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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The Secrets Of Ninjutsu

Ninjutsu is probably one of my favorite Arts – its unique and unorthodox techniques, its higher-level, somewhat ethereal concepts, and the intriguing furtiveness captivated me from the get go.  It is, truly, an Art…and as a dancer and ice skater at heart, artistry is my language.

I’ve (rather sadly) seen traditional Arts dismissed as irrelevant – many modern-day practitioners want techniques that they can apply to modern-day scenarios.  Makes sense.  But therein lies the deception. Being rooted in a deep and complicated history also means that there are thousands of gems lying within the teachings.  Ones that have not only stood the test of time – when it was truly life and death – but ones that can also be very readily adapted and applied to “today.”

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One of the most interesting facets of Ninjutsu is the whole air of “secrecy.”  It sounds like an exaggeration but trust me, it isn’t.  Even within the walls of an official school, we find lots of “Henka,”or variations on specific techniques – the thing is, they are not always relayed in a straight-forward fashion, and sometimes are only hinted at.  For some Artists, that idea doesn’t go over (I can feel the eye rolls.)

While reading a Curriculum, for example, you might see images that don’t always jive with what the written directions are saying.  It ISN’T a lost-in-translation mistake either.  It’s completely deliberate.

The idea here is not that the “powers that be” of Traditional Ninpo are aiming to be unreasonably difficult, nor necessarily that they want to add some mysterious air that the Art can’t back up.  It’s more about the principle that learning is very much about DOing. Your Sensei is “passing down” the traditions, so to speak, and it drives home the idea that just reading a book, going online, or cerebrally understanding concepts ISN’T enough.  Martial Arts transcends any one approach – it takes grasping the fundamentals intellectually, absolutely, but the Art cannot be realized without being fully hands-on.

Taking it a step further, there are countless layers to the Art – you may learn a technique at one level, only to discover – throughout your own progression – profound jewels embedded deeply with in them…ones you neither could see, nor were capable of comprehending, in earlier training.

Ninpo embraces that we are not always ready for all of the “secrets” but that to develop our true “artistry” will take time, hard work, both finessing and breaking down the techniques until we can create our own. I suppose in a way many Martial Arts take that tact but here, some of the information is simply not shared until one has proven oneself to be ready.

The multi-faceted Ninjutsu is 1,000% NOT for everyone. It is acrobatic, intense, a little bit cryptic, unabashedly sneaky, and incredibly down-and-dirty at times.  Remember, the Ninja needed to survive…not stand on the battlefield until they – or you – were terminated (a la Samurai.)  

Ninjutsu focuses more on learning to keep distance, disabling, taking up an opponent’s space (including mental and spiritual) and getting away with one’s life.  To me, that’s the ultimate – I never began Martial Arts to “beat someone up.”  It’s an ART first and foremost for me, personally.  But, should I be faced with a true threat, I want the ability (or at least the tools) to disable, disengage, and get to safety.  It isn’t about “the fight,” but minimizing injury and getting away.  No ego.  No heroics.

Ninjutsu specifically will expose the student to everything from joint locks, small joint manipulations, grappling, takedowns, throws, sweeps, striking and weapons, to name a few.  I love that we have the opportunity to have such exposure, as many Arts are much more limited in scope. That said, the journey for each practitioner is unique, and built upon vastly different goals – in my own heart, I believe all Martial Arts are worthy and beneficial, markedly different they may be.

Martial Arts isn’t for the faint of heart – Ninjutsu isn’t “gentle” by any stretch, but it does teach us skills by which we can learn to keep ourselves – and our opponents – safe.  At the end of the day, however, we are taught that if we must overcome that individual, we must be prepared to do so.  Fortunately in modern times we don’t have to take it quite that far (certainly not in practice!)

Sometimes techniques hurt, sometimes they baffle, and other times they’re a little difficult to track down…. But each one of them – both the clandestine and the clear – are there should we be required to use them.  

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The Power Of I Love You

Never stop saying “I love you” – to hear those words can alter the course of a day. Or a lifetime.

Never stop appreciating those who make your world brighter, including their quirks, differences, eccentricities…even those qualities that irk you from time to time.  Remember to let them know in words and actions…

Often.  

Hold their hand just because.  Kiss them when they least expect it.  Give them a hug, or leave them a positive note, or just call to say “hello.” 

The “little things” have the power to alter the deepest pain, fiercest anger, and most pressing frustrations.  They remind us of our blessings when we lose sight of them, and they remind those we love that they are valuable in this life…in our life.

