Carol Bontekoe

This blog has been keeping track of my adventures since 2004. The stories and the adventures have come from my college dorm room to Uganda, Peace Corps Kyrgyzstan, learning Dutch in the Netherlands to living in the wilds of Homer, Alaska. I went back to school in Amsterdam to study Theaterwetenschap (Theatre Science) at University of Amsterdam. And now my adventures as a Fruit Fly, a Sexy Unicorn, and creating a movement with Team Sparkle in Chicago.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Team Sparkle: Fear, Weight Loss, and Improv

A bit about some of my fears and why it took me so long to try improv.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Team Sparkle: Body Shaming

A few of my issues with Body Shaming. Remember you are fabulous!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Let the Races Begin!

Middle School 200 meter race.
I can't believe it, I had so much fun running in my first 5K.

I have always been miserable running even short distances. In middle school and high school my track coaches tried to make me run 100 meter and 200 meter races. These races came to an abrupt halt my sophomore year when I was crushed by the only other girl in my heat. She happened to be blind and handicapped and she destroyed me in the hundred meter dash. That was when Coach G decided it was time I focused on shotput and discus, bringing an end to me and racing.

At MSU my teammate Erica and I mastered the run-walk for our warm ups. This is where from a distance it can appear to be a very slow run but in reality it is just a walk with some flair. Since the end of college there have been some brief attempts to pick up running. They always ended as abruptly as they began.

Since April this year, when I decided I was sick and tired of being unhealthy and that I am determined to run the 2013 Chicago Marathon, I have been able to put some focus on my running. I started with the couch to 5K program and struggled through the 1 minute run, just waiting for the moment I could start walking again. However, I have lost 60 lbs since then and have built up a good amount of endurance by cycling 2000+ miles this summer.
Pre-race with Team Sparkle:  Lydia, Shawn, and Gloria

Running is still by no means something I love doing. I enjoy a lot of other things more than going for a run. However, I loved running in a race. I ran with my friend Shawn who had agreed to help with pacing me and keeping me focused through the run. My goal when I 1st started was under 40 minutes. Then after doing some practice runs it was revised to under 35 minutes. Shawn and I ended up running it in 32:20. We started in the very back because I had to guess what my pace time would be and I guessed 15 minute miles. It ended up being 10:25 miles and I finished almost exactly in the middle of the pack for the Bucktown 5K. I have never been so pumped to be in the middle of the pack of anything before. Starting in the back means Shawn and I had plenty of people we were passing. We would split around them and meet up on the other side of the person we had just passed. We picked up speed to try and get around stroller dad who kept reappearing out of no where.  We saw a young girl holding up a unicorn cheering on the runners. Since my nickname is Sexy Unicorn I felt she was cheering specifically for me. There was a giant dead rat in the route that the woman in front of me screamed and than hurdled over. It was a blast!
Finishing strong!
The comradery of the race is what I enjoyed the most, after that the challenging myself out of my comfort zone is always exciting. I am already signed up for a couple more 5Ks and I'm looking into running some longer races. This was a great start to lead up to the marathon next year. I now have a time, a pace, and the belief that yes I can run.
I can race.

Ready, set, GO!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Drink More Water.

Since I have lost nearly 60 lbs and it is becoming noticeable that I'm losing weight people have started to ask what's the "secret".  In reality, there is no secret. It's all stuff you already know. Eat more fruits and vegetables, less junk food, and exercise more. You know that, I know that. Yet, we Americans find it difficult to make these changes at once. So, when people are looking for a good starting point I have to say, "Drink more water."

I also want to say stop drinking pop. Yeah, I know you  don't need to stop because you drink diet. STOP IT! I didn't drink pop for 8 years and then I moved to Africa when I was 20 (where it was my only safe choice) and it took 8 more years to quit drinking pop. I would contribute 10-15 lbs that I have lost simply to the elimination of pop. When I tell people this they quickly say, "Yeah... but you didn't drink diet. Did you?"
I drank it all. I love pop. I love the taste, the carbonation, the sound a cold can makes when you open it on a hot day. However, here is a chart of all that pop does to you.

And Diet Pop? Well you are just drinking a can of chemicals. How do you think that is helping your longevity, health, and weight? 

