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The Bubble is Crowded

We’re about to embark on the 2015 CrossFit Games Open in just a few short days. I’ve been trying not to put too much mental emphasis on these next five weeks, but just keep my focus on the quality of my training. It seems at least once daily someone will ask, “are you ready?” I’m more ready than I’ve ever been, but it remains to be seen how that readiness aligns with the unknown tasks that will be laid out for us.

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The 2015 Games season brings with it some significant changes from CrossFit Headquarters. They’ve referred to these changes an “evolution,” which I think is an appropriate term. I have competed since 2011- the first year that there was an online qualification process and the first year of mass participation in the CrossFit competition season. It was the user friendly, accessible format that lead me to participate in competition in the first place. The Open has been a time to feel a sense of community within our gyms and globally.

This year I’ve heard some of the grumbling about the changes and read a number of great articles addressing the concerns and reactions of aspiring athletes who have felt disappointed by HQ’s changes. HQ intervention or not, the game is constantly changing for everybody. Every one of us who desires to compete in CrossFit has to respond to a moving target- the programming is always a challenge and the field of talent incredibly deep. This ever-changing landscape highlights the importance of recognizing your work and your worth irrespective of external competition results.  Sometimes you have to sit down and assess whether you really did the things that would be necessary to achieve your stated goal.

My experience has shown me (I’m probably stating the obvious here) that being a Regionals or Games level competitor is no longer something that can be prepared for with less than 100% (or close to that) commitment. Even with full commitment, some people simply aren’t going to make it.  In 2011, I prepared and qualified for Regionals by participating in regular one hour CrossFit classes, doing standard, general population programming.  That would be laughable in 2015.  Every year the pool of athletes vying for these spots is more specialized to excel in the sport, more highly trained, more expertly coached and better prepared. The shift was palpable in Carson last year. When I decided to compete again this season it was with the knowledge that I would have to work harder and smarter than in the past. I don’t think that’s unique at all, it’s going to continue to take more and better for people to compete at the highest levels in CrossFit.  You have to put in the work.  It might be more difficult than you ever imagined, and maybe even require a little bit of luck on your side.  As far as I’m concerned, everyone is on the bubble.

2011 Regionals.  Win an event, sit in the stand with an ice bag and some snacks.

2011 Regionals. Win an event, sit in the stands with an ice bag and some snacks.

 


Battleground benefitting Train4Autsim

I have a close friend whose son is a couple of years younger than mine. We were co-workers during both of our respective pregnancies so we got to experience all that comes with first time motherhood together. One significant factor differentiates our experience and that is, her son received a diagnosis on the Autism spectrum.

As many people are aware, rates of this diagnosis are on the rise. When I was a kid about 1 kid in every 2,000 had Autism. Today the CDC estimates that number at 1 in 68 children. This disorder has no definitive diagnosis, no one specific set of symptoms or treatment. What does seem to be clear from what I gather, is that early and intensive intervention is key. What does this mean for parents? It means not only grieving for the childhood you likely envisioned for your child, but also dealing with a healthcare system that isn’t set up to meet your child’s needs. Many insurance plans, even the best, don’t cover the intensive therapies that may be recommended for children with an autism diagnosis. My girlfriend pays for a very expensive health insurance plan through her employer (so basically best case scenario with regard to the American healthcare system) and still pays a significant amount of money out of pocket to provide for her son’s treatment. Once the treatment is paid for, there’s still the task of getting your child to multiple appointments every week- occupational therapy, speech therapy, etc. It means trying to work with teachers and schools that may not be equipped to support your child, or even understand their unique circumstances. It’s really staggering and adds up to an immense amount of physical/emotional/financial stress on a family.

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April is Autism Awareness Month and this year I will have the privilege of participating in a competition called Battleground April 18-19, 2015. This is a volunteer run event with 100% of the proceeds going to the Train 4 Autism Foundation. This organization has established an incredible, innovative, and thoughtful way to enhance the lives of families impacted by Autism. I love this model because, as many of us have discovered, fitness can be such an amazing outlet. What a gift to have access to a program where your entire family can be served, alleviate some stress, enhance your physical health, and make the financial cost of participating in CrossFit attainable. Proceeds from Battleground will benefit Train 4 Autism’s “CrossFit for Parents and Children with Special Needs Project.”

