Spandex is the Fabric of My Life/ Part 4/ Misadventures in College Cheer, Fitness and Marathon Running

FITNESS
SHOES/ Nike By You AF1 Low SWEATS/ Under Armor

It is odd to me that when I look back at my time participating in athletics that I have labeled college cheerleading a misadventure. I spent five years working consciously toward that goal and three years before that honing gymnastics skills that directly transferred.

I put the idea of college cheer up on a pedestal and I beat myself up for a long time for having quit. Looking back, I was just an 18 year old kid who was trying to salvage and piece back together a healthy relationship with her body. I had spent my senior year leading up to the experience on so many diet pills I couldn’t sleep or think straight. My mom even confronted me at one point and asked if I was on drugs. I didn’t think I so because I purchased them at GNC but let’s just say there is a reason ephedrine is now a banned substance. You live and learn.

At the same time I began dating a college wrestler (my now husband) who at the time had to undergo some pretty significant weight cuts. It was the perfect storm in which unhealthy foods behavior could go unnoticed. Restriction and binging, both with food and exercise, became the norm and while I was safely hovering ten pounds below the weight limit I never felt small enough. I felt like a bulldozer in a skirt next to my new Polly Pocket sized teammates and I panicked. No matter how much I tried, I could not diet down my shoulders, in fact, the leaner I was the more they stood out. Eventually I decided to walk because I could no longer punish my body for being what it naturally wanted to be. I was over that relationship with myself.

So my husband and I spent a lot of time lifting (because cardio is hardio). I embraced my body for what it was and started nurturing its strength instead of trying to hide it. Which leads me, of course, to another misadventure…

I gave fitness one try and promptly realized it was not for me. It did confirm for me, however, that aesthetics can not be my why and that I don’t enjoy having my body judged even if it fits the template.

For many years I tried a lot of things that kept me active but I didn’t find anything that sparked me enough to pursuit it. In fact, I spent a lot of time finding out what I didn’t like which was, not to my surprise, many cardio sports.

I did this, very slowly, but I did this. It wasn’t something I would have sought out to do on my own and was completely out of character but my husband challenged me and I very reluctantly agreed. He was training for triathlon nationals and it gave us something we could do together. We would run the same routes though he would lap me many times over. While this aspect of togetherness was fun I did not actually enjoy the running part. I could appreciate the programming, training approach and process but at the end of the day I just didn’t enjoy it and I didn’t want to spend that much time doing it. I can safely say I will probably never run another marathon but that said, I now know I can put in the work even when it is not enjoyable and that I also have the grit to hang in there and pull through when it counts!

Despite a lack of passion for any particular sport, these years provided a lot of cross training, learning experiences and of course many memories were made along the way.

Making Progress While Sidelined As An Injured Athlete

2021, FITNESS

It’s easy to get discouraged when you are sidelined and get caught up ruminating over lost progress, missed goals or canceled events. I’ll admit I spent a short time in this head space before ultimately realizing that being sidelined was an opportunity for growth.

Box/ Rogue Fitness

Not sure where to start?

1. Address your injuries and enlist the help of a professional if needed.

For me, my injuries were not weightlifting related but rather a longstanding occupational issue. After a decade as a dental hygienist I have developed a significant amount of musculoskeletal imbalance, dysfunction and pain. My right side is full of shortened muscles and adhesions that helped me stabilize an awkward posture at work, especially post-partum when things were feeling less than stable in the abdominal region.

Tiger Balm/ Dr. Teal’s Epsom Salt Soak/ http://www.jenellewoodlief.com Silicone Cups & Sustainable Cork Therapy Ball

I am currently in the process of having these imbalances addressed professionally and learning specific self care and maintenence tools to keep my body more balanced for both life and sport.

Soft Tissue Work Using an AXIS OPTP Foam Roller/ Leggings: ZYIA Active/ Tank: Nike

2. Review and adjust your definition of progress if needed.

If your definition of progress is linked to numbers or is generally very narrow being sidelined will seem less tolerable.

3.Pay special attention to basic self care and recovery efforts.

Breath Work & Mind Body Connection

Now is a good time to make sure you are getting in decent macro and micro nutrients, taking care of your mental health and getting adequate sleep. Taking extra care in these basic self care areas will not only help your body heal but you will be better prepared to handle the added challenges when you do get back into the gym.

3. Start slow.

Crossover Symmetry Hip & Core Bands

Much of my instability and disfunction is in my right hip so I have been working on basic balancing exercises on one foot using different surfaces to add a challenge as it becomes more stable and I am slowly working toward being able to pistol squat on each side without cheating the movements. Crossover Symmetry hip and core bands have also been a great tool in re-teaching those muscles to fire and to test if they are firing equally (they are still not but keep improving with practice).

Now we are all guilty of cherry picking our favorites when it comes to training which is one of the reasons I need and utilize a coach. They will see and program what I would choose to otherwise pretend didn’t exist. Case in point; I would have never have programmed myself a sots press but it stabilized my overhead position in a snatch and now I appreciate the value in them and even look forward to them.

