I was a fat kid growing up.

Uncoordinated, head always in a book, struggled socially, cried because of how awful PE was, bribed by my parents with the incentive of a Cabbage Patch Doll to finish dance class…  Yea, I fit the bill, except that I was also top of my class and a goody two shoes to boot.   That didn’t make it harder to fit in…oh wait, it did.  Now, I had a pretty solid group of nerdy girlfriends that I felt comfortable with, but I always really felt more accepted by adults than my peers.  Elementary school was generally an awkward and uncomfortable place to be.

And then middle school happened.

Our 7th grade PE teachers used a weekly “Ticket Run” as the bulk of our grade.  We had 20 minutes to run as many laps around our track as possible.  We got tickets for every lap completed.  We needed 8 tickets in order to get an A.  That’s two miles!  I had never run a mile in less than 11 minutes in my life.  How was I supposed to run two miles in 20 minutes?!

“But but but!” my proud inner perfectionist yelled, “You can’t let a B in PE mar your straight A record!”

The perfectionist was right.  I had to run, and I had to get better at running.  So, I started chasing a friend, gasping and panting.  It was drudgery – putting one foot in front of another, step after step.  However, gradually it got easier.  I wasn’t wheezing as much, and then I realized that I kinda liked it – I actually kinda liked running.  In fact, I more than liked it; I loved it.

Eventually, instead of chasing the friend, we’d compete to see who got more tickets that week.  She’d normally win, but I became one of the top runners in my class and eventually joined my middle school track team.  Not bad for a “fat” kid.

Between the summer of 7th and 8th grade, I ran almost every day.  I dropped about 15 pounds and grew 4 inches. That was the point when everything changed.

I came back to school in the fall and I was different.  It wasn’t the fact that I looked different; it was that I felt different.  I had confidence.  My head was held higher.  My voice was a little louder.  I started to find my place in the world.  Middle school wasn’t a horror story; it was my coming out story.

At that point, I became obsessed.  I loved athletics with a ferocity that I couldn’t explain.  I would play any sport that I could get my hands on.  Freshman year, I ate in my 5th period class after lunch every day because I played football when I was supposed to be eating.  Sorry I’m not sorry.

At the end of freshman year, I joined an ice hockey team.  The only teams around were all-boys teams.  That no longer fazed me.  They couldn’t intimidate me anymore.  I belonged with them, not cowering behind them.  I made them respect me, because I respected me.  I went from an 11-year-old who couldn’t talk to a boy to a 15-year-old who had mostly male friends because they were the ones she played sports with.

I discovered ultimate the summer after my junior year, and my love affair with sports became a marriage.  I was enraptured with this sport where I was encouraged to advocate for myself on the field.  The fall of my senior year, my friends and I started an ultimate program at our school.  Turns out that by that point, I was ready to advocate for myself on and off the field.  I volunteered to write the schedule for the local high school league so my ultimate games wouldn’t conflict with my hockey games because you never can have too many sports.

Senior year revealed just how much I’d transformed because of athletics.  Instead of that nerdy forgettable girl, my classmates voted me onto Homecoming Court.  Then senior superlatives came around and I won both Most Spirited and Biggest Flirt.  By that point, I was proud of being weird.   I dressed up in costumes during the month of December to celebrate the Holidays.  Teachers even contributed to my outfits, giving me battery-powered Christmas lights to wear so I wouldn’t electrocute myself when I plugged my string of lights into the wall.  Administrators rolled their eyes at me when I walked around the school barefoot and named safety rules after me because of how blatantly I ignored them.  I even planned and organized a sexual assault prevention event for my graduating class.  I introduced the event, baring my soul with a deeply personal vignette.  By the end of high school I was many things, but I was no longer forgettable.  I would be remembered, for my fearlessness, my passion, my unabashed presence, but most importantly, I would remember that I had found me.

So where did she come from?

She came from sports.

I wouldn’t have the light in my eyes, the glow in my soul, or the fire in my heart without it.