Friday, May 22, 2020

Seeking Sportswomen's Stories!

Although most sports facilities and events have been shut down worldwide to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, and many athletes—professional and amateur—haven’t been able to train for competitions in months, the situation does provide the opportunity for athletes to reflect on their sports careers and understand what kind of role sports have played in their lives.  

I’m on a quest to share my competitive sports stories and provide a forum to share other sportswomen's stories, and I’m working on partnerships with like-minded athletes and groups to further this mission. I am seeking people who identify as sportswomen to participate in a short interview to share on my website, social media, your own sites, and in other print and online publications.

If you identify as a sportswoman, please consider sharing your story! You can respond to the questions in this link, or you can send me a message to set up a phone/Zoom interview. Feel free to send this link to other sportswomen you know.

There are still inequalities in the written and spoken communication that mainstream media uses about sportswomen. By sharing sportswomen’s stories in their own words and free of sexist language and images, we can reverse this trend and have more equitable representation. This is a small step towards equity for all women, athletes or not. I also hope existing athletes’ stories inspire more girls and women to participate in sports.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Postpartum Body: No Intention of "Getting My Body Back"

I am amazed and grateful for what my body has accomplished in the past year:

Prenatal: In the first photo, taken a year ago at my goal meet of the season, I was in the best shape of my life and swam my adult best times that ranked me 6th and 7th in the nation in my age group in the 500 and 200 free.

Pregnant: In the next photo, I’m 37-weeks pregnant. I had a fit-enough pregnancy. I trained for an ran a half marathon then a full marathon and continued swimming, walking, and strength training a few days a week.

Postpartum: In the third photo, taken exactly a year after the first photo, is my 3.5-week postpartum body: 20 pounds lighter than my maximum pregnancy weight and 20 pounds over my fighting weight. I’ve been walking 1-3 miles a day and doing easy exercises to start to strengthen my core and supporting muscles so I’ll be ready to run, swim, and strength train in a few more weeks.

I have no intention of "getting my body back."

First of all, it never went anywhere. Believe me, I fully experienced my body through the whole pregnancy, labor, and delivery. My body was very much present for all of that.

Second, my body just did an amazing thing that it has never done before. It had to grow, expand, flex, stretch, and then deflate again. It's had these new experiences and it will never be the same. And that's OK. When you experience something life changing, you don't just go back to "normal" when the event is over.

I have no doubt I'll be able to get fit again, in time. And, at some point, that will probably be my goal. But right now, my body goal is to rest, heal, and nurture the baby. Yes, I would like to swim and run again soon, but more for mental health.

I know so many amazing mother athletes who look like strong athletes but more importantly accomplish amazing athletic feats. I'm lucky to have so many role models to look to so I don't feel panicked or rushed to get into competitive shape again. It will happen.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

How Endurance Sports Did (Not) Prepare Me for Natural Childbirth

I'm part of an ultrarunning group on Facebook, and at the new year, someone posted the question, "What ultra event are you looking forward to this year?"

I responded: "Childbirth."

My goal was to have a natural, unmedicated birth with few to no medical interventions because of the numerous health benefits for me and the baby. Although the birth didn't go 100% as planned (do any of them?), we did successfully have an unmedicated birth, for which I am grateful and might not have been willing to do without the amazing support from Jon and Alexandra, our doula.

I'll spare you the details of the labor and delivery (though I'm more than willing to talk privately about it), but, because this is an athlete's blog, I will share my metaphors about natural childbirth and endurance sports.

I've run marathons, never an ultra (it’s on my bucket list). But I would say that natural childbirth, for me, was like running an ultramarathon on a treadmill controlled by someone else (a sadistic someone else): the intensity could change at a moment's notice and I had no authority to slow it down or stop it. I also had no control over the distance or length of time of the event, which made it more challenging to pace. In addition, I had only trained for a marathon, and this was quite a bit longer.

It also made me think of swim practices when I was a kid. Coach Rusty used to have us do 25-yard sprints at the end of practice. “Just one more!” he’d shout, and I’d give it everything I had. But when I got to the end of the pool, I’d hear him shout again: “Just one more!” And I’d get to the end of the pool and hear him again: “Just one more!” This could go on and on and on and we'd be five minutes then ten minutes then 15 minutes past the end of our practice time and parents were waiting to pick us up and other swimmers were waiting to use the pool and I would have no idea how many more there actually were but somehow found power and motivation to give my all on each one. That is what the second stage of labor was like for me, but more painful and several hours longer.

