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“Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson 9.1.18

Balkovec

August 29th, 2018. 11:15am

Meg Stone introduces Rachel Balkovec to a group of students at ETSU.

pioneer: to develop or be the first to use, apply, or undertake (a new method, area of knowledge, activity, etc.); to initiate, originate. to go before; to lead, guide pilot; to prepare the way for (a person or thing). Now rare. (Oxford English Dictionary)

Pioneer joins pioneer(s).

Meg Stone (formerly Meg Ritchie): the first ever female head strength & conditioning coach at a Division I school (1984).

Rachel Balkovec: “the first and only female to hold a position as a full-time strength coach in Major League affiliated baseball (2014)”. Source: mlb.com

 The audience: a group of many potential future pioneers. Undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral students.

Are pioneers born with something “special?” If you ask Rachel, no.

Pioneers are the product of their environment. Early on, parents who encourage you to pursue what you want, never saying “be careful, girls don’t usually do that.” Later, mentors who see the potential that lives inside of you. Mentors who don’t let you take the easy route. Classmates, teachers, and friends who encourage you to continue with your moving (14 times in 10 years for Rachel) and shaking. Movers don’t stay in places that put your goals on hold or seem comfortable/easy.

What does it take to change paradigms? Do you know any pioneers who accomplished their goals by inaction? Me either.

Changing paradigms “takes more work and more time.”

You don’t change paradigms by stopping at, “sorry we can’t hire you because you’re a woman.”

Flooded by a sea of naysayers, choose to have “selective hearing.”

“Pick the voices you want to hear.”

Thank you Rachel. For sharing your story & the lessons they have taught you…for your authenticity & pioneering ways.


“Two kinds of gratitude: The sudden kind we feel for what we take; the larger kind we feel for what we give.” – Edwin Arlington Robinson

8.28.18

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After getting the mail on Thursday, I misplaced the mailbox key. The next day I searched every counter, drawer, and bag I owned. With no confident idea of where the key was, I decided to resume the search another day. Sunday afternoon, I sat down to do some work and had an “A-HA” moment…maybe the key was in the pocket of the pants or sweatshirt I wore that day. I ran up to my closet and searched through all the sweatshirts. As I reached into the pockets of the last sweatshirt, I placed my fingertips on the key. I strolled out to the row of mailboxes and opened it to find a large envelope from VT inside.

Walking back towards my place, I began tearing open the package. Inside was a journal, the pages lined with handwritten messages from athletes back home at TT. Each person’s handwriting and message unique, reminding me of the diversity that exists across individuals’ movement patterns and personalities. These words are undoubtedly one of the greatest gifts I have received. The ultimate gift is being a coach, learning how drive each of you towards your potential.

Since I left VT, a piece of me has been missing. For weeks, I wasn’t what it was but I knew my cup wasn’t full. Saturday morning, I had the opportunity to supervise/coach a group of athletes. Immediately I recognized what was missing. I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, empowering others to be their best self FIRES me the F up.

Marcia, your thoughtfulness for others is one of a kind. I can’t thank you enough for putting this together. TT athletes, you freakin’ rock. I’m so honored to play a part in your journey.


Playing Small Does Not Serve the World, Go On Coach, Play Big 8.18.18

Uni Nats

This morning was hard; using smiles and laughs to push away the tears. In all my years as an athlete, I’ve never trusted my coaches, never able to give myself to them 100%. Part of me always suspected ulterior motives; they wanted me around for money, self-validation, the numbers I produced, etc. They were subjecting their goals and desires on me, instead of empowering me to construct my own path.

This inner reluctance to be “all in” has been a huge restraint, often limiting me from reaching my potential. It wasn’t until last summer when I met Aaron that I fully committed myself to a coach.  For the first time in my life, I knew deep down inside that my coach wanted me to do well for the sake of my own success, not his. This morning I looked back at my journal from last summer, the day I asked Aaron if he would coach me, I wrote, “I just feel like he has my best interest in mind.”

Coaching me wasn’t providing him with revenue, my numbers weren’t going to advance his coaching status, and he wasn’t coaching me out of obligation; it wasn’t his job to coach me. Many say that altruism is dead but I disagree. Proof of selflessness is in the little things; never complaining about having to coach, always willing to stay late to help me refine & better understand technical aspects that I’m struggling with, never defining my value as a lifter by the numbers that I hit but instead by how I approach training…how I move the bar.

