step outside

Back in December of 2014, my gym released a new schedule. They change classes and class schedules every 8ish weeks, so this was nothing new. However, the schedule is usually only about 4 weeks long in the month December, so January can start off on a fresh “new year” schedule. On this particular four-week December schedule, there was a new class with a new trainer offered: Brick House Barbell. Now, if you know me at all, you know I’m not a fan of change. I like things the way they are with very little disruption to my general routine. However, a very good friend of mine convinced me to go check it out with her, and, after quite a bit of stubborn fighting, I finally gave in and told her I’d “check it out, but I’m not promising anything past this first class”. I was an early morning “gym goer”, and this class was only offered in the evenings, I didn’t know anyone who was taking this class, I didn’t know who the trainer was but he was very quiet and seemingly very intimidating, and there was only one girl in that class…all things that were way outside my comfort zone. However, my friend promised she’d go with me, and probably promised she’d buy me food if I agreed to go, so I told her I’d tag along.

So, we met at the gym that evening and decided to wander over to the area in which the barbell class was taking place. We wandered around a little bit until the trainer who ran that class was available, and sheepishly introduced ourselves. This trainer was (as I said before) seemingly pretty intimidating, so we were pretty quiet and just followed any and all instructions and directions he gave us. For the next hour, we went through some mobility, learned basic technique, and practiced some basic barbell strength movements. It was interesting enough that we decided to come back and give it a shot throughout the whole month of December, and if we didn’t like it after that, we’d just go back to our 5:00am classes.

To make an incredibly long story short, we kept coming back. And here we are, two-and-a-half years later. But what if we hadn’t? What if we’d decided that it wasn’t something we wanted to do long term? After all, we were super sore for almost the whole month, it was still new and we felt so out of place, and it was in the evening, which wasn’t very convenient for either of us. So, what if we’d stopped coming after our four-week trial run? I don’t know where my life would be right now, but what I can tell you is that it wouldn’t be close to the same.

Weightlifting has opened a lot of doors for me. It’s caused me to take a better look at myself in terms of my dedication to a sport and my outlook on goals and goal setting. It’s allowed me to gain a better understanding of my body and what I need (from a nutritional perspective) to properly fuel my body. It’s taught me how to handle adversity and kept me humble, but always hungry for more. But, the best thing weightlifting has given me, and the one thing that I value more than anything else, is the relationship I’ve developed with my teammates.

From the very beginning, my coach preached “goals”. He is a firm believer in having goals and working toward them everyday, so he is always encouraging us to set goals, reach them, and then set more. I always knew goals were important, but never realized just how much they can motivate us to do so much more than we think we’re able to do. Thanks, in large part to weightlifting, I now set goals in every aspect of my life: work, home, relationships, training, etc. and use them to push me past any difficult barriers that are in my way.

As many of you know (and as I wrote about recently), I grew up as an overweight kid. I never gave much thought to what I ate or drank, how much I slept, or any of those now-important ‘healthy habits’. As I grew up, and started to realize I should pay more attention to that stuff, I had a hard time figuring out where to start. Strength training does some awesome stuff to your body. Without going through my whole weight loss/gain journey again, I’ll just simply say that weightlifting has really changed my life from an overall health standpoint. I firmly believe that if I hadn’t found this sport, I’d still be struggling to understand my body and what it needs in order to be fueled in a healthy way.

There are days in the weight room where you feel like you can conquer the world. Everything clicks, everything is smooth, and your lifts all feel snappy and sharp. Then you come back the next day, put the same weight on the bar, and this time the barbell kicks you around, knocks you down, and tests every ounce of willpower you have just to pick it back up and try again. And again. And again. It can be brutal, it can bring you close to tears, and it can make you want to scream, throw things down, and walk away (may or may not be speaking from experience here). However, I keep coming back every day. Why? Because, as one of my favorite quotes says:

“I want to feel, experience, and live every emotion.
I will suffer through the bad for the heights of the good”
–Pat Tillman.

