Athletics, Motherhood and Other SuperFantastic Subjects

Archive for November, 2011

“Can I PLEASE Come With You?”

A really nice part of the long Thanksgiving weekend was having the opportunity to bring my son to the box with me.  I don’t have an awesome photo of myself overhead squatting with him on my chest, but I’m strongly considering doing Murph with him in his Ergo in the near future.  He’s 4 and a half (he announces the half now) and he still loves riding in it.  I highly recommend the Ergo, it goes from infancy to 90lbs- can you imagine carrying a 90lb kid in a carrier?  Great workout!  My ultimate would be to get strong enough to do a muscle up with him on my back.  If either of those events go down I will definitely  document them here.  But seriously, when he rides in there, I am so grateful that I’m strong enough to comfortably carry him.  Carrying 50+ pounds of squirmy preschooler for miles around the zoo isn’t nothing.  Thanks Crossfit!

Friday was the first time in awhile my son has accompanied me to a training session.  He has always liked coming to the gym, but for the past few months my training sessions have just gotten too long to expect him to entertain himself for the duration.  This past week, however, he insisted on coming.  I had some reservations about it because I was max snatching and heavy clean & jerking (in other words I wanted to concentrate), and I didn’t know how long it would take me to get my work in.  I’ve learned from previous experience, when it comes to wanting your attention kids are akin to Honey Badgers- they don’t give a sh*t.  I remember one particular day I was doing a metcon with 150 TTB and 30 OHS at 115#.  My hands don’t usually rip but for some reason (me being a chalk whore, perhaps) that day  my hands shredded to bits.  I hurt my foot during the workout because I missed a snatch, fell backwards and dropped the barbell on my foot.  So I’m bleeding everywhere, concerned about my foot and working my way through and all I can hear the is his high pitched, “Mommy!  Mommmmyyyy!  Lookit me!”  Completely normal, pre-operational egocentric perspective for a 4 year old, I get it.  He doesn’t care about my struggles, there’s something cool to show me!  I decided to bring him along and let him play and have a good time, but also work on establishing some gym etiquette.   The kid is all about rules, he even has a notebook full of drawings depicting our rules at home, so I think he can learn to hold tight when mommy’s holding a barbell.   Sorry about another boring lifting video (that’s what I do!), but just listen to him.  

I love watching how he operates at the box. He interacts with everyone as though they are his good friend.   I find this so interesting, because in a variety of other settings he will do the “shy brother” routine (watch “The Five Heartbeats” if you don’t know what that means), but not at the box.  I have never gotten any negative behavioral reports from my box-mates about what he’s doing while I’m working, only reports of some humorous conversations and maybe a few nosey questions here and there (“Are you leaving already?  You didn’t stay very long.  Do you have a husband waiting at home or something?”).  I’m not sure if his comfort level is driven by the positive vibe he gets from our community or the joy he gets when he’s using equipment to build, making up games and just playing freely in a big space.  I suppose all of the above, or perhaps for reasons I can’t identify.  At any rate, it’s awesome seeing him interact and communicate with adults independently and with confidence.  I can’t say enough how much it means to me that the people I train with not only welcome my son, but embrace him as member of our community.

Some sort of banded MU gone really wrong?

We had such a nice day, topped off with grocery shopping, an oil change and finally a movie.  I’ve found that when you don’t have a lot of spare time to do special activities you have to make the mundane everyday interactions special.  In the end, I don’t think it matters what we’re doing, we both just want to be around each other.  A much less mundane story than mine was posted recently on the Crossfit Games website http://games.crossfit.com/features/ever-so-optimistic-journey about Games athlete Taylor Richards-Lindsay’s journey being a new mom and competing from the Open through the Games.  She’s amazing!  It was cool to watch her at the Games competing and taking care of her daughter, and also seeing her husband and mom supporting her.

Also amazing– this video.  I don’t know if this is objectively funny or if I just think so because he’s my baby.  I love this kid.


“It Has to Stop Somewhere”

How much is your self-worth tied to your physical appearance?  Where does your definition of “attractive” come from?  Personally I’m pretty disturbed by the relatively narrow definition of attractiveness that I see promulgated in the media.  To put it bluntly, all I see on mainstream magazines and such are skinny white women, or possibly women of color with the most Eurocentric features possible.  If you fit into those category, great, I’m not knocking that, but I certainly do not want to be part of anything that promotes the idea that there’s one shape, size or color that is attractive. 

