The Significance in the Steps

It was zero degrees when I went outside to test the waters. Immediately and simultaneously, I both saw my breath as I exhaled and had it taken away as well. But perhaps not how you might think.

The temperature had plummeted overnight, and the sky cleared. At 8 am, the sun was shining brightly, and the trees, now crested with ice, presented a breathtaking background for a cold New England day. Some ice impeded the swiftness of the river, but it still flowed slowly. A sign that even when presented with obstacles, we can always prevail.

As I looked around the back yard, dressed in what I hoped would be appropriate gear for what I was about to do, the snow glistened back at me – like twinkling lights in the night guiding your way. With the sun giving me hope that it might warm up, and my canine child quickly finding “his spot” so that we could go back inside, I mentally prepared for what was to come. The snow crunched underneath my boots as I walked up the trail, anxious to pack up my stuff and get going.

“I must be out of my mind to think I can do this and in this weather no less. Henley, your momma, has lost her mind,” I said out loud – as if speaking it might convince me to consider otherwise.

Henley looked at me with his soulful eyes and wagging tail – a picture of happiness and hope. At that moment, the cold air struck me, albeit oddly, as I was about to do something I’d never done before. And likely in single-digit temps, double if I was lucky.

But, I committed and set a goal. Moreover, I wasn’t doing this solely for me. There was a bigger purpose, so following through was the only way to go.

I can’t say that I was nervous about it. I’ve worked hard this past year and pushed past the limits of my mind that can often confine me. I know I am stronger – physically and mentally – and that this is a solid foundation from which to construct aspirations. I tried to remember that I can do many things when I set my mind to it, and, in the words of my mom, that “You are made of good stuff.”

With this, I would forge ahead.

The night before, my husband asked me, “are you ready?” I shot back that I felt unprepared and that I hoped like hell that I didn’t go to Jesus in the middle of it. Usually, he’d say something smart back to me like, “don’t worry, honey, I paid the life insurance.” But he didn’t. Instead, he just smiled and told me he knew I could do it. Thanks for having faith in me, honey, especially when I need it the most.

I figured if I went to Jesus doing this, at least I’d be doing it while stepping outside of my comfort zone. So there’s that.

When Henley and I got back to the house, I was quick to pack things up, and my husband and I headed out to the car. The heated seat felt fabulous, and I thought to myself again, what the hell are you thinking? But, I shrugged it off and tried to relax. We were meeting our dear friends in town for this yearly event – with a little change up to the status quo.

As my husband drove, I pinned on my bib, and not the kind of bib to catch my drool or food. I’m not to that point yet – and hopefully not for a long time.

I looked down at my number, 341, now emblazoned on the front of my jacket, and immediately my thoughts started percolating.

Holy wow. I’m doing this. Or am I? It is freezing out! But it will be warmer in town, right? And Suzanne is doing this with you. So, you’ve got this. You’ll be okay. 

Soon after that, I exchanged my boots for my sneakers, and my husband and I walked to the main event. There was snow cover on one of the walkways, which only amplified the cold, especially on my sneaker-clad feet. But I’d be okay. Deep down, I knew that.

As we neared the entrance to the event, the music played, and people gathered. Excitement, joy, and hope surrounded us and made the frigid air a bit more tolerable. If you were looking for some holiday magic, then this was a great place to discover it.

The announcement came that the event would be starting shortly. So, I made my way to the runner’s chute, with my dear friend by my side, and my heart beginning to race a bit with anticipation. More thoughts ran through my head, and I couldn’t stop thinking about how damn cold my feet were – even with my wool running socks. But me being cold seemed trivial, especially on this day. My friend and I chatted and laughed for a few minutes while we kept our eye on the clock at the start line, and of course, we encouraged one another.

And then it happened. The countdown. A mass of people. More excitement.


God, help me. Sh*t is about to get real.

And then the buzzer went off!

Before I knew it, my brain switched gears, and I was off and running. And in ten-degree weather! I was participating in my first 5K run ever. Still, I worried that I might not be able to do it, even though I knew I could because I had been preparing for this for weeks. My legs kept going, and I found my pace. People cheered us on from the streets and their homes, music played, and I smiled every time a young kid ran past me – their pace ahead of mine.

But it didn’t matter. All that mattered is that I was doing something important to me, and in the process, supporting a cause that provides safe passage and gives hope to adults and children who are victims of abuse.

As I ran past the one-mile marker, I smiled. One down, two to go. You’ve got this. As I ran, I relished in the moments. I forgot my earbuds, but I didn’t care. Being present and in my zone was the only music I needed for 3.1 miles. And the encouragement from the cheering crews spread over the run was incredible.

