Okay, slightly off the normal programming here but what the heck, I’m a writer, I get to change the rules of the blog!
I was thrilled to read Elizabeth Merritt Abbot’s blog about what can happen as a result of crossfit taking a bit of a back seat. I can’t say it’s happened for me, and this has been a week or two of trying to fit training three times a week into a busy lifestyle. It hasn’t exactly worked out. I have trained regularly but not with the consistency I’d like to have brought to it. I did the new mobility WOD on Tuesday, which was both interesting and swift – the fastest hour that I’ve ever spent in a crossfit box, in fact! But it did mean missing my barbell club (I was not heartbroken about that, when I saw Turkish get ups on the board – happy to have missed those babies!)
This week I missed my Thursday class, which was going to be based on the Crossfit Open 13.1 and instead had to fit in an 09:30 WOD today. It was pure hell.
So what’s the thing about leadership? There was an interesting article in Experimental Social Psychology about leadership stereotypes and how one of the reasons women may not excel is that they aren’t exposed to highly successful female role models. Here’s the abstract of the experiment. ‘In a virtual reality environment, 149 male and female students gave a public speech, while being subtly exposed to either a picture of Hillary Clinton, Angela Merkel, Bill Clinton, or no picture. We recorded the length of speeches as an objective measure of empowered behavior in a stressful leadership task. Perceived speech quality was also coded by independent raters. Women spoke less than men when a Bill Clinton picture or no picture was presented. This gender difference disappeared when a picture of Hillary Clinton or Angela Merkel was presented, with women showing a significant increase when exposed to a female role model compared to a male role model or no role models.’
So my particular soap box here is that one of the great things about my Crossfit box is that not only do I have access to a world class female coach in Holly Gehlcken but I’m surrounded by highly successful female athletes, of all ages, shapes and sizes, who demonstrated personal leadership and teamwork every time we WOD. This was not my experience of franchise gyms, where I tended to find I was (a) alienated from the weights room by the sidelong glances, sudden silences or worse (for them)* snide comments from male lifters and (b) alienated by the yoga bunny women who couldn’t understand why I wanted to do that ‘other stuff’.
If your only role models are superskinny women in jogging bottoms who seem to spend all their time flat on the floor with their chakras in line or drinking detox tea, it can be difficult to find a way to become strong, rather than slim-line. Don’t get me wrong, I love Pilates, am a qualified yoga teacher and I was myself superskinny, so it’s not envy that makes me doubt the value of the average woman’s exposure to ‘fitness’.
No, my doubt is based on the fact that I reached a point where stretching and running failed me, and I didn’t have anywhere else to go – I could so easily have become a depressed middle-aged treadmill walker. But I met a physio who told me Crossfit would be the answer to my proprioception problems, as well as my iliotibial band syndrome. And he was right. I started Crossfit as a medicinal treatment to get me running again, but I’ve stayed because I love it, I’m stronger than I’ve ever been, and because a minor miracle is happening for me – I can, for the first time in my life, do things that I had always considered impossible for somebody with my condition (okay, not box jumps right now, nor double unders [maybe ever] and Turkish get ups are a bit of an impossibility of your left-hand side doesn’t move independent of your right-hand side) like skipping, and other tasks that require large amounts of coordination and independent right/left movement. Really, it’s a miracle.**
So how do we get strong women into the public domain? Jessica Ennis is great, but most of us won’t end up training alongside her. Women’s rugby on TV was also great, but it takes the Six Nations to make that happen – so on International Women’s Day, I’m highlighting a woman that not enough people have heard of, the awesome, difficult to love, total athlete that was Beryl Burton – if we all found one strong woman to admire today, I think life could be better for womankind.
* I grew up in pubs in tough districts – by and large, men who make snide comments about me in gyms end up leaving the room in a hurry – I have a vocabulary that can strip paint and no qualms whatsoever about making grown men cry.
** Also, I now have lats to die for!