Training for my 80’s. Who’s coming with me?!

I was a gymnast for about 13 years of my childhood and young adult life; competitively for the last 7 years of that time. It hasn’t been until my older young adult life (i.e. late 20’s/fresh into my 30’s) that I’ve come to realize how great of an experience that was and how much my childhood athletic experience is now carrying into my adult life. I am most keenly aware of and grateful for two things that have come from this experience: that I can use and move my body in ways that only my imagination can limit; and that a community and a team supporting you, creates a synergy and magic in the atmosphere, and it’s blissfully infectious.

First, a little about gymnastics. I’m not sure there is any other sport that compares to gymnastics. For women there are 4 events, in Olympic order: vault, uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise. Men have six events and I doubt there is anyone out there who will argue with me when I say that men’s gymnastics is super-human, so for the purpose of this post, when I say gymnastics, I’m referring to women’s gymnastics. Gymnastics requires more power, strength, precision and grace than any other sport. It requires a finely tuned athlete – both mentally and physically.

Vaulting requires the gymnast to run full-force sprint, down a 70-80 foot runway; launch onto a spring board with 4-6 iron springs, absorbing and then re-launching the gymnast, who then flies superwoman-like, head first, onto a semi-horizontal target about 5 feet off the ground, about 3 feet square; and then again launches herself, flipping and twisting 8+ feet in the air; knowing exactly where she is in the air, to then plant herself on the ground – feet first – and not move. Stuck landing. And then, she does it again about 2 minutes later. Requires: speed, force, power, amplitude.

The Uneven Bars beckons the gymnast to swing gracefully from fiberglass rail to fiberglass rail; one set at 5 feet off the ground, the other at about 8 feet; both sitting about 5 feet apart. If utilized correctly and timely, the fiberglass rails gives the gymnast both rebound and absorption from/to swings. The gymnast is required to fly from bar to bar, no less than one time, but it is more often multiples times. In addition to that, the gymnast is required to twirl and twist around each bar, with no other contact but the palm of her hands and the top half of her thighs. Requires: precision, extension, strength, power, flexibility and tightness.

Next is Balance Beam (my personal favorite and best event). Can you do a cartwheel? A “back flip” or a “front flip”? A handstand perhaps? Can you jump several feet into the air, fold your body in half (both front ways and back ways) and then gracefully land back on the ground, still standing on your feet? Now imagine doing all of those, several of them linked together in several different combinations (with no break between elements) on something the size of a 4×4 piece of wood (16 feet in length), 4 feet off the ground. Also imagine doing that after you’ve just gotten done ramping up your adrenaline up for the last 60 minutes. All you have to do now is calm yourself, focus, and visualize and perform perfection, while standing on something the width of your foot, 4 feet off the ground. It’s not easy, but it’s beautiful. Requires: focus, grace, flexibility, power and amplitude, balance.

Lastly and collectively, Floor Exercise. Re-ramp that adrenaline, because now we do all of that all over again. Floor requires full force sprints, graceful dance and personality, jumping, flying, tumbling: a 2 minute all out, mass effort, metabolic challenge. And then it’s over. Requires: everything you’ve got.

andrea-gymnastics-19991.jpg

Andrea floor exercise, 1999

Are you tired yet? But I haven’t even gotten to the best part: Your Team. The best part about gymnastics is the team camaraderie you develop with your teammates. You spend so many hours, days, months and years with the same group of people. In my experience, I spent 6 hours per day, 5 days per week, for 120 days straight, with the same 15 women. And that was just during season practice. That doesn’t include the other 8 months of off-season training. Your teammates see you at your best, worst; most broken down, beat up; ramped up and successful; and your ugliest and sweatiest. They become your family: your biggest cheerleaders and your biggest critics. You love them sometimes more than you love yourself.

