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Micah Ling on top of Mount Yale

First Person by Micah Ling '03

First Person

is a regular feature of DePauw Magazine, which is published three times a year.

When I arrived on campus at DePauw in August 1999, it was the first time I had been in a place where I knew no one. My only sibling is my twin brother, and for my entire life to that point, I had at least had him. But when we decided to go to different liberal arts schools — a state away from each other — it hadn’t occurred to me how lonely being totally alone would feel.

Micah Ling '03 on a mountaintopAt that age, I could be a social person, but my default was for sure introverted. I could keep my head down and do my own thing pretty indefinitely. So that’s what I did. I ate alone; I studied alone; I thought about transferring to a school closer to my home in Columbus, Ohio. I liked DePauw — my classes and professors — but I hadn’t found my place. 

In my free time, I’d often run the gravel roads around Greencastle — through covered bridges and next to horse farms. I didn’t pay attention to pace or distance. I didn’t have a GPS watch or a cell phone. I just ran. 

One evening, I was leaving the Hub with my dinner to go, as had become my routine. A friendly-looking man with a huge smile stopped me and said hello. I had seen him around campus. He introduced himself as Kori Stoffregen, the cross-country coach. He said he had seen me running loops around town. He told me I should come to practice the next day — meet at the track at 4 p.m. I told him I had never run on a team or even raced before. Kori assured me I’d be just fine. So the next day, I showed up at the track, more nervous than I’d ever been.

Kori introduced me to the team like we were old friends. Some people were stretching and warming up. Some were getting taped up by a trainer. Everyone was friendly and no one asked how fast I was or why I was there. After that first day, I was in. I was a cross-country runner. 

Most afternoons at practice we ran the winding country roads I had run alone. We ducked under a rusted barbed wire fence to get to the closed-down rock quarry that had miles of shade-covered paths. The pace was usually easy. Some days I led. On hot afternoons Kori met us with coolers of ice water out on the dusty roads. 

I liked training a lot more than racing but, by the third meet of the season, I was holding my own. Not placing impressively well, but keeping up. And then, in the last kilometer, I heard Kori yell my name, “Ling! Pass two more. Two more!” I dug in and passed two more, realizing that I didn’t really understand how the point system worked. But also realizing that I was crucial to the team. I made a difference. Running became part of my identity — it made me better at my whole life.  

I wondered for a long time why Kori asked me to join the team, what he saw in my stride or my ability to run long distances that would help his team. I finally realized that it wasn’t about him or winning at all; it was about me. He didn’t see someone who could win races; he just saw a lonely kid. Years and years later, I still think all the time about that act. He gave me the opportunity to be part of something, and to know that I mattered.

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