This is an online exclusive story from ESPN The Magazine's Body Issue 2018.
Lauren Chamberlain is no stranger to hitting home runs. So when she decided to pose for the 10th anniversary Body Issue, it was no surprise that she knocked it out of the park. Alyssa Roenigk caught up with the Oklahoma Sooners legend (she hit 30 home runs as a freshman, a Big 12 single-season record) to talk about the art of hitting, her love for dead lifts, and the futility of striving for an Instagram body.
This was one of those crazy, write-it-in-your-diary kind of goals of mine. I have talked about the ESPN Body Issue since it's been around. I don't think I said yes for myself necessarily. I said yes for the girls around the world who might see the issue and see someone who looks like them -- someone who's thicker, bigger, not as jacked as the typical athlete -- and that could give them that boost to love their bodies.
Growing up in Orange County [California], thick just wasn't in. Thin was in. I remember jean shopping was the worst day of the year because I would try to squeeze into a certain size. I'd have my mind set on a number. Either I fit into that size jeans or I left without a pair because I wouldn't go above a certain size.
When I started to get good at sports and when I started hitting the ball really far, that's when my body image changed. I loved what my body was doing for me on the field, and that started to translate off the field. When I got into college athletics, my body and power were celebrated and appreciated; that was huge for my mindset on my body.
It is badass to hit a home run; it's just badass. Physically, it doesn't feel like anything. If you play softball or baseball, you understand what I mean. When you hit the ball well, when you make contact, you don't feel anything. But you feel something rounding those bases. I feel like a pure badass when I hit a home run.
Hitting a home run takes everything working at one time. Your mechanics have to be on point, and your timing and mindset have to be on point. You're figuring out what pitch she's going to throw, you're on time with the ball and your body is responding in line with your mind. It's beautiful, and it's a pretty crazy thing if you think about it.
I've had the worst offseason of my life. I had shoulder surgery -- a labrum and biceps repair -- this fall and a diskectomy at L5-S1 in my back on Feb. 28. Having them back to back was soul crushing, physically and mentally. I am coming out of that, picking myself back up and seeing where I am at now. That made me appreciate what my body is capable of. I'm in that period where there is residual pain but nothing crazy. I'm starting to come out on the other side.
Any time I went against my body and didn't give it what it needed in an attempt to achieve a societal norm, I let myself down. Sometimes, in high school and early college when I was dealing with insecurities about my body, not eating was disrespectful to my body. Not giving it what it needs to perform in order to achieve a certain look. If we're being honest, it just became stupid at a certain point. You're after this unattainable look, this Instagram look, and it's not achievable. I still deal with that insecurity. How am I not shaped and curved like that Instagram model? But you know what? She can't hit a ball like me or move like me. She can't do what I can do.
I hate straight-up conditioning. I would do anything other than run. I try to have a ball moving at all times -- a football, tennis, softball -- so I incorporate a ball, sports, into my conditioning. I will run routes -- give me a QB, let's run routes. That's easier, and I can do that for hours before I even realize I'm tired. But if I'm straight running, I'll quit in two minutes.
I love dead lifts. I have a lot of lower-body power and strength, and I excel at dead lifts. Have I said I love dead lifts?
I am big-boned, no doubt about it. I don't think I was ever small, I don't think I was even small as a baby. But I really like my thick legs. I love my thighs. I have an insane amount of power, especially in my hitting. That's my thing, and I own hitting because of my body stature.
I'm beaming lately. This is the best I've felt in a long time. I've been in pain for a few years now. Right after college -- this will be my fourth year in the pros -- my shoulder started hurting pretty badly, and I've had back pain since my junior year. The fact that I can move right now with little to no pain is enough motivation to keep going. I remind myself that I was just in bed with a bum arm and a bum back and I need to appreciate that my body is able to do this. When I took myself out of moving around, I lost my happiness, and my soul and heart were hurt.
Softball is a game of failure. You fail more than you succeed in our sport. Softball taught me that pretty early on. If I failed in another aspect of my life, the bounce-back game was quick. The ability to make an adjustment and move on, that comes from softball.
I'm fast. It's a surprise; I can run. It's a joke within the league that I'm The Stallion. As much as we make it a joke, people know I'm fast. I always say, "The big girl can move!"
I see the most athletic plays and pure athletic talent on a softball field. You have a lot of thick girls who play softball, but we can move like those big football players who have light feet. Our athleticism is really up there. I think we would weigh our sport in terms of athleticism over fitness.
I am not going to necessarily look like the ideal athlete. I will always be thick. I will always be a bigger girl. When I get muscle, it's not cut. I have dimples and cellulite on my legs. But I've come to an understanding about that, instead of being picky about myself in the mirror.
Playing softball taught me to appreciate my body and what it's capable of. I'll never take those lessons for granted, and that same experience needs to be available for more girls. And right now, it's not. As a society, we really need to focus on getting younger girls into sports so they can see their bodies working in a positive way.
For more from the 2018 Body Issue, pick up a copy on newsstands starting June 29.
Makeup by Raevyn Allen; Hair by London Faulkner; Set/Props by Peter Burton; Production by Cynthia McIntyre; Location Scouting by Alison Naifeh