Advice From Stephen Hawking

Advice I believe is great for everyone, regardless of circumstances…

As someone who has the honor to work with children and adults with disabilities, I can safely say I have never found a more motivational set of individuals. In spite of sometimes substantial adversity, I watch them not only push their limitations, but sometimes also overcome them entirely. I believe it is absolutely crucial to focus on the positive – the unique talents, interests, and abilities of each individual – and to downplay the weaknesses.

Now, that’s not to say we can’t recognize areas that need improvement – whether for ourselves or another individual, we need to know what in our lives and development needs some TLC (or flat-out hard work!) However, making a point to emphasize our abilities is a surefire way to keep us in the most positive head space possible. When facing some of life’s challenges, a great attitude will make all the difference. 

The other day at a volunteer session, a mother was inquiring about activities for her daughter, including Martial Arts – beyond autism, her child has been through surgeries to correct club foot and other impairments to the feet and lower extremities. The doctor was trying to steer her clear of many activities and yet…here was this young lady actually running around. I spoke to the mother, making clear I have no medical background (but a lifetime’s worth as an athlete), and explained that sports can be modified. So long as we have the proper instructor who is aware of our challenges, there is no reason that many more sports could be available to her than suggested.

For example, this young lady was able to participate in ballet to some degree. I watched her not only walk briskly in our gymnasium, but also run at times, further confirming that she has a great deal more ability that it appears she is (externally) being credit for. I encouraged the mother to look into specific Marital Art programs, and to not be discouraged by the “can’t do”s. As Stephen Hawking alludes to, to handicap ourselves mentally can be incredibly damaging – we needn’t add to our own, or another’s physical difficulties.

The truth of it is, we all have strengths, weaknesses, injuries and physical limitations. In the majority of cases, we all have some mental challenges as well – low self-esteem, insecurity, self-doubt to name a few. To focus on what IS possible, and what we ARE able to do can make a massive difference in the quality of our lives overall, as well as contribute to our success in our activities, careers, and relationships.

I will ever and always be in full support of “focusing on the positive.”  It isn’t about being idealistic, but recognizing that what we focus on can literally alter the course of our lives – what we dwell on becomes our reality and all we see.

Focusing on our strengths not only helps us to weather the working-on-our-weaknesses better, but also the ups and downs of life. It gives us the strength and courage to carry forward, to makes strides in spite of anxiety or fear, and to find happiness, fulfillment and success in spite of tipped scales. The sky is the limit when we have the right attitude. Period.

On Eating Disorders And Being An Athlete In The Midst…

I appreciated receiving this article, written by Karen Crouse, which speaks to a very real problem in sports. It is also – I should point out – scarcely relegated to figure skating (the topic of the article) and related performing or aesthetic sports such as dancing, bodybuilding, and the like.  Rather, it has a much broader (and frankly insidious) grip on athletes around the globe. 

Eating disorders were something I grew up knowing plenty about – I was classically trained in ballet for over ten years, competitively figure skated for about sixteen years, and danced competitively in International Latin and American Smooth ballroom for seven years. In those arenas, thin is ALWAYS in.

Yikes.

Can weight make a difference in performance? Yes, absolutely. When it comes to one’s joints, or one’s ability to do the particularly acrobatic and athletic jumps and spins, it’s important we are at a weight healthy for our frame. Figure skating, for one, is a high impact sport and that takes a toll even on a healthy body. When we are unhealthy, those negative side effects can be multiplied many fold. However, a lot of it – a sometimes far heftier percentage – is about the “look.” And, when it becomes about our appearance, things can go downhill very quickly…

It isn’t only that I, like many athletes, was “young and impressionable” at the time – top athletes generally ARE on the younger side (remember that part about impact on the body?) Athletes begin training early, so there is certainly danger in implanting these injurious notions early on.

What is also a real issue, however, is that a focus on a person’s “weight” can suddenly have bearing on whether or not you are even “considered” for a winning position – that will change your tune pretty quick if you have goals of any kind. (Deny politics play a role in results? You’re kidding yourself!)

In ballroom, for example, if you aren’t groomed properly, you simply aren’t taken seriously. Period. It’s as easy as that. I’m not putting it down, I was in it…and LOVED it. But it was a horrible hassle, and I knew I didn’t really have a choice. Before a competition I needed to be:

  • Spray tanned…TWICE (because my pale skin wasn’t in)
  • Have my nails done (as in, they needed to be long and noticeable)
  • Have my hair professionally done every time I competed (multiple days, means days of hair-doing)
  • Professional makeup (fortunately I did this myself, but then half my suitcase was makeup I had to lug)
  • Make sure I was as fit as could be (wearing next to nothing / very revealing costumes…yes, people would notice if you gained a little extra. And they wouldn’t be shy about mentioning it)

Those things were prerequisites.  Then you added to that judge preferences like wearing tan fishnets or stockings (okay, no big deal, that helped “pull me in” a little so I stayed slim in that tiny costume…) But it was rough because if you didn’t take those “suggestions” you often were out of the running…before you even took the floor. No, I’m not kidding. Figure skating was a little less harsh on that front, but the pressure to “lose a little” was definitely an undercurrent.

