“You Can’t Get to Courage without Walking Through Vulnerability”


Coach was asking me questions last night trying to understand fat girl thinking (OK, he called it mindset and mentality – but I haven’t had coffee yet) and what enabled me to change so he can better work with people like me in the future.   I did a terrible job explaining it – asking an introvert an unexpected personal question in front of people they don’t know is never going to have a good outcome.  But with a little coffee (maybe more than a little) and some music and the stillness of the morning, my real thoughts…

The number of people who go from fat to thin, and stay there, statistically rounds down to zero.   Seriously – not a single study that says otherwise.  But yet, and still…..if I start thinking about myself and a half dozen of my FB friends….on average we’ve all lost about 100 pounds each and kept it off anywhere from 2-5 +years.   That shouldn’t be possible – except for the fact that the statistics only tell part of the story and there are common threads to the stories of the people who are successful.

One of the odd questions that I sometimes get here in Hawaii is “what does a skunk smell like?”   How do you adequately describe the essence of skunk?   I’ve been giving a terrible explanation of how skunks smell  for years.   When I try to describe a migraine or an asthma attack to people who have never had them they immediately relate them to their experiences of having a headache or a bad cold and again I’m left with this void of understanding and communication.  It feels the same way when trying to describe the fear of going to the gym to someone who has always been fit.   Its not a rational fear except for the fact that fat phobia is one of the last acceptable prejudices and most obese people have many horror stories of being treated terribly both in public and in the gym.

My friend April  who lost 150 pounds would tell you that “the thought of the gym was fearfully paralyzing. The gym atmosphere ranked right up there with the 7th level of hell.”   She started walking at night because she  was too ashamed to be a fat woman walking in daylight.  My personal journey started in a physical therapy clinic where I had no choice about showing up twice a week no matter how embarrassed I was.   Actually getting into the gym on my own without any obligations and despite knowing the owner of the gym for 10 months and where I knew I was welcome….well that can only be described as an epic meltdown.   I  would drive by not having the nerve to pull into the parking lot and if I made it into the parking lot, I wouldn’t necessarily make it into the door.   Hyperventilating, stomach in knots, and a shame spiral so encompassing that I started going to the gym during the  5 am class figuring that it would be the smallest class size and I could stand in the corner  and kind of hide in the dark.   When April added her gym membership, she called and asked what the least busiest times were so she would not be seen as a fat woman working out.  Just getting in the door is a huge success.   Staying is the next challenge.

Creating a safe, non-judgemental space to stay  in the gym is important but not nearly as important as creating a spark of hope of change.     As Brene Brown wrote “Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change.”  Exercising and losing weight is not new to obese people – they’ve either tried it hundreds of times before without success or have succeeded and failed in maintenance hundreds of times before.     For me,  that spark of hope of change came from Coach Lee.  He’d been asking me to do these small, teeny tiny steps of improvement for ten months in physical therapy  - one more rep, one more movement, one more pound, one more minute.  Baby steps – but every step, every improvement had initially seemed impossible.  I burst out laughing once when he asked me to do 15 reps of leg raises  because I KNEW that he might as well ask me to jump to the moon.   His response?   Just try.  And I did the 15 reps .   My spark of hope was his belief in – “Be patient, but be persistent, you will get there” and he’d already taught me to trust him when he asked me to do impossible things.   While I was still on physical crutches, his belief that it was possible was my other crutch to lean on when I couldn’t believe in it on my own.

April describes finding that spark of hope moment so eloquently in her blog that I smile every time I read it (http://aprilhauck.blogspot.com/ )  “The man at the front was a beautiful Hispanic man. His name on the board read: Meshi. He looked so focused. And he was fit. I remember seeing the sweat pour off of him, glistening on his biceps. “Dear God, how did I end up here?!” I thought to myself as I settled into the ride and my determination, trying hard not to fret that my ass was so fat that it would block those behind me in class. My bike was set up incorrectly and he got off his to came over to help me. Class had started. I could feel myself blushing and not from exercise. I waited for the moment when his face would register that he was disgusted by how fat I was. It didn’t. He helped me, smiled and walked back to the front. I was confounded. I scrutinized this man.  I remember Meshi saying something during that class that would impact me forever:  “Sometimes I wonder why I do this.” between sweat and huffs. “And then I remember, it’s the little bits of joy. You have to find your little bits of joy.”  Those words hit me hard. I wanted joy more than anything. I wanted to be happy. I wanted freedom from the imprisonment of my body and from all the ways I had silenced my heart from actually feeling the life I was living. I knew spiritual joy yes. But I didn’t know the actual physical embodiment of it. Was this it?”   For Meshi, I’m sure he had no idea that those words were going to change April’s life – but they did.

