DEEP BREATH… This is going to seem like a silly confession, but I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Duh. That’s why I quit my job teaching to pursue it. Yet, if I’m being completely honest I’ve only been writing non-fiction, creative non-fiction, but the real stuff nonetheless. I feel comfortable living there. That’s why I can blog about my personal shit – there’s no shame there. Fiction on the other hand…

I actually write a lot of that stuff too. I’m in love with prose. Poetry happens to be my favorite and I actually journal in stanzas. My brain literally processes in poetic snippets. Yet I have never posted fiction on my page. I guess I’ve been too scared. I am insecure about it while I know that I’m really fucking good at it at the same time. Also, I don’t know where to post it because I have my business blog (Check it out if you haven’t! https://thewritepresent.wordpress.com/) and then all of the blogs I ghost write for as a freelancer… then this space (which I’ve neglected terribly, sorry!). It seems wrong to lure you in with real life stories and then to throw in some dramatic, strange, fiction in there.

This seems like a silly confession too, but that thought was wrong. Fiction builds empathy, allows us to explore the depths of human nature and is raw like my style. I “Cut To It” in my fiction just as I do in my non-fiction. So, here’s to change and stories and hoping you like them!

I am sharing a short story I completed this week as part of Chuck Wendig’s Challenge posted on his blog (which is totally awesome and you should check it out btw… http://terribleminds.com/ramble/). Sooooo, here goes!

 

Undeserved Power

“Words without experience are meaningless.”
― Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

Annabel could feel his hot breath raking down her neck as she squirmed beneath his lumbering frame. She was pinned for what felt like an eternity as his aggressive fingers pinched, poked and pulled at the corners of flesh between her loose summer clothing. Her heart thundered with fear. Every inch of her exposed skin was explored for weakness as it beat in her chest like a war drum, thumping more quickly than his digits could travel. As he hunted for purchase, the momentum of the moment was traded between them; for each jab of his intruding hand, there was a jolt of attempted escape in her youthful tendons that made her jerk in hysterical convulsions. It became a rhythmic dance.

The echoes of the world around her were reduced to nothing but a blur as she forced her mind to block out the sensational feedback driving furiously from her nerve endings to the base of her skull. It was a spike pounding a wedge between the future and the past, interlocking her mind and body into the purgatory of the moment. No hope for escape, no memory of how it began. The very saliva in her mouth expired with her acceptance. She helplessly squirmed beneath him and her tongue was a shriveled desert cactus scraping against her palate in protest, contrary to the desperate scream that was building inside. Her only desire was for it to stop, but her body wouldn’t help her make a stand.

The effort and experience was so strong that her breath began to come in gigantic hitches, filling her lungs. As time seemed to slow, Annabel’s face twisted with a mix of emotions, like Roethke’s confusion, “her countenance could not unfrown itself.” The air rushed into her chest and expanded her ribcage in a forceful rush. In that moment everything magnified:

 

She felt each flake of skin rubbed as it became a rash from the hot, sparse summer grass digging into her lower back, peppered with dirt…

The hot summer sun at its zenith penetrating each of her youthful pores magnified thelarge drops of sweat emerging on her delicate, tortured face…

Her fingertips were swelling ever so slightly from banging on the ground in desperate thrashes, each capillary throbbed with remote distress…

His fingers, ever so present, were digging into the soft muscles behind her knees as her hips thrust upward in a spasm of what could only be described as pain…

 

Then the air was released, yet before a full exhale could be achieved he dug deeper and the emptiness was stopped abruptly by a frozen diaphragm.  Her brain was screaming for discharge, but his digits were controlling even her reflexive senses. Like an orchestra conductor, their movements dictated her response. At his tactile charge Annabel took another violent inhale.

Hiccuping with lungs already glutted of waste, the breath simply couldn’t come in. Her body protested. Spittle flew from the corners of her mouth and a convulsive giggle screamed from her lips. Then, in the moment of climax, the dance abruptly stopped.

As quickly as it came, his fingers trotted away playfully. Annabel rolled on the grass in heaving breaths punctuated by the full bodied laughter of a ten year old girl. Spent, she lay there catching her breath and relaxing her tense muscles. In a trance she allowed the summer sun to beat down on her battle weary body as her blood’s rejuvenating flow brightened her cheeks. With a blush, and full of relief, she pushed herself off of the ground. She walked slowly over to his side where he was waiting, taking a short breath in with each fall of her foot.

Annabel reached the canvas chair where he was stationed and climbed habitually onto his lap. He wrapped his arms around her waist in gentle contrast to the explosive moment they shared prior. Annabel could feel the world around her slowly shift into focus:

 

Gulls screaming just a few feet above her head, their graceful wings beating the air and keeping them afloat…

The scraping of a metal spoon sliding the last of Grandma’s potato salad out of a plastic bowl on the picnic table…

Her aunt’s high pitched voice ringing in her ears, like an escalator towing her up out of her transfixion and back into the moment…

Thick, coarse hairs from her father’s overgrown beard caressing the side of her face as she perched on his lap and time took on its normal pace….

 

Everything was as it always was and she whispered into her father’s ear, “I hate it when you tickle me!” He smiled and laughed absentmindedly at the undeserved power of what it was to be him.

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The future is a microscope. You can look back on events and observe them more closely, from a new angle, truly discovering what you were meant to learn. Time is like magnification, as years go by you are able to inspect the moments of your life more deeply than you would’ve imagined.

Twenty two years ago I learned how to ride a bike, and just today while I was in a crowded surgical waiting room 1,400 miles away from home it taught me a valuable lesson about life.

My brother and I are only eleven months apart in age. We are very competitive and growing up I lived by the homage, “anything he can do, I can do better.” When we got our first bicycles it was no different. They were shiny, new, two-wheeled tickets to adventuring the neighborhood, but they had training wheels on them. You couldn’t race the neighbor kid around the block, or challenge your brother to a broomstick duel with an extra set of sissy wheels! So, my brother and I rode around long enough to gain confidence and placate our parents before we began begging for them to remove the training wheels – we felt trained and wanted to be set out on our own.

My father agreed that you couldn’t hit terminal velocity with all of the extra weight and went to get his wrenches, he lived by the homage, “Let them spread their wings and fly, we know enough first aid to patch ‘me up if they fall.” My mom however, lived by the line, “Everything in this world is deadly, let’s put them in a bubble… damn-it John?! I’m going to chain smoke until it’s over.”

This time it was three against one; my dad got his tools and my mom fired up her trusty lighter.

I remember the eager anticipation. John (the junior one) and I were bouncing back and forth proclaiming victory, challenging each other to all sorts of races and competitions. We had no doubt that we would be successful in learning, rightly so, how many grownups still ride bikes with training wheels? Regardless of what went down that sunny afternoon, we both knew we were on our way to two-wheeled freedom.

In spite of our enthusiasm and confidence, riding bikes is tricky business, as any physics major (or human who has learned to ride a bicycle) will tell you. Speed provides stability, but without speed stability cannot be acquired. My mother, being a human who learned how to ride a bike (not a physics major) knew this, and thus was worried. It’s inevitable that falling happens because it’s really an equation that takes complete balance, both of stability and speed, and of your awkwardly long child-limbs. She was worried, but it was happening whether she was ready for it or not.

