A Better Version at 40

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One year ago, I was 39. One year ago I did not own a pair of joggers let alone a pair of tights. One year ago I could not do a sit up. One year ago I decided to step out of my comfort zone. One year ago, I started crossfit. My journey with fitness began.

I felt much akin to a 12 year old starting high school; excited but fearful; determined yet hesitant, brave but shy. Little did I know that what ever drove me to step inside the doors of Crossfit HBZ this day one year ago; would see me visiting this place like a second home 5 days a week.

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With deep seated emotion I choose to share my journey with you…..one which has grown to be more than just a “fitness” journey. The past year has felt like the culmination of 20 years of piecing together a puzzle of health & wellness. This culmination has revealed so much of me….so much of me I have forgotten or never knew.

For 20 years I have taken a passionate interest in my own health, exploring and experimenting the many realms of healthy eating & lifestyles. Seeking yet more information to understand what really nourishes us on a cellular level, my exploration of food and nutrition & putting it into practice, finally lead me to a time where I felt incredible. I truly felt well & healthy & my family were thriving. The discovery of traditional foods & reclaiming the practices around ancestral eating by including them in our everyday lives took my health & wellbeing to a whole new level of awesome. I was 39 with five children between the ages of 15 and 3, yet I felt like I had more energy and enthusiasm than I did as a young 26 year old mother of 2. I just was not running out of fuel.

However, there was one thing missing from my wholesome, hippy, mother earth like life….. & that was exercise. Regular, formal exercise. Don’t get me wrong, by no means was I a couch potato. I had embraced a lifestyle of cooking from scratch, growing our food and creating our own garden of eden. With 5 children in toe I certainly wasn’t leading a sedentary life. In fact I was known to have the strength and energy to roll out 20, 1 tonne bails of hay or to plant 50 trees in day. I could go all day at these tasks…..yet, I felt like I wasn’t ‘fit’ enough & often not ‘strong’ enough to do some of the extra things I wanted to do. I felt puffed to run more than 400m or to walk up a small mountain. Why was this so & what could I do to improve my ability to do the extra things I wanted & needed to do?

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Two words kept appearing in my conversations about exercise. Functional Fitness. As many of you will know, as I share this story with you on this interface, it would not be so without my lifelong friend Pinky; co-creator and inspiration behind Pinkfarm. And, it was from Pinky that I kept hearing these 2 words. Functional Fitness.

Having been friends for 25 years (22 of which Pinky had been a ‘gym’ junkie), the intermittent conversations we had about the gym & exercise, started to attract my attention. Although I had admired Pinky for her dedication and commitment to years of 5am visits to the gym, it really never motivated an interest or desire in me to take on this form of exercise. However, in recent years the conversations about her gym routines became more relevant and meaningful to me. With stories of farmers walks & tyre flips  I began to listen more and take a deeper interest in what she had to share.

Fast forward to a year ago. Enjoying a catch up with Pinky and my cousins Leanne & Robyn (also lifelong fitness fanatics & inspirations) with a cup of tea in the shade of my garden, the conversation of Crossfit HBZ emerged, along with the topic of a “Yummy Mummy’s” class with free child-minding. Ding Ding! The bells were going off like a pokie machine hitting jack pot. “Let’s check it out tomorrow Tan”, said Pinky.

What did I know about crossfit at this stage? Not much, other than it kinda went with those two words Functional Fitness…..and also that it copped a really bad wrap from some people as being dangerous, resulting in high rates of injury!  “I know that it all depends on the trainer Tan, so let’s go tomorrow and see what it’s like” suggested Pinky with enthusiasm.

Consequently, Pinky had to do her first crossfit class alone as I didn’t own a pair of joggers.  I was entertained out the back with all of the Yummy Mummy kiddies whilst Pinky was “checking it out”. We walked away, and Pinky said “you have got to go. You will love it. And the coach is definitely pedantic about form & movement”.

39 year old birthday comes & goes with a new pair of joggers and an outfit. It was Tuesday morning and the friend I had lined up to come with me for my first class pulled out at the last minute. Dam! I had to do this alone! Maybe it had something to do with the shirt I was wearing, but I was “determined” to take this step. It was one massive, massive step for me….stepping into a gym, that I soon learnt was actually a “box”.

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So here I am, about to turn 40 in just a couple of weeks and to celebrate the milestone of being a ‘crossfitter’ for 1 year now. What has this journey been like? It has been an interesting time of reflection and self-discovery, intertwined with many challenges, yet lots of fun and certainly massive acheivements. My journey with crossfit has bought more to me than I could ever have imagined or even hoped for. Crossfit has changed my life & reaffirmed that “in the end we only regret the chances we didn’t take”.