Once the spark happens, I’m not sure how much you have to worry about the rest.   Form follows function.   Always.  Coach was asking me about the patience of losing weight and how much time it takes last night.   For the people who are successful at changing their bodies in the long term, the weight and time becomes secondary and it doesn’t matter.   The body does what it does and it doesn’t follow a prescribed time table.

The spark hopefully sets your life on fire and leads you to find  your love or passion. I don’t know anyone who has been successful with long term weight loss that “works out”.    “Working Out”  became their play – their fun, their joy.   For Marty, he fell in LOVE with dance and his definition of fun is out on the dance floor.   For April, she loves the endorphin rush of movement and teaching others her joy.   Eric fell in love with Crossfit and opened his own gym.  Willie loves to run and he travels the country running with people who became his friends.   For me, I love weightlifting and would still do it if I never PR’d another weight the rest of my life.    Changes to the body are secondary to the changes in lifestyles and thinking/mindset that come along with it.

OK….time for another cup of coffee and time to start moving this morning.   Maybe not so much a better explanation, but what can one expect on one cup of coffee?

To Seek Joy….


“To love. To be loved. To never forget your own insignificance. To never get used to the unspeakable violence and the vulgar disparity of life around you. To seek joy in the saddest places. To pursue beauty to its lair. To never simplify what is complicated or complicate what is simple. To respect strength, never power. Above all, to watch. To try and understand. To never look away. And never, never to forget.” 
― Arundhati Roy, The Cost of Living

My mother would spend entire days down at the beach watching waves, birds, and people.  She’d come home smelling like salt air and seagulls with tales of eagle attacks and the people she watched on the beach.   She watched one family enjoying the beach before gathering near the water and yell “Goodbye Sookie” into the wind while scattering Sookie’s ashes into the cold Cannon Beach waves.  Mom had been ill for a very long time and we had had many conversations about her wishes, this act of celebration at the ocean is how she wanted her ashes scattered when the time came.

I picked July 12 and 13, negative beach tides for the family to meet in Cannon Beach and say goodbye.   Negative beach tides in Cannon Beach are nothing short of magical and Mom loved them.   However, we are not a “Goodbye Sookie” kind of family.  We are the only get together in small controlled groups to avoid the implosion kind of family and maybe keep those to a once or twice a decade type thing to be on the safe side kind of family.  One can hope for the best.


I always feel closest to my Mom when I am by the water, watching the waves and the birds. I felt such overwhelming peace as I watched the sunset, listened to the violin and the drums, and set my one of 6000 lanterns into the water at the Lantern Ceremony of Hawaii.  The light of the lanterns are intended to guide the way for your loved one’s spirits….humans come from water, so the lanterns represent their bodies returning to water.   Momma would have loved and approved of the whole thing.

And I felt like I had that quiet moment that my mind needed.  I am really good in crisis mode -  power of attorney for hospitals, life flights, strokes, treatment decisions, rehab, therapists, sister being delay in surgery while Mom was in rehab, averted brain surgery, hospice, coffee ground emesis, cheyne stroking, helping clean and pack,  arranging for cremation, and family drama this past year – I can do that all in autopilot.   But my ability to handle anything in crisis mode comes at a cost of numbness afterwards that I still struggle with.

And so I surround myself with people who make me laugh.  I surround myself with people who know that life is too short so they choose happiness.   I surround myself with friends who have become family.   As someone wiser than I said, feeling blessed and thankful to be surrounded by great people.


“There comes a time in your life, when you walk away from all the drama and people who create it. You surround yourself with people who make you laugh. Forget the bad, and focus on the good. Love the people who treat you right, pray for the ones who don’t. Life is too short to be anything but happy. “
― José N. Harris

Own it.

