True Grit


Funny, this came across my newsfeed on the day I was sitting down to finalize my semester for classes in Gateway to College. As the semester approaches, I have been thinking a lot about Grit and how I can help my students persevere through the challenging work they have ahead of them. We (my colleagues and I) talk with the students about this all the time and work to foster a program that supports them when the going gets tough – some hurdle the obstacles with ease and some get stuck in the mire around the obstacle, often falling into old habits and mindsets that kept them from being successful to begin with. So, now you are thinking, “What does this have to do with sport?” Well, we all know that grit is important in sport…there are numerous obstacles athletes have to overcome: self-doubt, performance anxiety, getting the training in, wondering if they trained hard or well enough and injury. Really, the list could go on and on.

In thinking about grit and my students, I found myself thinking back to when I played tennis. Not to toot my own horn (toot, toot), but I was a good tennis player. I won a lot of matches…except when I didn’t. And when I didn’t, the next match was that much harder for me and I ended up having a bad season, losing my number one spot on the team. I didn’t understand then what I do now: instead of having grit and working to improve both my play and my mind (they really didn’t know much about how the mind really played into sport back then – or at least my coach didn’t), I would what I lovingly call “mind-fuck myself” and believe that I just couldn’t do it anymore – that I really wasn’t as good as I thought I was. I. Just. Can’t.

That “I can’t” mentality is the same one my students have when they walk through my door. And it seems, no matter how often we teach them about growth mindset (see this article on more about growth mindset – fascinating stuff, really: and tell them to hop over those obstacles – They. Just. Can’t.

I understand my students because when I quit playing tennis, I fell into habits that were not the most optimal. And as I have reached adulthood and have come across obstacles, there are MANY times when I just fall into some of those old habits. There have been many times when I have thought, “Maybe I should just quit all of this”. But then I think back to how not doing “all of this” made me feel – physically and emotionally. Now, when I come across an obstacle, I fret about it a bit, but then I figure out a way around it.

Do I still have doubt and think “I just can’t”? Of course. But now I know that while I might have to work a little harder to do something, I do it. My determination in completing things (grad school, marathons, triathlons, a really challenging Workout of the Day) has grown over the years. I think it has grown not because I am the best at any of those things, but because I am no longer the best at those things (well, I was pretty kickass in school AFTER I let go of the doubt of my right to be there). I know that each time I step up to the starting line of an event, I am going to have to overcome great obstacles to complete the task at hand, my self-doubt about my right to be there the greatest one of all.

I remember a student coming up to me on the first day of school last semester and he asked, “Do you think it will be possible for me to learn anything?” He uttered the words, but it is a thought many of my students have. That self-doubt of their right to even be in a college classroom, the self-doubt of their ability to learn is something we work to help our students overcome. Their grit and perseverance will grow with each success they have – especially the success they have from a task that challenged them. Like any great coaching staff, we challenge them while providing them the love, guidance and support they need to increase their performance, but most importantly, their confidence.

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Going, Going, Gone!

Warning: this isn’t really about sport.

Over two years ago I started on a journey that was filled with lots of pain (and pain meds), frustration, a little bit of fear and a whole lotta talk about my ovary. For two years I dealt with rupturing cysts (at the start line for a marathon, any time of day or night, during a half Ironman triathlon, in the middle of the woods) and doctors telling me “it was normal” and “just what some women go through”, refusing to do anything beyond throw drugs at me to “deal with the pain as needed” and never really explaining why this was happening or what was truly going on with my body.

That all changed when Dr. Parker entered my life after a very scary trip to the ER. During a follow-up visit, Dr. Parker sat us down and clearly explained what was happening and what it meant. He not once dismissed any fears or concerns I had – he agreed that we would monitor my condition monthly and that we weren’t going to just pass it off at “just something some women go through”.

Skip ahead several months of monitoring and here I am, five days away from laparoscopic surgery to remove the offensive ovary and both fallopian tubes (as a precaution since my grandmother had ovarian cancer).

Here are a few things I have learned:

1. Speak louder when you aren’t being heard – find the person who will listen to and help you
2. I am a better caretaker than I am a patient…I had to reminded several times to let others do things for me
3. Laughter really is the best medicine, but can be painful after abdominal surgery
4. Kaiser San Rafael surgery has some of the most loving, caring and amazing nurses
5. I have a magnificent support system
6. I am really impatient…I was getting angry my third day out of surgery because I was getting tired so easily
7. I am strong

Hey! Watch me turn this to sport:
1. Let the positive voice inside your head be the loudest voice you hear – drown out the negative voice, telling you that you can’t do something
2. Let people cheer you on – you don’t always have to be the cheerleader
3. Laughter during hard workouts is the best medicine
4. OK… not sure how to turn awesome nurses to sport
5. I have a magnificent training/support system
6. Be patient…as the saying goes, even slow progress is progress and the other saying about a 12 minute mile still being a mile
7. I am strong

And now that it is gone, we can finally stop talking about my friggin’ ovary!