And then you graduate. From school, into life; into some other existence. Some people are lucky to find a similar teams in other places, but I don’t think there’s anything closer and quite like a team of athletes performing at a level of excellence. For the next several years you find yourself running fruitlessly on treadmills, counting calories, stepping on and off 8 inch benches for 60 minutes at a time, doing 10# bicep curls…you find yourself not fulfilled. And then you find a light. Something called CrossFit and place called Jogo. And then your body’s motor-memory wakes up and it remembers the way it use to move. So many movements similar to what you used to do. A Tiger inside you stretches out, like it’s just woken up from a 10 year cat nap. And then you find your new team of people who are athletic, competitive; AND gracious, welcoming and friendly. They are all training for their 80’s: to have crisp minds, strong hearts; determined to be the best that they can be for themselves, their Jogo friends and family; their own families, the community and the environment. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that?

Carry on,

Andrea

Paleo Challenge

About a year ago, Andrea and I started a 30 day Paleo challenge. I was skeptical. Much like I thought I knew more than I did about what it meant to be fit; I thought that I’d tried everything and there was nothing that was going to change the way that I felt or the way that I looked. I was still trying to avoid food all together instead of just finding something that worked. Like many other people I was tired of picking up a new trend diet only to watch it work for a week then fail. But I gave Paleo a try anyways.

At first I struggled. I thought for sure that within the first week I was going to break and wad slices of bread into little doughy balls and stuff my cheeks like a chipmunk. But I soldiered on. Andrea and I got together once a week and went grocery shopping and thus began our “Cooking WODS” (she even let me push the cart). We cooked mainly out of “Well Fed” by Melissa Joulwan. A culinary genius and a fellow derby girl.

I started to notice that I didn’t fatigue during workouts as easily, I recovered faster and I slept waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay better. I didn’t wake up at 4am and do what I call “sleep eat”. That’s when you wake up and forage for food then wake up 3 hours later and the kitchen is destroyed like Fievel Mouskowitz and friends invaded, but you don’t remember exactly what happened. That was always my story anyway.
 

About a month after the Paleo challenge I went in and met with our Coach, Emilie Hester of Jogo Crossfit and had a body comp test done. I had one in June and I was at 26% body fat. I thought for sure that I’d see no change in that number so I was a little nervous to see the results. I lost 10.5% body fat. Now, not all of it was just Paleo. I had been training consistently for 2 months. The last month was when I did the Paleo challenge. And I am so glad I did. Why am I telling you all of this? Because today, I start another one. Except this time I’m really planning on continuing the challenge past 30 days. Which means a couple of things: a) it means that everything I eat has to be self prepared because NO ONE else in my house will eat this way. This is going to prove difficult because I really don’t like to cook.. b) I’m going to have to hold MYSELF accountable by keeping record of body changes and food logs.. I will be 100 % honest with you and I will not omit any deviation. I must find the Cave Woman within and dial in my hunter gatherer scope. I’ll have nuts in my pockets and figs in the bottom of my backpack. I’ll snub my nose at white fluffy flours and the decadence of sweets..I might cry about it, but I’ll get over it when I get back to where I was a year ago and keep it going.

Here’s to another challenge. Me hungry.

Put the food down. ALL OF IT!

If you had told me 17 years ago that I one day would be contributing to a blog about food I’d probably have laughed at you, farted and then asked “What the heck is a blog?” If you’d told me what a blog was I would have thought you were some distant relative of Marty McFly and wondered where your hover board was as well.

But, here I am. Here we are. Food…

I wish I could say that I’ve always loved food. The fact of the matter is, I’ve been terrified of it since I was 12. The early part of my life I just remember being poor and not eating much other than Top Ramen and Oatmeal. I remember once; when I was very little; the power being out, the house being very cold. I was sitting on the couch with my dad while my mother sat on the other side and I was hungry. My mom was crying and my dad was silent. I remember watching my mom get up and walk into the kitchen to the cupboard where she opened it up and pulled out a bag of beans. As a child I didn’t understand the gravity of the situation. I had no idea that there wasn’t anything else to eat or that my parents silence and emotions were fear and anger. I don’t remember if we ate those beans or not.

