Athletics, Motherhood and Other SuperFantastic Subjects

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“Still I Rise”

This CrossFit Games season has been like none other for me. I’ve never encountered so many lows and so many roadblocks. I’ve certainly never considered quitting. Generally speaking, I try to listen to the signs around me. So this year when it seemed I was being continually confronted with obstacles- funding problems, coaching problems, and debilitating physical problems- I thought maybe it was simply time to move on to other endeavors.

 

This image kept popping into my head:

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That image and the people near me that were able to help me make physical and mental changes were enough keep hanging on and eventually grow stronger. Around Easter time my son was preparing for a school performance and he came home singing the song, “Resurrection Power.” It got me thinking about the power within each of us to resurrect ourselves from whatever despair we’re feeling. I noticed that each obstacle I faced and overcame I felt increasingly fortified. Like a horror movie villain, the more hits I took I only got stronger. “Still I Rise” became a mantra.

 

“You may shoot me with your words,

You may cut me with your eyes,

You may kill me with your hatefulness,

But still, like air, I’ll rise.”

 

This whole year has reminded me that whereyou are today doesn’t have to be where you end up.  Maya Angelou’s life is a sublime example of this.  Whether it’s athletics or ‘real life,’ your story isn’t finished being told.

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“All my work, my life, everything I do is about survival, not just bare, awful, plodding survival, but survival with grace and faith. While one may encounter many defeats, one must not be defeated.”  Maya Angelou

 

Syn Martinez of Afrobrutality helped me design a shirt that would represent this season and support the final step of my competitive year- competing in Carson at the CrossFit Games later this month.  The shirts are now available here.

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There’s Nothing New Under the Sun

In four years of participating in the CrossFit Games season I’ve never heard as much fussing about a set of workouts than I have with the current set of Regional workouts. I have to admit, when these workouts were announced it took me a few days to get my head around and process them.   The workouts are very high skill, less heavy weight and barbell work than we’ve seen in prior Regionals. My general guideline is to not react emotionally to competition workouts. You can’t change/control/influence them, all you can do is develop a plan of attack. This year someone mentioned to me how excited I should be about the snatch and handstand walk, knowing those workouts would be strong for me. I disagree, whether it’s a strength or weakness, you have to maintain focus on performing on game day. The phrase that always pops into my head is one I learned watching “A Few Good Men.” Kevin Bacon’s character, a Navy lawyer, references representing his client “without passion or prejudice.” This is how I like to approach competition programming. Obviously there are events that look more/less fun, but when it comes to performing I don’t really want to have an opinion.  Just do the work.

2014 CrossFit Games Regionals

2014 CrossFit Games Regionals

It’s hard as an athlete in CrossFit to chase what is to some extent, a moving target. I’ve had the conversation with myself about whether I want to pursue CrossFit’s definition of “Fittest on Earth.” I’ve made a decision to try to increase my aerobic capacity, for example, rather then ignore that weakness and foster the power and explosiveness that comes more naturally to me. Once you decide to compete in the Games, you’ve accepted the challenge to become well rounded, prepared for the unexpected, and ideally, impervious to variety in programming. That’s part of why I do it, to confront the challenges.

The specific event in this year’s Regional program that has raised the most controversy is the max distance handstand walk. This is a movement that first appeared in CrossFit Games competition almost three years ago (2011 Games), and has appeared in two of the last three CrossFit Games. We are used to seeing surprise workouts and new elements at the Games (the handstand walk in 2011, Killer Kage, the pig, the pool/bar muscle up), but I don’t think you can argue the 2014 Regional handstand walk was a surprise.

 

“Walking on the hands is a fantastic tool for developing handstand balance and accuracy…you want to be able to walk 100 yards without falling.” Greg Glassman, October 2002

 

2011 CrossFit Games

2011 CrossFit Games

 

Gymnasts are seeing a great deal of  success this year, but that isn’t new. The 2012 women’s Games podium was made up of all former gymnasts. People who have put the work in on gymnastics movements are being rewarded- just as softball players were rewarded during the 2011 softball throw, endurance athletes on 2012 Camp Pendleton I & II, football players on the 2013 Zig Zag sprint, and swimmers in the pool/ocean swims.   What I think is happening, more than an issue with the programming, is that the field is so deep and so talented that even one slip up is incredibly difficult to recover from within 7 workouts.