Some days suck. Some days every ounce of your willpower and pride is tested. But that’s not every day. Some days are amazing. Some days everything is clicking and you feel on top of the world. And those are the days that make it all worth it.

All of those points I just made above are incredibly significant to me. Each of those aspects of my life has forever changed me as a person. However, the one thing weightlifting has brought to me, that I value more than anything else, is the relationship I’ve developed with my teammates. The people I’ve met through this sport are next to none. They are dedicated, determined, and goal-oriented. They are supportive and encouraging when you’re frustrated, and they are right there to celebrate with you when things go your way. Belonging to an encouraging and supportive team is incredibly fulfilling. It’s even more fulfilling and enjoyable when the members of that team are some of your best friends. My training partner, who is also one of my best friends, is someone I was once terrified to approach and intimidated to engaged in conversation. I have developed friendships with people I never thought I’d connect with in a million years—people from all walks of life who come together everyday to simply lift heavy weights. I know, without question, that these people always have my back.

All of this, every single thing I mentioned above, was only made possible because I stepped outside of my comfort zone. I didn’t do it alone, and I basically fought as hard as I could to avoid it. But, in the end, I did it. Something that once seemed so small, nothing more than a ‘blip on the radar’ of my life, has forever changed me as a person. So, with that being said, I encourage you to try something new, even if you’re scared. It doesn’t have to be weightlifting. It doesn’t have to be anything fitness related. It only has to be something that makes you a little uncomfortable–something that causes you to hesitate before you take the leap. Go for it. Step outside your comfort zone; you never know what you’ll find waiting for you on the other side.

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gains.

Back in January, I wrote about my fitness and nutrition journey. I wrote about how I really needed to take a step back and focus on my wellbeing, my health, and especially on myself as a whole. It’s been about 5 months since I wrote about that, so I figured it was time for an update.

Let me start by saying that gaining weight on purpose is not necessarily super “fun”. As ridiculous as that may sound, it’s a complete mind game that can really mess with you—even when you know it’s exactly what you need to do. My body fat was way too low, I wasn’t performing well in the gym, and—most concerning/most importantly—my health wasn’t the best. Even though it all made sense from a logical standpoint, it was still incredibly difficult to wrap my head around.

I won’t go into a ton of detail about my specific nutrition and eating habits because I bought and followed RP Strength’s Massing Templates and they did all the hard/macronutrient work for me. What I will discuss a little bit is how I had to change—physically and mentally—in order to really see progress.

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Left:  March 2016  (145 lbs)         Right: June 2017 (145 lbs)

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Left: March 2016       Middle: November 2016        Right: June 2017

Top photo: I weigh the same in both of these pictures. Long story short, don’t live and die by the scale.

Bottom photo: Okay…in the picture on the far left, taken in March of 2016, I was about 150ish pounds. I lifted weights, ate okay—more eating out than actually cooking, and was in a pretty good place mentally. In the middle picture, taken in November of 2016, I was 134 pounds, which was at or around my lowest weight. Oh look, abs. Neat—media’s version of “in shape”. What you don’t see is that my gym performance was suffering, I was following a very strict nutrition plan, and my hormonal and endocrine systems were screaming at me. However, I was still pretty happy most of the time and wasn’t ever feeling like I wasn’t ‘okay’. Now, the picture on the right was taken last week. I currently weigh 145ish–some days more, some days less…I don’t weigh myself daily so I don’t know…but that’s about where I hover. Screw the scale. Screw the media’s version of what’s “fit”. And screw anyone who tells you what you should and shouldn’t look like in order to conform to some unattainable version of “healthy”.

Last week, I wrote about letting go of what you think people want you to be and embracing who you truly are. This was something I struggled with throughout this whole process, and I think it’s something we all struggle with from time to time. The media paints a pretty clear picture of what it means to be “fit” and “in shape”. However, just as we all know, that’s not real life. Take it from me when I say that I couldn’t live my life—at least very happily or healthily—at 14% body fat.

