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Fearless Felice

HOST INTRO: What’s in a name? For commentator Felice León a nickname became her mantra.

“Fearless Felice.” I earned the name as a child. I can’t remember who first called me that, but I DO remember my first attempt to swim underwater.

I was about four and floating in my uncle’s pool. I had a duck-shaped float tight around my waist. I felt confined. Splashing around in the pool wasn’t good enough. This was my big chance to swim underwater. I managed to myself over so the top half of my body was underwater. I kicked my legs vigorously in the air. I bobbed and paddled as best a non-swimming four-year-old could. I wasn’t making any headway. But breathing, breathing was not an issue.

Above water, my mother didn’t see it this way. She was terrified. She jumped-in fully clothed to save her “drowning daughter.” I understood the concept of drowning, but it didn’t apply to me. And that’s how “Fearless Felice” was born.

A few years later, I earned another nickname: “Big Bertha.” In middle school, I was bullied. I dreaded the bus ride each morning. During my adolescence, “Fearless Felice” faded. I was deflated, overweight, and insecure. I took fewer risks. I accepted rejection from the basketball team and never played again.

Time heals, especially when you are young. In high school I regained enough confidence to run for student body president.

Our campaign was named, “The Voice.” Vote for the Voice, because we represent you. My running mates and I led an aggressive campaign. After months of shaking hands and attending pep rallies, it was Election Day. By 4:30 that afternoon, I knew that I’d lost. But the rest of my team won. I was crushed, but this time, I didn’t give up. I went on to be involved in the leadership class and was elected director of Senior SING!, an annual theater competition.

This time the setback began the resurrection of Fearless Felice.

In October 2012, I decided to run my first marathon.

I am not a runner, but I committed myself to running 26.2 miles. I had no idea what I was getting into.

The training was grueling. I was in the gym or on the road six days a week. Long weekend runs started at seven o’clock in the morning. I changed my diet and my mind. After four months of training, I was at the start line and my stomach was in knots. A storm was predicted that day and I secretly wished that the race would be cancelled. But the horn sounded and 14 miles later, my legs were numb but still moving. At that point, my body went in autopilot; it was more painful to stop and walk than to continue running. Like my attempt to swim underwater, I saw nothing but my goal. Yet again, my mother dove in; this time, she ran beside me for a few yards at the end. In just over five hours, I became a marathon finisher.

I am Fearless Felice. I realize the power of the mind; my only limits in life are self-imposed. Being fearless means facing life but not accepting defeat. Not giving up. In retrospect, I recognize that even as a 200-pound teen, Fearless Felice was always within. It was I that failed to acknowledge her existence.

HOST: Today, Felice León swims in the deep-end of the pool without any floatation devices. Her friends call her “FF” for short.


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