When my mom remarried when I was 9 there was plenty of food. She would cook home style meals every night. Pack amazing lunches and on the weekends make me waffles, pancakes, french toast and crepes. I would come home from school and eat Doritos, Fruit Roll Ups, Oreos and drink soda. Then we’d sit around the table and eat meatloaf, fried chicken, mashed potatoes & gravy and I’d dip my butter smothered white bread in it and stuff my mouth leaving just enough room for some milk. I’d go to sleep with heavy eyes and a full stomach and wake up in the morning ravenous! I could never eat enough.
When I would go to my dads on the weekends it was 180 degrees. We ate pasta and red sauce ; grilled chicken (if we were lucky) or top ramen with some green beans or peas in it. For breakfast it was one egg and one piece of toast or paper thin pancakes with 1% milk. This was the beginning of my terrible eating habits. The beginning of my binge eating.

When I was 13 I went out for the wrestling team. My dad was adamant that if I was going to be wrestling I had to start lifting weights and exercising. My dad had always been very fit. As a little girl we would do sit ups and push ups during commercials. I got my first black eye in his home made gym; inspired by Joe Weider and Arnold; by picking up a barbell and cracking myself in the face with it.
Along with this new routine also came diet. I was suddenly eating chicken and broccoli; rice and rigatoni noodles. Egg whites and bagels for breakfast and protein shakes after practice. Then I would go to my moms and all concern for nutrition went out the window. Partly because I wanted it and partly because if I mentioned anything about my dads plan to turn me into a fierce wrestler , my mom would get upset..so I kept my mouth shut and I ate the meatloaf (which was always my favorite).

Wrestling required that I wear a singlet. Which required that I suck it in. Which didn’t matter when I had to weigh in.

I was suddenly worried about cellulite and the fact that I couldn’t put a ruler on my hip bones when I laid down. I was reading my dads Muscle magazines and my moms Cosmo wondering why I didn’t look like the women in the pictures and believing that EVERYONE I knew expected me to look that way even though they didn’t.
I became incredibly self conscious. My two best friends at the time were both rail thin. The main writer of this blog, Andrea, was tall and lanky and Laurilee who also had eating issues was model thin. I would watch them both and wish desperately for skinny, knobby legs. I wanted ribs that stuck out and arms you could wrap your fingers around. I started to eat saltines and diet coke and fruit medleys from the grocery store. Then a few days later I would find myself gorging on cafeteria pizza and Otis Spunkmeyer cookies..

When I got into high school it only got worse. I was now going to the gym every morning, getting up @ 4:30 am and doing 60 minutes of cardio plus all the ridiculous movements any gym member does: leg extensions, bicep curls, tri-cep kickbacks, cable rows and flys; I’d do a hundred sit ups then jump on the ab/dip station and lift my knees to my chest until the only thing that hurt was my hip flexors. For most of high school my first class of the day was PE so I would lift or do an hour of Fonda legs or abs with Mrs. Ayers and if I was lucky she would tell me how fat I was and then take my flab and pinch it with her calipers and prove it to me.

When I got out of high school I made some pretty terrible life choices. I would say that I “Failed” at life but I realize that would be a little harsh. I started using drugs and living a pretty risky day to day existence. When all was said and done I was emotionally wrecked, severely chemically imbalanced and I was finally skinny. 104lbs skinny to be exact. Now mind you, growing up I wasn’t ever fat but I was generally bigger than most every other girl I knew. I was in a size 9 in 8th grade and most of high school. I had what everyone called a “ghetto booty” and I was a 34D. Now, I was in a size 1 and I couldn’t find bras that fit anymore. My step mom told me years later that she thought I had AIDS I was so skinny.

For years, and I mean YEARS I was terrified of gaining weight. Which I absolutely did the minute I started eating again. I would pump myself full of coffee and nicotine trying to curb my appetite. I’d politely decline food saying I was full. I would make rude comments to people who were eating, judging them for the fact that what they were eating would make ME fat if I ate it..

About 5 years after, I discovered Mt. Baker Crossfit. I made it through the warm up and I left. I couldn’t breathe. I thought I was going to die.

