athletes · covid19 · fitness · illness

More stories of active people and COVID-19 recovery

Earlier this week I started sharing stories of athlete friends who’ve come down with COVID-19

I wrote, “Through my social media networks–mostly academics, but also fitness types–around the world– I know more than 20 people who’ve had COVID-19. The group has had the full gamut of experiences, from spending time on a ventilator in hospital intensive care units to weird, mild flu like symptoms.

What’s been most striking, to me, is the way it’s hit my very fit friends. Some of the people were sick at the start of the pandemic and they’re still not well enough to return to the sports they love at least at their former intensity. Others bounced back quickly and are full steam ahead in their fitness pursuits.

At the same time I keep hearing other friends, most notably ones who haven’t had COVID-19, say they’ll take their chances with the virus since they are fit and active and likely won’t get a bad case of it. I try not to scream “it’s not about you.” It really isn’t. It’s about spreading the disease and hurting someone who is more vulnerable. But it’s also not clear that even a mild case of COVID-19 should be taken lightly.

Personally, for me, I worry about the long term health effects of this particular virus. I mean, don’t get me wrong I find death terrifying too and I find dying alone especially terrifying, but assuming COVID doesn’t kill me it’s the long term effects that scare me. In particular, given that it’s a huge source of pleasure and purpose in my life, I’d hate to not be able to be active as I age.

Of course lots of people have mild versions of the illness and the range of experiences is itself striking. Here’s the blog we’ll be sharing some stories of active people who’ve had COVID-19.”

Here’s the three more voices. I know Michael through the Ontario cycling community. I met Barrett and Brandon on the Friends for Life Bike Rally. Speaking of which, you can sponsor me here!

Michael

Age: 69

Sport: Masters track cyclist

I held the Canadian Hour Record for Masters Men 65-69. That record was eclipsed by my friend, Peter Leiss, in 2019. I also hold the record for the most kilometers/laps on the Milton track. When the Milton Velodrome closed Mar 14, because of the pandemic, I had cycled 208000 laps or 52000 kms on the track since it opened in 2015.

I contracted the Coronavirus in March. We found out by email, after the fact, that I most likely came in contact with an employee of Fortino’s Grocery Store in Oakville on or around Mar 20. The employee had tested positive and was in the store at the same time as I was. Although my wife and I were being careful, going out as little as possible, except for shopping, observing the standard protocols at the time, masks had not been standard, and I was not wearing one.

On April 3, a Friday, I woke feeling out of sorts. By this I mean very angry. Everything was irritating. I remember going out to do a bit of shopping in the morning. Friday evening, I had a burning sensation, at the back of my throat. This is usually a sign that I’m coming down with a cold. Mind you, I rarely get sick, rarely get colds. This back of throat irritation rapidly escalated. I was tired and still very irritated. I went to bed. Next morning, I awoke to the feeling that I had been hit by a runaway train. My entire upper body was in pain – back, chest, shoulders, everything, It was painful to breath. I was short of breath because of this. I was coughing. This caused extreme pain. I could barely move. Going to the bathroom, a few steps was very difficult. Lying down was difficult. In fact for most of 12-14 days that I was really ill, I slept sitting up in an easy chair, with a heating pad on my back, and an humidifier going in the room.

 This continued through Saturday and Sunday. My breathing became more laboured as time wore on. Sunday, we decided I should take Tylenol for the pain. This seemed to help, as least to make it bearable. Please note that I neve ran a fever the whole time I was sick. My temperature average about 36 degrees. We tried calling Public Health to see about getting tested. In April, they asked you if you were running a fever, and if you had traveled out of the country. Since the answer to both questions was no, I did not qualify to be tested. Please isolate, get lots of rest, and fluids. If we had known about the email from Fortino’s, (we did not see it until mid April. For some reason we were distracted), the contact would have meant I could get tested.

The pain and shortness of breath, etc, continued through Sunday. Monday morning, I woke up and the pain was all but gone! However, I couldn’t breathe. I was gasping for air. Any kind of activity, for example, going up stairs to take a shower, would leave me gasping for air. It would take at least 20 minutes for this to calm down enough for me to breathe at a normal pace. I was still coughing. Any effort, change positions on the couch, could trigger a coughing fit. That would be excruciating because it felt like a knife in the diaphragm. And contracting ribs was very painful. I took Manuka Honey to calm these fits. We tried contacting the authorities again Monday with the same result. Monday afternoon, I was so short of breath I was getting very frightened. We actually contemplated calling an ambulance and going to the ER. But the thought of being isolated at the hospital, away from my wife was even more terrifying. So we decided to see if I could calm down enough, sitting still, to get by until the next day. This worked. I got through the night. And each subsequent day. As the days progressed, I felt less pain, except for coughing. The shortness of breath continued. I couldn’t speak. I did not have enough air to form words. This would get worse the more I tried and then start a coughing fit.

