I have been struggling lately. I am caught between the world where I am an athlete training for the next event – intensely focused on fueling my body correctly, concerned with getting the appropriate amount of sleep, intent on perusing my personal best with the barbell day in and day out – and the world where I barely touch a barbell, feel weak when I train, and feel my body getting soft in all the wrong places. I’m not complaining, just kind of stating where I’m at in my head space and trying to write through it as a way of figuring out where to go next.
I must apologize for this post being lengthy. It was written partly as therapy for me [smile!].
It all began back when I was about 15 years old. My Dad had some weights and equipment in our basement and a few body building guides. I asked him to show me how to lift some weights. I began by lifting small dumbbells and progressed to heavier ones. I was so intrigued by what the human body was capable of, but more than that, I loved how exercise made me feel. Through high school I went to a nearby fitness facility and worked out at home and ran during the summer.
When it came to time to go to college I knew I wanted to study the human body in some way. I chose Plymouth State University because I felt at home there, in the mountains, surrounded by natural beauty. It was so comforting. There I studied applied health and fitness which was part of the Health & Human Performance Department. Through experience-based learning I became an health and fitness connoisseur and soaked it all in. I was a personal trainer and heavily involved in the faculty fitness program offered by the University. I thrived.
Upon graduation in 2008 I was up in the air about what I wanted to do. I was just beginning to learn about CrossFit and that seemed interesting. There were 1 or 2 gyms in New Hampshire at that time and I remember talking to my Dad about “opening a CrossFit gym” and how cool that would be. I decided that my lack of business knowledge and real-world experience were limiters and I took a job at PSU instead. I taught for a year in the HHP department and continued my own fitness pursuits. I took up yoga, continued to lift free weights, and walked and ran a lot.
Then I moved to Oregon to get my masters degree. While I was out there I joined a CrossFit gym. My brother Kyle was back on the east coast starting his own CrossFit gym as a business pursuit. I became obsessed with training, nutrition, and everything in between. I tried to link all of my grad school research to physical activity, exercise, and nutrition in some way. It all came together. When I returned to New Hampshire I was on board at The Fort CrossFit, full force. That was 2011.
Fast forward a few years. After dabbling in a few local competitions here and there I decided I really wanted more from myself as an athlete. I knew I was capable of more. I asked Kyle to begin programming for me in preparation for a competition in December and then the 2015 CF Open. I had some weaknesses and holes in my performance that needed to be worked on. Upper body pulling and pushing were the most glaring weaknesses. I trained alone from September 2014 through March 2015, working on making myself better.
I learned a lot during those months. I got super strong and fit. I focused on nutrition and sleep and I got lean and slept like a rock. During the 2015 Open I improved by 444 spots in the northeast region and finished in the top 600 women. It felt amazing, but there were definite trade offs. My social life definitely suffered a bit. As someone who loves enjoying a margarita with friends, this was something that had to be put on the back burner the majority of the time. I also began to have a nagging left shoulder and wrist that I (mostly) chose to ignore because I didn’t want it to mess up my training. Looking back in all of this I realize that I created an illusion of health. Outwardly it would appear that I was living a very healthy lifestyle, but there were many aspects of my health the were suffering. It would just take a while for me to figure that out.
Eventually my wrist just broke down. I ended up with tendinitis and soft tissue damage that took months to heal. I could not grip a barbell, dumbbell, pull up bar or ring for about two solid months. My inability to train at a high level got to me mentally and I ended up feeling bummed out about life in general. I was able to begin a dumbbell/bodyweight program midway through the summer which helped to get me feeling good about training again, but it wasn’t the same. It was like the fire had burned out. Additionally, the intensity and stress of the previous months’ training caught up with me and I began to feel broken down emotionally. In some ways I felt like I was losing my identity. If I wasn’t a CrossFit athlete, what was I?
I tried to get back into the groove of training hard after signing up for a competition in VT that I’d done the previous 3 years. I jumped back into an intense training program, yet found myself disliking training and literally crying when it got hard. I felt like a complete failure. I felt like I was letting down my coach, people who looked up to me, and myself. I withdrew from the VT competition and stopped training so intensely. I was desperately trying to find the fun in training again, but I was even struggling in group classes. I was also feeling fatigued pretty much all the time, I was beginning to have trouble sleeping, and I got sick about 5 times from November to December.
Around December 2015 I finally decided to just stop. STOP. I needed a break. Like a real break. Looking back, it had been about 5 solid years of CrossFit without taking time off except for built in rest days and a week here and there. I also realized that I tend to be very hard on myself. I never follow the rule I give others…”Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.” I am a good athlete, I am a good friend, sister, daughter, girlfriend. The amount of weight I squat or clean and jerk does not determine how useful I am or my self-worth or the amount of knowledge I own.
So now it’s April 2016. I did not sign up for the CrossFit open this year and I have done about 3 intense workouts in the gym since Christmas. I have been enjoying yoga once or twice each week and trying to get outside more to be in nature. After about a month to 6 weeks of not training the intense feelings of stress and doom began to subside. I started to relax a little and even took a long weekend away in North Conway, one of my favorite places in the whole world.
I am definitely grieving a little bit for the “old me” – the me who could crush sets of 20+ pull ups, squat clean a heavy barbell smoothly, and sprint on the assault bike with ease. I am trying to remain focused on the positive and the goal of healing my body. At this moment in time I really don’t have the desire to train at a high level. I am happy if I get in 30 minutes of biking and can keep a smile on my face.
As a fitness and nutrition coach it’s difficult to admit that the lifestyle is not always rainbows, heavy squats, butterflies, and perfectly-portioned food. I think the the perception of people in this business is that we all have our shit together when it comes to our own personal fitness and nutrition. While I have a ton of knowledge, I definitely do not have it all together all of the time. At the moment my life is changing. Although I value fitness and exercise tremendously, training as hard as I can is just not in my deck of cards at the moment.
I’ve been working with a few helpful coaches of my own, women I admire and look to for advice and knowledge. With their guidance I am discovering ways to heal my body, to feel fulfilled, and to respect the process I am going through. As a coach it feels so nice to be coached! It feels good to let go of the control and let someone else guide me at the moment. I couldn’t do it without these influential women.
I believe that these changes are all part of some larger purpose and there is always a light at the end of the tunnel. I believe that I am not the only one who goes through changes and struggles like this. I think that I will be able to help others on their journey and I am really looking forward to it! I also believe that I will be back in action at some point; I want to feel that desire for lifting heavy and getting sweaty and having fun. It will happen, it might just take a little while.
What has your athletic journey looked like? Have you struggled with changes like these?
2 thoughts on “My Athletic Journey”
What a wonderful post Ashley. I really enjoyed reading this. I feel I can connect in so many ways to this journey. All that matters is that you are happy so I hope you find happiness in everything you do daily 🙂
I so enjoyed reading your upfront and honest post. There is much that I can relate to. Thanks for sharing!