fitness · Guest Post · health · illness · injury

Keeping Fit While Healing from Hysterectomy, Part 2 (The Lifting Edition)

It is now nearly 10 weeks after my complete, laparoscopic hysterectomy, and I figure it’s about time for an update on my progress! When I last wrote, it had been about a month, and I was working on following my own fitness plan. (If you haven’t read that post, you can find it here.) My goals at that time were to do what I could to maintain healthy habits and to preserve as much strength as I could without compromising healing. The plan was to do a bands-based resistance program and daily walking. Today, I’ll discuss some overall impressions and get into the weeds a bit about where I’m at with lifting. I’ll do a separate post about my ongoing efforts to return to running.

So, how did the plan go?

During that first month of exercises (post-op weeks 3-6), my strength and endurance varied quite a bit from day to day. Some days I felt great and had to force myself to keep things easy, other days, all I could handle was lifting up and washing the dishes in the sink. I did my best to honor the time I needed to rest. There was one week when I seemed tired all the time, and I wasn’t sure if that meant I’d been overdoing it or if it was something else going on. I rested a few days, and then I returned to my resistance bands and walking but with reduced volume. For several days there, I was tired before I got started but found that a little movement helped my mood and energized me, which reinforced that those were the right decisions.

For the most part, pain continued to not be a major concern. I had some discomfort for sure, but it was most often a generalized achiness, especially on the right side of my abdomen, rather than sharp pains. Bending over at the waist and pushing/pulling heavy objects were the most-limited movements, giving me the immediate feedback that I was still healing inside. Sometimes I thought some activity I’d done had exacerbated the aches, but plenty of times I couldn’t correlate the pain to any particular increase in activity.

The only time I had severe pain, it was while I was out wandering through a neighborhood garage sale with my husband. I hadn’t done anything strenuous in the previous 24 hours or so, and suddenly, every step resulted in a tearing feeling in my side. It completely stopped me in my tracks and brought tears to my eyes. We very gingerly walked home, with shallow, baby steps so I wouldn’t jostle my insides any further, and I laid down on the sofa for the rest of the day. This happened to be only a couple days before the 6-week post-op appointment with my surgeon, so I mentioned it to her at that time. Her hypothesis was that it was “scar tissue disease” that had formed and was being pulled and separated again, causing the tearing feeling I had. Her response to this surprised me–she advised me to stay as active as possible. She didn’t want scar tissue to limit my activities down the road, so the more I can prevent these tissues from sticking and forming together, the better off I’ll be long term.

Back to the gym
At that 6-week appointment, my doctor released me to “gradually return to regular activities.” She made it clear that she didn’t want me holding back too much, as that would slow down my progress. “You can’t hurt anything now,” she said after examining my vaginal sutures, which were apparently healing as expected. So, I left the appointment with her blessing to get back to the gym, to do all the stretching, twisting and bending that I felt ready to do.

I have been back to lifting for a little over 2 weeks now. I decided to go with a 4-day upper/lower split program that I’ve done before. I’ve modified the lifts to avoid undue abdominal pressure (no push-ups, planks, or similar poses). I wasn’t a great squatter before the surgery, but now I’ve gone back to light goblet squats just to parallel. I’m trying to feel out how my pelvic floor responds to the increased loading. As far as I can tell, it’s going ok, although honestly, there isn’t an obvious way to measure it.* My surgeon informed me that my pelvic floor was “more pliable than predicted,” given that I have never been pregnant. She did not know if this was due to my being a lifter or to my history of obesity. It’s not clear to me how careful I need to continue to be to protect my pelvic floor health going forward. And as discussed in the first post, there’s very few evidence-based resources out there to help people navigate this situation.

I’m lifting about 60% (in terms of both weight and volume) of what I was doing before surgery. My preferred programming is usually pretty high volume, and I hope to keep working on increasing it over the next few weeks. I started with 2-3 sets, and I plan on adding a set every couple of weeks until I’m back to doing 5 sets of the major lifts. Only after I get the volume up do I expect to progress the weights heavier again. I’ve dropped out almost all accessory lifts other than those I do to maintain mobility, and I’m focussing on the big, multijoint movements. Here’s how that looks:

Lower 1:
Goblet Squat, 1×6-8, lower weight by 10%, 2xAMRAP (as many reps as possible)
Leg Curl (Machine), 3×12-15
Offset Split Squat, 3×12-15
Monster Walks and lower body mobility work

Upper 1:
Upright Dumbbell Press, 1×6-8, lower weight by 10%, 2xAMRAP
Assisted Chin-up, 2×6-8, 1×10-12
Incline Dumbbell Bench Press, 3×12-15
Cable Row, 3×15-20
shoulder mobility work

Lower 2:
Deadlift, 2×5-6, 1×8-10
Goblet Squat, 3×15-20
Pallof Press, 2×12-15
Alternating Reverse Lunge, 2×15-20
Monster walks and lower body mobility work

