Saturday, March 19, 2016

On Getting Back into Fitness

“The only easy day was yesterday.” – Navy SEALS

This week my routine changed quite a bit. It's an offshoot of major changes in my life in the last six months when I left field work as a Team Lead for a position that involves suits, meetings, and desks. I miss the field work, I miss my old team, but I love being home every night with my husband, and being able to turn my phone off when I go to sleep.

But the downside to that was not mental, but physical, as I was no longer walking through all kinds of terrain and bending down a lot. Plus getting to a gym when I leave the house and don't come home for 12 hours with traffic isn't a priority. (I have a house/dog sitter who checks on the place during the day and plays with and walks Abby the Lab). I found myself turning into a desk potato. Some pounds to lose notwithstanding,  I was just getting soft where I'm not supposed to BE soft and left to my own devices I'd walk the dog, do a couple push ups and then a couple of 12 ounce curls. It was enough to keep me from buying bigger jeans, but not enough where I was truly fit.
So I hired a personal trainer. She's German by birth, a young woman who owns a thriving  skin care business in Indiana (Simply Birgit which I've highlighted here before as I love her skin care) who is a full time personal trainer in addition to managing her skin care line. She in Northwest Indiana, but has business that takes her into Chicago so she makes a stop at my home once a week. We'll start slow the first couple of weeks, just general conditioning, balance, and cardio  with light weights before getting into more heavy duty strength training. I met her through her other business, and hearing her story of becoming a fitness trainer after recovery following a  bad auto accident, I was like "yes!"

She's drop dead gorgeous and when she showed up with the German accent, telling me she just ordered a shirt that said "I'm the trainer, you're the victim" I couldn't help but laugh. But she's awesome, and after an hour workout when her helping my form and working up a plan for the next 12 weeks while she'll be working with me, I feel like I will be able to  kick butt again. I felt like I'd done something positive for myself. I still have a couple of years before I turn 60 but I want to make sure I go into retirement able to handle whatever life throws my way - be it a long walking or running event for cancer awareness or simply fleeing to safety quickly in an emergency.

Don't hold my breath. Breathe out as I lift, breathe in as I release.  I repeat to myself as we finished up.

I was told to expect some soreness.  The next day even my hair hurt.
But that "a-ha" moment when I realized I was wanting to commit to getting in better than "OK for being in my 50's" shape was a trip to the grocery store a couple of weeks ago. There was no pause, there was no pondering it was just there as if a light had turned on as a hand touched a switch.

It wasn't my usual store but a big chain place that was by my bank so I went to grab just to grab milk and eggs.  What caught my eye was all the people on scooters, more than half a dozen, only one of them elderly, none sporting casts or braces or crutches or the things I had to have with me after my meniscus surgery and my two weeks of scooter days. I found that rather unsettling.
For although I'm well aware that not all illness and disability is visible, it would appear that at least some of the scooter drivers were simply too overweight to walk about the store, driving and filling up the basket with frozen pizzas, fried chicken, mayo laden salads and soda pop before they scooted out of the store.

In that moment I heard words my Dad always told me - you quit moving you die.

Even at almost 96 - and in declining health, every morning he rides his exercise bike and does stretching exercises with his exercise ball, followed by 3 reps of weight work outs. He's had a stroke - he's had cancer - I truly believe the only reason he's still here as he gets up every morning committed to MOVE. The firearm by the door has been replaced by a baseball bat (he got to the point he couldn't safely handle a weapon after the stroke) and I would NOT want to be on the receiving end of that if Dad, a career military police office, went to protect and defend.  It took him a Great War, the the loss of a baby and then a wife to fully realize the taste and savor of peace and he's not going to give it up easily and he does all he can to make sure he is as capable as he can be.
Because it's about more than the ability to navigate a store without help. It's about more than your health - the extra weight taking a toll on more than your joints.   It's about more then being a smaller size.

It's about having the ability to move to save your life there in that moment when you spot danger and your heart stills, emptying out of all but courage and what you are capable off. It's that moment when you know fear.

Fear can come when least expected. It can be flat eyes that catch yours from a darkened stand of trees, the next house too far away. It can be the portent of a funnel cloud when shelter is many yards away and seconds are all you have. It can be the sound of breaking glass from the front of your home. It can be working out in a place fit only for serpents and snakes, forensic closure not always involving dry flat land, and hearing that sound, one you'll never forget, like the splash of hands on the water.  You look at the water too close to you you and there's nothing to see but the fluid gleams of reflected stars that suddenly scurried and vanished and you realize, even as you signal the backup LEO's with weapons, that the blood has attracted a gator
That's fear, and when you've known it, it's a long time before you are restored of it, laying awake at night, the feeling in your lungs like cement, solidifying  as shattered echoes of those moments drum in your ears.

Certainly, there are other methods of self defense, and as someone who has been in law enforcement the last 18 years, raised by LEO's. (Mom was the Sheriff) I can see that someone that kicks in my front door is going to find that the laser sight dot that blossoms on their forehead IS the universal language of NO.

But not everyone carries a firearm, or is comfortable having one in the home, which I understand. What are you going to do then? Or what if someone is lying in wait and you are physically grabbed before you can draw what weapon you might have (you will be amazed how quickly someone can close 4-6 feet in the dark).
You have to be strong enough to fight or get a good poke in the eye or throat  with a set of car keys and run (that Gerber tool is gonna hurt).

You can't do that if you are both out of shape and afraid.

