Facing the Demons

Someone asked me if I am flattered now when people “flirt” with me.

It is a good question and one I have always had an answer for.

If you did not find me attractive at 420 pounds then I do not care if you find me attractive now.

Which is why my wife is special to me. – Posted by Tony “The Anti-Jared” Posnanski on his facebook page.

This innocent post made me face something I’ve kept in the back recesses of my mind for a LONG time. To answer simply, I’m not comfortable with people flirting with me. I was one of those people who craved it at one time, in another life, because I was unhappy and felt unloved and unappreciated. The attention I got counteracted those feelings but I didn’t like the person I became as a result. So, I packed on pounds to insulate myself from that woman. Whenever I managed to take off some pounds it was like stripping the peel from an onion. I felt extremely vulnerable. As a result, each time I did it I rebounded back to a weight where I felt ‘safe’. It was a crazy pattern and one I’m not proud of – and it kept my weight yo-yoing for a long time.

Even after I became involved with the man who would become my husband I couldn’t seem to put the past out of my mind. I couldn’t seem to believe him when he told me that he loved me no matter what I looked like. I hadn’t known unconditional love before and I wasn’t quite sure what to do with it. So, I kept fighting my demons. Battles won; wars lost. Then came the ‘aha’ moment, when I looked at a picture of myself and saw a woman who looked much older than her years…and realized something had to change. As the layers of fat peeled away this last time I found myself facing the demons once again. I’ve changed enough to accept the love I have in my life – and feel comfortable and safe at this weight regardless of what I encounter in the ‘world’. I don’t need flirting to establish my self worth. I have that knowledge and it’s priceless.

If I could give one gift to those fighting demons of self worth and body image, it would be the gift of comfort and peace that comes with self respect and love of self.

Peace. Joy. Love. May you be surrounded by it and believe in yourself.

Before:
2008-02-27 Segina Debbi

Now:
IMG_1000

A Short Conversation With My Mother

I had a short conversation with my mother today. It was short, not necessarily because she’s been dead since 1994, but because I finally got fed up with her negative comments as they re-played in my head this afternoon.

Some people just make better parents than others. I realize that now. And, while I’ve made peace with my demons…every now and then, at the most inopportune time, they regurgitate themselves like bad bile, leaving a sour taste in my mouth and heaviness in my heart.

It happened today during my very first ride on my beautiful new road bike. I was struggling to learn coordination and balance while clipping my bike shoes into the bike’s pedals – all new for me. I knew I’d need to practice and had already prepared myself for the probability of falling — and I did! My left foot was firmly clipped but I was struggling to get my right foot into the cleat when I wobbled and lost my balance. Being left handed, my instinct was to put down my left foot — except it was still attached to the pedal — and down I went.

It was a moderately easy fall – some road rash, a broken blood vessel – not nearly as bad as it could have been, but a fall nontheless. I sat on the ground a moment, assessing myself and thinking, “OK, that’s what it feels like…all good…let’s get up and go again…”

But before I could push to my feet another voice popped into my head. It belonged to my mother. “I’ve told you over and over again…I should have named you Grace, because at least then you’d have had some. You are the clumsiest person ever born on this earth.”

Years ago, she’d tell that to a gawky child many times a week. She’d say that (and other mean things) to a girl who was very uncomfortable with her body. As a result, I constantly felt unworthy of love. Without remorse, she’d watch my eyes fill with stinging, hot tears. Often times, she’d make fun of my sensitivity. She’d mimic my crying as I slunk away to lick my wounds alone in my bedroom. Food became a good friend, never talking back, always accepting me. No wonder I was overweight.

Now, as a parent and grandparent, I cannot imagine treating my children or grandchildren that way.

The thing is, in public, she treated me so differently that even people who knew us well never saw that side of her. She saved the ridicule for our ‘alone’ time. I was an only child and my dad was an over-the-road truck driver, so there was no lack of that.

