I’m supposed to be at home picking out the perfect pair of wicking socks and supportive sports bra. Instead, I find myself the middle of a busy street with my foot shaking uncontrollably and a big “goose egg” bump on my head. A stranger quickly forces his car into park and rushes over to me—the girl he hit. Wait, what just happened?
Rewind to eight years earlier: I was sitting in a doctor’s office as a result of starving my 5-foot-6-inch frame down to 94 pounds. It began in junior high when the struggle with my weight hit its peak. I reached nearly 180 pounds, and I thought all my problems—social, physical, and otherwise—would be solved if I lost weight. So at 15, I started on a “health” kick, swapping in grilled chicken for my beloved fried chicken fingers and visiting the gym each day after school for 30 minutes on the elliptical. I started seeing results, and so did my friends (boys included, finally!). I began cutting portions even more and adding minutes to my sweat schedule. Forty pounds lost by six months became 86 a year later, and I barely recognized the skeletal girl I saw in the mirror.
At that point my parents were at their wits’ end. During the battle against my eating disorder we consulted a family doctor, dietitians, psychologists, you name it to try to find a solution, but nothing stopped my downward spiral. At one point, I was eating about 800 calories and exercising more than two hours every day. I knew I was too thin and, since I had basically no energy, I also felt myself pulling away from the new friends I gained as a result of my newfound confidence. Despite all that, something inside me wanted to keep losing. I needed to prove to the kids who used to taunt me as “big tit Karla” that I was in control and was not the chubby girl they used to know.
But then, my typically unemotional dad sat me down and said, “Look. We’re worried that your heart is going to stop because you’re so thin. If you lose one more pound, we’re putting you in an inpatient treatment facility.” I was officially scared straight.
After a few lapses and years of visits to my psychologist, I got my body back on track. My brain? I discovered that recovery is a much longer process there.
Seven years later I signed up for my first marathon as part of a cancer fundraiser. Three days before the event I was on my one-mile walk home, jamming to the new Justin Timberlake album. Then, as I was midway through the crosswalk, my foot made contact with the front wheel of an SUV. The driver didn’t see me as he was turning through a “yield to pedestrians” green light. The impact from the car and my foot getting briefly pinned underneath sent me tumbling to the cement, where I bumped my head and smashed my elbow.
I sat up and pushed myself to a stand as the driver stopped his car, hurried out and shouted a worried, “Are you okay?!” I immediately shifted into make-it-work mode and said, “Yeah, I think so. I’m just going to keep on walking. I have a race this weekend!”
With the first step, I noticed my foot wouldn’t stop shaking and decided against strolling home. One urgent care clinic, ambulance ride, ER visit, and countless X-rays later, I was sent home with a boot to protect the four fractured bones in my foot and a splint to brace my broken elbow.
Extreme disappointment about the run quickly turned into determination. I had to still participate in some way! So I drove to the race five hours away to cheer on my friends instead.
Once race day came and went I began to worry, as I realized that there was no end in sight to my exercise hiatus. With my upper and lower body out of commission, running, biking, swimming, yoga, and even brisk walking were pretty much out of the question. Within the last few years, I’d come to a place of moderation, exercising four to five times a week, and thought I’d beat my eating disorder. But had I really?
I started to fill the slots I used to spend at the gym with coffee dates, dinners, and movies. Once a workaholic, I slowly became a social butterfly, meeting new friends and dating more than ever. For the first time in years, I took time to reflect on what I could accomplish not only physically, but also mentally and emotionally. Rather than skimping on calories to make up for the lack of exercise, I found myself in the kitchen experimenting with new ingredients, and enjoying new foods while dining out with friends who were adventurous eaters. I was counting neither calories nor miles, and it was pure bliss.
As I started rehab with my physical therapist, I began to channel the drive I learned in the gym. After three months of sessions that challenged my balance, strength, and endurance, I was given the green light to start running again. The go-ahead came just two weeks before a half marathon ironically also centered around cancer fundraising.
Before that half, I squeezed in a total of four training runs and told myself, “For once in your life, who cares how fast you finish? Just running or even walking the course will be a win.”
It turns out, a little more rest and a little less pressure was all that I needed, as I crossed the finish line just two minutes shy of my PR. The relief I felt at the finish line triggered a whole new kind of shaking: This time as tears of relief. Finally, I was exercising because I wanted to, not because I needed to.