In December of 2012, the coaches had us write a goal on the whiteboard after the last workout of the year. The Saturday before that day, the workout was 50 thrusters for time, which mentally destroyed me. Thrusters were my nemesis and I toiled with whether or not to come to class to battle it out. I hated that about me. I wanted to not be afraid of a workout. I wanted to be confident. So I wrote “mental toughness” on that whiteboard.
If life was a movie and had foreshadowing music, it was playing in that moment. What I was about to learn about mental toughness had nothing to do with overcoming my fear of thrusters. Ugh, I still hate thrusters. Instead, I was about to embark on a journey of self-discovery. Here are five important things I learned along the way.
Take injuries seriously.
Before 2013, I don’t think I’d ever been injured. I have been hurt– sprained ankles, sore muscles, a few aches and pains, but nothing that ever stopped me. In January 2013, my knee injury stopped me in my tracks, right off that box jump. I remember worrying that I might miss a week of workouts; I could barely stand the idea of missing a week. After I tore my ACL and meniscus, I learned the mental toughness that I never knew I needed, and not in any of the ways I expected. I spent dark days wondering why, what if, and how would I ever overcome this. I know I sound dramatic. The 6-12 months of surgery, recovery, physical therapy and the aftermath challenged me physically, emotionally and intellectually.
I learned that I must take injuries seriously, from the beginning. I need to be willing to go to a doctor, take a break, and know my limits. Over the last two years, I had to work on healing and to my surprise, my body complied. In the past, I struggled to determine when enough is enough. I grew up in an era when you played injured and you taped every body part to get back in the game. I never know if I’m sore, hurt or injured. I have tried to become more reflective about my body and how it feels. I’m so thankful to Allie who helped me modify the movements along the way. She continues to offer insight into whether or not I should modify or if I can ‘go for it’. I now pay attention to tweaks, quirks, stiffness, and mobility issues. I challenge myself to go to a chiropractor, a doctor, and a massage therapist to fix those things- whether minor or major. I need to do yoga, foam rolling, mashing, and stretching. As I get older, the days of not needing to stretch or work on mobility are over. Since my surgery and physical therapy, I have attended courses taught by Yoga Tune-Up founder, Jill Miller, author of The Roll Model: A Step-by-step guide to erase pain, improve mobility and live better in your body. I have used her products and DVDs, so much so that she featured my story in the knee chapter in her book. I know that I not only have to do the few minutes of mobility work in the beginning of class, but I need to continually work on my issues—hips, ankles, knees, shoulders… on my own time. Why, do I feel like I’m made out of wood? The only elusive thing I’m truly jealous of—flexibility. I’m striving to find it, to develop it, to own it. I can say it because I’ve told her; I’m so envious of the depth and capacity of Lucy’s squat. I often watch friends without tight hips and achy knees and I envy their ability to
bounce back from a squat or drop from a pull-up without considering what direction their knee must land. Jealousy aside, I am working on my mobility so that I can have my own enviable squat form.
Make good decisions about food.
I like French fries and ice cream. As I
approach 40, I know that I can’t eat whatever I want. My relationship status with food is definitely “it’s complicated.” I need to tell myself that food is fuel, not comfort. Not reward for good or pity for bad days. It is not to be used to drown sorrows or lower stress. Convenience and laziness are my excuses for bad eating habits. It seems that it is always someone’s birthday in my family, so there’s cake—or someone is being hired or retiring at work, so there’s cake. It’s ok to say no, I don’t need any cake. And then I tell myself, the cake doesn’t taste that great, especially when comparing it to the number of burpees I would have to do to burn the calories of all that cake. Nothing tastes that good, because of course, burpees suck.
I have found I can overcome those bad habits if I prepare my meals for the week on Sunday afternoons, because if I don’t, I will most certainly order takeout. Food prep has been the key to me making better decis
ions. I have to plan what I eat and I have to be disciplined to stay on track, but I feel so much better, I sleep better and I feel better during the workouts.
In the last few years, I have been dedicated for a few weeks, maybe even a few months, and then, work or life gets hectic or stressful, and I become inconsistent. I have a job with a pretty demanding schedule… in addition to a 50-minute commute, depending on traffic from the construction on Route 61 and tractor-trailers on Interstate 78.
A few years ago, I was a die-hard 6:30 pm girl, coming to class four-five times a week; then track season started, and I missed more than I came. I missed weeks at a time. Over the years, I would have spurts where I recommitted to 6 pm and I would do my best to pack a bag, leave work early and get to class. It was hard. I never felt like going. By 4 pm, my brain was fried and my commute made me tired. I made the best excuses to why I couldn’t make it. I was at the gym so rarely that I could never get better or learn to be comfortable with the workout or the
movements. I worried incessantly about what the workout would be and whether or not I could handle it. And coming once a week made me very, very sore after each and every workout. I could never conquer any goals because I wasn’t there enough to actually make an impact.
And then this summer, I made a decision—influenced by the 10 lbs I gained on vacation– and Ang talking about how important consistency was; I committed to 7 am. I scheduled it in my work calendar as 6:30-9:15 am, which includes my commute. The night before, I take 5 minutes and pack my bag for the next day. Can you believe it really only takes 5 minutes? At first it was hard to remember everything, but now I have a bag for shampoo, soap, and a towel. After the workout, I shower quickly, get ready and then drive to work, feeling empowered and energetic. I have been doing this since July and it is working. I feel better when I’m at work, I’m less stressed and it is fun again. Sometimes I can’t believe I am getting up so early, especially now that it is dark out, but I love it. I love my 7 am classmates and look forward to seeing them. I’m sure they don’t even realize how their support helped me reconnect, helped me become consistent.
