Every one of us has a vastly different journey through life. The experiences that make up our story are unique. Despite our differences, humans have the unique gift of relatability. We can feel empathy for somebody else’s circumstance even if it is far from anything we’ve gone through. Humans were created to do life together, to walk hand-in-hand through the pains and the joys. However, we rob ourselves of this gift when we hide our past from our neighbor.
I tell you these things to encourage you to be bold about your story. As a Christian, I believe that God has given each of us a testimony that is meant to be used for good. I see two huge advantages about opening up to others. First, it benefits them. Second, it helps you.
How can sharing your story benefit others?
Time is precious. If I can avoid making certain mistakes because another person is willing to share their lesson, then, by all means, I’ll listen! This is especially true if I’m on a similar trajectory. The key to this being a successful pathway is the willingness of the giver to share and the recipient to listen. I know that I want to be able to use my mistakes to help others avoid the same thing. Similarly, if I made a right decision, I hope it helps another to walk the same path.
Consider this other benefit as well. We may be surrounded by other people, but sometimes we still feel alone in our struggle. Reading or hearing that another person is going through a similar experience is encouraging. It helps us to overcome the temptation to internalize and isolate. I want to know that I’m not the only one going through this. How can this happen if nobody is willing to share?
How can sharing your story benefit yourself?
This may sound selfish, but I’ve found that sharing my story seems to redeem my pain. Like all other stories, I have some degree of suffering and failure. If my words are capable of saving another from the same fate, then I feel way better about the mistakes I’ve made. Dare I say it, those mistakes were even worth it.
Verbalizing your story is freeing. It helps you process emotions that may have been secretly haunting you. When you share, you will most likely get feedback. This feedback can give you a new perspective or insight (although not all feedback is equally beneficial). If nothing else, a burden is often lifted when entrusting another with this personal information.
I’m encouraging you to be proud of your journey, but I’m also introducing you to the reasons behind my upcoming series of blog posts. Over the next few weeks, I hope to share personal experiences with you from childhood all the way through my professional athletics career. Apparently, some things will be relatable, and other things may be far from your experience. Most concepts should be applicable if given enough thought.
In my experience, I learn best via example. Each section will be themed with a reflection and piece of advice, and the application will be provided via story-telling. So if this form of learning is appealing to you, I encourage you to read on.
My childhood nickname was Pigpen. If you’ve ever seen Charlie Brown, you would recognize the character Pigpen by the cloud of dust surrounding him. Pretty accurate! I was outdoorsy, sporty, and not the least bit afraid to get dirty. I took pride in my identity as a tomboy.
Most of my free time was spent following my older brother and his friends around, but I held my ground in those roller-hockey games, football games, extreme sports contests, and wrestling matches. I loved playing sports, and I felt special about being the only girl in these neighborhood competitions. My life goal at that point was to be the first female on the Philadelphia Phillies.
As time went on and club sports began taking over, my passion shifted to soccer. Traveling to games and tournaments became a regular weekend ordeal which gave my dad and me lots of bonding time. My dad loved me unconditionally, but sport brought us closer together.
The middle school gave me another avenue to pursue sport. Now I had three seasons of school sports that I could potentially participate in. I fully intended on filling each one. Springtime rolled around, and I figured I’d give track and field a go since I didn’t have a sport picked out yet. I made the Penn Relay squad as the only 7th grader, but I wasn’t the fastest girl on the team. The track was fun, but I didn’t love being second.
Apparently, I hit a growth spurt going into 8th grade because my times dropped dramatically from one season to the other. Rewriting the middle school record books was exciting, but I didn’t exactly realize my potential at that point. After the season, my coach and the high school coach suggested I try racing in some of the summer meets. We signed up for AAU’s and trained for the first-round qualifier meet. I showed up in my new baggy uniform and raced my way to the Junior Olympic Championships in the 100m dash and 400m dash.
My family of 5 packed up and drove 20 hours to Des Moines, Iowa, for the competition and our summer vacation (yes, my siblings were thrilled about being that). With my parents acting in as coaches, we cluelessly made it through our first major championship and came out with a shocking gold in the 400m. This gave me confidence as I transitioned into my high school career and it solidified my dream to become a real Olympian.