Much to my mother’s chagrin and my father’s pride I took my first wingless flight (which ended much like you would imagine flying without wings does). I climbed on my shiny new aluminum frame of freedom and began my first journey down the road. My mother was terrified. She had a hard time letting go.

Literally.

As my dad helped my brother get going by holding his seat, so my mom did for me. As John picked up speed, so did I. As my brother gained stability, my dad let go, releasing him to experience the triumph of a milestone conquered and hard-earned. As I gained speed, my mom let go… and then quickly decided it was much too dangerous and yanked me by the hair straight off my bike. In the last moment as I was approaching the barrier of speed, stability balance, she saw my wobbling tires and in a panic of concerned protection reached out and grabbed the nearest thing, my ponytail.

I’m no physics major, but I am a human who has learned how to ride a bike so I know that “an object in motion remains in motion” and that’s what happened. My bike careened down the sidewalk solo style as I crashed ass-first on the pavement. John was off riding his bike and I was watching from the ground trying not to cry. At the time I was furious with my mother; years later I found it funny.

Today, as I sit in a waiting room while my son has a routine procedure for an anything but a routine reason, I have found a new life lesson within that story: worry not only does no good, it actually makes things worse.

If my mother had let me fly, I may have crashed as I did when she stopped me, but it would have been part of the journey. I would’ve gotten up and dusted myself off to try again because I was backed by confidence and determination. It is a right-of passage to bruise your rear end on the noble path to two-wheeled freedom. On the contrary it is not cool to tell your friends you crashed because your overly nervous mother pulled your ponytail. Her worry took something away from my experience. Her worry didn’t change the outcome, I did fall and I did eventually learn to ride my bike without training wheels. Her worry didn’t protect me, rather her reaction to it made the very thing she didn’t want to happen occur. Worry makes things worse.

My son was in Nebraska having an endoscopy to check if he was rejecting his transplanted small intestine when this memory came back to me. I was worried. I was sick with worry, angry with worry, tired from worry, lost in worry, obsessed with worrying about what was going on. My worrying was chipping away at the resolve I so desperately needed to get through the situation. I was falling apart. My mother looked at me calmly and said, “Baby. I know you’re scared, but worrying won’t change anything. In fact, it’s only going to make it worse.” She’s right. She must learn more quickly than I do.

I can’t change the fact that my son, Tyler, was born with severe medical needs. I can’t change that his body is a standing testament to medical miracles and the compassion of strangers. I can however, embrace the journey. If I take a deep breath and let things take their course I can realize that there are many people on this journey with us. From the moment I found out we were going to have to travel from our hometown in New York to Omaha, Nebraska to get Tyler checked out, countless people have shown their support. A woman I work with gave him a gift card to buy himself something nice, another one priority mailed an overnight package containing a game for us to play on the trip. My mother took the time off of work and booked train tickets without me even asking her to come along. My coach’s wife set us up with aquarium passes during our layover in Chicago. Hundreds of people have left messages and called to check in and raise our spirits. Strangers volunteered their time and energy by transporting us to and from the hospital and providing dinner at the Ronald McDonald House while we were there. I can’t change the life I was given, but I can change how I view it. I can let worry go and embrace the journey. I can live by the line, “what will be will be.”

Under the microscope of time I have gained wisdom, wisdom that my mother must have acquired before me.

I have no worries.

8:55.

I have five minutes. Jesus.

I slammed the car into park in the middle of a field, next to an ocean of bumpers at what seemed like miles from the entrance to the competition venue. My workout was scheduled to start at 9:00 and a series of misfortunate events led to this moment. I grabbed my backpack – full of doubt, but going through the motions anyways- threw it over my shoulder and ran as fast as I could towards the arena floor.

The running is your warm up, you’ll make it. They will wait at least five minutes for everybody, you don’t need  to prepare for grunt work, there’s no barbell or skill in this WOD…

You’re going to lose this workout anyways, you’re not properly warmed up. You’re going to look like a dumbass in front of 1,000’s of people. No one here knows you anyways, nobody would even know that you quit. It’s not even your fault that you’re missing the workout. Going makes no sense. It’s 85 degrees out, go back to your friends and family and spend the day on the beach with them, vacation only happens once a year. Once a lifetime…

With my thoughts weighing me down more than the three pairs of shoes and other accessories in my gym bag, I ran to the staging area for workout one. I was at the Crush Games in Miami, Florida, 1,400 miles away from home, on the verge of losing the opportunity I had worked so hard for. After three weeks of grueling qualifier workouts, anxiety over the leaderboard and the trip itself, I had finally conquered my demons, weaknesses and doubts but was going to watch it all slip away with the sands of time. I fought through  five workouts on day 1 and made it to the final day of competition and couldn’t believe it could be over in a matter of seconds, that a small mistake was going to take it all away. Despite all of my preparation, I was going to miss my workout by minutes and have no chance of anything but last place.

I slipped on my nanos anyways, said a prayer, and approached the staging area. I looked around me and saw tons of men swinging their arms and stretching. Are they getting ready to workout? There was a group of girls coming off of the arena floor soaked in sweat. Is that my heat? I couldn’t figure out what was going on. It was just 9:02, they couldn’t be done already.Could they?  Had I missed my workout? I was confused.

It wasn’t my first time being disoriented and confused that morning. I woke up early to ensure I’d get to the arena on time and made my way to the grocery store. I was staying with a friend’s grandma and brought my son along for the journey. Everyone was burned out from the first day of competition so I was on my own for the finals, they were all sleeping in and heading to the beach for the day. I was a little sad to miss out, but I had already come so far. I wanted to have some food prepped so I didn’t have to rely on festival food (although the paleo meals they served were out of this world!). I rushed in and out of the store with my pocket book in my grocery bag so I could run to the car and have time to sneak in a coffee stop on the way.

I cranked the music and set my GPS for Tropical Park, Miami, fresh and ready to attack the final day of competition. The first day taught me a lot about myself and I was thrilled with my performance as Professional athlete. Leading up to the Crush Games the idea of pro seemed like a mistake, like a label I achieved by lucky chance. Yet, after two top ten finishes in a stacked field and no last place finishes on day 1 I was excited. I was ready. I was confident. I was not paying close enough attention…

When I got to the first toll booth and went to pay, I realized my grocery bag was torn down the side. By some twist of fate my two bags of beef jerky, three pouches of baby food, banana and gatorade were snug in place, but my pocketbook was gone (I guess you can separate a crossfitter from her life line and cash, but never from her food – even fate knows that)!

At first I couldn’t comprehend what was going on, but once it sunk in I was devastated. I didn’t know what to do – go back to the store and search for it but miss my competition, head to the competition and work out all day but be far from home without any money or ID, losing all of my personal information? Neither option was appealing.

I panicked and called the grocery store. While I was on hold I got a call from a Florida number, a good samaritan found my pocket book in the parking lot and located my number inside. I guess the decision was made, I had to pick it up which meant I was never going to make it to the arena in time.

