February 13 2018
Colleen Kelly Alexander discusses the accident that changed her life and how she has rebounded in spite of the trauma to her mind and body.
A few years ago, I moved to a new city. Knowing exactly zero people, I decided that joining a competitive running team—like the one I’d loved in my old home of New York—would be a good way to meet like-minded friends. I heard about a group that practiced near my new apartment and at first thought, Perfect!
I visited their website and saw a group of smiling teammates lined up in race kits. Instead of noticing happy faces, I zeroed in on the toned stomachs. Reflexively, my mind turned to my softer middle. Maybe this isn’t the right fit for me.
I’m sure you realize how ridiculous my thought pattern was—but perhaps it also feels a bit familiar? It’s no secret that self-doubt can hold us back. However, it wasn’t until reading the research of Dr. Margaret Smith that I realized the extent to which negative thinking about our bodies can slow us down.
In “Body of Lies,” Smith shares her findings on how athletes’ understandings of their bodies impact performance. Smith’s research has shown that constant internal criticism inhibits achievement. She writes, “If your brain is the super-powered computer that controls your body, body hatred is like a massive program that is always running, eating up memory and space on the hard drive and slowing down the whole machine.”
This simple idea struck me: No matter how sure you are of your ability—regardless of how hard you train—if you don’t think your body looks fast or fit, you’ll never race at your full potential.
Our April cover runner Nadia Aboulhosn is an excellent proof of this idea’s inverse. At our photo shoot, Nadia shared this story with me: As a teenager, she gained weight rapidly and just as quickly lost it. After struggling with classmates’ fickle reactions, she made a decision: She wasn’t going to be defined by the size of her frame or by other people’s expectations.
When told that she was too small to play football in high school, she went out for every single summer practice and became the only girl on the team. Years later, after watching Paris Fashion Week, she decided to be a style blogger. Who cares if she didn’t fit into the mold of a size-2 runway model—or a size-14 plus-size model? She had good taste. The result: Nadia has risen to stardom, netting modeling gigs with Vogue Italia and Complex, designing for Addition Elle and Lord & Taylor and gaining more than 350,000 Instagram followers in the process. Her next goal? To run a marathon.
What could you achieve if you were kinder to yourself? This is something I still work on—and I’m certainly not on Nadia’s level—but I can say that I got over my angst about the shirtless running club and made some great friends. And when I join the group for runs, I never get left behind.