes specifically designed for running. Another “ah ha” moment. Putting those on and going for a run with the team felt like I could fly, on that day coach ran with us and said he was beyond excited to have me on the team.I was so happy to be part of something; I loved wearing the cross-country uniform and felt so proud. I couldn’t even say I am living my dream — it is beyond that. As a kid I would of have loved being part of something but growing up in a small town and on a farm with the war energy in air it was only something that we see on TV.My freshmen year I ended cross-country season with a terrible shin split injury, which I found out years later was a stress fracture. I was very sad but now realize it was much, too soon, I hadn’t wanted to disappoint coach or the team and ended up running on injured leg. All the mistakes beginner athletes do. I took my healing seriously and iced, stretched and knew it was a good learning experience. Cross Country women team finished that season strong.That spring after my injury I was determined to come back strong including being smart with my training. At the end of sophomore year I earned All American at the National Junior Conference Athletic Association in Buffalo in outdoors track in 10000 meters. The year was 2001. It felt like a cherry on the top of ice cream finishing year that way.There were many other highlights that year; everything was a personal record and what really mattered to me was doing my best and improving personally, in addition to running well and scoring for the team. I couldn’t have had better year academically also. It was such a year of growth on so many levels for me. But all of this would not been possible without having the faith on my coach. As a result of his encouragement, I felt great from the inside out, and being surrounded with people that truly cared about and empowered me. I am thankful to coach for having faith in me and for taking a blind chance on me. It has shaped my running and college career in such a positive way.My life at Delhi ended at NJCAA in Buffalo and I earning associate degree in Computer Information Systems. There was a graduation but I never ended up going to which I now wish I did. It would have been nice to acknowledge all that hard work and celebrate with other classmates. Looking back, that experience was a stepping-stone for my new life across the world from where I was born. I think it may have just a little bit to do avoiding awkwardness of not having parents there I don’t know. It was one of those things I was used to but also used to avoiding. It was a stepping-stone to another incredible experience, transferring to Stony Brook University and to work on bachelor’s degree. I continued on to run for NCAA.Stony Brook was a giant leap for me in every way. It would of make whole lot more sense to be taking gradual step and race for division II. Now I am realizing I like to or tend to torture myself. I didn’t know there was a list of requirements just to be on division team; by luck I had them all.Switching schools was at first tough; it felt like I was going away to college all over again. All over again this time challenging on another level. I was still heavily dependent on dictionary. Academically, I felt swallowed in big classes and not really getting much out of class. I lot of my studying and learning took place in the library, not the classroom. Business classes were good but I lot of the material felt like common sense to me, things I already knew. The break was nice.Stepping on the cross-country line with division I team, I was struggled with the feeling being left in the dust. I will never forget those nerves at the staring line. Running for division I learned to be okay with being left in the dust at the big meets. Indoor track and outdoor track was a bit less intimidating because we were placed in heats but being that I was a long distance runner and running 5000 meter that was not always the case. Regardless, I was happy to have the opportunity to be running on a team. Our coach was amazing, I liked how he cared for us, he was caring and made us feel safe. Training was hard and I ran drastically a lot more miles that I was used to. Under the guidance of coach and all that training, I never got injured and most importantly I stayed healthy. It must be the ice bath after run that saved me because all of us that did them together pretty much stayed injury free.I earned my bachelor in economics and minor in business management at Stony Brook and continued to run after collage. After graduation, I had my eyes set on running a marathon. Not a particular marathon just a marathon to challenge myself and see how I would do. After graduation I was working for couple of different temp agencies, exploring what I wanted to do and looking for a way to support myself without depending on others. I continued to run almost every day; my longs runs were 13 miles.In 2005 I signed up for the Long Island marathon in a last minute, week or two before the actual marathon. I wanted to try and see how I would do and my last resort was I could always just do the half marathon. I ended up running whole marathon with a time that got me into Boston marathon. I remember just having fun and talking to people along the way and just enjoying it with no pressure. The last third of the marathon I ran next to this guy who kept talking to me about being a Boston qualifier and I had no idea what he was talking about. Another moment ”ah ha” moment! I had no desire to run the Boston marathon but I ended up being talked into I ended up running it in 2006 which was a wonderful experience. I took out too slow because of the heartbreak hill and feeling like when I hit it are “you kidding me?” I guess I was expecting Selden hills. Well that opinion of heartbreak hill changed very quickly for me the following year when I took out too fast and hit the heartbreak hill hard like a wall. I still did personal best at the course but it was brutal and it was my last marathon. Marriage came then the baby carriage and I quickly realized that being a mom was my new marathon. I still run most days but there is a difference when I was in the office and sitting for eight hours compared to being on my feet all day and having a two active boys who are 9 and 7 years old now always ready for the next thing. Running will always be part of me. I love doing local races. Even if I am not running I love taking my children to cheer on other people running it. For example, I had a foot injury this spring during the Port Jefferson brewery run and I ended up not running but going anyway to cheer and watch the other runners. Watching those other runners work those hills, one step at a time, made me feel part of it. Transformation is one step at the time and so is running and so is living taking one step at the time entering new chapter, setting new goals and doing my best.