Wild Rumpus Sports
 

Body Issue(s)

This is a blog post I wasn’t ever sure I’d write. It can be scary to reveal the less glamorous parts of ourselves to others, the parts we’re sure that nobody will love. But it is precisely because of this that I knew I needed to write this post. It takes a different form of bravery to open up to others in the hopes of helping, but it’s the most important kind of bravery I hope to possess.
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This spring, I posed for the ESPN Body Issue. That is something I never thought I’d do! For those of you wondering, I had an all-female closed set for the photo shoot, and it was incredibly empowering.
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Admittedly, I mostly figured I’d never get asked or have to consider it since cross country skiing isn’t a “famous” enough sport, but times, they are a-changin’! But the biggest reason I never thought I’d do the tastefully nude shoot that shows off athlete’s muscles is because when I was younger, I struggled with a healthy body image. When I was 18-19 years old, I had everything in the world going for me, but I struggled with confidence and didn’t love myself. I suffered from an eating disorder, and eventually sought help at a treatment center, checking in for a summer program that saved my life. So when I was approached about the ESPN issue, I thought “is this REALLY something I want to do? Will it bring back old memories? Will I be ok with everyone seeing my body exactly as it is?”
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And the answer was yes. I am so far recovered and removed from that period in my life that it can’t hurt me anymore. Internet trolls can’t hurt me either, I’ve had practice with those beauties for years! Realizing that I was confident enough in my own skin to say “yep, this is what training so many hours makes my body look like” was an amazing moment for me. While I’m realistically not going to love it every second of every day, I’m proud of who I am. I’m proud of my fast legs, my strong arms, my core and my mental toughness that got me through the hardest time of my life. Posing for ESPN was a real full-circle moment for me, and a chance for me to use a large stage to waltz right up to the microphone and share a message that I think is extremely important, and long overdue.
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We need to open up the conversation about body image, self confidence, and disordered eating. It should not be a shameful thing, or a taboo topic. It’s more prevalent than people think, and perhaps making help easier to find and less difficult to ask for could save some lives.

When you’re 5 years old, you’re never worried about what your body looks like. You just want to go FAST!

When I first joined the National Team, body image is something that was literally never talked about. Now, we try to make it an open conversation, just like how we share struggles with confidence in hitting the right training plan, or race day nerves. Body image is such a hard thing for people to talk about. And eating disorders carry this strange secrecy around them, a shameful taboo topic that really doesn’t need to be off-limits. Many people struggle with body confidence, and it’s not just “a girl thing”. I don’t know a single person on this planet who hasn’t, at some point, looked in the mirror and thought “darn it.”

Not every moment will look cool and put together.

 

Every role model you’ve ever had has struggled with something at some point in their life, whether you knew about it or not. Even the seemingly perfect fairy-tale lives have challenges and obstacles to hurdle over, or tunnel under. I think it’s important to share my story because when I was in the midst of my battle with an eating disorder, I needed to know that I was not alone. I needed to know that even my biggest heroes had challenges they faced and that if they could overcome them, then so could I.

I needed to never be afraid to just be ME, as wacky and goofy as I am.

 

I also want to be sure that my story is told the right way. The last thing I’d ever want is for a young skier struggling with body image to hear a rumor, and think that I came home from the Olympics with a medal because of disordered eating. On the contrary, getting help and becoming healthy again was the ONLY way I could have made it through the stress, pressure and expectations of the Olympics and the following spring. Without the confidence to say “I’m great as I am, thanks” I couldn’t have faced the media day after day and pursued my goals without feeling like I was about to crack into pieces.
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On the outside, the year I graduated from High School was a perfect year for me. I was pulling straight A’s, loved playing violin in the school orchestra, had a great group of friends and was winning every ski race I entered. Hell, the one time they let me race with the boys I beat them, too! From the outside, it looked perfect. And that was the problem.
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I’ve always been a “try-hard” girl, someone who tries maybe a little too hard to be perfect. When coaches give me feedback I’m more likely to over think it, asking so many questions that I might overshoot and miss the point entirely instead of just relaxing and giving it a shot. So when I felt like I needed to make sure I was doing everything 100% all the time, I started to feel like I was out of control. I would get really stressed, and the one thing I could hold onto was the numbing of stress that came along with my eating disorder. Even though I had never been more out of control in my life, I had the illusion of being in control of something, and I clung to that fiercely.
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But people, you can’t give someone an eating disorder. You don’t get one from looking at photos of skinny, ripped athletes. Can it be a trigger for some people? Absolutely. But eating disorders are a type of addiction, a mental disorder, and as the saying goes: “genetics loads the gun, environment pulls the trigger”. If you’re hard-wired to have an eating disorder, it’s nobody’s fault and most certainly not yours. It’s not something to be ashamed of, no more than struggling with anxiety or depression or a broken leg or a bruised elbow. It’s simply a really tough challenge that you’re facing at this point in your life, and something that you can get help with.

