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!

Do Popstars Want My Panties?

Right now, while I'm braving the toxic waste depository that my son calls a bedroom, my 21 year old self is back stage with Skrillex.

Right now, while I’m braving the toxic waste depository that my son calls a bedroom, my 21 year old self is back stage with Skrillex.

Here’s why I won’t fling my bra or flash my boobs at Skrillex: because as the 80’s song says, “some things hurt more, much more, than cars and girls.” And bouncing around braless at age 39, with 2 years of breastfeeding in your past, definitely qualifies as one of those things.

I won’t wear anything I need a Brazilian for

I suppose there’s always the option of throwing panties instead of bras. But that’s only sexy if they’re made of sunshine and silk. Unfortunately I moved from fun to functional in the underwear department years ago. If it can’t go in the washing machine then it can’t come into the house. There was a stage when I had the time to lovingly hand-wash my delicates in lemon-scented soap. That was back when I didn’t yet know that Barney loved me … or that I loved him too. Back before I knew the joys of eating the gobby bolus my two year old spat into my hand because the art gallery we were in at the time didn’t consider dustbins modern or arty enough to feature. Back when I could still pee in peace without the Elf Lord on the other side of the door begging me to help him punch in the cheat codes on his new xbox game.

In other words, back when Skrillex was still in nursery school.

As matter stand now though, I have a choice of assorted colourful but comfortable (slightly faded by my fabulous washing machine) Woolworths’ panties. Not the sexy teeny tiny kind; the type that comes in packs of five in a cut no-doubt designed to double as birth control.

39 going on 21

Ejecting Skrillex from my laptop – in favour of someone I once owned on vinyl – I’m thinking that I lost I decade somewhere. 39 has arrived suspiciously quickly! And although my body apparently got the memo that I’m getting older, and responded with the unlikable haste of that hand-waving kid at the front of the class; my mind is still dawdling along, peeling a popped chewing gum bubble off her nose and imagining that time is meandering slowly in her wake.

The possibility that our minds exist in a different reality and time-stream from our bodies is one of those strange temporal phenomenon that quantum physicists are working to unravel. In our teens and early twenties our minds are years older than our bodies. And then at some point our minds get caught in a forever-young time loop and our bodies surge ahead at warp speed. Right now my mind is happily weighing up the pros and cons of blue versus silver body glitter and marrying either George Michael or Freddy Mercury.

The two worlds only collide for brief moments when, for example, I face the terror that is the change room mirror. Or when Skrillex is in town.

Don’t call me mommy

This makes me wonder if there’s really a chance of me braving a Skrillex concert; other than to drop my son off I mean. And I suppose not. There’s always the embarrassing possibility of a bouncer singling me out and leading me quietly backstage; not because Skrills wants me in his dressing room, but because they have moral issues with adults taking pics of the kids.

Argh, why I am even agonising over this? Skrillex isn’t even my type! I usually apportion my groupie love based on beautifully written lyrics. If a song has less than 30 words and a fair percentage are bleeped out, then you didn’t really “write” a song did you? You scored some music. (Possibly, along with some high-quality narcotics.) You know what I mean right baby, baby, baby, oh, like baby, baby, baby, oh? Still, there’s something about this cute boy with a half-shaved head, geek glasses and piercings that makes me want to dance like no one’s watching and slip the word “bangarang” into sentences.

Rest your guitar on the zimmer frame

So in an effort to coerce my body and mind into occupying more or less the same time and space, I’ve decided to stick to bands I listened to when I was 16. Back when bras were an optional extra and panties looked like dental floss. And if I see them live and I’m in the Golden Circle the only thing I’ll flash is a smile. And I’ll throw something better than a bra onstage; maybe liniment rub or corn plasters. Then maybe I’ll come home, let my 21 year old dance topless, make sure my 39 year old self has the presence of mind to close the blinds, and let both of them play the music so bleep, bleep, bleep-bleeping loud that the neighbours complain about the bangarang!

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.