“Train 4 Autism Foundation has created Strength & Conditioning program specifically for parents and their children touched by autism. These classes are coached by Level 1 Crossfit Certified Coaches as well as certified behavioral therapists and volunteers. This training is held at No Limits Sports & Fitness Academy.”

It’s easy to get involved with Battleground by competing in the beginner/intermediate/advanced or team categories, or by setting up your own fundraising page to support this event.

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Lucky Charms & Kool-Aid

The nutritional situation in my house growing up was pretty hilarious in hindsight. My mother was very loving and attentive in many ways,  but she also worked approximately one million hours per week. Therefore, my sister and I fended for our selves quite a bit at mealtimes. I have so many awesome cereal related memories. Sitting 18 inches from the TV with a bowl of cereal and letting my kitten drink the milk out; taking a bite of cereal in the dining room then running to do a handstand on the couch while I chewed it; or that time we didn’t have any milk so I ate my cereal with red Kool-aid (yes red flavored, not cherry).

 

In my adult life quality nutrition has become a high priority and is a continually evolving process, I suppose like everything else. Just as my son is learning from seeing what I do in the gym he is also incredibly impacted by seeing what I do with nutrition- and obviously I’m responsible for his nutrition as well. As a mother I feel that it’s important to have nutritional habits that I feel are healthy for my son to be part of and to eat the same things I do, (ie., not surviving on “nutrition bars” or other marketed fitness products, saving up macros to binge on ice cream) but eating real, nutritious foods. Here’s a few reasons why:

 

Establishing Lifelong Attitudes and Behaviors Towards Food

This is a huge responsibility, I want my son to look at food as sustenance and nutrition for the well being of his body, as well as something to be enjoyed.

 

Cooking One Meal for the Family

I love being a mother, not a short order cook. If I put myself on some kind of strange, restrictive diet, or allow my son to survive on “kid foods” that I don’t want to eat, then I’m forced to make multiple meals. No thanks.

 

Role Modeling

Any parent knows how incredibly observant kids are. “Do as I say, not as I do” isn’t good enough in my book. Just the other day my son asked me, “why don’t you eat treats very often?” opening the door for a conversation. Whether I’m conscious of it or not, he’s watching every move I make and he’s curious about it.

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Left Overs

If you’re like me, you’re bound to end up cleaning a few bites off your child’s plate or from a lunch box. Why not prepare the same healthy food for the whole family so it’s not a problem to share the leftovers? I hate wasting food!

 

Preparing Food & Eating Together

This is probably my favorite reason to feed my child the foods that I eat. Cooking together is great quality time and really educational (does that sound so corny? It’s true though.). Think about all that can be involved in this: selecting a recipe (either searching the web or a book), reading/writing recipes, shopping for ingredients, measuring, learning how to use kitchen appliances, learning about other cultures through food…so many benefits. Being engaged in the process is a great way for kids to be more open to trying new foods, too.  Eating together provides one more occasion throughout the day where those important, organic conversations can take place.  I find parenting the most enjoyable when I view activities as quality time and not simply a task that needs to be completed.

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What REAL Food Looks Like

There’s a multi billion dollar machine designed to market food products to our kids. The first time I really thought about this my son was probably less than 2 years old. His play kitchen came with some little pretend boxes and cans of name brand food products. At first glance it seems innocuous, but I think it’s actually rather disgusting. It only continues with the fast food marketing (“Happy” Meals?  Please go away), cross brand marketing (I once saw Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle tortilla chips on the shelf!). Add that to what is considered a meal in school lunch programs. Have you noticed how homemade food items vs. processed, and even organic vs. conventional produce looks different? I want to take every opportunity to de-program the outside messages my child gets about food.

 

 

My son still doesn’t love vegetables the way I wish he would, we’re still working on the thousands of exposures.  This is a constant work in progress in my house, but a labor of love and a source of enjoyment. It wasn’t until I became a parent that I felt a sense of sharing love through preparing food for others. I’d love to hear other parent’s experiences/suggestions on this topic- please feel free to comment.

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My son made the burger into the bun around his veggies, I used a lettuce bun.

