Thursday, September 30, 2010

What Are You Waiting For?

Something happens to girls when they hit their "tween" years. It's a painfully dramatic switch that seems to occur at that crucial moment they turn ten, eleven, twelve years old. After years and years of working with young female athletes, you'd think I'd be ready for it and yet it still never fails to shock day they are nine and telling me they're going to rule the world and the next, they are ten and telling me they "CAN'T".

Last year, I started paying more attention to this phenomenon. I was coaching a large handful of girls all turning twelve and thirteen that same year. They were upper level gymnasts and all had been competing and training at my gym with me for several years. They were energetic, confident, smart, talented little girls who bounded into the gym every afternoon-- eager to train, eager to work, and eager to see what they could accomplish. They were polite, supportive of one another, respectful of me and my coaching, and the vibe in the gym---positive! Then, one day, it happened. One of them showed up wearing dark, black, thick eyeliner. The next day, another showed up with her hair falling carelessly over her eyes. And then, seemingly overnight, the conversation went from how quickly they could finish their workout and move on to elite skills to the boy that texted something to someone and now they don't like so and so because so and so kissed the other boy...etc, etc. My days went from spotting, teaching, and motivating to confiscating cell phones and writing rules up about makeup and appropriate workout gear. But even more worrisome was the shift in confidence. Suddenly, the very same girls who gloated the year before about how they could beat all the boys in their class at pushups and rope climbs in P.E. , were now telling me that they were embarrassed to have muscles! A couple of them even started slacking off during strength work because they claimed the boys thought they looked "fat" and "ugly". Wow.

It was discouraging and disappointing for me to watch these young girls fall prey to everything I DIDN'T stand for and had worked so hard to prevent in my gym. So I decided to look outside the box. I took a look at myself at that age and realized that of course, this change is nothing
new. Most of us go through this same dramatic shift in our preteen years, when the self-criticism creeps in and takes over. It's when the fearless, invincible child who can do ANYTHING, suddenly wakes up and NOTHING is same. Bodies are changing, hormones are fluctuating, and minds are racing and questioning everything about the world known before. Enter DOUBT.

One Saturday I decided to forgo normal practice at the gym and told the girls to meet me for a hike at one of our popular hiking spots in town. There was much moaning and groaning in the beginning...mostly about how early it was and how tired they were and how stupid they thought it was to have to wear running shoes with socks instead of flip flops. We got to the bottom of what some of the locals call "Hell's Hill" extremely difficult ascent that climbs nearly a quarter mile out of a small canyon. "Do we seriously have to hike up there?" they asked. "No." I said, "you have to RUN up there!" WHAT? Oh, but there was more. Once they got up to the top, I had something waiting for them. A challenge, of sorts.
I handed out little notebooks and pens to each of them. On the first page of their notebook, I explained that they had to write down something they've always wanted to do, but were either afraid to try it or didn't think they could do it. Then, they had to leave the notebook at the top of the hill and walk back down to the base. At the bottom, they had to decide how to get back up to their notebook...and they could get up that hill ANY way that they wanted, except walk. They could run, cartwheel, crawl, hop, whatever...they just had to get there and get to their notebook. Once they got to the top, they had to write down another goal or task, head back down the hill and do it all over again for a total of FIVE ascents. At first there was apprehension, defiant remarks, whining, and an overall negative reaction to this challenge. But then it got interesting. They started to take it seriously! They got quiet, took their time thinking about what they were writing, and then got creative in the way they got to the top of the hill. One girl ran BACKWARDS up the hill, another did cartwheels, another sprinted. Regardless...they DID it. And though they
were ridiculously tired in the end, they were PROUD and INSPIRED. We talked about what kinds of things they had written...things like "skydiving", "ask a boy to the school dance", "swim in the ocean", "become a famous singer"...and the reasons that they were afraid to try these things. We talked about why getting up that hill to reach those "goals" was important in showing how possible it really is. "Did you think, at first that you'd ever be able to cartwheel the entire way up that hill?" No. But you DID. What's to stop you from anything else?

