Working Out, Through Grief

Everyone experiences great loss in their lives. Some more unfortunately than others but everyone loses something or someone very important to us. It has a profound impact on us and how we deal with it can have an even more profound impact on our futures.

Aunt B8

Recently I lost my aunt. To call her an aunt is a misleading representation of our closeness. To myself and many of my 13 cousins, she was our babysitter, our camp counsellor, our social worker and the person many of us depended upon to make sense of the world. When my mother passed away, she was the person who swore to be there for me no matter what, to offer guidance & support while also calling me out on my sh*t. Her unconditional love for us, mixed with her dry wit and love for nature made her a very special person.

I find it quite fascinating how differently people cope with loss. I have known many who pretend they are fine and push onwards without acknowledging the pain that must be processed, I have known others who have literally drank themselves to death within a year, not able to manage what was now missing from their lives, and many more who have tried to mask their pain with substances, eating disorders, seclusion, sexual promiscuity or a neurotic work ethic that consumes them.

When my mother passed away over a decade ago, I did not have the tools and resources that I now have to cope. I gave into many of the above mentioned coping mechanisms but there was one thing that truly helped carry me through that period of emotional desperation. That was sport. It helped me then and is helping me now. Back then, only constant in my life was wresting. The sweat, tears and adrenaline of a physical workout granted me some sort of clarity and mental strength to slowly move forward.

running-runner-long-distance-fitness-40751

There has been quite a bit of research done on the benefits of high intensity physical activity on stress and grief management. Dr. Mercola explains in his article, “Sweating Out Sadness”, that high intensity exercise gives you a sense of control as it requires great internal focus. Not to mention the benefits of increased blood flow to the brain, release of endorphins (those happy neurotransmitters) and the sense of accomplishment that can help rebuild general motivation.

Now I am not saying that every single time you are feeling sad, down, low, unmotivated, paralyzed, impartial, etc., that you should get up and rock a 20-minute HIIT workout. That’s an unrealistic expectation that will just lead to feeling even more lost and disappointed. There have been days this past couple of weeks where just brushing my teeth, showing up for work or eating something other than chocolate & Skittles all day is considered a victory. I am talking about those moments when you feel like you want and need something to help you feel better. Those are the moments to try and get your sweat on. Just as the grief diary I will share at the end of the month will demonstrate, the actual process of processing typically looks much more like a 2 year olds’ drawing of a cat. It rarely is a straight inclining line.

The path to saying goodbye is probably filled with many ups, downs, happy moments when you think you should be sad, sad moments when you want to be happy, moments when you want to lash out at the nice barista who put just a bit too much foam in your cappuccino and flashing moments of your old content self. My best advice is not to rush it, to own your feelings whole heartedly and to do a little bit most days. Use the loss in order to strengthen you for the future. Sheryl Sandberg, COO of a small company called Facebook, wrote a beautiful piece about grief when her husband passed away. She does not touch on ‘sweat therapy’ but I leave you with this article and hope that it gives you some insight and that exercise becomes a helpful tool in your tool belt.

http://www.businessinsider.com/sheryl-sandbergs-essay-on-dave-goldbergs-death-and-grief-2015-6

AthleteInspired

The power of a matriarch

image-2

I was sitting on a plane bound for my new-ish home in Vancouver after a brief stint in Calgary and an even more brief, stopover in Ontario. I had intended on spending the long weekend in a large gym, crammed with volleyball players and volleyball supporters, promoting the company a few of us started up last year. Six days working a booth, talking to parents about AthleteConnect and how it can improve not-so-little (even the 15-year olds are giants compared to myself) Lexi and Tyler’s opportunities to play post-secondary sport in Canada. Not a luxurious way to spend a long weekend but an entrepreneurial necessity.

Well I put in a solid 3-days at the Olympic Oval before I had to catch the red eye to say farewell to someone very dear to me. Someone whom I will probably see for the last time. While I was home amongst this looming sadness, I really started to think about the effect that a strong matriarch can have on a family. With the early departure of the patriarch, she is the one person who is responsible for maintaining the current branches in the family’s tree. She has been around long enough to amass an extensive collection of trails, tribulations, joys and successes. She upholds the traditions of the clan and can manage the politics of a family solely by the respect her presence in the room commands. She also happens to be the person responsible for filling you with ice cream sundaes, butter tarts and the birthday cards containing a bit of spending money.

