I met Sandy Selby when I spoke at the Michigan Fitness Foundation. She was so delightful, I immediately asked if she would share her story with us. Sometimes disruption happens in mid-life, but Sandy's tale suggests our lives can be ripe for disruption even when we are young.
After four years of fun sprinkled with just enough education to earn a degree, I naively entered the ‘real world’. College had been great – but I had NO intention of ever going back as a student. Tailgate participant, yes. Student, nope.
Within a month of starting my first job, a coworker had me in tears. I hated my job and knew it wasn’t right, but I didn’t know where to go, so I stayed. The transition from active college student to sitting at a computer and not changing my eating habits was not kind to my body. My pants kept getting tighter. Everyone knows the freshman fifteen. I gained the “first job thirty”. Along with the job I despised and living in a body that didn’t feel like my own, I was depressed. My worst fear was waking up 35 years old, still in the same job, hating every moment.
Then I watched my brother and sister-in-law run a marathon (26.2 miles) to raise money for cancer research. I couldn’t help but feel inspired watching the race. The runners created an endorphin cloud over the city. In the back of my mind a voice said, “if they can do it, you can”. I shut the voice up with pizza and beer after the race.
Soon after, I started taking note of what I was eating and drinking. I set a calorie limit and wrote down everything I ate. My pants got looser. I felt energized. I agreed to WALK a half marathon (13.1 miles). Walking became running. I had never run farther than 3 miles and every new distance was a victory. I noticed how eating healthier foods made runs and recovery easier. When I crossed the finish line I experienced the biggest high of my life. I felt empowered and confident.
I began to wonder about all of those people who say “turn your passion into a career”. How could I turn running into a career? I wasn’t good by any stretch of the imagination. Then I considered the impact that eating habits had on running. Light Bulb!
When I told my parents I was considering becoming a Dietitian, they said: “No”. The ‘con’ column was long: student loans, two more years in undergrad, science courses and a required competitive internship. But my dream kept outweighing them all.
I signed up for courses and told my boss I was leaving but I chickened out. I dropped the courses and told my boss I wasn’t leaving. My dream persisted. My friends encouraged me. That spring I ran two half marathons, registered for a marathon, registered for classes, took the plunge and put in my notice leaving after three years without looking back.
I ran my first marathon in 5:26.06. That is S-L-O-W. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Immediately after I was in horrible pain, I couldn’t sit down without every muscle cramping. Within an hour of finishing I knew I would run another marathon.
College became an entirely new experience the second time around. I enjoyed going to class and was energized by the new, challenging information. I sat in the front of class and was present, both physically and mentally. Two years of school flew by and the next hurdle awaited.
To become a Dietitian, an accredited internship is required. Applicants are highly qualified and acceptance rates are fifty-fifty nationwide. I was disappointed to not be in the lucky half. Two months after I graduated, sans internship, I heard a new program had been accredited. Six weeks later, I had taken the GRE, been accepted and moved 400 miles away. That year was the most academically and emotionally challenging of my life and one of the best things to ever happen to me. I spent most of it homesick. I also met some of my best friends. At the end of the year, I cried when I left, just as I had cried when I went there.
I now have an amazing job working with kids in an underserved community. Even on my worst days I know life is still better than my best days were seven years ago. I took my fate into my own hands and didn’t take “no” for an answer. My parents are happy that I didn’t listen to them. I am not 35 yet, but I no longer fear waking up and hating my life. Because in fact I love my life.
Have you ever done anything that was so hard that you cried — and yet you were happy?
Sandra A. Selby, RD holds two Bachelor’s degrees in Merchandising Management and Dietetics from Michigan State University. Sandy also completed a Graduate Certificate program and Dietetic Internship at Bradley University. Ms. Selby is currently the Nutrition Manager at the Crim Fitness Foundation in Flint, Michigan, a non-profit focused on active, healthy lifestyles for members of the community and beyond. Sandy continues to run and be an advocate for a healthy lifestyle.