Finally being here with my coach has been huge. Every single day that I step into the training hall, I learn something about myself and the lifts. The purpose of my time here in Tennessee does not lie solely in my own development as a weightlifter. It is deep rooted in my desire to develop as a student and coach so that I can serve this world in the way that I was intended to. Knowing that my coach has tools to fuel the development of my various identities is one of the biggest reasons I decided to come back here.

Two days after starting training here at ETSU, my coach informed me that he would be leaving for the semester to pursue an amazing opportunity 2,000 miles away. My heart sank as the words came out of his mouth. As much as I wanted to cry, I chose instead to congratulate him. As humans, we struggle to accept that our love and appreciation isn’t enough to make people stay. I had to remind myself that my coach has so many talents, aspirations, and roles outside of being my coach, our coach. He too, is a student. He is a father, a husband, a teacher, and so much more. I do my best to honor that, we all must.

When I decided to come here, I knew that two of the most influential people in my journey thus far (John & Aaron) wouldn’t be here during my second year. Nonetheless, I decided to come and soak up as much as I could (even just observing them coach, interact, ponder life, etc.)…knowing that the following year I would have to find my own way without their physical presence. To say I’m bummed to be saying “see you later” to one of my greatest teachers before I had anticipated is an understatement. At the same time, I’m SO incredibly proud. I can’t think of anyone more deserving of this opportunity. Aaron, your constant outpouring of guidance, sheer honesty, humor, knowledge, etc. is so appreciated. It’s time for you to share that with the world. They are lucky to have you. You better come back next semester or I’ll start a motherf*ckin’ ruckus.


#fridayfeels 8.17.18

Crystal Cactus
it is unfortunate that certain people view multidimensionality as a threat to their singularly focused agenda. when you manifest light from various sources, your ability to radiate light expands as well.

this morning while sitting beside a new friend, he said something along the lines of staying in your own lane but allowing yourself to peer through the windows, welcoming distractions that have the potential to bring you closer to your truest self.

this resonated with me but through a different lens. throughout the week, i have repeated a very similar statement but in regards to relationships. this spurred from a conversation with a mentor, who talked about what happens when we put people in “sink or swim” situations, and don’t offer to teach them how to swim. many times, we look over and have no idea that they’re on the verge of drowning. it’s not always clear when we only use one of our sensory organs: the eyes. to identify if someone is sinking or swimming, we must actively recruit other organs: ears, hearts, brains, mouths.. asking questions, being receptive to those around us.

this conversation and the proceeding thoughts spurred an “A-HA” moment. the person I am today is able to access a deeper sense of compassion and selflessness; qualities past versions of myself have lacked.

…a shift happened, naturally & without desire. thoroughly examining both my light & dark spots has allowed me to access a more expansive version of myself while enhancing connections with people in my life. ..I am aware that the pace at which I charge through life is too much for some. This subconscious inner awareness pushed me to withdraw, isolate myself, and abandon those that couldn’t swim at my pace. Now that I am consciously aware of this, I notice when those hard-charging, selfish tendencies creep in. Instead of swimming ahead, stealing the glory for myself, I must give myself a gentle reminder to slow down, peer into other lanes, and reach out…offering the opportunity to be heard and supported..allowing everyone to proceed as one unit; a team.


Untitled Thoughts 8.16.18

Storm Lake, MT 2018
Photo By Shea Shaughnessy (@sheashaughnessy) at Storm Lake in Montana

We must accept that by showing up every day and being who we are, we are worthy of admiration and affirmation. Accepting compliments from those we look up to can be difficult. Especially when we look at that person and think: “Wow, they are much better at [whatever fitness thing you do],” “They have [blank] letters after their name, they’re clearly more impressive,” “They’re financially stable, I must be doing something wrong.” Cue internal dialogue: “Why would someone who is clearly above me admire me?” Falling into the comparison trap is easy, pulling yourself out is the hard part.

Do you ever receive a seemingly random, unexpected compliment or affirmation and question your worthiness to receive it? Thinking to yourself, “I didn’t do anything special or extraordinary, why would they compliment me?” Once aware of this cycle, we can begin to free ourselves from this way of thinking. Acknowledging our right to take up space and be a part of our surrounding environment. Choosing to honor our gifts & qualities; our current state…practicing non-attachment towards titles and positions, accomplishments or achievements. The novelty of those things wears off with time, forcing us to return to our ‘everyday’ selves. What lets you know you’re on the right path without constantly checking off boxes, setting PR’s, getting that certification, etc.? Are you able to rest comfortably and embrace the unshiny parts of your inner self? Or are you constantly seeking external ways to prove your own worthiness?

