Crazy. Just Like My Friends.

It’s crazy to a lot of people, even me, almost every day. There are people in my life who still don’t get it. Why would I do this to myself, what do my kids think, how did this get started, etc. I ask the same questions of my friends. WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT, INTENTIONALLY? I’m talking about friends like me: over 40, educated, intelligent, parents, scattered medical issues, varying body sizes, previously normal people. But at some point, they started doing things I cannot comprehend. Like Crossfit. Not just “I did a free class,” but Crossfit competitions. Running. All running is a mystery to me, unless an actual monster is chasing me. Yet they seek more than just exercise. Marathons, half marathons, triathalons, and extreme marathons, with themes like iron man, obstacle courses, paint guns, muck and mud. Bicycling. Sounds fun, right? Across Texas? No. Just no.

One of the most painful skills I've learned, the superman. I was seriously proud of myself!

One of the most painful skills I’ve learned, the superman. I was seriously proud of myself!

In consideration of all of that wackiness, is what I’m doing really any different? No, it is the same. They are using tractor tires, industrial ropes, swamps, highways, alleys, and weight racks–literally racks of weights. I merely chose a different format, venue, and goal. I stumbled into it by accident, and it stuck. There are stereotypes, judgments and doubts, but let me tell you what it is: a pole. Just a pole. The poles I prefer are stainless steel, 45 mm diameter, floor to ceiling, 10-12 foot, and to be honest, I like my pole to be a little dirty. I just think sometimes I stick better when there is a slight residue of sweat and grip-aid. That’s it. There’s not much more to my fitness routine, besides the floor and my body. And the rest of it is whatever I want it to be.

I love tackling these skills with my "pole mama" Ashley.

I love tackling these skills with my “pole mama” Ashley.

If you have never attended a pole dance or pole fitness class, maybe you can’t conceive of  what I’m talking about. I won’t even begin to defend pole dancing from its origins and stereotypes, frankly I’m well over the constant need to do so. I can only speak about my experiences in this sport. My first class was at Vertical Addiction in Stamford, CT, on a whim with friend. It sounded fun, we’d spin around looking sexy and graceful, then get lunch. That’s not how it played out. It was hard, as in actually beyond-my-abilities hard. Most of my childhood I was a competitive gymnast, most of my life (except the adult years I foolishly thought I was supposed to stop dancing) I have been a dancer. But on the pole I looked clumsy, weak, uncoordinated and unsexy. What I saw in that class inspired me: women my age, of every body shape and background, who looked strong and graceful. Their bodies were not perfect, and they didn’t seem to care one bit. They were genuinely certain that I could do this, too. I was at a point in my life where I was just beginning to test and trust the concept of “I can,” so I saw possibility. I went back to try again.

Do I look pained or worried about the bruises? On the contrary, they are like badges of honor and I can remember the moves that caused them: superman, fan kick, fireman, and flag!

Bruises are badges of honor and I can remember the moves that caused them: superman, fan kick, fireman, and flag!

Seventeen months later, I have not only continued taking classes, I have competed twice, winning level one bronze and gold medals,  am certified in and teach both Flygym and pole fitness, and am training for my next competition in which I will compete level two. I love this stuff. To be honest, I love everything about it and I don’t even mind the bruises. There are a lot of bruises. Bruises, callouses, skin abrasions, pulled muscles, joint injuries and sticky-sweaty-grunty workouts that cause aches, discomfort and even pain. Do any of those things sound familiar to you? It seems like anytime non-polers hear about these aspects or sees my bruises, they recoil in state of confusion. “Why would you do that, on purpose?” But think about it, can you name even one sport that does not involve all of these things? Do you quit? Do you tell your child to quit? No? Why not?

An inside leg hang is part of a skill sequence I'm learning for competition. It is incredibly painful. But if Ashley says I can do, then I can do it.

An inside leg hang is part of a skill sequence I’m learning for competition. It is incredibly painful. But if Ashley says I can do, then I can do it.

Because it is in the heart. Pole fitness is in my heart just as any other sport is in anyone else’s heart. Many days I lay in bed, or drive to the studio, or just look up at the poles and I think, “What on earth makes me think I should haul my ass up there and dangle around?” It is difficult and demanding in every sense. It combines everything I have loved my entire life: gymnastics, dancing, friendship and performing into one kick-ass package. Perhaps the biggest shock is my age. Aren’t I too old for this? Let me answer this question. At what point in our lives do we become too old to continue doing what we love? I have decided that for me, the answer is never. Ever. I joke all of the time that I am a geriatric, arthritic, limited joint mobility, achy, whiny, orthopedic, lopsided, modified dancer. “So what,” I say, and I keep dancing.

There are many, many moments when I wonder, why am I doing this?

There are many moments when I wonder, why am I doing this?

Last year, while preparing for my first competition, while chatting with a friend training for level two, and I thought, “Wow. That would be amazing! To ever be good enough to compete in level two? That would be an unbelievable accomplishment! I could never…” Fast forward twelve months and here I am, doing something truly crazy. Last week I was in the studio working on my routine, and for the first time ever I stood at that pole and cried. Actually cried, real tears. Why could I not complete this trick? Maybe I can’t do this. Why am I doing this to myself? I don’t have to do this. I can walk away at any second and no one will ever care. Only me. Wait…I will care. I will care a lot. And if it is true that I cannot perform the skills I need for a level two performance, I will only accept this after I have poured out every ounce of my effort, heart and strength. The dangerous force that is driving me is the same crazy, wacky mindset that drives everyone else to achieve their personal goals: Yes, I can.

We're classmates, students, instructors, and friends.

We’re classmates, students, instructors, and friends.

I haven’t even touched on the social aspects of pole fitness or the amazing people I have met and friends I have made. There are many days I don’t feel like dancing, maybe even shouldn’t be dancing, but I go to class anyway because I don’t want to miss out the fun with my friends. It is beyond fun, it is good for my soul to cheer on the dancers around me. But not even good friends, peer pressure, or a fun environment could motivate me to do something I simply don’t want to do, especially not something that frequently requires every drop of concentration, pain-tolerance, strength and determination that exist in me. I can only force myself to work that hard for something that comes right from my heart. No one else gives that to me, and no one else can take that away from me. So it is not about asking me “Why?” Maybe it is about asking yourself “Why not?”

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