Thinner. Faster. Better.
The three words that kept repeating in my mind the summer before my sophomore soccer season at Michigan State. I was a midfielder; an outside midfielder to be exact. In simpler terms, I was responsible for covering a lot of ground, and doing an excess amount of running from end line to end line. It only made sense to me that if I was able to lose weight, it would be easier to gain stamina, and, therefore, be a better player. It was essential that I felt light on my feet, quick, and agile in order to achieve success at that level. So, with the goal of being an impact player, major contributor, and eventual leader, I set out to do just that–lose weight and get lean.
My strengths as a player were quite obvious: my ability to serve (cross) a ball, my footwork on and off the ball, and my work rate. My major weaknesses were consistently my size, strength, and my ability to finish (score) routinely. However, at my best, I was able to hold my own by using my body effectively to protect myself and the ball. But, still, there was always room for improvement, and I believed that a change in my physique would be the answer.
Thinner. Faster. Better.
The three words many athletes repeat in their minds when training to be their best. Little did I know this mentality would actually have the opposite effect. I got thinner, leaner, and gained more stamina. But, as a result of losing muscle, I lost my strength. With a loss in strength, I not only got pushed off the ball, but I was no longer able to do what I had been notorious for doing so well–and, that was serving (crossing) a ball from a great distance. In fact, I had lost so much weight that I was too weak to even just cross a ball, let alone do it with forcefulness. My power diminished, my energy weakened, and I was no longer performing to my capability.
Unfortunately, losing significant weight in sports to gain an edge is a complete misconception. Until it is further addressed, athletes will incur injuries, develop eating disorders, excessive exercise issues, or establish unhealthy behaviors. I am an example of one of them. I achieved thinness, but I suffered many consequences as a result. Not only did I battle an eating disorder because I became obsessed with controlling my diet, but I managed to acquire tendinitis in both of my Achilles’ tendons–which was beyond excruciating. My goal to improve my ability on the soccer field by losing weight ended up backfiring–as it resulted in me being put on the injured list for multiple reasons.
This mindset happens to be across the board in sports, and is continuing to negatively effect performance, and many careers. When I saw an article pop all over social media this week titled, “Should athletes look a certain way? Michigan State runner takes stand on body image,” I couldn’t help but click on each link, and hang on to every last word that Rachele Schulist shared. How ironic, I thought. Another Michigan State athlete who struggled, and is publicizing her downfall, and then recovery. Just like I have shared, she discusses the fact that athletes are determined to perform to their best abilities. But, there remains a pressure to, also, appear a certain way: muscular, lean, six-pack of abs, all while looking feminine.
I will reiterate again. As glamorous as it may seem to be a collegiate athlete because of “free gear,” “free tutoring,” and excused absences for competition, life as an athlete can be very challenging both physically and mentally. The more people speak up and share these challenges, the less of a stigma there will be, and, hopefully, more awareness will allow for healthier and more successful athletes.