“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” ~Oscar Wilde
Rachael Steil is a recent graduate of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with a Bachelor of Arts in English. Steil has published articles about running and about running with an eating disorder in Michigan Runner magazine, as well as poetry and prose in the Aquinas College literary journal, Sampler.
She began writing a memoir about attempting a raw food diet while racing collegiately during her time at Aquinas, and has presented on the subject as a student and through the Go Boldly, Love Your Body campaign in Grand Rapids.
Steil is a level 1 USA track and field certified coach, and is currently coaching at Grandville High in Grand Rapids.
She has received sixth place All-American accolades in cross country as well as seventh place in the NAIA track nationals. She plans to continue coaching, work towards the publication of her book, and discover what new adventures await her as a YMCA lifeguard while she navigates the world of writing, editing, and publication..
My childhood was wonderful. I grew up in a loving, caring family. I had spectacular friends.
I was the awe of everyone as the “famous” runner in elementary school. I was the artist, the writer, the A+ student.
I was perfect. And being perfect is a full time job.
I don’t know how it happened, but at some point I must have decided that maintaining that perfection was, indeed, my job–my whole purpose.
And that internal demand robbed me of my happiness.
The obsession took over my life in sixth grade, when I worried about how much sleep I got (often going to bed at 8 p.m.); when I feared I would get sick and miss school (perfect attendance for years was a result of that); when I checked over my homework three times a night to make sure I got everything right; when I lost connections with my friends because hanging out, going out, reaching out were just “fun,” and I had the important work of being perfect.
The demand for perfection grew.
I still made a few friends over the years, still enjoyed a social life in high school, but by my senior year the perfection that had been spread over many facets of my life became centered on one:
You must eat perfectly.
By eating “perfectly” I lost too much weight.
By eating “perfectly” I lost too many friends.
But I also knew that eating “perfectly” helped me to run faster in a sport that meant everything to me at the time, a sport in which success gained me praise and admiration. A sport in which I could, if I ate right, just possibly achieve perfection!
I didn’t have time to notice that I wasn’t finding much meaning to life outside of nutrition research and running fast.
If once in a while I had a good time with friends, it was short-lived. I rushed immediately back to the nutrition and restriction.
I didn’t know how to let go–how to dance, how to free myself from the internal rules.
My friends, my parents, my friends’ parents all decided I was just “high-strung.” They suggested I relax.
But I didn’t know how to relax.
I ate food to exist in a life only meant for running.
But when the binge-eating began, feelings and imperfection roared back into life as my body screamed, I want to eat to LIVE!
Years later, after finding ways to balance my food extremes and after serious introspection, I began to see the real Rachael emerge from beneath.
I found myself dancing, going out with friends, traveling, writing about more than just food, creating lasting relationships, and reaching out to others who need help.
Suddenly the weight I had gained was almost pleasing, not ugly at all. Some days I even liked it. My body was feeling more, and my mind was urging me to try a greater variety of food, stay out late without worrying about curfew, apply for jobs that would have scared me before, invite people to hang out without waiting to be invited.
My life became more than just using my body to run fast for a sport that really, in the grand scheme of things, didn’t matter as much as I thought it did.
In other words, I was beginning to actually have a life.
And for now that life is made up of my interest in art, my passion for writing, and my enthusiasm for helping others by coaching.
I laugh hard when I am ecstatic, cry hard when it hurts, and wade right into the vast array of emotions I feel–because this is what it means to be human, to live, to embrace success and mistakes.
Eat in a way that will give you energy, that will allow you to enjoy treats with your friends.
Sip wine overlooking vineyards.
Visit various restaurants to try new foods around the world.
Laugh over popcorn and pretzels dipped in peanut butter without a worry in the world, or enjoy the crunch of a fresh salad and the luxury of popping blueberries into your mouth on a warm summer afternoon.
Whether it’s a preoccupation with food, an obsession with perfection, or holing yourself up because you are too afraid of what could happen in a potentially dangerous world, the greatest gift you will ever give to yourself is to dare to try anything that scares you even just a little–because in doing so, you find your path beyond mere existence and into a life where you can thrive.
Facebook Group: Running in Silence
The obsession with finding Lydia Roper, and the “runner’s high” of turning out page after page fueled the writing of Looking for Lydia; Looking for God. Order it right here from Amazon and Barnes and Noble, in hardcover, paperback, or Ebook. This story of women and aging and transformation, of a Bible study, a carpetbagger, and his wife, will fill your days and your heart.
Buy one for Christmas for someone you love.