I don’t know what my body fat percentage is now. I don’t really care at all. What I do know is that it’s at least a few percentage points higher than it was in January. Do some days still suck? Of course. Do all of my clothes fit? Some do, some don’t (big ridiculous gains in my legs and booty). Do I miss having the media’s version of a “fit person’s” body? Ehhhh kind of. I mean, I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was fun for a little while. But what I don’t miss is everything that came with it. My body wasn’t meant to sit at 14% body fat and a set of six pack abs. Who cares? I sure don’t anymore.

What I did gain over the past five months was pretty life changing. I gained weight, but along with that, I gained so much more. I’m finally hitting new numbers in the gym—and I’m consistently hitting my lifts at high percentages. My health is on the mend and my body is thanking me for finally listening to what it had been telling me for months. But, above all, I’m just happier. My husband provides me with incredible support and I am surrounded by some of the best human beings on this planet, who love me for being me, and who always encourage me to better myself—and who are always down for a milkshake ;-).

Opening up and talking about these things is super difficult for me. I’m incredibly introverted and prefer to keep these things to myself. However, after I shared my story in January, and had multiple people reach out to me, I learned I wasn’t alone. I know there are more people who are in the position I was in, and if my story can provide the motivation or encouragement to even just one person who needs it, then there’s no question in my mind that it’s all worth it.

enough

I recently read a book that had a pretty profound impact on me. I was drawn to the book Daring Greatly, written by Brené Brown, after watching her TED Talk –which I highly recommend.

At a certain point in this book, I stumbled upon this quote, which I connected with almost immediately:

“Belonging starts with self-acceptance. Your level of belonging, in fact, can never be greater than your level of self-acceptance, because believing that you’re enough is what gives you the courage to be authentic, vulnerable, and imperfect.”

Self-acceptance is something I’ve struggled with on a certain scale for as long as I can remember. Now, that’s not to say I lived an unhappy life in which I was always upset with myself. There are many things I loved about myself when I was growing up: my sense of humor, my dedication to my school work, my skills on the softball field, my loyalty to my friends and family, etc. My parents raised me to feel good about myself, and I really did for the most part. However, I was a typical teenage girl who couldn’t live up to the media’s image of what a girl should act like, look like, speak like, eat like, and so on.

I’ve always kind of broken the ‘typical girl’ mold. I grew up running around on my babysitter’s (and my grandpa’s) hog farm(s), playing catch with my dad for hours every night, watching copious amounts of football—and playing it with all the boys at recess, and wearing nothing but gym shorts and t-shirts for pretty much all of my childhood. And, in reality, not much has changed today, minus the hog farms ;-). I still watch football—and could talk your ear off about it. My clothing of choice is still sweats and a t-shirt. I spend hours in the weight room every night. What did change was my opinion of how the world, especially those closest to me, perceived my choices and my way of life.

I was a pretty carefree kid. I wasn’t worried about whether or not people liked what I was doing…I just did what I wanted, what made me happy, and went about my days as one of the happiest kids alive. Unfortunately, as I grew up, things changed. I began to become more aware of how different I was, and it made me uncomfortable. I still did things I thought were fun and that made me happy, but I constantly wondered if I was ‘fitting in’…if I belonged where I was or where I should.

As the years passed, I had some pretty significant self-discovery. I met my husband at a young age, and he has always loved and accepted for me everything I am—good, bad, and ugly. But it wasn’t until I allowed myself to accept those things that I began discovering exactly who I was, what I enjoyed, and who I enjoyed doing those things with. It’s like I was returning to childhood Rachel—the one who was carefree and wasn’t so troubled by what people thought. When I began to rediscover this part of myself, my level of happiness and contentment with myself, and my life choices, rose tenfold.

I know I’m not alone in this struggle with self-acceptance. Just look at our social media accounts. How often to we take, and retake, and then retake the same picture over and over again to get everything “just right” instead of just posting the first picture we take. I know I’m guilty of it. I still don’t usually post things on Facebook or Instagram that aren’t “flattering”, though I’m making a more conscious effort on this front right now. I have removed pictures I felt like didn’t portray an image I wanted to put out there for fear of negative public or societal opinions. It wasn’t until very recently that I sat back and asked myself, “Why?”