I remember going to skating camp at Simsbury’s International Skating Center of Connecticut. I was in my mid to later teens (definitely the mesomorph of the group!) and I recall – very clearly – the younger skaters being worried about gaining weight. They wouldn’t eat ice cream, they would ask for coffee (at that age?!) with skim milk… They wouldn’t have chips…. Even back at our dorms, some would skip breakfast because they didn’t want to have too much (more Lucky Charms and Golden Grahams for me?)

Let me be clear, I am ALL about healthy, clean eating – it’s not about how I look so much as how it makes my body feel. My body is a “finely-tuned machine,” according to my doc, and it tells me what it needs. But when you are FIGURE SKATING…for HOURS A DAY…you burn more than a Clydesdale! I mean, it was craziness!!! These kids were WAY too young to worry about weight, not a single one had any inkling of a problem (which could impact joints, as athletic as skating can be), and they couldn’t enjoy themselves as a result – it was heartbreaking!

Now a days, the pressures are – apparently – still there. It was eye-opening to read that Brian Boitano (an idol I watched win his gold when I was ten years-old) was very much subjected to this, and wasn’t actually at peak performance (very likely) at that time. Hard to believe if you saw those jumps! It’s also saddening to hear that Adam Rippon has struggled with this as well. I love that they are open about it because eating disorders carry a lot of shame with them – speaking up and making it known that we are not alone can be enough to save someone afflicted from a life of suffering.

My disorders – Anorexia and Exercise Bulimia / Anorexia Athetica – were a result of something very different, but they nearly devoured me whole too. I thankfully managed to cruise through my sports both unscathed and unapologetically…but I was acutely aware of the oft-unspoken-about illnesses in the background. Having suffered through it later, knowing full well how damaging and dangerous such sickness can be, was testament to how powerful these diseases are… 

For many of athletes, body image is tightly wound around performance. . .which is tightly bound to our identities. Sometimes – to add fuel to the fire – that can be perpetuated by the people we look up to or rely on in the sport, as well as tied to our future success.

It’s a struggle to see the “good” sometimes – to see how strong we are, how well we are doing… It’s even harder to recognize…and then ADMIT…when we aren’t fueling ourselves the way we need to. I recently took back to the ice (on a VERY minor scale) but I’ll tell you…my legs are different. I can see it, I can feel it, and my body is asking for more carbohydrates and food. And…that’s what I give it if I need to. But like Adam Rippon, the mind will make a point to call out that we are doing something different – It’s like an internal guilt trip from the Ghost of Athletics Past!

Eating disorders are terrifying – like other addictive illnesses, they have the power to completely derail us, if not end our lives completely. While I refrain from “talking politics,” and don’t much care for celebrities shouting out their messages at the top of their lungs…there is some benefit in this particular arena. It is important to be honest and open because eating disorders are often highly isolating – we begin to decay on our own, and keep everyone at a distance while we whither away. The knowledge that we aren’t alone in our struggles it might help others find the strength and courage to seek treatment – one life saved is one life saved!

Truth be told, having had no one to look to during my own…? I would have LOVED to have this kind of hope to grab onto… 

 

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A Happy New Year Free Of Fear

I’ve largely lived my life by these words, in spite of sometimes vacillating when I’m on the precipice of going through with whatever it is that’s frightening me…

Generally – after tears have dried, and doubts have reached their peak – I dive in. Why? Because ANY day could be my last. Not going through with something is a disservice to every part of me – heart, soul, mind, body, spirit.

For years, though, I shied away from figure skating, a sport I grew up doing. I learned at so young an age that the slick, icy surface of the rink was like walking on solid ground is to a toddler… The rink was my second home. But after a massive setback in 2012 with a leg torn in three places, severe contusions, a 2-in-1 reconstruction surgery, and a complicated…very long-winded…recovery, I always seemed to find a reason not to lace up again.

With the goal to become a Black Belt (and getting sidelined while at Brown) I went back to the Martial Arts that claimed my left knee. A year and a half later another round of ballistic kicks tore the right ACL and meniscus, though this time I flat-out refused to fix it. As my right leg is my “landing leg” in skating, the fact that I’m missing the tendon responsible for holding the patella in place (in the forward direction) has been the key driver of my anxiety.

