BY: LINDSAY WALTER
I was born with a head of beautiful red hair, but then by age two it began to all fall out. First it was in small chunks but then within a few weeks I was completely bald. I was diagnosed with an autoimmune condition called Alopecia, causing total body hair loss.
It was tough growing up without any hair and using a wig to ‘hide’ my baldhead. I was so ashamed of having no hair. I didn't feel like I was pretty or worthy of love, happiness, or joy. I would look at all of the beautiful women I was surrounded by every day at school, on television and in magazines with their beautiful heads of hair and think “if only I could have hair.” I would come home from school crying; kids were so mean to me, making fun of me calling me names like ‘baldy’ or making fun of my lack of eyebrows or eyelashes. But, when they would call me a boy that really stung. I had no self-confidence and was so ashamed I never made a comeback or told anyone, because they were right…I was bald. I didn’t know anyone else who had alopecia, and felt like I was alone with no one to talk to. I was an outcast in so many ways. I wanted nothing more than to fit in and be like everyone else.
I can still vividly remember the time in gym class when a boy pulled off my hair. It was my worst nightmare come true. I can still see the faces of kids. There I was, exposed and vulnerable. I wanted to hide my alopecia, and never wanted anyone to know about it, because girls were pretty when they had hair. I thought this was the most important thing in the world. I was very fortunate to be blessed with athletic ability. It was in my later elementary school days that I discovered the game of basketball, and this game would open so many doors for me. I would race home from school every day to shoot hoops in my driveway for hours, pretending to make the game-winning shot. The crowd would chant my name and go wild. I never thought of my Alopecia, basketball became my escape into a perfect world where I was just like all of the other girls. My focus shifted to practicing and becoming the best player I could be. I started to stand out from the crowd, but this time it was in a positive way. I still wore my wig 100% of the time, and never talked about my Alopecia, but I thought about it less because I had basketball as a distraction.
I went on to have a great high school career breaking school records and I even received a scholarship to play college basketball. I am a very competitive person by nature, and every summer Duluth, Minnesota (my college town) hosted a marathon, so I thought to myself “I can run a marathon!” I was never a runner; in fact, I used to hate to run more than the length of the basketball court. I went on a few runs beforehand then laced up my sneakers race morning and took off. I will never forget this day. The whole time I kept thinking to myself ‘this is amazing! I am strong, tough and powerful’. I had never truly felt or believed those strong emotions before. As I crossed the finish line with a 4:17 time all I could think was “I could do better!” I didn’t know then, but this day would change my life in more incredible ways than I could have ever imagined.
I began to start racing all over the country, challenging myself and wanting to become better. I loved the excitement of being in a new city and taking on a new race. The more I ran, the stronger, more empowered and even beautiful I felt. There is just something so special to me about the road in the early morning, when it’s just me and I have time to think and feel so many emotions.
I began to gain a new confidence from running. I started to wear my wig less around my close friends, or just small errands, which was a big step for me. I will never forget the morning I came back in from a long run in the hot Charlotte heat, I was so sweaty I took my wig off right away and looked in the mirror and really saw myself for the first time. I had beautiful really green eyes! I had been so ashamed and embarrassed by my baldhead that I had never really looked at myself in the mirror because I hated the way I looked. But now I thought ‘wow I am kind of pretty’.
Through running I was able to learn so much about myself. It is hard to be a runner, it takes a lot of dedication, strength, determination and pure guts to get through all of the training, especially on days you don’t want to. But, I loved it! I looked forward to my long run every weekend and always had the next race to look forward to. Running was shaping me into this person I had always been, but just needed help getting to.
My life then changed forever on one hot May day on my 20-mile run. The whole run I kept thinking how much I’d grown, and all that I had accomplished, then suddenly I don’t know what came over me but I just ripped my wig off part way through my run with tears welling up in my eyes. I had always dreamed of the day I could be confident enough to not need my wig to ‘hide’ or be a security comfort, and this was the day! I had never felt more beautiful with my bald heading out shining for the world to see as the sun gleamed off of it. I got home from that run, hung my wig up (which was so disgustingly sweaty - I have no idea how I ever ran or played basketball with that thing on for all of those years!) and haven’t looked back since.
My next marathon was two weeks later in San Diego, my first race there and my first ‘bald’ marathon. I got my best time and even qualified for Boston! My dream come true! I had never felt so loved or celebrated as I did after that race. All of these strangers coming up and hugging and congratulating me, such an incredible feeling!
After this, running became about so much more than just me. I wanted to join in and help celebrate others and their victories as well. That is when I decided to join the Oiselle Volée team. I had always been a solo runner; I loved running on my own. But, through this incredible team, I have met so many wonderful runners from all over the place who have encouraged, loved on and believed in me when I didn’t even believe in myself. There is nothing like having the support of your running sisters. It brings such excitement to me when I see a fellow bird crushing a race, beating a PR, or running her first race. I couldn’t be more excited to be a part of this team!
Since my first marathon, my goal had been to run 27 marathons by the time I turned 27 years old. I was able to accomplish this task this past June in San Diego. It was truly so incredible crossing that finish line as I put my arms in the air. I have run a total of 29 marathons so far and can’t wait for all that is to come. Running has helped me to accept, love and embrace my Alopecia and baldhead!
It was through running I was able to get to the point in my life where I can confidently say, ‘Yes, I have Alopecia and I am beautiful!” and truly believe it. I am so beyond thankful for the sport and community of running. It’s my life in all the best ways, and I cannot wait to see what the future holds.