Who am I again?

“Life is a journey and you must experience it at some risk…but the rewards are immeasurable.”
– Heather Young (advice from my graduation letter)

While I would love to skip this topic, I feel like it has affected so much of my life that my story would not be complete without including it. Plus, it is something that I’ve never really talked about… to anyone, so why not do it now, publicly!?! 🙂

I wish I could say having the surgery gave me my happy ending. I wish I could say that having the surgery gave me the boost of confidence I so desperately longed for. Unfortunately, I cannot. Now I do not want to sound like a “Debbie downer”, but the truth is, surgery was not my magic cure.

After my surgery, I was abundant with new found confidence. I could wear shirts with writing on the back without words pulling to one side. (Once, when I was about fifteen, I had on a shirt with “04” printed on the back. Somebody asked me why the numbers weren’t straight and I replied that it must have just been printed wrong. Luckily, since we were young, that excuse worked, even though I knew I was completely lying.) So yes, I could fearlessly wear shirts with printing on the back. I could wear zippers and silk. When you looked at me, I no longer looked physically deformed. I had a symmetrical waist line and my left ribs did not stick out as much as before my surgery. I was floating on cloud nine.

I gained a lot from my surgery, I also had to give some aspects of my “old” life up. For those of you who knew me before college (or have got the idea from the content of my previous blog posts) know that cheerleading consumed my life. It did not matter if it was on the sideline at a football game, walking onto the competition mat in a crowed gym, or being pushed off into the corner of a basketball court – I could not get enough of it. When I was cheering, I had all the confidence in the world. I wanted to be the flyer, the captain, and the front spot in the lineup.

So naturally, I had planned to continue my cheerleading career in college. In fact, during my sophomore and junior years of high school, the colleges I was planning to apply for were about 99% dependent on their cheerleading program. However, after my surgery, I was cleared for everything except one little activity… gymnastics! I could not believe it! I was cleared to sky dive, but I couldn’t tumble?!?! The only way I was going to become a college cheerleader was to have tumbling skills.

So, in a matter of five short hours in the operation room and one follow-up appointment, the dream of college cheerleading was purely that… only a distant dream about the future that would never become reality. Not only did my dream end, but it seemed like the confidence cheerleading gave me ended as well.

When I came to college, I rushed a sorority. While I always say being in a sorority is similar to being a cheerleader – the truth is, it really is not the same. I felt so lost. In high school I knew who I was. I was “the cheerleader”, but at college, nobody knew or even cared. Not only did they not know I cheered in high school, nobody actually knew me since I was the only person from my high school to go to USC. I had to start over with not only friends, but also with my identity. In less than eight months, I had undergone a major surgery and recovery, graduated from high school, and moved 3 1/2 hours away from home… alone. The only way to explain how I felt was completely overwhelmed and scared out of my mind!

My first few weeks of college, I felt like everybody knew each other and knew all the “cool things” that I have never even heard of. I did not own a Lilly Pulitzer dress, Rainbow flip flops, Sperry’s, a Northface jacket, or even pearls. For some reason, these material items made me very insecure. Instead of acting logically, I kept building these thoughts up until I hated USC. I would cry to my parents to let me transfer to the University of Georgia where my friends were. Much to my dismay, they told me I needed to stick it out one full year and then I could make my decision. So, I started a countdown until summer vacation when I could escape Columbia. I can still remember my overwhelming joy I felt as I packed up my car to head back to Atlanta.

The summer after my freshmen year, I met Andrew and we started dating. He somehow made me excited to return to USC. So, after a summer away from Columbia to regroup, I packed up and returned to USC for my sophomore year.

Sophomore year I made a few more friends and got a little more involved in my sorority. I had a better roommate and liked my classes more. However, I still felt out of my element and honestly just felt confused about who I was and what I was doing with my life.

The summer between sophomore and junior years, I finally took some time to spend working on my confidence and identity. Growing up, I had little self confidence due to my back problems, but I could mask it with cheerleading. After my surgery, I had a new found confidence, but it eventually dropped again. Why did this happen? This is something I’ve struggled with, but here is what I have concluded.

(Now you get to jump inside my brain… I warn you, it’s an endless cycle of thoughts…)

I do not see myself as having a straight, “normal” back. When I look in the mirror, I still see all my “flaws”. I see how my spine is still slightly curved and how one side of my ribs still stick out farther than the other side. I am constantly reminded of my scoliosis when I see my scar or feel pain. Every time I am asked about my scar, I have to remember my struggles. Also, I realized I had no passion any more. Cheerleading was my passion, my identity, but that was gone.

But don’t worry!

I’ve been reading books about confidence and have been talking to people about the way my brain works. So far, my junior year has been such a change! I have gotten really involved in my sorority, became the President of a club, and made more quality, lifelong friends. (Shout out to Kassie who I met in the lobby of Patterson Hall dorms. We were both crying… it was fate!)

I have also found a new passion – running. When I lace up my tennis shoes and go for a run, it is my time to relax, clear my mind, or the complete opposite, to think. After my runs, I feel so accomplished and refreshed. Last spring I started competing in races. The first one I did was a 5k in Columbia. I finished 4th in my age group (one place from getting a metal). From that point on, I was hooked! My competitiveness kicked in and I wanted metals – funny, but true! I competed in my second race over the summer – a 10k in Atlanta. I was surprise and thrilled when they called my name out for the second place finish in my age group. The next race I did was in July of 2009. I was awarded the first place finish in my age group and set a personal record time. Running has given me a way to rebuild my confidence, not due to placing in races, but because I feel so accomplished and proud when I have pushed myself to complete a run or go a further distance.

I am currently working on two running goals: qualifying for the Peachtree Road Race which takes place in July of 2010 and also to complete a half marathon.

Added July 2010: I am proud to say that I did qualify for the Peachtree. Not only did I qualify, I was placed in the B Wave! For those of you who are not familiar with the setup, I’ll explain. The higher your start time, the faster the runners are. The order is Invited runners, seeded runners, sub-seeded runners, Wave A, Wave B, Wave C…
So, I was pretty excited to qualify for B wave and a start time just five minutes after the legit runners! I finished the race in 57:37. Not my best, but I was happy with the finish.

BsR,
Ashleigh

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One thought on “Who am I again?

  1. you said that you weren’t able to tumble because of the surgery, were you allowed to stunt? I had the surgery last summer and I’m going into my senior year of highschool. I’ll be able to get by without tumbling but I need to stunt!

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