That time Martha became a pretzel

We were doing our weekly grocery shop. We parked in our usual spot, masked up, got our reusable bags and got the week’s worth of food pretty quickly. We came out only to discover the driver of a very large truck had parked next to us and closed off access to the driver’s side.

What to do? What to do? What to do? There was only one way in and that was to climb across the front passenger seat and slide into the drivers’s seat.

One of the three at the scene was too young to drive; one was too tall to fold themself comfortably in the space available. And then there was me.

I’m not an especially bendy person. Becoming a human pretzel is not what I am into.

Image shows a plateful of curly, curvy pretzels. Photo by Sara Cervera on Unsplash

But needs must. My car is not the old-fashioned kind where you can just slide across a smooth expanse of seating. No, my car is ultramodern, with a gear shift console in the middle, complete with sticking up type travel cup holders.

I took a look, channelled my inner cat, and figured out how to fold myself so I could shimmy, step, hop and slide into the driver’s seat.

Success! Image shows a human giving self a high five atop a mountain. Photo by Ian Stauffer on Unsplash

I may not have been super graceful, or elegant, but I did it! As I dropped myself into the driver’s seat and then unfolded legs to reach the pedals, I felt relief, exhilaration, and most importantly, not a single twitch. Part of my brain said, oh wait until an hour later.

An hour came and went, the next day came and went, and then a week. All was normal!

I realized eight years of steady work, interrupted by ups and downs as life does, had its advantages. We may have different goals for our fitness path over time, but for me, functional fitness has been my number one goal.

My favourite cartoon: image shows three humans running, arms laden with grocery bags. The finish line banner reads: All-the-groceries-in one-trip Marathon.

To carry my groceries and not have my back complain; to walk a hill with my family without collapsing from tired lungs; to climb up and down stairs with household goods to help a family member move. And yes, to get into my car from the passenger side so I can drive home and not pull a muscle. Wellness level number eleventy thousand: Unlocked!

You can just call me MarthaFitAt60More.


Everything changes; nothing changes

A new study arrived this week, this one looking at the status of women in sport media. To no one’s surprise, the conclusion was consistent with other research on the representation of women. Sports media continues to be pale, male, and stale.

As an aside, I don’t know who first came up with that clever, biting summary of the state of most things in the world, but I send my thanks.

Image shows young women playing soccer on a field. Photo by Jeffrey F Lin on Unsplash

I digress. The study was carried out by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES), its first since 2018. It found:

79.2% of the sports editors were white and 83.3% were men.

72.0% of the assistant sports editors were white and 75.8% were men.

77.1% of the columnists were white; 82.2% were men.

77.1% of the reporters were white; 85.6% were men.

77.0% of the copy editors/designers were white; 75.3% were men.

72.4% of web specialists were white; 78.1% were men.

You might ask why does it matter? Because it does. If we have absorbed one fact in the last few years is that unconscious bias exists in all aspects of our lives. Or as Richard Lapchick, author of the ESPN article said of the review of more than 100 newspapers and websites: “These are same outlets that determine what stories to cover, when to cover them and how they are portrayed. Diversity, equity and inclusion among the staff in our media is crucial to news being representative of our society.”

We default to what we know. We highlight, either deliberately or unintentionally, the things that matter to us. The absence of women and people of colour in sports media, or other media usually means fewer stories about the things that matter to those who belong to groups historically excluded from decision-making, content creation, and participation.

Or as Lisa Wilson, a former president of the Associated Press Sports Editors Association said: “We need those voices. We need that perspective. We need them making coverage and hiring decisions.”

The study results are mixed. While there were tiny shifts when it comes to women, the rate of improvement is still quite low and slow. Improvements for people of colour were better with measurable increases in representation among Black reporters, editors and columnists.

We also need better coverage of women in sports by women because media coverage has an impact on pay rates. Women atheletes do not receive the amounts of money male athletes receive. Josh Strupp writes:

“In America, on average, a woman makes 89% of what a man makes, despite having the same amount of experience and holding the same position. The average salary of an NBA player is $7.7M. In the WNBA, it’s closer to $75,000, so the female athletes are making about 1% of the salaries of their male counterparts. Anthony Davis makes $27M a year; one of his closest comparators statistically and in terms of dominance — Natasha Howard — makes $117,000 a year. In the case of Davis and Howard, she’s making 0.43% of what he makes.