Upper 2:
Bench Press, 1×6-8, lower weight by 10%, 2xAMRAP
1-arm Dumbbell Row, 2×8-10, 1×12-15
Arnold Press, 3×15
Palms Down Cable Pulldown, 3×15
Dumbbell Lat Raise, 2xAMRAP (up to 20)
Dumbbell Reverse Fly, 2xAMRAP (up to 25)
shoulder mobility work

The mobility work is feeling especially important right now, as it seems like I’m stiff any time I’m not warmed up. I’m hoping that feeling will decrease as I get back to the rest of my usual routines and is not a new normal. I’m aware that I’m recovering from this surgery in my forties, and older lifters are frequently discussing the increased need for mobility work to keep lifting. I’ve never been sure how true that would be for me, since these folks are usually lifelong athletes, and I’m a relative noob. I have neither the benefit of a foundation of strength, nor the detriment of a lifetime of activity-related aches and pains.

So as far as the lifting part of my recovery plan goes, I’m feeling pretty good about it. The old advice to “lift nothing over 10 pounds,” clearly wasn’t the right advice for me. I was able to do more than that after the first two weeks of total rest, and I didn’t injure myself or create problems for my healing. Even still, my muscles are acting like I haven’t lifted in two months, and I was especially sore with lactic acid burn the first week back. It’s a bit disappointing to be so stiff and sore, given I was continuing to train in some fashion for most of the last couple months. However, I’m pleased that I kept it part of my routine, so that it usually does not feel hard to get myself to the gym–that moment of “ugh, do I really have the energy to do this?!” is less common than it might have been. It’s too early to know how the hysterectomy might impact my lifting options long term. I’m considering going back to the physical therapist to have her evaluate where I’m at, to see if there’s anything I’m missing as I continue to recover. Regardless, it’s clear to me from my experience that the typical lifting advice is more conservative than necessary, at least for some of us.

*Fun fact–in research, apparently they measure internal abdominal pressure by inserting a balloon up the rectum of test subjects. Then, when they do particular lifts, researchers can measure changes in the pressure upon the balloon. For the record, I will not be signing up for this, even in the interest of science!

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found picking up heavy things and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon.

fitness · Guest Post

Even World-Record Breaking Strongwomen Feel Pressured to be Smaller (Guest Post)

IPF World Champion Natalie Hanson was recently interviewed by Greg Nuckols and Eric Trexler on their podcast, Stronger By Science. (Skip ahead 1h 48m, if you want to hear the section I’m referencing.) In the interview, she said that one of the biggest barriers to women reaching their strength goals is the persistent desire to be smaller.

Hanson, who recently broke a world record for bench press and also works as a powerlifting coach, says that a common barrier to the sport for women is that they have to deal with social pressures around body image and aesthetic appearance. “Don’t get too bulky,” is a message that might get joked about “but it still carries through. It’s a component we shouldn’t overlook.” She says it’s less common with women who are fully bought into the sport, and more likely an issue for “general population” women who have an interest in starting powerlifting. They hear from men “that they are going to get big and buff, and that’s a problem.” She points out that “A guy is never going to hear that.” “That discrepancy when women begin a strength journey and men is stark, and alarming to [her] that it’s still a thing.” So, when women reach out to her for coaching, “they are interested in powerlifting and joining the sport, and they want to drop a weight class.” She describes this challenge as “interesting and concerning.”

It is important to point out, and Eric and Greg comment on this, that amongst strength athletes, it is universally understood that folks are stronger when they are larger. This is easier for men to accept than it is for women, and they have seen the impact of this pressure on women when they choose to at least remain in their current weight class, if not drop one, even though it reduces their success in their chosen sport.

Hanson also mentions incidences where she’s had to deal with comments from men about her body size, even in the gym where she trains regularly. “I’d been powerlifting for about a year and I was just going up a weight class. . . I had put on a lot of weight, muscle and fat, and generally got bigger, and that’s fine. And I looked a lot stronger. And I was training at the gym . . . and some older guy walked up to me and said, ‘Wow, you’re a thoroughbred.’” She expresses her confusion in the moment and how it changed her feeling about working out at that gym. She thinks he meant it as a compliment, but she was clearly baffled that he felt that it was ok to comment on her body at all.

Her advice to men, “If you wouldn’t say this to a friend that’s a male, don’t say it to a friend that’s a female.” She clarifies that she knows that guys who are really close will “give each other shit,” but she’s talking about how men talk with acquaintances.

I find it startling to learn that a woman at the top of her game has to deal with these pressures, and that the women she trains are still focusing on their size over performance goals, even when they are there ostensibly to become a world class lifter. Hanson acknowledges that she is happy to work on aesthetic goals with her clients, if that is what women would rather work on, but that the two goals–to be a competitive lifter and to be smaller–work at cross-purposes. Having a larger body makes you a stronger lifter. And women who are faced with this choice–to be the best lifter they can be, but have a larger body, or to be less of a lifter but comply more closely with society’s expectations–many of the women she works with choose the latter.