  So on one hand we have this obesity epidemic.  On the other hand we have these multi-billion dollar industries whose survival is dependent on people’s insecurities about their appearance.  Commercial diets, fitness programs, make-up industry, bariatric surgery, diet pills- the list goes on and on.  What I love about Crossfit is that it’s all about what you can DO, not what you look like.  Train for function, eat and sleep well.  I feel like Crossfit has grown because it works for achieving strength and health, not because of a nice marketing campaign.  A lot of Crossfitters have lean, fit bodies because they do real work and the physical results are the manifestation of that work.  I suspect that most Crossfitters get off on doing a workout faster, achieving a PR, lifting more, convincing their body not to stop.  These are the things that get us “addicted” to it, rather than chasing visual results.  It’s a feeling of empowerment that can bring a whole ‘nother level of confidence out in a person.  That’s attractive.

  “Make your own beauty standards.”- unknown

Over the last week I’ve seen a lot of pictures circulating on Facebook of people (I’ve predominantly seen women) who appear to have lost bodyfat through Crossfitting.  I’ve started to wonder, as we’re convincing people how great Crossfit will make your body look (not perform or increase health), are we selling out Crossfit?  Being a sellout is when you abandon your core values based on what’s marketable.  Crossfit is a strength & conditioning program and a sport.  We call our participants athletes.  I understand that money makes the world go round, but what is your motivation?  The “Get Hot” approach doesn’t work for leading to long term lifestyle change and keeping people motivated.  If it did we wouldn’t need Crossfit.  There are psychological reasons that Crossfit works in addition to the physiological ones.  Eating clean, doing cardio and lifting weights in front of a mirror will result in a lean body too, but most people aren’t motivated to stick with those things.  What sets Crossfit head and shoulders above any other training method (I don’t mean scientifically, but from the user experience perspective) is the thrill that comes with achieving a PR, the pushing yourself harder than you thought you could, the camaraderie you feel with your community.  So why when we are spreading the gospel of Crossfit do we need to revert to the same old same old that’s already been done in the fitness industry?Everyone’s motivation is individual to them.  However as a community and what we represent I find it unfortunate if we reinforce the status quo with regard to the fitness and health industry.  Guess what?  The status quo doesn’t work! 

Would I like to have a 20 inch waist, 40 inch hips and a butt you can bounce quarters off of?  SURE.  But that’s not realistic for my body, and frankly I’m much more rewarded by the pursuit of a body and mind that can perform at the highest possible level given the set of gifts and inadequacies that I have.  When I felt nerves about working out in front of an audience at the Games, a thought that comforted me is that Crossfit spectators want to see competitors crush workouts, or lay everything out there trying to.  I did not feel that I would be judged for my asymmetrical and scarred up legs, my wobbly butt or my gangly arms (or whatever other physical “flaws”).   This is not a fitness pageant or body building show.  Those endeavors have their own arenas, and it’s not the Crossfit Box.  Ok, ok, I know everyone at the Games wants to see hot bodies, too.  But it’s more about performing!!

 This is one of the most beautiful songs about self acceptance that I’ve ever heard.  I also love it because it reminds me of when my son was a baby and his father would sing it to him.  This version is Keith John singing it for the “School Daze” soundtrack, but Stevie Wonder wrote the lyrics, just listen to them.  Beautiful!


“Three words for you: Im. Pay. Shent.”

More often than I’d like, I find myself announcing to people, “patience is not my greatest virtue,” perhaps subconsciously thinking that proclamation will reduce the need for me to be patient.  Even my munchkin has told me I’m not being patient.  Granted, it’s when he’s dilly dallying getting ready for school or taking an hour looking in the toy aisle, but still, I hate when he flips the things I’ve told him around on me!                                                                                                                                                                                 

My lack of patience has reared its ugly head in my Olympic lifting.  If I’m not patient on the first pull my hips will rise up too fast.  If I’m not patient on the second pull I don’t get fully extended, the bar won’t hit the pocket  but instead smash into my bones and mess up my lift.  I have to be patient as I receive the bar or I won’t have the opportunity to settle in my squat and I’ll lose reps unnecessarily.    Simple solution, just be patient.  But what I love about the snatch is the combination of patience and power that’s required.  On its face, it seems like an odd coupling to me.   Since I associate patience with calm, quiet, passivity and I associate power with aggression, speed and explosiveness, they seem contrary- how do you generate power out of patience?  I’ve been trying to get my head around that combination.

