Well here I am, one week out from getting my defcon 5 spray tan and walking on stage (EEEK!), taking some time to reflect about what this time has meant to me and what I’ve learned. I started almost 5 months ago and I can say one thing: these last five months have been everything I’ve expected and everything I couldn’t ever have imagined.
I’ve always considered myself a visual learner, and a visual teacher. My team at work will even pull out a pen and paper for me to draw something if I get stuck explaining a concept or theory to someone. It’s just how I process. I’ve been thoughtful about noticing my noticing through my training and realized that sometimes the eyes lie to you, and you can’t always believe what you think you see. Or at least my eyes do. What I thought I saw, when watching women participating in these bikini competitions has been so far outside the reality of my experience that it’s almost laughable. I’ll admit it….the words that came to my mind were not kind. Vanity, shallowness, beauty over substance, insecurity, exploitation, etc. etc. etc. You get it. Women that were an enemy to the equality and fairness we all say we want. I should have known early on that, as per usual when I make snap judgements based solely on what I think I see, I was WAY off base. Bear with me while I digress….
Last year after she graduated from Kent State, my daughter Casey went to Europe with friends and spent the summer traveling to many countries and cities. She had a blast, and I was so proud of what she was doing! Along the way, somewhere in Spain (I think perhaps Barcelona?) the girls were staying in a hostel and met a couple there that they instantly connected with. The couple was from Colorado, a little bit older than the girls, but basically traveling the same way these new college graduates were. The girls thought they were so cool, they gave them hope that this wasn’t the last trip like this for them, and they loved hanging out with them….jokingly referring to them as “mom and dad”, they got a different view of ‘adulting’ from Annie and Anthony. In the beginning of January Casey told me that Annie had read my blog and asked her for my address. She did a competition last year and wanted to send me something. In about a week I received a package: beautiful sparkly microkini (thanks Melissa for that new word), 5″ clear stripper heels, and a 4 page handwritten letter. Nobody sends handwritten letters anymore, so for someone I had never met to take the time to do this was so touching to me. Annie shared her thoughts and feelings so openly about a lot: her journey to the stage, her thoughts about my blog, some tips to help me along the way, and the impression my daughter made on her in the short time they spent together. I was in tears when I was done reading it. This was so early on in my training, that I didn’t know what I was in for….I just knew from her letter that the ride was going to be something different and special.
Back to my lying eyes….This sport cannot help but rely heavily on what the eyes can see. The 15 seconds you are on stage are not about your “story”….You are being judged on what you look like. By what the judges see. But what this sport has meant to me is not about that at all. Sure, anyone that knows me can SEE the transformation I have gone through since January: I have lost 26 pounds of fat, gained 6 pounds of lean muscle, lost 13″ and reduced my body fat by 38%. What can’t be seen, is the transformation that’s taken place in my heart. I think that it partly has to do with the way I’ve been led by the strong female coaches at my gym, and I think it partly has to to with the 193 hours of workouts, 96 hours of food prep, 6 hours of posing, countless loads of laundry, Epsom salt baths and tears. Those are things you wouldn’t know by just looking at me, and it’s taught me that I shouldn’t always believe what my eyes tell me they are seeing. How arrogant to think that I know the journey just by looking at where the trip ends.
Now the words that come to mind are completely different when I see women training for this sport: determination, pride, athleticism, committment, inspiration. The incredible thing for me is that many of these women at my gym are in my age range. They, we, are proving that strong, healthy bodies come in all shapes and sizes. When I started this, I was stressing about a large scar I have on my lower stomach (thanks again to one of the many unnecessary things I put my body through to try and take the easy way out). I knew no matter what kind of results I had, that skin would just kind of hang out there. But when I train along side 18 breast cancer survivors who are taking back thier bodies, scars and all, I’m ok with my scar. It’s going to be there, it’s going to be noticeable and different, and I’m not going to let that lessen my experience.
It’s funny now that I’m getting closer to the stage I seem to be getting a variation on the same question from most everyone. “Aren’t you glad it’s almost over!?!?!” My answer is always no, I’m not. Instead of 4 triple days and 2 double days a week, I am looking forward to a sustainable schedule of maybe 4 to 5 days of cardio and 3 days of lifting a week. Instead of having 6 prepped, pre-planned meals daily with no deviation, I am looking forward to a little bit more freedom….maybe mostly planned and prepped meals with two reasonable cheat meals a week. Oh, and I really want my Cinnamon Natural Bliss coffee creamer back. But glad it’s over? No, because I’m looking at this as the start of a new way of life, not a finish line (thanks for those wise words Annie.)
I heard something a few weeks ago that really stuck with me. “Who we are is not up to us, but who we say we are is.” We’re all born and plopped down on this planet without much input into that. But what happens from that time is up to us. My story is different now. I wanted to stretch myself and be the best version of myself that I could be heading towards 50. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it the right way, the healthy way. I didn’t do this to be a supermodel….I wanted to be a role model. For myself, my daughter, her friends, and anyone else who cared enough to watch. I didn’t have a special secret to get through the tough times, or a magic bullet or secret power to keep me from quitting. I wanted to quit, and almost did. All I had at the start of this was all any of us really have, and that was my word. So who do I say I am? I am a strong, healthy, determined woman, getting more comfortable with being vulnerable and supported and who keeps her word. And that is more than enough.