Often times, I tell people I just like to be alone. I feel more comfortable, and more secure, when I can be by myself. But, the truth is that on some level, we all want—and need—to belong. That’s part of the reason I occasionally write these blogs; I want to open parts of myself up to the world that they may not otherwise see. It’s very difficult to find people who accept and love you for being yourself when you don’t open yourself up for them to find you. Everyone wants to feel like they have a place in the world, surrounded by people who love them for who they are—history, flaws, scars, and all. In order to find this place, and these people, you have to begin to accept yourself as the person you are meant to be. And when these people come along, you’ll know. And you’ll find that you’re much happier than you were when you weren’t living your “authentic, vulnerable, and imperfect” life.

It’s not an easy thing to do—to admit that you are letting the perceptions of those around you determine your decisions, your happiness, and potentially affect your future. It’s always going to be a process, and there will always be bumps in the road, but the one thing I’ve learned as I reflect upon all of this is: don’t change your identity. Who you truly are is enough. Don’t make yourself into something, or someone, you’re not. The right people will find you. These are the people who know you–the real, raw, deep, introspective version of you—and love you anyway, just as you are. And I promise you—they’re worth it. And, above all, you’re worth it.

Mom

Mother’s Day.

This holiday has always been one in which I find a lot of meaning and one in which I feel as though I connect with pretty deeply. I may not be a mother myself, but I’m lucky enough to have experienced unconditional love from two women who call themselves my mother.

My mother, simply put, is truly wonderful. She raised me to be the person I am today and, while I still strive to be a better person every single day, she set an incredible example for me to follow. She is a kind, caring, and compassionate lady who would do anything for anyone else. I can’t describe in words how fortunate I am to have been raised by such a wonderful mom. She was put on this earth to be a mother, and has been a great example of everything I could ever ask for in a mom, and everything I aspire to be should I become a mother one day.

None of this would have been possible without the other incredible woman who calls herself my mother. I don’t know what kind of woman she is today, I don’t know where she lives, and I don’t even know exactly how old she is. What I do know is that, a little over 28 years ago, she was one of the most beautiful, caring and above all, selfless, teenagers in this world. She gave me everything I have. She gave my mom (and dad) everything they ever wanted. She will forever be, without question, someone I will always respect and admire until the end of my days.

Adoption isn’t rare. It isn’t something that people are ashamed to discuss or nervous to bring up. However, it isn’t something that people talk about very often. When people find out I’m adopted, they’re usually a little surprised. I look enough like my parents that it would be easy to assume they are my biological parents. Adoption is an interesting conversation topic, because people become pretty curious about my past, how my adoption occurred, how old I was, and so on. I do usually enjoy these conversations because I feel pretty passionate about the topic of adoption.

Usually the follow up question to finding out I was adopted is, “Have you met your ‘real’ mom?” This question is never, ever, asked with ill intention. No one ever asks this question with the intention of making my mom feel as though she is inadequate or any less of a mother. It’s simply just something most people have never had to answer. Since I’ve been asked this question multiple times throughout my lifetime, I usually just reply with, “My biological mother? No, not since the day I was born.”

However, the real answer to this question is: Yes. My ‘real’ mom is the mother who raised me. The mother who stayed home with me after my adoption for about six months in order to develop a stronger bond with me. The mother who made sure I always had food, clothes, and a roof over my head. The mother who invested countless hours into attending all of my extra-curricular activities and events as I was growing up so I could always look up into the bleachers or out into the crowd and see a familiar face. The mother who taught me to find the best bargains in the every department store. The mother who still, to this day, tells me to be careful at least four times a day and who still worries about me driving alone. She is my ‘real’ mother. She is not imaginary. She is my mom.

My birth mother gave me everything. She gave me life, she gave me hope, and she gave me my parents. She literally gave me everything. I have met her, too. I met her on January 8, 1989. I don’t remember her or anything about that day, but it was the day she met me. It was the day she first became a mother, and also the day my mom first became a mother. I don’t know for sure if she became a mother again later in her lifetime, but I hope that wherever she is, she is celebrating herself, and her selfless decision, on this Mother’s Day.

