April 02, 2023

HER SIDE OF THE COURT | Community over competition: How runner Lexi Noval healed her relationship with sports

HER SIDE OF THE COURT | Community over competition: How runner Lexi Noval healed her relationship with sports
Illustration by One Sports/Photo from Lexi Noval

Runner and obstacle course racer Lexi Noval has built a following on social media for her inspirational fitness journey, helpful workout tips, and the sense of community. However, just a decade ago, Lexi’s relationship with sports was so damaged that she felt like giving up.

In college, Lexi had been part of the UP Pep Squad, which dominated the UAAP Cheerdance Competition in the late 2000s to early 2010 — winning five championships in six years. They became known for their out-of-the-box concepts, the complicated routines, that time everyone on the team shaved their head for a performance. Everyone was celebrating them, but Lexi herself couldn’t feel it.

“When you're in the competing team in cheerleading, there's only five spots and 60 plus members. So even though you were friends, for me at least, there was that internal pressure. ‘Oh my God, I still have to be better than all of these people.’ And I think I was also very scared to make a mistake because I was scared of my coaches,” she shared with me on the “Go Hard Girls” podcast.

The hyper-competitive environment activated her insecurities and stopped her from building friendships in college. “I didn't admire anyone, but I was jealous of a lot of people. So that was why I was not able to connect so much with the people surrounding me. They were very good people, and I'm sure if I asked for help, they would have, but I was just in that bundle of negativity at the time,” she said.

Competitive cheerleading is also known to be a breeding ground for body dysmorphia, and by the time Lexi graduated and signed up for a gym membership, she was so self-conscious that she couldn’t walk across the gym floor by herself.

“I hired [a trainer] mainly to walk me from the elevator to the [laughs] to the working out area because I was so conscious of myself,” she admitted. Without Lexi knowing, her trainer signed her up for the gym’s ambassador program, a competition where participants could win based on their physical progress. Along the way, the participants would also receive training in public speaking and personal development. 

“We were hanging out with the other competitors at the time: working out, talking, hanging out, trying to improve each other, which was so good,” Lexi recalled. “That's where I experienced people really encouraging each other very sincerely, helping each other, noticing what their weaknesses are and reaching out to everyone to help them improve.

“Oh my god! A group of people in a competitive background competing against each other, right, but wanting their competitor to be better?” Lexi shared, remembering her breakthrough. “That's how I fell in love with the community aspect of fitness.”

That became the spark for Lexi to heal her relationship with sports. It taught her that that competition didn’t have to be a zero-sum game; and that having a good community around you makes a massive difference.

“I found people who inspired me to do it together. And that's why when I work out, it's always with a group,” Lexi shared.

Since then, Lexi has grown to be an inspirational figure within the sports community, taking on a variety of sports from running to cycling to obstacle course racing; and is an ambassador for Under Armour. She founded her own community, FlexFit, where she helps other women reach their fitness goals.

“There have to be more women that are experiencing what I went through back then, those very negative internal battles, not even knowing how you were feeling exactly, and why you were feeling it and unable to process,” she shared.

Overcoming the unhealthy side of competition enabled Lexi to achieve greater heights. As she put it: “I'm not gonna let my fear stop me from doing what I want. I'm not going to let all of this negativity in my head stop me from trying, because I'll never know unless I try.”

“Having all the self-love for yourself, that's gonna make you unstoppable.”