In 2010 when I was named to the U.S. Olympic bobsled team, I was one of the biggest, if not the biggest, female athlete on the team. I was definitely not the tallest, but I did have one of the highest weights – it was even reported in an article.
In my sport, the goal is to push a 400-pound bobsled as fast as you can for approximately 5 seconds and then hop in, so it requires pure explosive speed, strength, and power. Competing in a sport where bigger is better, as long as you can still move, I came into the games anywhere between 178-180 pounds. It might seem odd to think of a female athlete who weighs 180 pounds, but moving a 400-pound sled is no easy task, and as my teammates like to say, “it takes mass to move mass.” I proved that theory; at 180lbs I won an Olympic bronze medal.
Why is my weight at all significant? Ever since I started playing sports I highly valued a muscular body. When I saw a muscular body, I thought of all the power and strength that it must have. Growing up, many of my female peers wanted to be skinnier, wanted that thin model look, but I wanted to be strong, fast, and powerful. In middle school I finally started developing muscles, and I quickly became known as a “big girl.” I entered high school at 5’8” and 168 pounds, and continued to gain more and more muscle (and probably some fat as well). My athletic performance improved accordingly. Sure, I had problems buying jeans and I would never be elected homecoming queen, but I was okay with that because I thought I was doing what I needed to do to achieve my athletic dreams.
Until people started telling me otherwise…
People are very quick to tell “big girls,” even “big girl athletes,” what they can or cannot do. Everyone knows that “big girls” can’t do the same things as skinny girls can, and they’re quick to tell them that. I was told that as well. I was told I couldn’t run 100 meters as fast as the small skinny girls, and yet I placed 5th in the State Championship in High School. I was told that I couldn’t play positions on the softball field because I wasn’t as quick as the smaller girls, but I became an All-Conference shortstop in college and played professionally. They said that I couldn’t be a guard in basketball because I was just too big, but I did, and was even recruited to play collegiately. If I had listened to all the people who tried to place limitations on me just because of my size, I wouldn’t be where I am today. The question is though, how many girls succumb to these beliefs about what a “big girl” can’t do? How many potentially great athletes stop trying because they’re told they’re too big?
I can’t say I was always this confident. At one point I did start to feel the societal pressures to be thinner, and thought to myself I could be quicker if I was smaller. I started dieting, which ultimately led to an eating disorder – bulimia coupled with a deep depression. From outside appearances you would never know. At my lowest weight I was still 155-160 pounds, but I was 20-25 pounds lighter than my norm and was significantly weaker.
The breaking point came when I went to run a track meet, and was so weak and slow that I performed horribly. I realized that I was robbing myself of my athleticism, and one of the things that meant the most to me: my athletic career. Through treatment and through my faith, I was able to recover. I gained back not only my size, but my strength and speed as well. That experience made me realize that my size is my biggest asset. It helps me be the athlete I am today, and it allowed me to win an Olympic medal for my country.
Size is no longer a limitation. There are plenty of “big girls” going out there and following their dreams, and I stand as an example of one of them. Sometimes when people place limits on us, it’s because they were too afraid to follow their dreams themselves. To all my “big girls,” you can do anything you put your mind to, no matter what the scale says. To everyone else, the next time a “big girl” has a dream of playing a collegiate sport, running a marathon, climbing Mt. Everest, or even winning an Olympic medal, think twice before placing limits on her. If there’s one thing any cardiologist will tell you, the bigger the girl, the bigger the heart.