THE SPIRIT OF THE NORTH
By: Lauren Anderson
Every time I do live theatre, the audience (whether you want it or not) becomes almost like another actor in the piece. The energy they give by laughing/ recognition/ or just general engagement, can really make or break a show. In the reverse, if I can’t feel the audience engaged, it seems like an energy drain.
And honestly, that’s one of the funnest things about doing live theatre. The show can literally change from night to night depending on what audience shows up to see it. One night a woman laughed so hard she fell out of her chair, and we had to hold for like, 10 minutes while she, and the people around her, regained themselves. That was a wonderful distraction. Then there are nights like when another woman brought her knitting and sat in the front row… not as fun.
Sometimes I’ll be having a rough day or any number of emotions a person can go through, but if I step out onto the stage, and I can feel the audience wanting to be there, and gearing up for a good time– it bolsters me! Every. Damn. Time.
I live, and work, and workout in Minnesota. The North. We have a lot of stereotypes about living in this great state. But probably our most notorious stereotype is: It’s always cold here.
I remember one time I went to see my sister graduate from Air Force Academy down in San Antonio TX. When we were being checked into the base, the guard took one look at my mom’s driver’s license and said, “Oooo! Minnesota? Don’t ya’ll got a lot of snow up there?” It was summertime.
But I don’t begrudge him that assumption. Because our second biggest stereotype other than “it’s cold here all the time” is that we love to complain about the cold. We wear our ability to survive harsh winters like a badge of honor. And rightly so!
I, however, am firmly in the “I don’t complain about the cold, because I like to complain about the heat” camp. Because I am a true nordic girl built for winter, who runs hot in both temperature and temperament. I reserve my weather-complaining for the three months of the year when the 10,000 lakes in this state make it a humid torture chamber.
But I’m weird like that. And in the clear minority.
But this only proves my over-arching point: When you live in a state like Minnesota, the weather is another actor in your show. Whether you want it or not.
So cut to last night as I’m headed to Solcana. A particularly harsh winter day, with biting cold and overcast skies. It had just snowed a few inches too. Not enough to be a big deal, but enough to make it annoying.
Let’s put it this way, it was a day when even my runs-hot-no-complaints body braces for the cold when I step outside. When I got into my car to go meet Maureen and Bobby for the 5:30 pm workout, I was like, “What was I thinking? This is Bullsh!t.”
As I sat and waited for my car to warm up– with my gloved thumb hovering over the trigger to text the gang that I wasn’t gonna make it– suddenly my window defrosted, and I decided to take it as a sign to solider on.
I made it to Solcana before my heat ever really made a difference in the cabin of the car, and to top it off, the only parking spot was a block away. As I walked to the gym bundled up, passing spot after spot where I could’ve parked if not for the ginormous pile of snow that was occupying it instead, I kept thinking, “What am I doing? This is Bulls!t!”
But I made it. G-damn it, I MADE IT.
Before I even step foot in the building, I feel like I’ve accomplished a great feat. And it got me thinking. “This has got to be a metaphor or something.”
I’ve talked about this a lot, but I think it bares repeating:
For me, the hardest part about the gym is still getting there.
Whether it’s emotional, psychological, familial, physical or the damn weather! I think any number of us go through an enormous test of spirit every time we attempt to walk through those doors of the gym.
It’s a pre-workout to the workout that never gets the credit that it deserves.
It’s planning your calendar, your travel routes, your wake-up times. It’s figuring out what to friggin wear. It’s pre-packing your gym bag, your meals, your car. It’s setting aside money in the budget to spend on a gym– on yourself. It’s getting over fear of judgement, of looking foolish, of belonging. It’s asking yourself to be brave. It’s putting your body first, maybe for the first time.
All the things we do to test our spirit, before we attempt to put our bodies to the test.
And on this cold winter Minnesota day, I just wanted to take a minute to acknowledge that. In myself, and in the brave souls who endeavor to rock their bodies in sub-zero weather, or in a more esoteric way, people who choose to workout in it. This is the toughness, the grit that doesn’t get talked about enough. This is the spirit of the north.