It’s likely that the people who admire the seemingly ordinary parts of you recognize that like them, you possess qualities that they don’t. That is the beauty of life…human connection, learning from one another, accessing our potential, and discovering the way in which we can best serve others. Although much easier said than done, embracing our uniqueness as individuals empowers us to live our own story. By neglecting our truest selves, we sacrifice our own personal power.

As you move through the day today or tomorrow, take notice of the little things you appreciate about the people in your life. The brush strokes within that contribute to their wholeness, the masterpiece that they are. Let them know. Affirmation doesn’t require extraordinary acts as measured in the typical sense. 


 

Becoming Aware of the Silence That Is Within You 8.7.18

Stillness Blog

“In stillness, you get closer to the source of life, which is essentially yourself.” -Eckhardt Tolle.

Being intimate, sitting with my own difficult thoughts and emotions is one of my biggest weaknesses. now that all the dust has settled, I’ve found myself with a lot of time on my hands. sure, there’s a million things I “should/could” be doing but I’ve been drawn towards silence and nothingness. Wandering, Reflecting, Re-evaluating. Asking myself the hard questions: Am I living my own story, or someone else’s? Am I empowering myself or letting others take it away? Am I defining my current life purpose by what I want or what I have? When you resist thoughts, fears, anxiety, and sadness, they only show up more. So I sit here, soul-searching, writing, breathing. I’m not sure what I’m searching for but I do know that much of my purpose feels connected to being my most authentic self and helping others embrace who they are, without striving or chasing a dream that doesn’t belong to them.

“We can only ever be who we are and at some point that has to be good enough.” -Panache Desai

Thank you for reading. Writing helps me organize my shit pile of emotions. As Robin Plemmons said, “sometimes our biggest shit piles can be the best fertilizer for our growth.”


Mango Metaphors 8.2.18

Mango Blog

In Hinduism, a perfectly ripe mango is a symbol of attainment, hinting at potential perfection. With their tough outer skin, it’s a labor of love..delicate movements of the knife to get to the goods..the sweet vibrant flesh..surrounding a strong, resilient inner core.

Those who value the process; what it takes to unveil the sweetness in its digestible form..will wait for the perfect opportunity to dive in, put in the work, peeling it apart…enjoying the ensuing reward..those who don’t wind up with rotten fruit. neglected. wasted.

are you willing to put in the work? are you patient enough to wait for the ripeness? unveiling the love beneath the surface just like we do for the people in our lives that we want to see living up to their potential

be aware of your mind and what it is telling you.


Poetry in Motion 8.2.18

 

 

 

 

here.

grateful.

moving towards better with every rep.

taking responsibility for the energy I bring into the room.

building awareness: for my mind, my body, this space, dynamics, energy.

embracing this transition, it’s time to grow. it’s not uncommon to fear change, we all do. it’s what we do with that fear. personally, fear of the unknown usually means I’m on the brink of growth..here’s to growth xoxo


Fleeing the Garage Gym 7.12.18

Garage Gym Blog

Often times we learn the most about ourselves when we spend time away from the noise…walking, sitting, or lifting with nothing but our own thoughts. Training alone for the last year has been the biggest blessing and challenge. Most days, I love the process…taking my time to warm up, listening to whatever the fuck I want, looking at the reminder on the whiteboard in front of me, taking a breath in, rehearsing a couple mental cues, and making the decision to be tougher than the bar. Other days are more difficult. The motivation isn’t as high. I get through training instead of truly being there with my body. This sport isn’t easy. The program I follow isn’t easy. I asked for this…because I recognized the opportunity for challenge and growth the first time I stepped on the platform and said “this is so weird, how do you guys do this?!”. When I was getting ready to leave ETSU last summer, Coach Stone said something along the lines of: there’s going to be days you don’t want to train, it’s not going to be easy, but if you’re cut out for this, you will show up and train regardless…

This solo-garage training chapter is coming to an end. Ready to hit the road and embrace a whole new set of challenges that are about to come my way. Dreams are free, the hustle is sold separately. Bring on the grind, I’m ready for ya Tennessee.


