Deadlifting in a Tiara

I’m a poet-princess-She-Hulk. For two nights a week anyway. That’s when I trade my glitter for chalk, and glide – ok, stomp, lifting shoes are clunky – onto the wooden floor of the gym where I do my lifting.

Do princesses chalk up with glitter?

Do princesses chalk up with glitter?

Tonight is a good night; it’s deadlift night. Actually, here, every night’s a good night.

Behind me the sound of chains – moving in a way that makes me lament the absence of a dungeon – tell me Jimmy Neutron’s got a few metres of the stuff hanging over the bar while he squats. Jimmy is one of those people who won the genetic lottery, while most of us came up with three numbers and (inexplicably) a handful of Fruit Loops and some red-rope licorice. If there was a space-ark leaving to colonise distant worlds with our buffest, most beautiful and brightest, Jimmy Neutron would be on it. But he might make the voyage in stasis, standing up: he strikes me as the kind of guy who’d offer you his seat if he saw you standing out in apocalyptic rain of fire and brimstone, and then still help to carry your bags.

This is the kind of person I lift with.

Is it easier to do push-ups in space?

I’m pondering the possibility of sneaking onto the ark, when I spot Paul Bunyan ambling across the floor. His place is probably secured too; he could push-start a spaceship.

(I am of course comparing him to the legendary lumberjack who created the Grand Canyon when he dragged his axe behind him on the way home one night. I have a flair for understatement.)

The last time I saw him was a week ago, while I was lying on my stomach attempting a push-up that was hopefully more plank and less soggy cardboard. I’d positioned myself behind a pillar in the hope that no one would see me taking them two at a time. Two is … uh … OK a lot of percentages down from what I could do before I took five months off from training. More percentages than I can count on my fingers and toes. Or mine and Paul Bunyan’s. Or mine and Paul Bunyan’s and Jimmy Neutron’s. (Of course, if I had Jimmy I wouldn’t need fingers and toes.)

Unfortunately the pillar’s girth was no match for mine, and Paul Bunyan spotted me and strolled over. I shouldn’t feel bad, he assured me, any number of “strict” push-ups are good. Really good. I should keep going. The fact that he can probably do a hundred with me – and my luggage, still attached to Jimmy Neutron – on his back, didn’t make him sound less sincere.

Never sick of here

That’s just the way it is here. I love here! And how the people are here. I love the way here makes me feel.

And of course, more than here, I love my coach! He’d never admit it, but I suspect he’s the guy who trained Mr Miyagi and Yoda.

How do I explain the kind of person he is? I remember when I was younger, hearing my gran describing, what sounded like, the most perfect woman since Eve (in her pre-apple days) to someone; only to realise she was talking about me. My coach is like that. He makes me feel like he sees potential in me that I can’t even catch glimpses of. Like if I was Eve I’d be farming strawberries on Sandy Bay with Beau Brummel, and not an apple in sight.

My coach believes in me more than I believe in myself. And then at some point, I find myself believing it too. It’s that simple. And that powerful.

What did Eve wear to her 40th?

Why am I telling you all this? Because in two days’ time I turn 40, and I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the decisions I’ve made in the last 10 years, and to where they’ve taken me. Deciding to sign up for weightlifting, and to do it at this particular gym, was one of the top 5 best decisions of the last decade!

This is the last place I thought I’d be at my age

OK that’s not true. The last place I thought I’d be was the 4th level of Dante’s Inferno. Or Oz. Or a space-ark. But for the sake of clichés – and owing to a momentary lapse of literary capability brought on by a power failure and subsequent lack of caffeine – let’s go with it.

I never thought I’d be here with a bunch of boys, sweating testosterone and slamming weights. (Go ahead and play peek-a-boo with that comma; the sentence works both ways.)

But I am. And incredibly, so are a bunch of other women my age. We’re all enjoying getting older and still being able to throw our weight around. (OMG! And now a pun? Quick, Paul, scoop up a coffee plantation and carry it over.)

Squat like a princess

This place makes me feel young. Feeling my body get stronger as it gets older is insanely empowering! Looking in the mirror and seeing muscle in new and exciting places, makes me content to allow softness to settle in others. And of course, it feels fantastic to wake up in the morning and know the aches and pains are from using my body, not losing it to neglect.

Look, I’m probably never going to score an invite for the space-ark. Unless Jimmy Neutron makes me his plus-one. I’m too old to help colonise a new world. Although I could knit baby booties for the space sproglets. Make that beanies. Oh who am I kidding? With my low threshold for boredom we’re looking at egg cosies at best.

Don’t laugh; knitting is something women my age do. In between squatting. And deadlifting. And shopping for a tiara for our 40th party. If I find it, I might just wear it to gym. Diamantes work so well with chalk!

Love You Hate You Love You CrossFit

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with CrossFit for the past 6 months. The love part usually involves rest days. (Which I’m currently stringing together 6 at a time.) The hate part involves pretty much everything else.

Yes, there have been brief resurgences of passionate longing for wall balls and lusting after rope climbs during that time, but they faded fairly quickly.

