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Archive for April, 2013|Monthly archive page

High Stakes and MIStakes

In Training on April 16, 2013 at 8:26 pm

Right now, I’m teaching the short story in my creative writing class. Fiction is my favorite unit; it’s my genre, I’m comfortable with it, and I feel like I have actual kernels of experiential wisdom to share with my students. The mistakes I see beginning writers make are all ones I recognize from my own initial stumblings; they’re not even so much “mistakes” as just a necessary part of the learning process.

When I respond to student rough drafts, I find myself asking “What’s at stake?”

I often see stories on either end of the spectrum– ones that are all risk and ones that are afraid to take risk. In the first category, there are narratives of high-speed-car-chases after an airplane crash after the protagonist lost his starcrossed lover to brain cancer. In the second, nothing happens. The writer has created a nice, pleasant character who lives a nice, pleasant life and is sometimes even too attached to this character and her nice life to dare damage it. Worse yet– conflict is hard to write… you have to shape the tension, mold it into something productive, and figure out how to resolve it.

It took me years, and I’m still learning, but I began to balance the stakes in my short stories– to take measured risks without letting the narrative run away from me on the page. In life… it’s harder.

A cue every coach has given me over and over again is: “explode.” More power. More force. More commitment. As the Marine said– I kip like a pussy. I do everything a bit too timidly. I’ve spent my life in a body I’ve never trusted– that’s failed me often, that’s always been a little weak, a little broken, prone to injury and mishaps and genetic slips. My parents explained that they actually never wanted children because the genetic cocktail of chronic, hereditary conditions would just be too awful (true story– makes a kid feel wonderful, too).

For this reason, I’ve been hesitant to put anything at “stake” in my CrossFitting. I don’t compete. I don’t like to perceive of myself as competing. I want to not care. I want to just enjoy. But I’m not good at not caring. And, of course my ambitions of becoming a coach necessarily put something at stake in my abilities and achievements in the gym. But I’ve told myself to be patient with that… to accept this as a long journey. But… it’s also been nearly two years and I wanted to take a larger step– a bigger risk, a larger investment, in the blind hopes of reaping bigger gains.

I wrote that post a little while ago about finally starting to work one-on-one with a coach. For me, this “exploded” the stakes. The fact that someone else is invested in my progress– that someone else puts thought and work into my ability–suddenly makes it matter. In many ways, it’s been good for me. For the past two weeks… I’ve been absolutely diligent about every aspect of my training– moving when I’m supposed to move, resting absolutely when I’m supposed to rest. Stretching, foam rolling, hydrating regularly. I follow a diet plan that’s both time consuming and tedious, but I’ve stuck to it and had much more consistent energy and strength levels. But damn it, I cared. And when I care, I fuck up.

This morning, I was supposed to perform a max effort deadlift– to find my five rep max. I shot for 200lbs, which would have been a 5lb PR, which would’ve been roughly 2x bodyweight for 5 reps. I made it four reps in… Past-Jo would have let the bar rest and stepped back. Safe-Jo-who’s-trying-not-to-care would have admitted defeat and tried again another day. Stupid-J0-who-cares-before-she-thinks tried for a fifth rep. Near the top of the lift, I felt a pop in my lower back. I immediately dropped the weight, then dropped to the floor and lied there as my lower back spasmed.

I sent Scotchy, my morning lifting buddy, to find Jefe, who came in and asked me if I could stand. And honestly, at that point I hadn’t even turned or moved my legs because I was scared to try. Everything felt shaky and sore, and I couldn’t tell if it was from the extreme abuse to which I just subjected my central nervous system, or if I’d seriously injured myself– the very reason that heavy deadlifts have always scared me: their ability to seriously fuck you up.

When I do max-effort deadlifts, I regularly experience a momentary vertigo after I release the bar. The first time I lifted 235, my vision blacked out for a good two seconds. I’ve attributed this to just the severe exertion your body puts into picking up and putting down that much weight. So, while I lay there trembling, too disoriented to know what hurt, I had no way to gauge how badly I was injured. Eventually, when I pried myself off the ground, Scotchy, Jefe, and I surmised that I was okay-ish. Disorientedly, I tottered home and informed the Coach that I had fucked up, and apologized, and felt terrible for failing. I iced my back. The Scotchness, in his ever-wonderfulness, delivered me ice packs since I was trying to soothe my back with a package of frozen butternut squash.

For the rest of the day, my back hurt enough that I didn’t want to risk walking to campus. I made a doctor’s appointment. I iced and gently stretched and iced and laid down to take the strain off my back. I stretched some more and I panicked that I had seriously screwed up– that I had taken a promising development in my life and training and just thrown myself backwards by at least a good few months. My poor students sat through an hour of me grimacing and trying to explain narrative technique before I walked to the university health services.