This is where it becomes so important to trust the process.  My coach mentioned this to me one day when I was rushing and trying to sneak under the bar without allowing myself to get through the proper positions.  The idea of trusting the process really resonated with me- it’s something I’ve thought about before, when the body persists in doing things wrong when our mind knows better.  In some instances I think it’s a matter of trusting the technique.  If I focus on getting my body in the proper positions at the right time and with enough power applied, that barbell ends up exactly where it’s supposed to.   It’s not always comfortable in the middle of the movement and there are “how the %*#$ am I going to get this up there?” moments, but trusting the positions works.

The more I’ve thought about being patient with the progressions and trusting that the proper movement would lead to a successful lift, I started to see it as a microcosm of my training as a whole.   After the Games I have really hammered on my Olympic lifting.  Tons of strength work, a lot of training in solitude, I basically re-learned the snatch.  I’ve found the recovery from this training to be much more difficult than recovery from Crossfitting.  In short, it’s been challenging.  There have been more “max effort” days that were a million miles from a PR than I care to note.  Then suddenly out of the blue (i.e., 3 months of training and at least one major gut check from my coach later) I hit 4 PRs this week- PR’d each Olympic lift twice.   The past few months have been a nice little education in how to waste mental space with uncertainty and worry.   I want to approach my training with a sense of urgency while still being patient with the measurable progress and trusting that everything will unfold the way it needs to.  Just do the work, get it done and the results will come.   That way I can put my second favorite hobby, worry-warting, to rest.

Re-vamping my Snatch.  Two clips, similar weight, one from my first Oly meet, the second clip is in training yesterday.  Old:

 New:

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement.  Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” -Helen Keller

The last quarter has re-emphasized for me how important trust is.  Trust your body, trust your capabilities, trust your coach, trust your program and be patient enough to allow things to unfold.  If you can’t or don’t trust those things then change your course of action to one you can fully buy into.  Just as you won’t be successful with a half-hearted or rushed snatch attempt, you’ll never reach your full potential with half belief in yourself, your training program, your coach or the path you’ve chosen to achieve your goals.  None of us know what our future holds, but I believe mine will be a lot brighter if I take a leap of faith with all of the heart, body and commitment I can muster.   

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.  So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.  You have to trust in something- your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.” – Steve Jobs                                                                                       


“I wouldn’t want to have a metal leg.”

I’ve been walking around with a lump in my throat for much of today.  This year Veteran’s Day has had a much more profound impact on me, for a number of reasons.

The first is that my Grandfather, William Farrell whose service in the U.S. Marine Corps I am so proud of, died earlier this year.  At 21 years old he served in WWII and was involved in the invasions of Guadalcanal and Peleliu in the South Pacific.  Unfortunately I never spoke to my grandfather about his service while he was here, but it was clear his time in the Marines made a lasting impact on him throughout the remainder of his life.  Even into his 90’s he was often found reading books about the military.  I feel so fortunate that he was interviewed for a book profiling WWII vets published by the Scott County Historical Society.  Through this book I’ve gotten to learn a little bit about his time serving in the war, and I took at look at the book this morning.  His comments on training at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina:

“It was hotter than the devil down there.  I can still remember the sand fleas.  They’d get in your nose, your ears, and if you moved those DI’s (Drill Instructors) would smack you with their swagger sticks.  We had a sergeant and a PFC for drill instructors.  I ran into our little PFC on Guadalcanal later, and he’d had all the shit, blood, and mud he wanted by that time, and that’s what he gave us when we went in.”

My grandfather’s comments on the Invasion of Peleliu:

“If the hill was too steep, they’d send these poor guys up there with flame throwers.  You were a casualty the day they strapped that on your back.”

The second reason Veteran’s Day is touching me more this year is that my son is getting old enough to ask questions about the military.  It started a couple of months ago on September 11th and for the first time I told him about the September 11th terrorist attacks.  It’s really hard to explain things that make no sense in 4 year-old appropriate language.  I’m glad that he’s interested and tries his best to understand, but it can be a bit awkward- though necessary.  So this morning he saw me looking at this memorial slideshow http://thebrigade.thechive.com which started a conversation about the sacrifices that are made by a few to ensure the security of many.

