Out There: How My Scars Made Me Feel Beautiful

Illustration: N.C. Winters

I stopped worrying about the red face and sweating and realized that the feeling of crossing a finish line was so much better than any good hair day.

I used to feel pretty sometimes.

In college, I’d spend hours in front of the mirror, doing my hair, applying makeup, and finding just the right outfit that struck the perfect balance between “way sexy” and “covering the muffin top.” It didn’t always work, and sometimes I’d just throw on my sweatpants and walk to class, pouting in defeat. Sometimes I’d try to lose ten pounds through a crash diet, and sometimes I’d go to the tanning bed because I firmly believed that tan fat at least looked skinner than pale white fat.

But every now and then, I’d have a good day. The hair would look good, the makeup seemed to be working, and if I got the right lighting and sucked in my gut a little, I was inclined to believe that maybe I didn’t look so bad after all.

Yes, sometimes I would feel pretty.

And then I started running.

It was hard. My face was red, I would sweat profusely, my nose would run when it was cold, and no matter how many different pairs of shorts I tried, my thighs always seemed to rub together. The first time I saw my race photos, I cringed. Did I really look like THAT when I ran?

Then I really added insult to injury: I decided I wanted to be a triathlete. When the clerk at my local tri shop helped me select my first tri suit, he told me I wanted something tight that would serve as a second skin.

Second skin? I was barely comfortable in my first as it was.

As I shoved myself into the tri suit like a butcher squeezing sausage into a casing, I couldn’t help but wonder what happened to that girl who looked for more flattering clothes. She used to feel pretty sometimes…and if she didn’t, she could at least wear sweatpants.

On my first date with a cute triathlete, I had a Hello Kitty band-aid on my forehead to cover up the damage from a head-on collision with a bug while running. By some miracle, the cute triathlete invited me on second date — an open-water swim. I emerged from the lake with so many weeds on my wetsuit I looked like the Swamp Thing.

I tripped on a curb while running and broke my nose. I got hit by a car and ended up with road rash and broken ribs. I crashed during a race and ended up with even more road rash, a busted hip, and a chipped front tooth. My body began to accumulate an interesting variety of tan lines from hours spent in swimsuits, cycling shorts, running shoes, and heart rate monitors.

Yes, in my past, sometimes I would feel pretty. But thanks to running and triathlon, I gained scars on every elbow, knee, and hip, a crooked nose, and tan lines that would put zebras to shame. Things had changed, in a big way.

I stopped worrying about the red face and sweating and realized that the feeling of crossing a finish line was so much better than any good hair day.

I began to see my road rash scars as a living storybook, each brown spot associated with an adventure in running and triathlon. Some people had tattoos to tell their story – I had battle scars. I eventually got a tattoo, too – a 140.6 on my foot to mark my first Ironman finish.

That cute triathlete found my Hello Kitty band-aid and Swamp Thing costume endearing, and now he’s not just any cute triathlete – he’s my cute triathlete. Recently, we went on a date where I wore a short dress that revealed my cyclist tan lines on my thighs. He smiled and told me I looked hot.

And somewhere along the way, those second-skin triathlon clothes didn’t bother me anymore. I finally felt comfortable in the skin I had.

Yes, in my past, sometimes I would feel pretty.

But now, thanks to running and triathlon, things are different. With my crooked nose, battle scars and spandex, I don’t feel pretty anymore.

I feel beautiful.


About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons, and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). In addition to writing for Competitor, she serves as Resident Triathlete for No Meat Athlete, a website dedicated to vegetarian endurance athletes. Susan lives and trains in Phoenix, Arizona with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete boyfriend. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke

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