A few weeks ago, I tripped while running and cut my hand and knee open. This fall also aggravated an old rotator cuff injury and gave me some extra nagging pain on the right side of my hip. Coupled with cerebral palsy, from which I experience tightness on a daily basis, my level of pain has increased more than what I’m accustomed to. Because of this, I haven’t been able to sleep or exercise up to the level I am used to. Some would see this as a bad thing, and at first I definitely did. This string of injuries forced me to question many things: is my career in the fitness world the right choice, should I give up on endurance sports, and has my time as an athlete ran out at 26? After a few days of self-pity I realized that there is so much more that I can still do, so I started to focus on other areas of my well-being.
Over the last few weeks I have been doing 2 hour float sessions in a sensory deprivation tank: it is a lightless, soundproof space where you float in 12 inches of salt water, which is at skin temperature.It is one of my favorite places to be, and my mind becomes calm the moment I see its shiny white exterior. It may just look like a giant metal box from the outside, but it is more like a portal into the depths of my mind and soul. I step into the saltwater tank and close the lid. I float without effort, as if I were in the Dead Sea or in outer space. No light can enter, and all my worries evaporate since I can’t focus on sights or sounds. This is my form of meditation, and helps me enter deeper states of the mind that otherwise cannot be accessed…
Since my physical body wasn’t pulling its weight, I dove headfirst into cultivating my alter ego Ferrari through floating. This is the side of me that is unstoppable, ambitious, gets me out of bed at 3:30 am to hustle, and doesn’t take shit from anyone. Ferrari lives in the back of my mind, and only comes out when I need extreme focus or when I am pushing through an endurance race. While in the tank, my mind is either extremely calm or racing with thoughts. In the latter case, I often run through hundreds of scenarios of how my life may play out. Then Ferrari kicks in, and I can really process these thoughts and figure out how to make sense of them. The strength I need to overcome things comes from that alter ego, and is the part of me that I am able to work on best while in the tank.
I have figured out a lot about myself lately while floating, including how fortunate I am for what I have accomplished. When I was born I didn’t start on a level playing field – that hasn’t stopped me and it never will. I have accepted that I will walk with a limp for the rest of my life, finish towards the back of the pack in races, and always have pain – it is part of who I am. Reflecting on all of the accomplishments, which include finishing two Ironman triathlons, numerous marathons, and other endurance events makes me feel triumphant and strong: if I could bottle this feeling and share it with the world, I would.
I have also realized how hard it is for people to accept themselves as they are. Advertising tells women they should be a size zero and that men should have six pack abs: we have all been sold on how we should look. In reality, it is very rare to find people who look like the ones in the magazines. It doesn’t matter if you don’t have a flat stomach or all of the other things that we are told that we need to be happy. If your body works properly, then you are already one step ahead of other people in the world whose body is failing them from disease, disability, or worst of all, laziness. So when you look in the mirror, try to focus on the good things about your body and not the bad. With consistent hard work on your nutrition, mindset, and exercise regime, positive changes will slowly happen – even if you don’t look like a supermodel, you can feel good about your body on your own terms!