In celebration of the wallflower

Sometime in September of 2016, I met a woman who I immediately classified as a wallflower. She was attending an interview to participate in a women’s-only 6-week fitness challenge I was coaching, and her mom tagged along to the interview. It was classic My Big Fat Greek Wedding…except I came to learn later she was Macedonian. She was shy, her adorable, tiny-yet-overbearing mother spoke for her, and when she left the room to get her wallet, the mother spoke quickly and softly of how important this program would be to her daughter’s health. Had she not joined on the spot, I would’ve sworn I’d never see her again.

Fast forward a couple weeks. The wallflower, who we’ll call Kay, was quiet but hardworking in class. She was by far the biggest girl in the challenge, and also the most committed. Her genuine smile tried to cover her discomfort at any number of simple movements. She didn’t appear to befriend anyone in class, and I could never tell if she liked me or the other coaches. (Not that I showed I cared…I had an icy reputation to uphold, you know.)

She never missed a class. She rarely spoke. She worked her ass off and it showed. I thought…hey, wallflower, I like your style.

Then, one day, the workout called for hanging from the bar and raising your knees to your chest. She candidly proclaimed that her hands weren’t cut out for such things. She struggled to even hang the first time. Hung cautiously for 2 seconds the second time. And by the end of the workout, was hanging from the bar and lifting her knees to her chest. A wave of idontknowwhat rushed over me and I proclaimed, “Kay! Your BRAVE is showing!” That unmistakable smile shone through and she just plugged along at the workout, now 16 pounds lighter than she’d been just 8 or 10 weeks prior.

Fast forward again, to December. She had decided to join another challenge, this one with an incentive to win her enrollment fee back if she hit her transformation goal. She boldly proclaimed that not only was she going to get her money back, but she’d apply it to a CrossFit membership…something most of the Challenge gals seemed to be deathly afraid of. Not long after, she handed me a small gift…it was a framed card that said Empowered Women Empower Women. I sat in my office chair, took a deep breath, and thanked the Universe for two things: not letting me underestimate this woman and for bringing her into my life.

It’s January now and she’s well on her way to earning her money back. She’s created a video testimonial for us to use to promote our challenge. She’s come out of her quiet shell and she lets that honest, heartfelt smile break through the struggle-face most days. The other day, she even told me this great story…

“You know, when Sia first started singing instead of just hiding behind her songwriting, it inspired me. Imagine how much untapped potential I might have if I just wasn’t so shy.”

Yes, Kay my all-time-favorite wallflower. Just imagine.


The body for ballet

A girl I know–who unrelatedly happens to inspire the next tattoo I want–recently shared this article about Misty Copeland, and the headline resonated deeply with my own personal experience.

Misty Copeland: you have the wrong body for ballet

I read “You have the wrong body for ballet” and I felt a deep, wrenching sadness in my gut that I hadn’t felt in well over a decade.

I was a dedicated ballerina from age 5 to 18. I was told my professional aspirations would go nowhere because I did not fit the traditional aesthetic (I was taller than the boys when I was en pointe). The other girls in my company used to make fun of the muscle definition in my arms and legs.

The article on Misty proved to be an interesting read, and an honest look at the reality of body image in the world of dance.

Demented body image doesn’t just come from Cosmo and Calvin Klein. For every Misty Copeland, there are 100 other girls who simply move on from their dream and try to find something else.

I’m not the professional dancer I once dreamed of being. But I’m a strong woman following a dream, just like Misty. And if you take my Krav Maga classes, you might just sometimes catch me dancing in the corner.

Long, strange trip

Somebody once told me, if you’re going to start a blog, don’t launch it till you’ve got 2 months worth of content already written. Otherwise it goes dead and nobody takes you seriously.

Well, here I am, nearly 4 months since my last post. I’ve got a vacation coming up, and I think I’ll do some writing.

