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My name is Conner Manrodt, and I am a fourteen-year-old boy from Manatee, Florida. As an elementary student, life was peaceful. Overall, young kids are accepting and lack judgment. In contrast, middle school students are opposites: unforgiving and insulting. Unfortunately, the insults began my first two years of SMA Prep. I heard an increasing number of jokes about my weight. However, the jokes were light and not offensive.

In eighth grade at SMA Prep, life changed. The jokes became offensive. My classmates started saying that I couldn’t participate in sports or be a worthy competitor. Their taunts hurt my feelings. I became self-conscious about my weight. I checked my weight when we went to the store, and I noticed an increase. I didn’t want to take off my shirt when I was near a pool; my mom would have to force me to take it off.

My mom became aware of my struggles with weight. One day she suggested I join the Running Club. At first, I thought it was a bad idea, but then I reflected on my weight, the derogatory jokes, and how doleful that made me and realized I could prove everyone wrong.

Running Club started, and I wasn’t the slowest; I was the second slowest. At first, I thought it wouldn’t change, but the next week the other runner ran much faster. I never beat anybody on the team during Running Club and was always exhausted. During one race, I had to take a shortcut because I wasn’t able to breathe.

After Running Club, I tried out for Cross Country Club. When the roster came out, I didn’t see my name, although the other person who I beat in the first week of Running Club was listed (my rival). I was quite disappointed. Later that day, the coach of the club came to me and stated that there was some confusion on the roster and that I was on the team. Those words made the rest of my week.

The first day of practice arrived, and I was the slowest one on the team. The second week, we had our first meet, and I was running on the junior varsity team run, which I thought was only a mile. I went up to the starting line, and the official announced it was two miles. My slight smile erased, and I was worried I couldn’t do it. I slowly ran around the course dragging my feet. Luckily, I wasn’t the slowest one at that meet and was able to beat one person from the opposing team. I felt great.

I struggled in the following meets and became discouraged. As time went on, I started growing more dismal. In the middle of my third meet, I thought, “Why am I doing this? I will beat no one.” Even though I was frustrated, I remained on the team. I continued to practice and eventually noticed I was getting faster. I also started losing weight and, as a result, gained confidence. The next meet took place at the beach. I practiced the day before, so I was prepared and beat two competitors. I defeated one person from another team and my rival. In the last meet, I placed before two opponents, and I felt a sense of achievement. After the win in cross country, I tried out for Raiders and made the team.

Reflecting, participating in sports was an eye-opening experience. I was able to overcome many obstacles, and I became in charge of my weight. Although I am still a little chunky, I understand the value of exercise and the importance of taking control of my life.

© Conner Manrodt. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team and we can put you in touch with the author’s teacher.

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