What do you aspire to be? What is your dream? Questions you get asked when you're 6, when you're 13, when you're 18, 22 and still, apparently, when you're 31 (I sat on a panel this week and had to answer this very question!). For me, particularly, the answer at each of these ages has always seemed to and continues to sit in the same genre. My world for so long revolved around figure skating and athletics and, what I began to realize and what has now become so apparent, is that that figure skater and athlete in me never fully left. A world of athletics shaped me and has steered me in my decisions and actions way past high school. Years without the competing and the training but with the same drive, determination, creative inclinations, and energy that the competing and training instilled in me have brought me to realize that I may always be a young athlete at heart.
At six years old I started figure skating so, naturally, I wanted to be an Olympic figure skater - or a singer or a fashion designer or an architect or a writer, clearly, because I was six. At 13 I was skating even more so figure skating was still in my future; although, now I saw a potential of coaching as well as being a competitor. At 18, after our home rink closed and I began to grow weary of the vigorous training schedule and lack of ability to actually sleep over at sleepovers I realized that, in college, I wanted more time with friends and the ability to go to functions and take spontaneous trips. With this realization, I traded my intense skating schedule for, what I thought would be, a normal college life. However, I quickly started to realize that changing lifestyles was much easier said than done. I had made my decision. "I am going to commit to school and to making friends and to being active in my sorority" I told myself. Yet, despite my decision, I couldn't quite let go of the skater and certainly not the athlete inside of me. Years of early mornings, and daily natural endorphins and adrenaline rushes, and that continuous sense of accomplishment you get after mastering something you have physically worked so hard on seemed to be behind me and life without them seemed a little strange. So I tried to coach Saturday mornings, I got back on the ice periodically to see what I could still do, I jumped at the chance to go skating with friends, and I even arranged to practice with friends back home once another rink opened near our house. I also kept up the running that I had picked up on the 7th grade cross country team, and, whether I wanted it or not, also continued waking up earlier than most other college students - right with the sun.
It was here in college where I started to realize that, if you've ever been serious about your sport - a serious athlete - that particular piece of you may never actually leave. That desire to move your body, to tire yourself out, to master a new technique, to train hard, give something your complete focus, and that feeling of winning - those desires and feelings don't simply vanish. After training, competing, visualizing and focusing, for 12 years, those habits and passions and desires don't simply shut off because you say you're ready to move on.
In fact, when it was time to declare my major, those habits and that passion actually directed me in my decision. I had spent 12 years giving my time, heart, energy and attention to a sport with the goal of continuously improving and so along the way a part of my attention and focus, naturally, also fell on what I ate. At my most competitive, most serious point, I was skating and running cross country in the same season. I did a lot of experimenting with food and timing of food to get the best results in practices, meets and competitions. I was tired of feeling lethargic from a lack of energy or slowed down from stomach cramps from my last meal. I wanted to BE strong, fast, graceful, and focused, which I knew meant I had to PRACTICE with strength, speed, grace and focus which I realized meant that I needed to fuel with food, eat with intention (for the most part), and get this food and nutrition thing right.
While we were visited by a dietitian one summer when I was younger, I would say I mostly learned my nutrition strategy on my own - through a series of trial and error. I learned from poor skating performances with a blood sugar far too low and legs that were certainly not in communication with my brain, and cross country practices where stomach cramps stopped me in my tracks. It took time but I made mental notes and changed things up and my practices and performances improved as a result. I realized going into college that if I could get the chance later in life, I wanted to work with young athletes. I wanted to assist them in navigating and creating their own nutrition and training plan so they didn't have to start blindly by trial and error on their own like I did. I knew, from what everyone told me, that actually getting into sports nutrition was a loooongggg shot, but I realized I had to go for it. If I ever got the chance to work with athletes, I wanted a degree in nutrition to back me up. I wanted to pair what I scientifically knew with what I experientially knew as a young athlete, and I wanted to pass all of this along to young athletes later in life.
So, I declared my major in Nutrition and struck my course forward. And, as if I had not already discovered enough about myself, I then discovered that if you don't have a sport to channel that focus, drive, determination and adrenaline into, you find another place to channel it. The young athlete inside me not only guided me in choosing my major, but it also steered me towards what I should do with that major. Although by no means the same as skating (I describe skating as the closest feeling to flying while on the ground) I have found that I love presenting, teaching, creating, public speaking, and taking on roles of leadership. It allows me to take all of that focus, that drive, that creativity and that determination that I used in sports and channel it to build something new, and it provides a similar rise in adrenaline and sense of accomplishment as the presentations, lessons, meetings, and projects get finalized and come to a close.
After putting away my skates (well, sort of), these qualities not only stuck with me, but my outlook on food and curiosity around nutrition stuck with me as well. Although no longer training, I still think about food in terms of what events I have and what I need to fuel that. I still love to run and I run quite often. I also walk, and do classes and I choose foods that will fuel those workouts and help me feel good while I'm doing them. And if I have an intense resistance training session I try and follow it with foods that will help me recover quickly. Now, don't get me wrong - I love a good cookie, bowl of ice cream and piece of cake as well. My philosophy is that there is a place for ice cream and brownies and my favorite double salted chocolate chunk cookies, just like there is a place for fruits and veggies and whole grains and dairy and pasta and fish. It's not always about fruits and veggies and lean proteins, but it is much of the time. Overall, it's about foods that make me feel good and energized.
I don't quite know how I am where I am today, with the chance to work with young athletes and lead a wellness program. I believe that it is a blend of hard work, determination, prayer, and following an unwavering passion for nutrition - whether it was pediatric nutrition, wellness nutrition or sports nutrition. I love all of the wellness work that I get to do and those that I meet through that, and I am now so excited to have the chance to work with young athletes - probably because there is still a young athlete somewhere inside of me. I am thrilled to finally be back so close to where this all started. I'm excited to be back with the opportunity to talk with young athletes and parents, this time, with a degree to back me up. I finally get the chance to pair what I scientifically know with what I experientially know in hopes of helping young athletes and sharing with them what I learned the hard way. I hope I can make their journey a little easier and set them up to understand food and nutrition even after they retire their skates, cleats, jerseys, leos, ballet slippers, whatever it may be.
I'm years and years away from the young figure skater and cross country runner that I once was; yet, when I close my eyes, I can still feel the crisp air of the ice rink on my cheeks, the sting in my throat as I breathe in the piercingly cold air, and the ripples and clinks of skaters' blades cutting into the ice as we all make our initial warm-up laps. I can feel my focus set in as I drown out everything that isn't related to my next jump, spin or choreography piece. All of this can come flooding back with one sound, one cold breeze, one memory. It reminds me that, no matter what I am doing or in what field I am practicing, just as these memories are always there somewhere, so is the young athlete, pushing me to go a little further, determined to find the solution, antsy to create and inspire.
I hope that I can use the young athlete in me to create content and inspire you and those around you to learn, understand and feel what it means to use food to fuel.