 


All Due Respect

Lately it seems like an inordinate number of women around me are either pregnant or new moms. This is awesome for me, as I love babies and pregnant women. It’s possibly annoying for them, because I tend to gush, make a big deal, and I instantly become that irritating woman who wants to tell all her pregnancy and parenting stories. Sorry.

 

It hurts my heart when I hear pregnant women and new moms get down on themselves about their fitness level and their changed/changing body. Let me tell you something: your body is performing a miracle. I know it’s not a miracle in the sense that it can’t be explained by simple biology, but I don’t care about that, it’s a miracle! You are growing a beautiful life, bringing it forth into this world and nourishing it with your body. I don’t care what gym you walk into or which athlete is there, you are the baddest mother in the place.

 

I understand the struggle. When I was young I worked out at local gym and I remember watching a pregnant woman run throughout her pregnancy. When I say ran, I mean she was really moving and when I say pregnant I mean she looked ready to deliver any day, a bit like this lady. Honestly I didn’t give much thought to it at the time, but it did establish a subconscious expectation, and years later I assumed I would continue my regular workout routine throughout my pregnancy, too.   Funny thing is, I’m not her. For me, the full workout regiment didn’t feel right. If there’s ever a time women can drop any rigid standards for their appearance, please let it be while they are having and nurturing babies! One of the greatest things I have gained from my experience with pregnancy and fitness and now as the mother of a school aged child who trains as a competitive athlete, is to let go of the rigidity. It seems contradictory because training requires such consistency and discipline. However, fluidity and flexibility lead to balance.

 

One of the awesome new moms at our gym, working it out!

One of the awesome new moms at our gym, working it out!

Parenting will show you time and again what you can do with all your plans and expectations. A newborn is a quick reality check. I will admit, I was uptight about a lot of things when my son was born (I think I recorded the details of every feeding and each bit of excrement for at least a week). One thing I was not uptight about was “getting my body back” and for that I am grateful. First of all, what is getting your body back? I mean really, there’s no going back, it’s a different body. Physically, emotionally, spiritually, carrying, delivering and nurturing a child changes you. That’s a good thing. Why experience life just to remain exactly the same?  It took me a number of years after becoming a mom before fitness returned to a more prominent place in my life. When I returned to it, it felt like I was regaining a sense of my own identity partially separate from my identity as “mother.” I’m sure many women very happily don’t take a break from their training when they have kids, and that timing is a very personal thing. Either way, fitness/training/exercise should be an affirming and enjoyable part of your life, not a tool to beat yourself up- especially as a new mom.

Dad too!

Dad too!

 

Priorities will change and that’s ok because you know what? If you put your fitness on the back burner, it will come back! You have an entire lifetime to continue to pursue the fittest version of yourself, but your babies are only little for a short time. There’s never a day that I think to myself, “man, I wish I had gotten a six pack faster after my son was born.” There are plenty of days I think, “What a beautiful time in our lives, each stage has gone by so fast!” Fitness can be an incredibly rewarding part of your parenting life, enjoy where you are and give yourself the respect you deserve throughout the process.

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It’s so cool, my little buddy lived in there.

 


There’s a Poison Goin’ On

The past couple of years, more than the rest of my years combined, I’ve been more conscious of race. A big part of that comes from my intense involvement in CrossFit. Due to my participation I’ve found myself thrown into the role of being one of few Black people in the vast majority of CrossFit affiliates or competitions. I can’t tell you how many events, competitions, training sessions, or social gatherings I have attended at CrossFit where I’m the only person of color in the room. Don’t even mention having a presence in mainstream CrossFit targeted magazines or media.

I saw this book and I thought, “oh, sounds like CrossFit."  The book is about race, but not CrossFit.

I saw this book called 10,000 White Women and I thought, “oh, sounds like CrossFit.” The book is about race, but not CrossFit.

 

 

Prior to CrossFit I had lived on the south side of Chicago for over 6 years and was training at a non-CrossFit related fitness facility in my own community, and I will admit there can be a comfort in blending in. Somehow you can feel invisible in either a good or a bad way. It can bring a sense of belonging or a sense of being a non-entity.