And it makes me sad to learn this, as I like imagining when I watch an amazing lift pulled from an incredible female athlete, that she has broken through the barriers the rest of us must wrestle with. Somehow, it seems, she’s accepted that she’s going to stand out, and she chooses her personal goals over bullshit pressures from outside of herself. Apparently, however, she’s likely dealing with the bullshit, too.

It occurs to me that this means we really don’t know how strong women can be. Because as long as women are battling pressures to be less-than at the same time that they are competing, they are hobbling themselves. In order to really test women’s strength, women need to feel equally safe as men pursuing the sport to its limits. And at that time, maybe we can comment on a woman’s body and lifting without it being an issue. As Hanson says, “it would be great if we got to a point where we were all so comfortable and proud of our bodies and what our bodies are capable of that we could freely talk about things like that, say ‘you’re looking jacked’ or ‘you’re looking huge,’ without it being a potential trigger or offensive comment.” Until that time, we should “stop making comments on how women look.”

What do you think?

Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found picking up heavy things and putting them back down again in Portland, OR.

climbing · fat · fitness · Guest Post

On boundaries, in life and at the climbing gym (Guest post)

by Alisa Joy McClain

I’m a fat woman climber. And, I’m a person who directly pushes back when people invade my space. Given Bettina’s recent post about mansplainers at the climbing gym and Susan’s mention of my name as a Boundary Hero in the comments, I thought it might be fun to share a few of the internal thoughts that have enabled and empowered me to say, “NO,” when someone has overstepped a boundary with me without spending precious emotional labor trying to protect their image of me or getting them to like me.

A frequent event for me at the climbing gym is this: I am waiting to get on a boulder or a wall. I’m positioned a polite distance away but close enough that my claim should be obvious. Because it happens often enough that my mere presence is not enough of a stakeholder, I’ve widened my stance and put my hands on my hips to non-verbally say, “I mean business. I am here with purpose.” When the space becomes available, it is not terribly unusual for a guy to just step between me and the wall like I don’t exist or that my fat body is actually invisible.

I have some choices here.

1) I can just move to another wall; give up my claim.

2) I can stand there and glare at the guy, passive aggressively communicating my displeasure and hoping he notices and is more aware in the future.

3) I can wait and let him know verbally at the end of his use of the wall.

4) I can politely interrupt him before he gets started and say, “Excuse me. I’m sorry, but I was waiting for that. Do you mind if I go first?”

5) I can interrupt him before he gets started and say, “I was waiting for that.” I usually do this in a slightly raised voice, aiming for mild social distress as a negative reinforce.

More and more often, I opt for number 5 or its equivalent.

So, these are things that I have thought about over the years to make this a near-automatic and pretty unapologetic response.

Option 1: If I give up my claim, the guy is definitely going to keep doing it to me and everybody else. He was probably oblivious to my existence and will continue to be oblivious to my existence.

Option 2: If I wait and glare, he’ll probably write me off as a bitch and I am the only person who has been inconvenienced. He has already demonstrated that I do not exist for him, so I have serious doubts my glaring will result in a behaviour change.

Option 3: It is still largely me that is inconvenienced, and I actually have already decided that a person who doesn’t observe the space and see if anyone is waiting doesn’t really care that much about social interactions and community environment. In the past, at most, I have gotten a non-satisfying apology, a glare, or actual verbal abuse when I pursued this option.

Option 4: I tried this for a while, but when I ask nicely and politely for something I shouldn’t have to ask for at all, it feels like I erase myself. It feels like this guy has given me his emotional discomfort with waiting, and I have accepted the burden and will tend to the burden carefully to ensure that I don’t give it back to him while meekly asking for a tiny share of respect. This option doesn’t feel good, and I don’t’ think it’s my job to help grown men who are actual strangers to me (and have already shown me I have no interest in getting to know them) develop basic social skills.

Option 5: My best option so far. In this case, I am returning the burden of discomfort. It’s like a ball he threw at me when I wasn’t willing to catch it, and I’m just tossing it right back at him. “Sorry, I think you dropped this.” I affirm my own right to exist. I am just loud enough to make sure that anyone nearby can hear because I feel like it protects me from an escalation in violence. I’m relying on social expectation to help this guy reconsider his options next time because his actions told me that my opinion of him is already not enough to change his behavior. The world tells me on a regular basis that I don’t deserve space in the world, and asserting myself and my right to exist in these interactions is one of the ways I reject the word’s erasure of my existence. I am treating myself with respect. This guy is probably not going to like me very much, but he already didn’t respect me and I don’t actually want to invite him into my life. I don’t owe the person who just told me that my existence is at their convenience any great efforts in kindness. Every once in a while the guy I do this to will offer a genuine apology, and I will then profusely thank them. That’s when they re-earn my respect and my effort towards active kindness. Janis Spring says “You don’t restore your humanity when you forgive an unapologetic offender; he restores his humanity when he works to earn your forgiveness.”

