Dear Fifteen-Year-Old Kenzie,

Get out of the water.

Press pause on the endless laps of 400s for a second. We both know you can’t hear Coach underneath the water, and right now you need to listen to my voice.

It’s all coming for you, and you have no idea what you’re in for.

There they are. Jenny, Sadie, Samantha, Rachel, and Court. The “skinny” girls, and all the boys like them.

I know what you’re about to do, and I wish you wouldn’t. I want to reach back into the past and let you see what I see right now: this driven, talented, beautiful, and STRONG girl with all the passion and strength in the world, but time doesn’t work that way.

Then there you are. “Mekenzie the Swimmer” or “Mekenzie Just One of the Guys.” You are athletic and strong, already a perfectly healthy size, but not a size zero and you desperately want to be that tiny girl all the boys like.

I know what you’re about to do, and I wish you wouldn’t. I want to reach back into the past and let you see what I see right now: this driven, talented, beautiful, and STRONG girl with all the passion and strength in the world, but time doesn’t work that way.

When your mom joins Weight Watchers, you’ll do it with her. It will be fun at first. You’ll start losing weight, and you will love this feeling.

But it’s going to become addictive, and you love the rush of controlling your weight, so you’ll start bingeing and purging. Then, you’ll discover that excessive cardio makes you lose even more weight.

Sadly, so does not eating at all.

So you’ll stop and shed thirty pounds in one summer.

Kenzie, skinny doesn’t make you beautiful. How do I help you understand that? Sadly, it won’t be until college that you’ll come to understand the balance between athletic training and nutrition. The validation you seek from boys, from trying to control things, you can find in your own hard work. It’s already there.

But we’ve got a few more speed bumps along the way, and they’re going to be pretty rough.

Today, when your mother picks you up from swim practice, run into her arms. Collapse into them. Tell her you love her. She’s been driving you every weeknight and weekend to and from practice. She’s our superhero, our single mother Wonder Woman who sacrificed it all because of our alcoholic father.  All she did was love, support and provide.  

In five years, Kenzie your father will die.

Your sister will get a phone call from a stranger in Las Vegas. She will call you in tears, saying the words “Dad, stroke,” unsure what to do or what it all means.

You will know just what to do though. You will call Mom, your champion. Despite the divorce and the years of raising you and Leslie without him, your mom will help you navigate the waters of your father’s death. You’ll be the one to decide to take him off life support three days later, but it will be okay. You will know that you tried; you tried to maintain a relationship with him, and you won’t feel any regret.

And you will be okay with your decisions, mostly because your mom is there, enduring all of it with you.

But then, four years later, it will be your mother.

Kenzie, this is the one that’s going to hurt, a lot.

Kenzie, skinny doesn’t make you beautiful. How do I help you understand that? The validation you seek from boys, from trying to control things, you can find in your own hard work. It’s already there.

You think breathing underwater is hard, try drowning on dry land holding your mother’s hand as ovarian cancer steals her away.

But, here’s the thing Kenz, the story of “Poor Kenzie” is not one that can exist. It just can’t. You are not special. You have to fight for this, just like everyone else. Yes, it’s tough. But it will also make you tough.

One last thing. After Mom passes away and you are digging through her things, you will find a piece of artwork you made in second grade. It says, “When I grow up I want to be an athlete.”

Kenzie. We do it. We get there.

The super awesome future you,

Me.


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