It would be easy to begin by telling you all the glossy, wonderful words that have been used to describe me and my successes, but that just doesn’t feel authentic. I’ve spent too many years hiding, striving and pretending to be someone I thought everyone wanted me to be. Instead I wound up lost, lonely, in the throes of an addiction and nearly dead.
I want this website to be a place where people know they can be real, and where I can be, too. A place where we can share and not be judged—only loved, inspired and transformed. We can only truly thrive when we have the courage to fully embrace who we really are.
So on that note, here is my real story.
On my first day of middle school, the bullying began. Up until that point, no one had ever called me a name or made fun of me. My kind and loving parents held my two brothers and me to high standards. Hurting others was simply out of the question. But that rule didn’t apply to the outside world and I quickly learned what it was like to feel pain, shame. The insults started with my long nose, quickly moved on to other body parts, and then to who I was.
For years my tormentor and her cohorts glowed with power as I sank deeper. Their daily abuse penetrated, took the magic out of my life, and I wasn’t the same after that. In a desperate attempt to change my circumstances, I reached for the unattainable: perfection. I thought if I volunteered more, worked harder to compensate for my dyslexia, looked or behaved a certain way, that God, my parents—everyone—would love and accept me. And then my life would matter.
But it didn’t work. Instead it left me cloaked in shame and feeling worthless, because I couldn’t possibly measure up. It was hard not to believe all the lies I heard and felt about myself. I cultivated them until they became an unruly garden in my mind. I forgot every positive thing about myself. Like how I naturally made people happy, never gave up on a challenge, and earned the nickname “Speedy” by running and racing everyone (and almost always winning). I forgot how the gift of running made me grateful for the great big, gorgeous world that God created. I completely lost site of the fact that my parents and God loved me unconditionally. There was no more me, only me trying to be the person I thought everyone wanted me to be.
In the dark haze that engulfed me, I spiraled out of control. I became anorexic at the age of fourteen, almost killed myself with starvation in high school, and then discovered bulimia in college. The addiction tormented me for nearly 40 years.
The intrigue with the subject of food—and becoming a professional in the field—is not at all surprising given my trials. More information gave me more control. I was a sponge, learned everything I could and loved helping others to overcome and thrive in my private nutritional consulting practice. But inside, my own demons roared and the secrets flourished. I knew I was living a lie, a hypocrite.
Amazingly, despite my eating disorder, the shame that cloaked me daily, and my inability to truly love myself, I somehow managed to attract and fall in love with my college sweetheart, Peter. I married him six years after graduating from the University of Vermont, and hid the majority of my secrets even from him.
We longed for children, but I wasn’t sure if it was possible, given the years of damage my body had endured. But miraculously, God blessed us with three beautiful boys: Stetson, Chase and Trent. I was overjoyed to be a mother, but unfortunately, despite this incredible gift, the bulimic demon remained. On and off it continued its torture in my mind, body and spirit. Consulting, running, the new-found sport of triathlon—and my increasing prowess in it—were some of the few successes that buoyed me and kept me going.
In year 2000, at the age of 39, I qualified for Team USA and was invited to compete at the Age-Group World Triathlon Championships in Edmonton, Canada. As I marched to the start of my first World Championship donned in my USA uniform, I cried with pride. Since then, I’ve raced all over the world, became a coach, earned the title “All-American Triathlete” seven times, stood on numerous podiums, and even broke a world record in my age group.
At age 46, I was in the worst throes of my bulimia addiction. I’d hit rock bottom and was begging God to end my life. It didn’t happen. Instead, just a few weeks later, He threw me a lifeline when I was diagnosed with advanced, stage-three breast cancer. The words, “Karen, it’s cancer,” completely changed my life. Those three words ignited a spark inside and helped me step out of the darkness and into the light. Although I went through chemo, radiation, multiple surgeries, lymphedema and several other setbacks, I can absolutely say that experiencing cancer was a blessing in my life because of how I was transformed, and what I learned from it. And I never stopped training and racing, through it all.
I had made a promise to our boys on that fateful day, March 18th 2008, that I would fight the cancer and continue to race for my country in my beloved sport. I would show the world that I was strong—a warrior. Triathlon was my metaphor for life… for overcoming adversity and getting to the finish line. And miraculously, I came back to win more than I ever had before… in triathlon, and in life.
I’ve learned that God is all-powerful, all-loving and He has an incredible plan for our lives. Trials are often opportunities to grow and transform. Just look around and you will find the blessings. Miracles really do happen, prayers work and each of us matters. You matter. There will never be another you. Embrace who you are—a magnificent creation. Perfectly imperfect.
Today, I stand in the glorious light of love, redemption and hope. I’m now an inspirational speaker, a world-record breaking triathlete, a survivor of two life-threatening diseases (miraculously healed from both), and a woman who has finally found love for herself. I’ve been featured on NBC’s TODAY show twice, as well as on ABC, and have received multiple awards, all of which bring me to tears of gratitude and awe. They include, among others: USA Triathlon’s “Most Inspirational Comeback Award;” Connecticut Sportswriters Association’s “Courage Award;” and American Cancer Society’s “Determination Champion.”
My life’s journey from near-death to life is so powerful and so miraculous that I wrote a book called Just Three Words. It took three years to write. My prayer is that my story and the words written on the pages inspire you through your own trials and help you realize that you are worthy, loved, and vital here on earth. And that you are never too far away or too broken to be healed. You too, can Live Victorious, Loved, and Free.