I recently started hitting the gym again properly, for the first time since starting college. Highly hypocritical of me to be wanting to make top teams and rep teams when I was not putting the work in, I know. When I first moved down to Dunedin to study, I was on track to be super fit for trials and had excess motivation to start training seriously on arrival to the Dirty South. Until I set foot in my dorm and walked around campus. Fear, intimidation, doubt and self-criticism put me on a track of not training but being at my fittest ever by the end of my Sophomore year. Why? Because instead of piling on my Freshman Five, I dropped cms for the next two years. Even people who I hardly knew saw it. I lost all my muscle mass and the puppy fat that surrounded it. Yet it was only around September last year that it hit me that I was not a big person. Starting to sound like an eating disorder I know, but it’s not that, don’t stress.
I did not go workout, because I hated being in the gym and playing the comparison game and because I would be hitting the treadmill for all the wrong reasons. The workouts I planned were no longer to gain strength and agility, but rather to minimise all the flaws that I saw in myself. I used to love working out, but with the wrong motivation I hated it. So, I stopped. I used to enjoy managing what I ate to fuel my body and feel how that improved my stamina and metabolism, but found myself managing my meals to manage how I looked. So, I stopped caring what I ate and dropped weight without planning to. Athletes are by nature all or nothing people, and going all in with the wrong motivation was going to lead me down a dangerous path, so I quit. And I nearly quit the game too.
End of my Freshman year I wanted to throw in the towel and would have if it were not for a 10pm text from my coach telling me I had a week before trials that I had a good shot at. So, I started eating well, then got sick. I started hitting the ground for sprint training, then I injured my knee – to this day I still do not know what was wrong with it or how it happened, I just knew that I could not walk on my knee. I went to trials anyway, only to get there to find out that the time and venue for trials had changed. I was an hour late and on the other side of town with just my bike. I cried. A lot. As I was on the phone to my mum seeking some level-headed advice, I looked up and my aunty was driving past. Coincidence? If you say so. God? Definitely. I missed the fitness testing, so could smash the drills and games as I was fresh while everyone else was shattered, and I made the group.
Read: Romans 8:28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
I had to learn to totally rely on God in an impossible situation and for the first time in my life laid my sport performance 100% in His hands. There is a difference in dedicating your performance to God and surrendering completely to Him. I was great at dedicating my performances to God, it meant that I was still in control and then would just give the credit to Him afterwards, or ask for His help or intervention when the chips were down. Now I had to learn that Philippians 4:13 did not mean that I can do most things in my own strength and the hard things in His strength, it meant that ALL things that I do were in His strength. Tough pill to swallow in the world of sports.
Which brings me full circle to the journey of body image that I discussed before. I used to be pretty comfortable in my skin, but something happened that I became pretty concerned with the flaws that I saw in myself. I am not sure whether it stemmed from putting friendships and relationships on such a great pedestal that I wanted so badly to be deemed attractive or fit in with the crowd. I did not realise how much I judged my own appearance while admiring everyone else until I took the photo above. I was wanting to record my gym progress and accidentally captured the photo looking at my reflection like this. So much disappointment and judgement in one look. So, while I have already challenged myself to step up the game in getting into the Word and fasting, I have challenged myself to be content in being single and start loving and dating myself (which is difficult because God blessed American genes, but it makes the success so much sweeter). By the end of 2017, when I take my last progress photo, I want to capture myself looking genuinely impressed and happy with how I look. Not smiling just to reach the goal, but I want to accept and love every part of me.
At the end of the day, if I can surrender my performance and strength to God and not take any credit away from my sport, surely, I can accept that the God who made the world around me so beautiful and blessed humanity with such an amazing gift of creativity would not spare any of His love and creativity and stuff up what I look like. Body image is tough, so much tougher in worlds where your performance and acceptance are so reliant on your body, but I am going to crack this. I am no less of an athlete if my calves are non-existent and my abs and biceps are merely an afterthought. I am no less of an athlete if I do not wear activewear or own the best brands. I am no less an academic if I choose to wear activewear and go to the gym. The crowning glory: I am not unfeminine because I am an athlete. I am no longer defined by my sport (thank goodness, because no one here has heard of it), so why have I substituted that to be defined by how I look? It’s an ongoing journey, this is just the day after I realised how much I despised my body and that I need to change that.
Special shout out to all my sisters, every time your heart sinks when you look in the mirror at that new zit that popped up, another bad hair day or the fact that you still don’t look magazine worthy – you are not alone in that. I am there next to you with my own sigh of disappointment. Especially if you are in the world of performing or sports, sister I see you, I feel that stress and pain. Let’s crank up the music and have a dance party in front of the mirror, filled with so much joy that you sprain an ankle (it’s a true story, I did that one time and am looking forward to doing it again). Let’s learn to love ourselves together. If for no other reasons, so that I can have better honest selfies to put on the gram…