As you might guess, the Miller home was a pretty athletic one. We were required to play one sport every season, and our parents coached nearly all of them.
If you weren’t coached by your own parent, understand that this is a blissfully unique experience, where “blissfully unique” means “completely frustrating for both parent and child, especially when the child is the one family member who didn’t inherit the jock gene.”
My younger brothers, Brooks and Dane, were both high achievers on the baseball field, the soccer field, and the football field. Oh, and in the swimming pool. And the wrestling mat. And the shot sector. And throwing the javelin. And basically, anything else that they tried. I really didn’t see the point in even trying. I was average at my very best unless it came to faking asthma attacks to get out of distance swimming practices. High school graduation was the end of any intentional athletic activity for me.
Then I had my first child. When she was two years old, I looked in the mirror and didn't see anyone, much less me. I wasn’t quite sure where I went -- somewhere beneath the 240 pounds on my 5'3" frame. I stopped staring in the mirror. I stopped even looking in the mirror. I was Devin’s mom, and that was enough… until I realized Devin deserved and needed a mom who knew herself. Devin needed a mom who showed her what it was like to be strong -- not just in the office, not just in words, but strong. And that’s when I started staring at me.
Dane used to tell me I was 45 years old when I was 14. I am a classic oldest child: very serious, by-the-book, and always in charge. For 10 years, while I was Very Seriously building a career, I’d watch people play in rec soccer leagues at work, swimming in Master’s leagues, or out jogging, and thought, “I always wish I’d had more fun when I had the chance to play sports.”
That day in the mirror, I decided I never wanted to say “I always wish I _______” again because I never wanted my daughter to say it.
I did something oldest siblings don’t usually do: I asked my baby brother for help. Dane embodied strength to me, having fought and worked hard for every athletic achievement he had, and he was starting a business to help people get healthy, achieve their goals, and get strong.
I committed to being the best client he could hope for, and he committed to being the best coach that I could hope for. He held up his end of the bargain. Brooks was my moral support, along with my husband and two close friends, standing by when I needed a boost to get to the gym or a reminder of why this was so important.
I lost over 100 pounds. I ate well. I achieved my goal. Then I achieved my next one, and the one after that. I had another daughter, Micah, and stayed active throughout my pregnancy. I ran my first triathlon when she was four months old. I got strong. I became a competitive weightlifter.
I stopped lifting competitively at a time when my career took priority, and I stopped running triathlons when injuries piled up and interfered with family time. I’ve explained to my daughters why it was important to me to have surgery to remove the excess skin around my belly. I’ve gained some weight and lost some muscle. I don’t wish for anything different.
It’s a journey that will never end. It’s a journey I travel every time I choose to finish my set of 5 squats instead of shorting myself, every time I train when I just want to relax, every time I make a decision that ensures my lifelong health instead of short-term satisfaction.
It’s a journey I traveled when I came out of the transition chute at my first Olympic distance triathlon to see my daughters’ faces and hand-scrawled signs reading “Go Mommy!” It’s a journey I travel when I run up a grassy hill with my Girls on the Run team, my daughter by my side. It’s a journey that puts me in the middle of coaching a soccer practice with 11 little girls, not only confident enough to coach them but able to scrimmage with them. It’s a journey I traveled when I stepped onto a platform at a national weightlifting championship meet, hit a PR with my brother and friend cheering me on as my coaches, and heard two little voices once again yelling “Go Mommy!” from the back of the audience.
It's a journey that takes me on a walk up a hill on our quiet street at dusk, five deer grazing nearby, and doesn’t leave me winded.
Two years ago I deliberately slowed down my career. I started volunteering more, and I started to realize what this commitment really meant. My soccer players' beaming faces when they realize they used one of the plays we practiced in a game. My daughter standing up to mean girls in her grade. A 5th grader who didn't think she could run 3 minutes in a row crossing the finish line at a 5K. A writing student who didn't think her words had value but gathered the courage to submit her work for publishing.
Just like my family and friends shared their strength with me 10 years ago, every time I avoided saying “I always wish I ________,” I made myself strong enough to set the example and share some of that strength with them.
I want my children, my nieces, my nephews, and the kids I coach to realize that they don’t just have to wish for what they want. They have people in their lives who are here to help them achieve the things they want. I am one of those people. I am here.
I know who I am when I look in the mirror now. I am a mom. I am a big sister. I am a daughter. I am a wife. I am a friend. I am a professional. I am an athlete. I am a coach.
I am strong.