Bystanders are often uncomfortable with my choice of option number 5. When I’m with friends, I have to remember to not exercise option number 5 on their behalf (when the guy gets in THEIR way) because it’s their choice to do so or not and not mine and I don’t want to make my friend uncomfortable if they aren’t choosing these kinds of interactions. Susan mentioned her visceral discomfort in her comment about me on Bettina’s post. I get it. It’s also part of what I choose when I decided option number 5 was my default. I understand that discomfort as one of two things:

1. an expectation that I, as a woman, continue to defer to men or 2) a rejection of their own desire to do the same; not yet ready to take on the social disapproval of stating a boundary firmly and with expectation. Whelp, I am not going to start deferring to men; I’m just not house trained. And, I compassionately understand the bystander rejection of my boundary setting, but I’m not going to bend for it. After all, to not set boundaries for myself feels like participating in my own social erasure, and I have to live with myself for the rest of my life.

Harriet Lerner has written some great books on women’s anger and boundaries. In it, she says, “You can have change or you can have people like you. You often can’t have both.” When you put it that way, I’ll have change especially over winning the favor of men who will mansplain to me, take my space, or generally treat me as less than them.

I just don’t need them to like me nearly as much as I need to like myself.

Alisa Joy McClain spent the first half of her life thinking she couldn’t do cool exercise-y things because she was fat and is now spending the second half of her life enjoying the body she has and all the cool things she can do with it like rock climbing, cycling, and scuba diving. When not trying to be a fat athlete, she can be found reading books, playing pinball, hanging out with her family and children, and ranting about various social injustices.

fitness · Guest Post · soccer

Let’s talk about “mom sports” (Guest post)

by Sarah Skwire

“Mom sports” were recently excoriated in the pages of the Washington Times in connection with a rantthat tagged soccer as a “liberals’ sport” and “not a real sport” and worst of all “a mom sport.”

No explicit definition of “mom sport” was given in the article, but it is suggested that such sports are the ones that believe in participation trophies, a low barrier to entry, and getting the kids out of the house on a Saturday.

Reading the article, I sighed heavily and clicked rapidly away. It was, after all, just one more idiotic dismissal of things that women do as trivial, silly, and dumb. If you’ve seen one (and who hasn’t?), you’ve seen them all.

But as I drove from my office to my taekwondo dojang to assist in instructing a beginner’s class, I started to think about all the moms whose kids I help train, and all the moms I train alongside.

These moms (and dads, of course, but no sport has ever been denigrated by being called a “Dad sport”) get their kids to the dojang to train at least two times a week, some of them twice that or more. They wash uniforms and make sure everyone has their gear. They soothe nerves before competitions and tests for new belts. They put bandaids on feet that didn’t manage to break the board that time. They practice Korean vocabulary. They learn to tie belts properly, remind their kids to bow, bring food for picnics, race home early from work to get everyone to class, shuttle kids to tournaments, and show up for everything.

And if they are taekwondo students as well as moms of taekwondo students (and a lot of us are), they do all of that while learning their own material, worrying about their own board breaks and tests and competitions, dying inside when their kids are reprimanded in class, and wrangling all the physical and mental challenges of being a middle aged martial artist.

The moms at my dojang who want to become black belts will have to be able to perform 20 set kicking combinations, 30 self defense moves, and 20 Hapkido (grappling) moves. They will need to know and be able to perform 10 poomsae (forms). They will need to be at a level of conditioning that will allow them to engage in several rounds of one on one sparring, and a round or two of two on one sparring. They will need to break 3 boards at once with a single back kick. (That’s about 2.25” of wood.)

But before they even get to that test, they will need to show up, day after day after day, to train. They’ll need to come in when they don’t want to, or when their kids don’t want to, or when they were up until 2 am working on their real job. They’ll need to leave the dojang and go home, and often they will then be the one who makes dinner and supervises homework and bath time and bedtime.

And on the way home, they’ll pass some fool who can’t pass any part of that test and who probably hasn’t done anything more athletic since junior high school than watch other people play sports on television. And that person will tell them that taekwondo isn’t a real sport, or that they had no idea that taekwondo was really just a “mom sport.”

“Mom” is not an insult.

Sports that moms do, and sports that moms support, are not trivial, silly, or unimportant. Neither are the moms who do them.

Sarah Skwire is a Senior Fellow at Liberty Fund and Senior Editor at Her academic research primarily considers the intersections between literature and economics, but ranges widely from early modern material to popular culture. She and her daughters will test for their second degree black belts in taekwondo in October of 2019.