So, today, at 58, well into my fitness journey and training to become a triathlete, she came calling. I’m sure that some psychologist could give me a wealth of theories why it happened. The truth is, it took me by surprise. I certainly didn’t expect it. But, what’s cool is how I responded. Because, without even thinking, I told my mother something I never would have said to her while she was alive. “Mom, shut the hell up,” I said. And she did.

I got up, brushed off the gravel and sand from my legs and mounted my beautiful bike. Without giving her another thought, I clipped in my left foot, pushed off and cleated my right foot perfectly. The wind caressed my face. There were no tears, no gawkiness. I may have fallen, but it wasn’t due to clumsiness. I’m merely learning. I may fall again – in fact, I probably will. But I don’t expect to hear that comment again. It has lost its sting.

Locker Room Etiquette

They are called ‘Private Parts’ for a reason. Fact is, I don’t want (or need) to see them. And, even if they were extremely special (which they aren’t), I don’t want to see you lathering them up and rinsing them off. It’s just plain wrong.

Close the damn shower curtain. CLOSE THE CURTAIN. Is that so difficult?

…so, at this point you may being asking, ‘Something bothering you?’ Yes, my perceptive grasshoppers. Yes, indeed. It’s been festering for weeks – since I joined the Y, as a matter of fact. Since the first time I wrapped a towel around myself before stepping out of the shower stall and came face to face with a middle aged woman in the stall across from mine vigorously soaping and stroking herself with the shower curtain wide open.

It was not a pretty sight. I walked out and past her silently, wondering if she was claustrophobic or otherwise physically/emotionally limited so that she could not shut that curtain. I’ve tried to give her the benefit of the doubt. But after watching and listening to her over time, I don’t think there’s anything stopping her from pulling that curtain closed. She can do it. She just chooses not to.

And therein lies the rub (no pun intended).

I don’t like it. I shouldn’t have to see her private stuff, or how she handles it. I shouldn’t be able to tell someone whether or not she’s got a Brazilian or abdominal scars. I don’t want to know, yet, when I open my shower curtain and she’s standing there in full view, less than 5 feet in front of me, it’s hard to miss.

To be clear, the Y has a well equipped women’s locker room with two rows of nice, private shower stalls with curtains. Women don’t have to shower in a common area. It’s nice. Really nice.

Yet, still, there are those who feel the need to just bare it all. I don’t get it. (And I don’t want to).

So, I recently started giving some signals of my displeasure. Last week when I opened the shower curtain and saw her, she looked right at me. I gave her my most disgusted look and shook my head with (I thought) complete disdain. I can tell you this – if I’d done that to my kids, they would have definitely known they’d crossed the line. I have a good ‘look’. It gets the message across.

But this week, I heard her start the water in the stall across from me and could tell that, once again, she was up to her old tricks. I steeled myself against the sight. I knew I had to ramp it up…and I did. When I opened the curtain and saw her, I walked out, saying, “Jeez, seriously? Shut the frickin’ curtain!”

I know she heard me (how could she NOT?) and I fully expected her to approach me as I dressed, but she didn’t. She went to her locker and acted as though nothing had happened, having an ongoing conversation with another woman (who was showering at the same time in another stall with the curtain closed: i.e., normal).

I don’t know what next week will bring but I’m hoping for a lot less exposure.
None would be nice.

A Gesture of Honesty

In early December, a Spanish athlete by the name of Iván Fernández Anaya did something worth talking about during a cross country race. Approaching the finish line in a distant second place, he saw London bronze medalist Abel Mutai pull up 10 meters short of the finish line. Rather than speeding past Mutai and grabbing an upset win, he used gestures to communicate what had happened to the Kenyan racer and followed him across the finish line for a 2nd place finish.

Anaya’s explanation afterwards was simple. “I didn’t deserve to win it. I did what I had to do. He was the rightful winner. He created a gap that I couldn’t have closed if he hadn’t made a mistake. As soon as I saw he was stopping, I knew I wasn’t going to pass him.”

His coach is 1995 World Marathon Champion Martin Fiz and he views it a bit differently. “The gesture has made him a better person but not a better athlete. He has wasted an occasion. Winning always makes you more of an athlete. You have to go out to win.” Fiz went on to say if he had been in that race, he would have taken advantage of the situation to capture the win.