13.4: I’m Gonna Lick You Like a Lollipop!

When you’re lifting overhead, every extra 1kg weighs about the same as a bear … juggling Atlas stones … on the back of an elephant.

So this morning when the 13.4 CrossFit Open workout (45kg clean and jerks plus toe-to-bars) was unleashed like a virus it spread fear and panic of epidemic proportions.

45 Kilograms is heavy! Luckily so am I, so I might make the lifts. But if I do then I’ll need to haul my very ample ass up to the rig for toes-to-bar. It’s going to be an interesting and expletive filled 7 minutes.

I was feeling nervous about it this morning. And when I get nervous the little voice in my head bitches like a snotty teenager. So it’s surprising that I heard Antoinette over all that mental-door slamming and foot-stamping when she said: “Forget about the weight.”

Damn these thoughts are heavy

She’s right of course! It’s what Andrew, our Olympic lifting coach, is always saying. That you’ve got to focus on what you need to do to get the bar up and not psych yourself out focussing on how much weight is on that bar.

But it’s one of those ironies of CrossFit isn’t it? When you load the bar, the part of your brain that can count shuts down. Presumably because it’s rerouting energy to the part that deals with gross motor coordination and not losing a finger to a stack of bumper plates. (Which means you think that loading two 10kgs on a 15kg bar gives you 25kgs.) But when the bar is in your hands you’re suddenly hyper sensitive. Suddenly you’re calculating extra grams of chalk dust and lint and the exact measure by which it’s going to throw off your lift with the accuracy of a cyborg.

That weight is often much, much heavier in your mind than it is in reality. And the longer you stare at it, the more times you add up those bumpers in your mind, the heavier it gets.

So yeah, that’s what you need to do: remember everything you’ve learned about lifting and forget about the weight for a while.

I love the bar lots like Jelly Tots

Ok so what if that doesn’t help? What if no amount of thinking or crying or swearing is going to get that bar up? Here’s my plan …

Do you remember being a kid and having a toffee apple or candy cane or giant lollipop that lasted for days? Do you remember licking it until the sweetness coated your brain, then hiding it in the fridge for later? Well that’s how I’m going to take on 13.4. I’m going to get through it bit by bit.

I don’t know what that “bit” will involve. Maybe I’ll be slamming out toes-to-bar with such grace I’ll run away to join the Cirque de Soleil. Or maybe it will involve 7 minutes of enthusiastically transferring chalk from the bucket to the bar.

Either way, at the end of it I’ll have 13.4 licked! Like a lollipop! And you know what? Courage tastes just as sweet as success.

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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We Don’t DO CrossFit; We ARE CrossFit

 Smells like CrossFit

I wish we had a secret handshake. All the great and enduring cults – no of course I mean “groups” – in history have one. And we qualify as such a “group” right?

 Let’s go through the checklist I found online shall we?

    • The group displays excessively zealous commitment to its leader. Check.
    • Mind-altering practices push the body to     the extreme. Pukey says “check”
    • The group is elitist. Check. Unless we’re forging pedestrian fitness now.
    • The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality. Check. Unlikely to change unless we bring Zumba into our warmups.
    • The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members. Check. Tia and I are considering printing little leaflets saying “Have you Found CrossFit?” and handing them out at Virgin Active
    • Members devote inordinate amounts of time to the group and group-related activities. Check; I’m writing this in between practicing pull-ups from my security door.
    • Exclusive rites and ceremonies. Check. We like to call  ours “burpees”

I’m joking of course. Cult members don’t eat as much cream as we do. (Paleo; I love you.) And they don’t have our killer T-shirts.

Nope, we don’t have a secret handshake. Possibly because no one wants your bleeding palms covered in sticky Friar’s Balsam touching them. What we do have however are T-shirts. And we wear them wherever, whenever we get together with other zealots, whether in our box or not.

Why? Because CrossFit isn’t only about the WODs, it’s about the people, about our attitude, about the big values we embrace and the small things only other CrossFitters understand.