“You either walk inside your story and own it or you stand outside your story and hustle for your worthiness.” –Brene Brown”

I miss seeing some of my friends down at the gym.   There are so many reasons to quit that I would understand –  financial  (hey, its expensive), or life got too crazy (life does that sometimes) , or I fell in love with Zumba (whatever rocks your boat), or I’m taking a break right now (that can be a healthy thing too).    But the conversation that I keep having over and over again with different people is that they quit coming because “I’m too embarrassed to come back, I’ve gained weight.”   Well my friends, put your big girl panties on and deal with it.  Put a smile on your face, own it, implement a u-turn and get your ass back to the gym.

I get it.   Truly I do.   We won’t talk about how much weight I’ve lost and regained over the past three years.  I will always be overweight until I get my eating issues under control and when under a lot of stress I tend to revert to my old eating patterns.   Finding balance is a struggle and one that I’m working on.   But here’s what I do know – right now, I weigh exactly the same as when I started Crossfit about 2.5 years ago.

Starting and Now

The picture on the right was taken about the time I started Crossfit (post 8 months of physical therapy) and the picture on the left is now.  I’m not sure if I look all that different in the two pictures, but I know that physically I am much stronger.

I suppose I could focus on the pounds I’ve regained (and I sometimes do), or that I’ve lost the ability to do a pull-up (OK, that one really annoys me), and how much running after you’ve regained weight just bites.   Backtracking is an exercise in eating humble pie.   Life happened and I did the best I could with the coping mechanisms I had and now I’m moving on and refocus.

I can focus on the 300 pound deadlift versus the 75 pounds that I started at, or my sub 8 minute 2k  erg row which was would have been an exercise of torture when I started and  would have taken nearly two minutes longer, or the stability gains from overhead squating with a PVC pipe to putting 100 pounds overhead and squatting down, or the joy of finally snatching 103 pounds after trying for so long.   Focusing on the negative doesn’t do anybody any good.  I will just continue to enjoy going and hanging out with my friends at the gym.   I will do the best I can do on any given day – some days that means lifting more or less and some days that means weighing more and less.   Either way – I know I’ll be greeted at the door with a hug from my Coaches and friends.   Only now, more than a couple of my friends are missing for no good reason and that pisses me off as much as no longer being able to do a pull-up.

Live as if you were to die tomorrow

IMG_0322I thought that one can’t get more in touch with mortality than holding the hand of someone you love after their last breath and watching them die.  But that isn’t true.   Mom had her first brush with death over a decade ago and fought her way back through chemo and minus more than a few body parts. That experience left my Mother with the understanding that  each day is a gift and she lived them that way.     

I remember the week following her final che009_6motherapy treatment watching as the airport stewards wheeled out this pale thin ghost of a woman who was just thrilled to make it back to her beloved Oregon Coast.  I had visited her while she was in the hospital and when she had given up on life during the painful chemo process.  When I couldn’t be there, I had sent her flowers with a note telling her to get better and that we had plans.  Neither of us had any idea what those plans were going to lead to but they turned out to be grand adventures.   My Mom knew she was living on borrowed time and she didn’t treat a day as just another day – it was an “extra”and gratefullness and amazement at the world around her was her response.

The days surrounding my mother’s death haunt me sometimes and the months prior were incredibly difficult.   Making those kinds of decisions over and over again left me a shell.   Which is okay and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.   I decided a long time ago that she was going to be taken care of, know that I loved her, and know that I was there for her.   And she was and she knew and the huge amount of stress and heartbreak that went along with that is just life.   I am healing.   It takes time.    I am beginning to find myself remembering and honoring her most important lesson.  Its not just another day in your life.  Its the one day that is given to you.   Did you notice your gift?

