Lifting weights has broken male misconceptions for this mom and gym owner—while building a stronger relationship with her teen daughter.
I spend most of my time at the bar. Well, a bar. Almost any bar. If I’m not lifting weight (which, let’s be honest, I don’t really do ALL that often,) then I’m teaching people how to lift weight.
This is not anything that I ever expected to do. When I was growing up, I avoided sports like the plague. Or like homework. Or my parents. I would get on a bike and ride for hours, or run for hours, or row for hours.
For me, athletics were always an escape from people and reality. I would go until my brain reached a blissful Nirvana-like state of thoughtlessness and my body just took over—removing my mind from a reality in which I was rarely happy. I was only happy when I was alone.
Team sports freaked me out, but what really freaked me out was a workout room or playing field full of aggressive men, slamming and grunting and racing each other. They seemed driven by an unidentifiable rage that spilled out of them for no real reason other than to be a victor of some sort. It made me run.
So, imagine my surprise that I now find myself spending day in and day out in a 1,400 square foot gym that my husband and I own, training men and women, right alongside each other, in the fine arts of lifting heavy shit, for no real reason.
The soundtrack of my world is one of grunts and groans, screaming and wailing, sometimes squeaking and laughing hysterically. The smells are yesterday’s Indian food seeping out through glistening pores, last night’s martini, body odor and sweat—-which is preferable (really) to the scented deodorants that often get applied too heavily to mask the body odor.
I love helping and watching the women do things they didn’t think they could do—there are awesome metaphors embedded within their effort. Each time they move big weight and smile with surprise. Or, even better, when they can’t do it and let it drop with a scream. Watching women get challenged and vocalizing it, is amazing. But it didn’t surprise me.
What did surprise me, and I’m sorry that it did, was the total absence of gender wars of any sort. And total absence of posturing. And total absence of pick-up culture. Men and women, alongside each other, helping each other, cheering each other on, supporting each other.
I think that my entire athletic life prior, I was running to find this—a place where people could work on their individual goals, together.
And that’s the beauty of weight lifting and CrossFit. They have the power of a team sport, but the truth is, you’re really doing it for yourself. And you’re doing it because you want to be good at it. For no real reason, which is probably the best reason of all.
There is no “prize” in it for most of us. Not extrinsically anyway. It’s all internal. Feeling empowered, feeling strong, being healthy, and yes, getting a wee-bit high on endorphins.
When I started coaching, I was afraid to coach the men. I’m not sure why. Why would some guy want to take advice from me? I’m a woman. I’m not necessarily ripped. The only gym in which I’d top the leaderboard is one for either toddlers or the elderly.
I’d approach men with more trepidation than women. I was probably afraid of everything from insulting their masculinity (whatever that is) to not being taken seriously. Yet, every time I offered a tip, they would listen, and thank me. (Sometimes it even worked!)
This softened me in places that I didn’t know I was hard. Finding nothing but respect and enthusiasm where I had feared resistance gave me confidence and courage to grow.
After the first year or so, I began to really notice the bizarro world I was living in. It was like a fantasy world—men and women on equal ground, sharing equal status.
They were competing with and alongside each other as well as cooperating with and alongside each other.
It was a sweaty utopia.
But, more than that, it was a place in which everything I had ever been (erroneously) taught about men, vanished.
Where were the yoked out meat-heads just trying to win? The ones who were predatory in their desire to collect women as prizes? The ones who were dumb as a box of hair, but just lifted big things and grunted, without a thought in their jockish heads?
Through the years of working out and coaching—in my own gym and others—I’ve not met one of those guys yet.I never found one. Nope. Not one.
Indeed, the rest period between lifts has been filled with years worth of conversations about everything from art to politics to travel.
And then my daughter wanted to start working out with us. There is nothing like throwing in a 16 year-old girl in booty shorts to really test how much you trust a place.
I’m a mom, first and foremost. When Celia first started working out with us, I watched how people – men in particular – treated her.
No differently than anyone else.
- No one got her weights for her or loaded her bar for her, which is awesome. If you’re here, you can do it like everyone else.
