The Journey to Without Limits
by Kim Baldwin
September 2015. I was lying in an ICU bed thinking to myself, how the F*ck did I get here?
Six months before that, I had started a slow descent into a darkness I had never known. I was close to weighing 300lbs. And I was training for the SMART Ride, a 160-mile bike ride from Miami to Key West, in November. When I began to experience chest pain and shortness of breath, I told myself it was due to my weight and to shut up. This is what being 300 lbs. means. For months, it was nothing but me, my bike and the horrible stories I told myself. My daily practice was punishment through starvation, mileage, self-bullying. Rinse. Repeat.
By mid-September, I just not feeling well. So what did I do? Compete in the Wrightsville Beach Triathlon, just as I always had. My thinking was, well, you are getting a cold, you really don’t eat, you weigh a lot. This is what happens. Shut up. Continue with the punishment.
That September race day, I entered the water, found my spot, and took off when then gun fired. All very normal. I made it about 10 strokes into Banks Channel. Out of nowhere, I felt a wave of nausea tear through my body, from the bottoms of my feet up. Then I couldn’t breathe. I remember thinking, “I’m gonna be one of those triathletes who dies in the swim and everyone will say, ‘At least she died doing what she loved.” The ironic thing? I did all the swimming, biking and running not from a place of love (or mild enjoyment) but from a place of pure, unadulterated punishment.
My hand shot up. The lifeguards raced over, got me on the coast guard boat and took me immediately to the docks at Sea Path Marina where the paramedics were waiting for me. I knew something wasn’t right but when they checked me out, my vitals were ok. They let me go. In my mind, I convinced myself, again, that this is what happens when you are completely out of control with your weight; never mind I had done that swim hundreds of times with no issues.
Two days later, I ended up in the ICU. Both lungs were filled with blood clots and I had what they call a saddle pulmonary embolism. (This is not something you want to Google.) When the doctor came in my room his jaw hit the floor. He couldn’t believe I was alive. People don’t live through what I experienced. I wasn’t supposed to be here.
While taking months off from work and going to pulmonary rehab, I got much needed time to think. I knew I couldn’t ruin the do-over I had been gifted. I couldn’t spend the next half of my life living in darkness, anger, shame and blame.
For the next three years, I dug deep. I did the work. I unraveled my childhood trauma and started to see how that impacted every single strand of my life, especially my relationships with food and exercise. With the help of a nutritionist specialized in eating disorders and a therapist specializing in childhood trauma, I slowly started coming out of the darkness. I started to understand the stories I told myself were just that, stories.
I learned my eating disorder probably started when I was about five or six years old. I uncovered the root of my depression, anger, shame and toxic thinking. And I finally understood how it all was inextricably linked. I starved myself as a form of punishment. I exercised as punishment. Food brought me no joy. In fact it brought me the exact opposite. Who eats for pleasure? Running is fun?
In the movie “28 Days,” one of the characters, upon leaving treatment, wants to adopt a dog. His therapist says he can have a dog if he takes care of a house plant for a year. If the plant doesn’t die, he can get a dog.
That’s what my three years of doing the work was for me. I lost 100 lbs., got my mind right, and felt stable enough – mentally, physically, spiritually – to start exercising again. I wanted to see what a body with 100 lbs. less could do.
I joined Without Limits (WOL) and started with swim practice twice a week. Then I added run practice twice a week, signed up for Training Peaks and all of a sudden, I had a coach and long runs on Saturday.
Intimidated. That’s how I spent the first few months of swim and run practices. I felt so insecure. I was the slowest one. I didn’t want to get in anyone’s way. Did I really belong? Were my old thought pattern and stories creeping back in?
After one particular run practice I left in tears. I didn’t realize anyone noticed. Coach Kristen called me the next morning. She said to me, “Boo, you belong.” Somehow, she knew. That day, it all changed. I needed to get out of my own way. So I did.
Then COVID hit. All of a sudden everything was shut down. Even swimming at Wrightsville Beach was shut down. The gift of COVID was that I realized just how important running and swimming were to my mental and physical health. I needed movement. It was my way out of the darkness. It relieved my anxiety. It allowed me to properly fuel my body. Talk about a 180!
There was another COVID gift. I realized just how important WOL was to me in other ways. The coaches gave me accountability and encouragement. And I made friends too. Amazing friends! Relationships of any kind are almost impossible when you tell yourself stories. So in those first few months of the pandemic, it was like time stood still. I was able to reflect on what I was missing. I saw how important this community of athletes is to me. The friendships I’ve made far outweigh any PR.
Six years later, post-clots, mental breakdown and eating disorder diagnosis, I’ve never been better. Sure, I have my days. We all do. Now, I sit with my feelings, try to understand them, and then move on. Sometimes I work them out on the track or in the pool. Sometimes I groan with the ladies at Starbucks post-workout. The one thing that remains consistent is when I leave practice, my cup is always full.
I couldn’t have imagined me being a member of WOL. But here I am, one of its ardent supporters. My original assignment was to write about why I joined WOL. But honestly, it’s more about why I stay. It has truly been a journey. And one that is nowhere near over.