Embracing Strength and the DIY Life

For most of my adult life I’ve lived alone and far away from family, loved ones and friends. If something around my home or in my life needs doing, it’s generally up to the crack team of me, myself, and I to get it done. I’ve learned to change tires, plunge toilets (ok, not well), and assemble large pieces of furniture, among many other domestic and maintenance adventures.

Thanks to CrossFit, and the strength training in general it introduced me to, I can also move that furniture if I need to, as well as most anything else I need to move, lift or carry. Full trunk of groceries with one free hand?  No problem!  Need to clean behind the fridge?  Consider it done.

Last summer when I indulged in a brand new garage gym setup for myself courtesy of deployment savings I had to get out there with my gear, all the associated nuts and bolts, and my humble little hand wrench and get it done. By some miracle I actually managed to fit four 100lb rubber stall mats from the tractor supply store into my tiny two door hatchback (folded up like smelly black tacos)… Which was fantastic until I got them back to the garage and had to drag those grippy floppy monstrosities back OUT of the pit-like trunk area and get them in position and the garage floor. They held on tight, and at one point I noticed the car rocking back on its wheels as I pulled and pulled on those stubborn mats.

I’ll admit I started to worry but I just kept telling myself things like “stay tight!” and “use your posterior chain!” … And between that and lots of words I shouldn’t repeat here – I’ve got a nice little section of rubber flooring in my garage today. (That is not going ANYWHERE until it is time to move!)

I recall something else about the day I bought those stubborn rubber mats, which brings my point even more sharply into focus. The men at the tractor supply store seemed convinced I’d never get them out of that car myself and were doubtful about selling me that size because of the weight.

Years ago I would have listened – and I probably wouldn’t have been able to get them out of the car if I hadn’t, and forget about moving them into position where I wanted them! Here’s the thing – I know I’m not the only one. How many of us have learned over the years to say to ourselves “forget it, you’ll never be able to do that,” “you can’t manage that alone,” “give it up, you’re just a girl.” Even those of us who have always had the vague idea that we were, or wanted to be, strong – the surface message of society the past twenty some years may have carried a better message about the strength and capability of girls and women, but who hasn’t been insulted growing up with the words “you’re just a girl,” “you (whatever) like a girl,” or simply told that “girls can’t do that”? I hope some of our younger sisters can honestly say that they haven’t but I think that most of us certainly have, so much so that at some point we stopped noticing it or reacting to it and started believing it instead.

As much as I could I fought against that way of thinking, but I’d be dishonest to claim the victory was complete. I’m the middle child of three. I have a brother two years older than I am, and one 8 years younger. Growing up I always wanted to play the rescuing prince when it was time to act out fairy tales – because he got the cape, and the sword, and the fast horse to ride. The princess just had to sit around in the tower waiting to be rescued – boring. My older brother often graciously agreed to be the horse. I can’t remember but I think we generally dispensed with that snooze of a princess altogether and came up with some other adventure. I had always been tall, and I always wanted to keep up with the boys – much like that prince, basketball and surfing with my brother, his friends, and my male cousins seemed way more fun to me than the other options. As high school approached I couldn’t help becoming aware – well let’s be honest, the other kids at school made me humiliatingly, painfully aware – that I didn’t match up to what they thought a girl should be. Outwardly I responded with defiance, refusing to wear girly clothes and cutting my hair off short, engaging in any opportunity to prove I could be just as tough as the boys. Inwardly? Not surprisingly, my confidence withered and my refusal to conform to feminine standards became as much or more about a belief that I wasn’t “good enough” to be like other girls as it was about proving I was “strong.”

And what is most wrong with that picture? It took me until my late 20s and now my 30s to really see it, instead of just say because it sounded good: being feminine and being strong are not opposite ends of a spectrum. They aren’t, or shouldn’t, be in conflict with one another at all. Strong woman is no oxymoron!

No adult should be reliant on waiting for someone else to come along and lift their loads for them – who would want to live that way? And realistically, if you’re like me – who could live that way? At times though it has made me feel very, very alone to know that nothing is getting done in my home, nothing is getting fixed, if I don’t find a way to do it myself. Sometimes, I’ve needed a reminder that I am strong, and that self sufficiency is a good – a great – thing that need not feel so isolating.

I started CrossFit in 2010, at a time when my confidence most assuredly needed the boost of an external reminder that “I am strong,” “I am capable,” “I can endure and overcome.” After a painful divorce at a young age I often felt very, very alone, and like a mountain of failure had piled up behind me to cast a shadow over everything I had once hoped I could be – but I was always determined that if I had to feel alone, at least I would be helpless and alone.

If you ask me, that’s where one of the greatest values of CrossFit lies. Not only in making me physically fit and strong enough to do whatever life requires me to do – but also giving me the confidence and reassurance that maybe it will be a struggle and maybe I’ll want to quit, but just like a challenging workout as long as I don’t give up I will find myself, seemingly all of a sudden at the end of the ordeal looking back and wondering almost how I’d got there. It’s how I used to think of marathons, and the long long training runs leading up to them. As long as I prepared, and was willing to patiently continue suffering, to manage that suffering so that it stayed between the bounds of progress forward on one side, and injury or exhaustion on the other. The end WOULD come: it was inevitable. And it is; in all of life. Nothing lasts forever, and that’s not a bad thing. Much better that a difficult task end in success, or at least completion, after patient suffering, than in abrupt surrender.  The end will come either way but the route is often up to us. All the physical strength in the world won’t help us do what is needed until we find the mental strength as well to get it done.

And then – the real beauty of CrossFit – not only has it given me both greater physical and mental strength, it’s introduced me to a community where being strong, tough, and self reliant are accepted and celebrated. No one in a box laughs at the girl with broad shoulders! In the end, my quest for self reliance also helped bring me back out of my isolation. “Doing it myself” has become more and more a matter of ability than solitary necessity – but it is no less valuable.

I never saw the point in waiting around for someone else to rescue me when I was all of 5 years old – I wanted to do the rescuing myself. Some wisdom may come from lessons learned with age – but with some “lessons” the wisdom comes in forgetting.

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