Let me clarify that this was not a high profile race – nothing major was at stake. The difference between first and second place was simply that – one place. And Anaya said that if a European medal was at up for grabs he would have pushed past him and “exploited him for the win.” But on that day in that place, the bragger’s rights would simply have been to say he beat a Kenyan who made a mistake and Anaya just didn’t think it was right to do that. In the giant scheme of things, he made a choice that was right for him.

I think he was right. I think he’s the type of person that can and should be a role model for our youth. I think he needs to find a new coach.

Anyone who has ever made an effort to do anything can find a connection here. You don’t have to be an athlete or even a runner. This cuts to the heart of who you are. It’s a matter of right vs. wrong. It is (once again) a matter of perspective and attitude.

Let me break it down a little. Think back to when you were a child. You were in a store and wanted that candy/toy/whatever but you were told you couldn’t have it (or you didn’t have enough money in your pocket). You wanted it SO badly…and you took it without paying for it. Perhaps you got caught; or you may have gotten away with it. Regardless, you remember it to this day and you remember the feelings that came with it. It may have defined how you went through life after that and who you are today. If you were not caught and felt a sense of victory, you may have gone through school and life cheating on tests, taking shortcuts and riding on others’ coattails. Yet, today, you may feel you ‘deserve’ it because you worked hard to take those risks and, hey, if no one caught you, shame on them. After all, isn’t that what society, politics and sports today is all about? Or, you may have been ashamed, vowed never to feel that way again and live your life accordingly. Of course, there’s a gamut of variations in between.

This past summer we were at a rodeo when they announced an event for children in the crowd. All the kids were invited to participate. They had to take off their shoes, which were put in a pile in the center of the arena. The kids lined up inside the corral at one end. The goal was to race to the middle, find your shoes in the pile, put them on and race back to the fence. Fastest winners would get McDonalds gift certificates.

It had rained almost constantly over preceding days and the arena was pure muck – at least 6″ in most spots. Those kids struggled to get to the middle and back, sinking knee (or thigh) deep into it. Their facial expressions were priceless. The crowd loved it and parents were coaxing their progeny from the stands and fence line. We laughed as one girl went to lift her little leg out of the mud and it came up without her shoe – it was stuck in the muck! Mud spattered everywhere and kids had a great time.

But I noticed something sad as it all played out. One little boy had lined up without shoes. None of the officials really noticed – it was tough to get organized with over 40 kids. Then, when they raced to the center, the boy’s father walked up to the fence and slipped a pair of shoes inside the fence for him. They boy ran to the center and then back as fast as he could (although still behind some of the others because he was smaller than they were). He quickly put on those shoes and became one of the ‘winners.’

He jumped up and down with delight as he collected his certificate. His father cheered from the sideline. It was nothing major – no Tour de France, Olympic event or major exam. Yet, they felt they had to cheat. I felt so sorry for them.

I think about that boy and his role model father every now and then and wonder how their lives will play out. I have to say, my thoughts are not good ones.

I’m participating in a virtual marathon right now. We have approximately 2 weeks to log our mileage and earn a finisher’s medal. It’s on the honor system and the race director accepts what we tell him. I could easily add a few miles in here or there to reach that magic 26.2 mile marker easier and faster. I could, but I won’t. It’s not who I am. To me, it would only cheapen the prize and every time I’d look at that medal (and at myself in the mirror), I’d know I really didn’t earn it.

When I race, I’m part of a group, to be sure, but, no matter where I finish, I’m racing against myself – to achieve more, to be stronger, faster, better. I think Anaya has the same attitude.

Anaya’s coach called his actions “a very good gesture of honesty.” The way he said it, honesty isn’t important.

I think we all know better. But, if you think that’s true, tell that to Lance Armstrong this week.

It’s Only Fitting

I’ve spent a lot of time on the toilet over the last couple days. I’m not trying to gross anyone out here – as the old saying goes, ‘no brag, ma’am. Just fact.’