I gradually improved over the course of 12 days. By the 14th day of quarantine, I felt like I was over it. We even went for a little walk in the neighbourhood. I could not speak for long. And I was still sort of breath, but I felt much better. We started going for walks each day. I think I even went to a store. About the fifth day, I relapsed. Coughing, shortness of breath, fatigue, and back pains. This lasted almost a week. When I ‘recovered’, we went for a walk to test the waters etc. Back pains and pain though my shoulders persisted. This continued off and on for a month. I was reading everything I could get my hands on about the coronavirus and I was getting very concerned about the constant shortness of breath. I was concerned that Covid19 was doing damage that I was unaware of to my organs. So at six weeks I spoke with my doctor. He said go to emergency and get a chest x-ray.

I presented at the ER. The triage nurse, took down the particulars, checked my pulse and blood pressure and then sent me for an EKG. It spiked! 20 minutes later, I was in a bed, connected to monitors, with an IV line in. They took blood. Then came back later and took more. Next thing I knew I was getting a CT instead of an x-ray. I had suffered from pulmonary embolisms, and my lungs were chocked full of little blood clots. They put me on blood thinners. It’s now almost 7 months since the CT. I have permanent lung damage. I just had another CT to see if there was improvement. The ‘vampire’ my hematologist, took a lot of blood for specialized testing and I will have the results of blood analysis and the CT next week.

I have not been able to return to the level of exercise I was used to before Covid-19. I have suffered from a rotating cycle of back pains, chest pains, shortness of breath, and fatigue since April. My balance was off. My ability to grasp things, to gauge distance was off, meaning I dropped or knocked things over. I had proximity issues. That imaginary space that you observe round yourself that allows you to walk through spaces or around obstacles, was way off. I had to double it. I would wait until my wife moved out of the way before I did anything. I was forever banging into things. Any extended effort, I tried cycling after the vampire felt that I had improved in July, (an echocardiogram had shown no damage to my heart). I took it very easy, riding around the block (an oval similar to riding the track).  I built up slowly. But any kind of extended cardiovascular effort resulted in a flare-up of symptoms. After two weeks, I suffered from sore back and shoulders, and major chills. I was cold all the time. Three sweaters cold, even outside on a warm day. This lasted about three weeks. I have not tried cycling again. But assuming a good result from the CT, I plan to put the bike on the trainer, and start perhaps just 15 minutes twice a day to see if I can begin to get back to my former fitness level. I have spent the last five months doing daily walks. That seems to be fine. I can walk several kilometers but I’m not physically taxing my body in the same way that I would cycling. I’m not sustaining a 130 heartrate for any length of time. But before Covid19, I could do that for 5 hours or more. I could ride the track for 3 ½ hours non stop at that rate.

Another problem – I have memory problems. I forget things right after I do them. And I have a very quick trigger on my state of mind. I can go from calm, cool and collected to rage in the blink of an eye, for the slightest of reasons. This is not normal for me. For the longest time, after the initial illness, I was an emotional mess, depressed, and extremely angry that Covid-19 had robbed me of my fitness and good health.

So, the long and the short of it is Covid-19 really messed me up. I am slowly recovering. The issues today are a fraction of what they were in the first three months. But I’m not the person I was. I do intend to get back to that level. But it will take time and patience.

A final note, my wife, who is 75, remained symptom free the whole time. We remain vigilant and we isolated in a very tight circle. I do not consider myself immune. I have tested negative, but that was after the fact. I never tested positive! I am very certain I suffered from Covid19 and the doctors agree. But without that test, or an antibody test, there is no way to be certain. So we remain cautious.

FB Pages:

www.Facebook.com/theartistsgarret

www.Facebook.com/KolesarDesigns

www.Facebook.com/TalesoftheVelodrome

www.Facebook.com/TheDayoftheHour

The custom Mariposa bicycle that Michael Kolesar used to set the Canadian hour record M65-69 Category.

Barrett

Age: 42

Sport: Weight Training/Cycling

When: Got Covid mid-October, had very mild symptoms, lost smell, some lethargy and felt run down. Otherwise, fine.

How long it took you to get well and whether you’re back to your former activity levels and athletic performance: Took about ten days to feel myself again, but smell has not returned fully. The pandemic situation has definitely impacted my athletic performance in general, I spent most of my days moving and walking, now mostly sitting. In terms of recovery from the virus, I feel that it took another ten days after I’d recovered from my symptoms that I felt I could do the same amount of work during exercise routines that I had before. And sometimes still feel that my energy levels are not quite the same. I did two exercise classes two days in a row and was exhausted by 8pm on the second day.

