Her face was solemn, focused. Moments ago she had been laughing with a wide, grin, framed in lipstick, but her face now told a different story. She took a deep breath, firmly gripped the barbell and jerked it upward. It fell to the ground with a startling bang. Repeat. Jump rope. Box jump. Dead lift. Repeat. The musculature of her arms, shoulders and back flexed and shone with the slightest hint of sweat. She’s 50 years old, and the third fittest woman her age in the world.
Her hands shook fiercely in the frigid air, holding tight to the shifters on her bike. She swerved back and forth on the small path winding along frozen Alum Creek. She shivered from the cold, but it was also her first time back on the saddle since she crashed months ago and nearly lost her life. A diehard athlete, cyclist, runner – she’s lucky to be alive.
She sat there crying. A small, genuine sob met with words of dismissal – “I hate crying!” Losing a dramatic amount of weight was difficult, but it changed her life and that of her son. And she managed to turn it into a business to help other women, all by the age of 28. She wants to inject fun into fitness, but these tears are hard won.
These are portraits of women; these are portraits of strength – physical, mental, emotional. They are but three of many women I’ve encountered in the last few months whose strength absolutely astounds me. They vary in age, ethnicity and size, but they are all strong women in their own right. My time with them and others like them made me question – what defines strength?
I could never lift a 400-pound tire like the first woman, CrossFitter Shellie Edington. I could never imagine the pain of a near-fatal bike accident, and Amy Avery’s strength to push through and come out the other side better than ever. And I have no idea what it’s like to lose 150 pounds, like our cover model Erica Lugo, or especially to be verbally harassed for doing so.
Does that mean I’m not strong?
I may have started my day today with an early workout, but I just ended it with a whole bag of hot fries (I blame deadline stress). And I bet all three of those women could bench press me (except Amy, I challenge you to a bike race instead). On the surface, I know I don’t appear all that physically strong. I even “tried” to lift 91 percent of my body weight (see pictures) – I obviously cannot. So I faked it, just for you, with a little help from my Fit Club friends.
But what I’ve learned from these women is that strength does not solely correlate to how much you can lift or the size of your muscles. They have common inner strength, more so than any other attribute, and that’s about choice and mindset. I’ve found inner strength comes through overcoming: trusting your gut, choosing your own path, following your passion(s). It’s derived from facing challenges head on.
Amy best described strength in a passage from her story: “Having bravery doesn’t mean fear is absent, but it does mean we move forward anyway, knowing that we can handle whatever happens, and fear does not cripple our belief in ourselves.”
That is true power, a strength we should all strive to demonstrate.