When I first moved to Estes Park, I was a total city kid. I wore those stylish, impractical shoes, I was impatient, and I was quite brash. If you had seen me then and looked at me now, you would notice that I am still a city kid. But, if you looked deeper than appearance, you would see how much this place has changed me.
I moved here from a suburban neighborhood named Washington, back in Michigan. It’s about twenty-six miles north of Detroit. Back before that, I lived in a much smaller town named Croswell (also in Michigan). Because I’d lived in a small town before, I knew at least a little of what to expect from Estes Park. There would be local shops, a lot of small-town gossip, and a few frustrating dirt roads. While I was correct in my assumption, I was amazed at just much I had missed in my guess.
School began for me on a Thursday. Originally, I was scheduled to start on Wednesday, but I managed to convince my mom to let me stay home and relax. It had taken a whole two weeks to complete our moving process from Washington, Michigan. By now, it was mid-February, 2016. When I got up that Thursday morning, I dreaded the steps up to Estes Park Middle School. We had moved in the middle of my 7th grade year and our second semester in Michigan started much later than it had here, so I was almost a month behind my new classmates. Finally, when my mom drove me to the front doors of the school that morning, I decided to make the most of my trek up to the purple, metal doors.
As I entered those doors, my heart froze. This was not my first time moving to a new school. I’d made this transition twice before this moment. So, when I found myself greeted by a classmate ready to give me a full tour of the school, I was shocked. My guide’s name was Mina. Funny enough, I actually ended up dating her my freshman year of high school for a whole two weeks. Together, my friends and I laugh at that fact when looking back at where we’ve been in life.
Back to my first day of school here, my first class of the day was P.E. class. Calling it this was a little odd, since I had gotten used to referring to P.E. as gym the last six or so years. Walking into that room was probably the most awkward thing I’d experienced at this point. All of my new classmates were lined up adjacent to me near the right wall of the gym. They stared as this strange kid they hadn’t ever seen before approached them. It wasn’t more than a minute later that our teacher ordered us to begin jogging in a circle around the expansive room. At first I ran alone. After about a lap, however, a boy came up to me and introduced himself as Evan. I still talk to him now, although I admit I wish we had become better friends. The fact that he was so willing to be the first to talk to the new kid meant a lot.
Evan showed me the ropes of that gym class, and I also met several new people, including Caleb, who happened to be the only African-American kid I would meet in Estes until high school. Admittedly, we do lack much diversity here, at least in the school system. After P.E., I was off to math. That was a whole new batch of kids. As soon as I sat down, a kid named Joe asked me if I liked soccer. In my mind I was like, holy crap, heck yeah I do! Instead of such an emphatic response, I asked him a question in response. Everyone around us was shocked because no one had ever had an informed conversation about soccer with Joe before. It was then that I met my first friend group in Estes. Throughout the day, my new friends Joe, Ethan, and J.D. introduced me to a plethora of people. Our grade consisted of about a hundred kids, another hundred shy of how large my class had been in Michigan. Even then, meeting close to half of them over the course of the day was a bit much.
I came home from school overjoyed. These kids were the nicest people I had ever met. Moving from Michigan was extremely difficult for me, as much as I avoided revealing that fact. There were a lot of people that I missed. But, moving here turned out to be huge blessing. I’ve grown exponentially as a person. Since that first day of school, I have made a shift in friend groups after a change of interests and I have not regretted it. My friends here are a group of people I would have never found in Michigan. We support each other, love each other, and encourage one another in a way that resembles the Christian life that I’ve read about in the Bible. They’re not even all believers! And it’s not just my friends, either. Everyone here is friendly and generally fun to be around.
Last year, in my sophomore year of high school, I ran track with my current girlfriend and several other friends. Before this, I’d only run in 8th grade and a little bit in elementary school back in Croswell, Michigan. My coach, who is also my small group leader at my youth group, had me running sprints for the first part of the season. I was limited to the open 200 meter dash and the open 100 meter. About a third of the way through the season, he had me run the open 400 meter. At first, I was apprehensive, since I hadn’t ever raced that distance before. Still, I ran through my irritation at having to push myself, and actually did pretty well. My time was a few seconds less than minute. It was decent enough that my coach, Taylor, decided to have me run the 4x400 meter relay.
You should’ve seen my face when he asked me to do this. I begged and begged Taylor to have someone else run it, but he insisted that I run it just this once. Eventually, I caved and he helped me stretch and mentally prepare for the challenge. The team running the 4x400m with me came over and did their best to ‘hype’ me. If you have met me, you know I don’t get very excited about much. Holding the cross necklace that one of my running friends had bought me from Greece close to my chest, I prayed.
I ran the race as the 3rd leg runner. As fast as I could, I raced around the track and handed off the baton to our 4th leg sprinter. When I finished, I collapsed on the wet grass. No, I did not puke. To all those who doubt the idea of running your hardest without throwing up, it is entirely possible. As I lay on my back, I was overwhelmed as my teammates rushed over to congratulate me. They praised me and lifted me up from my already encouraged state. I didn’t really feel like I deserved so many compliments, but they blessed me regardless. Our 4x400m team ended up first or second in our heat and I believe for the whole meet if I remember correctly. The most impactful moment of that race, though, was seeing how loving my team was towards me. That’s what the people of Estes Park represent.
Our 4x400m team ended up making it all the way to the state meet for the whole of Colorado down in Golden, CO, as well as the girls 4x800 meter relay. We were a team of three sophomores and one senior. I believe we ended up in 15th for our 4x400m out of all the 3A teams in Colorado. It was an amazing season. When I look back on that season, the most prominent memory is that of how encouraging everyone was towards each other. No one cared about their own personal success except for how it related to our team performance. I’ve never seen God’s love so strong in a group of people who were, for the most part, non-believers. In all my life, I’ve never known care like that which we had for each other. Before I’d moved to Estes Park, such people didn’t exist in my life.
Since that track season and a powerful youth camp trip the summer before, God has shown me more and more of the love his people have for one another in Estes Park, Colorado. Through the leadership of my track and sprint coach, Taylor, I have learned to push my capabilities and expectations in other areas of life. Because of how kind my classmates were my first day of school, I have found a group of friends that others strive to be like. In fact, we’ve only grown as a group since we began hanging out together due to how much we love each other. I wouldn’t trade childhood in Estes Park for a childhood anywhere else. Admittedly, though, I will always dress like a city kid.
By Brayden Bojan