I had no idea when I moved to the Chicago area for college in 2009 that I would stick around for as long as I have. And yet here I am, 8 years later, finally saying goodbye to the city that I’ve grown to love so much, that it’s become a part of me.
Most people love Chicago for the nightlife, the Big 4 sports teams, and the fact that you can walk out your door and get food from anywhere in the world in less than 20 minutes. But my reality is that I go to bed before 10 most nights, I find sports games generally boring, and 9 times out of 10 I just go to Antique Taco. So why exactly do I love this city so much? Why did I stay here for nearly a decade, and why am I finding it so difficult to leave?
Simple. It’s the people.
I have created a community of people here that is greater than anything I ever could have dreamed. People who have been by my side through my greatest triumphs and most devastating failures, and who loved me just the same though both. People I could call for a ride when I got a flat tire, who opened up their homes to me when I was between leases, who showed up at my apartment with soup and pedialyte when I had the flu, and with whom I could comfortably have some of life’s toughest conversations. People whose lives I’ve invested in in return, whom I’m genuinely excited to see each day, for whom I would take the red line to Navy Pier at rush hour (the equivalent of walking through fire). Being engaged in their lives has been my greatest joy, and has provided me with a sense of purpose and meaning.
While I started to grow tired of the hustle and bustle of the city as early as two years ago, it was my community that caused me to stay. Even though I knew Chicago was not able to provide the best environment for me to excel professionally, I couldn’t imagine how I could excel if I didn’t have my community. But eventually, the less-than-ideal climate, the never-ending logistics, and the stress of living in a densely populated metropolis finally tipped the scale. So when I saw an opportunity to move to Colorado Springs, I decided to take it.
Leaving my Chicago community in order to advance my athletic career is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. The process of saying goodbye to my friends here only validated my belief that these people are some of the greatest souls I will ever know. My friend Kelsea said it best when she said: “Obviously we’re all going to be sad to see you go. But the people who really love you, the people who want what’s best for you — we want you to come back here in three years with a gold medal. And even if you don’t come back with the gold, we want you to come back here knowing that you gave it everything you had. That you left no stone unturned and dedicated yourself 100% to being the best that you could possibly be.”
It’s because of support like this that I am able to go confidently towards this next phase of my journey. As heartbreaking as it is to leave the city that is my home, my friends here have taught me that home is not a physical space. It is not confined to a city or a building. Home is the people who inhabit it. And those people will always be a part of me, no matter how far away I may be. All the memories and experiences that we shared together — those don’t live in Chicago. They live inside of them and they live inside of me.
Chicago will always hold a piece of my heart. From my first garden unit apartment on Southport, to my first “real” job in River North, it’s where I experienced the highs and lows of emerging adulthood. From learning how to run on a blade on the streets surrounding UIC, to completing my first triathlon at 63rd St. Beach, to training for my first Paralympics within the walls of EDGE, it’s where I grew into the athlete I am today. It’s where I began to accept who I really am — including the parts I’m not thrilled about — and where I started to develop into the person I was meant to be. In many ways, it’s where I grew up.
My time in Chicago will always be a part of my life’s journey. And while I don’t know whether or not I’ll come back after 2020, I do know that I will always have a home here.
And so, to my fellow Chicagoans who have made the last 8 years so special: thank you. I don’t think I can ever express just how grateful I am to have been impacted by you.
Onward we go.