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How I Changed

I am often asked, “How did you get into triathlon?” or “What was the moment that everything changed for you? When you knew you wanted to change?”

I recently realized that – on this blog – I have not shared The Spark… the thing that changed inside of me and how it happened. How I decided I would get off the couch and make a better life.

Was it easy? Did it happen instantaneously? Nope… But it did happen. And it continues each day.

This is how I started.  Pale, fat, and tired… with babies in tow. And you can’t tell from the picture, but I was also pretty angry.

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The change came on September 11, 2009. I didn’t decide to take on triathlon until a year later… but that day was the beginning.

The below post is an edited part of my book about the two days that changed it all for me.  I wanted to share with you guys who are starting out, or who think you can’t make a change.  Or if you are just lost in particular.

I began this journey from a very raw, painful, fat place.

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You can start your journey, just like I did. You can keep going.  …And you must. But be kind to yourself along the way.

And while I have not reached fitness or body weight nirvana… I recognize that each day, each year is a work in progress.

I also see that progress is being made.  And I want to keep moving forward.

And you can too.

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Excerpt from Triathlon for the Every Woman….

On one particular morning, the baby monitor rattled loudly with Stella’s screams. She was eight months old. Shortly after, James (almost two) started wailing too. The Expert was frustrated because he was heading out of town on business. I was frustrated because I had slept about three hours and I had forgotten to pick up my dry cleaning the day before. [The dry cleaning which had my only size 20 suit. The one suit that actually fit me. The one suit I needed for court that day.]

I dug deep in the closet and found a too-tight size 16/18 hideous brown number with a super tight waist and a miserable high-water pant. The children did not poop or throw up on said suit before I left, so I considered that a winner winner chicken dinner of a morning. As I drove towards the courthouse in downtown, I received an email from my assistant on my Blackberry:

Hearing postponed. Judge had family emergency. (The first of a series of serendipitous moments that changed my life.)

An hour later, I was at my desk with my breastpump shoved neatly in a drawer and my fingers flying fast and furiously across my computer keyboard. I felt okay, although my stomach was hurting from the tight pants (or was it the Egg McMuffin with two hash browns?). An email hit my inbox around nine o’clock:

Lunch and Learn Session Today

– Noon-

Large Conference Room

Hot dog! Did somebody say Lunch? Those lunches had the best box sandwiches with chips and cookies. I hit the reply button and locked in my reservation for the meeting. (Second stroke of serendipity!)

One minute before noon I hovered outside the conference room, taking in the scent of the glorious cookies. Only then did I realize that the lunch session was presented by the gym located downstairs.

Great, I muttered. Gym membership sales. Super. Super. Super.

I listened haphazardly and smacked on my sandwich thinking, Yeah, these dumb people thinking I have time for working out. When am I going to workout? I have two kids. I work all the damn time. I commute 2 hours or more a day. When? When? When?

“5:30 a.m.” said the leader, “The club opens at 5:30 in the morning.”

I snickered to myself. And these gym memberships are always year-long contracts and I am not going to be stuck in—but she read my mind again.

“The membership is month-to-month with a thirty day cancellation policy.”

Smartass fit lady, I thought, reaching for another cookie.

As I listened to the presentation, I thought, well, maybe I should join this gym. I could come to work a tad earlier, avoid traffic and shower at the gym.

Maybe.

By the end of the Lunch, I had Learned myself a sandwich, chips, three cookies and a gym membership. I was a member. The sign-up included a free gym bag. Bonus! (Serendipity Number Four!)

After the meeting, our firm’s CFO walked over to me. “I am glad you joined the gym. I’m a member too.”

“Oh yeah?” I said.

“It’s a great gym. I could show you around sometime. You know, I could show you how to use the weights and the machines. Show you how to workout,” he offered.

I stared at him. Did he really just say that? I could “show you how to workout”?

Then I heard an explosion. Inside my head. Boom! I nodded numbly and turned away whispering, “Thanks.”

