On Sunday, my world got just a little darker when one of my oldest friends died suddenly.
I first met Jennifer 37 years ago in the context of a medieval group I belong to. She was one of the first people I knew who broke the second-wave stereotypes of feminism. She was married for over 40 years to Henry. She studied classics at university. She loved to cook, garden and do textile crafts. She was a woman of faith who shared her love of music with her church community.
She also worked in the high tech industry, then moved on to run her own business as a career coach. She was a fierce defender of rights – for the disabled, for the LGBTQ community, for visible minorities. She taught me my example about grace, tolerance and the value of diversity.
On the fitness side, it was more complicated. Jennifer never looked stereotypically fit, and she had mobility issues, but did do her stretches and some yoga, in addition to gardening. In the spirit of this blog, she did what she could and accepted herself as she was. And she was pleased that I was contributing here.
In recent months, and despite all her precautions, COVID caught Jennifer. She had some long COVID symptoms and then a series of “cardiac events” and died less than 48 hours later. Was it COVID related? I don’t know.
I do know is the world has lost a big-hearted and generous soul. This will be the reality for all us aging feminists going forward, no matter how fit we try to be.
The Swimmers is a 2022 movie about real-life sisters Yusra and Sarah Mardini, Syrian refugees who swam alongside a sinking dinghy full of refugees in the Aegean Sea on their way to the island of Lesbos. Eventually they reached Germany and Yusra went on to swim at the 2016 Rio Olympics as part of the Refugee Team.
What does this have to do with feminist fitness? Not much really. I watched the movie with the idea it might be worth reviewing for a blog post. It’s not a bad movie, but not much of a feminist fitness angle.
However, there was some pretty amazing swimming. Yusra Mardini swam butterfly competitively, and there were plenty of sequences showing very fast, efficient butterfly stroke. At every swim practice since I watched the movie I have tried to recreate what I saw on the screen.
Do I look like this?
Not a chance! But for a few moments each length – if I’m lucky – I feel like I look like this, and that’s what matters to me.
But, seeing as I have decided that February is self-contained (and is the only real month at the moment), I felt free to just write whatever the hell came to mind (a.k.a. freewriting!) and to not worry about whether I was gathering useful information for my future self.
I just set a timer (to free my ADHD brain from the worry that I would end up writing forever) and got started.
I wrote about how I was surprised that my evening hip exercises have revealed that my left hip is tighter than my right one, even though my right hip is the one that I have to be careful with.
And I wrote about how I accidentally left my watch timer going on Friday so it seemed like I had done more yoga than I had, which was annoying but which prompted me to take off my watch and do several shorter sessions of yoga and stretching on Saturday so the exercise tracked would match the exercise I had actually done.
That, in turn, prompted me to write about which of those sessions I had found most useful and which ones I would do again.
That made me wonder about the yoga sessions in Apple Fitness + and whether I wanted to try those which reminded me that I chose a longer rowing session in the program the other day. That session was great but I did have to pause a few times – that felt like an important note for my future self.
Writing everything down helped me to feel that all of my efforts were, indeed, part of the biggest picture – my own well-being – even if they weren’t all stepping stones towards a specific outcome.
And, intriguingly, I had no self-judgment crop up at all in the process – it just felt like a celebration of what I had done rather than a measurement of what I did against what I had planned.
Note: I am always aiming for that celebration feeling but the questions of ‘Was that enough? Why didn’t I do more? Why can’t I stick to a plan?’ still crop up for me sometimes even though I have lots of practice in self-kindness.
Even though I didn’t have any specific questions in mind when I started, my first foray into reflective fitness journaling worked out marvellously.
I have everything I need for future reference – a few notes about what I did last week and how I felt about it – and – bonus!- I feel gently inspired for the week ahead.
Realistically, I only plan to write in my journal once a week, while continuing to give myself the freedom to follow my train of thought wherever it leads.
However, now that I have established a ‘container’ for that kind of thinking, I wouldn’t be surprised if I end up putting a few thoughts into it more often.
Earlier this month, I went with my friend Vicki to a Professional Women’s Hockey Player’s Association (PWHPA) game. It was awesome!
Tennis legend and PWHPA Investor Billie Jean King made the ceremonial puck drop. I got to see some of my favourite Olympic players, including Brianne Jenner and Sarah Nurse. I also got to watch crowds of girls excited to see their heroes and dream that they might might someday join them as professionals. Every single official was a woman.
