So, I’ve been meaning to write about my story for a while now, but haven’t known how to organize my thoughts, so here’s my attempt. My fairytale, if you would.
I grew up in a predominately European house. Soccer was our sport. I played every opportunity I got, on a club team, a tournament team on the side, with training camps taking up every weekend of my childhood. I did everything I could to be the best, and for a while, I was one of the best. Up until high school, I played at the highest level my age would allow. I was short, but I was strong and big. Other teams were afraid of me.
Because I was good at what I did and I was strong, I used that as an excuse for unhealthy habits. “My legs are big because I play so much soccer,” which yes was true. I did have large quads, but with an arguably larger layer of fat over them. I often got told by family, friends, coaches that It was the way I was meant to look, genetics made me “big boned” and that’s what made me fit into soccer so well (being big boned is a myth, by the way).
“The Beast” was a nickname that came along when I was 12. I was the fastest girl in school, I beat the boys in arm wrestling, and I could take down anyone if I really wanted to. Of course, now I realize how weird this nickname was. But back then, I owned it. I thought it meant people thought I was cool, and hey, at least they noticed me.
Things changed when I started 9th grade and was in my second year of playing Metro League Soccer. I had a new coach, who cared more about winning than our health. She wouldn’t let us warm up, stretch, or cool-down after practice. Her idea of getting a warm-up in was running sprints. Of course, It was only a matter of time before this started to backfire on the field. I was getting injured more easily, my muscles were tired all the time, and I couldn’t perform like I knew I once could. The coach was very judgemental and made me feel very unsafe in that environment, killed my self-esteem, and flooded me with anxiety. This was the first time in my life when I hated going to soccer. So I stopped going, and I gave up. I got made fun of and talked-down-to for quitting.. but even at the young age of 14, I knew that my physical and mental health was more important than winning. I chose to move down a couple steps the next season so I could be around friends and people who made me feel comfortable, and I fell in love with the game all over again.
But with a reduced training schedule and no changes to my eating habits, I lost muscle mass, which in my eyes, instead of looking strong I just looked overweight. I tried everything I could think of to lose weight. I tried to start running, which never worked. I could run very fast but not for long. I dabbled in weeks of restricted eating, which when I look back on it now was most definitely arguably an eating disorder. Even if I did lose some weight after these tricks, I still didn’t feel strong, which was the only thing I wanted back. For the last 2 years of high school, I wanted so badly to learn how to go to the gym. My boyfriend would even ask me sometimes if I wanted to go with him, and I would just start crying because the anxiety of embarrassing myself was too much.
Fast forward to first-year university, the Kayla Itsine’s Bikini Body Guide phase. This program now has become very controversial for being excessively cardio-based, and hard on the joints. But at the time, it was the fad. And I mean, at the time it worked great. All of my friends were doing it, I was losing weight. What more could I want?
That was the thing, I had no idea how our bodies worked back then. I didn’t grasp the concept of food being used for fuel for the body, just like gas for your car. I worked hard at the workouts, but I didn’t do much of anything else. I was losing weight, but I wasn’t gaining muscle nor was I getting stronger. Sure I was getting better at the workouts, but I’d argue if that was just due to pure repetition. The muscles around my joints were overworked, and so my joints deteriorated. So, when I went home from school after first year and played my first game back at soccer in a year… then this happened. A full-blown ACL tear with tears in both menisci. Otherwise known as an athlete’s ultimate nightmare. This photo was taken in July of 2015, 1 day post-op of a full ACL reconstruction. I had never felt so weak before, and it was then that I began to understand the mechanics of our body and how important muscle growth paired with appropriate eating habits was. I would go to watch every one of my team’s games, and heard some people mutter “It’ll be years before she plays again”. I worked hard that summer. I trained in my home gym and was consistent with my rehab exercises. My physio told me I was the quickest he’s ever seen to bounce back. Cue: getting my mojo back.
But just as quickly as the summer came and went, school was back. The only way I was able to get stronger in my leg was to hit the gym. Anxiety through the roof, but I forced myself to do it for the sake of being healthy again. Over time, it got easier. I would spend days just going into the gym and watching people, trying to learn how to do everything through others. I spent the whole school year doing my rehab, primarily focusing on single-leged strength training and plyo movements. May of 2016, I was back. First game back, full knee-brace and a little winded, but I played. Sure I can’t do the things I once was able to (honestly, mostly out of psychological fear more than anything), but I was happy to be out there, where I belonged.
I graduated from rehab, and for the next 6 months I learned the ins-and-outs of the gym. I tried new things, tried to perfect my form, and found what worked best for me. And for the next 10 months after that (i.e. to today), I focused on growing and getting strong.
Here I am today, proud and happy with myself and who I’ve become and what I’ve learned along the way. The place I was scared of for so long, the root of where my anxiety and mental health issues started, has become my home, my safe place, and where I thrive. I see physical and mental changes in myself every day. Where I once would’ve focused on having visible abs, I focus on how heavy I can squat that day. I focus on how much stronger I feel week after week. I work hard so that I can live a long life as healthy as possible.