Couples therapy for CrossFit and me

So there I was at my Level 1 Cert, the butterflies doing a manic tabata in my stomach having less to do with excitement and more to do with a fear of squatting in public.

I’d spent the month before studying my Level 1 manual. I love studying! I’m good at studying! And the chance to curl up in bed at the end of a long day with a box of coloured pencils and a hunger for knowledge was … is it overkill if I use the word “orgasmic”?

Every day I learned a little more about CrossFit. About the beauty of CrossFit. About the way it changes your body and challenges your mind. About what makes it special. And as my mind wrapped itself around the exquisite, glittering beads that are artfully strung together to create this unique, amazing thing we call CrossFit, so did my heart. In bed at night, staring up at the glow-in-the-dark stars in my ceiling, I could finally imagine a future for CrossFit and I again.

Until I actually walked into B4C for the cert! It didn’t take long to figure out that I was the slowest, weakest, clumsiest, chubbiest girl there. Perfect! It was like being back at the box, consistently bringing up the rear. And sure, people will tell you that it’s always me vs me in the WOD, but those people generally aren’t putting up single figure AMRAP scores while everyone else’s are way up in the doubles.

Yes, I was at the cert wearing my best CrossFit gear, wondering if my inov-8s would work just as well in a Zumba class.

Look everyone, I squat like a llama

Full points and a minute off your Fran time if you picked up that llama don’t squat. What they do is stand around looking awkwardly surprised, then fold forward on bent legs, neck and head down like shaggy parallelograms. And in between they spit. That’s pretty much me. Which is why I avoid squatting whenever possible. (Show me something you need to squat to pick up and I’ll show you something I can deadlift or hang-clean.) It’s also why I knew Jobst was going to use me as the how-not-to example of the basic squat in the first group exercise of the day.

As I huddled there in front of everyone – in what, if you look at it creatively enough is the lesser known yoga position “Pose of the Llama” – I thought to myself that there must be more to CrossFit than this! At some point all the beautiful theory I mastered and all the limb mangling movements I haven’t, must intersect.

And then it struck me: I’ve been trying too hard!

Woo me like you want me

For as long as I’ve done CrossFit it’s been about the WOD for me. About ditching the PVC for the barbell. About packing on weights. About PBs and benchmark times. And that means I’ve been going through the motions, forgiving the poor squat or the laboured box jump in favour of banging out a few more reps, figuring that at some point they’d fix themselves. Not because the coach told me to, but because I didn’t want to keep being the one who considered lying about her score on the whiteboard.

And then I thought to myself (on account of lacking in the split-personality department and therefor having no one else to think it to) I thought: what if I just forget all of that? What if I take it right back to the basics? What if I start all over again, working on my squat? What if from now on, my focus in every class is finding the magic in the movement? Finding that moment when my body feels light and the movement just flows. What if my mantra is “core to extremity core to extremity” instead of “faster heavier faster heavier”?

After all, CrossFit didn’t start with a list of WODs. It started with basic, functional movements. It started with the simple realisation that if you give your body the freedom to move the way it was designed to move, and you help it move well, then fitness and health will follow of their own accord like eager puppies.

I look beautiful in chalkdust

So yes, in Saturday’s Filthy Fifty WOD (which I scaled to a Dirty Thirty) I still squatted like a Llama when I did the wall-balls. But I just took it, one slow rep at a time. And I paused a lot, marvelling at how incredible my body is. How it bounces back from a box jump. How my feet can fly over a rope moving too fast for my eye to see. And how in between the fumbled lifts and broken kips, there are always a few moments when my body just glides through a movement. When my self-doubt is suspended in the arc of a kettlebell. When my heart feels light. When my body feels beautiful.

And I suppose that’s what I really want in a relationship. Not tokens to tell me how amazing I am. Not little scribbles of affection. I want something that makes me feel beautiful! Think this CrossFit thing might work out after all.

Fran Ate my Sugar Butterflies

I don’t like Cindy. She can be a bitch! I don’t like Fran. Or Jackie. Or Murph. They don’t tell me the things I really want to know. My CrossFit ladies include Caileigh and Lisa. My heroes have names like Shane and Marcus. Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of them, if you’re not from my box you probably wouldn’t have.

And I’m happy to say that this past Saturday I added Storm and Ray Robertson to my benchmark list.

Would you like to see my pain face?

It took me 2 hours to get to CrossFit 10 Star, Ray’s box. I arrived; wearing what probably looked like my pre-WOD fear face, but which was actually my need-to-pee face. Not the look I was hoping for walking into a box full of new faces for the 1st time.

But hey, that’s what happens when you drink your litre of workout water while you’re lost on the highway. Suddenly you find all kinds of new and hidden meanings in unwritten CrossFit rules, like: “get comfortable with being uncomfortable”.

Yes I’m late! Damn, I’m not!

I admit; as I pulled into the parking lot to see a row cones marking out shuttle runs; part of me was a little glad I was late. I’d been so preoccupied with my bladder I’d forgotten to remember how much I don’t enjoy CrossFit WODS. I’d also forgotten that when Ray decided to celebrate his birthday with a WOD he figured he could get more love into 48 minutest than, say, a respectable 6. 12 x 3 min AMRAPS with a minute between each set to glug some water and contemplate how much CrossFit sucks sometimes.