No brag indeed. Just getting to the start line of my colonoscopy was a race in itself. The prep was an endurance event, sprint, and dirty girl mud crawl – all rolled into one!

It’s all behind me now (OK, I’ll try to resist any more puns- but that one was just too good not to include!). No polyps but the doctor found some inflammation and sent in a sample for biopsy. We’ll have results in 7-10 days. Meanwhile, I’m keeping positive vibes going and looking ahead rather than (ahem) backwards. (aren’t you proud of me?)

But (no pun intended, honest) while I was seated there on the stool today, I happened to notice the clothes tag on my pj’s staring up at me. “XL” it proclaimed. XL indeed. Like I needed a reminder at that point about the size of my bottom, hips and legs?

Now, before I go too far, for all those petite ladies out there who buy XL clothing because they like to wear loose clothes, especially pajamas and sweats, I just want to say, good for you. You are able to make a conscious choice to buy those big clothes. I’m happy for you (I guess).

But, from my perspective, here’s the thing – it’s tough to find clothes – especially workout clothes and sleep wear – that looks and fits nicely if you’re a size 14 or larger.

I look far and wide (again, no pun intended) to find good clothes that fit me. Some brands – Champion & Under Armor, make it easier. But Nike, Adidas and most of the other ‘top’ active wear providers need to listen when women like me say, ‘your clothing sizes need to be re-vamped to include those of us who won’t be in any upcoming commercials!’ We need workout clothes, too – dri-fit clothing, cold weather gear, warm weather wear, bras, shorts – all of it. Personally speaking, I shouldn’t have to go to the men’s section to find a top that fits my shoulders without straining. I’m an Athena…not Godzilla.

It would be nice to shop for women’s workout clothing without feeling bad about myself for not being a size 10 or less. I won’t ever BE a size 10 or less. I’ve accepted that. It’s taken a while, especially considering some cruel memories.

When I was a child, my mother would take me school clothes shopping at a store called Robert Hall Clothing.
Robert Hall
We’d start in the children’s section but ultimately be led to the back of the store – the ‘chubby’ section. The saleswomen would ‘tsk’ as they pulled out selections for me to try on. ‘If she loses weight we’ll be able to find her SO much more,’ they’d tell my mother in a pseudo-whisper I was meant to overhear (as motivation?). My mom would nod and agree as she turned away in embarrassment. I’d cry silently in the fitting room as I sweated and tugged ugly clothing into place, wiping away any evidence of tears before opening the door afterwards. I hated shopping then – and (here’s an aha! moment) – it’s probably why I dislike clothes shopping to this day. Shame on them all. Shame, shame.

The reality is, I am 40+ years older, living an active, healthy lifestyle but still large enough to be considered overweight – and I want good looking, well fitting workout clothes. I want choices. I want pretty colors. I want to look feminine.

It’s not too much to ask. So, get with it, people. This is long overdue.

The Sum of My Parts is Much Greater Than the Whole

“Like most things in my life, if you judge me by my results, you aren’t getting the entire picture.” – Casey Revman, from an article in this month’s Runner’s World magazine. 

 

She’s a teenager with tuberous sclerosis, a genetic disorder that causes tumors to form in major organs.  Basic tasks are difficult for her, yet she trained and finished two half marathons.  She runs – not to win – but to find normalcy in her world.  What others see doesn’t matter as much as what she knows from the inside out.

 

We’re years apart and propelled by different forces, yet we share the same philosophy about running/walking.  When we put our soles (souls) out on the road, we tap into our inner being and the lessons we learn about ourselves can be life-changing if we choose to listen.

 

A very good friend of mine, Kim Heinz, who founded our Adams County Running Club (and an awesome person!), often talks about her belief that the heart of any race is at the back of the pack – those plucky racers who cross the finish line long after the winners have turned off their Garmins, wiped off the sweat and walked triumphantly inside to collect their bling. 

