She graduated from an Arizona high school in the early 1980s where she was a multiple state champion in track. She went on to the University of Arizona on a running scholarship. However, her running career was cut short after being diagnosed with mixed connective tissue disease. Part of this was caused by the inordinate amount of stress and over-training she put herself through. At 19 years old her joints resembled those of a 50 year old woman!!!
She chronologizes her journey in the book--much of which is full of heartache, pain and sorrow. She struggled with eating disorders, inappropriate relationships with male coaches, proving herself as a girl in sports (we have come a long way since the '80s, but still have a ways to go) and living up to others' expectations for her. In the end it led to a premature ending of her running career and left her battered, bruised and scared. Once her career ended, she felt like nothing. Who was she without sport? Who was she without running? That was her identity, her life, her existence. She talks about navigating those waters and finding herself. She only knew herself as the runner, but "who is Leslie?".
Although her story took place in the ‘80s, I believe we can learn a lot from it today. There are still issues among females in sport that are not discussed. Issues like the female athlete triad: amenorrhea (loss of a period for 6+ months), lower bone density (osteopenia or osteoporosis) and limited caloric intake. It usually also includes exercise compulsion. I've done some research on it and frankly time and time again the studies say, "more research needs to be done." We don’t know enough about it and honestly, I’ve run into a handful of doctors who have never even heard of it!
Leslie also addresses the coach-athlete relationship. How this line between coach-athlete can get quickly blurred into a friend to friend relationship or something far beyond that--a sexual, emotionally charged relationship. The athlete performs for the coach's affirmation, affection and attention. In many sports athletes are with coaches more than they are at home. Kids are beginning year round sports at a younger and younger age. Some travel without their parents on team trips and in some cases can form emotional attachments with their coaches. This results in a dangerous entanglement of heart, mind, body and sprit. It's a slippery slope and hard to stop. Once the snowball starts rolling down the hill, it gets bigger and bigger and bigger.
Another topic addressed in the book is the prominent "eating disorder." Many people throw this phrase around and as a society we think anorexia or bulimia, period. But what about the number of women (I'm addressing women here, however, I know men also struggle in this area) out there not "clinically" diagnosed with an eating disorder, but struggle with "disordered eating"--what about these women? The disordered eating when you find yourself thinking about food, obsessing over food, mentally counting calories and determining exactly how much exercise you need to do in order to "come out even" at the end of the day (output being equal to or greater than your input).
And it's not just athletes that struggle with these issues. It can be any girl growing up in the 21st century. Some of these issues are so rampant, we’ve become numb to them. Turn on the TV and look at the body image Hollywood throws at us. Pick up a magazine and see what makes the front cover. It's about being fitter, thinner, leaner, sexier. That’s what the world values. Why are we surprised we have millions of people struggling with body image, pleasing others and trying to find their place in this world?
Leslie frankly shares her story from three decades ago and yet I see many of the same issues in today's society. These elephants in the room are eating our girls from the inside out. Every girl wants to be loved, valued, cherished, and respected for who she is. Many will give away their hearts, their bodies and even their identities in order to find some sense of appreciation and value. We need to start talking about these struggles and not let our girls--young AND old--navigate these waters on their own. They need to know they are valued for who they are, not what they do. They are made special, unique and one-of-a-kind.
Sport can be a wonderful thing when used in the right way. It helps teach the intangibles like few things can do--hard work, perseverance, determination, sportsmanship, goal setting, overcoming obstacles, confidence...but as one coach told me:
Sport shouldn't define your life. It should help you LIVE your life.
Too many people in our society define themselves by what they do, not WHO they are. As Leslie found out when running was taken away from her, she struggled with her identity and finding her place in this world. Sport was her life. Who was she without it?
Remember: you are not defined by what you do, but WHO you are. God made us human BEINGS, NOT human doings. Take a moment today, pause, reflect, listen to your heartbeat. Are you being true to yourself? Your core? Your heartbeat? Who are you? What defines you?
NOTE: Leslie's book "Pretty Good For A Girl" is very graphic in some areas and not appropriate for young readers. It includes sex and strong language. Please read with caution.