Every time Lindsay Walter looked in the mirror, she saw nothing pretty about the girl looking back at her.
She couldn’t see that she had striking green eyes, classically beautiful bone structure and a smile that could end a war. All Walter saw was a bald head.
“I hated to look at myself,” she says.
Walter has alopecia, a rare autoimmune condition that causes complete hair loss on the entire body, including the scalp and face. Diagnosed at age two when her thick red hair started to fall out, the 26-year-old Charlotte, North Carolina woman struggled with self-esteem most of her life, primarily due to bullying about her appearance.
But Walter has found strength and confidence through sports – especially distance running – and now shares her story through her blog and on social media in the hopes of inspiring others to see their own unique beauty no matter what life has handed to them.
“Running has been my outlet,” Walter says, “along with surrounding myself with great people who love and embrace who I am and support my alopecia.”
Growing up as a girl with alopecia was difficult, though. Walter’s parents bought her a red wig because she so badly wanted to look like the other kids. She used double-sided tape to try to help it stay on, and often wore a headband to cover up the sides in the hopes it looked more natural.
Even so, “kids would call me ‘baldie,’ or say, ‘That’s a wig’ in a mocking and laughing tone,” Walter recalls. “And since I had no confidence in myself, I would just let it happen. Then I’d come home and feel sad.”
In high school, a few popular girls told Walter that an older boy wanted to ask her to the prom. She was so excited.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Walter remembers. “Someone thought I was pretty.”
But it was a cruel joke. The boy told Walter, “I would never go to the prom with a girl who doesn’t have hair.”
Walter was heartbroken.
“I had imagined what kind of dress I would have for weeks leading up to it. I was going to go to the salon to have my wig curled,” she says. “It was one of the worst moments that I will never forget. It crushed me deeply.”
Sports were Walter’s saving grace. She was a natural, talented athlete, and developed into a stellar basketball player who broke records and earned a scholarship to the University of Minnesota Duluth.
Walter loved the game.
“I would play for hours and escape the tough days at school and my alopecia,” she says. “I would pretend to make the game-winning shot and wouldn’t think about the bad. I started standing out from the kids, but in a good way, and this made me feel better about myself and gave me something to focus on.”
Still, the insecurities about her looks creeped in during college. “I felt so compared to other girls, (who were) super pretty, had perfect makeup…all the guys loved them and that wasn’t me. I couldn’t do much with my hair, I had no eyelashes and my eyebrows were tattooed. I just didn’t feel pretty.”
During Walter’s senior year, she signed up for a marathon. She had always hated running – but completing a marathon was on her bucket list.
Something clicked once Walter laced up her running shoes on race day. She felt strong. Tough. Better than she had felt even on the basketball court.
It was like Walter’s true self had finally arrived. She began racing all over the country, her confidence growing with every race she completed.
Walter started to feel beautiful in her sweaty running clothes. She set a personal record at the San Diego Marathon two years ago and has finished 30 marathons in the last five years. Check out Walter training in H2W Apparel's Black New Generation Sports Bra and Printed Gym + Swim Capris.
What’s more, running gave Walter the courage to ditch her red wig – the substitute for the hair and the symbol of beauty she had so desperately wanted.
“Running has changed my life and helped me to love, accept and embrace my alopecia and my bald head – my favorite thing about me,” she says.
Walter hopes her story will help others struggling with self-esteem and confidence because they feel or look different.
“Believe in yourself and go after your dreams with all of your heart – and don’t let anyone try to tell you that you don’t deserve or aren’t worthy of something you really want,” Walter says. “People will not always be nice and try to bring you down but that’s not your problem. We are all beautiful and we can accomplish anything we set our minds to.”
Ready for some more awesome inspiration? Check out Walter’s journey by visiting her blog at email@example.com follow her @lindsayhannah3 on Instagram.