While my 12 year-old self was busy pogo sticking my heart away, Michelle Betos was indoors enjoying the bounty of homemade spaghetti carbonara, Pastichio, and whatever other Greek cuisine her mom was whipping up in the kitchen. Michelle had no interest hopping along with me. She was much more content chowing down on her mother’s concoctions. As a result, Michelle was larger than the other kids her age. But that didn’t bother her one bit. And I’m convinced that Michelle’s heavyset childhood is what propelled her to become the elite goalkeeper she is today.
In second grade, Michelle had more important things to worry about than her outward appearance. Such as her boyfriend Aaron, an equally plump fellow. Aaron and Michelle did all the things young lovers do. Their parents would take the two out to dinner, they’d help each other with homework, they’d play games at recess.
And on one particular day at recess, they decided to join in on a dodgeball game with their entire second grade contingency. Two of their classmates were nominated Captains. They swapped turns strategically picking their accomplices. Michelle’s excellent catching and throwing abilities earned her the first draft pick. But Aaron was picked dead last.
Visibly upset, Aaron asked the Captain, “How come you picked me last?”
“Because you’re fat!” the Captain responded
Aaron defensively blurted out, “But Michelle’s fat and you didn’t pick her last!”
“I am!?” Michelle’s eyes exploded out of her head. Having never given any thought to her weight, she was completely dumfounded by this statement. She wasn’t offended, but genuinely confused and taken aback.
In Michelle’s competitive nature, she put aside her bewilderment until afterwards and focused on the heated battle on the dodgeball court.
When Michelle’s mom picked her up from school, she was still rattled about Aaron’s comment. Before Michelle even shut the door she shouted, “Mom, am I fat!?”
Her mom responded quickly, as any protective mother would,
“No honey, you are not fat, you are just bigger boned!”
That was all the explanation Michelle needed. At such a young age, body image and self-consciousness were a foreign concept. All that Michelle cared about was being happy, which almost always involved hanging out with her friends, playing with a ball, and eating food. Fittingly, lunch break was one of Michelle’s favorite pastimes as it involved all three of these things.
Per usual, Michelle would sit down with her friends at the cafeteria and sprawl out a buffet of her family’s Chinese leftovers. Wontons, Chow mein, fried rice, beef and broccoli, with a handful of fortune cookies to top it off. Michelle’s friends would be munching on your typical brown bag lunch-something along the lines of a sandwich, carrots, apple, Goldfish, and a couple Oreos. Michelle could not comprehend how her friends weren’t still hungry after eating their relatively measly meals. She’d offer them some of her food but they always declined. Oh well, more for me, she thought.
Unbeknownst to Michelle, her love for food was actually a serious health concern. When Michelle was just 5 years old, her parents met with a doctor who classified their daughter as morbidly obese. The doctor showed them a copy of Michelle’s growth chart. While the average kid’s height and weight rate gradually inclines with age, Michelle’s sky-rocketed with the steepness of Mt. Everest. The doctor explained that if Michelle continued this trend, she’d be at a serious risk of heart complications and other health issues.
Michelle’s parents digested the information. Their main priority was instilling their daughter with high self esteem, support, and unconditional love, Additionally, growing up in a Mediterranean family they believed a well-fed child was a happy child. Their daughter was confident, bright, and always smiling from ear to ear. That’s what mattered most.
A fan of all sports, Michelle started playing soccer at age 8. On the first day, Michelle’s coach asked who wanted to play goalkeeper. Michelle was the first to ask “Do I have to run?”
The coach responded with a “no” and Michelle quickly grabbed hold of the gloves. Goalkeeper was the perfect position for Michelle for three reasons:
1. It offered the least amount of physical activity
2. It complimented her excellent hand-eye coordination
3. It enabled her to eat her skittles, which were conveniently hidden in her pockets.
Along with soccer, Michelle also thoroughly enjoyed basketball. In fact, it was her favorite sport to play growing up. Unlike soccer, there wasn’t a position like goalkeeper that permitted less running. Michelle was a very talented player, but her fitness was lacking. In 5th grade, her coach took notice and confronted Michelle. In the most polite way possible, the coach told Michelle that she was very skilled, but if she wanted to take it to the next level, then she would have to slim down a bit.
After hearing this statement, Michelle got in the car and bawled her eyes out the entire way home. She honestly had no idea her weight was such a big issue. She was confident in her body. She was filled with love from her family and friends. She never cared about conforming to society’s idealized perception of being skinny. She did however have a burning desire to continue playing basketball. For this reason, she decided right then that she was going to commit to losing weight.
The next day, Michelle devised her own 5th grade-approved weight loss plan. Knowing very little about nutrition, she logically assumed that getting rid of fat would make her lose fat. She knew that she wanted to take it to the next level. If that meant she needed to lose weight, then she knew she had to take action. From 5th to 6th grade, she read all the food labels and eliminated any item high in fat. No more butter, avocados, or burgers. But skittles, starbursts, biscuits, and pasta were all acceptable.
Although, solely eliminating fats is not a strategy most nutritionists would prescribe, it did wonders for Michelle. Over the year she slimmed down significantly. In high school, she learned more about proper nutrition and made a conscious effort to eat even healthier. She’s continued this disciplined approach ever since.
Now at 27, Michelle has taken her nutritional lifestyle to a new level and eats fully Paleo. She made the switch three years ago after a sports nutritionist’s recommendation. Within a week she felt significantly better both physically and mentally.
Michelle believes that the Paleo diet allows her to perform at her best and diligently follows it even when inconvenient, such as when traveling for away games. She’ll arrive at the airport with her backpack fully loaded with almonds, raisins, plantain chips and whatever other paleo-friendly product she can find at the grocery store. On top of that, she’ll fill a Tupperware with tuna and eggs to eat on the plane ride (at the expense of surrounding passenger’s nostrils).
Michelle’s discipline isn’t just restricted to her eating. She is a firm believer that consistent small action cultivates future success. Michelle carries a water bottle around with her everywhere she goes to stay hydrated. She reflects on how she wants her day to go every morning. Before practice she sets performance goals. She arrives early to the locker room and performs a series of shoulder exercises to insure she’s warmed up properly. She strikes long balls prior to each session and always has ice baths afterwards. She watches countless soccer matches and studies goalkeeper’s moves. She visualizes specific footwork moves that she wants to perfect. At the end of the day she writes in her journal and devises a plan on how she can improve even more the next day. She’s constantly looking for the next self-improvement books to read. She is always learning and evolving because she knows that every action is a crucial part of the process towards her success.
From the moment Michelle’s eight year-old self stepped onto the dodgeball court, she’s had an unwavering determination to pursue her passions and better herself. She was never concerned with conforming to societal norms and instead focused on what she wanted to achieve. Ever since then, she’s been taking diligent, consistent steps to get a little better every day.
Michelle is still a food fanatic. Her obsession with a high quality slab of meat has garnered her the nickname “Queen of Meat.” I’ve never seen a person get more whiled up about Portland’s Cultured Caveman paleo chicken strips. Michelle even has dreams of one day opening a food cart with her mom.
Some things never change, but when people have high goals and a relentless determination, they find a way to a make all their passions align. In Michelle’s case, she found a way to have her steak and eat it too. It doesn’t get much tastier than that.
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