Practicing Self-Love and Non-Attachment to a Specific Body Image 7.5.18

Self Love Blog

This week my head has been in a weird place.. Sunday morning I weighed 158lbs. Exactly 20lbs heavier than I was a year ago (when I stopped doing CrossFit). I feel 10x better…Healthy. Injury Free. More time to pursue my personal and professional interests. Eating all the food. Getting after life 🤘🏼

Yet I am still human, which means yes, I am self critical. I often make the mistake of looking back at old pictures thinking “ah look how lean I was at 135-140”. The truth is, I said the same type of shit when I was 135. I was never satisfied with my body. I was upset that I wasn’t born with the 6-pack gene. This past year, I’ve gotten a lot better when it comes to self talk. Part of this is because I train alone, no one sees my body. Secondly, I’m not swimming in a sea of half naked crossfitters constantly comparing abs, quads, and workout times. I’ve gotten a HELL of a lot stronger.

I also know for a fact that my self worth is not tied to my physique. I’m fucking awesome and don’t need anyone to validate me. The person I am today is WAY different…comparing myself to the 135lb me is a huge disservice. If someone doesn’t want to hangout with me because I’m not super lean or good at CrossFit, that sucks for them..that’s definitely not anyone I want to be friends with anyway..and 99% of people don’t give a shit what your body looks like. YOU do.

Sometimes you have to sacrifice the body you have to get the body you need to accomplish the #1 goal: lift heavier fucking weights. To all the people out there freaking out about the new weight classes, take a deep breath..it’s okay. Can we all just focus on lifting the weights and having fun, and less about how “fluffy” we are going to be at our new weight class? Let’s be real, we all look kiiind of ridiculous in those singlets. No one can see your abs or lack thereof 😉 cheers to loving yourself, no matter what number is on the scale


On Saying No 4.20.18

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Declining social invitations has been historically difficult for me. In High School, I suffered immensely from FOMO (fear of missing out). This FOMO was directed towards events such as school dances, sports games, house parties, etc. Prior to high school, those events were almost impossible for me to attend due to a demanding sports schedule. Once High School rolled around, I stopped participating in most “travel teams” and played on the high school teams instead. This meant more time with my peers, accompanied by an intense desire to make up for lost time.

This proved to be difficult as for the past 8 years, 99% of my weekends were spent working in a restaurant. In more ways than one, this experience has certainly contributed to my inability to say no. At my current place of work, we jokingly call ourselves the “yes-taurant.” We are encouraged by managers to avoid saying no at all costs. This means we go to painstaking lengths to compose tasteful off menu dishes for individuals who have soy, gluten, sugar, shellfish, egg, nut, and dairy allergies. Guests love us for this but when there are 80 other people dining on a busy Saturday night, I so badly wish I could just say, “No!”

Despite our “yes-taurant” label, I love serving up hand crafted locally sourced VT food alongside other genuine hardworking people. In my first two years at this job, there was an underlying sense that going above and beyond was the standard. Coworkers or managers would text me weekly asking me to pick up shifts or cover for someone. I almost always said yes. If I said no, maybe they would think I wasn’t a good employee. If I worked, I would make an extra $150-$200 (that sounds worth missing out on those extra 2-3 hours of sleep, right?). Now more than four years into that job, I shamelessly embrace my seniority, knowing my value as both an employee and a human being (self-care…y’all need it people!). There is no more hesitation when it comes to saying no. I almost never pick up shifts. I show up for my scheduled shifts, say yes to every customer who walks through the door, and resume my life as normal outside.

Being a competitive athlete, early morning coach, and night-time server in restaurants has helped cure my social FOMO. Going to the bars or attending a party with unhealthy food choices does not align with my long-term goals (athletically, professionally, or financially). Being invited to a party that I won’t be able to attend rarely bothers me anymore. When faced with the choice of going out or going home to bed, bed wins. The allure of getting drunk and going dancing has long ago expired. Matt Mullenweg said, “alcohol is borrowing happiness from tomorrow.” This hits the nail on my workaholic head, not only from a happiness standpoint but also from a productivity standpoint. In this sense, saying “no” is easy although it wasn’t always that way.

Despite saying no to alcohol/social gatherings and yes to 7-9 hours of sleep, I haven’t gotten any better at saying “no” to other opportunities. In my post about learning, I mentioned an open doors approach; being open to new experiences, learning opportunities, and opposing viewpoints. As a young developing professional, it can be difficult to determine how valuable an experience or opportunity might be before getting deeply involved. It’s also extremely difficult to get out of a commitment once the realization is made that it might not serve you in the way that you had hoped (..and bouncing out of commitments isn’t the best look). Over the past two years, I have found myself in a few situations I wasn’t loving (environment, team, culture, topic, etc.) but seeing my commitments through is important to me. Recently, many of the mundane or routine commitments I previously made in my life ended organically (end of semester, end of contract, moving away). If it wasn’t for those experiences, I wouldn’t have realized that they weren’t for me. In each of those experiences, I learned what kind of people I don’t want to work with, how to peacefully disagree, how to engage in productive dialogue, and how to conduct myself professionally. I don’t necessarily regret my decisions to commit, I just wish that some of them ended sooner than others.