Training for the 2012 CrossFit Games, in which handstand walks did not appear

Training for the 2012 CrossFit Games, in which handstand walks did not appear

The reason it took me more time than usual to process the the 2014 Regional program is because I had allowed myself to become complacent and make assumptions about what certain phases of the CrossFit Games season will look like. I love that we’re seeing something different. It’s a challenge and an opportunity to improve. This community is about getting better, being the best versions of ourselves. Not coming up with reasons why we can’t do something.

In the end the program is the program and there are a finite number of “Proven” spots for tons of incredibly talented athletes. The math is clear.

2013 CrossFit Games

2013 CrossFit Games

Use Your Gifts Faithfully

I’ve been surprised by my reaction to the North Central Regional last weekend. I was preparing myself for a very emotional competition. This year has been an incredibly challenging one for me as an athlete (more on that another day) and leading up to the competition I was feeling really reflective and grateful for the people who have gotten me through this year. I was super emotional and even tearing up over silly things like listening to that song from “Frozen.” Turns out at game time I didn’t feel emotional at all, even upon reaching the goal of qualifying for the Games. I was flat in part because I was so torn between being excited and pleased about qualifying, and simultaneously disappointed with not winning the event- it was really more disappointment in not executing in a couple of key places during the weekend. At the end all I really wanted was to be with my family, especially considering it was Mother’s Day.photo-50

 

Having a couple of days to reflect, I’m really grateful for how things turned out. Second place feels like a gift from the Universe. Something I need, but certainly didn’t ask for or want. Losing by a point sharpened my attention to detail, and leaves me even more amped up to prepare for the Games. It makes my skin crawl when I think of all the places I could’ve gained a point.  Last year after winning the Regional I left the competition feeling pretty satisfied and thinking I could keep plugging along training the same way (WRONG!). The disappointment of a loss and the highlighting of my errors is more valuable than a win would be to me at this point. You learn so much about yourself when things aren’t going your way.  This year, I feel good about the work I’ve been putting in, but I see some specific things I can do to keep improving over the next ten weeks before Carson, and that is really exciting to me.

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For the first time in three years, the North Central Region is sending some new female athletes to Carson. Alexandra Lachance is a first year individual competitor, coming off teams, and Kelley Jackson is an athlete I’ve competed along with since the 2011 Regional. It was really fun to see how excited these girls were to qualify. There’s something glorious about your first rodeo. Around the world last weekend, only two of the nine female Games spots went to veteran Games athletes (Talayna Fortunato of the South East Region, and myself) which makes me feel even more fortunate to have achieved this goal. I’m proud to be in the company of all these women in July at the CrossFit Games!

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I’m so incredibly grateful to my family and friends for all the unconditional support. CrossFit and its staff and volunteers put together an amazing event, the Regionals get better and better every year. I was honored to compete with all the ladies of the North Central and perform for the awesome fans who came out to support the athletes. Shout out to Chicago Bulls College Prep for coming on Saturday even though some of you were recovering from your prom!  Huge thank you to CrossFit ConstructRxSmart Gear, EasyGo Dispenser, Chicago Sports Medicine & Chiropractic, and Performance Training Systems for providing the financial, and physical support that allows me to continue to live my dreams and do what I love.  I’m humbled, grateful and honored to head to Carson for my fourth consecutive trip to the CrossFit Games!

 

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It Will Be an Adventure

I came home with a small rip on my wrist from doing muscle-ups. My son thinks any kind of bump, scrape or bruise deserves thorough acknowledgement (as he would of course want for his own injuries).   After inspection he remarked, “maybe you should stop doing CrossFit.” His comment made me think about my mother. My mother spent over thirty years working the night shift as a sorter machine operator at a bank. That means she stood on her feet all night, and with her hands she ran the machine and moved paper checks into various pockets of the machine. All night long. For thirty years. As a kid I remember her almost constantly, for years on end, having cuts and split skin on her hands and fingers. (That’s where I learned to use Bag Balm on my hands, which is a great trick, by the way). Meanwhile during the day she ALWAYS had a second job, yet somehow she managed to support all of my sister’s and my athletic pursuits. In 15 years she missed only one of my gymnastics meets. One. And that was because she was singing in my aunt’s wedding. She is what drove me to obtain a college degree and a Master’s degree, even though she had the advantage of neither.

