Every Tuesday, Svveat Stories brings you Svveatspiration: an inspiring series of first-person narratives from our fitness community’s unsung heroes. This week, Alex McGillivray documents her self-love journey.
My name is Alex and I’m an adventurer, runner, triathlete and lover of a little bit of everything. I work for charity by day, but my real passion lies in chasing sweaty pursuits. Like many others, my athletic life has been a journey. And like all great adventures, there have been lots of hidden gems along the way.
Let’s take a quick rewind to my childhood. I was a tomboy and always into sports. Bless my mom, because she had me in swimming, dance, basketball and baseball. Let’s not forget the countless times I spent outside playing sports with the neighbourhood kids. I absolutely loved being part of a team; however, I was, and have always been, bigger than your average gal.
I have to confess that I’ve never felt comfortable in my body, and I was teased a lot as I grew up. This was why I learned to hate my body. I’ve always had a strong sense of self, I just failed to see my own greatness and potential because I chose to focus on what I thought was physically wrong with me versus what was awesome.
After years and years of secret tears and living entrenched in a negative mindset, I decided I needed to change. And so began my journey to living my best life.
In 2013, I weighed my heaviest at 276 lbs. and I was probably the most miserable I’ve ever been. I remember breaking down into tears one night because I felt so incredibly unhappy with myself. I didn’t know where to start or how to fix it, but something inside said I would find my way. At the time, I had a friend who was training for her first half-marathon. I came across an ad for Color Me Rad and I sent her a message saying it might be a fun way to spice up her training. Ten minutes later I got a reply saying she had signed “us” up. I thought the “us” was a typo. I was wrong. And that’s where my official running story began.
That summer, I ran both Color Me Rad and The Color Run with my friends. After finishing both races, that same friend convinced me to take on the challenge of running a sanctioned race, so I chose the Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront 5K. I instantly fell in love with the energy of the race, the cheers and the feeling of accomplishing something that seemed impossible. As I finished that race, I decided I was going to dream big and set the goal of running a half-marathon in the next year. Why? Because why not?
I didn’t realize it at the time, but after setting the goal of running a half-marathon, the universe began conspiring to make it happen. As I continued running, I literally ran into one of my oldest friends on the trail as she was training for her first Ironman. We arranged a coffee date. I told her about my goal of running a half-marathon and I asked her if she would train me. She was all in, and with her kindness and encouragement, I ran my first 8K race in January of 2014 (in good ol’ -32 C Canadian weather, I might add). I also joined her sister’s fitness group in Toronto called Tribe Fitness (yes, her sister is Heather Gardner), and by April I ran the Toronto Yonge St 10K. In June, my mileage grew and I ran a MEC 15K race on the hills of North Shore in Burlington. Finally, in August, I ran lululemon’s SeaWheeze half-marathon in Vancouver. After years of living with self doubt and self hate, I was now part of the half-marathon club! Sometimes, I still can’t believe it.
Those first eight months of running were some of the most difficult but most rewarding months of my life. I was lucky to be surrounded by people who were kind, patient and understanding of the commitment my big dream required. My biggest accomplishment during this time wasn’t even a finish line. It was learning to love myself and find my quiet confidence with each step. It was pushing past some really uncomfortable feelings—not only in my calves, but in my soul. It was learning that my body was amazing no matter its size and no matter its flaws. I began to feel happier, and I felt like the most authentic Alex was beginning to take shape.
Naturally, I wanted to keep exploring these new-found feelings, so I continued to run. After finishing SeaWheeze, I set the goal of giving back to the community and also tackling my first Around the Bay 30K. Lucky for me, the universe was still conspiring to help a sista out.
In March of 2015, I crushed my first 30K race and, man, was it ever an experience. I learned so much more about myself during that race. I learned how tenacious I truly am, that come hell or high water, once I commit to something, there is no stopping me. I also learned that even when we think we have given our all to something, there is always room to give to others. During that race, I met one hell of an inspirational woman. Alone we were struggling, but together we finished as champions in our own right, and we have been friends ever since. If you want to read the full story, you can find it here on my blog.
2015 continued to be a stellar year, as I was gifted with a huge opportunity from the run community. My dream of becoming a pace beaver for SeaWheeze came true thanks to Heather Gardner and Tribe Fitness. This race is undeniably so very special to me. It was my first half-marathon, and now I was going to be shelling out cheers and high fives to other runners. The experience didn’t disappoint. I met a family along the route and instantly felt connected to them. We talked, we laughed and we cheered each other on. It is honestly one of my most treasured memories in life, and I will never forget the tears of joy shared by all as we crossed the finish line in a sea of hugs. It was incredible.
I have to say that my athletic life is continually evolving and growing. Last summer, I joined the triathlete family after completing the sprint distance at the Toronto Triathlon Festival, and this past June I joined the ranks of long-distance cyclists by completing my first Ride to Conquer Cancer.
I’m happy to say that I continue to dream big and I continue to be unconditionally supported by this amazing community of people. When I look back at all of this, what I am most grateful for is unearthing my true sense of self. It has taken a lot of work—work I continue to put in every day because, hey, I am still human and have days where the struggle is real—but I know deep down in my core that I am authentic, determined, courageous, loyal and kind. I have learned that despite not having ripped abs or chiselled biceps that I am a tenacious competitor and an athlete who would crawl across a finish line before ever giving up. I know I have what it takes to accomplish anything that seems impossible. And, most importantly, I know I am the navigator of my own happiness. I want everyone reading this to know that you too are capable of great things, loving yourself just as you are and worthy of being loved in return.