fitness · sleep

The Joy of Napping

A cozy bed with fluffy pillows and freshly laundered sheets… a comfy couch with a four-legged friend curled up behind your knees… a hammock hoisted up in a sunny patch… a beach lounger with your toes tucked into the sandy beach in front of you… there are as many ways and places to nap as your imagination allows!

A sea lion napping on a bench. Photo by Jackman Chiu on Unsplash
A sea lion napping on a bench. Photo by Jackman Chiu on Unsplash

We’re no stranger here at FIFI when it comes to talk about naps and rest (a small sampling of earlier nap/sleep posts: Sam, Martha, Catherine). I started thinking about this a bit ago when I realized that February 28 was National Public Sleeping Day. Winter has (finally) arrived in New England and I was dreaming about being in a place with suitable weather for outdoor public napping. Short of taking a snooze on a mall bench public sleeping isn’t usually an option for me in February, given our chilly weather. Of course we can’t tackle a silly (probably made up) “holiday” like sleeping in public day without thinking more about who is allowed to snuggle up on a park bench for a short respite and who would be penalized for doing so. It also started me thinking about where most of us would feel comfortable sleeping in public. I’ve had a couple jobs where I could close the door and grab a short nap, but I probably wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing that in the employee break room. I’ve napped at the beach, in my car, and on a blanket in the park. I’ve fallen asleep at the movies, and once in a department store while waiting for someone to come out of the dressing room. It wont come as a surprise after reading this to know that I’m a big fan of sleeping and naps.

Are you dismayed that National Public Sleeping Day has passed for the year? Never fear – Napping Day is just around the corner on March 13. According to the linked site, napping day was created to mitigate the lost hour of sleep from the “spring forward” shift due to Daylight Savings Time. That’s a “day” I can get behind, especially since my dogs can’t tell time and insist on sticking to their same breakfast time. We’re all a little tired after the switch and a day of napping is a welcome reprieve.

I almost never napped as a child. I used to drive my babysitter wonky because I would keep all the other kids up at nap time. Eventually she started bringing me into the sitting room with her, where she would close her eyes and listen to Days of Our Lives (it was the 70s!). I would ask her if she was sleeping and she said “just resting my eyes.” I napped a little bit more as a teen, but I didn’t really come to love naps until my 30s. These days I nap pretty regularly, even if it’s just a quick 10 minutes before moving on to the next part of my day.

How and when is your next nap coming? Will you be outside laying in a patch of sunshine? Curled up with the family pet? Face down next to your lunch container at your desk? Where ever you end up, I hope it is a wonderful snooze!

Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.

fitness · new year's resolutions

Getting Outdoors in 2023

I’m not sure where the month of January went, but it seemed in a hurry to get there. Time flew right by, at least for me. In the spirit of New Year, Same Me I added very little to my plate related to challenges or resolutions. I picked my WOTY (create) and set some yearly goals that support my vision for the year.

Through that process (and this blog) I came across one new habit I wanted to add to my life. It takes me a long time to build a habit, and so I try to avoid stacking too many new ones together at the same time. The new habit I’m trying to adopt is Gretchen Rubins “Go Outside 23 in 23” – the goal of this challenge is to spend 23 minutes outside every day in 2023.

My plans are a little less grand. I’m not someone who does well with an “every day” challenge. I miss a day or feel overwhelmed trying to shoehorn something in and then get resentful and annoyed at whatever the task is. Or disappointed with myself that I “couldn’t even get that little thing done.” So I’m taking a more gentle approach to this outdoor habit/challenge.

I’m aiming to spend 23 minutes outside on MOST days in 2023. And by 23 minutes I really mean some amount of time I wouldn’t normally spend outside on any given day. My lowest time spend for January was only 5 minutes, but it was a struggle that day to get those minutes in and so I am counting them.

So far I’ve got a fairly good split of 23+ minute days and days in the mid-teens. And more than a few days of 0 minutes. I love winter, but I’m not a winter sports person, therefore my outdoor winter wear is fairly limited. January in New England was a mixed bag of bitter cold, downright balmy, and rain. So much rain. I also ushered the new year in with a nasty cold that refused to take leave, so spending longer than necessary in the cold, wet weather didn’t seem wise on some of those days. All told I checked off 16 days in January that I added outdoor time into my routine.