It was so much fun to see Vicki’s enthusiasm too. She spent the entire weekend at the arena, watching several games and doing the adult skills clinic. For her, seeing the players up close and watching how they move on the ice was a real dream. She is pretty sure she smiled for the entire time she was doing drills and asking questions; she couldn’t stop grinning during my time watching the game with her.
For me, the best moment was when Vicki told me about a discussion at the end of the skills clinic. Participants had a chance to talk to the players and one of them, Emerance Maschmeyer, told her that while they enjoy hosting clinics for young girls what they really look forward to are the clinics for adult women. She said they are inspired to see the women learning new skills and having such a huge passion for the game. When Emerance found out Vicki’s age (50), her response was that Vicki is old enough to be her mom and “it makes me want to get my mom out playing hockey!”
Sometimes on this blog we get frustrated with all the inequalities that still exist in women’s sport. But things really have changed since Vicki and I were kids. Vicki’s parents tried to enrol her in hockey when she was a kid in Saskatchewan but they were told “girls don’t play hockey”. I wanted to play on the newly-formed girls team when I was about 13, but my parents were the ones who said “girls don’t play hockey”.
Now we have professional players and role models, even if they are paid a pittance compared to the men. There are mixed and girls/women-only leagues. it’s still hard to catch a women’s game, but it is no longer weird.
Vicki Thomas is a former competitive cyclist who now swims, bikes and plays hockey for fun in Ottawa. You can keep up with her here https://ottawa.cx or on Twitter.
Diane Harper lives and swims in Ottawa. Her recent enthusiasm for cycling is due to Vicki’s influence.
Dame Angela Lansbury died yesterday. In addition to her show Murder, She Wrote, I had fun last year listening to this podcast about her fitness book Positive Moves. I even tried her fitness video, which you can watch here. They only reinforced all the good feelings I had about Jessica Fletcher as an active role model, that I blogged about last May.
I have been re-watching Murder, She Wrote for pandemic relaxation. I admired Angela Lansbury in the role of Jessica Fletcher, author and sleuth, back when it first came out, and watched the show regularly. Now that I am approximately the same age Jessica was when it was filmed, I love her character even more.
Lansbury was 58 when the show debuted, and from the opening credits of the very first episode, Jessica is casually active in so many ways. She walks, cycles, skis, jogs, rides horses, and dances. She travels widely and fearlessly. She is both clever and wise. I remember admiring those things about her when I was younger. She was a bit of a role model even then.
Now that I am older, I have been noticing and learning new things about the show. Especially in the early seasons, Jessica treats a diverse cast with dignity and respect. Long before the age of Black Lives Matter, a much larger immigrant community, Indigenous issues and disability rights, Murder, She Wrote tackled some of these issues and represented all those communities on screen – sometimes because it was relevant to the plot, and sometimes simply because they were people.
Jessica is widowed, but never remarries or has a romantic entanglement despite many male characters being interested in dating her (and one offering marriage). Apparently, this was something that Lansbury herself insisted on, in order to keep the focus on her character as a mystery solver. She also has a panoply of strong, interesting older women as guests on the show. Half the fun has been checking the bios to discover (or rediscover) stars from the 30s through the 60s.
Almost 40 years after she first appeared, Jessica Fletcher is still a role model for me. And apparently for others too. Aside from articles about the Jessica Fletcher effect (cycling inspiration for women as they hit their 40s), there are websites about “what would Jessica do”, as well as Twitter and Instagram fan sites. Dame Lansbury is still active at 95. Now I have new life goals, still inspired by her.
Diane Harper lives in Ottawa, where she is currently working from home and riding her bicycle, walking, dancing, and riding a horse as often as possible. She does not solve murder mysteries.
The past few weeks had me thinking about athletes with disabilities. They have been in the news a lot lately. My thoughts are rather jumbled because this is a group of athletes I rarely think about. It’s a shame; there are some great athletes doing amazing things, and as a good feminist I should be considering all kinds of diversity, not just the people who identify as women. In approximate chronological order:
Terry Fox – this Canadian icon was in the spotlight in late January when protesters in Ottawa decorated/desecrated (depending on your perspective) the statue of him right across from Parliament Hill. Fox famously ran the equivalent of a marathon a day all the way from Newfoundland to Thunder Bay in in 1980, to raise money for cancer research. That was 143 marathons, before the cancer that cost him a leg returned and killed him a few months later, at the age of 22.