Barret is part of Bionic Fitness based in Toronto.

No description available.
Brandon and Barrett

Brandon

Age: 36

Sports: Water polo, cycling, weightlifting

I contracted it on October 5th, symptoms arose mildly on October 9th, more seriously on the 10th and I got tested on the 12th. Positive results came back on the 14th I think. It was awful, I’ve never been that sick in my life. It started with muscle aches which at first I attributed to DOMS (post workout muscle pain) but then it got so bad that I couldn’t be touched. Then I started coughing, getting a tight chest, and headaches. Then I started getting fevers that progressed so badly that I was constantly sweating, I was dehydrated and became delusional. Barrett afterwards told me about things that happened during the worst 4 days and I didn’t remember a few things. If my fever didn’t get better by the 5th day of bad fevers I was going to go to the hospital but luckily I started to recover. I couldn’t eat much during this time because of nausea and I found things tasted very bad, any kind of spice, lemon, ginger, sweetness etc. tasted like metal to me. I lived off of just bread for a few days. Recovery was slow. I’d say I’m not fully recovered yet, my right bronchial tube feels hardened and I still have very mild congestion/post nasal drip. I’m able to exercise and do cardio again but it comes with mild discomfort. I can tell I am improving but it’s very slow. My doctor is sending me for an ECG test.

aging · athletes · covid19 · fitness · illness

Some stories of active people and COVID-19 recovery

CW: There’s some discussion of weight and weight loss in these stories.

Here on the blog we’ve written lots about exercising from home because gyms are closed and about other indirect effects of the pandemic on how we workout. I’ve also written about exercise and how it might affect one’s immune response.

But I’ve been wanting to write about exercise and people who’ve recovered from COVID-19. I was reminded of it again when this passed through my newsfeed: Exercise After Covid-19? Take It Slow.

Jordan D. Metzl writes, “For the past 20 years, when patients asked me about exercising while recovering from a viral illness like the flu, I gave them the same advice: Listen to your body. If exercise usually makes you feel better, go for it.

Covid-19 has changed my advice.

Early in the pandemic, as the initial wave of patients with Covid-19 began to recover and clinically improve, my colleagues and I noticed that some of our patients were struggling to return to their previous activity levels. Some cited extreme fatigue and breathing difficulties, while others felt as if they just couldn’t get back to their normal fitness output. We also began to hear of a higher than normal incidence of cardiac arrhythmias from myocarditis, inflammation of the heart muscle that can weaken the heart and, in rare cases, cause sudden cardiac arrest. Other complications like blood clots were also cropping up.

What was most surprising is that we saw these problems in previously healthy and fit patients who had experienced only mild illness and never required hospitalization for Covid-19.

In my sports medicine practice, a cyclist in her 40s with recent Covid-19 symptoms had leg pain that was abnormal enough to warrant an ultrasound, which showed near complete cessation of blood flow because of arterial and venous blood clots in both legs. Thankfully, our team caught these early enough that they didn’t spread to her lungs, which ultimately could have killed her. Recently, a college student in Indiana with Covid-19 died from a blood clot that traveled to her lungs. As the pandemic has evolved, we’ve learned of a much higher risk of blood clots from people who contract the virus.”

That’s just an except. It’s worth reading the whole thing.

Through my social media networks–mostly academics, but also fitness types–around the world– I know more than 20 people who’ve had COVID-19. The group has had the full gamut of experiences, from spending time on a ventilator in hospital intensive care units to weird, mild flu like symptoms.

What’s been most striking, to me, is the way it’s hit my very fit friends in their 40s-60s. Some of the people were sick at the start of the pandemic and they’re still not well enough to return to the sports they love at least at their former intensity. Others bounced back quickly and are full steam ahead in their fitness pursuits.

At the same time I keep hearing other friends, most notably ones who haven’t had COVID-19, say they’ll take their chances with the virus since they are fit and active and likely won’t get a bad case of it. I try not to scream “it’s not about you.” It really isn’t. It’s about spreading the disease and hurting someone who is more vulnerable. But it’s also not clear that even a mild case of COVID-19 should be taken lightly.

I worry about the long term health effects of this particular virus. I mean, don’t get me wrong I find death terrifying too and I find dying alone especially terrifying, but assuming COVID doesn’t kill me it’s the long term effects that scare me. In particular, given that it’s a huge source of pleasure and purpose in my life, I’d hate to not be able to be active as I age.

