Sunday, July 29, 2018

Lift Like A Girl

In the spring of my 47th year, I was done fighting a losing battle:  I could not rid my body of the 10 pounds menopause had dealt me.  I told my ever-so-supportive husband that I required something drastic.  "CrossFit", I said, "is drastic, right?"
The two of us (because that’s exactly how supportive he is!) signed up for CrossFit 101 at a box near our home (yes, you read that right – a ‘CrossFit BOX’ – they are NOT gyms). 
CrossFit 101 consisted of four pain-inducing one-hour classes during which we would learn how to properly complete the basic movements that make up CrossFit.    
We squatted, we lifted heavy things, we ran (I despise running!), he did pull-ups, I attempted pull-ups, we did sit-ups, he ran some more, I ran a little more and walked a lot, and we lifted more heavy things. 

After the end of the first class, we slowly made our way to the car.  I took one step off the curb and my legs buckled beneath me – Keith grabbed my sweat-soaked t-shirt to keep me from face-planting into oncoming traffic! 
And the next night, we returned for more!
After our third class, I was convinced we should invest in Bengay or Aspercreme.  I knew exactly how Frankenstein felt, unable to bend my knees when walking, an open accessible bathroom stall cause for celebration (lest I have to lower myself onto the toilet without the aid of hand rails)!  And forget bending over to pick up a dropped item (I’m old – I drop things); I’m quite sure I looked like a newborn giraffe attempting to stand up, with legs splayed outward. 
And yet we returned for more.
The challenges were plentiful, not just in completing the workouts, but in learning a second language.  WOD, EMOM, RX, AMRAP, PR, to name just a few of the acronyms displayed on the whiteboard.  Want to become proficient in CrossFit lingo?  Read on …
While refusing to look at the posted WOD (Workout of the Day) (because honestly, I probably wouldn’t have gone had I seen running or burpees on the menu), I made my way to the box three days/week.  Keith joined me occasionally, but fresh from back surgery and with a fear that he would grind down what little cartilage remained in his knees, he relegated himself to “official Aspercreme applicator”.
One night, I was only one of two athletes (yes, I was now officially calling myself an athlete) who showed for class.  My coach carefully walked me through the movement, providing guidance on what to do and what not to do when lifting heavy things.  Shoelaces under the bar, hook grip, straight back, squeeze your traps together, don’t yank the bar, inhale and … LIFT.  I dead lifted a whopping 130 pounds!  Two days later, I received a congratulatory card from my box, saying they were so proud of me and my new PR.  I didn’t even know what a PR was!
And there were friendships formed.  Young?  Old?  In shape or out?  When you struggle through a WOD together, it’s inevitable that you bond with one another. 
You cheer for the person who’s still working long after everyone else has finished (that’s usually me, by the way).  Because you KNOW how hard it is.  You know the fight.  You want them to feel that sense of accomplishment when they’re laid out on the floor, gasping for air, but knowing they’ve left every drop of sweat their body could produce on the floor, and that they finished.  They finished.   
Just nine months after falling in love with CF, there was a CLOSED sign posted on the door of my box.  The box emptied of the equipment I’d come to love and to loathe.  Barbells, dumbbells, medicine balls, rowing machines, slam balls, the rig where I attempted my pull-ups.  Gone.  Just Gone. 
I dropped in to a few boxes here and there, trying to maintain some form of a workout regime while looking for a place to call home.  Each CF box has its own character; it’s kinda like finding a life partner:  you’ll know when you find the right one.  And I did.  Eventually.
Not long after I found my new home, I was issued my CF nickname.  Actually, I found myself in a bit of an identity crisis as I was given two:  half of the coaches called me “Hook ‘Em” (because of my Longhorn tattoo) and the other half called me “Sharon Stone” (because the owner is an 80’s fanatic – not because I was being just too damn provocative).  Not all boxes do the nickname thing – this is just our box’s way of allowing us to break away from our lives and whatever burdens we might be carrying around that day, if even for an hour.  Eventually, Hook ‘Em was no more and Sharon Stone stuck.  I’ve even adorned some of my gear with that name.
In my new box, more reps (repetitions) were achieved when the workout called for an AMRAP = As Many Rounds As Possible. 
Fist bumps all around when we breathlessly completed an EMOM = Every Minute on the Minute (for example, complete ‘x’ number of pull-ups every minute on the minute). 
There were high fives whenever someone RX’d a workout when they might not have done so previously (RX = completing the workout ‘as prescribed’ as opposed to modifying it or scaling it – the way I normally do). 
And new PRs (that’s a Personal Record) were made (my deadlift PR is now 217!  Can you believe it????) 