Rubin recently made a blog post titled “Tips for Going Outside in Cold or Wet Weather” which included strategies from podcast and social media followers to get more outdoor time into their days. I was glad to see there were many folks taking compassionate measures and modifying in ways that best suited their lifestyles. Some comments shared:

– determining what temperature is too cold (“23 in 23, above 23 degrees”)

– heated socks and gloves

– investing in comfortable cold weather clothing, such as a snowskirt

– turning a garage space into a recreation area where the doors can be open even on inclement days

– spending time looking outside from a sunny window when it isn’t feasible to get outdoors

This habit appealed to me as someone who works from home quite often. I also have a home gym where I do most of my fitness-related activities, and overall I was feeling like I needed more fresh air and time in nature. Last year we added more outdoor space onto our home, and I want to build my practice of spending time outdoors and enjoying those spaces more.

Are you doing the “23 in 23 challenge” or something else similar? Any tips for getting outdoors on those days where you just don’t want to put pants on (I just layer up in my pjs and go stand on the deck with a warm beverage)?

Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.

fitness · habits · Happy New Year! · new year's resolutions

New Year, Same Me?

Every new year’s season we face the onslaught of marketing telling us that a “New Year, New You” is possible. A few years ago a friend and I started saying this phrase sarcastically, which then morphed into “New Year, Same Me,” sometimes with a few curse words added in for healthy measure.

As someone who tries to adopt a growth mindset in most areas, I really struggle with both ways of framing the new year. I’m not going to become a “new” person. And I’m not likely to stay the same, either. I hope to grow and change in ways that meet the current challenges and joys in my life. I don’t want to feel “stuck” with my old ways of doing things, but I am not going to be a new person at the stroke of January 1. I’m not going to get fitter, leaner, or smarter at the stroke of midnight.

Photo by Jess Bailey from Unsplash. Rose gold pen resting over an open yearly planner book.
Rose gold pen resting over an open yearly planner.

And yet there is a strong pull to believe that could happen, thanks to the layers upon layers of marketing that tell us it could be so. And then there are the headlines! Oh, the headlines. “It takes 21 days to build a habit” “Resolution-makers unlikely to stick with resolutions” “Resolution-makes do better with habit-building than those without resolutions” and on and on they go, each one contradicting the next.

Here’s what I know about me… your mileage may vary – I like the fresh hope a new week/month/year bring when thinking about habits or changes. I like to pause and reflect on the previous time span, thinking about how I met (or didn’t) meet the goals I put forth, what things brought me joy, and what changes I could make to get more of those experiences. I like to dream up fun ways to challenge myself and new experiences I could share with my loved ones.

I also know it takes me way longer than 21 days to build a habit. The last habit I intentionally adopted took me 6 months to adopt, and another 2 months before it felt like a natural part of my routine. Sometimes I do better with starting on a “new” block of time, but other times I’ll just randomly start a “streak” on a Tuesday afternoon and keep it going for some period of time.

I know I only have the resources to focuses on one or two new things at a time. I cannot drastically increase my fitness time and my writing time simultaneously. I can’t take up a winter outdoor activity without updating some of my outdoor clothing and gear, which may conflict with a “low-spend” resolution. I do better when I can plan some of these conflicts ahead of time. Maybe I’ll do a low-spend period with the exception of outdoor gear updates. Or I’ll decide in advance that I want to prioritize my writing over anything else when I run short of time and/or energy. My brain likes knowing what the plan is before the conflict happens, even if the plan doesn’t always get followed as written.

All that is to say…. I’m both overwhelmed with possibility and exhausted by the same. I’m embracing the quiet and cold season to reflect and rest. I’ve chosen my word of the year (create) but I haven’t really landed on what that means just yet.

How about you? Do you have plans to become a new you? The same old you? A mildly different you? What is your plan for the new year?

Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.


On Gamifying Streaks

Last week I was reading Culture Study’s interview with Adrian Hon about the gamification of “streaks.” I’m writing this on the day of The NewsGuild of New York (representing journalists and other staffers for The New York Times) strike, and am seeing lots of social media posts about folks breaking their Wordle streaks in solidarity with the workers today. I’m also writing it just after completing a quick meditation on a certain app, which was useful to centering myself before moving on to the next task, but was also motivated by my desire to keep my daily streak going in that app.

We talk a bit about streaks on this blog, and I always see folks in my personal life mentioning when they are on a new streak or hit a milestone in a streak they are in. As Adrian Hon says in the Culture Study interview, the gamification of streaks is prevalent across many platforms lots of us use in our daily lives.

