Alpine Skier Erin Mielzynski: “I Was Just Trying To Be Perfect”
People started commenting on my body pretty early. I was a competitive water skier starting at age six. Wed go to the fair and my sister, who also water skied, would volunteer for the guess your weight booth. We thought it was so funny that, as a muscly athlete in a deceivingly small frame, peoples guesses would be completely off.By Grade 8, kids started commenting on how big my arms were getting from water skiing. It didnt stop me from wanting to get stronger and compete, especially because in the water skiing world, I was completely normal. But as a kid, it was hard. I started wearing long-sleeve shirts, hiding my arms from view, and avoided putting my hair up in a ponytail in front of people because my muscles would flex.As an alpine skier, Im now in a sport that isnt judgedthe best time winsbut I still hear comments about womens bodies from the spectators. Ive heard bodies compared to the shape of a cell phone, presumably because theyre flat-chested, square- shaped and stocky. Some athletes dont want to wear the padding, which protects us from injury, because it makes them look bigger. Ive had those moments, too. As athletes, were chasing perfection and that can extend to how we look.When I transitioned from water skiing to alpine, I started training in a gym. I had never lifted weights or done squats before, and I felt behind the rest of my team. I wanted to improve as quickly as possible, so I studied the athletes around me and diligently followed the provided diet plan. When the teams nutritionist told me to eat 10 almonds as a snack and eat lean chicken with no sauce, thats literally how I ate.At 19, my body composition resultsmeaning the battery of tests measuring everything from muscle mass to body fat percentage, to inform our trainingsaid that my body fat was too low. I was sent to Calgary where I met with the person who ultimately helped me develop a healthy body image: sports physiologist Matt Jordan. Hes an amazing teacher and he taught me to start asking why: Why am I being told to eat less oil or drink only skim milk?Matt helped me understand that skiers need more than muscle. I need weight to get down the hill and fat to keep me healthy throughout the year and protect me if I fall.Ive had coaches make suggestions that should only come from a sports physiologist, nutritionist or doctor. One coach told me that based on my body composition results, I looked like a prepubescent boy, and that with those numbers, I couldnt be a contributing woman in society. I think what he meant is that it’s not sustainable to stay this way. He was trying to scare me into changing. Another told me and my teammates to go biking to burn calories before having lunch and frequently made comments about my body. That same coach questioned why I wasnt skiing well at the time, since I had the perfect body for alpine racing. I remember thinking, What is the perfect body in skiing? I saw people of all different heights and sizes making it to the podium, but he had this one, narrow idea of what an athlete should look like.I dont look at my body composition data anymore. I now ask my coach just to tell me whether Ive improved or if theres a concern, but I dont need to know the specific numbers because I trust him completely. Im also careful with how I talk about my body, diet and training because I know that I am setting an example for younger skiers. For instance, I no longer call body composition tests the fat test as we did when I was younger.It really bothers me that we define how hard someone is working by how they look. I built my body for skiing to get down the hill fast. But beyond that, Im a person. When viewers watch athletes compete at the 2022 Olympic Winter Games, I want them to realize that theres beautyand strengthin all different body types and sizes. We shouldnt define anyone based on what we see.This essay is part of Best Health’s Body Talk package exploring the issue of body image in elite sports. Read more about the experiences of current and former Winter Olympians and Paralympians, and what is being done to make sports a safer space for all athletes, here:
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