The high school years went relatively smoothly. Choosing between track and soccer was difficult, but I loved my teammates and had a great relationship with my coach. Every race felt like I was running for more than my glory. We had tough moments throughout (which I’ll talk about at a later time), but I finished my high school career with 14 State Championships, 2-National Class Records (sophomore, junior), 2 World Youth Championships medals, 3 Nike Indoor National golds, 1 USA JR championship gold and 2 silvers, and an opportunity to run at the 2008 Olympic trials.
The recruiting process was hectic, but I choose UCLA because of their track history, academic success, and location near a beach. The transition went smoothly until competition season rolled around and I didn’t approach my expectations (which were a bit unrealistic). I blamed the lack of success on weight gain and not enough running.
Year two rolled around, and I began dabbling with dieting and training with the mid-distance runners for more volume. Significantly lighter, I PR-ed in the first meet of the season and then experienced physical, mental, and emotional breakdown all the way through outdoor NCAA’s.
My coaches graciously allowed a transfer as they could see this wasn’t a good match any longer. A little time training from home and I was able to bounce back to a PR two week after finishing dead-last at NCAA’s. Round two of the recruiting process landed me at Kansas State University. Although I was privately battling a full-on eating disorder at this point, the coaching and environment led me to have a successful season. I won NCAA’s in the heptathlon, took 3rd in the 400m hurdles, and went on the finish runner-up at USA Championships.
I headed into the Olympic year with high hopes and a lot of self-pressure. My body couldn’t keep up with the lack of fuel and my extra workouts. I knew my eating patterns weren’t healthy or helpful, but I was trapped by faulty thinking. I was convinced of a correlation between the weight on the scale and my performance. Success from the previous year solidified those thoughts. Despite the support staff, iron deficiency and injury led to a subpar year which left me 7th place at the trials and OFF of the Olympic team.
I continued to train at Kansas State for the next few years and had the opportunity to compete as a professional for Nike. I wish I could say I had figured things out by then, but eating disorders aren’t exactly a quick fix for a stubborn mind. I’ll speak more about the experience of an eating disorder in later posts. I have not gone a year without injury from that point on. Thanks to persistence and brilliant coaching, my first professional year ended with a successful 4th place finish at USA’s despite a stress fracture and an iron issue that disrupted a few months of training.
Year two was a different story. It was my most significant emotional battle. I was at my low point. I had made a terrible decision to live alone, and the isolation created problems. Fortunately, God is good and gave me a great friend who soon became a boyfriend and now husband. We had dinner together every night as a form of accountability. He also put up with my insanely rigid schedule and emotional rollercoasters.
As one may predict, another stress fracture followed by a hip/hamstring hurdling injury left me devastated. I competed through the second injury for two more meets with the hope of being miraculously pain-free. No luck.
We left Kansas that year and ended up both choosing to relocate to Phoenix and joining a professional group called Altis (formerly called World Athletics Center). They were known for their ability to help injured athletes get back on track. My new coach had a very holistic approach and told me that the first thing I had to do was find peace. This led to a spiritual journey that has changed my perspective on many things and has ultimately helped me overcome the eating disorder.
Over my three years in Phoenix, I was never able to heal my hip/hamstring injury fully. I came to Phoenix feeling very broken as a person and left feeling like a hole was filled. In the years there, I developed an intimate support group of teammates, coaches, and church family. I learned that there is a lot more to life than sport (although sport is an excellent component of life).
Eventually, my husband and I moved to Texas to be near family and start a new career. Together we decided to give my hip a year off from training and allow it to heal. Meanwhile, God-willing, we are starting a family and embracing other aspects of life. I hope to return to the track someday and compete again with a free mind and healthy body.
Where do we go from here?
Hopefully, through this introduction, you can see themes for some of the blogs to follow. I look forward to speaking more about identity development, balance, faulty thinking/eating disorders, pride, broken dreams, isolation, injuries, support systems, a higher purpose, and trust.