I suppose that I appreciated the gesture. The CFO dude was simply trying to be nice, helpful. How nice. How nice. How nice, I repeated in my head in between head explosions. Boom! How nice! But I was incredibly humiliated.

And oh, was I mad! I had once been an athlete, a weightlifter! I knew my way around a gym, especially the weights! Who did he think he was?

To make matters worse, one of my friends overheard the CFO’s comment and shouted, “No way dude, Meredith used to be some big deal weightlifter!”

I turned beet red.

He looked at me, “Oh. Oh, really?”

Boom! Boom! More head explosions. Horrible. I realized that my past athletic prowess was completely lost on others. The prowess was lost, because said prowess was actually invisible. Ten years had passed since I had touched a weight. I apparently looked as if I had never even heard of a gym. My feelings were hurt. I was mad at our CFO. But I realized, he was just stating the obvious. 

I stewed the rest of the afternoon at my desk, and stewed during my miserable commute home. I could…show you how to workoutHurmph! Boom! Boom!

I walked in the door to our apartment and stripped off my tight brown suit. I massaged my belly skin where an imprint of the waistband made a mark, cursed the Fat Stranger and slid into my stretchy pants. I was ten minutes late getting home, so the babies were thrown at me as our babysitter ran out the door. James started screaming as I fed Stella. The house was a mess. The noise was epic. I was crying and stewing and battling the children. My Blackberry was going Ding! Ding! Ding! I was living in an actual zoo.

Amidst all the tangible chaos, all I could think about was the CFO offering to show me around the gym. Dammit! Damn him! Damn all of this! I was mad. Mad. Mad. Boom! Boom!

I was so mad that I dialed Pizza Hut.

An hour later, I had five pieces of stuffed crust pizza in my gullet, washed down with two beers. The Expert came home a little while later and finished off the rest.

“Hey,” I said to the Expert after we put the kids down to bed and planted ourselves squarely in front of the television, “I joined a gym today.”

He looked at me. Then he looked back to the television. Silence.

“I got a free gym bag.”

He would not look at me. He did not say anything. He didn’t have to. I knew what he was thinking. Aside from his concern for the cost of the gym membership, he had utterly lost faith in my ability to do anything athletic. I never realized his disappointment in me until that particular moment. I saw it in his eyes. He did not mean to show it. His disappointment was not deliberate. It was not hateful. It just was.

….The Expert and I did not speak the rest of the night.

I retreated to our bedroom, hurt and angry, but with a fresh beer. This is my last beer ever , I thought. I threw my brand-new gym bag on the bed. Slowly and muttering to myself, I dug through drawers, filled up little bags of toiletries and packed for the gym the next day. I found an old water bottle. Finally, I tucked my shiny new gym membership card into the corner pocket of the bag, set my alarm and fell into bed.

I woke up a little earlier than usual. The house was dark and quiet. By the light of the closet, I threw on clothes and sneakers, leaving the Expert and babies sleeping soundly. The traffic was nonexistent at that time of morning and I made it to the office in around twenty-five minutes, a big improvement from the usual hour. Instead of plopping down at my desk, I dropped off my purse and headed downstairs to the gym.

It was September 11, 2009. I was petrified of the shiny new gym. I scanned my membership card and picked up a group fitness class schedule. I browsed the schedule.


Spinning
® Class
Indoor Cycling

6:00 AM

Instructor: Gerry

I glanced at the clock above the membership desk. Bingo. In my college days, I had attended a few indoor cycling classes. Sounded like the best plan I could muster that early in the morning.

I walked into the cycling studio about fifteen minutes before the start of class. The room was wrapped in mirrors and buzzing like Macy’s on Black Friday. Music was playing over speakers, bikes were whirring. I spotted only one open bike near the back row and I snagged it. I fumbled with raising the seat on the bike, raising and lowering the handle bars. When I figured it out best I could, I sat on the bike and fitted my feet into the cages on the pedals. My rear end immediately hurt from the pressure of my weight. I was already out of breath as I began to pedal.

I finally looked around.