Seriously, if you are just looking for a starting point drink more water. You should be drinking half your weight in ounces. So if you weigh 150 lbs you should be drinking at least 75 ounces of water a day. At the minimum.

One, of the many, nutrition books I read gave the visual of a flowing creek versus a stale pond. When your body is dehydrated and you don't have enough water going through your system you are like a stale pond with sludge and gook building up. When you drink plenty of water your body is like a fresh flowing spring from a glacier. Pure and clean.

So, grab a water bottle. Fill it up. And Chug-a-lug.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

One Fat Kid's Love For Her Collar Bone

"What? What's that? My collarbone? Yes... yes it is my collarbone."

I pull the collar of my shirt out so the person (I did this to many people) I'm talking to can see my newly exposed collarbone.

I was met with: "so..." or "yeah... everyone has a collarbone." What my friends and random guys on the street didn't seem to understand is this is completely new territory for me and what other Fat Kids can attest to, not everyone has a collarbone. I understand the basics of anatomy and even Fat Kids technically have a collarbone, but you wouldn't know it because you'll never see a Fat Kid's collarbone.

The more weight you lose the more exposed you feel.

Over the past four months I have lost just over 50 lbs and it is only now that people are starting to be able to "tell" that I've lost some weight. Before now I had to inform people I had lost weight and I received a lot of, "oh.... yeah. Sure. I can see that. In a your face right? Sorry, where have you lost 25 pounds?"

I wasn't mad or frustrated with people for not being able to tell I had lost weight because in all honesty I couldn't tell myself since appearance wise I looked the same. However, how much healthier I felt and the scale reminded me that I was in fact losing weight. When I had lost about 30 lbs and was asked where I had lost the weight I found my answer a bit odd but it was the only place I had noticed real change, "my neck..."

This was not the answer people who are looking to lose lbs around their mid-section wanted to hear. When people think about losing weight they think about losing that gut that keeps them from the perfect outfit not their neck. Myself, family, and friends have joked around about my lack of a neck since I was in middle school, so when I noticed that I had started to have a neck I actually thought it was pretty cool. Then at around 40 lbs I was wearing a v-neck shirt in my weight lifting class and noticed something I had really never seen before: my collarbone. I continued on with my flies, but if anyone had noticed my face in the mirror they would have seen a look of utter confusion. At first I couldn't figure out what I was looking at in the mirror. Once I realized my collarbone was starting to show I really started lifting hard and had a determined face with a hint of a smile.

My collarbone showing was the first visual sign that all my hard work was paying off. Physically, emotionally, and mentally I already knew that I am healthier and in better shape but I couldn't "see" any change. That might be why I was a little over zealous at first showing people my collarbone, although hobos on the train didn't seem to mind.

There's my neck.
One of the hardest parts of weight loss is the mental game that your own brain is going to put you through. I know for a fact that my waist has to be smaller. I am down a shirt size and two pants sizes. Yet when I look at myself in the mirror I think my waist looks bigger than it ever has. I have always had very skinny legs for my size. However, with the insane amount of cycling, lunges, and squats (oh so many squats) and with my smaller waist my thighs are actually starting to look rather large. And to my face... I have a nose that genetically from my father wasn't that great to start out with. Throughout the years it has been bashed in more than a few times. Sometimes it has been popped back into place others times I've had to let it ride. This has made it so I have a knob on the ridge and my nose hooks to the left. As my face narrows I feel that my odd nose becomes more prominent on my pointy face.

That's why I love my collarbone so much. I see that and it reminds me how far I have come. I'll be honest I have had a lot of fun getting in shape but losing 50 lbs is not easy and I have at least 100 more to go. When my brain starts trying to play games with me to make me insecure about my body I tilt my head and give my neck a look or I roll my shoulders and check out my collarbone. This isn't just a weight loss journey. It is a total transformation to be a healthier person. Self love, self acceptance, and finding the things that make me beautiful and unique are important; because to become physically healthy I have to stay mentally healthy and have a healthy view of myself. For I am glorious and worth living a better life.

Monday, July 16, 2012

I'm Coming Out (of the back row)

"Carol, move to the back so we can see Claire."

"NO! I'm not being forced into the back row anymore!"

