Today, I Graduate

I will tell you a story about a girl.

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I will tell you a story about a girl who entered college anticipating a chance to start over—a chance to bring out the person she always felt had been trapped inside. I will tell you about a girl who left high school as a depressed, eating-disordered, running-consumed, people-pleaser perfectionist who found out, upon entering college, that she still couldn’t let it all go.
She didn’t know how to let it all go.

I will tell you that this girl reached her ultimate dream of running prestige with All-American finishes as a college freshman, only to realize that this was not as fulfilling as she had hoped it would be; that as everyone praised her for her efforts, fear of the dissatisfaction she felt and a yearning to go to extremes haunted her in the loneliness of the disorder and perfectionist mindset.
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I will tell you about the leap this girl took to start a raw food diet. While there was skepticism from her peers, raw food was the first major change, a DARE, a switch where she realized she was in control of her life, that she could do big things, too. While it did not end up as the healthiest means to an end, it was a path to the voice she had buried down for so long.
I will tell you about a girl who faced reality after that dream-come-true year of running—a girl who turned from a judgmental, glory-driven athlete to a humbled, scared, bingeing addict stripped of her running “superpowers.” I will tell you about the fears she faced in a life without her control of food or success in running, and the reality that hit her: she could be more than just running and food.
She had to be more than just running and food.
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I will tell you how this girl’s written words began to give her a voice at last despite anxiety and shame in sharing it. I will tell you about the way her eyes opened beyond her own fears to see how many others dealt with what she went through, and worse—that it was never about discipline and desire, but about disorder and chaos and a missing identity.
I will tell you about a girl who realized she could be more than the food she ate, the amount she weighed on the scale, the schedule she dictated herself by, and the times she ran in races. I will tell you about a girl who began to open her mouth not just to eat, but also to speak with confidence and enthusiasm because she realized how painful and frustrating it had felt to run in silence.
I will tell you about a girl who became me.

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I will tell you that 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 will tell you that I began to see the joy in life with great friends and family—that 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.

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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.
Today, I graduate from the best five years of my life with a story to tell you about a woman.

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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!

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