February 2017


When I signed up for CrossFit, I expected certain things. I was expecting to be able to open my own jars. I expected to be able to learn how to lift heavy shit and put it back down again. I was expecting to perform constantly varied functional movements performed at high intensity.

I expected that I would be stiff and sore until my unused muscles got the message we were stepping it up a bit. I expected to improve over time.

I didn’t realize I would be stiff and sore on and off because of my constantly varied workouts. I expected to improve rapidly and constantly because of the high intensity. And while I have greatly improved, it wasn’t rapid. I was more tortoise than hare.

I didn’t expect as many tears as have fallen. I know I’m competitive. I was used to winning in my arenas of choice. Not so much here. Unless … as the Lorax said.

But the greatest gift of CrossFit was completely unexpected and shocking when I noticed it. I’ve become a lion in a world of sheep. I dare. I dare greatly and with intrepid desire to overcome fear and loathing in Las Vegas or anywhere else. I am a CrossFitter, and that means I’ve lived outside my comfort zone for a long time.

And that means my comfort zone continues to grow which means I then step outside that larger circle into new fears and then I conquer them and my comfort zone enlarges yet again. And yet again, I step outside and quest.

I have gained incredible amounts of core strength, so much so that when I walked off a step, I didn’t even realize I didn’t fall over, I just planted and held myself upright, looking stunned about the whole “no step” thing. My son had to point out that my core strength, my stability, my CrossFit saved me from a fall. It was, to me, just a natural not falling over. I failed to think of how many reps it took to get there.

I have increased all my Olympic lift weights over time and I now have muscles. Real muscles. Like a weightlifter might have. I’m not Arnold Schwarzenegger or anything, but even Arnold doesn’t look like his Conan days.

But the part that remains the most amazing and the most incredible and the least talked about is my overall confidence. I’m still scared by many things because the world is scary and full of fright. But … I have faced so many fears inside the box that facing fears outside the box seems a natural response.

I have tried many new things in the last four years. Some of them inconsequential but still things I wouldn’t have tried to do without the confidence I’ve built while struggling to strict push press or get a pull-up.

My overall outlook is now how I walk through the world like a competent, able, mastering person. I can do things, incredible things. I will do more. I work for an hour at the box and then I go home and I have the ability to face fears and step outside my comfort zone, knowing how I’ve already mastered so many things.

This is the unexamined gift of CrossFit. This is the benefit of struggle and defeat and more struggle and victory. I know that defeat isn’t fatal or final. I know that there is a way to step outside my comfort zone and excel. I’ve done it before.

I’ve won CrossFit. Not the Open, not the Masters Garage Games, but CrossFit itself. I’ve mastered the difficult by failing until I succeeded. I remain constant in my attendance even when it is easier to stay home. I overcome the fear by listening to those with advice/knowledge (I’m coachable).

Unless … as the Lorax said. I look beyond the numbers and realize the overall improvements in my life – that’s where all the magic resides.

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The aftermath of success is killing me. I wasn’t going to sign up for the Open. Then I was. Then I wasn’t and that went back and forth and then yesterday, I did the workout with the group, still unregistered.

I had looked to see how badly I had to do to maintain my last position in America if not the world. There were, apparently, two women who couldn’t get up to a 20 inch box because they each only got the first ten reps and then quit. I was pretty confident I could get past that. I did.

I ended up with a score of 130 which was more than I dared hope for. I usually do a modified burpee and remove that push-up part. But I couldn’t for this event and so they really wiped me out and cranked up my heart rate. Regardless, I moved along as much as I could.

I was more worried about puking than having a heart attack. It was very difficult to not make a mess and my back was not liking the end of this. But I soldiered on and finished the twenty minutes still moving.

As I sat around watching the other athletes work through this (and out of 19 or so people there, only three were able to finish in time) I was cajoled into signing up for Open. It’s not about me being last in America for the Masters Garage Games, it’s about how I have improved over time and it was guaranteed I would not be last in the world. I don’t know if that’s going to be true or not, but I signed up anyway. I’m not planning on setting the world on fire, but I get stuck doing these anyway. I might as well get credit for it.

I did “no rep” myself as I realized I was leaning on my leg for the pull of the dumbbell snatch and I squealed and dropped the weight before I wasted it. My low scores are achieved with integrity, at least.

