“Giiiiirlfriend,” the woman at the bagel shop said to me (she was new and I hadn’t gotten her name yet). “I hope if I keep riding my bike I get legs that look like yours. They look goooood!” I didn’t know what to say; she didn’t realize that she not only made my day in less than 30 seconds, she made me want to jump across the counter and hug her.
This woman didn’t know my story. She didn’t know that almost 20 years ago I had surgery that would end up leaving my leg deformed and begin insecurities and leg envy. She didn’t know it would take me years before I could wear a pair of shorts again. She didn’t know the bullying I had endured through middle school. She didn’t know that, years later, I would be told I wouldn’t get very far when I took up rowing, and that I would end up struggling with my body image and eating when I did progress in rowing. She didn’t know about the first real relationship I ever had made me feel inadequate and not thin or pretty enough. She didn’t know I had to retire from rowing my sophomore year of college due to knee injury and how it left me not only without my full-ride athletic scholarship to finish school, but also feeling like I failed. She didn’t know that roughly three years ago, my riding ability/fitness would be judged by another female cyclist based on my appearance despite my being a category one road cyclist. This woman taking our breakfast order also didn’t know it wasn’t until just last year that I was finally comfortable posting photos of my right leg and ankle. And that, for the last few years, I had been fighting to overcome my poor eating habits and self-esteem, that I now am to the point where days of not being able to step on the scale for fear of what numbers will be looking back at me and skipping dessert (and by dessert, I mean dinners too) because I didn’t ride enough are further and fewer in between.
This woman didn’t realize all that I have overcome to get to the point I am at today, all that I have achieved along the way, how much more powerful and confident I am now, and all that I am thankful for. She didn’t realize that how much her words meant to me, affected me. And in that simple interaction, it didn’t matter.
“That’s her in that picture right there,” Andrew told her as I walked away, pointing to a picture of me from my 3K pursuit in Rio that I signed and gave to the bagel shop.