Ryan Gaglianese-Woody Sees Beyond Her Reflection
The dog trainer developed disordered-eating habits in college. Sitting under the stars brought her back into her body.
Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
Ryan Gaglianese-Woody told her story to producer Sarah Fuss Kessler for an episode of The Daily Rally podcast. It has been edited for length and clarity.
Going into college, I was just working out, solely for my physical image and no other reason. It was literally the only thing that would be on my mind was when was I gonna work out, and what can I have to eat today.
My name’s Ryan Gaglianese-Woody. I use she/they pronouns, and I’m currently studying to be a force-free dog trainer in Asheville.
Outside of work, I am very much into mountain biking. I’ve been doing a lot of that with my dog, a wonderful 80-pound mutt named Moose. He wants to be involved in everything. So you might hear him outside making some sounds, maybe whining a little bit.
In high school, I was a pretty athletic person. I definitely defined my worth based off how well I could perform, running specifically, but also in any sort of physical activity.
I was in ROTC, and I wanted to just be the best and look the best. I remember I would look on Pinterest and see these sculpted abs, and I’d look at myself in the mirror and be like, Well, what do I need to do to get that? Essentially, I would work out twice a day and I had a food journal. I’m just not built that way. You’re chasing something that you’re never gonna catch.
Going from high school to college, I definitely had a lot of challenges meeting new people. So I think that that really escalated those self-image issues. I knew I wasn’t eating the way you should be eating with the number of miles that I was running. But at the time I was like, Well, that’s what I need to do, to reach whatever goals I had physically.
So I ended up with a stress fracture in my lower right leg. Then I was going on my first ever backpacking trip with the stress fracture. And I was like, Oh, I’ll be fine.
I would not describe myself as an outdoor person before that backpacking trip. It was in the Smokies. I have this vivid memory of looking at the stars, and just being like, I’m right here right now, and I don’t need to be anywhere else. My mind doesn’t need to be anywhere else because my body’s right here. I just remember after intense days, sticking our feet into the cold water and relaxing or waking up to make pancakes. The simplicity of being out in the forest and performing basic tasks, that is so, so much more fulfilling in the forest than in your day-to-day life.
I ended up having to hike out with a super swollen leg. I ended up having to wear an air boot and be on crutches for a few months after that because of the decision I made to go on that backpacking trip with the stress fracture.
I was never diagnosed with an eating disorder. I was told I had disordered eating.
It was junior year of college where I wanted to lead backpacking trips, and then I started working at the school’s climbing gym and outdoor programs.
Getting involved in the climbing gym, all of a sudden it was like, in order to climb something, I had to fuel my body. If I didn’t eat enough food, I could feel it. Whereas before with running, I felt like I could push through something like that. Then also, I could see this shift in mind. I wasn’t seeking out the scale. Or taking constant selfies to see if I “improved physically.” I was moving my body because I could do things that I never thought I could do before.
I found that being in that community, it was easier to make connections with people, and be like, We’re both here for the same reason: In general, to go up this rock.
The day before graduating from college, me and some friends went out climbing on boulders without a rope. You have crash pads under you. It’s a shorter climb.
It was a super hot day. They’re people who I really wanted to be friends with. I was trying to put up this, Yeah, I’m, I’m cool. I just remember we were at this fun little warmup, where the rock itself was a little higher than I liked. But the two of them climbed it really easily, and I was like, I know I can physically do this.
My hands were at the very top. I could feel how greasy the rock was, so that started playing into my mind. I looked down, I realized how high I was and then my hands just slipped right off.
I landed right on the crash pad where you want to land, but I didn’t land well. The people with me were like, “Oh, that was a great fall.” I looked at my ankle and I was like, “Nope, no that was not.”
I had to go into surgery that week and get hardware in there. I ended up having to be completely non-weight bearing for three months. When I was unable to climb, I learned that I, at the core, am so much more than what I can do with my body and what my body looks like.
It’s so weird, but I sometimes describe it as one of the best summers that I’ve ever had, because I ended up connecting with more people than I had ever connected with. And I started learning pottery. We lived in this really cool house by a creek, and we had chickens and a garden. I found a lot of peace just being surrounded by that sort of energy.
It is so wild to reflect on where I was at freshman year of college compared to where I’m at now. I think then I wanted to control how others perceived me. And now it’s just like, I am who I am, and I’m gonna be perceived the way I’m gonna be perceived. I have no control over that. But I want to be who I am, and I like who I am. And maybe others will like who I am too, because I like who they are.
Ryan Gaglianese-Woody works with fearful dogs as a technician with the ASPCA, and is studying to become a force-free dog trainer. She’s also learning the ropes of sport climbing.