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Three summers ago, I was poised for a great athletic year. I was coming into my own on my baseball team, ready to be our #1 starter on varsity, hitting well, and playing a mean third base. I was adding velocity to my fastball, locating my off-speed pitches, making diving plays, and plating key RBIs. The last game of summer ball was the beginning of the end. That’s when some hole in the dirt mixed with inadequate stretching caused me to tear my quadricep stealing second base. One backswing of my leg and a pop! marked the beginning of the end of my baseball career.

I ended up in physical therapy for half a year before I left the team – due both to the injury and the way my horrible coach handled it. I remember the weeks following the injury, where I couldn’t physically flex my quadricep muscle and had to use a single crutch to support my walking (it looked really stupid around the California State Capitol, where I was for a week-long program). Every night I would go to bed and feel the exhaustion of my other muscles having to compensate and every morning I would wake up to the same burning sensation in my injured quad. Every baseball practice following the injury I would take myself out of drills and workouts because it would be too painful and I couldn’t keep up. Sometimes I would push myself to do what I used to be able to do (partially at my coach’s urging) and I would wake up the next morning and feel like I had injured it all over again.

The worst part about the injury experience wasn’t the injury itself, but rather how much I felt it pulled me back. That summer didn’t just mark the peak of my high school baseball career; it marked the peak of my high school physique. In the weight room, I was squatting and deadlifting more than almost everyone else on the team. On the field, I was keeping up with the faster players during sprints. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t sporting a six-pack and bulging biceps, but I finally looked and felt half-decent.

Throughout my childhood up to that point, all I had heard was how unathletic and chubby I was. When I would try to train with my teammates in the past, I would be far behind them. I would have rolls where my friends had abs and I would hear comments like, “You have bigger boobs than my girlfriend!” That’s the main reason why I worked so hard on my physique in high school up to that point. During the injury, I felt the fat return and the muscles slowly start to disappear, and I felt the same shame I had felt before.

The years following the injury and my subsequent retirement from baseball featured a multitude of experiences where my body made me feel lesser. I would hike with friends, not be able to keep up and ask for breaks. I would go to the pool or the beach and feel the need to stay covered up as much as possible. I would be afraid to take off any article of clothing during a romantic encounter because I thought it would be an instant turn-off. I never once, after that injury, felt like I was the athletic one or the good-looking one because I had let my body return to the shit form it was during my entire childhood.

Coming to college, I made it a point to actually do something about my body. I’ve pushed myself to go to the gym and lift as well as do some dreaded cardio. I’ve done my best to balance my foodie-ness with health-conscious eating. There have definitely been extended periods of time where I’ve been negligent, and it makes a drastic difference, but for the most part, I’ve done better than childhood Me ever did. Again, I still don’t have six-pack abs or anything that would suggest a “hot guy” body, but I’m looking and feeling half-decent. I’m lifting more than my friends and holding my own in athletic activities.

That progress culminated itself in yesterday’s Table Mountain hike. We hiked 4 hours up and around the mountain, having to climb hundreds of rocks. It was like nothing I had ever done, especially from a physical standpoint. Hikes in SoCal hills just have some dirt and sand. As much as Top of the World in Laguna Beach has kicked my ass in the past, Table Mountain was a different beast. But, instead of focusing on my shortness of breath or pain in my legs, I felt great throughout. Instead of struggling up the rocks, I jumped up and ran through them when I could. I felt myself get bursts of energy and I actually had the physical endurance to utilize that energy. And – get this – even though I was hiking with three girls, I ACTUALLY had the minimal confidence necessary to take off the shirt that was uncomfortably sticking to my body!

For the first time since my injury, I felt confident in my physical capabilities. I felt as athletic as anyone climbing that mountain. I didn’t care too much about how my body looked while doing it because I was confident that it wasn’t supremely ugly. That’s a hell of a step for me.

Something that I don’t think a lot of people understand is that just because I’m a man doesn’t mean I’m somehow innately more confident in the way I look. I’ve seen posts on Facebook and Twitter that show a skinny girl that looks in the mirror and sees herself as fat while a fat guy looks in the mirror and sees himself as ripped. One of the Me Too monologues from this year talked about a hookup from a girl’s perspective, and it described the guy seemingly confident about how he looked without clothes, as if that’s how all guys feel in romantic situations.

That kind of rhetoric around how “all guys see themselves” is toxic. It’s just not true. As a man, I can attest to the fact that I have skipped meals because I have felt too fat and that I have had major freak-outs when my clothes feel too tight and my belt doesn’t fit around my waist anymore. But I’ve worked hard to get past that. I go to the gym not to flaunt muscles that I think I already have, but to work to develop myself to a point where I can have some sort of confidence in how I look. Finally, what I felt after that Table Mountain hike was my hard work finally starting to pay off.