Enter needing to move my belongings from my home of 33 years, five years after the first knee injury… There I find my beautiful custom ice skates, hand-crafted by a legend, in desperate need of TLC – I actually shook my head in disgust that I’d have let them sit there so long unloved. After brining them back home and finding a pro sharpener, my husband hopped in the car and drove me a distance to get them tended to.

Once at the rink I began to share my experiences with the sharpener and his wife, both of whom remember what figure skating was in its heyday (honestly, a lot different from what it is now.) We gushed about compulsory figures and the impeccable edge manipulation of the pros back when…and of the strength, power, and infinite grace of the skaters who were on the world stage at the time I was training. I mentioned some of the places I trained, and the coaches I worked with – to my joy, they knew exactly who I was talking about – it felt like I was chatting with old friends. ❤

I’m certain I was brimming over with happiness – feeling as though I was back in my world – and as such, my husband decided to give me a nudge. And then a few more… He could tell I needed (and deeply wanted) to be encouraged…but that anxiety was doing it’s best to keep me derailed.

No such luck!

I remembered the phrase above (uttered brilliantly in a favorite Bar Luhrman film, Strictly Ballroom) and I thought…“damnit, I’m here. I am putting these on and I’m just going to try…” I was sure I’d face plant but the encouragement of my husband (and knowing my parents would have been at my side too) helped me brave the moment.

I went around two times, came off…and burst into tears. I feel the tears overtaking me even now, and can’t begin to enumerate the breadth of feeling within me. I posted a photo on social media as some of my friends (who endured the brutal winter winds at 5:30am alongside me!) would understand the accomplishment. The comments – wholly unexpected – not only warmed my heart, but brought (thankful) tears to my eyes. To know that I was remembered is like receiving a gift I never dreamed of receiving… The joy of my parents and in-laws too…it’s overwhelming and incredible. Figure skating was my “language” – it gave me words when I could not speak, and courage when I was in the throes of fear. I felt as if I was the wind itself…  

Feeling “home.” And…once a performer, always one! 😉

I have struggled over the last two decades feeling that I shouldn’t have given up the potential, the dreams, and the hopes… I remind myself that going to college was the “right” decision, and an important one. . .but I would be lying if the “what-if”s don’t’ plague me at times (never a good thing – to read my post on “Letting Go Of SHOULD”…click here.)

Part of my emotion is sadness – I know I can never go back, and that my landing leg isn’t stable enough to sustain the jumps I so loved doing…

That hurts

But I also know that no other sport has been as “right” for me as figure skating. I was meant to be on the ice and if getting my sea legs back means I can at least help others (Special Olympics and adapted sports are on my mind!) in future, then I know it was worth doing.  

2018 arrived in the same silent fashion as the sun each day – there were no fireworks beyond what we (as human beings) artificially set off. It is, therefore, up to US to “just do it”  – carpe diem, carpe noctem, carpe VITAM. We can easily sit on the sidelines and watch life go by, but we deserve so much more than that. . .

It’s okay to cry.

It’s okay to need an extra nudge or two…

It’s even okay to say “I don’t know if I can do this. . .”

But once that’s out of your system (and I’ve been there too), dust yourself off and take the plunge.

You deserve the richest and most wonderfully happy experiences in life – without trying, you’ll never know what you are missing. . .or. . .what you HAVE missed all along.

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Fitness Humor – Apparently Not Fit For Stairs!

There’s an irony to this scenario, especially if you are an active person. This happens to me ALL THE TIME! Weirdest phenomenon, positively hysterical in some ways (a little disheartening in others)…and I think more common than people like to let on.

If you feel badly about having trouble with stairs…don’t! You aren’t alone.

Aging Gracefully Looks Different For Everyone

I came across this image the other day and found it to be incredibly inspiring (I have head of these ladies before but I am always impressed.)

As we age, it takes longer to recover, and we may not be able to handle the intense training of our youth.  (I sure as shit can’t!!) Our bodies change beyond that too – we may not look the same as we did when we were younger. We may also not be as able to achieve those results without more work than it once took.

One of my biggest pet peeves, though, is when people say it’s impossible to stay fit, healthy and strong as we age – they dismiss it with an apathetic resignation that doesn’t resonate for some of us. . . Just because we are getting older doesn’t mean we can’t stay active, continue to be an athlete, or stay in good shape.

