(world of WEIGHTLIFTING, that is)
So a while back I wrote a whole post on CrossFit. I found it in October 2009, and I still love it. Despite its growing popularity and now mainstream culture and marketing, I still love it. I love what it’s done for me, my parents, and others, and that it promotes being active and healthy and caring about your body (not just the image, but your actual body).
Another thing I love about it is that it introduced me to other sports, such as Olympic Weightlifting. I have openly embraced the snatch and the clean & jerk. They’re not dirty euphemisms, they’re lifts!
Clean & Jerk:
CrossFit was my gateway drug, in a way. After a lot of debate and encouraging from friends and coaches, I finally decided to go “wod-free” and just lift. I got a taste for it during my 3 weeks in Oxford, and realized it was certainly worth a full 2-month trial. In December 2011, when I got back to the States, that’s what I did. I started going to Bare Bones Barbell Club (part of my parents’ CrossFit gym in Tucson) and began just lifting (well, once a week we have “conditioning”, which is pretty much a WOD). New coach, new lifting partner, new shoes, new goals. I came back to the States with a DL of 122.5kg, BP of 60kg, BS of 110kg, a C&J of 72.5kg, and a snatch of 57kg. My goal was to try out ‘just lifting’ to see if I really did make the gains I hoped to in such a short time period. I told myself “I’ll give it 2 months and then, if I like that path, keep going until I either plateau or get bored”. I hoped to add about 2-2.5kg a month to my Olympic lifts.
Well, now it’s the middle of April. In 5 months’ time I’ve put over 7.5kg on my C&J and 5kg on my snatch. Slightly behind target schedule, but I’m still steadily improving so I’m okay with it. I have competed in 2 Olympic lifting competitions (69kg class): 1st one I tied for 4th place and my Total (130kg) qualified me for University Nationals.
At University Nationals I got 5th place with a 134kg Total going 4/6 on my lifts with a snatch PR of 62kg.
I beat out some other girls who have been doing this a VERY long time, but I also watched the top girl, Allie Henry, get a 194kg Total, reminding me I still have a LONG ways to go with this sport. I have another meet in a month, and my long-term goal is to qualify for American Open at the end of this year (I’ll need to get a 145kg Total at a sanctioned meet). Yesterday I almost hit a 66kg snatch, and my best C&J to date is 80kg so things are looking good.
79kg C&J caught on video:
As for other weightlifting, the power lifting sort, my gym hosted a local push/pull meet and I came in 2nd in the bench (63.5kg) and 3rd overall (with a DL PR of 125kg). My BS, as of January, is at 115kg. I mean to max that out again very soon and hopefully see a nice PR. In June I’ll compete at a full PL meet where I hope to set new 100% Raw Federation World Records for my weight class and age group.
I still do CF now and then. I signed up for the CF Open with my gym, Crossfit Works, and am proud to say 2 of my scores contributed to helping them make it to Regionals! They compete first weekend in May and I’m excited to head up to Denver to cheer them on. They’re going to be amazing (they always are).
And what has all this lifting and little cardio done for my physique? Do I have man muscles? A big belly? Do I have manly bulging muscles? Is this me: ?
Well, no. I have better abs than ever, to be honest, and I eat a LOT of yummy food (especially meat). My arms are more defined, my booty is the bomb (well it was before), and I still have feminine curves where I need them. I’m 5’5”, I weigh 69kg, and depending where I shop I’m a 6 or an 8 (BMI is a lie, by the way).
Check back in 5 more months’ time and hopefully I’ll be showing you my amazing 90kg C&J and 70kg snatch, paired with a 140kg DL and 125kg back squat and 68kg bench (WITH a pause). I’ll even show you my abs. Just don’t ask me to run a mile for time.
And, of course, when I’m not in the gym I’m on my computer, writing my dissertation (exercise for the fingers!)
A little kid comes home from just another day at school, unceremoniously dumps his backpack on the ground, stomps into the kitchen, and sits down at the kitchen table for a tasty afternoon snack. His father places a plate in front of him. “Ants on a log”. Delicious. As he picks up the first one, careful not to get the excess peanut-butter on his fingers, his father asks him the usual “what did you learn at school today?”
“Stuff”, he replies. –“Did you have a good day?” –“Meh.” –“What’s your homework?” The little boy stalks over to his backpack and pulls out a piece of paper. On the top is printed the following question:
“Who is your hero, and why?”
A deceptively difficult assignment, in my opinion.
Take a moment and answer that question for yourself — who is YOUR hero, and why? Answer this question before you read on. Alyssa has demonstrated this process already http://myhero.com/go/hero.asp?hero=Cooley_MMS_.
(Cover of “Hero” magazine, Issue #5…and 99% sure this image has nothing to do with this post except for the word printed on it.)
Thought of a hero yet? …Good.
Now, riddle me this: how did you define the term “hero”? WHAT, exactly, is a hero?
Checklist: Is your hero living or dead? Does your hero transcend nature? Is your hero male or female (and are you the same or different gender?)? Do you personally know your hero? Is your hero a fictional character? If the question had been “who is your role model” would you have chosen someone different? What about “icon”? Is your hero a celebrity, athlete, or politician? A martyr? Did you have a hard time choosing just one hero — if yes… who are your other heroes?
WHY is this person (or persons) your hero(es)?
Does your hero personify an idea you wish to portray or emulate?
Would you say you “worship” your hero? If so, how? Is it akin to religion?
In the case of the grade-school essay assignment, “hero” has an assumed definition of “role model”, or “someone to emulate”, “someone who inspires” – personifications of morally good values and ideals.
In the case of comic books, a hero is usually a “super” human figure, blessed with unnatural abilities, often strength, and cursed with equally unnaturally gifted foes.
A “super” hero, if you will. More than human.
