You look like a rag doll out there.
— a line said by my high school basketball coach that would forever ring through my mind as a constant reminder of how far I felt from being enough. I can still remember it all so clearly. It was my junior year of high school and I felt so proud to make the varsity team. A few games into the season, we were walking into the locker room during half time — just her and I, straggling behind the rest of my teammates. 25 points down. And lucky me, I got to play for the last 20 seconds of the half (woooow ty coach, so so kind). That’s when she said that line that shook me too much. You look like a rag doll out there.
The rest of the second half was a blur. By the end of the game, I had kinda composed this whole puzzle of labels and lines she had said to me in the past; gluing the pieces together to form one big sum of how everyone in the world must view me. How much do you weigh? She would ask during a drill, encircled by the rest of my team. Oh good, you’re eating. I didn’t think you ate. Something she said in passing as she walked through that tiny bus isle on the way to a game… I hope you’re a better musician than you are a basketball player. Another heartbreaking comment said when she heard I played guitar.
You see, I’ve always been my tall, lanky self (and will always be!). At doctor visits, I would be reminded again and again that I was in the 95th percentile for height but only the 5th for weight. I know doc, I know! That’s why I drink all those PediaSure shakes you give me!! I don’t think I hit 100 pounds until sophomore year of high school. And I was a year behind everyone in my grade. I was such a late bloomer. But every year in basketball, from the time I was in 2nd grade until this point, it had never been something that had stopped me from being secure in giving my best. And y’all — I LOVE everything about the game of basketball!! It was my first love. My passion. How I spent every free moment. And even that junior year, I remember us having a boot camp following tryouts. We would get stickers for each event we “cleared.” When we looked at the final sticker count, I had tied for first. I ran the fastest mile and did everything else I was supposed to do. I can still remember the roll of her eyes as she reluctantly handed me and the leading scorer on the team little golden trophies. Looking back I feel really proud of that moment, but in the heat of it all, I still felt so ashamed. I did everything I could to please her. To win her over. To make her like me or respect me or even acknowledge some bit of my effort. But it’s like the more I did, the more I felt insecure and put down.
Still, in efforts to do more and be more, I started weight lifting — with being “enough” for her as my main motivation. On top of that, I joined an AAU team and went to personal training sessions to build strength, physically and what I didn’t realize until later was that I was learning how to be mentally tough too (but more on that later!!). I had a shooting coach and worked out multiple times a day. And you know what? It still didn’t change her perception of me. It still didn’t get me more playing time. It still didn’t make the self-reflecting body image comments go away. And I would cry real hard about it every night, sifting through more options and ways to beat my body harder and become the kind of athlete that would get her attention.
But through it all I learned some really important life lessons that have lasted longer than the sting of her words. Here’s what I learned:
Sometimes you muster up all the strength you can and give something, or someone, your very very best. And even still, sometimes you don’t get the outcome you set out for. Sometimes the people you want most to cheer you on, don’t. Sometimes you get what isn’t fair. Sometimes a + b doesn’t equal c. And even still, you have to learn to let it be o k a y.
For me, I had to learn how to love myself from the inside out. To be my own cheerleader and biggest advocate. To have thick skin in the midst of criticism. To look at myself with very loving eyes, knowing that I don’t have to be anything but myself.
Little by little, my motivation for working out and lifting weights shifted. It became less about that coach and more about how much I simply loved moving. How much I loved interacting with other people in the gym. How much enjoyment I got out of doing things I didn’t think I could do. How much I loved listening to music during runs and dancing in between interval sets. Now when I walk into a gym, her words don’t phase me. They inspire me. I don’t workout to spite her. I workout because I feel like the strongest and truest version of myself when I’m moving. That’s why I wanted to study Kinesiology in college. I wanted to use the things I faced and felt in high school as a tool to guide me in helping other people love their bodies and love their life. That’s a really powerful thing. Movement helped me love myself again. And I love that 16 year old me for giving her whole heart during that tough junior year season of basketball. But I love who I’ve become because of it even more.
Thanks so much for reading. What have the toughest seasons in your life taught you and brought you to!?
Lots and lots of love,
Madison (aka Mad-dawg — a nickname from my baller days… lol!)