As we flooded into our hometown from all over Ontario, British Columbia, Virginia and Australia, something overwhelmingly powerful happened. For the first time in 11-years, every daughter, son, granddaughter and grandson (as well as a few additions to the family, including a great-grandson) gathered in one place, caught up and reconnected with each other. Rather than sadness filling the air, there were hugs and laughter as everyone took turns sharing their latest successes and adventures. As the photographer grouped the four extensions of the clan around the almost stoic matriarch for one final portrait of it’s kind, there was a strong sense of pride and belonging.

The Ross Clan

The Ross Clan

So what happens to the many branches of a family tree when the matriarch has to leave us? Does each limb grow in it’s own separate direction, preparing to expand it’s own reach to the next generation? Who will step up to carry on and instill the family values and traditions that we associate with being ‘home’? Perhaps, large congregations of the clan will be limited to the wedding circuit.  Or maybe it will only be in times of major sorrow that our paths cross. A passing of the guard is inevitable. With it comes a wave of wonderful memories that become etched in one’s heart forever. It’s not an answer but a consolation within a process of change.

AthleteInspired

Another St Paddy’s Day with the Birthday Princess

Some birthdays are more memorable than others. Sweet sixteen on the beaches of Florida, I can finally use valid identification to go to the bar with my wrestling team 19th (if you are in Ontario), the 25th “break your nose on the side of a van” pirate themed party, and the 30th in Boston on St Paddy’s Day with my favourite people (need I say more). I can confidently add the 32nd to the list.

50's themed Brithday princess (self made, Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany's custom)

50’s themed Brithday princess (self made, Audrey Hepburn, Breakfast at Tiffany’s custom)

Some of my fam in Boston at the parade in Southy for my 30th

Some of my fam in Boston at the parade in Southy for my 30th

First off, I think I need to talk about my dark side. My fatal flaw. I suffer from a self-imposed “condition” or what is self-diagnosed as birthday princess-itis. Loosely described as the neurotic implementation of high expectations on your social circle (and any other passers by who are game to participate) to stop and celebrate your day of birth.   It is the annual opportunity to justify my desire to be the centre of attention and hold the stage for 24 straight hours. And in exchange for your undivided attention I continue to promise and deliver 24 straight hours of entertainment at my expense. Gifts are not required but definitely enjoyed as all I want is your time and sense of humour / adventure. And, on top of all of that, if things end up getting out of hand, you have apologetic coffees, chocolate and repaired / dry-cleaned clothing to look forward to the following day. So in my mind, it is an equitable arrangement.

I can honestly say that I was not expecting anything this year. New to Vancouver, having left all my friends and loved ones who understand just how neurotic I am about my birthday, I had done a pretty good job of lowering expectations as low as a birthday princess could. I kept plans low key and flexible. Wowza, was my mind blown with how awesome my day went!

IMG_20150317_115047

I awoke to the long distances birthday wishes of my family and best friends in Ontario (who were 3 hours ahead and patiently waiting to be the first to call) and Calgary. I chatted up a storm all morning as I made my way to the top of Grouse mountain where, donning my green tiara, I spiked my coffee with Jameson’s and took in the breathtaking views of the city below and the ships cruising into the harbour.

I made it down into the city feeling extremely zen. I received my first birthday present from my friend and talented hairdresser at BangTown who couldn’t join the festivities that night so he, with his magic wand (aka. curling iron and 5 pounds of hair product), ensured I looked fabulous from the scalp up. I felt like a true diva. Then, with my fabulous new hair style, I was given one of the coolest birthday presents yet. I was invited to experience the process of choreographing a bad-ass fight scene for a film. Yes folks, for my birthday, I got to be a stand-in villain who gets killed by the anti-hero. The real present came when I was able to contribute one of my former wrestling moves to the fight which led to a “good job Andrea” pat on the back from the stunt choreographer. A moment which gave me a non-caffinated high for the rest of the day (and much into the following week).

Designated Birthday Buddy

Designated Birthday Buddy

Finally it was show time. Exposing my new friends to the gong-show, alter-ego that is the birthday princess. I was decked out in my birthday dress, tiara, green helium balloon attached to my wrist and carried a green purse stalked with green beads, leprechaun tattoos and a deck of cards (because a birthday princess is always prepared). My designated birthday buddy kicked off the event with TMNT (teenage mutant ninja turtles for those of you not raised by late 80’s cartoons) shots and escorted me down to Olympic Village where a group of new parkour and circus friends ate, drank and laughed at a pub. I even got the thrill of watching some of the reactions of those who were quite shocked and taken back by this loud, sailor-mouthed, enjoyer of awkward moments with the helium balloon reattached to her green tiara. My circus training buddy made me a beautiful necklace, others generously shared a variety of shots / beers and another friend managed to make an appearance after flying all day from Europe. How lucky am I!