With mixed emotions I made the 15 minute drive back to the Winn Dixie. I was happy to be fortunate enough to get my belongings back, including the cash that was in it and a $300 blank check. I gave the woman who found it $20 and a gigantic hug, and although I was relieved a part of me was still devastated. This journey had already been about so much more than working out, or coming to Florida, or doing well… I was finally realizing my own potential. I felt like I belonged and after years of dedicated training I was overcoming my self doubt. I was feeling confident and kicking more ass than I thought I ever could, but now it was over. There was no way I would make the hour drive and be on time for my heat.

With a full pocketbook and a heavy heart I got back in my rental car. What to do now?

Go to the Crush Games, even if you miss your first workout, you can do the last two, you might even have an advantage because you’ll be fresh. You didn’t come here to win anyways. You can socialize and be a fan… Noah Ohlsen and Leaha West are there… Brooke Wells, Talayna Fortunato, Lulu Herrera…

Go to the beach. Your son misses you and it isn’t Ani’s job to watch him all day. The workout you’re missing is the only one you had a chance at anyways.The last workout is muscle ups and you suck at them. Do you really want to fail at muscle ups in front of thousands of people? You’ve already spent enough money, don’t waste your last day in Florida, be with your friends and family. Enjoy the beach…

It made sense to go home. In fact, given the morning I had it seemed silly to even drive the hour trip to the Crush Games. I put in a stellar effort Day 1, and to no fault of my own (other than trusting a flimsy grocery bag) Day 2 was shot. When I planned the trip, I wasn’t even sure I’d make it through Day 1 of qualifying to Day 2 so it really wasn’t a loss. In fact, it was a win because my pocketbook was returned to me and I had two top 10 finishes under my belt already. Plus, I was going to get a relaxing day on the beach to say farewell to Florida. So I did what every irrational person would do, I decided to speed through the hour trip to the competition arena on a small hope that I might make it on time.

Steve Jobs said, “The ones that are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones that do.” I’m not in the business of saving the world, but I am in the business of making my world better, of being the best version of myself, of stretching myself past discomfort, past society’s expectations, past what I think I’m capable of so that I can test my mettle. At the end of the day I know what I’m made of, and I want to leave this world with no regrets. I have just enough crazy to persist against all odds, sometimes I get the short end of the stick, and others it works out. That’s the thing about success though, it only comes at the end of a long struggle. You never know unless you try. So I tried. I arrived at the arena two minutes late with hope and nanos, on an empty stomach and a full heart. I took a deep breath and looked around.

I know there are guys warming up, but the girls coming from the arena don’t have the pro numbers on their arms. I think they’re the am class. Maybe since I’m in the first heat I’m early. There are only five girls in my heat and ten girls in the second heat, that’s not a lot of people. Maybe they’re all warming up and the guys are just here early?

If heat 1 only has five people, then the ten girls in heat 2 would be here. There’s no way 14 girls are late. There are 10 girls coming off of the competition floor, it is probably the second heat of pros. The number codes may have changed, you didn’t even check in so you wouldn’t know. If there was still two heats of women left to go… wouldn’t heat 2 be waiting here instead of men? You missed it.

My confused daze was interrupted by a staff member with a clip board, “What are you doing here?” he asked. I told him my heat was scheduled for 9:00. Now he looked confused. He asked me if I was a man because the men were scheduled for 9. After some discussion he informed me that my heat, the women’s pro heat, wasn’t until 10. I screamed with joy. Sometimes your worst day can highlight the beauty of little things. I was going to make it. Not only was I going to make it, I had time to warm up, stretch, eat AND drink coffee. I told him I could kiss him and jogged away.

An hour later I approached the staging area again. Ready to go and full of confidence. I belonged there. Against all odds I made it because I put in the work. Now it was time to reap the benefits. The workout was a grunt job consisting of a 10 calorie ride on the death… I mean assault bike, 40 yard object carry with a 100lb medball, 60 yard sled drag with 90lbs, followed by a sled drag back over the same distance, then a final 40 yd. 100lb med ball carry and short sprint to the finish . I was more than ready to do work and it seemed fitting that it was taking place in a horse arena. I slammed through the burn in my legs and lungs and blasted through the heat leading the pack by a full minute. I came in 7th overall, clutching my best finish of the weekend. Nothing will ever take away the sense of accomplishment I felt. The confidence that was built in five minutes in the sand and sun. The relief that my craziness isn’t in vain. The sense that my decision to persist in hope made my world better.

The trip to Miami was a wild ride and in the end it not only taught me to believe in myself, but in the goodness of humanity as well. I will be back Crush Games, more prepared than ever (meaning I will have a purse so I don’t lose my money and I will be way better at muscle ups). In the meantime I will be dumping my heart and soul into training,  giving it every ounce of energy and hour I’ve got because I’m just crazy enough to make it work. Quitting day 2 was given to me on a silver platter, nobody would’ve have known about it, and those that did wouldn’t have blamed me, but I’m crazy enough to believe even when the universe makes it easier to quit than to keep going. I suggest you do the same. The world will serve you a buffet of excuses, be strong enough to avoid the temptation and go for it.  

Yesterday my son called me “Sir.”

 

I was entertained then, I’m furious now.

 

Opposite emotions I know, but hear me out…

 

I’m a single mom. I’m a teacher. I lift weights. I like to be in charge. I’m confident in my own skin. I race dirtbikes.I eat like a hippopotamus, in both volume and style. I like to wear pants, both literally and figuratively. These are things I’m proud of, these are things my son speaks of with pride.

 

These are things he believes only a man can do.

 

This is what infuriates me. Originally when he called me “Sir” I was flattered. I like being different than the cultural stereotype of a woman, but as I thought about it I realized that I’ve been bringing my son up with an incorrect notion. Although he realizes that my behavior is outside of societal norms, and he celebrates that, he still buys into society’s sell point. He thinks that if you exhibit the qualities of confidence, strength and power, then you are a man. Despite being immersed in the home of an independent women he still sees the female sex as an inferior part of the species. Instead of believing that women are capable of being these things, he labels women with those qualities “men.” I’ve somehow allowed him to believe the opposite of what he sees.

 

This breaks my heart.

 

It confuses me.

 

I also like to wear dresses. I paint my nails and wear makeup to work every day. I’m a reader and a writer. I am soft. I am compassionate. I cook with vigor and diversity in both volume and style. I like to gossip. These are things I’m proud of, these are things my son speaks of with condescending humor.

These are things we both believe all women do.

Yes, I’m overanalyzing the things that fall out of the mouth of babes, but he is my babe. Yes he is nine years old, and yes he was being silly, but this problem is neither of those things. It is significant, relevant, and horrifying. Why can’t women be feminine and strong at the same time?

 

I thought by being both strong and feminine I was teaching my impressionable child that women have value and should be treated as equals. I make a conscious effort to talk with him about these things. We discuss gender stereotypes. Yet it isn’t enough to combat the constant flow of our cultural norms, the perpetuated standard that women are not supposed to be powerful. I guess it’s not even strong enough for me to overcome; I believe that I’m strong and independent. I believe that I am different than most women.

Am I part of the problem…

What do you believe?

Sometimes life hurts. It hurts really bad. The kind of hurt that kicks you in the gut of your soul and brings you to your knees, breathless.

Life wears steel toe boots.