I was the scorer for another athlete and I had to “no rep” him for the same reason. I felt a little bad, but I knew I had done that to myself, too, so it made it easier to keep him reputable as well.

I came home elated and floated through the day. And then, somewhere between then and now, I started in on myself. Perhaps I could have not sat back down when I tried to start moving and “just couldn’t” and maybe really could have. Maybe I should have started the last push of snatches a little earlier to get a higher rep count. Maybe I could have magically become younger and fitter yesterday morning.

I want more. I want to be more. I want to achieve more. I have come so far that it is nearly impossible to remember where I was when I began. But still, there is more and always more and I want it. I remember being an A racquetball player and winning and overcoming. Hell, I even won a game on a broken ankle. Not that it was smart, but in my defense, I didn’t realize I had broken it.

But today, I’m encased in this older body. It does amazing things that other bodies, young or old, cannot do. I push my limits. I dare greatly in an arena I should never thought to enter. I really should knit. (Leslie, did you buy the yarn yet?) Inside my old body is this notion that I’m still 35. Every mirror, every interaction with my children (both of whom are over 35) should let me remember that I’m a Little Old Lady. An awesome one, to be sure.

And yet, I want still more.

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I am scared half to death. It’s 150 dumbbell snatches and 75 burpee over the box jumps. At my advanced age, I get to use just a ten pound dumbbell and I get to do step ups on the box. So there is that to look forward to.

Always and everywhere throughout CrossFit, women’s standards are just a tiny bit less than what is expected of men. For instance, for the young and fit this workout has men using a 50 pound dumbbell and women using a 35 pound dumbbell. Men jump to or over a 24 inch box and women jump to or over a 20 inch box.

However, at my age and in the scaled division, men use a 25 pound dumbbell while I get to use a 10 pound one. They may do step ups to a 20 inch box while I may do them to a, wait for it, 20 inch box.

Admittedly, in the RX division, men my age are still compelled to use a 24 inch box and all of us over the age of 55 get to use step ups rather than jumping. People in the scaled division are “competing” for a score and not for a place at the games. Allowing older men a chance to compete for a score is nice, but why are old women the only ones who can keep up with their male peers?

This is the second time this has appeared in a competition. In the Masters Garage Games, old men and old women could both snatch a 45 pound bar while at every other age, men’s weights were higher than women’s – just like everywhere else in CrossFit.

Old women are just as enfeebled by age as old men are. Why are we all of a sudden “equal” in some aspect or other? I assume this is equipment related. In order to get people to play along, there has to be the proper equipment. My gym does have boxes that can be rotated for different heights – now. But we started out with 12, 20, and 24 inch boxes (pretty much standard heights).

With upgraded equipment we can now have 12, 16, 18, 20, 24, and 30 inch boxes. But we have always, always, always been able to stack up some weight plates and make different heights. They can be stacked from the ground up or placed on top of boxes. This is how I know I can jump to a 22 inch box and I can take my entire shin off on a missed 23 inch box. I had plates atop a 20 inch box.

Even if we didn’t have a 16 inch box available, I could make a stack of objects 16 inches high if I were allowed to have the same scaled option of box height as old men get. Hell, the plates aren’t even being used for any other part of this WOD. Instead, me and no other person at my gym aged 55 or over will be doing the same height box, regardless of gender.

I find this irritating. I find it annoying. It doesn’t do me any good to be either irritated or annoyed because the standards are what they are and I’m lucky they even have a scaled option at all and what in the hell did I expect anyway. As I’ve been told, I should knit.

Perhaps I’m focusing on this inequity in order to assuage my fears about the WOD in its entirety. Luckily there is a time cap and so I’m going to treat this as an AMRAP. I have little hope for completing 225 anythings in the allotted time, so I will see how far I can manage and be proud of whatever I can get done with my heart rate issues and 20 inch box.

There is an idea floating around the society in which I live that there is nothing more useless than an old woman. I wish CrossFit didn’t perpetuate this myth.

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I married a golfer. I thought I knew what that meant, but I didn’t – really. He loves to golf. He loves it so much, he wanted to share the experience with me. He took me golfing. I am Irish and German and I get a sunburn in about 3.7 nanoseconds. He is part Cherokee and has to be in the sun for days before getting slightly pink. It should have stunned no one to find out I was burned after wandering around like the Jews in the desert for forty years, occasionally hitting a small white ball while all the while preferring the option of hitting the guy who brought me.

