Through sport, I’ve been able to discover healthy relationships with people, with food, and with myself. I’ve chipped away at this magic shell to reveal someone with confidence (most of the time) and someone who can be strong, both physically and mentally. When I train, I’m literally exercising the demons out of my body. Yesterday, I finished a sprint triathlon that I used as a reset race in preparation for my upcoming Toughman Tennessee Half Iron. Coach and I agreed that it would be good for me to get my head into a competition to help set the tone for my last two weeks of training.
I had every intention of giving this race my all: I planned to tune up my transitions, to kill the swim (at least by shaving time off of last year), and to pick up my pace on the bike. I told my coach that I was “going to just let it rip.” Those words gave me goosebumps as I typed them; I knew that I wouldn’t be able to hold back. I also had every intention to work hard enough in order to place in my age group. And then came the writing prompt that triggered all these memories that might seem out of place given my current attitude and the words that I furiously penned in my journal:
Please don’t tell me I don’t understand what it’s like to struggle with weight, to go through live feeling fat/chubby, or to be obsessive about food.
Most of the unfavorable memories in my childhood were around my weight, my lack of confidence, and how I was just not fitting in - or my perception of not fitting in. I remember, still, being picked last for kickball, or close to last. I was definitely the pity choice between the two jock captains. I purposely stayed close to the wall, behind everyone else, maybe to give the illusion that I wasn’t even there; an ‘out of sight; out of mind’ type of set up.
I remember not making the basketball team because I was too short and needed to work on my layup. If I recall, the coach’s daughter was the same height as I, but she made the team. I felt that working on my layup could be something that came with more practice - practice on a team. For me, I mustered enough balls to actually try out among the other experienced girls in the school. Clearly, I still remember that rejection - walking out of the double doors from my Catholic school lobby, out onto the double wide sidewalk, and straight to my Dad’s car (aaahhh, that beloved BMW, 18 years strong). He was waiting outside the car, towards the rear bumper. I tried to keep it in, but that bottom lip could hold on no longer. I cried, I think more than I expected, while my Dad held me in his arms. My right cheek was cradled just so in the crook of the right side of his neck and shoulder - a great fit, for sure. Looking back, I think that no one expected me to make the team because ‘being athletic’ wasn’t in our genes. Hmm. Maybe that was my internal dialogue at that moment, but I know it’s been said aloud before.
I remember being called ‘Chunk’ by my neighborhood friends. I played along, even reciting lines from the movie “The Goonies” to inject some humor into a sad situation. Isn’t that what fat people do? Make jokes; make fun of themselves. We played outside for what seemed like years, running through the fields behind my parents’ house. I always trailed the group; I could barely see them in the distance. Either they were too far ahead, or my height wasn’t keeping up with the growing corn. I remember “Chunk” being seriously not funny any longer when it crept up in the halls of that same Catholic school. Guess what made it worse? My Mom called the principal and identified the kids who were making fun of me. Awesome.
I remember eating dinner with my parents, then immediately making myself a half of a cheese sandwich. I used seedless, white Italian loaf bread. The same kind that I buy for my daughters. I actually prefer the seeds, but I know my Mom didn’t, and actually, neither would the girls. I don’t even try. I was strongly advised to “…put the sandwich down…” as if that handheld treat was holding my body hostage. I ignored the words while I proceeded to inhale the remainder.
Since basketball was a thumbs down, I tried out for cheerleading. I’m not even sure if anyone got cut, but whatever, I was picked. I was one of the bigger girls and was identified as one of the ‘bases’ for our pyramid formations; a building block to lift the lighter girls. There were a few of us, maybe four? I wonder if they felt like me.
The remainder of my life, until recently, I grappled with both fitting in and with my weight. I found ways to distract me from this reality, instead of finding ways to fight it head on. After years of this, years of piling on this magic shell, I discovered that I am out of fucks to give…well, almost. I might have a few, but I give them sparingly and sometimes, even, I wish I could get one or two of those back.
My transitions were quicker, my swim was 50 seconds faster per 100 yards and my bike was almost 2 miles faster per mile than the previous year. I wrapped up the race with a run in which I held my body strong, seemingly moving with ease. I owned the movements; and I made those whom I passed know it. I didn’t have to say a word; I was beaming with confidence.
I nervously giggle to myself when I look back at my writing prompt because all those feelings are still there, still so true. With that, I find it amazing that I can put myself out there now and participate with my mind, soul AND body, something I didn’t feel I was capable of doing or in some cases, I was denied of doing.
I’m writing this as a reminder of where I’ve been. I often forget the bigger picture.
I’m writing to tell you that even though this picture oozes confidence, I can’t believe that I could stand with those women. Even though I stood tall, I still felt small.
I’m writing this to tell you that confidence is something that doesn’t come naturally (at least for me); you gotta work at it. Kinda like happiness - it’s not a constant. Tomorrow, I’m gonna have to get up to work at it again.