While it's true that these kinds of activities are so obviously crucial in reaching out and communicating with this age group, I realize more and more that we can ALL benefit from taking a look at what holds us back as adults from going after things we want in our lives. Self-DOUBT is something we all battle and the fear that accompanies the doubt might be even more prevalent as we get older and so set in our daily routines. I'm the first to admit...even as the self-proclaimed "Gutsy Girl" and adrenaline junkie, that I get nervous about change from time to time. And there are a LOT of things I want to do, but might be a little (or a lot) fearful to try. But here's the thing...I don't know how much time I have left on this earth. I don't know what's going to happen tomorrow. And I don't want something unpreventable to happen that will leave me REGRETFUL of not going after what I want. So, like my tween gymnasts, I wrote down some of those things I'd like to do. And RIGHT NOW I have all the potential to do these things. Nothing is stopping me. Except ME. So here's what I'm going to do: I'm going to whittle away at my list.

Where's YOUR list?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Perfection and Patience

Today I was reminded, once again, that I am NOT, in fact, perfect. Try as I might--I simply cannot achieve perfection. This is a very difficult lesson for me and one that I've continued to struggle with my entire life. My family is full of overachievers and though my parents never expected their children to be anything short of hard-working, hard-playing, happy people, I still managed to develop a somewhat ridiculously ambitious expectation that whatever I did in life, I'd better be GREAT at it. And not just great...PERFECT. Yep, I am the classic Type A, overly-competitive perfectionist. I do not go into any task without going at it 110%. And if that means I'm faced with some healthy competition or even a bit of adversity along the way...all the better!

I've had some great success with most of the sports I've tried. And a lot of that I attribute to my obsession with competition and perfection. I am an internally ANGRY athlete. Well... I'll admit I know this doesn't sound particularly positive, and perhaps a better description would be that I'm full of a lot of "fury" or "fire" when I'm training or competing. Regardless, it moves at a steady, rolling boil within me, pushing me to do better than the person next to me, or if I'm performance from last time. I don't usually APPEAR angry, because truthfully, I'm having a BLAST! I function best when I'm fueled by this competition, whether internal or not.

Now, while I realize my perseverance and motivation is a healthy, often appreciated trait, it's also important to admit that it has brought some very unhealthy, negative consequences. Lots of injuries. And let's face it...I've sometimes become self-critical, self-loathing, and eventually torn away at the very parts of me I'm proud of--my confidence and self-esteem.

Lately, in my quest to find more and more challenging adventures, I have come across some things that well...KICK MY ASS! Things that leave me questioning my abilities as an athlete, and humbling me on my ridiculous quest for perfection. A couple of years ago, a friend of mine tried to get me to go to a Crossfit workout. I had just completed a 50K trail race and was planning on entering my first 50 miler three months from then. My focus was completely on running...and ONLY running. My friend, also an ultrarunner, told me that she had recently started attending these Crossfit workouts to supplement her running. She claimed that it was going to boost her running fitness levels because it focused on strength and muscle endurance. Unfortunately, she told me that it involved lifting weights. Weights were an absolute NO for me. I was certain that lifting weights would never build true functional strength the way that using body weight (relative strength) could. So I continued with my own regimen of pullups, pushups, plyometric circuit training, confident that I was right and she (and all the other crossfitters out there) was wrong. Hmmmm....she failed to tell me that Crossfit has a foundation of gymnastics. That it balances a regimen of relative strength work AND not "lifting weights" but "WEIGHTLIFTING"...real olympic lifting that involves, I can't believe I'm saying this...TRUE FUNCTIONAL STRENGTH! Yes, I was admittedly wrong. Anyway, it took an injury to my achilles, that prevented me from running altogether, for me to finally agree to try Crossfit. And that's when I got my ass kicked. Over and Over and Over. But I LOVE it. And I love that it's hard for me. Here's a little video about what Crossfit entails.'s THAT crazy! (Now you know why I like it...)

What I don't love is that I'm not GREAT at it. YET. Oh yeah, I'm still going to go at it 110%. But meantime, I'm learning a LOT about patience. Today I set a goal on a specific lift and didn't reach it. I needed HELP on my last attempt and I don't think my trainer knows me well enough yet to know that it was completely unacceptable to me to fail at that today. She probably didn't see how furious I was or the fact that I was already thinking about how I'd need to spend hours on that particular lift to master it (by next week. Ha ha). No...what she DID do was say, "Hey, everyone has a hard day every now and then. Happens to all of us." Oh. There it was again...that PATIENT thing.

The thing is, I might NEVER be amazing at crossfit. But I WILL try. The key is to remember that it's a process and rather than let the moments of difficulty discourage me, instead, let them continue to MOTIVATE me to set goals and work hard to achieve them. I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting perfection, wanting to excel, and wanting to win. What's wrong is not allowing myself to fail at times. Patience is difficult. But when I have embraced it, I usually find the end result to be much more rewarding...and lasting.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Truth About STRONG...

