"Can the meat be my vegetable?"

The other day someone referred to something I did in a workout as “a feat of strength.”  While I very much appreciate a compliment like that, and I LOVE lifting more and smashing old PRs, the idea of being viewed by others as strong is kind of funny to me.  I never thought about whether or not I was strong until I started Crossfit.  I suppose it didn’t matter much to me how strong I was when I was lifting weights in front of a gym mirror. I was just doing it for myself, never measuring progress in numbers.  Now 16 months into Crossfit I have a much better sense of the areas I am physically stronger and those that I’m not.

Over the last several weeks there have been a number of times I’ve wondered whether physical strength- like the barbell and yoke and heavy prowler push type of physical strength- is somewhat frivolous in the context of modern life.  I work at a desk, drive a car, and buy my food at the grocery store.  I don’t mean to put it down or take it for granted, but I’ve had some  heavy things of another sort on my mind.  It started during a sequence of events one night while I was laying in bed on an unseasonably warm night in Chicago.  Anyone in the city knows what happens when the warm weather hits.  That night I lay in bed, heard gunshots, had a nightmare about my family being hurt, and then I woke up and couldn’t sleep.  I started poking around on the internet and for the first time I read an article about the Trayvon Martin murder.  What really got under my skin on that particular night was the strength of his parents.  That’s strength.  To continue breathing when someone has taken your child’s last breath away.  I thought about my friend who lost her young baby in a tragic accident and gets up every day and makes a life for her older child.  That’s strength.  Caring for a child, advocating for someone who needs help, losing a child and still going on, over-coming real life obstacles- these are certainly things that represent meaningful strength to me.

My precious Black boy in his hoodie.

So where does moving a heavy barbell fast fit in?  Does it even matter?  The conclusion for me is that it does matter.  It fits in because it uplifts us.  What we do with our bodies can be likened to art or music or any other beautiful thing that demonstrates the best of the human spirit.  I’m sure plenty of people would disagree with me.  However I have met (both virtually and in real life) countless people who have been inspired and encouraged by one another through athletic pursuits.  Here is a portion of a message I received from a woman who has rehabbed a very serious injury and is back Crossfitting (I hope she doesn’t mind me sharing!):

“Today I am on the road to recovery, and progressing in ways I never thought possible… Your words have given me strength in very trying and dark times and I cannot express to you what an inspiration you are! … You have changed my life… Thank you Elisabeth!”

Um, yeah.  That leaves me with the feeling that moving a barbell matters.  When you accomplish what you thought was impossible in the gym, you suddenly feel you can accomplish the impossible in other aspects of your life.  If seeing me lift a big weight makes someone believe they can do the same, and in turn tackle something else in their world with greater confidence, then that’s my privilege.  It’s my privilege to train hard and commit myself everyday to being strong.

Snatch balances last week gave me confidence for heavier weight overhead= snatch PR this week.

Author: Elisabeth Akinwale

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  • Thanks for the great post! I think there are all kinds of different strength. I just broke my foot, and while I’m annoyed that I pushed myself hard enough to injure myself, my strength will also make getting through this easier. Maybe the exact numbers don’t matter much, but a one-legged squat is pretty useful when the other leg won’t work. Strong shoulder and ab muscles mean I can get around pretty fast on crutches. You never know when you’ll need the strength you built.

    • I absolutely agree about the different types of strength Linnea. The strength you have enables you to fight your way through adversity, and at the same time helps you build new resources for the next battle. I hope the foot heals quickly and fully!

  • The capacity, most importantly for a woman, to show others that the PROCESS is the strength, not the end product, is a value beyond measure. Far and away the most compelling thing about you, Elisabeth, is your desire to find that which is harder to accomplish, to spend your energies fighting the good fight to achieve that which is most difficult.

    I don’t know if you’ve ever seen this, it was written long before I met you, but you could have easily been the muse that caused these thoughts to coalesce. This piece is required reading for every member of our gym, not just the women that will save civilization.


    • Thanks Chef, I love that article. It got me thinking about my mother and what messages I got from her growing up. She has never touched a barbell or been a gym rat, yet she’s always been incredibly physically strong and capable. Simply in her way of being she gave me confidence in asserting my physical self…perhaps a whole ‘nother subject, but goes to the importance of what we are modeling for our kids. Thanks for posting the link!

