What does an acquaintance assume about you based on your Facebook profile or your Instagram images? There’s so much talk about how most people only share the highlight reels of their lives and how it can make the rest of us feel like we’ll never measure up. It so important to be kind to ourselves and remember these are carefully selected snippets of information.
It’s also important to remember that many people are trying to be disingenuous or put on a show. We need to remember that social media offers a momentary snapshot of right now rather than someone’s whole life story.
People who have not known me long may mistakenly believe I am an athlete, but nothing could be farther from the truth!
Up until age 48 I had exactly zero experience in athletic events.
So why the misperception?
Looks can be very deceptive and social media brings us a myopic view of people which is always good to remember as we scroll through news feeds and judge ourselves based on these carefully selected snippets of information.
I may be taking part in triathlons, I may even be going to Nationals this year, but this is a very recent part of my life and does not define or describe me. Instead it reveals a tenacity and grit developed through adversity. A strength developed over a long journey through human suffering and hardship.
Rewind to November 2011
I am in my third year of graduate school, studying to be a counselor while simultaneously raising two teenagers. My return to school at the age of 46 is an attempt to reinvent myself. I lost my identity somewhere during motherhood and desperately wanted to find myself again after years of endless care-taking and nurturing of others.
I gained 20 pounds in graduate school from stress and inactivity. My body image has hit an all-time low and my best friend has persuaded me to take part in a sprint triathlon next summer. I start my training by running a mile on a treadmill at the gym I just joined. My face is beet red and I am huffing and puffing as though I just ran a marathon in the hot sun. I can barely breathe and I feel like I’m at death’s door. It hurts. Serious doubt begins to creep in. How will I be able to run 3 consecutive miles, let alone complete a sprint triathlon?
I suppose I could have given up at this point, but my tenacity (or stubborn pride) won’t allow that, I made a promise to my BF (and to myself), I told others I was doing it. I will not give up. I am doing this. I desperately want to shed those 20 pounds, fit into those old jeans, and feel better about myself.
Fast Forward to May 2012
I am standing at the edge of a cold lake on a cloudy spring morning surrounded by hardened athletes. The rented wetsuit I am wearing is constricting my chest, making it difficult to breathe. I am a strange combination of excited, nervous, optimistic, and naive. I am so proud of myself for doing this. I feel better about myself in this moment than I have in decades.
The starting gun sounds and I find myself swept up in the throng of athletes racing for the water.
I gasp as the shock of the freezing cold water hits me.
I immediately get caught up in the frenzy and find myself submerged as people swim over the top of me.
I inhale murky lake water and endure an assault of limbs hitting me from all sides.
I realize I am having a panic attack and have to turn onto my back and float, trying to catch my breath amidst hot tears.
Surprisingly, I am able to compose myself enough to make it through the entire race after which I swear I will NEVER do that EVER again!
Fast forward to August 2012
I am standing at the edge of a (much cleaner and warmer) lake waiting for the gun to sound the start of my second triathlon.
My recovery from bacterial pneumonia (a result of inhaling lake water in May) is complete and my best friend, determined that I have a good triathlon experience, has talked me into a more laid back, women’s only triathlon This time I hang back when the starting gun fires and start swimming in a large circle around the pack of swimmers ahead of me. This strategy, along with much warmer water, allows me to feel calm as I swim past athletes in the waves ahead of me. This newfound confidence allows me to complete my second triathlon with relative ease and grace. I’m hooked!
Fast forward to the summer of 2016
By my fifth season I am having so much fun. I am stronger and more confident and have added Olympic distance races to my agenda. I don’t compete. I don’t even wear a watch. I am in-the-moment, thoroughly enjoying myself, and marveling at how much I have healed and grown through participating in this sport.
My competitive gene is awakened when I come in 4th in a race where the winner is a mere 19 seconds ahead of me and the 2nd and 3rd place winners step across the finish line just ahead of me. I hire a coach and start working hard to get stronger, fitter, to win.
The intense training coupled with a sudden increase in clients and late nights spent preparing for the Lost in Motherhood launch bring me to my knees. Anemia and adrenal fatigue leave me with no energy. I feel depleted and weak and have to put training on hold for 3 months. The tape in my head is one of shame and judgement.
I slowly recover and learn to listen more closely to the signals my body is giving me. I re-start my training much more gently and advocate for myself when my coach pushes me too hard.
Fast forward to today
Training is getting intense. My first race of the season is 8 days away. Nationals is 8 weeks away. The journey that has brought me to this place has been one of personal empowerment, courage, and inner strength. I have taken back my power after decades of giving it away to others. I am a different person than the one who could barely run a mile on a treadmill a mere 5 1/2 years ago.
I don’t know if I will get on the podium, and I’m a still a little shocked that I am imagining I could. The truth is, I’m fearful that I will come in dead last at Nationals. There are days I feel beaten down and other days where I feel strong and confident. This is the ebb and flow of humanness. This is life. What I do know is that I have lost that 20 pounds (and then some) and gained a level of confidence, power, strength and a tenacity I didn’t know was within me.
I am not an athlete. I am a human being learning how to navigate the ups and downs of this messy life. Connecting with my body is helping me navigate with a strength and courage I never imagined was possible.
I am not unique or special. I am a middle-aged mother of two adult children who has taken back her power by healing past trauma and re-connecting to her body and soul. If I can do it, you can too. I promise.