- No one treated her like an infant, suggesting she not try difficult things. I mean, if you can’t push into the scary places and try things that are hard, what’s the point? You don’t get better if you’re not uncomfortable.
- No one made comments about her body, except when it did things. She was told, repeatedly, that she was strong. That she could do things.
- At the end of a workout, she got the same high-fives and shoulder-slaps as everyone else.
But more than that, I realized that she, in these very formative years, was spending her time in a place where men and women treated each other with respect. Where no one got special treatment. Where everyone’s successes were celebrated and no one else took it personally.
- She was in a place where surrounding yourself with people who both support AND challenge you was the point.
- Where you could fall short of your goal and still be cheered on for trying, and reminded that you could try again tomorrow.
- She was in a place that respected process even more than the end result.
- She was in a place where people freely expressed frustration, joy, fear, and pride. Openly. And let others share in it.
- She was in a place where people cleaned up after themselves and generally respected the environment they were given.
Whatever fear I had harbored about these places when I was a teenager vanished as I watched my teenage daughter’s world be shaped by these interactions.
I began to look at the men even more closely. Not out of suspicion and fear, but realizing that they were, in a very real way, probably shaping her perceptions of the kind of men she would eventually partner with.
I began to love and value their quirks, their mannerisms, since it will likely be those very things that weave the tapestry of future expectation for my daughter.
These are the things that would feel safe and familiar to her, that she will unknowingly gravitate towards as she makes her way in her future world.
I began to look at them as modified archetypes shaping my daughter’s world—the quiet one, the goofy one, the stoic one—all the types.
But they all had a few core things in common, things that I suspect my daughter will require of the men she eventually dates:
- They all treat their own bodies with respect. They value their health and fitness and hold themselves accountable for it.
- They all treat the people around them—regardless of gender or ability—with respect, support, encouragement, no matter what.
- They don’t try to do the hard things for other people. Sounds weird, I know, but part of truly supporting other people is letting them do the hard things for themselves, so that they find their own strength.
My love affair with how the people—the men in particular—in our gym were helping my daughter grow into a strong woman reached all time high right around the time she announced that she wanted to focus on Olympic Lifting, more than just CrossFit.
As in, more dedicated Oly coaching that she’d get in our gym. As in, send my baby out into the big bad world where I didn’t control the environment.
So I asked around. I asked everyone I knew who the best coach was for her. And they all said the same thing.
We met him, and he was awesome—grandfatherly, wise, experienced, tough as nails, gentle in the right ways. But I knew nothing about his gym.
I do now. I spend as much time there, now, as I do in my gym. And I love it. Any fear that I had about my gym being unique has totally vanished. Celia waltzes in to his gym, filled with both men and women, and it’s exactly the same experience.
The men there are a different batch of awesome archetypes but the same core. They give her shit when she deserves it, they cheer her on when she needs it, they comfort her when she’s deflated and celebrate her successes.
Maybe it’s the sport. The thing about weightlifting is that you have to dig deep—really deep. You have to try and you have to trust. You have to value what you bring as much as what you get. It’s a sport of deep introspection, made possible by a team of people who support you.
I want to give you a huge list of the amazing men that are making a lasting impression on my daughter. But I’d leave people out and I don’t want to risk that. (If you work out with her; however, you are one of them, and I thank you.)
I know that people watch her lift and are impressed. I am too. The kid’s got talent and is training for Nationals. But while other people watch her lift, I’m seeing the unseeable things that maybe only a mother would look for.
I am seeing a young woman who is surrounded by men who celebrate her strength, and are not threatened by it. I am seeing a young woman who believes that men are her allies. I am seeing a young woman who believes that men have a full range of emotions. That they are impressive for their willingness to try, regardless of whether or not they win.
I am forever grateful to our sport, for that. But more than that, to the men who are shaping my daughter’s world. You guys have set a very high bar.
A very high bar.
And although I will cheer you on for everything that we achieve together, I am most impressed for the gifts you have given Celia.
You have taught her that the true strength of a man has little to do with how much weight he can lift, and everything to do with the contribution he makes to the community around him, and his ability to impact the lives of others, simply by being who he is.
Photos provided by author
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