About two weeks ago I ran my first half marathon. A year ago, I couldn’t run a 5k. Hell, in high school, I refused to run a mile. I was utterly uninterested in fitness, or nutrition. However, in a lot of ways you could say that’s really where my fitness journey began.
I was seventeen when I first left the country. I had been taking French in school since fifth grade, and the opportunity to do an exchange with a high school in France seemed like one I couldn’t pass up. I had never been that far from home, let alone on my own. Growing up we did a lot of summer vacations in the Northeast, always within driving distance, and would visit my great-grandparents in Florida once a year during school break. Staying with a family in France seemed exotic. With a lot of persuasion, a lot of fundraising, and a lot of practice speaking French, I was off.
I began to discover myself in France. I had always had a love of culture and history, but being able to experience a world so different from my own, yet so similar, was exhilarating. I began to question things and think critically in a way I never had been able to before. I felt a freeing insignificance confronted with the reality that a whole world existed and I was a such a small part of it. I had never felt like I completely fit in, a feeling anyone who survived being a teenager can relate to, but an understanding of just how big the world was made that seem much less important suddenly. Simultaneously it was empowering to know that I could connect to this world so profoundly, and all it took was some curiosity…and maybe a plane ticket.
Going to France was a bold decision that would change my life profoundly. Since then I’ve collected more than thirty countries stamps in my passports, and my bucket list never stops growing. I’ve also developed a career around helping as many people as possible to experience the amazing world I stumbled across over thirteen years ago.
It’s crazy to think that at seventeen I would fly thousands of miles away to another country, culture, language, and family, but I wouldn’t run a mile. Put in that context, it sounds ridiculous. Knowing it would take me another decade to even consider it is really incredible.
I have never been an athlete. I liked culture, and music, and art in school, and once I had graduated and sports weren’t a part of my day to day life like they tend to be in high school, I REALLY wasn’t bothered by that. I had found myself in France, remember. Travel was my passion, why spend time on something I didn’t love? Sure from time to time I would venture onto an elliptical because I felt like my jeans weren’t fitting quite how I liked, but it was always short lived. I was comfortable with who I was, and that included not being athletic. That is, until one day my jeans really didn’t fit, and I wasn’t able to find any clothes that I felt good in anymore.
Apparently years of not really finding a reason to exert my body for more than a long walk, the stresses of a layoff, the end of a ten year relationship, and a winter that left me ordering take out most nights because I couldn’t get out of the snow to the grocery store, had finally caught up with me. I was dejected, embarrassed, and at a loss of where to turn.
The lessons you learn when traveling are endless: patience, understanding, empathy, resilience …charades, to name a few. You never know how you’ll be tested when you find yourself out of your comfort zone, in a new culture, or helping someone else experience a new country. It’s one of the things I have found most rewarding about my career, and my life as a travel addict. However, the lessons you learn to apply to others are sometimes the hardest to apply to yourself.
I needed a change, and so I looked where I always look when I need to reset: online flight searches. Due to life circumstances it had been more than a year since I had been out of the country, and I knew I needed get away to get my equilibrium back. Almost immediately I found an incredible deal for a long weekend in Paris. This was what I needed, but I hesitated still. Was I being frivolous? That night I was talking to a friend, and telling her my plan. She asked to join me. That was the jolt I needed. It wasn’t frivolous if I was helping a friend see one of her bucket list cities, after all.
Walking through Paris I felt revitalized. All of the emotions of my first trip came flooding back to me. Café’s I have been to numerous times in the past felt like home. Sitting on a bench in the Jardins Tuileries with a café au lait, I had a revelation. I had made a bold decision to come to Paris a decade ago and it forever changed the trajectory of my life. I needed to make another one when I came home. I needed to get out of the box that I had managed to put my life into, and I needed to stop telling myself who I could or could not be. Two weeks later I found myself at my first workout with my gym family.
My gym is not your typical gym. Looking at it, you would probably say it appears similar to crossfit. I’ve never done crossfit, so I can’t speak to that, but I can tell you, you won’t find lines of treadmills or sparkly locker rooms with saunas. There are, however, hardworking clients, and amazingly welcoming and encouraging trainers. The first workouts of stumbling through Turkish get-ups, kettle bell swings, and battling ropes felt like me stumbling through my first French conversations with native speakers. More than a year and a half later, I look at that workout similarly to how I remember stepping off the plane in Paris all those years ago. It was exhilarating and scary, but somehow also felt like home. After a while of training and nutrition coaching, down countless pounds of fat and inches, I was starting to find myself again.
When one of the trainers had convinced a large group of the gym family to sign up for a half marathon, including several people who were in the same fitness boat I had been in, I knew it was something I had to do for myself. I needed to make another bold decision. If I can travel hundred of thousands of miles around the world, I could somehow get my legs to carry me 13.1 miles across a finish line in six months time.
In the course of my training journey, I have learned how to apply many of those lessons from my travels to myself. I am more empathetic, more understanding, and more patient. I’ve come to realize I can be whatever version of myself I want to be. Looking at the card of congratulations from my trainers and the countless messages of pride from my family, and friends, many of which I met at my gym, I know that movement, fitness, and health will forever be as much a part of who I am as my love of travel has been. It’s amazing what can change when you finally make the decision to do something bold.