Athletics, Motherhood and Other SuperFantastic Subjects

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“I Don’t Want You to Tell Me What To Do Anymore”

I think kangaroos have it right- keeping their babies in their pouches and all. I wish I could keep my son with me always, or freeze time, or at least know I’d be able to remember every detail of these years. It breaks my heart and simultaneously makes my heart explode with joy and pride when I see how fast he’s is growing up. I’m obsessed 24/7 with his wellbeing, while he’s simply busy doing his thing and figuring out the world. He clarified my role for me one day when he was about a year old and I was laying on the floor breast-feeding him. When he finished he got up and stepped on my boob as he scampered away to play. Stepped on my boob. Such a microcosm of motherhood. I realized, 1) as a result of doing it’s job of feeding you, my boob is now in a condition where it can lay flat on the floor and be stepped upon; 2) in return for the nourishment and dedication, you step on it and go about your business. Sounds kind of terrible (well it is terrible for my boobs) but really, it’s exactly what I want for him in his early childhood- to be carefree and know that things are ok and he is surrounded by loving adults.

He's 7, I think I can let go of these preschool books.

He’s 7, I think I can let go of these preschool books.

Of course I don’t want him to live his life as an oblivious, self-centered being. Yet at the same time, in this harsh world I want him to get to have the security of being a kid. It’s so rewarding to shape him into a responsible, caring person and see those self-centered, baby-ish qualities begin to slowly dissipate.   I just want him to get to be a little boy while it’s time for him to be one, and I want to be with him every step of the way.

I feel incredibly fortunate that over the past few years I’ve been able to make lifestyle choices that generally allow me to have a flexible schedule and have more time and energy for my son. This is something I’ve wanted since becoming a mother- more time with him. The flip side is that I do have to travel more, and I’ve often been asked how I do this as a single mom. The answer is, I co-parent with his dad, I can often set my own travel/work schedule, and my mother plays a role in helping my family/schedule work.

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Recently I faced the biggest conflict yet when it comes to managing athletic aspirations/opportunity and my family. I was presented with the opportunity to play in the newly formed NPGL. Participation would have afforded me income, development as an athlete and frankly, a great deal of fun and excitement. I jumped into the process enthusiastically, but when I assessed things more closely I saw quite a few significant challenges. The team and I were trying to make it work, but it began to feel like everyone involved would have to move heaven and Earth to make it happen. I appreciate the opportunity and the team’s effort immensely. In my heart I feel that the strain of participation would be too much on my family.

The day I was reviewing my NPGL contract was an unusual day. My son got sick and my mother happened to be in town visiting. I was supposed to go do a workout and even though grandma was there my son really wanted me to stay with him. Since he was feeling so ill I stayed with him- and it was a huge blessing to be able to do that.  It highlighted for me, at an opportune moment, that more than anything I want to maximize my time with my family.

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Would it be an accomplishment for me to become a professional athlete through the NPGL? I think so. But it’s important for me not just to pursue and achieve goals but the way in which I pursue and achieve those goals. What happens along the way is more important than any one accomplishment for me. As a mother my biggest goals are to maximize our quality of life (not just materially) and to be a woman he can look up to as a role model. If the opportunity is meant to be, I believe it will present itself in another way. In the meantime, there is no chance I will regret being more present and more available at home. It’s ok if I occasionally have to miss the opportunity to compete. What I don’t want to miss, is walking side by side with my boy and feeling him reach up to hold my hand.

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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.


October 2013

October was the craziest month ever.  Started with a competition in Minnesota, The Granite Games.  This event was incredibly well organized, the programming was top notch, volunteers and event staff were completely professional and the athletes were a blast to compete with.  I think I really needed an enjoyable and fun competitive experience to see how things could and should be.  This was it.  Thank you to John Swanson, Tyler Quinn and everyone else involved with this event.20131031-151950.jpg20131031-152013.jpg20131031-152039.jpg20131031-152027.jpg20131031-152100.jpg

The following week I was in Europe for a short visit.  If you’ve never flown Virgin Atlantic, you should.  Between the food and entertainment, the flight is like a mini vacation in itself.20131031-155342.jpgI saw the usual sites in London,

20131031-152200.jpg20131031-152229.jpgbut I think I was more excited to visit the world’s oldest and largest toy store, Hamleys, so I could get some souvenirs and tell my son all about it.20131031-152245.jpgThen off to Finland for an Outlaw seminar

1381359_10100229179900081_821697027_nand eat some reindeer.  I thought my son would be mortified when he heard about this meal, but he asked if I would bring him some to try.  Next time, buddy.20131031-152316.jpgAfter returning from Europe I had the distinct honor of running my own weightlifting and gymnastics seminar at CrossFit BRX in Miami, Florida.  So grateful to Shawn Ramirez and Billy Caldwell for making this happen, and for the fantastic and enthusiastic attendees!  20131031-152550.jpgWe also made lunch out into a fundraiser to support Mammograms in Action by doing unbroken “Karen”.  Serious burner.20131031-155205.jpg20131031-153124.jpgThe following week I was off to San Diego for a lovely couple days with my new sponsor Rx Smart Gear.20131031-153129.jpgDave Newman of Rx Smart Gear was kind enough to see me off to my next stop, 52 hours of awesome at SEALFIT.20131031-155719.jpg20131031-155755.jpg20131031-153105.jpgAll this wrapped around my precious time with my Sweet Baboo.20131031-155218.jpg20131031-153321.jpg20131031-153201.jpg20131031-152740.jpg20131031-152413.jpg20131031-152748.jpgLife is good.

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Look Where There’s Inspiration

I just finished participating in SEALFIT Kokoro Camp, an “intense 50+ hour crucible training academy that mirrors the famous U.S. Navy SEAL BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL) hellweek”.  I’ve been thinking about doing this for a year or so.  I had some kind of intuition that it was something that would be good for me, because honestly I went in without a really good sense of what the program entailed.  Similar to when I started CrossFit, I didn’t fully understand it, but was compelled to go.  Who wouldn’t want to forge an “unbeatable mind and spirit”?  When I saw this reading list I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of.

Within the first hour on the grinder, I won’t lie, I questioned what I had gotten myself into.  The volume of work we did, looking back at it, woud’ve been unfathomable to me if you’d told me what we were about to embark on.  I’m not going to give a play by play of what we did- I sort of feel like that’s reserved for those of us who were there and went through it.  Frankly I don’t remember all of it and for me that’s part of the point.  I have no idea how far we ran, how many push ups we did or how may times we lifted the log.  We just did what needed to be done.  This is a giant contrast to training I’ve done in the past where I have a tidy little log book to notate and record my work.  Logging work has its place, but there’s something about taking on each task and each moment individually with the simple requirement of 100% effort.  What I will say is, in the 52 hours we were there, the biggest “break” we had was doing a 2 hour amrap.20131030-092904.jpg

It’s a SEALFIT thing, you wouldn’t understand.