“Hero” is a term that gets thrown around a lot. This is a shame (yet I am certainly guilty of this crime). The word “hero” should not be taken so lightly, methinks. When a soldier dies for her country, she is honored as a “hero”. When a husband opens the pickle jar, his pregnant wife exclaims “Oh! My hero!”. When Theseus slayed the minotaur and saved the people of Athens from having to sacrifice 7 boys and 7 girls for future years, he became a national hero.
Epic heroes have been around for a very, very, very long time (think Iliad, Odyssey, and Gilgamesh). Hero worship was part of the religious system in ancient Greece and Rome. Heroes were worshipped in a similar manner as were divine figures. With the rise of Christianity, one could argue that the idea of the saint replaced the need for the hero — a transcendental figure one could pray to who was once a living person. In the Middle Ages, heroes of old and new heroes emerged in the literature — Hercules and tales of King Arthur and his Knights. I could try and trace the path of heroes through history, but that would take a very long time, I fear.
What I would rather discuss are the ways in which heroes are categorized. There isn’t simply one type of hero, after all (or is there? I could be very wrong. It happens). Maybe the hero you chose fits into one (or more) of these categories. … and maybe the figures who fall in these categories are better described as “icon” or “role model” (you be the judge).
Category #1: Political heroes.
Whether we think of these figures as “good” or “bad”, their names are stuck in the history books as leaders who left their mark on the world. Some of them include: Mao (in fact much of Chinese hero worship scholarship was written during the 1960s, during the Mao era – “thought control in Communist China … a strict order to write about certain subjects in a certain manner” [Sheridan, Mary. “The Emulation of Heroes.” The China Quarterly, 33 (Jan.-Mar. 1968): 47]); Lenin; Kim Jong Il; Napoleon; Hitler; FDR; Jefferson; JFK; Washington; Lincoln; MLK …. Some of these leaders were heroized during their lifetime, and others posthumously. Interestingly… it’s the Americans I listed who were heroized posthumously. “Heroized” could simply mean “became a revered national figure”, but one must be revered in order to be considered a hero.
Category #2: Supernatural Heroes
Or, more colloquially, comic book heroes. The “Super” man theory is actually one that was developed by early philosophers, and should not be discarded as a childhood notion of a larger than life figure who saves the day. Though these heroes are mythological in character (ex: Superman, Spiderman, Wonder Woman, X-Men), they all have extraordinary (physical) abilities that they use in order to protect the weak (except Batman… who has no genetic alterations yet takes it upon himself to use fancy gadgets and superior fighting abilities to catch the bad guys). These heroes are like “super cops”. And they have their “super villain” counterparts, as well. And ridiculously amazing costumes that many of us don once a year (it’s called “Halloween”, and it’s the best excuse to play dress-up after age 10).
Category #3: Celebrity Heroes
That is, pop culture heroes, many of whom died young: Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley (funny how the ‘young’ Elvis is more often revered, yet the older Elvis is more often imitated), Michael Jackson… I could go on. Popular heroes in America have shrines, and people make pilgrimages to these shrines, such as Graceland for Elvis. Other American pop heroes with popular shrines include Will Rogers, Buffalo Bill, Wild Bill Hickock, and Jesse James.
Hero athletes might also fall under “celebrity hero” status. In America, baseball is the national past time, and when we think of baseball we think of Babe Ruth. Even before his death, “Babe Ruth Day” (April 27) was celebrated in baseball parks all over America.
Category #4: The Martyr/War Hero
A martyr is someone who dies for his/her (often religious) beliefs. War heroes certainly are no exception. They are people, just like you and me, who sacrifice their lives during the struggle of injustice. They fight for a cause, and do so selflessly. Heroes of war have always been revered and honored (the mound that covers the 192 soldiers who died at the Battle of Marathon when the Greeks fought the Persians is still a site visited today) . And, a little closer to home, one can visit the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC, or battlefields, or military cemeteries in order to pay respect to those who fought for us.
Even CrossFit, a fitness movement that is taking over the world (or so it seems), honors war heroes. There are certain WODs (“workout of the day”s) with names that form a group called (appropriately) “hero WODs”. They are named after soldiers who died in the line of duty. Whenever a CrossFitter performs one of these workouts, that person will often give more of him/herself toward the workout, fight harder through the pain, resist the desire to quit, because s/he is doing it “for that hero”. It’s a method of hero worship in its own way.The “worship” aspect is performing the workout with 100% intensity as a tribute to the soldier who gave his life for our freedom.
T. H. Auden wrote “no hero is immortal till he dies”. And yet, a 1993 sociological experiment done in Philadelphia asking people who their hero is found that the most common answer was “my mom/dad”, no matter whether the parent was still living or not. After that came celebrities, then politicians, then Jesus [Klapp, Orrin E. “Hero Worship in America.” American Sociological Review, 14.1 (1949): 53-62.]
One could hardly form an argument against modern heroes and modern hero worship, given that we erect monuments and memorials to certain individuals, which are usually larger and more magnificent than those to “ordinary” persons. “While honor creates status, commemoration expresses the peculiar value of the hero as symbol. Monuments, likenesses, relics, legends, and periodic celebrations may be taken as mnemonic devices to preserve the collective image of a hero” (Klapp 1949: 58).The idea of a monument is not just a way to honor the hero/es, but is a method of perpetuating the memory of the individual(s) commemorated.
So. “Hero.” Can we answer the “what” part of “what is it”? This topic gained much popularity by European thinkers in the 18th and 19th centuries: Rousseau wrote about the idea of the hero, the Romantics started to redefine the idea of heroism as it concerned the individual (it was in fact Shelley’s opinion that Satan, in his noble defiance, was the real hero of Milton’s Paradise Lost), and in 1841 Carlyle published 6 in-depth lectures On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic.