Then while you’re down on the ground, disoriented, life curb stomps your jaw into a cement block and demolishes your teeth leaving you helpless and mangled. Bleeding.

Life can be the biggest bully, throwing you into a pit of debilitating sadness unexpectedly or in the turn of a second. Life can be like an abuser holding you captive in a gigantic hole. The thing about it is that life isn’t always like this. Many times life is good. Life brings happiness and fulfillment. Yet, when it is being harsh an abusive, it’s hard to see anything beyond the dark hole circumstance tosses you in.  That hole is your emotions. It’s a frightening pit of worry, anxiety, and fear. The only way out is up, and it’s difficult. Luckily there are steps that can help guide you through your journey because life has been around since the beginning, and others have suffered and overcome. They have survived and left behind a map of sorts to climbing your way out of the hole, to overcoming soul crushing sadness.

Step 1

Remain calm, don’t let your heart rate increase. A higher heart rate burns more energy. This climb will be treacherous and you will need all of the energy you’ve got. Take deep breaths. Focus on one thing at a time and keep it together. You can’t climb out of a hole this deep in a panic.

Step 2

Turn your brain off and go through the motions. Let autopilot take over. You can’t worry about the top, or the journey, or the bottom of the hole. The only thing worrying changes is your ability to stay positive. You need to stay focused on the what’s going right and remain calm – just put one hand in front of the other, step by step. Eventually this will carry you to the top.

Step 3

Keep your face always towards the sun. Even when the sun softly in its slumber sleeps, face its direction because it will be back when daylight comes, or when the clouds dissipate and move out of the way. This keeps hope alive and provides direction. Under no circumstances should you let the darkness consume you, even when you’re in its depths at the bottom of the pit, look towards the light.

Step 4

When you get tired, as everyone invariably does, let those around you give you a push or a pull. They can’t climb for you, but they can provide much needed help. Even the strongest of us encounter challenges on our journeys out of the hole that cannot be overcome alone. Help is a necessary part of the climb.

Step 5

When you’re tired and you reach out for help, but no one is there, shout for them. There’s nothing wrong with acknowledging your limitations, you are human, not a god. It often feels like a sign of weakness to ask for help, like you are giving in or giving up, but flip the coin on that thought. Think of it this way: have you ever felt annoyed or bad when a friend is truly in need and you are able to help them? No, helping people that you care about makes you feel good. Therefore, by calling out for help, you are in actuality helping someone else in turn. Even the best do better with help. You and your assistant will both be happier for it.

Step 6

Setbacks are part of the journey. Accept this as fact. Sometimes you’ll lose your footing, drop slightly, and get a small scare. Others you will fall all of the way back down, only to begin the painstaking journey again. Unfortunately, there will also be times when you’ve climbed out, reached the top, and just as your head is above the ground and you’re swinging your leg over the edge, tasting freedom, you will be kicked suddenly and abruptly back to the bottom. You will be back where you began exhausted and hurt even worse than before. Realize this, but also realize that you had the strength to climb out once already. You made it, however temporary, the truth is you are able to do this.  Not only are you capable, physical exertion and stress builds muscle. You are literally stronger than you were last time you climbed out, and you already know the way. This time it will be easier.

Step 7

Once you’ve gotten out of the hole your journey is not complete. Don’t forget. Don’t forget how you got in the hole. Don’t forget how you got out. Don’t forget that you are the one who overcame it. Don’t forget to recognize when others are struggling and to be the one that helps them climb. Don’t forget to share your knowledge with the world so that others have a map. Don’t forget to enjoy the sun while you’re above ground.

Never forget that life isn’t always a bully holding you captive. Enjoy it while you can.

Get up every morning and break your back. I don’t mean the figurative, back breaking labor reference, although many of you are working day in and day out to provide for your families; I mean literally. Get up, grab a blunt object or find a moderately high cliff and demolish yourself. Sever your spinal cord so that the damage is irreparable. Make sure you take your time, day after day add a little more trauma until you are paralyzed. Until you are unable to move your limbs. Until the physical you you’ve always known is gone and confined to a wheelchair, limited.

Sound crazy? It is. Sound ridiculous? It is. Sound asinine? It is. Sound impossible? It isn’t.

It is possible to do, and unfortunately many people are working on paralyzing themselves slowly, day in, day out.

People are often paralyzed by fear. Without even realizing it their fears grab hold of them and squeeze tight, severing their ability to reach for happiness, progress and satisfaction. Eventually their paralysis leaves them unable to take steps towards the things they really want in life. Leaves them unable to recognize the person they’ve become. They are confined to the limits their fears have established, paralyzed.

Sound crazy? It is. Sound ridiculous? It is. Sound asinine? It is. Sound impossible? It isn’t.

In his introduction to the book The Alchemist Paulo Coelho describes the four obstacles to reaching your dreams and one of them happens to be our own behaviors and routines. He describes it beautifully stating:

“Intense, unexpected suffering passes more quickly than suffering that is apparently         bearable; the latter goes on for years and, without our noticing, eats away at our soul,   until, one day, we are no longer able to free ourselves from the bitterness and it stays        with us for the rest of our lives.”

Our own comfort is what kills us. So that leaves the question… what is the opposite of comfort? If getting comfortable in our lives, enduring the day in, day out grind is the “bearable suffering”, then what is the alternative?

The opposite of comfort is discomfort.

Doing something we fear is the highest level of discomfort.

Giving into our fears leaves us comfortable and complacent.

Giving into our fears leaves us paralyzed and limited. It leaves us with a life that fits the pattern and routine of society with predictable goals and behaviors. It isn’t always comfortable, but it is expected.

It’s expected and predictable, but it isn’t always fulfilling. One of my favorite quotes comes from Eleanor Roosevelt, a woman who did what was right and fought for her dreams rather than doing what a woman in her position was “supposed” to do. She lived a fulfilling life that inspired others. She said,

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop                to look fear in the face… You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”

Fear comes in many disguises, it has a variety of methods it uses to paralyze you. Some of them are so innocuous that you may not even recognize them. So, how do you face your fears and live an unrestricted life? You have to do everything you think you can’t.

Even if that something sounds crazy. Even if it is ridiculous. Even if it seems asinine. Especially if it seems impossible, because it isn’t.

Everything is possible to try, and it is the trying that frees you from your fears. It isn’t about success. It isn’t about perfection. It is about progress and happiness. The true measure of a life well lived is the smiles that it gives. What makes you smile? What do you do to make others smile? What are you scared of?

Go out and do those things.

Remember that even if doing something you fear leads to “intense, unexpected suffering,” Paulo Coelho keenly reminded us that it will pass quickly. You can overcome it and come out on the other side better for it.

Don’t let your fears paralyze you.

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Yesterday I faced my fears by competing in the 63kg weight division at the Elmira Open Olympic Weightlifting meet. I was scared of doing poorly because of my injuries and lack of training (read here to learn about my unexpected diagnosis). I was scared of the competitive 63 class and wanted to do the 69kg weight with less lifters and a guaranteed place on the podium (read here to learn more about my fear of failure). I was scared of failing in front of people (read here to learn more about my struggles with trying to “perfect”).