In the mean time, I thought I’d share this. I was asked to write myself a bio for an interview I’ve been asked to give, and I found the experience extremely emotional. It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and not realize how far you’ve come or how cool your story might actually sound, till you sit down and put it all in words. And then, when you see all those words together in one place, you think “hey, that just might be a story worth sharing.”

So here goes:

I started my “athletic” life as a 15-year ballet dancer and casual tennis player. In college (as a graphic design major), I got introduced to weightlifting through a phys ed class, and stuck with a standard “globo-gym” routine off and on for several years after that. In 2006, I moved to Columbus, OH and found myself wondering how to make friends as an adult. I also had been bitten by the competitive bug and was looking for a way to start training for triathlons. And, I was nearing 180 lbs and didn’t know how to fix it. I was convinced to try a Krav Maga intro one Saturday morning in early 2007. I said “Krav Ma-what??” and my friend said, “it’ll be fun. I swear.”

I had no idea what I was in for.

I got to punch, elbow, kick and knee some girl I’d never met before, and she returned the favor. Forcefully. I couldn’t believe how exhausting this was! I signed up on the spot for a yearlong membership. Immediately, I started attending classes 5-6 days a week. Soon after I started, one of the Krav Maga instructors started attending a CrossFit gym down the road, and bringing the evil ideas he learned there, back to our gym. He held a once-a-week class called Crazy Fit, because it was only for people crazy enough to try this bizarre type of workout.

By November 2007, I was enrolled to become a Krav Maga instructor. And in August of 2008, I earned my CFL1. There was no turning back.

I still had my full-time graphic design job, and I remember writing in a journal one night, “I love the gym! I wish I could find a way to make fitness my profession and design my hobby, instead of the other way around.”

In May of 2009, I took that leap. I’d been designing flyers and posters for the gym for a while, as well as teaching classes. The owner was going to be semi-retiring out of state, and he was looking for someone to take over his wife’s position of Marketing Director. I left my full-time, very secure job as an Art Director, and accepted a position making $500 a month base salary plus commission for intros and enrollments. Yikes!

I’d lost 30 lbs, gotten a TON stronger, and was more confident and capable than I could ever remember being. A journey of self-discovery had begun. In October of 2009, I earned my Yoga Alliance 200-hour certification, and I was all-in as a fitness professional.

In the mean time…I found that CrossFit was able to satisfy that competitive bug. I volunteered at the 2009 CrossFit Regionals (which, at the time, was held in the Rogue Fitness parking lot on a Saturday morning) and committed to becoming a competitive CrossFit athlete in 2010. I finished in the top 50% of Sectionals athletes in 2010 and advanced to Regionals that same year. And not to forget my progress in Krav Maga, I earned my Black Belt in January of 2011. I was the second female in the United States Krav Maga Association to earn such a rank, and one of only a handful in the world.

Answering phones and signing members up quickly turned into running the day-to-day operations while the boss was down south. In December of 2010, he approached me about fully retiring and asked if I wanted to buy the business. I crunched every number I could, borrowed some money from family, and in July of 2011, I became the owner of Ohio Krav Maga & Fitness.

I continue to compete on a local level (including the not-so-local Heraean Games in 2013), teach, and advance my own studies. On top of owning a 3-location Krav Maga and CrossFit gym, this is a 24/7 commitment to myself and my community. In October of 2013, I earned my 2nd Degree Black Belt in Krav Maga from Foundation Krav Maga, an organization for whom I am one of the lead instructors. We are a national organization of Krav Maga and CrossFit gym owners, dedicated to helping other business owners grow their gyms and build a community of like-minded people.

And lest any reader out there assume that I’m a type-A, buried-in-my-career, miserable single person who’s going to die alone and rich (isn’t that what we silently assume about all successful women??) I can tell you this: what happens when I step on the floor as a coach, makes all the bad days worth it. Owning a business is not fun. It’s hard work. It’s easy to get run down, taken advantage of, lose money, lose hope, lose friends. But for a few hours a day, I get to help make a difference in people’s lives. The same difference that a select few men and women made in my life since that fateful day in January 2007. And when the day is bad, I still get to come home to my awesome supportive girlfriend (who is also a Krav Maga machine!), my adorable pit bull puppy, and the breath of relief that comes only from being surrounded by the people who love you and know first-hand why you get up every morning and try it all again.