In the 1960s, the idea of heroes and heroism gained new popularity. Charles Horton Cooley (1964) connects hero-identification with religion and other transcendental metanarratives. For Cooley, hero-identification was precisely a way for the individual to mark self-transcendent aspirations associated with moral idealism. Joseph Campbell (1968) defined the hero as one who, in response to a call, leaves the familiarity of ordinary life to enter a sphere of transcendental conflict; in returning from which, the hero raises the level of ordinary life itself. Daniel J. Boorstin (1968) maintains that heroes in modern culture have been replaced by celebrities. Whereas heroes were famous because they were great, celebrities are great because they are famous.
…do heroes even exist anymore? Truly? Bertolt Brecht wrote Life of Galileo (1943) during the height of Nazism, and in it he immortalized the following conversation between Andrea and Galileo —
Andrea: “Unhappy the land that has no heroes.”
Galileo: “No. Unhappy the land that needs heroes.”
And as for MY answer to the original question: “who is your hero?”. Well, I’ve had to answer to this question, and the answer came easy: my brother.
Who knew having fun could be exhausting? I just spent a week in Charlottesville, VA doing just that. My parents thought I’d decide to spend the Spring there, after all!
So what was I doing, if not moving back? For starters, I was gathering my scattered possessions, including my car, which I had stored at various homes thanks to the help of fabulous friends.my worldly possessions on Amy’s floor”]
And then there’s my car, Paolo, a 2008 Honda Fit. I hadn’t driven him, or a manual, in all of 6 months, and it sure felt good to shift those gears again after so long. But 6 months without my love is a while for even sturdy Paolo, so I spent my first day back in the ‘ville getting my car ready for the big drive West, which included replacing the car battery and getting the tires checked, and then making him street legal with updated license tag. I tested him on the road the next day when I drove to Harrisonburg to see my buddy Jake and workout with him at CrossFit Harrisonburg. Great little box which challenged me with a short 12-9-6 wod of clean and jerks (135/95) and chest-to-bar pull-ups. Then I witnessed Jake eat a whole half a pig as a post-WOD meal. That was most impressive. His post-meal constant belching was not. Still… very good to see an old bud!!!
Jake wasn’t the only gym buddy I saw, I mean, I did coach at CrossFit Charlottesville for a year and work out there a year before that… I have connections I had to visit and cherish! So if I said I went to Charlottesville for a week and spent every day in the gym, I’d be lying, but it’s close. I had my own lifting to do, after all, and I knew the gym was where I’d get to see a ton of people I wanted to see.
Speaking of my own lifts, it turns out lifting on my own isn’t all that awful. I still prefer having a coach watching me at the moment, but I managed to PR my snatch at 133#/60.5kg (yayyy!)and got a new clean at 169#/77kg clean PR video [don’t mind the failed jerk]! 175#/79kg was sooo close, I managed to get under it twice, but just couldn’t drive it up.
The gym has provided me with a great little family of friends in Charlottesville, and one of them hosted me for the week (thanks, Amy!), others I got to visit for lunch at Eppie’s and BeerRun, dinner at Positively 4th Street and Himalayan Fusion, and a potluck dinner with others while watching the Golden Globes. We even had an impromptu bowling night at Waynesboro — I never even broke 100, but I sure had a fun time with them all.
I have other friends, too. I did got to Charlottesville for a grad program at UVA, and that’s where I first met people. I saw my old roommate and “the three Elizabeths” (yes we all share the same name) had our victorious reunion at Now and Zen for sushi (after a failed attempt to get manicures… for some reason the nail place was crazy crowded!). We caught up on girl talk and all our overseas adventures — all academic in purpose — of me in Greece, Elizabeth in Italy, and Libby in England. So so so good to see them. That’s why I booked a week in town, after all! It might now have been long enough.
And I saw dogs, at the gym and at Amy’s (awww Jackson, such a sweetie even if he did eat some of the gifts I brought for people). And I saw lots of cats. I love cats, I really do, not because they’re adoring like pups, but because they are, well, catty. They have sass and attitude. I was reminded heartily of the reasons why I love cats. Devon and John’s cat, Maggie, showed the adoring cuddly side when she snuggled up to me in state of total and utter relaxation for a while just letting me pet her. Joe and Lex’s cats are of 3 different natures: shy, ambivalent, and curious. Jason and Lydia’s cat, Mia, apparently has become a little more evil than usual… she loves feet but now she also loves attacking feet (I learned this the hard way). And then there’s Mrs. Noam Chomsky, Amy’s cat, and my new roommate for the past week. Chomsky normally hates everyone but Amy and she makes no secret of it by hissing at everyone and everything to her heart’s delight. However, towards the end of my stay there Chomsky not only tolerated my presence (no hissing?) but even drooled happily while curled up in my bed on my pillow. Call me the cat whisperer.
Oh, I went house-hunting! Still am doing so in preparation for moving back in July/August, and if anyone knows of a 3-bedroom place for July in the Belmont/downtown area please let me know!
To sum it up, Charlottesville looks the same: green and small and charming. Such is most of the South. One could get used to life there, knowing DC is a short 2 hour drive away along long stretches of green highway. But, as is ever the case with a place I can call ‘home’, it’s the people. Seeing all those familiar faces and remembering once again how lucky I am to consider each one of them a friend, and how happy I am when I’m with them… that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Subtitle: “A Weekend of Brains and Brawn.”
Sunrise in Philadelphia can’t hold a candle to those in Tucson, but it sure does have character. I. Love. Philly.
My uncle lives here in a great townhouse just south of Rittenhouse Square, so figuring out where to stay is hardly an issue, the hard part is just finding the excuse to get up to Philly. This weekend provided me with the perfect one: the AIA/APA annual meeting. 3 days of panels, colloquiums, roundtable discussions, posters, book sales, and receptions hosted by various institutions. And let’s not forget the slew of amazing people!
