What Movement Means to Me

Ultra-marathon runner, Mirna Valerio, reminds us why it’s so important not to focus on other people’s perceptions of what we can or cannot do.

By: Mirna Valerio

I was that kid. I loved reading for hours and hours, in my bedroom, in the kitchen, in the bathroom, on the bus, on the subway, in an elevator, while waiting at the dentist…you name it, I loved reading. I was a nerd–a shy and introverted nerd. I didn’t have a lot of friends outside of my own family and block, but I was a happy kid, and books were my silent and imagination-embracing, unjudging friends!

I was another kind of kid as well.

Take me outside and I became a different version of myself. I was competitive in Red Light, Green Light, Mother May I, and Hide and Seek. My cousins and I would race up and down our block in Brooklyn, climbing and descending gates to see who could get to the corner first. We would pump our legs as hard as would could on the metal swings at the neighborhood park to see how high we could go. We’d ride our bikes and bigwheels around our rectangular shaped blocks for hours, taking turns with those who didn’t have bikes. I was a leader and I was strong. I was a fast sprinter, a skilled double-dutch jumper (I had all the moves!), and a fine roller skater–I could go backwards, forwards, and I could do fancy turns too.

Sometimes, our uncle Nat with his big stentorian, booming voice, would round us all up, march us in single file to the park around the corner, and have us do “calisthenics.” Situps, jumping jacks, push-ups, and sprints–we had to be strong, he would say. We might even head to the track at the local school and try to imitate what we saw, the 100M where we would sprint our hearts out, or the long jump, (where I always managed to jump very high over a very short distance.) 

This is what movement has meant to me all of my life. It meant family, fun, friendly competition, working hard, community, laughter, beating asthma, staying outside for hours upon hours, and the unique togetherness we had as kids and adults in our community.

Our bodies were strong, our hearts were full, and our need for adventure was filled.

I had an adventurous, happy, and curious spirit, and that included being fearless about trying things that made me feel good in my body and about myself–unless there was a thunderstorm, and that’s another story! Nowadays, I have this same spirit and this need to move my body in whatever way it can. Most of the time this movement includes running, hiking, and now cycling. Sometimes that movement includes trying new things like surfing in Costa Rica!

It is with this spirit that I arm myself for people that may have a problem with my body and the way it looks, or who may think that someone like me doesn’t belong out on the trail, on a bike, or in a road marathon. 

I have always been (with a few exceptions) singularly devoted to my own progress–be it on a climbing wall or tackling difficult and technical terrain on the way down a mountain in the Colorado Rockies, and not focused on what other people think I can or cannot do.

I don’t always know that I can do things or be successful at them, but I will always try. I wasn’t able to verbalize this as a kid, but I have always known that attempting something difficult is worth it, even if I don’t finish it. There is always growth and learning.

There is always the possibility of doing better, the possibility of learning a new skill that I didnt have before, the possibility of being stronger or more flexible, and the possibility of actually succeeding at it and moving on to the next thing. It is with a sense of of self that I proceed daily. I know my own body, I know what I want from life, I know what makes me happy, I know what makes my body, mind, heart, and spirit feel good.

This is optimism. Possibility. The knowledge that there is work to do, whether it is physical or mental. That there are cool things in the hard work, consistent effort, discovery,  bringing friends, family, and other lucky folks into the fold, and trust in self, and that there are very cool things afterwards!

This optimism informs everything that I do– in reflecting upon the important learning moments in my life, in being present for the amazing moments in  my life, and in planning for what wonderful things lie ahead. Knowing that you have had incredible experiences in your past helps you plan for the future. Even having had less than stellar moments helps you envision and hope for something better. 

So go out, do that hike, run that 5k you’ve been seeing the folks in your community do, lift those weights and believe in your own strength, swim in that icy cold lake you’ve been coveting and wear your most outrageous swimsuit. Are you worried that folks might not appreciate your body or the way that you move? I get it, it’s a thing, this belief that our bodies should look a certain way in a bathing suit, or when we run, or when we are on a bike. But, do it ANYWAY. You live anyway, right? SO DO EVERYTHING ANYWAY. Are you running? Are you swimming? Are you riding your bike? Are you happy? That is what matters. 

And don’t worry, the only people that are watching are your past self, and future self. They are only concerned that you live life your life in the present to its most optimistic fullest!

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