My CrossFit shoes that I keep in my car so I don’t forget them—were frozen in the laces. But between Bobby’s smiling face to greet me, and Coach Mike’s awesome story about taking his nephew to see the now famous Vikings game, with a final play that will go down in history, my laces and my heart melted. I was finally ready to be there.
My other gym buds Laurel and Maureen show up, and the class was packed with friendly faces. Now it almost felt like a party! But as soon as I begin to relax, I realize that we’re in for one of the hardest workouts I’ve ever done at Solcana to date.
As fast as possible, for time, we are charged to do 1500 meters on the rower, followed by 200 single-unders on the jump rope, 50 wall balls, 200 more jumps on the rope, only to be bookended by ANOTHER 1500 meters on the rower. In other words, a sadistic palindrome of death.
It’s my first time working out with Coach Mike at the lead, and he expertly walks us through the workout. After figuring out the logistics, the timer starts and we’re off. It doesn’t take long to realize I’m working at a severe disadvantage. The harsh cold has exasperated my asthma, even inside the now-warm gym.
And everything on the docket is a killer for the lungs. Rowing, wall balls, jumping rope?! I mean seriously! Are you trying to kill me?! I call Coach Mike over after I reach 1,000 meters on the rower, and between desperate gulps of air, he crafts for me a more modified plan. I’m so grateful.
I do almost half of everything. 1,000 meters, 100 jumps on the rope, 25 wall balls, 100 jumps, 1,000 more meters.
Even at these extra modified numbers, I’m still among the last to finish. It’s still one of the hardest things I’ve ever done at the gym. But dammit, I finished it. I did it. In fact, we all did.
This particular workout was interesting on a phycological level. Because it was so difficult, even for the most athletic of us, we all seemed to collectively put our heads down and persevere.
My friend Maureen got more and more stoic the longer the workout went on. I admired her tenacity. Here she was, mere weeks after eye surgery, DOMINATING. In the most quiet and “Minnesotan” way imaginable.
There were no whoops or laughs. There were only grunts and determination. It was quieter than normal, save a few attempts to cheer each other on. But I think we knew. This wasn’t about cheering on, or being cheered. This was a cold, dark Monday night in the dregs of winter, and we all were facing down an enemy.
When we finished, we gave each other knowing looks and quiet high fives. Every one of us, deep in thought as we tried to regulate our breath. I don’t know what everyone was thinking, I only know what I was thinking, and it went something like this:
“Thank god that’s over– Thank god I made it– I’m embarrassed I couldn’t do more– Don’t be embarrassed, you gave it everything you had– Holy sh!t Maureen is a badass—Thank goodness Coach Mike gave me those mods—This group is incredible– I’m proud of myself– I didn’t think I’d make it through that– Holy Sh!t I made it through that!”
We didn’t over-congratulate. We didn’t even celebrate. We survived.
But standing on the other side of survival, no matter how small, is always a huge lesson. In my life, accepting a challenge, and walking into something difficult, knowing full well that I could and might fail, has taught me more about what I’m made of than anything else.
It’s strengthens my spirit as well as my muscles, and is a glorious intangible that the gym provides that I think is so important.
Because every time I do something hard and survive it, I have less fear, less worry, less negative self talk. Because that survival has given me a stronger sense of self. Every time I know more about what lies deep inside me. I know my spirit is even stronger than my body is becoming.
When people joke about why anyone would live in such a cold state, I always think about what the changing seasons do for my spirit. Or what I call, “The Spirit of the North”. Watching the literal death (winter) and rebirth (spring) of the place where I live gives me meaning. It forces me to acknowledge Mother Nature as another character in my show. Whether I like it or not.
It helps me not fear a challenge, but accept it as fact. And asks me to do it anyway. It propels me forward. The same could be said of my workout yesterday. A miniature death of the old sense of self and a rebirth of a newer, stronger one.
The cold winter days, and the hellish workouts aren’t easy. It is a test to get there, and it is a test to get through it. But if they were easy I’d take them for granted. And I don’t know about you, but I came here to get strong AF. I came here to grow.
It is my definition of The Spirit of the North.
And as Prince famously put it, “It’s so cold here, it keeps the bad people out.”