Sometimes I look in the mirror and I still see the former young girl of my youth. I was a walk-on for the college cross-country team; it wasn’t glamorous and there wasn’t a scholarship with my name on it. I just called up the coach, asked if I could join the team and he agreed to meet with me.
I was 17 years old and as a college freshman, I went in wide eyed and in awe of being on my own for the first time. Cross country was a wonderful safety net for me and I quickly made friends and a fun life for myself in a beautiful town. As the fall season got underway, I realized that the girls I was running with were fast—and they were good. I felt in my heart I was an okay runner (good in high school, but to me this was big time) and I was keeping up, but I had aspirations for becoming better and faster. I distinctly remember the day my coach asked me to meet with him in his office for a chat. He told me I needed to lose some weight—perhaps start watching a bit more of what I was eating. To say I was devastated in an understatement. As the only African American girl on my team (which I honestly never gave a second thought about), I started to see the subtle differences; my butt was bigger, I was a little curvier. I started thinking maybe if I could “improve” upon that, maybe then I would run faster, make it to the fun trips to year end championships—that I would be good enough.
I went on to run in the NCAA Championships with my team freshman year and then got injured during my sophomore year. I had been cutting down a great deal on my food intake over the summer, and although it hadn’t become an issue, it most likely contributed to my injury. I began the battle of fighting to get better, trying to hold on to being a college runner—feeling like I was good enough.
The only place I ended up was in a black hole of trying to dig my way out of injury, disappointment and slight depression.
I did not go on to run my junior year. I was mentally exhausted, sad and couldn’t bear to see my friends bopping along on beautiful trails and bonding as a team. All I felt was what ifs; What if I could have prevented the injury? What if I was thinner? What if…
I started partying. I was always the good girl, the girl who stayed at home, studied, played the flute and loved to run. But now I started partying, drinking more than I should, eating pretty crappy and crying inside when I thought about my teammates. Wait, this is not the way it was supposed to happen, this is not my map. I’m not good enough.
Now here I am, 44 years old, married and a mother of three. Most people would say (gasp) “I’m old.” I crack up when women in their early- to mid-thirties call themselves old. Here’s the deal: If you keep saying you’re old, or you’re too slow, or whatever it is, then it plants itself in your heart and blocks out a lot of really great things. Guess what? I feel better and stronger than I ever have in my life. I don’t have it all figured out and I am still learning, but I eat what I want, my butt is how God made it, and I know I’m a good runner. I know I work hard every single day to be a good mom, wife and runner.
Sometimes those demons still haunt me and I have to push them away at the end of a race, when I get so tired and I start to give up. The thing is, I know that if I set the goals that mean a lot to me, work my butt off (no pun intended) and execute, I will achieve them.
I’m not perfect, but I know I am good enough.