CAMDEN — When the COVID-19 pandemic made its way to Maine and forced area schools to shift to virtual learning, nobody knew what that meant for this year’s class of high school seniors.
Would traditional graduation ceremonies be feasible? Better yet, would any form of in-person graduation ceremony be feasible?
The uncertainties the pandemic has cast over our nation, and the world, has left many searching for ways to inject some sense of normalcy into life.
For Camden Hills Regional High school senior Abigail Nathan, however, the stresses of the college selection process had already been a stressor prior to the outbreak of the pandemic in Maine.
“It was February and I was stressed with the college selection process and I saw a video that said that you can do anything for 75 days,” she said. “At first I was counting each day and then one day I stopped counting and it just became a part of my day. About half way through March. when quarantine started and school closed. I decided I wanted to run the half. I wanted to still work for something that would be special on graduation day.”
She decided to make running a daily habit.
“At first I was counting each day and then one day I stopped counting and it just became a part of my day,” she said. “Running really does help me with stress. Of course when I started it was a chore but now it really impacts how well my day goes. When I run I can turn off my brain and just focus on putting one foot in front of the other. I can really disconnect from my anxieties and stress.”
During one dinner conversation with her parents, Jeff and Christine, the topic of marathons came up. It was a shame, they agreed, that the pandemic was certain to wipe out all the planned races. That’s when the idea of a solo half-marathon was hatched.
Her parents decided to create a race route of 13.1 miles, or a half-marathon, for her to run.
When Abigail elected to run on the day of her graduation ceremony, the event evolved into a commemorative half-marathon to run on June 12, marking the end of graduation week for Camden Hills Regional High School seniors.
“It was a physical and mental outlet for her and has shown her just how strong she is,” said Christine.
Abigail committed to training, and that, along with running, become a big part of her physical and mental health during the pandemic.
After months of training with her father, Jeff, Nathan ran the course alongside her father wearing a commemorative T-shirt Friday, June 12, beginning at 8 a.m., just mere hours away from the start of her 4 p.m. amended graduation ceremony that consisted of prerecorded video and a 7 pm. walking one-and-a-half mile march through Camden.
The route started and finished at the family’s Camden home, and included traveling past the Snow Bowl and through town.
“The half marathon itself was hard but my dad made sure I was ready,” said Abigail, who will attend the University of Maine to pursue a career in education.
Unbeknownst to the high school senior, her mother had shared the half-marathon plans to Facebook to invite members of the community to surprise Abigail at various points along the route to cheer her on ,and congratulate her on her academic achievements.
“We are so proud of her and I just had to share,” Christine said, ahead of the race. “It’s really evolved and I think she is going to be so surprised by the people along the route and a little embarrassed; but it will be worth it.”
The day after the race, Abigail said the boosted support was the best possible surprise.
“I was not expecting it and it motivated me to make it to the next mile,” she said. “When I’m running long distances, I sometimes think how easy it would be to give up but then I think about the people in my life. They can be my motivation too. I am running for them because I know they are there for me. That support means a lot.”
Friends and family were not the only surprise awaiting Nathan on her half-marathon.
“My mom made mile markers for each mile and on them were pictures of me from Kindergarten (mile 1) through my senior year (mile 13) and that made me smile even when the race got tough,” she said.
Her parents also worked in secret for more than a month to collect letters from many teachers Abigail has had from Kindergarten through senior year.
“After my race they surprised me, and I was able to sit down and read them,” she said. “They made me cry. Each card/letter had personal messages and notes of congratulations and showed how much they all cared about me. It was a very emotional day.”
In the future, Nathan plans to follow in her parents footsteps of participating in organized races once they are permitted.
“I really understand that joyful pay-off you get after finishing a race,” she said, noting how hard her parents train for marathons and triathlons. “All the blisters and early morning workouts actually go towards something. Before the race my dad said he read in a book by Christoper McDougall that ‘the reason we race isn't to beat each other, but to be with each other.’”
Reach George Harvey and the sports department at: firstname.lastname@example.org.