Coming into the finish line of my first long-distance race at the age of ten, my wheezing and vomiting on my sneakers didn't exactly scream, "that girl is a natural-born runner." As my parents scrambled looking for my inhaler and I wiped the vomit off the black high-tops, I was quietly wishing I was wearing tap shoes on a stage somewhere and also yearning for running sneakers instead of the black high-tops that I was so fashionably rocking.
From the young age of three, my movement of choice was dancing. And to this day, I still love dancing; just not in a formal class - more in a Talking Heads shimmy around the kitchen.
The picture above was from my first tap dance recital, which was chock-full of:
- heel taps;
- some awkward shuffles that kept people wondering who was going to fall over first;
- and a couple of knee bounces, because how cute is it to see kids try to keep rhythm.
By the time I ran that cross country race in fifth grade, jazz and ballet were added into my dance repertoire. My tap class had even won some competitions. (If you ask nicely, I will most likely be able to tap the initial four counts of 8 from "Tequila.")
And to this day, I still own a pair of tap shoes, because you never know when you might want to shuffle off to Buffalo. I will always love dancing - anytime and anywhere. Dancing makes my body feel free and happy.
But let's get back to that race...
Why did I decide to run it?
I can't recall ever thinking that I'd like to feel like my lungs were on fire and watch everyone pass me while I was vomiting on myself.
Was I searching for a sport in which I could excel? (Soccer was definitely not it.)
Maybe all fifth graders had to run it as a right of passage?
Perhaps the PE teachers were weeding out the weak?
Or maybe the middle school cross country coaches used it as a recruiting tactic? Let's be honest, people weren't breaking down the door to join the good ol' XC team.
Yet, here I was, unable to breathe with vomit-filled sneakers at the finish line donning a "I Did It" painter's cap and was falling in love with the idea of running. Even though I wasn't aware of it back then, participating in that race was the cornerstone for what I now refer to as finding my strength.
If this were a video, you'd be watching a montage of all of the years of running that subsequently came after that first race. Since you're not, here's what happened:
In sixth grade, I ran that race again. Didn't vomit. Probably finished a little faster.
And got another "I Did It" painter's cap.
Then, I was off to the races - so many more races.
Cross country became a passion of mine from seventh grade on into college. But it was never this easy thing. Every run felt pretty tough and races were even harder. And I needed my inhaler. Every. Damn. Time.
After I had ankle reconstruction and was told, "you might be able to run a 5K here or there," I trained for my first half-marathon. Then, I ran eleven more of those over the next five years.
As much as I ran, my heart always went back to dancing.
And my forty year old (gasp!) self might have finally figured out why I loved dancing more than running.
Running was always hard on my body. Always. Even when it was fun.
To this day, a comment from my brother sticks in my head. During a long run, with absolute frustration, he told me that "not every run has to be a hard one." At the time, I was in complete denial about how much I was pushing my body and I certainly didn't understand why I continually pushed it to the upper limits. Injury after injury, I barely slowed me down. (And Facebook memories are a disturbing reminder of the way that I was treating my body.)
For a long time, I used running in three ways:
1) to compete against myself to see how quickly I could move over a set distance;
2) to have control, which meant ferociously monitoring my weight and running farther and faster as a form of maintaining my weight;
3) to block out the mind-stuff that I didn't understand at the time and was later diagnosed as PTSD and anxiety.
When I was running far and running fast, I felt strong. After my hip surgery, I couldn't run, so where was my strength?
Strength can be defined as the quality or state of being strong: the capacity for exertion or endurance. To me, strength is about healing, growing, and transforming my mind, body, and soul. When I think about finding my strength, I take into consideration as to where I am today and use that as my starting point.
Is my mind clear from the chatter that can sometimes take up its' fair share of space? Am I ready to lift that heavier load or is today a day to go back to basics? How does my heart feel - is it calm, relaxed, and ready for the challenge that I'm going to put in front of it?
It's absolutely okay to make adjustments, scale back, and hit pause. Because in knowing your strength and listening to your body, mind, and heart, you can make decisions that will create strength over a lifetime.
So instead of beating up my body, ignoring my head and heart, and pushing onward when I'm really not ready, I ask myself these questions:
1) Do I feel joy during this movement? Listening to the needs of my body allows for joy to come into my movement, whether it's walking Cody Bear, doing an overhead press, or dancing to David Byrne in the kitchen.
2) Do I feel happy right now? Sometimes my heart hurts; other times my mind isn't up for it. Permitting myself to say, "nope, not today," has made movement more enjoyable and my meditation practice consistent.
3) Am I breathing? When I have anxious feelings, the first thing to go out the window is my breath. Checking in with my breath throughout the day provides me with several reminders to exhale.
Finding My Strength brings a smile to my face, warms my heart, and feels as fun as a shuffle, hop, step always has.
How do you define Finding Your Strength? What does being strong mean to you? Comment below, join the conversation on Instagram or Facebook, or hit me up at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'd love to hear your strength story.