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Always a TN girl at Heart:

As a Tennessee girl, Jess grew up in theater and loved the stage. With a vivacious personality and a zest for life, she was not afraid of the spotlight and embraced her creativity through dance. But as she entered her teenage years, she found herself struggling with body image and confidence. 

By Jess’s senior year of high school, she was having issues with her blood sugar and frustrated with her weight. On a whim, she ran a 5K and instantly fell in love with running. Jess began her running journey in earnest, as a way to take control of her health. 

But shortly after, her love of running was overtaken by the intoxicating power of body control, and Jess found herself taking things too far. She began using running as a punishment instead of something she enjoyed and simultaneously developed an eating disorder. 

Jess eventually started therapy and rehab for the eating disorder, but in parallel began to experience health issues that would take nearly a decade to solve. 

It was during this time that Jess also had her first experience of discrimination in the healthcare system. She noticed that her doctors tended to focus far more on her weight than on the symptoms she was experiencing. 

But Jess’s symptoms were real, and she was eventually diagnosed with endometriosis, a condition in which endometrial tissue grows outside the uterus, causing pain, bleeding, and a host of other symptoms.  

All the while, Jess continued to run, and had a big goal – to someday complete the NYC Marathon. Nearly a decade later, Jess learned that her dream was about to become a reality – she had been accepted in the lottery to run the 2022 NYC Marathon!

A very tough Year:

Leading up to the marathon, Jess struggled with worsening endometriosis symptoms and learned that she actually did not have endometriosis as previously diagnosed, but instead she had adenomyosis. Adenomyosis comes with similar symptoms of endometriosis, but it’s a different condition in that tissue from the lining of the uterus grows into the uterine wall. 

While this diagnosis was a surprise, it unfortunately was not the worst of the news. The procedures that Jess underwent uncovered something much scarier – Jess had HPV which had progressed to cervical cancer. 

Jess immediately underwent a procedure to remove the cancerous cells on her cervix and considers herself blessed that her cancer was detected early. Cervical cancer can be genetic and after her diagnosis, her mom shared that she, too, had cervical cancer before having children. 

A few months later, Jess began experiencing different symptoms of leg cramping and numbness. Once again, doctors dismissed her, focusing on her weight. One doctor even lied to her about AIC testing, and when Jess pleaded with her to please keep digging for answers, she reluctantly said yes because, “big girls deserve healthcare, too.” 

This was the last straw. Jess immediately switched doctors. She came to learn that she had celiac disease, an illness caused by an immune reaction to eating gluten, and that is why she was feeling so sick. 

In retrospect, Jess shares that many of the signs to her health conditions were there, she just didn’t see them at the time.

In her Marathon Era:

Through all of her health turmoil, Jess still managed to accomplish the amazing feat of running the New York City Marathon in 2022. The experience was magical, despite the unseasonably warm weather, water shortages and facing some tough mental demons. 

She was grateful for friends and family who helped her through by passing the time with her on the phone and amazing people that she met along the way. But not everyone was amazing. Toward the end of the race, a person on a bike hollered at her, “You are too fat to be doing this right now.” 

But Jess did not let this disgusting act of discrimination stop her. She had been through so much and always kept going. Jess dug deep while running the NYC Marathon that day and shared that while it was “not everything I wanted, it was everything I needed.”

Brain babble and Bliss:

While 2022 was a challenging year for her physical health, 2020 had been a challenging year for her mental health. The time home alone during the pandemic led to episodes of dissociation. She would hurt herself and had no clue what happened or why. Jess believes that everything she’s gone through with her eating disorder and past mental traumas led up to that. 

Today, Jess’s mental health is in a far more stable place. Celiac disease can cause symptoms of panic and anxiety, so Jess must stay in tune with her mental health. Symptoms of panic are a relatively new thing for Jess, so she’s working on finding what helps her brain to calm down in the midst of an attack. She’s hyper aware of the brain/body connection and recognizes that when one is off the other is too. 

Gratitude for Running:

Despite the punishment steeped in her early years of running, Jess shares that she is extremely grateful for the sport. It’s taught her to be kinder to her body and helped her get to know her body incredibly well. 

Running has also brought her some of her best friends, whom she trains with regularly. She’s grateful to have joined the Still I Run Ambassador community this year; and enjoys the meet ups in her local area.

From Races to Stages:

Jess has ran two ultra marathons (30 and 50 milers) and accomplished things that most people would never dream of doing. She is currently training for the Nashville Rock & Roll Half Marathon, a bucket list race and she also has her hopes set on running the Chicago Marathon someday, too. 

She’s also reignited an old passion of hers – the art of performing. She recently got involved in the burlesque community and is loving it. She uses her creativity to choreograph her own routines and harnesses her love for dance on stage. Her mission when she dances is to exude power, confidence and body positivity to other women in the crowd. 

Jess’s burlesque name is Jocelyn, which coincidentally was the name she called the “mean girl in her head” for many years. That voice now has a new and empowering purpose. 

Be your Biggest advocate:

After all of the health obstacles Jess has survived, she believes that education, prevention, and having tough conversations is the key in advocating for your health. 

She encourages others to always be persistent with their healthcare providers about how they are feeling, and if you don’t feel comfortable, find a new doctor. 

Whether it be mental health or physical health, if you know something is not right, trust your gut and be your biggest advocate. And most importantly, stay positive and be your own #1 fan.

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