This is a Gift

Dec 29 –

his is a gift.

I was discharged from eight months of physical therapy almost three years ago on January 6th, 2012. On January 10th, I’ll be on a stage in a weightlifting competition. I have no illusions about the competition, but life is short and fragile and should be lived. I celebrated another PR last night. I back squatted 80 kg (176 lbs) – a fraction of my body weight. Progress has been succeeding at small steps along the way. Lifting my leg up on its own without using my hands – PR! Being able to pedal a stationary bicycle all the way around 360 degrees – PR! Walking without a limp – PR! Walking into the gym the first time – PR! Coming back -PR! PVC pipe to trainer bar to 15 kg bar to putting some weights on the bar – all PRs! Working with Coaches who can’t tell I am permanently partially disabled unless I tell them – PR! My 9 pins and a plate and the weakness in my leg is something I feel every day so it always surprises me when others don’t notice the things I do to compensate around it. Whoo hoo – I successfully disguised holding onto the bar in the back squat rack for support because I’m not sure if my leg has recovered enough to not limp away – PR! I ride that PR train whenever I can.

I was talking last week with a guy who had had surgery on his knee and was struggling. He had a lot of questions and trusted someone who knows knee pain. Been there, done that, and continue to do that every now and again when my knee gets fussy. I am the Queen of modification, feeling things out, and how to listen to my knee when it starts talking to me. I couldn’t tell my fellow knee pain guy why box squats and goblet squats help sometimes, but I know that they can be magic. I don’t know the right things for him, but I know that the only way out is through and learning to listen to your own body is a process. The ego wants to do everything it could do and to jump right in. The new reality is slow, patient, testing it out, learning the difference between a good pain versus a sharp bad pain, and listening and trusting my Coach when he says “done”. Coach took this picture of me backsquatting 165 lbs the other week….adding 10 lbs at a time, feeling it out along the way.

This is a gift. And I am so thankful.

There is Something About Weightlifters

October 20, 2014  – Riding up the elevator Saturday night with my friend Jojo after having either participated or volunteered in the largest Hawaii open weightlifting contest ever, we agreed that there is “something about weightlifters.” I can’t quite put my finger on it exactly and I suspect it will be bouncing around in my brain for years to come, but there is something about weightlifters and there were these little incredible moments in time on Saturday that leave the mind tumbling.

The biggest cheers of the day weren’t for the guy who attempted to throw 400 pounds over his head, but for a 65 year old man who is 5 foot 4 and weighs 125 pounds and totaled 130 kg (286 lbs), a weight that exceeded the highest amount lifted for his age and weight class at the World Masters Games. I wish I would have taken a picture of 84 year old Tommy Kono over behind the stage encouraging a little 9 year old girl between lifts. I know its rude to eavesdrop, but I was standing by Rob Blackwell with California Strength who totaled 322 kg (710 lbs) when he was telling said 65 year old about how much he admired him and hoped to be follow in his footsteps when he’s in his 60’s. Ruddy, the event organizer, whose love of the community was evident in all of his actions and who so clearly put his whole heart and soul into putting the event together kept checking on us volunteers to make sure we were doing okay and had everything we needed. Vernon pacing back and forth like a nervous father and then practically bursting into a million little pieces with pride in his nephew’s PRs and maybe a little joy of having taught and shared his knowledge. And watching each and every one of the lifters who had the balls to get up the stage and live in the moment. Yes, there is something about weightlifters.

You have to be present when you lift. Weightlifting has you go towards your fear and teaches you about your strength when you are feeling uncomfortable and scared. It requires you to be fully present in the moment. The decision to get under a bar or get out of the way of a heavy bar over and over and over again intentionally changes a person fundamentally I think. Hours, days, weeks, years of practice of being present in the moment, deciding, and striving to become the better versions of themselves can shift a person. “Only to the extent that a person exposes oneself over and over again to annihilation, can that which is indestructible be found.” And there is that thing that is bouncing around in my brain somewhere – that indestructible thing is closer to the surface and less hidden behind layers of superficiality with a lot of weightlifters – there is something burning in all of them.

I’ve spent waaaay too much time in hospitals and with hospice the past few years with either the sick or the dying – in the end, we let it all go – our money, our things, our body – and are left with our mind (hopefully), our love of one another, and our ability to live in and with ourselves in the moment. Its that same indestructible thing. So many people only realize its there when they are dying. Many of the weightlifters found it under a bar a long time ago.

“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 ( )  “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.