Guest Post

Book excerpt from The Quiet Ice (Guest post) CW: detailed description of sexual assault

by Karyn L. Freedman

I like the sound of quiet, but it is not the noise of the city that bothers me. It’s the activity in my head, the piercing images and intrusive thoughts that took root in the summer of 1990, when I was raped at the age of twenty-two while backpacking through Europe, and that appear to be mine for life. Over the years, I have come to understand that the recurring din in my head is just one of the consequences of psychological trauma, of being held captive and rendered helpless in the face of a terrorizing life event. When that happens, our biological impulse to flee or fight is blocked, which invites a kind of disorder to settle into the body. Like all forms of anxiety, trauma can be an occupying force, and the trauma that laid claim to me close to three decades ago has been relentless. Ill-equipped to deal with the violence of that summer night, I spent my twenties pretending that what had happened to me was no big deal. Awash with shame, I kept the story of my rape a secret, as if not talking about it would make it go away, but my body has always known better. For years my nervous system was caught in an elevated state of arousal, easily startled, just waiting for the next catastrophe. After nearly a decade of struggling in silence I had had enough, and as I entered my thirties I decided to face the aftermath of my rape. I began to see a therapist, a privilege that has been my saving grace. But it was a decision that I made some years later, in September 2005, when I was thirty-seven years old, that helped me find the elusive sound of quiet in my head. That fall I joined a women’s hockey league.

It is just after 4 pm on a Saturday and I’ve got an early game tonight, which means that I have only one more hour to kill before it’s time to leave my house for the rink across town. It hasn’t been a great afternoon, following a crappy night. I went to bed early, tired from a busy day of work. I poured myself some Scotch and read for a bit before turning out the lights, but two long hours of listening to my own heartbeat later, I flipped the lights back on. That woke up my partner, who stumbled out of bed and headed, half-awake, for the guest bedroom. Watching him leave, I resigned myself to the fact that it was going to be one of those nights. I sat up and took a pill for anxiety. While I waited for that to kick in, I poured some more Scotch, picked up my book, and began all over again. As a result, my head hurts and my chest has been tight all day. But none of that will matter soon. I decide to get to the game a bit early.

While the others trickle in, I unzip my hockey bag and begin the ritual of putting on my gear. The room fills up and gets louder, everybody happy to be there and looking forward to the game. Already I am feeling better, and by the time I take my first warm-up lap around the rink, the distractions of the day have all but disappeared. I am gliding effortlessly through a refreshing, cool breeze, and as I round the corners all I can hear is the glorious grinding sound of my skate blades biting the ice. It’s just about time to play.

The trauma that results from terrifying life events over which we have no control is profound. It changes us in fundamental ways. The paralyzing helplessness of being trapped in a threatening situation results in a severe disruption of the nervous system. This extreme stress affects how the brain works and makes it difficult for survivors of traumatic events to regulate their everyday biological functions—sleeping, breathing, talking, even eating. Psychologically traumatic experiences are harmful to the body in ways that are belied by the fact that in some instances we can escape these events with no physical wounds. I had spent the better part of a decade bracing for what was coming next as the trauma that had taken root within me expanded into a crushing anxiety that ultimately became impossible to ignore. My body, it seemed, was no longer my own, its recalcitrant movements reflexively attuned to events of the past.

This was never more conspicuous than when I was having sex. The notion that rape is about power and not sex is misleading. It is true that people who rape often do so to exert power over their victims, but for rape survivors, whose bodies have been used sexually without their consent, the transgression can live on in their sex lives. At least, that’s what happened to me. Sex had become a series of triggers that prevented me from intimacy, my inhospitable body populated by land mines sensitive to the touch. This situation became particularly acute as I entered a new relationship in my early thirties. Prior to that I had been able to have sex and occasionally even enjoy it, but now every caress threw me back to an unwanted memory. I struggled through a trial of panic attacks while attempting to ignore the suffocating memory of my rapist’s sweaty flesh draped on top of me, behind me, in front of me. I couldn’t breathe. These images colonized my thoughts and kept me up at night. I began to lean on alcohol to trick my body into relaxing, but that was its own trial. And besides, the unwanted images returned in my dreams. At some point, I broke. Unable to move forward, I decided it was time to get help. With financial backing from my parents, I sought out a therapist and began the long process of healing.

The chance to work on my own recovery has been one of the great privileges of my life, and I was lucky to find an exceptional therapist. She helped me to see the far-reaching influence of traumatic experiences. With the benefit of her insight, I came to understand that in order to dull the force of the images in my head I had to first live in them.

Repressing them was not going to work, at least not for me, not in the long run. Traumatic memories stick with us, in one way or another, whether or not we invite them to do so. Facing them head on gave me a chance to deflate the power they had over me. In the safety of my therapist’s office, I would close my eyes and return to that high-rise apartment in the thirteenth arrondissement of Paris where a man named Robert Dinges, who I had first met earlier that night, had raped me at knifepoint.