I was scared, but I did it anyways. If I had failed, or did poorly, or gotten last place I would’ve been disappointed in my performance but not myself. I would’ve been glad I faced my fears and followed my dreams. I would’ve been satisfied with the intense suffering because it would have also provided intense fulfillment.

Fortunately I faced my fears, because despite all of the odds I was able to pace 3rd to two amazing athletes that I look up to. I strode through my discomfort and found that on the other side there is great happiness. I did what I thought I couldn’t.

I am not paralyzed.

I am free.

I stared at the box for what seemed like too long while my brain stumbled and sputtered, trying to grab at a feeling. It wasn’t long before it decided – it was angry. I let out a tight laugh as I reached onto the shelf and grabbed the box full of dirty dishes. Really?!!?? He packed dirty dishes? Why am I even surprised? Like he was really going to do something nice and pack up the last few things I need to be totally moved out. This is ridiculous. Who does that?

I turned towards his mother, box in hand, rage inside, and said, “This is why I left your son, he’s an ass.” In a moment of anger I told the sweetest woman I know something hurtful, not just to her, but to her son as well. I had a problem…

The thing about problems is that they are like weeds growing in your garden. It’s pretty obvious that weeds steal the nourishment from the other plants, and at times are an eye sore. It’s pretty obvious that everyone wants to get rid of them. It’s pretty safe to say that it’s obvious everyone knows you need to pull weeds from the roots because cutting them down and relying on the ‘ol “outta sight, outta mind” attitude gets you nowhere. The problem with problems is that most people view the weeds in the garden as other people’s actions and behaviors, or as poor experiences that occur in their lives. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Weeds in the garden, our problems, are the fears, insecurities and negative emotions we feel. Our problems are deeply rooted within ourselves, deeply rooted in feelings, and like weeds those feelings have messy, intricate webs o f roots buried beneath the ground.

My ex-fiancé packed up my dirty dishes, he didn’t even have the courtesy to wash some pots and pans. This wasn’t my problem (although it sure felt like one!). His actions are what fed my negative emotions, they were the sun and water, they helped those deep-seated weeds to grow. The real problem was rooted in my emotions. It wasn’t just the dishes, I brought them home and washed them in less than twenty minutes, dirty dishes weren’t the problem.

After four years in the relationship, dishes seemed to be a recurring trigger for arguments. On a rational level this makes no sense, they are easy to do and don’t take much time or energy, but for some reason situation: Who-Does-The-Dishes got out of hand. In the end our relationship crumbled and even post-breakup there was still plenty of hurt to go around. Instead of wallowing in my anger, I wanted to fix the problem. As Albert Einstein said, “Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results [is insanity].” I was feeling pretty insane and I needed change. I realized that my emotions were clouding my thought process, so I got out my notebook and decided I was going to look at the whole situation objectively, like a Scientist ruled by logic and rational thinking, void of emotional input. That’s when I stumbled on the idea of using the Scientific Method to solve problems. It’s pretty obvious that the world renowned and widely recognized method was created to find solutions to problems. It’s pretty obvious that emotions don’t belong in Science. It’s pretty safe to say that it’s obvious everyone knows about the Scientific Method. The thing is, most people try to solve their problems by looking at what other people did – like me, blaming my ex for packing dirty dishes, when the true problem was my emotions, not his actions. So, here is a new way to look at problem solving that gets to the roots of your emotions. It is a step by step process that has been working well for me the last few weeks.

STEP 1 Ask a Question

True questions do not have pre-existing answers, ask yourself something related to your problem with genuine curiosity, otherwise you will be going through steps to prove yourself right. The purpose of this is to determine the root of your problem and yank it out – if you know the answers then you don’t’ have a problem to begin with, or you’re just deluding yourself. You can ask some pretty basic things to begin with: Why am I feeling this way? How am I feeling? What is causing this?

STEP 2 – Conduct Background Research

You see the weed’s heady flowers, you know there’s a problem, now you must identify the roots. This is the worst and most important task. Research in this sense is compromised of observation and reflection. Be an observer of your emotional fluctuations, then trace them back to their roots. Figure out what caused them. When you engage in your problem, work backwards to unearth where it stems from. This is messy and at times heart breaking, but it is necessary. The first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one – at this point you’re more than half way there.

STEP 3 – Construct a Hypothesis

Problems are meant to be solved. Pulling those weeds is a dirty job, but somebody’s got to do it, and you are your own life’s gardener. Now it’s time to come up with a plan to pull the weeds from the roots since you’ve identified them. Be specific and visualize your desired outcome: life without the problem. Now that you know the root of your problem, you can come up with an idea of how it might be solved.

STEP 4 – Engage in an Experiment

The word experiment shares a root with the word experience – you need to set up specific experiences to produce change. Your hypothesis should include specific ways to solve your problem. Now you must determine the steps or course of action needed to make it happen. Choose one method and follow it through to the end, but remember: DON’T analyze your emotions or the method’s effectiveness as you go – just do the motions and take note of the results… at this point you are a rational, scientific, experimenting machine.

STEP 5 – Analyze Your Data and Draw Conclusions

Now you can look at your feelings. To analyze the course of action you need to ask yourself: Did it work? Why? or Why not? How did I feel at each part of the change? Is the problem solved? This is important! Experiments, even the ones that do not work, teach us a lot about what to do next. If your emotional response has not been changed, then you need to go back to Step 1 and start the process over.

If your emotional response has been changed, it’s important that you understand the relationship between the root of the problem and the problem itself. Make sure you’ve pulled up all of the roots so your weed doesn’t come back. Identifying how you were able to pull the roots will provide valuable information for solving future problems . This is wonderful because like weeds, problems are inevitable.

STEP 6 – Communicate Your Results

Problems are not only inevitable, but also common. They are a natural part of the garden of life. In fact, removing them provides satisfaction and room for your flowers to grow. Without overcoming problems, your life would have no growth. Problems are an essential part of a high-quality, purposeful life. Share your experience and knowledge to enhance the human connection and to help others grow as well… That’s what I’m doing here.

My problem, after employing the scientific method, turned out to be an emotional void. The dishes weren’t the problem, but rather a relationship where I felt like I wasn’t appreciated or respected. It was MY feelings that were the problem. The dishes, as I realized after conducting some background research and reflecting, were a symbol of those emotions. Since he wouldn’t help wash them, I felt like I was “stuck” with all of the mundane responsibilities of home-life, and that he didn’t care enough about me to help out. After going through the problem solving method step by step, I decided my course of action would be to be honest about my feeling each time I was angry, and it worked. Instead of fuming over the situation I called my ex and explained to him that I didn’t mean to complain about the dishes, but that I was feeling like they represented a feeling I had. After a long discussion it came out that we both felt like we were doing a lot, but not getting much in return. Instead of arguing, we came to the conclusion that our relationship was missing the foundation of shared interests and beliefs and that our personalities were poison to each other. In the end, the action of openly discussing my frustration resulted in a positive outcome. My experiment taught me to communicate my feelings in the future rather than hang on to them. Additionally, my dishes are clean, my ex and I are friends, and next time I get mad at somebody, I know exactly how to deal with my emotional reaction. Solving a deeply rooted problem has hopefully helped me to prevent some future ones from growing in my garden – now I can use that space to plant something pretty, just in time for spring :).

