Twenty years ago, I had switched majors twice, just gotten out of a pretty rough relationship and was working really hard to finish college as soon as possible. It was a Monday, and I arrived at the YMCA at 5:15 a.m. to workout before I drove back down the gravel road to my apartment in Loose Creek to get ready for my 8 a.m. Business Communications class.
I would finish classes by 1 p.m. and then go to my first job working in a doctor's office. This routine was now set five days out of the week. I also waitressed on my days off from college classes and weekends. Some days, I would even hit up my Statistics teacher to give me some extra tutoring before class, well because, statistics! If you know, you know.
Being a waitress for almost three decades of my life, I have found if you haven't served in the food industry, you should! It teaches time management, people skills and, best of all, rewards for hard work! Life skills to the third power.
I had always kept myself busy, working two jobs through college and making my way. Definitely floating off that path a few times, but somehow a supportive family and my guardian angels always helped me learn the hard way to get back between the lines and keep moving forward.
I saw my college graduation date right around the corner. I had finally made the decision to "GSD" (get stuff done.) I had learned I was sick of feeling exhausted all the time and I decided it was time to be proactive instead of reactive. It was my time and I was excited.
The journey to wellness started early. I was 17, almost 18 years old after my first hip surgery, learning about nutrition and the paleo diet reducing inflammation and increasing wellness. I am still forever grateful for that position working at the doctor's office as a young adult. Although I was still young, naïve and not so smart.
With my underlying pediatric bone disease, I was told by doctors that exercise was a no-go. Gosh, I am so thankful for accountability and not settling for that. I grew up in a family where everyone was active playing high school sports and even going on to college to play. If you have read my previous articles, we were taught that there was no replacement for hard work.
So back to the early mornings at the gym. I had begun lifting weights, veering over to the other side of the gym. But whoa, women don't lift weights, right?! We are meant to run, do aerobic exercise and move little dumbbells.
Those first few days, I walked quietly over to the bench press rack, the dumbbells and pull-up machine surrounded by the opposite sex. Yes, it was a little uncomfortable. This was also before I could afford to plug in the fancy ear buds and zone out. I was quiet and stuck to myself. Did my reps, got winded and learned to love the feel of burning muscles.
Before long, I was getting head nods. I became comfortable asking the gentlemen in front of me if they were done with their set so I could get on the equipment. I never did master the heavy breathing and grunting that I was surrounded by, but I started saying "nice work" and "good job" to those in the gym. In turn, the guys did the same.
This went on for several years, until I came across my passion of CrossFit in early 2011, where women were not only encouraged but taught to move the barbell, hang from the rig for pull-ups, Olympic lift and do percentage work. Oh yes, we even worked to get a one rep max. Women competed alongside men in the sport of weightlifting, gymnastics and conditioning.
Recently, the world celebrated International Women's Day. We live in a world today where being a strong woman is downright fun! And this has encouraged me to write this column for all to read, but hopefully encourage a woman to keep pushing the envelope and feel the empowerment of iron.
Jake and I own a gym where all are welcome. Dads, moms, grandmas, grandpas, boys and girls celebrate accomplishments daily of their strengths.
Recently, I helped three 13-year-old girls in our teens class set a personal record on the deadlift. In between sets of deadlifts, I heard them discussing how they couldn't wait to be in college and go lift weights after class by themselves. They may not know that my heart leapt a little hearing this.
I do have a soft spot for girls, mothers, working moms, stay-at-home moms, single moms and literally any woman that needs some uplifting towards this adventure of life! Well, because women need more of the weight room.
The power of the barbell is like magic. It's the one thing that we hear as women repeatedly; that we are "not supposed to do that." Who am I to step over to the other side of the gym and lift the weights with the men? Jefferson City CrossFit gives them the opportunity to step into their own power and believe in themselves. We can do Olympic lifts like the power clean and snatch! We can powerlift like the deadlift, back squat and bench press.
The power of the iron saves women's lives! It is a mental wellness that one may never find if they don't walk into a gym that accepts the fact that Strong is Beautiful. Weightlifting is a legal drug for women boosting their endorphins and leveling hormones. I have seen them lose themselves in a movement and then watch pure joy erupt when they are done. Saying to themselves, "I can't believe I actually did that." It's glorious. Women sharing laughter and strength "at the bar."
What do I leave you with? Get moving, show up in a CrossFit class that includes weight bearing exercises to increase bone density and increase lean muscle mass. It may mean starting with 5 pounds, but the key is to begin. Find a gym where the men are screaming along with the women to lift that bar! There is nothing more exhilarating than hearing my husband and son cheer me on to "Let's Go! Get that rep!"
CrossFit has coined a phrase called "Fight Disease Daily." I couldn't be happier to spread this like wildfire. So here's to meeting you at the "bar."
Maria Holee, Level 1 CrossFit, Level 2 CrossFit, CrossFit Gymnastics, Squat University, OnBalance, Enderton Strength, Parabellum Weightlifting.