Stepping out of the Comfort Zone

I see myself as a risk taker. I step in and out of my comfort zone often. Stepping out of our comfort zone nurtures ones personal growth and development.  I certainly new how to step out of my comfort zone when it came to birthing 5 children at home without drugs and how to dive into the unknown infinite journey of parenthood.  I’ve also proven that I have what it takes to make dramatic changes to my lifestyle and eating habits in order to take control of my own health & wellbeing. But….what was driving my lifetime avoidance of participating in structured physical exercise? Why was I not able to step out of my comfort zone in this realm?

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Number one. I was thin. Blessed with the ability to enjoy food at its best, weight was never an issue for me (except for my first year of uni indulging in beer & greasy college food). My naturally slim build blinded my motivation and prioritisation of the need for exercise in my life. It was also a convenient excuse.

Number two. Fast forward to the birth of 5 children over 11 years meant I was pregnant and or breastfeeding continuously for the last 15 years. Busy, busy, busy. Devoted, devoted, devoted. Who came first? The babies. The children. My Family. This was my priority. Was it an excuse? Some may think so, but for me….that’s what it was. Parenting choices influenced these priorities immensely. Demand breastfeeding, attachment parenting & living a natural lifestyle dominated my priorities. All of these choices meant sacrifices of time….sacrificing ‘me’ time for broken sleep, for being a stay at home Mum & for real food made from scratch. So yes….many real excuses.

Number three. I was active. I would never sit down looking after a household of 5 children. I had no interest in being confined to 4 brick walls with shiny mirrors & muscly men or jumping around with rows of women doing the same movements that I most likely didn’t have the co-ordination to catch onto! I’d much rather sweat it out in the garden, take a walk through a forest or swim across the lake. More reasons, more excuses.

The reality is, that my excuses for not exercising were shrouding my deep-seated fears.   Fears that were built over a lifetime of experiences that created a foundation of negative self-worth and belief that “I was not good at sport”.  Despite being known as a ‘clumsy kid’ with a ‘bench bum’, throughout primary school I managed to maintain a level of participation and achievement in sporting activities such as athletics, basketball & and any other common school yard games. However, by the time I got to being a lanky pubescent high-schooler, the ‘clumsy kid’ was now an ‘unco-ordinated teen’ with ‘log legs’ & a ‘fat arse’ as it was told to me often.

With a tennis court in our back yard, I enjoyed having a hit, despite being called a  “spazzo” at serving, but this didn’t deter me from a regular social game of tennis as a teenager and young adult. I enjoyed playing basketball, one of the few choices of sports in our rural area and a given for a tall person.  But, apart from that, I definitely wasn’t in the ‘sporty’ crowd at school.  In my senior high school years sport was pushed to the back burner and I soon found my self-worth academically. I blitzed high school with an OP 5. I went on to complete a Bachelor of Nursing Science graduating with honours & achieving the highest grade point average in the science faculty of JCU in my second year. I certainly had no room for exercise now. I knew how to stimulate my brain and build my self-worth. I became a lifetime “learner”. Further studies made me a midwife & childbirth educator. However, becoming a mother has been my crown achievement & my biggest learning curve yet.

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You see, you can’t do a degree in parenting or a masters in motherhood. This learning curve is one you dive into and learn on the job. It is infinite. The learning just never stops. In fact, one could say that my children guided me to discovering who I am. They have actually guided me to my journey with fitness & yet a new realm of self-discovery.  For the long part of 10 years I have spent hours and even days travelling with my children to various sporting events & activities after school, on weekends & in the holidays.   Exposing them to many different past-times, from tennis, to little athletics, to futsal, soccer, piano, kindermusik, nature kids, dancing & cycling, my children have had a good tasting to choose from.

From this journey, an enthusiastic, focused & dedicated 15 year old has blossomed with a passion for cycling. Upon expressing his resistance towards his mother’s reciprocal passion for embracing traditional foods and imparting changes to improving our already ‘healthy eating repertoire’ on the entire family, it was my teenage son that posed the statements that made me stop and think. “Mum, you might be so good at eating all this healthy food and sticking to it, but you don’t do any exercise!” and he also stated “I know I don’t always eat healthy, but at least I exercise”. These statements were true. The questionable part was….who had the right balance? Well, I knew from my journey with Pinkfarm, & from the words of Pinky herself that “nutrition plays a far more powerful role in health than exercise”.   (You can read more on this topic here http://www.pinkfarm.com.au/exercise-equal-health/) However, I also new that whilst I had managed to guide my children toward a physical activity they enjoyed, they were now seeing that this was what I was lacking in my own life. 

