CrossFit Couples

The 2014 CrossFit Open has begun and I am really excited!  Last year’s Games was the first time I have ever actively watched sport of any kind and I loved it.  I found watching the Games everything I had never previously found watching sports to be…exciting, inspiring and above all, fun.  A large part of the appeal to me was that it was something that my husband and I could do together, and I know we’re not the only couple that do.  We are one of many couples at our box (some of whom are gay, but that’s the joy of living in such a wonderfully liberal place as Brighton!)

Camille Le Blanc Bazinet and Dave Lipson

Camille Le Blanc Bazinet and Dave Lipson

Some couples like to have separate friends and interests and that is fine, if that’s what you want, but I love the fact that George and I have discovered and fallen in love with CrossFit together.  It gives us a fun activity to fill our spare time, it means we are always heading for the same goals (be fitter, be stronger, be better) and we have total DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) empathy.  We laugh a lot when we are at the box and a lot when we are at home.  I don’t get frustrated when he spends endless hours watching youtube videos about mobility and technique and he doesn’t get annoyed when I’m too tired to make dinner after Oly class.  I genuinely don’t mind if he ogles Camille and I think he ogles Chris Spealler almost as much as me.  One of my favourite memories of last summer (or the summer of love as we like to call it) was bellowing in a ‘Lucas Parker‘ style as we went for our daily dip in the icy cold Atlantic.

George and I on our wedding day last summer

George and I on our wedding day last summer

Lets be clear, my husband is way better at CrossFit than me.  I mean, he’s no Rich Froning but the boy can move.   Watching the hard work and effort he has put into developing his fitness and seeing how much progress he has made over the last year and a half has been a revelation and has vastly increased my love and respect for him.  I know that if it wasn’t for him I would never have started CrossFit.  In fact I would never have achieved many of the things that I have over the last 7 and a half years.  Yesterday was a day I have been dreading for a long time.  The day he booked his flight.  On 22nd March my husband of just 6 months (and they have been 6 blissfully happy months) is flying to Ecuador, where he will live for the next 16 months.  I can’t complain.  Many women have to face the agony of sending their husbands off to war and I am sending mine to do field work in the Amazon jungle.  But still, I am heartbroken.

I have to keep reminding myself that I am no longer the fragile, depressed girl that he met all those years ago.  I don’t need to be afraid of everyone and everything and eat my feelings day after day.   I don’t need to hide behind my man like a timid little mouse.  I hope that the next 16 months, without the unwavering love and support of my husband, I learn how to love and support myself and when he comes back I will be the 15.1 version of Joski.  Fitter, stronger, better.

* I apologise for the highly cheesy nature of this post.  In my defense it is still Valentines month (just)!

** Check out this awesome new promotional video for Reebok CrossFit Connect I can be spotted towards the end pretending to row but actually have a nosey at the film crew!

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The Biggest Loser: Inspiration or Manipulation?

Whatever your opinion of it, like it, love it, or hate it, I personally found that watching The Biggest Loser was a huge source of inspiration to me.  When George and I moved to Ecuador we didn’t have a television, or a stereo, and we lived in a tiny village at the edge of Quito.  We started to watch the American version of The Biggest Loser on George’s laptop and I loved it.   As a television show, a brand, and the catalyst that led to international fame and fortune for its hosts Jillian Michaels and Bob Harper, it has been a staggering success.  What I loved about it was that, in a society where we are very quick to judge overweight people as being lazy and ugly and where to be called fat is deemed to be a worse insult than most, it gave a voice to obese people.  Through the show we learned that many of the contestants had suffered horrific traumas and the fat that they carried on the outside of their bodies was just a visible symptom of the inner pain and turmoil they were suffering.  

One example that stands out for me is Abby from series 8 who lost her husband and two children (one of whom was a newborn baby) in a tragic car accident.  Having worked for many years with people addicted to alcohol, drugs or gambling, it seems clear to me that obesity is just that.  An addiction to food that can lead to devastating and debilitating consequences.  If you dismiss obese people as simply fat and lazy, or perhaps worse, mock them, then you need to learn something about compassion.  Whilst I never reached such extremes as the contestants on the show, I could relate to the feelings of despair, frustration, anguish and disgust they felt with themselves, and how marginalised from society many of them had become.  I had experienced the humiliation of my fat squeezing out of my clothes like the meat from a sausage.  I had wanted to die in the summer as I poured with sweat from the slightest exertion and winced with pain as my thighs rubbed together.  I had wanted to be invisible so that nobody could see how disgusting I had allowed myself to become and I had felt hurt and frustrated when I was invisible to people, when they would look through me as though I was nothing.  I am not saying for one moment that all obese people feel that way, but it is not unusual.

I am not a fool.  I realise that The Biggest Loser is an extremely manipulative show that intentionally pulls at our emotional heart strings but at the centre of it are real people that are laying themselves bare, physically and emotionally.  I cried with them when they told their stories of pain and loss and I laughed and cheered with them as they shed the weight and found strength that they never knew they had.  As they transformed from the old, broken version of themselves into happier, healthier people, amazed at what they were capable of and what they could achieve.  Yes, I was manipulated by the emotional music and clever editing but it helped me with my struggles because I realised that I was not alone.  I was not the only person who was ashamed, and scared and who ate their feelings so that they were numb.

