As a teenager, I remember scrolling through pictures of female bodybuilders on Instagram and admiring their muscle definition and strength. I never figured out why, but some part of me has always known that I want to look like that. In high school gym class, we occasionally had free time. My friends would gossip and walk around the track, but I always ran straight to the old, dirty machines and free weights. I never made real progress or expected to at that time, but feeling sore the next day made me feel like accomplished.
When I started playing college tennis, I was much weaker than my teammates. The strength coach gave me dumbbells instead of a barbell to bench. He corrected my deadlift form more than anyone else's. I know he was trying to help, but I felt like the special attention put my weakness on center stage. I know I needed the help, but it felt condescending. I hope my teammates didn't notice that I was often in tears of frustration during conditioning. I could complete the running, but I was always the slowest by far. (It was the same in high school.) The coach stopped penalizing the team when I couldn't make the required sprint times. I tried to convince myself it was okay that I was slow because I could play tennis as well as anyone, but it didn't make me feel better.
After the spring season of my first year, I started lifting on my own. I wish I could say it was because I was fed up with being weak and slow, but I think I was bored and depressed after a breakup. Since then, I continued to lift consistently and channel my weakness into motivation. The more time I dedicate to the gym, the more passionate I become. In my final fitness test before leaving the tennis team, I did 10 push-ups. A few teammates (jokingly or not) claimed I cheated because my chest was so much closer to the cone at the bottom than anyone else's. No one meant the comments about my chest to offend me, but it hurt. Having a larger chest meant that I had more weight to pick up from the cone. My fitness scores were better after months of lifting, but still low.
I've been told that I'd be a better athlete if I had a smaller chest. I've been asked repeatedly if it hurts to run. I let my my chest become a part of my excuse for why I couldn't keep up with teammates, but it was just an excuse. Looking back now, I'm flattered that people were willing to justify why I wasn't as strong or fast as anyone else. They were at least trying to help.
I’ll always have a chip on my shoulder from the days when my fitness scores so low. I'm still frustrated when I bring friends or my sister to the gym and they lift nearly as much or more weight than me without any training. I’m genuinely happy for them that they’re strong, but I question what’s wrong with me that I work so hard for something they can do so effortlessly.
So, yeah, most people who have been lifting as long as me can bench their bodyweight and deadlift twice their bodyweight. But I'm improving each day. For some reason (to be discussed later), I have to fight harder than others to improve.* (Probably because my natural talents lie elsewhere (some would argue in the genetics of my chest).