Hon talks about how platforms are using gamification to draw users in and keep them active in the platform with the use of streaks. I’ve been thinking more about how streaks come to a halt. Choice versus chance. Today many of us are choosing to break our Wordle streaks. I often choose to break my sleep meditation streak when I’m on vacation. Sometimes I choose to break a fitness streak if completing the workout for the sake of the streak starts to feel a bit obsessive. Other times I break my outdoor walking streak because it is raining and I am not a duck.

On the flip side, I often break ongoing streaks due to chance. By chance I mostly mean that I forgot to do the thing. Maybe it was a subconscious choice. Maybe I fell asleep reading before I started my nightly meditation. The day may have just gotten away from me and the streak activity completely slipped my mind. The gamification wasn’t strong enough to keep the activity front of mind, or the plan to execute didn’t go as intended.

One thing I found most interesting in the Hon article is the discussion of small, or analog, gamification versus bigger gamification that removes human judgement. Hon says:

Your mom’s marble system is a good example of smaller “analog” gamification, which can help structure activities and set goals and measure progress, especially when that progress is hard- won and toward a journey whose end is more abstract. My swimming lessons had similarly low-tech gamification, where we got badges for being able to go 25m without stopping, or for being able to pick a brick up from the bottom of the pool. These kinds of achievement badges and scores can be genuinely useful as training wheels for things we really care about doing. 

A virtue of small-scale gamification is that it’s easily customised and involves human judgment. Your mom could easily change the goals or give you more marbles for extra effort. It’s a human who decides whether a goal has really been achieved, like the swimming instructor who made sure I wasn’t pausing for too long between laps on a test. 

The problem is when gamification — the use of ideas from game design for non-game purposes — expands beyond the bounds we consciously set. It’s one thing to buy Nintendo’s Ring Fit Adventure to intentionally gamify your home exercise. It’s another to buy an Apple Watch because it’s the only smartwatch that Apple allows to be fully integrated with the iPhone, and you start getting notifications just before midnight badgering you to “close your rings” by going for a run, or to always be offering shiny achievements for increasing your calorie burn month after month. This kind of scaled-up digital gamification quietly substitutes the goals of corporations (maximising engagement and profit) in place of our own goals. Worse, it removes human judgment entirely; there’s no-one at Apple who can decide you deserve a day off your calorie goals. 

What offends me as a game designer, however, is how so much gamification made by corporations simply isn’t fun. Instead, it’s the thinnest, most thoughtless layering of aesthetics and mechanics from game design onto an unappealing activity. I hated cross country running at school, and I’d still have hated it if my teachers made us use Strava to get virtual achievements and compete on a digital leaderboard. But I loved playing five-a-side soccer with my friends every weekend – and we only kept score so that if things got too lopsided, we’d swap players. 

This whole section reminded me that I am actually terrible at pre-determined streaks, and I am much more successful when I control the parameters. I don’t try to “streak” my daily meditation, but instead I ask myself to complete a meditation, yoga session, or some other mindfulness practice (drawing, coloring, knitting, etc). This lets me ask myself what activity will work best for me and supports the “streak” of habits that support me throughout my day(s).

Mostly all this talk of streaks reminds me of my favorite streak from childhood…

A black box with white text that reads "Some of y'all never read 100 books to get a personal pan pizza and it shows"
Text reads: Some of y’all never read 100 books to get a personal pan pizza and it shows

How about you? Do you enjoy streaks or find them frustrating and easy to obsess over? Something in-between?

Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.

Book Club · Book Reviews · fitness · menopause

Book Review: Next Level

by Stacy T. Sims with Selene Yeager. This is the follow-up book to Sims Roar, and focuses specifically on physically active women approaching or in menopause. I was interested in this book after I saw numerous women in triathlete and cycling groups singing its praises. Before I go further into the review I want to note that I found the book covertly fat-phobic and would not recommend it to anyone with disordered eating (or in recovery) or to anyone who just generally doesn’t want to be told repeatedly that maintaining or improving body composition is a key reason to remain active. I’d also add that the book discusses only women, and does not recognize that some people who menstruate/experience menopause do not identify as women.

Part One of the book offers a detailed overview of menopause. What it is, what it does within the body, and the possible impacts it may have on people experiencing perimenopause and menopause. I found chapter 3, focusing on hormones and symptoms, especially useful for breaking the whole process down into simple language and explanations.