Then it hit me.
I thought all this time, all those years, that I was fit and that I knew everything there was to know about fitness. After all, my room in high school was covered with posters from Muscle&Fitness. I ate egg whites and weighed myself multiple times a day.
I went back the next day and to my surprise, no one ignored me. I didn’t just walk in and swipe a card through a reader and hit the elliptical. I was met with a high five and a smile. Needless to say, I was in. I started to look good and feel good. I was getting compliments on my body and guys at work were always making fun of how big my biceps were like I was some kind of freak. Except now, I knew it was because I WAS fit! I had muscles and I looked healthy and I felt good and suddenly I didn’t care how much I weighed.

I hated my body growing up. I still struggle with it. But I suppose the whole purpose of sharing this information and scattering my fears like seed upon fresh ground is to discover that from those insecurities I’ve been able to find peace for the most part with the fact that I can’t change my body type. I can’t change my structure. I can change the way that I eat and the way that I train.
I’m not perfect. I remind myself of that every time I pick something up to eat it that I shouldn’t and I have an internal conversation with myself.

You are better than this.
You’ve overcome bigger obstacles than this.
This will make you feel worse.
Put the food down.

And sometimes it works. Sometimes, it doesn’t. But I’m learning to be ok with that. I’m sure that Julie Foucher and Lindsey Valenzuela didn’t start their journeys without making mistakes. I know that the athletes I look up to aren’t immune to a really big slice of pizza or a plate full of mashed potatoes and gravy. I wouldn’t want them to be either. I want them to be honest and human and I want them to be able to share with me their triumphs and tribulations so that I can be inspired and in turn, inspire someone else.

Here’s to my first ever blog entry ( I feel so grownsup); to sharing and being ok with it and to the knowledge that if we don’t teach we can’t learn and we only learn from others who weren’t afraid to share.

Injuries and Forgiveness

I’ve continued to be on this journey to find peace with food and body issues as they are associated with things that have happened to me in my past. My relationship with my dad is the underlying and ultimate trigger to many of the food and body issues I have identified and am working on. To make a very long story short, I’ve found that in an effort to control many of the things that I felt were out of control in my life – my dad dying, my relationship with him and all that will now be unlived with him; the expectations that I’ve put on myself and how inauthentic those expectations and trajectories started to feel…to control all those things, I turned to controlling, obsessive and unhealthy habits surrounding food, my weight, figure and body composition. I feel like just now, after 6 months of really… very… *hard work* on my emotional recovery, I’m starting to see the light at the other end of the recovery tunnel: there’s still a long road ahead of me; in fact, I don’t think it ever ends, but at least I’m coming out of the tunnel.

Another thing I’ve been working on this year, in relationship to all of this, is taking better care of myself: showing myself compassion and ahimsa (non-violence). I was noticing that I kept getting reoccurring and chronic type injuries with my training and workouts,  especially since about January when I turned 30. I have a history of being a clutz, so I’ve had my share of sprained ankles and such. But these injuries this year were different. They were bodily aggravations and inflammations: tendonitis in my shoulder, elbow and arm; tendonitis in both feet; hamstring sprains, hip flexor “sprains”, another shoulder injury. Every time one would feel better, another one would spring up. And they would take FOREVER to heal.

At first I thought these injuries were just from over training and some of them were. But not all of them.

As I went through this process of food and body discovery and how it all has related to and my relationship with my dad, I realized that I had forgiven him for everything and for every hurt he had caused, or I had felt he caused me a long time ago. But still felt this aching sadness, grief and guilt surrounding the relationship. It was like I was grieving for him and my loss of him all over again. Could this sadness and grief be manifesting itself in my physical body?

Back story: my dad and I fought ferociously when I was in high school and he and my mom also fought often (sometimes I’m surprised they never got divorced). I remember going months, maybe almost a year at a time without making eye contact with dad, just because I felt like he was just a jerk and he’d ticked me off so badly. Finally, when I got to my early 20’s, it seemed like our relationship turned for the better and it seemed like our fighting past was behind us. I was becoming more emotionally intelligent and I was able to relate and communicate with him better. We were forming a really great father-daughter relationship and I really started to enjoy spending time with my dad. I was excited to get to know him on a new level. Then he got sick. And all that relationship growth that was supposed to happen, that most people get to have with their parents when they get older…mine came to a screeching halt. To make matter worse, dad didn’t want to talk about being sick when he was still with us. He ignored it but I knew he was angry about it. I knew he knew he was going to die and he was mad. But true to his ways, he didn’t talk about his feelings. I approached him on one occasion to try to talk to him about him being sick, but he burst into tears (probably only the 2nd or 3rd time I’d ever seen him cry) and told me didn’t want to talk about it anymore.

