Friday, March 7, 2014

My Journey Begins

To say I am a sporadic blogger is being generous.  I went back to see the last few posts I had written and was appalled to see only five entries since 2010. Oops.  I also realized that three of those five posts are about kettlebell, and pretty sure they all sound the same to the general reader.  Then again, writing for me is therapy; it’s a way for me to remember the emotions of the day, the journey and the people I meet along the way, the hits I take, the triumphs I rejoice, the gifts of knowledge I receive and the difficult lessons I’ve learned, and then I put it on a document and decide whether or not to share it with you.  It’s pretty much all about me ;-).

Although I say I write for myself, I try to write with an air of respect and professionalism, knowing that any of my friends, family, colleagues, co-workers, supervisors, employers, haters or enemies (yes I have those) can/may/will read my posts.  I have had trolls attack me on my YouTube channel; I have been slandered by colleagues, and I have been bullied and harassed at various workplaces throughout my life.  I still don’t understand why. What did I do to those people to make them turn on me?  But, and I firmly believe this is 100% my mother’s influence on me, I have always taken the high road and not responded at their level.  Meaning I try my best to live a life of integrity, choose the right path, and let karma take care of the rest.  I can’t let negatives occupy my thoughts and actions as my energy is finite, and what I do have I prefer to spend on positive things during the 24 hours I have in each day. 

But I am human, and sometimes the negative “whys” keeps nagging at me.  This post will be more about the background of what I went through the year before my platform performance on February 23, 2014. Because really, it’s all documented if you really want to see it.  What you don’t see is the preparation, the angst, the self-doubt, and the emotional demons that often make me think I want to succeed in this sport because my training, my diet, my discipline, my motivation… these things I can control, and whatever I reap, no one will be able to take away from me.  For instance, forgetting to do up my suspenders. (Huh? Read my “The Fire's Out for Now...” blog post).

In the context of my personal kettlebell sport (GS) training, this was about dealing with many physical and mental setbacks during the past year since the first Cali Open.  After that meet I began a year-long battle with various skin ailments, from athlete’s foot leading to an “auto-eczematization ID reaction” (itchy, red hives on the palms of my hands), to finally being diagnosed with Atopic Dermatitis (eczema) nearly a year later.  I also have ugly, twisted hands and fingers, my knuckle joints gnarled from arthritis, and apart from the unpleasant aesthetic, weakening grip strength is something I have also had to deal with.  I lost at least four months of training, and while my physical training took a huge hit, my drive and motivation suffered even more.  It was never-ending… I would get a cut or split on one hand, wait a week for it to heal, then it would happen again in a different place.  I couldn’t even do GPP like pushups because I could not even position my hands to a place where the skin wouldn’t crack and split open.  Photos would horrify you.  So after bumbling through training and spending more time on the motorcycle than under the bells, I had (not surprisingly) mediocre lifting results.  But I went to these competitions not for the sport, but to really, take in the energy from fellow gireviks and hope to light that competitive fire once again.

(I was going to put pics of my hands here but they are so gross to look at I think some people might have thrown up)

Working 4-on, 4-off, 12-hour rotating shifts makes it hard to stick to a consistent training schedule, and add to that I teach fitness and KB classes, and learn and perform Polynesian dance.  It was often impossible to get to the gym where my GS bells were located for a solid training session, so I skipped or rescheduled many workouts.  Eventually, no thanks to a grouchy, power-hungry VP of my condo Strata Council, I was no longer permitted to store my training equipment beside my truck in my secure underground parking – something I’ve done for oh, at least six or seven years. I had nowhere else to put it all, so now my balcony houses much of my heavy training equipment and I had to renovate my den/office/solarium and turn it into a Kettle Cave. I’m actually quite proud of my one-person training room, but being a creature of ritualistic habit when it comes to preparation for my GS training, it took me a while before I got into a semi-comfortable groove.  I am especially annoyed that I cannot be as liberal with the chalk as I was before when I was at the gym, lest I get it everywhere in my living room and kitchen, both adjacent to the Kettle Cave.

If I felt isolated before, training GS by myself at the gym, it was ten times harder now because I didn’t have the energy from other gym patrons (or entertainment from some of the “SMH” things we see from their, ahem, “interpretations” of exercise technique).  There are very few people in Canada that train and compete in GS, let alone in BC, or Vancouver.  That’s where video and social media help immensely.  By being able to connect long-distance with my coaches (Tom and Misha are based in Seattle, WA) and network with fellow lifters throughout the WORLD, I maintain a sense of belonging to a community. 

The encouragement – whether through training posts, silly thoughts, funny stories, witty insults, heartbreaking failures or fist-pump victories – keeps us going. We share the madness.  We sympathize over having to cut weight and we trade strategies on how to do so.  We torture each other with photos of delicious food and treats for Stage 5 debauchery, and we gross each other out by posting photos of types of singlets the boys should consider wearing on the platform.  We welcome new lifters and help them navigate through this crazy sport.  We debate the politics of it all, but realize that more politics means the sport is growing, so we tolerate it. 

We also try to learn as much Russian as possible.  Because, hey, Horror Show!  And the amount of insider jokes, sub-groups, and even imaginary networks (C-book, hahaha!) we create to maintain the camaraderie… well, it just makes me all fuzzy inside.  But at the end of the day, we gotta do the thing we are training for and lift.  So we get together in person at competitions and cheer the hell out of each other, and everybody else.  Because at a kettlebell event, you have only friends, or friends you haven’t met yet. Maybe that’s cliché, but it’s completely true (which I suppose is why it’s cliché). 