But more importantly, in this place, new friendships were formed.  Friends who push me to be the best athlete I can be.  Friends who cheer my accomplishments and whose accomplishments I cheer.  Friends who you might grab a drink with, go to a movie with, enjoy a spa day with, or have lunch with after a particularly grueling workout.  

Friends who celebrate birthdays together (complete with cake!  There’s always cake!) and who do Girls Night Outs together.  Friends who, after your home gets burglarized, invite you over for a BBQ to help you get your mind off of things.  And friends with whom you share your thoughts and fears, who listen and pray for you when the going gets tough. 
THIS is Community.  THIS is Family.  THIS is CrossFit.
My box is filled with talented athletes.  Those who I stand in awe of when I should be lifting my barbell over my head but am stopping to catch my breath instead.  They are business owners.  And stay-at-home moms.  They are students.  And military service members. 
In other boxes around the world, there are elite athletes that compete for prize money, those whose job it is to CrossFit (how lucky are THEY?????).  And they are AMAZING!  But for me, it’s really about my own self-improvement.  Not just whether I can run faster, lift heavier, or achieve a gymnastics movement I was previously unable to get (I still don’t have my pull-ups, but I’m working on them!), but more notably, it’s about how it’s changed me, as a person.
Before I retired, CF gave me an outlet for the stress I felt at work day in and day out.  It allowed me to focus on something other than the now 120 staff I was responsible for.  And it often provided me a sense of accomplishment when there were days with no accomplishments to speak of at the office.  Heck!  Showing up to the box was an accomplishment!  My mind is clearer.  I’m able to make decisions and make them quicker (previously not always one of my strong suits).  My confidence is greater.  My mental toughness, tougher.  And I’m happier.  Yes, believe it or not, I’m happier after I’ve put my body through hell and am happy to be breathing and upright at the end of class.
Now you might be wondering whether I was ever able to get rid of those pesky 10 pounds.  The short answer is no.  I lost a few inches.  I gained some muscle.  And physically, yes, I’m stronger.  When we helped my son move into his 3rd floor apartment, without the benefit of an elevator, I finally sat down to take a break after 4 or so hours of hefting boxes and furniture up those three flights, my stamina and endurance much-improved. 
It wasn’t until my cholesterol was so high, and I was threatened with having to take meds to reduce it, that my husband and I made some lifestyle changes that did result in the loss of those 10 pounds (and more!), along with reducing my cholesterol by a staggering 50 points in six months’ time.  And now, you can SEE the muscles I’ve gained over the last 5+ years, so says my massage therapist! 
Do I still get sore after a workout?  Absolutely!  Do I ever feel like Frankenstein?  Usually only after I’ve been away from the box for a lengthy period of time.  But now, I welcome that feeling, I crave that feeling!  Not that I’ve suddenly become a masochist, but I know the benefits that come from that pain. 
And I’m quite certain those “elite athletes” get sore too (if pictures of them in ice baths – just like other pro athletes – are any indication). 
They, along with hundreds of thousands of CrossFitters around the world (myself included) enter competition season in February with what is affectionately known in our world as the CrossFit Open.  The top-ranked men, women and teams from The Open move on to Regional competition.  From there, the fittest athletes are sent to the CrossFit Games and “The Fittest on Earth” are crowned.
As I prepare for summer camp … I mean … volunteering at The Games (for the second time), I can hardly contain my excitement.  The fittest crowd and the fittest volunteers on earth cheering on the fittest athletes on earth.  And hey!  If my assignment is to keep my eyes on my favorite athletes for the duration of the event, so much the better!
This is my geekdom. 
To watch the best of the best in my chosen sport, live and in person.  
To watch their wheels turning as their mental strength is put to the test as well (they often don’t know what the next WOD will be until shortly before they take the competition floor).  
To watch them grind out THREE WODs EACH DAY FOR FOUR DAYS, WODs which are a helluva lot more strenuous than the little one-hour class I now go to five times/week. 
I’m never going to be a “Games athlete”.  But that’s the thing about CrossFit.  You don’t have to be in shape to start CrossFit.  You don’t have to have been a current or even a former athlete to become one.  You’re never too old to start.  Conversely, you’re never too young (there are CrossFit Kids classes too!)  You don’t have to be the first to finish.  Or the one who completes the most reps.  Or the one to lift the heaviest weight. 
You just have to have the heart and the desire to be a better you.

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