Monday, June 1, 2020

Interview with Marie Clark: "Finishing that Swim Made Me Feel So Strong and Powerful"

Start of Mile 7 @ Key Lido - April 2019

Name: Marie Clark
Sports: Marathon swimming, casual cyclist, and used to do triathlon and running
Age: 49
Occupation: IT Project Manager
Location: York, PA and grew up in south Florida
Connect with Marie on facebook or instagram!

How did you begin participation in sports?
I swam age group from 7 - 13, but stopped when I started high school due to social stigma (I was never a "small" girl) and lack of speed. Rediscovered sport as an adult in my early 30s when a friend encouraged me to walk a 5k with her during my weight loss journey. Walking led to running, then triathlon, and eventually what has become my true love, open water swimming.

What is you most vivid memory of your sports career?
There are many vivid memories, but finishing my first marathon swim is probably the most vivid. My arms and shoulder were sore, I was exhausted, the last (or next to last) swimmer, and yet finishing that swim made me feel so strong and powerful.

Swim to the Moon - August 2019

Who are the people who have most supported or influenced your athletic career and how have they influenced or supported you?

My best friend, Lynda Hasper, who dragged me on that first 5k, and then into triathlon (which I love) and is always happy for me. My fiancée, Joe Church, who constantly encourages me to reach for the next goal and puts up with me spending hours each week training.

Training Swim at Blue Marsh Lake

Why do you continue to participate in sports?
Community and health – the endurance sports community has become my family. My 4 best friends and my fiancée all came from my involvement in sports. My day-to-day social interactions are with others in the community, both near and far.

I also keep participating because obesity runs in my family, along with arthritis. Endurance sports help to keep my weight from exploding. I have discovered during the recent COVID-19 pandemic that swimming is critical to keeping my joints, muscles and tendons healthy. The weightless motion in swimming keeps me limber and pain free.

My endurance activities keep me in touch with nature. The lake at dawn, the ocean on a sunny day, the river at sunset. The water, sky, and sounds of nature soothe my soul and keep me sane.

Ocean to Bay 50 Mile Ride - April 2018
What are three words you’d use to describe your athletic body?
Strong, curvy, flexible

What are your sports goals and/or what do you foresee happening with your sporting career in the future?
Continue open water swimming. I'm due to have knee replacement surgery, so it will take me a while to get back to walking and cycling, but as soon as I can get in and out of the pool, I plan to be back in the water.

Is there anything else you’d like to say that isn’t covered above?
Anyone can be an athlete – it just takes consistent motion. Too many people say they are "too old," "too fat," "too injured." Progress is usually slow and you many never go very far or very fast, but you can learn to enjoy activity.

Questions for Marie about her sports career? Please comment below!

This interview is part of the Thigh Flasher Athletes Who Inspire Me Interview Series. Contact me if you’d like to share your story as a sportswoman or nominate another sportswoman who has inspired you to get fit, compete, and or live a healthier lifestyle.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Interview with Rachel Jenkins: "I Missed the Swimming Community"

Name: Rachel Jenkins
Sports: Swimming, Running
Age: 34
Occupation: Digital Project Manager
Location: from Latrobe, PA

Rachel and I were new to the Mercersburg Academy swim team the same year and lived in the same dorm, and we used to sleepwalk to morning practices together. We reconnected on social media when she returned to swimming on a Master’s team and launched her website The Lane Line: Workouts and Inspiration from a Lifelong Swimmer where she writes articles for Master's swimmers, coaches, and parents of age group swimmers.

How did you begin participation in sports?
I joined a swim team at age 6.

What is you most vivid memory of your sports career?
Army/Navy Swim meets in college. It’s just the most high-energy meet I’ve ever been a part of. It’s such a long-standing tradition at Navy—the Army/Navy match-ups—that to come into it and experience it for yourself is incredible. You feel like you have everyone that ever went to Navy or served in the military in any branch cheering you on.

For more about Rachel’s experience with Army/Navy swim meets, check out this post on her website The Lane Line.

Who are the people who have most supported or influenced your athletic career and how have they influenced or supported you?
My parents have supported my swimming career my whole life. My husband is also a swimmer and so he’s a big motivator. Now that I have kids who swim, I want to be a role model for them—showing them women can be strong athletes at any age.

Why do you continue to participate in sports? Or why have you discontinued participation?
I took a long break from swimming—about 10 years—because I felt burnt out and because my active duty service career didn’t allow me to make a lot of time for working out. I got back into Masters swimming because I loved swimming for me, and I missed the swimming community around me.

What are three words you’d use to describe your athletic body?
Swimmer shoulders/back, muscular, small chested

What are your sports goals and/or what do you foresee happening with your sporting career in the future?
I want to continue to compete in Masters swimming, and I’d like to start doing running and triathlon races. I’m also interested in long distance open water races.

Check out The Lane Line website, on Facebook, or Instagram. Questions for Rachel about her sports career? Please comment below!

This interview is part of the Thigh Flasher Athletes Who Inspire Me Interview Series. Contact me if you’d like to share your story as a sportswoman or nominate another sportswoman who has inspired you to get fit, compete, and or live a healthier lifestyle.

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 sign 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...