The Highest Octane

Stories of a Midlife Bikini Mom
3 min readOct 13, 2023

When my youngest daughter was in elementary school and on her first competition cheer team, she overheard another mom say that she wanted to buy all of the girls medals.

“This way, when we don’t win in the competition, they won’t feel bad for walking away with nothing. They will still feel like winners,” the mother rationalized.

My daughter was livid.

“That’s so stupid, Mom,” she complained. “That’s not actually winning anything. The medal means nothing.”

I nodded, agreeing with her and fully taking in her wisdom at such a young age. She was right.

In the last couple of decades our culture has been focused on rewarding. In order to protect and promote self esteem, we have inundated our children with rewards — good attendance awards, best effort awards, new member awards. Etc, etc etc.

I had my competition last weekend.

I was nervous, of course, and really probably a little too focused on the meal afterward more than anything. But, I practiced my posing, I practiced my individual routine and I did my best to channel confidence and stage presence. I even smiled.

Standing back in the prep room (a cafeteria of a very large church) I waited in my black silky robe that I had bought from Walmart. Headphones on, completely blanketing both ears, music poured through and I tried to let go of the nerves bubbling in my belly.

It didn’t really matter what the outcome was, I told myself. I had gotten this far and that was farther than a whole lot of people. I had done this. Me…a self proclaimed introvert, in a green sparkly bikini.

When it was all over I had done better…but not as good as I would have liked.

I placed and won awards…but the show was small. The awards felt like a consolation prize… (I can just hear the line in my head said by Sally from When Harry Met Sally telling him: I’m not your consolation prize, Harry).

So I brought my trophies home, set them on the table and stared at them for a minute. I’ve never been a trophy person…I have trophies from high school when I was in track. My daughter has trophies from her cheer competitions and they just sit there in the basement along with the medals. Yet, even still, I was feeling a little bittersweet tug in my gut.

Yes, I placed. But I can do better.

My improvement season is upon me and I am driven even more so to do better.

I’ve thought about failure a lot in the last couple of days. It’s not that I failed, so much as I fell short of the expectations I held for myself.

Failure is not something to be ashamed of, it’s something to be powered by. Failure is the highest octane fuel your life can run on.” -Abby Wambach

I’m not sure why Ifeel so driven for this. This isn’t something like crossing a finish line first. It’s not earning any money at all. It doesn’t put my name in any books or bring any type of accolades. Yet, I have my eye on something and feel compelled to reach it.

So now we build again. But first we reverse diet — a slow building back up of calories.

The trophies still sit on the table and I’ll likely move them soon. But for now they serve as a reminder of where I am now, and fueling the drive to do more.