The men and women spinning away on their bikes were wearing teeny tiny shorts and tanks. I was the fattest person in the room by a good sixty pounds. I was also the most fashionable person in the room wearing an extra-large gray t-shirt with some fat lady leggings. My eyes scanned the mirrors.

Then I saw her in the mirror.

My doppelganger—–the Fat Stranger.

Only this time I did not acknowledge the Fat Stranger. Instead, I looked into her eyes and chose to acknowledge the person who was really there. I acknowledged the sad and miserable woman, hiding behind the fatsuit.

Ugh. Me.

I turned my eyes away from the mirror, blinking and resolving to keep my eyes straight ahead for the remainder of the hour. The instructor was prepping his bike at the front of the class. I guessed he was the Gerry from the schedule.

I noticed a few things about this Gerry guy straightaway. He was ridiculously fit. And he was clearly a cyclist or a reality television star (or something equally as fabulous). I knew a little about cycling because the Expert always made me watch the Tour de France, so I could just tell. That and the shaved legs, marbled quads and tight shorts.

Another thing about Gerry: he was very loud.

“Good morning,” Gerry shouted. I looked up and braced myself.

Everyone shouted back, “Good morning!”I glanced around again. This place is a freak show, I thought. Most everyone in the class was fit, regardless of their age. Fit fit fit. I was an outsider. I was fat fat fat. Gerry looked directly at me. I guess I stood out. Going forward, I avoided eye contact at all costs.

From the front of the class, he congratulated someone who had just finished an Ironman. Everyone clapped. Ironman? The movie?

He gave a quick overview of the plan for the class and punched a button for the music. I stared at his spandex shorts and thought, Those are very tight pants. Only a man in that kind of shape could wear something so ridiculous and still look like a god.

“Close your eyes,” Gerry said. I snapped back to reality from the boom of his voice, my legs beginning to burn from the few moments I had been pedaling.

“Think about what you want to accomplish today,” he said. “Leave everything else outside. For the next hour, be here. Be here now. Be grateful.”

The music was loud. I was grateful for that. No one could hear me huffing and puffing. I loved the song blaring through the speakers. I was in a crowd of freakishly ripped people, but I was completely alone. I felt an intense loneliness. I was so lonely, so sad that I could taste it.

After the prior night with the Expert, the shame of my unfitness, the weariness of being a new mother twice over, the hatred of being a lawyer, I was left with nothing but disappointment in myself. Tears filled up my field of vision and rolled down my cheeks. I wiped furiously at my eyes, but the weeping continued. My face was so hot and I tried to prevent scrunchy-cry-face from happening. I could see my reflection in the mirror out of the corner of my eye. Nope, scrunchy-cry-face was happening. I was embarrassed for crying, but I was more embarrassed at the person I had become. Not just physically, although my fatness played a large role in the comedy theater of my situation.

But I was embarrassed for the whole person I had become. Angry. Fat. Isolated.

Be here. Be grateful.

I struggled with the pedals. I continued to move my legs, cycling through three or four songs and huffing profusely. Gerry shouted motivational words across the room. The music resounded loudly, until one song line hit me in the gut. I had heard the song a few times before, but had never given the lyrics much thought. In the cycling studio, it seemed that I was hearing them for the first time.

“Do you know that every day’s the first …of the rest…of your life…” 

The tears came again. My exhaustion, my stretch marks and my ferocious hatred for the Fat Stranger were washed away. All of the serendipitous moments of the prior two days (Boom! Boom!) had culminated in Gerry’s cycling class.

In place of the anger, I felt a Spark.

(Yes, it sounds like total cheeseball-flimflam…) but I felt a Spark inside my core, a comforting warmth and then a fire of sorts. For the first time, I understood that every day was literally a new day and the first day of the rest of my life.

That small understanding changed something inside of me.  I could change. I didn’t have to continue as I was.  I could change my life.

My responsibilities (marriage, work and children) fell back on me when I walked out of the gym. But during that one hour in that class, I was somewhere else. I was someone else.