Dolby's House Party Crew!
The best roommates travelling gireviks could possibly
ask for.  Love you guys!!  DAAADD!! Are we there yet?
I also want to mention the generosity of the kettlebell community.  This is a cash-poor sport and what sponsorships exist are usually in-kind or for continued education and training.  Athletes don’t choose kettlebell sport for the lucrative deals; kettlebell sport chooses them!  And then it becomes all-consuming.  My dream of competing at a World Championship in the motherland of Russia anytime soon will be a distant one as an individual, unsponsored athlete. Perhaps one day it will come true.  But my dream aside, altruism is at its best amongst gireviks.  From Jason Dolby’s One-Hour Long-Cycle for Charity event (with a different recipient every year) to Christina Danos’ Kettlebells 4 Autism; from small kickstarter campaigns to help offset costs of promising new gireviks coming to a far-away competition to prove their mettle, to simply letting a ragtag bunch of non-locals crash at your house to save on hotel costs… kettlebell people are by far the biggest-hearted group of athletes I have ever met.  Even decorated World Champions are generous with their time, knowledge, and appreciation of us common athletes.  They are so genuine, warm, with nary a snotty attitude in the bunch.

My appreciation doesn’t even take into account the multitudes of thoughtful gestures each day I witnessed amongst us. It’s also the norm that no one thinks it’s a big deal.  But I want to put it on the record that I noticed, whether it was buying a coffee or doughnut for one person or a group, I am so proud to call you my friends, and want to thank all gireviks for being such great ambassadors for the sport.  On a personal note, I also want to express gratitude to Johnny “Danger” Harshman who noticed that I did not book a one-on-one training session with any of the World Champions.  Although I knew it was an incredible opportunity, I had to be fiscally responsible given the upcoming events on my calendar for which I had to maintain a realistic budget. In other words, I couldn’t afford it.  Well Johnny Danger, while still allowing me to have some dignity, offered to give me his session with the great Serguei Merkulin. He said he’d already trained with another the day before… he said he really didn’t feel like training that morning… and he said that I would really benefit from the session and he wanted me to take it.  My first instinct was refusal, because in general I don’t like BEING the charity case… but I knew Danger, he has a heart of gold, and knew he was absolutely sincere in his offer to me.  I graciously accepted and was able to glean an amazing amount of information and knowledge from “Merk”, who coincidentally was the crazy Russian coach who decided to scream and pantomime coaching tips to me during the last few minutes of my MS performance days earlier during the competition.  Harshman, I am completely honoured and so very thankful to have had that opportunity… Thank you. Sniff. 

Coach Merkulin... Mad respect for this man!!
So I guess I should say a few words about my actual competition performance.  I’ll keep it digestible, as much as I can.

My Event: One Arm Long Cycle (Clean & Jerk)
Time: 10 minutes, one hand switch
Kettlebell Size: 20kg
Bodyweight Class: <63kg p="">
My Goal: Master of Sport Rank
Required reps for MS Rank: 100 (10rpm)
The secret number of desired reps I wanted but dared not tell my coach: 110 (11rpm)

My Flight, with Serguei Rachinshkiy judging me, Serguei Merkulin and Denis Vasilev coaching me from the audience, and OKC President JOhn Wild Buckley overlooking it all.
Although I wrestle with insecurity and self-doubt during training, I possess a remarkable ability to perform under pressure.  I thrive from it.  Sometimes I’ll put even more pressure on myself by saying thing like, “Look at how much time, money, vacation, energy, and sacrifice you have put into this!  Don’t fuck it up!”  Other times I’ll be blasé with myself… “Eh. You got this. You hit nearly these numbers in training, with a minute to spare.  Now you are going to do it for real in front of a bunch of people, and they have cameras. Don’t do the kettle-face.” 

Not quite kettle-face, but the"thousand-yard stare"
is something most  gireviks can relate to.

But the reality is, I love the energy from the competition atmosphere.  It’s a crazy cacophony of people and noise, and the cheering is electric.  So when it was time for my flight and I walked onto Platform 1, I was excited, maybe a bit nervous, but not terribly so.  It also helped that I didn’t widely advertise the fact that I was going for an MS Rank attempt, and that I was just another affable and friendly Canadian aboot to do some kettlebelling.  It was nice I didn’t have this burden of accountability weighing down on me.  I was sad that half of my coaching team (Tom Corrigan) wasn’t able to make it, but the other half, Misha Marshak, took care of me and made sure I was completely prepped, right down to chalking my bell and having it ready for the platform.

I got this. I hope. 
Serguei Rachinskiy, aka Honoured Master of Sport, Honoured Coach of Russia, Master of Sport International Class, 9-time World Champion, 12-time Champion of Russia, was my judge.  If any of you read my “Five More Reps” blog post, he is coach that said “Horror Show” to my technique, leaving me with both scars to my ego and the funniest KB-mangled-Russian-translation story ever to be re-told. Rachinskiy is The Ultimate Girevik, the epitome of professional judge, and I knew he would make me earn each rep.  I was very happy to get zero no-counts from him as I really paid attention to form and fixation.

My set went well. I didn’t get The Claw as I have in previous competitions, which was a huge relief.  I did, however, make a rookie mistake by trying something in competition that I hadn’t tried in practice: lifting with a brand-new belt.  I purchased a beautiful new professional Russian kettlebell lifting belt, and I did a few lifts with it the day before.  It felt good, so I decided to use it.  However, it was not broken in, and during the last 3 minutes of my set, it started to ride up my torso and twist with each movement.  I tried not to overthink this, because if I lost focus, I would drop the bell or slow my pace.  I ended up having to rack on TOP of the belt, which is about when I noticed that Denis Vasilev and Serguei Merkulin were both cheering and coaching me from the audience.  WHAT AN HONOUR!!!  Denis was motioning for me to push my belt down, and Merkulin was making grand charade-like gestures in order for me to tweak my waning technique to make the last 2 minutes of my set more efficient.  Ahhhh…. BACKSWING!!!   Ohhhhh… bigger undersquat!!  I get it! Yes, look, he’s nodding and smiling, and making universal “Good!” gestures to me!!  This is incredible!  Spasibo!!!