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So where to know? Crossfit. I was guided & challenged by my children. I gained knowledge from my lifelong friend Pinky. I was inspired by all the excuses. I was motivated by my fears. I was determined by nature. Functional Fitness meant engaging in functional movements right. This could only make me better & stronger at lifting, pulling, pushing, squatting, bending & twisting. All those movements needed to carry groceries, move furniture, roll out hay, carry buckets of water, chop & cart firewood or chase after teenage children! Maybe crossfit could really help me to marry the connection of exercise with real life stuff. Maybe crossfit could give me the fitness I never had. Maybe crossfit was relevant in my life as a Mother of 5, living on a farm, aspiring to live & eat more like our ancestors did. Not only was I ready to step out of my comfort zone, I was ready to embrace the journey.

Embracing the Journey

I had reached a crossroads in life…..staying on the same road of no exercise…..or going to cross-fit. Crossfit won! My initial intention was to commit to one day a week. OMG I was so terrified of failing! Failure was my REAL fear underlying all of the excuses I ever had not to exercise. What if, I started crossfit & then couldn’t keep it up? OMG. Fail. What if, I started crossfit & couldn’t do it? OMG. Fail. This was likely right? I was a clumsy, unco-ordinated, spazzo with a bench bum & log legs. LOL! It sounds quite funny and almost childish right? But in all honesty, one cannot deny that these words from your childhood, try as you might, not to believe it, echo in your psyche even when you aren’t conscious that they are there. Oh and let’s add to the notion that as an adult people have even said “oh yeah you always say you are going to do that” or “we’ll see how long that lasts?” It has often felt like I was just set up to quit or fail.

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How did I defeat these feelings of self-doubt & judgement? I will tell you how. The day I gave birth to my first child at home,  I was 24 & for the first time I confidently was able to claim that “I am now a woman & I can do f*ing anything!” Sounds cliché? Well, it’s the truth. Birthing 5 children this way has built me pillar by pillar to be a stronger person, proud to be a mother, proud of who I am and what I can do. It made me believe in myself. It made me believe in women.  These are the inner voices & strength I call upon whenever I choose to step out of my comfort zone.

It was Tuesday the 21st of October & my first cross-fit class done & dusted.  The vibe was right. With the lovely coach Char it was like a funky women’s circle.  Supportive & caring.  A small group of women, young to middle aged.….maybe I was the oldest (ahhh). Three names I remember….Alex, Sarah & Elise. Kids quietly cared for outside. With gentle guidance and encouragement, after 7 mins into the Workout of the Day (WOD) I was allowed to stop. Despite feeling like the warm-up part of the session was a definite shock to the system & a workout in itself, I did survive.  So much so, I already undid my fear of overcommitting (for fear of failing), and said I would be back the next day!

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It was week 2 & despite Pinky’s suggestion to try and commit to just one session a week, I was determined that in order for me to make this a habit, I needed to come more, and in order for me to want to come more, I needed to see and feel results quickly. “That’s it, I am coming three times this week”. Sure enough 3 sessions in week 2 was followed by 4 sessions in week four and after that, there was no looking back. I was encouraged and supported by the newbies in the group having fun on a ‘ninja’ (broom) stick. I was also inspired & motivated by watching the young ‘pros’ on the ‘other side’ lifting big heavy weights and exhausting themselves in a lather of sweat, until they were flat on their back. Sarah & Alex, despite bearing 15 years of youth over me, were great bench marks to look up to!

With the gift of the gab, Tommy, (head coach, founder & owner of Crossfit HBZ) was a beacon of light for establishing my new found love & passion for crossfit. His loving spirit & zest for life is exuded in his passion for helping other humans to be “better versions of themselves”.   Every crossfit session was executed with the same level of energy & exuberance that kept me wanting to come back. Encouragement was abundant & somehow he and my fellow class mates managed to re-build my belief in ‘what I could do’, shifting my focus away from what ‘I couldn’t do’.  The team spirit was high and not a day went by without laughter. It was fun. It was hard…..but I just kept coming back for more.