The Kokoro experience is one that I’m not sure I have adequate words to describe, and the more I think about it, I don’t think words can do justice to what this experience means to me.  There are a few things I can share though.  First off, going in I sort of had it in my head that I would see immediate changes in myself, my mindset, etc, like flipping a switch.  Those immediate changes are there- I just told a friend, “I feel like I can do anything!” (except walk right now, but that will come).  More important perhaps than the immediate changes, is this feeling that I’m on the precipice of my own rebirth.  It’s a beautiful feeling.

Second, this experience shed a whole new light on my ideas about fitness.  As I’ve developed into an athlete in “The Sport of Fitness” I’ve struggled a bit with my own ideals vs. my sport’s ideals and the feeling of training for somewhat of a moving or unknown target when it comes to my CrossFit Games goals.  Kokoro gave me a feeling of renewal as an athlete at life, so to speak.  On our second night at camp we were divided into teams of seven or eight to ruck up a mountain with our 20+ pound packs and weapons, complete a mission, then carry an injured group member back down the mountain on a stretcher.  This was an 8-9 hour round trip, I believe about 20 miles.  Yes, I’m serious, we went all night. We were walking up into pitch-blackness at times, and you could basically just see one step in front of you.  How symbolic.  It was an incredibly beautiful star filled night, one that I don’t believe I would’ve made it through without my team.  My stamina, or lack there of, was a problem.  My group had to pace off me on the way up, and on the way down carrying the stretcher I felt that I needed to break and rotate positions more than is desirable.  Basically, this was my first experience in a real life situation where I saw how lack of stamina or lack of strength, or lack of some other physical attribute is a liability not only to yourself, but to those who count on you.  I find this an incredible motivator to get better- not because someone might program something I’m bad at into a competition workout, but to get more awesome, purely because as long as I’m here I’m going to be the best I possibly can be.  It was also amazing to see how the body can perform physically demanding tasks with no sleep and less than optimal nutrition.

“We have done so much, with so little, for so long, we are now qualified to do anything, with nothing.”

The Kokoro instructors are true master’s at what they do.  Absolute masters.  They each have unbelievable lists of life accomplishments, which I think is a testament to the training and mentality they endorse.  I was blown away on day one, literally within an hour or two of starting, I had already been exposed and called out, and it only continued throughout the weekend.  But also within that first hour I was uplifted. As I stared at the ground and worked while being sprayed in the face with water, Coach told me, “look up, there’s no inspiration down there.”   Simple words, but it communicates what you think about yourself when you navigate your way through the world with eyes down on the ground.  That, among many, many other things, stuck with me and touched me in a way that felt very personal.20131030-092923.jpg

The SEALFIT instructors are unquestionably some BAMF, just look at their resumes.  Mark Divine’s military nickname was “Cyborg” for crying out loud.  I think he’s the closest thing to a Jedi Master that exists.  These guys were running and rucking all night long just like we were, and no offense, but these guys aren’t in their early twenties or anything.  It’s pretty amazing to think of the strength and stamina they have to lead these brutal camps over and over again, and touches the heart to recognize they do it to give each of us this priceless opportunity.

This program isn’t some kind of meat head beat down.   It is a beat down, but like a PhD version (do they give PhDs in ass-whooping?).  It felt like a higher order of training- very pure, grounded and broadly applicable.   No fuss, no lights, no crowd.  Certainly gritty, real and basic.  So many things these days feel like they’re more about hype than substance- more self promotion, less production.  “Fitsporation” in the form of picture after picture of abs.  There comes a point when that stuff just isn’t enough, and then you go to Kokoro.

Beyond the instructors, it was my fellow participants that made this program amazing.  Never in my life have I fallen down so many times and picked myself up again- but not one of those times did I get back up without a helping hand.  I helped others up.  Held their arm tighter when they were afraid.  Said thank you and was thanked.

Something else of value that came out of this experience is an increased appreciation for our military.  I noticed my emotional reaction to the idea of not having any phone or communication for a few days- and can only imagine what it’s like for families who are going to have inconsistent or no contact for months on end.  A couple days before I left for Kokoro I  talked to a girl at my gym and learned that she had a brother who died in Afghanistan. As a result,  the sacrifices our servicemen/women and their families make was very much on the forefront of my mind during camp.   I also spent many of those night hours especially, thinking of my grandfather William Farrell who served as a U.S. Marine.  Thinking of him gave me an abundant feeling of strength and courage. As my grandfather put it, “After you’ve been in combat, you settle down and things aren’t so wild.”  Kokoro has given me a completely new perspective on challenges, and what happens to you as a person when you rise to meet those challenges.  I couldn’t be more grateful.20131030-092848.jpg

Invictus

BY WILLIAM ERNEST HENLEY

Out of the night that covers me,
      Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
      For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
      I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
      My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
      Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
      Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
      How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
      I am the captain of my soul.

 


“You Know How Everyone Has A Superpower?”

The last few weeks I’ve really enjoyed commiserating with other moms about their children’s return to the classroom.  I was more nervous this year than I’ve been for the last few.  For two years of preschool plus Kindergarten my son had the same, absolutely amazing teacher.  A woman with 30+ years of 3-6 year old Montessori teaching under her belt, and someone who provided a nurturing, enriching, safe and consistent environment for my son who was entering school during a difficult time.  The warmth and love that my son received at school everyday is something that I will always be grateful for.  In addition, the fact that this woman has taught three year olds for 30 years proves that without a doubt she is a saint.  Bless all the great teachers out there!

First day of school ever.

First day of school ever.

This year my son not only has a new teacher but a new school and everything that comes with that.  As usual, I have way more anxiety and nerves about the situation than he seems to. Despite being just 6 years old with cracked Lego building fingernails, an affinity for potty humor and a propensity to make everything in sight, including me, into a jungle gym; this kid already has me trumped when it comes to how he approaches many things in life.  As much schooling as I’ve had, life experiences I’ve been through, etc.…maybe it is true, “all I really need to know I learned in Kindergarten”.  There are a number of qualities that I’ve observed in my son that I want to emulate.  I’m so proud of this child, and so grateful for the way he unknowingly makes me a better person everyday.  Here are a few of the countless ways he does this.

Stop and Smell the Roses

When my son was three I had the opportunity to take him to Disney World.  I was so excited to bring him there, but obviously it’s very expensive and we only had two days, which I was determined to make the most of.  “Making the most of it”, for me, meant we had to arrive early to beat the crowds, get on every ride, and see every attraction possible in our limited time.  Fortunately someone had their head on straight.  As soon as we got off the tram to the theme park and I started rushing us along, my son insisted we stop to look in a pond to find Nemo.  It was a wonderful and necessary check.  Stop.  Breathe.  Enjoy where you are and what you’re doing.