Anyone who plays the role of a mother deserves to be celebrated today and every day. Biology doesn’t make you a mother. No matter the adjective in front of the word mother: step, grand, biological, adoptive, foster, etc., you deserve to be celebrated. No matter if you have yet to become a mother, are mourning the loss of a child or pregnancy, or are a father who has taken on the role of ‘mother’, you deserve to be celebrated.

Happy Mother’s Day to each and every one of you incredible human beings; thank you for everything you do for those you love every single day.

“However motherhood comes to you–it’s a miracle.” -Valerie Harper

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march.

I’ve remained pretty quiet on the topic of the Women’s March lately. Not because I don’t have a firm belief or stance on the matter (if we are friends, you know where I stand). I’ve been pretty quiet because I couldn’t find the right words to explain how I feel, why I think this is incredibly important, and why I can’t just “move on, get over it, suck it up and deal with it”.

This weekend, I coached two of my male teammates in a USA Weightlifting competition. I am a certified USA Weightlifting coach, I train a group of weightlifters, I researched and prepared for this competition; I know what I’m doing.

Yet, as I sat back in the warm up area, the only female among all the male weightlifters and coaches, I felt so out of place. I had two separate individuals ask me which of my two teammates was my husband–because why would a male weightlifter have a female coach? It made me uncomfortable, but I truly don’t believe either individual meant any harm when they made their assumptions. I do believe that they made these assumptions because this is a typical response to seeing a woman outside of the ‘status quo’.

The experience I had this weekend is such a minuscule comparison to the things other women have to deal with on a daily basis. Now, we HAVE grown a lot. Women ARE becoming more independent, more self-sufficient, and overall, are becoming a much stronger group of people than they ever have been in the past.

But how did we get here? Because so many women before us stood up. They marched. They fought so hard for the rights that we have. Why should we stop now? Why should I “get over” my current president’s remarks regarding sexual assault? Why should I “deal with” the fact that our sitting president believes breastfeeding is disgusting?

I’m aware that he’s the President of the United States of America. I am aware that this is an office he will hold for four years. I am also aware that he does not value all women. He has made it incredibly clear, and I do not believe that I, nor any woman, should have to “suck it up” and sit down.

We all have our own opinions. Many women shared their opinions when they voted for Donald Trump in November. Many women, around the world, chose to express their opinions on Saturday by gathering together to spread the message that we deserve to be heard–we deserve to be respected.

I’ve heard so many people say, “Why are these women so pissed off? They have so many rights women in third world countries would kill for.” You’re right. But that doesn’t mean we should settle for less than we deserve.
I can’t tell you what to think. I can’t tell you how to react. But, because I keep seeing people ask for an explanation as to why this march occurred, I can tell you why I feel that it is incredibly important–so I did.

“There is no force equal to a woman determined to rise.” -W.E.B. Du Bois

a brand new path.

Over the course of the past few months, I’ve had a few people tell me that I’ve helped inspire them along their journeys–weightlifting, nutrition, life in general etc.

I never set out on my own personal journey with the intention of inspiring others to do the same, but I am grateful that I can provide even a shred of support or encouragement to anyone who may want or need it.

With that being said, I’m embarking on a new journey this year. 2017 is the first year I don’t have a New Year’s resolution with something along the lines of “lose some extra pounds I’m carrying around”. As a matter of fact, it’s completely the opposite.

I lost over 20 pounds in 2016, my body fat percentage got pretty low, and I felt pretty good. I developed a much better relationship with food and how it’s used to fuel my body. My training felt great, I felt like I looked the best I ever had, and I was overall quite happy.

I got so caught up in my training, nutrition planning, and life in general, that I didn’t realize the toll some of these changes had taken on my body. My endocrine and hormone systems were screwy, I didn’t feel super in tune with myself, and kind of feel like I wasn’t in “control” of my own body. So, after some chatting with Eric, and some of my closest friends, I decided I needed to reevaluate what my next path would be.