Some  of the grand adventures listed below that I’ll expand into stories/written memories someday so I don’t forget them

  • Riding a train through the orchid blossom in Hood River
  • Steamboat dinner cruise down the Columbia at Sunset
  • Touring hotsprings in Oregon, Idaho, and Wyoming.   Both of our favorite was skinny dipping in the late fall up in a canyon of the Cascade mountain range while watching the sunset over the river when these giant snowflakes began coming down.
  • Going out into the raspberry fields of Suave Island on a gorgeous July afternoon.   Mom ate more raspberries than she put in the basket and I paid the farmer extra since many raspberries were already in Mom’s tummy.
  • Taking Mom to go see Bruce Springsteen in concert.
  • Touring the Hawaiian Islands – snorkeling, whale watching, eating, hanging out on the beach, seeing the Napalli Coast
  • River rafting and boating all over the place.
  • Christmas and New Years in New Orleans before Katrina and being on the levies for the bonfires.
  • Biking the Oregon coastal shore at low tides and watching birds.
  • Camping in Yellowstone and betting on seeing a bear
  • Going on Alaskan cruise.
  • Going to Zion National Park and hiking through one last time and seeing a lot of creatures.
  • Exploring Florida and hanging with the Manatees.
  • Family gatherings for runs in Iowa, Nevada, and Tennessee
  • Reading in bed.

Just love it


I spent most of my day working off island with some women I’ve worked with for years. When not in work meetings, the conversation centered on campaigns, politics, balls, and benefits. I tried to stay connected to the conversation, but they lost me at the parade of gowns and my mind went off a wandering. They tried to bring me back into the conversation and I had to explain that I was boring, I’m not into politics and don’t get out much. One of them responded with “But you do weightlifting!” Whoa….that’s what they associate with me now. And here’s where my mind went a wondering while waiting in the airport and the flight home.

I am 41 years old which I can only hope is at least middle age. I am 5’7″ and have been overweight my entire adult life and a good chunk of that time I was morbidly obese. I am a life-long nerd with a dual degree in chemistry and environmental engineering. My family has joked about my middle name being Grace and I have face planted onto more than one sidewalk while walking. I can’t catch a ball and the thought of group sports sends a cold chill down my spine and reminds me of the horrors of gym class growing up. In a nutshell- I am middle age-ish, I suck at sports, and there is no earthly reason that I should be carrying athletic tape in my purse, wrapping my wrists, shaving off the calluses on my hands, and sweating on a weekend morning when I could easily be reading the paper, drinking coffee, eating baked yumminess, and enjoying the Sunshine down at the beach. I would have never placed bets on the odds of me being associated with weightlifting three years ago.

But…..I love weightlifting.

I love everything about it. Everything. Well maybe not getting the clips on and off, but everything else. I loved it from the very moment that my physical therapist taught me how the clips went on the trainer bar. I had no explanation for it. Lift up something heavy, put it down, pick it back up again -what sparked the excitement there? And heavy is relative – at the time it was all of 35 pounds and it took everything I had to back squat it with 9 pins and a plate in my gimp leg. Despite my lack of understanding, I decided to just love the heck out of it and see where the journey would take me. It’s now two and a half years later and I still just love weightlifting but now I’m starting to understand why.

I love the feel of the metal bar in my hand, the weight of the bar pushing down on me and the distinctive thump of a heavy bar crashing on the ground. I loved discovering these muscles on my body that I had never had cause to notice before. Every day tasks become easier. But that’s just the physical stuff and hardly anything about weightlifting is about the physical stuff.

Weightlifting is a mental, physical, and emotional puzzle you are solving. Sure you are training the physical but every physical gain comes with training your mind and heart. And weightlifting is mostly mental.

I joke about heading to the gym after work being my happy hour. I love getting a personal record (PR) with more weight on the bar every now and then, but the reality of it is I am PRing my happiness ALL THE TIME. I get to hang out with the most awesome people. Yes, they are truly the most awesome and it’s a privilege to get to spend time with them. I don’t know if my core muscles are sore from that extra set of ab work Coach Brian had us do or whether it’s from laughing the whole time. It’s a joy and good for my heart in more ways than one.

It’s been an incredibly challenging couple of years and quieting the mind through the storm helped me through it. Meditation has always helped me with that. Sitting in the moment – relax your jaw, straighten your back, relax your shoulders, take a deep breath, and be present. And part of weightlifting is exactly the same – a form of moving meditation – straighten your back, relax your arms, center your breath, and be present.