Just yesterday, I was feeling incredibly strained because I had said yes to too many people. Only a few days out from competing at my first ever national competition, stress was surging through me. It was self-imposed…I agreed to meetings on my only day off, I agreed to both early morning and late night commitments, and I kept trying to force 18 hours of work into a 16 hour day (simple math would tell you this doesn’t work). By failing to say no, I set myself up for failure.

I sat down and examined my biggest reasons for saying yes when I wanted to say no. Guilt sat at the top of the list. I worried that if I said no, someone would think I’m not hard-working, that I didn’t value their time, or that I didn’t think their cause was worthy. None of those are my intentions. I pride myself on being hardworking, compassionate, and generous. I know that I am all of those things and more, but to act in a way that might communicate otherwise scares me. A teacher of mine once told me, “if someone doesn’t respect your decision to say no, is that really someone that you want in your life?” Good food for thought, indeed. Everyone’s time is important and I would never want to suggest to someone that my time was more important than theirs by saying, “No, I’m too busy.” Saying that you’re too busy subtly communicates that you don’t care enough to make time for it. With that knowledge, I am tasked with finding the proper verbiage to say no in a way that still makes people feel valued and appreciated.

I have heard a few promising strategies for deciding what to say “no” to. Kyle Maynard, the first quadruple amputee to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro without the help of prosthetics, uses a 1-10 rating system. The only caveat is that you can’t rate anything as a 7. A 7 is usually something you feel obligated to do but don’t reallywant to do. If it’s a 6 or less, you say no. If it’s an 8, 9, or 10, you say yes. A simpler method is the “Hell Yes!” If you feel your inner voice shouting “Hell yes,” it’s a yes. If there is a “meh, maybe” creeping in anywhere, you say no. I don’t love this method as much because I can think of a lot of opportunities I was reluctant to say yes to but did anyway, later finding myself blown away by how valuable it was.

As I prepare to move away from my home state of 22 years (Vermont) to Tennessee, I am given a clean slate to decide what I want to say “yes” or “no” to. I have already wholeheartedly, 100%, 10 out of 10, said yes to two more years of formal education and the opportunity to lift weights at the OTS. I am not allowed to work in a yes-taurant because of the physically demanding nature of that job and the interference it has on my athletic development. I am limited in the number of hours I can volunteer to coach because of my own training schedule. Due to the nature of my scholarship and commitment to both rigorous academic and athletic programs, there are people in my life whose job it is to advise me on what extras I can say “yes” or “no” to. Therefore, it is important that I find the words to say no to the <7’s, and the fine tune my filter for which 8’s, 9’s, or 10’s I will say yes to. I will certainly keep failing and that is okay. Each moment of failure will allow me to keep fine-tuning my “no” filter.


Learning: A Gateway to Internal Illumination 4.12.18

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Exercise Physiology with Dr. David Brock, Fall 2017, where I learned how beautiful learning could be.

“We cannot teach people anything; we can only help them discover it within themselves.” -Galileo

There are few things in life that captivate me the way that learning does. Of course, this captivating sensation is heightened when the topic is meaningful to me…both challenging enough to push me outside of my comfort zone and see a new light without making me feel like I am in the dark. Many of us crave that optimal challenge, looking for it when engaging in a novel task or forming a new relationship. The best teachers know how to continue pushing us along, steering us between the banks of “Oh shit, this is WAY too hard” and “you lost me, I’m bored.” Every great teacher slips up from time-to-time. It is the best ones that see you sitting on one of those banks and pull you back into the flow, allowing you to continue thriving as you paddle through life. At the end of the day, you command your own vessel and you get to pick your teachers.

