HARTFORD, Conn. — A few years ago, Liz Gurekovich wouldn't wear a bathing suit to the pool. She wouldn't even wear a pair of shorts.
A few weeks ago, Gurekovich took a deep breath, got out of her car and joined a group of runners for a 5K road race — at the Solair Nudist Resort in Woodstock, Conn., wearing nothing but a pair of running shoes.
"It was so empowering," said Gurekovich, 36, a self-proclaimed "big girl." "It was crazy empowering. I can't believe I did it. I seriously can't believe I did it.
"That I was able to put aside all those fears I had, all those things I was worried about and just go for it and it ended up being the best time ever."
Growing up, Gurekovich was always the "big girl." She was never comfortable in her body. She was 5-foot-9 in sixth grade, so of course she gravitated to basketball. UConn's Kara Wolters was her idol.
"I met her in sixth grade, I was probably 11 or something," Gurekovich said. "Jamelle Elliott said to Kara Wolters, 'She probably looks like what you looked like when you were a kid.' I still have her New England Blizzard jersey and shorts. I understood when she would talk about being the 'big girl,' what that kind of meant. I could relate to it."
Her freshman year, her girls basketball team won the Class LL state championship.
On the basketball court, blocking shots and grabbing rebounds, she felt strong and powerful.
Off the court, not so much.
"I didn't really get to where I am now until the past few years," she said. "I had felt awful about myself physically for a very long time. In high school, I was like a bad ass on the court. We were always in the playoffs.
"Off the court, I was still the 'big girl.' I was 6 feet tall. All the guys on the football team were my friends. But I was 'the friend.' I was never going to get asked to prom."
She didn't play sports in college.
"There was a lot of pretending I was confident," she said. "Acting like I was OK."
She met her husband Scott Henderson and got married. When she was pregnant with her first child, Charlotte, who is now 7, she gained 85 pounds.
She was determined to lose the weight, but she became too obsessed with it, stepping on the scale multiple times a day and tailoring her eating and workouts to the numbers on the scale. One day, she saw Charlotte, who was maybe 3, step on the scale, and that was that.
"That was the last thing I wanted for her, was to see her struggle with so many things that I had growing up," Gurekovich said.
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She had to change her mindset.
"I finished the Hartford half-marathon one year," she said. "There was a picture of me and I looked in the background and there were other people finishing and they were all smaller than me. I was like, 'Oh.' Being big or little or skinny didn't matter. It was my effort and my work, training I had done."
When she became pregnant again, this time with daughter Shelby, now 10 months old, she didn't gain as much weight. She ran and walked through her pregnancy. She ate healthier.
She did not want to disclose how much she weighs but said she has lost 55 pounds since having Shelby. She feels great.
On June 8, it was time to run the naked race.
"I've been working really hard," she said. "I'm not quite where I want to be, but at the end of the day, I'm never going to feel completely comfortable being naked and running a race ever. I'm just going to do it. Screw it.
"When I made my list of pros and cons, the only cons that were there were my fears in my own head. There was no other reason not to do it."
She met up with a friend, Linda Litsch, who has fibromyalgia and has lost 85 pounds. She turned 50 this year, and she was ready to do the naked race too.
"Growing up was pretty rough. I basically raised my siblings," Litsch said. "I guess I'm going through my second childhood now. Over the years, I've had a lot of body issues. Weight issues. Self-confidence issues."
They ran it together.
"It was an amazing experience," Litsch said. "I felt better there than I ever have at a pool or beach with a bathing suit on.
"We said, 'Look what we just freaking did.' You're on a high for like the next few days. We laughed the whole time. I'd definitely do it again."
Recently, the two of them tackled a different kind of difficult race. They ran a 7.6-mile road race.
Litsch is running her first marathon this fall, the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington.
"I used to go run these races and I would get my finish-line photo and my first thought would be, 'Wow, I look so fat,' " Gurekovich said. "I got all these pictures from Mount Washington and not once did I say, 'Oh, I look fat.' It was like, 'I look so bad ass. Look at what I just did.' "