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Having carried 4 babies over 4kg, I had no core strength. With an abdominal muscle separation of 2-3 fingers there was not a sit-up in sight in those early weeks, or months.  Not one.   Burpees sucked big time & when I was faced with a WOD of a 5km run I had no where to run & hide! But, despite having never run more than 800m in my entire life, I did it and I only walked about 1km of it!  Every day was a mystery. Every day was different. It was like you had to just keep coming back to reading a really good novel that you couldn’t put down. Heck you just never new when you might get enthroned with a barbell! There was always a certain level of fear as you anticipated what WOD was hiding behind the whiteboard. In fact, I believe that the reason crossfit is building such awesome humans is because of the reality that everyday we are ‘stepping out of our comfort zone’, not knowing from day to day what WOD’s will be thrown at us next. This has built so much strength and belief in myself as everyday I use those 4 words of self-talk “I can do this”.

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After 2.5 months of crossfit, going 4 days a week, OMG, I could do a sit up….and…..I had abs! WTF! Where did they come from? I didn’t expect that. This was so exciting, but….I also had a sore knee! Just when you thought you were cruising in 5th gear, well this just shifted the gears completely. I’d finally got over the ‘fear factor’ of failing to be able to sustain this into my routine and life. It was a challenge for me readjusting my morning routine as I had always been such a productive morning person.  Throwing a WOD right in the middle of my most productive time, was very off putting. I had to change gears many a time making this adjustment. I kept hearing Tommy say “the hardest part is getting here. Turning up”.  He was right….getting there is hard. Especially when you have a large busy family, a part time job, a blog, animals to care for, a garden to maintain & most importantly real food to prepare from scratch. A knee injury made it feel a whole lot harder again. Just what I needed.  A ‘fail’. Why? Why me? Why now? Was I now a crossfit ‘statistic’ ? No. No. No.  “Please don’t take this away from me now?”, was all I could plead.  I had finally stepped out of my comfort zone and found a new passion. I was loving my short, sweet journey with crossfit and I certainly didn’t want it to end.

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10 months on and that knee injury now makes up the large part of my 12 month journey with crossfit. A confirmed diagnosis of a complex tear of the medial meniscus along with a bakers cyst, has meant 10 months of physio, rehabilitation exercises, acupuncture, massage, chiropractic care, PRP injections, x-rays, orthopaedic consultations and even having my knee jabbed with a steroid injection.  There were many steps forwards and many steps back and although I kept turning up with a smile on my face I experienced and fought with so much frustration.  Nevertheless many dollars, many emotions and many modified WOD’s (with a box tied to my backside) later,  I am still fitter & stronger with a knee injury than I was before I started crossfit…..one year ago. This construed journey would not have been possible without the strength & support given to me by my team; my physio, my acupuncturist, my massage therapist, my chiropractor, my fellow crossfitters, my dear friend Pinky & the solid foundations of my loving Yummy Mummy’s. But…. driving it all was my awesome friend and coach Tommy who instilled me with belief & positivity.  I can’t forget to mention box-dog Miko who provided a smiley face and friendly licks as I spent many hours, sad faced, lying on the floor doing rehab exercises and modified WODS. 

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Despite feeling at times, as though the pain I have carried in my knee was like a broken record of words screeching ‘failure’ & ‘Im not good enough’ , I have endured the journey and I will continue. I’m quite good at following my intuition and my intuition told me that quitting was never an option. Funnily enough I was also determined to prove those people wrong…those people that showed little faith in my ability to make it happen and stick it out.  I also couldn’t miss a day of catching up with the Yummy Mummy’s; getting belly laughs talking about snatches and listening to stories about sex faces and compromised positions.  It has taken me 12 months to understand the real meaning of a ‘clean’, a ‘jerk’, a  ‘thruster’, a ‘snatch’ and a ‘super set’!  It’s a lingo of it’s own.  It doesn’t matter where you are at on your fitness journey, the Yummy Mummy’s provide more than just a group to exercise with.  We chat.  We hang out. We share. We have fun.  We complain.  We support each other.  

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Crossfit is now part of my life. Crossfit with a knee injury for now, is also my reality. Frustrated by the fact that I can’t run, squat, skip, jump, race my children or garden effectively I will continue to visit my 2nd family 5 days a week because crossfit has bought so much more than exercise to my life. I will continue to step out of my comfort zone everyday, not just to see what the next WOD is but to be embraced by the community that surrounds me. The community that I have grown strong with. The community I lift with. The community I move with. The community I laugh with. The community I cry with. Male. Female. 8 to 20 to 60 year old. Nurses, paramedics, mothers, fathers, grandfathers, grandmothers, mechanics, electricians, farmers, doctors, firemen. Fire-women. Police officers, receptionists. This is my crossfit family. I have made connections with people like never before. With open arms I have embraced the love & support shared in this community. I have needed it so much.