When you wholeheartedly want to learn something, you will seek out teachers you suspect might be able to help you learn that thing. When I intuitively feel: “wow, this person has the capacity to teach me a lot,” I use that internal guide to steer me towards the type of people I want in my life. When I meet someone and I experience this feeling, I capitalize on it. I reach out, telling them that I sense their capacity to have valuable influence in my life, asking them if they have time for a phone call or a cup of coffee. It’s too easy to go about your day, carrying on with yourself, doors closed. More often than not, this doors closed approach often results in missing out on learning opportunities that have the potential to advance your framework. I really try to leave my doors open at all times. This way I won’t miss out if someone incredible comes walking by. This requires a filter for what is a good opportunity and what is a great opportunity. I try to say no to the good so that I have time and energy to immerse myself in the great. This filter takes time to develop. Honestly, I’m still learning everyday. Last week when I was coaching, I asked a group of my athletes to share a piece of advice with the team. One athlete said, “Look Up.” It served as a great reminder that sometimes the thing we need is right in front of us if we are willing to look at it.

Coaching is traditionally thought of as a teaching role but I’ve found that coaching gives me the opportunity to learn every single day but only ifI’m open and willing to learn. Each person shows up with their own unique physiology and psychological framework. My mind goes to work as I think of how I might be able to best help this person develop physically. Then I must come up with a strategy to communicate this program with them in a way that creates personal ownership over their training process based on what I observe in their personality traits. Because I am a coach and not a psychoanalyst, sometimes I fail, but I always learn. Each new athlete brings forth the opportunity to learn about never before seen movement patterns, varying levels and sources of motivation, and how your coaching tactics stack up against their  personality traits. Another aspect of coaching that I value is when an athlete asks me a question I don’t know the answer to. This forces a deep and thoughtful pause. Once I am confident I don’t know, I voice that. This allows us to engage in discussion and use both of our brains to collectively come up with a possible answer or solution before referencing outside.

In addition to learning from my athletes, I get to learn from my colleagues. I have been fortunate to train and coach in a variety of different gym settings (Collegiate Strength & Conditioning, CrossFit, Weightlifting, High Performance Training Centers), lending to some very unique (and often opposing) viewpoints. At the end of the day, everything works to an extent and some things work better than others. Immersing yourself in different environments allows you to see through various lenses. This ability to see through a different lens becomes especially heightened if you become an active participant rather than an observant bystander. I have found that there is nothing more valuable than literally putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. After watching college athletes push themselves to the limits during the beep test (a conditioning test), I laced up my sneakers and gave it a shot. When I did my internship at the Olympic Training Site in Tennessee, I watched the Weightlifters train and thought, “that’s not so hard” so I committed to their training process and became a Weightlifter…and holy shit, it is one of the hardest sports I have ever competed in (mentally and physically).

With each experience and person that I encounter, I am astonished by how much there is to learn. This sensation lifts my spirit and keeps my childlike curiosity alive. If you too, share in this feeling, never stop learning. Keep on daring to try new things, chase inspiring people, learn new skills, read different books, and engage in self-reflection. If you open your heart and listen, you might find that many great teachers live right inside of you. Lean on others to help you discover them.

With Love & Strength,

K.P. Ushakova


Fire 3.23.18

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“When the corpse is borne to the grave, we know then the secret progress of death…the inward extinction of the vital fire.” –John Murray, The Quarterly Review (1844)

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and reading about fire; its many definitions, uses, and origins; but most importantly, what it means to me. Fire is a driving force in my life; it is my internal liveliness; the butterflies of my heart. This particular usage of “fire” first appeared in 1250. Defined as a burning or ardent emotion, acuity of intellect, life force, vital spirit, or the ‘flashing of the eyes’ (Oxford English Dictionary). This journey that I am on, a journey towards my truest self, began by chasing fire; filling my life with things that make me feel EXPANDED. Fire represents the feeling I have when I am 100% living in the moment, experiencing total internal illumination of the mind or body.

Fire is multi-faceted; full of life yet equally destructive. It represents my passion, eagerness, and luminosity. This natural force also reminds me that a candle burning from both ends always burns out. When I allow things to captivate me in such a way that I begin to neglect other aspects of my life, I experience an internal burnout, craving 24 hours of sleep and nothingness. Time, self-care, and careful reflection allow me to clean out unnecessary ashes and spark up the glowing embers that sustain me.

Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, “felt that the soul consisted of both water and fire. The eternal soul’s quest is eventually to become pure fire, which we might consider enlightenment by modern standards.” This quote is worth pondering. I often struggle to understand why I allow space for things in my life that don’t make me glow from the inside out. I’ve realized that part of being an adult occasionally requires doing things I don’t enjoy… so I put on a “fake it ‘til I make it” smile and fulfill my commitment (this is easier said than done, BUT it makes for better headspace compared to sulking and complaining). Not every job or internship makes you glow from the inside-out but it might be the stepping stone that will get you closer to your own version of “enlightenment” or pure internal fire.