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Hop Some Fences

The CrossFit Games was quite an experience this year (as if it’s not every year), but there were a couple of moments that I think (*hope*) will change me as a person.  One of those moments was the “Sprint Chipper” which required us to jump over a wall.  When it came to jumping that wall all I could think of was my son and the times he’s asked me to jump the fence with him at one of the playgrounds we go to.  While I’m happy to be the kind of mom who’s kid things they might jump a fence, I’ve always told him no, because usually I’m sore and my joints hurt from training.  That stinks.  I’m finding that overall, it’s not very satisfying constantly preserving myself for the next workout or next competition.  Sorry, but if I can jump over a wall because Dave Castro programs it, I can darn sure hop a fence or two to enjoy day to day adventures with my son.  This is just an example of how I feel a disciplined lifestyle skirts along the edge of missing out on life’s little joys.  My son makes me want figure out a way to be in the moment and live a little.

Sleep Like It’s Going Out of Style

This kid sleeps like it’s a profession and he’s a leader in the field.  I’ve struggled with my sleep for years, and I’ve thought to myself many times, “if I could just emulate him, I’d be golden.”  Uninterrupted sleep at night and naps?  Clearly he has something figured out that I don’t.

“I Want To Make Something”

My son has found his own means of relaxation and self-expression.  To some, it may seem overstated, but I bet there are other parents of Lego builders who will know exactly what I’m talking about.  When my son starts building he can go into a zone for hours on end. It appears to be nothing short of therapeutic.  This is what working out is for me, however there’s one aspect in which I need to take my son’s lead.  I’ve found that increasingly my workouts are focused on the desired outcome, not the process and not the enjoyment and release I get from it.  I even refer to it as “training” now, instead of “working out”.  For me, there’s a substantive difference in these words, “training” indicates preparation for some specific end result.  When I watch him build, it’s just for the joy of building.  I’ve seen him spend multiple hours building something amazing, excitedly show it to me, then (to my hidden horror) immediately dismantle it.  Presumably, for him it’s not about creating something to hold onto forever.  It’s about simply loving what you’re doing and that being enough.  Goal orientation, competition and wanting to produce has pushed me to new levels physically and mentally.  At times though, I feel less connected to what I’m doing on an internal level.  I’m thinking more and feeling less.  I want to get back to the cathartic experience that drew me into “training” in the first place.

Things to do at the gym. Michael Brian Photography

Things to do at the gym.
Michael Brian Photography

Roll With The Punches

When I divorced I secured a new place for my son and I.  I was terrified.  I felt that the apartment was symbolic of the beginning of our new life and the transition period would obviously be predictive of the rest of our lives.  Of course. I worked really hard to get things set up for him, but due to time and financial constraints he walked into a bunch of boxes and an air mattress to share with his mother.  And guess what?  He couldn’t have cared less.  He was amped because of his new toothbrush.  “You got me an Eeyore toothbrush!?”  He used the boxes to drive his cars over.  That’s when I knew this kid’s level of awesome already far exceeded anything I could achieve, but I’m going to keep trying.  Things aren’t ideal?  Be thankful for what you have and keep it moving!

“But I Want You To Tickle Me!”

Who doesn’t want to emulate kids when it comes to having fun?  Fun is literally the epicenter of life for them.  This kid loves to be tickled until he can’t breathe, play tricks on me, make up jokes. Each morning as we leave we race to see who can get outside first and when we come home he runs ahead so he can jump out and scare me.  Every day.  He’s probably the only person on Earth who can make me be silly, and I need to help him create more of that.

Don’t Concern Yourself with the Opinions of Others

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“Silent gratitude isn’t much use to anyone.”

I’ve never realized how amazing mountains are. I’ve looked at their peaks from airplanes, marveled at stories of people climbing them, and was even somewhat traumatized by one after completing the 2012 CrossFit Games triathlon. This weekend I participated in the CrossFit Affiliate Summit in Big Sky Montana and for the first time I really felt the impact of being in the presence of a mountain. I was only in town for little more than 36 hours but somehow the experience came just at the right time, in the right environment, to make a profound impact.20130818-200017.jpg

Being in nature really seems to bring a sense of connectedness to something greater than yourself. Living in the middle of the city and dealing with the hustle and bustle, I feel like I lost that sense of connection. The beaches of Lake Michigan are nice, but in my opinion being near the ocean, and now I’ve found the mountains, is on another level. I was sort of spinning in my own little world and was blessed enough to have this day and a half to stop the spinning. Of course my return flight got me back home at 1:00am and I sat in bumper to bumper traffic for an hour, but too late Chicago traffic, the mountains of Montana put a smile on my face even you can’t erase!

Being at this event really made me reflect on all the wonderful opportunities I have in my life, specifically as an athlete over the past year. As in prior years since becoming a CrossFit competitor in 2011, this sport has afforded me the opportunity to meet tons of amazing and interesting people- fellow competitors, coaches, CrossFit Headquarters staff, spectators, gym mates, etc. It really is a remarkable community we are part of. I also really enjoy connecting with people who aren’t directly involved in CrossFit, but who see what we do and appreciate it.

Outside of the significant support of family and friends, this past season was a phenomenal joy and opportunity for me largely because of the generosity of resources, and belief in me that was demonstrated by some specific people.

I want to acknowledge my gym owner, Derek Freiberg of CrossFit Construct, who welcomed me to his gym in 2011 and has done nothing but offer unconditional support, and assistance with my training. Derek has also been responsible for my supplementation regiment. Derek, along with all the folks at my gym, probably don’t realize what a huge role they play in me being competitive at the Games each year. I train alone a fair amount and just having that supportive person, or sharing the gym with a class and feeling their energy makes all the difference in the world to me. I love this gym!

When I’m not at Construct, I often train with my training partner Jessica Schulz at my second gym home CrossFit Rise. I would not have made it through the year without this woman, who doubles as my therapist, and also little Maddog who generously gives me my baby fix. There’s nothing better then having such a dedicated and driven training partner who’s also a mommy. If I can get some of her mental toughness in me then maybe I’ll be working with something.

2013 Regional, Deadlift/Box Jump, when Jess was inexplicably asked to go back and repeat a deadlift

2013 Regional, Deadlift/Box Jump, when Jess was inexplicably asked to go back and repeat a deadlift

2013 Regional, side by side lanes for most of the weekend

2013 Regional, side by side lanes for most of the weekend

My chiropractor, who’s much more than I ever thought a chiropractor could be, Dr. Sunil Pullukat. I had some physical things going on this year that I’m 100% sure I wouldn’t have made it through the competition season without Sunil’s expertise and dedication.

This season saw the development of a new relationship when I became a member of Team MDUSA. What a blessing it’s been. I’ve written before about Muscle Driver and the amazing company that it is. The support and opportunity I’ve been afforded, not only as an athlete but as a professional, a person, and a mother, has been second to none. I’m so honored to be part of a hard working, creative, open minded, and inspiring group of people. I’m really excited for the growth and development the next year will hold, and thankful for the opportunities MDUSA has provided me.

My coach Rudy Nielsen has lived all the highs and lows of the past year and a half of training and competition along with me and I’m incredibly grateful for him. Every ounce of dedication and commitment I have for this sport is matched (or exceeded) by him. No one else could push me, motivate me or check my neuroses but you.20130818-200205.jpg

A heartfelt thank you to all of you for being such integral parts of this ongoing journey. I’m so excited to take on the next year and continue to grow what we’ve started.

