Today, I Graduate

I entered college anticipating a chance to start over—a chance to bring out the person I had always felt had been trapped inside. I left high school as a depressed, eating-disordered, running-consumed, people-pleaser perfectionist who found out, upon entering college, that I still couldn’t let it all go.
I didn’t know how to let it all go.
I reached my dream in running with school records and All-American finishes as a college freshman, only to realize that this was not as fulfilling as I had hoped it would be; that as everyone praised me for my efforts, fear of the dissatisfaction I felt and a yearning to go to extremes haunted me in the loneliness of the disorder and perfectionist mindset.
268084_1992665528843_1009551654_31847860_2568710_n

I took a leap of faith when I started a raw food diet. While there was skepticism from my peers, raw food was the first major change, a switch where I realized I was in control of me life, that I could do daring things, too. While it did not end up as the healthiest means to an end, it was a path to the voice I had buried down for so long.
I faced reality after that dream-come-true year of running—I had turned from a judgmental, glory-driven athlete to a humbled, scared, bingeing girl stripped of her running “superpowers.” I faced my greatest fears in a life without my control of food or success in running: I realized I could be more than just running and food.
I had to be more than just running and food.
ACONFERENCE
Writing gave me a voice at last despite anxiety and shame in sharing it. My eyes opened beyond my own fears to see how many others dealt with what I went through. I learned that it was never about discipline and desire, but about disorder and chaos and a confused identity.
I could be more than the food I ate, the amount I weighed on the scale, the schedule I dictated myself by, and the times I ran in races. I began to open my mouth not just to eat, but also to speak with confidence and enthusiasm because I realized how painful and frustrating it had felt to run in silence.

DSC00138

I am graduating college with a four-inch surgical scar tracing down my right knee that tells a story not of physical pain but emotional rebirth; that a comeback was never about racing after breaking my kneecap, losing weight again, or achieving All-American, but about learning to be the best Rachael I could be under the strain of every fear that became my reality. I graduate now with extra “meat on my bones,” a body that has carried me through it all, and a mind that never gave up.
I began to see the joy in life with great friends and family. I took the chance to break a few rules when I slept on the college soccer field for my twenty-first birthday, when I decided to not complete a school assignment for the first time in my life, when I got my first-ever C on an test, and when I decided that enough was enough with running to quit competing because the sport was taking away more than it was giving back.
That it was my turn to give back.

DSC00095

I graduate having enjoyed all-nighters, having broken away from rigid schedules, and feeling the serenity in sitting peacefully with myself without feeling guilt for “wasting” time. I graduate having met amazing new people with different ideas and views on life that allowed me to see beyond a world of running and food.
Today I graduate knowing that the desire to be the best runner was not what would make me feel better; that the “right” food would not bring out the real Rachael; and that self-discovery is painful but it forced me to face myself at last.
I graduate knowing I am privileged and blessed, and that a big part of my success is from the people I am surrounded with–a community of running and writing friends, fantastic professors and classmates who supported me through everything, coaches and parents who believed in my potential to be a great person and not just a great runner, and everything beyond perfection.

presentation2

About Rachael

Rachael Steil is a graduate from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan with a Bachelor of Arts. Steil an author, speaker, and a recipient of the Spirit and Outstanding Runner award for the Aquinas College cross country team and has received 6th place All-American accolades in cross country as well as 7th place in the NAIA track nationals.

This entry was posted in Recovery, Relationships, Running. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Today, I Graduate

  1. Paloma says:

    Y ahora tienes toda la vida por delante. Relájate y disfruta, que te lo mereces.
    Un beso muy fuerte!!!

  2. Tamara Steil says:

    Priceless. Awesome. Pride. Love. Heartbreak. Vindication. Honor. Pleasure. Joy.

  3. john says:

    congratulations Rachel its been and interesting and helpful journey.

  4. Brent Chesley says:

    You have done brave things in your time at Aquinas. I feel privileged to have worked with you.

  5. Elizabeth Paddock says:

    Hi Rachel,
    This speaks straight to my heart–as a formerly obsessive runner and anorexic. I still struggle some days but your description of finding the real you throughout all-nighters, spending time with people you love, and just with yourself in solitude, is something I can now relate to, after a solid two years of an intentional recovery mindset. I literally could NOT have done these things pre-recovery, and when I think about all I missed out on, I’m just glad that I didn’t continue. It’s hard tho b/c in the pictures of my obsession, you’d think I look great and “healthy” but the opposite was true…it’s fascinating to me how looks can be deceiving, esp when it comes to eating disorders. Anyway thanks for your blog!!
    –Lizzie

    • Rachael says:

      Lizzie, thank you for your comment! I’m so glad you’ve found a healthy way “out.” Good luck to you and your continued success!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.