Of course lots of people have mild versions of the illness and the range of experiences is itself striking. Over the next few days we’ll be sharing some stories of active people who’ve had COVID-19

Here’s the first two:

Patricia is 62, lives in London, Ontario and she rows, skis, golfs, plays tennis, trail runs and cycles. We know each other through masters rowing.

“I was surprised that I got it. I took all precautions. I had a mild case according to the Health Unit. I thought my allergies were playing up. My eyes were sensitive to light and I had a tightening in my chest. I had night sweats (I thought menopause was rearing its ugly head yet again). Apparently I had a low grade fever. I developed a cough that lasted about a month and lost my sense of taste and smell. I found I was winded easily and that lasted for months. My sense of taste and smell have never fully come back yet. I was in direct contact with an individual who had Covid on March 18th. My cousin passed away from it at the end of March.”

Heather lives in Kansas City, USA and she’s a 46 year old Triathlete/Road Runner/Mountain Climber/Zwift Racer/Cyclist. She’s on Sarah’s Zwift bike team.

“My health story really began when I was a young woman (22).  I was taking birth control pills and ended up throwing a blood clot to my brain, it was misdiagnosed as a migraine and ended up hemorrhaging causing a major stroke.  Being at risk for blood clots is something that is always in the back of my head… too much weight -can  cause blood clots.  Smoking – can cause blood clots, drinking too much – can cause blood clots. Having babies, having too low a heart rate, being too inactive… pretty much all can lead to blood clots.  So when COVID-19 came out to show that every autopsy of those who died with the disease had blood clots throughout their system, I felt I could really not do well if I get it.

In May (3 months into the pandemic) I decided that sitting on the couch and stress eating my way through the lock downs was not going to set me up for successfully fighting COVID.  I started really focusing on dropping the extra 20lbs I had acquired and strengthen my body to give it a fighting chance.  I used My Fitness Pal to track my calories and used the input vs output method of dieting.  I started signing up for challenges that pushed me – 30 day cycling challenge to complete 500 miles.  Climb Mt. Everest Challenge to climb/run/hike or bike 29,029 ft. In 50 days… These challenges along with the calorie watching allowed me to take off the 20lbs and get strong.  My doctor put me on a prophylactic low dose blood thinner in anticipation of getting COVID and I just continued to be as healthy, fit and strong as I could be.


I ended up contracting COVID 19 in the first week of October.  Coming in, my fitness level was strong.  My doctor advised that I not push my heart rate past zone 2 for the 10 day isolation period.  That was a long and hard 10 days of being sedentary.  I rode one Zwift race and I kept my heart rate down under zone 2 and it took me twice as long to finish as the rest of my team (but I got them a point!). 

My case was a mild case.  I had a total of 3 hours of low grade fever, nasal congestion and the typical loss of taste and smell.  After 10 days I felt like I was good to go.  My doctor gave me the green light to get my heart rate up again and when I did I found the result was as if I didn’t have any fitness built up.  My max heart rate was nearly 20 points higher than it had been 2 weeks prior.  I struggled holding speed and stamina and began to think maybe COVID did affect me.


It has been 5 weeks since I was released to work my body as hard as I want and it has been a slow come back.  I race twice a week and ride two more times a week.  I walk and run hills and with every effort I am watching what my heart is doing.  It is slowly coming down and I am able to hang on longer, recover by dropping the heart rate faster and push the way I want to push.


I consider myself lucky to have had a good outcome having had COVID and would caution any athlete to not fight through this one by pushing your body.”

Heather on her bike

This afternoon Michelle Goodfellow shares her story about testing positive for COVID-19.

aging · athletes · fitness · racing

On turning 56 and thinking about age and speed

I’ve been 56 for almost a month now! And as is the case when each year ticks over, I seem to spend some time thinking about aging and what it all means. Today’s musings are about speed.

There’s a thing that people say about older athletes. They say you lose your peak performance, your top end speeds, your ability to sprint.

You keep your endurance. The older athlete can go forever. We just can’t go as fast.

That’s the received wisdom and you hear it from masters athletes themselves.

But the problem is that this isn’t quite true. Studies show that older athletes who lose top end speeds do so because because they stop training for performance at those speeds. They keep the long rides and long runs but drop the speed training. Almost nobody keeps training at 60 as much as they did when they were younger. When they conduct studies and test older athletes responsivity to training, older athlete do make the same kinds of gains they did when they were younger. They just don’t feel like doing it.

What’s missing, it turns out, isn’t the phsyiological ability to respond to training. What’s missing is the desire to train hard.

As I’ve noted elsewhere that doesn’t necessarily make it an easier problem to solve or understand.