Parkour friends represent

Parkour friends represent

Circus friends represent

Circus friends represent

I woke up the next morning with aching cheeks from smiling and a deep appreciation for the awesome friends I have made in Vancouver. They’re freaking keepers! Another incredible birthday for the books and further justification to leave the birthday princess-itis uncured.

AthleteInspired

Travelling: Close calls and new nephews

Family day long weekend brought me out to Toronto to meet the newest member of my family, my little 8-pound  nephew. To make it into the company of this handsome young man, I first had to make it onto the plane. This proved to be a more difficult and expensive task then most are accustomed to. After squeezing in a full circus practice, running a couple of errands, I circled back to my place to finally pack. My initial plan to leave with a couple of hours to spare so that I may transit to the airport and avoid paying for over-priced parking. Then along came this thing called Netflix. 

Binge watching is a serious problem folks. By the time I had the ability to turn off my tv I had no choice but to drive and park at the Park’N Fly. That was until traffic left me only 40 minutes, leaving me no option but to park in the over priced, $30 (because we know you’re in a rush and will pay whatever it takes to be able to run to the terminal) a day lot. The only thing that got me onto that flight was my Nexus card. Damn you 10 seasons of Friends on Netflix. 



And then the moment that my nephew was placed into my arms, all of the travel induced adrenaline melted away. Any mom could tell that the feeling of holding your own flesh and blood is incredibly wonderful and amazing. Well holding your sibling’s child is a close second. I don’t think I have ever felt so calm as I did with that little guy in the crook of my elbow. 



Complete sidebar but I had to include this picture in my post cause it is too hilarious. The family went out for lunch and my brother and father show up, independently wearing the exact same thing. The result of nature and nurture  combined and amplified. 



So I got some quality family time in and had to jet back to Vancouver for work. I have been flying between Ontario and Calgary for almost 12 years. So when a flight from TOronto to Calgary was boarding at the gate right beside the one bound for Vancouver, I went from being first in line to board (the Calgary flight) to last in line to board the Vancouver flight. I was so confused as to where home was that it took me one whole in-flight movie and a cold beer to figure it out. Talk about auto-pilot gone wrong.

Athlete Inspired

Call backs and Christmas tours

Hey There,

I go my first call back! In the auditioning world it’s like making the finals at a track and field meet. With less than a days notice I had to research the part, make a small video of myself and get interviewed by 3 people at the same time. You get one shot to show them you have what they want. It’s a little bit of guess work, a little bit skill and a lot of luck.

Shortly after my second audition and before I began my whirlwind Christmas tour I finished up my latest parkour progression training video. I have already noticed an improvement in some of my movements and how much more comfortable I am with heights and connecting certain skills. January’s video will probably include much more conditioning as I embrace the origins of parkour in 2015.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_3aWgC7a0s 

Now for my logistical masterpiece which was my whirlwind Christmas tour. Let me premise this paragraph with the fact that I really enjoyed seeing all of my favourite people but man, I banked some serious miles. In a mere 14 days, I managed to fly, train and drive to Ottawa, Toronto, Hamilton, London, Calgary, Winnipeg, and Vancouver before I fly to Florida for a week. Yes, I covered that many cities in that amount of time and yes, my body completely crashed from the travel induced stress. I am typing this while swaddled in a quilt my aunt made for me, with a scarf wrapped around my neck, popping DayQuil, sipping specialty tea and running through a box of tissues a day. Good times.

My sister and I at the Ottawa train station

My sister and I at the Ottawa train station

Christmas came and went pretty quickly, with all of it’s usual joys, familial duties, social pressures, over eating, traditional fun and thoughtful gifts. My trip highlights include falling down the escalator at the Ottawa train station (I really want to get the security footage that captured my one suitcase sliding into me, knocking my feet and other bags down the moving escalator and my jumping for the hand rails an instant before almost rolling headfirst down the finals steps. The porters who carried my bags out to the train car were very compassionate and did not laugh at me too heartedly), running in a tank top and toque Christmas eve (it was 8 degree celcius) and setting off coloured smoke grenades in a wintery field before new years.

Christmas running attire...

Christmas running attire…

Never a dull moment and always an adventure. As I sit here and nurse my low immune system, I will set my goals for 2015. Stay tuned and happy new year!

AthleteInspired