But as I sprinted to the bathroom, realising that I was not in fact late (“expect the unexpected”) I did remember. And I wanted to get it over and done with as quickly as possible. Which is why, when Storm split us into heats, I volunteered to go first. Because I’m brave that way; like the guys on the front-line in a military assault.

Just me and GI Jane

The other heat 1 volunteer, who for the duration of this blog shall be known as Kick-Ass, was an enthusiastic looking girl in a lot of pink. I like pink. I thought this was a good sign and maybe we were more or less on the same level. Turns out not so much. Turns out girls who wear light colours to CrossFit are the ones who know they won’t get blood all over themselves from falling off boxes or dropping kettlebells. So what actually transpired is that while I worked on turning every 3 min AMRAP into 3 X 30 second AMRAPS with a liberal sprinkling of rest time thrown in, Kick-Ass just kicked ass.

Fries with your Fran?

Then came the best part of the WOD: it ended. And the high 5s and hugging began. And soon, thank the Paleo gods, the box party became a Spur party and I was RXing a cream cappuccino. Sometime in the afternoon it all finally ended with visit to a sugar art shop. I stood there between the sparkle of edible “emeralds” and rainbows of sugar sparkles and felt a warm tingling in my fingers and heart.

I know this warm, glowing feeling by now: it’s what the magic of CrossFit feels like.

Love you more than cupcakes

I always feel vaguely guilty admitting it, but I don’t enjoy CrossFit WODS very much. (Unlike Olympic Lifting where I’m happy to train for 2 hours and keep going until the coach throws me out.) Which is probably why I don’t do them very often. The WODS are just my entry ticket to the box; on account of the fact that simply loitering in the box will at some point be considered stalking.

But I love CrossFit! I love the people. I love the community. I love that I can walk into a box as a stranger and leave as family. That I went to Ray and Storm’s box and came home feeling like it was my box.

I probably have as much chance of RXing Fran as I do of doing her in Jimmy Choo stilettos, but that’s ok, I’m not here for Fran. Or Cindy. Or Jackie. I’m here for Lynda and Tanya and Mike and all the other people who give CrossFit its magic. And when it comes to squeezing all the love and wonder and miracles I can from this amazing community, I’m PBing every day.

Skin-the-Cats and the Zombie Apocalypse

Zombies-Run

In our house massacring zombies has been the main form of physical activity for my 12 year old son. Until recently that is.

Our kids are growing up in a world where “go play outside” means moving your Minecraft character from the underground tunnels of your fortress to a field of oddly cube-shaped cows.

Last year, in an effort to encourage more time with his imagination and less time with flame throwers and machine guns, I hauled my son off to Exclusive Books. He interpreted my instruction to “pick a book” a little more loosely than I’d planned and chose an audio book. For the next few weeks he prowled the landscape of X Box Live hunting for the living dead while listening to detailed instructions of how to survive the Zombie Apocalypse.

So you can understand that if getting him out of the bedroom was and into the real world was a battle, getting him onto a sports’ field was an impossibility!

Argh! The soccer ball! It burns!

My son hates sport with as much passion as he hates losing his last life to the lurching dead. Maybe even more, because there are no power-ups out there on the field. Out there it’s just you against the blistering sun, a vicious expanse of knee-grating grass and a coach who trained in a Russian labour camp.

As someone who spent my childhood hidden in books, I felt his pain. But as a mother I also felt it was my duty to inspire/coerce/cajole/bribe/threaten him into some kind of physical activity.

Working your thumbs doesn’t qualify as sport

Then came CrossFit Kids! I watched in amazement as my son – who apparently lacks the flexibility to bend down and pick up his dirty clothes – hung upside down from the rings, legs stretched backwards over his head, performing a very beautiful “skin-the-cat”. There was my little zombie slayer, hanging and squatting and running and jumping and rolling. And it wasn’t even because he was fleeing a marauding bloodless horde with automatic weapons. He was doing it because he liked it. Because it felt good! Because it was fun!

 Which is of course why he continues to head off to CrossFit Kids Jozi week after week, with a kind of enthusiasm that was once reserved for placing land mines and using invincibility cheats.

Catch me if you can

And that I think is the key to getting kids to exercise: give them the kinds of things they love doing naturally. The kinds of things they did spontaneously when they were little. Because those things feel like fun, not work. And those are the movements their bodies instinctively want to do; need  to do.

So they go from hanging upside down on the jungle gym to doing it on the rings. From hopping over puddles and up stairs to jumping onto boxes. From hurling Teddy around to swinging a kettle bell. From tumbling on the grass to doing forward rolls.

And if there is a Zombie Apocalypse my CrossFit kid is going to be well prepared. His head is crammed with vital information … that zombies can’t jump, for example. Which means a quick pull up onto the garage beam followed by an inchworm crawl across to our emergency supplies is all we need to survive.

Yup, that’s us, killing zombies one skin-the-cat at a time!

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