I am not a young woman. Although I feel younger than my 43 years, I have lived most of my life uncomfortable in my own skin, uncertain of who I truly was, and afraid to stand out or be noticed. I didn’t want to take up space. My list of reasons for why I wasn’t worthy of notice was long. Some of those reasons arose from my own insecurities, while others grew from the words, the looks, the attitudes directed my way over the years. Life seemed easier if I took up as little space as possible. If I could avoid being noticed, then I could save myself from disappointment and rejection. Or so I thought. The truth is that I was so desperately miserable inside.
One September Sunday morning in 2013, while at church, I was essentially cornered by a couple whom I really didn’t know very well. My husband had done some work for them and in exchange had been offered some personal training. Kane had been subtly and not-so subtly pushing me to be the one to take advantage of the offer, but to say I was reluctant was an understatement. I didn’t like going to gyms. I had no desire to go to a gym, and I definitely wasn’t keen on having a personal trainer. Having a personal trainer would require exposing myself, becoming vulnerable and being scrutinized, possibly even subjected to internal ridicule and scorn. How could I possibly walk into a private gym when I felt so out of place in a public gym? Even when I did go to a public gym, I’d hit up the treadmill, the bikes or the circuit, because the weight room intimidated me. I told Kane several times that he could take Michael up on his offer, because I wasn’t interested. I’d stick to my running and leave the gym for others. It just wasn’t my thing.
Then I bumped into Michael and Tara at church that one morning. They asked about my running, as I was preparing for a couple of races, and I admitted to being plagued by shin splints which were hindering my training. I don’t remember exactly how the rest of the conversation went, but somehow I agreed to the personal training and arranged an appointment to meet with Michael. I had no idea what I was signing up for or how it would change me.
I know that I was nervous and unsure of what to expect the first couple of times that I walked into Michael’s gym. Thankfully, I had a trainer who wasn’t too hard or too soft but rather just right. He pushed. He encouraged. He praised. He saw potential and he believed, even when I didn’t. It is really quite surprising how quickly I came to enjoy training and actually looked forward to each session.
Lifting weights has always been at the core of my training sessions. Once I feared them, now I love them. So when Michael asked if I’d like to do a power-lifting competition last year, I thought why not! Now as I am preparing for my third competition, I came across a video of a young woman speaking about power-lifting, about being strong and not just strong for a girl, and about wanting to take up space now rather than feeling small and invisible. I am not that girl, but yet I am. Going to the gym, training, and power-lifting have changed the shape of my life.
I have always hated being told that I was good at something, anything for a girl. Don’t let the calmness of my demeanor fool you! Competitiveness has always been burning within me. As a young teenage girl I have played ball with grown men, and I always resented any implication that I needed special considerations because of my age or gender. If you move the infielders in and slow the pitches thinking that because I’m a girl I will be an easy out, I will do everything I can to hit that ball over the infielders and get myself on base. Don’t you dare think I am not capable because I am a girl! While I am ranting, let me also say that this internal drive doesn’t make me a tomboy either! I am as comfortable in high heels and long fingernails as I am hanging out with the boys.
What power-lifting has done for me is to change my perspective of who I am and what I am capable of. I feel stronger. I am stronger and not just physically. The strength that I have always known was inside me can no longer be hidden. I stand taller with shoulders back, because I am finally comfortable in my skin. Confidence now courses through my veins, and the negative voices that used to scream at me have been reduced to whispers that I can only hear in my most quiet moments. Every little triumph in the gym sends confidence rippling outward that cannot be contained within the walls of any gym.
Now I want to take up space! I do not want to be small and invisible. I want to be known. I want to be the person I was created to be. The old me would never ever not in a million years have stepped out in front of an audience wearing a shapeless singlet. The new me, while maybe not entirely thrilled with wearing a singlet in public, will do it gladly if it means I get to compete in power-lifting. As an introvert, I will likely never feel comfortable being the center of attention nor am I likely to actively pursue the spotlight; however, I am no longer content to be the wallflower, invisible and small. I will never be someone who makes a grand entrance at a party, but I’m no longer someone who is afraid to go to a party where I may not know many people. This skin I am in…this is who I am and I can finally embrace it. Training, going to a gym, having a personal trainer, power-lifting has made me strong, inside and out.
My husband has told me several times over the past year that he was hoping I would take the personal training offer, because he knew I needed something to call my own. He just never expected that something to become power-lifting, but he is my biggest supporter! He listens to my crazy talk of training programs and goals and my groans when muscles are sore. He suffers through my hangry phases and tries to understand my discipline with my eating habits. He video-tapes my competitions and forgives me for my anger when I think he has screwed it up. He pays for my training, because he says I am worth it. Did you catch that? I am worth it. Me! Even before I believed in my own self-worth, my husband believed in me. He has always loved me, but I am sure that he loves this newer, stronger me even more! For the first time ever, I can honestly say that I love myself.
Those long fingernails that I love are gone, because shorter nails just work better in the gym. My palms sport calluses, but I don’t mind. They are like merit badges; I’ve earned every one! Power-lifting has taught me patience, because strength isn’t gained overnight and the bar sometimes moves slowly off the floor. Self-control and discipline have become words that describe me and my eating habits. I have experienced months of frustration, feeling like my deadlift was going absolutely nowhere and losing all confidence in my ability to pull a big number in competition, only to discover that what I had expected to be next to impossible was so incredibly easy. Being someone who often prefers to rely on herself, I have learned to trust my trainer, even when he asks me to do something that I think sounds ridiculously impossible. With every new personal best, I am thrilled and eager for more. I am not afraid of hard work, and I am not content with what I have already achieved. Power-lifting has empowered me, and it is a beautiful thing. I am strong, but I am going to get stronger. Make room, because I plan on taking up space.