In one of my very first blog posts–Is Aging a Lifestyle Choice? (written 8 years ago!)–I reviewed Gretchen Reynolds’ book The First Twenty Minutes: Surprising Science Reveals How We Can: Exercise Better, Train Smarter, Live Longer.

In discussing her chapters on aging, I wrote: “What exactly is the connection between exercise and aging? The old view was that muscle loss and a decline in aerobic  capacity were inevitable with old age. We slow down with age and become more frail, starting in our 40s, it seemed. But new research suggests the connections may run the other way. We become slower and more frail because we stop moving. Older athletes get slower and less strong, not because they’re older, but rather because they train less than younger athletes.

We age because we stop moving, on this way of thinking about the connection. It’s as if aging is something we choose to do. That’s a very intriguing idea. What’s positive about this is we could choose differently. We could choose to keep moving and avoid some of the physical decline we associate with old age. But what’s less clear is why older people slow down and take to their rockers. It may be that the psychological urge to rest is stronger than Reynolds and the researchers think. If aging brains are the problem, then slowing with age still might be inevitable.”

But lately I’ve been wondering more about aging athletes and what gets in our way. I don’t think the psychological barriers aren’t real. I just think they’re not the whole story.

Our older bodies are just more demanding, higher maintenance, fussy! Cate described some of this in her post on generative aging. Reading about her aches and pains, I felt recognition. Oh, me too! I’m not alone in this.

I need the right amount of sleep, the right kind of sleep. I have to eat a certain way before I ride my bike. I need to stretch. And most annoyingly, I need to rest after riding hard before I can do it again. It’s a scheduling nightmare. I’m only sort of joking.

In addition to the onging saga of my knees, I am always nursing small aches and pains. Goddamit, I even have arthritic toes and toe physio. In the before times, I had physio appointments and massage therapy appointments. I still have daily knee stretches I need to do to feel okay just walking the dog.

I can’t just do what I want when I feel like doing it. I laugh when people say, listen to your body, as if it spoke with one voice. There’s an order, a schedule, and lots of moving pieces. My toe wants no pressure on it. My knee needs movement. My stomach wants food an hour before I ride, not twenty minutes before, and two hours before won’t do either. Part of me wants yoga but it has to be the exact right kind of yoga to match my aches and pains!

So while it’s true that age shouldn’t be the only factor determining what exercise you do, it definitely plays a role. Age complicates things. Sports training won’t be tucked into the corners of your life. If you take it seriously as you get older it takes a lot of time and mental energy in addition to the physical exertion. It’s why I think middle age is extra tough. We can envy the resilience of the young who barely need to sleep or eat and the older folks who are retired and who have time to train. Guest blogger Mary Case makes it look tempting.

A good guide to speed after 50, by the way, is Joel Friel’s Fast After 50: How to Race Strong for the Rest of Your Life. It says “racing” and the cover features a bike but that’s bad marketing. It’s really about peak performance across endurance sports and it’s not just for those who keep racing.

Why care about speed? That’s a different question, of course.

There’s the health argument that interval training and intense efforts are good for us, at all ages. But you can aim for intensity without caring about speed.

Let’s just take it as given that some of us do care about speed, that it’s an aesthetic thing that doesn’t need an explanation, like preferring chocolate ice cream to vanilla ice cream. You can say what you like about chocolate but that doesn’t give reasons for the vanilla ice cream lover to switch.

That said, lots of us do care about speed and keep caring about speed as we age. From that point of view, this is mostly good news. Training still works, you can keep your speed, and slowing down isn’t a physiological necessity. Yay! There are bad news bits. Getting in that much training and the right kind of training becomes a lot more complicated. You don’t just have to care, you have to REALLY CARE. And there’s the rub.

I’m going to blog later about what I like about racing and speed. My pitch for chocolate ice cream as it were. I want to be clear what it is I’m doing when I do that. I’m describing what I get out of it, and what you might like about it too, but there aren’t reasons or arguments. It’s totally okay not to care and like what you like.

Boy riding on bike near shore
aging · athletes · fitness · racing · running

Older women runners are the fastest growing running demographic

While I’m not able to run, it’s exciting to read about the changing demographic of the running community. In cycling I’m often the oldest woman rider and I spend a lot of time riding with men my age and older. That’s been true for be since I started riding. It’s true even in Zwift.

It’s okay. I like riding with men. But still I wonder, where are the women my age? Clearly, they’re running

Running, or at least the race community, is doing something right. Or women runners are doing something right. They’re keeping at it as they age which is lovely to see

40+ demographic takes lead in largest study of runners

“Among other things, the research revealed that the United States has the highest proportion of female runners; that the 40-49 year-old age group is fastest and most popular; that Slovenia, Iceland and Ukraine are fastest countries; and that the Boston Marathon boasts the fastest average run time of “popular races.”