My boss had hit a nerve with the instruction for me to move to the back row so we could make room for everyone's favorite Claire to be front and center. Heck. Claire is even one of my favorite people in Chicago; however I had made the decision just days before that I'm not going to keep getting forced into the background, sidelined, or silenced anymore.

There have been a lot of decisions made through out the years to minimize my impact and make it so favorites can be brought to the foreground while I quietly slink out of the picture. As a tall, large, loud child there was always a place for me in a back corner at the Christmas concert. Team photos from high school where I can be found in a shadow in the back corner. Going un-mic'd while all the other leads in the play got microphones. As an adult I started self placing myself in the back. At the gym I would be in the far back corner where I couldn't see the instructor, and where no one else would be forced to see my awkward burpees.

I even moved to Friesland (the land of my forefathers) in hopes that I would not stand out just once in my life. If you don't stand out as being different no one feels the need to hide you right? However, in a land of tall, extremely blond hair, blue eyed beauties I didn't blend in with the crowd as much as I had hoped.

As I struggle to take control over my own life, my future, and my body I realized I was only hurting myself by agreeing to relinquish myself to the background. This agreement had made a once bold child grow into an adult with crippling stage freight. Where I had once taken pride in my height and size I now struggle to accept my oddness with the same joy it once brought me.  Also, always being told to go to the background makes it so eventually you become suspicious of any positive attention you receive. If out with my girlfriends and guy decides to chat me up over my decidedly more beautiful friends I get creeped out and become convinced that we'll have a Silence of the Lambs- lotion in the basket type situation happening before we know it.

I naturally stand out in a crowd and I am learning to accept and embrace that fact. Anyone who has ever heard me try to whisper knows I'm going to be heard from a mile away whether I like it or not. I'm always going to be tall, even when I'm an old lady and I start to shrink I'll still be taller than most people I know. I'm not always going to be as big as I am now, I'm working too hard to stay here forever. However, slender and waify will not be terms used for me in the future. And while I'll never be a favorite I'm taking my spot front and center, because that's what I deserve.

So, no Mark I'm not moving to the back. Me and my big hat will stay right here. Front and Center.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Team Sparkle

I'm doing it.
I'm going to run a 5k in September.
I'm going to lift weights.
I'm going to bike everywhere I possibly can.
I'm going to lose 100 lbs.
I'm going to run a marathon in 2013.
Changing your habits, your lifestyle, and yourself is a very difficult process.

