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Oliver Kodershah - Finding Yourself Through Fitness

“We all attempt to satisfy the need to fit in; this unexplainable requirement to be accepted, to have a group, a place to call home. I was born and raised in Edmonton with a constant feeling that something was missing in this city for me. I never really fit into a group. I couldn't find a place where I could be myself. It all made for a challenging journey,” says Kodershah.

When the opportunity for a trip to visit a cousin one year in Montreal arose, I jumped at the chance. The moment my feet touched the ground, I instantly fell in love with Montreal. It’s culture and the big city vibes. I would walk around in awe, jealous of these people walking the streets of downtown with a mission. Important people doing important things. I instantly felt I needed to be one of them. The city gave me the feeling that I could be as seen as I wanted to, or fade to the background when need be. A task that seemed near impossible in Edmonton. Coming home from those trips always made me sad, like being back in the city was looming over my head. I always felt like I was not enough growing up. I would be in constant search of tangible things that would give me the feeling of being enough. I would tell myself that I was not good at anything and unable to attain anything. To fill those voids, I would just need to run. Running became an easy to solution to all my problems. I lacked courage to be me, courage to stand in my own light and be my own hero. It’s true what they say, your perception soon becomes your reality, and my reality sunk in all too hard at a very tender age.

Through what seemed like my never ending years as an adolescent, I was lucky enough to have parents that had a travel bug and I was able to make my way across the globe. Notably, a trip back to Lebanon to see the homes my parents grew up in and a few trips to some sunnier destinations across Canada and the United States. Although I appreciated the opportunities, I never felt I belonged on those trips. It wasn't anyone's fault, I just always felt like an outsider with the people in my life. I felt like there was something missing in our connection and interactions. Not knowing how to fix it led me right back to what I knew best - run and hide. I would work on ways at separating myself from the group I was with because I found myself constantly fighting with everyone. I felt no one had made an effort to know me, to really see me for who I was. As they say, misery enjoys company and when you are down, you want those around you to feel the same way.

However, the trip that was the crowning moment in my life as a young gay man was to “Adonis Tulum Gay Resort & Spa” in Mexico. There I was, 19-years-old living in a sexually heightened world and gay community, giggling to myself with excitement that I was travelling on my own to a resort that had a nude beach and was strictly for gay men. I had deluded myself into thinking that would be where I would meet my husband—or a hot cabana boy – which at the time was likely the same thing in my head. Much to my dismay, the trip proved to be me by the pool, having made friends with the one straight female who was there on her honeymoon as they got a deal on the resort. Befriending females everywhere I went was not uncommon. Women have always played an important role in my life. They always seemed to get me and during a time where lacking masculinity ostracized me, they seemed like my only safe haven.

School never came easy to me, both in the social aspects of it as well as the educational side. Math was literally my worst nightmare. My brain never worked like that. The teachers would be talking about long division, but my mind was far more concerned with the fact that the Pussycat Dolls were on the verge of a break up or that my dance group was in the midst of learning a new routine to “I want Candy” by Aaron Carter. Where I would be featured as the male lead, making my grand jete across the main stage. The arts were always safe and they always made sense. See, with music playing and your body moving to its beat, you can become whoever it is you need to be. Little did I know, the only person I needed to be was myself.

I am the youngest of two children, raised with the hopes of instilling very conservative Lebanese values. My parents did their best to guide me through the trials and tribulations of life. However, “One girl, Five gays” had a very different plan in mind for me. I was constantly curious, always hungry for more, never knowing what exactly I was hungry for. This constant craving got me into a lot of trouble. But it also equipped me with a quick tongue and not knowing when to be quiet. It also gifted me the notion that every single person I encountered had a story to tell me and I was determined to listen to it all. It allowed my heart to be open to everyone and to love so fiercely it would hurt. My family tried their best but I felt like I was an anomaly to most of them. None of them have ever experienced anything like me before it was a process of trial error on both our parts.

I danced for a large part of my childhood and adolescent life, between the ages eight to 16 , I would find peace in each movement. I loved music and pairing that with the active portion of my lifestyle made it easy. However, I hated organized sports. Back then I would make some joke that I didn’t understand it and that I though it wasn’t worth my time. The reality was I was always terrified I would look stupid. I was a kid that was crippled with a fear of rejection from anyone. If it didn’t think that I could do it, I wouldn't even attempt it. That made for no false hopes, no broken dreams, and no pointing and laughing. Looking back now, I realized I missed a lot of great opportunities with that destructive thinking. As a result, I stuck to what I knew which was dance and when that wasn't an option for me anymore pop culture, television shows and movies alone in bed accompanied by snacks became my sanctuary. The concept of a healthy lifestyle and staying active was lost on me at an early age, contrary to the efforts of the people in my life. I didn’t see the worth in taking care of myself. Likely because I forgot that I deserved my own love more than anybody else.