I had no idea what was happening on the other platforms.  I just realized there were a helluva lot of people in the crowd and they are all cheering… It doesn’t matter for whom, although I can vaguely hear my name and CANADA being screamed here and there.  Throughout it all, the distractions, the coaching, the cheering… I have been paying close attention to the clock, my reps, and, well, trying not to lose my shit and just keep cool.  After I got the “Uh oh, my belt’s riding up” thing under control, I knew I had about 20 more reps to go before I hit the Magic 100.   Then 10. Then 5.  As I got closer, I said to myself, “Don’t get excited!  You’re not there yet!  You could still lose it all if you drop the bell!  Hold it together!”

So I did.  96.





Yes, I did, I raised my arms in a cheesy victory stance because I knew I had hit my number, and I could hear the cheering get louder, presumably because they knew I hit my number too.  Whoo hoo!  But I still had time and energy to spare, so I kept going.  Even though it would be tough to hit my secret-desired number of 110 reps, I wasn’t about to stop just because I met my lower goal. 

101.  102.        103.                 104.                                    105….



The last few reps were ugly but solid.  Actually, the reps were good, it was my face that was ugly.  Yes, the dreaded kettle-face when you hope someone doesn’t take a picture at THAT EXACT MOMENT and post it all over Facebook.  Hahaha! 

I did the very undignified thing and collapsed on the platform, and wiped my face from all the sweat while Misha came in to pick me up like I was a toddler who had just face-planted after running too fast for my own good.  My moment of glory!  Oh dear… then people came to hug me, RACHINSKIY too, and I staggered off the platform area.  Merkulin congratulated me, but told me next time don’t crawl off the platfom.  I still hang my head in shame at the thought of it, ahhh, so sorry!!

Well, I did it.  Master of Sport.  Honestly, what this means to me, much like a black belt in judo or ju-jitsu, is that I have mastered the basics enough to really start learning in earnest. 

So as I reflect upon that day, that moment of triumph, and I see that beautiful gold OKC medal, it serves as a reminder that my GS journey has only really just begun.


Tuesday, September 3, 2013

My Kettlebell Family.

I agonized for more than a week about how I would describe my experience at the 2013 2nd Annual Bay Area Open Kettlebell Sport Lifting Championships.  I really wasn’t procrastinating, but mulling over what angle I would take when I put thought and emotions into words. Not only were there a multitude of talented athletes at the competition and certification, but many of these colleagues, comrades, and friends of mine were also skilled writers.  Sure enough, within days, some amazing posts went up and did a great justice to this event.  I pondered. “Great organization and execution? Triumph of the human spirit? Technical blah-blah that only fellow lifters would understand and appreciate? Facing personal demons and digging deep?  Dammit, I don’t know what to write about!”

I already have two blog posts describing my experiences at other events.  Most of the above-mentioned topics are detailed there, to some degree. So I really didn’t want to repeat history, when you can read those other blogs here if you like:

So I sat on it. And waited.  And thought.  And last Sunday, as I rode to Squamish on a slow, soul-cleansing journey on my GSXR600, it became clear to me what this particular kettlebell competition meant to me.

Riding motorcycles can be an adrenaline-fueled, white-knuckled joyride of excitement and healthy fear that will have you screaming WHOOO-HOO in your helmet at speeds better described as flying instead of riding. Your mind is racing with technical riding knowledge bombs waiting to explode into reality as you choose the perfect line, it’s nailing the apex in a corner, and seeing well in advance and executing every move with laser-like focus.  If you do this on the street, you may also get, ahem, an excessive speeding ticket and your bike towed, then impounded, receive points on your driver’s licence, mucho dinero drained from your wallet, and become the Devil incarnate to law-abiding citizens, not that I’m speaking from experience or anything…

Then there are those rides where you just take the time to see, feel, hear, and just experience the scenery, chill and relaxed, savouring every curve, corner, and straightaway… still riding with awareness, but allowing your mind to really connect with your spirit, instead of working overtime and buzzing with nervous energy.  

It was on THIS kind of ride that I got to relive the moments of the Cali Open KB Comp and Certification.  It was HERE, on the Sea to Sky Highway, that I felt the connection.  And in THAT moment in time I knew the weekend in California, for me at least, was not at all about the humble kettlebell. 

It was about Family.  

I have always struggled to fit in.  Not because I was the new kid, or fat, or had some kind of disability (shush, save the cocky comments for later… ;-). I just never felt that I could be categorized into a neat set of standards that were common growing up.  Even as I child, instead of socializing, I would often be found with my face stuck in a book, oblivious to my friends that were playing with my toys.  As I became more independent in thought, I was viewed by my family as a “feminist”, and I did not understand why there was such gender disparity between boys and girls in roles and expectations in my family.  High school never saw me fixated in one particular “clique”, to which I am thankful, as I did manage to get along with all the different groups – the preppies, jocks, rockers, punkers, geeks, you name it, I mixed with them all… but never fit in to one close circle of friends.

Fast forward to adulthood, and I bounced through careers, big ones, small ones, still not finding a strong enough foothold where I felt accepted and embraced. Policing, journalism, media & communications, firefighting, first aid… sometimes I knew the career wasn’t for me, other times it was made known in no uncertain terms that I was not welcome to be a part of that Brotherhood.  So I did my own thing, and Code 5 Fitness was born. For 10 years, I have run my own small business the way I want to, and with my loyal clients, we have made our own family.  Fivers.  That’s what we are.  But as the matriarch of this small family, there is an imbalance where I am perceived to have authority over them, even when I am not coaching them. And sometimes the kiddies fly the coop, to make their own lives and careers once I have helped them achieve their goals. Sometimes they don’t stay in touch, sometimes they do… I guess I am more like a foster mom to my Fivers because for most of them, I/ Code 5 (one and the same) are a temporary pitstop in their life’s journey.  And I’m okay with that, because, well: Reason, Season, Lifetime (click reference link). 

