Using fear as a motivator: How Latoya Shauntay Snell keeps challenging herself

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Latoya Shauntay Snell has had a busy year. In just 2018, she completed a list of races most people aspire to accomplish within their entire lifetime — Seattle Marathon, Chicago Marathon, New York City Marathon, several half marathons, various 5Ks and 10Ks, a few obstacle-course races and the Javelina 100K.

But, she’s nowhere near done yet.

A self-proclaimed “accidental runner,” Latoya is a prominent figure in the running community and a popular blogger. Known to many by her social media and blog, Latoya uses “Running Fat Chef” as a space where she can speak openly about taboo subjects, share her personal experiences and encourage others to do the same.

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When she first started her fitness journey, it was easy for Latoya to find motivation because there were so many challenges she hadn’t done yet. But now with so many accomplishments under her belt, Latoya stays motivated by things or races that scare her. “I want to do a triathlon, but I didn’t get to a point where I was comfortable with my swimming. I’m so tired of knowing that this is the one thing that’s holding me back from becoming a triathlete,” Latoya says.

While Latoya threw herself into triathlon training with as much bravery, persistence and vigor as running, there was still something holding her back. In the end, she wasn’t able to make it to the start line.

“My fear is paralyzing, and at times, it feels a little dehumanizing. I need to get past this fear to be able to chase the adventures that I desire. I’ve done running. I’ve done cycling. I’ve done so many sports. I’m hoping that doing a triathlon will be just as addictive as running or cycling. Triathlon requires a lot of mental and physical work. I’m already putting in the hours, and I would love to experience this freeing experience of being in the water,” she says.

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Latoya’s fear stems from two near-death experiences in the water. But what stops her isn’t just the past trauma. It’s also a fear of letting go and surrendering to the water. “Every time I go into the water, at some point, that fear comes alive all over again. It’s one thing to have a fear that’s embedded in your head, and it’s another thing to have a fear that actually becomes a reality. I’m trying to move past that, but letting go and surrendering is the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And in the water, you have to surrender in so many ways. I haven’t become comfortable with surrendering to anything,” Latoya says.

Even though facing her fear of swimming will be no easy feat, Latoya has an immense amount of intrinsic motivation to help her along the way. “Everyday I wake up, and I look in the mirror. I ask myself, ‘How can I do better? How can I be better?’ And I do that just by trying and giving my best effort. I’m not looking at everybody else or examining the room and wondering if I can do better than them. I want to be a better version of myself,” she says.  

“If I look at everyone else and see what they’re doing, it’s not my journey. My journey is for me. I’m done with trying to impress people. I’ve tried that all my life. It didn’t work for me,” Latoya says, “This is the first time that I can actually say in my 33 years of living that I actually gave my all without trying to be someone else. But, the things that keep me going are actually tapping into my fear. I want to scare myself and see what I’m actually capable of.”

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So, what’s next? For Latoya, that’s taking things one step at a time. She’s still rejoicing over her new victories,  but she’s also looking ahead. She’s channeling her fear into her next set of races and continuing to push forward, even with something that scares her as much as swimming.

“The unknown can make people nervous. And for me, I’m okay with touching the unknown. I embrace it. I’ve had so many years of being paralyzed from not trying that I can’t imagine the rest of my life without trying to do better or be better,” Latoya says.