Celebrating Spartans: Breaking the body image trap

EAST LANSING, Mich (WLNS) – Rachele Schulist led Michigan State University to it’s first ever national championship for women’s cross country.

But while she was crossing the finish line for the Spartans there was one thing she *couldn’t* run from.

Now she’s sharing her story of a very personal battle that she hopes can help others.

In Rachele Schulist’s household running is just a way of life.

“So both of my parents ran… my dad actually ran at Michigan State as well,” said Schulist.

Her dad also was her coach in high school where she made great strides.

That put her on track to earn a scholarship to run at Michigan State where her impact as a Spartan was immediate.

“We went to Minnesota her sophomore year of eligibility. She kind of went to the front, sort of after that we just knew she was pretty good,” said Walt Drenth, MSU director of Track & Field.

Rachele ran well enough to earn All-American honors twice and helped lead the Spartans to an undefeated season in 2014 and a national championship.

Running, success, honors and a championship made Rachel Schulist very happy on the outside.

But on the inside, that was not the case.

Her training became excessive, so excessive she was even forgetting to eat.

Her race times started shrinking but so was her body.

She lost about twenty pounds from her already thin frame.

She was setting expectations in her mind that her body could never catch.

“I approached it as something to do, not something to enjoy so the whole process was just not fun at all,” said Schulist. “I was mostly just tired all the time and exhausted and thinking about just another run, another run, it kinda consumes your mind so that’s all you think about, it’s hard to get out of and then when you do get good results it’s like why would I ever stop? I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong and if anyone would of said anything to me I wouldn’t of taken what they were saying seriously because I was doing great”

It wasn’t long before her loved ones, professional runners themselves, started to notice.

“My dad was always concerned he was always like you look really small. Even people at work would say hey you’re looking really small and I’m like dad, that’s just what we do,” explained Schulist. “They’re just not used to seeing runners. I wanted to do what I wanted to do and I was stuck in my pattern and I wasn’t easily broken from that.”

“She had been struggling… wasn’t running quite as well..as she was expecting… something was going wrong….there’s some lesson that needs to be learned…ya know getting help from whatever but sometimes it takes a while to hear that.”

Rachele broke down, literally. A stress fracture in her leg freed her from the daily grind. That injury sidelined her for the whole 2015 season but it ended up being a blessing in disguise, a time for her to catch up on her thoughts and discover who she really was.

“It was a wake-up call. If it wouldn’t of happened I wouldn’t of learned, ok hey that worked, ya know but now I’m like ok, I did do that and now I got injured down the road. Finally It was close to the conference meet I said `RACH… what are you afraid of???? I told a couple people I wish I had the magic words. They weren’t magic words I said something like that a number of times and it just takes a while to listen.”

It took her two difficult years and a serious injury later until she realized it was time to close the gap and went to social media to do, posting two images side by side saying “Look at the picture on the left. If in your mind this is what a ‘good’ or competitive distance runner looks like, please, keep reading,”

She goes on to say that the idea you have to be thin and look a certain way to be a fast runner is wrong. If you trust yourself, embrace yourself, have confidence in yourself, you can never lose.

“I guess I just wanted closure from it and just letting people know hey acknowledge that I went through this…and I just want it out there that ive been through both sides…and I’d rather be healthy”

Rachel’s Instagram post got thousands of likes and national attention. She even received support from people including Olympic runners Kate Grace and Shalane Flanagan. Even more meaningful to Rachel were the lives she helped to get back on track.

One said “Thank you so much for sharing this. I too have experienced these struggles, and its so comforting to know I am not alone”.

Another said “How I wish I read this when I was running at Colgate. I was such a mess and never happy. Now at age 41, I run for pure joy. I am printing this out and taping it up in my high school cross country teams locker room.”

“I mean even Leah O’Connor, who used to go here, run here, her group, she said I know a lot of pro runners who said, wow, yeah, this is a thing and no one really does talk about it and so just hearing that people even at that high level are like, yup, that’s definitely something I went through and there are so many other women that it’s happened to that you can see their stories about which is one of the things with the outreach that I’ve gotten the response is like this happened to me too and I just want people to see that it’s gonna happen and it’s not worth it. Just be healthy.”

Rachele proved to herself that weight was never a factor all along, crossing the finish line this fall in the Division 1 Championship just 12 seconds shy of her 2014 time.

“I mean 12 seconds isn’t a lot in a cross country race so to know that I can run just as fast but be healthy is like ok, I don’t need that to be fast, you don’t need that at all”

The pressure from the outside and the pressure Rachele put on herself to excel could have ruined her life, let alone her running dreams.

A lesson that should prove greatly beneficial later in life that there need to be limits on what you put yourself through just to excel

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