Personally I avoided unilateral movements unless they were programmed because they were difficult and uncomfortable. I was also pretty terrible at them because my balance was objectively poor and my core was not fully functioning. Taking time to work on these movements and learning to engage previously dysfunctional muscle groups is helping to even out some musculoskeletal discrepancies, therefore reducing my overall pain/discomfort level in the process. As a result I will continue to do unilateral work, core work and general athletic movements regularly.

Recovery will look different for everyone and will be highly dependent on injuries and personalized treatment plans of involved professionals. What works for me may not be applicable to you.

I am trying not to think of lost gains during the recovery process but trying to focus on the areas I am seeing improvement and have some control over. I’ve already experienced a huge increase in my quality of life which is why I am motivated and excited to heal and rebuild a sound body before loading up a training cycle or adding any events to my calendar.

What are some things, mental or physical, that have helped you get through periods of injury and recovery?

They Say Cotton is the Fabric of Our Lives But I’m Pretty Sure Spandex is the Fabric of Mine/ Series Part 2/ Cheerleading

2021, FITNESS
NIKE/ Sideline Cheer

My first exposure to cheerleading was when my mom signed me up for a camp at our local community college. It consisted of learning a half time dance and performing it at a basketball game or something of that nature. I remember having fun but what I remember was actually a who. Her name was Debbie and she was unlike any other adult I had met in my whole 9 years of life. She could do a back walkover and she was beautiful, athletic and bubbly. Four years later I tried out for my first cheerleading team and much to my pleasure that same amazing women became my coach.

While gymnastics came a little more naturally to my personality cheerleading certainly did not. I was quiet and serious and only had a few close friends. The thought of performing in front of the same peers who would see me later in class felt utterly terrifying. Somehow the fun found me despite my social anxiety and I started to set goals in this new arena and take ownership of it.

Our team was practicing over at Debbie’s house before school had officially started and afterward we all came inside to cool down and wait for our parents to pick us up.  Debbie entertained us with an old picture from her college cheer days while we waited. There was so much energy captured within the borders of that one frame; a sea of green and yellow fans at Autzen Stadium, a three person tall pyramid in the background but all I could see was her personality and smile. It still brings a lump to my throat to think of how much seeing one picture can change one person’s path. Debbie inspired me just by being herself from the moment I met her and although we only worked together a short time she was the inspiration for me spending the next 6 years in cheer.

While Debbie may have been my inspiration for cheerleading, my high school coach Barb was really the one that helped me reach the goal of college cheer. She is a human that so profoundly shaped me in my youth that she at the very least deserves her own post.

Cheerleading continued…

They Say Cotton is the Fabric of Our Lives But I’m Pretty Sure Spandex is the Fabric of Mine/ Series Part 1/ Gymnastics

2021, FITNESS
NIKE Romaleos 4

What is a sidelined athlete to do while antsy to get training again? Reminisce the past of course! No really, it provides context as to why I live in active wear and why changing that entirely isn’t going to happen any time soon.

ORIGINAL PHOTO/ Lifestyle Portraits

This is where my love affair with Spandex started. Actually it was much earlier than this but this was the earliest athletic photo I could find. I think I was in 7th grade here and was a very quiet being at this point (note the awkward not sure what to do with my hands smile). I loved the discipline of gymnastics and it was the foundation that built me as an athlete.

It taught me how to calculate movement and sense where my body was in space and how to adapt to subtle coaching cues to change the outcome of whatever skill I was working on. It taught me physics before I knew what that even meant. Through gymnastics I felt gravity upside down, sideways all while moving backwards on a regular basis. It is where I first learned how to manipulate the variables of Force = Mass × Acceleration.

It was within the four walls of the chalky small town gym that I learned how to set goals and chase them; how to put in the repetitions and daily work to inch toward a larger goal.

Most importantly, gymnastics taught me that success doesn’t happen easily and not without a lot of failure first. I couldn’t even begin to guess how many times I missed skills, fell off the apparatus or crashed a landing. It would be in the thousands.

I had great coaches who invested in me as an athlete and also gave me my very first job teaching preschool gymnastics which I did off and on for a total of 10 years.

At the end of the year pictured here, I told my mom I wanted to try out for cheerleading and that if I made it I wanted to quit gymnastics. I was really shy and I wanted to put myself out there and try some new things. I made the cheer team going into 8th grade so I quit without much hesitation. Just months later over the summer of 1996 the Olympics were on and I started to regret my decision. I went back to a couple team practices 18 pounds heavier after going through puberty and gaining weight from no longer training 15-20 hours a week and realized just how important the variable mass was to the equation. It was an entirely different game. So I fully committed to cheerleading and even tried basketball which I failed miserably at and pole vault which was fun to learn but I never bothered to pursuit further.

In every athletic endeavor I have explored in my almost 38 years, gymnastics has helped me in some way and for that I will forever be grateful.

Part 2/ Cheerleading…