“But perhaps the most encouraging finding for older adults is that those in the 90 to 99 year-old age group are the fastest growing population of runners today, increasing 39% from 2014 to 2017. Researchers called that particular finding “staggering.””

How demographics are affecting the running scene

For decades — a century, almost — road racing was a world of competitive men. Since emerging from the first running boom, however, the sport has quickly evolved. The competitive core is still there, leading the pack. But now that core is being chased through the streets by thousands upon thousands of new runners, many of them motivated by very different factors.

The numbers really began to change in the early 1990s when aging running boomers filled out the masters ranks. By 2000, 44 percent of marathon finishers were 40-plus. Growth of the women’s division was even more dramatic. Just 10 percent of marathon finishers in 1980 were female. That figure is now 40 percent, while women now make up more than half the finishers at many shorter distances.”

Running demographics

More women than men (53-47%) and the average of women runners now 38.6

athletes · body image · fitness · strength training · weight lifting · weight stigma

Where are the muscular, larger women’s bodies?

There are four blog topics I’ve been thinking about that are all tangled together. Common threads weave through them and they are all part of the same story. Really, it’s a story about strength, gender normativity, and women’s muscular bodies.

First, Catherine wrote about the names we use to describe our bodies. Catherine’s focus is on how complicated that task is when it comes to self-description. I agree but I think it’s partly because the words I want don’t really exist. I lament that there are so many positive words for muscular and heavily built men and no such words for women. Words for larger athletic male bodies? Burly, husky, substantial, strapping, brawny, to name just a few. Note that they are not necessarily gendered but they don’t work so well for women’s bodies.

Sidebar: There have been attempts to reclaim this language.

See CampaignBrawny women wear iconic plaid in #StrengthHasNoGender campaign

Brawny women wear iconic plaid in #StrengthHasNoGender campaign
#StrengthHasNoGender

Second, I wrote about dad bods, asking yet again, where are the muscular-but-gotten-slightly-softer-with-age women’s bodies, the mom bods? Women can be svelte and muscular and desirable but most really strong women are actually large. It’s why there are weight classes in lifting. But no one sings the praises of larger, athletic women’s bodies.

Okay, Nat did in this post.

I think it is important to show that athletes come in all shapes and sizes.

Third, I’ve been wondering if we’ll ever have any idea about women’s true strength potential in sports as long as women athletes are worried about how they look and about gaining weight. I’ve written about this a lot. See, for example, Big women and strength and Bigger, better, stronger? On women and weightlifting. When even women Olympic lifters want to lose weight–see  From the Olympics to the Biggest Loser? Say it ain’t so Holley— you know the forces at work are pretty powerful.

Fourth, and finally, it hit home again with my Zwift avatar. I’m large and she’s medium sized because in Zwift the men’s avatars come in small, medium, and large and the women’s only in small and medium. So even when I am racing with men who weigh the same as me their avatars are much larger! It’s extra odd because your weight is no secret in Zwift. If you’re racing your weight is a matter of public record and it’s easily determined by looking at your watts per kilo and your speed. It’s simple math.

I’ve written about this before saying, “I have one complaint about my Zwift avatar. She’s medium sized person and I’m a large sized person. That’s odd because avatar size is based on your actual kg. It turns out that in Zwift women only come in two sizes regardless of how much we weigh. We’re either small or medium. Men come in three sizes, small medium or large. Here’s an explanation of avatar sizes. So when Sarah and I ride together in Zwift we’re the same medium size. That’s weird because IRL she’s medium and I’m big.”

So like there are no words to describe my body type, there are no avatars either. The message is clear. No woman would want to look like that.

*************************

Here are some images of large, strong women, stronger and more muscular than me.

Vintage Muscle
Image Description: This is a black-and-white photograph of a woman from the 1920’s, posing with her arm flexed. She has visible muscle in her biceps, triceps, forearms and shoulders. This juxtaposed with her vintage pincurl hairstyle makes for a striking image.

This photo is from a guest blog post called What are Women’s Bodies for, Anyway? Thanks Tracy de Boer.

And here’s a modern day image of a strong woman. Jennifer Ferguson is A BC nurse in her 40s who is one of the strongest women in the world. She deadlifts cars for fun.

athletes · equality · femalestrength · fitness · gender policing

Representing women in sports: we’re not there yet, but it might be getting better

As I temporarily merged with my parents’ couch over the holidays (save for the occasional jaunt outside for a run, to the pool, or to the table to eat all the festive food), I came across an article in The Guardian entitled “Powerful photographs perfectly illustrate the rise of women’s sport”. It’s an interesting article with loads of iconic pictures from the past year. If you need a fix of badass women doing badass things, I’d encourage you to head over there right now to read it. Megan Rapinoe, Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka and others, they’re all there, performing incredible feats.