I won’t list all the papers I attended, but I would like to highlight a few of the ones that really struck a chord with me: “Some Roman Architectural Influences at Pompeii” (John Dobbins, UVA); “Lawrence Richardson, jr. and the Painters of the Pompeiian Fourth Style” (Eleanor Leach, Indiana U.); “Toward a Social Network Analysis fo Pompeian Wall Painting” (by a group from U. of Arkansas — truly a stellar presentation); “The Hairstyles of the Erechtheion’s Caryatids in Context” (Marice Rose, Fairfield U.); “Between a Rock and a Hard Place: Rethinking the Cilicia Mosaic from Antioch” (Tyler Jo Smith, UVA — and can I just say how inspiring it is to see scholars give excellently researched and delivered talks on a topic outside their normal field of study? Love it); “Little Big Lies: Forgeries of Ancient Gems” (Ken Lapatin, J. Paul Getty Museum); “Recent Excavations in the Athenian Agora” (John Camp, ASCSA); and finally I’ll end the highlight list with “The Kekropion and its Relation to the North Terrace Wall and to the Erechtheion” (John Caulk, an independant scholar who posed a very interesting theory about the Kekropion based on very careful interdisciplinary analyses of ancient texts and the physical remains).
***I did not, however, like it when phrases such as “scarcely feminine musculature of the arms” or “bulging feminine muscles” used to describe female figures painted on the walls of Pompeii are uttered with a tone of disbelief. Women can, in fact, have nicely sculpted arms.***
There were many other presentations I attended and posters I read that filled my days with academic fun (yes, fun). And there was scholarly fun, as well! This conference is also a great excuse to see old friends who are now all across the globe. I got to see former professors from my time at the University of Arizona, friends from my MA program, friends who dug with me in Orvieto, Murlo, and Rome, friends who studied with me at the American Academy in Rome (both the Summer Program in Archaeology and the Pottery Program), professors who led my summer programs at both the AAR and the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, friends from my summer at the ASCSA and from my recent time there this past Fall as an Associate Member. So many people. So many wonderfully familiar faces. And I love seeing their recent achievements! Some of them were presenting, now have really good jobs in their field, and others were there to interview for faculty positions at prestigious institutions! We’re all growing up, aren’t we?
My brain is on stimulation overload right now. Sitting there listening to amazing and innovative papers on subjects ranging from Greek architecture to Roman iconography to excavations in Bulgaria have set the hamsters in my brain working double-time (Billy Blanks would be so proud). The wheels, they spin. My hand is cramped not from the note-taking I did, but all the “note to self”s I wrote regarding short- and long-term ideas and goals about my current research (dissertation), my extra-curricular academic interests (still love those wall-paintings and still find it hard to fight the itch to dig again), and ideas about future conferences and thinking about jobs (so many of my friends are PhDs now and interviewing to be a professor… I realize I’m not far behind).
And what trip would be complete without a visit to a local CrossFit box? Last time I was in Philly I checked out Crossfit Center City . Really cute box and I enjoyed my time there, but Philly’s a big place with lots to explore. So this time I headed South to Fearless Athletics/Crossfit South Philly. Nothing like heavy lifting and a pounding heartbeat after a day full of sitting and learning, right? The box was spacious, red, and when I walked in the squat racks at the back were occupied with people squatting big weights. Yesssss.
The owner, Wil, was leading the class and greeted me. After I changed into workout attire the people arriving for the next class (my class) did what any good CrossFitter would do — they didn’t know me so they introduced themselves. Insta-friends! One of them even recognized me from past competitions that we both attended; he was also a trainer at this box and guided me through their Clean and Jerk warm-up before we had 17 minutes to max out our low-bar back squat. Well, that didn’t end up being enough time for a true ‘max effort’ (had to share a rack with 2 other people), but I still got a nice PR at 250# (113.5kg) with lots more in the tank! I was one of many PRs that day — so exciting to see people (even people I just met) get stronger! Guess it’s something in the cheesesteaks? (…actually I am sad to report I did not eat a single cheesesteak.) Then the conditioning part…. 2 rounds for reps of: 2 minutes wall-balls, 2 minutes push-press (75/55), and 2 minutes burpees (strict pushup at the bottom for the standard!), 1 minute rest. Whew — 104 reps for the first half, 99 for the second. That was rough!
And yet I came back the next morning for the “Advanced” workout, which started off with a single-arm kettlebell complex to warm-up, then “Clean and Jerk for virtuosity” (nice), and then a CrossFit Football workout named “Volkswagen”… because you’ll feel like there’s a VW sitting on your chest. 21-15-9 for time of body-weight bench press (ha) and pull-ups (chin OVER bar). If ever there was a workout to make me love pull-ups, this was it! Breezed through them without tearing my hands! I scaled the bench-press to 70% of my body-weight, and still at the end I was breaking them up into singles! 17:44… not the best time, but then I’m not the best at benching. 2 days later and my triceps and lats are still feeling it!
Great atmosphere, great coaches, great people, great attitudes, great energy. I’ll certainly visit this box again when next I find myself in this great town. And that won’t be too far off from now, because I love Philly. Philly itself is a harmony of old and new, a pedestrian-friendly city of character, always full of sights, sounds, smells, spectacles, and speckled with history.
I have to admit I didn’t really like US history until I visited Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington, D.C. I guess something about being in the middle of it where it all began really helps you appreciate it that much more. And yes, whenever I’m in Philly I feel like watching “National Treasure”. Don’t judge me.
Graffiti! If you never believed graffiti could be art then come walk the streets of Philadelphia and stare at the sides of the buildings. Many of them are covered top to bottom with incredibly colorful and fantastic paintings. Not just paintings, either… sometimes mosaics!
And no trip to this place would be complete with stopping in to Reading Terminal Market. Prepare yourselves for the mob of people and onslaught of culinary treats! Many of the stands in here are run by Amish folk, and the food they dish up is often the most popular — with good cause. It’s delicious! So is the fudge they make. And Raw milk is legal when sold by them, and yes I did get my pint of raw goat’s milk while there. I also got fed lots of free meat samples by a flirty chef at the Kosher deli stand. Mmmm free pastrami and brisket.