Life is precious, and so very fleeting – Love is a gift to cherish, but above all to share and express.  To “give back” ensures that what time we – and our loved ones – do have is lived to the happiest full. ❤

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When Nothing Goes Right…

I love what the “…go left” in the original version of this quotation stands for. . .but I *also* love the gym-rat-edited “…go LIFT” one, and not because it’s gym-leaning.

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Exercise is, 1,000%, a proven de-stressor (that happens to have added health benefits, vs. other known de-stressors, like comfort foods, binge eating, alcohol consumption, body-harming vices of whatever design…)

I think a lot of folks who haven’t had the opportunity to be (or exposure to being) active don’t know what they are missing. Whether it is lifting iron in a gym, taking a jog, or just dancing like no one is watching as fiercely as you can, physical movement and engagement can turn a very BAD day (or series of events!) into a much more positive one.  It’s not only for your heart and body, but your mind and emotional state too too… 

When nothing goes right, give your body a chance to work out the aggression, frustration, disappointment, whatever. . . It really doesn’t matter if it’s jumping jacks during commercials, going to a barre class, or playing in a soccer league.  ANY movement helps.

By changing your direction and focus, and letting your body do what it was designed to do – move – you can alter not only the tone of the day, but your mood with it.

Win, win.

Vampy Claws

For Ballroom, I had to have my nails “just so” – the grooming is impeccable and it’s unheard of NOT to have gel nails (or at least ferociously long, often outlandishly wide, french manicured nails.)  I opted for glittering, far more narrow tips myself…

Were I still in the sport (or perhaps even if not) I’m pretty sure I default to these unbelievable, deliciously, pointy claws.

@nikkietutorials and @electanailart

My Martial Arts rules out such a possibility (though they could be easily utilized in Ninjutsu!)  I suppose back in the day my weight lifting habit (of, now, nearly 26 years) would have also required some level of caution. . .

But still…these sharp, fresh-blood red talons are out of this world… At least to this not-so-secretly goth girl in a gi…

Holiday 2016 – MAC Nutcracker Sweet

I’m a little bit partial to the Nutcracker because I grew up being classically trained – 10 years of ballet, and you’ll see ten years of the Nutcracker around the holidays…if not more (once a dancer, always a dancer.)  I desperately wanted to be in it, actually, and a friend and fellow dancer was – spectacular!

MAC is embracing the fun and festivities with a Holiday Nutcracker-inspired Collection – Sweet as can be.  For details, check out Chicprofile, who shares the full list of goodies, and a few more images. A little tricky to see all of the items clearly, given the bold pink patterning of dots and stripes but…anyway!  Personally, I love the Pro Longwear Paint Pot in Stormy Pink, a muted grey-purple hue.  I feel like it would add a barely-there depth (not a new shade, so much, but sometimes they aren’t!)

Chicprofile.com

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Martial Arts – Beyond Than Being An Athlete

Being a Martial Artist isn’t completely akin to being just an athlete – while both designations require a high physical demand in combination with mental focus, there is – in my own mind – a level of spiritual attunement that takes Martial Arts a step further.

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I’ve been an athlete my whole life – for better or worse I have always identified myself with my athletic endeavors.  Extracurricular activities were equally as committed to as my studies growing up – I didn’t train here or there, I was “on” five to seven days a week, multiple hours a day, interspersing my training with homework and school time.  To many, I didn’t “have a life.”  I still managed to get to sleepovers and do “kid” things, but I was up well before the group and off to the ice rink while they still caught their Zs.  

I guess there were a few days I minded – in the dead of winter, 5 am looks a lot like midnight…and it feels that way too!  But MOST of the time, I loved it.  I had my own routine, and my own sense of uniqueness.  I felt empowered, strong, and enjoyed having the physical outlet for my ridiculous Geminian energy, and my sometimes awkward way with expression (that is to say, movement was as much a language to me as English!  Ask a dancer, and he or she will understand what I mean.)  Other kids maybe slept later, or hung out until the wee hours when I had to be back in bed…but at the end of the day, being an “athlete” meant more to me than being like everyone else.  

My circle of friends was relatively small, no question – there were days when I wondered what it was like being the most popular kid in class but. . . It was short-lived.  The prospect of worrying more about what I wore to school every day didn’t really have room on my list of things to do, nor did who asked who out – I simply wasn’t on that wavelength. My best friends very much included my coach, a skating buddy or two, my parents, and a gymnast. Oh!  And I had a horse riding friend also.  Shocking, I know – another athlete!  Life wasn’t exactly the same for us as it was our peers – the time commitment, for one, was massive.  The friends I had were those who suffered the same constraints I did so we had an understanding by default (no, I really DID have to miss that birthday party because of a competition!)

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Being an athlete also required an enormous physical demand – maintaining that level of training and impact at 38? Not going to happen.  Eight Marital Arts classes a week, two days of HIIT cardio, and three to five lifting is MORE than enough. It was something to behold, for sure, and I am extremely proud of my body for getting me through it.