My family, helping me recover with cuddles.

My family, helping me recover with cuddles.

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Monthiversary: The small milestones are as important as the big

Wow! It has been so long since I wrote anything here that they have completely changed the appearance of WordPress and I didn’t even know!

Having taken 2014 off from major training, I guess it left me with little to say in regard to my athletic endeavors. However, I am still as active as I ever was – I still run, I still ride, I still swim and today I celebrate my monthiversay of doing crossfit at Crossfit Flat Back Hills.

I won a free month to try out the new crossfit gym in town and I started last month with the simple intention of just going for the month and doing something different. However, after the first week, I was sold…I had “drank the Kool-aid”.

Crossfit has not only changed my body, but it has changed my mind as well. I have become a more confident person – more confident in doing the things I didn’t think I could do before. Nope. I can’t do toes to bar or pull ups YET, but I can hold myself on the bar with “active shoulders” for 10 seconds (my previous “record” was five seconds – and the 10 seconds I hung there was treated with as much excitement from those I workout with as if I had just done 100 pull-ups). I can do a handstand. I can push press 70 pounds. I can back squat 75 pounds. And when I can’t do something, I don’t see it as a failure, I see it as a challenge – a challenge not just to my body, but my mind. See, if you have read ANY of my posts at all, you know I have always struggled with mentally sabotaging myself, telling myself I can’t do something (which is HILARIOUS considering I don’t all ANY of the girls I coach to use the word can’t)…convincing myself that I will never be able to do it fast enough, good enough – blah, blah, blah.

As I celebrate my monthiversary with Crossfit FBH, I look forward to what this next year is going to show me about myself and all that I can and will accomplish.

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Performance Anxiety

To start, this has nothing to do with sport at all…I just had a realization and felt the need to share it.

My daughter has a beautiful singing voice. She loves to dance. She went through a stage where she sang and danced her way through the day. She can often be found in her room singing and dancing. She says she wants to be a performer when she is older. However, when we suggest she take dance, acting classes at our local theater, or participate in her school’s performing arts program, she is steadfast in her answer, which is a big N-O.

It is very frustrating for Matt and I because we really don’t want fear to hold her back from participating in something that could potentially be very rewarding for her. It was while I was belting out “Stay” by Rhianna in my car that I had an epiphany:

I am one of the directors of the play this year and at our last meeting we were discussing the group song. We picked it out and then the question was posed, “Who is going to teach the kids?” meaning who is going to sing it with/for the kids. It was suggested that I do it. I immediately said, “No. I don’t sing.” 

Sunshine happened to be in the room and she said, “Yes you do. You sing all the time.” My neighbor/friend also said, “Yes you do. I have video proof of it.” To which I replied that I didn’t think it would be a good thing for me to knock back a couple vodka tonics before heading over to the school. 

I used to sing in public. I was in chorus growing up. I used to get up on stage with my dad’s band and sing back-up with my sister. I have even been known to belt out Janis Joplin after a couple vodka tonics. I love to sing…I am just afraid to perform.

My point is, is that the fear that Sunshine has is the same fear I have. Maybe my wanting her to overcome it is a way for me to overcome my fear. My goal from the very beginning was to be a better role model for my daughter. With that in mind, I will show Sunshine that I can overcome my fear and get up there and sing for the kids tomorrow…hopefully with a little help from my friends.

p.s. Feel free to apply this to sport or anything else you are afraid of.

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Back to Basics

For the past several years I have been going big: half Ironman triathlons, marathons, and a century, plus mix in a plethora of half marathons, and while I have gone big in distance, I have gotten “bigger” in body. It is funny because I figured becoming an endurance athlete would have made me smaller, but it didn’t. There are many factors that have gone into me gaining back a MAJOR portion of the weight I lost many years ago, but the biggest one is that I have let myself slip and slide toward food and drink with my mouth wide open.

Yes. Training more meant that I was hungrier. The difference was that I often went the way of, “I just rode 80 miles, I can totally have a burrito for lunch and some pizza for dinner without effect” (Don’t forget the margaritas I proclaim to run for) instead of choosing foods that would be beneficial for my recovery and performance.

I didn’t and don’t always eat poorly. I predominantly eat pretty healthfully, so it was frustrating that I was gaining and then unable to lose weight. And then that gain would cycle into thinking, “what is the point…hand me a brownie.”

Well, 2014 is going to be different. 2014 is the year of the small – small in miles and returning to a smaller, fitter, healthier me.

