Tuesday, July 9, 2019

What fitness means to you

Have you ever thought about what fitness means to you? 

This has been on my mind a lot since I've started recovering from long term illness. What does fitness really mean to me? Where does it fall in my life? These are questions that are important to me, and if you're someone who exercises regularly, I encourage you to think about this too.

As I start feeling healthier, I'm finding that my perspective on lots of different things are changing. Things that I thought never would change are indeed looking different to me. It's an odd side effect! 
So many wonderful people I've met through
OnTrack Fitness!

I'll start from the beginning, bear with me it'll all come together in the end. I started becoming interested in fitness at the age of nine. I don't know why, I was just intrigued by this new idea I heard of somewhere that by doing pushups I could do MORE pushups. What - wow, that was such a cool idea to a little girl! 

So I got my uncle to teach me how to do pushups, I got my mom to buy me one pound dumb bells (ha! Ok, I was nine) & I would carry them as I ran laps around our house. I got my dad to build a pullup bar in the garage, from my play batton, by the way. So funny! This was my intro into fitness & I loved it!

Then I went through a phase I thought exercise was stupid. Like all kids as they grow, likes & dislikes change. I was more about climbing trees & swimming which is funny considering that too is physical.

*Disclaimer, the following may trigger people who struggle with eating disorders.*

At thirteen I developed an eating disorder, and along with that I exercised. A lot. I became obsessed with both food and exercise. It was unhealthy, obviously, and it really took front and center of my life. Fitness wasn't fitness. It was my life, my obsession.  

Unless you've known me since my teens you probably don't know I had an eating disorder. I was lucky because my family was on top of it & I got help quickly and was able to recover for the most part within a year and started eating again. However, I went from this to being obsessed with being healthy. "Perfect" eating (which doesn't exist but nonetheless) and over exercising was my life. 

I wouldn't go out to eat because I didn't know what they were putting into my food. I put exercise as the most important thing in my day. I skipped events, skipped family gatherings, skipped school to exercise. Fitness, again (or still), had become the only thing in my life. 

Guys, let me be clear: this isn't fitness. By any standards. If you find yourself in this place, I urge you to get help. You can overcome this. Keep reading...

I look back on all of that now & it doesn't seem like it was me. It feels like I'm remembering a movie of someone else's story.

In my early 20's I hit a point where things changed. It started with a bible study that was focused on having a healthy relationship with food. It hit home & I can honestly say through this study plus lots & lots of prayers and lots & lots of work I was truly and wholly healed from my unhealthy relationship with food and exercise. It just all made sense, and the obsession no longer was of interest to me.

I still ate healthy, but I relaxed. I enjoyed food. I went out to eat, I allowed others to cook for me. And wonder of wonders I actually ate junk food every now and then! I didn't think about food all the time. I still exercised but now instead of over exercising, I started doing running races which helped me learn how to exercise for a goal, take time off & feel good about doing it correctly instead of constantly. I learned & practiced doing it, having fun, then letting it go. And this did take practice but I was ready to be free.

Then I learned about triathlon and it took me to a different level. I really learned to train and rest. I did my workouts then went on with life. This is hard to explain but by doing these races I wasn't focused on continuous exercise, instead on doing a specific workout. I got it done and moved on with life. It freed me to relax! I loved the shift from fitness being life to it being part of my life.

And then it hit. Chronic illness. Everything changed. There were times I thought I'd brought this on myself by the years of obsession. But my docs assured me that it was not my doing and in fact, since I was an exerciser it helped me stay healthier than if I'd not. Thank God I'd gotten a better handle on things years before this. They told me to keep exercising. And so I did, but boy it was different. It was hard, so hard. I still loved it but on the other hand it was joyless in a way. I knew it helped me regulate my energy, it gave me energy but it was me literally willing myself to move. 

These were dark years. But there was good too. Even though it took a lot of mental will, triathlon was a symbol of freedom for me. It was a way to draw a line in the sand and tell this stupid illness "you won't take everything from me!" 

Fitness started looking like a way to connect. Connect to myself, to gain energy, to listen to my body, to learn how to eek out every little bit out of what little energy I had. It became less about getting better & more about...I guess just being. Being me, being free. Being someone who still did, still could even if it wasn't what I wanted it to look like. I guess it became more about acceptance.

Little by little it became less about me & more about a way to praise and worship God. I would spend my runs praying & being thankful that I could run. Yes it was kinda like a shuffle. It was slow, it was hard. But it was. It was a gift, and that's beautiful. 

