“Happy Birthday to Me”

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Janet originally wrote this post on her 60th birthday, and we are re-publishing it two years later on her 62nd birthday with an addendum. Read on:

I grew up in a part of the country and a time where there were few opportunities for women to play sports.  Girls whose families belonged to country clubs played tennis and swam, but at my large Midwest high school (4000 students!)  there was not a single competitive athletic team for girls.

By the spring of my senior year, change was in the air: one of my friends dared to wear pants to school instead of a skirt; we organized for the very first Earth Day.  It was a great time to be heading off to college. There, in the early ‘70’s, along with other young people of my generation, I took up hiking and backpacking.   We were eager to “get back to the land.”  People started to “jog.” I got a ten-speed bike.

By the ‘80’s I was married, had babies, and my life became more circumscribed. In an effort to lose pregnancy weight, I bounced on a little trampoline in my living room along to Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A.  Eventually, I started going to a gym and, once again in step with the times, took up aerobics—wearing the requisite purple sports bras, leg warmers, and headbands.

And then in the ‘90’s, with the zest of someone whose kids can finally walk to the bus stop by themselves, I took up my career.  For the next 12 years or so, I did no exercise at all.  I was stimulated by new professional challenges and staying slim was easy, because I was often too busy to eat breakfast or lunch.

On my 58th birthday, my brother who is a physician called to offer some unsought and hard-to-hear advice: “You’re going to start losing your balance like mom if you don’t start moving,” he said.  “It is not going to be pretty.”  In fact, I had already started to notice little changes, like my step being unsteady as I got out of bed in the morning. I remember sitting in my car, cell phone in hand, reflecting on what I considered to be the unappealing choices available to me: walk (boring); aerobics (I don’t think they do it anymore); yoga (ho hum).

457498_10151054971173499_249774983_oIn the meantime, my co-worker, Carolyn M., had been talking to me incessantly about something called Crossfit.  I hemmed and hawed on the phone with Joanna about my special circumstances, how busy I was, blah, blah, blah.  Thank goodness she was patient with me and finally, in November of 2010, I walked into my first On-Ramp class.  I recall seeing a young woman with a ponytail flipping herself up and at a high bar over and over again and thinking, “What the hell am I doing here?”

I could hardly run twice around the parking lot that first class, but my fellow “On-Rampers” cheered me to finish. That night I slept like a child, my body infused with the delicious fatigue I remembered feeling after playing outside on long summer evenings.

Maybe that sums it up in a nutshell: I come to Santa Rosa Strength and Conditioning to do things I didn’t think I could do, in the company of really fun, supportive people and afterwards, I feel great.  Nothing in the world beats the feeling of collapsing onto the floor after a particularly demanding WOD, heart pounding, delivered of worry and stress, and yielded up to the fullness of the effort.  Now, when I step out of bed in the morning, my foot is firm on the floor and I’m aware of my core and my body in space.

For the first ten months, I was terrified before every class.  I was afraid to jump up to the bar, jump onto a box, or get upside down.  I could not imagine climbing a rope.  My knees buckled when I was squatting any kind of weight and the notion of “getting under the bar” was very mysterious.

One-and-a-half years into my new life with SRSC, on my 60th birthday, I got the best present ever.  The coaches allowed me to help create a WOD based on multiples of 6’s and 10’s of things I could not do 18 months earlier. My fellow SRSC members sang Happy Birthday while I did a handstand for 60 seconds–another of those things I couldn’t do before.  Thank you…

I’m often still nervous before a class, but generally, as soon as I get to the gym and start doing squat waves while chatting with good friends, the nervousness subsides and I’m just happy to be there.

In 1973, Helen Reddy had a hit song which my friends and I mocked at the time, but strangely enough the words come back to me now: I am strong; I am invincible; I am woman!

As I consider what there is of my “athletic history,” it’s clear that fitness trends come and go.  But that’s not what matters most at this moment in my life.  All that matters is that we are lifting heavy weights, squatting deep squats with good form, challenging ourselves, overcoming fears, making new friends and having a blast.  I can’t imagine a better way to take on my 6th decade.

*P.S. Time moves on. Today is my 62nd birthday and I’m still at SRSC. My dearest birthday wish (in addition to the usual world peace and my children’s well being, etc.) is that I am able to continue doing crossfit, strength, and conditioning into my ’80’s.  My progress has been slow and incremental but I’m still making new PR’s and conquering old fears.

Congratulations Janet, on your true commitment to your health and to yourself. It has been wonderful to be part of your journey over these years, and inspiring to all of us see the continual gains and accomplishments that come from your hard work. Here’s to several more decades of finding your inner badass! – Joanna