“We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.” JFK


“My Mommy’s an Athlete”

I left this past weekend’s North Central Regional mostly feeling gratitude and motivation. Some really amazing things occurred, and being completely serious the biggest rewards did not come in the form of first place finishes or event records.

As far as the competition goes, it was an experience like no other. I could feel something was different in the week leading up to the competition. I’m so used to having (or coming up with) something to worry about that it felt strange to not be worrying. So Thursday night before things kicked off, to occupy my thoughts and get motivated I started watching Michael Jordan videos online. I stumbled upon his Basketball Hall of Fame induction speech, where he talks about all the experiences in his life that added logs to his competitive fire, as he puts it. Little did I know this speech and thoughts of Jordan’s mentality would occupy my mind throughout the weekend.

After day one of competition I had won two of three workouts and found myself in third place, just a point or two out of fourth. Fourth place girls don’t go to the Games. The workout that jeopardized my postion was 30 burpee muscle ups for time, with a 7 minute cap. I’m not going to go into the details, but the minute that airhorn sounded ending the workout I knew I had underperformed. I was pissed. What’s important for me here, and what makes me feel like the things I’ve been doing over the last 10 months have been effective, is that not for one second did I feel down or defeated. Last year, even while winning events at the Games I would be in my own head beating myself up. I can be very hard on myself, and I think that’s ok if it’s applied in a productive, positive manner. Walking away from the event floor I felt nothing negative at all, I felt like I was being given the opportunity to be a fighter. I asked myself what would Jordan do if he was down, cut from a team, not selected for an honor? He would proceed forward with nothing but utter confidence and belief in his talent, his training and his abilities. Looking at the leaderboard felt like a sort of taunting. Think about it, by the end of day two, in five workouts I had earned four first place finishes, two top world times and a second best time in the world. Yet the leaderboard said I was a third place athlete. I wanted to stomp the hell out of that leaderboard. Finishing less than first was unacceptable because I knew what I was capable of. Though I won the overall event, I made my share of errors, had my share of failures, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Those failures add fuel to the fire. I feel the entire event unfolded just as it needed to, to prepare me to move onto the next phase. I’m excited to spend the next few months with laser focus on my preparations. I couldn’t be more in love with my sport, and I hope to see more amazing programming at the Games that will push us to our limits. After two and a half years I’m finally coming into my own as a CrossFitter- no longer just a raw athlete, but as a specialist in this sport. Being good at this sport is an artform, and I want to make something beautiful.976601_10151598949865270_1175598923_o

The most amazing part of the weekend was all the people who played a role in it. I can’t say enough about the event organizers, judges, and team, as well as the incredible spectators. You all made this event a blast. I relied heavily on my sister’s positive energy and encouragement from long distance. My mother was able to come to town to be with me. This allowed my son to attend on Sunday, his first time seeing a CrossFit competition. It was wonderful and emotional for me to have him there. (He was overheard at school on Monday saying, “my mommy’s an athlete. She broke two records.” Ha!). I had the amazing support system of friends, my CrossFit Construct team and community, especially Derek Freiberg. Competing side by side (and sharing an air mattress) with my training parter Jessica Schulz was fantastic. I had the physical support of massage therapists Bobby Clark and Michael Harling, as well as my sponsor from Chicago Chiropractic & Sports Medicine, Dr. Sunil Pullukat. I’m so thrilled that Muscle Driver USA, a company/group of people who treat me like family, was in the house offering support, enthusiasm and documenting the weekend through photos and video. Thank you, I am so grateful and honored to be a part of Team MDUSA. Rudy Nielsen of The Outlaw Way, thank you for all the times you have believed in me more than I believe in myself. I’m finally catching up to you, let’s do the damn thing.976422_10151600475910270_416511675_o


‘Black Jesus’ Is Redundant

“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.”- Audre Lorde

I’m not sure whether this post is complete to my satisfaction, but if I don’t post it now it’s going to be relegated to the pile of never seen posts. I’ve chosen to discuss matters here that I feel are difficult to address and I’ve failed in attempting it in the past. By a few coincidences, I’ve had race on my mind this week. It started with a conversation early in the week with my son while riding in the car. A lot of parents can probably relate to the car ride heart to hearts with their kids. For the most part it wasn’t a remarkable conversation, mostly about the national origins of our family. Discussion of the race and nationality of our family and extended family is common place whether by design or in response to an off hand comment like the time he told me he wishes he were African because it’s warm there (“we are African kiddo, your grandfather is Yoruba”), or him wanting to have British ancestry like his friend at school (“you do buddy, your great-grandmother was born in England”). This conversation did get more in depth about skin color, and he wanted to know why he is black but his skin looks white. He has also asked me in the past how I am black but his grandmother is white. My child has quite a mixed ancestry including Nigerian, Black American, Irish, Native American, English, and possibly some others that I’m not aware of. At the same time, both of his parents identify as, and by American standards are black. He is black, but my son also is multi-generationally mixed. These are concepts with definitions that matter in the context of nasty US history, the one-drop rule, and a bunch of other stuff (or, “blah, blah, blah” as my son would tell me) that’s hard to explain to a six year old on a car ride to the zoo. Let’s be real, it’s hard to explain period! What I really started wondering about is if parents of monoracial children, who live in monoracial communities even discuss these things? I’ve had plenty of conversations with people who attempt a color-blind approach, claiming that children don’t see race, etc. Sure they do. And they live in a society profoundly impacted by it. It’s actually very interesting to converse with a child about these issues because often they are not assigning value or making a judgment, but rather making observations and connections.20130530-085125.jpg

It has been more recent that I hear things from my child that are more reflective of broader society, such as racial stereotypes. That occurred this week when my son got a bee in his bonnet about a new “The Lone Ranger” Lego set. I didn’t mind letting him get a Lego set, we love Legos- it was the specific set that gave me heartburn. “The Lone Ranger”? Of all things, why has this been revived? I will admit, I know little about “The Lone Ranger”, but the first thing that comes to mind is the ignorant portrayal of Tonto. Low and behold, when I searched the original show, I read that actor Jay Silverheels, who played Tonto disliked the way the character was depicted. I’d imagine acting roles were hard to come by at the time for a Native American, and I’m not so sure it’s any better now.