I get to a point in just about every race, particularly endurance races and even some workout sets, when I question why did I signed up for this, why do I do this to myself? And that feeling eventually passes, or it passes by the time I'm finished, and I'm proud of myself for being able to stick it out. I definitely hit that wall during labor, probably in transition, when I wondered why I so adamantly wanted a birth experience that didn't include pain relief. But that passed and I was happy to have an unmedicated birth experience and I’m hoping that has helped our health and recovery.

I prepared for a natural childbirth the way I prepare for athletic events: learned as much as I could, listened to and read other people's stories about their experiences, ate well, kept a regular sleep routine, hired a coach, and practiced (in this case, practiced relaxation and pain-management techniques). I can't say that being athlete fully prepared me for a natural childbirth, I'm not sure anything could have done that, but it definitely gave me some mental toughness to draw on when I needed it the most.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Why I Keep Loving TRX

I've loved TRX since the first day I tried it. I like that the straps provide support for body weight exercises and that level of difficulty is easily changed in most exercises by changing your position to the anchor point. I also like how it focuses on core strength even when you're not doing abdominal-exclusive exercises.

Body-Weight Rows at 34 Weeks
So when I decided to do some more strength training, I thought TRX would be the perfect option. I signed up for a six-week class at the Y.

I was very visibly pregnant at 29 weeks when I started, and I worried that an instructor would feel uncomfortable with me being in an exercise class that is atypical for pregnant women. I imagined the instructor would either tell me I couldn't participate or treat me much differently than the other participants, like I was injured or disabled.

But my worries were totally unfounded. When I arrived to the class, the instructor introduced herself and asked if I had any physical limitations she should know about (which she asked all participants). I pointed out the obviousthat I was pregnantbut explained that I have been doing TRX on and off for years and was confident I could do everything except possibly direct abdominal work like crunches. I assured her I knew modifications but would be open to her suggestions, too.

And she was great and I looked forward to the class every week, even when I was exhausted after work. She gave modification options to everyone for all exercises, so we all could pick and choose what worked best for us that day. She offered alternative abdominal exercises for me, like holding plank rather than doing mountain climbers. And she was warm and encouraging to all participants equally. I felt liked I belonged there and not like I was a burden on the instructor or other participants.

Body-Weight Rows at 34 Weeks
In past TRX classes, I would always try the most challenge variation to each exercise, added in the extra plyo, pushed myself to get my feet closer to the anchor point. So that was mentally challenging to accept that my body wasn't up for squat jumps or more horizontal rows.

It was also a bit mentally challenging to look at my new body shape in the mirror for the whole 45-minute class. Yes, I have a very pregnant belly, which is to be expected, and, yes, my breasts grew over three cup sizes, which was definitely not expected. But in the past 8 months, I've also lost a lot of muscle and put on some fat, which has changed my body shape.

And I am not saying this because I feel bad about my body or have body image issues. I am actually quite impressed with what my body has done and achieved in these past 8 months. I appreciate my body and I appreciated that I could keep up in class that helped me to build physical and mental strength and resilience.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Swimming at 31 Weeks Pregnant

At 31 weeks pregnant, I'm still active and still swimming a few times a week, though my workouts don't quite look the same as they used to.

Things I Can No Longer Do at the Pool:

  • Sprints. 
OK, so I still try to sprint, but I've let go of the expectation that I will actually be faster. Now it's more of an increase in perceived rate of exertion than an actual sprint.
  • Not pee in the pool. 
Let's be real: I have to pee every time I stand up. So add in the crunching of my abdominal region every few seconds when I do a flip turn…my bladder doesn't stand a chance.
  • Breaststroke kick. 
Not that I swim much breaststroke, but sometimes it's a nice stretch-out, warm-up, or cool-down stroke. Now it's too uncomfortable.
  • Push off the wall with power. 
My legs are as strong and powerful as ever, and I physically can push off the wall with power, but it yanks so hard on my abdominal region – probably the round ligaments – that it's not worth it. It's like getting a charlie horse in my pelvis. Not fun.
  • Pull myself out of the pool at the end of the lane. 
In my defense, the gutters at the Y are about 3-feet tall. I've resorted to using the ladder. Ho hum.

Looking Normal...

Things I Can Still Do at the Pool

  • Just about everything else! Flip turns, full laps of butterfly, normal yardage...

It's been a humbling experience not being at my "best" and making these accommodations, but that's what athletes do, right? When something isn't working, or they're tired, or they're injured, they make adjustments. I'm pregnant, and this doesn't mean I have to stop doing what I love; I just have to make adjustments.

Before I went to the Y this morning, I selected a 4,000 yard workout from my collection of swimming workouts. I was able to complete it almost as written, except I added 10 seconds per 100 yards to each interval, used a dolphin kick instead of a breaststroke kick when needed, and used 1 fast/1 slow method for 25 yard sprints at the end.