But true love is a wondrous thing and he brought me golfing a second time on a very cloudy day. After it had rained. The course was muddy. I ruined my shoes. I prefer shoes to golf by a margin of a bazillion to one. I tried one more time. I got stung by a bee. I was done with golf.

He has golfed the entire time I have known him. He isn’t a scratch golfer by any means but he enjoys his time out there. He has gotten a couple witnessed holes in one. He is out on the course three times a week and still plans special weeks where he goes even more often. He loves golf. Not as much as me. I think.

About 37 years ago, his cousin introduced him to racquetball. This is inside so no chance of sunburn or bee stings. That’s a plus. He talked me into trying this out as well. I did. I didn’t do very well that first time, but I eventually learned to read the walls and could place my shots. I was a woman’s A player and won a substantial portion of my games.

I got to play often and he didn’t. Every time we played together, I won. I could have just served and counted and won that way, but I would hit shots he could return and then he would get mad because I was letting him hit the ball. So I would smack the ball in ways he couldn’t return and then he would get mad because he wasn’t able to hit the ball. We stopped playing together.

Both of us are rather competitive. Both of us like to win. So it is much better if we don’t play at the same thing. He could win his golf match and I could win my racquetball match and we could both be happy. That worked for some time. But even the best of times, according to Charles Dickens, don’t last forever.

I have no explanation for why I love CrossFit so much. I suck at it by various measurements. I excel at it by other measurements. I show up, routinely. That’s my greatest strength. I am coachable. When I’m told “chest up” or “elbows in” I do what I’m told to the best of my abilities. I’m not going to be a competitive athlete. I have no great skill or strength other than doggedness.

I have a list of PRs that has slowing been inching upwards. And while I don’t move tons of weight at a time, I’ve moved more tons of weight than I ever would have imagined possible. I go. I try. I survive. Sometimes I cry in here. But I go back.

Our son’s gym functions quite a bit differently than mine does. I can work out in Hilton Head and be comfortable and I can do the same at home. But the culture for each box is unique. Dick has seen, repeatedly, after all the events we have volunteered at, how Conviction Training Facility works. But he has never, ever participated in a workout.

I asked him to come with me to CrossFit Summerville. He did. I warned the coach/owner that I would be bringing him. I told her what he found to be intimidating. I picked a day without weights. Mostly.

Our skill was weighted good mornings and he used a PVC pipe and then a sand filled pipe. That was fine. He could manage. Then the WOD was rowing, burpees, and double unders. We could both row without issue. We both did plank burpees. I did single unders and he jumped an imaginary rope since this was really bothering him. Two minutes for each move with a minute rest and then do that again for three rounds.

He never quit. He managed to do a 20 minute WOD and never quit. I was so proud of him. On the way home I mentioned that he owed me two more times at the box because I golfed three times. He said he did it once and that was enough.

I think it may be best this way. He has golf. I have CrossFit. We are too competitive. From experience, I know that people start out and quickly zoom past me as I struggle with heart rate and age and general suckiness. We don’t do well “enjoying” the same thing as we compete to see who is better at it.

We each need our own domain. I should let this one go and enjoy my space, my time, my success at CrossFit.

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How do we measure success for ourselves? It really isn’t all that important if others see us as successful or not. If we are content with our current situation, is that success?

I’m reading Grit by Angela Duckworth. I was going along, reading contentedly until, wham! I got to Chapter 11: The Playing Field of Grit. And then I was so struck by the irony, I’m having trouble getting it past it.

I believe I possess the quality of perseverance. Unless of course, I have the less stellar quality of stubbornness. Either good or bad, I tend to stick with things. Here are some cases in point:

I graduated from my nursing school with an associate’s degree and a 13 week old baby who was born slightly premature. This was in spite of a postpartum infection and babysitting problems. I did not get my usual A that quarter, but I did manage to graduate despite everything.

I’ve been married to my starter husband for almost 44 years now. This is in spite of the fact that I was just 20 when we married and young brides aren’t supposed to know what they hell they are doing. That part was completely correct. But we are still married and relatively happy. At least I am.

