On Being an Athlete, Again

Growing up, I was an athlete, and that was a fact.  Blowing bubbles in the bathtub turned into swim lessons that turned into record-breaking relay teams by age six.  At eight, that relay team was nicknamed the “8-and-under wonders,” and by age ten, we prepped our faces with neon Zinka “war paint” and yelled at the top of our lungs, “We mean war!!” before we raced … in our low key summer league swim meets.

A myriad of PRT’s (Pacifc Recordable Time), NRT’s (National Recordable Time) and Q (Qualifying) times later, the athlete in me crashed and burned.  That is a story I will tell another time, but the short version is that come my sophomore year of college after riding some incredible highs through swimming, I left a top D1 program with two bad shoulders, a knee surgery, depression, and an eating disorder.

The years that followed were the dark years.  The true love I once had for athletics was replaced with obsessive exercise to manage my weight and lapses where, exhausted, I didn’t exercise at all.  I was an athlete no more (or so I thought).

In my mid 20’s, I stumbled into yoga trying to heal my still-bad shoulders, and the practice turned out to heal not only my body, but it began to heal my heart, too.  I traveled to India and teacher trainings and practiced and taught.  Yoga is more than exercise. In it I found alignment in mind, body and spirit, which is perhaps partly the reason I went head-over-heels for SoulCylce after moving to the Bay Area late last year.

I travel from Glen Ellen to Larkspur (1.5 hours round trip without traffic) 3-5 days a week to attend SoulCycle classes.  The 45-minutes of pouring sweat, going inward, cheering on classmates, sharing in the collective energy, listening to preacher-like instructors, and riding to the beat of really loud music have been my lifeline through this move.

Daily, I go to my bike and work my ass off, remembering that every one of the 60 people in that class has her own hopes and dreams, challenges, defeats and victories.  We all share this crazy experience called life, and somehow in that room, we are all in it together.

And, I have come to realize the athlete in me alive once again.  She was the one who in 8th grade used to wake up at 4am on her own to be in the pool by 4:30am for the first of two practices in a day.  She was the one who loved to swim not because of any measure of achievement but because she loved being a part of a team of people daily pushing themselves to be their best.

Jenny GaitherOn May 16th, one of SoulCycle’s inspiring instructors, Jenny Gaither, is holding an event for her non-profit called the Movemeant Foundation whose mission is to help young women feel confident about their bodies by empowering them with the tools to be active. The organization provides funding to girls exercise programs, girls who want to learn new sports, and body image initiatives related to movement.

I will participate in the Movemeant Foundation’s event called “Dare to Bare” in San Francisco, and I had a chance to sit down with Jenny last week to learn more about her passion to empower young women through exercise.

Jenny was a dancer who also succumbed to body image issues, and SoulCycle has fueled her phoenix rising.  She told me the story of how “Dare to Bare” came to be.  As an instructor in her early years in New York City, she was battling insecurities around how her stomach looked, so she decided to teach a class in a sports bra.  When it came time to take off her gold lamé jacket, insecurity got the best of her, and she taught the full hot and sweaty class with the jacket on.  Frustrated but supported by SoulCycle’s community, she taught a class the next week where all of the women wore their sports bras.

The riders who took part in the sports-bra baring class found it just as liberating as Jenny did, so she decided to offer the experience on a larger scale…and by larger, I meMovemeant Foundationan New York style large.

She held her first charity fitness event where women of all ages and body types were encouraged to wear sports bras during a SoulCycle class in New York City’s Union Square Park. They raised over $300,000 that day.  How about that for hitting a pulse?!

Years later, Jenny is teaching in San Francisco, and I am grateful to have found her and SoulCycle.  Teachers like Jenny doing their own work give all of us space to do ours.

There’s something special about how movement can empower us.  How we exercise can at times show us how we live.  Do you go for it or hold back?  Do you show up consistently or not?  How do you talk to yourself when you exercise?  It can be similar to how you talk to yourself at work and home, too.  Exercise can transform us, especially when we find the ways to move our bodies that also stir our souls.

I learned the hard way how to exercise from the inside out.  When we find the things we enjoy doing and the ways our bodies naturally want to move, exercise is not work or punishment or another way we have to measure up but instead becomes an expression of love.

When we’re fixated on the numbers outside of us – whether a scale or calorie counter or a clock – we can get in trouble because falling short of a number repeatedly or on the wrong day can hit our self esteem.  When we move because we love it, that movement pays dividends.  At least for me, exercise – and many other things in life – are much more supportive when they come from the heart.

To donate in support of “Dare to Bare” and Movement Foundation initiatives to empower young women through movement, go here: http://donate.movemeantfoundation.com/ichooselove

Images courtesy of the Movement Foundation.
For more information on the Movemeant Foundation, check out: http://www.movemeantfoundation.com

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