I had a decision to make. When my son was little, we made a concerted effort to protect him from certain things. Not just BPA in plastic, pesticides in food, or lead-laced dirt, but from something more insidious and potentially damaging to the psyche. I’m talking about toys/books/media and any other controllable images that would instill the stereotypes and negative values of dominant society, specifically around race. Anything that didn’t affirm who my son is, I didn’t want him around. I realized three years ago when he started school that I couldn’t control things as much, and as he’s gets older I can use the kind of exposure that I used to avoid (like the Lego set) as a teaching tool. So my son got the Legos. I believe that even a child who lives in a multiracial/cultural family, school and community can have their mind and ultimately their spirit permeated by race related misinformation if you don’t affirmatively work against that. I can only imagine what can go on in the minds of children who aren’t exposed to otherness.20130530-085041.jpg

What I feel I’m trying to combat is the systemic structures that have a powerful strangle hold on our ability to make progress in diminishing racial stereotypes. Obviously one nasty, cruddy person can inflict that kind of thing on another, but what is more striking and less clearly visible is the very thing were surrounded by everyday. The images propagated by mass media/social media matter. The third thing that happened this week that put race on my mind was being featured in an Ebony Magazine/Ebony.com piece, “Women Up: Black Women Rising in Sports.” As the title states, it’s a brief profile of 10 black women who are rising in their respective sports. Anytime our sport gets coverage in a mainstream publication I think it’s exciting. Well, almost every time. An exception to that for me was last year when I stumbled across an article in one of the typical (non CrossFit specific) fitness magazines. The article was a list of top ten moments of the 2012 CrossFit Games, featuring both the women’s clean ladder and the Double Banger. I won both those events but the magazine featured other women for each. The Double Banger included a paragraph with my name as the “frontrunner” (uh, did anyone watch that?), yet the photograph was of another woman. Coincedence that they chose to feature white women’s photos for that piece? Perhaps. But when it happens in a publication that routinely under-represents women of color I tend to call that whitewashing. This magazine did feature a black woman in a more stereotypical role (you know blacks don’t swim, right?). I don’t want to disparage the accomplishments of any of the women who were featured in the piece, however I despise unearned privilege and I despise entities that refuse to portray the full spectrum. In my opinion they successfully distorted the already minimally visible presence of black women at the CrossFit Games. This is exactly why publications such as Ebony Magazine exist. To “offer positive images of blacks in a world of negative images.”

I believe there are people out there who feel the issues I’ve outlined here don’t exist or don’t really matter. In my opinion, such people are often sitting in a position of privilege. The privilege of not having to notice. The privilege of feeling that their children won’t be negatively impacted by such matters. Perhaps ignorance is bliss. Whatever the case, these are the types of things that I’m tasked with steeling my child against. To educate him and to protect his intellect, his heart, and his spirit from these untruths that the world will tell.

“The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives.” Audre Lorde


Muscle Driver Signs Additional Weightlifters

My wonderful sponsor, Muscle Driver USA held an open tryout for aspiring weightlifters that had interest in joining Team MDUSA.  This team is designed to support and develop lifters with the potential for World and Olympic level competition.  Members receive not only financial support but also training facilities and more importantly, high level coaching.

I was poking around the Muscle Driver Facebook page, trying to catch up with all the athletes who had recently been extended, and accepted invitations to join the team.  It struck me how amazing the entire process is.  Number one, what a phenomenal company Muscle Driver is.  This is seriously an amazing group of talented people.   We all know the lifters are talented, but I’m talking about the front office.  The President of Muscle Driver is Brad Hess who started and grew the company from the ground up.  He manufactures equipment in house, and distributes from his warehouse on-site creating lots of jobs.  This is a person who is truly a leader, not a boss, and expects his employees to be leaders, too.  When I left my first meeting with Brad, no kidding I thought to myself, “that’s what ‘scared money don’t make money’ means.”  This guy seriously has balls (sorry Kim).  I say that because of the confidence I saw and also the willingness to try new things, obviously not knowing the ultimate outcome, but moving ahead fearlessly.  An open tryout, people!  To give someone the opportunity to pursue their dream.  So awesome.981679_10151579540150270_1235878379_o

A more familiar name to most is Glenn Pendlay, whose company Pendlay Barbell merged with Muscle Driver awhile back.  This man is a repository of information and I honestly had no idea when I first met him how accomplished he is as an athlete, as well as his level of advanced study in his field.  He is the force behind the lifting team, and what an amazing thing he’s created for himself as a coach and for the athletes.  What coach wouldn’t want to have a bunch of full-time athlete studs in house who are willing to dedicate their lives to their craft?

Another key person at Muscle Driver is Lisa Strump who is a ridiculously accomplished woman- a mother, wife, chiropractor, CrossFit affiliate owner, and an integral leader at Muscle Driver.  She is my go-to person, and I’m sure many others view her the same way.  The entire organization is made up of people I am so proud to be affiliated with.468073_10151579552000270_1455477644_o

Back to my original point, I’m just amazed at the opportunity Muscle Driver is creating for athletes.  As one of their athletes I know that the main reason they have me on board is so that I can develop into the best athlete I can possibly be.  That is the same opportunity that is being given to the new crop of weightlifters that have just signed on (Tim Rawlings, Dean Kruse, Morghan King, Trevor Britton, sorry if I missed anyone).  I wish them the best as they come on board, and I look forward to formally meeting everyone on my next visit to South Carolina!


CrossFit and Chicago Youth

It’s pretty hard to live in Chicago and not start to have a dire image of the educational system as a whole, and as much as I hate to say it, a dire picture of the direction of our young people. All day everyday in newspapers and on the news are stories of violence, failing schools, teacher strikes, school closings…the list could go on.

It’s against this back drop that I had an incredibly inspiring experience visiting Bulls College Prep a couple of weeks ago. Bulls College Prep is a charter school and is part of The Noble Network of Charter Schools. This is an organization that’s made huge strides in getting kids on the college track educationally, and is approaching nearly 100% acceptance rate to 4 year colleges and universities for it’s students. As we all know, nutrition and fitness also play a huge role in our personal development and go a long way towards a healthy community. Bulls College Prep goes beyond only academic preparation, and that is how I ended up visiting the school.20130521-184217.jpg

Bulls College Prep has implemented a CrossFit program into their curriculum. Long story short, I heard that CrossFit Kids Headquarters was sending a representative to the school and I asked if I could tag along. I’m so glad I did. These kids absolutely blew me away, as did their teachers and administration who have put this program together. First of all, I literally did not see one child with a bad attitude or giving less than there all. We’re talking about 9-12th graders here people, the population most known for their attitudes. Not a single eye roll or lazy squat. These are the same black and brown “inner city” kids that are often expected to fail. I didn’t see any failures in that group. These kids were incredibly disciplined, enthusiastic, hard working and, in true CrossFit fashion, nconditionally supportive of one another. I’ll admit it, these kids made me tear up, I was so proud for them!20130521-184306.jpg

It seems that the Bulls College Prep staff is doing something unique here. Again, the enthusiasm and commitment was abundantly clear. The athletic director at the school trains at a local Chicago Area CrossFit, and multiple Bulls College Prep staff members are CF Kids Certified. CF Kids HQ is working with The Noble Network to continue to certify staff and spread the program throughout the network. Again, true to CrossFit form, Bulls College Prep tracks and measures student progress in fitness, and is gathering data that could lead to more support for such programs. Part of the reason I find this school’s work so exciting is the implications for similar programs in other locations in the future.

