fitness · swimming

Meet our newest Fit is Feminist Issue regular blogger, Bettina!

Following my first post, I’m excited to return on a monthly regular schedule! Sam asked me to make this post an introductory one, so here goes.

My name is Bettina, I’m 33 and from Germany. I live in Heidelberg, a university town south of Frankfurt, with my scientist husband, who is originally from the Basque Country. I always joke that we’re here because of him, not because of me, and it’s true – I would’ve happily stayed abroad after finishing university. As it turned out, I ended up earning my PhD in Political Science back in Germany, having spent the last two years of high school and most of my undergraduate years in the UK, plus a year in Spain.

While working towards my PhD, I realised I didn’t want to pursue a traditional academic career. Slowly but surely, I moved into research management. Three jobs later, I am Senior Project Coordinator at a European research funding and enabling organization in a field that has nothing to do with my own – the life sciences – and loving it.

Fitness has always been a part of my life, but not to the degree it is now. When I was in primary school, my mother got worried about my bad posture and put me in the local swimming club. With short interruptions, I’ve been swimming regularly ever since. It’s my meditation, my favourite way of clearing my head after a long day. I love doing laps in the pool. Lots of people find it boring, I find my zen in the back-and-forth.

I’ve tried lots of other sports, many of them water-related. I love surfing and kayaking, but since there are no large enough bodies of water close to home, these are currently not often on the sports menu (sigh). Being outside is always good, so hiking is another favourite. I’ve done lots of yoga, which nowadays happens mostly at home, right after getting up in the morning, with Youtube tutorials.

Fitness has taken on another dimension for me over the past year though: a year ago to the day, I was diagnosed with Auto-Immune Haemolytic Anemia (AIHA), a condition where your immune system breaks down your red blood cells. Many things can trigger AIHA; in my case it was probably the flu. It’s pretty serious but treatable, and I’m in remission now.

But while I was in treatment, exercise became a way of feeling like I had some control over what was happening to me, full of all sorts of medicine and shocked as I was by this experience that was entirely outside both my control and my comfort zone. Incidentally, exercise is also a pretty good barometer for a relapse, which can happen at any time (or not – there’s a large suspense factor with this condition): one of the first things to go is your stamina, which was also how I started noticing I was sick in the first place when I could no longer keep up with my swim mates.

Since my diagnosis, I’ve started running much more regularly in addition to swimming twice a week if I can. Having been a rather reluctant and irregular runner before, I’ve done a 10k and an 8k since last September. I’ve also taken up a new sport, bouldering, which is different from anything I’d ever done, and which I love for its community spirit (Lynette recently wrote about it here and here). And it’s so empowering when you’ve figured out a tough route!

Empowerment is also where fitness and feminism intersect for me. Both are, in a way, about feeling strong and being entitled to that, no matter who you are or what gender you identify as.

There’s still a lot to fight for in terms of feminist fitness. Athletes who are not straight males continue to be on the receiving end of everything ranging from condescending advice to discrimination and hatred. We’re overlooked, spoken over, not taken seriously, judged for our looks rather than our athletic achievements, objectified, and ridiculed.

Feminism in fitness, to me, is about considering how a feminist lens can change our thinking about fitness and what a “fit woman” looks like. It’s about what the needs of women practicing sports are and how they’re different from those of male athletes. It’s about what we can do to make women of all ages, shapes, and abilities feel welcome in the world of sports and encourage them to discover it.

Bettina, looking distinctly wet but happy, in hiking gear at the summit of Skiddaw in the Lake District, UK
Bettina, looking distinctly wet but happy, in hiking gear at the summit of Skiddaw in the Lake District, UK
fitness

Music for lesbians, “old lady luxuries,” and you should sit if you need to

I’ve got a thing for some of the women whose music was the soundtrack of my youth. I love Stevie Nicks (saw her in concert with my son last year and a few years ago in Canberra, Australia), Madonna, kd lang, Ferron, and Chrissie Hynde. Lots of others to love too (Kate Bush, Joan Armatrading, the Parachute Club, and more) but these are all women I’ve seen in concert.

So I couldn’t resist a chance to see Carol Pope when she played in Toronto recently. I was shocked to realize she’s now 70. She makes 70 look pretty good. Pope is still tearing up the stage. She was part of a concert she’d organized called “Music for Lesbians.” I rounded up some friends (all bloggers here, Hi Sarah, Hi Susan, Hi Cate!)  and though none of us are lesbians (bisexuals all) we had a great time.

Love that Carol Pope shared the stage with Rae Spoon too. Here they are on stage together.

Okay, you’re thinking, what’s any of this got to do with fitness?

