Slip and Tread

It’s been a terribly long time since I posted on my fitness blog, and I’ve got ground to cover.

For several years, I was a moderator and an active member of a Reddit fitness and health subgroup, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I didn’t make close friends, but it was nice seeing the same familiar screennames. I was friendly with a few people whom I followed to other apps, including the food photo journal YouFood, and encouraging others to explore the feelings that led them on their journeys was rewarding in a lot of ways.

However, my crappy at-home internet situation discouraged me from spending a lot of time online, and eventually, the demands of work became too great for me to continue to moderate as well. There was a lot of emotional output without much reciprocation, i.e. there are only so many times you can pour out encouragement to a stream of strangers without any meaningful feedback before it starts to feel useless. I’m a loner anyway, but it made me feel lonelier than ever.

2015 was a great fitness year – I ran for a lot of the summer and competed in my hometown’s 5k for the first time ever, something that I had always wanted to do. Was I fast? No. Do I believe I will ever be fast? I’m not sure. But I was active a lot of the time and even walked with my coworkers some mornings.

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Feeling pretty super after a cool morning and a fun 5k.

My part-time job offers a program that rewards you for taking steps to improve your quality of life and health, and I won two awards through that program in 2015, one of which was a running watch that I traded in for a fitness tracker that I’ve been wearing for a year. As a data aficionado, I am pleased to sync the information with my smartphone app and ponder my step count, my hours asleep, my active minutes, how true the caloric burn count could possibly be.

I took a lead position at my part-time job in the autumn of 2015 and spent a lot of time on my feet to the point that my old broken foot injury started to really bother me, and if I didn’t wear comfortable sneakers, I was in for an evening of elevating my foot.

Right before my day job ate my life for a few months, I applied for and accepted yet another position at my part-time job, this one in the office. I didn’t realize how much this would influence my life for the next year.

2016 started with me tethered to my desk at my main job for crazy hours, which I had expected. When I went back to my part-time job, I found that while I wasn’t working as many hours, I was still overextended. This contributed to one of the most stressful seasons of my life. And when I tried to go back to running to de-stress, almost immediately, I underestimated how sedentary I had been and aggravated my dormant plantar fasciitis. So I showed up to my day job in my professional clothes wearing sneakers for a week or so. Good job.

I was active throughout the year, and a friend gave me a stationary exercise bike. Now, I have found it difficult and painful to attempt to ride a bike outside on the road, because I tend to stand up on the pedals to get me to where I want to go faster. The point of biking outside is exhilarating travel. At least it is to me, but then again, I have always loved biking, and a bike was my car when I lived in my college town after graduation. Years later with a foot that still gets angry if the instep undergoes a lot of pressure, I looked upon this gift with trepidation and skepticism, but it turns out that the point of the exercise bike is to exercise the muscles and raise your heart rate, apparently. As long as I don’t overdo it and keep my heels on or near the pressure points of the bike pedals, I’m OK riding the bike.

My story of fitness, weight loss, and perseverance was featured on Charity Miles affiliate Humana’s Health Star blog. That was a high point for me. Sadly, when I went to look for that post to link to, I find that it has been taken down! Aw man!

I started on a book, doing more writing in several months than I had done in nearly a decade, and more than I’d done since working on ‘zines and newspapers all throughout high school, college, and my younger adulthood.

Unfortunately, working in my part-time office’s environment led to overeating due to stress or want of a break, some bad food decisions, and easy access to candy. I no longer was on my feet very much, as my new job involved a lot of administrative functions that necessitated me sitting at a computer.

I ran several terrible 5k races in 2016. My times were always improvements over the prior race, but my performance and how I felt after the race seemed to deteriorate throughout the year; this is partly attributable to the persistent heat that sat on the southern US state where I live for most of the summer and into the autumn, but some of it was, frankly, due to the weight I put on due to bad eating choices and less outdoor physical activity.

At the end of the year, despite being something of a Pokemon GO fanatic who hatched a ton of eggs while walking and running, I had logged fewer miles than in 2015 by almost two hundred.

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At Mammoth Cave National Park in December 2016. I logged only a mile underground? Seemed like forever!

