From “Big Runner” to “Strong Runner” to “Chloe” - By Chloe Maleski, Mental Performance Coach
Identity formation starts young. We take in signals from the world around us. Where do we get approval? Where do we feel shameful? This oftentimes helps us navigate the ever-evolving journey of our own identity. I discovered at a young age that I was fast, and moreover that winning races provided recognition and acceptance with my family, friends and community. While I also excelled at other sports, running was the one I had the most control over. With three brothers, I felt like most of the time and resources went to their sports before my own, but with running, all I needed was a pair of shoes and self-discipline. Two things I had.
In 6th grade, I entered middle school and was no longer the fastest kid at school. I was the third fastest, slightly behind a 7th and 8th grader. However, they would often have injuries, which I was able to avoid. One day we were all sitting next to each other and I noticed their thighs were smaller than mine. I made the connection that they may be faster because they were smaller. Not long after my coach named me his “Clydesdale” and named my other two thinner, faster teammates “thoroughbreds”. From that moment on I had a narrative in my head that I was a “big runner”. Period. Looking back, I think he meant that I was a strong runner, but hearing that information right after making the association that my legs were bigger connected the dots in my head and it was game over. I would only hear and see things that contributed to this narrative of being a big distance runner. The crazy part is, my teammates who were called thoroughbreds took that information and interpreted it that they were “fragile runners”, and they wanted to be stronger like a Clydesdale, like me.
Eventually the disordered thoughts and behaviors caught up to me. When I got to Duke on a track scholarship, I quickly realized that I was no longer the smartest, or fastest, and if I wasn’t those things, who was I? This identity foreclosure was stressful to say the least, and coincidently, I ended up with three stress fractures while in college. Prior to then, I had never had any injuries, and looking back I am almost certain it was the stressful environment and not taking care of my mental health that created this. I also was still riding on this big runner identity and was not taking care of my body the way I should have been. During these injuries I was cross training and got my first exposure to strength training. I learned to love the gym because that’s all I could do.
Post-college and injury free, I continued to run and tried to absorb everything that just happened. I felt like a failure. A wasted athletic career. I began to do more strength training and ended up getting hired at a gym in Los Angeles. Lifting weights and seeing myself get stronger (the same way I used to see myself get faster), was not only empowering, it was sustainable, and it shifted my entire mindset. It took me from being a “big runner” to becoming a “strong runner”.
As I continued to do personal training in Los Angeles, I also got hired at a Health Coaching Institute which helped heal my relationship around food. Educating myself on how my body worked was empowering, but the part I kept coming back to was my mind. I then decided to get my master’s in clinical psychology which helped me understand everything that I had just experienced. I found out that most of my struggles at Duke were far from the physical and much more about the mental part. I just was holding on too tight to this identity as a runner that I was unable to support and foster all other parts of my being.
I now have my own coaching practice that works on wellness and mental performance for athletes (particularly athletes who are transitioning to the next level) and helping them develop all aspects of themselves. It took me some time to commit to this work because I felt like I was holding onto this identity of being an athlete. It then came to me that if I didn’t do this work I would be perpetuating the exact problem that created my struggles, not treating athletes like people. When I say athletes, I mean human beings, and although I slip up sometimes and catch myself holding onto the storyline of being a big runner, or a strong runner, more often I remember that I’m just Chloe, and that’s perfect.
Chloe is a mindset/mental/cognitive performance coach supporting professional, collegiate, high school, and middle school athletes with mental fortitude, cognitive performance, stress management, and mindfulness.
As a former Division I scholarship runner at Duke University, she continue to live her life as a competitive athlete. She bring a unique breadth of experience that extends beyond her clinical expertise and personal experiences as an athlete.
While earning her M.A. in Psychology at Pepperdine University, in Los Angeles, she worked for a health coaching company and as a personal trainer that furthered her knowledge of the strong connection between the mind and body. These experiences have helped her provide my clients with a holistic approach to well-being and performance.
Chloe enjoys spending time with family, traveling, and anything outdoors! She is currently doing research on trauma as she applies to PhD programs