Chapter 33 – A Perfect Example
“In the midst of winter, I finally learned that there was in me an invincible summer.” - – Albert Camus
I met Patty Murray when I was at the tail end of my college career. She was a well-known runner then, but she was also struggling with anorexia. I hadn’t kept up with her career once my own struggles became so severe, but when I started to recover, I was fortunate enough to see her at the track one day, running well and looking strong. I was very anxious to meet her and hear how she recovered from anorexia, so we decided to meet for coffee and an interview. It is, after all, rare to find someone who has completely and totally recovered from this illness. However, from our brief conversation on the phone, it sounded like Patty was one of those incredible examples.
When Patty and I sat down on an exceptionally warm fall day, I immediately noticed that despite having the lean body of a true athlete, her eyes were sparkling and clear. In addition, based on our brief chat before the interview began, it was obvious that her mind was occupied not with thoughts of food, weight and exercise, but with spring cleaning and other plans for the day ahead. Already I was in awe. This was a woman who had at one point weighed around 80 pounds, and there seemed to be no trace of any kind of illness lingering within her.
As a standout runner in high school, Patty developed anorexia that eventually caused her running career to come to a halt. Her coach had suggested that she lose 10 to 15 pounds, and Patty had gone too far. Despite running well for a while, she eventually became too weak, and her family encouraged her to seek treatment. She stayed in a hospital where she was watched around the clock. At 5’2” and only 80 pounds, her doctors told her she should never run again and feared that a return to training would lead her to relapse into anorexia. To the shock and disbelief of those around her, Patty was eventually able to find her stride and get back on track with both her life and her running.
There was a time shortly after Patty was released from the hospital where she was forced to find a job and support herself. No longer able to entertain thoughts of maintaining a career as a professional runner, she quit training for several years, and concentrated on work and making ends meet. In addition, Patty started socializing and going out. “I completely changed my life to where I was going out with friends and going dancing,” she says. She actually gained weight during this time and got up to about 110 pounds. When she decided to start running again, she knew she was in a better place to do so. “I took all those years off and realized that it wasn’t really me. I wasn’t into the partying and all that. I like to run, so I decided to start up again,” Patty says. For Patty, it was a different atmosphere, and her focus was more on enjoying running, not competition.
When I asked Patty how she recovered and to identify some of the key factors that made this remarkable return to health possible, she said, “It’s almost like I’m a whole different person. It’s hard to explain. For a while I ate kind of funny, not normal like I do now. I don’t even think about it any more at all, it seems as though I’m one of those one-in-a-million people who recover. I see pictures of myself from the past and I think I looked horrible. That helps me keep doing what I’m doing, because I feel better and think I look better, too. I also don’t weigh myself; I go more on how I feel and how much energy I have. When I see others with anorexia, I think it’s sad. I know that it doesn’t have to be like that. In terms of running, I think women take a healthier approach today. Times have changed.” It’s true, I agreed. Now women are starting to focus on how they feel rather than how thin they are, but it’s only just beginning. There are still those who falsely believe, “the thinner the better.”
Despite her more relaxed attitude toward running, Patty eventually did start racing again. In fact, in 2008 she won the national masters 10k title by running 34:50. “I’ve been happy to just enjoy running,” she states. What I noticed is that Patty is not merely a runner. Her life seems well-rounded and complete. She is able to go with the flow and has other things in her life to occupy her time and thoughts: a relationship, work, social time, and general living.
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