And now on a train to Charlottesville, VA!
For a whole month I’ve been back in USA, back in Tucson, back at my childhood home, back in cowboy boots. I took lots of pictures of some highlights and this beautiful city (you should all come visit). I don’t know what it is about the Southwest that always keeps me wanting to return, and keeps me happy when I’m here, and makes me feel… right… in those boots (but still no hat). The sun is bright, the tank tops and shorts are out, the wildlife abounds, and the water is consumed by the gallon. I’d love to go horseback-riding again, too. It’s been ages, and that’s just a darn shame.
So, as for my intermittent life back in Grand Canyon state…
I’m lifting at a new gym, Crossfit Works; it’s a CrossFit gym, but it has this special club that adheres well to my new focus: Olympic weightlifting. 4 days a week I get to spend 2 hours of my day trying to max out my snatch (currentl 130# and lots of failed 135# attempts) and clean and jerk (currently 165#… would love to try 170# soon — once I remember how to jerk properly ). In case you didn’t know… squatting heavy weights is good for you.
I have a new laptop, and I show it off at new coffee shops while I work on my dissertation. Epic Cafe is my go-to fave, but I’m still open to checking out newer establishments in town. Finding my new writing environment, one coffee cup at a time.
And now that I’m quite settled here back in Tucson, I’ve just packed up a bag for yet another trip (complete with cowboy boots). Tomorrow I head to Philadelphia for the annual AIA conference, where I’ll sit in on a host of great talks and see a plethora of familiar archaeological faces. It’s like one huge party! And in a great city, nonetheless. Added perk: my uncle lives there! Then it’s back to Charlottesville for a week! I get to see friends, lift at my old box, dance at Sunday Salsa, and get all my things, and my car (my Honda Fit, Paolo!), and pack up that car with all those things before driving West!!! Roadtrip!!!
Charlottesville –> Atlanta –> Baton Rouge –> Austin –> El Paso –> the sunny Old Pueblo. I have maps, I have more maps, I hope to have good books on tape, I have friends’ places where I can crash, and I have the wide open road to explore!
All while wearing my cowboy boots and, yes, listening to country music.
Springtime plan: keep PRing every month and keep writing every day. Full draft of dissertation done by June? 150# snatch? 190# clean and jerk? All totally within my reach. …and still wearing those boots.
Let’s do this.
Countdown: T minus 8 days. God created the world in 7, so I think I have plenty of time to get things done.
On July 10 I left the US of A on a plane headed across the great pond towards Europe. I arrived July 11 in London, England and took a bus to Oxford. I spent 3 weeks there living at Brasenose, researching in the Ashmolean and Beazley Archive and lifting with the boys at Oxford Powersports. Then I spent 2 weeks in Paris, France. 1 week in Berlin, Germany. A long weekend in Vienna, Austria. 1 week in Florence and another week in Rome, Italy. September 11 I arrived in Athens, Greece, and I’ve been calling this city “home” for almost 3 months now.
I have exactly one week left before I leave again, this time headed back to the US of A, back to Arizona, back to the home I grew up in (and the remodeled backyard).
In one week I will be…
…leaving BEHIND: fresh daily local markets; incredible museums; the metric system and kilograms; ancient ruins everywhere; the great resources and people at the ASCSA; my books in my carrel at the Blegen library; 1 pair of now over-sized jeans (with ratty hems); 1 pair of worn-out running shoes; a love of “espresso freddo schedo to-go”; an incredible assortment of new (hopefully lifelong) friends; my new family at Primal CF Athens; cigarette smoke everywhere; motorcycles/scooters everywhere; fresh feta; streets filled with cats.
…leaving WITH: renewed sense of self; memories galore; refreshed comfort in independence; longer hair; a love of walking; one dead laptop; myself, intact (not the case when I left Greece in 2009); no tattoos; amazing memories; the ability to make Greek coffee in a briki; new vocabulary of foreign words (especially Greek); Athenian leather sandals; pages and pages of notes on the Greek vases I came to Europe to see; a restructured (tighter and more organized) outline of my dissertation.
…heading TOWARDS: family; old friends; my extensive collection of “Xena” DVDs; measuring weight in pounds and height in inches; Cactus, Citrus, Cotton, Copper, and Climate (a.k.a. Arizona); my tango and salsa shoes; home of the rodeo; Mexican food; American coffee shops (which double as a work space); an upcoming roadtrip West across the US from Charlottesville, VA towards Tucson, AZ; a new gym with new lifting partners; familiar mountains to hike; my baby grand Steinway; my car, Paolo; GIANT grocery stores!; juicy grilled steak; months of paper writing and productivity … on a new laptop…
What have I learned? Besides bad words in foreign languages? Well, …that meeting new people is always a wonderful thing; give everyone a chance. Always trust your instincts. I still appear Spanish to the majority of Europeans. The Blegen Library is a wonderful environment for productivity. It is possible to live for 5 months out of one suitcase. The internet really IS magical. Fashion is as fashion does. Being an optimist really does pay off. Being super-organized pays off more.
I finished what I set out to do — my check list of museums and sites to visit is complete. I managed to include my love of fitness by visiting local gyms and making fast friends with the proprietors and athletes at them all — Oxford, London, Berlin, Vienna, and, of course, my quarter-year installment in Athens (all of which I’ve previously discussed in this blog).
I’m a motley of emotions right now: super excited to soon be back in the Old Pueblo, incredibly sad to leave my friends in Athens (these Greeks truly are too sweet, so very generous and funny and open — for a while I seriously contemplated staying in Athens until summer just to be with them that much longer); a litter bittersweet to be so far away from Europe, where it seems your next adventure is just a short plane (or train!) ride away; and at the same time nostalgic for Italy and the Irish countryside and the beaches and rainforests of Central America…. Wandering soul’s gotta wander… My iPod has been shuffling between the “Chieftains” and mariachi music and country music … and in the mornings I sing along to the Greek pop top 40 coming out of the boob tube.