Add to those two hefty components (the commitment of body and time) the ability to focus the mind – not only for competition, but for training in general.  There were plenty of days of pushing through feeling under the weather, bleeding feet, strains, sprains…even a collapsed lung.  It was absolutely vital that we spent time visualizing, and keeping our mind sharp – on ice in particular, being “out of it” could be incredibly dangerous.

There was something else, though… An entirely other layer that seduced me from the get go – one that I dare say was evident when I performed.  When I watched top athletes I could always see the difference in “spiritual” commitment.  ALWAYS.  It wasn’t that the skater did, or didn’t, love the sport – most all of us were infected with intense ardor from an early age.  It was more so that some were devoted on another level...  Not just mind, not just body…but soul.  It wasn’t “spiritual” in an ecclesiastical way, but rather the presence of a transcendent passion. They weren’t skating to music, they were the music.  That, for me, was what made all the difference.  I didn’t want to just hit my elements…I wanted to string together each movement into a story that those with loss of their senses could still feel and understand.  

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In Martial Arts, such a level of dedication is – I’d argue – required.  Being a Martial Artist isn’t just about attendance, accomplishing the moves, passing tests, or breaking boards.  It isn’t just about being able to focus the mind on a task at hand, pushing through, and staying on point.  And it isn’t about getting a rank and calling it quits.

You can DO Martial Arts, absolutely.  To be a true “Martial Artist,” though, I (again, personally) feel as though the soul connection has to be there.  So yes, in my mind, I am eliminating the guys who get in a ring a kick ass but don’t do it for any reason beyond beating someone else (at their game, or literally.)  

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There are plenty of sports where you can sneak by without that soul connection – even in the most aesthetically-based, such as dancing and figure skating.  You can still complete the technical components, and maybe do okay with the artistic portion.  The average spectator very likely won’t notice the difference.  I guess in Martial Arts that can happen too…but then it isn’t really Martial Arts, it’s strictly striking, grappling, whatever…

Being an athlete is something to be proud of – it takes WORK.  It’s blood, sweat, and tears…peppered with (hopefully) some laughs.  Depending on the level (and the nature of the specific Art), Martial Arts requires that practitioners are athletes – the conditioning dictates it by default.  

But. . .to BE a Martial Artist really means devotion beyond the physical and mental – it’s a layer (or several) beyond just saying “this is my sport.”

Being a Martial Artist is something that will permeate your Life, and remain “true” for all your years – it is a lifestyle.  It is a way of being, thinking, acting, existing.  The lessons we learn, and strive to perfect, belong to a pursuit that extends well beyond our age and body – one of the reasons I say to people that Martial Arts is “timeless.”  

My sports and activities – figure skating, dance, weight lifting etc – those things take a toll eventually.  We get to a point where we can’t continue nearly at the same level.  But in Martial Arts, we somehow get better with age, regardless of having to potentially tone it down – there are so many layers beyond the “seen” that movement, ability, learning, philosophy etc…continues undeterred.  We become wiser and more balanced, not just stronger, more agile, more fluid with our movement.  I feel like those who have become impossibly proficient are not just skilled, they are IN it – they are tied to the activity with heart and soul, not just the desire to get better. They become the Art. 

That undercurrent is very much the one that finally got me to start – I wanted to do Martial Arts forEVER but was so inundated with demands from extracurricular sports, school, and then work that it was put on the burner.  For a long time.

In my early 30’s I revisited the “if I get injured and can’t dance, what ‘sport’ will I be able to continue with..?”  It was a very real issue when deciding between figure skating and college – I took the later path knowing that one derailment could cause a massive ripple effect later, leaving me in the dust of my peers.  After sitting with the thought a while, I manned up and marched into a Dojang – a decision that changed my Life forever.

I incidentally did get injured – through Martial Arts.  It incidentally DID take me out of ballroom competition for good.  But somehow I have been able to continue – no matter the modifications, I am still growing, learning, AND contributing (the most amazing part.)  I will for as long as I take it and I hope – though the capacity might change – that I will forever. 

The injuries I sustained would have (very likely) completely ended my career in figure skating, possibly ballet…definitely ballroom (because it did!)  But Martial Arts – with its countless facets – offers me the promise of maintaining my athleticism along with mental growth, emotional intelligence, and spiritual attainment.  It takes being an athlete to a whole other level and I LOVE that.  I know  that even when I have to do a little bit less physically, I can still reap the rewards of the sport – as a sport – without having to throw in the towel before I am ready (which will be NEVER!) 🙂 

My Martial Arts and Dance album…