But this time, there was no threat of the knife against my neck, though it didn’t always feel that way. It was scary at first, but in time I allowed myself to remember that hour of terror in all its vividness, and to say and think and feel everything that I couldn’t at the time. This was some of the hardest work I have ever done, but eventually, I started to feel lighter, freer. Not all at once, and not completely, but incrementally, here and there. But there remained times when my body felt sluggish and pinned down, as if Robert were still on top of me. In these moments, my legs were heavy and there was a constricting weight on my chest. It was as if certain elements of the trauma had remained inaccessible through traditional psychotherapy. Talking about feeling had taken me a long way, but because the trauma had settled in my body, it seemed that I needed to physically move about to thoroughly process it. I was desperate to shake my legs free and push Robert off of me. I needed to scream and punch and kick and shout and get rid of the lingering anger and pain. My therapist suggested we take our work to a local trauma resource center. It had sound- proof rooms, gym mats, and other props all geared to the idea that physical movement is essential to processing body memories. Here, with the lights dimmed, I would put on boxing gloves and try to move around. This was a new kind of hard, but at some point, I found my strength. And then, session after session, I pounded away at the unwanted images of that night, my movements finally under my command. Recovery is not a linear process, but I could feel myself moving forward, becoming less blocked. I had been given the chance to redefine my body, which was once again my own. There remained only one thing left for me to do.

I bought some equipment and signed up for a Saturday night women’s league.

That first year wasn’t easy. I wasn’t always comfortable getting changed in front of other people, a vulnerability made worse because I didn’t know anyone on my team—or in the league, for that matter. Also, I was a real beginner. I knew the rules as well as anyone, but playing was different than watching. I was shaky on skates, and I couldn’t make a good line change to save my life. Yet it was clear to me from the start that I was onto something. Although I wasn’t any good, I worked hard, and that intense physical effort coupled with the sharp mental focus that the game demands helped dull the noise in my head. And the better I got, the more focused I became, and the more control I had over my body. I could not have predicted it, but playing hockey turned out to be the way to quiet the persistent images in my head. Playing hockey helped me become unstuck. And now, after many years of playing, it has become much more than that.

I am sitting on the bench, breathing heavily after my last shift, my face red hot with effort, watching the play as it goes up and down the ice, and anticipating the moment when I get to jump back into the game. Fortunately, we have a short bench tonight, so I know it won’t be long. The time comes, and once again I am free. My body moves in sync with the game, and for the time being, there is nothing else in the world I care about. The sounds of the arena fade away and the quiet in my head returns as my focus narrows in on the play. I’m on left wing tonight, holding my position on my own blue line as the play moves dangerously around our net. Our goalie deflects a shot that lands deep in the corner behind her goal line, and my eyes are trained on my teammate, who retrieves the puck and sends it up the boards, where I am waiting to receive it. The hard sound of it landing on my stick has me pivoting forward. I am thinking of nothing but moving the puck up the ice. I’ve got some room, so I begin to carry it through the neutral zone before passing it across the ice to an open winger, who successfully dumps it into the offensive zone. It is the right move, and the momentum is on our side. I chase down the play and regain control of the puck behind the other team’s net. At that moment, time slows right down.

Tonight, we’re lucky. We’re a bit faster than the other team, and that edge means I’ve got some time with the puck. For at least a few seconds, I can see the ice clearly. I spot an open player in front of the net. We lock eyes. I send the puck her way and watch it cut a clean line through a mess of skates and land on her stick. It’s a good pass. It doesn’t matter that we didn’t score, and it doesn’t matter that we didn’t win the game. The unmitigated joy of being able to see that play, and then move the puck to where I know it ought to go, leaves me exhilarated and at peace.

For a long time, the search for stillness in this fast game was the main reason I played hockey. I am not a great player. I am not the fastest skater or the most skilled, and I will never possess the gracefulness of those women who grew up on skates. But I fight hard for the puck and I look to make the play. And then, of course, there is the rush of the game. The scraping of skates on hard ice and the surge of cool air that washes over you as you chase down the puck or fight for it in the corners. The divine feeling you get when you make a good pass or when you hear the almost inaudible whoosh as the puck you fired hits the back of the net.

I now have three games a week in leagues and arenas all around town. Because I am on the ice a lot, I watch less hockey than I used to, and that’s fine with me. Although I live in Toronto, the Winnipeg Jets are my team, and with the arrival of another Finnish superstar, they are finally looking good. Watching players of all skill levels move up and down the ice makes it clear to me that the release I get from playing is something many people experience. You do not need to have lived through a traumatic experience to find tranquility on the ice. And, for me, over the years, the game has become even more than that. I now belong to a glorious hockey community, one that is bursting with the most incredible women, women of all ages and sizes and occupations. It is an open and welcoming community, and I can’t believe my good luck in finding it.