Before chasing fire, it is important to understand yourself. Valuing your uniqueness and truly wanting to live 100% as yourself rather than as a replication of someone else is vitally important. Instead of seeing someone else’s accomplishments and feeling small or inadequate, love yourself enough so that other people’s accomplishments fuel your internal luminosity. In this way, I have found my fire…but not without failure. I spent many years comparing myself to others, competing with others, and seeking validation from shitty people. After too many inspirational self-help books and a summer surrounded by amazingly inspiring people, I discovered what it felt like to chase fire and leave behind feelings of self-doubt or internal inadequacy. I finally embraced who I was; flaws, imperfections, and all.

Immanuel Kant describes enlightenment: “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed nonage. Nonage is the inability to use one’s own understanding without another’s guidance. This nonage is self-imposed if its cause lies not in lack of understanding but in indecision and lack of courage to use one’s mind without another’s guidance. Dare to know!”

Hmm….this sounds a whole lot like embracing who you are and being independent as you embark on your own self-guided path. I am not suggesting that you abandon all of your friends and mentors and be #independentAF. I am suggesting that you take a moment to reflect. What friends, family members, and mentors give you that feeling of fire that I am describing? Find those people who will hand you a match but make it your responsibility to light it, add some kindling, and if you so desire…add some big logs and build up a freaking beautiful fire.

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Fire has a way of pulling us in. Its presence tends to captivate our senses; drawing us in visually as we watch the flames flicker, hearing the transient cracklings, smelling the wood fire, and feeling warmth pass externally to internally. Identifying this wholesome feeling in everyday life has allowed me to embrace opportunities not solely for their potential outcome, but for pure joy.  Each day, I’m learning how to set intentions that allow me to let go of self-imposed pressure. If I let go of the pressure to achieve the standard of “success,” I find that I can truly have fun, enjoy the process, and then do my best. Previously, “succeeding” or winning was my ticket to an internalized message that I was good enough. All too often, we fixate on the desired outcome of a scenario; filling our heads with feelings of self-doubt and self-righteousness as we toggle between thoughts of failure and success. What if we didn’t do that? What if we just took it one step at a time, practiced being present, and tried to have fun? Like I mentioned earlier, fire is a present moment feeling. It is not the idea of future outcome.

So what does this have to do with Weightlifting? Time after time, Weightlifting provides me with feelings of pure fire (rich learning experiences and genuine human connection do this for me, too). Being successful as a Weightlifter requires intense presence and focus. To feel the bar and move that weight well, your mind cannot be anywhere else. Patience…one lift at a time. If your mind is fixating on the heaviest weight you are supposed to move for the day, 8 reps from the weight you are taking now, you are not putting your all into that current rep. When competing at University Nationals in April, I did not have a single number in mind for what I wanted to open with, lift 2nd, or even 3rd. My focus started first with my general warm up. When that was done, my focus was on moving the empty bar as well as I could. In this way, I start settling into feelings of fire. When it was time to step on the platform, time transcended and I achieved my goal: do my effing best and have fun.

There are pro’s and con’s to competing in a sport where outcomes are revealed in a matter of seconds. There is no denying the objectiveness of the weight on the bar and 3 white or red lights. As a coach, I instill in my athletes the importance of process goals (deciding what mindset they’re going to show up the training with, how they are going to approach the bar, what technical cues to focus on during their lift). We don’t fixate on numbers. When I declare a number for them at a meet, they can find confidence knowing that they have the skills to move the bar.

The focus and determination required to be a Weightlifter is what makes the sport such a great developer of self-discipline. It’s just you and the bar. Your teammates and coaches cannot lift the weight for you, you have to want it for yourself. Athletes who take ownership over the training process and commit to the long game know what it feels like to step on that platform and feel fire. If that fire is inside you, you will keep coming back to the bar despite bad days or missed lifts. I cannot show this or teach this to my lifters. If they know it, they keep training and improving. If they don’t, I hope they discover something that does light them up. Weightlifting is not for everyone. Finding a true north is key to personal freedom.

Reflecting back on the quote at the beginning of the passage, replacing internal fires with a life of monotony is metaphorical suicide. Most of us know someone who “dies” early because they abandon their internal flames to fulfill societal norms or appease others (fuck that). Find what makes you feel alive in the truest sense. You don’t need to strike every match that comes your way. Once you have a sense for the matches that are worth striking, build YOUR fire, it is your vital elixir.

