And what does Scripture say about those who struggle now with eating disorders?
Skieologians Column – 9/30/2020 – Sports, Society, Skis, Scripture –
Molly Seidel. Hannah Halverson. Jessie Diggins. What do these three names have in common?
One answer: they are all high level, elite athletes who have represented the USA on a global scale in an endurance sport.
If you made this connection, you are correct.
A more splashy link, however, is that all have recently shared revelations of past and current struggles with eating disorders to media outlets.
Diggins, the Olympic hero of 2018, the always bright eyed, energetic, smiling blond from Afton, MN – truly “one of us” as Mark Rosen would say – who secured the first Olympic gold medal for this country in the sport of nordic skiing, wrote a book, (which I haven’t read yet) titled Brave Enough. A focus on being a positive role model for women and endurance athletes in general when it comes to topics of food, fuel, performance, and body image, is a theme pervading the book and her brand as of late.
Halverson, a young, up and coming star in the USA nordic scene, recently wrote a memoir/post on Fasterskier.com in which she powerfully weaves together her struggles with body image and her recovery from a horrific car accident, concluding if she had been undernourished and ‘too thin,’ she may have lost everything in the traumatic event. There isn’t an explicit confession to a long battle with anorexia or bulimia, but a definite hint at the general struggle of feeling unsatisfied with the body she has. A struggle to reconcile both her requirements as a skier for upperbody power and strength with the desire to be the prototypical lean, skinny, “perfect” athlete, are elements many of us can relate too. On one side, we hear words of encouragement from athletes who correctly point out that peak performance yields a variety of body types for different people, so focus on performance, not appearance. This gets combatted by a quick scroll of instagram, where we are able to view images of Therese Johaug – the undisputed #1 female skier of current age – training. She has ‘everything,’ we might say – tiny, skinny, AND powerful….AND winning. Halverson stands her ground, however, and the title of her piece pretty much says it all: “I don’t have a six pack, but a car hit me and I survived.”
Molly Seidel is the most recent of the trio to come forward, which she did in February and then again four days ago at ESPN. The spotlight shown on her the brightest over the course of a nine month span in 2015 and 2016, when the Wisconsin native and Notre Dame athlete won 4 national championships: the outdoor 10k in 2015, XC the following fall in 2015, and the indoor 3k and 5k in March of 2016. This February, she was the runner-up in the Olympic Marathon trials in Atlanta. Typical trajectory? A quick glance renders agreement. The inside look, however, paints a different picture. Where was she in 2017, 2018, and 2019? Instead of walking onto the TRACK in 2016 and making an Olympic team in the 5k, which she would have been favored to do, and signing a lucrative contract with a running brand, she checked into a rehabilitation facility to treat her eating disorder. The climb out of the pit and into the runner up spot in Atlanta in 2020 was thus truly a remarkable turn of events.
I am not familiar with Halverson, but Seidel and Diggins are two athletes I have been a fan of for a while. I remember watching Seidel in person as she burst onto the scene back in 2015, winning the NCAA 10k under the lights at Hayward Field. She had only finished 2nd in her conference a few weeks prior. In some sense, I was affixed to her results, hoping to vicariously live through her, because she seemed like the female, DI version of me. We were in the same collegiate graduating class, had midwestern roots, and were high mileage grinders. The other similarity was a bit more harrowing, and I probably didn’t realize it until fact-checking for this article, when I came across this one video.
Over the course of our careers, we went from looking like “normal” runners to athletes who were clearly 10-15 pounds lighter, with visible striations in our quads and triceps. The video, a highlight reel meant to conjure positive emotion for Notre Dame fans and highlight one of the most legendary athletes the school had seen, was dulled as I watched, knowing from 20/20 hindsight what was really going on with Molly. I in no way experienced the same pressures, both athletically and externally and in terms of a struggle with food, as Molly did, but a part of me could still understand, in a way, what was happening in that footage and in her running story. That was probably the peak of her hiding her E.D. and “getting away with it,” so to speak. When you are winning, no one typically pulls you out to get help. Of course, that didn’t last. Her failed attempt at a 5th year in 2017 – that’s right – 12 months after her indoor titles – has a tinge of darkness we can only partially make sense of in light of her 2020 articles/revelations.
Then there is Jessie. Who doesn’t remember the chills they felt watching Diggins – live or on tape delay – when she crossed the line in Pyeongchang in 2018. It was as if every American ski fan, waiting for their promised nordic messiah ever since their Elijah, 21-year old Bill Koch, had pointed the way to the top of the podium back in 1976, somehow transmitted pure jubilation across the ocean and into her arms. When she threw them emphatically into the air across the finish line, letting out her own shriek, she seemed to encapsulate and emote 50% shock and 50% (in Paul Allen voice circa 2002 when Mike Tice glared up at press row after his often criticized defense made a big 4th-down, goal line stand)) “TAKE THAT! WHAT DO YOU THINK OF U.S.A. SKIING NOWWWWWW!” ….(after yelling that, I like to follow it up with a YEAHHHHH in Howard Dean-like fashion…enjoy that link in this election season. It’s on us).
To summarize: these are athletes I admire, cheer for, and certainly respect. And, I respect their actions and decisions to be vulnerable.
However, I want to point out something: what these three athletes represent is a trend. Raw and revealing, deep, serious personal issues – depression, eating disorders, and many more – are being brought out into the open by athletes of all ranks. Why?
Is this their way of trying to be “real” with their fanbases?
Is this their way of simply, as Seidel says, “getting a huge weight off” of their chests?
The movement for transparency in eating disorders has mostly been led by female athletes (by the way, we know eating disorders exist in men and are rampant in cycling, running, gymnastics, etc…..when is someone going to come out for that crowd?) but struggles with depression and anxiety have been pointed out by NFL, NBA, and MLB players. A desire to connect with their audiences and fans more intimately has driven them to seemingly set aside the notion of trying to paint themselves as “having it all put together,” or being ‘above’ the rest of us in terms of mental and physical make-up. Instead, they have decided to let us all know that they, too, have struggles with psychological, emotional, and social issues.
The intent of this column is not to condemn these athletes or others who have made similar, brave, bold decisions. Quite frankly, I haven’t thought long enough about whether or not I have an opinion on that, or whether or not there is even a defendable, ‘good’ take. Lately, I have been thinking about the underlying mechanism responsible for this.
Why now? What is it about our culture today that has led us to see an increase in eating disorder – both overall and at younger ages? What is it about today’s culture that has initiated more transparent action by prominent people in society?
Is there a reason why athletes in 1988 who struggled with eating disorders did not feel they could come forward?
Then, I really got to thinking: were there people who struggled with eating disorders in the first century? Why or why not? What about in the Bible?
Does the Bible have anything to say about these matters?
Is the narrative produced by these brave, heroic athletes about eating disorders and how one lives with and overcomes them the same as the Biblical one?
Should we care? Does it matter?
This is the point I want to look at.
Stay tuned …