I'm a Black Woman, and This Is How Working Out Has Made Me Love My Body

I was 8 years old the first time I noticed my body looked different than my friends. I had defined arms, legs, and abs and they didn't. As I began to get more involved in sports — dance, track, and soccer were my favorites — I really began to notice that my brown body stood out. I was never ashamed of how I looked, I just knew I was different.

Fortunately, I had coaches that didn't just teach me the fundamentals of sport. Whether they realized it or not, they shaped the way I perceived myself. They taught me how to fight through hard workouts, how to become mentally strong, and how to visualize my goals and dreams, and they also taught my teammates and me that our bodies were made for a special purpose. That our brown, strong physiques weren't anything to be ashamed of. In fact, it was just the opposite. We were taught that our bodies were an extension of who we were: strong, powerful, and beautiful.

I'll never forget asking my track coach Lucius about the then-mysterious marks that had begun to appear on my butt, thighs, and calves. My teammate and I were panicking because these marks were so foreign to us. It was then Lucius explained what stretch marks were. He also told us that they represented power and strength — part of the formula to become a great sprinter.

When I was on the track, running up and down the soccer field, or at dance recitals, I felt strong. But when I wasn't competing, there were moments where I felt uncomfortable with how I looked. Around that same time, my dad began expanding my knowledge of professional black female athletes. Once I saw images of Serena and Venus Williams competing and photos of Florence Griffith Joyner running, I was in awe. I wanted to emulate them. I wanted to be just as strong and as powerful as they were.

Over the years, I was offered scholarships to compete in college, I became a Division 1, All-American sprinter, and I've worked with top athletic brands. These are major accolades to be proud of, but I'm simply proud to have a platform where I can be my authentic self — where my body and my strength are embraced. I'm so happy that there are so many strong black female athletes, and black women in general, for young girls and women to look up to.

I'm so thankful that girls can look to athletes of the past and present like Laila Ali, Misty Copeland, and Simone Biles and feel represented and be proud of who they are and how they look.

So to all the black female athletes out there, thank you for helping me love every inch of my body.