So. One more week to endure the lingering lure of home.
One week left in Athens.
One week to gather any last-minute notes from the books here (or for scanning). One week left to laugh and dance and joke with my Greek friends (in and out of the gym). One week left to wander the streets of Plaka (never gets old). One week left to ride the Metro. One week left to gaze at the Akropolis all lit up at night (also never gets old). One week left to stop moping and live it up!
If I were a smart (Paleo) cookie, I would have connived a clever application for the Fulbright committee to read that involved me traveling around Europe in order to study the cross-cultural effects of CrossFit. I think maybe they would have gone for that. And then, on the side, I would have used the stipend to fund my dissertation research.
Or I could have spun the “hero” theme — doing “hero” WODs while studying ancient heroes, all the while being inspired by real life ‘heroes’ such as Kyle Maynard.
So it’s no secret that I am not shy, that I love meeting new people, and that I love picking up heavy weights and forging new bonds of friendship over the shared agony that comes with intense exercise (a la CrossFit). Starting in July I began a 5 month adventure in Europe in order to conduct research on my dissertation, but on the side I sought out the local CrossFit boxes or weighlifting gyms. In Oxford I found OXP, a place for Strongmen, Powerlifters, rugby players, and Olympic weightlifters to train… and me. In London I revisited Crossfit Central London for an Oly session. In Paris I ran around the streets, did pull-ups on some random scaffolding, and created daily WODs to complete in my studio apartment. .I got to CrossFit in other languages, starting with German. In Berlin I visited Crossfit Werk a few times, and even got to eat dinner with the crew at a Paleo restaurant. My long weekend in Vienna included two grueling sessions at Crossfit Vienna. Two weeks in Italy with my parents and no Crossfit gym provided opportunity for more creativity: I used my mother as a barbellfor back squats, and a staircase as a pull-up bar. My father joined me in a WOD.
I coached my parents through some tabata squats and plank holds. I completed my first swimming WODs.
Now I’m in Athens and have settled in with the Primal Crossfit Athens group. I am here for 3 months, so I am very glad I enjoy it. I don’t speak Greek (except a few words here and there… mathainw! (“I’m learning!”), but many of them speak English, and where the language barrier is tall we find a way to hurdle over it. After all, encouragement in any language is always appreciated, and the post-WOD feeling of “I’m so happy that’s over with” while you lie on the floor catching your breath is pretty similar for athletes everywhere.
The gym here has been, as ever, very welcoming and full of fun people learning new skills each day and making strength gains, amazing themselves every day at what their bodies are capable of. I am included in this, as well. Though I have still not yet managed to join the muscle-up club, I have finally mastered the art of the one-handed handstand!
And competitions are not absent from my agenda even though I’m in another country! To be fair, each WOD is a competition against yourself and your fellow gym members, but there are other opportunities here, as well. Every Saturday at our gym we hold a \”Primal Tournament\” competition, and in a couple weeks I’ll be venturing to Volos, Greece, to be the only American competitor in the Argo Games. I don’t know much about what to expect, but I fear a mountainous 5k run for the first wod… If anything I know it will be fun! And I will want ice cream when it’s over 😀
Needless to say, it’s been quite an experience seeing the different ways each Crossfit box functions. That isn’t to say all American boxes are the same — because they are not. But there are further differences once you cross the pond: European boxes are predominantly male whereas in the States they are usually at least 50% female; they work with kilos instead of pounds; the pull-up bars I’ve come across here are thicker than in the States (which makes using them more difficult); they are harder to find, in general!!! CF is growing in popularity, but unlike in the States, where Tucson, AZ alone has about 8 different places you can go to Crossfit, Europe has maybe one-three gyms per COUNTRY (Paris, Rome, Florence…. none of the cities have CrossFit).
There are other gyms to visit, of course, including ones that specialize in powerlifting or Olympic weightlifting, and since CrossFit is like a gateway drug to those other disciplines, you can still get in a good lifting session. And I can’t imagine a place where you can’t at least go for a run, or do push-ups in your bedroom. But as anyone who attends a CrossFit gym will know, it’s the community aspect of it all that keeps us coming back (that and the adrenaline/endorphine rush that comes with each workout). And I have to say, not a one has let me down. The Greek guys even invite me, the American, out with them at night.
I will dance party in every CrossFit gym around the world, if I can! (Fulbright or no Fulbright.)
Ancient Athenian site of worship:
Modern Athenian site of worship:
Last leg of my European adventure: Athens, Greece. My home for the next few months.A city full of ancient, Byzantine, and modern history, full of smoking Greek-speaking spanakopita-eating ouzo-drinking people. The city is an aesthetic slap in the face of culture shock galore. It’s my third time visiting (once briefly in 2002, then with the 6-week ASCSA Summer Session in 2009, and now for 3 months). The monuments are lovely, the graffiti aplenty, the museums brimming, the food overflowing … but it’s feeling like home. Because I’ve made it my home, at least until December.
I have a lovely apartment in the very residential neighborhood of Pagrati, just a couple blocks away from the Panathenaic Stadium. The Agora, AKropolis, Plaka, and American School of Classical Studies are all within walking distance. And walk I have done. I also have ridden the wonderful and extensive metro system here (some of the metro stations are like private museums where they display finds from the the metro excavations), the bus, and even dared to ride on the back of a speeding motorcycle (actually I’ve done this more than once and dare I say I’m getting used to it?).
Like every good European city, farmer’s markets are aplenty. Ripe seasonal fruit, freshly caught fish, recently killed meat, and delicious cheeses are all just at your fingertips. You only have to dare to venture to try a little Greek. Athens’ mongers are a bit more aggressive than I’m used to, however. They were literally throwing plastic bags at me so I could fill them with their produce!
