“Are you training for something?”

That was the question I was asked at the gym yesterday.  It caught me off guard, and I replied, “No, I just walk around like this.” and then explained that I had been a college athlete, a swimmer, totalling in a twenty year career.  The young woman who asked smiled and said, “I was just wondering, you are so fit!”  I smiled back and told her to have a good day, but her question really got me thinking.

What am I training for?  If asked that question again my first response would be, “life.”  I am training for what comes next, the surprises, the “oh shit” moments, for the good days, and the bad.  I am training to be an active, healthy life-partner (for at least the next 65 years) to my husband.  I am training to one day, hopefully, have a very healthy, low-risk pregnancy that culminates in an all natural, home birth and a beautiful, perfect child.  I lift so I will be able to give my children piggyback rides, to do cartwheels in the yard, and teach them how to be athletes.  I am training to open my own pickle jars when I my seventy years old.

team lift
love the “team lift” sticker.  Should have seen the mailperson’s face when I picked it up!

 

Life is hard, and so I lift.  I cannot explain in one post how much my life has improved since I have started lifting heavy weights.  There are small things that have changed and improved. I can pick up a cast iron skillet with one-handed.  I can carry all of my groceries in one trip.  I can carry a box full of ten reams of paper all on my own. I love that my husband calls me “Beast-Mode Bae.”

hanging back
two years of heavy lifting and I finally have tenderloins!

There are also big things that have changed as well.  I have zero back pain.  This in and of itself is a huge milestone.  I was plagued with moderate to severe pain for almost a decade, it was one of the biggest motivators for me to change my lifestyle and get serious about finding a pathway to lose a hundred pounds.  For years I went to different specialists.  My chiropractor did acupuncture.  My doctor did epidural injections that provided short-term relief but also made me gain more weight.  My physical therapist had me do leg lifts with no weight and stretching, that just seemed to aggravate my back and nerve pain more.  My husband was the first person that said, “lift heavy and you will not have pain.”  That was the opposite of what all of the doctors, physical therapists, and chiropractors had told me but none of their suggestions and treatments worked and so when my husband (then boyfriend) suggested a machine called the reverse hyper extension and a heavy lifting regime, I thought I had nothing to lose.

I am so glad that I listened to him. From the beginning he said, “this will work.” and it did, I train my back and I lift heavy every day. A good friend of our said it best, “you can lift and hurt less or not lift and hurt more.”  I make sure to have perfect technique and I listen to my body if a rep does not feel right, or a muscle starts to complain.  Through patience, education, and finding an engaged powerlifting community I have overcome my four herniated discs.  I no longer have to work through the pain, I control it, becoming a better athlete and person throughout the process.

gold
2004 state championships, making sure the moment and the medal were real

Another big improvement in my life is that I have found my competitive edge again. Growing up I was a strong, competitive athlete and it helped me develop a mentality that set me up for a successful life.  I knew I was a fierce person, that I was a hard worker, that I could overcome obstacles in my way.  When I hurt my back in college, when I was no longer able to swim; I lost a part of my identity.  I lost a major part of the center of my self, what made me tick.  I was adrift for a time, mourning my unfulfilled goals, trying to gather the pieces of my torn soul, my shattered identity.  Getting back in the gym, getting my athletic figure back, and lifting more than the “average bear” has brought me full circle.  I know I am a contender, I never lost it, I just lost confidence in myself for a while.

Finally, it has changed how I interact with people.  I am no longer a doormat.  I grew up in a home controlled by a narcissistic mother.  She gaslighted, belittled, sabotaged, and manipulated me for thirty years.  As I gained my confidence and my strength I also gained my voice.  I learned to say no, I realized my worth, and I also started weighing decision based on my own self-interest and preservation.  No one will make me feel bad for putting my family (my husband and me) first, for becoming healthy, for having a strong body.  I no longer tolerate bullies, I no longer tolerate passive-aggressive attempts at controlling me. I realized that you are the hero of your own life, you have to save yourself from the monsters, from the wolves that would lead you like a lamb to slaughter.

hero

That is what I am training for, to be the hero of my own life.  Maybe the woman at the gym saw my determination and thought it must be geared towards something. Assuming I had to have an outside motivation to push myself to be the best I can be, to strive for a better body, a stronger self.  I have alway been an internally motivated person, some would call it being a perfectionist.  I tend rub against that label.   I see my motivation as striving for efficiency, precision, optimal outcomes, and most importantly happiness.  I want to do things better, to add value to the world. I want to be better because I believe that is why we are alive, to learn, and to make ourselves, our families, our communities, and our world a better place.

One Body, One Life.  Make it Count!

@ripsterchick

 

 

 

 

the paradox of the female athlete

I am a muscular woman.  I want to believe that it is good genetics and a very active, athletic childhood that made me predisposed to build muscle.  However, I also know that there have been many roadblocks to my success along the way.  I want to dive into some of the personal struggles that I have had to overcome to achieve my goal: to sculpt the beautiful body I want.  I am on this crazy journey called life just like the rest of us, and I appreciate any insight I glean from others.  I hope this post lets you know that you are not alone, the struggle is real, and there are things we can do to work towards the body and health we want.