Our favourite contestants of all time are sisters Olivia and Hannah. We loved their humour, their honesty and their grit and determination to succeed.  Olivia and Hannah are true Biggest Loser success stories.  Maybe because they have each other; or because Olivia’s husband Ben took the journey alongside them at home to enormous success, or because they have maintained a close friendship with their coach Bob Harper.  Some people may even attribute their success to the discovery of CrossFit and the support and guidance that the community provides.  Whatever the reason the two women have managed what a lot of contestants have not, they have maintained their weight loss and truly changed their lifestyles.  How can you not be inspired by that?

This year, for the first time since we began watching in 2009, my husband and I gave up on The Biggest Loser.  After the first couple of episodes we stopped watching, so I was particularly shocked to see the footage of the latest winner Rachel Frederickson looking frail and emaciated.  Opinion seems to be divided with many criticising Frederickson and the show’s producers, whilst others defend her weight loss as just being ‘part of the game.’  What I always loved about it was that at the end the winners, both men and women, stood on the scale flexing their muscles and appeared to have become mentally and physically stronger through their experience on the show.  Having not watched the whole series I can’t comment on her personality or experience but I do not think that this year the person standing on that scale was a picture of health and well being and I don’t think many people do.  I fully understand that the prize money is huge.  It is as much a life changing factor of The Biggest Loser as the weight loss, and maybe if I was in that situation I too would do whatever it took to go for gold.  I hope not.  I hope that I would prioritise my health above all.  That the lessons I had learnt along the way had taught me to veer away from extremes and look for balance.

I don’t agree with body shaming.  To me curvy is not better than skinny, and skinny is not better than fat.  I don’t think that the internet trend for comparison ‘when did this become better than this’ is helpful in the ongoing struggle for women, and men, to find happiness and contentment with their bodies amidst the constant assault of criticism and judgement.  We are all naturally different shapes and sizes and that is great.  All I know for myself and the people that I love is that I want to be strong and healthy, and I want my role models to be just that.  

January: You tried, and failed, to break me!

I made it!  30 days of eating fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, nuts, seeds and not much else.  This was my third Whole30 and it was hard, I think in part due to the weather.  It feels as though it has been raining for months here in England and when you get up and leave for work in the dark and come home in the dark it can really grind you down and have you reaching for those comfort foods that you have relied upon for so long.  Historically my mental health really begins to decline in January and I tend to spend a lot of time feeling very sorry for myself.  Not this year!  Despite some intense cravings, especially towards the end, I did not give in.  Having the Whole30 as a focus, albeit an incredibly tough one, really helped.  Not one morsel of sugar knowingly passed my lips (other than those naturally found in fruit), not even maple syrup or honey.  This morning my breakfast of banana pancakes with bacon and maple syrup and a cup of proper builders tea with milk was absolutely delicious, and well worth the wait.

Rebus is a gorgeous, if slightly distracting, member of the box.  Look at that face!

Rebus is a gorgeous, if slightly distracting, member of the box. Look at that face!

In terms of results I lost 7.2 kilos (1 stone 2 pounds), I have felt far less bloated, I’ve had much more energy and I haven’t had any IBS symptoms the whole time.  I have also had the energy to go to regular Olympic Weight Lifting classes at 7pm on weekdays, when I could quite happily have been relaxing on the sofa and watching Breaking Bad (I think I have aged about ten years watching that show) or Community.  We are now in our fifth week of Oly class and it has been incredibly hard.  Despite the fact that I have been CrossFitting for over a year now, there have been very few times when I have gone to the gym and lifted weights pretty much relentlessly for over an hour.  In the first couple of weeks I was blown away by how exhausting the programme was.  Doing 5 x 5 sets of Olympic weight lifting movements, even at 60% of your maximum, is a huge challenge but I love it.  I am naturally very flexible, which means that despite the fact that I am not particularly strong, I am able to easily achieve the positions necessary for Olympic lifting.  When I see other, much stronger, people around me at the box struggling, I realise just how lucky I am.  When we first started my husband could barely squat and struggled with his shoulder flexibility.  It has taken a huge amount of consistent hard work for him to achieve something which is easy for me.  Conversely he is extremely agile and is excellent at gymnastic movements, whereas I have all of the grace of a drunken clown on roller skates, so you know – swings and roundabouts.

Andrea Ager looking pretty hot.

Andrea Ager: and that is how you squat.  Photograph by Rx’d Photography

I recently went to watch my first proper CrossFit competition and I absolutely loved it!  The Battle of London was held at The Copper Box arena in the Olympic Park.  A friend and fellow box goer, Christina, was competing in the event and what seemed like most of Reebok CrossFit Connect went along to support her.  I have never seen so many fit people in one place in my life.  I have also never seen so many people eating salads and drinking coffee!  It was a fantastic event and I loved every minute of it.  Christina did us proud and I was absolutely inspired by the athletes I saw, especially the women.  When I grow up I want to be STRONG!

Christina Ando is a total bad ass and one of the sweetest people I have ever met!

Christina Ando is a total bad ass and one of the sweetest people I have ever met!