Growing up, I was taught that exercise is something you do to look thin in order to impress other people. Mainly men.
Woah. Kind of heavy for a young girl, but that was my reality, and I wonder if it was for you to (although I hope not).
I’m grateful though that at the age of 12, with a special needs brother and two very young sisters at home, I found running as a way to get out of the house, organize my thoughts, and find some peace and quiet.
My first run, I still remember, was in my Adidas Sambas. People. These are not running shoes. I would figure all of that out years later and after devouring many issues of Runners World, but at the time these shoes held the keys to freedom, potential blisters be damned.
So with my sneaks laced, I’d hit the streets of our neighborhood. Little did I know that I was about to learn one of the biggest and most important lessons of my young life.
Month after month. Year after year. I kept running. I loved feeling the seasons change. The smell of fresh spring blossoms. The crunch of fall leaves on the pavement. Even the overpowering aroma of the neighbors’ repaving their driveways. I savored all of those things because it meant I was outside, experiencing them first-hand in my body. Sweating and breathing and moving.
And a funny thing started to happen.
I had muscles where I had previously been weak. I could breathe deeper and easier. In time I could run to the top of the highest hill without stopping and actually cried when I did it.
Not only did my physical body get stronger, but my mental toughness did as well. And then. One day. I realized that I was running for me. For the joy of movement. For the strength it gave me which lead to empowerment. To reaching for bigger goals. Bolder dreams.
No longer was I running to be “skinny” for some future person to deign to love, but I was running to be strong. To push harder. To see how much farther I could go. I was running because I loved myself most of all.
To this day, I still run. It’s shorter distances now that we’re in the season of life with two kids under two, but even during a one mile run I celebrate the opportunity to move my body with joy. Not ever as punishment or as a means to the end of pleasing someone else.
Because this body. This home I inhabit. It’s all mine. And I move it for me.