Was cycling class always that freeing? Would I be able to escape and figure out who I was if I came more often? Would more exercise give me that peace? Was this really something special? Was it a double rainbow? What did it all meeeean???

On that day, I met the Fat Stranger with open eyes and a grateful heart, and I decided I would begin to like her… and I was determined to make my life better.

32 Comments

  • Sarah F

    January 16, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    Thank you for sharing your story. I had a similar experience, but it was my husband at the time causing all of the boom’s in my head. I signed up for a half-marathon with Team in Training and he informed me that there was no way I could do it. Needless to say, I did and we’re divorced. Boom. I now surround myself with overwhelmingly supportive people and am training for my first full Ironman. My how life changes.

    Reply
      • sarah f

        January 17, 2013 at 8:39 pm

        absolutely. I would love to help out with the swim bike mom team in any way that I can. triathlon and family, however those things come together in each person’s lives, mean . lot to me.

        Reply
  • Jackie

    January 16, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    WOW! Thank you for sharing. I know that fat, lonely stranger all to well. I started “running” almost two years ago and have completed two half marathons but have never been happy with my outcomes. I will complete a third half this weekend and found my “SPARK” this morning finally acknowledging that I am not the only woman to feel this way. BTW, tears are not really an appropriate look for the office but my male boss will have to deal with it 🙂 Thank you!!!!

    Reply
  • Leslie Livingstone

    January 16, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    I am about half way through your book. I am so amazed at how our stories are the same. I have laughed, I have cried ( knowing that I am not alone), I have been inspired. Thank you for sharing your story, Thank you for shouting from the rooftop that I am not alone.

    Reply
  • Amy

    January 16, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    I loved your book and I was very interested in this part- the spark. I had what I called a rock-bottom moment (involving a pan of brownies) where I realized I couldn’t live my life like this anymore; I was too young. Triathlons didn’t enter my life for another 9 years, but at the end of the day, deciding to life a healthy and active life is a journey. I’m glad I found your blog. Thank you for being brave enough to start sharing your journey with the rest of us!

    Reply
  • KMG

    January 16, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    And this is why I love your blog. Every time you post, I think OMG, that’s me (maybe not the three hours on the trainer, but maybe that could be me someday.) Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  • Wendy N.

    January 16, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    I had a similar journey, and 8 years later, my children don’t remember the fat stranger. It’s great because I can put that behind me, but also I hope they learn lessons easily. The legacy you’re building for your children by living the example, falling short sometimes, but always moving forward– that’s the stuff!

    Reply
  • Elena

    January 16, 2013 at 2:22 pm

    Love your blog and book – I look forward to each post! I’m about halfway through the book and want to slow down reading because I don’t want to be done! Keep up the great, motivational work!

    Reply
  • Carie Vercelli

    January 16, 2013 at 3:34 pm

    Enjoyed reading this! Last march I was depressed and had kicked out my husband and was dealing with two special needs kids on my own and went to the school for one of my kids reviews an IEP, and it was awful and I left sobbing and feeling like I was being treated by the teacher just as my X had treated me & from that day on I decided if I didn’t take control and change for me then no one else was going to do it for me, and running and biking and swimming was a hell of a lot better then antidepressants! Since march 3 2012 I have completed three triathlons, many 5k’s and 10k’s and got 44 overall out of almost 600 and will do my first 1/2 marathon march 2! What a difference a year has made! I contacted you in the beginning because you reminded me so much of me and you were so sarcastically funny and such an inspiration! Your words got me through my first triathlon! Thank you so much and your words continue to inspire the hell out of me!
    Carie

    Reply
  • Jacky

    January 16, 2013 at 5:51 pm

    Absolutely loved it. Guess I had a spark moment too at some point. Every day, is indeed a new day and the first of the rest of our lives. I live overseas and haven’t been able to get your book yet (hope to soon though :p) but since I came across your site you’ve always inspired me. Thank you so much! Life changes and it is great!