I am not Skinny. Never have been. I'm STRONG. I am a female with muscles, thick thighs, and broad shoulders. I do not look like a man. I look like a woman who takes care of herself and prides herself on being healthy. I am proud of my body, my energy, my strength, and my confidence. I am closer to 40 than 30 and I'm in better health now than I have ever been and certain it will continue to get better! But truthfully, it has taken me a long time to believe this. For a few years, I was terribly misguided by a gymnastics coach (who shall remain nameless) who told me to go home and lose several pounds before returning to the gym. This, you can imagine, led to some horrible decisions that took me down a road of incredibly unhealthy behavior that took years to overcome and build myself back to a healthy state. Thankfully, somewhere along the line, I made the very wise decision to surround myself with STRONG people. I'm talking about super-strong, super-healthy, super-fit, super-confident, super-FUN people that defy the norm and the negative, unhealthy images and ways of life that mainstream media shoves in our faces every day. These are the people that motivated me, inspired me, and educated me in the value of taking care of myself. But it is certainly a long, tedious road to understanding this valuable lesson. In my over twenty years of coaching gymnastics and working with young girls, I have found that the negative body image talk starts earlier and earlier. Sadly, it's not uncommon to hear a six year old say she "feels fat". In my gym, we are ALL about building self-esteem, self-confidence, and positive body images. We talk about being strong, building fitness levels, and fueling our bodies with good food for optimal performance. We do not talk about losing weight, or changing our bodies into something unhealthy in order to impress judges or win competitions. And still, these girls can't escape. It's everywhere. And it's discouraging. Still...there are small triumphs. One day, I asked the girls to look at some pictures. Random pictures of female models, actresses, musicians, athletes, etc. Many of the photos were of well-known celebrities, but some were not. I asked them to identify the images of the females they most wanted to look like. I asked them to identify which females looked the healthiest. It surprised me that almost all of the girls (over 20 of them!) didn't want to look like Hannah Montana or Angelina Jolie or some of the models in the pictures. Instead, they were drawn to the images of the random female athletes, claiming these women and girls looked "beautiful" and "strong" and "healthy". So I took out another photo. It was their team photo. I told them to take a good look at themselves in the photo. What did they see? I told them to look back at the photos of those beautiful, strong, healthy girls and women they so much admired. What did they see? And it was then that the comparisons were made and the happy realization that these girls were just as beautiful, strong and healthy as the girls and women in the images! Aahhhh....PROGRESS!

And there's more and more progress out there! Finally, websites, Facebook pages, and even retail ads are ditching their typical unhealthy, anorexic models and replacing them with images of strong, muscular, healthy people! Check out the new Nike ads...this is very, very cool! For those of us over the age of 30, who grew up thinking women shouldn't build muscle the way that men do...that it took away from the feminine quality that we are "expected" to uphold...
the time has come to CHANGE that old crap! Again, I say, take a look around you. Make some educated, truly objective observations about the health of the people in your life...or yourself.

What looks healthy to you? What looks CONFIDENT to you? Are you disgusted by the images of women who look strong, and healthy and confident? Or do they inspire you? STRONG is the new skinny. Strong is the new sexy. Strong is a balance, a way of life, a way of feeling, a way of inspiring, a way of conquering old, negative talk and instead, obtaining an enormous amount of positive gifts you can't get from a skinny, unhealthy way of life. And the truth is.... good health, confidence, energy, power, assertiveness, self-esteem, happiness--these qualities lead to the ultimate STRONG gift. Quality of LIFE! Who doesn't want THAT?

AND...How about the MEN out there? What images are beautiful to YOU? How do you feel about STRONG women? How would YOU describe a STRONG woman?

Friday, September 3, 2010

No...this isn't the official first post. It's me, procrastinating!

As most of you know, I've been developing Gutsy Girls Adventures--a company that seeks to empower women and girls to take risks, develop confidence, and make healthy life choices through experiential, risk-taking activities. This company is still in it's crawling stage, but meantime, as the visionary behind the company, I've decided to declare myself the "Original Gutsy Girl" and start a blog about the crazy adventures (and misadventures) I'm experiencing. And those of you who know me well...know that I'm never short on looking for the next, new, exciting, and sometimes RIDICULOUS feat. But this isn't all about's about YOU too. And maybe a little inspiration to push the fear aside, take a risk, and challenge yourself to do something you never thought possible! I'm just the guinea pig.

First blog will be unveiled SOON!