I don’t mind for one second spending hours upon hours in the gym. I don’t mind physical discomforts. I spent my entire childhood watching a woman bust her ass to survive while her passions, other than raising her children, fell to the wayside. She was happy being a mother, but the world lost a wonderful artist and musician.  So no buddy, mommy’s not ever going to quit.

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“Yes, Mother.  I can see you are flawed.  You have not hidden it.  That is your greatest gift to me.” – Alice Walker

 

The Way You Do Anything…

During week one of the CrossFit Games Open I had a little conversation with myself about movement quality. Maybe allowing for some degraded form on those 55lb power snatches was actually an indication of performing at higher intensity- in other words, should I be more willing to let my form break down?  It may sound a bit like heresy to even bring this up (given the controversy over last weeks workout and form).  If work capacity is force times distance over time, does it matter how the work gets done, provided you’ve met the movement standard?  If you find a little compromise in form makes you faster than your opponent, you win.  Good, right?  However, all my training is based on what I want to believe about the sport, which is that good form is an aid to increased work capacity.   This is why I love Rich Froning (besides his abs and adorable disposition), he let’s me believe what I want to believe.  Unequivocally the most successful athlete CrossFit has ever seen, and the way he completes his work makes a case for efficient movement.

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Yet, I keep seeing exceptions to the rule (there always are some, aren’t there?), so I considered whether I’m too cautious in how I move and approach CrossFit.  Generally speaking, one of my biggest challenges in the sport is being willing to really take it there and find my true physical limits.   After three years of training I still have what might be a bit too much desire for self-preservation.  Maybe it’s life experience or having a long injury history pre-CrossFit.  Maybe I just want to make sure I can go home and pick up my too-big-for-being-picked-up kid.  Maybe it’s being groomed in a sport that directly rewards quality of movement (gymnastics).  Whatever the reason, I decided I like the quality approach.  Yes I want to win.  At the same time, we each have to draw our own line when it comes to differentiating between commitment and having an ‘at all costs’ mentality. It’s easy to come up with examples of people who achieve success by any means necessary, right or wrong.  What about the  Bernie Madoff’s and Lance Armstrong’s who are never caught and get to enjoy their unfairly attained victories/prosperity/fame?  Extreme examples to be sure, and I’m not trying to portray poor form as a moral failing, but on some level it matters how we choose to pursue our goals- not just whether or not we attain them.

Pursuit with excellence and integrity in mind becomes incredibly important in athletics because we’re putting our bodies on the line.  In the heat of competition it’s easy to take for granted that our health will always be there for us.  Personally, I want the students at Bulls College Prep, my son, or anyone else, to be able to watch me perform a workout and not have to explain to them why they shouldn’t move how I move. Vince Lombardi said, “practice does not make perfect, only perfect practice makes perfect.”  While I don’t subscribe to perfectionism, I do believe in striving for that standard every day in the gym.  Diligent practice.  From warm ups to conditioning to skill work,  what we do in training will be reflected when competition time comes- and more importantly, reflected in the impact on our bodies.

Muscle-Up Orphans

I saw this quote posted on social media awhile back:

“I don’t want to be the mom who is too busy to watch her kids because I am working on my muscle-ups.”

My gut reaction was to be quite irked by this.  My emotions read it as, “Oh, one of those moms?  The selfish ones who want to train?”  I know and like the person being quoted, she is an incredibly high level athlete (who has dedicated years to training and competition herself) and I’m sure she was simply referring to the choices that work best for her family.

Nevertheless, I put some thought why it bothered me.  On a base level it immediately tapped into that lurking, insidious mommy-guilt*.  It also had a really “mommy wars” feel to it, a concept I despise because of it’s assumption there’s one right or superior way to do things.  I’m sure I’m reading more into it than is there, but the image conjured in my mind was of a CrossFit version of the mythical welfare mother.  A bunch of unattended children running wild while their mother does muscle ups and takes selfies of her abs.

