During this time of virtual epidemic in children's health -diabetes, autism, juvenile cancers- I am calling on all athletes to become educated about wellness, to revamp their lifestyle and eating habits if need be, and to shout from the rooftops a message that desperately needs to be heard!
I am not really an athlete anymore, but I would say soccer used to be my life from about the age of 8-21. I had fabulous role models such as Michelle Akers Stahl, Mia Hamm, and Kristine Lilly, and I am forever grateful for how they inspired me and changed my life.
I started getting serious about soccer when I was 13. I was cut from the state team in NH, and the disappointment crushed me as I desperately wanted to be on the team that all of my friends had made. At that moment something triggered inside of me, and I became “that kid," the one who practiced in her driveway everyday kicking the ball against the stone wall, the one who rode her bike to the park to practice on her own... Basically, the one who lived and breathed soccer. I couldn’t wait for Soccer America Magazine to show up on my doorstep, and I loved my Adidas Copa Mundial cleats like no other. When it came time for me to try out the next year, I could taste it, I wanted it so badly. And well, my hard work paid off. I made the state team that year.
I can remember watching the regional girls team play at the big regional tournament that was held at UMASS every summer. I sat on the hill with my team, and I watched in awe as the players rhythmically played with such finesse under the lights. This was nearly 26 years ago, and I can still vividly remember the feeling that came over me. I felt somewhere deep in my being that I so wanted what they had, and I was determined to do anything to get it. So not only in that one year did I make the state team, at that very tournament I learned that I'd been selected for the Regional Pool as well. Over the next several years, I was captain of the regional team, was selected for the National pool, and got recruited to play at the University of Virginia. What a testament to focus and determination!
With every bit of my heart, body, and soul, I'd committed to achieving the prowess of my role models. One time at the mall some younger girls actually recognized me, and asked me for my autograph. As a small town girl from NH this was thrilling, and let me tell you I was touched! I had become someone else’s role model.
What I want to stress in this post is the influence that athletes have on younger generations. I idolized my soccer heroes, and I watched their every move. If they had said, 'Eat only fruit,' I would have eaten only fruit. If they had said, 'Don't eat meat,' I would not have eaten meat. In today’s world of conflicting and confusing advice I feel it’s important to call on all athletes to step up to the plate! Weather you are a HS athlete running summer camps or you are a pro athlete it’s so important that you realize the influence you have on kids today.
Looking back to my soccer days, there was the notion of “carbo loading” and eating a “balanced diet”, but I would not say there was any real direction in proper eating for athletes. This was the beginning of the era of 'fat-free' and demonizing fats, which I believe surely contributed to my demise. I was a young impressionable athlete wanting to do what was right for my body, and I had a mother wanting to do what was right for her kids. My 5’4” frame had strong muscular legs that were not the long slender skinny legs of many of my southern bell classmates at UVA. I was conflicted with wanting to be strong and yet “skinny” at the same time. My definition of skinny was surely skewed too. I kept hearing that if you don’t eat fat you can’t get fat. I ate only things with no fat so surely I would not get fat, wasn’t that the truth? I even tried to design my own major of 'Nutrition and Fitness' as I thought for sure I knew that people who ate fat had it all wrong, and I would be the one to help change the way Americans thought about food. Guess it was a good thing that UVA did not grant me the privilege to create my own field of 'expertise!'.
As I approach my 20-year reunion, however, I feel that I have come full circle. As a certified wellness practitioner, I coach people on nutrition while educating them about diet and lifestyle. But it looks very different than what I had imagined 20 years ago. My philosophy has evolved with research, study, and personal experience, but the same drive, dedication and determination that I had as a young athlete now fuels my desire to help others with their own quest for health. Through my own battles with disease caused by misinformation and following trends and fads that had no merit, I have discovered what NOT to do, and more importantly, what I truly believe is the right way to eat and live for me. Do I still get confused at times, well of course, as I believe we are still uncovering truths and mistruths everyday. Not to mention that each body is different so one man’s meat can be another man’s poison. It’s not so cut and dry these days for sure.
What I do know is that people used to be thriving free of disease, and in remote areas of other countries many are still thriving free of disease. There is no magic bullet except to say real food was, and is, consumed in these places--plain and simple. If you want more information on this please read Nutrition and Physical Degeneration by Dr. Weston A. Price. Thank goodness for this man’s research where he traveled across the globe looking for perfect health, and found it. Studying the various diets of these remote villages across the world he found many commonalities amongst various indigenous groups. Location, access to food and lifestyle played a role in what they ate and how they prepared their foods. Today we need to get back to our roots and let local and available foods dictate our purchasing and preparation. Lifestyle has changed dramatically in the last century, and this has, in many ways, contributed to the demise of our health in this country. Convenience has replaced cooking and busyness has replaced priority. The family dinner is quickly becoming a term of the past. Drastic measures are needed to reverse this trend, and I believe athletes can play a huge part!
I have been super impressed with Tom Brady’s willingness to put his name on the line and speak out against some top brand packaged foods and soda companies. I was also inspired when Kobe Bryant came out and promoted bone broth last year. When I see athletes endorsing foods that are poor quality and bad for our health I shudder to think of the young kids who will do anything to be like their heroes, as I once did. When Tom Brady makes statements like “Coke is poison for kids,” I am over here doing my happy dance thinking of all the kids that may be hearing this straight from the horse's mouth. One statement from a big personality is a huge step towards reversing the trends and poor eating habits in this country.
So... Calling all athletes!
Read up on what Tom is doing, find what works for you, and be smart about it! Think ancestral health, think real food, and think of the bright future you will be helping to create for this next generation of impressionable kiddos.
Your fan base is listening…