Part Two of the book moves on to performance. It is probably useful to note here that this section is geared toward athletes. While this includes recreational athletes it does not feel as inclusive of folks who are regularly active but not “athletes.” There is no definition of the difference between those two levels of activity, but my personal sense is this book is not written for someone who spends their days chasing kids around a playground or someone who does a medium-intensity 30 minute workout a few times a week. The schedule templates and descriptions are more in line with someone who is training for an event, who works out 6-7 days per week, often with an endurance (multi-hour) session or race included. Though you would not discern it from the title “Next Level: Your Guide to Kicking Ass, Feeling Great, and Crushing Goals Through Menopause and Beyond” this book is not written for an inactive or low-activity person.

Chapters 5, 6, and 7 focus on the specific types of activity Sims recommends: HIIT, SIT, lifting “heavy shit,” and pylometrics and jumps. She gives an overview of different high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and sprint interval training (SIT) structures (tabata, hill sprints, 20/10, 40/20, etc). Here’s where the language about “performance-boosting body composition changes” comes back up, along with Sims belief that HIIT and SIT strengthens and increases amount of energy-producing mitochondria, improves insulin sensitivity and lowers fasting blood sugar levels, triggers anti-inflammatory response when done regularly, stimulates brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) keeping gray matter healthy and improving cognition and working memory. Sims is a big believer in “lifting heavy sh*t,” citing benefits in strength building, increased metabolic rate (waking up more muscle fibers which requires a lot of energy to exist), improved posture and stability, stronger bones, better blood pressure control, maintenance of healthy body composition (defined as maintaining lean muscle, reducing fat gain), and fewer sick days (improves immunity). She also includes tips for lifting heavy sh*t, including warm-up moves and basic heavy lifts. Finally, Sims discusses information about jumps and plyometric moves, citing research that supports plyometrics being beneficial for improved muscular strength, bone health, body composition, posture, and physical performance. This chapter also includes a guide to these movements, working in phases from beginner through intermediate levels.

The next 10 chapters focus on aspects that can impact athletic performance, such as gut health and microbiome balance, diets and proper nutrition fueling, nutrition timing, hydration, sleep and recovery, stability and core strength, bone strength, exercise scheduling, and supplements. Many chapters include descriptions of athletes Sims has coached during the menopause transition, offering a description of the concerns of each athlete and the training (including each of the above elements) plan Sims developed for the athlete, and the outcome of each case.

CW: body weights discussed here — Throughout the book Sims offers examples using body weight as a guide (ex: macro calculations for a woman weighing xxx lbs.) These numbers are often quite low, as are the body weights of the athletes Sims describes in her case study sections. The average woman in the U.S. weighs 170 lbs, but the women Sims writes about or uses for sample information weigh significantly less than that. Further, there is little discussion about how to manage macros for larger athletes, which may feel daunting to the many athletes at or above the “average” range. Lastly, I would note here that Sims uses some calculations that include BMI without further discussion about the problematic development and history of the BMI (although she does note that the BMI is less useful for some athletes and that there may be more useful tests.)

The final chapter offers different templates for putting all of this information into practice, including macro targets, training plans, and symptom tracking.

Final thoughts: I found the book to be informative in many areas, and I’m glad I read it. That being said, I don’t see a lot of implementation in my future, although I plan to talk to my trainer about lifting more heavy sh*t. As someone who Sims would likely categorize as active but not an athlete I’m much more focused on functional fitness (like getting my 70 lbs dog in/out of the hatchback), but I’d gladly take some relief from perimenopause symptoms, some of which are hitting me hard. I think Sims falls down in two areas in this book, the first (fat-phobia and body weight) I’ve already covered. The second is Sims reliance on relatively small studies to strengthen her claims, which she (accurately!) says identifies a lack of research done with people who menstruate/experience menopause. Where I think Sims shines in this book is her ease in breaking down medical/scientific terminology into layperson terms, and in her encouragement to start small/slow and work up to the plans she includes here. This type of staggered implementation may help readers avoid overwhelm and injury.

Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.

fitness · meditation · mindfulness · sleep

A Year of Meditations

Last October I jumped on the Peloton bandwagon. A lot of my friends have one of their bikes and it felt like folks from all different areas of my life were happy with the classes. I don’t have a Peloton bike, but I am able to set up my bike with trainer to be able to take some of the Peloton classes using their app (I don’t get Peloton metrics with this set-up, but I have Zwift and Garmin metrics and am happy with those.) I learned that Peloton offered an “educator discount” on their app and off I went with a whole new world of strength, yoga, walk/run, and bike classes to try out.