At last year's Tough Mudder... we are a "special" family at Code 5 Fitness, what can I say?  
Then, kettlebells.

The kettlebell community, at a local and global scale, is still like a small town where we all know each other.  We bicker amongst clans, there are strong rivalries between organizations, and politics often get in the way of a good time.  It is what it is, no matter what side of the globe you are from. But this post isn’t about that stuff. Since 2005, I have been truly blessed to have had such a remarkable journey into the world of kettlebells, both as a Hardstyle fitness instructor, and as a competitive GS athlete.  My kettlebell certifications read like alphabet soup: RKC, SFG, ATSCI, IKSFA, OKC.  Really, though, who cares? They’re just pieces of paper. For me, it’s not about collecting certificates or medals.  It’s about relishing every opportunity to learn from, experience, be with, reunite with, grow and share with mi familia… my `ohana…

My family.

The OKC Cali Open was about this.  So many reasons I had to not go: I was not physically prepared, having lost 4 of 6 months training due to injury… I had a new coach, and we were still settling in on our groove… I had 2 months to train for a brand-new-to-me event (jerk-only), AND my weight class was lowered… it would be an expensive trip to make and compete when I knew I would not be at my prime.  I was actually at my fattest, weakest, and in the most insecure headspace possible. I had many excuses to not go, but I said to myself, screw it, because the one reason I could come up with to go smashed all the BS excuses I made as to why I shouldn’t.

I wanted to be with my kettlebell family.

The Orange Kettlebell Club is much more than a growing kettlebell organization.  Sure, those guys and girls work hard to put on a good event… I can go on for days about the work ethic and passion John, Jason, Nazo, and Juliet have for making everything outstanding for their participants/ the athletes/ honoured coaches… their houseguests.  Because if you go to an OKC event, as a wide-eyed first-timer or seasoned Snatchman Junkie, you are indeed, welcomed into the hearts and souls of every one of us who bleed Orange. Welcome to the Home of the Kettlebell Chu-Tang Clan.  If you don’t understand these insider references, well, come to an event. Mingle with us. See what OKC is all about. Discover Chu-Hi… and Boom!


At every OKC event, it’s a reunion of old and new friends who happen to be coaches, athletes, or kettlebell enthusiasts. But what’s awaiting you in spades regardless of your interests are a lot of hugs of love and happiness, tears of joy and frustration, celebrations of triumph and victory, and special moments, either fleeting or remembered for eternity. Conversations among us are both profound and ridiculous, business and party-time.  Where else will you be discussing world record performances with technical and scientific analysis, and the next moment arguing over which is better, LA Cronuts or Canadian Tim Horton’s honey cruellers, in the Stage 5 debauchery debates?

Very few places welcome with open arms the plethora of people we see at OKC.  One studio will house champion lifters and platform newbies. One flight will see a professional athlete fighting for MS rank, beside someone who has never competed at ANYTHING their entire lives, struggling to make the full 10 minutes with the lightest bell. Both lifters will give everything they have and leave it all on the platform, spent, when the buzzer rings. Both are equally deserving of honours.  And I am proud to call all of these people my brothers and sisters. 

We have a very strong passion for a very unique sport that very few people can truly understand.  Even if GS becomes an Olympic Sport, as is the hope for many of us, it will still be a fringe sport that the majority of folks will pass over in favour of the flashy, exciting, and “pretty” sports like gymnastics or track and field. 

But we don’t do it for shit or approval from the masses. 

Many a solo training session looked this way.
On the platform... Estella Hom photo.

We do it because getting on the platform tells us everything we need to know about ourselves.  Our training. Our diet. Our pain and suffering, frustrations and joys from each training session we had leading up to the competition. Each injury that has plagued us humbly reminds us we can still be broken. The torture of loving food, and having to say no to favourite treats to cut weight because the scale says you are 64kg instead of 63kg for your bodyweight class… but we do it because it teaches us discipline.  And for many of us, all of this hard works goes unnoticed, because we train alone.   No cheering squad.  No one to count reps or tell us to keep going when we want to put the bell down.  No teammates lift our spirits.  Thankfully, we have social media, so that we can film and photograph those solitary moments and share them with other kettlebell athletes.  Share them with these kindred spirits.  Share them with others who are going through the exact same thing.

When you give it all, this is what you're left with.  Nazo Foto.
Share them with our family.

Thank you, my fellow Chu-Hus, my kettlebell friends, colleagues, coaches, and athletes.  With you, I feel at home, wherever we are in this big world.  We are truly one family.

Newly-minted Chu-Hus at the OKC Cetification in Berkley, CA

Saturday, February 23, 2013

My Cali Kettle

“Holy shit, am I actually up here, competing with a 24kg bell?”

That’s what I was thinking, as the seconds ticked down to the start of my Long Cycle (Clean & Jerk) set at the OKC California Open Kettlebell Competition.  Now, a Girevoy Sport (GS) competition event is 10 minutes long, but I knew I would be lucky to last 8 minutes, if everything went well.  So far in training, alone at the YWCA, I had done 3 minutes per arm, at 8rpm, for a total of 48 reps. But unlike in training, there are a whole bunch of things you don’t get exposed to in the comforts of your gym, where you get to choose the time of day, the music, take control of your atmosphere, maybe count a rep or two that would have most likely been no-counted.

“Maybe I shouldn’t have done that 5 minute snatch event beforehand.  I thought I’d have enough time to recover, and I ONLY used the 12kg bell, hahaha… uh oh, I hope I didn’t just screw my grip for the LC Main Event. Well, here goes!”

I was on the fence on whether or not to even do this comp.  I wasn’t nearly ready to do any kind of serious numbers with the 24, since I had just started training with it less than two months prior.  And I hadn’t been training snatch at all.  Plus the whole thing would be an extra expense, I’d have to book days off or take vacation time, blah blah blah.  I was making excuses why I COULDN’T go.  Then 2 things happened. 

