I knew it existed, of course. My friends and I spent Saturday afternoons lazing around the Great Lawn, every now and then we would go to a summer concert or outdoor movie, and the first fall that David and I were together we used to eat breakfast there on Friday afternoons. But the vast green space in the middle of this concrete-filled metropolis remained, for the most part, a mystery to me.
Every time I walked into the park I got hopelessly turned around. I could never figure out where I was, or how to get where I needed to be, and heaven help me if I somehow needed to cross the park completely from west side to east. I never remembered where the ice skating rink was or where I could find the tennis courts, and I though I knew that the Central Park Zoo existed in theory, I would have been hard pressed to tell anyone how to get there.
Three years ago on a whim, I signed up to train with The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society's Team in Training for a half marathon in Manhattan. I'm not quite sure what possessed me to do it, but one minute I was minding my own business pouring through some estate planning documents for a client, and the very next minute I was making plans to attend the first session of a thirteen week program. I had flirted with running before - having two marathoners for parents will do that to a girl - but I never got particularly serious about it. Nevertheless, on a cold November night in 2010 I made my way to the middle of the Central Park 72nd Street transverse to start my training.
And it was on that cold November night that Central Park became mine.
Over the next months I did every single training run on those roads, never venturing past the gates of the Park and into the city - the Park gave me everything I needed. Three or four times a week I would circle the roads with the army of runners that call Central Park home. I learned the routes and I knew every twist and turn and hill, and how to run three miles in any direction from my 72nd Street starting line. I took my first tentative steps on those roads, and, in time, steps became strides, and fear turned to confidence. I felt like I could run forever, as long as I was running in the Park.
And after the training was over, I couldn't stay away. I kept on running, and the Park became my home. Those loops and roads hold my secrets - the ones I whispered to myself in the middle of a ferocious ten mile run. They hold my laughs and my stories and even some of my tears. The Park became a part of me, and I a part of it. It is the place that has shaped me and made me and helped me find my way.
I don't live in Manhattan anymore and yet the Park still pulls at me.
Every time I am near it, I have to go in, even if only for a couple of minutes. And when I am there I see myself, running the loops, stretching by the 72nd street benches, running through rain, snow and blazing heat, nursing injuries, and running through highs and lows.
I may not live near it or run in it very much anymore, but it will always be mine. Because it was there that I found myself, and it was there that I became who I am.