Into mile two, and I was still going strong, and then, I saw it. In the distance, it both stared me down and enticed me with its incline. I thought, “oh no,” as a few people passed me on either side. Then, I noticed the man in front of me with a birdhouse strapped to his back and a sign that read “Empty Nester’s.” As I chuckled and thought good for you, I remembered something important: I can do hard things. I’ve been doing hard things. Doing hard things is what led me to be able to do this. 

So, I kept going. I felt a joy in my heart that I cannot adequately describe other than it brought tears to my eyes. I felt a fierceness and strength run through me. I knew it was there, but it had awakened anew on this day. With the hill in my past, I rounded the corner and looped back onto the main street with my head held high and the significance of each step leading me to the finish line.

Finally, I saw the three-mile marker, and as I ran down the hill toward the finish line with pride in my heart and tears in my eyes, I heard my husband yell my name and cheer me on. I smiled widely and inside I did a happy dance! My heart swelled with emotion, and at that moment, I felt like a rock star. I had done it.

Not only had I done it for me, but also the adults and children needing safe passage from abuse. I ran to support them so that I could play a small part in helping to give them hope for a better tomorrow.

The significance of those 7,000 or so steps in my first 5K is something I will cherish for a long time to come.

So, I leave you with this. Believe in yourself. Shush the voices that constrain you. And when you run or write, or swim, or walk, or bike – or whatever it is that you long to do – do it with pride. Have hope and faith that the dots are meant to connect, and don’t ever forget to be present and be you. After all, it isn’t about winning the race but rather the steps that you take to get there. It is the best gift that you could ever give to yourself.


Laura Mikolaitis
Laura Mikolaitis
Laura credits her writing, which laid dormant for years, to her late mom, who always believed in her. Writing unabashedly from the heart and inspired by millions of moments, three tenets of evergreen advice that her mom always shared with her are her guiding principles. Whether it is poetry, fiction, or a personal essay, her love for the written word feeds her mind, body, and spirit. Laura’s creativity also comes to life in her passion for photography. Her ongoing love affair with the moon, her joy for family and friends, her connection to nature, and being a loving canine mom often become some of her best subjects. Laura has held many roles throughout her professional career, including Brand Manager, Project Manager, and Director of Global Business Development and Sales Operations. In addition, she has a background in consumer-packaged goods, manufacturing, and textiles. Laura currently works in biotechnology for Berkshire Corporation as their Product Marketing Manager. She holds a Master of Science degree in Communications and Information Management from Bay Path University and a Bachelor of Arts in Communications from SUNY Oswego. Originally from Northern NY, Laura resides with her husband and canine child in a small town in Massachusetts that captured her heart years ago.

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  1. I absolutely love this essay and celebrate that you ran this 5k and did it for those “adults and children needing safe passage from abuse.” Laura. What a complete inspiration this is!! As a longtime runner, I could relate to all you’ve described about your experience. The invitation to believe in yourself and take the action with pride reminds me how my dad would sing with great love and passion-horribly off-key. He absolutely loved to sing. Singing brought him so much joy that I learned not to give one hoot about how he sounded because love and joy swirled around all those words he sang from his heart. Sometimes we don’t have to be perfect or even seasoned or good, we just have to do something brave, something we know is worthwhile, something that brings tears to our eyes, and take “the steps it takes to get there.”

    Thank you so much for this piece as your words weave around my heart & soul and resonate deeply.

    • Laura, thank you so much for these lovely and heartfelt comments. It’s like reading a dose of inspiration and one that I need today. So, thank you. As for your dad’s singing, I think that’s great! I have an uncle who loves to sing also, and although he’s not great, he does it with pride, especially when he sings Louis Armstrong. Give that man a microphone, and he’s off and running. As for me, my brothers are always joking with me to sing tenor – ten or fifteen miles away. I laugh and keep on singing along anyway.

      So glad you could relate to this being a runner yourself. I’m not a great runner, but I do love the feeling I get when I do it.

    • Thank you, Jeff! Shushing those voices isn’t always easy, and sometimes they throw me into a tailspin that is tough to escape. However, I’m learning how to release the constraints more and more.

    • Honestly, Laura, we should talk sometime. There are days when I have the “bad boys choir,” er, “singing” in my head. Enough already!

  2. Laura, you are just amazing! I mean really.

    S*** is about to get REAL. Oh yes!

    I just find so much in your writing from humour, to vulnerability, to vividness, to expansion, realization, empathy, kindness, and a host of emotions when I get going with your words. Then I feel them and…wow!

    I am super proud of you for doing this 5K and I can only imagine how this has inspired others and even myself to get going (shush the negative self-talk), keep going, just a little more, and then a little more and finally….

    Thank you dearly Laura for your guts and glory you share. I look forward to more and more in 2020.

    Happy holidays!

    • Maureen, thank you for these uplifting and encouraging comments. I am humbled. It isn’t always easy to defeat the negative self-talk, but when I do, it is so freeing – just like completing the 5K.
      Thanks so much for your time and engagement – it means a lot!