This took practice too, and I often failed miserably to see fitness as a gift. Because that is what it was.
My first marathon, during illness but prior
to mono. An accomplishment I never
thought would happen.

Now that I'm starting to heal (my docs finally found the cause & I'm being treated) I'm unexpectedly finding my definition of fitness changing again. I didn't expect any of these feelings that I can't even describe, yet here they are! 

Fitness. Wow, it's been quite a ride and I'm still on it. Fitness now seems to me still a beautiful gift. But this gift we're given, what if it's about being fit enough to do what we are called to do in this life? What if it's someone who physically can't exercise yet they can be fit enough to make it through their day? What if a person can't do a triathlon, and reap those benefits? But they can eat well, and sleep well, and pray well enough to get up and go to work and be sunshine to someone who needs it? What if this is fitness?

What if we use it to not focus on ourselves, but on others? What if my whole entire life was leading me to become the coach I am now, the person I am now? That I attract the athletes we have at OnTrack Fitness because of who I became due to all of my life experiences - and that we are there to love and support and encourage and pray and treat others with respect? 

What if fitness is just the means by which we're doing that?

What if we don't use fitness as our identity? After all, there will come a day when our workout days come to an end. Then what? I want more. I want to be what I was called to be, don't you? This podcast made me think. So did this post.

What if that's what my fitness looks like?

I think so. I'm still learning but maybe this is my fitness now. Yes I still train & exercise & set goals & love exercise. But maybe...there's more to this. I'm excited for this new phase in my life! 

So let me ask you, what is your fitness? 


  1. I want to share my journey, which would not be possible without OnTrack Fitness:
    I'd never been into fitness in my younger years because it always seemed so arbitrary.
    Run? How far? But why?
    Why? It was usually because someone told me I had to.
    I wasn't competitive enough to enjoy sports. I only really enjoy challenging myself but solo workouts were never what I would call "fun."
    I liked biking because it felt like doing something; I could get somewhere. I used to bike for transportation and did bike rides with friends for fun.
    My view on fitness changed shortly after I got over my fear of the ocean. Suddenly, a new world of exploration had opened up and I wanted to become more confident in the water.
    Cue my first swim clinic. It was truly life-changing, even though all I did was learn how to blow bubbles.
    It was a seemingly small step, but I soon got an email from Coach Emily telling me about the positive feedback she had gotten from the other swimmers (I will always remember the words from her email: "You were a hit!"). That gave me the confidence to TRY.
    I signed up for the triathlon program because training for an even was not arbitrary. I had a set distance, I had a timeline, and, most importantly, I had COACH. Training became a process to reach a goal. I had a team to keep me accountable. And Motivated.
    As I progressed, exercise became FUN.
    I discovered what my body could do - Things I never would have thought were possible!
    Exercise went from a mandatory drag to a way to improve myself and build relationships.
    Thank you, Coach, for this gift.

    1. Jamisen...I'm at a loss for words. Thank you for this. Thank you for sharing. Your story is lovely...I'm honored to be a part of it. It has been lovely watching you from that first swim clinic and how you grew and flourished and embraced everything. You were always ready to trust, ready to try it with a positive spirit and that has made an impact on every person in our groups. Thank you Jamisen!!

  2. Wonderful story! Thank you for sharing. It's hard to write about personal stuff, but you did a great job!

    1. Thank you! Yes it's really hard to write personal stuff. I'm glad I did though!

  3. Emily....Ol' DAD here!! :) I'm very PROUD of you. In life you have been blessed with lots of people who love you, but that doesn't mean life will be easy. Frankly, you have had to endure some things that nobody should be expected to experience. But your faith in our Lord and you rare ability to just simply...endure...and not give up has helped make you the strong person you are. I have to respect you for your steadfast personal constitution to set goals and work hard to reach them when so many in your cirumstances would simply give up or "cave in". I have seen grown men who could not remain on course to the extent you have. God can, and He does, use you in unique ways. When people get to really know you, you are a sweet person who really cares and you are willing to give everyone the respect they deserve regardless whereas some may have preconceived notions about. I recall the "food" experience you had as a child and, to me, I could not understand the why of it all. Honestly, I think God was using that as a type of training knowing the skills and talents you have and that you would build up on top of, to be of to become a great benefit to others. Any man would be proud to have a daughter like you. You set goals and make things happen realizing all the hard work and dedication required and having "challenges" along the way but going on ahead anyway. Emily, you are a winner. And I am so thankful I have the honor of being you father.

    1. These are sweet and thoughtful words. Thank you! I agree about the eating disorder being, in some way, training for what was to come. Hard, horrible but good things came from it.