It was a beautiful Monday afternoon in East Lansing, MI. I was a month away from completing my freshman year of college. As I was headed back to my dorm after my final class of the day, I smiled thinking how great it was I became an expert on navigating my way through the huge campus of Michigan State. After trekking down the path of the Red Cedar river, I thought I would stop, say hello, and visit with my coaches as I was coming up to Jenison Field House. I took in a breath of fresh spring air, and appreciated it was our one day off that week of training, lifting, running, or game competition.
I opened the door from the outside, and as I heard it creek shut, I excitedly hurdled up four flights of steps to their office, which was housed on the top floor of the athletic facility. I was steps away from the door when I saw the captain of our women’s soccer team exiting the weight room, which happened to be next to the soccer office. She was wearing headphones, her light gray team practice shirt which had clearly turned to dark gray, and sweat dripping from her hair to her shirt. I said, “Hi. How are you?” with a nervous, shaky voice. Who wouldn’t be intimidated by an upperclassmen, no less a team captain as a junior? I asked, “Did I miss something? Isn’t today our day off?” As she wiped her forehead with the sleeve of her shirt, she explained she likes to do a small workout or run on off-days to keep her legs loose.
I was baffled. All that time, I had actually been taking our days off as days off. But, if our junior captain was working out (and let me tell you, it was no light workout with her shirt soaked in sweat like that), then I better also workout so my legs stay loose, and I’m not behind tomorrow at training, I thought quietly to myself.
It was that run-in that I believe would eventually lead me toward my obsession with exercise. Any time off felt it was missed opportunity for improvement. And trust me, it all started in the most innocent, healthy, and competitive way. Until, I kept going…and going…and going for runs.. and more runs. Because, as you know, I have an extreme personality, and am as driven as they come. According to Mirror Mirror Eating Disorders, and an article on Division 1 NCAA Athletes with Anorexia, the mentality and “involvement in athletics can offer many benefits, such as increased self-esteem, improved body image, and good physical health. However, it can cause immense physical and mental pressure when competition is taken to the extreme.” I took my competition to the extreme.
I always said that eating disorders were contagious in a locker room. Having never been exposed to them before college, I entered as a freshman hearing about an upperclassman not participating in preseason because of anorexia. In addition, each game day, I witnessed a team leader throwing down Red Bull drinks right before competition to give her an extra boost of energy that she probably lacked through diet. I recognized another team leader on campus when she was on her fifth mile of a run the same night of a Big Ten conference game.
Though none of the above teammates or actions were meant to impact me, positively or negatively, they were triggers to my thoughts and eventual behaviors. And that is sometimes all it takes in a competitive environment like college sports. Ignorance is bliss, until reality sets in. I believe it would’ve been extremely beneficial for expectations to be set for nutrition, training, and conditioning. Instead, I observed, learned, and acted in a way that I personally take responsibility for spiraling out of control, while in control.