Here is something I never thought I would say. I had a bit of a revelation today and it made me recall other incidents of its same type.

We’ve all heard that comparison is the thief of joy. Since none of us is the same as anyone else, they are always incomparable comparisons. And yet, we compare all the time. Who has the best car, the biggest house, the most money, the highest grades, and the best scores on the CrossFit board? We can’t help but compare because none of us really know what the hell we are doing.

We had a new member show up on a day when it was just a bunch of horrible stuff. And then she continued to show up the rest of the week. That was great. Then she missed a week. Then she missed a day. She finally came back today.

Laura brought her over to me and asked me to tell her how you get strong. I flexed, pointed out that I would be 66 in a couple weeks, and I got all this doing CrossFit. Not doing cardio, not running, not picking up five pound dumbbells, but by doing CrossFit and lifting heavy until it isn’t heavy anymore. That’s the only way to get from spaghetti arms to muscles.

The new and hopeful gym rat had been discouraged by having to use the PVC pipe and still not master the movement. We all start back there at the beginning, but with time and practice we get to the present and move things with weights.

But this is the thought that hit my like a ton of bricks today. There I am, moving weights, albeit not excessively heavy ones, and I have gray hair (I don’t color) and wrinkles (I don’t Botox). I can do the stuff – at least some of the stuff. I swing kettlebells and lift barbells, and snatch dumbbells, and perch atop boxes, and hang from the rig.

I’m intimidating to new people. They can see I’m older than dirt. I was nagging God at the creation. Yet here I am, doing the stuff that these new people can’t do. They are younger, often by decades if not generations and they can’t do what I can do. And I scare them.

When they compare themselves as a newbie who doesn’t even know what a snatch is – at least the ones at the gym – to my tossing an entire barbell with plates up over my head, they can’t match me. Pitiful, old, feeble me. How horrible it must be to see the very old lady doing the things and not be able to keep up with her.

I told our current new person how I started everything with a PVC pipe. I could do exactly nothing when I started. I’ve been at this for years. If she would keep at it for six month, she would surpass me in everything. She is relatively fit, just not strong. And she is far younger than me. And she seems determined even if I scared her.

I remember the statuesque woman who kept trying to do push-ups and couldn’t and would say over and over, “But you can.” Well, I couldn’t when I started and if she had kept coming back, she would be totally rocking this stuff now. But she didn’t come back because she couldn’t do the things. Not only that, but I could.

I would like everyone to know that if they worked as hard at this as I have, they would also not be in the same place they are now, not having worked at all. It’s not my age that makes this awesome. It is the fact that I’ve kept at it for so many years. I’m not the strongest, fastest, most able person in the gym. I’m just the oldest. And I do things. Not all the things, but many of them. And if you go to the gym regularly, put in the effort, learn the skills, practice your moves with integrity, you will be able to do the things, too.

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I am an outlier. I am an old fart who is also a CrossFitter. This makes me weird, but it also makes me incredibly unlike most old farts out there. First of all, I live in world that is growing increasingly fat. Our food is abominable and we are bombarded with advertisements urging us to eat, eat, eat. Every trip down the road brings us past a fast food establishment offering a host of high calorie, low nutrition “foods”.

I prefer cooking my own food and find going out to eat far more work than actually cooking a meal. By the time I decide where to go, get in the car, get there, wait for a table, wait for wait staff to take my order, wait for it to be cooked, wait for it to come to the table, wait for a bill, and get back home, I could have cooked the meal twice over. It’s not that I’m that busy and don’t have the time to waste on such endeavors, it’s that I’m lazy and find the interminable waiting to be a pain in the ass.

So, I eat clean. Well, not really. I eat cleaner than most Americans. I have perhaps one soda a year and I like to try McDonald’s fish sandwich once a year just to make sure they are still ruining it. No cheese/orange slab on mine. Small fries to go with it. And coffee, so this isn’t even when I have my yearly soda.

I love sweets and desserts but even so, I limit this part of my diet to something a bit more manageable. I love pasta and my only limit there is to really only serve one serving size at a time. I’m a fan of really good bakery bread, but I don’t eat too much of that either. It’s not that I’m a saint about eating clean, it’s that my likes and dislikes aren’t tipping me over into the “all junk food” diet.

All this makes me a bit of an outlier, but this isn’t where I’m most obvious. You see, I CrossFit. A lot. Not really all that well, but consistently. And because I’ve been consistent over a long period of time, the people I work out alongside don’t remember how very astoundingly crappy I was when I began.

They see this rather amazing old fart who has heart rate issues but can manage to muddle along with the WODs and get crap done, albeit slowly and without an excess amount of weight. Having said that, every single damn thing I do today was something I couldn’t do at all when I began. I needed a damn cane to lunge down the mat, for God’s sake. I used a PVC pipe for almost every lift. I had a kid sized med ball for wall balls.

Today, I have weight on my weight for almost everything (I still can’t fall under the bar in a full snatch without falling over if I use more than the lightest bar we have). I lunge down the mat without a stick to support myself. I use a real med ball to a nine foot mark for wall balls and as much as I whine about everything, I do it anyway.

And so, people who can see me at the box think it’s possible for parents or grandparents to be like me. It is, but not right away. Anyone can do what I do, as long as they work at it as hard as I have worked. I know I sound like I’m bragging right now and I don’t mean to, but I’m really sort of a big deal. Not that I’m breaking any world records, but I am doing things women of my generation didn’t always do.

