RESOLUTIONS by Megan Jaffe

(Also featured in the Jan/Feb. 2016 issue of Freeplay magazine)

Be not ashamed women…you are the gates of the body, and you are the gates of the soul.” – Walt Whitman

It’s that time of year again to put to rest bad habits and take up healthy resolutions. Gym memberships will rise, as will the number of new runners on the road and kale will fly off the supermarket shelves…for a few weeks at least. Despite the sincerity of new beginnings it doesn’t take long for them to make it to the pile of old failures. As athletes, there’s no denying diet directly affects performance but obsessively aspiring to the pro-athletes’ physique can suck the joy out of the game. What if, this year, instead of lamenting those extra few holiday pounds, we tipped our caps to the poet Walt Whitman and celebrated the “body electric”? Let’s undo some of the old mental wiring and place our focus on a strong and grateful mind. The rest will follow.

I was quite young when the ubiquitous ideology of body image began to wire its way into my head. Growing up in sunny Southern California, I spent every possible free moment at the beach. I loved everything about it: the ocean, the waves, playing paddleball with girlfriends, and eking out every last bit of sun before it dipped into the salty sea. One of our traditions was to stroll south along the shore in search of cute boys. However, this ritualistic march of the teenyboppers only commenced once each of us had securely wrapped our towels around our waists.

On one typical summer’s day, while in the ocean, I noticed my squad of girlfriends getting ready for our usual promenade. I caught the next wave and scurried up the beach to grab my towel and join in. While reaching for my towel I happened to glance back at them, at us, and was suddenly struck by the absurdity of our towel-swaddling addiction. Perhaps we were simply struck by a moment of modesty but mostly it felt like, despite our youth and vitality, we were conflicted about our bodies.

As I clutched the towel to my face I struggled to release the security it provided. Then, my eyes fell to the sea and I thought of all I loved about it and in that moment I dared myself to reject the ritual that deep down robbed us all of a small piece of the purity and freedom of being kids, in our healthy bodies, taking in the bounty of our charmed lives.

At the time, it felt like a wild move. I feared myself an outlier, a maverick, and one who risked being misunderstood and thus, cut from the pack. The beautiful thing is, my fears were never realized, nothing happened and the world remarkably kept on turning. Never again did I wrap a towel around my waist to cover up any imperfections. This simple flip in perspective would prove to be a useful tool in years to come.

Now that I have been in the world of triathlon for many years, I am grateful to that teenage girl who made such a seemingly bold gesture some decades ago. For triathlon is a sport that asks of those who choose to participate to face their fears; fears of open-water swimming; fears of speed on the bike; fears of physical pain; and even a fear of Spandex. Wedging yourself into a pair of cycling shorts with its clumpy chamois and unnecessarily restrictive elastic can be demoralizing until you check your perspective. Remember, your first success is in putting them on.

As athletes we go to great lengths to strengthen our bodies so that they perform well but what we often neglect is that it is just as important to condition the way our minds perform in regard to our bodies. So if you find yourself kicking around in the rooms of your mind restless that there’s no way to achieve the ideal body, show yourself to an exit that has always been there – a love and gratitude for all that your body is right now.

Focus on your strong legs that have run you across countless miles, on your glutes that have endured hours in a saddle over scenic passes, and on your arms that provided you the chance to swim in heavenly bodies of water.

This season, while you’re lining up for your first 5K or your fifth Ironman don’t allow your thinking to be your first defeat of the day. Glancing around, the collective muscle mass can be intimidating but sometimes the fastest and fittest of the bunch do not always look the part. In fact, I have found that often the most impressive part of any athlete’s body is her mind.

So once you’ve run your race and are admiring your shiny new medal don’t forget to appreciate your body and all it does for you and allows you to do, regardless of how you look doing it. Take a moment to appreciate your different strengths. Take a moment to appreciate your dedication. Take a moment to thank your body for taking all of your abuse. For this years’ resolution, take a moment to take off that heavy towel.