Here I am in the late, unseasonably warm winter of 2017, pondering my future as I end my annual month-long break from the part-time job to focus on my main job. I usually don’t get time or suitable weather to go outside and run during day light hours until March or April, but the temperatures this coming Sunday, my first day back, will be in the 70s F, and I intend to take a long walk or a short run if my after-work errands don’t keep me out past 5pm.

My weight has increased over the last year, and I have failed in efforts to control my eating. I track my food, I lose five pounds, and then, I throw it all away. I don’t even know why I eat except for stress or the joy of eating, followed immediately by regret. I am nowhere near my highest weight, but I am not reaching my goals and feel as though I’m heading in the opposite direction. For the first time in several years, I feel truly ashamed of my body again, and I don’t like that feeling.

Snoring is always at the front of my mind when I go to bed these days, and the boil-and-bite mouth guard I purchased a month ago is only effective in alleviating my snoring until I take it out, which I usually wake up and do in the middle of the night.

I haven’t had good mental health over the last several months, struggling with deep depression the likes of which I haven’t dealt with since I was in college. I’ve tried to hide it from people, but the loneliness, sadness, and nihilism have been nearly crushing, and at times, I felt like I only kept functioning because of the structure I have in place that propels me from duty to duty every day.

I’m so out of shape at the moment that my last run turned into a walk a little over two miles into my  journey.

I have been going through some shit, y’all.

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Run faster. Or… run, period. Maybe. From last weekend.

Every day is a new opportunity to fail. It’s a new opportunity to succeed as well. I know that I’ve been a success story in the past. I just feel like I need a little help to get back to where I need to be.

I am in need of love, encouragement, harsh truths, and reminders to be accountable for my own actions. Yes, you can help me. I would appreciate feedback, encouragement, and even tough love in small doses. I don’t know that I or anyone else really needs platitudes; I want someone to tell me to stay within my calorie goal for the day, to try to walk around a little bit more, to get a glass of water instead of opening the cabinet or the fridge to get a sugar-free but not calorie-free treat, to take better care of myself, to make sure I can still fit in my underpants, to remind me that I will not under any circumstances live forever.

This is my confession. I have been terribly unhappy and not following through on my commitment to myself to be the healthiest that I can be. Things need to change, and change can only come from within. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that a self-motivated person is even more effective when they know they’re not alone.

Also, does anyone know how to get deeply ingrained horse poop out of Nike sneakers? Asking… for a friend. Who runs in an Amish neighborhood. Who is me.

No Substitute For Self-Care

There’s no way to fool yourself into not being broken down, injured, or tired. Sure, you can give yourself all the pep talks you want, but when you feel like you’re walking on pins and needles, when you’re so tired you can’t even get off the couch, when you have small shooting pains in familiar places, it’s time to take a step back and rest. Rest, damn it. This is your only body, and sometimes, the reset button is broken, so you have to take the cooldown instead to let everything recharge, even if it’s not going to go back to where you want it to be.

Recapping my summer: I progressed well through 6 weeks of New Rules of Lifting for Women. The program calls for a barbell and some gym equipment, but since I don’t have access to much of anything but barbells and bodyweight, I did what I could with the materials I had on hand, and I put out a request on social media to borrow weights. I misplaced my 10-pound dumbbells and had only 2- and 5-pound weights to dink around with. A friend had 15-pound weights and 25-pound weights she let me borrow, but no 10. Another friend let me have her single 10-pound weight. And since this is the summer of being broke, I did what I had to: I tied my 5-pound weights together with a shoelace and lifted for a while with that. GOOD ENOUGH.

Sadly, my feet began hurting not terribly long after this. Contributing factors include taking on a role at my part-time job where I walk around the building quite a bit more, and the shabby shoes I’ve made work over the last several months are showing their fit issues, their age, and their quality at last, and the result was aching feet. As someone who let a broken foot go untreated years ago, I was not about to go down that road again and decided to take some time off from lifting. It was time for my rest week anyway, which I took advantage of quite gladly. Sadly for me, the rest week has turned into more than a month of not lifting weights.

However, there is a silver lining: my guts healed enough that I could run again, and it didn’t happen until I had been working on my core through NROLFW for those six weeks. Should I directly credit lifting weights with closing up the hole and helping me to be able to run again without abdominal pain? There is strong enough circumstantial evidence that I will take it on face value and call it good enough.