It’s hard. It’s hard for everyone. This whole CrossFit thing is a lot of work. And it matters what happens for the rest of the day outside the box. You can’t blow off the other 23 hours in the day and then be a superstar in the gym. It doesn’t work that way. And it doesn’t matter if you are the best athlete in the world, it’s hard. The weights are heavy. The WODs are difficult. It takes skill and determination to get through this shit.

I don’t know if it is even harder for a Little Old Lady or not. I don’t know how much other people struggle with any of this nonsense. I do know how hard I’ve worked and how many tears I’ve shed. I know how often I’ve thought of quitting. I know that I’ve gone back again anyway. I know I struggle with every single part of this CrossFit thing. And I know I have won. I have balance, core strength, muscles, even endurance that beats anything I had five years ago when I was younger and unfitter. I’m not a star, but I am impressive as hell. And if you or your mother or your grandmother wants this, you or they can work for it and get here, too. Even if I might make it look very doable, I want to be sure you understand, this is really hard. So I guess that makes me a hardass. I’m good with that. I earned the title.

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This is not me. My hair isn’t this long. 

Once upon a time in a fairy tale world, I was young and fit. I worked at a much more physically (and mentally and emotionally) challenging job. I also played between ten and twelve hours of racquetball every week and was a pretty good player. I not only could beat the women I played with more often than not, I could sometimes beat some of the men.

I was covered in cut and chiseled muscles and could run and chase the ball. I could smack with enough force to get to nearly 100 miles per hour and place it where I wanted it to go. I saw lots of rollouts which are very, very cool.

I played three mornings a week. I volunteered at my children’s school one morning a week. I worked afternoon shift saving lives and conquering disease. My life was busy but full of routines. I was somehow, ludicrously sure that it would remain on track forever. I would always be young and healthy and fit.

After a while I started having migraines. My first one lasted for several weeks until we found somebody who could diagnose and cure it. I was on daily medication for years afterwards which usually kept the migraines away. Many of them were vascular drugs and they made my heart rate skyrocket while sitting still. Some of them made me edgy and unfocused. One of them made me homicidal and suicidal. But they stopped the headaches.

When I stopped saving lives and conquering disease, my own disease miraculously disappeared. The surgeons were always so me, me, me and insisted on bright lights (my trigger) so they could work – silly surgeons. Between the bright and flickering lights and the stress, my migraines were fairly well guaranteed. When I quit, I had the option of working as a nurse outside OR, but chose to go back to school and learn something new.

In the interim, we moved and my new location didn’t have the availability of racquetball and so I stopped that. My new teaching job was still fairly mobile – I sure couldn’t sit all day. But I was no longer carrying hot, heavy sterile trays of instruments or pushing people on gurneys. It was less physically demanding.

Then we moved again and even that much went away. I’ve worked at secretarial work for years now. I’m pretty good at it. I type fast (I’m also a writer and that skill is mandatory) and I’m detail oriented (which is what managed to keep my patients alive for over twenty years). But what I do now is sit. I move my fingers rapidly while typing and I swivel in my chair to pluck printed pages from the often cantankerous printer. Mostly, I sit. I answer the phones and I greet people who come in the door. I would guess that on a busy day, I walk less than 2000 steps during the time I’m working. On slow days, I’m sure it is under 1000.

Once upon a time, when I was young and fit, I promised myself I would never weigh over 130 pounds. Some of those drugs I took made me creep up close to my top limit. A couple made me lose so much weight it was scary and I was nearly back to my too skinny high school days (back then, at 5’6” and 110 pounds I was a size 10). I wasn’t skinny in high school because of anything other than good genes and a better food source than what we have today.

My family didn’t do fast food. My mother cooked for us. We didn’t have a lot of prepackaged chemical crap sloshing its way across the table. What we had was real meat, veggies, fruits, dairy products, and never, ever mushy white bread. Back then cereals weren’t full of high fructose corn syrup and there wasn’t anything like Aspartame around and we never had Saccharin . We ate real food.

Oh, those were the good old days. The days of wine and roses or something like that. Really, it was just a more idyllic time.

But today I live in a world where genetically modified foods are everywhere. Today, the average American consumes over 50 pounds of high fructose corn syrup per year. It is difficult to find foods that are pure although if you can afford organic, you have a better chance of getting there.

I don’t remember exactly when I crept over the 130 pound mark. I don’t even know when I crept over the 140 pound mark. I do know that eventually I weighed more just standing around than I had when I was nine months pregnant. I also not only weighed more, but none of it was muscled and compact.

I was all the way up to a size 8, which is ludicrous. I weighed 35 pounds more than I did in high school, but wore a size smaller. That is why I cringe every time I hear that Marilyn Monroe wore a size 12. When she wore a size 12, she was smaller than I am today wearing a size 4.

Yes, all this CrossFit has paid off, at least in part. Today, I weighed myself and I only have 2.2 pounds (1 kilogram) to lose to get down to the weight that I swore would always be my point at which to stop eating. At least the plan was solid. It would have been easier to never have gotten puffy. It would have been easier to lose a pound or two instead of twenty.

I don’t diet. I have tried, instead, to eat clean. I try to stay away from packaged foods and I still rarely (very rarely) eat fast food – perhaps three times a year. But I love chocolate and potato chips and I don’t want to go to a Paleo diet.

I would like to weigh in at 125 and have some room to gain and wiggle before I hit that 130 mark from the other side. I know that with CrossFit weight isn’t supposed to be a big deal. Fit is the new skinny. But I don’t want to be skinny. I’m not looking for high school again. But I would like to have that body I used to have half a lifetime ago.

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