A blessing: the doctor told me I didn’t show signs of nerve damage. He prescribed me anti-inflammatory painkillers and sent me home with instructions to stretch some more and ice some more. I basically spent the entire day alternating between ice, rest, and stretches, praying pretty desperately that twelve hours of mobility could compensate for a second of piss-poor judgement. I spoke with the Coach and she had her usual soothing effect. She reassured me that she was with me for this, no matter what… that we would rebuild my deadlift from the basics. She also  gave me a small admonishment that I need to ensure that someone is making sure I’m safe since she can’t be here to watch me. It never occurred to me that I should have a coach watching my form on heavy deads, but… well, duh.

After going to bed early, I woke up feeling miraculously better (*knock on wood*). The pain in my legs had disappeared and the aching of my back had reduced to recognizable soreness– a familiar, day-after-deadlifting feeling rather than the surreal, nervous-system panic attack I’d been experiencing all day in which I couldn’t deduce where the pain was coming from or how to dull it. The Coach wants me to take it day by day this week… each morning I’ll notify her with how I’m feeling and she’ll update me on whether or not I’m allowed to train and what movements to do/avoid. Today, I did a WOD of rope climbs and wall-balls, and took it at more of a walking pace. Afterwards, I iced and stretched and rolled some more.

I’m hoping for a speedy recovery. I’m hoping that this episode is just a bad scare and will be another lesson learned. I struggle with the fine line between recklessness and being a “pussy.” I never know when to risk or retreat. Sometimes I abstain from that last rep and wonder later if I could have gotten it… But this time I definitely should have stepped back. My biggest takeaway from this, however, is that I want to fix my deadlift form once and for all. Jefe has observed that my back arches whether I’m lifting 235 or 100. I have no idea why… I can’t even really feel the shift. I set up in the proper position and then my spine always pops up before the weight leaves the ground.

But the silver lining to this whole ordeal is that a wealth of fantastic resources have popped out of the woodwork. The Coach has a friend who trains out of Hershey and suggests that I visit his facility when I can so he can help me with my form. Another friend via the CrossFit networks, who’s an experienced powerlifter and powerlifting coach, trains in Virginia and has invited me to his facility as well. And, locally, an experienced trainer has also graciously offered his expertise. I’m surprised and touched and grateful for everyone’s time and generosity– obviously, I need the help, but these people certainly have better things and more important people to whom to devote their time.

Hopefully I will learn and grow from this and “pass it on,” and someday be able to apply my experience and wisdom to another scrawny chick trying to overcome her own damn smallness. Hopefully, I will become a better, more patient athlete. Hopefully  will learn to temper my eagerness and expectations (and fear of others’ expectations) with wisdom and maturity. I raised the stakes because I believed I could rise to the occasion. In order to do that, I need to remain calm… level-headed. I need to accept small setbacks and keep the larger goal in mind.

The next few days will reveal the severity of my screw-up. At least I’ve learned from the box jump ordeal enough to consult a doctor immediately, to rest, to actively promote recovery through nutrition and mobility. Thank you, everyone, for your concern. I apologize for the scare– I terrified myself a bit too much for a moment there. Here’s hoping your days have been much more peaceful.


In Uncategorized on April 13, 2013 at 8:00 pm

This was not the post I intended to write today. In fact, I did not intend to write a post today– or tomorrow, or probably in the next week as I attempt to keep my head above the insurmountable tide of deadlines and meetings and responsibilities, and how-am-I-supposed-to-be-an-adult-nesss. The day’s been chaotic and somehow I’ve managed to not even sit at my desk and it’s already nearly 8:00pm. BUT I’m writing a post. Why? Because I’m pissed.

I suppose that’s not entirely accurate. I’m overwhelmed.

Today, our box hosted the third annual Warrior Games– a yearly event to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project, to commemorate a truly inspirational hero by performing the “Murph.” I love this event– it’s, in many ways, the embodiment of everything I love about our community at the box. It gathers a supportive, passionate, motley amalgam of misfits for a good cause. Every year, we get together, raise (and experience) a little hell, and celebrate an exceptional man while attracting attention and resources to a good cause.

This year was a rousing success and an improvement on its predecessors. The PSU veteran’s organization, and the box, and all their efforts raised twice what the event did last year. I’ve never seen the box so full, and the air– even this cold, drizzly Saturday morning– was electric. Again, PSUVO and LionHeart moved me with the spirit and strength of a community– how a passionate few could become a powerhouse many… how a small idea can erupt into an astounding achievement.

I want to congratulate and thank again all the wonderful people at LionHeart and at PSUVO and Omega Delta Sigma who put together the event and ensured that it ran so smoothly.

Mostly, I’m so proud and grateful that I know these people and that I’ve had a chance to be a small part of the Warrior Games. But also, today I overheard a conversation that disgusts me. One that seems to spit in the face of all these individuals and their diligence– that disrespects the day and all it was meant to honor. Now, there were a lot of people at the box today– many of whom came from far reaches of the city, state, and country to participate so I don’t want to cast judgement on individuals that I don’t know… Even still, the conversation enrages me. So much that I can’t stop thinking about it.