We also cannot underestimate the impact of seeing someone who looks like you in sport, on and off the field as it were. Role models inspire us: to aim high, to do better, to excel. How many little girls saw themselves playing hockey because of Hayley Wickenheiser? How many people imagined themselves behind the desk providing colour commentary? How many saw Simone Biles address the giant elephant in the room –mental health — making it easier for others to report similar experiences?

When I first started working training in a gym, I was surrounded by posters featuring ultra thin, ultra fit women in fashionable workout gear. I didn’t like the messages and I did not like the images. I did not see myself on those walks — not the then current version of me, and especially not even someone I thought I might like to become. If I, a white, middle class, middle-aged woman with a fair amount of privilege, felt excluded, what is it like at all for others?

Not good. As Maya Angelou said, when you know better, you do better. I hope the APSE take their report card seriously and embark on a program of real change. The Ds and Fs peppering their review really need to shift upward and turn into As and Bs. It is the 21st century after all.

— MarthaFitat55 lives and writes in Newfoundland and Labrador.


Labour Day Weekend Follies

Well hello everyone! It’s the Labour Day Weekend when we try to cram in as much late summer activity as we possibly can in 72 hours.

Image shows a moss covered stump. Photo by Georg Eiermann on Unsplash

While hurricane season is upon us, and multiple hatches will be battened, there are lots of fun ways to get your fit on the long weekend. Here are five ways you can put a spring in your step getting ready for fall:

  1. Take a hike, or a walk, or even a meandering stroll. If you are spending a good chunk of your weekend getting ready for fall, then it will be even more important for you to stick your head out and your whole body too and get some fresh air.
  2. Go for a swim. Wild water swimming is taking off big time. It doesn’t matter if you plunk your feet in a fountain or a brook, or if you go go all the way and jump in a pond or lake. Paddling around in water is always fun.
  3. Play a game. Find a ball, a frisbee, or a kite, and get going. Make up rules if you have to, but get out and run around with a spherical object.
  4. Practice forest bathing. All you need to do is find a wooded area, make yourself comfy, and breathe. Forest-bathing originated in Japan, and was designed to reconnect people to forests/nature while counter-acting the negative effects of too much tech use. After 18 months of pandemic restrictions and online working, getting re-energized by sitting in a quiet, wild and natural environment sounds pretty good to me.
  5. Be social — it’s been a hard slog with the pandemic, but one of the lowest risk activities is to be outside; there you can maintain social distance, while still enjoying friendship or extended family contact. Grab a sandwich, a cold beverage, and a blanket, and get your chat on with some real time face time.

It might not be possible for you to do all of these things every day of the long weekend, but if you can, try one. if you are feeling especially ambitious, aim for the Labour Day triathlon where you walk, breathe, and connect. Let us know how you do in the comments.


Fall is coming …

In the Northern Hemisphere, in the country we call Canada, fall is fast approaching. I’m not sure where the summer went, but I really feel I was just assessing the state of my summer clothes and deciding what pieces of my summer weight workout kit I’d keep and now I need to start thinking about what I’ve got for the fall.

Image shows orange, yellow and bronze leaves swirling in the air. Photo by Autumn Mott Rodeheaver on Unsplash

That said, fall is my favourite season. While I am sad our lazy hot days and nights are coming to an end for another year, I also know I am going to have heaps of fun crunching my way through the fallen leaves in late October.

I like the crisper air. I don’t have to worry about the heat-sucking humidity that vacuums the air from my lungs. I can pace myself better as well, usually going further and harder than sessions in winter and summer.

Fall for me is the equivalent of the sweet spot after you’ve done your stretches, warmed up effectively and found your rhythm. In many respects, this stage of my year and the pandemic is all about finding the right pace and the best way to breathe.

The pandemic has been frequently described as a marathon, and yet the spaces in between lock downs and outbreaks feel less like sprints and more like adding a few bonus half marathons.

Don’t get me wrong: sprints can be fun. When I was a runner, sprints and intervals gave me bursts of extra energy and allowed me to change up my running. I didn’t have to maintain a killing arduous pace.

