Lauren Fleshman was one of the best middle distance runners in America, starting in high school to when she was a 15-time All-American at Stanford University and when she entered professional running.
A three-time NCAA 5,000-meter champion for the Cardinal before graduating in 2003, Fleshman went on to become a U.S. champion at the same distance in 2006 and 2010, and took seventh in the 5K at the 2011 World Championships
Since retiring from the professional ranks, Fleshman has run marathons, founded Picky Bars, and started her own website. On that website, she keeps a journal, and those writing skills are on display in a piece published Wednesday.
In Fleshman’s thoughtful piece on MileSplit, she writes a letter to her high school self. The 1999 Canyon (Santa Clarita, Calif.) graduate begins the letter:
Dear High School Lauren,
I have so many things I want to tell you, but I’m going to start with the most urgent. Because of all the ways I’ve seen athletic stories unfold over the years, this is the No. 1 destroyer of dreams.
You’re a young woman, but the sound of the word “woman” makes you cringe. Well-meaning coaches and parents and aunties and grannies and inappropriate uncles comment on the changing bodies of girls–not yours yet but those around you. It’s coming. You know it’s coming.
You notice what happens sometimes to female athletes. She hits puberty; her times get slower or plateau. She is confused; she is working harder than ever. Clueless adults who are overly invested in her “performance” will grieve, as if her worth is based solely on PRs. This makes you scared of growing up.
What follows are a lot of poignant thoughts on the nature of growing up as a young female athlete as well as the advice she would have given herself now that she has the wisdom collected over the last two decades.
Much of the guidance can be universal to any young female athlete, whether or not you reach the levels Fleshman did in her sport.
For anybody, it is well worth the read. You can find Fleshman’s letter here.