I had never felt more grounded or secure than when my feet left the floor.
Chin tucked, Elle. Legs in, point your toes. 3, 2, 1, Stick It! Arms up, chest out, smile, turn. Now breathe.
More than the first half of my life was spent this way, barefoot and bedazzled. Acrobatics, tumbling, gymnastics, dance, there wasn’t much I didn’t do. My afternoons were spent in trainings and workouts, my playground time at school was spent climbing anything and everything just to get my feet off the ground. Weekends were spent tiptoeing guard railings for balance and watching acrobatic performances online, planning which leotard or extravagant costume I would wear when I would someday join a stage performance like that, a far cry from the gurneys and clinics where I traded those leotards for hospital gowns.
I’ve now collected more surgical scars than medals and found myself in a university as opposed to the backstage dressing room of my childhood dreams. I carry emergency crutches in my car and some mornings, just sticking the landing out of bed deserves applause. My body is completely distorted from the way it appeared when I was a child, before gaining cadaver pieces and hardware. My musculature is shrunken and atrophied, a person no coach would know was ever an athlete. But it was my time spent in clinics that made me stronger than I ever was in a gym, and I’ve yet to earn a medal that would mean more to me than being able to take my first steps after months anchored to a brace.
I’ll admit I became bitter, I despised working out and the thought of being in a gym where I would struggle rather than perform disgusted me. I stacked on pounds of “college weight” and struggled with tasks at my job, but refused to admit that years of resentment had made my body weaker. I struggled mentally and the feeling of being a weak, unconfident fraction of my former self did not help matters. The struggles built, I questioned my identity and what I wanted out of life more than ever. I was lost, not comfortable with my own self for lack of direction in life. Even after the work to lose excess pounds, I was unsatisfied with my body and my life, left wishing my body could do what it used to, but still bitter about trading in stunting for dumbbells, not knowing who I could be without knowing what I could love more than I had loved my sport. A strong, goal-driven woman who had worked with me for nearly two years knew these struggles I dealt with, and was kind enough to encourage me, to believe in me, and to help me along the way. I couldn’t have started without her inspiration and advice.
Nothing happens overnight, and no body will change simply because you desire it. The work is lengthy and exhausting. The mental trials are extensive, and getting comfortable with it takes a lot of time and perseverance. The effects go beyond just building a strong, healthy body, but the comfort of knowing who you are and what you want out of life. I’ve changed for the better, and while I’m not stepping up to a balance beam or landing a stunt any time in the foreseeable future, I’m so much stronger than I’ve ever been.
The effects I’ve seen from the last few months spent under the guidance of my amazing trainer have given me so much more than a reliable exercise routine. My insomnia has greatly improved, my joint pain is a fraction of what it used to be on a daily basis, my posture and muscles are the best they’ve been since before my first ever operation, strong and functioning to the best of their ability. I’m on the longest stretch I’ve been on since middle school without seeing an orthopedist or surgeon, having steroid injections, or taking nasty pain medications, and I have no need to visit. My anxiety is lowered and my clothing fits so much better. I feel focused and strong, driven by goals and happy to be taking on each day with my tasks in mind. I feel like I’m doing something with purpose, and I’m doing it for me, not for spectacle.
Ernest Hemingway once said, “the world breaks all of us, but afterwards, some are strong at the broken places.” The broken places in my bones turned my world upside-down, but the chance to be stronger every day than I was before is a challenge I just can’t turn down now. There is so much more thought behind my life’s movement than there ever was in a single routine.
Heel to toe, hips level to the floor, knee stays behind the toes. Shorter strides, stay on the even pavement. I’ll do squats today to prevent joint pain during tomorrow’s rain.
I may not be incredibly strong with the grace and balance of my younger self, but I’ve learned to accept my stretch marks and my squatting goals, my progress and my pizza. Being strong and satisfied is so much more than being super muscular and having a dream body, the determination to be strong and orient my life around goals that better me as a person allows me to carry out a happier life all around. Overcoming my own scars and struggles that held me back is the kind of strength that Hemingway talks about, the kind of strength that ignites a passion for life in a patient and an athlete who has been sedentary for far too long.
I want someone to see this and know I am a real person, a student, a nanny, a worker, and someone who’s every aspect of life has been improved by the changes I’ve made after a little help finding the right first steps. Find someone who believes in you and your goals, check in with them regularly and have them keep you accountable for achieving them. Make the changes you want to see, reflect on your life and how what you do for yourself and your own well-being can change the areas you struggle with, you may be surprised. Make these things your New Year’s Resolution and the willingness to do whatever it takes to complete them will come along as a bonus. Make yourself happy and surround yourself with those who do the same, you’ll find health comes right along with it.
On a personal note, I'd like to thank my amazing friend, Sami, a life force and smile maker, for all she has done to build me up and inspire myself and many others with fitness, lunch breaks, and pictures of her puppy. So much of what I've built is attributed to you, thank you. #TeamBeebeFit