But there is something really lovely about finding that groove where your heart and lungs deliver, your legs and arms work away, and the sidewalk under your feet just flies effortlessly.

Labour Day is a great time to think about planning your transition of the seasons, and not just in the manner of your kit. We all need change things up with our life, work and fitness routines and practices.

How about you? What are you planning for the fall?

MarthaFitat55 lives in St. John’s.


Olympic dreams start young …

It’s been a time at the Games, delayed by the pandemic, splintered by misogyny, and fraught with racism. The day I publish this Canada will face off against Sweden for gold in the women’s soccer final. Canadian women have led the way in the medal count of all colours and the men brought up the rear with gold medals in track. It’s been nice to cheer for all the athletes, and celebrate those representing the place we call Canada.

I haven’t had time to watch a lot of the Games, but I keep on top of what’s happening, both in the Olympic Village and outside of it. Several friend shared this adorable TikTok video. Have a look at Emily aged four marvelling at the strong Olympian women.

Little Emily is inspired by the strong women she saw on her television. “You can do it,” she said. Then she says, “… strong hands, I wish I had strong hands. I wished I had to be the strongest.”

It gets better. She tells her parent that she has done the same “dropping” as the weightlifters on the screen.

She explains to her parent, “When I was the strongest Emmy, I used to go there and play dropping.”

What a treat to see strong women represented. How exciting to see children and youth inspired to try the same. What an inspiration to see strong women respect their bodies and their abilities and speak their truth about what they are prepared to do. US powerhouse gymnast Simone Biles withdrew from the final in the team event and a couple of others because she knew she could not push herself and still safely execute her incredibly demanding maneuvers. She modeled the greatest strength with grace and determination.

Strong hands, strong boundaries, big dreams. Whatever our age, I think it is always important to see ourselves represented and be supported by the agency of women claiming their space, be it the field, the gym, the pool, or the seat of government or the boardroom table for that matter. Find your your inner Emmy. I know you can do it.

— MarthaFitat55 is a writer and consultant getting her fit on in St. John’s.


How to increase your heart rate, courtesy of the patriarchy

I feel like I’ve been living on a Ferris wheel these past few months. One day you are up and celebrating a new step forward to a post pandemic world and the next you are down seething at the ridiculousness of the world.

Image shows a Ferris wheel with multi coloured seats. Photo by Daniel Roe on Unsplash

I wear a fitbit to track my steps, and recently I discovered I can track my heart rate as well. It’s a lovely little bit of data but I am troubled by the fact that my heart rate does jump when I read the news, or to be more precise, news which details once again how the patriarchy manifests itself in discriminatory actions against women.

This summer’s target is women in sport. As we near the Olympics, delayed from last year as a result of the pandemic, but going ahead under significantly different and challenging circumstances this year in Japan, the daily news offers a consistent menu of frustration and anger with a generous side of jackassery.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about structural racism in sport, looking at negative decisions taken against Black women, nursing athletes and individuals the sporting kingmakers deemed not sufficiently female enough. Let’s look at what’s on tap this week — along with garden variety sexism, we have generous servings of ableism:

  1. the Norwegian handball team wants to wear shorts instead of skimpy bikini bottoms, but their governing body says no. When the team goes ahead and wears them, the federation fines them.
  2. a ParaOlympian is told her running briefs are too skimpy and an official tells her she should cover up with shorts. (Maybe this official should have conferred with the handball officials?)
  3. another ParaOlympian is told she cannot take her personal support attendant with her to Tokyo. As she cannot navigate the Olympic Village without assistance, she has decided she cannot go. Others have also made this decision.

It’s enough to make your heart and mind explode.

Image shows a person in the lower right holding a confetti tube from confetti is spraying upwards into the air. Photo by Jason Dent on Unsplash

The policing of women’s clothing isn’t new. Early in July, we saw swimming officials lose their nut over swimming caps designed to fit the heads of Black women. Once again white norms were expected to prevail because these hats designed to protect Black women’s hair might give them an advantage or something. We have also seen clothing policies that limit what female Muslim athletes can wear. Again nothing new, as France some years ago instituted a modest clothing ban on its beaches, targeting — you guessed it — Muslim women.