As it stands, Bulls College Prep is in need of financial and equipment resources. The classes I observed completed a great, but modified “Fran” (no pull up rig, limited barbells and plates), as well as some gymnastics work. They don’t have kettlebells, wallballs, mats, etc.

What they do have is a highly committed staff who have put together a fundraiser event:

“Barbells for Bulls”

When: Friday, May 24th 6:00-9:00pm

Where: Division Ale House, 1942 W. Division, Chicago, IL

What: $35 for open bar and a chance to make a difference while socializing with your CrossFit community
If you have any questions about the fundraiser, please post them here and we’ll try to get answers up ASAP.

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That’s What You Get

Ahhhh, I’m so excited the Open is over! Oddly, it’s a really fun five weeks yet also gets kind of irritating. The weekly cycle of anticipation, strategizing, leaderboarding and the like gets to be a bit much. I’m really proud to say that my team, CrossFit Construct has qualified to the North Central Regional competition, in addition to myself and one other woman competing as individuals for Construct. As for my own individual performance, I’m ok with how things went. I did see some improvement in my standing both in the region (went from 6th in 2012 to 2nd this year) and worldwide (93rd in 2012 to 27th in 2013). I know, I know, the Open doesn’t matter. This is the constant refrain. I agree to a point, doing poorly or doing well in the Open doesn’t predict your performance in the next stages of competition. However, for me it was important to make some improvements on these Open-style workouts. Many people assume that the Regionals and Games will be progressively heavier. I learned the hard way at last years Games that if you want to be successful in this sport you can’t sit back and make assumptions about what kind of programming you will see. Forget your wheelhouse. Forget your body type. Strive to be good at everything, that’s what our sport is all about.

Enough with the Open! Its conclusion brought about something else I was excited about: a de-load week in my training. This week I saw much lower volume of lifts, conditioning pieces were shorter and fewer in number, some longer duration swimming, as well as testing lifts and benchmarks. For many involved in fitness, and some competitive athletes this type of de-load period is hard to handle. What am I talking about, many people can’t even stand to take a rest day, much less a de-load week! I see many CrossFitters with the training mentality that more is more. For me, higher quality is more. Higher intensity is more. In my training program, rest and de-loading is essential, and this approach has helped me stay healthy (knock on wood), maintain motivation, continue to see gains and peak at the right times. More importantly, taking appropriate rest allows for better life balance. In my schedule, one day per week is typically a total rest day- the only activity being running around at the park or the zoo. Maybe rolling out, but essentially it’s devoted to physical and mental restoration and family time. Come on guys, it’s ok. Even God rested.

This week has afforded me the opportunity to head into one of the most critical and fun training periods of the year feeling healthy, refreshed and eager to train hard. I will be soaking in the next four weeks of all out training before the Regional workouts are announced, at which point some of the focus will shift for those specific wods. I love this time of year because it’s incredibly easy to maintain focus and motivation. I actually can’t believe how quickly Regionals and Games time are approaching. So much work to do…and plenty of rest!

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“You Know How Much I Love This? I Love This!”

Ok, I sort of love it.  We’re in the heat of week four of the CrossFit Games Open.  It’s my third year competing in this, the first qualifying stage to the CrossFit Games final to be held in July.  For some percentage of people, the main objective of the Open is to progress to Regionals.  It also represents much more than that, and I think for each individual it means different things. It has meant something different to me each year I have participated.  At this point for me it is a test of ego strength as much as muscular or conditioning strength.  I am pretty solidly capable of qualifying to Regionals.  However, the Open format is not the part of Games season where I tend to excel the most.  I love the Open for a number of reasons, but crushing the leaderboard isn’t one of them.

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These photos represent some of the events I have won at the Regional and Games level during my two seasons competing in CrossFit (I could also make a gigantic collage of events on which I completely ate it, but that’s not what we’re talking about right now! Bonus points to anyone who can name the events above).  I have never once so much as sniffed a win in the Open, not even within my Region.  I think it has to do with the things such as the type of programming, the competition format, how my training cycles coincide with the Open…and also my skill set.  I was once told, “it’s amazing how good you are, considering how much you suck.”  Ha.  Whatever the reason, I don’t feel as relevant a competitor in this phase, and that’s challenging for me as an athlete.  In any case, this year I’ve actually been able to embrace my own personal victories in spite of the leaderboard (and without completely avoiding the leaderboard as I did last year).   One specific example is 13.1.  Scoring 194, I wasn’t thrilled with my number, but I was happy with my work- smooth, controlled, quality movement throughout the piece.  Possibly too controlled, but this is in contrast to 12.2 where I spazzed out, moved with egregious lack of proficiency, and I’m pretty sure steam started coming out of my ears at some point.  The programming for this year’s Open has provided a good opportunity to assess personal progress, which is has been really fun.  Besides focusing on my personal progress, I manage the Open by adopting the Usain Bolt mentality:

“Even if I lose every race up to the Olympics it doesn’t matter because I know that I have one focus- and that is to go to the Olympics and do great things.”- Usain Bolt

The part of the Open I do enjoy is the community aspect and sharing the experience with my gym.  In an epic performance, one of the girls at our gym completed her second muscle up ever during 13.3.  She made a couple of failed attempts, and in the closing seconds she pulled out the most hard fought, grind it out, struggle for every inch muscle up I’ve ever seen!  So awesome.  We had another girl who did one muscle up last year, set a goal of five, and ended up doing ten muscle ups.  For the record, if the people in the room lean in the appropriate direction, you can help a person get through the transition.

photo courtesy of Kristine Loo

photo courtesy of Kristine Loo

Amidst all the extra drama that has accompanied the exponential growth of the Open, these victories by hard working athletes are what I would rather focus on.  Two more and on to Regionals!


Draft Day! Or Something Like It…

I’m incredibly excited, humbled and honored to announce that I am the newest member of Team MDUSA.  Team MDUSA began as a group of top U.S. weightlifters who have been selected by coaching great Glenn Pendlay to train full time in hopes of competing for the United States on World and Olympic teams.  I have the privledge of being the first non-weightlifting (as primary sport) athlete to join their ranks.  This is a such an honor for me, both as a person and as an athlete.  More details to come, but I couldn’t wait to share this news with those who have been following and supporting me.  I feel incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to join the Team MDUSA family!8706_10151415494450270_963189089_n


“I’m not trying to be that diesel”

There’s this insidious thing that won’t seem to go away, and it is the incessant chatter about athletic women’s bodies- is it ok for women to have muscles? Is strong really better than skinny? I don’t know if men are the main perpetrators or if it’s mostly us doing this to each other (let’s blame the men, that’s more fun). Either way, it’s apparent that certain forces are less than enthusiastic about the fairer sex being yoked. Don’t be scared, everything is going to be ok, even if us gals get barbells in our hands. I usually chalk the negativity up to mostly internet trolls- a subsect of the population I find it best to ignore. Frankly, I just don’t like giving life to the subject by discussing it further. I don’t feel the need to defend my choices for my body, or encourage others to choose the same path I have. Some see fit to inundate the inter-webs with articles and memes trying to dispel the myth that weight training makes women bulky, that strong is in fact superior to other ways of being, and working to assuage women’s fears that if they pick up a barbell their feminine curves will combust into a manly, hard body. Fears. Fears? Somehow, with everything going on in the world, development of strength, muscle and physical competency has become something that has risen to the status of being fear-worthy. I mean, what are these crazy girls going to do next, try to grow beards!? (Not likely because beards are vile and germ infested. If you don’t know about this you must read The Twits.)photo-25

