Monday, September 16, 2013

An Open Letter (like the ones film directors write to Lindsay Lohan, only this one is for my fitness folks)

In all of my years of lifting weights and running triathlons and hill sprint intervalling, it never crossed my mind that fitness would bring my life anything other than euphoria and joy.

This past weekend, fitness delivered a spitefully packaged dose of shame and a tinge of embarrassment for those in my fitness community.

We all have tales of woe. Some sad. Some tragic. Some ridiculously dramatic. I am no different. I was picked on as a kid- a teenager- a young adult. Picked on to the point of changing schools and hiding in the bathrooms during lunch period so I wouldn't have to worry whether or not anyone would want to sit with me or someone would tease me for- GASP- eating in front of my peers.

I was taller than my 5th grade teacher, taller than most of the boys, bigger than the girls. The bathroom of my grandparents' house is the first place I remember crying over how fat I thought I was. At 7 years old. There's a family photo from that day and there I was, so unfat, in a turquoise and white dress with my Mom holding a red geranium and me feeling like I was unworthy somehow.

But all kids get picked on. It's an important part of growing up: learning to tolerate criticism and stand up for oneself.

I was teased by softball teammates and the Cool Kids in high school. Called butch and a dyke and all sorts of other things. I turned down every invitation to a school dance ever received because I thought for sure I would be teased and taunted for being a fat girl trying to look pretty in a sparkly dress at prom.

This is not my tale of woe. This is my tale of growing up and having had a tough go of it only to find my voice and myself and to feel so good now that those woeful moments are a memory so distant that I hardly give them thought for long enough to roll my eyes, shake my head, and move on.

I had always played sports and been active as a kid. My Grandpa was still swimming laps and lifting weights well into his 70s. He was meticulous to the extent of using a ruler to draw charts for his exercise. I so admired him. And he admired me and everytime I did something noteworthy, he made sure to marvel. While living with my grandparents during freshman year of college, I would watch Grandpa from the corner of my eye. I'd use what we learned in the high school P.E. class weight unit and what I saw Grandpa doing and quietly took up exercise. Not the occasional jog around the block, but the deliberate kind.

The endorphin rush took hold of me. I felt empowered everytime I exercised. It felt like each mile and lift and lap swam was payback for every derogatory name my childhood self bore witness to.

My soul wanted more.

The story of how I met my trainer is well documented. It's a classic: Girl gets engaged; Girl hires personal trainer to get skinny for wedding; Girl calls off wedding/cries in front of trainer/trainer says GUT CHECK, HOMIE and both survive an hour of crying over lost love and lunges.

I cried through many more workouts. But with each week- each new 10lb plate I added- my soul felt stronger right alongside my glutes and triceps. The only thing about exercise I dreaded was running, so the logical choice was to sign up for a triathlon.

Years and races and tens of thousands of back squats have passed and fitness has taught me more about resilience, tenacity, and self reliance than any absurd Chicken Soup For the Soul book could. Because when 275lbs is sitting across your shoulders or you're standing in the middle of a race course all alone, wanting to quit but knowing the only way out is to finish... it's you and your own devices... THAT is inner strength and confidence that cannot be shaken by any external force.

Fitness and I are deeply, eternally devoted to one another for that reason.

When I come across others just like me- others that make the choice to show up to the gym, that make the choice to give their time and energy to putting in hard work-- those are my soulmates. I've met beautiful, encouraging people along the way. I remember the faces of competitors that absolutely kicked my ass in triathlons but turned around and came back out on the course to cheer me on to the Finish. I remember the first women I saw at Lifetime that were lifting heavy weights. Because God knows that six years ago, there were only a handful of us daring to go there. I know the smiles and sincerity of people that holler MEGAN! HEY, HOW ARE YA over the headphones and across the Stairclimbers.

I love these people. If all I ever know of them is that she power cleans 15lbs more than me and he gets double protein in his post workout smoothie, this community of people has a place in my soul.

So when I see us acting like total and complete jerkoffs to one another, my soul feels ashamed and embarrassed for this community of very wonderful people behaving very badly. Outside of the bubble of our suburbs, this Crossfit vs Lifetime feud is entirely obsolete and inconsequential. As it should be. But inside of the bubble, the air is thick and stinks like whey isolates that have been spoiling and mutating inside of an unwashed shaker for a week.

There is a difference between competing WITH each other and AGAINST each other.

No one is more competitive than me. Believe that: no one. But I can want to mop the 50yrd dash track with your face in competition and still think kindly of you as a person once the timer stops. You feel me?

This gym has done that to spite that gym and that gym has used that gyms blah blah who cares shut the fuck up all of you about all of it!!!

When I came to cheer on friends- from both gyms, thank you- at Saturdays Lifetime Alpha competition, I stared at all of the folks wearing shirts with CROSSFIT CHAN blazed across the front and thought.. what pricks. Then I turned to my left and saw the marketing materials Lifetime had used out of spite and thought.. what pricks.

It isn't everyone. I am taking nothing away from anyone that showed up for the right reasons. But let's be real-- there were a lot of wrong reasons on the field on Saturday.

I was so overwhelmed with irritation for the melodrama that I had forgotten that there was supposed to be a competition going on. And it didn't feel like a competition between competitors, it felt like a pissing competition between egos.

Fitness saved me. It has saved many of us. Perhaps that is why I feel connected to many of you beyond that we all wear Lululemon at the gym, preschool, and probably on dates with our husbands.

We are a community bound together by common interests. There is room for us all and each of us should take it upon ourselves to cheer one another on in our pursuit of individual goals. Surely, not everyone's hands are dirty, but it is only the unfortunate few that can poison the well for all. If positive thinking can get you through Fran or 50 minutes of Prowler pushes and kips, then it can surely bring a little harmony to the air between our two parking lots.

Love and Burpees. Forever.

For The Love of Fitness: Let's all be friends.

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