I’ve gotten my mom a lot of presents over the years. Some good, but mostly bad if you consider the onslaught of all things useless between the ages of 5 and 15. Not to mention the fact that I’m born on her birthday so I effectively hijacked that gift-giving holiday until I had enough self-awareness not to be a jerk. But, one of my most favorite presents I’ve ever given her was a weight belt. Oh, it was on her 60th birthday.
Did I mention, my mom is a bad ass.
All through my childhood my mom ran the same two mile loop every morning. She and our yellow lab, Mojo, would head out the door, usually with a tennis ball in tow, and would return approximately 30 minutes later. It was an assumed practice in the morning: Mom will be running. I was never sure if she liked running. All I remember is that she liked going in the morning because then she only had to be awake for half of it. Apparently it takes about 1 mile to run into consciousness. And apparently 2 conscious miles is 1 too many (a point as a CrossFitter who started CrossFit as a way to never run more than 1 mile at a time, I can’t help but agree.)
I never thought of my mom as a runner. She was a human who ran. Almost every single day for 10+ years. Which in hindsight makes her a runner. I also never thought of her as an athlete. That is the piece that makes my heart hurt. This oversight is most likely because as a kid I couldn’t possibly see my mom as a fully functioning person whose sole purpose in life wasn’t to revolve around me. She couldn’t be both my mom and an athlete. There was no room for that in my self-centered brain. But here’s the thing: my mom is an athlete. In fact, she’s a CrossFitter.
CrossFit does this magical thing for people in that it allows them to be athletes. That’s built into its vernacular. People who walk into a CrossFit box aren’t clients, they aren’t moms, they’re athletes. That is their starting point, not something they are gifted after obtaining a muscle-up or bragging rights for a stupid heavy deadlift. Athlete is a given from a PVC pipe and up. And what athlete gets to look like is dependent only on what they want it to look like. And what it will look like for a 60 year old woman, will in fact be different; however, what won’t be different are all of the things that are inextricably bound to CrossFit. Things like, confidence, and community, and defined traps, and a redefinition of what your body can look like and what it can do.
My mom was reared pre-Title IX in a small town in Iowa. Whereas I grew up playing three sports in high school and got recruited to row in college. I didn’t have to think about being a woman and an athlete. Those two things weren’t mutually exclusive to me, but for my mom they were. Athlete was a choice that often wasn’t grated to her at all. Thirty years later, women get to be athletes, but what is still in question, what my mother and I are now doing alongside each other is to ask and answer the question of...
"What it means to be a woman and to be muscular?"
"What does it look like to take up powerfully physical space in this world and still be feminine?"
Exercise for women has been traditionally reductive. "How can we take up less space?"
"How can we be thin or lean or smaller?"
I have nothing against running, but when I was a kiddo, that was one of my mom’s only options to be fit. But here’s the thing about my mom, she doesn’t fit. In the very best of ways. She’s fiercely intelligent. And hilarious. And kind. And somehow finds herself as the president of whatever organization she joins on a whim in about 3 months. My mom is too big to move in a way and through a world that tells here she needs to be small. And the thing about CrossFit is that it is all about being big. You can’t help but be big.
That is what I’ve seen shift since my mom started CrossFit. It isn’t that she’s just more muscular or that she’s in the best shape she’s ever been (in her last move across the country she surprised the movers by picking up chairs and chests and boxes before they had the chance to), it’s that she’s finally able to exist in a body that supports all of her bigness. It’s that she doesn’t have to workout by herself, but gets to train with a community of humans who have her back. It’s that after 60 years of living in her body, she gets to be surprised by it and what it can do.
However, and this is a big however, what Crossfit looks like for a 60 year old woman is absolutely different than what it looks like for a 29 year old woman. I want to say that out loud before you call up your mom and tell her drop the mic on those 5 pounders and head to the nearest box. She has survived on this world far longer than you have, which means:
a) is tougher than you
b) that she needs to be less of an asshole to her body than you can be to yours
c) all of the above. duh
"Mother to James Hobart, CrossFit Games Affiliate Cup competitor and a member of CrossFit’s Level 1 Seminar Staff, Lucie says her perspective on aging has changed since she started CrossFit."
1) The workout on the board may need to be modified in BOTH reps and weight. This is a piece my mom got stuck on when starting CrossFit. Initially she only adjusted weight, and figured that if she did that, of course she could also do 150 wall balls. False. Too many wall balls. Her capacity for reps has changed as she’s gotten stronger, but looking at both the reps and the weight component together is hugely important for her when designing her own WOD for the day.
2) Rest. Five days in a row of CrossFit is a lot for most humans. Doing a WOD every day is different than doing the same 2 mile run every day. Less is often more in this scenario. As is developing a conversation with your body about exactly how it is feeling on the daily. Is it recovering? Is that soreness lingering? Maybe an extra day or two of rest is needed.
3) Solid relationships with coaches. This is always huge, but especially if you;ll need to modify workouts you’ll want to have a coach who is on the same page as you and who is paying attention to the fact that you’ll need extra help in making sure each workout will help and not hinder your body’s safety and happiness. A box where coaches are more wranglers of chaos and there is very little COACHING being done is not going to be a good fit. You want a gym that takes coaching and movement very seriously. Otherwise, you may be better off with that run.
My coach in college always used to say that post graduation, “so begins the inevitable physical decline that will ultimately end in your own death.” I think CrossFit is changing that. I know it has changed that for my mom. I am reminded of that fact every time I have to speed up my row so she won’t beat me. I am reminded of that every time I look at my mom and I see both my mother and an athlete.
Disclaimer: I am not a healthcare professional. Before you or your mom start CrossFit or a movement practice, check first with your doctor. And CrossFit might not be the right fit for you or your mom. I am only speaking from my personal experience.
This is a guest post from Maddie Berky. Maddie has been a coach and athlete in the CF community for the last 5 years at CF Verve in Denver, Co, and was a regionals athlete in 2014. She's currently a holistic nutritionist and life coach specializing in all things food, sex, and worthiness. For more Maddie, or to work with her, check out MaddieBerky.com or follow her on Facebook or Instagram @madwellness