by Rachel Pieh Jones

Rachel and her new favorite running shirt (from Kentucky, of course).

In June my family made a quick exit of Djibouti. I needed to see my oncologist in Minnesota and we had a window of opportunity to board a special Covid-19 repatriation flight. I packed six pieces of luggage, uncertain of when or how or if we would return. Mostly, I felt sure we would come home in September, but the way the world looked in June, there were no guarantees.

Even with the stress, I was excited to be in Minnesota for a few weeks and one of my highlights is running there. Green grass, country roads, fresh air, reasonable temperatures.

We landed in the United States and received zero pieces of luggage. Zero. I had the clothes I was wearing on the plane.

Surely the bags would come in the next two or three days.

No bags.

I bought a pair of running shoes, a sports bra, a t-shirt, and a pair of shorts. Now I had two outfits. One for wearing and sleeping in and one for running and sometimes sleeping in.

Two weeks on, no bags. I called two airlines and three airports every day. I messaged the director of the airline we had flown on and there was no record that our flight ever existed. Covid has done many bizarre things and one was that it totally disappeared our flight and records of our bags. 

There were tears and there was anger and there were no bags.

I posted on Facebook about the missing items and Heather, a friend I met in Uzbekistan almost two decades ago and who now lives in Louisville, Kentucky, messaged. She might be able to wrangle up some gently used running items. Would I like them?

Yes! I would, in fact. It is awkward to feel like a beggar, but our flight had cost far more than normal, our life had flipped upside down, I couldn’t go shopping in stores to try things on because we were quarantining until I saw my doctor, and my family desperately wanted me to stop running and sleeping in and wearing the same clothes.

Heather wrote again and mentioned a group of mother runners in Louisville who wanted to also help get me into running gear.

Within days (still no luggage), I had received a Venmo donation and then a box came in the mail. Shoes, Nuun, sports bra, running shirts, shorts, caps, a hair band…every single item in just my size, plus a bonus stack of novels!

I cried again. All of this from strangers, connected through one friend, over thousands of miles, because they know the importance of being able to run.

Eventually I did receive my luggage, more than 6 weeks after landing in the USA. I think about all those miles logged in gifted clothing, all the ways running helped my body and mind heal from the stress of this strange time, all the people who reached out to encourage a stranger (but a fellow runner so not so much a stranger), and I feel proud to be a runner. This is who we are. This is what we do. 

We run, we cry, we take care of each other.