All the mothers I know (athlete or not) are in a constant daily battle to balance parenting, partnering, work, and other aspirations all while continuing to develop as people.  Whether that development comes via hobbies, fitness, study, or whatever avenue, it should be supported and embraced as part of being a whole person who is also a mother.  Parenting is like breathing to me, it doesn’t stop because of any other task or activity.  “Parent” really isn’t a title it’s a state of being.

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I’m fortunate because through ongoing efforts and a commitment, what I do as a mother and training for the CrossFit Games has become pretty integrated.   It’s a normal part of our life.  If I were a surgeon, a student, a baker, or cleaned toilets for a living I wouldn’t suddenly become a less effective parent.  In fact, I think my choice to train and my life as mother are symbiotic.  My son helps my training and my training helps me be a better mother to him.

Right around the time I saw that quote I had just had one of the most awesome days ever at the gym with my son.  It was a snowy day in Chicago, so we might have otherwise been cooped up.  I actually didn’t feel much like training but my son wanted to go to the gym, so off we went.  Win/win, he gets to have a place to run and play and I get my workout in.  We put on Disney radio and went to it.  I did some sled drag intervals and he recorded my times for me and used a baseball bat and ball to play a sort of mini-golf between my legs and the sled as I pulled it.  He sat perched on a yoke having a snack and cheering me on through my muscle-ups.  Out of the blue he asked me, “Mommy, are you doing what you want to do or what you have to do?”  What better way to teach your kids about the process of working to achieve a goal than through example?  Frankly, his question was a huge benefit to me by starting a reflection on what I’m doing on a day-to-day basis and why.   This child keeps me grounded in what really matters and also inspires me to create the best life for us.  You know, like Oprah style “Live Your Best Life.”IMG_2958

The search for life balance as a parent, just like scales, is never static but a constant adjustment.  I look at other parents that I respect for reassurance that it can be done, but not how to do it because that’s unique to each family.

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*Constant or easily triggered sense of unease based in the desire to always do what’s right for your children, and having infinite possibilities for what that is.  Fathers may also be afflicted.

Them Thighs Though

I just read a term that is quite possibly the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever encountered.  “Thigh-gap prejudice.”  It’s becoming abundantly clear to me that things are quickly spiraling out of control.  I’m sort of disappointed in myself for even acknowledging “thigh-gap” as an actual thing to be addressed.

Substantive thighs look nice.

Substantive thighs look nice.

Until recently, I’d never heard reference to this space between the legs, save once when I heard it referenced as part of a slur of sorts.  If you really care about this “issue” ( I don’t) that the interweb has done it’s best to blow up with stories like this and this, please feel free to check out the amazing work to be found here and here.  Full disclosure, I only skimmed those articles, but Jen Sinkler and Melissa Harris-Perry are pretty damn fantastic so I don’t have any doubts about providing those links.

Thighs can provide padding to protect bones from bars or barbells.

Thighs can provide padding to protect bones from bars or barbells.

I haven’t read those in detail because I’m preoccupied with thinking about how awesome it is to have big, full contact thighs, and the commonly accompanying big butt.  I’m using the term “big” loosely, because who’s to say what big is? At the top of my sport I would proudly put my measurements up against anyone, so I feel qualified to speak on the matter.

Yes, that is the size of a small human waist.  Challenge.

Yes, that is the size of a small human waist. Challenge.

Let’s just say juicy, full and beautiful.  As in, not emulating the appearance of people who are suffering from lack of nutrition.  Whether begotten by God’s grace or athletic training, I really don’t care. Just the other day I was sitting on the GHD and looked down in utter awe as my thighs took up almost the entire width of the machine.  I love to dominate my space like that.  Whoever sits next to me on a plane should know, I am comparing the size of our legs, and I’m usually winning.

Loved ones can also reap the benefits that your thighs provide.

Loved ones can also reap the benefits that your thighs provide.

Anyone who’s feeling external pressure to achieve space between their legs needs to be informed, there’s a large community of people out here who appreciate healthy thigh meat not only for it’s aesthetic appeal, but indisputable utility in athletics and life.  Stay strong and keep those thighs just the way they are…or maybe bigger.

Make your thighs earn their keep.  Put them to work containing your massive lower body.

Make your tights earn their keep. Put them to work containing your massive lower body.