Steve Fonyo, another young man who lost a leg to cancer and finished Terry Fox’s cross-country run to raise funds for cancer research, died a couple of weeks ago. He struggled with addiction and had several criminal convictions, which have tainted his legacy. He reminds me that a person is much more than their disability, or how they respond to it.
Both those young men achieved something I never dreamed of doing. Both were inducted into the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame. But from the 1985, when Fonyo completed his run, until 2004, I don’t recall hearing of a single athlete with a disability. 2004 was the year Chantal Peticlerc had an astounding Paralympic Games in Barcelona, winning five gold medals plus an exhibition event. It was her fourth Paralympics, and she had won multiple medals at all of them.
The next big news story is the Paralympics going on in Beijing right now. Remember that? I am sad to say I don’t know the names of the flag bearers, or any of the other athletes. I confess I haven’t been tracking the results anywhere nearly as closely as I did for the earlier winter games. Paralympic sports are complicated, with various classifications depending on the level of disability. There are no pro teams, or even big endorsement deals, so these athletes are virtually unknown to most of us.
Two Paralympics stories I have been following relate to representation. The first is the fate of the Russian and Belarusian Paralympic teams, which were banned from participating even as neutral athletes with no identifying flags or colours, following the invasion of Ukraine, Regardless of the reasons, I can’t underestimate the crushing disappointment this must have been to athletes who rarely get an opportunity to be on the world stage. They cynic in me notes that the invasion didn’t happen until just after the Beijing Winter Olympics, so those athletes did not face the same sanctions.
The other story of representation is the number of female Paralympics. Overall, they make up just under 25% of all athletes at the games. In comparison, 45% of athletes at the Beijing Winter Olympics were women. This gender gap is even more pronounced among coaches, technicians and guides.
Among the Canadian women, at least, there is determination to make change by inspiring girls with their podium finishes, and then becoming coaches themselves after they retire from competition. Big wins alone won’t make the difference, as Mollie Jepsen, gold medallist in the standing downhill ski event said this week “The more representation in sport, the better. The more people that younger athletes can look up and see like, ‘Whoa, that’s a girl, and she’s out there doing that’ — I think just no matter what, the more females we have in sport, the better”.
Concluding thoughts: this is an area where I really see my biases. I want to be more attentive to the achievement of these athletes, but I find it hard to connect outside my natural tribe of women athletes. Is it okay not to love them? I feel guilty, even though I refuse to feel guilty about many other biases in the sporting world (I also don’t love professional tennis, golf, baseball or football, but still like the Toronto Maple Leafs).
Can I make more of an effort to learn more about these sports? I could probably do that. Now is a good time to try, while there are clips of great performances readily available on-line, along with profiles of many athletes. Hopefully others will do the same. To take Mollie’s words a step further, the more people we have saying “whoa, she’s out there doing that” and the more fans we have following the sport, the better.
A friend has a daily goal of 15 minutes of movement, so I thought she might enjoy tracking her efforts as part of the Facebook group 222 workouts in 2022. She wrote back that she didn’t think it would be a good fit because people who do 10k hikes and own Peloton bikes would not be interested in her 15 minutes of stretching or struggles with a 20 minute dance routine of warmups and isolation exercises.
My response to her original post this was to share this cartoon, and the comments below it.
“If you read all the posts, there are plenty who are doing 30 minutes of yoga (I am doing that series and it is a lot of just sitting and breathing). But many of them won’t finish the 30 day series. I know I didn’t finish until about May last year. Late last year there were a lot of “I took my elderly dog for a slow shuffle” posts, and through most of the year many of us posted #slmsmph (stupid little walk for my stupid mental and physical health). The thing is, it doesn’t matter what you do, except to you. The rest of us are just there to be cheerleaders. There are weight training, indoor cycling and gymnastics workout posts that are irrelevant to my interests and abilities. But I like to look at the pictures, especially when people go outside to do a walk or bike ride. Having it pop up in my feed every day helps me remember I want to move, even if it is just to walk to the park and back (takes me about 20 minutes).”
She wasn’t convinced, but that’s okay. The year of tiny pleasures is also about doing what works for you.
My tiny pleasures right now are all things that don’t require me to leave the house because it is too cold. I am focusing on my on-line ballet classes, with some yoga offered by a work colleague, and the occasional gentle movement class with a local studio. I have abandoned that 30 day yoga challenge already.
