Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Radical Woman Q&A with Cheri

Today’s radical woman is Cheri. Cheri is a crossfitter and blogger. Her blog No Crying in Crossfit chronicles her CrossFit experiences. I met Cheri at CrossFit KoP over the Holidays. Cheri never having met me before (she only visits CrossFit KoP when she is in town visiting relatives) came up to me and said she reads my blog. That day I counted (and gave verbal encouragement) for Cheri during her WOD. Our conversations after WODs that week validated we shared a common vision! In those moments our CrossFit/Blog love was formed. Cheri is radical because she is courageously sharing her journey towards self-love and acceptance with all of us. She brutally honest about her process giving all of us permission to be a work in progress!

Q: So what’s with the title of your blog, “No Crying in CrossFit?”

A: My blog title comes directly from my experiences with beginning to practice CrossFit.

The biggest mental struggle I had to overcome as a new CrossFitter was acceptance of my current abilities. When I first started, even the scaled versions of some movements were barely achievable. When I was confronted by those movements during a WOD -- most notably, pull-ups and strict overhead press -- my mental focus would be shattered by an inundation of self-loathing. I felt an overwhelming sense of anger, guilt, shame and frustration because the WOD was putting a spotlight on my athletic and physical weaknesses.

And then, I would cry.

Sometimes I would block tears from falling by yelling, stomping, pacing around in circles, scowling, walking outside, putting my towel over my face, blaming the equipment ("this damn band is screwing me up!" "my hands are slipping off the bar!"). But the way I felt inside was the same, whether or not actual tears were shed.
Doing CrossFit highlighted a mental struggle that I've been embroiled in my whole life -- a struggle with perfectionism. Driving for that impossible perfection can be motivating -- but it can also morph into self-doubt. It morphs into a mentality of not being willing to try new things, because you won't be able to do them perfectly. I was losing my sense of adventure and discovery; it was falling prey to a need to be good at everything that I did.

What "no crying" means to me is an end to beating myself up over what I can't do. It means a focus on the positives. It means celebrating what I am now capable of, that I wasn't capable of before. It means looking at what I've achieved objectively, and throwing out the idea of comparing myself to some made-up idea of what I "should" be able to do.

About a month into my time doing CrossFit I had my worst "crying" moment. The WOD wasn't a back-breaking, lung-bursting met-con, it was just a simple strength day: push press 3-3-3-3-3 and weighted pull-ups 3-3-3-3-3. For me it was a volatile combination, and when the tears started falling, for once I couldn't even try to hide it. My coach sat down with me as I was stretching, and we talked about how CrossFit isn't just physical, it's mental. He expressed his concern that I wasn't using a log to track my progress, and therefore I couldn't see how far I'd already come in just 1 month.

When I got home that night, I wrote up what would become my first post in this blog, "No crying". When I opened Blogger the next day to create a new blog, the name seemed obvious.

Q: Why do you blog?

A: I created my first blog in February 2007, and I'm still writing there. It's an anonymous blog about my experiences as a military girlfriend, and now as a military spouse. When I met my husband, I didn't know anyone who was dating or married to someone in the military. I searched for blogs to try to find other people whose lives I could relate to. There are many unique aspects to military life that civilians just don't "get". Blogging was a life-line during my husband's two deployments and a 3-year long distance relationship, and through it I've developed a network of military spouse friends, some of whom are friends "in real life" now.
It made sense to me to blog about CrossFit because it is also a unique experience that outsiders might not "get". Having been processing my thoughts, reactions and emotions through writing already, it made sense to take the same approach to understand the mental workout that CrossFit was putting me through (now I see how silly I was to think it would just be physical exercise! :-p) I also believe in the power of sharing your point of view. I read milspouse blogs and CrossFit blog alike to see how I am similar to others. If one woman reads my blog and sees herself in what I write, and is inspired or motivated, then it will have been worth it to write down my experiences.

I also blog because I have more things to express in one day than my husband is capable of listening to. :-p

Q: A theme of your blog seems to be your own personal struggle to accept completely your current abilities. How have you grown in this since you started?

A: The point at which I started blogging, 1 month into doing CrossFit, was a huge turning point. I started changing my attitude, and the episodes of overwhelming frustration occurred much less frequently. My old triggers were transformed into my strengths: I can now do an unassisted kipping pull-up, and I can press 80lbs overhead. But new movements have emerged that trigger those same frustrations. Recently double unders and knees to elbows have been the things that mentally challenge me, because I get angry with myself when I can't perform them perfectly. I'm glad that there are still "button pusher" movements for me, because I'm not done working on this yet.

I think the biggest way that I've grown in regards to my struggle for self-acceptance is that I'm now openly acknowledging my struggle. When I tried to mask my frustrations in the past, I think that showed that I felt guilty about having those feelings. But now that I've accepted my struggle with self-acceptance as a part of me -- not good or bad, just a part -- I am making some progress towards achieving a different outcome.

