Friday, November 7, 2014

It's About More Than Just Endorphins

It's actually about WAY more than just the endorphins. As the dust begins to settle after my 2014 season and after receiving several, very similar e-mails, I found myself reflecting on why sports are so important to me.

The Positive Link Between Sports and Self Confidence:

I remember my mom sitting me down after my first year of Kindergarten and telling me I was going to repeat my Kindergarten year. It's peculiar the specific child memories we remember and those that are lost along the way. But I vividly recall her gently telling me it would be good for me to do another year in Kindergarten because it would give me the chance to grow bigger and stronger. Only much later did I learn I was staying back because I was VERY shy. I hadn't made any friends that year and at lunch and recess I would ask to sit with my teacher.  That summer I remember my mom encouraging me to sign up for the summer track and field program. I shook my head and stomped my feet all summer until she finally convinced me to just go and watch on one of the last nights. Well, I ended up participating that night in the 100 yard dash. My nervous little 5 year old body toed the line nearly in tears.  But something funny happened when the gun went off. All the nerves vanished. I crossed the finish line and they gave me a Thanks For Participating ribbon. I remember how different I felt after that race.  I was always a smiley, shy kid but this ribbon made me smiley and confident.  Slowly but surely my confidence began to grow. Sports made me feel like I had a purpose and I was anything but shy on the field.

Time to go beat up on some boys.

My Eating Disorder and The Turning Point

The love affair with running and sports started early.  The quantity of running and sports ebbed and flowed throughout my childhood years but it was always present in some way.  The reasons I developed an eating disorder are far from simple. It was much more than just performance related.  Although, unfortunately, with the nature of endurance sports that was a small part of it.  At times the disorder and the desire to go faster fed into each other. I had a relentless ability to stay motivated and disciplined. Good for sports, bad for squashing an ED. But soon the eating disorder took over and when it gripped me the hardest was, obvious in hindsight, when my running struggled the most.  During my sophomore year in high school I was deep into anorexia and battling bouts of bulimia.  I remember setting out for a 8 mile run one day until I was forced to stop 10 minutes in, feeling very light headed and broken.  I cried and walked home and realized that if I didn't change I would lose the ability to do what defined me.  Running was vital to who I was.  It empowered the shy little girl unlike anything else and I am lucky I woke up and realized the value of that. And in a role reversal, running saved me and allowed me to quell most of my body issues. I eventually earned a college scholarship and realized after winning the Div 1 New England championship that you don't get a medal for being the skinniest, you get a medal for working hard, getting strong, and having the most heart.

Eating lots. :)

It Was Never About Breaking The Tape

Although it was awesome to take the Win at Ironman Lake Placid. It has never been about that. I have so much respect for the endurance community and I love sharing the course with like minded athletes all fighting their own personal battles. The reward is the journey and hopefully through sports I can be the catalyst for someone to find the courage to go out there and be great.

The Human Connection and Sports

It's amazing how solid a friendship can become after bouts of training. Training side by side and sharing the pain and intense emotions of a session is an invaluable experience.  Conversations may be labored but they are sincere and honest.  Specifically biking and running in packs binds athletes together because everyone has a devotion to the group.  The pack mentality is of extreme loyalty. There is a quiet but extremely strong connection. The ups and downs of an endurance run or ride will expose you at your weakest. But that is why your friends are there to help pick you up, or feed you a GU or give you a hug.

So it is WAY more than just about endorphins. It's about the wonderful unexpected friendships...

My very FIRST homestay after I first turned pro. I consider Jim a GREAT friend.
 It's about the traditions.  You realize Danny ONLY races so he can guiltlessly gorge himself at the Pre-race breakfast buffet:

Pre Ironman breakfast buddy
 It's about suffering with a friend.  A friend who makes you laugh when all you want to do is throw up in your his bento box:
 It's about loving the chase and being chased. Thanks Bree!
 It's about motivating others to do what they never thought possible:
 It's about the thrill of winning and then realizing a second place has strengthened you more than you ever thought possible:
 It's about lovingly nudging your parents to go out and play and laugh like kids (and hope they don't disown you after the snowshoe sufferfest):

And the endorphins don't hurt. I mean look at these crazy fools below. You don't smile like that after sitting on the sofa!


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