But I digress. A couple of recent events transpired that sparked my interest in this subject. My opinion on the matter, like anyone elses of course, is shaped by my experiences. I grew up as a gymnast- a sport that produces strong, muscular athletes. I grew up with a strong mother. She was not an athlete, but she was strong as a horse in my child’s eye view. She always worked two, usually three jobs (often physical ones) to support us. My mother consistently encouraged my sister and I in our athletic endeavors and frankly, I felt that I was expected to be an athlete. I don’t remember her ever being sick and I only saw her cry once, when I was ten years old and her grandmother died. The problems explored in The Feminine Mystique did not exist in our house. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, in many ways I feel I was freed from the confines of stereotypical notions of femininity. I’ve always included strength as a completely normal characteristic for a woman. When I think of the ultimate woman, being able to handle business physically is one of the foremost thoughts in my mind. Bearing and nursing children, physically carrying them, raising children, doing labor to care for and support herself or her family- these are all things that I find utterly feminine and the ability to do them is enhanced and facilitated by a fit, strong body. One of my favorite things is when my son tells me I’m strong and emulates my athletic movements.

Back to the two events that got me thinking about this subject. One was a woman who contacted me after some of her loved ones reacted negatively to changes in her body after 5 months of CrossFit. Basically, they felt that her new muscle definition looked “manly”. My comment to her was essentially, if you have conviction about what you are doing, you must hold onto that as your shield against the naysayers. You are responsible for your body. You are responsible for your own health and happiness. How your body transforms is secondary to the discipline you’re displaying and the sense of accomplishment you earn in your daily workouts and progress towards your goals. People who really care about you should be uplifted by your joy, hard work and accomplishments. In my case, I’m fortunate that overwhelmingly I am affirmed for what I do with regard to fitness and I’m realizing not everyone has that experience.

The other happening was a conversation with one of the top weightlifting coaches in the country. He told me that he’s had multiple adolescent female lifters quit the sport of weightlifting because they (or their mothers!) felt it was making their butt and thighs too big. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I found this fact shocking. We discussed the matter a bit more on “Weightlifting Talk”. Maybe I hang around too many people who appreciate a developed butt and quads, but WHAT?! First of all, when you’re an adolescent girl, your body is supposed to grow and develop, weightlifter or not. Second of all, what’s wrong with a butt and thighs?

I came away from these two occurrences shaking my head and more convinced than ever that the best way to deal with this obsession with critiquing women’s bodies is to identify your own beliefs and values about your body and what you choose to do with it, and say FTW. Whether it’s too “manly” because you’re lifting weights, or too curvaceous because you’re lifting weights, or too thin because you like to run, or too whatever. In Tina Fey’s book Bossypants, she documents the list of attributes that every girl is expected to have:

  • Caucasian blue eyes
  • Full Spanish lips
  • A classic button nose
  • Hairless Asian skin with a California tan
  • A Jamaican dance hall ass
  • Long Swedish legs
  • Small Japanese feet
  • The abs of a lesbian gym owner
  • The hips of a nine year old boy
  • The arms of Michelle Obama
  • And doll tits

Great list, funny and reflective of the ridiculousness of it all. It’s a shame there’s no tidy conclusion to this matter so we could stop having this conversation over and over. I suspect that won’t happen anytime soon. In the meantime, I leave you with a lyric from a song my mother used to play:

“But it’s all right now,
I learned my lesson well,
You see, ya can’t please everyone, 
So ya got to please yourself.”- Rick Nelson


December 14, 2012

I listened to my friend talk about his impending fatherhood. I admired the sonogram of his child and listened to the excitement in his voice looking forward to hearing his little one’s heartbeat for the first time. I recalled going through that same experience with my own child. The first time seeing his image. The first time feeling a flutter of movement. The happiness and relief of hearing his healthy heartbeat at each doctor visit. Just last week I put my lips against my son’s sleeping neck and marveled at how the beat I was feeling is the same one I listened to six years ago in the doctor’s office. What a miraculous display of life. Then I hopped in the car, turned on the radio and heard that little children and teachers had been slaughtered in a school in Connecticut.

When I was pregnant with my son I couldn’t wait for him to be born. I felt that if I could just look at him and hold him in my arms I could finally relax with the confidence that he was ok. Our first night at home after his birth I discovered how faulty my logic was. All the concern and worry for his well-being while in utero was just the beginning of a lifetime of being consumed with protecting him and keeping him safe. I stood over his crib convinced that I would never sleep again because I would have to sit up 24 hours a day watching over him. Elizabeth Stone said, “Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” No truer words were ever written. I know every parent can relate to this and I feel a certain joy and common bond in knowing that other people experience the same intense love for their children.

The biggest comfort comes from knowing that when my child is afraid of the dark, or the witches that lurk in the crack between his bed and the wall I can assure him he’s ok. I can help him be brave. I can sing to him or honor his request to “lay back to back” to let him know he is safe.

The reality that situations exist in which I could not protect him is unfathomable to me. It’s almost a place I cannot allow my brain to go. As a human being and a parent of a similarly aged child, the murders at the Sandy Hook School in Connecticut have been heartbreaking and hurt my soul. I don’t understand how the world keeps spinning when something so evil can exist. My heart is incredibly heavy for the families. I’m sure like many people, I wish there was something useful I could do. In the meantime, I personally find it important to read the names of those who were killed, read their stories, listen to their families’ statements. I want to bear witness to the fact that they were here. That they were loved. That their mothers and fathers listened to their precious heartbeats.

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It’s a Game of Inches

I had a weekend of near misses in Palm Springs. Nearly missed the podium at the American Open, with a fourth place finish. Nearly missed the podium at the Outlaw Open with a second place finish after having the lead going into the final. I would be lying if I didn’t admit I have a terrible taste in my mouth about those finishes, but also mixed feelings. Part of me is actually ok with how things went. Both competitions provided me an opportunity to hone my craft, to test myself under pressure, expose weaknesses, check my progress, practice some of the skills that will help me going forward, and grow as an athlete. I got to workout with an amazing field of women. The other part of me feels obligated to beat myself up as atonement for “failing”. Sigh. I’m not going to let the latter part win because it’s a waste of time. There were so many positive things for me this weekend it would be a shame to reduce success or failure to simply where my name fell on the final results sheet.