As soon as it gets a little warmer, I look forward to getting outside with friends. A short walk with some duck watching, as I did with my buddy April recently, was a joyous hour of connecting with someone I haven’t seen in too long. That shared time was more precious than the thing we did (though 5km on a frosty day was nothing to sneeze at).
I am holding these two images close to my heart for 2022. The first reminds me that not every fitness activity needs to be exciting or a big challenge. The second reminds me that the best part about being active that I get to spend time with friends.
2022 isn’t shaping up to be a great year on the global scale, but I intend to make it as pleasurable as possible at my tiny scale. I will make opportunities to connect in person for walks or outdoor swims. I will continue to draw inspiration from my virtual friends at 222 workouts. And I will garden (good workout, good for the planet, good way to spend time with friends and neighbours). Mostly I will grow food, but I will also plant some flowers.
Maybe *your* mental image of an athlete is someone famous but *my* mental image of an athlete is my cousin, Kathy Noseworthy.
She has always been the fittest person that I know and most of my memories of her involve her being in motion.
I can remember being around 3 or so and she would come to dinner at our family’s apartment before going to practice on the field behind our house. I remember being impressed by all the sports awards she won (I still am!) And I have a clear image of me and my Mom looking after one of Kathy’s baby daughters so she could go out for a run. It was the first time I realized that having a baby didn’t mean that everything in your life had to be all about the baby (an important lesson for a young teenager.)
Kathy turned sixty last year and her Facebook posts are as action-oriented as ever. Her activities have changed but the way that fitness shapes her life has not. (And she’s every bit as inspiring to me now as she has been all along.)
Kathy is a retired Physical Education teacher who teaches yoga at Modo Yoga St. John’s and I was delighted when she agreed to chat with me about fitness, exercise, and the changes she has made so her body keeps feeling good about her activities.
My questions/comments are in bold.
Tell me a bit about yoga – your teaching and your personal practice.
Right now I’m just teaching yoga virtually, and I’m about to take July and August off. I’m going into my sixth year teaching yoga so this is a much needed break.
I’ll do my own practice. I’ll usually do yin, that’s what my body needs mostly. Because I get the yang part of my fitness in my other activities. I need to do yin yoga to keep up my flexibility, my agility, and you know, all of that stuff. And yin does that for me at this stage in my life. That feels the best in my body.
I love that as a measure, what feels best.
To me, that’s the piece that people miss, no matter what they’re doing. They’re so goal-oriented or just like, “I’m just going to do it, it doesn’t feel good but I’ve just got to do it. I know I got to do it.” And I’m like, “Well, if it doesn’t feel good, you’re not going to keep doing it.”
So aside from yoga, what are your other activities?
Well, I do a fair bit of biking. I run but not as much as I used to, because that no longer feels good in my body. So, on a good week, if I run three times when that would be it. But I’d say, on average, maybe twice a week. The distance would depend on how I’m feeling, I never have a set distance in mind.
I generally don’t go less than five but I rarely go more than eight anymore. That’s where I am with that and that feels ok.
The thing I am probably most adamant about these days are weights because of my age (60 and I don’t want to lose my muscle mass. Even though that’s kind of inevitable but not if you want to work hard enough at it. I just lift weights to retain what I have, I’m not really that interested in becoming super strong, I just want to be functionally strong.
So, I lift weights and again, my goal is three times a week.
I walk, I do a lot of walking.
The new thing I’m doing now is pickleball. That’s a cross between badminton and tennis, I guess. It’s a great sport, a paddle sport that you play with a wiffleball. I’ve been playing since last fall and I love it.
Oh, and paddleboard. For me, that’s just a leisurely activity out on the water. It’s so nice, so relaxing.
So, how have your activities changed over time? You don’t play frisbee any more, right?
No, not anymore.
Now, I’m more concerned with maintaining a healthy body. Because I don’t think I would be a very nice person if I ended up getting injured and couldn’t do the things I want to do.
I’m very particular. I gauge the activity in terms of whether it’s going to be worth it to me, and what’s the cost if I get injured?
So, I stay away from things that I can’t control. Team sports, I don’t play team sports anymore because you don’t have control over everybody on the field so I tend to stay away from that.
I’ve definitely shifted from team sports, which is, a total shift because that’s all I ever did. The traditional sports: basketball, volleyball, soccer, even frisbee. I used to really enjoy it but now I’m just a bit more of a loner in terms of what I do.
