a lot has happened this year, but in lieu of a year-end report, I looked back in a very different way...to the year I nearly died. while I have rarely shared this story with many, it felt right to write.
awkward. clique-y. and sometimes just downright miserable.
yes, middle school.
while some may have enjoyed the often-disdainable grades of 6-8, I have no love for them. by the time I hit my first year of middle school, my parents were in the midst of divorcing and my two siblings and I were living at my dad's office. seventh grade, while uneventful, was pretty blah. I played soccer but sucked, missed making the cheerleading squad twice (why I thought I could be a cheerleader...no clue) and made my way through the mess that was maturing boys and girls. once eighth grade rolled around, I clung to the only two things I knew how to do well: school and running. I was a late bloomer, thus boys barely gave me a passing look so I buried my nose in the books. by this time, my mother had also basically disappeared from our lives, angry we chose my dad over her and to be honest, not altogether ok herself. soooo, I guess you could say I was a little bit of a lost soul.
it all came undone the october of my eighth grade year. that fall I had played soccer once again, and once again, I had sucked (why I didn't run cross-country...no clue). mom was gone. dad was always at work. my older sister was busy thriving as a superstar on her crew team. my brother was making mischief. me? I decided to starve myself. in the beginning it felt like such control. yes! finally something in life I had control over. and I was also really good at it. sure, I was a standout student (I won every eighth grade award that year, much to my embarrassment), but it was such a rush to succeed at something other than school.
I began losing weight rapidly, but for the first month or so, hardly anyone noticed. I was tiny to begin with (not even five foot) and always skinny as a rail (except as a baby...pudge!). the weather also began to turn cool so I hid myself in giant layers of clothing.
it was around thanksgiving that people began to notice. we spent another wretched holiday in PA with my dad's then-girlfriend's family and I couldn't hide. still a runner, we went shopping at an outlet for new tights. while I can't recall the size I selected, I do remember their electric blue color as well as the look on my father's face when I stepped from the dressing room: horror. although I never weighed myself during this time, I was probably around 70 pounds. yeah, way thin.
there ended my "cover." I was now under eagle eye watch. my dad "took away" my running until I started eating properly again and gained weight. I cared, but I didn't. by this time, my little body was so depressed, mentally and physically. while I don't remember saying to myself, "I want to die," I did.
by christmas, I was even thinner. and EVERYONE was noticing now. the attention was both embarrassing and so sweet. finally, I was getting people to notice me! sick, I know.
the next few months...a blur. I sat by a heat vent in our apartment nearly all winter long, perpetually chilled to the bone. my sister, who I shared a room with, said I would whimper in my sleep. my dad didn't know what to do other than insist I eat. I, however, had lost all will. I didn't really care what happened to me. yes, I was a miserable mess.
my father finally took me to a doctor—a chinese acupunturist/herbal med guy—after the school nurse called him up. she had claimed she needed to do a scoliosis screening, but I knew she just wanted to see just how skeletal I was.
the chinese doctor prescribed herbs. I laughed. whatever. he also weighed me: 62 pounds. holy smokes. before I left his office, he looked me straight in the eye and said, "you must eat or you die."
perhaps that was my wake-up call. perhaps it was something else. but slowly, I started adding food back into my life. slowly. by eighth grade graduation, I had put on a couple pounds, but I was far from better.
with a little life (and food) back in me, however, I became desperate to feel the freedom of running again and my dad knew it. as what can only be described as a bribe, he said I could go on short runs with him when I hit 70 pounds. this is when I put as much effort into eating as I did into starving. I finally had something I wanted back in my life. it took until early summer, but I finally reached my goal weight and began pounding the pavement with him again. and man, did it feel so good. I can only chock it up to endorphins (I was prescribed nothing to battle the depression that had consumed my year), but I was FINALLY happy again. I was also eating as well as gaining weight gloriously. once I had my running back in my grasp, there was no way in hell I was letting it go.
by mid-summer, I was looking—gasp!—healthy...probably at least 75 pounds. it was then that I approached my dad with a newspaper clipping I had found in our suburban paper: "ALL RUNNERS WELCOME! UAHS CC team. Practice begins August 1. Call for details." Desperate to see me normal again, my dad agreed to let me join the team. And that, saved my life.
I went on to letter my first year and attend the state meet as the varsity alternative. in the spring, I lettered in track. by my sophomore year, I was thriving, running varsity for both teams. my junior year I ran in states for cc and track...and grew some 9+ inches. by my senior year, I was strong, fast and ready to compete as the college level.
today—one ultra, 19 marathons, too-many-to-count halves, five half ironmans and one big wonderful ironman later—I think about the year I nearly died often, yet it doesn't define me; it drives me. when the going gets tough, sometimes I bitch and moan, but eventually I draw on the incredible strength I cultivated during that year of hell.
so here's to yet another great year. I'm thankful I have it before me to cultivate. happy new year.
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