Having body issues is no more shameful than falling and getting hurt – it’s something you need help with to heal.

 

I finally, at my parent’s urging, sought some professional help. I checked into The Emily Program, a national leader in eating disorder treatment. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, but also the most important. Because it saved my life, in every way that a life can be saved. I learned that I was struggling with this so much because I needed an outlet for stress, and that it was ok to feel a range of emotions – that I could survive feeling pressured, stressed, unhappy, sad, or angry as well as feeling happy-go-lucky.

My parents have always been there for me every step of the way, and they were amazingly supportive.

 

Once I grew into myself and let my body settle into where it was supposed to be, I grew into my confidence as well. I started getting faster, stronger, becoming a better racer. Instead of trying to change the shape of my body, I embraced my strengths and let my strong legs be the way they were meant to be. They carry me up the hills, but they also turned me into one of the fastest downhill cross country skiers on the circuit. I don’t always have great technique, but I am damn good at carrying speed on the flats and powering my way through transitions. I WOULDN’T be if I was trying to change the parts of me that make me fast. I also started to grow in my relationships, with my friends and with my boyfriends. I finally loved myself, so I could open up and just be me, and I had the power to love others more deeply and feel more connected.

I finally started to embrace my muscles and be proud of them, and the cool things they allowed me to do!

 

At the end of the day, dealing with an eating disorder is something that happened to me. It is not WHO I AM, and it does not define me. I am more complex than that.
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On the flip side, winning the Olympics with my team is ALSO something that happened to me. But that moment does not define who I am. I am more complex than that.
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The things I go through, both good and bad, do not define me. How I handle them and what I choose to do with my experiences will. I want to be known not for winning a medal, but for using it as a platform for things that I care about; climate change. Girls in sports. Raising our sport up and sharing it with more people to get them healthy and active. I want to be known not for going through an eating disorder, but for helping other women and men speak up when they need help and not feel judged for needing a friend to talk it through with.

Strong legs carry us up and over mountains, and allow us to enjoy incredible journeys.

 

These days, I literally cannot remember the last time I had to say “someone throw me a life preserver, here!” and that feels really good. Do I unconditionally love every single part of me, every day? No, don’t be ridiculous. I am always going to wish I had bigger biceps! But I appreciate and take care of my body for the ways that it is unique and fast and strong and beautiful, and I know that I will never look exactly like anyone else…and nobody else will look or feel or be exactly like me. And when you think about it, that’s pretty cool.

A healthy body lets me run for hours and hours (and hours) on end! (photo by Ophira Images)

 

So Coaches, Parents, Teammates, Friends, Significant Others….what can we do to be helpful? Unfortunately, there’s not one universal easy approach or fix, but the best thing you can be is compassionate and understanding. For me, the best help was to be able to talk about it with my parents and never feel ashamed or judged or like a failure, but instead feel heard and know that they were always going to be there to support me in my journey to get healthy again. Educate yourself on what it really means to have an eating disorder, and try to think about it as if you were in someone else’s shoes.
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For me, it was never about food or really even about getting skinny. It was about feeling like I had control over something in my hectic, fast-paced life, feeling like I could turn to using symptoms of my eating disorder to numb myself and not have to feel the emotions that I was feeling. So instead of someone saying “you look too skinny” or “are you struggling with eating”, I needed someone to say “are you stressed right now? What needs to happen so that you can have less anxiety and put less pressure on yourself right now?”.

The anxiety from skydiving is NOTHING compared to the stress of learning how to accept yourself.

 

Statistically speaking, at least 6% of you reading this right now are struggling with disordered eating in some way. So to those of you for whom it feels like the end of the world, I can say this: it can, and it does, get better. I know, because I lived it. It will take more courage than most anything else in your life, but you can get better. And it’s worth it.

When you’re content with yourself, you can enjoy all the little moments that otherwise pass you by.

 

At the end of the day, the athletes that make up the World Cup are a group of human beings, not robots. We feel, we struggle, we triumph, we make friendships and we work hard. There are the amazing sports moments that bring countries to their feet but there are also struggles and hard-fought battles to win confidence and trust in ourselves. These battles are the ones you don’t see on camera, but they’re the most important ones.

Healthy and able to celebrate it!