I have pledged to myself to not run more than 10 miles all year. I am not going to do a major triathlon. I am not going to ride hundreds of miles. I am getting back to the basics…I am going to do shorter distances. I am going to improve my speed. I am going to remember my love for each of my sports. I WANT to WANT to go for a run…not run because I HAVE to…same goes for swimming and riding. I don’t want to feel guilty and beat myself up for missing a workout because I decided to stay in bed and read on a Sunday morning.

I am also getting back to basics with eating. I am starting with a cleanse this week – no, mom, I am not starving myself. This week I will be abstaining from caffeine, sugar, dairy, alcohol, anything refined or processed. I will have smoothies and eat clean all week. My intention with doing this cleanse is to break from my unhelpful habits I have around food and drink.

I have made declarations of not doing something on this blog before (see never doing a half Ironman or marathon again…I have done three of each after saying I wouldn’t do a second), but this is different…this time I really mean it. I am not saying it because my quads hurt. I am doing it because I see myself heading down a path I have been down before – a path of feeling inadequate; a path of not being happy with what I see in the mirror. I am choosing publicly to get off that path and to go down a different path. A path of being a better athlete; a path of feeling comfortable in my own skin; a path of being happy with what I see in the mirror and the path of being a better role model for my daughter.

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The Victory

Well, my third marathon is now in the books. It was cold. It was hard. It was my worst clocked time ever. But in the end, it was a victory.

Yesterday’s marathon was about raising money for Girls on the Run and honoring my sister. Yes. In the back of my mind I imagined that I would shave MANY minutes off my previous marathon times. Of course I wanted to do better. It wasn’t better (it was worse) and that is OK.

There were great miles…miles that seemed to fly passed – many times I would think, “wow, a mile marker already!” But there were also miles that felt like they went on forever and I would think, “Where the hell is mile 19?!”But with each mile that passed, I thought about the girls I coach…the girls who I teach to just move forward; the ones I tell that if they are going to walk, walk with purpose; the girls I tell that it doesn’t matter if you win or lose, you should have pride in the fact you are out there doing something; the girls I tell that I am proud of them no matter what their pace. See, I tell them these things and I wholeheartedly believe them, but as many people have told me and I know of myself, I am a MUCH better coach than I am an athlete. By that I don’t mean my performance, I mean in listening to the words I say and applying them to myself.

But yesterday was different…yesterday I listened to the words I speak to my girls throughout the season and I felt good; I felt proud. I also thought about my sister. I thought about how much I missed her. I thought about all the times she told me I was stronger than I thought I was and it was at those moments when I started to feel defeated because I was walking that I realized I was doing this marathon not for time, but for honor. It was to honor a sister who was my biggest cheerleader and even in death continues to propel me forward…who reminds me to do what I love and live my dreams. I was also doing it to honor my daughter and the girls I coach who inspire me every day to be a better person and to truly practice what I preach.

So, as people ask me how yesterday went, my answer has been, “It was my worst time, but it was my best mentally.” Never did I beat myself up, telling myself that I was unworthy to be cheered for. Never did I consider quitting. I moved forward. I believed that what I was doing, no matter what my clock time was going to be, was going to be a victory.

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Being in the Moment

I swim at least once a week. While swimming, my mind drifts from one thing to another: my husband, my daughter, my students, my parents, thinking up ways to raise money for Girls on the Run (go here to donate), a paper that would be really cool to research and write, the errands I have to run, the papers I have to grade, the housecleaning and my weight. My weight usually comes to me with thoughts of: “If I were smaller I would swim (run/cycle) faster”. Essentially, my mind is always afloat in all the things going on outside of the pool rather than what is happening inside of the pool.

For some reason today before beginning my swim, I consciously decided to NOT think about anything except what was happening in the pool. So instead of thinking about my family, I counted strokes. Instead of worrying about raising money for Girls on the Run, I counted laps. And instead of worrying about my weight, I listened to the rhythm of my breath – the calm hum of my exhalations under water, and my perfectly timed inhalation as I broke the top of the water.

As I floated on my back cooling down, I thought about how truly light I felt – not just then, but throughout the swim. I thought about how easily I broke the water with my stroke. How easily each lap was and how consistently strong I felt throughout – never doubting what I was doing or how I was doing it.

We are often reminded to be in the moment, but the question is: are we ever REALLY in the moment? I like to think that I am in the moment, but what today really showed me is that I am not. I may feel like I am in the moment, but really I am thinking five steps ahead. Or, instead of being in the moment and honoring what is occurring, I am questioning my ability and I am wondering how I could be doing what I am doing better. I am never REALLY just in that moment, living and being what I am.

What I realized is that the weight that I feel, the heaviness I feel while swimming, running or cycling isn’t always the weight on my body, but the weight in my mind. So, for now on, my goal is to be mindful of the moment. To be mindful not of what isn’t happening, but what is happening. Of course, my mind will probably wander, especially while running 20 miles this weekend!

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