Thirdly, I’m much more conscious of our servicemen and women now that I am a Crossfitter.  There is no other group of people more appreciative of the Armed Forces and more enthusiastic about showing it than Crossfitters. What an amazing thing it is to be a part of this community.    I was so proud to do a hero WOD with the people I train with everyday as well as Crossfitters all over the world, and grateful to be part of a community that values and acknowledges the sacrifices of others.

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.”  ~William Arthur Ward

Thank you.


“I’m delicate”

I’ve come to the realization that I don’t try hard enough.  I know this is not an admirable trait, but the first step to recovery is acknowledging you have a problem.  This unfortunate characteristic came to light during my first Crossfit Total.  Prior to Crossfit I had never done any max lifting.  I would do reps for days- my old leg routine included 160 reps of squats at about 50-60% of what I now know is my 1 rep max.  Light weight much?  I doubt that’s enough weight to result in any actual strength gains.  I never maxed anything, and when the Total came up in our programming my lame-ness when it comes to fighting for things was exposed, particularly on the deadlift.  My coach made me attempt the same weight repeatedly even though in my head I just knew I couldn’t lift the weight.  I couldn’t even get it off the ground.  I eventually did get the lift, but that was secondary to the lesson- I need to know how to fight!  So I thought I had checked that lesson off my list, but turns out, not so much.  This issue came up again recently in my always interesting relationship with muscle ups (MU).   Anyone who has watched me compete would probably identify these as one of my primary weaknesses in Crossfit.  In last year’s Reebok Crossfit Open I hadn’t even learned them yet.  I DNF’d Amanda at Regionals.  I DNF’d the MU workout at the Games.  Needless to say, improving in this area is incredibly important to me.  At some point after the Games my strict MUs disappeared.  Day after day after day (literally everyday) I would work on MUs with no observable results.  My coach kept telling me I was giving up too easily, but for some reason my brain and body couldn’t apply that to changing what I was doing.  Then one day I stumbled upon a video of (what happened to be a Games athlete) fighting through the transition on a strict MU.  Something mentally clicked and all the doubts about whether I had somehow lost the strength to do it became irrelevant.  I had a visual of what it looked like to really fight for it and I went in the next day and made 4 out of 5 attempts.  This might not seem like much, but after working on them daily unsuccessfully for about two months it was a huge break through.  That was a few weeks ago and they’ve been consistent ever since.  Here’s the very first one after a  months long hiatus-super ugly and frankly kind of embarrassing, but I’ll share anyway because at least I didn’t give up.

Just like the deadlift, I am left assessing myself and my ability to fight for things that don’t come as easily.  It reminded me of a chapter in a book called Nurtureshock that discusses the inverse power of praise with children.  The basic idea, and this is backed by research, is that offering non-specific praise to kids about how smart they are actually undermines their confidence and willingness to put forth effort on intellectual tasks that challenge them.  When kids think that success results from innate intelligence as opposed to effort they don’t try as hard and don’t learn to be resilient in the face of failure.

I wonder if the same idea holds true in sports.   Not so much the praise part, (yeah, my coach doesn’t do praise) but more so perception of effort vs. innate ability and the need for reinforcement in the way of actually succeeding at a task.  Since I started Crossfitting there have been a number of things that I’ve picked up relatively quickly.   The down side of having the experience of picking things up quickly is that you don’t learn to be a fighter.  You don’t learn to push back against frustration and keep plugging away at goals despite having no perceptible progress towards goal attainment.  Frankly, being this new to Crossfit I feel a bit spoiled because I’m still in that stage where gains are coming pretty consistently just by getting more experience under my belt.  But what happens when those improvements start to slow down?  Without that fight and persistence you can’t get anywhere in Crossfit in the long term.

As I was pondering the role of persistence and fighting spirit in sports I just happened to stumble upon a picture of an athlete named Tatyana McFadden (www.tatyanamcfadden.com) on an advertisement at the gas station.  This athlete was born without the use of her legs due to spina bifida and was left in a substandard orphanage with no access to a wheelchair.  She learned to get around using her hands.  Having overcome that adversity, she is now a college student, a multi-sport athlete and an insanely accomplished wheelchair racer with multiple Olympic medals, as well as an advocate for disabled access to sports (http://espn.go.com/espnw/more-sports/7178926/tatyana-mcfadden-outraces-fate). 

“Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records.”- William Arthur Ward

While searching for information about McFadden I came across the US Paralympic Team website, which profiled my new favorite, Jerome Singleton, the fastest amputee on the planet.  This man’s leg was amputated at the age of 18 months as a result of a birth defect.  He spent his high school years playing varsity able-bodied sports and stumbled upon Paralympic athletics while studying at Morehouse (the kid has earned three degrees from Morehouse and University of Michigan, check out his wiki page to see his insane academic accomplishments).  Here’s an interview with Singleton, he seems like an incredibly humble and hard working person, very inspirational.   http://www.oandp.com/articles/2008-11_17.asp 

I think you see so many remarkable accomplishments by people with physical disabilities because they have no choice but to be fighters, sometimes from day one.  As is expressed in the quote below, they don’t take the gifts they do have for granted.  Do you maximize the gifts you’ve been given?

“If a person has been blessed with the capabilities to reach heights unfathomed, and does not, they are committing a disservice to themselves as well as their community.”- Jerome Singleton’s favorite quote


“Did you know there’s a song about New York?”

This past weekend I had the honor of traveling to the east coast to join the Mammograms in Action- Barbells for Boobs (B4B) crew for the final two stops on this year’s tour- New York City and Boston.  Combined with the two stops I made in the Chicago area, I attended four B4B events and what a memorable experience!   The B4B team is a phenomenal group of people, I feel so fortunate to have had the experience of working with them.

The first event I was part of was hosted by my home box, Crossfit Chicago, and was well attended by boxes from all over the city.  If I’m not mistaken there was representation from each of the Chicago boxes.  Chicago was followed by a stop at Crossfit Dupage, a particularly special location because the woman who was responsible for planning the event and getting B4B out to Dupage was a survivor (and landed on the podium with her Rx’d  Grace time, no less).  Also in attendance was a nurse from a local breast health center who on a daily basis sits down with patients to inform them of their cancer diagnosis.  Hearing her speak brought to life that we were not just throwing around barbells and having fun doing “Grace,” we were actually participating in an incredibly impactful movement that would be helping real families.  The next tour stop was in NYC.  The attendees here really showed their spirit and commitment to the cause by being completely undeterred by the winter storm conditions combined with an outdoor venue.  No one seemed the least bit phased by the incredibly wet and cold conditions.  The B4B weekend concluded at Crossfit New England, home of the 2011 Games Team champions.   There were some serious firebreathers in this box, who came out after a snowstorm the night before in New England.

Reebok, B4B and Crossfit New England Folks at CFNE

Jonny Vu, organizer of the CF Chicago event, shared this letter from Dr. Sandy Goldberg, founder of A Silver Lining Foundation- the recipient organization of grant funds from the Chicago event.  The impact of these funds could not be expressed any more simply or eloquently:

“Barbells for Boobs – what a name and what an impact. Your participation this past weekend will fund 75 free mammograms at one of our six partner hospitals! Just think of it – 75 lives eased and possibly saved through this potentially lifesaving test. Mammograms in Action for sure!!

Your support of our mission is a silver lining indeed. On behalf of those 75 women and men I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Crossfit Chicago’s Jonny Vu discusses the CFC event, then Mammograms in Action(MIA) Founder Zionna Munoz explains the roots of MIA:

People come out in droves to support B4B not for all the Crossfit heavy hitters that are in attendance at these events (and there were many), but because that’s what Crossfitters do- we support one another.  This is truly a grassroots effort born and raised in the Crossfit community.  Secondly, so many of us have been personally impacted by cancer.  With our unpredictable economy and a difficult to navigate health insurance industry, accessing necessary healthcare is not a given and there but for the grace of God go I.  When I was a little girl I had a tumor in my throat (benign, thank God, but life threatening due to the location) that required multiple doctors to diagnose and 3 surgeries to treat.  I can imagine what may have happened had I been born in a different time and place, or if my parents had been uninsured.  Most of us probably have an example where our own or a loved one’s life was preserved by having timely access to appropriate medical care.  What if a patient is uninsured and left to choose between paying for a mammogram and buying food for their family?  Even a “short” delay in diagnosis can lead to a precipitous decline in survival rates.  This is the type of situation that can be eradicated by the efforts of Mammograms in Action with the help of all the people worldwide that made the B4B events such a great success.  I have so much respect for their dedicated and tireless work and I’m humbled to have been a part of it.

“It is better to light a candle than to curse the dark.” – Eleanor Roosevelt


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