I had a FB chat with John Wild Buckley, and amongst the silly banter we always have, when I told him I was thinking about going to their comp, he exclaimed, “oh my god we need you!”  At face value, it was simply a dramatic statement of encouragement, to get me to tip the scales in favour of going.  But it struck something within me, because even though I only see my Chu-Hus (don’t ask) only a few times a year, I need them too.  I need everything there is about the world of competitive Kettlebell Sport… but more about that later.

Tracy Reifkind is going :))”

Mark Reifkind posted this simple statement on the OKC Event Page, and FB had a mini-explosion.  This was the second thing that solidified my decision to go. I assisted Mark in 2008 at the RKC in LA, but I had never actually met Mark’s wife Tracy. And these two legends of the Hardstyle KB world were coming to a GS event?  Sold!  I’ve always been big on collaboration and unity, but after 8 years seeing the KB industry grow, change, split, and rollercoaster up and down with various certifications, organizations, competitions, and products, it was about time we started to all work together.  And Tracy Reifkind might just be that person to initiate the global crossover.  I would look forward to lifting alongside a fellow Hardstyler (my KB roots were planted in the RKC), in an event dear to our hearts: the 5 Minute Snatch.

“12 or 16??  20 or 24??”  5 Min Snatch? Biathlon? Long Cycle?”

I know from previous experience that by attempting 2 events in one competition, something’s going to suffer.  But since this was an “early-in-the-year” comp, after consulting with my coaches Tom Corrigan and Misha Marshak, I decided on the 12kg bell for the 5 Min Snatch, and the 24kg bell for the Long Cycle.  This way, I wouldn’t destroy my grip for either event.  I had to set my ego aside and NOT do the 5min snatch with the 16kg, as is the standard for one of the RKC tests for female instructor candidates. 

But this competition was not about ego, it was about motivation, camaraderie, and friendship amongst colleagues and competitors.  There was no place for divas or douchebags at the OKC.  I have to admit, as a coach and trainer of already-motivated clients who look to me to inspire them to do their best, it’s HARD to self-motivate to a competition level when you are training alone.  So I seek every opportunity I can to soak up the positive energy and inspiration from every person I can at these meets – from the tireless crew at Orange Kettlebell Club and the Chu-Tang Clan, to World Champion Denis Vasiliev (he’s a world champion in kettlebell sport, but he could also get the title for nicest guy), from elite lifters to the nervous novice, from WKC, IKFF, IKSFA, USAKL, etc…  And then there was Mark and Tracy. 

I was really looking forward to meeting Tracy, and seeing Mark again.  As KB lifters, they are knowledgeable, accomplished, and respected.  And they were also of the “other” style… Hardstyle, which is very different than Girevoy Sport (Competition) style!  Having come from the RKC myself, and still teaching my own KB classes primarily in Hardstyle, I know just how different it would be for Tracy, especially since she has never competed in ANY sport before.  I also wanted to make sure she was overloaded with the GS friendliness and camaraderie that has become one of the primary reasons I travel to train and compete with other athletes – because we are all a family.  That’s what it’s all “aboot”, right ;-)?

I can’t emphasize enough how incredibly awesome the OKC is.  John Wild Buckley, Nazo, Jason Dolby, Juliet Lederle… these guys worked tirelessly to make this meet happen.  And even though they are too humble to state the impact they have had on GS sport in North America, I’ll give them a little shout out.  THE SPORT WOULD NOT BE THE SAME WITHOUT YOU GUYS!  Thank you for everything you do to bring people together to grow this sport!  Thank you for being honest ambassadors and promoting GS with integrity!  I am proud to be a part of CHU!!  You are bringing people together, you are raising money for incredible causes (everyone should attend or support the One-Hour Long Cycle, held every year in October, on JD’s birthday), and you are constantly pushing the boundaries of greatness!

I was only a bit sad that my coaches Tom and Misha weren’t able to be there.  Also, Coach Sergey Rudnev – during my first workshop on GS, the impact of his words to me after a brutal snatch drill (see “Five More Reps” in my Oct 2010 blog) have not diminished one bit.  My entire GS experience as a coach and athlete has been because of their patience and influence, making me trust in their training and programs, listening to the voice of reason when they tell me to back it off.  Well, I try my best on the last one, but I listen most of the time...  Thank you, Coaches Tom Corrigan, Misha Marshak, and Sergey Rudnev.  I am honoured to be your student.


You may notice I have gone off on tangents with this blog.  I get distracted easily.  In fact, I watched “one” hula video sent to me by one of my hula dance sisters… well, there went another hour, lost in the land of YouTube!  Sigh!  I told T-Rif that I would post my blog soon, but that I had so much to say… it seems such an overwhelming task, especially to coordinate all the photos I took, after I returned home!  But she said, just start writing… so I did.  So forgive any journalistic errors… at least there are words to read!

Back to the platform.  The 5 Minute Snatch. 


I was really, really, really hoping this event would come at the end of the day, so I could do the Long Cycle fresh.  But wouldn’t ya know it, it’s not all about me… hmmppff!  I was up on flight #2, and then #9, of 18 flights.  So I played it safe, and stayed with the 12kg as planned.  It would be a good way to warm up for LC and save my grip, for the most part.  But really, I was taking in the electricity and excitement of it all – the big, spacious gym, the sounds of bells clinking, the chalk dust wafting, and the buzz of competitors and spectators readying for the next flight.  And guess who was beside me? T-Rif!!  The cheering from the spectators and coaches was so energizing; don’t ever underestimate the power you have as the audience to influence an athlete’s set to go from good to great! I was actually able to enjoy this event and just… lift.  There was no pressure of having to rank with a certain amount of reps; there was no sponsorship deal on the line.  What a relief!

This feels like cheating, hahahahhahahaa…..