  • Girl how can you hear gunshots if nobody in Chicago’s supposed to have a gun?? Sorry just a little 2nd amendment humor there. Good blog Elisabeth, keep it going. I’ve read your blog before but this is the only one I’ve commented on, and the only reason I am is because you asked on Facebook. This article strikes me a little odd because it seems to me that you think the act of loosing someone takes strength. I personally lost a friend in a situation very similar to Trayvon’s and it didn’t take any strength at all, like Trayvon all it took was a bullet. Now the act of carrying on after a loved one is gone may take strength but still not as much as some might think. While I don’t think dropping dead from heartache is totally impossible, unless a person is suicidal to begin with they probably wouldn’t kill themselves no matter how big a loss they may face. That’s not strength by the way that’s self preservation. Enough ramble about that though, Back to you and moving that barbell. I agree with you 100% for every reason you mentioned and more. Keep doing good work Elisabeth!! Love Peace and Hair Grease! 😀

    James Burton

    • Hey James, thanks for commenting. You mean all I have to do is ask? Ok! I don’t think there’s any one way of reacting to death/loss/struggle, but yes, I do think it takes strength. Just my humble opinion. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and for the well wishes & support!

  • Strong body = strong mind. Its not really about being ready for whatever the crossfit hopper has in store, its winning at life. Think I am quoting Matt Chan in some respect here. Its a pretty powerful position to own and to teach to children: If I am alive, I can succeed. Love the blog.

  • EA,
    Yes it does matter as human being, as a mother, as an athlete as a cross fitter as a role model yup it does.

    I think that in the pursuit of ones goals dreams and aspirations especially when you share with the world it has major impact.
    Its because you shared some of your journey i went on the outlaw camp as well…..and it was amazing by the way thanks
    Seeing the progress you’ve been making and have graciously decided to share make a huge difference.
    i have a fourteen year old daughter who thinks your a rock star……no pressure…lol.

    Peace and thanks for sharing


    • Thank you so much for sharing tour thoughts!

      I’m so glad you got a chance to go to Rudy’s camp! It’s always a great experience and a fun opportunity to connect with like-minded people.

      I’ll try to live up to your daughter’s high standard 🙂 I’m glad she’s getting a chance to see women work hard and sweat and move barbells.

  • I wholeheartedly agree. It’s amazing what confidence you get from knowing you are capable. And how that confidence spreads into other areas of your life and the lives around you. I love coaching for that exact reason – seeing someone transform when they’ve exceeded their expectation.

    Glad to see this post after all our recent conversations. Keep after it!

  • As a writer, I love blogs. It take guts to pit yourself out there. Your posts have made me nod, scratch my head, and smile. My wife will be competing in the Central East Regional and I know she has similar thoughts about life and fitness. Best of luck to you. Keep writing. Clay Snellgrove

  • “An active mind cannot live in an inactive body” – recent fortune cookie. 🙂 The post resonates with my thoughts exactly! Looking forward to ‘competing’ with you at regionals!

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  • This is a late response to James. I don’t think loss delivers strength. It is coping with the loss that demonstrates and builds strength within ourselves. Do you allow the loss to break you, or can you bear the pain as best you can and stay whole? Do you retreat within to bitterness and self-pity, or do you allow the the experience of your pain to connect you to others and feel empathy for their pain? Challenging ourselves to add weight to the barbell is what builds our bodies. Challenging ourselves to bear the tragedies within our lives with dignity and compassion is what builds our souls.

  • I had never heard of CrossFit until 2 days ago, my husband and I were laying around and he was flipping channels and came across it. We immediately became engaged. There were about 4 or 5 competitors that really caught out attention and you were one of them. I, of course, being from Chicago and being a black woman, and a mom, was pulling for you! Then I googled you and found your website and blogs…in scrolling through I came to this one and was led to read it through…I was moved and touched. I have an 8 year old son and this hit on many of the emotions I feel as well. I am inspired by the dedication, drive, and physical endurance it takes to do what you do. I have struggled with health issues, weight, and exercise since my son was born 8 years ago. I feel more motivated after seeing that competition than I have been in years to reclaim my health and my body…though I have no idea where to start! Thank you!