A couple people were discussing the day’s “prizes.” Of course, it was a CrossFit event so there was a competitive element. Usually this is part of the day’s fun… just to add to the excitement and energy. However, these people were talking about the competition. How it’s all about the competition. How if you didn’t participate to  compete, you weren’t doing it right and might as well not do it at all… How they regretted not strategizing better so they could have “beaten” other participants– so they could “kick everyone else’s ass.” But the thing these people missed entirely was that… the “other participants” wouldn’t have given a shit if they got their “asses kicked.” In fact, all the wonderful, supportive people in that box would’ve freaking cheered you on to kick their ass harder– if you had it in you. Yeah, there’s a time and place for competition. There’s fun in it too. But today, that box, among veterans and students and teachers and athletes and beautiful souls who had donated money, time, and sheer heart to honor a man’s absolute selflessness… today was not the time. That box, our box, was not that place. And I feel freaking violated to have overheard such disrespect. And I’m furious that they would try to take away from others’ experience and participation by disparaging those who chose a half-Murph, or a quarter-Murph, who scaled the movements… or just attended and supported the event in any way.

That is all.

Again, thank you to LionHeart, PSUVO, and Omega Delta Sigma. Congratulations to all the participants who took part in the event– who, for a punishing hour of their day– were part of something bigger– a collective act of respect, of honor, of integrity. Remember that feeling, and don’t let the selfish, the narrow-minded, and those wretched with their own smallness drag you down.

Small, but LionHearted

In General on April 8, 2013 at 11:20 pm

Another CrossFit Open has come and gone. A few of my friends are deservingly bound for regionals, as are a host of my favorite athletes (to stalk via the Twitters, BookFaces, and all such internet creepinesses). But the most remarkable thing for me this year is Team LionHeart, which has placed 29th in the Mid-Atlantic and should qualify for regionals. Less than two years ago, I attended CrossFit LionHeart’s Grand Opening day. I was one of five class attendees, and the only one in the room who didn’t know a coach or the owner beforehand. We did push-ups and med-ball squats on the twenty-square-feet of open space we had, relegated to a bit of open floor between rusted machines and the front desk. In two years, CrossFit LionHeart has evolved just phenomenally. It has proven to me what a business, a facility, and a community can achieve with hard work and dedication. The machines vacated our box, and those twenty square feet doubled, tripled, and sprawled to eventually house a fully equipped Rogue rig, a fleet of Concept 2’s, a collection of wall balls and barbells and slam balls and sandbags. Members contributed from their personal collections– weight vests, plates, a prowler, a reverse hyper. We got a few GHDs. Our coaches acquired more certifications, sought out and learned from experts in kettlebell, gymnastics, and olympic lifting. LionHeart quickly flourished, recruiting nearly 100 loyal members before the end of the year.

Since, then the gym has evolved. It’s moved to a new facility with even more resources. It has lost a few old coaches and members and gained new ones. But at its core is the will and hunger for improvement– for supporting and creating athletes who return time and again to challenge themselves. 

My favorite part of the Open has been witnessing the community come together. I love seeing the box filled on a Friday evening, with people staying around long after their workouts to cheer others on– lingering to help clean up, to discuss their experiences, to trade tips and battle scars. I’ve also enjoyed seeing admirable work come to fruition. Little over a year ago, Zebrapants wandered into the gym and asked, “So… I’ve heard about this thing called CrossFit.” Now he’s ranked seventeenth in the region. He placed in the top ten in three of the Open workouts, despite suffering a bout of strep throat in the middle of the Open. In the past year, I’ve seen him devote his life to this world– disciplining his work habits, his training patterns, his eating and sleep routine all to optimize his development and recovery. All while finishing his college degree.

In fact, the remarkable thing about all of Team LionHeart is that it’s not a hulking mass of professional athletes. I’ve been to some of the top gyms in this country. I’ve met and been awed by people who live and breathe CrossFit– who coach, then train, then rest, and train some more. But Team LionHeart is made up of students, of professionals, of teachers and engineers and cubicle-dwellers who serve their nine-to-five and then decompress at the gym. Many of our coaches, who possess between them a staggering assemblage of knowledge and experience, began their fitness careers with the opening of LionHeart. Together, they remind me that the small can be mighty. I’ve been disheartened by the way some of the CrossFit community has taken the Open– using it as an opportunity to hurl accusations at successful athletes, to cheat movements and reps, to become tunnel-visioned in competitiveness so that they lose sight of that original impulse for self-improvement. Amid all that chaos, watching Zebrapants train and inspire others, watching Jefe manage the scheduling calculus necessary to keep the gym running, seeing the Cyborg choreograph a team of powerful yet inexperienced competitors… it reminds me of the positive in competition– how it can bring us together, how it can ignite the spirit and fuel camaraderie. I hope to see more such inspiration as the Games progress.