 

She’s so right.  If you’re lucky enough to be at that finish line you’ll see amazing fortitude and determination in every person who finishes what they set out to do.  Each person has their own story.  For some, it’s their very first 5K (or 10K or half marathon or whatever) and their goal is simply (or not so simply) to finish.  It could be their first official step toward better health and fitness.  It may be an effort dedicated to someone they love, for a myriad of reasons.  Or, it could be the most they can do because of their physical and/or emotional limitations.

 

For them, each step taken is one step forward and measured in much more than miles or kilometers.  Their stories can be simple or complicated.   But each one can inspire you as much (or more) than you ever thought possible. 

 

Out on the road, when the fast pack has put distance between themselves and me, I have a chance to listen to the cadence of my own foot-falls.  I like that.  It’s part of the reason why I walk.  I like the mix of solitude and camaraderie that comes from running an event with friends.  I like being outside and tracing routes that wind through parks, along lakes, through woods – where ever – in all sorts of weather.  I move slowly enough to be able to enjoy that beauty.  If I were able to run, I would be concentrating more on strategy and less on nature.  I know that.  And sometimes, even though I don’t win a lot of age group awards, I think I have the better part of the deal. 

 

I know I will see the smiles and hear their cheers of my fleet-footed friends as I cross the finish line and I love the feeling that gives me — I know I’m a winner regardless of where I finish overall, because I’ve done what I set out to do and my friends care about me.  And, as Casey Revman says, finish line results don’t tell the whole story.

 

From the outside, I’m a middle-aged woman, somewhat overweight, walking briskly and purposely.  There’s nothing in my step that gives away the fact I have one hip made of plastic and metal.  You wouldn’t know that, for more than 50 years, I never walked/lived without pain.  My stride is strong and my steps are sure, because I’ve worked on them.  The smile in my heart is there because I love the gift I’ve been given.  I would LOVE to be able to run – to just throw caution to the wind and open up my stride and GO!!  …but to do that would jeopardize all that science has done… and so I walk instead and thank God for what I DO have.

 

I started walking about 8 months after my hip surgery, and six weeks after my husband had a stroke at 55 due to a blood clot from atrial fibrillation (a-fib).  I was utterly petrified he would die and at the same time, worried he would not recover fully.  I knew I needed to change our lifestyle to help both my husband and myself yet was overwhelmed by it all and unable to move forward.  There were oh-so-many things going on that were beyond my control…

 

Around that same time, Kim had just started the running club and I showed up to meet the group one Saturday morning in April, 2011 at the suggestion of a friend.  “I don’t run,” I had told her bluntly when she mentioned it to me earlier that week. “I know, but you don’t HAVE to run,” she replied. “A lot of us walk, so come out and join us.”  Before I left home on that cool, cloudy day, I told my husband, “Ok, I’m going.  Listen, if it’s bad, at most, it’s an hour out of my life I’ll never get back.” 

 

Off I went…  That first day I managed about a mile and took about 17 minutes to do it.  I was tired when I finished and was the last person who returned to the park.  I expected everyone to be already gone, but, no, they had all waited for me and greeted me with genuine smiles.  Kim came forward to meet me with a hug, saying, “Good job!  How’d it go?”  They were welcoming and inspiring all at the same time, and I cautiously committed to coming back the next week.

 

For some weeks, it was the one constant in our lives that I could control.  I found friendship but learned a lot about myself along the way.  The road, as they say, is a damn good listener.

 

My husband fully recovered, thank God.  He’s not an advocate of exercise but knows its benefits.  For now, he’s still working on taking that first step (but not shutting the door on it).  All I can do is offer support.

 

…And here I am, over a year and a half later and about 30# lighter…now looking forward each week to meeting my running club peeps for some fitness activity and breakfast.  My miles now average 13 minutes and change during races.  I set my goal this year to finish a half marathon and have actually done two.  My goal for 2013 is to finish a triathlon.  After all, even though I can’t ‘run’ I can swim and bike, so why not?

 

I have made friendships through our running club that I cherish and I hold them dearly in my heart.  We share a passion for life as a whole that goes well beyond the start/finish line.

 

That’s what has brought me to this place in my life and I’m only one story from the back of the pack. 

 

Regardless of where we finish, we’re all winners by our efforts.