With Strength & Love,

K.P. Ushakova


Making Space for Emotions 3.11.18

 

 

 

 

I was (and still am) afraid to share this. As an athlete and coach, I am expected to be strong (physically, mentally, emotionally, etc.). The reality is, I am my truest self in times of both extreme strength AND weakness. If you only saw my strengths, you wouldn’t know the whole story. Here is a glimpse into the other half:

Upon waking at 4:30am on Friday morning, I received news that I earned my spot as a resident athlete on ETSU’s Olympic Training Site Weightlifting Team. I allowed myself a few minutes of giddy excitement before returning to the reality of my morning; planning & getting ready to coach. As a coach, I strive to put my athletes first and my own self-interests aside. With this, I denied myself the opportunity to fully process the magnitude of my accomplishment. It wasn’t until after coaching all morning, sitting in my car driving home, that I started to process the news that I had received (holy shit, how did I get so lucky?!). In that moment, I felt like I couldn’t breath. Each attempt at a deep breathe was forceful, panicky, and shallow. In the weeks leading up to the tryout, I used my breathe to release anxious feelings. In this moment my breathe was failing me. I talked myself down from my panic and proceeded with my day. At work, at home, at the gym; my mind was in a different place (the future, the platform, grad school)…making it very difficult to be present for the people in front of me.

Saturday came and started like most (coaching, more coaching, my own training, & work). Saturday morning is the time that our CrossFit athletes are able to complete Open workouts in a high-energy setting with the help of a judge and encouraging teammates. I absolutely love leading athletes on a journey towards uncovering their potential. This aspect of the Open is electrifying and beautiful. On the other hand, people place scary high pressure on themselves and allow their competitive drive to cloud their judgement of risk and reward. As TB says, The Open brings out the best and worst in people. When I used to compete in CrossFit, the energy of The Open brought out the best performances in me. Now as a retired CrossFitter, experiencing The Open from the “other side” has caused me significant anxiety. If there is one thing I tell athletes heading into these workouts, it is: “you are loved and worthy no matter what your score is, just have fun.” Yesterday, I couldn’t stay through the last heat. I felt like I needed to escape. I went home to clear my head before proceeding with the rest of my day. I felt guilt for not staying until the end, I felt guilt because my own CrossFit PTSD was preventing me from being the best coach for my athletes. I couldn’t erase this guilt, guilt for all the times I’ve done something at less than 100% because I’ve stretched myself too thin and 80% was truly all I had to give.

If you know me, you know that I take great pride in doing things well, working hard, being organized, delivering consistent messages, and following through on my commitments. When I make mistakes, I tend to beat myself up. The last month or so leading up to Weightlifting tryouts, I didn’t allow myself to have feelings of inadequacy when I made a mistake or failed a lift. I worried that if I had a negative thought, or followed that thought, I would perform poorly and compromise my chances of achieving my #1 goal: making the OTS Weightifting Team. Now that I had achieved that HUGE goal, I let every negative feeling flow…resulting in a meltdown. I tried to pin certain stressful moments over the past month as the source of my anxiety attack but the truth was, it was all of them. At the core of each of these stressful moments, it was me not dealing with them…choosing instead to sweep them under the rug. This 2 hour stretch of my day felt truly terrible. I felt paralyzed. I cried. I couldn’t make sense of why I was feeling that way. Just the day before, I received the best news of my life yet here I was crying about subtleties like my brother forgetting to lock the door to our house or being poorly received by someone when I decided to practice saying “no.” Anything and everything, good or bad, brought a seemingly endless stream of tears. I tried to lift the bar, I cried; I thought less, I cried; I thought more, I cried. When all this subsided, I felt rejuvenated, a little bit silly, but most importantly, refueled with gratitude for the amazing people and opportunities I have in my life.

I’ve always been the type to hold back emotions for as long as possible and then have a total meltdown to deal with my shit. I’m aware that this is not the best way of dealing with stress. I hope to make small steps towards healthier means of coping; acknowledging my anxiety and stress: letting it be, then letting it go. Despite how painful yesterday was, it was a reminder of how privileged I am to be alive, learn, chase my dreams, and ride this wave called life. If you’r reading, I hope you feel empowered to acknowledge the presence and power of your emotions. Know that you have the strength to work through difficult feelings and continue charging forward.

 

With Strength & Love,

Kristina

 

Storm Lake, MT 2018

 

 

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