I can’t remember the last time I trained with a single 12kg bell.  I actually don’t remember the last time I specifically trained for snatch.  So when the timer started I just did… whatever.  Maybe that sounds bad, or lazy, but I’ve been so preoccupied with the 24 for LC I hadn’t even had a chance to do a test set with the 12kg snatch at all.  So, no game plan, no pace, Just Do It.  My form was pretty sloppy, mostly GS, with too much lateral movement, but the last 10 reps I did pure Hardstyle, why not?  I got 130 reps, T-Rif beside me got 121 with the 16kg bell (Oh YEAH!!!) and it was so easy it felt like cheating.  A good set it was!

Seven flights later, after watching, cheering, chatting, meeting people, networking, eating, staying hydrated, warming up, and pacing around the gym, it was time to get back on the platform.  I was actually feeling the pressure now, because working with the 24 was just something that I was just getting used to.  Even though none of my coaches were there, my KB family took care of me.  THANK YOU Juliet for chalking my bell for me… it was perfect! 

That 24kg bell made me earn every. single. rep.  It was unforgiving.  I had a simple plan going in… try to stay focused, and aim for 7-8 rpm for 4 min/side.  I knew the breathing patterns. My technique, while far from perfect, was not (the real) Horror Show.  And I do well under pressure.  My judge was BJ Bliffert, and I knew he’d be fair, not give me a rep I didn’t deserve. 

During minute two, left hand, something went weird and I no-counted a rep.  That horrible moment when you don’t feel the connection between body and bell, and the judge stays silent instead of making the count… I allowed it to distract me.  I lost focus… oh, I had the strength, I had my technique, but without the mental focus, things could go not-so-well.  I started thinking, “Oh shit.  NOW how am I going to make up that rep?  I can’t speed up… I can’t slow the clock… I have to…”  I didn’t know.  So I kept plugging away, but I knew that threw me off and I would be lucky to match the numbers I had hit in training.

Gawd, is it three minutes already?  I’m so far behind, and I have a minute before I have to switch!  C’mon!!  Tick, tick, tick… Let’s do this!  Ah… urk…. Oh shit. The Claw.  Whups, DON’T DROP IT!!  SWITCH!!!

Ahhhh, The Claw.  Another horrible moment that many KB athletes can relate to.  It’s when the fingers of your working hand seize in a flexed position around the bell handle, and you cannot loosen them, nor tighten your grip.  It happened at the end of my set at Nationals, and it was happening now in Cali.  But I caught myself before I dropped the bell, and switched hands.  I hadn’t hit the four-minute mark yet, but my left side was done.  Onwards with the right! 

I heard my name.  I could hear people cheering and shouting words of encouragement.  Dolby? JWB? Elf? Nic?  For sure I heard Mark & Tracy Rif; they were right in front of me.  Come on, T, remember the basics!  Breathe!  Make sure BJ sees the fixation! Don’t lose another rep!  Keep going until you can’t go anymore… one rep at a time!

Aaaannnnd… hello, Claw.  The frustrating thing was, I had the cardio and strength to continue, but my grip was another story.  And when I can’t control the bell’s path from the dump to the rack during the clean, the subsequent jerk is not going to be properly aligned and lead to an uuuugggllllyyy finish.  But I had no choice, so I went as far as my gnarly hands would allow, until the bell literally fell from my right hand.  43 reps. Five less than in training!  I was a bit disappointed, I’ll admit; I was hoping for at least 50.  But then a cool thing happened. 

People came up to me and said how great it was to watch my set!  I mean, it’s nothing new to congratulate a lifter after their set, but I guess I felt like I didn’t do my best and my set was only so-so.  But when the praise kept coming, from lots of people, even ones that I hadn’t met personally, I started to think, “Huh, maybe I did do something cool by picking up that damned 24!”  Even though I am FAR from my goal of Master of Sport (which requires 96 reps for the 65kg bodyweight class), I think the general consensus was that it takes some nads to even get on the platform with the GREEN (24kg) bell.  So I had a bit of a “wow, aw shucks” moment to myself, and enjoyed the rest of the comp.  (side note: THE most incredible thing happened a few days later.  T-Rif blogged about her foray into GS, and not only posted the last few minutes of my LC set with the 24, she gave me some unbelievable props for doing it… I am so honoured, and flattered, by your kind words Tracy… you have completely motivated me to seriously kick ass in training and competition!  THANK YOU!!!)

I could go on for days about how awesome the whole GS competition universe (not world, but UNIVERSE) is, but I think you get the idea as to how passionately I feel about it.  So I’ll leave you with this: 

Things happen for a reason.  Sometimes we don’t understand the how, and especially the WHY, at times, but my path to kettlebells, and specifically GS, was most definitely a circuitous one.  Ten years ago, if you told me that in 2013 I would excel in an obscure-but-life-changing Eastern European sport (Cow bells?  Kettle Balls?  What’s that?), hang out, train with, and be coached by world champions, become part of an entire family of international Kettlebell friends and athletes, compete as a semi-sponsored athlete at the age of 41 in a professional division (huh, ME?), and be somebody’s inspiration (who, ME?), I would have thought you were delusional.  Had I stayed with the police dept, I would have never been introduced to KBs at that utmost critical time.  Had I stayed a journalist I may never have become involved with the fitness industry.  And had I stayed with the fire dept, I would have never considered competing in GS.  Funny how things work out, isn’t it?

Of course I have my “What if…?” moments about those lost professions, wondering how changed my life would be had any of those things played out differently.  But those “What ifs” have become “What next!” in my kettlebell endeavours… and I can’t wait to let you know how it all plays out.  Thanks for reading my ramblings… and until next time, I’ll be 10-7.


PS: I have no idea why some of the text is highlighted and reversed colour.  But I'm tired and just want to get this published... so, please complain to the manager if you don't like it.  Thanks.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

In the Archives of Unpublished Stuff - "Falling".