We had a temperate July, all things considered, to the point that I had to wear a light jacket to finish mowing the lawn on the fourth of July. This is usually a day of sweat, sunscreen, and humid warmth. It turned out to be a day I took the dogs for a nice cool walk in the mid-afternoon, and it was downright chilly in the afternoon shade. With all the great weather, plus a purchase of obnoxiously bright and wonderful new shoes (and some awesome free socks and new sports bras), I went for a lot of walks that sometimes turned out to be walk/run events.

I started tracking on four apps at once: Charity Miles, to donate to Feeding America; WoofTrax, to donate to my local animal shelter, Runkeeper; and MapMyRun. I have been getting inconsistent distance readings from one app to the next, so I like to multi-track to get a more accurate average. For instance, today, my apps disagreed by 0.3-0.4 miles. That’s a huge difference.

I’ve also been tracking small walks on the Charity Miles app in an effort to get a free t-shirt and support Team Red, White & Blue and the Wounded Warrior Project. The app is issuing more small challenges that scale up where participants can earn prizes from corporate sponsors for tracking a set number of days for particular charities. If nothing else, it’s a great daily reminder to work out, even if just a little bit.

My weight is still not in a place where I want it to be, and my stomach in particular is not where I want it to be – it’s making wearing some of my cute pants less possible, as some pairs cut into my gut in a way that they didn’t used to. I recently discovered that my favorite diet soda (I know, I shouldn’t be drinking any diet soda, I know! Jeez!) has concentrated orange juice as a main ingredient, and a diabetic woman who pointed this out to me said it messed with her sugar levels. She says this is the only diet soda she drinks that affects her; others that have plenty of caffeine do not affect her in the same way at all. While I’m not diabetic, and my doctor never diagnosed me as pre-diabetic, I have been watching my sugar for going on three years now, and Alzheimer’s and diabetes are in my genetic destiny, and I need to remember that even the diet “cheats” that I think are safe are only ok in moderation. I’m bad at moderation. So I’m going to cut back drastically and see how I can diversify my natural treats and go back to drinking diet tea and water instead. I’m discouraged, though. It feels like I’ve strayed from my original path, and it’s even harder to get back into good eating habits than it was to make them in the first place.

Finally, I am really getting old. I push mowed the lawn the other day. The yard is fairly large, and the grass was wet, so it was hard work, and it took me 3 hours to finish (I took plenty of breaks, too). I wound up with bruised palms, muscle soreness all over my body, a slightly aggravated ankle, pain in my left pointer finger from lifting the mower to scrape wet grass out from the inside so the blades would spin, and right wrist pain from turning the mower. And my feet hurt like hell the next day after I stood around at my retail job, then took the dogs for a walk. Even my magic new sneakers couldn’t save me from hurting myself.

Getting rest, making sure to eat before undertaking big physical efforts, resting body parts that hurt, and remembering I’m not as invincible as I think I am or want to be seem to be the only ways to age gracefully while maintaining some amateur level of fitness. But this is why I continue to work out: so that when I’m older, I’ll still be mobile enough to take my dogs for walks, to enjoy being out in nature, and to live independently as long as possible.

Pin on the Map of Summer 2014

I’ve not updated my blog in a while, so I’m going to do a little check up to see what’s new with me!

1. I’m still eating mostly Paleo. I had some lapses over vacation that undid some of my progress – not a lot, but enough to piss me off to where I doubled down my efforts and have gotten back to near my plateau weight again.

1a. Foods that I’m trying to cut out of my life a little more: starchy sweet potatoes and bananas. I love sweet potatoes, but I’m going to be transitioning back to carrots and sweet peas for lunch, and though I was glad to discover my body could once again handle bananas several years out from my gallbladder surgery, I discovered that my weight started to creep up again when I had so much starch in my life.

2. Running is still off the table for a while as I wait for my body to heal. I did a walk/run two weeks ago, and while it wasn’t as painful as an attempt in March, I decided that I was really pushing my luck. I don’t want to really hurt myself just because I think I’m invincible.

3. I started playing with a hula hoop about a month ago. I am not consistent in using it, but it is a hell of a lot of fun.