 

Let’s try to focus not on what our bodies look like, but rather what they can DO. Because they can take us to some pretty amazing places. Our bodies can run us up and over mountains, ski us through awe-inspiring trail systems, and take us on some pretty sweet bike tours. If we can respect and take care of the body we have, we can have an amazing time in life.
Love,
Jessie

Finishing a fun week!

It’s been an awesome, solid week of training here in Stratton! Now that we’re all back in one place (well, almost, but we get Alayna here tomorrow and then the family will be together), it’s been awesome to get back into a rhythm of regular training. We usually do interval sessions and strength (in the afternoons) on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, a longer over-distance training session on Sunday, and in between we have some easy distance training or speed sessions. Sounds simple, and we like to keep it that way, especially when we’re building up to more and more hours! The face you make when the hurdles are juuuuuust a little too close together! Julia, Kyle and I led foot agility for the juniors this Thursday (photo from Sverre Caldwell) A pretty cool thing about our program is that the senior SMST2 athletes lead the juniors in agility warmups before…

Please jump in

This year’s Bend camp is going down in the books as one of the very best. Despite it being the 3rd lowest snow year that they’ve had, the skiing held out until the very end of camp. We had some awesome klister skiing and easy kicking conditions to work on improving our technique in! This camp is all about getting back into shape and laying down solid volume to build a base for the rest of the summer. It’s also about getting the team back together after spring break to start the year fresh! The girls working together in intervals with a pretty amazing backdrop! (photo by Bryan Fish) A huge, warm thank you to the staff of the Mt. Bachelor Nordic center for their hospitality in keeping the trails open for us, their awesome grooming and keeping the trails clean in fast-melting conditions, and their great support of the…

Busy little bee!

My plan to have a quiet, boring spring went sideways faster than you can upload your google calendar. But it’s been exciting, too! You can’t always control how things are going to go, and sometimes you need to roll with what’s happening in the moment. “Oh, you thought you’d wash the dog hair off these clothes, did you?” Not including the post-Olympic media tour or phone interviews, since the last race of the season I’ve done over 25 events for sponsors, schools, open community events and appearances. It’s been only 50 days since that last race in Craftsbury. People have asked if, and how, my life has changed since the Games. My answer is that nope, my life is the same and I’m still a dork! I’m just a much busier dork with a little more on my plate, and a few more chances to inspire others and speak up…

Things I learned

I’m still learning how much racing and training my body can handle during the season. It’s such a fine line! A little too much and you’re too tired and can start racing “flat”, which isn’t a fun feeling. It feels like no matter how hard you push, you can’t get your body to cooperate and go with you, and you’re missing that last racing gear. At the same time you don’t want to miss any more races than you need to. Racing is so much fun! It’s addicting, and it’s hard to step away for a break even when you know it’s the right call. Racing for the first time since the Olympics in Drammen, Norway (photo by Ophira Group)   What I’m learning is that every year as I get older and add a few hundred hours of training under my belt, my body can handle more and more….

Looking back on the Games

I tagged Kikkan, pulling my arms above my head and gliding straight to protect myself and my poles from any tangles or crashes. Turning a 180 around the fence surrounding the pit crews, I was still gliding towards Jason and Marek, our techs, when I leaned down and unclipped my bindings, hopping off my skis as they were still moving, jumping right into a jog. They each caught a ski and immediately clamped them to the bench, furiously re-applying powder and brushing them out in under 2 minutes as Kikkan skied her lap. It was an incredibly efficient system, the pair of them working seamlessly as a team. I loved the little details of how the team worked together, fitting all the moving parts into place like cogs on a watch without missing a single beat. Getting the tag from Kikkan!Photo: Sarah Brunson/U.S. Ski & Snowboard Every time I came…

Brave Enough

“I write down my goals so that when I get them, I’ll know I was brave enough to want them.” -Alexi Pappas It can be incredibly hard, goal setting. It takes guts to admit that you want something so badly it hurts, and then put everything you have towards getting…

Tour life – the good, the bad, and the smelly jackets.

It’s tradition for the girls to come back up the mountain and cheer on the boys in the last stage of the Tour de Ski. We always get to race first, which must be truly horrible for them (sorry boys), because they have to sit and wait all day for…

Seefeld Holiday Camp!

World Cup period one racing just…flew right by! How does that happen? Racing every weekend, I just slip into the strange but weirdly predictable World Cup rhythm. Travel Monday. Train tuesday (usually intervals and strength). Distance training wednesday and thursday. Friday is race prep; testing skis with my tech, doing…

Bet on yourself.

November is always a really tough time to be a Cross Country skier. You’ve been training as hard and as smart as you can for months and months but there’s really no way to tell if it’s all worked out until you start racing! Even then, the first races of…