A neon "breathe" sign on a background of greenery. Photo by Tim Goedhart on Unsplash
A neon “breathe” sign on a background of greenery. Photo by Tim Goedhart on Unsplash

Peloton offers a lot of “programs” which are classes they string together in a series. You need to complete class one before moving on to class two, etc. I quickly noticed that they had a two week meditation program called “The Power of Sleep.” As someone who struggles with both falling asleep and staying asleep, I was intrigued by this series.

I have always liked the idea of meditation, and some parts of the meditation practice, but my attempts at regular meditation had been met with a lot of mental resistance and feelings of failure for not being able to “get out of my own head.” I’ve come to understand that those feelings are common and part of the process itself, but it took me some time to get there. Soon after I downloaded the Peloton app I began exploring their meditation classes, seeing which instructors I liked and what types of meditations were available.

Once I discovered “The Power of Sleep” series I decided to give it a try. The meditations were short, most of them only 5 minutes in the first week. My partner and I go to bed at different times most nights, so I would do the meditation just before going up to bed. I found them to be a nice transition from whatever I was doing before that (usually tv or reading), but I still had chores to do after the meditation, such as letting the dogs out and teeth brushing routines. I completed the two week series and went back to my previous on/off cycle with meditation for another week or two, but I noticed it was more on than off.

My partner was away one night and I put a sleep meditation on while I was in bed, just about ready to fall asleep. It worked so well and I fell asleep almost as soon as the meditation was over. I began to brainstorm how I could listen to meditations without disturbing my already asleep partner, and I discovered a headband with headphones built-in. I was already a sleep mask wearer to block out extra light, so wearing something on my face/eyes wasn’t something new to get used to… the headband was a little more compressive, and the on/off buttons hit right on your center forehead (or over your eyes if you are pulling it lower), so that did take some adjustment. Being able to listen to sleep meditations as I drifted off to sleep made the adjustments worth it, and I quickly fell into a nightly habit.

Over the past year I’ve experimented with a variety of meditation classes and instructors. I’ve narrowed my favorites down to about 3 instructors and a strong preference for “body scan” meditations. I don’t mind taking the same class many times, but I do have to rotate my most favorite so I don’t take the same class too many times in a row – that causes my brain to think I should memorize the whole class. Instead I have about a half dozen classes that I rotate through each week, and I always try new classes to see if they will make the rotation.

Pink sky with a rainbow over a lake
My spot when I need a “nature meditation.”

I have not meditated daily for the past year, but I have been way more consistent with meditation this last year than ever before. I will often reach for a short meditation during the daytime hours now too, usually when I arrive at my office and am getting settled in to a busy day. I appreciate that my sleep practice makes meditating at other times of day easier, as my brain and my body know what to expect and I can settle in more easily without a lot of mental resistance.

We talk a lot about meditation on the blog (and in our world) and at times I have felt frustrated that I wasn’t “getting it” or able to do it right. I’m glad this was something I kept trying until I found a way that worked for me… maybe that means there is hope for my yoga practice too!

Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.

challenge · fitness

Seeking Comfort

This Girl Can recently asked what exercises have taken you out of your comfort zone and made you feel empowered. Sam posted some of the FIFI group responses in a recent post.

Screenshot of social media post from This Girl Can that reads: It can be easy to feel comfortable with an exercise or activity we know, but sometimes taking it one step further or trying something you never thought you could do can make you feel like a badass! What activities have taken them out of your comfort zone and loved them?

When I saw the question pop up from This Girl Can I immediately started thinking about comfort zones and what they mean. For me, a comfort zone is a place where I feel safe and cared for, either by myself or by others. Many factors go in to creating that zone of comfort, including comfort clothing (no more hard pants!), comfort foods, and even comfort weather – I’m a big fan of peak fall weather when it is chilly enough for sweaters but not coats, socks but not boots, and colorful leafy views.

When I think about fitness through this lens I realize that what feels empowering to me is to stay IN my comfort zone. We tend to think of comfort as something that is easy or unchallenging, but when I dive deeper I realize that if I don’t feel safe or if I don’t feel like I am caring for myself in a smart way I do not feel empowered.

I’ve taken up a lot of different fitness activities. I was not raised to enjoy or do physical movement – instead it was something to dread, and to feel shame about how my body looked attempting such feats. I started to encounter minor mobility issues in my late 30s, a twinge here, a pain there. Various treatment pathways, traditional and holistic, brought me to walking. Just simple walking. I felt safe in my neighborhood. I felt cared for, by myself and by my health practitioners. I felt empowered. I started adding short jogs into my walks – the the next telephone pole, to the yellow house, to the street corner. I was testing my limits, but I was still protecting my body and my soul, making sure it felt safe.

