Running Breathless: A Self-Portrait at the Twin Cities Film Festival
Runners are often thought of as being the pictures of perfect health, due to the proven mental and physical benefits of running. A connection that is not frequently made, however, is the relationship between running and chronic illness. The documentary short film Running Breathless: A Self-Portrait examines this relationship in detail through the life of Laurel Schwartz, director, and producer of the film. The documentary was chosen as one of six other documentary shorts to be shown at the Twin Cities Film Festival on October 21st.
Laurel Schwartz was going into fourth grade when she was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease. After being sick with week-long cyclical fevers and extremely painful GI problems throughout the entirety of her third-grade year, she finally visited the Mayo Clinic where she received her diagnosis. As her life started to develop around this new discovery, so did her interest in Crohn’s advocacy. At age 12 she started using Youtube as a platform for raising awareness of Crohn’s, and as time went on she realized she was talented in regards to film production. Her skills only increased as she got older and as technology became more advanced. Upon being asked about Youtube being used as her chosen platform years ago, Schwartz replied, “Youtube can be an incredible tool that we don’t always think of as advocacy.”
Schwartz became an avid runner over a year ago when she started training for her first half marathon. She fundraised for the race through the Crohns & Colitis Foundation – Team Challenge, which made her rethink and revisit the ways that she created content about chronic illness. As her relationship with running developed, she found it to be an accurate metaphor to use in describing her experience with Crohn’s, as well.
“It was a lot like distance running,” said Schwartz of her relationship with chronic illness, “My life is marked by this series of events—much like mile markers in a race—and how my health was doing at any given time. Even in times of relative ease, there were always mile markers along the way. My life was framed by illness and was broken up into segments depending on how my health was doing at any given time. It was truly a marathon and not a sprint because it was ongoing and I had to learn how to maintain stamina.”
“Running has changed my relationship with my body,” said Schwartz.
“I have a type A personality that thrives off of control, and with chronic illness you have no control. Before I started running I’d sometimes not care for my body in productive ways because I was trying to control it, when much of the control was out of my hands. Once I started running, I learned how to fuel my body in a healthy way. It gave me a different purpose to caring for my body that was outside physical appearance or maintaining health.”
Schwartz explained that she is vocal about this content in part because she has access to so much in regards to her health, while other individuals do not. Additionally, there isn’t always a frame of reference for other people going through similar situations. “Common stories can change your outlook on yourself when you see people going through similar things,” added Schwartz. “You can’t always see what is going on because I look like a normal person. However, I know what other people are going through because I’ve been there too, and it’s not something that just goes away. ”
After graduating from Scripps College and working for two years as a producer at Leo Burnett’s internal production company called Greenhouse in Chicago, Schwartz is now pursuing her Masters in Social Work at Columbia University. She wants to use her MSW degree to learn how peoples’ individual stories serve as their own motivations for navigating the world. She currently lives, studies, and runs in New York City.
To purchase tickets to Running Breathless: A Self Portrait, click here.