I was drowning in fear, anger and sadness about him that I couldn’t talk about to anyone. I had no one to talk to about something that was clear as day and dark as death; and it was death. Dad was going to die. I finally had a moment to express to him how much I loved him about a month later. It was at my brother’s wedding and I was awkwardly ignoring him again – just like I used to do in high school. I was angry that he wouldn’t talk to me, so my solution was to give him a taste of his own medicine and ignore him.

This picture makes me cry every time I see it. Look how cold I look. My way of protecting myself.

This picture makes me cry every time I see it. Look how cold I look. My way of protecting myself.

But I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t continue this facade. I was hurting and I didn’t want to play this game and I want to tell him…something! Anything other than pretending nothing was happening. So several hours later at the wedding, as the dancing and socializing was commencing I had a realization: if I didn’t say something to him now, I probably would never have the opportunity to do so. I broke into tears, rushed over to him, wrapped my arms around him in front of the whole crowd of people (all of whom knew he was sick) and cried, “Dad, I love you. I am so sorry and I love you so much.” “I love you too Missy!”, he sobbed back (Missy was his nickname for me since I was a baby). And then he asked me to dance. The last father-daughter dance I’d ever have with him.

Now or never.

Now or never.

It was that moment at my brother’s wedding, when I embraced him and told him I loved him, that my hostile and bitter past with him melted. Gone. I had forgiven him for everything and he had forgiven me for everything. He stopped his cancer treatments right after my brother’s wedding and he hung on through Christmas, just in time to watch his grandchild open Christmas presents for the last time. And then he died. He passed away peacefully at home on February 1st, with me and mom by his side, holding his hands.

Back to the front story: What does this have to do with injuries, you ask? The epiphany that I came to this summer, in this discovery process surrounding food and body and discovering it was all interconnected to my relationship with my dad, was that I felt sadness, grief and guilt surrounding the relationship that I was never going to be able to have with my dad. I felt guilty for not having the foresight when I was younger, for not being more mature and emotionally competent then, so that I could have that started experiencing that unlived relationship with him sooner. Even though I was doing the best that I was capable of when I was younger; and so was he – we were doing the best that we knew how to do, to communicate and relate to each other…I had not forgiven myself for acting like a spoiled, bitchy, teenage asshole, and I felt guilty for that. I felt guilty for acting my age and doing everything that was expected of me and for not knowing better, even though I wasn’t supposed to know better. And I was grieving with utter sadness and emotional distress that I would never have the opportunity to get to know my dad better and that he would never have the opportunity to get to know me better. Furthermore, I was afraid that my dad never knew how much I loved him. This was my epiphany.

So what to do next? I had to forgive myself. I had to forgive myself for not knowing any better and for doing the best that I knew how to do at the time. Well how the hell do you do that? Way easier said than done. So here’s what I did: at each opportunity of my most quiet and meditative moments (usually during physical activity); and especially in moments of peace and happiness (at the beginning or end of said physical activity), I would repeat a version of the Hoʻoponopono prayer and blessing:

I’m sorry, Dad.

Please forgive me, Dad.

Please release me, Dad.

Thank you, Dad.

I love you, Dad.

I repeated this over and over until I either cried (sobbed) or felt a touch of peace – like dad was hearing me and telling me that he was hearing me. And then I said it again to myself:

I’m sorry, Andrea.

Please forgive me, Andrea.

Please release me, Andrea.

Thank you, Andrea.

I love you, Andrea.

And I would repeat that over and over again until I cried and then felt peace. There were many yoga classes I went to, where I would sit in child’s pose or in savasana; or times during a walk, run or CrossFit metcon that had just left me ruined, that I would have to stop, breathe and weep, as I repeated this to myself.

