Hairy Armpits and Caterpillar Eyebrows

If you visit Boulder and stop by Colorado Athletic Club or RallySport Health and Fitness, you might see my welcoming face (seriously. Having a mild smile on at all times is part of my job description). Upon my arrival to my new home here in beautiful Boulder, I had a few priorities: one was to get a job, another was to have access to a gym (preferably free).  So here I am, working at two clubs in town, with access to three different gym locations. Unnecessary? Perhaps.

Despite joining an Olympic development running team, I needed a pool and various other cross training tools for the foreseeable future. As fate would have it, on my last run while still in DC for Run Pro Camp, I felt a soreness on the side of my heel. Hmm, I quickly deducted that walking around in those crappy sandals probably wasn’t so smart- better take the day off. Over the course of the next few days, the pain didn’t let up and after a frustrating and very slow 4 mile run about a week later, I knew more time off would be my best bet. Coach told me to be patient, wear the loved-yet-hated boot, and cross train until I could walk without pain or until he could check it out when I moved to Boulder. Rest, I did and better, it did not get. 3 days after my relocation to Colorado, I found myself on the MRI bed with those big headphones and a blanket (for warmth or soothing?) that they like to give patients. My coach, Dr. Richard Hansen, a sports chiropractor in town, received the digital scan immediately and in fact, called me on my way home from the MRI.

“Good news or bad?’” I asked. He said it depended on my perspective. It was a mild stress reaction on my calcaneus with some signs that it was already in the healing process. I’ll take that as good news: a diagnosis that was clear and finally proved why my darn heel was hurting.

However, I took my diagnosis and hid it in my boot, refraining from showing it on social media, or even mentioning it to friends over the phone. This was not something I wanted to share unless I had to. But why? Being quiet and avoiding the conversation, which included blogging about my feelings and what this meant to me, was not why I started to blog in the first place. I have already really appreciated reading and following along with elite athletes whenever they are courageous enough to post their injury stories. This was the opposite of the approach I took.

And then I read Brené Brown’s stunner, “Rising Strong” and I realized why I was hiding from my truth. Being injured is a source of shame for me. Even though I wasn’t particularly heartbroken or beat up about my experience with this new stress reaction, I was seeing myself from others’ perspectives- or rather, how I imagined others would view me.

Everyone deals with sources of shame, though they vary, and I can still sharply recall a few of mine from my grade school years. One day I was swinging from monkey bars at the park when I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, the slightest, wispiest thing of a blond hair in my armpit. Shocked, mortified, and disgusted, I clamped my arms to their sides and for a few years, wore a cotton t-shirt over my bathing suit in my best friend’s pool. “No one would notice those shameful hairs with a shirt on!” I thought. Genius!

Another body image source of shame in those awkward pre-teen years were my thick and untamed eyebrows. Already embarrassed by them and what they said about me as a sweet little girl (or hairy man?), one of my close friends and her sisters thought it was funny to tease me about them. They’d place their fingers on their own eyebrows, pretending their fingers were thick lines of hair, while saying something like, “Caterpillar eyebrows!”. I told myself these features on my face were ugly, manly, and even gross because that’s what I “heard” others thinking.

Imagining what others are thinking and creating this whole conspiracy idea about ourselves is what shame is all about, after all. As Brené writes, “Two of the most common messages that trigger shame in all of us are ‘never good enough’ and ‘who do you think you are?’”

With each new injury or setback, I imagine people saying stuff like: “She’s too injury-prone to make it as a pro”, “Too beat up”, “Too out of shape”, “Too weak”, “Too susceptible to the pitfalls set up in her younger years”…. Blah blah blah, it could go on and on.

The truth is that even though I’ve learned, improved upon, and implemented so many new and healthy ways to train, recover, eat, sleep, and treat myself like an elite athlete, I still don’t have the golden ticket to an injury-free life. Rather, I’m just as susceptible for a various platter of injuries as any other woman runner with my background and my ambitions. This is my story and the body I’ve been born into though (hairy armpits, caterpillar eyebrows and all) so I need to remember that “shame is a liar and a story-stealer. I have to trust myself and the people I care about more than the gremlins, even if that means risking hurt.”

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