Before I was diagnosed, I was sick. I am lucky enough to have an illness that has no symptoms until teenhood, so as a child I got to experience a life of strength and health. I’ve been thinking back on my girlhood a lot lately, as I’ve been more worn out than ever since my latest surgery. So I thought I would write about my prime – my three years in colorguard at Richardson High School, where I earned the name “Die Hard Guard Girl,” the title “Captain,” and the record of being the youngest in RHS history to rise to that position.
It would be remiss of me not to mention that I owe all my success to my friends Morgan and Alison, who practically dragged me to the colorguard workshops kicking and screaming. I was so. Not. Interested. And after my first day there, I knew I was right to feel that way. I was the worst in the group. I just didn’t get it. I had no natural talent at all. Time went by, and between my friends and our annoyingly lovable guard coach I was pressured into staying in guard. Summer marching camp began, and I was still the worst in the group. I was taken aside by our coach and our captain on a daily basis to review beginner moves that everyone else had mastered. I SUCKED AT GUARD.
But it was way too late to turn back. With football season fast approaching, I knew I didn’t want to get in front of the whole school and be terrible – or worse – be dubbed an alternate, and watch from the sidelines. So I devoted myself to a rigorous, almost abusive practice schedule. I woke up hours early to warm up at home before our 6:45 AM call time. After school, I practiced before I did any homework, and again after dinner. Whenever I messed up a step or a flag move (which was often,) I made myself do pushups – anywhere from 5 to 50, depending on what I messed up on.
It wasn’t long before I rose to the head of the pack. People didn’t know my name, but I was “that guard girl.” The one who spent lunch time in the band hall tossing flags and doing push ups. The one who seemed unable to talk of anything but colorguard. I was in love. And I was badass. I had serious muscles. My friend Alison used to say we had “Cloud arms.” As in Cloud Strife.
I say I was in my prime, and that’s true. I’ve never in my life been stronger, more agile, more graceful, or more confident than I was in those days. When I tossed a flag and caught it, I felt like a superhero. So much so than my friends and I actually created a comic book series about ourselves as superheroes. That’s how guard made us feel.
I was a huge dork. But I was SO confident. True story:
In high school I dated this guy who wasn’t in marching band. After a date once, he pulled into an empty parking lot, turned off the car, and put an arm around me. I was confused. He said he wanted to talk for a while. I lit up, and launched into a long story about the latest football game and how windy it was, so our coach said we’d need to not toss, but I knew we could do it….
After a while, he said it was getting late and he dropped me off at my house. I felt like it had been the best date ever. The feeling wasn’t mutual, however. Weird. Oh well, I needed more time to practice anyway.
Yep. I was in my prime. Loving life and loving myself. But this was also when my first symptoms of endo began to show themselves. I still rose to glory and became Captain of the Guard by my Junior year, outranking a few pissed off Seniors. But my body was beginning to change – not just your average “becoming a woman.” I was also “becoming a spoonie.”
The first red flag happened my sophomore year. It was summer band camp, and I was just starting out with the colorguard. I was no longer the worst in the class, but I wasn’t the best just yet. We were learning our coordinates for the show, which meant a lot of back and forth in the hot Texas sun. At one point, the guard all marches to the sideline to switch flags. I was in so much pain, and I had been for a few sets. I held it together until I reached the sideline, and then I fell in a heap on the sidewalk. The girl who marched alongside me, Giovanna, was pretty distressed by this and got our coach to come over. Our coach was a man – this part is important. This moment changed the course of years of my life. Had our coach been a woman, I would probably have a very different story to tell.
I was curled up in a ball, holding my stomach and gasping. Our coach made me sit up and drink a lot of water, and started asking me really weird questions. He asked if I’d like to talk to Miss Martinez, the female band director. I didn’t get it, why would that help? I was 15 years old at the time, and I was a “late bloomer” – I hadn’t ever had a period, much less cramps or anything like that. He basically had to spell it out for me. Once I was on the same page, I felt embarrassed. How could I have not known that blinding pain and half-fainting were normal parts of growing up?
Yup. 15-year-old me really believed that. So over the next few years, I chalked my pain up to “growing up.” Thanks a lot, Mr. Torres.
I went to the doctor once, eventually, for abdominal pain. It was my junior year and I was dating my now-husband, and it wasn’t okay with him that I hurt all the time. I told him it was just cramps, it was just a girl thing, no big deal. But he talked me in to going to the doctor just to make sure. I went to my pediatrician, and they recommended a sonogram. They said it was possible my organs were swollen and rubbing against each other. They were not, but I had nightmares about that for years. I mean, come on! How horrifying is that??
So I went back to ignoring it. Then, during my Senior year, we were marching on the field in the morning before school one day, and we were drilling. That means marching set distances and set tempos a lot. So we’re marching back and forth, and I started hurting. I ignored it as long as possible – I was Captain now! I marched through it. Then…I sort of stumbled over to the sideline and fainted. Full on lost consciousness. It was very brief, though. I came to before anyone even came over to check on me. I sat and recovered on my own for a while, then I was back on the field.
I love colorguard Rachel. She was so awesome. She was strong, a leader, lean, tough, confident. She was the Colorguard Captain. She was on the field by 6:45 AM for three years. She performed every Friday night. She led pep rallies, she marched award-winning shows, and her Senior year when the coach left the staff, she stepped in and led without adult aid. And she had endometriosis.
Nothing held her back. She’s my hero.