You pay attention closely. It’s new and beautiful and you don’t want to miss a thing. Every moment: the swift urgency, the patient calm, you absorb it all, nothing else matters – when you’re in love you pay attention to everything. You soak it up and pack away the tiny moments in your mind to be pulled out later, to be rehashed, remembered, and analyzed. In the beginning it is all interesting, and if you’re lucky – if you find your true love, that new feeling will continually revisit you after waves of stagnant plateaus, or angry bouts. You aim to please and give it everything you’ve got, like a sprinter taking off from the blocks, full of strength and energy and enthusiasm. Eventually things will slow down, habits will form, patterns will settle in, but in the beginning you burn with desire and can never get enough.

Food.

I love it.

Everyone loves food, but I have found, late in my life, a new relationship with food and my body. One that brings happiness and satisfaction in a variety of ways. In my early relationships I focused on what I thought would make me happy, I had expectations and set out to find food to satisfy them. Often times this led to regrets and unhealthy choices (and if I’m honest this statement could probably apply to my love life as well!). Instead of listening to my body, I made choices based on cravings and wants. Now I listen to my body and have developed a healthy relationship with both it, and the fuel I feed it with.

My love affair with food began as most new relationships do, with a stage of curious wonder. After beginning Crossfit I was introduced to the Paleo lifestyle. I was interested in trying it out for performance’s sake – as a competitive addict, I was willing to do anything to get an advantage, so I dived in full force. I cleaned out all of my cupboards, researched a bunch of recipes, shopped for Paleo staples and began the learning process. Like a new lover, I was ready to go and acting hastily based on my intense feelings. I went out too strong and found myself lost in the kitchen, in the grocery store, and in my macros. It took awhile to dial it all in, and throughout the process I learned many valuable lessons.

Now, I’m not a scientist, a doctor, or an expert by any means, but I am a dedicated, committed lover. I have paid close attention to every detail of every bite of my food and the reactions my body had to it. Like a new lover I was absorbed in the process of eating healthy and pushing my body to its limits by carefully observing everything. After two years I have settled into comfortable patterns and habits, but I still haven’t lost that new love feeling. That’s how I know this is true love and I’d like to share with you what it has taught me. As we all know, the best relationships are the ones that bring out the best in ourselves.

Lesson – Cravings

In the past, my relationship with food left me with intense cravings and I would often find myself devouring a bag of chips, like literally an entire family sized bag of chips, or cookies. Afterwards I’d not only feel guilty, but my body would crash and I would feel unhealthy (again, not unlike many of my relationship choices with men in my early years…). Though it was never worth it, I continued to do it for years. I thought it was a sign of some moral weakness or character flaw, but after discovering healthy eating and paying attention to my body I’ve learned there are two types of cravings and once you know this, you can manage it. There was nothing wrong with me, I was just letting the wrong type of craving lead me.

The first type of craving is what I call a “tongue craving”. This is when you want something simply for the taste of it – for me I find that in the middle of the afternoon I crave the warm, bitter taste of tea on my tongue, and at the end of my longest days I want the sweet taste of chocolate. These cravings originate out of a need for pleasure and are fine in moderation. In my previous relationship with food, I let these cravings rule my world and it led to poor health because tongue cravings don’t honor what the body needs. There is science behind your insulin response and metabolic reactions to consuming processed, grain-filled foods, but again I’m not a scientist, just an intense lover. I encourage you to research the myriad information out there on your own because part of a new love affair involves getting to know your partner. (Here are some resources if you’re interested: Guide to Paleo for Beginners, Wheat Belly, the Godfather of Paleo – Loren Cordain).

Though tongue cravings don’t honor what the body needs, “body cravings” do. After you begin, and spend some time on your journey into healthy eating, you’ll become more in tune with your body. By paying close attention to what I eat and how it makes me feel, I’ve developed the ability to listen to my body. When it needs something it tells me and I don’t deny it what it wants (I’m a self-sacrificing lover). This is great because I feel satisfied and don’t have to restrict myself. Rather than feeling guilty for giving in to my cravings, if I understand they come from a need within me, I can indulge in them happily. For me, after intense conditioning I crave salty foods, and because I treat my body as a machine that requires high quality food (think 110 octane, not regular pump gas) I choose to have a sweet potato with sea salt and cinnamon, or a bag of Terra Sweet Potato Chips – yes, I still devour the whole bag as I did in my previous relationship, but now it’s a source of joy and satisfaction rather than guilt and disgust.

Lesson – Performance and Recovery

When you’re working hard, lifting and preparing for competition six days a week, your body takes a beating! I often get the question, “How do you do it all?” I am a single mother, full-time teacher, track coach, adventure enthusiast (seriously, I love random journeys and those things take time), motocross racer, and I train between 7 to 10 hour a week for competitive Crossfit. That level of activity takes a miracle, and I find that natural foods are it. If I eat clean and avoid gluten, processed sugars, and boxed foods I can do it all without fatigue or being tired. And eggs. That’s my other secret, eggs everyday keep me ready to play.

I log my food on and off and I log my workouts daily. As a result, over the past two years I’ve noticed some patterns. Resoundingly, my food intake has a direct impact on my performance and recovery. I cannot stress enough the importance of what you eat for doing well. Now, food isn’t everything, I also see similar patterns related to sleep, consumption of fish oil, and mobility, but food is the primary miracle maker.

Lesson – Keeping Ahead of Yourself

Now food is important to maintaining performance and recovery, but with a grown-up life and schedule, it’s difficult to keep it clean on short time frames and busy schedules. Another thing I’ve learned on my journey is to stay ahead of myself and to constantly reflect on my progress. I have to stay in touch with my relationship so I don’t accidentally slip and let it slide to the back burner of life’s priorities.

Whenever I’m listening to my body and it starts to tell me it’s not happy through fatigue, soreness, or a drop in performance, my first step is to log my food for 3-5 days. I’m typically lazy about it so I don’t write down quantities or types of calories I’m consuming, just what I’m eating. Usually what I find is that I’ve decreased the amount of veggies I’m eating. There is a ton of research and information about the health benefits of eating vegetables, but like a lover I base my decision on my feelings. I think with my stomach and not my brain.

To help remedy this I plan ahead. Every Sunday I make my breakfasts for the week so I can grab and go in the morning and I use this same mentality for veggies. I split my cauliflower, carrots, celery, cucumbers, broccoli, and other vegetables into snack sized portions for the entire week so I can grab them quickly and keep my body fed properly. I like to mix it up too, so I’m not always grabbing the same types of veggies. You know what they say… variety is the spice of life.

(I also eat organic baby food, I know it’s weird, and trust me, I get a lot of funny looks, but it comes in pouches that require no utensils and no refrigeration. Plus, it’s all natural, so it is a very convenient source of fuel).

Lesson – Experimentation and Being Open to New Things

Speaking of variety… I used to fall for the same type (both food and men…) regardless of the fact that it never worked out. You can’t stick to a healthy relationship if it isn’t interesting, fun and deeply satisfying. I found that after I began to get comfortable with my new food choices, I began to experiment with them -this was the best thing that ever happened to my relationship with food.

