Posted by: hjelen87 | March 2, 2013



While it is very easy to find road races to run these days, track meets are still mostly limited to athletes running for schools or professionally.  However, some track meets let athletes who are unaffiliated with a school run them “unattached.”

When thinking about signing up to run a track meet recently, I started thinking about how “unattached” is a pretty good word to describe me in ways besides just my lack of a school to run for.  I will graduate from law school in May, at which point I will no longer be affiliated with a school.  I don’t have a job yet.  I am single.  People often ask me where I will go or what I will do after graduation.  And while my goal is to stay in the DC area, there is nothing stopping me from moving somewhere else if the right job came along.  I am unattached to any specific place.  In the past 8 years (since I graduated high school), I have lived in 11 different places and had 31 different roommates.  It is nothing new for me to pack up and go somewhere else.

I was reading the NAIA rules regarding unattached athletes (because that’s what I do in my free time…), and realized that most of them apply pretty well to the rest of my life as well as to my occasional competition in track meets.

1. A coach or representative of the athletics department cannot enter the athlete in the event.  This past summer, the organization I was interning with asked me to go on a trip to Atlanta for a conference they were putting on.  My first instinct was to ask someone permission to leave.  But who?  My parents?  They might want to know, but I don’t need their permission.  My roommates?  Same thing goes for them.  I realized that I could just go to Atlanta for a few days without telling anyone!  I guess this is part of realizing I am an adult, but many other adults I know, who are married or in a serious relationship, would need to tell their significant other if they were taking a trip.  This is freeing, but a little scary at the same time.  There is no one person in my life who always needs to know where I am.

2. The institution or its representative cannot provide transportation to the event, from the event, or at the event.  When I think of providing transportation, I think about money (maybe because my car keeps causing me trouble and Metro keeps upping its prices).  Being unattached, I provide for myself.  So if, upon graduation, I am not able to find a job and can’t pay back my student loans, I have no one but myself to blame.  No one else has a responsibility to take care of me financially.  This is, occasionally, terrifying.  On the other hand, nobody else relies on me to take care of them financially.  I don’t have any other mouths to feed.  If I have no money, it is my fault, but it also only affects me.

3. The institution or its representative cannot provide meals or housing to the athlete with regard to the event.  I remember this time, back in 2007, when I was in my apartment wondering what to eat for dinner, and it hit me…if I wanted to, I could have ice cream for dinner!  Just ice cream, nothing else!  There is no one to stop me!  It was the first time since I’d moved away from home that I wasn’t on a meal plan and didn’t have a cafeteria of food to choose from.  Granted, it wouldn’t be a very good idea to have just ice cream for dinner every night, but every day, I can/have to make my own choices regarding what to eat.  Nobody else is around to cook for me or tell me to “eat my vegetables.”  This can be both a good thing and a bad thing.  On the one hand, if I want to, I can eat ice cream for dinner (if you know me, you probably know by now about my ice cream addiction)!  But, as the saying goes, with that freedom comes responsibility.  I have to cook, and it is completely on my shoulders if my health is terrible because I didn’t eat my vegetables or my [virtual] wallet is empty because I ate out every day.  Sometimes I get tired of making every decision for myself, even if it’s just what to eat every day.  But sometimes it is nice to have the freedom to make all my decisions for myself.

4. The athlete cannot wear an institutional uniform nor use the institution’s name in the event.  Go to an elementary or middle school and you will probably find at least a few girls’ notebooks with names written on them-the girls’ first names together with the last name of whatever boy they have a crush on.  I’ll be honest: when I was in middle school, I didn’t think I would still be a Jelen by the time I was 25 years old.  But, being unattached, I haven’t taken anyone else’s name.  But it turns out I really like my last name, so I am mostly okay with this.  Seriously, how many other people can say they have a beer named after them or an ad campaign based on what sounds like their name?

5. Athletes competing “unattached” are not covered by institutional athletic insurance.  May 19th is a big day for me.  It is the day I graduate from law school.  It is also my 26th birthday.  And it is the day I get kicked off my parents’ health insurance.  I don’t have a job (yet) or a husband to provide me with health insurance after this point.

I guess what I’ve come to realize is that there are positives and negatives to being “unattached.”  I’ll admit that I’m often frustrated with this status, but we always think the grass is greener on the other side.  I can see certain benefits of being free from attachments.  It’s certainly better than being attached to the wrong person/place/job/whatever.  And while I don’t have anyone or anything attaching me to a specific place, that does not mean that I am alone.  In fact, I have friends and family all over the country, and even some around the world.  And I may find in the future that this time of being unattached has prepared me for something else in a way that I can’t see right now.


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