I do not respond well to being pushed or pushing myself beyond “limits.” Sometimes those limits are arbitrary, and sometimes they shift with the given moment. Some days are “beast mode” and some days aren’t. I’ve taken all sorts of clinics, workshops, and classes for things like yoga, swimming, cycling, running, TRX, zumba, water aerobics, pilates, and strength training. Some felt empowering while others felt defeating. Coaches who pushed often found that I was slower, more uncoordinated, and crankier when they insisted I do something a particular way or aim for a goal that felt unattainable. Coaches who asked “can you add/do more/focus on…” and allowed me the time to think about the answer got more favorable results. I was able to ask myself “does adding/doing/focusing feel safe, does it feel right for my body?” Folks who ignored me when I said “no, that doesn’t feel safe” quickly became untrustworthy and people whom I distanced myself from going forward.

Here’s the rub with that plan though – I have to really listen to myself. To give myself space to say “no, that doesn’t feel safe.” To ask myself, and listen to the answer all the time, not just sometimes. I love to try new things and can get easily excited about a new activity, hobby, or project. I do feel empowered when I try something new, but I need to stay in my “comfort zone” more often than not to feel good about something.

Amy ziplining.
Amy’s first ziplining experience

Maybe others view their comfort zones differently and are able to leave them more freely, to take bigger risks, or at least to engage in things that feel riskier for themselves. I’m okay with that! My comfort zone lets me try all sorts of new activities in ways that work for my heart, my head, and my body.

See you on our next adventure!

Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.


Here Comes the Boom!

Here in the Boston area we have a championship football team. They are highly-skilled and they are fierce, offering a demonstration of athletics and collegiality with every game. Maybe you’ve heard of them?

Boston Renegades logo
Boston Renegades logo

The Boston Renegades (did you think I was going to say The Patriots? Nah!) are a team in the Women’s Football Alliance (WFA). They are four-time back-to-back winners of the WFA Pro National championship game, with an earlier win making them 5x champions. In addition to the “big wins” the Renegades have a 31 game winning streak going, with their last losing game dating back to April 2018.

The team consists of individual record-holders in their specialty sub-fields, and several players recently competed in the 2022 IFAF Women’s World Championship games. Eight Renegades and their coach brought home the gold for Team USA this month. With a wealth of diversity, the Renegades are a well-rounded team of athletes that deserve kudos and celebrations like their male counterparts.

WFA logo
WFA logo

I first found out about the team a few years ago when I became acquainted with one of the players. Despite the home games being played just a few miles from my house, I had never heard of them until I met this player. At the time she was working a full-time job, a part-time job, and growing her family, while also being a supportive teammate and strong competitor. She invited folks in our shared network to come to a game and support the team, and my spouse and I have been going every season since then.

Having been to many professional sports games in the past, I wasn’t sure what to expect given that the stadium where they play was much smaller. When I arrived I quickly noted that fans could bring in food and drinks, seating was not reserved and informal, and most fans in attendance sported team apparel. The relaxed atmosphere felt incredibly welcoming, and it was easy to see how much easier it would be for families with young children to attend and not have to limit their belongings to the bare necessities or what would fit in a clear, small backpack (a requirement at most major league stadiums these days). My group quickly honed in on what we think of as “our seats” and set about supporting the on-site vendors. The ticket prices are reasonable, the food vendors on-site don’t increase their regular prices for “stadium fare” and the games are fun! They even have the “End Zone Militia” at every game, ready to fire off their muskets at each Renegade point scored, prompting the announcer to whoop “here comes the boom” before they unload. Many in my group knit or crochet, so some of us often have a project going, along with a good bit of conversation, while also watching the game. Some of us (that would be me) don’t really understand the rules of football very well, but are happy to be in the environment having a nice time with friends and supporting a great team.

What makes this team great? I already mentioned their winning streak and championships, which I think speaks to their football skills and abilities. But from the first game I attended, it was easy to see how this team, this environment, was different from other professional games I have seen. The team camaraderie, the way these players care for one another, is so easy to see. The players connect with their fans in the stadium, and you can see them looking for their loved ones in the seats throughout the game. In 2019 a player from an opposing team got injured during a Renegades home game. Her injuries required her to stay in a Boston hospital for several weeks. While the player’s team set up a gofundme page to help with expenses, members of the Renegades shared that link with their fans and on their team page. A team member with an empty rental unit offered the injured player’s family use of the rental, and Renegades players reached out to their networks to furnish the unit with linens, cookware, and furniture for the family to be as comfortable as possible while they were caring for their loved one.