This is a new thing, according to the article: in the past, sports photography focused on making women look conventionally attractive and erasing certain aspects, sports, or people by not picturing them. Progress is, admittedly, slow, as the article also points out. There was the online abuse hurled at Australian footballer Tyla Harris after a photo showing her performing an awesome kick, but also depicting her crotch area, was published. The network that originally published it first withdrew it, then put it back up apologising for giving in to the trolls. Then there was the shit storm over Megan Rapinoe and the US women’s football team’s way of celebrating their World Cup victory, which Donald Trump got involved in, because Of Course He Did. And there were many more.

So things still aren’t great, but they’re getting a bit better, slowly. In part, the Guardian article noted, this is also due to more female sports photographers being around who portray women from a female viewpoint rather than a male gaze. But there aren’t enough of them – photography, for women, is apparently just as sucky a profession as many others, rife with discrimination and unfair disadvantages. And even where things are getting better… “Getty hired two women photographers on internships who are covering the women’s game around the country”, the Guardian piece notes.

Wait, what? They hired them on internships? Could they not be arsed to give them a real job? Unfortunately the article doesn’t go further into this, but it definitely gave me pause.

Le sigh. As we head into 2020, there seems to be cause for cautious optimism, but our work here, fit feminist friends, is not done.

athletes · fitness

OMG did you see Simone Biles’ latest?

Is there not just something incredible about watching elite women athletes blow everyone’s mind with their incredible athleticism? In case you missed it, the latest almost unbelievable achievement in sport goes to US gymnast Simone Biles, who completed (though not to her own satisfaction) a move that is reported to have revolutionized gymnastics. The move is called “the triple double: a double back somersault with three twists spread out over the two flips.”

According to Slate, it is “the single most spectacular skill that any female gymnast has ever attempted, on any apparatus, in the history of the sport. It’s got an “astronomical difficulty rating” and looks almost impossible (but for the fact that she is doing it!):

From the same competition, the US Gymnastics Championships in Kansas City, Biles completed a stunning and unprecedented dismount after a gripping routine on the balance beam. According to the article in Slate, Biles “destroyed a new balance beam dismount, the most difficult and daring in the history of the sport: a double-double, or a double somersault with a full twist in each flip. This is a skill that is usually reserved for the floor exercise—an apparatus that is 40 feet wide and outfitted with 11 centimeters of springs. Biles did it off the end of a lightly padded plank 4 inches wide and 4 feet off the ground, and she made it look easy.” And landed it perfectly:

This is really just an “in case you missed it post.” Simone Biles is not to be missed. Keep in mind too that she purportedly had an off-weekend, by her own lights it was not her best. She expressed disappointment over her floor routine because she didn’t complete the triple double to her own high standards. And it was all still enough to secure her first place.

Amazing.

She’s making me fall in love with gymnastics all over again. I really don’t even have a question to end on today, other than the rhetorical: “doesn’t watching Simone Biles do gymnastics make you want to watch more of Simone Biles doing gymnastics?”

athletes · body image · fitness · gender policing · inclusiveness · Martha's Musings · Olympics · racism · sexism · stereotypes

Women, sport and sex tests: Why Caster Semenya matters a great deal

Many years ago I had the good fortune to work with a board full of fabulous women representing a wide diversity of interests, experiences and backgrounds. One of the women had competed in the Montreal Olympics. She described for us one day what it was like to be subjected to a sex test. Her emotions were palpable, especially the anger.

In fact, 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. This kind of scrutiny has now been enshrined with this week’s decision from the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland in which they ruled against middle distance runner Caster Semenya’s appeal of the IAAF’s move to enforce new regulations regarding athletes differences of sexual development (DDS). In particular, the IAAF says female athletes who have higher than usual levels of testosterone must take drugs to reduce those levels to even the playing field.

Semenya’s career in track has been dogged by constant allegations that her achievements in the sport are unfairly won. Curiously, US swimmer Michael Phelps, whose body produces less lactic acid, is deemed to be exceptionally fortunate to be born with this genetic advantage.

And yet, no one is suggesting Phelps should take drugs to enable his body to produce more lactic acid so his competitors have a more equal opportunity.

We cannot forget that along with the sexism this decision against Semenya perpetuates, it is also supporting a racist assumption on how black bodies perform compared to white ones. Acclaimed tennis champion Serena Williams has been constantly challenged on her accomplishments and her body size, shape and presentation. This CNN article gives a great overview about the biases against Williams, including the assumption that her excellence erases her female identity.