It seems especially egregious though that women from across the spectrum are being singled out. Officials in the case of the ParaOlympian are blaming each other when advance planning could have prevented the situation. Contradictory policies abound and no one seems to think it’s odd that one group is told to cover up and the other is told to bare all. I mean look at this picture:

Image shows Norway’s handball teams, the men on the left and the women on the right. The men wear long tanks and loose shorts; the women wear bralettes and bikini bottoms.

Yes, the global pandemic means we have to do some things differently. However, when so-called “objective” rules affect women disproportionately, we have to stop and ask why. When we look at the decisions highlighted in the stories above, we clearly see male power at work. The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport says, “The rules of sport are meant to create a level playing field. In this respect, the rules are failing. They fail to create sport environments that recognize the dignity and even humanity of some of its most spectacular participants.

When I look at the girls and young women around me today, they are doing amazing things. Several of my friends have daughters who played hockey, and four of them took on the goalie role. I can’t think of a single classmate of mine who played hockey at the same age, but I know quite a few who play hockey today.

Earlier this winter, a friend shared a marvelous video of a toddler snowboarding her way through the trees, her dad behind her. The confidence and the sheer joy of making it through the trail are palpable. Everyone should have that joy; everyone should have that recognition; everyone should have that support to do the best they can. Anything less is unacceptable.

–MarthaFitat55 is a writer getting her fit on in all the ways that work for her.


Structural racism in sport: the 2021 edition

There’s a meme going around social media that’s quite telling:

The pattern is quite obvious; these decisions are consistently singling out and penalizing Black women athletes for their excellence. I have written about Caster Semenya’s trials in the last two years. In this post, I noted the decisions against Semenya amount to “a fear of successful women, and the way these sports bodies manage that fear is to other-ise and marginalize those who do not fit an outdated image of women in sport through legal challenges and unfounded medical policies.”

In another post, I wrote, “we should all be angry, for the women athletes in the past whose physical embodiment was questioned and for the women athletes of today and in the future. The policing of women’s bodies, from what they wear to how they are portrayed, is widespread in all aspects of society, not just sport. However, women who excel in sport and wish to compete at the highest levels are subject to scrutiny that goes above and beyond the sort leveled at all athletes when it concerns drug enhancements.”

In the past couple of months, decisions against Black women athletes have ramped up as outlined in the image above. The disqualification of Sha’Carri Richardson for cannabis use astonished followers of the Olympics, given that it has no performance-enhancing attributes at all. We have also seen other decisions, now reversed, prohibiting athletes from bringing their infants to the Games and disqualifying others who had recently given birth.

Female athletes who don’t fit the mold get short shrift, unlike male athletes who get praised for their natural genetic advantages (can I bring up Michael Phelps again?). In figure skating, Tonya Harding was too working class, while Suraya Bonali was too athletic. Go back to the late 80s, and you’ll find Florence Joyner Griffiths, the world’s fastest woman at the ’88 Olympics having her achievements questioned by male athletes including Ben Johnson who was himself disqualified for using banned substances.

Despite the deeply frustrating and outright discriminatory incidents of the last months, I have been uplifted by the growing protests and successful challenges to decisions that discriminate against athletes who identify as female and those who resist being categorized as non-female based on shoddy science. The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport came out hard and fast this week:

The rules of sport are meant to create a level playing field. In this respect, the rules are failing. They fail to create sport environments that recognize the dignity and even humanity of some of its most spectacular participants. Sport is beginning to creak and crack under the weight of the decisions made by sport organizations, and so the decision-makers are reaching a crisis point: do we begin to make different decisions, or do we continue making the same ill-advised and exclusive choices that brought us here, and allow sport to collapse under the weight of them?

The CCES concludes the structural racism and sexism embedded in these recent decisions and applied against Black women athletes needs to end. Not doing so is a choice, and the result is exclusion, a significant lack of visibility, and a dilution of excellence in sport arising from artificial limits.

