I recently went to the NCAA Leadership Forum in Maryland and one of the required assignments was to watch the Ted Talk by Novelist Chimamanda Adichie called The Danger of A Single Story. I hope you will watch all twenty minutes of it so this post makes more sense to you. I found it to be incredibly eye-opening and it has had a profound effect on me. We all have different experiences and values and I think it is very easy to make assumptions about people- quite unfairly. I’m sure guilty of it. Your takeaway from Chimamanda’s talk is likely different than mine but what I heard resonates with me every day since and my first experience of a story’s power was in my gym Orangetheory Fitness.
As I started up my treadmill, I looked to my right and admired the girl next to me that is easily fifteen years younger than me, petite and blonde. I asked her if she was a runner and she laughed that she hates running. I told her I was impressed because she sure looked like a runner to me. You really weren’t on the cross country team? I meant it. “No, I played tennis in college.” She could have fooled me! I’m running at at 5.8 and she’s at at least a 7.0 base pace. #otfgoals. But I will say I started at a 3.5 so it’s coming!
I see her at the gym quite a bit because I’m there at least 4 days a week so of course I already knew we had something in common. You never know someone’s reason for going to OTF so I asked her how much weight she has lost- a common question I will ask members within earshot because it motivates me! She said not much but she goes to OTF to stay in shape. Of course she does. Here I am—many, many pounds overweight, busting my butt and not losing a pound. And here she is a pretty, petite blonde that was born naturally thin. She’s about 100 lbs soaking wet and I’m guessing she probably eats whatever she wants, whenever she wants. What an easy life. She couldn’t possibly have struggles.
She politely asked me how much weight I lost and I told her nothing, explaining that I have been losing inches but I was recently diagnosed with diabetes and now that I’m on meds I hope to see the scale move. I joked that I had quite a bit of weight to lose and we both agreed that we work so hard at our OTF classes that is simply has to happen! Then she told me that her father’s family is obese and that they all had gastric bypass surgery— every one of her uncles. I think my jaw dropped to the floor. Her father, especially, instilled in her a commitment to fitness so she doesn’t go down the same path as his family. She’s genetically predisposed to obesity and she makes the effort to work out several times a week at a high intensity level because she’s concerned about her health if she stops and because she was a former college athlete and loves to be competitive. As a former college athlete myself I can understand exactly where she is coming from. If I’m not peeking over at someone’s treadmill or rower to see what speed they are at or what distance they’ve completed, I’m pushing myself to be better than my last effort.
I left the gym that day, still inspired by that girl. Still envious that she was so in shape. But a little more understanding that she works incredibly hard to stay in shape and that we both showed up. We both have struggles- just different ones. She is on a journey too but hers is just different than mine. It doesn’t make mine more or less important. So I ask the question… If you come into someone’s life in the middle of their story, how will you respond?
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