Maybe Failure Doesn’t Mean it’s Over

I’m not going to run an Ironman when I’m 48.

That’s me on the left. I’m fourteen. I don’t remember taking this particular picture with my friend Janine, who lived across the street from us, but I can almost guarantee you something.

I’m standing behind her to hide my body.

When I was fourteen, I wasn’t sure about a whole lot. I’d just moved from my mom’s house to my dad’s about a year before and there was a lot of guilt surrounding that decision. My dad was on trial — in a year, he’d be in prison. We were preparing to move from Southern California to Las Vegas. Four years earlier, I’d been the victim of sexual abuse that no one ever talked to me about and puberty, as it does, made everything more intense. I started my period that summer.

Life felt very complicated and scary that year.

In the summer of 1986, there was only one thing I was very sure about. I took up too much space. If I could just lose fifteen pounds, if I could just control this one thing — the size of my body — everything would be okay.

I look at that picture now and I see a completely normal fourteen-year-old girl. I see an athlete whose biggest dream was to swim in the Olympics. I see a girl who, if she was anyone but me, I would consider lovely.

It took me thirty years to get over the certainty that I take up too much space. Thirty years during which I developed a full-blown eating disorder. Thirty years during which my unease in my own body matured into a full-blown self-hatred.

It wasn’t until my own daughter was a teenager and I could see that the way I talked about myself was hurting her that I realized I had to change. It was a lot of work, but it started with refusing to speak badly about myself. It started with making myself look in the mirror until I stopped seeing a freak show and could just see . . . me.

This idea of 60 Months to Ironman started with the idea, when I was 43, that I was five years younger than my mother was when she died and I wanted to do something huge when I turned 48.

I wanted to run an Ironman — but I weighed nearly 400 pounds.

I took three years to lose weight, which involved surgery. And I did lose more than 100 pounds. But . . . I don’t know. I got scared, maybe? I turned 47 on my birthday in October and I’m not going to be able to run an Ironman in a year. I failed.

I’ve spent the last six months trying to come to terms with the fact that I failed. I will not run an Ironman when I’m 48.

And somehow, that translated to I will not run an Ironman.

But my dad posted the picture above on Facebook this week and I looked at that girl — that me who was fourteen and confused and flirting around the edges of an eating disorder, but was also an athlete. And I realized something.

Failure doesn’t have to mean quitting.

What if I just start again. What if 60 Months to Ironman starts again in 2019 and instead of running an Ironman when I’m 48, I run one when I’m 52?

I wish I could tell that girl that she is okay.

I wish that when her step-mother sits her down on a semi-regular basis to tell her that she’s not fat yet, but if she’s not careful she’ll end up just like her mother, I could sit next to her and hold her hand and whisper in her ear about what bullshit it all is.

I wish I could make sure she knows that what happened to her when she was ten didn’t mean that something was wrong wit her.

I wish that I could let her know that someday, when she’s old, she’ll miss being an athlete most of all. In fact, giving that up will be the only thing she really regrets.

That girl always loved a fresh start. I think she would have loved this idea.

Here’s my secret weapon for sticking with whatever your thing is.

Shaunta Grimes is a writer and teacher. She is an out-of-place Nevadan living in Northwestern PA with her husband, three superstar kids, two dementia patients, a good friend, Alfred the cat, and a yellow rescue dog named Maybelline Scout. She’s on Twitter @shauntagrimes and is the author of Viral Nation and Rebel Nation and the upcoming novel The Astonishing Maybe. She is the original Ninja Writer.