You can’t think about work, you can’t think about what you are making for dinner, you can’t think about the medical decisions you just made for your family, and you can’t even think about what your body is doing as it’s finding that neural network groove that was created from the thousands of repetitions that came before. You simply can’t. Because your brain has better things to worry about, like getting under the bar or getting out of the way of the bar. You have to be present when you lift. Weightlifting has you go towards your fear and teaches you about your strength when feeling uncomfortable and scared.

My goal is to get up and down stairs when I am 80. If I can pick up a light bar then – more the better. But someday I’ll have to quit and it won’t be my choice. This is a gift. Here’s hoping for a long association.

40 Plus Takeaways from TJ’s Gym Masters Class For Over 40

I came back to my Crossfit box today after a long weekend away taking TJ’s Gym Master Class  and one of the first questions I was asked was what was so special about the class.   I may have gushed, “everything;” which isn’t too far from the truth.    The Master Class was a two-day event  geared towards Masters athletes, ages 40-plus, learning new skills and how to be better athletes.   Two days of super star athletes and trainers sharing their wisdom and precious time – Coach B, Carl Paoli, Brian McKenzie, Diane Fu, Marcus Filly, Dr. Allison Belger, and TJ Belger.

1040521_10151743096020972_1976916589_oIf there was one overall all theme of the weekend it was this – you need a goal, a plan, and a coach.   How you envision the next 3, 6, 9, and 12 months, plan for that implementation, and engage in that vision is everything.   I realized that this is something I really need to work on and change in short order.  Many of my movements are progressions that I learned when I was larger,  I now need to re-think and re-learn them.   I don’t run, I shuffle, but I can change that with time and practice.   More specifically, my takeaways from this weekend’s event that I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to participate are….

1)       Coach B prioritized the skills of Olympic lifting as a) mobility; b) speed; and c) strength.  Which maybe the opposite of what I was practicing.  Lifting heavy stuff is fun, getting the junk moving around in the joints is anything but fun, but its necessary.   Go as low as you can, but don’t lose form.


2)      Diane Fu started the Olympic lifting session with preparing the muscles by doing several mobilization techniques from the Mobility WOD which mobilized the hips, hamstrings, ankles, and shoulders (hanging on the bar and having a super friend push the back of your shoulders in three different positions, the pistol squat stretch, and an ankle and hip mobilization).

3)      The three things to focus on as a beginner lifter is the set-up and having the shoulders over the bar and hitting the power position (if you can hit the power position, you have a 90% chance of making the lift); and know how the lock out position feels.

4)      Your butt is your re-set button.  You can’t recover from a bad position.   Reset.  Diane Fu is a total badass and I’m a total fan girl.


5)      I was a fan girl of Carl Paoli before coming to the workshop.   I adore him even more now.   We worked on some fundamental movements including the burpee, pistol, rolling pistol, muscle up transition, and the handstand push-up; but more importantly what connected for me is that there is skill transfer in everything.

6)      Since there is skill transfer in everything and how you do many things is actually the same, you need to know why you are doing what you are doing and ask yourself what you are hoping to accomplish.   Just because you are modifying a skill doesn’t make it wrong, it just may not allow you progress with it to the next skill.

7)      Don’t be afraid of making mistakes.

8)      You need to see and look for the opportunities.  carl

9)      Pretend you’ve got a $100 bill between your feet when doing burpees – pretend it is your life.

10)  The two key components to doing push-ups is having your arms in and having a straight vertical forearm (I learned that I’ve been doing them in a way that won’t progress to other skills).

11)  As one of Robb Wolf’s testimonials, I knew a lot of the information in Marcus Filly’s talk on nutrition, but it was a good reminder.   I need to dial it back in.  I started implementing some of those changes this morning and am feeling good this morning.  I didn’t know Marcus walking into the room, but I felt like I just wanted to sit by his feet and absorb his knowledge (OK – and maybe just gaze at his beauty a while too.)   Margie and I met him during lunch and he was just such a nice guy and I’ll be cheering for him during his third crack at the Crossfit Games.   Go Team Filly!  marcus

12)  Resilience is the ability to adapt, recover and adjust to the stress of training, compounded by life stresses (mental, emotional, spiritual, etc).   Our resilience is dependent upon many factors and is age dependent.   We have a diminishing resilience capacity.   I can’t afford to miss nutrition to tip the recovery/resilience scale.