One thing that stands out in the story above, aside from a community banding together to support one of their members, is that the injured player (and family) was reliant upon gofundme donations and other types of financial support. While this is a professional football league, the players do not earn anything close to a living wage playing the sport, let alone the mega salaries we see reflected in the National Football League. Most of the WFA players work outside jobs. The teams do have corporate sponsors, but they are often local businesses rather than national corporations. When players travel to away games, championships, and even the IFAF World Championship they set up fundraisers to offset the travel expenses. The team holds a 50/50 raffle at every home game, and the person selling the tickets is usually one of the team owners. It is an “all hands on deck” situation, and everyone does their part to make it work. Despite that, it is easy to see the differences in financial and community support between the Renegades and the Patriots!

Do these differences matter? No one team or league can be exactly like each other, right?! Right! The mega salaries that NFL players make are not the same as the mega salaries that NBA players make… they’re just very similar. Obviously a critical difference between the NFL and the WFA is the gender of the players. This impacts how much media attention, funding, and other crucial support the WFA teams get versus the NFL. A neighbor recently decorated their boat with all the local sports teams for our local boat parade – Celtics, Patriots, Bruins… but no Renegades. When I suggested they needed an addition to their “boat costume” they weren’t sure who the Renegades were. In other discussions about why I enjoy watching the Renegades play I’ve had men tell me they would rather watch the “lingerie league” football games.

A Wilson-brand football on a white line on the field.
A Wilson-brand football on a white line on the field. Photo by Dave Adamson on Unsplash

Representation matters! Diversity, equality, and equity in sport are all needed. It is easy to see this if you have ever been at a Renegades game, watching the players excitedly sign autographs for kids after the game, posing for pictures with their exhausted bodies and beaming smiles. These teams and leagues need our support just as much as we need their spirit and passion while we all push the limitations imposed on women’s sports.

Want to know more about women’s tackle football? Born To Play is a great documentary featuring the Renegades:

Do you have a favorite WFA team? Another women’s sport that you love? Please share in the comments!

Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.


Trying and Failing; Or, When to Quit

A couple weeks ago I wrote about purchasing a stand up paddle board (SUP). When I wrote the post I was still waiting for it to arrive. My SUP experience is very limited, having only been one time several years ago, but watching a few of my neighbors on their SUPs this summer renewed my interest.

Photo of a rocky area above the water with a sign in the foreground that says “Danger Risk of Falling”

Photo by Chanel Chomse on Unsplash
Photo of a rocky area above the water with a sign in the foreground that says “Danger Risk of Falling”

My SUP arrived and my partner helped me get everything set up. It is an inflatable, so it required a little bit of work, but it came together pretty quickly in the backyard. Having an extra set of hands was helpful for the initial unboxing, and I am always grateful when he is willing to carry stuff down to the dock for me, as it is steep and even with grippy shoes I sometimes feel like I’m skating down it.

The last time I used a SUP I was able to step right off the dock onto the board. That didn’t go so well this time, even with having an extra human to offer a steadying shoulder. I just couldn’t get the balance right, and the water is too shallow in that area to risk falling straight in from dock height. I was able to get onto the board on my knees straight off the dock, but then I got a little stuck and couldn’t go anywhere.

Next I tried stepping onto the board in the shallow area. That worked a bit better, but I only got a very short cruise off the shore before I fell into the water. I didn’t injure myself, but it was still too shallow there for a “safe” fall, so I picked up a couple of scrapes and scratches along the rocky bottom.

All of this trying and falling happened about 30 minutes before the neighborhood July 4th boat parade started, so I had a bit of an audience. Several neighbors were setting up chairs and making their way down to their docks to get ready for the show. I don’t think watching me fall off my SUP was quite the show they had planned! When my partner tried the SUP (he made it to standing before losing his balance and falling in) I heard one of the neighborhood children giggle and say “momma, he just fell right in!” After enough attempts to tire myself out I sat on the board and paddled around a bit, just to get a sense of balance and paddling, and then we watched the boat parade while floating in the water, cheering on our neighbors and their decorated boats. I had been prepared to fail, to be bad at something new, but I wasn’t as prepared to fail quite so publicly.

So where does that leave the SUP and I? Honestly, I’m not sure yet. A friend has expressed interest in buying it from me if I decide to turn in my paddle, and I’ve been considering the offer. I definitely have a few more practice sessions in me to see if I can make my way to standing before I decide. I’ve watched countless videos on how to successfully stand and balance, and I’m hoping that trying some of the advice offered there will get me up to standing. One of the reasons I would prefer to start from standing is that, like many people, I have some knee mobility concerns that make paddling on the knees and rising from a kneeling position on a wobbly board more difficult.