4. I also picked back up my copy of the book New Rules of Lifting for Women, which is a good progressive set of strength workouts. I have some of my old printed workout charts in the book still, and they tell me the last time I worked out with the program was April 2011. So it’s been a long time. I don’t have access to a gym anymore, but I do have dumbbells, and the first set of exercises does include dumbbell workouts for alternative exercises. I’ve been doing those. I forgot how much DOMS hurts. I forgot how much squats can suck if you haven’t done them for a long time. But it’s muscle ache, not body pain, so I’m glad to not have hurt myself trying to do too much, too soon. I’m in my 30s, and my body isn’t going to bounce back the way it used to do.

Boring Adventures in Homemade Soup

I have a rocky cooking history. I never really learned how to cook, or paid much attention when someone was teaching me. I have used recipes in the past with some success, but it’s not something I’ve tried on a regular basis until this new year.

A friend bought me a soup cookbook for Christmas, and I’ve been trying out the recipes with great success. I make modifications, but within reason. I have enough failed recipes from multiple substitutions to know there are limits to my culinary hunches.

Mushroom barley: remove the barley, double the mushrooms. Mediterranean roasted vegetable: baking vegetables is boring, but sauteing is amazing. Split pea and ham: pretty much as-is. Chicken potato with bacon: use sweet potatoes instead, eliminate the flour. And my favorite variation: take them all into consideration, use one as a base, and throw every other vegetable in the crisper drawer into the soup. And add about half the traditional spices in my spice cabinet. That’s my kitchen sink soup.

Each recipe has turned out to be a winner so far, with my favorite being the double mushroom. I have at least 20 others to try, but most of them include pasta and grains and starchy thickeners that are either integral to the recipe or a pain to substitute for, and my paleo-ish diet dictates fewer of those ingredients. So far, I’m happy with zucchini and squash, mirepoix, sweet potatoes, chicken broth, and garlic in pretty much everything.

My only challenge now is limiting soup portion sizes. Even if I’ve already had dinner, I can’t resist the temptation to sample an entire bowl of hot soup fresh off the stove.

Delicious soups!

10 Years Aboard the Treadmill of Sisyphus Later…

My weight loss collage, showing my body from 2003 to 2013, lumps and all.

My weight loss collage, showing my body from 2003 to 2013, lumps and all.

I recently posted this image on my social media pages. It showcases my history over the last two years, as well as gives me a clear-eyed view of how my body has looked in the past and how far I have come since I completely changed my diet. Here is the text I put with it:

For most of my life, I’ve struggled with my weight. I’ve been winning the war these last two years, and it’s still a bit strange to see my wish outside of myself at long last. Most of my friends here in Kentucky only know me as the more svelte, healthy-eating person they see today instead of the person I was during my college years in Memphis and my decade of grown-up life in Dallas. I worked hard to get where I am today, and I’m grateful to have had the right circumstances to make my commitment easier, the ability to afford to eat the way I do, the push from my doctor in the right direction, and the unwavering support of my boyfriend to help me get here. There is a part of me that will always be that insecure, overweight person who was always worried about the numbers on the scale and how well jackets worked at disguising abdominal fat. I have a history that informs who I am today, just like everyone else does, and this is my tale, told in photos taken over the last decade.

I took pains to not try to fat-shame myself in the past or anyone who looks like me. I am glad that I shed weight, as I much better like my health, my appearance, and the way the world treats me since I got thinner, but I don’t want to disparage who I was in the past, paint my life as perfect now (your problems don’t magically get better as you weigh less), or put down anyone who is still going through their own body struggle. Not everyone is me, the same methods won’t work for everyone, not everybody is the same. And I didn’t lose weight *at* anybody. I lost it for me, for the sake of my health and to help my boyfriend’s insomnia.

It was work giving up foods that I love that weren’t always healthy, and it is work now trying to pass up sugary sweets and justify to myself eating food that’s not on my diet. I’m not perfect, and I’ve definitely hit my roadblocks along the way, be they motivational, related to family tragedy, or health-related.

But I’m still going strong. I’m still happy as a participant and moderator of a Reddit community based around fitness, health, and life goal achievement. I’m happy making nutritious soups from scratch that fit closely within my dietary parameters. I’m very happy putting on my shoes and running as often as my body and the weather allow me to run.