Anyway, I have a fridge full of fresh goodies and have renewed my love of παστέλι, the sesame-honey sticks that I normally only eat on Passover. I make χωριάτικη (Greek salad) pretty much every day, and I often pair salmon with τζατζίκι (I’m calling it my Greek tartar sauce — but it’s way better than tartar sauce). Figs are still in season, so I get to nibble on those every day and it’s absolute heaven. And don’t even get me started on the wonderfulness that is Greek yogurt from a clay jar or fresh feta!!!
But I said I’m living here. This isn’t just vacation. This is 3 months full of serious study and research for my dissertation. Annnnd CrossFit (duh).
My days look a little something like this…
Every morning I eat breakfast, pack a lunch, and then walk from my apartment up the hill to the ASCSA. I get a nice view of the Lykabettos Hill on the way.
Then I greet the guard at the ASCSA library, get my laptop out of my locker, put my bag in the locker, remember to bring my pen, water bottle, USB flash-drives and any notes upstairs with me to my book-filled carrel. Most of my day has the following view:
Eventually I go outside to take my lunch break, then come back in to pursue more work. Not EVERY day is spent indoors, since some of my research requires going to museums and their storerooms (Agora storeroom is on Thursday! I believe I’ll spend all day there.. and then return again to spend another day. May have to return yet again). National Archaeology Museum of Athens and the Kerameikos Museum are also on my “to-do” list for research. And let’s not forget about my main playground, the Athenian Agora, which was full of shrines and altars and monuments dedicated to many various heroes!
Late in the afternoon I pack up all my things, switch out my laptop for my bag in my locker and head to Evangelismos Metro stop to begin my journey to Moschato where Primal CrossFit Athens is located! Depending on connection time, it’s only about a 20-25 minute journey, but can sometimes get pretty crowded. Then my nights are spent with some fabulous people in a very large room full of pull-up bars, rings, barbells, bumper plates, kettlebells, and, of course, Greeks.
In fact, this is where I have the best chance of learning modern Greek. Knowing Ancient Greek gives me a head start on the alphabet and many of the words, and a few months of private tutoring that I had last semester helped significantly with my modern pronunciation of said words. But I find Greek very difficult to hear and whenever I want to say anything my first instinct is to speak in Italian. Well that won’t get me far, now will it? No. It won’t. So I’ve made many friends at this box already, and they’ve all agreed to help me with my Greek (and in return I’ll help some of them with their English, others with their Olympic lifts). This is quite necessary, because in less than a week’s time I’ve already been approached often by Greek strangers on the street or in the subway or in the grocery store asking me questions like I should 1) know the answer and 2) know what they’re saying and be able to respond. Needless to say, I’ve become very proficient at saying “Δεν καταλαβαίνω” (“I don’t understand”) and “δεν μιλω ελληνικα” (“I don’t speak Greek”).
Hopefully those phrases will be spoken less often by me in the near future.
Meanwhile, I’ll be putting on sunscreen and admiring the north side of the Akropolis.
It’s amazing how visiting old haunts can be incredibly calming yet invigorating and all at the same time eye opening. Since I have been to Italy more times than I can count with one hand (for academic trips, archaeological excavations, and travel with the family), I am taking it easy with my camera and instead just enjoying the moments spent back in Florence, Umbria, and Rome with my lovely parents. But that doesn’t mean I’m just sitting around all day doing nothing! My feet have tread upon familiar streets and even dared to travel down unfamiliar alleys. My tongue has tasted familiar flavors (bistecca alla Fiorentina, insalata caprese, gelato gelato gelato gelato, prosecco) and daring flavors (vitello tonnato — interestingly delicious). Though in other countries I was amused by British lingo, faked my French, and stumbled my way through attempts to comprehend German, my knowledge of Italian has flowed back into my brain and onto my tongue like the embrace of an old friend.
It turns out that one of my favorite foodie blogs recently posted an “Ode to Italy” which nicely sums up my feelings exactly along with gorgeous photos. And just because I see no reason not to add to my already giant collection of Italian photos, I’ve added a slideshow of my own. Enjoy, my lovelies.
And yes, I even managed to get dissertation work accomplished, thanks to the National Archaeological Museum in Florence, the Villa Giulia in Rome and the Museo Vaticano. And my old but still functioning laptop. And for some reason neither Florence nor Rome has a CrossFit gym, but I make do with what I have, so between the push-ups, handstands, sit-ups, walking lunges, and laps swum, I also back-squatted my mother.
…two notches, actually (my my I’ve been busy!). And this doesn’t count the 3 weeks I spent in England training at Oxford Powersports with a random drop-in to Crossfit Central London. Everywhere it’s always been about the people, and wonderful amazing people (you’ll have to read all the way to the bottom to hear me rave more about people. I love people).
In the past 2 weeks I’ve made more CF friends! In Berlin at CF Werk and in Vienna at CF Vienna. Very different experiences, but both fantastic and happy (I expect no less from my extended and distant CF family)!
CF WERK (Berlin) — Motto: “einfach war gestern”
From the initial emails with the owner, Flo, I knew I’d enjoy this place. Being the only CF box in all of Berlin, it was an easy decision to visit, especially after 2 weeks in Paris with nothing but running and bodyweight exercises. It was completely out of the way, behind a brewery, off my map (no it was literally off my map), but Flo’s email just said “from Suedkreuz, just follow the signs to IKEA then we’re right down the street 200m.” Huh, look at that, he wasn’t kidding. After that all I had to do was just listen for the repetitive clank of a loaded barbell hitting the ground. When I found the charmingly small gym and walked in, someone was plowing through “Grace” (30 clean and jerks for time at 60kg). I hadn’t touched a barbell in over 2 weeks , so I was extremely excited. Excitement, however, subsided quickly when I learned the actual WOD for the day was “Kelly” (5 rounds for time of 400m run, 30 box jumps [24″/20″] and 30 wall balls [10kg/5kg because those are the weights they have]). Their runs are actually 450m around building with uneven terrain, and guess who had to use a 10kg wallball!??! That made things a wee bit more difficult, and needless to say my time wasn’t spectacular. But, the great group that these CF Werk people are, they all just reminded me that I rocked the 10kg wall ball and be glad about that. Oh.. .yeah! Right! Thanks, guys! They were awesome, too, putting up some very impressive times and finishing the WOD with head high and big smiles after. My favorite part? Everyone hugs everyone goodbye. That’s way beyond the camaraderie of just good old-fashioned “high-fives” for a job well done!