I learned how to use spices in different ways (like adding a dash of chili powder and cinnamon to anything I cook with ground beef – try it and thank me later 🙂 and to eat foods I never tried before. This opened new avenues for me and also helped me to stay in love for the long haul. After hitting a stagnant plateau in a relationship it’s easy to start looking elsewhere, you know the thought, “Maybe that bag of Doritos would taste better than my usual…” By introducing new things to your existing relationship you keep it fresh and deter the need to look elsewhere. Try new things, don’t be scared to experiment.

Lesson – Annoying the hell out of… I mean Sharing Your Passion

Another pitfall of new relationships is going too hard too soon. It’s an honest mistake, when you fall in love it is so exciting and invigorating, you want to stand on the highest mountain with arms wide open and scream it to the world… the problem is the world isn’t always ready to hear you. For that reason I’ve learned that it’s important to scale your enthusiasm based on your audience. If someone solicits your advice, you can have a little more animation and include lots of information, but if it is someone who didn’t ask, you have to be careful how much you talk about it. Getting too excited about healthy eating will annoy a lot of people!

What I’ve found to work best is begin on some common ground and ease into the conversation about food from there. I realize you could just avoid talking about food choices altogether, and some people do include diet on the list of “never-talk-abouts” with religion and politics. I disagree though, when something is so life-changing and impactful, it should be shared. To overcome this taboo topic-block I like to let people tell me about their food habits and healthy choices, and then moderate how much I tell them based on that. For example, if my friend tells me she’s proud of herself for avoiding chips for the last two weeks, I talk to her about healthier alternatives to chips such as plantain chips, banana chips, or sweet potato chips. This way we can talk about a healthy diet as honoring your body, not restricting yourself. To stick with a relationship it has to be something you enjoy, not constant hard work.

Lesson – Loving Your Body Inside and Out

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, my love affair with food has also taken me on a journey to loving myself. After getting rid of gluten for performance reasons I learned that I have been suffering from celiac disease my whole life. I didn’t know that it was possible to live without arthritic pain, depression, acne and stomach issues. I truly thought those were just natural human ailments. Since I’ve transitioned to clean eating, I have found a new way to live. Quite literally, my life is better without gluten in it.

As a result of getting healthy, I found that I have more energy which allows me to do more things that make me happy, which leads to satisfaction, which leads to a healthy self-image. Not only am I happy with the “inside” of my body, I am now much more happy with its outside appearance as well. Clean eating leads to a more natural body composition. When you’re body reaches homeostasis through proper nutrition and exercise, it becomes the best version of itself. Everybody has a different make up, but when you feel comfortable in your own skin your beauty shines in a more definitive, self-serving way no matter what the appearance of it is.

One last thing…

True love is the type of love that changes you for the better; a healthy relationship builds you up and lasts through the good times and bad. Developing a healthy relationship with food has helped me to become the person that I am today, one I am happy to share with the world. One that survives the good times and the bad times not only intact, but smiling the whole time.

I hope you can find happiness in your relationship with food too… and that you keep reading what I have to share with the world :).

Everything new begins at something else’s end.

The phoenix has always been my favorite mythological creature. I am fascinated by its serene power. The obvious draw to it is its ability to overcome any challenge, to burn up in a wall of flames and rise from the ashes to begin again. Yet that isn’t what gets me going about it. A phoenix is a small, quiet creature. It goes about its daily life, beautiful and graceful, but unaffected by its own abilities. It isn’t haughty, it isn’t flashy, but behind all of its traditional singularity is an immense beauty – the beauty of rebirth and hope. Two things I need right now.

Yesterday I posted about my current situation and my very real, very scary prognosis (read more here to learn about my doctor’s news that I am done with crossfit). Today I have a very different story to share. I am burning it all down and beginning again. I know that life, and my passions, as I know them will not be the same, but I also know that I am open to new possibilities… and that I must burn what I knew in a wall of flame so I can begin again. To do this, I began where my other story ends – with crossfit. I wrote a workout to represent my current situation.

“Unbroken”

3 pushups

3 strict ring dips

3 ring rows

30 second forearm plank

4 pushups

4 ring dips

4 ring rows

40 second plank

….

5-5-5-50

….

6-6-6-60

… etc.

This workout is to be done for rounds and your score is the largest set of the last movement you are able to do unbroken. You complete each set of movements and increase by one rep each round until you can’t get the sets unbroken. Once you have to break up a set you finish it out because even after you break, you can’t give up; you must finish what you’ve started. There is no giving up. After you break a set of reps up, you do not do that movement in the next round. This process continues until you find your breaking point in each movement. It continues until you break them all down and then you will be ready to begin again…

For me this was a goodbye and a hello. As I began the workout I was excited to feel my blood flowing, after taking a week off and grappling with the possibility that I may never begin working out again, I was elated. Then as the movements progressed and the reps started to pile up I could feel the familiar burn of lactic acid in my triceps and forearms. The pain reminded me that I was doing work; I was broken and different, but capable. On the eighth round, when I began the time for a minute and twenty second plank I felt sure that I was going to break. I grunted through the familiar burn in my core, counted tiles, tried to distract myself, and then I landed on the thought – pain cave. Running away from pain gets you nowhere, to overcome it you need to embrace it, let it take you over, look it in the eyes, say “You don’t scare me” and overcome it. Enter the pain cave and get comfortable there. That point in the workout symbolizes my process. I can’t live wondering what I would’ve been if I wasn’t diagnosed with a chronic condition, I can’t live my life with regret over what I could’ve been after giving up altogether – I need to look at my situation, stare it down, tell it “I’m not scared” and embrace the new version of whatever life throws at me with serenity, confidence and contentment. Slowly, round by round all of the movements broke, I could no longer push up, complete the dips, and eventually even the ring rows deteriorated. For each I pushed as hard as I could, I swore and grunted when I had to finally let it go, but I had to let them all go and break them up. It is impossible to remain unbroken forever, everyone has their breaking point. Some will break sooner, some will go farther beyond what I could imagine, but at some point everyone needs to give in to the process. The important part is that you don’t give up. Even after a move is broken into sets, you finish the round. Nothing is perfect and imperfect versions of things are still beneficial. Once that movement is broken, you move on. You take the movement out of the rotation – the fatigue it caused will still remain, it was still part of your growth, but it’s in the past. Then you move on and focus all of your strength and energy on what remains. That’s life. It’s all broken, and no matter how strong you are there will be breaking points. The important part is not when or how you break, but how you deal with it.

After the workout I lay face down on the floor, in the same position that terrified me just days ago when I found myself unable to walk on a hospital floor. This time instead of fear I felt hope and relief. I look the same and others may not notice the new power I have within, but like the phoenix I will carry myself with the understanding that I have been rebirthed, that I am starting over. Yes, I am broken, I have been thrown down quite literally to the ground, but as I lay there exhausted on a dusty basement floor I felt relieved and hopeful. Maya Angelou’s words rung through my mind:

“You may trod me in the very dirt

But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Still I’ll rise.

I rise

I rise

I rise.”