The belief that Williams and Semenya are so good at what they do, they cannot possibly be women is one that has long been used to attack women who excel in sport. But it seems particularly pervasive in its use against black women. Semenya’s body naturally produces more testosterone than is usually found in women. Yet the research is unclear how natural testosterone affects performance compared to artificial hormones used to enhance performance:

“What’s clear is that there is solid evidence that men who take excessive doses of testosterone … do get a competitive advantage clearly in sports related to strength,” said Bradley Anawalt, a hormone specialist and University of Washington Medical Center’s chief of medicine.The problem, said Anawalt, is that attempts to try to quantify that competitive advantage in naturally occurring levels of the hormone are “fraught with difficulty in interpretation.”

The CAS decision was meant to clarify and instead muddied the waters even further. They upheld the IAAF decision but said they should take more time to implement. They agreed with the concept of the rule DDS athletes should reduce their testosterone, but were concerned about the effects on athlete’s bodies. They said it was fine for the IAAF to apply this rule to athletes racing under 1000 metres but athletes running longer distances were fine.

The Semenya case has implications that are far-reaching. We know women have been over-medicated, often to their detriment. We know that chemical castration has been used to manage pedophiles. But Semenya is neither depressed nor a criminal. She is an athlete performing her best with the tools she was born with.

That the IAAF and its head Sebastian Coe have created an environment in which Semenya can be neither her best or herself is untenable. I am glad Canada’s Minister for Sport has called out this decision. We need to have conversations about sexism, racism, and transphobia in sport; more importantly we need action. Follow #HandsOffCaster or #LetHerRun, among others, on Twitter; sign this petition; become informed; and make your views known and heard.

athletes · equality

Swoon!


Look, just look at Krysten Sinema getting sworn in. I’ve got some aesthetic opinions. I love her hair, that top, those glasses. But I’m not writing here just to swoon. It’s Sinmena’s athletic background that intrigues and fascinates me. She’s not just a very successful politician. She’s also a runner, a cyclist, a swimmer and an Ironman triathlete.

In our book , Fit at Midlife: A Feminist Fitness Journey, Tracy and I talk about all of the things one gets out of being active above the pleasure of the experience itself. Women who are athletes have more self-confidence and more resilience and that has all sorts of beneficial side effects. Athletes are over represented in leadership roles in many areas of life. So when women are denied access to the goods of physical activity, or are discouraged from taking part in sports, the costs aren’t just about health and fitness.

I was thrilled to see Krysten Sinema sworn into the US Senate. In addition to being an Ironman triathlete–have I mentioned that already?–she’s also the first openly bisexual member of the US Senate. And she has plans to continue training through her new role with a goal of qualifying for Boston this year. Clearly, there’s no slowing her down.

Image result for kyrsten sinema bike

Back to my shallow aesthetic swooning. Just look at her pink coat!

I was also happy to read that Sinema shares our concern about the gender gap in sports participation. Here she is in a recent interview talking about how to get more women involved in triathlon. She’s got some good suggestions here.

“The first thing we did as an advisory board was a survey where we asked women who were athletic, but not necessarily triathletes, a series of questions. Do they want to tri? What are the barriers to tri? What is stopping them from tri’ing? And what things would they find most helpful? We did a recent survey, and we found the same things that we found then.

There are issues around work/life/family balance, and then there’s the water—but that’s not gender-specific; most of us are afraid of the water. Another issue that is more related to women is wanting to feel confident and have a sense of community when engaging in a new endeavor. The recipe for success is not rocket science.

What are the things that you do to overcome those barriers? You have swim clinics in a pool and then in the open water. You do tire-changing clinics. You have childcare when you are doing a seminar at night to talk about triathlon and nutrition. It’s not hard, but what is hard is changing mindsets and changing the culture. What I’m really excited about is the Women For Tri project has been so successful that we are now fielding requests from races around the world that want to partner with us because they want to increase women’s participation in triathlon. One of the new things we’re going to do is work on partnering with races that are not part of the brands that we were formed by. We were born in Ironman, and partnered with Life Time, so that’s where our early connections have been, but we’re going to expand.

advertising · athletes · boxing · fitness

There are no words

That’s what a friend said when this ad appeared in her Facebook newsfeed.

She’s a boxer so the targeted ad sort of makes sense.

Except not. Her words: “What even is this?” Boxing gloves for women who want to protect their manicures.

I can’t imagine her getting her nails done and needing her boxing gloves to accommodate that. I mean, there aren’t many women who box and I’d guess there’s an even smaller number who box and who get fancy fingernails.

Niche product.

And gender is a very weird thing.

That’s all I’ve got to say.