by Alyssa Exposito
Growing up, I was never the “strong” one. I was the “little” one, the “cute” one, the “small” one, the “short” one, the “doll-like” one.
So much of who I thought I would be was defined by physical characteristics other people assigned to me. But in all honesty, I never saw those things.
In my heart, I saw myself as intelligent, funny, kind, athletic, determined, tenacious.
You see, there is a difference between what is factual and what is the truth. Facts are objective. Yes, I am short, but the truth--MY truth--is I carry a presence that doesn’t reflect my 4’11 3/4 frame. So no, MY truth is I am not short, or little. My truth is mine, your truth is yours, nobody else’s.
I ran cross-country and track in high school and in college. I had, what most would call “a typical runner's body.” I didn’t pack a lot of muscle. I was a lean-bean. All I would consume were miles; I was never enticed by weights, and in all honesty, I found the weight room to be boring.
That all changed when I really had no choice but to build my strength up because I was left broken to my very foundation.
May 7, 2007 was the the end of life as I knew it. As a healthy and athletic 16-year-old, I never imagined that on one fateful day, out for a solo run, I would end up as a speed bump to an F-450 truck, which would then drag me 6 feet and leave me as an amputee prospect rather than the D-1 collegiate prospect that I had been.
I was immobile for three months and spent all of those days, for 8 hours, working on mobilizing, strengthening, and gaining back the weight I’d lost in order to hold myself upright. I actively worked to get stronger than who I was before the truck hit me.
It amazes me that women are not only exploited for how we look but simultaneously degraded for how we look. We’re given constant feedback on our looks, so much so that we often start to internalize the unsolicited comments.
And that is why empowering women through strength training is so important to me.
When I’m lifting, I’m lifting up my 16-year-old self who was told she was never going to run again. I’m lifting up my hospital roommate who will never grace the floor with her point ballet shoes because a gunshot wound left her completely paralyzed. I’m lifting for every mother on that trauma floor who thought that moment would be the last she would ever see of her child alive.
When I’m training in order to lift heavy weights off the floor, I think back at how often my stature somehow created this illusion that I SHOULDN’T be doing so. Women have been told throughout history that they SHOULDN’T do so many things, yet at the same time, we’ve been carrying the world.
When Misty Copeland is told she is “cute” she replies with “I am strong.” When Christmas Abbott gets told she is “sexy” she tells them “I am badass.” When people look at me and say that I am “tiny” I firmly say “I am solid.” Meaning, I will not waiver when others categorize me as to make themselves feel comfortable. Neither should you. So when you come to class and I tell you “you are stronger than you think you are ” you will say “I am.”
It makes me so utterly proud and grateful that so many women have confided in me to help them not shy away from the 20lbs. dumbbells: in fact, most of the women I work with at Uplift even demand heavier weight. That’s why I have designed training programs like Strength X and Build to help empower more and more women in knowing that physical strength in every way transfers to emotional strength.
What if I told you that muscle is built by lifting up the things in life that try to weigh you down? And you are what you repeatedly do. So you begin showing up for yourself time and time again, and when you are feeling heavy you will stand tall, chin up, with your head held high saying “I am here.”