Building strength, building community

When we look at sport and athletics, there is by default a strong focus on team spirit. You bring a group of people together, give them roles and responsibilities, apply rules or guidelines, and then let the magic happen.

When I first began running at age 40, I signed up for a running course to kickstart that phase of my fitness adventure. The instructor, bless her heart, was my almost constant companion, as I was the slowest runner.

Later, when I did a follow up program, I ran a few times with some people from the class, but mostly it was just me, running through the streets in the early morning.

In fact, running in a group did not appeal to me, and if I am brutally honest, it was because it just didn’t work for me, as I was always dead last. By default, I became a solitary runner because of my skill level.

When I took up rowing, I became part of a team. There was no leaving me behind to catch up. We all had to be in sync, to move as one, to drive the boat through the water. In the boat, unlike the trails, there was no shade, there was no place where you could hide from others how little you worked.

Being part of a team appealed to me very much. I had worked in teams when I worked in an office, and I liked the camaraderie, the shared vision, the give-and-take of a group who had figured out how to work together over time.

Working as a sole practitioner meant being alone most of the day. Being on a rowing team now meant I was connected to another hub of humanity in my community. It was a win-win for me on many fronts. When I stopped rowing, though I lost my community of sport.

That loss meant I stopped making fitness a priority for any reason, including a community of like-minded individuals working towards a shared goal. When I started walking three times a week to get fit, it wasn’t enough for what I wanted to achieve. There were lots of benefits though; I was outside, and I improved my fluency in Spanish, as well as forged a new friendship.

But still, I needed more. I had lots of friends who started fitness programs. Many of them were involved in activities that offered a nice size for groups, but their vision wasn’t one I shared. Over the past couple of years, I had begun reading more about Health At Every Size (HAES), and my focus had shifted from using fitness to look good to a focus where fitness meant you could move easily in your daily life.

When I began my work with weights and conditioning, I did it quietly. There was no daily post about my work outs, no fanfare, no big announcement as people do for January resolutions. (In fact, I started my program in December.)

For a long time, it was just me and my trainer. But then something unexpected happened. I found a space where what I wanted and needed in terms of information and support came together.

While I continued to check in with my friend who had recommended the trainer I worked with, I also started to let more people in to my circle. First, there was a colleague who occasionally sent me links to useful exercises. Then, there were the casual chats in between sets with another lifter who worked out while I warmed up.

I became gym friends with some new people I met, and for some that expanded into online connections where it was easier to ask questions and share information.  There were more chats that led to specific discussions regarding technique, there were offers of help and guidance, and there were new ideas to ponder.

It‘s a different place for me now, the work I do to become fit and active. Here I’m alone, but part of a team. Here the team is about supporting the individual achieve separate goals rather than the individual supporting the team in a common goal.

Curiously, this is also a place where gender is not at play, and where the focus is on how well you can make your body work to reach or surpass its best level rather than fitting into some socially constructed ideal. It’s about making legitimate the quest for power and strength regardless of gender, and maybe simply because of my gender.

I like this place, this community that I have found, or maybe I should say that found me. I like how it says here is where you can set the bar higher for yourself, in more ways than one.

— Martha Muzychka is a writer and consultant living in St. John’s.

4 thoughts on “Building strength, building community

  1. You have not only found your niche athletically, but academically as well. You are quite an impressive, articulate and expressive writer! I look forward to reading more of your writings. Bill

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