The junior varsity game ended. I quickly put my practice jersey back on and scurried into the locker room to get ready to warm up with the varsity team. All of the varsity girls were pumped to come out to “Remember the Name” by Fort Minor. I dreaded it. The stands that were mostly empty for the junior varsity game began to fill with the student body and the boy’s varsity team. We came out of the locker room and began our pregame warm up. Music blared, the crowd cheered and I couldn’t wait for it to be over. Once it was over, I could get comfortable on the bench. The starting five hit the court and began to play. Since I was “swinging” varsity, I could only play in the second half since I played the entire junior varsity game. The only chance coach would put me in was if we were up by 20 points, and not until the last couple minutes of the game. I preferred to remain glued to the bench.
We had the lead by 18 with 2 minutes left when I heard, “Jen, you’re in!” Wait, he can’t be serious. I awkwardly took off my practice jersey and ran onto the court like a lost puppy. The way I played didn’t matter nearly as much to me as the way my arms looked in that sleeveless jersey. I was more focused on trying to suck in my gut than being anything close to a half decent basketball player. Where did the player that dominated in the junior varsity game go? I turned the ball over twice in the two minutes I was in the game. The ball was on fire in my hands and all I wanted to do was get rid of it. All skill and knowledge about the game was overcome by the paranoia I felt. I was capable of so much more then I showed, but I let the crowd get the best of me. We still won, but I lost.
In my high school, if you weren’t skinny you were fat. This whole idea infected every aspect of my development, hindering my understanding of who I was. Since I knew I didn’t meet the criteria for appearance, I never tried to make up for it by improving my personality or capabilities. I became a prisoner in my own mind. Without a sense of self I existed merely for the approval of everyone else, which was something they could never give me.
That all changed when I moved down south to Jacksonville, Florida, where skinny was out and curves were in. Here I would find the external validation I craved so much, but, this just temporarily masked my symptoms. I still didn’t know who I was, I just liked no longer being invisible. I felt alive again. I became who I thought I always wanted to be, the life of the party. I worked out on a regular basis simply to keep the good vibes coming. I didn’t do it for any personal goal or fulfillment.
Years went by and my sense of self was still vacant. I was a refugee seeking acceptance from anyone who would give it. I was an optical allusion. It appeared that nothing was missing and that I had all the confidence in the world. I fooled many, but most importantly I fooled myself.
I married and became a mother. Nine months of “I’ll workout tomorrow” went by when my feet were in the stirrups and I was pushing for dear life. I told myself I wasn’t going to let myself get fat, but I did anyway. A stranger stared back at me in the mirror. The last decade had meant nothing. I was worse off than the girl who never wanted to take off her practice jersey; I was a grown woman reluctant to take off her own clothes in front of herself. I was tired of feeling ashamed and decided I would do something about it.
I still had a shallow understanding of it all. Although I had every intention to change, my priority was still to not look fat to others. I started walking three weeks post baby, but got bored of that quickly. By week five I introduced myself to some iron. The first week was brutal. I could barely walk, and I hated every second of it. But, as much as I hated it, I was hooked.
I did all different types of lifts, but the deadlift always had me coming back for more. I worked hard to get my numbers up. I was two months into lifting when I pulled 200 pounds.
Something inside me changed that day.
I realized that I wasn’t deadlifting for anyone else but myself. I had to get 200 up because I had spent weeks and months strengthening my body so it was capable of it. This was a vast difference from the eight pound dumbbells I used to “deadlift”. I had never been that focused and consistent with anything before in my life. I knew then that I had to train for a purpose.
Lifting was an enjoyable type of frustration. It was a challenge. The weight room allowed me to confront all of my problems and put them to rest. I pushed myself past limits I was intimidated by. When you do these types of workouts you really find out what you’re made of. One workout brought me to tears. I cried because it took everything I had to make it through; this was something I had never felt before. I proved to myself each day that I was better than thought I was, even the day before.
Challenges were like a magnet now.
I signed up to run the Marine Corps marathon. I knew what a marathon was, I knew people who had run them, but I never understood or valued the time and commitment it takes to train for one. I ran four times a week and cross-trained two days a week.
The road was different from the weights. You can enter a weight room and be done with a workout in twenty minutes. Running long distance multiple days a week takes a tremendous amount of time. I was able to be alone with my thoughts for hours. This time gave me the opportunity to get to know myself, and become witness to my own growth. I became my coach, teaching my body to run the distance I set before it. It was here I learned to endure suffering. I had known pain all my life, but this was different. This pain had a purpose, and that was therapeutic.
All these things brought me to this point.
Countless times I’ve pushed myself to the point of exhaustion and collapsed on the floor next to the barbell. I lay there drenched in sweat gasping for breath, my heart racing. I searched deep inside for the strength to get up in time for the next set. I rose to my feet, but the old me couldn’t get up. She never did. This happened not once, but every time I pushed myself further than I thought possible. I began to respect the person I saw in the mirror. I knew how hard she could work, how long she could endure, and how far she would go for her family. I had outgrown my prison, only to realize I had constructed it myself. I had lost sight of what others thought about me. What mattered to me was how I measured up to my own potential. But, my understanding of my potential was constantly expanding. I ended up chasing something I could never reach, but I’m okay with that, because the journey is more important than the destination.