  3. “I can do hard things” is the equivalent of my mantra “all evidence points to…”
    I think that’s the key to “finding our brave”, as Kimberly Davis would say, looking at the evidence of our past success and resilience from difficult, sometimes tragic obstacles and challenges.

    Congratulations, Laura, I have a feeling you’ll do this a few times in the coming years!

    • Thanks so much, Sarah. I appreciate your support and encouragement, but also your friendship.

      Excellent insight as always, Sarah. Thank you for sharing it. I love your mantra also, and it is the equivalent. I love the part about looking at the evidence of our past success and resilience. It makes perfect sense, but something that I lose sight of from time to time.

      As you know, shushing the constraints in my mind is not an easy task for me. They are knocking hard this week, and I am trying my best not to open the door. What can you do except keep moving forward, right?

      I am hoping to do an 8K in May, and possibly another 5K before then. It is such a great experience, and it left me wanting more 🙂

    • Have you read The Art of Possibility, Laura? Jeff Ikler sent it to me and I highly recommend it for you RIGHT NOW!

  4. You had me from the opening sentence & enticed me to keep reading with every step. Thanks for sharing this story Laura. It’s bringing a smile this snowy day in Idaho as I prepare to put some of the finishing touches on a story of my own! Sometimes, even writing our stories & sharing them can be a commitment of heart.

    • Sora, thank you for your kind sentiments. I appreciate that you took the time to read my story and then be a part of the conversation. I agree with you that writing our stories and sharing them can be a commitment of the heart. Somedays, I’m not sure I can do it, and I have to shush those voices. And I always feel – and write – so much better when I do.

    • Len – thanks so much! Those inner voices can be brutal at times, and it’s taken me time to learn how to shush them. But running helps me quiet the fear, and it keeps me moving forward. There is genuinely something freeing in those steps.

      I appreciate you taking the time to be here. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

  5. Laura, your story reminds of the first time I did the Bike MS Cape Cod Getaway. On one particular climb, I was starting to suck wind and, worse, to feel sorry for myself. I looked up. Both sides of the road were lined with people in varying stages of MS, relying on everything from canes to wheelchairs, every one of them cheering the riders on. I thank God for lots of things. That was the first time I thanked God for healthy legs.

    I will take this from your story: “I felt a fierceness and strength run through me.” And I’ll remember it the next time I doubt myself (which will be soon, no doubt). Thank you for writing this. Thank you for sharing it. Thank you for helping all of us who need to be reminded that we’re fierce and strong when we need to be.

    I’m happy and grateful we’re connected.

    • Mark, thank you for sharing one of your experiences with me. I’m sure it must have been an overwhelming moment, but so good that you pushed your limits and went for it.

      The Friday before the run, I was chatting with a young woman who recently relocated to the area where I live. We had an instant rapport, which, of course, led to a lively conversation. I mentioned to her about running my first 5K for Safe Passage. Her eyes got wide, and she said that she knew all about them, as they helped her when she needed to leave her life behind and move here. I was speechless. But, at that moment, I knew it was all meant to be and that the dots had aligned. So, when I ran on Sunday, I ran with her in my heart also.

      It was evident to me that life is full of millions of moments, and many of those push people to have to do hard things and make tough choices. But, in the end, we are fierce – even if we don’t feel it at the time.

      Thanks for the conversation, Mark, and I am also happy and grateful we’re connected. Life is funny that way, but I believe people come into each other’s orbits for a reason.

    • “I believe people come into each other’s orbits for a reason.”

      So, do I, Laura. This morning, I attended the funeral of the man about whom I wrote this:

      He was put in my orbit in 1978 and likely never knew the influence he had and continues to have in my life. I don’t even need to know the reason we’re connected. I just need to be grateful we are, to watch the signs put on my path, and to make responsible decisions when I see them.

      Thank you for being in my orbit and for sharing yourself so generously.

  6. “I can do hard things. I’ve been doing hard things. Doing hard things is what led me to be able to do this.” Laura, yay you! Way to go! You gave us such a great picture of what this meant to you and brought us along with you step by step, no pun intended. I’m not a runner, but I was with you every step of the way. Back to, “I’m not a runner.” But I realize I can choose. I don’t have to conform to prior definitions of myself. I can do hard things (just maybe not running… 🙂 Thanks for the inspiration, Laura.

    • Mary, thank you so much! I’m happy I could serve up an ounce or two of inspiration with my story. I love what you say about not having to conform to prior definitions of yourself. I’m learning the significance of this more and more each day. Running is a release for me, and it pushes me outside of my comfort zone, not to mention how much it helps clear my mind. I think the key is for a person to find what it is that gives them that natural high and pushes them out of their everyday box.

      Thanks for reading, Mary, and for your support and encouragement!