I am in my seventh year of writing history essays for Little Bits of History with only one of those years actually paying anything (and even then it was a pittance). I have enjoyed learning about so many little items from the vast history of the world and I like to write. So this endeavor isn’t difficult, but the daily grind can become not quite over, but whelming. I took one year off and then came back to my hobby.

And then there is CrossFit. There is no reason under the sun I should be doing this. I sucked so bad on my first stab at it, I should clearly have just walked away. I didn’t. The first time I wanted to quit, I stayed. The hundredth time I wanted to quit, I stayed.

I believe I’m pretty gritty. The rule for the kids when they were in my charge was if you signed up for a team, you finished the season. This is one of the rules of grit and for me it was instinctual.

Now, the part of the book that set me so far on edge that I’m actually writing this.

In chapter 11, Dr. Duckworth claims having grit in high school will help predict later success in life. This sounds reasonable to me, as well. Then she wanted to do a longitudinal study and needed funding. She went to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and received a grant. Filling in her Grit Grid allowed high school students to list their extracurricular activities and how long they participated.

So, in high school, I was in the band (played clarinet for eight years total, flute for three, and carried a tuba for one although I don’t even know how to read base clef) so that got me a point for being there three years in high school. I was in one school play which got me no points. I had a job from the time I was 16 until shortly after I turned 18, when I quit the job in order to take evening college classes while still in high school. That did get me one point.

You got points if you were a stellar achiever in your extracurricular activities. There was no stellar anything for band. I didn’t become CEO of the store where I worked as a cashier. No extra points there. So I got two points which is a pretty crappy score. I’m okay with that part.

Then she went on to study the people who were gritty in high school to see if they were successful after graduation. Success was measured in large part by them graduating from college. I do not have a college degree. I have two associate degrees, which lets me check off the “some college” line on questionnaires. This would seem to indicate that I’m not successful, at least by the good doctor’s metric.

To be fair, in other parts of the book, a college degree isn’t a requirement of success, but in this particular chapter it is.

I’ve always been opposed to this belief. My two-year degree didn’t keep me from working critical care. I worked alongside four-year grads who were less adept at patient care. I passed the same state board licensing exam. All without a college degree.

But here is the part that really griped my ass. Dr. Duckworth begged for money from the college dropout who was at one point the richest man in the world and who has built a global company in order for her to prove that he was not successful. She doesn’t seem to have noticed the irony.

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I posted a picture of me doing a head stand on Facebook. I got some comments from people who simply “couldn’t” do that. These are accomplished people who do many amazing things. One of them has recently taken up deep sea diving. That would freak me out. Literally. I would panic.

I used to be an OR nurse. Before that I was an ICU/CCU nurse and I began my career as a Med/Surg nurse, the normal floor of hospitals. I’ve had many people, including other nurses, tell me they couldn’t work where I worked. ICU was too chaotic. CCU was too many codes. OR was just too much on many levels. That was my favorite job which is why I stayed with it the longest.

No matter the arena, each of us has a preference and an area where we are willing to work for mastery. Something within that niche speaks to us. For Michelle it is diving; for me it is CrossFit. My friend worked ER all her life and I couldn’t have stood that. I don’t mind crisis nursing, but I need a few minutes to prepare for my crisis, so critical care gave me a chance to get ready and OR meant not only me, but the entire team had time to prepare. Mim loved ER.

Over the years I have come to appreciate that we each can shine in our own place. Don’t throw me into the place meant for someone else and expect me to radiate. I will succeed best when I’m in the spot that speaks to my talents and my tastes. Sometimes, maybe most of the time, it is my tastes that dictate my talents. I got really good at running codes because I practiced them way too often. But I had to have the inner strength and belief in my ability to get through the first one.

And so, in my long life I’ve had many successes. And as is my usual routine, I whiz past that shit without more than a passing nod and set up a new goal which is out of reach – at least in the moment.

That’s a problem. I’ve refused to sit still and savor my successes. Sure I saved lives and conquered disease, but there were still sick and injured people galore and so there was more to do.

I’ve successfully written and published things and even gotten paid for it. I have stories in anthologies. I have contributed to many different venues. I first wrote publicly many years ago when my stuff was placed in the Landen Living Magazine because I was the contributing editor for Montgomery Hills. I’ve done a lot of writing since.

I know how to sew and made many of my own clothes as well as clothes for the kids. I know how to crochet and my knitting isn’t as good, but it is passable. I am able to create things out of raw materials.

