29 and a Misspent/Well-Spent Youth
I turned 29 last weekend. And, since it’s my last year before my 30s start, and it’s a pretty serious life-stuff year for me, it feels like a bigger deal that 27 or 28 felt. On the athletic/life front, my 20s have been pretty crazy. And I’m going to warn you that this is a really, really rambling post.
I was thinking about this earlier in the week, probably because I’m in that last year of my 20s. When I was 19, on paper I was doing pretty well: I had great grades in college, and I was writing for a fashion magazine. I was also (sorry for not listening, mom and dad) definitely hanging out with the wrong crowd. Being a punk rock kid living in a house with nine dudes, hosting basement shows, getting tattooed in our living room… That stuff all felt so rad at the time. I’m super lucky that I never was into any of the bad parts of it: drinking, smoking, et cetera. But I was around people who were, and it would have been really easy to slip into.
So many of those memories are really great, but as years go by, I know how easily things could have gone sideways. And there were plenty of cases where it was pretty freaking close to being bad. But at the time, I felt like I finally had a group of people I fit in with, who made me feel like I belonged.
Then, I discovered triathlon, and got into it—at first, solely because unlike a lot of the girls in the punk scene, I wasn’t naturally ultra-skinny. I was terrified of gaining weight, and I started exercising ridiculous amounts so I could still fit in. But I remember one day, I had just done a swim and was riding back to the house at Rutgers where I lived with a bunch of dudes. We were having a show in the basement that night, so the house was lousy with punks when I rolled up in my tri suit. One dreadlocked girl was on the porch smoking as I jumped off the bike and started up the stairs. “Can I help you?” she asked in the snidest voice I’d ever heard.
I never realized that getting into the punk scene was just trading one set of mean girls for another until that moment. But then it hit me: I wasn’t getting away from the ‘cool kids’ in high school, I was just in another version of their clique. “You can get out of my house,” I said, and walked past her into the living room.
(It’s my fondest memory, because I finally had the right line ready to deliver at the right time.)
Soon after that, I wasn’t in a house that had basement shows, and there were more bikes than instruments around. A couple of the same friends remained—and still do—but most faded from my life. My vegan diet changed from Oreos and junk food to actual vegetables and tofu. I started writing about training, not fashion or music. And I raced, a lot.
Getting into triathlon completely changed my life. I couldn’t run a mile when I turned 19. But when I was 20, I started racing because the idea of just exercise seemed hard to handle, and I needed a goal to work towards. Which I did, obsessively. And for seven years, I was really, really serious about it. Looking at it now, I think I was serious about it largely because it needed to replace this huge part of my life that I was moving on from (you’re welcome, mom and dad). I needed to race on weekends because I needed that subconscious excuse to stop going to basement shows.
Then, a couple years ago, things seemed to shift a bit in my head. Suddenly, I didn’t need to have races on the calendar to train. I’ll race this weekend, but that’s the only one for a while. And it matters less to me now. Thinking about it critically, I’m starting to realize that I needed to race for those years to make that shift. For me, I needed more than just starting to ride a bike or run for fun, I needed something to be passionate about, to set goals around, so I could change my lifestyle to a healthier one.
I still have tattoos. I still wear a lot of black. I still listen to Andrew W.K when I need extra motivation. And I don’t regret the years I misspent hanging out in those basements. I’m just so, so thankful that I discovered that I am an athlete.
And now, everyone I know is part of the cool kid clique. Now, I don’t have to try so hard to fit in, I get to just be me, whoever that is any given day. That’s a pretty great feeling.
Getting older is pretty rad.