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May 28, 2013 at 8:00 AMComments: 0 Faves: 0

Preparation for a Bigger World

By Rachael Steil More Blogs by This Author

I felt vulnerable; fat, ugly, exposed. How would I ever be as successful with this extra weight?

"I just don't know how I will be as fast as I was my freshman year," I explained, choking back tears.

I could feel my coach gazing at me as I looked down at my lap. "You don't have to."

The words were gentle; it was like a hug had traveled across the table that separated us. I felt safer, calmer, and the anxiety lessened.You don't have to be as fast. You don't have to live up to who you were before. Or rather, be a better you--right now.

Thirty pounds heavier, recovering from an eating disorder, I felt at a loss having had success at such a low, unsustainable weight for me. It was the lowest I was ever able to go before it happened--before my body rebelled. But we saw the success, hadn't we? I had unbelievably improved my running performances. And now this didn't matter anymore?

"Honestly, I like how you look right now so much better. You look so much stronger."

I cringed. More like "fatter," I thought. But at least he had good intentions. At least he was still okay with a slower Rachael.

"The most I want anyone to get out of this team is to be the best person they can be. I want Rachael to be the best Rachael she can be."

I nodded; I knew that, I wanted that, I understood that. It quieted the demon within that told me I was only worth how fast my times were, how fast I had to be. I felt that at any other larger school I may have been pushed to the back, I may have gone from outstanding freshman to outsider.

But my coach still wanted me here. My fears of him seeing the weight gain, of thinking I had just given up and lost control, diminished. He just wanted me for me.

A good relationship between athlete and coach is a critical one. I feel as if I have learned more about how to live my life through running cross country and track than what I have learned in the classroom. As my coach often says, participating in a sport is practice for the real world; our entire life has been metaphorically said to be a "race' or a "marathon." We encounter challenges and may want to give up, to sit down and rest when we know we must go on. We may gain weight and feel like we are that much more worthless, that we cannot be much more in life.

I didn't fear the weight gain in the way I looked, but more about how it would damage my running. I thought it had been the "key" to success, but it only caused injury and a spiral downward from there. We both realized that, and my coach didn't want to see low weight for faster times if it meant damaging my health. As a coach he was there to build our team to be the best people we could be for the bigger world.

As a college athlete, that meant everything to me. As a human being, it put everything into perspective and prepared me the bigger world where racing times wouldn't mean a thing.

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