I was a volunteer at a family violence center for a few years. Those of you who have read my book "Saving Grace" know why.   It's not necessarily a pleasant task at times, but one that needs to be done, by those that care or who have seen it firsthand. That type of violence doesn't just happen to the poor, the uneducated the needy. We see women of all walks of life in there that just share one thing in common, that they have been scared for so long that they just get used to being that way. Sometimes you'd just find them in their room in the warm and cozy shelter home, in the dark. You can feel people in a dark room. You don't need to see them. Sometimes they're just asleep, catching up on that precious commodity, sleep where you know someone who cares is watching over your safety.
They don't sleep well, for years, violence going to bed with them each night, often drunk, normally angry. They'd lay there in the bed, trying not to move, trying to make themselves smaller and smaller so not to be noticed. Trying not to breathe for when they breathed they could hear them, hear that dark mass of anger sizing them up for what is only one persons idea of fun or a fight. They could feel the blood in their veins, the little involuntary twitch at the corner of their eye as they're shut tighter and tighter as if by doing so you will not see what you know is coming. It takes a long time to sleep well after that.

So, there in the safety of the shelter, if their bedroom door was not blocked you'd just knock and say a soft hello and tell them you'd wait outside. They'd sit there in the dark of their ruined life, sometimes with a chair propped up against the door, afraid that even in this refuge they would be found, viewing the world with an indomitable and implacable weariness.  But soon they would come out, into the light, amazed that with tools and training, they could learn to live a life of comparative calm. You would hear the stories, stories you know as they've been told so often and so hard that the words no longer were words, but were invisible welts the skin would always carry.
Violence can wear the hand of a family member, but we deal with that, with what we can. I mentor women on not being a victim, because evil can be more than something that visits us in our own home. But it also shops with us, drives with us, peering at us from a van in the shopping center parking lot, or from over their shoulder as they bend to tie their shoe as you jog on past, down that blind canyon of trees from which you will not return. A few years ago, there was a talented young woman who was kidnapped by someone she struck up a conversation with her in a national forest, a kindly looking old guy who then went on to terrorize her and kill her. She was young and very strong. She was a Black Belt but the zodiac that had stacked the cards against her that day did not care. It was a sobering revelation that the tools she thought would protect her failed her.
Martial Arts is a wonderful tool, but it's naive to think that is a representation of street self defense, in that you obviously aren't going to execute pre-planned patterns of memorized movements against an attacker. And if you learn it you must keep up the practice and skills. It's not just a force. It's a tool, a habit pattern of strength. It's a pattern of practice. It is a mind set and it doesn't make you invincible. Just because you can kick some one's but doesn't mean you're better OR bulletproof. I've spent many a afternoon compiling what remained of those that thought they were bullet proof in moments that only my own death will efface from my memory.

But even if being strong and focused is no guarantee, I can guarantee that if you are NOT strong and focused, something one day is going to hit you like a freight train, and you are not going to be prepared physically.
So, I'm going to spend money I'd rather spend on other things, for someone to mentor ME - to guide me through really tough workouts that I'd not do if I just went to the gym on my own.  I'm the personality that is best given a challenge and if that challenge is in front of me, saying "One MORE - hold it 10 seconds" when I thinking "there is NO way I can do one more", then I'm in. We will sweat as we will talk, in soft cryptic voices, of things we both understand, of being female, of the indisputable discrepancy between will and capability due to muscle and mass and using what we can to advantage.

Then at night, I'll lay upon the bed, not just for sleep but to gather strength as runners do, the window closed against the city, the clock chiming at midnight as strong and as clear as glass that shines in iron darkness. And I will breathe in clear and deep, taking up a big rush of air into my chest as I flex newly worked muscles into larger and stronger form, my eyes opening and staying that way, taking in all that is around me, that is my safety, before shutting my eyes to sleep. When I sleep, it will be in quiet and safety, next to my husband and a tube of pain relief gel.

It's more than pain, it's more than courage or will - it's awareness derived from every drop of sweat on my brow, every drop of blood on my gloved hands.  It's recognition that suddenly blossoms as if a flower released from a vacuum.  It's taking my life into my own hands, not trusting it's protection to the impotent logic and mantra of peace that has betrayed us again and again,
I'll never be 20 again, but if I'm faced with danger I want more than what is figuratively a fading light and a small bullet in an old gun. I want to be strong. I want to be able to MOVE.  I want the thread of my will and my courage to run on the same spool as the movement of muscle and the pump of a leg, running hard and fast into my remaining days.

Because whether the best option is fight OR flight, I want to be as prepared for it as I can be.

Don't hold my breath. Breathe out as I lift, breathe in as I release.


  1. Get it girl!!!!
    You are motivating me to get back in the workout game.

    1. I was in ballet for 12 years, then played squirrel pilot for 20 so I was about as fit as they come. Then I turn 50 and my metabolism moved to Aruba and I quit working out, and the next thing you know, I was worried about Greenpeace showing up to try and roll me back in the water. I lost 45 pounds, but the muscle tone was not there. It feels really good to get that back.

  2. It will be worth it! I am on week 3 of putting yoga back into my daily routine. I think I have missed 3 nights in total (one being a late night in the hospital when the Man was ill). I don't love it but I know it needs to be done. I must say it is easier than this really, really strict elimination diet I am on!

    1. My best friend, who is in academia and has a sedentary type job, SWEARS by yoga. She's in her mid 40's and looks 15 years younger, but for the graying hair.

  3. Our weight room is finally about set back up! Will probably start lifting again tonight or tomorrow. Total reset though, back to the beginning. Check out Mark Ripptoe's articles of women and lifting. Also Starting Strength: BBT3. Great book!


Thanks for visiting. Having been fortunate enough not to have to diet as a young woman - hitting middle age to find my Metabolism moved to Aruba and didn't even send a postcard was a rude awakening. Thanks for sharing the fun and the pain of getting back in shape. Note: If you are a stranger and include a link in your comment - it will not be posted, to ensure no SPAM or viruses are shared. Any link I post is tested first.