There was never any doubt in my mind about my sexuality, the reality was that I never realized that it mattered at all. In my head, the people I was attracted to were always secondary to everything else I could offer. It became very clear to me at a young age that who I was, was not the teenage boy that society was expecting me to be. As most teens who come out of the closet can attest, your journey out of the closet never stops. It becomes a delicate act that you have to repeat over and over again even though you may not be getting the standing ovation you are looking for.

I was riddled with worry and shame when I reached the age that my attraction to men made more sense, when sex and sexuality all become a little clearer. I remember the day as if it was yesterday. I was fourteen-years-old and my mother was driving me home from school. We were just about to turn into the driveway and she asked, “Oliver are you gay?” I had been asked this before. Multiple times. By kids at school, parents, aunts, uncles, really anybody. Even people who might not have meant it maliciously would ask, because humans seemed to have this weird need to “get you”. Like they need to know what box to put you in so that you can make more sense. I used to shrug the question off, trying to disguise it with a funny remark or a change of topic. This time however, I swallowed the lump in my throat and managed to work out a squeak of a “yes” met with utter silence. I was terrified but so relived, that was a step in the right direction. It felt, like I was on my way towards a better tomorrow. While that tomorrow took eight years for me to get to, I can safely say now, that was the best decision I had ever made.

School, friends and acceptance is hard for any teenager to begin with. Throw in banging on a closet door for your teenage years and you’ve got yourself a hot mess. I learned very quickly that kids are mean; both behind your back and to your face. That was the hardest part growing up and going through school. I would hear the word “fag” on what seemed like a daily basis. This was right around the time that Facebook had been taken to new heights and keyboard warriors started to emerge. I would get text messages, online messages saying the most obscene things. While I was being told to “be me” I felt that to have friends, and to be part of any sort of group, I needed to be the exact opposite of that. I would find solace and comfort alone, watching movies, going on walks, and food – that was the worst part of it all. I became addicted to eating, my emotions seemed to be fixed by eating, pair that with little to no physical activity and it was a recipe for disaster. Although I felt alone, I didn’t want anyone to know that I was, so I would lie to my family about who I was with, I always wanted to seem that I had it together, because the minute I admitted out loud that I didn’t would be the minute that I would crumble.

I never sought out the right help, likely because I didn’t know how to ask for it and this led me into a very dangerous world that I was far too young to be a part of. I didn’t feel like there were appropriate resources around me at school and in my personal life to seek a community, nowhere to go to ask questions, and as with any growing teenager, gay or straight, you become curious about your body and others. I took to the internet to find my answers. This led me down a very damaging. My self-image was shattered. I was spending time with people who were not good for me. People that  at 15-years-old, you shouldn’t even be considering hanging out with. I was doing things that well surpassed my maturity level. Every window on any shed of light around my life felt like it was closed. There was no good in this world. I had convinced myself of that. Self-love, self-worth, care, respect, love and kindness all traits I hold to the highest esteem to this day, were all traits I didn’t bother to show myself. I didn’t want to go to school because I felt everywhere I turned I would get a verbal lashing from someone. Towards the end of my school career, it wasn’t even people making fun of me for being gay, it turned into them telling me that I wasn’t gay and this entire time I had done it for attention. Comments like, “We’ve never seen you with a guy. You are probably just trying to get with girls.” These comments couldn’t have been farther from the truth. No offense ladies.

Being slightly overweight and Middle-Eastern made for a difficult transition into the gay community itself actually. For a group that is already a minority,we have a really bad habit of creating a larger sub division between ourselves. If you aren’t Caucasian, shredded and look like you just walked out of an Abercrombie and Fitch ad you would be an automatic left swipe (both hypothetically and literally on tinder if that’s your jam). I would read profiles online with the phrase “not fatties” in their bios, or “no spice, no rice”. I remember I used to lie in the ethnicity portion of  dating profiles and select white because I so desperately wanted people to reply back to me. To notice me, to love me. My body and ethnicity plagued me for the longest time, and wrongfully so. You really don’t need anyone to accept you. I had forgotten that. Looking back now, I had allowed the worst of our society to take a hold of me, when I so desperately just needed someone back then to hold me and tell me that it would all be ok.

When you are overweight you don’t want anyone to tell you that you are overweight. You begin to tell yourself a story. A story that it is ok. That there is nothing wrong with your weight (in my case being 280 pounds). When people would try to talk to me about it I would lash out and get so upset and tell them that they were awful people. Much like anything in life you have to find your own two feet to push yourself back up. I remember when I was working at an office an email had just gone out for a corporate health and wellness challenge. There I was sitting at my desk. In the same seated position I would always find myself in, hunched over, hoping no one would look at me. I read the email about this challenge and instantly threw it in my junk mail. I told myself it was garbage. I didn’t need a challenge of any sort. I would drive home stop at every drive thru imaginable and eat my emotions whilst listening to podcasts in my car then rush home to get into bed and turn on Netflix.