Being a Black woman who competes at a reasonably high level in CrossFit pretty much ensures I won’t be blending in any time soon and at various times I’ve been asked about race and CrossFit. A little over a year ago CrossFit Headquarters posted a controversial “Black folks don’t CrossFit” related link on their Facebook page. I was bombarded with tweets and texts and even people sharing their disappointment with me about my silence on the matter. Guess what, I’m not going to comment simply because CrossFit posted an article. The white women are over here writing on how to get abs or be a successful competitor and I’m tasked with tackling race in America? Naw, I’m good. I’m busy training. I appreciate being asked, but I prefer to communicate on my own terms.  I’ve also noticed a trend on my athlete social media and other CrossFit pages. As soon as someone mentions my Blackness in a comment, without fail a white person will say something like, “this is the CrossFit community, it’s not about race!” Blank stare. The CrossFit community is a segment of the American public. I realize there is are still significant numbers of people who would like to stick to their colorblind (or just blind) approach, but let me say, that ship has sailed. Literally. Off the coast of west Africa long before any of us was here.

2014 North Central Regional Athlete Briefing.   This has sent three different Black athletes to the CrossFit Games over the past three years, which I believe is more than any other region worldwide.

2014 North Central Regional Athlete Briefing. This has sent three different Black athletes to the CrossFit Games over the past three years, which I believe is more than any other region worldwide.

Over the years I’ve personally become less and less interested in discussing race. The biggest deterrent for me has been that troublesome race matters seem to be assigned to Black people for rectification, and there’s an overall lacking baseline of understanding, empathy, factual knowledge- at times seemingly willful ignorance related to race in America. In short, I just can’t. The chasm in perspective that I’ve observed has simply made it feel like a waste of time to engage.

I can acknowledge that this choice to shut off comes from a place of pain. Sometimes staggering, soul level, red hot anger, rage inducing pain. I felt pain as a little child watching “Roots” or hearing “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing” for the first time, or listening to/reading about the life experiences of other black folks and it has only intensified with my own life experiences and finally, with becoming a parent. I’m not ashamed to mention my pain because this country is in pain and rightfully so because it suffers from a debilitating sickness.  Our collective airway should feel cut off right now.

One of my most hurtful, eye-opening experiences as a parent came one day while visiting the Field Museum with my son. There’s an exhibit featuring African cultures. The exhibit is a walk through of multiple rooms that takes you through various countries and regions of the continent. Towards the end you suddenly find yourself in the middle of the trans-Atlantic slave trade on a slave ship. That in itself was somehow shocking and disturbing, this sudden shift from something as beautiful as the diversity of human cultures to something as barbaric as human bondage. Anyway, it gets way better. So they had some authentic shackles, whips, and other tools of barbarism on loan from the Dusable Museum here in Chicago. My son was about five at the time and had a basic knowledge of the history of slavery in this country- probably the level that many adults have, to be frank. He asked me what these implements were and as gently as I could I gave him an age appropriate, but honest answer. The look in his eyes could only be described as horror and disbelief. He really seemed stunned, but after a brief pause he said, “they should go to hell.” All I could say is, “you know what, if there is a hell, I’m sure they’re in it.”

His comment was so poignant for me for a couple of reasons. First off, the clarity of vision that comes from children. Their simple, concrete sense of right and wrong.

“ You are the only ones who hear truly and whose eyes are clear”, he said. “You are the eyes and ears of our tribe”.

Secondly, and what really struck me personally was this: It made me consider with more empathy, the difficulty white folks may have with discussing race in America with their children. Things didn’t get to where they are by some kind of “bad luck accident,” (and they’re not going to improve by accident). There’s an abundance of terrifying, morally wrong, specific and intentional actions that have taken place for us to get here. If I didn’t think it was integral for my son’s well-being and survival, would I tell him about these horrors? Or contemporary horrors? I’m really not sure, because you know what? It ain’t fun. “Hey kiddo, there’s no Santa and in this country you will be judged not by the content of your character, but by the color of your skin. Meritocracy is a myth and justice is only for some”. Perhaps I’m completely off base, obviously I don’t know what’s in the hearts and minds of everyone else, but I know that even if I weren’t a bigot, but there’s a picture in the attic of that time when grandma and grandpa attended that lynching, I probably wouldn’t want to talk about race either. Extreme example, yes. Even if I’m wrong, it was a big step for me in even contemplating that perspective instead of just being angry about the burden that is placed on my son and other black children in this society.

