By Christine D’Ercole – When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a ballerina. After years of dancing I finally became aware that I was never cast in any piece that was costumed in a short tutu. This was because my thighs were twice the size of those of all the other little girls around me. In spite of trying to minimize myself by almost any means necessary, I simply could not drop under 112 pounds on my 5 foot 6 frame. I was “big-boned,” as they say.

Somewhere along the line I fell in love with my bicycle. I could ride and ride and ride for hours. I would get lost and end up on highways, only to be escorted off them by the state police. When I was riding, I felt like I was flying. I found a new way to dance, balanced on two slick wheels, swerving and swirling downhill.

I took my bike to college. Impatient to wait for the campus bus, I rode all over Pittsburgh. I then brought it to NYC and learned Manhattan above-ground. It made sense, needing a job, that I should try being a bike messenger. I discovered an entire subculture swimming through traffic, obsessed with their bikes and bearing super-hero names. I was called “LEGS.” And I was fast. And my legs were thick. And I started to become a little less embarrassed about my thighs.

I comforted myself knowing I had experienced the unexpected athlete within me and had ridden right through the wall of my body-image issues.

I was squeezing in auditions for acting between bike runs. Before each audition, with my dress folded up under my jacket and my bag full of packages for clients, I’d lock my bike, let down my dress, remove my helmet and apply some lip-gloss, praying it wouldn’t take too long so I could get back on the road.

Within a year, I wasn’t acting anymore. Within two, I was sponsored and racing against girls four years younger who had been racing four years longer, and keeping up nationally.

Fast forward another year to motherhood, when I was weighing in at 190 pounds post-baby. Here is where it got tricky. I comforted myself knowing I had experienced the unexpected athlete within me and had ridden right through the wall of my body-image issues. I was strong. And now, I felt the urge to fully embrace my plus-size self and become a model.

I got a gig with a TV shopping network. The only thing was, in order to work, I needed to purchase padding. WHAT?! I wasn’t big enough! They needed me to bulk up from size 14-16 to 20-22. I was astounded. I was always too big. Now I wasn’t big enough. Mind: blown.

After a year of fake smiles, one day, something clicked. I had confused ‘settling’ for ‘acceptance’. These are two different things. At that moment, a voice in my head said, “This isn’t your truth. This is not your authentic self. Your body was meant to move. Let’s do an experiment. Lets see how strong you could be, without the padding.” So I finished on set that day and did not go back.

Christine D'ercole

Fast forward a year: I’m certified to teach Indoor Cycling. I get strong again. Fast forward five years: I race a few times. I take 3rd place overall for the season. The following year I decide to commit. I go to Masters National. I take a gold and a bronze. Again the next year, two silver and a bronze.

Now, I’ve found my home with Indoor Cycling at Peloton Cycle and want to help others find their true selves.

These thighs that consumed my thoughts and fed my shame finally became the thing that made me proud. It is one of my deepest hopes that someone might be inspired by my journey and, in turn, learn to truly embrace, accept and build on her (or his) natural gifts. We are worth so much more than a smaller pair of pants.

About The Author: Christine D’Ercole is the founder of I AM. I CAN. I WILL. I DO., a mind, body, soul adventure fueled by her signature WORDSHOPS that combine motivation, mantras, and wholehearted fitness. She is also a public speaker, an internationally competitive track cyclist and Master Instructor at Peloton with over 17 years spent in the fitness industry.

As a decorated competitive track cyclist, Christine is a Masters World Champion and a 5X National Champion. She spent nearly a decade in the bicycle industry building bikes and wheels and providing custom fitting services. She served as a Master Trainer for Schwinn Indoor Cycling for 6 years, traveling throughout the U.S. and Brazil.

This piece was published on the Peloton blog and is republished on Women You Should Know with the author’s express permission.