13)  Nutrition is the opportunity to offset the training stress and it can also cause a tremendous amount of stress.

14)  When you want to pull, wait one more second.

15)  Don’t mute the hips

16)  Stroke rate workouts are the key to getting faster

17)  Adjust your toes on the rower – you want full contact with the ground when lifting, you want full contact with rowing.

18)  The rowing finish is the same as the hollow rock with your elbows tucked in.

19)  For women, the drag factor on the Concept 2 should be between 105-125.

20)  The higher your stroke rate on the Concept 2, the higher your skill.SanFran

21)  Running equates with your fear of falling.

22)  Lions run like lions, gazelles run like gazelles, and humans run like humans.   Why would we think that we have different running styles.   It’s a complex skill that needs to be learned and practiced like everything else.   Drill work should be done 3-4 times a week.

23)  We are constantly hunting for stability.   Prioritize your motor patterns.

24)  Check out The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle –  coaching, motivation and practice.

25)  Work on the 30-40 videos and 6 weeks of progressions on Crossfit Endurance.

26)   Practice makes permanent.   The key to adult learning is repetition.

27)  Practice with the jump rope with pulls on each leg – 5,4,3,2 and lean.

28)  Mobility WOD has a 3-part series on rebuilding the feet. Brian

29)  Barefoot jump rope sometimes.   Your feet and your hands are the same tissue for a reason.   Your feet should look like your hands.

30)  Learn diaphramic breathing for running.   I have absolutely no idea what this is and its going to take some research.

31)  Asana is a posture, but it also reflects a mental attitude.

32)  Stress Up: Vitality Down à Offload stress whenever possible

33)  Even the heart has built in rest.   2:1 rest work ratio.  The heart has more neurological tissue than muscular tissue and produces hormones

34)  You are either building up or breaking down.   Metabolism means to change.

35)  If you block one pathway, its has got to find a different pathway.   Do you really think you are smarter than evolution and the body?   Science and medicine are constantly changing.   Engage in the process.

36)  Everything really matters.  Don’t set the bar too low.   Unlearn what you are thinking and find your resistance points to change and improve.   We get set in our ways as we get older and those ways are either serving us or not.

37)  Learn a new gear and learn a new skill.

38)  Be aware and cognizant of over-reaching and under-recovery.

39)  Build your base of fitness.   Limit the high intensity sessions particularly during the off season.   There are times when its appropriate to just rollout and row.   Periodization is varying the levels of intensity and volume according to your priorities and its appropriate and necessary. Plan your progressions from week to week and month to month.

40)  Restorative aerobic work 10-20 minutes after a workout at about 120 beats per minute for about 30 minutes.

41)  Figure out why you are doing what you are doing and set your expectations and goals.

42)  Address fears and your worst case scenario.  Is it really that bad?   Is it perceived versus actual.  Is it FNE – fear of negative evaluation.

43)  I may forget what was said and what I did, but I left feeling like I’m on the right path of taking better care of myself,  improving my health, and a plan for some changes.


Sunday Evening Rambles


“When we least expect it, life sets us a challenge to test our courage and willingness to change; at such a moment, there is no point in pretending that nothing has happened or in saying that we are not yet ready. The challenge will not wait. Life does not look back.” – Paul Coelho.

My weight has been fluctuating plus or minus twenty pounds for the past year.   I hit a certain weight and then went off on a binge that would ensure that I wouldn’t be back at that weight for a good long while.

I understood that it was self-sabotage, but I couldn’t really stop myself from doing it. The body will only go where the mind will let it and my brain hadn’t caught up with my body.  Part of my self-sabotage was giving my brain time to just deal with the changes of the past couple of years – to adjust.

I do my best thinking when driving.  I miss the long road trips while on the mainland because that is how I could always clear my mind and figure things out.  Driving to the gym this morning,that little voice inside my head –  I’m ready now.   I’m ready to move on now and take the next step.

13.4 – More than 82,000 people submitted scores for the ascending ladder of clean and jerks and toes-to-bar with the average female completing 47 reps.   My 42 reps are below average – but it didn’t feel that way – it felt like Snoopy doing a happy dance.