Of course I returned on Saturday (couldn’t make it in Thursday due to museum-ing all day, so I made up “Annie” in my hotel room with a PR time of 6:34!) for “Griff” (2 rounds for time of 800m run forward, 400m run backwards), and then stuck around to get some Olympic lifts in. It felt just UH-mazing to put weight overhead again! I kept the weights light to medium (no more than 50kg for snatch and just a few pulls at 60kg for clean and jerk) and then Flo graciously asked me to teach a little session on the Clean and Jerk. I happily obliged, sticking to just power cleans and push jerks, and at the end of an hour I got to see at least three people make huge PRs on their lifts (some by at least 10kg)! Happy smiles all around.
Saturday also ended up with me participating in the most international CF class ever: each person was from a different country (Germany, Australia, USA, Finland, and Belgium), and the class I attended the couple days prior we had an Italian! Only in Berlin, I guess 😀 Now, CF Werk is a small gym, as I mentioned before, and a young one, and it’s not exactly loaded with equipment (only 2 barbells, 2 10kg medballs, 2 5kg medball,s 2 boxes [that can be flipped to become 20″, 24″ or 30″], a few KBs, some PU bars, rings, tires…). This made for a learning experience for me! It’s amazing how creative you can get when you have to make do, such as sharing a box for box jumps (talk about accuracy!). So, for instance, GHD sit-ups. No GHD machine, but there is a loading paddock, a tire, and people. Turns out that’s all you need! Just amazing.
It doesn’t end there (in CrossFit, it never stops at the gym). The next night some of the CF Werk crew joined me for dinner at Sauvage, a Paleo restuarant (yes — PALEO!!!). It was my one extravagant dining expense for myself (about 25 euros for a 3-course meal with a GIANT glass of wine), but gee whiz was it worth it (especially considering my breakfast buffet at my hotel had sufficiently fed me for the entire day for the past week). Above all else, the company was great, and that always makes for a great experience. But also the food was fresh, phenomenally prepared, generous portions were served, and I didn’t have to “resist” any bread tray or worry about what went into the preparations of the food on my plate. Even if you aren’t gluten-free, sugar-free, or dairy-free, I highly recommend this place.
CF VIENNA —
Similar to CF Werk, one of the walls of CF Vienna is decorated with shirts from other boxes (I should send shirts…). This one had shirts from CF Copehnagen, CF London, CF Fenway, CF Adelaide (“like fit, but fitter”) and a couple others. Very cool. Very UNLIKE CF Werk, this gym is located in the basement of a deceptively very nice building on Josefstädter Straße with a door code and everything. The owner, Basti, is L2 certified, and was very welcoming from the start (see a trend there?). His classes were structured similarly to what I’m used to at my home gym in Charlottesville: group warm up, strength, WOD, group cool down stretch. Unlike Flo, Basti led everything in German with the occasional “you have any questions?” directed at me. Thankfully, stretches and movements don’t change with the language barrier, so I was just fine. Wednesday WOD was just 5×5 backsquats. I hadn’t squatted anything but air in 3 weeks, so I knew a heavy set of 5 was going to feel REALLY heavy, but I managed to get 85kg and opted to not try for 90kg and instead do a recovery set at 70kg. The two guys sharing my bar with me were pretty awesome and encouraging, and one of them hit a 5-rep PR at 90kg which was super cool. *Quick sidenote: Vienna is my first experience with real humidity since I’ve left Charlottesville. So I was sweating, a lot. We were all sweating in the 75% humidity and heat. We were indoors, and it was sweaty and dirty and people were lifting heavy and it was great.* Then we had a surprise WOD (hahah surpriiiiise more work!) of a quick 5 minute AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) of 7 push-ups and 7 air squats. I got 11 rounds with HOG push-ups (“hands off ground”). Then stretches, then fist pumps of camaraderie, then some good chatting with the owner. And a promise to return the next day.
Thursday’s noon class was a tad smaller than the previous afternoon, but that’s all good fun. A little different style than the previous day, in that it was just a met-con programmed and no strength component. The metcon was: 3 rounds of 30m bear,crawl and 20-15-10 KB/DB squat clean&jerk. I used 10kg DBs for a time of 6:29 (I should have used the 12kg KBs I realized too late). A little singing, a little dancing, some discussions about Paleo and worldwide CF and the Games and strength bias, some more fist pumps of camaraderie, a quick hug goodbye for Basti (who tricked me into doing the above WOD TWICE, by the way) and then we all headed back out in the heat and humidity to continue our days. Really nice people, fun CrossFitters, I’m looking forward to returning when next I’m in Vienna.
So, I’m having fun touring the CF boxes of Europe. Of course, I would expect no less. I’ve been to quite a few CrossFit gyms outside of the one in Charlottesville, and each one has only resulted in a great experience. It’s no wonder that whenever you ask a Crossfitter, no matter what their level, “What is your favorite part about CF?” almost inevitably their answer will be “the people!”. The community aspect is beyond incredible. I’m here in foreign countries where English is NOT the main language spoken easily able to walk into any CrossFit gym and feel right at home. Can you say that about your gym or sport?
Sadly my next stop is Florence and Rome and they have no CrossFit. But I WILL have my parents, and my mom is perfect to use as a barbell for backsquats. 😀 But then I’ll be in Athens and happily settled in with the fine folks at Primal Crossfit Athens.