Artwork by Hallie Anderson
An athlete’s fuel should never become her fear.
I think that every St. Mary’s girl knows the joy and excitement that comes with “food day” during Student Council election week. This past spring, I walked out of the Morrow Room with a flimsy paper plate bending with the weight of brownies and cookies baked by the candidates. Later on in the day during track practice, I was struck with a wave of panic realizing that my run would be handicapped from the amount of baked goods now a weight sitting in my stomach. I became overwhelmed with stress and shame, believing that I had ruined all the progress I had made from an indulgence.
As an athlete, I follow a set of food and exercise “rules” for myself during the season in order to be a stronger runner. Keeping to this lifestyle is difficult enough, and deviating from it can become a stressful experience. I examine and calculate every bite of food or minute of exercise and nibbling a brownie or sipping a soda can create immediate feelings of guilt and regret.
Everyone seems to know the “formula” for healthy eating these days: consuming more vegetables, drinking more water, and limiting processed foods. However, once I started implementing changes into my diet, I realized how easy these “tweaks” can spiral into an obsession over controlling my diet and exercise.
An athlete’s fuel should never become her fear.
St. Mary’s assistant athletic director Coach Crenny discusses these pressures of female athletes by explaining, “Sometimes people have a hard time with finding out what that balance is and they become too obsessive with eating the perfect meal all the time and it almost drives them nuts.”
In any competition, participants strive for the ideal. In sporting events, achievement comes from being the strongest, the most agile or the quickest. Many sports have a body type associated with success, like tall height of volleyball players or a thin frame for runners. Additionally, wearing uniforms like shorts, tank tops or swimsuits can create undue anxiety within athletes, especially for those whose body types do not fit this “ideal” standard for competition.
St. Mary’s student-athletes as teenage girls in a competitive environment are the prime demographic for these stressors. Day by day, we are encouraged to succeed in the spheres of our lives in academics, in our social circles and in athletics. Many St. Mary’s students are inclined towards perfectionism, which can lead to obsessive or restrictive behavior, which can become manifest in sports.
Building a strong community is key to supporting athletes. St. Mary’s cross country coach and teacher Ms. Hensarling defines her role by saying, “ I encourage people to be smart and make smart choices. I think as a coach that I have a responsibility to at least say to my athletes that if you show up dehydrated or if you haven’t eaten, your performance suffers. When your performance suffers, it hurts yourself and it hurts your team.”
When coaches, teachers, parents and teammates encourage balance, strong athletes as well as healthy people are built. Hensarling elaborates, “It’s not just me looking out for these people as runners, because that’s obviously a big part of my job: I want people to come in and be successful, but it’s also in life things, too. As a person, you’ve got to learn the balance with food and sleep.”
The competitive environment at St. Mary’s drives us to live with integrity, work hard and strive for excellence. This pressure to achieve allows us to thrive when we push ourselves to be our best selves. The same can be said for athletics; nothing can compare to defeating a rival team in a game, match or meet.
However, in the demanding atmosphere of our school, we can neglect our own mental and physical health in order to continue to accomplish our goals. Every student-athlete must determine for herself this proverbial “balance” that encompasses decisions like staying later at the MUS game or going home because of tomorrow’s morning practice and indulging in the plate of homemade cookies at the ALAPP party or sticking to an apple. The outcome of these decisions can affect the academic, social and athletic spheres of our lives.
We are all faced with choices in our daily lives, and as St. Mary’s student-athletes, we should not only be concerned with the consequences of these decisions, but why we make them. Awareness of our behavior can lead to guidance from others who can teach us how to make healthy decisions in our lives, and we can learn that sometimes the “healthiest” choice for us could actually be choosing the cookie over the carrot sticks.
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