Like I said I have been a muscular person my whole life.  Recently I was cleaning out a spare bedroom and found pictures from my childhood.  The picture below is from a dance recital when I was five years old.

dance
May 1992, age 5

Yes, I was a giant kid! Once you get over that shock notice my quads, they were strong. I was no “shrinking violet.” I am not sure if it was my gender or just my mom’s family but my muscles were not viewed positively.  I was “bulky” or “thick” as my mother would explain to me.  My body shapes were not described in positive, or feminine ways, they were not encouraged.  When I looked at the picture as a young person, I saw a chubby little girl looking back at me.  I did not like the way I looked.  I did not like the “fat” on my frame.

In that environment, with those words of “encouragement,” I embraced the diet my mother put me on in elementary school.  I tried my best to eat low-fat, many veggies, and fruits. When we went school clothes shopping, I became frustrated when the legs of the pants would not fit correctly and I had to size up. I would get upset when the clothes I wanted to wear were, “made for skinny girls, not girls with tummies and thick legs.”  I started to hate my body, hate how it looked.  Most importantly, I hated how it made my mother disappointed in me.  To me it felt like my body was betraying me, making it hard for my mother to love and accept me.

On the flip side, I was a star athlete. I learned to swim before I could walk and started on a swim team at the age of three.  I started setting records at the age of seven; pool, age group, and league, several of them still stand, twenty years later.  I was one of the fastest swimmers in the state of Ohio throughout my childhood; I went three years never losing a race.  I made it to states each year of high school.  My junior year I was the state champion in the 100-yard breaststroke, set the state record, as well as being the runner-up in the 100 yard butterfly.

high school state meet 2004
High School State Championships 2004

My family could not have been prouder.  My mother made it to every meet, became a swimming official, and paid for me to train and compete throughout the Mid-west.  During my illustrious swimming career, she was there supporting me, giving herself the title of my nutritionist. At the same time, she was telling me I weighed too much, the number on the scale was too high for a girl.  I started Weight Watchers at the age of twelve to make the number on the scale go down.  I would get discouraged when the number would not move, no matter how much I used the weightlfiting machines and upped my cardio. There was never a correlation in my head, or surrounding support system between my muscles, my athletic ability, and my weight. Muscle weighs more than fat, muscular people weigh more than sedentary people of the same height and frame size.

My personal story I hope highlights the catch-22 that women face when trying to build muscle, gain strength, and be top athletes.  From an early age, the ideal, feminine form that was constructed by others for me and by me was thin, lithe, and most importantly weighed as little as possible.  Think ballerina, runner, or yogi. It did not take into consideration my frame, my genetics, my talents, or my goals. My culture, my gender, and my mother ingrained in my head what my body should look like.  The beautiful, biological machine that made my swimming achievements possible was never celebrated; it was unattractive, unfeminine, and unwanted.

I think that this feminine construct, this beauty ideal is why so many women have a hard time losing weight, working out, and lifting free weights. Women in some cultures are to diet only to lose weight, maybe incorporate light cardiovascular activity, but not lift weights.  I lost 80 pounds before I started to lift heavy (my first reason was to combat loose skin). When I started to show physical improvements through weight training, my mother said in a concerned voice, “it’s great you are losing the weight and lifting, but be careful.  Don’t get too bulky, you don’t want to look like a man.”  What does that even mean?  You do not want to look like you can open your own doors? You do not want to look like you can take care of yourself?

I am an amazing athlete, tragically I starved myself for most of my twenty-year swimming career.  What could I have done if I had been feeding my metabolism and my muscles correctly?  What can I do now? What can you do?

You have to discount the outside voices, societal beauty standards, even your own family.   You have to be true to yourself, find your own beauty and fitness ideal.  What do you think is beautiful?  What do you want to look like?  What do you want your body to be able to do or what fitness goals do you have?

Asking questions like that are going to help you get your head in the game and better frame your ideal body.  I do not want anyone to feel ashamed about his or her appearance or body.  I want them to be able to do everything they want to achieve in the body they have.  It is not about what your body looks like, but what it can do.  I want to do handstand push-ups unassisted, I want six-pack abs (vanity), and I want to have amazing arms in my sixties.  I think all of those things are possible and will make me beautiful to myself.

When I look at the dance picture from above now, I see a little girl with strong arms, and defined legs.  When I look at my swimming pictures, I see a determined athlete, a badass teenager who refused to quit.  When I look in the mirror now I see a woman who is learning to love herself no matter what the number on the scale says.  The weights/numbers that matter now are the ones I put on the bar in the gym.  I am proud of the bulky, veiny arms that help me do push-ups and pull-ups.  I love my muscular calves and legs.  I have a butt because I lift, not because I starve myself thin.

stay strong
post workout in my garage gym July 2017

Someday, when I have a daughter, and she has to size up in jeans because of her swole legs… I will just smile and say, “gains, baby girl, gains!”