All of this resulted in my decision to try and gain some weight back. Now, before you roll your eyes and sigh and think to yourself…’really? You’re going to make an effort to gain weight? That’s one of the easiest things a person can do!’…understand that it’s not exactly that “cut and dry”. Without going into detail, it won’t involve long nights of stuffing my face with lots of cupcakes and tortilla chips (though there is always a place in my meal plan for everything 😜).

Now, why am I telling this information to the world? Because I recently saw this photo on Facebook and it brought back a lot of vivid memories. And I’m sure I’m not the only one who is, or has, experienced these feelings.

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Left:October 2008                                 Right: December 2016

These photos are 8 years apart. It doesn’t happen overnight, and there were lots of detours along the way. I worked hard to figure out what my body needed so I could be as healthy as possible, while still enjoying my life. In my mind, no matter how much weight I lose or what size of clothing I wear, I will always look like the girl on the left. When you look at that reflection in the mirror for 26 years, it doesn’t just erase itself within a few months. The thing is, I wasn’t super unhappy with myself or how I looked. I knew I wasn’t as healthy as a could be, but I’ve always been pretty darn happy with myself as a human being. But I never, ever, imagined I’d find myself trying to actually gain weight. On purpose.

Regardless, it’s a very difficult concept to wrap my mind around. Luckily for me, I’ve never really been a “scale watcher”, unless I was cutting for my meets, so I don’t really care about the number on a scale. I have a very firm understanding of nutrition and the effect of different foods on my body, but it’s still very hard for me to stop myself from having irrational thoughts about gaining weight.

So, I put it out there on this platform. That’s why I started this blog, to help my incredibly introverted self share things I know are important, but I can’t bring myself to talk about to just anyone. I know I’m not the only one who has experienced this, and I’ve found a lot of inspiration and encouragement by reading and listening to others’ stories.

In the end, I’m the only one who knows what’s best for me. I’m the only one who knows how I feel physically, mentally, and emotionally. So, here’s to embarking on a journey I’ve never taken before to see if it’ll help me feel more like myself. Time to eat all the food and make all the gains!

grind

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My wonderful friend Sarah took so many great shots of me weightlifting yesterday during the Iowa State Championships. I looked through all of them this morning and wanted to post one with a little thanks to everyone along with my thoughts on the meet in general. Then I found this one.

This picture is incredibly impactful for me. In April, I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. If you’re not aware of RA or what it is, I’ll spare you the medical lecture, but long story short, it’s pretty crappy. My hands hurt pretty much all the time. Some days more than others, but it’s not too bad right now, all things considered.
I was so mad initially, thinking about what that meant for my future, but then, with the help of Eric and a couple very good friends, I put it all into perspective. It could be so much worse, and I needed to figure out how to manage it all.

Weightlifting is one of my favorite things in the entire world. I just discovered it 2 years ago, it’s changed me so much, and I wasn’t about to give it up. Thanks to my coach, who is also one of the greatest guys I know, and my incredible teammates, who are some of my closest friends, we work through it day by day. Some days rock and it’s like it’s not even there. And some days really suck and I have to back off and take it easy.

My training up to this meet was really, really hard. Weather changes and the cold temperatures made for a couple of pretty rough weeks, and I wasn’t sure how the meet would go or if I could even compete. Long story short, I went ahead and lifted. It went very well, and I felt pretty good, all things considered. I lifted pretty well, and ended up placing better than I thought I might at a much lower bodyweight than I anticipated. So, it was a pretty darn good day.

But, nothing summarizes yesterday for me more than this picture. This picture means so much to me, and it encompasses so many of the different feelings and emotions I’ve felt lately. A simple photo of me, willing my hands to work, with two of my best friends, and teammates, looking on behind the scenes, while I get ready to go do something I love so incredibly much.

RA sucks. But I’ll be damned if I let it define me and decide my path in life. There will be good days and bad days, and I’ll just face them all one day at a time with my incredible husband, my best friends, and my teammates along for the ride.