Now that the workouts are posted, I also don’t worry as much. It allows me
to mentally prepare for what we will do. I am much calmer now. I can bring the right equipment and wear the right clothes—things that are important to me. Mitch once told me, never let your outfit be louder than your performance, so I try no
t to wear too much bright colored animal print.
But I can have long sleeves for days with atlas stones, and have my good running shoes for days with 400m runs. I like being prepared. I am trying to be there as much as possible. I know that some days I can’t make it because of early morning meetings, and I don’t beat myself up about it. I am at peace with my workouts because I am committed to being there.
Don’t compare yourself.
Who doesn’t want to be Ang? Of course, I’m in awe of
the many strengths and feats that these amazing women accomplish. The numbers can consume you, beat you up and play games in your
head. After I was injured, I had to adjust my expectations for myself. I don’t want to be wimpy, but I also don’t want to be injured. My physical therapist reiterated over and over again, that there is a thin line between brave and stupid. I often teeter on that line. I hate that I can’t do certain things. I hate being the last person finished. Instead of comparing myself to someone else, I appreciate the ability to actually compete with the workout, not with anyone else.
When I was injured, I struggled to be me
because I felt like I couldn’t define who I was without exercise. I couldn’t go to that place where you don’t remember anything but the task in front of you. Without it I was drowning in a lack of self-identity, bordering on self-pity. In May of 2013, I wrote in a journal, “I feel like crying. I feel like I’m no longer myself.” One Sunday, the message at church included this verse, “I have given up all hope; and I feel numb all over.” And it resonated with me, that’s how truly sad I’d become. During that time, I physically limped around and focused on what I couldn’t do. I never want to feel that way again. I am determined to learn from this injury, to appreciate every moment so that I see success in finishing… in just doing a workout.
I’m learning to put out my best effort, to work on my form, a
nd improve my mobility. It doesn’t help me to compare myself to anyone else. I can’t even compare myself to myself. This is a lesson I continue to learn. I have two versions of my inner athlete— ‘the before me’ and ‘after injury me’. Don’t feel bad for me though, because I’m on the path to making the ‘after injury me’ better than the one ‘before’. I appreciate so much more, and I value form and efficiency. I’m thankful for all the things my body can do—how it has healed itself. My mind and body are more in tune and I care about understandin
g where my body is in space, how it moves and what it means to do something correctly.
I have power, but lack grace. I have never been graceful, and that makes a lot of CrossFit movements hard. Since I know they are hard, I must focus on getting better and being consistent. I hate thrusters and don’t really like running. I have come to accept there are things that I hate doing. Just because I hate doing it, doesn’t mean I don’t want to do it. I want to overcome it. I want to be better than it.
Appreciate the opportunity.
Sounds easy, but sometimes we forget to truly be thankful for the abilities and opportunities we have. When I was recovering from my injury, I couldn’t put on my own socks or get out of the car by myself. Whether it is going down
the steps or taking a long walk, I can remember the struggle—both mental and physical. Sometimes I say to my best friend, remember when I couldn’t do this? In those moments, I appreciate how I’ve grown. I appreciate the time it takes to commit to being in class. It matters. Honor that. When I get to practice and become better at a movement, I feel like I’ve accomplished something great. Sometimes, it is just finishing a workout, like those Hero WODs in September. I am grateful for my abilities or lack thereof. I relish feeling stronger everyday and even embracing the days where I know I need more work, because there was a time where I wasn’t sure if I would ever get back. Now I know, it’s possible, if I am willing to put the time in and work harder.
We must appreciate the moments. There are so many amazing moments. Watching fellow athletes successfully attempt their first muscle-up or complete Karen for the first time is invigorating. Watching Susie clean and jerk with the artistic expression of a dancer is inspiring. I have the opportunity to work out with my mom. I am so thankful that my 61-year old mom is strong—in mind and body. I am proud of her commitment to her health—and I’m so thankful that she cares about being around for me as I get older, because a girl will always need her mom. Other family members think we are speaking our own language when I ask her how much weight she did for her 5RM or how many rounds she finished of that crazy AMRAP last week. I truly appreciate sharing those moments with her.
Without amazing coaches who really care about helping me be stronger, my life would be different. By this age, at this point, I would probably have resigned myself to a low-impact aerobics. I certainly wouldn’t consider myself an athlete, getting stronger every day with people I adore. These people are amazing. I love to hear their stories, to be empowered by them, to be inspired by them, to cry with them, to know what is going on in their life and their workouts. I value their support and give my support to them. I enjoy the laughter, the understanding and the unconditional encouragement. There is so much expertise in that space. I am often in awe of how each person offers his or her experiences to help someone else– or the countless examples of advice, help and support this community offers both in and out of the gym. I enjoy the diversity of ages, viewpoints, abilities and life stories and I am privileged to work along side of each person who brings their dedication to our community. I am honored to call the people my friends; actually, they are my family.
I have so much gratitude for
our coaches for all they have done for us, and all the time they give up with their friends and families to teach, train and coach us. We can learn so much from listening to our coaches. Their expertise and experience is unparalleled. I h
ave dropped in to several CrossFit boxes and I can say our coaches are the best. I try to say thank you everyday so they know how great their impact has been in my ability to stay mobile, to stay young at heart and to be the best version of myself. Thank you, coaches, you continue to challenge me, to make me better at CrossFit, but more importantly better at my life, my job and being me.