15.3 : AMRAP of 7 muscle ups, 50 wallballs, 100 double unders, a river of tears…

I love crossfit in the most obsessive, passionate way possible. I love how it changes people, how it presents a physical metamorphosis which mirrors the changes within. Crossfit makes me sweat, makes me smile, has brought me friends, has given me some crazy back muscles, and has taught me about life. The lessons I’ve learned in the gym resonate through my everyday actions and guide me to being a better person. Every good love story has a tragic flaw though, and the Open was mine…

This year marked my second of training competitively, it was the year I didn’t get hurt right before the Open, it was the year I could test my mettle, the year I could begin to shine… it was the year my doctor said I may never crossfit again.

I woke up Monday morning with aching knees, thinking my quads were tight, I went to the foam roller because I believe that a little mobility can solve any problem. I didn’t find any “sticky spots” and went to work thinking my knees would loosen up and get better with movement. As the day progressed, though, I felt pressure building and that afternoon I bent down to get water from the cooler and yelped in pain. It startled me, the sharp sting of it was unexpected. I was still able to go to the gym that afternoon, but I couldn’t squat below parallel, even after more mobility work. That is when I knew something was wrong. I love being below parallel, and squatting is the light at the end of every “this-stuff-is-too-hard-why-do-I-do-it” crossfit tunnel. I was in trouble. I worked on muscle up drills and went home confused. I got some ice, put my legs up and hoped the next day would go better.

I woke up Tuesday morning with swollen, aching knees, unsure what to think. Tuesdays are my swim days so I hobbled out of bed and went to the pool. I had an interesting time rolling in and out of the pool with straight legs, but instead of being upset I couldn’t bend my knees, I figured it was just a fluke and took it as an opportunity to do pushups between sprints. Looking back now I see how I was ignoring the signs that something was terribly wrong; describing it now I realize that even in the water my legs weren’t responding to the commands of my mind – it was like trailing two heavy logs behind me up and down the length of the pool. Still, I maintained hope and went on with my day.

Until my legs stopped working.

After swimming I took two Advil to try and reduce the now very visible swelling and within two hours I lost the ability to stand comfortably on my own two feet. At that time mild panic set in and I scheduled an appointment with my doctor. I began the morning stiff and mobile and by 11:00 I was standing in the hallway trying to desperately figure out how I was going to get to my car and drive to the doctors. The thought of taking a step seemed impossible. Fortunately, one of my co-workers saw me in my frozen confusion and took action. Despite my insistence that I was fine, she left work and drove me. I can’t thank her enough.

The doctor was not sure what could have caused my sudden onset of symptoms and threw around words like rhabdo, rheumatoid arthritis, overuse injury, infection… she took samples of every body fluid I have and promised that we would figure it out – the fear lodged in her eyes, right behind her kind smile, chilled my heart. I followed her instructions and went home to rest, ice, take ibuprofen, and try to swallow the fear that was building. I had a friend come stay with me so I wasn’t alone and just when I thought things couldn’t get worse , they did…

I went to the Emergency Room that evening. Teams of doctors checked me out, tests were taken, I was probed, poked, X-rayed, interviewed, everything you can imagine, they did it all… except for save me. They had no answers.

Here is where my tragic story takes a turn for the worse. I was devastated to say goodbye to days of training, to be missing work, to be depending on people to drive me around, but there was hope. I hoped that it was temporary and believed they would figure it out. I believed it was just another temporary setback and I would bounce back before 15.3 was announced and over. I was sad and upset, but I believed and hoped until I could no longer deny the severity of the situation.

I went for an X-ray after a few hours in the ER. At this point my entire right leg was immobile and my left leg was swollen and painful, but somewhat reliable. I was in a wheelchair, but I could shuffle my way from sitting position to sitting position. I entered the imaging room and the tech asked me if I was going to be able to stand long enough to get the chest x-ray. Again, I was overcome with the same fear and uncertainty I felt in the hallway desperately trying to figure out how I was going to get from point A to point B. I assured her I could, though I was unsure myself. I grabbed my right leg with two hands and moved it into position and pushed on the arms of the wheelchair to shift the weight to my left foot. As I began my ascent, my knee buckled. It happened so swiftly that I didn’t even have time to make a noise. Next thing I knew, I was lying face down on the floor completely helpless. That morning I was swimming in the pool, and now I was crumpled up and waiting for a stranger to pick me up off of the floor. I was worse than devastated, I was dependent and losing hope.

After a long night of no news, I was sent home. The next day I got an appointment with my orthopedic doctor (as an avid crossfitter and motocross racer, he and I go way back with injuries and ailments aplenty). He listened to my symptoms, looked at my legs, reviewed the myriad test results and I waited anxiously to hear his thoughts. My heart was pounding as his hands turned page after page of blood test reports, urinalysis results and doctor’s notes. Then he looked at me and my heart froze. In his eyes was the look – I’ve seen it so many times when bad news was on its way, as if the eyes are reflecting the careful wording that is forming in the doctor’s mind when they have to deliver something they don’t even want to say.

He put his hand on my shoulder, then looked at my knee and touched it wistfully, like a regret. He took a deep breath and said I think I know what’s wrong. He then went on to crush my hopes and dreams with his words. He said I may have a chronic, degenerative knee condition called chondromalacia patella, or rheumatoid arthritis, or both. His suspicion was both – so he gave me some new medications and more tests. I heard what he was saying, my head was spinning and my heart stopped beating and I asked him the only question I cared about, the one I didn’t want to know the answer to, “What will this mean for crossfit?” The look. I got the look again, and after clearing his throat once he tried to begin, but even he couldn’t choke it out. He cleared his throat louder this time and said that I need to start considering the possibility of being done with competitive, high impact sports – what I heard, “say goodbye to everything you love.”

Devastated, crushed, heart-broken, confused, angry, empty, scared, I felt it all as I filled my new prescription for steroids. I couldn’t stop the thoughts from flowing, every time I tried to ignore it, to calm down and say that it wasn’t a definite yet, only time will tell, a reminder would appear. Filling my prescription, RX… RX like my plans for 15.3, like the Open, like the workouts I trained so hard to crush… Pushing up off of the couch with my shoulders and forearms in the shape of an L… L-sits, and core work that I’ve trained so hard to obtain, that I used to love to hate and now love to do… Swinging in rhythm with my steps and hips on crutches… rhythmic hips to kip hard for muscle ups and pull-ups, movements that were once beyond my reach and now a part of my daily life… All reminders.

Once home I read over the precautions of my new medications with ice on my knees and my legs up. On the steroid box there was a long list of confusing side effects that seemed endless and daunting, like my future. It included psychotic derangement, mood swings, euphoria and depression. I realized that my reaction to the possibility of losing what I loved, of losing the version of crossfit I loved and held dear, was like that list. I could be defeated, I could give up, I could be hopeful, I could be confused, I could try again. And that’s when I smiled. That’s when I realized that here I was again, learning more about life from crossfit than I have from any other experience. Your reaction to life’s inevitable challenges and setbacks is in your hands. I had the choice. There are many possible side effects to tragedy, but I chose euphoria. I choose not to give up on my love story. I choose to continue towards my destination of elite, competitive crossfit even though I will now be taking a drastically different path.

Though the Open is closed for me this year, it is not finished. I am open to the possibilities.