In fact, one of the specific things I wanted to work on this weekend was focusing on the process and not the only final outcome. I posted this on Facebook a few days before the competition: 76437_496179413736319_54527339_n

I realized at the 2012 CrossFit Games I didn’t enjoy myself at all, I didn’t open my eyes and experience what was happening, I didn’t even focus on the things that would’ve been helpful to my performance because I was too worried about what was on the leaderboard. I perform much better when I focus on what I need to do technically in each moment, use positive self-talk, or repeat an affirming mantra to myself while I work out. Based on my experience at the Games this past year I developed a list of things, mental game things, which I wanted to improve on. I haven’t participated in other high level competitions outside of the formal CrossFit season, and I’ve haven’t gone into a lifting meet on a national podium without specifically training for it. As a result, I felt a sense of discomfort going into these competitions knowing that I’m not in peak condition, lifts aren’t really where I’d want them and such. Treating this weekend as a special training opportunity (albeit one with a $10,000 winner take all prize purse) finally helped me get excited for it after having some initial ambivalence about competing.

With the exception of the final workout of the Outlaw Open I felt I did a really good job of executing my plan and practicing the things I set out to put into action. The final workout was a tough, nasty chipper and I’ve been feeling bad about my performance on the event. Though when I reflect back on it I didn’t perform that poorly. I took fourth on the workout. A twenty minute piece, not my favorite length of workout. I took fourth to approximately 11 years worth of Games athlete in Becca Voigt, Kris Clever and Lindsey Valenzuela. Being beaten by those girls doesn’t exactly mean you’re chopped liver, if you know what I mean. Lindsey Valenzuela was crowned the victor this weekend, and I think she would agree it was a great battle throughout the competition. Taking second to Lindsey makes the pill of losing a little bit easier to swallow because she’s such a great all around athlete, a gracious competitor, and on top of that her 92 year old grandfather was at the event to watch her CrossFit for the first time. Kinda awesome. It made me think of my own grandfather who has passed, but was always a huge supporter of my athletic endeavors.

There were some physical accomplishments that were really exciting to me. One of the scoring points for the weekend was an agility test. The event was set up with a series of five 20-inch plyo boxes in a row with lateral hurdles on alternate sides. You had to jump over each box, then back and forth laterally over each hurdle. This was immediately followed by a shuttle run and back over the box/hurdle course. Honest to goodness, prior to CrossFit I spent many years avoiding jumping and movements such as the lateral stop on a shuttle run like the plague (that shuttle run at the Games with the cleats on felt like a horrible idea). I have no ACL in my left knee and I’ve had problems with it feeling unstable in the past. When I started CrossFit and was presented with doing box jumps or even jumping rope I was really concerned and had no idea if I could do it. Seeing an event like this agility test was actually a worst -case scenario for me. The last thing I want to do is bounce around like Tigger. However, after putting some work in I was able to perform it relatively smoothly and with confidence, managing to come in second on the event. I’ve found that my leg with the knee issues has gotten stronger through CrossFit, weightlifting, learning to squat properly, doing GHD raises, etc. Just as important if not more so, CrossFit has forced me to challenge the assumptions I’ve made about what my body can do and it’s given me the incentive to knock down self-imposed limitations. It’s amazing how empowering it is every time you accomplish something you weren’t sure you could. That never gets old, and I think reinforces your ability to move forward on faith knowing that you will find a way, adapt, learn, grow and rise to the occasion one way or another. Every experience of overcoming makes it that much easier to believe in yourself the next time around.

“The inches we need are everywhere around us…on this team, we fight for that inch…’cause we know when we add up all those inches, that’s gonna make the f*^#$&@ difference between winning and losing.”

20121204-130804.jpgMe and Lindsey pre agility test/shuttle run


We’re Learning About the Desert

Last night I lifted in Palm Springs California at the American Open Weightlifting meet. This is my second year competing in the event and it was really interesting to be able to compare and contrast both experiences. I will say, I had alot more fun this year than last. Probably the biggest reason for that due to the relationships that have been built over the past year, getting to know more weight lifters and CrossFitters meant that there were a ton of familiar faces around. Also I will note that their were a huge number of CrossFitters participating this year. I believe overall number of lifters jumped by something like 30%, and I suspect that’s largely due to the CrossFit community’s presence. Hell, even Dave Castro was in the house, coincidentally.

A huge contrast to last year was that I didn’t train for this meet. After the 2011 Games I essentially halted my CrossFit training and prepared for the American Open for months on end. This year I have trained like a competitive CrossFitter in the off season, following The Outlaw Way, lifting how we lift, doing what we do day in and day out year round on Outlaw. No special meet preparation whatsoever. Using this method I was able to add 20kg to my total from last year, and frankly it could’ve easily been 30kg but I missed a snatch and got red lighted on a Clean and jerk. As a result, I’m feeling great about the strength and technical gains I’m seeing in my lifts while still maintaining the focus on my primary sport.

I was pretty anxious coming in because my lifts aren’t exactly where I want them to be. It was a bit challenging feeling excited to lift and get my head where it needed to be given that it hasn’t been my training focus. However as I was rolling out in my hotel room prior to the session I started to think about how fortunate I am to be healthy and have the physical capability to lift here. All the worries about making weight and PRing sort of fell into perspective. I get to join with a bunch of other people who love the sport of weightlifting and just give what we have. That’s it, just get out there and do what you do. I’m very glad that I was able to come to that place of calm before lifting. Our session was running about an hour and a half behind schedule. By the time I finished lifting it was at least 10pm, which meant I had been up traveling, lifting etc for over 24 hours. Not the ideal circumstance for optimal performance, but I think that moment of perspective that I had in my room kept me collected and allowed me to enjoy the experience. That, and the great team of people I had around me supporting me and getting me through. Big thanks to Angie Sorenson, Roger Nielsen, Jessica Rodriguez and Rudy Nielsen.

This is my final lift of the night. 105kg (231lbs) clean & jerk that was red lighted for pressing out the jerk. No matter, I got the taste and I’m looking for that 250# in the next year.

Today we move into the CrossFit portion of the weekend with the Outlaw Open. Follow the action here


“Why do chickens have skin, why can’t they just be bald?”

Today was way too trying and tiring for a Saturday.  Up early, running around and set myself up for failure by over booking things.   I did get to spend alot of time with my son and a number of other great people, so I can’t be mad at that.  I did my training at my friend’s gym, CrossFit Rise.  There is some serious, serious lifting going on there on Saturday mornings under the watchful eye of two time U.S. Olympic coach Roger Neilsen, including one of my favorite lifters to watch, Shane Maier.  If you are a fan of lifting you should know this guy.  The man is huge, and seriously defies physics with how fast he moves.  Generally speaking, if you haven’t seen high level lifters go to work in person you should make it your business to do so- phenomenal power and athleticism, videos don’t do justice to how these people move.

I was very disappointed that I couldn’t make it out to Glen Elyn Crossfit for their Barbells 4 Booobs event today.  I tried, but just couldn’t make it all happen today.  I hope they had a fun and successful event.  Also, my phone had been limping along and finally died, so I’m sure many, many people will be missing my amazing tweets and Facebook status updates until I get a new phone.


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