This is a piece I wrote for the December 2020 edition of American Randonneur. People have asked about reading it, so I’ve posted it here as well. It’s been slightly updated from the original, mostly because I love to edit and update! Thanks all, and I hope everyone is well.
Growing up, and especially during my teen years, I obsessed over my physical appearance. I spent excessive amounts of time in front of the mirror assessing my various physical qualities, trying to determine if I passed society’s acceptability test.
I scoured beauty and health magazines, inspecting the models to see how I compared. Was I thin enough? Was I pretty enough?
Most days the answer was no. I honed in on perceived flaws and tried to scold myself into action. I began using food and physical activity as mechanisms to achieve this unattainable benchmark. I restricted calories. I worked out to lose weight, not because I really liked it.
This extremely limited view of food and physical activity continued for many years into my adulthood. My physical self continued to disappoint as my disordered patterns around eating and exercise persisted. I’m not telling you this to elicit sympathy, scorn or anything else. That is simply what I believed and how I lived for quite a long time.
In my late 20s, I moved to Washington, D.C., and started bicycling to work. It was the easiest, fastest way. I rode primarily to commute and familiarize myself with the District. In the process I discovered that I really liked riding.
I employed my bike to access areas further away from home. This cycling was increasing my fitness, but I saw it more as exploration versus exercise. Washington, D.C., and the area around it has so much history and – compared to many places – it is bicycle and pedestrian friendly. The city invites two-wheeled exploration because that is just the easiest way to see things and move about.
My endurance increased. Eventually I became friends with someone who invited me to be part of an all-women flèche team. I had never heard of randonneuring until this, but the idea of covering 360K in 24 hours intrigued me. Was my body capable of such a feat? Pedaling that far – for that long – could I seriously do that? It was something I had never considered, let alone thought possible. I said yes.
Despite being the slowest and most inexperienced rider of the group, my fléche teammates pulled me along and shepherded me to the finish with them. Fraternizing at the end and eating breakfast in a sleep-deprived delirium, I basked in the accomplishment. My body had proven itself durable, and come through for me.
I had peeked beyond the horizon of my imagination. It held so much possibility and excitement! I had never felt this way about my body. Randonneuring turned my sense of self on its head, in a totally great way. Whether or not I came up short on the make-believe appearance scale didn’t matter. My bicycle and I were capable of taking on intense physical challenges, and I hungered for more.
During this period I also met my now-husband Ed. Together, we took on a Super Randonneur series on tandem. My self-confidence and appreciation for my body continued to bloom. I carried that confidence into relationships and other arenas of life.
Randonneuring didn’t save me, exactly, but it was the means to seeing myself, my body, and my value in a completely new way. Nowadays I spend less time looking in the mirror, and when I do I’m not so mean to the woman looking back. My body merits a thank you, not derision. It is beautiful – capable of feats I never thought possible and pedaling distances that most people just drop their jaws about and call crazy. Not me.
I can ride more than 250 miles in one day and tell you all about how it feels, how hard it is, how wonderful it can be. It’s been over 15 years since I became a randonneur, and even now I have moments of awe about the distances and terrain we cover, the resilience of our bodies. The horizon of possibility is broader than we can imagine, and then we start pedaling toward it. It lures us forward. As it does, our beauty manifests. We can see ourselves anew – we are enough.
Reading this, I must have gotten something in my eyes. They were quite blurry by the end.
Thank you for sharing and reminding us all of the what our bodies do for us. It’s taken too many years for me to learn acceptance and gratitude, but at least I’m finally able to embrace both more often.
Lynda, I’m glad to hear that. And I agree, body acceptance and gratitude is an ongoing thing for me.
Beautifully written! Thank you for sharing this.
Thank you, Steve. And thanks for reading!
Great story! Thanks Mary
Phil, thank you!
Beautifully written. As the mother of two daughters, one who just left her teens and another who just entered her teens, I am hyper aware of the aching depth of our feelings about our bodies and the foolishly limited parameters of “beauty”. Now in my late 50’s, I’ve made it mostly over to the happy side of respecting my body for all of the amazing things it has done and continues to do. Your words and example are encouraging and I’m thankful you’ve shared them with us.
Thank you, Joyce! I love hearing where you are with respecting your body for its capabilities. I still can’t believe how many years I spent not liking mine… it’s so sad! But there is a lot of money to be made by making women and girls feel insecure about their bodies, in addition to the other reasons why so many women experience these kinds of feelings.
Always a pleasure to read about your life journey, my very best wishes to you.
Thank you, David!
so well written! 🙂 Awesome accomplishments – have you ever done the Crush The Commonwealth? I THINK I remember reading u rode in PA a few times….I have dreams to do that one day…. Bicycles are the best.
PS – I hope we will be able to do a covid friendly Errandonnee this year as well – I look forward to that since I started doing it 2 yrs ago! 🙂
Thank you for your comments, and I always love your Errandonnee summary, too! I’m going to work on it this weekend, actually and see how to make the Errandonnee work for 2021.
Regarding your other question, I have not done Crush the Commonwealth. Maybe some day!
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