The Hole Inside

I got sick over the winter holidays. It happens to most of us, right? Typhoid Mary gave Dirty Santa a whole new meaning this year, and friends and family alike were struck down by the same bug right around Christmas. And masked by the illness at first, my hernia showed up again to put a damper on my exercise.

The day before this mess started, I was lying on the couch watching TV, and my 30-pound dog jumped directly onto my stomach with his full weight. I felt a sharp pain, to the point where after a few minutes, I took pain reliever to, well, relieve the pain. I went to my part-time job in retail the next morning. I started out the work day just fine, but after an hour of being on my feet, I completely lost my appetite, felt feverish and nauseated, and still had to put on a smiling face to process customer returns on the weekend after Christmas for another 6 hours.

I had a case of the holiday season retail employee illness going-to-throw-up-on-your-receipts blues.

I had a case of the holiday-season, unwell-retail-employee, going-to-throw-up-on-your-receipts blues.

I was down with a bug for the next week, but even after I got over the fever and the tossing of the cookies and the aching of the body like the rest of my family was suffering, I was still feeling mild nausea at least once a day — mostly in the morning if I hadn’t eaten breakfast. And that’s a sign of… hernia! Aw yeah! Wait, that’s bad! No! Ugh!

Given my history of abdominal surgery and spending most of the summer of 2012 miserable and curled around a bottle of ginger ale, any abdominal weirdness puts my mild hypochondria into overdrive. Living in the U.S. without healthcare insurance, this turns into fruitless worry and hoping very hard that nothing is wrong.

Happily for me, I haven’t had any pain since the first night, and the nausea is getting a lot better. I’ve been taking antacids as needed, eating foods that will reduce the hydrochloric acid in my stomach, and not exerting myself too much.

Sadly, the weather shaped up beautifully over this weekend, and as much as I’d LOVE to be out for a run, wishing I’d bought a pair of fingerless gloves last night, I’m taking a rest to let my body heal. I don’t want to power through it and do more damage.

There's a hole in my innards. (Not to physical scale...kind of to mental scale.)

There’s a hole in my innards. (Not to physical scale…kind of to mental scale.)

My day job is about to get super busy, so I’m disappearing down the rabbit hole of work. But I am hoping that once the hole in my innards is healed, I can get back out on the road and keep on pursuing the sport I’ve fallen in love with to keep myself sane and remind myself that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it is a filing deadline that must be met.

And depending on how long it takes me to heal and how much of my life has been eaten by my job by early March, maybe I won’t need to outfit myself with fingerless gloves after all. That would leave a 3-month gap in my workout history, unfortunately, so maybe I should go ahead and get some outdoor sporting-appropriate gloves in case I feel mended enough in a couple of weeks to put my running shoes on during one of these 38º F days.

I’d like to give a shout out to chicken broth. You complete me. When I am feeling sick and trying to avoid pasta as per my doctor’s standing orders two years ago, you are chicken soup in the purest, most digestible form. I love you.

Mothers and Daughters: Legacy of Body Image

I love xoJane and the thought-provoking articles that its writers tend to put out into the world. This post was inspired by a comment I wrote on this article. The comments are a trove of first-hand testimonials from other people on the same subject.

When I was a preschooler, the story goes, my mom told me I could only have one cookie because I was putting on weight. I was so sad that my slightly older brother took an extra cookie to give to me in secret. We weren’t that subtle, so of course my mom knew about it and cherished the memory as one of sweetness between siblings.

As I got older, my mom never said anything to me about my weight. I was a chubby kid, presenting as a purple-and-silver-sequined cylinder in my ballet recital pictures, and an overweight teenager, hiding my body as best as I could with oversized shirts and weird fashion. She said she loved me no matter what and never criticized my body, supporting me in my academics, my art, and my writing. But she talked negatively about her own body all the time and still does today.

I know that like a lot of privileged first world women, I have spent a lot of my adulthood thinking about my weight. These days, I look back on the experience of growing up and living my adult life overweight and mourn all the time and mental energy spent by people like us fretting about our weight. Do I wish I had lost weight sooner so I could get on with my life? Perhaps, but I know that I wouldn’t appreciate my body as much if I didn’t feel pride in losing body fat, improving my health by stopping snoring almost completely and taking weight off injured/stressed muscles and joints, and increased self-esteem by conforming more to social norms. But what if I had been able to focus my gifts on something other than myself and self-improvement over the last 10 years? Would I have done something more “meaningful” with my life?