I'm a little tired now, but otherwise I feel great. Swimming makes me feel like me, whether I'm in top shape or looking like I've swallowed a basketball.

Looking Like I Swallowed a Basketball...

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Mistaken for a Boy while 6-Months Pregnant

My whole life I've regularly been mistaken for a boy or a man, and I've reacted with varying levels of amusement and annoyance.

To some extent, I get it: I live in a very binary culture in which people like to classify other people into neat little boxes because it makes them feel safe. And although my identity is very mainstream (cisgender, heterosexual female), I'm tall with broad swimmer's shoulders, I like short hair, and my clothing style is not deliberately androgynous – I wear what's sporty and comfortable  but I could see it interpreted that way.

a few moments before being called a boy
But when some random stranger looks me right in the face  with my basketball-sized, 6-month pregnant belly and breasts the size of melons pointing right at him  and says, "I can't tell if that's a boy or a girl. Oh, definitely a boy," that is unacceptable. Whether I was pregnant or not, that was unacceptable.

Those words were spoken by an old man who was clearly ignorant, out-of-touch, and unobservant  and who probably had rigid sense of gender  but he has not been the only person in my life to call me a man, nor the only person to call me one since I've been visibly pregnant.

I can usually laugh off other people's ignorance about my gender. I mean, I guess there are worse things to be accused of than being a boy. But this really pissed me off. I mean, really. And I've been trying to figure out why I'm so angry, especially considering I've often been called a man or a boy and because it was just some random, insignificant person who said it.

Part of it was that I was already at my capacity for bullshit from another incident that day, so that escalated my anger. Part of it was that my body is so different now from what it had been pre-pregnancy  or even just a few weeks ago  that it seems ludicrous that someone could look me head-on and not see that I am clearly a woman. Part of it may be that I'm grappling with this new identity of being a "mom," so someone else's confusion over a related part of my identity was too much.

And also part of it is that some people need to learn to think about what they say before they say it. I mean, seriously, he didn't even address me as a "you" but as a "that," not only stripping me of a significant part of my identity but of my humanity entirely.

Maybe I did look boyish that day. But so what? What business was it of his to verbally investigate my gender? Why do people feel so much better, safer when they can classify men and women into separate categories? Why do we have to have so many gender signifiers in our language?

Language matters. What we say and how we say it matter. Pay attention to it. My family and friends who will read this don't need this lecture  I know most of you are modern and tactful people. But maybe you will remember this and help others use more appropriate language. And maybe you can do it with fewer expletives than I did when I told that random stranger in no uncertain terms that his words pissed me off.

Friday, November 29, 2019

On Being Slow (But Not Too Slow)

At the pool today, there was a woman who was almost keeping pace with me. I was doing a distance set with easy to medium intensity, and I have no idea what kind of set she was doing. Maybe she was doing a sprint set. Maybe she was on her warm up. I don't know, and it really shouldn't matter, yet it still irritated me that it took more than a little extra effort to keep her behind me. I'm not used to the everyday lap swimmers at the Y being anywhere close to me.

I get a little bit bigger and a little bit slower every day, but I know it's temporary. I have been practicing a lot of positive self-talk, letting myself know that I'm doing great and whatever I can do now will help significantly when I am ready to get back into competitive-athlete shape.

But still. As an athlete for 30+ years, I don't want to be slow. I don't want to lose muscle and gain fat. But my body has other priorities right now, and I have to respect that.
About two-dozen practice suits
that I don't fit into right now. 

I shared a lane with a man while I was doing a stretch-out/recovery swim shortly after I ran the Harrisburg Marathon. I was really slow that day, and rightfully so. When I stopped at the end of the lane between sets, he said, "Wow, when I get into shape, I hope I can keep moving like you do and be half as fast."

He had no idea I was pregnant, no idea I was significantly slower than my norm, no idea I was recovering from a marathon. He just saw a person swimming smoothly and confidently lap after lap. I was stuck in my head about being big and slow, so it was a nice reprieve to see myself from a different point of view.

Not that I need others to validate me. Not that I need to compare myself to other swimmers to validate myself. Most of my favorite workouts are the ones where it's just me racing the clock. But I don't live and swim in a bubble, and it helps to have others to push and motivate and inspire and give new perspectives.

So maybe I am bigger and slower, and maybe that's frustrating sometimes, but it's just a new kind of challenge that will make me mentally (if not physically) stronger.

[I just can't bring myself to end this post without saying that near the end of my set this morning, I finally noticed that the woman keeping pace with me was wearing fins, and that made me feel significantly better. Haha.]