And soon I began to feel peace. And forgiveness. And then, my injuries went away.

Eating in the Light of the Moon

I recently started really…deeply…thoroughly evaluating my relationship with food. I had gone many years being very strict with calories; grams of this, that and the other; what I am eating now, what I am not eating now…and then the pendulum would swing viciously the other way. My story was then, “not only have I fallen off the (restricting) wagon, but it is now doing laps over the top of me….thu-THUNK, thu-THUNK, thu-THUNK…” And what do we do when we fall off? We get right back on.

Right around my 30th birthday this year I started to get a little concerned with this cyclical behavior. I was becoming super obsessive with my food and meals. It was all that I thought about. Every day, all day. A big portion of my winter vacation to Hawaii was filled with guilt over the weight I knew I was gaining and why. I knew I was going to look back on my vacation and think, “the only thing I remember was constantly thinking about my weight and food.” That freaked me out.

Luckily, before I left for Hawaii, I had stumbled upon a “book club” for women where food and body issues were the primary topics of discussion. I was invited to join the group. I “hmmm’d” and “haaaa’d” over the invitation for about a month. I had done so many groups and none of them had helped me get to the bottom on my food, body and weight obsessions. But something was calling me to this group. I accepted the group invitation and found out which book they were going to read during the session. Eating in the Light of the Moon, by Anita Johnston. I brought the book to Hawaii with me for some “quality beach reading material” and to get a head start on the book. Picture this: Andrea sitting on the beach in Maui, birds chirping, waves crashing, whales breaching. Andrea sobbing. Yes, SOBB-ING. Cowboy hat on, sunglasses securely glued to my face, hiding it from the outside world. I was enamored, humbled, enthralled, saddened, enveloped by this book. Page after page: “OH MY GOD THIS IS ME!” , “OH MY GOD THIS IS ME!”, “OH MY GOD THIS IS ME!”. I had found my answer. Food was not my problem. What was going on in my head, heart and soul was the problem.

I joined the book club after vacation and at every meeting I started remembering every time over the past 25 years of my life when I felt let down, rejected, humiliated or misunderstood and had been unable to resolve it or handle it. I was always told: “You’re over-reacting Andrea”. “You’re being too sensitive”. “You are the reason for my problems.” Because I didn’t know how to control those moments, I learned to control the moments that I knew I had complete control over: when and what I ate. Originally it started out as, “YIKES! Freshmen 15!”, then it was, “I’m an athlete and I perform better at <this> weight and body fat”. Then dad died. Then some really F.U.S. happened with family. It was in these next years that I began developing and perfecting the ability to really ignore my feelings. It didn’t matter what happened to me or how I felt about it. No biggie, I’m over it. Moving on. But never really dealing. I felt empty; I was missing my authenticity, acceptance–I felt like I was living someone else’s pre-determined and scheduled life. But the emptiness too was to painful to deal with, so to fill the void and pack down those feelings so they don’t bubble up: enter food! Enter obsessive eating behaviors. When you gorge yourself, it’s really hard to feel anything but full.

I could go on about this for another 5000 words, but here’s the skinny (no pun intended): if you restrict, binge or otherwise obsess about your food, first, READ THIS BOOK IT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE. Eating in the Light of the Moon, by Anita Johnston. Google it. Buy it. Now. And second, go back–way back. Start jotting some things down:

  • How did your family treat you growing up?
  • How did your friends treat you?
  • Were you ever friend dumped? Bullied? Picked on?
  • Did you always feel different than your classmates? Like you picked up on things they didn’t or thought differently than everyone else? Maybe you felt like you were always a few steps ahead of everyone else?
  • Were you an athlete in school? Why or why not?
  • What about college? Did you follow your passion?
  • Are you following your passion now?

Bottom line: don’t just look at your plate to solve your problems. Go take a big long, loving look in the mirror (eye contact!) and then take a look at your heart. What is it telling you? If you listen to what it says (patience, kindness and gentleness with YOURSELF will go a long way here), everything else will then start making sense.

Namaste and Ahimsa,

Andrea