Private Runner

Private Runner

Private Runner

“I’m a private runner,” I told my sister when she invited me to the first annual Steps for Sarcoma 5k. She had signed up to walk the three-point-one-mile course in memory of her daughter, Jamey, who died at twenty-four of osteosarcoma. The race raised money for cancer research. I hung my head as I declined, but the thought of running “in public” turned my stomach.

I’d only recently begun slow jogging the quiet streets of our suburban central Ohio neighborhood after a high school friend posted her interval workouts on social media. The thought of my neighbors watching me haul my flabby, overweight body down the street so terrified me that I leashed up Morgan, our yellow Labrador dog, for emotional support and headed into a wooded ravine where no one could see. It took several sessions before I summoned the courage to leave the ravine and jog in front of houses from which my neighbors probably weren’t watching anyway. I couldn’t possibly take part in a race.

A friend also suggested a charity race after she learned I was running. She told me how raising money for an important cause, this one breast cancer research, warmed her heart.

Again I refused. “This is something I do for myself.”

I don’t think of myself as selfish, but chronic depression, anxiety, paranoia, and panic attacks made it difficult to focus on anything beyond my symptoms. Running at all felt like enough of an accomplishment.

But I couldn’t shake the image of my niece in her hospital bed. She had been a runner and mistook the pain of a tumor in her femur for athletic aches. By the time they found the cancer, it had spread to her lungs.

Meanwhile, my sister kept asking.

During one workout, I consulted Morgan. Did he think I should do the race? He nodded or perhaps shook a bug off his copper-colored ear. He wasn’t afraid. Perhaps, with him as my example, I could face my fear and run in public.

I told my sister I was in.

To reduce my anxiety, I researched race etiquette and learned that the race number (a.k.a. “bib”) goes on  the front of the shirt, not the back. I also discovered I should line up toward the end of the starting group so faster runners who cared about more than just finishing wouldn’t have to dodge me. The day before the race, my husband and I drove the course. Because of this preparation, on race morning I woke more excited than afraid.

When we pulled into the parking lot and I saw the crowd, my anticipation flipped to stomach jitters. I closed my eyes and remembered Jamey’s smile. I was there to honor her. We found my family and friends and soon, the festive atmosphere felt welcoming. Sarcoma survivors, their friends, and family members gathered for a survivor photo. A volunteer offered signs for us to fill out. I penned “In Memory of Jamey Ax” on one and my sister pinned it to the back of my shirt while I pinned my race number on the front.

Once I crossed the start line, my remaining fear vanished. I started out too fast—a typical rookie mistake—so a hill toward the end challenged my fitness. When my mind spun with negative self- talk, I remembered Jamey. Through five hundred days of treatment and illness, she had remained strong.

I finished, proud, tired, sweaty, and not quite last.

I meant for that first 5k to also be my last. I’d signed up to remember my niece and raise money for research hoping other families might be spared the grief our family will live with forever. But I hadn’t known that a 5k is like a party on foot: race signs, cheering fans, flying flags, music, and laughter. Plus, I had run in public! Not only had no one laughed, but complete strangers cheered! Infected with joy and excitement, I couldn’t wait to do another.

Nita and Morgan at Pet Promise Rescue Run

Nita and Morgan at Pet Promise Rescue Run

The following year, I joined a running group and found a community I hadn’t even realized I was missing. Before the pandemic, we traveled to races. We continue to raise money for causes of all types, and support each other through the joys and losses of life.

Since that first 5k, I’ve run three full marathons, twenty-seven half marathons (in eighteen states), and more than 100 shorter races. I participate in the Steps for Sarcoma 5k every year. While I don’t always run for charity, when a race support a good cause, it fills my heart.

I still take medication and go to therapy to treat my mental health issues, but running eases my anxiety and enhances my self-worth. I was able to reduce the amount of medication I need and haven’t had to change medications in several years.

If not for that charity race (and my sister’s nudges), I would have stayed in the neighborhood, running the streets near our house with only the dog. There’s nothing wrong with “private running.” Running of any kind improves fitness, boosts mood, and increases self-esteem. But if I hadn’t risked running that charity 5k “in public,” I would never have experienced the community, the celebration, and the joy of doing something for others. I would have missed some of the most fulfilling days of my life.

Doing good for others ultimately did good for me.

A version of this article originally appeared in Brokeman’s Blog. For more about Nita and Morgan’s running, see Nita’s mental health memoir, Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought Me Back from the Brink.

Learning from an Art that Needs No Words


Learning from an Art that Needs No Words

“What can an art of words take from the art that needs none? Yet I often think I’ve learned as much from watching dancers as I have from reading.”—Zadie Smith

Dance. Sculpture. Painting. Instrumental music. Art forms that do not require words inform writers at a subconscious level. We absorb them, inhale them. Movement and sound and rhythm become part of who we are.