(Yes, the date is correct. It's been collecting digital dust for almost a year, but the info is still golden... to me at least :)


Oh shit”. This is what I thought to myself when I heard Essey shout out from the face of the frozen waterfall. On belay, I braced, braked, and could only watch as he dropped and tumbled 25’ down the ice face and hit the slope with full force. Oh shit, indeed.

I am never one to turn down an alpine climbing adventure, especially in the company of trusted and experienced partners. With them, I’ve had the privilege to participate in backcountry hiking, mountaineering, and climbing, and to take part in skills practice for creating MAs (mechanical advantages with rope & pulleys), crevasse rescue, avalanche rescue, self-arrest (nooo, not with handcuffs… this is with a straight-shaft alpine axe to stop a fall on a steep snow-covered slope) and general area knowledge. I’ve learned a lot, and have gained much respect for the wilderness that makes British Columbia so beautiful. The people I go with are all Army personnel, and as the only civilian who has NOT had the same kind of training, I don’t take it lightly that I will be holding my own. 40-60lb+ packs are the norm, and weather conditions are not always ideal. Where we go, there is no phone reception, toilets, restaurants at the top or conveniently lit runs when darkness falls. Usually the only indication of other human presence will be flagging tape marking a designated route. Maybe.

People buy miniature "serenity falls/fountains/pools/gardens" replicas to add zen to their home. This is the real thing.

Some people ask why I go through the trouble and hardship of such grueling physical tasks, when “fun” things, like ice skating (??), are a safer and more favourable option. But to whom? The quickest and most honest response is “If you have to ask, you won’t understand”. Like when you go into a really expensive store, and there are no price tags… If you have to ask how much the item costs, well, you probably can’t afford it. But I’ll try.

In the middle of crossing a talus slope near the Coquihalla

There are just some people that eschew the status quo. Some in the form of fashion, maybe taste in music, others through political or religious beliefs. For myself, and most of my peers and colleagues, it will be in the form of career choice and/ or physical fitness. I’ve been called crazy too many times to actually ever take offence. Now I just smile and nod. I tend to seek out the challenging, calculated-risk taking, bold and physically demanding activities. Why? It’s who, it’s what I am. I’ve stopped tryin

g to psycho-analyze my motives for always straying off the beaten path. I stopped listening to those who try to beat me down, the haters, and perhaps those envious of my decision to live life, not merely exist. I’ve been criticized for my career choices (which have often put me in a financially unstable position in life); my choice in relationship partners (Another broken heart? I’d rather have loved and lost, than never have loved at all); I’ve been criticized for my mannerisms (too tomboyish); my body type (I’ve been called too small, too fat, and more). I’ve been hurt, insulted, offended, and… inspired. Inspired to do my thing, the way I have been, to be accountable to myself, and if I make a mistake, it’s my fault, no one else’s. So if I want to climb a frozen waterfall, and if you think it’s too dangerous, keep your opinions to yourself. Hey look! There’s an episode of Jersey Shore you may be missing!

I think I went on a bit of a rant there. But the reality of why we go to such extremes for an activity, take such risks, is the reward. If you have never seen – no, experienced – the majestically, breath-takingly beautiful 360º vista of a glacial lake with alpine meadows, snow-covered peaks and blue-ice glaciers surrounding you, you wouldn’t understand. Pictures and videos are one thing, but to have earned it after hours of hard work, you become grateful for so many things – your health, your friends who have accompanied you… Mother Nature, for doing such

great work. You discover your own spirituality when there are no remote controls or traffic lights. You tune into your senses, which have been dulled by overstimulation of big city life – you marvel at a small bright alpine wildflower amidst a neutral landscape, something that would have gone unnoticed on a city sidewalk. You smell strange things… like unpolluted air, not tainted by exhaust fumes, greasy fast food aromas, or expensive perfume. You hear the sound of silence… and it’s heavenly. To touch that glacier that has been there for hundreds of years, but may disappear before the en

d of this century is humbling… and to taste the clean, cold water from that same glacier is simply amazing. To me, those are some of the reasons why “I go”. Like the saying goes – everyone dies, but not everyone lives. THIS, to me, is what living is about. Can you say the same?

I'm standing on a glacier! Wedgemount Lake, Garibaldi Provincial Park, BC

Essey’s fall off that wall of ice, and the events that followed, were the culmination of calculated risk, preparation, skill, practice, judgment, and a bit of luck thrown in. We didn’t just wake up thinking hey, let’s go climb a waterfall. Essey gave me a heads up the week before that there could be some ice climbing in the following week, if the conditions were favourable. I tentatively cleared my schedule for that day, and waited for word on weather, location, and other climbers in our group. Two days before, we confirmed a climbing party of three (myself, Essey, and JP) and tentative location. We would travel to Lytton to assess climbing conditions, and travel further to the Rambles if necessary. The road to Lytton was detoured due to landslides, thus we decided to go directly to the Rambles via the Sea to Sky Hwy.

Rambles Left is a Grade 3 ice climb located along Duffy Lake Road, about 27 kms SW of Lillooet, BC. The drive took about 5 hours due to heavy snow from Whistler onwards. From the road where we parked the truck, we could see the waterfall ice, and we started our approach at approximately 1330.The snow was deep, and the terrain was fairly steep – at times we were on all fours scrambling up the slope. We got to the base of the waterfall probably around 1500h, and started setting up.

Essey started up the slope, and articulated his actions along the way. His regard for safety and details is exceptional, and I felt 100% confident in his abilities. As he climbed, we knew we would not reach the top of the waterfall, because we were short on time as it took us longer than expected to get to the fall’s base. But we didn’t mind, it was about the journey, and just getting on the ice would be fun. We could go to the top on another climb. Essey had two pieces already in and was approximately 12’ above the last screw, preparing to put in a third and start setting up an anchor for top-rope. He didn’t trust his tool placements, and when he went to replace them, they did not hold and he lost his balance and fell. And in that moment, time stood still.