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In the past year I have experience many days of pain, restricting & controlling what I could and couldn’t do in the box (and at home) but I have always been able to do “something”.  I have now had 5 months of virtually no pain & in the past few days I have progressed to a lower box to squat to!  I celebrate the small things and have learnt to focus on the journey and enjoy every moment rather than looking too far ahead.  In one year I have faced many fears. In one year I have overcome excuses. In one year I have made time for me. In one year I have made many friends. In one year I have achieved a 100kg dead lift, a handstand, strict push-ups, many many sit-ups, a twisted love for burpees & I’ve married a Concept 2 Rower & apparently I am good at it! In one year I no longer have an abdominal muscle separation and I have lots more core strength! Alas, I am now almost 40 and I’m also starting to reclaim and embrace the ‘bench bum’ & ‘strong legs’ I was once teased for. It’s about strong. Not skinny. It’s about being the best version of yourself and not being ‘the best’. And what I love most is that it’s about me & what I can do & it’s about you & what you can do.  It’s also about friends, family, community, fun, joy and happiness….and maybe by the time I am 41 I will be doing pull-ups!

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Tying it all together

So why did I step out of my comfort zone & into crossfit? Was it to lose weight? No. Was it to get ‘healthy’? Mmmm. No. Just healthi-er. Was it to get fit? Yes. Was it to get strong? Yes. And this meant getting toned & muscles right? Well, yes. Added bonus. Ultimately I wanted to be the healthiest I could be; by not only eating like our ancestors did, but also exercising in ways that would allow me to move and perform optimally as our ancestors did (You can read more about ancestral eating & traditional foods here http://www.pinkfarm.com.au/real-traditions/traditional-food/)

As a lifelong learner the notion of ancestral eating or eating like our ancestors did, has great significance and importance to me and my ability to be a healthy human being. Fortunately this passion has now been married with my newfound passion for crossfit. Taken from the words of Pinky “understanding our primal past means I have more understanding of why I would want to lift heavy things, squat and dead-lift regularly and have upper body strength”. This form of exercise brings clarity to the bigger picture of what it means to be ‘healthy’….Eating well and moving well; strong & healthy like our ancestors where before the onset of chronic diseases that plague our modern day people.

I truly owe thanks to Tommy for tying it all together. Sure, I had to turn up & do the hard work, but coach Tommy has also provided an interface for Pinky & I to share our passion for real food amongst the cross-fit community. After meeting Tommy he soon discovered what Pinkfarm was all about and embraced the opportunity to create an affiliation with us. We feel very privileged & honoured to have been given the opportunity by Tommy to work alongside Crossfit HBZ educating, inspiring and sharing with the Crossfit community, providing workshops, fuelling athletes at the Red Dirt comps and feeding the coaches.

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As a real food ambassador, I can say that my journey with crossfit has also enlightened me to the extent at which we have lost our traditional and ancestral lifestyles. Not only have we lost our ways with traditional food preparation, we have lost our ways with traditional  movements & social structure. In many ways we have lost our physical health & strength due to the luxuries of our modern lifestyles.

Children were raised by the tribe. Food was hunted, grown & prepared by the tribe. Food was shared and eaten with the tribe. After 15 years as a devoted mother, it is only now that I realise how lonely raising children can be and has been, living as a nuclear family in a westernised world. I love nothing more than to cook and prepare food with and for others. I love to pass on my knowledge, inspiring others to reclaim their health with real food. I am welcoming to the responsibility of tribal parenting. My crossfit tribe has bought all of these opportunities to me. One day I would love to share the joy and satisfaction with my crossfit tribe in applying our functional strength to real life activities, such as rolling out mulch hay, digging and planting a veggie garden or creating a forest.  Reclaiming these traditional practices in isolation is not enough. We need to find our tribe and do it together!

On the 16th of October I will be 40.  I will celebrate my passion for life and healthy living surrounded by my beautiful circle of friends & family.  My tribe.  My take home message is, “if life was easy, where would all the adventures be?…Take the Risk”.  

A lot can happen in just one year! In just one year I am fitter and stronger than I have ever been in my life.  I am a better version of healthy. I am a better version of myself…..because I overcame my excuses & fears & stepped out of my comfort zone.  I took the risk.  All I can say is,”Go for it. It’s never too late”.

Cheers & Love.X.

Visit Crossfit HBZ to find out more about cross-fit & functional fitness here .

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