Growing up, I was that kid who hated gym.
I’d try to hide when it was side-picking time. I’d try to avoid someone passing the ball during basketball. I’d get in the far outfield in softball. Volleyball? It was simply terrifying. There was nowhere to hide.
I could barely run a lap. I couldn’t do one pull up or push up.
I had zero confidence in my self. I was awkward physically, and had no sense of athleticism.
I decided early on that I did not have the right body for sports like running. I was too shapely and too heavy.
I tried. Boy did I try. Despite my social shyness, my physical awkwardness, my lack of self-assurance, I scraped together what pluck I could and tried to be on teams anyway.
They were a series of humbling failures.
As a very young girl, I had loved to move. I took ballet, tap and jazz from ages 3 -6, and I loved it. I danced all around my room at home, choreographing dances to well-worn albums of my parents’.
But after a move and a series of significant events in my sixth year, I became disconnected to my body. I began to live in my head, in a fantasy world created to blot out a reality that I was not equipped to handle.
And I turned to food as my, well, my everything. It numbed me out, it made me feel good, it comforted me, filled me, calmed me, excited me, made me feel safe, made me feel a part of something. It was my weapon, my barrier, my mode of expression. It was a mood stabilizer and alterer. My best friend, my lover, my family. My church.
So no wonder I became uncomfortable in my own skin and body and had trouble being in the world within it.
Mix in the social world of sports, and it was a recipe for disaster.
Later, after I lost weight rapidly on an extreme diet one summer when I was 12, I started exercising compulsively. I didn’t realize it at the time. I justified it. It was healthy, after all, to work out, right?
I lost and maintained a new, better looking weight, but I was just as disconnected from my body. As a matter of fact, though I knew I looked better to the world at this lower weight (suddenly I got positive attention – people wanted to know me,) I did not love myself any more than before. I actually became even more critical of my body. You could even say I hated it on some level.
It was never good enough. I wanted my body to look like the models in the glossy magazines I grew up reading. To be like the women in the movies and on TV. Like the girls at school that were popular and voted Most Beautiful. I compared the way I looked to world I was surrounded by in the media, and I always fell way short.
I concluded that in order to be lovable, I needed to look like them. Since I didn’t, I was doomed to a lonely, loveless, “loser” life. In my emotionally immature logic, I decided I had two choices: kill myself or reinvent myself.
So I turned to exercise as I had to food. It was a great way to numb out. A great thing to become obsessively-compulsive about. It’s much easier to disguise a disordered relationship with your body by working out too much. Most people think you are “just fine.” Our culture supports the idea of killing it at the gym: “No pain, no gain.” “Transform your body, transform your life.”
At my worst, I was working out 3 hours daily. My body ached, but I seldom noticed. My periods stopped and I felt exhausted all the time. My hair and skin looked awful.
There came a time when I realized that I wasn’t comfortable being around other people unless I had worked out for three hours. I started to understand that something was still way out of whack between me and my body.
Eventually, my world came to a crashing halt. My body simply could not withstand the way I was treating it.
I now understand how amazing the human body is. That it innately seeks healing and balance and has an intelligence far superior than that of my mind. My body called a halt to the imbalanced, disordered behavior, and demanded that I examine and re-approach my relationship to it.
Fast forward many years of therapy and recovery. I eventually have come to a place of understanding and connection again with my own body. A place of loving it as it is, even. (That journey is many blogs’ worth. Today I wanted to share about some of the fruits of that journey so far.)
After much healing, I started to work out again, but with the sole intention of doing it for my health, and for the pure pleasure of moving my body. I learned to listen to my body, giving it rest and recovery when needed. I found that early girl’s love of moving and I gave her plenty of space to play.
And at a certain point, after all those years of telling myself that it just wasn’t in the cards for me, I started to run.
In 2012, just after I had set a New Years’ intention of finding my inner athlete, I heard of an app that helped you go from “couch potato” to 5k runner. I was very inspired hearing about how well it had worked for a friend of mine. In June of that year, I started using it, and within a month, I was running 5k distances with ease.
And I found that I loved running! I started running 5 days a week, and it quickly became a major area of focus in my life. I ran a 5k race towards the end of 2012 on a lark, and discovered how much I loved running with a herd of other runners.
From that 5k, I ran a 10 miler, followed by a half marathon in Jan. 2013. I ran more half marathons in 2013, loving the training process. Training and racing became an important part of my life. I trained no matter what, and really began to feel like I had finally found my inner athlete.
And then, in 2014, I ran my first marathon: the NYC Marathon. Crossing that finish line was a personal triumph for me for so many reasons. Not only was it an amazing accomplishment to have trained for such an iconic race and to finish it.
But to have brought myself through full circle from a child at home in her body, loving using it, to being completely shut down to my own physical life, to brutalizing it with disregard in order to become someone more lovable, to acceptance for and love of, to testing, training and ultimately celebrating the abilities of my own body.
I wept, as so many do, as I crossed that finish line. For the girl I had been before being interrupted. For the girl who got so lost and misdirected. I cried out of grief for all that they had lost. And I wept with joy for all I had come through, and for where I had brought myself to.
Today, I still love running. But I have continued to listen to my body, and today, she wants some different kinds of movement. I still run, but am not training and racing. I love those years where it held such prominence in my life. It was a five year span of joy, and I learned so many things about how strong I am, and what amazing discipline I am capable of. But I’m seeking other experiences now.
I’ve been taking tap, which has been amazing to rediscover. (My inner 4 year-old is very happy!) I’d like to start taking ballroom dancing too. I am listening to see what is next. I trust my body will lead me where I most need to go. I know I will be moving, somehow.
My inner athlete is ever alive. Now that I found her, I will never let her go.
#itsnevertoolate #runforlife #running #runner #innerathlete