Minh Huyen Nguyen
Writer and Runner, Women’s and Sports Activist, supports girls in Ethiopia through @girlsgottarun.
As with many girls, growing up, I had my insecurities with my body. If you had darker skin as a Vietnamese, it meant you worked in the rice fields in the sun (meaning you were poor). So lighter skin was always better. I was bullied in school for not having breasts and apart from that, I was surrounded by my families judgment: too dark-skinned, too skinny, too boyish.
In 2011, I came to the U.S., right after high school and had lots of time to myself. Seeing the fit and skinny models in New York and reading too many health publications, I started exercising. My perception was: I am healthy, so I can keep going. I ran, I biked, I swam. Daily. I did lose some weight but didn’t want to admit it. Even when people asked me if I lost weight, I denied it. It wasn’t until many years later when I looked back at pictures from that time that I realized: I was too thin and didn’t look healthy. I weighed myself every morning, I logged my food intake, I only drank cold water and I never sat down. I trained my body to always be moving, always burning calories.
When I came back to Germany and started university, my behavior and weight normalized again. I didn’t think much about this issue until I experienced my first stress fracture in my shin bone while training for my first marathon in 2015. The blood test didn’t lie, I was low in calcium and Vitamin D and my doctors diagnosed me with osteopenia (a condition in which bone mineral density is lower than normal. It is a precursor to osteoporosis.).
I was shocked and devastated. I was hoping to be running my first marathon. Instead, I deferred it to the following year and sat myself down to do some research. I found a connection between my eating behavior and my stress fracture. During the 4 months of recovery, I spent lots of time by myself. This time, I did not starve myself thin, but instead, took care of my body. I didn’t restrict myself and I was slowly able to feel my body again. I listened to my body’s needs.
There was no pushing through, but instead, sitting down and resting. Learning how to walk again. Without pain. By giving myself time and being patient, my body was able to heal itself. I learned that I wasn’t defined by being a runner. So I had to go explore who I was again – what makes me happy? What makes me full? Yes, running is a huge part of my life but I am more than a runner. I started appreciating my body more and as much as I missed my favorite sport, I was forced to feed my curiosities: reading, writing, photography, cooking—celebrating the things I could do again. Thus, time went by and I started hiking, climbing and aqua jogging.
Injuries are tough, you feel sad and alone, and want to isolate yourself. Even though you’re part of the community, still cheering other runners on, you shortly realize your own recovery doesn’t happen on the track, or on the trails, or on a treadmill, but in the gym and on the bike. Then, one day you make progress and realize: it is only temporary.
It’s been almost 2 years since I got diagnosed with my fracture and by now, I ran the NYC Marathon in 2016 and even increased my training this past summer to run a personal best time at the Berlin Marathon. Not only did I exceed my time goals, I also qualified for the Boston Marathon.
I was able to work through my challenges. I have learned that I am enough and I am appreciating my body more than ever. I feel in tune with my body and most importantly, I toe the starting line with a healthy body and a healthy mind. It is an everyday process and running, like any activity you do, should be fun and should bring you joy, but also longevity. More fun, less pressure.
I hope you gain some strength and confidence from this. Know that you are not alone. You are enough and you are beautiful as you are. Appreciate your body and its abilities in full. Be happy for your healthy heart, your curious eyes, your ten toes and ten fingers. Remind yourself of all the things that make you happy and go do them. To anyone who’s going through a tough time, know that it is only temporary. You will come back stronger. Believe and trust in yourself. Here’s to a healthier and stronger you every day.
You can learn more about Huyen here. #keephuyenstoked
Photo by: @nell0k