One Body, One Life.  Make it Count!

@ripsterchick

When life gives you lemons…make mojitos

I am a firm believer in the idea that you create your own reality.  You frame your life with your decisions and actions.  However, no matter your plans, your desires, your goals you don’t live in a vacuum.  We all stand on the shoulders of giants… You cannot make it to your goals, grab the brass ring, without coordination, mentorship, and usually permission.  It is the last one that drives me crazy sometimes… if only I could be the master of the universe!

Today I was handed a big, fat NO to one of my goals.  It was hard to hear but it is how I pick myself up and reformlate my plan that decides if I am a winner or a loser.  I refuse to lose in my own life.  I was born a contender and will be one until my very last breath.

How do I continue to be optimistic?   I had several paths laid out in front of me before I started.

map and compass

When my first choice was denied I already had another map, another destination in mind.  Life is about the journey so make sure you have a great map!  One with several options, some laser focused on your goals, some with great pit stops, and some that wander… some of the best times of my life have been wandering the wilderness.  But I haven’t been lost, I have alway had a destination in mind.

Today’s NO means that I have to find another avenue for my energy and interests.  It doesn’t mean I give up.  It doesn’t mean I get angry at the system, or the world.  It just means I have to try again, use my smarts and my tenacity to find what suits me now.  I can always try again, different timing, different collaborators; I will be different then too.

But I will have a drink tonight and lick my wounds.  Make some mojitos; recharge.  Here is one of my favorite recipes with Tito’s vodka.

Tito’s Berry Mojito

Ingredients:

  • 2 oz Tito’s Handmade Vodka
  • 2 blackberries
  • 4 basil leaves
  • 1/4 oz simple syrup
  • 2 thick slices ginger
  • Club Soda

Method:

In a shaker, muddle blackberries, basil, and ginger with simple syrup.
Add Tito’s and ice.
Shake well and strain over fresh ice.
Top with club soda.

Garnish: Lime Wedge

Take a big sip before continuing on…

Life has a funny way of giving you what you need when you need it, if you just stay open. Open to a different wrapping of the gift you wanted, a different path to the goal in mind. Be open, be flexible, and always have several paths you are willing to try.

That is my advice for the day, that is how I survive the bad days, the NO days.  I am not a big country music fan but I will quote Rascal Flatts, “God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you.”  If our journeys were easy and our paths straight we might not meet and love the people we do.  We might not find the passion that makes us happy or the job that leads to an amazing career.  Don’t wallow in the bumps in the road, they are there to make us stronger, to help us realign our mission, vision, and values… to help us get to our individual true north.

One body, One life.  Make it Count!

@ripsterchick

 

 

 

One Body, One Life. Make it Count!

In the summer of 2014 I went to a conference in Burlington, Vermont for professional development.  It was a great week and I learned a lot but the major takeaway for me wasn’t the content.  It was something a guest speaker said.  He said, “I don’t want to know your five year plan, I am sure it’s great… I want to hear about what you want to do when you are eighty.”  He went on to tell the audience that both his grandfather and father had died in their mid-fifties and never got to meet their grandchildren. The keynote speaker’s own eighty year plan included daily exercise, a loving marriage, a retirement account, and a fishing camp in Maine.  He envisioned being surround by his children, grandchildren, and hopefully his great-grandchildren.  It was as pretty as a painting, it also made my heart hurt.  I realized then I wasn’t living an eighty year plan, hell I was barely living for a five year plan.  I was twenty-seven years old.

I had not been to a doctor in five years, I had not even had my teeth cleaned since college.  I was burning the candle from both ends and it was starting to show.  I was very overweight, alway tired, lonely, and depressed.  I had a master’s degree and a solid career but not much else.   At the end of the lunch session I went outside on a grassy knoll and called all of my doctors to make appointments.  I needed to change my life, I needed to own my actions, my health, and my future.

nov 2014
November 2014

That day changed the trajectory of my life.  Since that day in July 2014 I regained my strength, wrestled control over my diet, lost over 100 pounds, found an amazing partner and gained the confidence I did not even know I was lacking.  I want to share some of the insight, tips, and habits I have learned and developed during this amazing journey.  I want to pass forward the gift that, Todd, the keynote speaker, gave to me that day back in 2014.  I want to promote positivity, inner strength, and the power of the human spirit. Nothing is out of reach if you dedicate passion and energy to your goals.   Fix your objective in your mind’s eye and reach for the stars.

sarah in bowtie
Today

I hope you visit again.  Feel free to ask me questions about my life, my diet, my training, anything really.  I want to be a resource for others to achieve their full potential.

One Body, One Life.  Make it Count!

@ripsterchick