Written by Victorine Kulier
I remember the first time I went for a run. I was around fourteen years old and already faced with the perpetually forced stereotypes of what a young girl’s body should look like. Mind you, a notion that has nothing to do with being healthy and happy. I was huffing and puffing, sweat dripping from every part of my body. Just one foot in front of the other, ignoring the aches creeping up my legs.
At that moment, I felt as though I had already mounted the highest peak, miles and miles behind me. In reality, of course, I hadn’t even run a single mile without having to stop a good twenty times.
I remember I hated it. In fact, I hated the feeling of not being "able" so much that I wouldn’t attempt a further run for another five years.
Surprisingly though, this one single mile would eventually send my confidence soaring. It would lead to life-long friendships, deep-rooted ambitions, and a new, healthier mindset beyond my wildest dreams.
Of course, this didn’t happen overnight. I was always a sporty kid but never ambitious in that regard. I was more focused on school-work and friends and although not exactly shy in character, I was never confident about my body. If you keep hearing that you’re not skinny enough, not pretty enough, not as petite and dainty as your friends, that’s what you believe too. It becomes so rooted in your character, that the image in the mirror starts becoming distorted.
"You’re not lean enough to be a runner"
"Real athletes don’t have big breasts"
"You can’t be serious about sports if you don’t lose weight"
Why people feel like they have the right to openly judge a girl’s or woman’s body, I still don’t know to this date. Sadly, the majority of women go through these feelings more than just once in their lives. Feeling inadequate. Like they’re not enough but too much at the same time.
I was lucky enough to soon find a fire inside of me that downright burned those comments to the ground. I discovered the pure joy and raw power of pushing my boundaries through running - and later triathlons.
Through thick and thin
By the age of 19, I finally jumped into the unknown and joined the track and field team during my year abroad in California. I’d just picked up running - successfully this time - and wanted to challenge myself. In some weird way, being on another continent far away from home was a real boost to my confidence. After doing races all over the country, finishing several half-marathons, and finding a deep passion for what I was doing, the body distortion finally faded.
My focus wasn’t longer on achieving a certain body type. If you train and eat like an athlete, the usual side benefit comes in the form of a change in body composition. However, that doesn’t necessarily equate to thinness - but most certainly to a strong and healthy body.
I went from "I can’t" to "I can" in all parts of my life.
I soon picked up triathlon as a means of changing up my running routine. What was daunting and intimating at first, became a way of unleashing my athletic potential and embracing my body.
Like any other athlete, I have my emotional ups and downs. I still get stupid comments sometimes, but now I know how to handle these situations much better.
Triathlon has incredible rewards - both mentally and physically. I can do things that I never thought possible, like going on a 150-mile ride in one day or running a 5k race with a 6:40 min/ mile pace. All while not having your stereotypical runner’s body.
What I do have, is a strong mind and endless willpower.
I know that if I can master the challenges of a triathlon, all other hurdles in life are less daunting as well. If I can muster up the courage to jump into the pitch-black open water and swim for my life amidst a hundred other kicking and punching triathletes, surely I can land my dream job. If I can spend ten hours on a road bike, I know I have perseverance, strength, and toughness in other situations as well. If my body can face all of these adversities - it doesn’t matter what it looks like.
What’s most important is that I am strong, confident, and happy today.
And it all started with a single mile.