I’m not afraid of dying, no more than anyone else anyway, but I am afraid of getting old. Not grey hair, crow’s feet old but the kind of old where you can no longer care for yourself. When you are forced to be dependent on someone else, be they a devoted family member or someone earning minimum wage in an unflattering uniform. When I was in my early twenties I worked as a Health Care Support Worker for a nursing agency. Many of the shifts I got were in the elderly unit of the local hospital where, in the naivety of my youth, I was confronted with the cruel indignities of ageing. For those poor, lonely souls, personal care was no longer personal but, regardless of how sweet and well meaning the carer, painfully public. Incontinence pads, commodes, hoists; a deadly arsenal in the assault on independence, dignity and youth.
I have talked before about the way that Crossfit has challenged my own perceptions of gender both in myself and others. It has also been a powerful tool in shaping my goals and aspirations and how I view my future. I am 35 years old and I feel stronger and more physically confident than I ever have. In the community that I train in age is irrelevant. All around me I see strong, powerful women and men and many of my real life heroes are my age or older. In the Crossfit Games there are several categories for masters (over 40) including 60+ and much has been written about starting Crossfit over 40 (check out this excellent blog post for example). One of the owners of Reebok Crossfit Connect, Holly Gehlcken, won World, British and Southern Masters Olympic Weight Lifting titles in 2010. She is not just the owner but one of the head coaches, mum of two and a bloody lovely lady to boot.
All my life I have seen sport as something for young, fit people with natural talent and ability but why should they have all the fun? Why do only young people get to skip and jump and run and swing? Why do only young people get to play? The answer, of course, is that they don’t. Anyone can, you just have to make the choice to get off the sofa and do it. You have to come to the realisation that moving is more fun than eating. I don’t really drink anymore and I don’t remember the last time I went to a pub in the evening but I’m okay with it. If other people think thats boring I don’t mind. I spent many, many years feeling lost and sad and hating my life. Now I love my life and I don’t want it to change (there is an enormous change coming up but more about that later, and no, I’m not pregnant).
Since I started Crossfit, I don’t worry about my age so much. I spend less time looking in the mirror and fretting over my grey hair (which, by the way, I have had since I was in my mid twenties). I no longer analyse my reflection in the mirror for new wrinkles, I don’t have time! If I am looking in the mirror I’m checking out my guns for progress or laughing at how funny I look in my crazy new leggings. One of the great things about Crossfit boxes is that they don’t have mirrors so you spend less time worrying about what you look like and more time thinking about how you feel (at times, like in the middle of a WOD, that is a mixed blessing). As for my long term goals and aspirations, I hope that one day I can spend my retirement playing and instead of visiting me in the old people’s home or hospital ward, my grandchildren are working out with me at the box.
Photograph of Holly Gehlcken by RX’d Photography