I follow a lot of other blogs and Lifting My Spirits is one of my favorites. The author has a wonderful story. She’s living proof that it’s never too late to change your physique for the better. She absolutely explodes the myth that once you’re past 40 or 50 years old you just have to resign yourself to falling apart physically. I’m about to turn 53 and I just love seeing how she transformed herself. I want to give her a standing ovation! This reflects a bit of the journey she undertook to make herself stronger and to sculpt her body into a form that she found pleasing.
Transforming Into An Athlete In The Second Half Of Life
The first time I touched a barbell, I was 48 years old. I’m now 54.
Some people say my age is an irrelevant point about me as an athlete, but they are wrong. It’s extremely relevant. I was a fully formed adult with scars and strengths from living life before I decided to live a completely different way. And my decision impacted a lot of people who thought they knew who I was before I decided to be someone else. I’m still working on making sense of all this. Something yanked my chain this last week and I need to write to figure out what I think about things. Sorry – I need to be a bit cryptic about it because it’s private. But I believe humans have similar responses to things, even if details are different.
Please forgive me for veering into the past for a moment. If what I’m going to say later is going to make any sense, I need share parts of my personal history. I don’t feel comfortable doing that, because I don’t want to give the impression that I think my life has been difficult. It’s just been a “life”. But these things are a bit relevant to why I think what I think as I keep transforming into an athlete in the second half of my life…
- My scoliosis was diagnosed early in high school and I was pulled from all sports. I was told to be “careful” for the rest of my life. Between the ages of 17 and 24, I had at least two episodes when my back would freeze up and I could not move for about a week. I remember my mother pushing me around in a wheel-chair at the hospital to get x-rays. I believed all the adults who told me I was fragile.
- In my 20’s, I got a job at a gym as a receptionist. That’s when I first saw female bodybuilders in magazines. They were about my age, but they looked so strong – not fragile. I wanted that, but I was intimidated by it for a couple of really good reasons. 1) I have scoliosis and shouldn’t lift, and 2) women aren’t supposed to look like that – guys didn’t like it. I didn’t question those beliefs at the time. I accepted them and set other goals for my life.
- My mother died from a brain aneurysm when she was 56 and I was 28. I was the family member who was tasked with the decision to remove her from life support. I watched her die. I know some of you have had to do that, too. It’s not exactly like how they show it in movies or on Grey’s Anatomy.
- I decided to get a degree in mathematics and teach math because I was intimidated by it. That was when I began to do battle with my fears. The time span from my first day of college to my graduation with a degree in mathematics was 16 years. Mom died during this time and I lost my job because I needed to take a leave of absence to handle my mother’s affairs out of town. Once I could get back to work, I had as many as three part-time jobs to support myself and still have a schedule flexible enough to attend school during the day when the classes I needed were offered. This was the first time I set a scary goal and achieved it.
- For the last 20 years, I’ve taught math to teenagers, ages 15-18. Takes a little courage to show up and do that every day. Not many adults would want to attempt to manage a room of 30+ teenagers. Fewer can handle it when a whole bunch of them are anxious about what you are asking them to do. Math teachers are in short-supply these days. Burn out is high. Many students believe they will fail before they try, so they won’t try. They will do a lot of other things to avoid trying. While teaching geometry, I teach a lot of other things, too.
And that brings me back to my first point – the first time I touched a barbell, I was 48 years old. All of these other things happened years prior to that.
To decide to become a female bodybuilder at that point in my life, I had to challenge and beat down a lot of my own thoughts about what women can do, what a person with scoliosis can do, what a busy teacher can find time to do, and what a post-menopausal woman can accomplish in bodybuilding. I’m not saying my journey has been harder than someone else’s, because I know it hasn’t been. There is no comparison to what others have had to deal with to just get through another day. I have not had to survive trauma.
That said, I’ve still accomplished enough hard stuff to feel like I can do more. It’s my journey. I’ve already lived a life and I’m still in the mix. My ego tells me that I should be respected for that, but I can’t control what others say or think. (Yeah, something happened a couple days ago. I was hurt by it, but I learned something useful.) I remind myself what I’ve done to get here. My ego wants to puff up – that’s what others do, right? But that’s not going to help me do anything except become an asshole. I don’t need to defend my thoughts.
I am sensitive. I am scared. I am brave. I reflect. I learn. I overthink. I lose my focus sometimes, but I get it back. I tell my ego to shut the hell up. She just wants to generate negative thoughts that feed uncertainty about whether I will ever have tangible success as an athlete. I may always be a novelty act in public, she tells me. Ageism is alive and well, we all know that. Is that my only obstacle? Of course not. But it’s there. I can’t get younger, but I can improve. I may always be switched to the outside of the youngest, most novice bodybuilder in the line. If I’m a better bodybuilder than I was the last time I showed up, I guess that’s going to be enough. My voice may shake when I say “my journey on my terms“, but I’m still saying it. I’m still insisting on it.
“Why bother?” I ask myself almost every day. Almost every day, I quit. And then I recommit to what I’m doing as an athlete. The last year has been difficult. I may not be able to break this cycle until after I compete again. That last competition experience needs to be replaced by a new one before I’m going to get closure on what happened that day. Simply getting on stage again will be a win because I will be able to put away two years of trying to make sense of what will now be called the “2015 WTF Happened? Blesson”.
And then I touch a barbell and I happily battle gravity. I get a little bit of clarity when I’m at the gym. Lifting still fixes me. I love to train. That’s why I bother. Everything else is just distracting noise, whether it’s external or internal.