Because the rope was dynamic life safety rope, it has a degree of stretch to it to absorb the weight of the body on a fall. You don’t want to be tied into a static (non-stretchy) rope as a fall could do more damage to the body than ground impact. But because Essey was so far above the last screw, there was a lot of rope that would allow him to free-fall before he would be “caught” by that screw. Too much rope. Even though there was minimal slack in the line from his initial fall, the stretch from that section of rope would make his fall even greater; so much that he didn’t impact until the 30º slope below him, near the first screw.

When he finally stopped tumbling, we shouted out to him and asked if he was ok. Initially he said yes, but when he tried to move, he screamed in pain. I have known Essey for years, and know he has endured an incredible amount of physical suffering in the past. He is definitely no wuss. So to see him in that much pain, and to not be able to rush over to assist, was terrible. It turned out he landed on his knee in a hyperflexed position, and the pain level was 10/10. The only thing I could do was lower him painstakingly down the slope until he got to our base location. We already knew he had some limited range of motion, but the extent of his injury was unknown at the time. As both Essey and I have Occupational First Aid Level 3 certs, plus he with Wilderness First Aid, we were confident we could deal with his injuries locally until we got back to the truck. And that’s when the real test began.

By the time we got Essey stabilized, darkness was falling. We would be descending the rest of the way by moonlight and headlamps. My initial thought was to scramble down while there was still light, jump into the truck and drive to Lillooet where there would be cell reception and I could call for help. Essey did not want to split the group, and felt that because he was mobile, we shouldn’t commit the resources of a SAR team when we would be able to do it ourselves. I was not completely convinced of this, but we stayed together.

The fastest way down for Essey would be to rappel, while keeping his leg straight. On the first pitch, we doubled the rope around a tree and body rappelled down. The idea was to simply pull the rope back to us once we were down, but it was stuck from the melted snow and friction and wouldn’t budge. So I had to scramble back up the slope, manually detach it and bring it down. I was thankful for having trained so many hours practicing the firefighter “hose pull from the tower” drill, because it was the exact same hand motions, except instead of leaning over a ledge pulling up a 40lb roll of hose, I was pulling my own 130lb bodyweight (+ 40lb pack) up the hill. But this wasn’t a drill, it was a real rescue, and there were 2 people waiting for me, so I clumsily hustled it back down with the grace of Godzilla on crampons so we could set up the next pitch.

For all subsequent pitches we rapped down on a single rope (instead of doubled back). We would anchor the rope to a tree, and I would wait for them to clear the pitch so I could unhook the anchor and meet them for the next. The fastest way for me to get down to them was to slide on my butt, instead of picking my way through on foot with crampons. This whole process proved to be effective, but not really efficient, as each pitch took about 45 minutes for the boys to clear. JP would walk ahead of Essey on the rope, clear the path, navigate, search for anchors, and help Essey up the few times he fell. Meanwhile, I waited at the anchor point, trying to stay warm while conserving energy as the temperature dropped, waiting for the signal that they had reached the end of the rope so we could do it all again. I was thankful it wasn’t raining or snowing.

It took us a total of six pitches to get to flat ground. While waiting, I had a lot of time to think about options. Like whether I should have made an executive decision, overridden Essey’s initial determination to stay together, and scramble down for help. About the fourth pitch down, I could see the road from my viewpoint. I could see our truck – so close, yet so far! I could also see passing vehicles. By now we were well past our “return” time, and I wondered if my emergency contact would be trying to contact me.

Then I saw a vehicle stop. And wait. It looked as if the driver was trying to determine what was up with the lone truck (ours) on the side of the road. The driver exited the vehicle and walked a bit towards us; I think he saw our headlamps flashing in the darkness and came to investigate. I faintly heard him ask if we were ok…. Then Essey shouted back “Yes, we’re good, thanks for stopping, just had a little fall but we’re good”. Then the guy got back into his vehicle and drove away. Ok, if I could go back to that moment in time, and if that guy could have heard me, I would have said something vastly different… at the very least, ask him to go on ahead and call our contacts and let them know we were still alive, or maybe alert the RCMP that a group of climbers were self-rescuing down The Rambles… I don’t know, anything except that we were ok. When I reached the boys I articulated my concerns, and Essey conceded that his ego and stubbornness got in the way of letting someone assist us the rest of the way down.

When we finally finished that last pitch, and saw that Essey and JP were in good spirits but as physically exhausted as I was cold, I said that I would run to the road for help. I did, and (here comes the good luck part) within a few minutes, a vehicle stopped and a fellow came to assist getting Essey back to the truck for the last few hundred meters. Turns out the guy was a local Heli-ski guide, knew the area well, AND was equipped to help us. We piled back into the truck and started the long ride home... everybody in one piece and thankful for a happy ending.

Since then, and more than a year later, we have paused to reflect on that day. Regarding my concerned about calling SAR, I asked a friend who is a SAR tech what we could have done differently. He said that as we were equipped and knowledgeable but had an accident, it was the type of call SAR is most useful for. There has been much debate about the misuse of the resources of a SAR team for thoughtless individuals skiing out-of-bounds, or hiking ill-prepared for terrain or weather. But in our case, at the very least, we could have notified them, like a “heads-up” there’s a party of three with one injured heading down; they MAY need help. He said unfortunately, often people that wait too long to be rescued end up having to be recovered. For those of you who don’t know the difference, “Rescue” implies going after people who are still alive. “Recovery” is fetching the dead body. Regardless, he said, in the end, we did the right thing – because everybody got ok alive and ok, and we have learned from the experience. Essey has fully recovered from his injury, and we still train for rope rescue when our schedules allow. He will still be my first pick for climbing partner, and I look forward to many more years of alpine adventures with him and JP!

** NOTE ** I tried to add photos from the Rambles trip, but after I switched to my new MacBookPro, there's been some weird stuff going on and I can't find some photos or albums for the life of me. Trying to get this resolved but it's taken me all night to format this post so I'm publishing it now and will add pics later. Ugh!