I'm open to the point of asking others to keep me accountable to staying calm in the face of frustrations. My coach and I are working on a word that he can say to me when he sees that I'm starting to lose focus, as a way to remind me that I need to get my negative thinking under control. After I've succumbed to a crying meltdown while doing a WOD, I've discussed it with my husband and with other CrossFitters in my gym. I'm asking my community to help me, and they have been there for me.

I still cry. The beautiful part is that I'm OK with it, and I'm not crying alone anymore.
Q: Can you tell me about your strength? What is it? Where does it come from? What has it helped you to achieve?

A: Honestly, I was stumped when I first read this question. My first thought was, "A 125lb power clean is strong, right?" But I knew that wasn't what the question was asking. So I read the question aloud to my sister, and her answer was: determination, perseverance.

She made me think about how my strength and my weakness both sprout from the same root: perfectionism.

Self-doubt, shame and anger are the results of perfectionism coupled with a negative attitude -- that's what I talked about in the first two questions.

Determination and perseverance are the results of perfectionism coupled with a positive attitude. When my attitude is positive, I see myself on a quest of pushing onward and upward. With doubts held firmly in check, I set lofty goals and reach for them with confidence. I don't accept limitations, or make excuses.

Perfectionism tells me that there's one more step to make before I'm done, and with a positive attitude, I'm excited to challenge myself to step up.

Three quotes to cap off this subject:

"There's no such thing as perfection. But, in striving for perfection, we can achieve excellence."
- Vince Lombardi

"Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do."
- Coach John Wooden

“Frustration is the first step towards improvement. I have no incentive to improve if I’m content with what I can do and if I’m completely satisfied with my pace, distance and form as a runner. It’s only when I face frustration and use it to fuel my dedication that I feel myself moving forwards.”
-John Bingham

Q: You are going to go through CrossFit coaches certification this year, why?

A: Because I'm an over-achiever like that! :-p

Seriously, it's because my perfectionism tends to extend out into the world around me -- if I see a problem, I want to fix it. And when I'm in the gym for a workout, I feel an intense need to help everybody around me get faster, stronger and more proficient -- the same things I'm pushing myself to do. The best way for me to help others get better at CrossFit is to become a trained coach. The first step to being a trained coach is the Level I cert, and so off I go on March 20 and 21st. I'm also being mentored by my coaches at CrossFit Camden, which has been great so far.

Plus, what CrossFitter doesn't dream of doing CrossFit for a living? I'm nowhere in the vicinity of making a living, but attending the certification is still a step in that direction. We'll see where it takes me. :)

Q: How are you radical?

A: I don't know if I really see myself as radical... But I hope I'm on my way there!
I hope I'm on my way to a life free of negative self-talk and poor body image. I hope to one day be able to work out in a gym filled with mirrors, and not be critical of the image reflected back at me. I hope to leave behind my bathroom scale. I hope to never again throw a temper tantrum in the dressing room of a clothing store when the pants don't fit my thighs. I hope to stop criticizing how I look in pictures, and instead celebrate the experiences those pictures document. I hope to always celebrate my body for what it is capable of, and never hate it because of how it looks.

I hope to overcome emotional eating, and to learn to see food as fuel, not comfort.

I hope to introduce the women in my life, and especially the women in my family, to the joys of turning their energies toward themselves, and not always turning them outward. I hope to be able to teach them that a challenging physical experience (like a WOD) brings about a challenging mental experience, and emotional growth. I hope to inspire those women with my athletic achievements, so that they aspire to achievements of their own.

And if and when I'm blessed with children, I hope to be able to say I did a pull-up while I was pregnant. Now that is radical! :-D

Cheri, you are without any doubt RADICAL! I am so glad that I have met you. You will certainly inspire other women to embrace the full glory or who they are through your blog, becoming a coach and just being YOU! I also see a preggers pull-up in your future! :-)


Cheri's Blog : No Crying in Crossfit

A WOD on my To-Do-List


If you are content with the old world, try to preserve it, it is very sick and cannot hold out much longer. But if you cannot bear to live in everlasting dissonance between your beliefs and your life, thinking one thing and doing another, get out of”

-Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy


“I hope to introduce the women in my life, and especially the women in my family, to the joys of turning their energies toward themselves, and not always turning them outward."



My husband has started coming to CrossFit this week. I have been looking forward to him joining the “club” for a few months now. Let me just say, WHAT A JOY it is to have him on board. It’s great to be able to speak the same language with someone you love so much. Having my family along for this ride (two of my three children are in the fold; my 3 ½ year old shows off her burpees, box jumps and sit-ups at day care.) is an amazing experience! I am SOOOO grateful!


Cindy Handler said...

What a tremendous post Steph! I am so sorry I didn't get a chance to meet Cheri when she was here because it is clear she is what CrossFit and Radical Hateloss are all about. Cheri, thanks for giving this interview, it was wonderful, motivating and inspirational! Next time you're in town, please let me know so we can workout together and spend a little time getting to know each other!!

BTW, I also love having your family in the box Steph. Vincent is a rock star!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Cindy! But I want to be clear...I am the biggest rock star in the family!! :-) LOL