As you know I’ve been sick recently. As of the date of the concert I was still tired by the evening and coughing up a storm at night. I debated not going but it was a date with friends and I’d hate missing out. I was certain I wasn’t contagious. I was just suffering from a cough that hangs around after.

Anyway, I looked at the tickets and was thrilled to discover that I’d paid extra for us four to have seats in the balcony. There’d be no need to stand around. Yay!

But other friends were in the regular section and I felt guilty. I couldn’t hang with them and I couldn’t dance. I had to sit. Jokingly friends referred to where we were as the luxury section for old ladies. (Yes, the tickets cost more.)

This feeling of being aware of my needs being different than the needs of others was new to me. It made me realize how privileged I am that this is usually not true for me.

When these piece came across my newsfeed that same week, What a Dolly Parton Concert Taught Me About Living With Chronic Illness, it resonated in a way it might not have before.

“The next time anyone gives me drama about sitting down or bowing out of a standing room-only event, I’m just going to remember Dolly. What would Dolly do? She’d probably smile graciously, keep singing her heart out in all her rhinestoned finery and completely ignore those criticisms. You do what you need to do to look after yourself. That’s something I constantly tell myself, and Dolly helped remind me of it.”

I know I’m frequently the person on the blog who advocates standing over sitting, and moving over keeping still, but yes, sit if you need to. I did. And Dolly does too. No guilt. No shame.

 

fitness

Sick, sick, sick, and sick of it. Hack. Cough. Wheeze. Blerg.

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I took my FitBit off this week in disgust. There is nothing good to report. I’m not moving much because when I move I start coughing. I’m also not sleeping particularly well, because coughing.

ARGH.

I’m trying to keep my spirits up. I’m vaguely happy that it’s snowing because I can’t do anything anyway.

This morning’s Facebook status update: “Okay, yes it’s snowing. But I’m still sick and can’t do much anyway. Highs in the teens over the weekend. High of 20 in the forecast for next week. The snow will melt. I will stop coughing. And I will ride my bike again.”

And yes, I’m doing all the things. Drinking hot tea with honey, eating soup, resting, I promise.

When you have a cold and lingering cough, what’s your preferred ‘feel better’ thing to do? Last time I was this sick I see it lasted a month. Yikes.

(Apparently I like to Google image search for “too sick to work out” and “missing my bike.”)

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Guest Post · holidays

It’s easy to get lazy! Return to training during or after a cold? (Guest post)

Over the holidays I was hit by a pretty bad cold. 7 days straight of very high fever, sore throat, congestion, and coughing. My immune system is hyper-reactive and the nukes were out to destroy the bug. But it did not work this time. It lasted its full 10 days. And now beyond the 10 days I still feel somewhat congested.
Despite all signs, I went out running on day 5. Admittedly, I did not have any fever that morning and thought “That’s it, I am winning this!” This was a very slow run even if I felt like I was pushing. And at the end of the day I could tell by how I was feeling that it had been a mistake to go out. Did it extend my cold? Who knows. This is hard to say. And advice out there on whether one should run or train with a cold is sometimes contradictory. Most will say if you have fever, don’t. But unless one has a working and reliable thermometer (I don’t) it can be hard to tell (add to the mix the occasional hot flashes induced by peri-menopause and, voilà! Is it fever? Is it a hot flash?)
So after that 5th day outing, I waited another 4 days before engaging in any training. During that time, one wonders: am I just being lazy? Surely I could (should?) push myself and do it. When I did train, it was indoors because I was still somewhat feverish and did not feel like running outside in the wet cold. So I did weight training and leg exercises. I thought: “good plan! This won’t go against my less than optimal oxygen intake because of my congestion.” That was without thinking about muscular weakness caused by the cold. I don’t think I have ached like this in a very long time! I went out for a run the next day and pulled something in my thigh. Good job! But again, I was questioning whether I was just being lazy. It is so easy to get lazy, right? Stay warm inside and lounge on the couch, reading stuff and watching some TV (and doing work on the computer). One gets maybe too comfortable? So out I went to run a 7km!
But there are times when your body just needs to be lazy. It needs you to rest and fight what it has to fight. While you are reading, watching TV, killing time on Facebook, your body is hard at work fixing itself. It may be easy to get lazy but it may be necessary at times. This was one such time and I did not listen to my body.
Training is fun and exciting. I know I like it. But I have to learn to be patient with myself when I am sick and need my energy to fight whatever is assaulting me. Mostly, I have to shut up that narrative that makes me think I am just being lazy and should suck it up. I have to go back to working out in a way that does not throw me back into illness. This means a gradual return, testing the waters so to speak. So I need to be more patient with myself. Oh! And I also need to get myself a proper thermometer!