I don’t believe this choice to shut off from dialogue helps, I think connection helps. Real live connection. Simply put in 7 year-old terms, “segregation is bad because then I couldn’t be friends with Spencer.” Segregation allows for the chasm to deepen, whether it’s residential, schools (so bad), or where you work out. Something cool about CrossFit for me is that I get to interact with a lot of people who are different from me. As an example, one of my good buddies at the gym is a big, white, former frat boy from a conservative family- someone I would normally completely avoid (laughing but serious), but we have some great conversations on all kinds of social issues. It turns out we have a number of things in common, the biggest one being parenting and wanting to make this world a decent place for our kids.

I felt compelled to share these thoughts because as a I was struggling to process most recent extra-judicial murders of black men and boys that have occurred, and the sickness and bigotry that it brought out in many people, I began to feel intense anger, hopelessness, pain, despair and frustration. On a day those feelings verged on inconsolable, I heard a message while at my son’s school that changed me, and it is a simple one: “Blessed are the Peacemakers.” Peace makers. That indicates action, not passivity. This perspective has given me a sense of hope and empowerment. Part of my action is to speak my truth with love, and compassion and a hope for furthering connection. We all have a job here.  These babies can see the truth and we owe it to them, each other and ourselves to do better.

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

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Started from the Bottom Now We’re Here

What an amazing year at the CrossFit Games- it feels really good to be able to say that from the heart. I’m so honored to have the opportunity to get out on the competition field with so many incredibly hard working athletes. The talent pool in this sport gets deeper every year. Plain and simple, every athlete out there is really good at what they do!

I thought the programming this year was fantastic. There’s something so cool about being in a sport where the possibilities for the challenges you will face are limitless. I loved the diversity of the events. Loved that such a variety of athletes came out and won events. I loved that we used the entire field in the soccer stadium this year- I’m getting choked up as I write this, recalling how it felt to walk out onto that field.

I really can’t get my head around how many hours and how many people went into making this past week happen in Carson. To CrossFit HQ staff, the judges, the volunteers, my sincere thank you. What you do allows us to live out our athletic dreams and perform on a stage like no other. It truly keeps getting better!

I felt like the fans were more engaged and more connected to the performances this year than ever before. I wish I had words to describe what the crowd support felt like. Absolutely amazing you guys. Sincere thanks to everyone who posted on my social media, your love is felt and appreciated!

I’m excited about our 2014 “Fittest on Earth.” Camille’s victory is a testament to the power of perseverance and hard work. I find it personally inspiring to see someone make the podium after 5 years of trying.   Rich is my favorite and I love to see him go out with the only type of finale that’s befitting such a champ. Two great ambassadors for our sport.

No one gets to the CrossFit Games without an abundance of support. I’m so appreciative of my family and friends for the continuous and unconditional love and encouragement.  Derek Freiberg and my CrossFit Construct family, you guys see the good, the bad and the ugly of training and never bat an eye- thank you for that. I could not have gotten through the Open this year without our community.

I have a number of people and companies I want to specifically thank for support over the course of this season- Rudy Nielsen, RxSmartGear, Amara Drink, KitchFix who went above and beyond to keep me well fed, Howard Reichenbach, Vitargo kept me fueled, my Barbells for Boobs family, Performance Training Systems, Chicago Bulls College Prep, Dr. Sunil Pullukat of Chicago Sport and Wellness who has kept me going for the past two years.

It’s so easy to judge the success or failure of a CrossFit Games season based on your standing on the leaderboard (14th overall for me this year), but that leaves so much of the story untold. I’ve been truly blessed by both the ups and downs of not only this week, but of the entire year. I’m proud to say, in 3.5 years of CrossFit I’ve made 4 consecutive CrossFit Games appearances and landed each in the top 15. I’ve grown as a person and as an athlete and that is the most important outcome. I’m very grateful to be healthy and have this surreal experience to draw on moving forward.


“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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