I realize this perspective and this question are both from a place of privilege – I largely feel like my struggle with being overweight is over, and I’m on autopilot as far as my food intake goes. I can afford to buy nutritious food, and I’m getting into running (despite approaching the nitty gritty of winter and me with no indoor gym access). Other people are less able-bodied, less able to access the kinds of food I can buy and dietary information my doctor gave me, still working on themselves, not in the same mental frame of mind, and have legitimate concerns and health problems that I have no right to dismiss and do not presume to.

I mourn my own potential – what things could I be writing about instead of concentrating on gaining 7 pounds in a month? – and the potential that my mother had and still has. When I was in high school, she was pursuing her masters in education with a focus on special needs education while working delivering pizza and raising 3 kids. She also wrote works of fiction on lined notebook paper she kept in binders under her bed, with several unpublished drafts of novels to her credit. And she, like all of us, was constantly bogged down by the everyday worries of life, including her body. I constantly heard her saying how upset she was that she could no longer fit into the clothes she wore when she was younger; she is short and used to be quite thin during high school. She dropped the “fat” word to describe herself on an at-least weekly basis. “If only I wasn’t so fat.”

Being thinner is a privilege in this society, and she may have been more kindly treated by the world at large. But I wonder how fully her gifts might have come out if her self-esteem hadn’t been hampered by her self-criticism, which always seemed so unforgiving.

My having the same body type that she did probably had some influence on how I viewed myself. It was a while before I came to a truce with myself over my looks, worrying about everything from my acne-prone skin to my large nose to my weight. I was ashamed of my body after the start of puberty, uncomfortable with male attention that I received in 7th grade, and down on myself for my many failed attempts at losing weight, even as an adult. I dieted for months, then fell off the wagon. I exercised hard for several months, then took half a year off. I came to be more accepting of what I looked like, but my health began to suffer as I aged. I was smart; why wasn’t I smart enough to figure out how to change my body and stick to a weight loss plan?

Losing weight was not the answer to all my problems. I’m still thinking about my body – still moderating a self-improvement community, still occasionally blogging about my pursuit of fitness, food, and health – but the rest of my life’s problems persist. It’s easy for us to fixate on having a great body and see it as the answer. “If only I wasn’t so fat.” If I wasn’t so fat, then what? I would get everything I wanted out of life automatically? I wouldn’t have to pay my car insurance? I would finish cleaning out the shed? It never stops unless we reframe the way we think about what’s important, whether losing weight or shaping our body into a more pleasing shape is a self-serving, endless goal, or if it’s a stepping stone to happiness, a facet of our existence.

Sometimes, chasing the ideal body or an improved version of ourselves seems so futile in the long term. I think back on my amazing, beautiful, business-smart, no-nonsense, hilarious stepmom; she was in my life from preschool until last year, and when I was younger, I remember that she was always trying low fat diets, Weight Watchers, the grapefruit diet… right up until her diagnosis of colon cancer, a disease she fought for 9 years.

I helped sort out her enormous closet of clothing after she passed away; she had clothes (some with tags still on them) in US size ranges 6-18 from where her body size fluctuated so much during years of chemo, surgery, remission, and relapse. There’s a despair in that part of the legacy of mainstream, straight, adult ciswomanhood in the U.S. What good does it do to fret so much over what size we wear and how many carbs we eat and whether our butt looks arbitrarily too big and that we can’t fit into that exact pair of pants anymore?

It’s easy to get lost in the moment and the present-day, easy to obsess over weight or unflattering photos, but now and then, life smacks you in the face again with the fact that it’s precious and short; your health, your ability to function as an independent person, and the degree to which you are able-bodied are things you can take for granted. The gift of perspective is precious, if hard to take. My stepmom spent most of her last decade working at the business she and my dad built together, baking cookies and sweets with her grandchildren, going on vacations with my dad, and enjoying herself as much as her health would allow her to do.

Sometimes when I’m out running, out in the middle of the country where nobody can see me, I imagine I’m passing my stepmom on the sidelines of a cancer charity race or some other event, and I give the air a high-five. I’d like to think she’d be proud of me for taking up a new sport. I hope she’d say she’s never seen me so happy in my own skin