Theme Song

Like many writers, I love to find a theme song for each project. Waves of music elicit a tide of emotions. The refrain and the power of repetition, move me. Informed by years as a flutist, and from hearing my mother, a pianist, organist, and singer, practice in the living room of our small house, I often feel I have music in my bones.

My unpublished novel, The Dream, stars Sarah, a pianist. A contemporary piano playlist helped me “hear” her tickling the ivories as I wrote. While I drafted, revised, and pitched my running and mental health memoir, Depression Hates a Moving Target, I ignored the obvious cliche and listened to the theme from Chariots of Fire—on repeat. I became one of the athletes on the beach, heart pounding, feet moving through the surf. Most of the many books I’ve written, published or not, have a musical score.

A Different Kind of Music

So it surprised me as I worked on the writing journal, You Should Be Writing, that I didn’t feel drawn to a theme song. I worked in silence adding writing quotes to those my coauthor Brenda Knight had plucked from her fabulous collection she had no doubt been compiling for decades. Stillness buoyed me while I reorganized and added to the chapters. As I drafted the introduction, conclusion, and micro-essays for Brenda to review, the only beat I longed for was the one I wondered if Brenda felt when she conceived this concept, some north star she followed in creating the early draft. I searched for the song inside what she had envisioned.

This process reminded me of high school performances with Mrs. Poe, our choir director and pianist. When she and I played together, my flute and her piano, it sometimes felt as if we read each other’s minds. I could hear the pause before it came, the way her feet shifted on the pedals, the lift of her fingers an extra second as she waited for my entrance. We were reading music, but through practice, we also read each other. At first I had to watch, see her watching me, but by the day of the recital, we could think to each other. We had melted into the music. It led us where we needed to go.

I hope the back and forth of co-authoring this writing journal with Brenda Knight created a similar melody. I hope you can hear that theme when you use it. And of course, we both hope you enjoy our song.

For more wisdom from authors like Zadie Smith, please check out You Should Be Writing, the new writing journal from Mango Publishing by Brenda Knight and Nita Sweeney.

Writing as Creation and Self-Discovery


“Writing is not just a process of creation. It is also a process of self-discovery.”—Cristina Istrati

Self-discovery draws many writers to the page. We don’t know what we think or feel or even remember until we put pen to paper. Writing answers questions we didn’t even know we had. Some of us lean into this hard.

While I’d always dreamed of being published and had early success writing feature articles in high profile magazines, these finished products didn’t interest me as much as the writing process. As a result, my writing sometimes made it seem as if I didn’t care about the reader.

What about the reader?

When she teaches writing practice, my mentor, Natalie Goldberg, rarely talks directly about audience. It’s not that she doesn’t value her readers. She aims to dive to the bottom of the mind. If a writer goes deep enough, uncovering their own truths, she suggests they will also unearth universal truths—truths that will interest, entertain, and encourage readers.

I had to put that out of my mind while I wrote Depression Hates a Moving Target lest I be so paralyzed I couldn’t write a word. I had to set my white plastic digital timer, go for ten minutes, spill purple ink onto the page.

But as I wrote, my mind returned again and again to a friend I’ve had since childhood. She too struggles with depression, exercise, weight, and self-esteem.

I could see her face.

I asked what she might want to know. How could I explain running to her? What would she wonder about form and shoes and fear? Was there something about anxiety I could share that might help her? Did I know something she might need to know?

The vague notion of writing for an “audience” had left me cold. But imagining an actual person helped me focus. It made me care. I had to write for a living, breathing loved one with a face and a name and a family history. I wrote to her.

As it turned out, she wasn’t the only one who wanted to know.

For more wisdom from authors like Cristina Istrati, please check out You Should Be Writing, the new writing journal from Mango Publishing by Brenda Knight and Nita Sweeney.

KCEI Cultural Energy Interview with Mike Tilley and Nita Sweeney


KCEI Cultural Energy Interview with Mike Tilley and Nita Sweeney

One highlight of the New Mexico leg of my book tour for Depression Hates a Moving Target, was this interview with Mike Tilley of KCEI 90.1 FM – Cultural Energy. Not only had he read the book, but he surprised me during the interview by sharing memories of things we had done in common. I hope you enjoy our conversation as much as I did.



Please check out all the Cultural Energy offerings!


Nita Sweeney at UAPA Book Club

Nita Sweeney Appearance at UAPA Book Club

Upper Arlington, Ohio author Nita Sweeney’s running and mental health memoir, Depression Hates a Moving Target: How Running with My Dog Brought Me back from the Brink, was selected by the Upper Arlington Progress Action book club for discussion at their October 30th meeting. Nita will attend the discussion to answer questions. Books will be available for sale and signing.

If you are interested in attending the event or for more information about Upper Arlington Progressive Action, please visit the UAPA website. You may also follow them on Facebook.

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