But I try not to dwell on that. My worry is that if I get lost in a happy thought, I might miss an important clue, some signal that danger is just around the corner. In those moments, I begin to feel the familiar creep of that anxious dread and the expectation of catastrophe that comes with it, and the very images that I play the game to forget come back to me. I see myself losing an edge and crashing headfirst into the boards, or slamming hard against another player, or my legs twisting beneath me, a heap of broken bones, after a terrible fall, and I have to tell myself to breathe. When the panic returns, I am reminded that the experience of being raped has left me permanently wounded. I think back to that night in Paris, and I wonder how I could have missed the warning signs, how it was that I didn’t see what was coming next. I know I am not to blame for what happened to me, even if sometimes my body tells me otherwise.

The struggle between how I feel and what I know to be true is mine for life, but once I am back on the ice, all I care about is making the play, and the quiet in my head returns.

Karyn L. Freedman is an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Guelph. Her book, One Hour in Paris: A True Story of Rape and Recovery, won the 2015 BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction.

Adapted with permission of the publisher from the essay collection Whatever Gets You Through: Twelve Survivors on Life After Sexual Assault
edited by Stacey May Fowles and Jen Sookfong Lee and published by Greystone Books in April 2019.

Guest Post · yoga

Vulnerability and Naked Yoga, Part 2 (Guest Post)

by Ellen Burgess

Last week, I wrote about my sailing adventure during my holidays in the first week of June.  As if the sailing this wasn’t enough excitement for one week, the day of my holiday, I boldly ventured out to an old friend’s yoga studio in Toronto to practice Naked Yoga for the first time.  Yep, that’s right, yoga in nothing but my birthday suit… TOTALLY STARKERS that is!

Upon my arrival, I greeted my fellow yoga practitioner (Don), who I had not seen in over 15 years when we did our Moksha Teacher training together. At that time, he had invited me to live in his house for a month, so we got to know each other quite well.  I was happy to see him after such a long time, and we chatted enthusiastically as he showed me around his hot yoga studio. He explained that the purpose of this class was essentially to reduce body shame and build strength and community through vulnerability that comes with practicing yoga with no clothes on.

“Right on”, I said, in my most hippy like voice, (secretly thinking, this sounds terrifying, but “bring it on”)! After all, I had already bragged to my friends that I was going to try this, so there was no backing out now.

Don had us all assemble in the practice room in a rectangle with our backside to the wall with the mirrors covered (thank goodness).  We were asked to disrobe when the lights went off and that, if at any time we were uncomfortable, we could lie down on our mats with a towel covering our body. 

Then he turned off the light and lit a single candle.  All I could see was the silhouette of a man in front of me.  I peeked around and sure enough, everyone was taking off their clothes, so I thought I better get with the program, so to speak. This was a silent class with series of 26 simple postures, so Don just named the postures when it was time to switch, but provided no other instruction.    Don also aligned himself in the rectangle with the rest of us and did not move around the room.  I strategically positioned myself several bodies away from Don.  Why? Well I guess I forgot to mention that Don is hot.  Yep… that’s right.  Upon reconnecting with him, I quickly realized that he was still as hot as ever 15 years later, so I didn’t want to be caught peeking!

I was actually surprised at how “raw and exposed” I actually felt once I had my clothes off. That may sound like a no brainer, but at the age of 55, I thought I was comfortable being naked anywhere, anytime. I had skinny dipped, slept in the nude in a room full of other people, not to mention disrobing many times in front of others during the wilder days of my youth. However, once my clothes were off, I felt a distinct flushing of my chest, just around my heart chakra and I began to sweat more than usual. I wondered if I experienced intense feelings in this area because my chest was always a source of body shame when I was growing up.

First we did pranayama breathing then moved into half-moon posture and then eagle pose.  By the fourth posture, I was really over being naked.  However, as we moved through more rigorous postures, such as downward dog flows, I really noticed some “base and raw” sensual feelings throughout my body. I wondered if this is how our caveman/woman ancestors felt. 

And then poof, it was over!  We showered and then I went out to the lounge and caught up with Don for an hour and a half before driving back to Guelph.

What was particularly interesting about our chat was the fact that I disclosed more about myself to him in those 90 minutes than during the entire 30 days I lived with him in 2004. And so, as I headed back to Toronto, I felt a more heart felt connection with my friend as it seemed our emotional intimacy had deepened significantly.

So maybe, just maybe, through a jam packed week of sailing and naked yoga, I am becoming more vulnerable through sport, which was the goal at the onset. 

On a final note, I must add that the REAL test of my willingness to be vulnerable is to be more emotionally vulnerable with those closest to me; by first being more honest with myself and then, by being more forthcoming about my true thoughts and feelings.  I am the kind of person that is will to try just about any new activity, but that is typically where I draw the line.  Emotional vulnerability is FAR MORE DIFFICULT for me than naked yoga or sailing, because I am required to put “my heart out there” without no guarantee of the response, and that really scares me. However, as Brene Brown states in her film “the Call to Courage”, “If we want to know love and connection more deeply (with both ourselves and others), we must choose courage over comfort”.  I’ll keep you all posted on my progress!