Photo of a man trying to do a headstand on a paddleboard, about to fall into the water.

Photo by Jonas Denil on Unsplash
Photo of a man trying to do a headstand on a paddleboard, about to fall into the water.

Practice may make perfect, or at least possible, but I’ve also been thinking a lot about when it is time to quit. I know I’m not ready to give up yet, but I also know I’m unwilling to keep at something that is painful (beyond normal acclimation to a new thing), overly difficult, or makes me feel bad about myself and my abilities. I’m unwilling to “tough it out” for something that is supposed to be a fun hobby/activity. But knowing how much effort is enough, how many attempts are too many, and second guessing myself that I didn’t “try hard enough” are thoughts I’ve experienced in the past when making the decision to let something go. The only thing I know to do is to keep trying, keep researching different techniques for getting into a standing position, and keep having an attitude of being willing to be bad at something (even if the neighbor children are pointing and laughing). Most of all, to keep trusting myself.

Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.


SUP Newbie

My first, and only, stand up paddle-board (SUP) experience was a few (okay, 8!) years ago while visiting friends. They were members of a premier sports & fitness club that had a quarry on the property which they used for a few different water sports. Our friends had recently taken up SUP’ing as part of their regular gym-going routine, and we (my spouse and I) were excited to try something new. It didn’t hurt that it was October and the water temperature was in the high 70s, whereas it was already turning cold at my house.

Blue and white paddle-board at the edge of a lake, with trees and mountains in the background (photo by Will Smith on Unsplash)

I am not the most coordinated person. That is to say I have a serious lack of coordination and occasionally just tilt over while walking in a way that confuses most other people. I’m also in a larger body and despite my efforts to pick things up and put them down, I have never had a lot of upper body strength. So I felt like my best chance for getting on and staying on the board was to step onto it right off the dock, and then don’t get off of it until I was done. I did not kneel. I did not sit down. I stood. I paddled. I jumped off and enjoyed a refreshing swim, and then pushed my board back to the dock while I remained in the water. I don’t know if I could have pulled myself back onto the board because I never tried.

Despite feeling uncoordinated and generally suspicious of new things, I really enjoyed the adventure. We tried to go again on our trip but other activities in the new-to-me city won out, and we ran out of time. Fast forward four years, and I now live near a small body of water. Our community calls it a pond, but it would be described as a small lake in most other places. Within a month of moving in we had purchased two kayaks and began enjoying the water. As soon as it was warm enough to swim in the pond, I pulled on my wetsuit and hopped right in. In the summer I will often grab a pool noodle and a beverage and go “float” near the dock, relaxing in the water and chatting with neighbors as they boat or paddle by. In those early days I searched for a SUP that met our needs and our budget. The hard boards were often heavy and carried a lower maximum weight than what we preferred. The inflatables had a wide range of ratings and user experiences, and most of them were a bit above our price range. I still kept an eye out on community “for sale” pages and summer sales flyers, but it wasn’t a priority.

Until this past weekend. The universe worked to remind me of how much I wanted to SUP on our little pond by sending a couple of paddle-boarders by as we were enjoying breakfast. Later that morning I was on a page for a community group I am in and saw that someone had posted a link to their new inflatable SUP, which happened to be on sale for a very reasonable price. I knew it had to be mine, but let it percolate for a few more hours before pushing the “buy” button.

I doubt I’ll ever be able to do a headstand, but maybe a little Warrior II someday. Image: woman doing a headstand on a paddle board (photo by Tower Paddle Boards on Unsplash)

And now, friends, my new SUP is on the way to me, reported to arrive before next weekend when I can try it out and get familiar with our combined quirks. The kit comes with everything but a life jacket, which I already have. Although I can step onto the board right off the dock, I know I am going to need to get proficient at pulling myself back onto the board, and at getting to a standing position from sitting or kneeling. I’m sure there will be a host of other things I need to figure out, including sun protection for longer paddles. I’m excited to try something new and open to doing it poorly for a while while I work on these new skills. Please share any SUP tips you have in the comments!

Amy Smith is a professor of Media & Communication and a communication consultant who lives north of Boston. Her research interests include gender communication and community building. Amy spends her movement time riding the basement bicycle to nowhere, walking her two dogs, and waiting for it to get warm enough for outdoor swimming in New England.