When I was 8 years old I told my dad I wanted to play soccer. He said, unequivocally, that soccer was for sissies. And so I continued the family tradition of Saturday morning bowling as the only ‘sport’ I ever took part in. (P.S. Dear Dad, If soccer is for sissies, what does that make bowlers?)
In high school I considered playing field hockey, but between my almost full time job and doing my best as a surrogate parent for my younger sister, I couldn’t really find the time.
After high school I gained the requisite freshmen fifteen, and then some. Soon college was over and I was living in an apartment that shared a parking lot with Wendy’s and working 60 hours a week fueled by coffee with extra cream and sugar. Suddenly, I found myself an overweight twenty something who had never spent an ounce of energy on athletics.
Fast forward to Memorial Day 2009, I realized how out of shape I was. Torn between family obligation and fun, I spent Saturday eating hamburgers in my sister’s backyard before driving to meet friends to camp for the remainder of the holiday weekend in New Hampshire. Our goal was to hike Mt. Washington, the state’s highest peak and famous for its extreme weather.
My weight had crept up insidiously, as weight often does, and in my mind, I equated my own fitness with that of my camping compatriots. I was so, so wrong. I did get up the
mountain, but it took all god damn day and I as I leaned into the wind on the summit, the sun kissed the horizon. As I had no idea what I was doing, I was grossly under prepared for hiking down in the impending darkness. Luckily, and unbeknownst to me when I started this hike, there is a ridiculously expensive shuttle that will ferry weary hikers back to the parking lot. I knew they had the upper hand, but I paid the dang guy anyway and got in the van.
Embarrassed, ashamed, feeling very out of shape but not yet realizing just how far from in shape I was, I figured I should probably do something to keep up with my friends.
So I joined a gym and started riding a stationary bike. I had no idea how to diet or how much to work out or how much muscles could hurt and still be okay. That effort failed. Or more accurately, I failed.
A year later we moved to Boston and I decided that having a tangible goal was the way to go. I signed up for a 5k, then I started running. In hindsight, maybe I should’ve started running before committing to a race, but c’est la vie. At the time, I could not run a mile, let alone 3.1 miles. It might as well have been a marathon for how out of shape I felt. But, on St. Patrick’s day 2010 I ran my first 5k.
I dabbled with diet and exercise, running several more 5ks and “eating healthy.” I had no idea what eating healthy really meant and hadn’t yet had the stunning realization that “calories in” < “calories out” was the very simple equation for weight loss. I also was as yet unaware of the autoimmune/metabolic disease that was sabotaging my efforts.
And time went on. We moved across the country. I was no longer obese but I was still heavier than I was comfortable with. I was an unemployed vagrant with nothing to do so I decided to start doing hot yoga (those ladies were bitches). And volunteering to build and maintain trails (those guys were a bunch of awesome crusty old mountain men). And running. Then I decided I should do P90X, a daily work out program that combines cardio and weight lifting to truly transform your body. Then, I committed to P90X doubles- in which you do additional cardio on the weight lifting days. I counted every. single. calorie. I put in my mouth. I stopped putting sugar in my coffee. I only drank water. Celery became my best friend. I was eating 1200 calories a day. And I wasn’t losing weight. I had this idea that as a woman in my 20s I couldn’t have anything really wrong with myself. I just wasn’t working hard enough. Or maybe I wasn’t counting calories accurately. I had never done anything athletic, maybe I was just really bad at it? Surely, whatever reason the weight stayed on, it was my fault. What else could it be?
Cue my darling husband who insisted I go to the doctor. “What could it hurt?” he asked. I was annoyed at how right he was. But I went… eventually.
One tube of blood and a promise from the doc that she would call me in a few days and I was out the door. She called within hours. “This can’t be good…” I thought as I swiped up to answer. “This is the highest TSH I’ve ever seen.” She said, casually.
Luckily, it wasn’t really a big deal. Like a middle-aged woman, I was given the diagnosis of hypothyroidism (which years later and after several visits to an endocrinologist was more accurately diagnosed as Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis). So I was started on Synthroid and now the first thing I do in the morning is pop a pill in my mouth and move on with my day.
And eventually, I did lose the weight. And I ran a bunch of races. And then triathlons. And I finished
P90x. And I did it again. And I started climbing mountains. And rocks. And rocks on top of mountains. And then running longer. And climbing more.
I lost weight. I gained weight. I got strong. I stopped confusing healthy with skinny and I got muscles. I became a rad skier.
I’m still working on becoming a rad climber, but I’ll get there. In my mind I still don’t always see myself as an athlete. But when I look at my accomplishments– my races, my climbs, my sufferfests through the freezing cold mountains and arriving back at the trail head at 2 AM– I don’t think there’s another word for it. Sometimes I sit on the couch and eat ice cream. And sometimes I have days where all I do is binge watch Netflix. But sometimes, just sometimes, I guess I am an athlete.