(Old) Assignment: New School, New Town… New Identity?

I’m going to be posting something later this week that references this briefly, so I thought I’d give you a little something to read tonight as you prepare for another week of life, blogging, and reading. So stay tuned. (PS – it has to do with a pretty big goal I accomplished this weekend. I bet you can guess what it is.)


“Who are you?” It’s a question you heard a lot when you move to a different place. Especially for college. One of the big transitions in starting college I hadn’t thought about has been leaving behind not only people and belongings, but memories and places, even old identities. Last year if you asked me what my favorite place was, my answer would have been Irondale High School in New Brighton, MN. But now that I am going to school here in Chicago, I want to focus on the present and the future. I mean, college is all about figuring out who you are and what you can do away from home, right? With that, my favorite place in Chicago is the Lakefront Trail. Choosing the trail as my favorite place, I can not help but wonder, have I changed as a person already?

Not only is the Lakefront Trail outdoors and immersed in the nature of Chicago, but it is a place for Chicago natives, tourists, and people who have just moved to the city to walk, bike, run, sit and enjoy the scenery – really, anything. It runs for eighteen miles along the shores of Lake Michigan, connecting the South side of Chicago with the North side.  

The Lakefront Trail is a place I try to get to every day, even if it is only for a little while. Being from northern Minnesota, during autumn I am used to driving up good ‘ol Highway 38 to see the brilliant reds, oranges, yellows, and spots of green on the trees. Since I am not in Northern Minnesota anymore and it is still clear over 50 degrees every day, I find myself running on that trail, hoping to find a hint of yellow or maybe a dash of orange.

I feel most at home when I am doing something that I can do back in Grand Rapids. If this was still last year, I would be working towards my goal of marching with Spirit of Atlanta. Now that I know what it takes, I know what I need to do in order to continue doing what I love with a group I adore. The Lakefront Trail helps me continue to work towards my goal to keep marching with them. It is almost like being at home – just to have those thoughts interrupted again by that gorgeous Chicago skyline.

The problem with constantly being reminded of where you came from is you keep wanting to travel back in time. In this moment, I want to be back in my high school band room spinning, or out on the field with my Spirit family, and in the CD Library at KAXE (local radio station in Grand Rapids) listening to the new music that just came in. But I know deep down that if I was there, I would not want to be anywhere but here in Chicago, learning and perfecting my art; my professional love, as I like to call it.

The Lakefront Trail gives me a little bit of all those things – I have the Chicago skyline to constantly remind me I am living in this city, the paved road to run on and prepare for another summer with Spirit, and I have the trees, grass, and lake to remind me of my Northern Minnesota roots. Add in the radio or a drum corps show playing on my phone, and it is the closest that I can get to home.

This makes me think, since I feel so at home on the trail, running, what does that make me, exactly? Since I have moved here, people have told me “Geez, Erika, you’re too athletic,” or “Man, why do you run so much?” and even “I could never run as much as you do.” All of these take my by so much surprise – nobody has ever called me “athletic” or defined me as “a runner” in my whole life. That is, until I moved here.

Trying to answer the question of my “athleticism” makes me think back to two or so years ago, when I first started becoming a regular at the YMCA. I remember I had chicken Alfred pasta, (I want to say it was early January) and decided “I’m going to the gym tomorrow because Alfred sauce is not the best thing to be eating.” I did my first triathlon the following February – The Couch Potato. Basically, you had to swim a mile, bike twenty miles, and run a 10k within the span of twenty-eight days. I completed it with four days to spare. I ran my first 5k with my mom in March, and by the end of the normal people outdoor running season in 2012, I completed six 5ks, with my time below a half hour by the time the last one rolled around (something I had never thought I would actually acheive.) By April 2012, I decided that all this ‘getting in shape’ business was not going to be for just the sake of getting in shape – I decided to start training to march DCI

But when did I become defined as an “athlete” exactly? When I finished my first 5k? After the Couch Potato Triathlon? Or was it once I had been working out for a year? Maybe after DCI? I still do not think of myself as an athlete – I think of myself as a person who likes to listen to music and public radio. I also happen to spin flags and rifles and sabres, and downhill ski. And I guess I get out on a running trail or into a gym on an almost daily basis.

I guess when you think of college, you think more of the emotional and physical transitions. One thing I did not expect when moving to Chicago was that my identity might be altered. Now that I am here, figuring out  what I can bring to the world exactly, I embrace everything I can. I guess I still am not very sure who I am quite yet, let it be a public radio fanatic or a person who trains for half-marathons. Maybe I can be both – but I feel like maybe I could even be so much more. The only thing I can think of to end this essay would be what I have been telling people who ask me about the future: “I guess we’ll just have to see.”


Author: erikabunk

Raised in Northern Minnesota. BA in Radio/Business & Entrepreneurship. Painfully average marathoner. Spends too much time on Spotify, in search of the best record store in the world, and dreams of returning to Reykjavík.

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