I am a strong proponent of setting ourselves up for success, and believe that unreasonable goals are a fast track to disappointment. I also believe we can achieve anything we put our hearts to provided we are smart about it. If we want to achieve a healthy body, we CAN…and without having to work until we are horribly run down – that is a more than realistic scenario.

Staying fit isn’t about the OUTSIDE appearance – for many of us it is a lifestyle because it permeates every aspect of our lives…not just the exterior. It means having more energy, and feeling proud of little accomplishments along the way.  It means being able to participate in activities we enjoy without feeling horrendous doing them, as well as having a clearer mind, and more self confidence. It may also mean staving off some unnecessary (and unkind) illnesses as well.

We don’t have to force ourselves into the box of looking the way we did at 20 – we’d not only be disheartened, but it also isn’t going to happen (unless, of course, you find a genie in a bottle.) I struggle with this sometimes too – it’s hard to see those changes and know there isn’t a ton we can do about them.  I don’t think it’s necessary to beat ourselves up for feeling that way either, ps – it isn’t about vanity all the time.  For those of us who have been active our whole lives, and fueled our bodies with healthy foods, we might identify with certain conditions (internal as much as external.)

In this way, it might feel all the more overwhelming to lose the control we might have *thought* (wrongly!) we had.  In order to stay on a track to success we need only allow that “fit” may look a little different in our older age, and continue working towards incorporating healthy choices in our lives. That includes eating healthy, whole foods, staying hydrated, staying active, and at least *trying* to get a solid amount of sleep.

Remember that deviations once in a while are okay – living life behind bars isn’t exactly the point! It’s the overall attitude, approach, and consistency that will get you where you want to go…and keep you in that vicinity.

I was definitely more “fit” when I was younger – who wasn’t!?  I’ve backed off a lot of activities, as well as the duration an intensity of the ones I’m doing. I need more time to recover, and there are days when rest is more in line with keeping me healthy than going to lift or to class. I may also have days where I need to eat more…or less…depending on what my body is telling me. But the short of it is…I’m thankful beyond words to be healthy, to have the ability to be active, and to better recognize my body’s cues. There is such a thing as aging gracefully…and staying badass while you’re at it (however you choose to define it.) Never let anyone tell you what is…or isn’t…possible – that, my dear, is up to YOU.

 

 

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What WE Feel Is What Matters Most

As an athlete, I’m often in environments where people have a heightened awareness of their appearance – in ballroom dancing, the focus was so intense it sometimes made me uncomfortable! In figure skating it wasn’t as much of a big deal, but it did matter. At the gym, I’m used to people checking in on themselves in the mirror… And even when I’m doing my own thing, I sometimes am interrupted by someone making a comment as well.

We all have different goals and what should matter the MOST is how WE feel…not what someone else thinks of us.  I remember someone saying “you know you look good” and it actually gave me pause.  I wasn’t ungrateful at all, and I certainly truly appreciated what I believe they intended to be a supportive comment – but my thoughts stopped for a moment to examine the idea. . .

To some people, we are going to look great.  But to others, not so much!  And that’s more than okay. I’m thankful to have a husband who is supportive of my mesomorphic body type. My family is also incredibly supportive, even though they don’t all “like” a muscular physique. It makes me feel good because “mesomorph / endomorph” is what I am working with – I can’t change that, and I appreciate that the people closest to me always back me up in what feels best to me.  

I *could* lose weight, gain weight, or stay where I am, but fundamentally, my structure is what it is.  As a lifetime athlete, I identify with feeling and being strong – I love having muscle, I love the feeling that I can move my own furniture, or roll my own car.  That doesn’t, however, necessarily mean OTHER people like that.  Fortunately, I ascribe to the following:

#1.) I don’t really bother myself with what someone else thinks about which condition feels – again – best to me, and…

#2.) I have ZERO misconceptions that I am perfect to everyone out there (or that any of us have to live up to that impossible standard)

As Dita once phrased it…

We could be the most gorgeous thing to one person, and not at all attractive to another.  That doesn’t mean we are too skinny, too full, too muscular, too tall, too short… Someone else’s idea of beauty is his or her own.  What matters most is how WE FEEL about ourselves, and in our own skin. 

WE need to feel good about ourselves – we deserve to feel healthy, and able, and happy.  Period.  If something in that picture is falling short, we also have the power to change it! But we mustn’t confuse what others think, because that reality isn’t our reality.

I always encourage people to be honest with themselves – are they wanting a change because HE or SHE FEELS that a change would bring about positive outcomes for themselves (feeling healthier, having more energy, feeling sexy, fitting into older clothes etc…) or is it because someone else is forcing that idea on them..?

The ball is always in our court – we have the power to decide what makes us feel our best, to have that, and to feel great in our own skin.

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