I stood with my front foot on the starting line and looked left. The other feet toeing the faded red line were all just a bit smaller than my size 10 spike.
The other ankles stretching up from the tightly tied laces – many in double or even triple knots – seemed skinnier than mine. The other thighs seemed like more bone than muscle and I’d bet anything I had the only butt wearing size large shorts – or at least that’s how it felt.
In endurance sports like cross country and nordic skiing (the preferred sport of this week’s podcast guest) comparison can be the death of success. Since these sports rely on individual performances, it often seems like to do well you must literally become an exact person. Because if they’re the best then their body is only body that can be the best…right?
That’s how I felt in high school at least. I was almost as fast as the seven or eight girls who consistently placed in front of me on the cross country team. Almost, but not quite. I was also just a bit taller, a bit broader, a bit thicker in the muscle department…everything was just a bit off, or so I thought.
I spent my senior year doing everything I could to change what my body looked like. I ate less, and purged whatever I ended up taking in. I put in extra miles on my days off. I went to bed each night imagining shaving off just a bit of my ankle, because the desire to fit in, to perform, to be what I had come to believe was “ideal” had become so strong that I would rather cut off part of myself than be happy with the body that did so much for me each day.
And I am by no means alone. Over one-third of female, division-one college athletes develop an eating disorder, according to one study. For athletes competing in endurance sports such as running and swimming as well as those that emphasize appearance like dance, gymnastics or wrestling are at even higher risk.
This Fall – six years after I toed that red line – I stood behind another, much bigger starting banner in Washington D.C. I ran 26.2 miles, each of them stronger than any mile I ran that senior season. My so-called “too large” body crossed the finish line in under four hours and I finally believed what my high school self hadn’t, it’s not the body that needs to change, it’s the thinking about the body in order to do well.
This week on Life with ED, the podcast former collegiate athlete Tara Humphries and I discuss what the pressures of sport can do to the mind. How desire to perform can make us set everything logical aside and forget to cherish and praise the body that allows us to do so much. Listen in for her insights into eating disorder recovery and how eventually it wasn’t any particular treatment, but her faith, that helped her find healing.
What about your body are you thankful for? Do you have any tips or tricks for taking care of your body even through the pressures of competitive sports? If so, comment below!
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