Team Sparkle: Double D, Scott, Me, and Alana
I was born a big kid and have subsequently grown into a big adult. My size only rarely phases me. Living abroad for a large chunk of my adulthood didn't make me notice it either, because aren't Americans suppose to be fat? Me being bigger than everyone or unable to fit into things just seemed right. It wasn't till I moved back to the United States, and the Midwest in particular, I became aware of just how big I had become. It was the fact that I wasn't actually the biggest person around anymore that drew attention to it.
I work at a large museum that practically every Midwesterner visits at some point. I started noticing people around my age who couldn't walk up 3 flights of stairs or had trouble covering the entire distance of the museum. I started to think there must have been a point when they could have turned it around. I'm not saying it is ever fully impossible, however, when someone can barely walk because of their weight I can see where it starts to feel like an impossibility. This made me start to look at myself more carefully. I began to realize how inactivity and an unhealthy lifestyle can creep up on you. It had creeped up on me. I wasn't really heavier than I have been at other points in my life but I was flabbier, softer, quickly tired, eating all the time, and yet totally malnourished. That's how you get to the point where you can't climb stairs at the age of 30. It isn't an overnight thing but a decade of bad choices, lack of focus, and self loathing that enabled me to keep with a destructive lifestyle.
I decided then and there that I didn't want to live a life of self destruction. I want to live a healthy, active, and engaging life.
A year later I actually started working on changing for good and making a complete lifestyle change.
In the year following my decision and getting to the point where I actually started working towards my goal there were a few failed attempts to become more active and to eat better. They failed pretty quickly and I burnt out fast trying to do it all by myself. I would go out and buy, for lack of a better word, vats of cookie dough. There were huge bags of candy that I would consume in my room with the wrappers covering my floor, serving as a reminder of what I just did. A lot of shame comes when you have one of these binges. The shame last 4 to 5 times longer than the satisfaction of having just torn apart an entire pie.
As a very goal orientated person I knew I need to pick some BIG goal. Something that wasn't coming up too quickly and would give me time to work towards it with smaller milestones leading up to it. I knew exactly what it had to be, something I have always wanted to do. I like to be mentally and physically challenged. It had to be a... MARATHON. The fact that people laughed whenever I brought up the idea of me running a marathon when I haven't even run a 5K was a good indicator to me that it is the perfect goal.
There is a weird amount of embarrassment involved with saying you want to lose weight or get in shape or quit an addiction (sometimes it's a 3-for-1). It means having to admit out loud to another person that there is a problem, even though odds are other people can already see the problem you are so desperate not to acknowledge.
I thought weight loss and better health could be mastered the same way I took on knitting. Someone takes an hour to show me the basics, makes uncomfortable faces at my awkwardness, then I go into another room for the next two days watching Barbara Streisand movies and when I re-appear I have a scarf. It turns out while knit and purl is a challenge, it is nothing compared to eating healthy.
I have a tendency to crumble if I know anyone is paying attention to me. Crippling stage fright has plagued me my whole life. I wasn't able to knit when my mom, who was teaching me, was looking over my shoulder. I had to be able to go in another room and fail and succeed and fail without anyone noticing. That's how I wanted weight loss to be- in another room, alone, where no one can see me fail they just see the end result of my triumph.
Also, when speaking of weight loss I feel the weight loss reality shows have hurt people. How so? They hurt people because we all love the idea of the "Big Reveal". The moment you come out with the lights on you, in a tight skirt, and some rockin' heels. However, if you aren't leaving your world behind the "Big Reveal" is impossible. And trying to hide or keep your goals a secret seems fruitless. No one can help, encourage, or join you if it is a secret in hopes of some moment of revelation in others. And you are unable to help, encourage, and set an example for others if you are keep your own struggle a secret.
Once I decided to run a marathon, for me, it meant game on. I needed to get in shape for this test of endurance. That meant eating better and working out. I also knew I needed to include at least one other person that would be with me all the way to the end. To me the natural person to ask was my best friend, Scott. When I asked him if he would commit to the next year and half of training, races, and finally the 2013 Chicago Marathon; he laughed in my face and said, "no". I wasn't surprised by his answer.
Scott and I are not friends because we have so much in common that it was inevitability. We met when I crashed a party at his place and proceeded to talk to him because he has a Frisian last name. I am an extrovert to the nth degree combined with a relatively open nature. Scott in contrast is introverted and a very private person (I'm sure if he reads this he is not happy that he is even mentioned in this- tough cookies! :P). And where I have a tendency to give a resounding "yes" without thinking about the situation, Scott will give an automatic "no". Sometimes he comes around other times he'll let the gut reaction "no" remain.
When it came to the marathon question a few days later he came around and said he was in. I am so glad he decided to go on this journey with me and to know I'm not alone, it made a world of difference in my training and focus to know someone will be there for me. Also, it's been nice to see him reengaging with a healthier routine after the most tragic and stressful year of his life had moved him away from a healthy lifestyle.
I began a quest to recruit more people. To keep me accountable but to also give others a goal to work towards as they try to become healthier and happier people. I know that to ask people to commit to a a marathon is a bit much, so I have begun with the Bucktown 5K in September. This particular 5K was chosen because it has a particularly nice goodie bag combined with being enough in the future to get people to join in and start running. So far two others have committed to running the Bucktown 5K with Scott and I; our friends Alana and Daniel David (Double D).  I am so excited for all of us and have started calling us Team Sparkle. I'm committing myself to helping the other members of Team Sparkle live more active lives.
I have read lots of articles about how your friend groups influence your health and weight. Maybe I have had a negative impact on friends in the past because I didn't take care of myself. I hope now and in the future I can be a good influence on my friends lives instead of a detrimental one. The only requirement there is to being apart of Team Sparkle is the taking responsibility for your life and to live an active and engaging life.
It's encouraging not to feel alone in this struggle anymore. To feel others are helping me and maybe I'm helping someone else.
 Remember if you want to see change, than you have to be the change.
 And most of all sparkle so the world can see you.

Thursday, January 19, 2012


I find this quote from Albert Einstein very inspirational. Feeling stupid or less than is a horrible feeling. Hopefully one day we can all find our genius.