And I lift weights. Today’s WOD was a bazillion cleans in ten minutes with increasing load. Ready, set, go … how many can you get?

I did it. I began with my original deadlift weight and did 30 cleans with that weight. I added more to the bar and got 30 more cleans at that weight. I added more to the bar as the clock ran down and got a few more.

I was cleaning more than I could originally deadlift. Yesterday was a bunch of deadlifts. I remember when I started thinking that someday I might be able to lift 100#. I zoomed past that long ago. I don’t remember taking time to celebrate my success. All I remember is wanting more. Yesterday, my lighter and more rep count weight was 133# which would have seemed impossibly ludicrous when I started. Today, my goal for a deadlift is 175# and I would really like to get past 200#.

But will I remember to celebrate when I hit that mark? My 80% strict press today was 42# (my original deadlift weight). I should savor that sweet success. I earned it. Instead, I mostly tell myself I “should” have more on the bar.

I’ve succeeded my way through a fabulous life. And with each success, I’ve zoomed right past the moment and only looked towards the next obstacle to clear. I need to savor the moment of sweet, sweet success. I’ve earned it.

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I went yesterday. The 16 part of Sweet 16 was not rounds, so there is that to be thankful for. What it was instead, was a variation of all five the CrossFit Open Games WODs from 2016. That meant there was lots of everything.

I’m very hesitant to pick a partner. I usually wait for everyone to be paired up and the dimwit that didn’t pick anyone fast enough gets stuck with me. Yesterday, that turned out to be Eli. He is 24. He was a high school and college competitive swimmer. He’s awesome with an aerobic engine like you wouldn’t believe. He was stuck with me, the oldest person there with heart rate issues and her own cardiologist. What a match.

He told me to just do what I could and he would do the rest. Still, I was hoping to be able to do better. I got through Opens 16.1 through 16.4 sorta, kinda carrying my own weight. Not really, but not horribly lopsided. And then came 16.5 and I was lost. I was tired and spent and old and feeble and we had been working for a very long time. The task at hand was 32 heavy deadlifts, 32 wall balls, 32 calorie row, 16 HSPU with a hand release push-up as a sub.

I was able to get my half of the deadlifts. Eli did 16 wall balls, I did five and couldn’t move. My heart rate was 172 and climbing. He did the other 11 and then said he would do the entire row, which was really smart. He probably got two calories for every three pulls where I need three pulls for one calorie. I managed 12 push-ups and then, because I didn’t really know what I was talking about, I couldn’t go on. I thought we had to do that last round again (since most of the sections were to be done twice) and the thought of more heavy deadlifts just left me drained. Eli finished for us and we were done in 30.10. We didn’t have to do it twice and I usually push through at the end, knowing it is the end and what the hell, just get done.

And then I was awake most of the night castigating myself for not pulling my weight. Intellectually I know I’m not a 24 year old male in good physical condition. I got 40 years on this guy and I’m a wreck. He can and does outstrip every WOD I do. Keeping up was never really an option. And yet, I only did five wall balls.

And the spiral began. Instead of noting that I did five back to back WODs, as a partner, without knowing what was coming, bravely showed up, gave it my best shot, worked my ass off, and survived – I kept telling myself I only did five wall balls.

I have no idea how to talk kindly to myself. I only know how to point out all my flaws.

I don’t remember who the lady was who stood in the center of the contestants and said mean things, culminating in, “You are the weakest link” just before kicking them off the show. But that phrase is inside my head, over and over and over.

How do I tell myself that I’m doing amazingly awesome and my deadlifts today looked good? How do I tell myself when it is a day of chest to bar, HSPU, and pistols that I’ve improved when I can do none of those moves? I scaled/subbed each one and did crap anyway even though I knew I was going to the gym without a license to carry, unable to kick my ass up to the wall, and without even a pull-up let alone a chest to bar.

Today, just because I wanted to try, I did put three mats on the floor and did a head stand – kicking my fat ass up there without any help – and attempted to push myself up from there. I didn’t make it, but I did get inverted, so there is that.

I showed up yesterday and worked to capacity. I showed up again today and worked hard and even though I was exhausted, I put in my best effort.

I need to talk nicer to me. I don’t know how, because all I see is what’s not there and I’m unable to appreciate what is.

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