Morgan Campbell, Senior Contributor with CBC Sports, pointed out the contradiction in the guidelines and how decisions designed to deal with the problem sports bodies have with Caster Semenya end up being applied against individuals who have elevated hormone levels that are still less than the lowest levels found in men :

After several false starts, the testosterone guidelines were codified in 2018. And while World Athletics leadership never specified that the rule targets Semenya, they apply only to the races in which Semenya excels, even though the group’s own research found the strongest correlation between natural testosterone and performance in women’s pole vault and hammer throw. That neither of those two events has a testosterone cap tells you World Athletics rule-makers understand that correlation doesn’t always equal causation.

These days I’m questioning if we should be allowing sports bodies to decide who is female based on a list of permissible ranges of body chemicals. The human body is a marvel of moving parts; as individual humans, we bring different levels of strength, skill, talent, and ability to the playing field. If the Olympics seeks those who are faster, higher, and stronger, then we need to set a new bar for excellence that isn’t based on stereotypes and biases.

MarthaFitat55 lives, works, and sports in St. John’s.

fitness · weight loss · weight stigma

When bias guides research

Content warning: discussion of weight loss, weight loss methods

Researchers at the University of Otago in New Zealand announced on June 28 they had developed a new world first: a magnetic lock that effectively wires a jaw shut leaving users to rely on a liquid diet so they can kickstart weightloss.

You can read all about it here on this Twitter thread, the university’s website, and the journal which published their results. The researchers say their goal to provide a tool to address the global obesity epidemic.

Rapid weight loss causes physical harm. There’s a reason wiring jaws shut fell out of practice, the outcomes weren’t great, and included long term dental and mental health issues. While there has also been an uptick in surgical interventions (gastric bands, sleeves etc), there have also been post operative issues to manage as well.

The Twitterati have been vocal, with multiple comparisons to chastity belts, racks, and other medieval implements of torture. Others have highlighted the ethical, social and medical issues such research seems to have overlooked.

The researchers recruited seven healthy (oh the irony) obese females. Six completed the study (one left for reasons unrelated to the study). All of the participants regained some weight (about .73 kg average) in the first two weeks after the device was removed. Information about their weight status six months or a year after the study was completed was not included in the journal article.

The study met the university’s requirements for ethics approval. Despite the limited number of participants and the short time frame of the study (two weeks), the researchers felt comfortable enough with the results to propose expanding their research to include a gender balance. As well, they proceeded to modify their device (make it smaller, less obvious etc) to improve acceptability and tolerance.

The study raises significant red flags. Other studies with low numbers of research subjects (can I remind you of the infamous Lancet study on vaccines and autism?) have contributed to significant negative impacts on public health. The study does not disclose any conflicts of interest, but we do not learn who owns the patent on the device or how much they plan to sell it for.

The supports provided the six participants are also not usually those provided routinely to other obese individuals who are told to lose weight. The authors said participants had access to a dietitian, were supplied with liquid meal replacements, and had access to dental care and medical supervision. Obese individuals often have to pay for similar services/options.

I suppose I should be cheered by the fact that so many people have come out against this news. However, the fact that someone thought this was a good idea in the first place and it received ethical approval is quite disturbing. The authors recommend repeated cycles to aid momentum. I think this suggests a devolution into disordered eating with frequent gain/loss cycles.

I sincerely hope this device is investigated not as a welcome medical intervention but as a dangerous tool. There has been ample work looking at the roots of obesity and the kinds of supports needed to support individuals in nourishing their bodies appropriately, beginning with the social determinants of health. There is nothing new or innovative about this technique as it is merely a less permanent form of jaw wiring. It is, however, an excellent way to promote weight stigma, eating disorders and increased physical, mental and oral health issues in otherwise healthy people.


Cake as self care

I can’t help it — everytime I go shopping, I scan the headlines at the magazine stand. How else am I going to keep on top of the juicy celebrity gossip? I kid (no really!). I often miss some of the stuff in small type due to the required distancing, but I had no problems with this headline.

Image shows a magazine in the stand. Chatelaine’s cover features a pretty cake made with strawberries and pink icing. The headline reads: No matter how you slice it, It’s been tough. Eat some cake.

I have seen many people stressing about eating a cupcake at the best of times. It’s refreshing to see an acknowledgment that the past 16 months have been super stressful. Even if cake isn’t your thing, do something nice for yourself. Enjoy that strawberry, sniff that flower, lie in the field and look at the clouds We all deserve pleasure.