    Reply
  • C

    January 17, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    I just want to say Thank You! I was about to go to the vending machine to get some junk food, but after reading your post, I am now eating the orange that I packed with my lunch. I am struggling big time with the weight and am losing and gaining the same 2 lbs!!! You are an inspiration to me. I, too, belong to the gym at work and being a single mom to a 4yr leaves me having to get up super early to workout. I have slacked of in the past, but am now motivated to carry on. You had me almost crying because I have been in spin class feeling the same way. I now know that if I can just pull through these tough times, I can make it.

    Reply
    • Michele

      January 18, 2013 at 11:39 am

      Thanks for sharing! I’m not a triathlete, just a baby runner but I find you and your story to be a continued source of inspiration. I had my “BOOM” moment when my 2nd grader refused to take family pictures with me in them to school for a project because he didn’t want his classmates to make fun of his Big Fat Mom during the day, he apparently got enough teasing during my volunteering and special events. I’ve turned it around and am keeping on keeping on.

      Reply
  • Kate

    February 7, 2013 at 12:51 pm

    Wow. I guess I’m not alone then? I have one child, a husband, several failed gym memberships, and that very same stranger looking back at me. I had “the spark” early in January (after trying to find it for years, but for some reason never felt I was worth the effort). A good friend of mine has been doing triathlons for a few years and I had been in awe of what she could accomplish – That pushed me to sign up for the IronGirl Atlanta this year. I am excited yet terrified at the same time! I used to be a runner, but recently only have a few 5ks and the annual Peachtree under my belt. T-minus 14 weeks!

    Reply
  • Nicola

    April 29, 2013 at 7:26 pm

    I came across your site completely by chance (and what I now realize is simply Divine Intervention). Where do I begin? I read this post rolling down my face. Maybe its the stress of being a new mom (I have a 2 year old), maybe its the pain of once being a decent athlete, but now I can barely walk up the steps in our house without something hurting, although I’m only 33 or maybe its the 6 years of complete misery I suffered as a new lawyer trying to find my way before finally just walking away from it all feeling like a fat failure. I’m not sure, but the whole article brought me such a surge of emotions. Thank you Thank you for writing this. I will be buying your book today. It seems we have a lot in common.

    Reply
  • Kristen Norris

    November 22, 2013 at 5:11 pm

    Ok, I have been reading your blog for a while and might even be a super fan (I shyly introduced myself to you at Rev3 Anderson this year – I was so excited that Swim Bike Mom was going to be at my race!) but I have never read this post until today. First of all, you have a gift. I love the way you write – it’s like I’m listening to my best friend talk. But more than that, I can’t even begin to tell you how important your work is. You give a voice to the hundreds (thousands?) of women who find themselves stuck in a place they don’t want to be. And I think your courage gives others the courage they need to break their own patterns. We all have demons, things we fight every day and try to change – and those demons come in different forms. But your message transcends them: you can change. I am so grateful there are gifted women like you who are brave enough to share their stories. I gotta tell ya, you inspire me to keep on going. Thanks so much!

    Reply
  • raquel

    May 8, 2015 at 12:08 pm

    What an amazing story! Thank you so much for sharing! I am training for my first sprint and came across your blog. Thank you!

    Reply
  • Marissa

    September 6, 2017 at 4:53 pm

    I joke often, but in all seriousness “maybe” is a dangerous word for me, in a good way! I love that it is also how it started a change for you too. It’s a shift from “I’m not” or “I can’t”. “Maybe” let’s the light peek through darkness. I had put myself in a box of “I can’t run” or “I don’t swim well”. 7 years and 50 pounds ago I’d never run further than a mile. One day my spark was “maybe if I can run to that stop sign then I can run to the Dunkin Donuts (I know the irony ;-p)” Six months later “maybe if I can run 2 miles I can do a 5k?” Then the action follows. The work comes, the drive to prove mostly myself wrong that I cannot finish something. Nobody in my life doubts me anymore! A spin and group ex instructor with 10 half marathons, 2 marathons, an HIM and various other distances later…I’m still dreaming of maybes. Maybe…I could be an ironman??

    Reply

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