I was introduced to the snatch and clean & jerk in 2006, as a senior in high school. My girlfriend at the time was the captain of our Olympic weight lifting team, and she convinced me to give it a shot, despite the fact that I’d never intentionally squatted or tossed a barbell above my head in my life. I still remember my first practice: my hamstrings were so tight that our coach had to shove plates under my heels to keep me from toppling over. I kept at it that first day, doing set after set, and the next morning my legs kept trying to give out every time I went down stairs.
That year I competed in two meets, and cheered my teammates on as they qualified for the state championships. I wasn’t one of our better lifters—in fact, I don’t think I ever placed in my weight class—but I enjoyed the camaraderie at practice, and I REALLY liked trying to push my body to do things it didn’t want to do. Looking back, that attitude is so obviously unhealthy, but at the time it just felt normal. One of the reasons I wasn’t a very good lifter was because of the terrible relationship I had with my body—I just didn’t want to be in it any more than necessary.
When I would step up to the bar to lift, it was like I turned off my brain. Step, step, left hand grip, right hand grip, find your mark, and then suddenly—blank. I knew I was lifting, but I couldn’t hear anything my body was telling me. I couldn’t intentionally keep tension anywhere, or feel whether my balance was off. Sometimes I wouldn’t even be able to tell if I had injured myself until later. My mind was somewhere else, thrown out through my eyes to my spot point on the wall. It was as if—between the moment I got my grip and the moment I walked off the platform—I wasn’t really there.
This dissociation from my body showed up in my life in plenty of other places, but it was most noticeable when working out. Skip forward in time about seven years, and you’d see me falling into the same mindless grooves as I took up crossfit. I joined a crossfit gym specifically because it allowed me to focus on those same Oly lifts I’d loved in high school. By this time, though, I was beginning to realize that something didn’t feel right. I was beginning to understand that not everyone made this kind of effort just to escape their own body.
I ended up leaving that first crossfit gym partially because of financial stress, and partially because I was realizing what coming out as transgender would mean. I wasn’t sure I could face transitioning in such a body-focused space. I was already beating myself up for not being able to keep up with the guys during WODs, and I was increasingly shy and self-conscious in group settings—especially ones that so constantly divided people along gender lines. I decided to let my contract run out.
One night about a year and a half later I was scrolling around on the internet and came across a Change.org petition to allow transgender athletes to compete in official CrossFit competitions. I quickly signed, and then happened to notice the name of the person who created the petition—Hannah Wydeven. Woah! Hannah had been my coach at my previous gym, and we’d always had great conversations in between classes. I noticed that the petition was signed by other athletes from a gym called Solcana, and a quick Google search had me reading all about Hannah’s new adventure. I immediately sent her an email, hoping she’d remember me, and hoping, too, that this new gym might be a safe place to try to make friends with my body for the first time.
Solcana has been everything I hoped for. When I first walked in the door I had been on testosterone hormone therapy for about six months and I still couldn’t do a regular pushup. Hannah started guiding me through the reintroduction to WODs and Oly lifting, reminding me not to overdo it just because I was gaining muscle quickly. In my first year at Solcana I had more firsts and more PRs than at any other time in my life, even though I spent part of that year recovering from chest surgery. I can now do quite a few unassisted pushups (though I still go to a box when WODs get heavy, and that’s okay!), I’ve gotten to an intermediate level in double-unders, and my form in my Oly lifts has improved dramatically.
But I didn’t realize how great the difference in my mindset was until I competed in my first adult meet at Solcana a few weeks ago. I was nervous about competing on the men’s roster for the first time, but mostly I felt excited. Things felt right. I felt like myself, and I felt strong and ready.
When I stepped up to the bar that day, I ran through my old routine. Step, step, left hand grip, right hand grip, find your mark, and then—GO! But this time I didn’t blank out. First I kept my attention in my core as I pulled myself under the bar, then moved it to my glutes as I pushed down through my heels. I focused everything on what I was doing in each second, and I didn’t let go.
And honestly, it wouldn’t have mattered to me if I didn’t PR my lifts that day, as long as I could feel myself completing them. Thanks to Hannah and the gang at Solcana, I’ve had an incredibly supportive environment in which to stretch some newfound muscles, both physically and mentally. Feeling safe in a space that celebrates all kinds of bodies has helped me gain the power to feel good about being present. Now, whenever I step up to a bar, I take a breath and I let myself just FEEL for a minute before I begin. I’m glad to be here.