As female athletes, we are the type of women who are driven to succeed. This is obviously a good thing and it’s often why we choose to have friends who are also athletes. Studies prove that when you hang out with “winners” you tend to be one yourself. [Editor’s note: I may have watered down that Harvard study I heard on NPR, but you get the gist].
Our friends often double up as our training partners. It’s a convenient, healthy form of hanging out. Training and racing together; we celebrate our victories as well as our struggles and defeats. I've been studying this dynamic with great interest lately. I’m now 37 years old and am starting to realize just how important my female friendships (particularly the ones I have with fellow female athletes) are.
Did anyone catch this fantastic photo of these women after their Cx Nats race? THIS says it all to me. When you find this (in my opinion), you’ve found GOLD. I was lucky to find one such friend about a year ago. Amanda Cyr and I met at the BRAC Women’s Summit when she said something extraordinarily funny that made me snort beer out my nose. For those of you who know Amanda, this should come as no surprise. We’ve been fast friends ever since.
As the miles have sailed by on the bike, we’ve gotten to know each other quite well. This is a miracle in and of itself, since it’s actually quite hazardous for us to ride together. We make each other laugh so hard we nearly crash at least 3 times per ride. And even though she makes me laugh like no other, being a friend isn’t all sunshines and rainbows. Amanda is stronger than anyone I know. Some of you might know her background. If not, here goes.
I once weighed over 350 lbs. A doctor informed me I was in liver failure at the age of 26 and that if I didn’t radically change my life-style I would die a very early and avoidable death. I spent the following two years losing 175 pounds, running a marathon, completing a couple of duathlons, and then starting to race for a local women’s cycling team. To say I restricted calories would be putting it lightly.
Calories in vs. calories out is math. And math is something that has always made sense to me. Once I figured this out and was told “food is the only thing you can control in your life” it was like a switch was flipped. Fast forward two years after that and I now have a fucking eating disorder.
Yep. You read that last part right. An eating disorder. Somewhere back around September on a ride up in Boulder, Amanda shared this with me. Not in these words, of course. And in that moment, I was SO thankful that we became friends. So happy that I had earned her trust. I didn’t know exactly how to help, but I knew I WOULD BE THERE TO HELP. Because she'd been there to help me.
When most people hear Amanda's background they think, "How great. What a happy ending." She preferred to think of it as something that was over and could be boxed up and put on a shelf. Something like “I was heavy, then I exercised, ate better, lost weight and now I’m FIXED! Fixed, happy and healthy!” But that box is waaaaaaay deeper than it looks and that box is leaking.
Amanda had an eating disorder that went one way, then she reversed it and it’s now on the other end. After losing 175 pounds, she stopped eating enough. As in not even close. As an elite athlete, she was starving herself. Always with the idea that people were still watching and judging what she ate as if she were still 350 pounds.
Amanda likens it to not having properly scrubbed out a bunch of road rash after a crash. Now she’s having to rip open the scab and pour a bunch of bottles of hydrogen peroxide all over it (and we all know what that feels like). So once she ripped open the scab, here’s what happened next:
My very first conversation after being diagnosed with an eating disorder was with my coach to fill her in on what was happening. She knew I was going to see someone about some of my “food stuff” and had helped me find the right person. The phone call was not a shock to her. Nor was the diagnosis, so I learned.
Me: “I have an eating disorder”
Coach: “Yea, I know.”
Me: “But I didn’t intend for this to happen.
Coach: “I don’t think anyone intends for this to happen.”
Me: “This fucking sucks.”
Coach: “Yea, I know it does.”
You might be wondering why Amanda is choosing to share this. My strong friend is a little tired. She is tired of hiding it. Tired of normal conversations where she dances around it. Her therapist is helping her see that (while maybe her background is unique within the elite athletic realm) the problem she faces now (Anorexia) is all too common with female athletes. Females in general. In other words, with you or I or one of your close female friends.
I want it to be VERY clear that this isn't a doctors fault or a typical result from undergoing extreme weight loss. This is my own experience with my own health on my own journey. Because of the weight loss I have a new life, one I hope to enjoy more and more with the help of a strategically placed support group/safety net. I can't get it off of my mind. I am scared for people to know but at the same time I am so tired of it being this giant secret. Almost like if it had light it would kill off the heavy darkness of it all.
Today I am trying to figure out how I got here, where I am right at this moment, and where I want to go from here. It is important for me to make lists and fill boxes… yea “Type A” might describe me too. So here’s a list.
Things I know:
- I have an eating disorder.
- I didn’t do anything wrong something just switched.
- I have great people to support me.
- My coach is incredible for going through this with me.
- My best friend is GOLD. The best of the best.
- It will not be fixed overnight.
- Today is another day towards this year or giving it my all. Learning how to dream big and doing everything I can to make that happen.
So. This is the light for Amanda. For my friend. Maybe for your friend. Maybe even for you, while you are reading this. We are opening up the windows and letting the sunshine and light in, ladies. For our daughters, sisters, and mothers. For all of us. Thank you, Amanda. For trusting and sharing.