This post was updated 3/2/2021 to improve the writing and readability. I’m still a bit of a perfectionist. :)
I entered college anticipating a chance to start over.
It was a chance to bring out the person I had always felt had been trapped inside. I left high school as a depressed, eating-disordered, running-consumed, people-pleaser perfectionist who found out, upon entering college, that I still couldn’t let it all go.
I didn’t know how to let it all go.
I reached my dream in running with school records and All-American finishes as a college freshman. But it was then that I realized this was not as fulfilling as I had hoped it would be. As everyone praised me for my efforts, a yearning to go to extremes haunted me in the loneliness of the disorder.
After the Highs Came the Lows
I faced reality after that dream-come-true year of running. Going from a judgmental, glory-driven athlete to a humbled, scared, bingeing girl stripped of her running “superpowers” was to face my greatest fears. It was a life without my control of food or success in running. I realized I could be more than just running and food.
I had to be more than just running and food.
Writing gave me a voice at last despite anxiety and shame in sharing it. My eyes opened beyond my own fears to see how many others dealt with similar struggles.
I found that I could be more than the food I ate, the amount I weighed on the scale, the schedule I dictated myself by, and the times I ran in races. I began to open my mouth not just to eat, but also to speak with confidence and enthusiasm. I realized how painful and frustrating it felt to run in silence.
A Different Ending
I am graduating college with a surgical scar tracing down my right knee that tells a story, not of physical pain but of emotional rebirth. A comeback was never about racing after breaking my kneecap, losing weight again, or achieving All-American. It was about learning to be the best Rachael I could be under the strain of every fear that became my reality. I graduate now with extra “meat on my bone,” a body that has carried me through it all, and a mind that could endure more than I ever expected.
Rules could be broken–like when I slept on the college soccer field for my twenty-first birthday; when I decided to not complete a school assignment for the first time in my life; when I got my first-ever C on a test; and when I decided that enough was enough with running to quit competing because the sport was taking away more than it was giving back.
That it was my turn to give back.
Freedom at Last
I graduate having enjoyed all-nighters, and feeling peace in sitting with myself instead of guilt for “wasting” time. I graduate having met amazing classmates that helped me to see beyond a world of running and food.
Today I graduate knowing that the desire to be the best runner was not what would make me feel more fulfilled; that the “right” food would not bring out the real Rachael; and that self-discovery is painful, but it forced me to face myself at last.
I graduate knowing I am privileged and lucky. A big part of my success is from the people I am surrounded with. I was supported by a community of running and writing friends, and professors and classmates who encouraged me to share my pain through writing.
I was rooted on by coaches and parents who believed in my potential to be a great person, not just a great runner–and everything beyond perfection.