Arbitrary Ideals

If you’re part of the CrossFit community, you’re no doubt inundated by the incessant posting of your social media friends talking about their predictions, opinion and performance on that dreaded thing called 14.1. It’s annoying, right?

Well, here’s one more.

I told myself at the beginning of the Open, that I would do each workout once, and be satisfied with whatever score I managed to get. After all, way back when I started CrossFit, that’s how this stage of competition operated. It was called Sectionals. It was a one-day event, just like Regionals used to be, and you had to bring your A-game.

And then, I did 14.1 yesterday, and didn’t even come close to the score I got on the same exact workout in 2011.

I was pissed. I double-checked the math and considered calling my previous judge and asking if they lied.

So I did it again today around 4 pm. And I still didn’t beat my old score.

So I did it again today about 20 minutes before the score submission deadline, just 3 hours later.

And then, even though I finally beat my 2011 score, I was disappointed that I didn’t break 200 reps.

Gasping for breath, frustrated over 4 missed reps, cursing the CrossFit website that crashed just after I withdrew my afternoon score but before I managed to submit my evening score, I asked myself, “what happened to ‘do it just once’ ?!?”

And I realized, “doing it just once” was an arbitrary ideal. It’s an idea that sounds righteous and committed and purist in my head, but doesn’t actually ring true with what was important to me. Which was seeing improvement over 3 years of training.  And feeling like I could finally string together double-unders. And finally, that happened. I beat my score by a mere 3 reps, and I did my first set of DUs unbroken in about 35 seconds.

But I didn’t realize any of that meant anything to me until it failed to happen twice.

So, now I know, be cautious of my own arbitrary ideals. Don’t try to stick to something because it sounds cool or because I think people will be like, “wow, I couldn’t do that! Better you than me!” Because really, there’s people who would say, “wow, I couldn’t do the workout three times in under 24 hours. Better you than me!” but that wasn’t ever my inspiration. Turns out, being better than the last version of myself is what’s really important to me in this bizarre worldwide experience.

And, it turns out, I am.

All or nothing

I’ve had a few experiences in the past couple weeks that have prompted me to wonder, when did we become so obsessed with perfection that the only answer to anything is “all or nothing?”

As an ardent type-A, I’ve always been a bit of an all-or-nothinger myself. But really, to me that just meant it was all…all…all. What I never really noticed was that we appear to be developing this culture of all-or-nothing that, in my limited experience, appears to be killing our progress.

A few examples…

CrossFit. Ugh. The mere utterance of the word spurs hotly-contested conversations that rival those of religious and political origins. Maybe it’s bad for you. Maybe it’s the best thing since sliced bread. Maybe it’s just an excuse to see hot people in matchy-matchy outfits doing things you never knew the human body could do. Circumstantially, it’s probably all of those things and more. Regardless, as a CrossFit coach, gym owner and athlete, I find myself at the start of each year, trying to convince my members and friends to sign up for this incredible worldwide experience called The Open. And predictably, the answer I get is “oh, I’m not ready for that…I’ll set a goal for next year.”

So let me explain a bit about The Open. It’s designed to be just that: OPEN. Tens of thousands of people register to participate in it every year (and pay $20 to do so, but that’s a rant for another time) and they are everyone from elite athletes to housewives to dudes working out in their garage. Can they all clean and jerk 265 lbs? No. Do they all even know what the hell a clean and jerk is? NO! But if you see an Open workout with a 265-lb c&j in it, chances are it starts out with something far simpler, like 200 burpees.

A movement nearly EVERYONE can do.

