I was born with beautiful red hair in 1990.
I’ve seen pictures. It was thin, short, and a darker auburn shade.
Two years later, that hair started to fall out in quarter-size chunks because of alopecia areata universalis, an autoimmune disease that causes total-body hair loss. Weeks later, I was completely bald.
At that age and during the following years, I was too young to understand what was going on or what it meant for my life. I got my first wig when I was four, and for me, that was just life. The reality didn’t sink in until I was a little bit older, when I started realizing I was alone with my condition. No one else in the neighborhood had alopecia, and support groups were not a thing in Slinger, Wisconsin. So, I hid under my wig, trying to conceal my jealousy for everyone with hair.
I was teased, and I felt ashamed. In middle school, when life stinks enough already, I was bullied for the way my wig looked. “Lindsay doesn’t have hair,” the other kids would say. “You’re a baldy.”
I didn’t have the confidence to stand up to them and never told teachers because I disliked attention. The more they teased, the deeper it stung, until I just thought I was ugly. I hated looking in the mirror, so much so that I stood in the hallway or another room when I brushed my teeth to avoid my reflection.
And forget discussing my alopecia. People knew that I wore a wig, but I was so embarrassed that when anyone ever asked, I lied and said, “No, this isn’t a wig, this is my real hair.” I rarely took it off—even in my own home—and I wouldn’t let anyone see me without it.
I went to pretty extreme lengths to keep my wig on. Every day, I used double-sided tape to secure my wig in three spots on my head.
I played basketball through elementary, middle, high school, and into college at the , and my wig came with me. I would go to the car or cram myself into a bathroom stall at halftime or between games to change the tape. I also used a special type of glue to keep it in place.
Add a thick headband that looped underneath my ponytail and covered the section of my forehead where the cap started, and I hoped that I’d never have to reveal my condition in any way.
It wasn’t comfortable—my head broke out like crazy from sweating so much, I got huge rashes, and large marks formed from the tape that sometimes bled. Sure it hurt, but, at the time, it felt necessary. There was no way I wasn’t going to wear my wig.
College was more of the same, never going anywhere without my wig. Class, the gym, and everywhere in between, like stepping outside in late June to watch the famed go by.
Every year I watched, and though I thought running 26.2 was awesome and certainly an incredible accomplishment, it also intimidated me. I didn’t know if I ever could tackle a myself.
But my senior year, my natural competitiveness and desire to call myself a “marathoner” drove me to sign up for that as a one-time bucket-list thing.
I trained casually for a few months leading up to the race, not following a specific plan, running however long I felt like, and never logging more than 13 miles at once. I didn’t know any better; it seemed like a solid plan to a 21-year-old college student.
On race day, I had total written all over me. It was a , and I rolled up to the starting area in spandex and a tank top while everyone else stayed warm in their sweats. But no one batted an eye or teased me. In fact, runners were extremely friendly and supportive, wishing me good luck as we toed the line together.
During the race itself, the positive vibes continued. Random people cheered me on: “Go, Lindsay!” and “Keep going!” In all my years of basketball, I’d never experienced this outpouring of genuine, effusive support. Even as my legs ached and the effects of intense dehydration—another marathon newbie mistake—kicked in, I told myself there was no way I was going to walk.
When I crossed the line, a sense of pride washed over me. “I ran a marathon!” I thought. “I’m a marathoner.” I had exceeded my expectations; despite training incorrectly, I didn’t walk at all and clocked 4:05—a semi-decent time.
Yet what I couldn’t get out of my mind was the support from not only friends who watched me race, but total strangers as well.
From then on, I was hooked on long-distance running. Being young and filled with ambition, I set a goal to run 27 marathons by the time I turned 27. So, I moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, after graduation and began working my way towards that, marathon by marathon.
The more I raced, the more I felt like people saw me as an athlete and not as someone who looked different. Instead of commenting on my alopecia, they’d say, “Oh, you had a really great time. Good job.” On top of that, the diversity of the running community—everyone looks different and has a different story—was so encouraging to me.
Turns out, the more I ran, the less I focused on my alopecia.
Fast forward to three years ago. I was about four miles from my apartment in Charlotte, North Carolina, right where the road transitions into the Little Sugar Creek Greenway. It was a hot day in late May, and as I ran, I felt strong. My mind wandered to my recent accomplishments and personal growth.
Mid-stride, about 16 miles in, something came over me. It was hard to explain, but something compelled me to rip my wig off. I started crying.
“Oh, my gosh. I did it!” I thought as I held the wig—my security for the past 20-plus years—in my hand. It was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders; I had been harboring this secret for so long, and I was finally free to be me. This was the moment I’d always wanted, and running had helped it become a reality.
When I got home, I looked at the person in the mirror. Instead of fixating on my bald head, I peered into my eyes and noticed they were actually a beautiful, olive green color, not blue, as I’d believed my whole life (and even reported on my driver’s license). They really stood out against my tan face and bald head. Then, I touched my head and realized I actually liked the shape of my head. For the first time in my life, I truly felt beautiful. I even said it out loud—“I am beautiful.”
I hung my wig up on a rail in the shower and told myself I didn’t need it anymore.
Two weeks later, I decided to run my first ever bald marathon, the 2016 . I had done 23 before, but never without a wig.
The morning of the race, as I sat in my hotel room before boarding the start-line bus, I got extremely nervous. Not about the marathon itself, but about going out bald in such a public setting. I was sweating, my heart racing, my mind kept replaying all of the negative comments people had said to me. “Oh my gosh, what did I do?” I thought to myself in a panic. “I should’ve brought my wig.”
My anxiety got so bad I debated skipping the race altogether. But when I remembered the liberating moment on that 20-mile run, how extremely happy, proud, and excited I felt, I looked in the mirror, gave myself a pep talk, and headed to the race.
In the starting area, people were so friendly and supportive—some even rubbed my head for good luck. During the race, it felt like everyone was screaming for me ten times more than they had at other races. As I crossed the finish line, I raised my arms in the air in triumph of being the Lindsay I was always meant to be.
When I got home, I told people about my alopecia and pretty much stopped wearing my wig for good. It was definitely nerve-wracking, but you know what? No one said, “put your wig back on.”
Now, every time I’m for a marathon, I plan my 20-mile training run to pass that very special spot. It reminds me of how far I’ve come—from hiding beneath my wig, ashamed, embarrassed, and terrified of anyone seeing me without it—to running and living without it, happy, strong, and confident in who I am.
To date, I’ve done 36 marathons—I typically do one every six weeks—plus a 50-miler. In the next year, I want to run a 100-miler, and in my lifetime, I hope to finish 100 marathons.
Crossing the finish line of a marathon is the greatest feeling in the world. No matter how many times I’ve done it, it always makes me feel incredibly proud. It’s funny to think that growing up, wearing the wig is what gave me confidence. Now, it’s the total opposite—not wearing the wig is what gives me confidence and makes me feel the most like “me.”
Still, people make hurtful comments from time to time, like “you used to be so much prettier when you wore a wig.” Those remarks can rattle my confidence, but whenever that happens, I like to go for a run, sometimes to the spot where I first took my wig.
When I first started running, I typically kept my head down, avoiding eye contact with anyone who passed. Now, I run with a lifted gaze, waving and engaging with other folks on the road.
Without running, I don’t know how I would have truly accepted my alopecia. The sport has taught me to not only embrace it, but to genuinely love it.
Now, at age 28 and with more than three dozens marathons under my belt, alopecia is my favorite thing about myself.