A co-worker who is now very good friend decided she was going to approach me. She walked by my desk and asked if I would participate. I scoffed at her. The suggestion seemed silly to me. I was also offended she thought I should be in the challenge. I took everything personally. She told me all I would have to do was eat some oatmeal, drink some water and go for some walks and I could win one of the many great prizes. Begrudgingly, I agreed to do it, and the next day she took my measurements. This would show us how much we’ve grown through the challenge. I avoided the scale at all costs.  No news is good news, right? The numbers terrified me. I remember crying in my friend’s office baffled by how I looked. It was as if in that moment the blinds had been opened up. To this day she has one of the biggest hearts that I know but won’t hesitate to give you tough love when you need it. She told me to snap out of it. To find my bearings and go to a gym. So I did just that. I got a gym membership and changed my eating habits. In a year I had lost thirty pounds. In the following six months I lost another twenty.

That transformation was so much more than how my body looked .It was the start of loving myself again. I had lived a life of regret and sadness. I was angry at everyone. Never having let go of the past and the wrong doings I had done to myself and others had done to me. Lifting weights, cardio and spending time on cooking and eating turned into a form of self-love. People would ask me what my goal was. I would tell them it was to be happy. I continued on my journey and to this day still continue to take care of myself. Because that is the very least I owe myself. In the hopes of finding the perfect body I found Oliver all over again. It became my reinvention. The past seemed less heavy than before. Loving me for me seemed possible again.

I stumbled across YEG Cycle when a friend asked me to try a spin class. I agreed because I was looking for that extra kick. I left my first class not wanting to admit how much more I wanted from it. I had this unexplainable desire to be back in that room and in the space. As summer was approaching I decided I would fill my time working at the front desk to immerse myself even further into the thing I couldn’t stop thinking about. During class I started to imagine myself up there, I would tell myself that I had a story to tell and in an instant I knew that this was the platform to do it.

No matter how much weight I lost or will lose there are some things that your body won’t change. This is the funny thing about fitness. Your shape does not define how fit you are. I had a fear that people would look at me and think he’s too big to be teaching a class. Or that they would doubt my ability based on a look. All of those worries and all of those fears got quickly demolished with three simple words “I believe in you”. I sat down with Andrew Obrecht, one of the owners of YEG/YYC Cycle one afternoon and that is what he told me. I explained to him that I knew this was the place I belonged, that there was a change in this world I wanted to effect, that I wanted to do something big. He told me he believed in me and if I trusted the journey and hopped on the ride with him I would have a world of opportunity at my feet. I can safely say that conversation with him changed my life. I won’t ever be able to put into words just how grateful I was for that day and for him. I was given an opportunity, a platform to effect change and I took it. And I soaked every minute of it up.

There was a campaign a few years back called “It gets better” on YouTube and on television. It was directed towards youth in the LGBTQ+ community urging us to wait a couple years because it is bound to get better. I used to hate those ads. While the premise was founded from the right space, it couldn't have been farther from the truth. Fifteen-year-old Oliver couldn’t think about going to school tomorrow, let alone waiting a couple of years for it to get better. Looking back now I would tell my fifteen-year-old self that in fact it does NOT “get better”. That YOU have to actively work to make it better. You have everything you need to start your life today; you just have to be willing to try. You will fall, you will hurt, you will need help. It’s ok to cry, it’s ok to be scared, you just have to keep getting up. You have to keep pushing forward. Finding the strength that is buried so deep inside you. I would remind myself just how beautiful I am, how my soul & heart are precious and should be guarded at all costs. I would hug myself and remind myself that pain is only temporary and tell the heartbroken fifteen-year-old me that YOU are loved! You are everything this world ever needed and more. I read a quote the other day by Louis Hay, “Remember, you have been criticizing yourself for years and it hasn’t worked. Try approving of yourself and see what happens.”

In 10 years, I see myself continuing to grow with the amazing company and family at YEG Cycle I stumbled upon last year. I love Being able to teach and see the faces of riders both new and old every day and hearing their stories and continues to inspire me. I see myself using my platform to spread love and kindness into this world. I hope to start a family by then. I think that would be full circle for me, watching my son or daughter grow to be exactly who they are meant to be. Finally, I see myself healing. Letting go of the pain, of the hurt and of the suffering—breathing in deeply and out and accepting the world for exactly what it is—amazing.

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