I ran my first race when I was 7 years old during track and field at school. My friends had yet to turn 7, so they weren’t competing. I wasn’t a particularly fast kid, and I was always kind of clumsy. As I ran, I heard my friends yelling from the sidelines: “go potato-sack”! I was the youngest kid in the race and I came in last, but their insults hurt so much worse than the loss. That day I learned a lesson that running was something I was bad at, something that would lead to my embarrassment, or even my humiliation.
I extended the feeling of not wanting to race with others to not wanting to be physically active in front of anyone at all. I didn’t want people to see me fail, I feared their mocking and their judgement. Gym class was a special kind of torture, and I became accustomed to being chosen last, or nearly. I had a general disdain of all kinds of physical activity, and thought I just sucked at all of it.
The only activity I enjoyed back then was swimming, but I was skipped levels to the point of failure, when I had to repeat intermediate three times. At that point, I lost swimming too. I’d still play in the water at my cottage, but I quit swimming lessons, and refused to continue doing something I was clearly bad at. My Mom fought me hard on that one, but my will was indomitable.
These early experiences with activity were formative, and it took me many years to get over my self-perception. Also, as one would expect, as I gained weight, physical activity became even more difficult. I tried on and off to become active over the years, but it always felt like a losing battle because it was never something that I enjoyed.
When I decided to remake my life and become an active person, for a long time, I worked out almost exclusively by myself. In the pool in my old building, I’d feel relief when there was no one else there. In truth, I still love the peace of having the pool all to myself. People often expressed amazement that I did everything alone during that time, but the thing was, I had to go it alone, because I had such emotional and intuitive hang-ups about other people seeing me exercise.
Back when I was in high school, obese and inactive, I remember watching part of a broadcast of an Ironman competition with my sister. I saw an interview with a woman who had gone from being 300lbs to completing the hardest race on the planet. I was incredibly inspired and her story stuck with me. When I successfully lost the weight and became fit and active, I contemplated doing a triathlon, because I always thought that it was an incredible physical feat. I dreamed of being like that inspirational woman, going from being morbidly obese to becoming a triathlete. Back then, though, I didn’t yet ride a bike, so that was an obvious barrier. I also was never much of a runner.
I always came up with excuses to avoid doing a triathlon, even though it was there, a secret wish within me, something that I’d always wanted to do. I think a large part of what was holding me back was that old fear, the fear of looking foolish, the fear of embarrassing myself, the intrinsic, deep down belief that I am not an athlete; the little girl who came in last while her friends called her potato sack still lived in my heart.
Overcoming the feelings of inadequacy that I had around exercise was no easy feat. It didn’t happen overnight, and it didn’t happen all at once. It required pushing through with activity; for a long time I just pretended to enjoy it, because, you know, fake it till you make it. Now, the feelings of pride I gain from a new personal best push me to go harder. I love feeling fierce and strong, I love being drenched with sweat at the end of a work out. For a very long time though, it just felt like work.
In January, I started learning to run, and with three years of cycling under my belt, the last piece of the puzzle clicked into place, I now ran, swam, and biked, the base level excuses no longer existed, the only thing holding me back was my fear; but now, no longer. In the winter, I signed up for my first triathlon, which will take place on July 10th. I’ve been focused hard on my training ever since.
I have been redefining my relationship with physical activity for many years now; it has been a long, slow process. To go from having a strong negative association with anything physical to being in a place where I am willing to sign up for a triathlon feels incredible. This race is the greatest physical challenge I’ve ever given myself. I feel 90% excited and 10% scared. The fear is natural, and I embrace it. But much greater than my fear is my tenacity, strength, and my belief in myself.
My will is still indomitable.