That’s how I’ve shifted and that’s more toward protecting my body. It’s not that I wouldn’t enjoy the sports, it’s just about what makes sense at this point in my life.
What about what about non physical benefits from your exercise? How do you think it helps your mental health, for example?
Oh, that’s so huge. I rarely take a day off but when I do try to take a day off, by mid-afternoon, I need to do something. It’s a mental thing.
That just might be a walk. I don’t consider that something that I couldn’t do on a day off.
I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t have activity as my outlet.
I almost don’t know how to answer this question because I have never not exercised. It’s almost like something that just happens to me naturally. It’s not something I have to force or motivate myself.
I mean, sometimes I have to motivate myself to go to the gym or go for a run. But, generally speaking, if I’m feeling like I don’t want to do anything, that’s when I need to do something because once I move, that inspires me to move more.
But if I sit on my butt all day and do nothing, it just doesn’t put me in a good place.
Once I start moving, I’m like, “Ok!” And I want to move more.
How do you feel about the idea of fitness as a feminist issue, as part of women feeling empowered?
It’s funny that you asked that because I was saying to my friend last week, just as it pertains to lifting weights, when you feel strong physically, you feel strong mentally. I think the benefits there, I wish more women could take that on more.
I think some women are like “I don’t want to have muscles, I don’t want to get big.” but they don’t understand how hard you would have to work to get big. But knowing that when you touch your arm, you feel the muscle, you feel strong, that translates to you mentally. It’s hard not to feel empowered when you have that strength.
Lifting weights empowers women.
I didn’t always feel that way, I didn’t even think about it, really.
But now, I see women at the gym, lifting weights, and they are just so confident, the way they carry themselves, they just like how they are.
It’s the new year and my newsfeed is full of inspirational images and sayings. Mostly I’m not a fan but I do love the ones generated by Inspirobot: “an artificial intelligence dedicated to generating unlimited amounts of unique inspirational quotes for endless enrichment of pointless human existence. “
Thanks Google for animating the images of me celebrating the book launch on Sarah’s front porch. Photos taken before breakfast and the drive to London.
This was a great weekend. So good. Very very good.
It began with an interview on live television, on Global TV’s morning show. Tracy will tell you more on Tuesday but for my part I need to let you know that the experience was actually fun. Even the make up part wasn’t awful. Tracy and I are getting pretty good at communicating our body positive, age inclusive fitness message!
Here’s me wearing television make up. It was fine.
And here’s a link to the interview. You can watch us here.
Then I went to get a haircut and color with the wonderful Grace who also has her own TV show as it turns out.
I’m so blonde. Spring is here!
Then I went out in the evening to see a movie at the Hot Docs film festival. It was called “The Artist and the Pervert.” Here’s the description: “Georg is a famous Austrian composer, his wife Mollena a renowned American kink educator. Together they live in a public kinky relationship. This film documents their lives between perversion, art, love and radical self-determination.” I recommend it.
Saturday began with breakfast at my favorite Toronto breakfast place, Bonjour Brioche. Here’s blogger Cate and our friend Steve basking under the patio heat lamps.
I found out an interesting fact about Bonjour Brioche over breakfast. It turns out this is the location where they filmed the scene in the Handmaid’s Tale where Elisabeth Moss discovers that women no longer have credit when her credit card is declined. It’s a bit ironic to locals because this breakfast place is a cash-only establishment and never takes credit cards.
After breakfast we drove to London for the London launch of our book. I’ll let Tracy tell you more about that too but it was a super moving event was standing room only they sold out of books but more importantly there was a real warmth and energy in the room
Here are some photos of us signing books talking and standing around with our mothers. I love that photo best.
Sunday was the second bike ride of the season. We ramped it up a little bit from 50 km last week to 60 km this week but I say that the wind was the bigger challenge rather than increased distance. The wind was pretty intense. We all got some Strava personal-bests on the downhill tailwind segments and really struggled into the wind on the way back. I was also sad to discover that the local Starbucks in Byron has closed and so we had to ride back under caffeinated and a little bit late for our movie.
Dinner was a quick slice of pizza and popcorn with the movie, not the healthiest choices, but hey Infinity Wars was a lot of fun.
This chart might help!
“I was explaining the MCU to my coworker and she asked me to just write it down for her.”