The 5 min flash lunchtime CrossFit workout

Last week someone told me she was doing CrossFit. I mean, “CrossFit”. She described her non-certified trainer and non-affiliated gym with enthusiasm while hobbling like someone who got a little extra loving from Fran. It made me angry. And sad. Angry because her coach is robbing our community. Sad because he’s robbing her of the full, true CrossFit experience.

It’s like this: you can take antioxidant pills, but you can’t duplicate the lip-puckering tartness of fresh berries staining your fingers with their sweet-sour deliciousness. You can WOD anywhere, but you can only feel the heartbeat of CrossFit in our boxes.

It is impossible till it’s not

My new CrossFit shirt arrived yesterday; it’s the ones Rika Diedericks had made when she went to the Games. In the accompanying letter she says: “CrossFit is about community and I definitely experienced this in a big way at the Regionals where it literally felt like I was being lifted through the rings by the amazing support of the CrossFitters in the arena.”

We all know what she means right? How we prove to ourselves, again and again, that we’re better and stronger than we think we are; not because we believe it but because our fellow CrossFitters do.

Maybe T-Shirts are better than a secret handshake after all because, let’s be honest, none of us are particularly secretive about this beautiful thing we’ve discovered. This thing that’s not a sport. It’s not an exercise. It’s not even a cult. In fact it’s not something you can pin down with words. It’s something you feel. Like love. Like happiness. Like power. It’s infectious and it binds all of us with our individual lives and hangups and aspirations into one magnificent community.

And it’s never, ever just something you do. It’s something you are. Something we all are.

Winners Come Last

On Wednesday Llewellyn came last in the 1200 m race at school. Dead last. Ok, 2nd last if you also count the girls. He calls it his “Amazing Athletic Achievement”. It was the greatest sporting moment of his 11-year-old life.

Until Tuesday Llewellyn had only barely ever made it around the field twice. So my advice as the day of the big race dawned with pleas to turn my writing talents to sick notes with exotic sounding diseases hinting at quarantine was this: just walk it. I did when I was in school and any mental scars I have, have nothing to do with strolling along at a leisurely pace chatting to Cheryl as we were lapped by the runners in the next race. And the one after that.

Drawing the blank stare that I’ve come to understand is the  body-language equivalent for “I hear you but I’m ignoring you” or maybe even “Dear lord please don’t let me have inherited her genes”; I delivered the advice repeatedly in the car. At an escalating volume. Llew responded by gleaning wisdom from Eminem. Also at escalating volume.

And so it was that when he finally took to the field, hopped on the truck load of sugar I only ever supply when he’s in someone else’s care for the day, he did so without a thought to anything I’d said. As he explained afterwards; “I went in with a strategy.” The first part of the strategy was this: “I decided I wouldn’t run fast.” Sure, not common racing practice, but Llewellyn knew he wouldn’t come first; so he set his sights on finishing. It’s that decision that inspired the second part of his strategy: “I just found a pace and I stuck to it till the very end.”

And that is Llewellyn’s “Amazing Athletic Achievement”; he persevered until he reached his goal; one that for him seemed out of reach until the moment he crossed the finish line.

As I listened to him recounting his victory again last night I thought of a shirt my CrossFit coach Imtiaz wears, on the back it says “ME VS ME”. I needed a shirt to tell me something Llew knows instinctively; that it’s never about how far ahead of the pack I am. It’s not about where my career is compared to everyone else, how much higher my child’s marks are at school; how good my bank account looks relative to my friends’. It’s about whether or not I’m moving towards the finish line, one step at a time, at my own pace, celebrating my Amazing Achievements every step of the way.

I doubt Llewellyn even knows who came first in the race. But he knows how it feels to win it. In fact he even has it as his BBM status: “I finished my 1200m race yesterday.” Which is why, for the past 2 nights, when I’ve tucked him into bed, I havent heard the quiet ramblings of a Zombie Killer, but the whispered musings of a champion.

That’s my little boy; he’s my hero.

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