That workout also has some seemingly impossible time cap on it, like 5 minutes. And normal humans, even pretty-damn-fit humans, will get nowhere near the 265-lb c&j part of that workout in just 5 minutes. News flash: the super-human c&j is there as a carrot for the dudes who can probably do 245 lbs and need to challenge themselves, or as a tie-breaking factor for the very small percentage of dudes who will make it through 200 burpees in 5 minutes and will duke it out for single c&j reps at 265 lbs. For the rest of us, the workout may as well have been written: “as many burpees as you can do in 5 minutes” because that’s exactly what our score will reflect.

And that’s the point.

It’s a movement almost everyone can do. So we’ll all do it. And in 5 minutes, we’ll record scores all over the world that range from one to 100+. Who cares. The point is that you came together with a worldwide community of like-minded people. You tried something not knowing how far you’d actually get. And maybe you challenged yourself by seeing a slight glimmer of hope that at least you’d finish the burpees and be able to walk up to the barbell, even if you knew you couldn’t pick it up. The point is, you did SOMETHING.

But instead, I talk to guys and gals every day who can do damn near 100 burpees in 5 minutes, who refuse to sign up for The Open because they think they could never clean and jerk 265lb.

That’s like saying you’re not going to go for a walk because you could never complete an Ironman.

Forget CrossFit. How about the ubiquitous Youth Martial Arts Program. The coming week at my school is a review and stripe test week for all of our students under 18, which will cover material they’ve been learning since the beginning of December. They are responsible for knowing a 9-10 strike Muay Thai combination, 2-3 variations on a Krav Maga defense, and a defense against an attack on the ground. The students span ages 5 to 16. They span experience levels of 1 week to several years. And yet, they’ll all be tested on the same material.

So, does a 10-year-old girl who is confident and athletic set the bar for a 6-year-old boy who is dyslexic and overweight? Absolutely not. Am I running a belt factory where every kid gets a new colored belt based on the length of their commitment or the depth of their parents’ wallets? Absolutely fucking not. (Also a rant for another time.)  But do I understand the difference between what those two kids’ performances will look like on test day? You bet your bootie. (Wow…my mom says that.)

I don’t think kids should get a trophy for everything they half-ass. (There’s a George Carlin bit about this that I wish I could post on our school’s Web site.) But I also don’t think 100% understanding, execution and effort looks the same for every kid that walks in the door.

So when a parent says to me, “you don’t understand…there’s his ADD, and the fact that he’s left-handed, and really he’s only 6. Why do you expect perfection? Why are you threatening to not promote his belt rank?” I want to shake them and say, “he’ll have distractions his whole life, be left handed his whole life. I’m not expecting perfection. I’m expecting improvement over December 1. And I think he could learn something from staying Green when his more-focused, more adaptable 6 year old friend who also has ADD and is left handed advances to Blue.”

“But can’t I just buy some private lessons so he can keep up with his friends?”


I’m not asking for all or nothing. I’m asking for all you’ve got at any given moment. You might just surprise yourself. And my reaction as a coach or a teacher might just surprise you (or your mom).

It clicked with one guy who I’m proud to say is a friend, a member, and a parent of a child member…he said that there’s a stage of your journey that is learning the alphabet. Then there’s a stage where you understand how to make words, and another where you formulate sentences. If there’s someone in the room who can write books, it’s not a reason to give up on learning the alphabet.


You can’t skip out on learning to ride a bike because the Tour de France looks hard. Just like you can’t skip out on getting up off the couch because the CrossFit Games looks hard.

I won’t ask your kid to understand a 10-strike sequence of left-right-left-right if they haven’t learned their left from their right yet. But I’ll ask them to cover their head when I swing at them. If the kid next to her knows that what your kid just did is a “left cover,” good for the kid next door. It’s not a fail for your kid as long as your kid didn’t get smacked in the face.

Crawl before walk. Alphabet before dissertation. It’s not all or nothing. It’s all-I-have-right-now.