Ellen Burgess is from Guelph, Ontario and is a runner, yoga practitioner, meditator, and cycling enthusiast.  She is currently fulfilling her career dream working as a mental health RN within the greater Wellington community. 

accessibility · fitness · Guest Post · motivation · race report · running

Julie’s Lulu 10K – in which the swag was good and Anita and Tracy were voices in her head (guest post)

by Julie

Last Saturday I embarked on the Lululemon 10K I would say that I am not too much into material things but for those that know me would say that might be a stretch when it comes to Lulu! I like to do races for the company and the swag but this race I only had the swag as my company, Anita and Tracy, have been globe trotting and training for the 30 K the past few months. 

I have to admit I have not run as often as I should but when I do I run hard for like 5 minutes and crash when I am on my own. Anita is the pacer of the group and without her I am often lost. When alone I often call this my ‘run like hell’ and die runs or sprint and walk. Tracy is the one that often motivates with her interesting and passionate discussions and the things I have gained from the both of them can not be measured in words.

Image description: full body shot of three women, Julie, Tracy and Anita, dressed in summer running gear (shorts, tanks, and running shoes), blue sky and trees in the background. Taken a couple of summers ago after a Sunday run.

I was a bit nervous but I had done a lengthy run 2 weekends before with Anita (almost died but survived) and I was going out every other night for my run and die sprints. So I felt confident and I approached it with the attitude of once I have the shirt I only have to finish and they had walkers at the end so no shame. 

I was grateful to learn that there was a pace bunny, incredibly people these pacers, just ask Tracy and I how grateful we are to have Anita to ‘slow us down guys.’ My approach that morning was no technology, no phones, no watch, other than my fossil time telling and no monitoring devices. Just me, the ground and 10 000 other racers.

I felt good and we started early so this bode’s well for me and my bathroom habits so off I went, alone, into the running coral. I pulled into the Green coral for the 61-75 minutes and found a bunny. It was typically crowded and the weather was exactly perfect, not too hot or sunny and I was dressed right. When we started to go I felt strong and listened to Anita in my head telling me to hold back and slow it down. No need to burnout I did this once and it was very self defeating. 

I passed the markers with pretty good ease and tried to stick to a 10 min run and 1 min walk as I normally do but I was feeling good after 20 minutes so I kept pace behind the bunny with only about 3 walks for less than a minute for the total race. I could hear Tracy in my mind commenting on the pacing and the feeling of the race, there were bands and singers, lots of energy and at one point I passed a series of spin cyclists biking and cheering us on. I wondered what Tracy would have thought she likes to see these things along the race and  there were the giant angels with donuts, the dancers and of course the witty signs. However, with all of this I looked up and saw that 7 km had gone by with a fair bit of ease so I picked up the pace and rounded the bend to the uphill.

I remember this from my Scotiabank Race a few years back but I was strong, calm and Anita was there chanting in my mind to keep a steady pace. I hit the top of the hill and with 2 km left to go I picked it up more and the crowds were a bit heavier. I was a bit frustrated by the lack of runners etiquette with many slower runners going 4-5 wide and it was difficult to pass. No one was moving to the right and a couple of times I almost ran into people in mid stride on the left side of the lane who just stopped. I was tired but used a few tricks Tracy told me about in her training (1,2,3,4 …I can run a little more, 5,6,7,8 … keep on going get to the gate … 9,10 do it again!) 

I rounded the bend and saw my chance and took off for the finish. 

I finished the race in good time 1 hour and 3 minutes!! The worst part of the race was the finish line where everyone stopped before hitting the third marker and then the crowds came to a slow crawl. It seemed to take forever to get the medal and there were people just crowded everywhere. One could not go left or right. They handed out Sage essential oils and some snack bars but I did not get these as I was not able to see anyone in the mosh pit of a finish line. I got my banana and tried to get to an exit which was impossible. They handed out boxes of what I learned later were dry and dusty donuts but the box was neat. It took about 20 minutes to go from the finish line to a clearing. 

All in all I was so happy with my time and my t-shirt and I purchased some extra swag at the end with Toronto 2019 and coordinates on them so that was a nice $$$ takeaway. 

Would I do it again? Given the distance from home it is a bit more $$ but if you make it a bit of a trip and like the gear then it was fun. I am happy with my time and I got my banana! I also learned that the people you run with over time become a part of your race and inspire you in so many different ways. No technology made it better I think as I was not focused on a wrist watch and I instead felt my feet on the pavement, my breath in the air and my friends in my mind. I will rate this one a success and on to my next race or Sunday run with Tracy and Anita (if they are up for the challenge)!

Julie Riley – Fitness enthusiast at times reluctantly but always a team player! Runner, CrossFit and general city walker who also teaches yoga on the side. Julie is passionate about working on her healthy choices one day at a time without judgement of the setbacks!