IF THE STAIRS DON’T WORK, USE A LADDER
By: Lauren Anderson
My dad is a fireman. He has had every type of job you can have in the fire department, from inspector to chief, and it was always cool. When I was young, I always loved the fact that my dad was “one of the people in your neighborhood”. I still do. It’s just cool.
I grew up around firehouses, getting to play on the firetrucks and help wash them. Getting to try on turnout gear and clomp around. And on occasion, being in the squad car when Dad got called to a fire, and going 120 miles down the highway. It was awesome.
But with a parent having a dangerous job, comes great responsibility. And my sister and I got more than our fair share of fire safety.
So when spring break rolled around when I was 12, Dad didn’t have to convince us very hard to be part of “Fire Safety Day” at the department. In hindsight, it was a genius way to keep us out of trouble for the afternoon, and use us as guinea pigs for the firefighters in training.
My sister and I had to haul hoses around, and do timed runs of how fast we could get into turnout gear and in the truck. We quickly learned that turnout gear weighs about 100 pounds, and that the hoses on the truck weigh can weigh hundreds of pounds as well. It was no joke! And hooking them up to the fire hydrant is almost a three person job. It was unbelievably tiring. I’m serious, it could’ve been a CrossFit class.
Then our mini-training ended, and it was time to use us for training the grown ups. My sister and I were put in thermal wetsuits, and dropped into the middle of a freezing Minnesota lake, and Dad timed the new fire volunteers as they came out to rescue us. I love to swim as much as the next kid, but this water was so cold, even the thermal wetsuits could only do so much.
I remember saying to my dad as I was hauled into the boat, “You tricked us! This was supposed to be fun! And it’s just really hard work!” And my dad and the other firefighters laughed. And my dad said, “Sure it’s hard work now, you’re still learning. It will get more fun, the more you do it. But that’s why we practice. That’s how we save lives.”
Good advice. And I shut up pretty quickly when I was reminded that firefighting is a life or death business. The intensity of that is not lost on me. I readjusted my attitude as we drove the fire truck to the last part of Fire Safety Day. The Burning House.
When fire volunteers train to become firefighters, they often do something called a “Practice Burn” or a “Hot Drill”. It’s a controlled environment, where the firefighters actually start a structure on fire, then practice putting it out. Sometimes they build their own, sometimes it’s condemned buildings, you get the idea.
My sister and I were placed inside the building and we waited to get rescued. Before you freak out, they did not set the building on fire while we were in it. After they practiced saving real people bodies for a while, my sister and I were done, and we were replaced with dummies. We were instructed to sit on the grass out of the way, and watch the building burn. Not a bad way to spend a day of spring break after all.
Before the burn started, Dad gathered the volunteers up, and gave them a speech. Remember this, and don’t forget that, that sort of stuff. And just before he released the people to their duties my dad said,
“If the stairs don’t work, use a ladder. If the ladder doesn’t work, find another way. Use your brain, stay safe, and don’t give up. Someone’s life is in your hands.”
And then they set the building on fire. If I can recall, the practice burn was successful that day, and we drove home. A couple of kids and a fleet of firefighters. The only thing missing from this triumphant picture was a dalmatian.
That portion of my Dad’s ‘pep talk’ has always stayed with me. Reminding me that there are options, and to not give up. I always thought it was interesting that he said “Use your brain” too. In the business of heroics, I guess under-thinking can be as detrimental as over-thinking can.
* * *
So cut to last weekend. It’s early morning on a Saturday, and I get a phone call from a friend that has just recently joined Solcana. I’m so happy that they’re joining me at one of my favorite happy places. And I am so grateful to share in someone’s new fitness journey, as they have shared in mine.
But they sound frantic and stressed in their message, and we don’t usually talk on the phone, so I knew something big was up. I call them back right away.
“Hey, I got your message. What’s up? You okay?” I say.
“Um, yes. I think. I don’t know. I just got done with one of my first CrossFit classes, and I couldn’t do anything. I… I … everyone around me was doing all the stuff and I couldn’t do any of it.”
I keep listening. They continue.
“I’m just so mad at myself. I just can’t believe I’ve wasted all this time. I’ve neglected my body all these years and– and–” I can hear their voice catch, fighting back tears.
I let out a deep sigh. I know all too well where they are. I’ve been there MANY times.
When I first started CrossFit, I had to really fight with myself. I was so mad that I hadn’t just “kept up” my fitness all these years. For every move that I was surprised and shocked I could do, I was equally angry and frustrated that I couldn’t do other things.
While the people around me were doing 40 pull-ups at a time with weight on their ankles, I was struggling to just hold onto the bar. When I first started, I had trouble strapping myself into the footholds on the rower, let alone the actual rowing.
We talk some more. And I say, “You’re not alone. Everything you’ve just said is something I’ve felt too. It’s easy to get mad at your body for what it can’t do. But something I learned by continuing to work out at Solcana, is to celebrate your body for all it CAN do. But it is a hard reframe, and it takes practice.”
As we talk, a concept that I use in improv a lot comes to mind. Sometimes, students will edit themselves, and that will impede their ability to create. They get it stuck in their heads that it has to be “right”. So when I’m urging students to declare I will often say,
“ It’s not the best thing, the right thing, or the perfect thing. It’s just the NEXT thing. And that is enough.
Your job is to do the next thing.”
When I work out at the gym, I often cannot do what the others around me are doing. This has tripped me out a bunch. And even now, I still practice reframing. So what if I can’t do 100 situps like the athlete next to me? I can do 40. And 40 is enough. It’s what I can give. And that is enough. Because I’m giving all I can. And the next time I will give 45.
Like the Little Drummer Boy in that famous Christmas Carol. Maybe you know it? The lyrics are basically, “I am a poor boy. I have no gifts to bring. But I have this drum. I will play for you. I will play my best for you… And the baby smiled.” Because it was enough. Because the drummer gave what he could.
It’s also like what my sister said to me before I even joined Solcana (see week 1 blog), “Do what you can until you can do more. Then do more.”
After talking my friend through some of their “Gym Feels” and getting them pumped to get back to the gym and try it all again, I encourage them to treat their body like a good friend.
That is one of the biggest lessons I am learning about fitness. And before we hang up, I offer this analogy. (You know I love my analogies…)
If I go out with a friend and they say, “I’m sorry Lauren. I can’t go up the stairs today.” I wouldn’t say “Well screw you. I can’t believe you can’t walk up the stairs!” I wouldn’t yell at my friend, or leave them behind. Chances are, I would probably say, “Oh. Okay. Let’s find the elevator. Or we can go somewhere else.”
This is how I want everyone to treat their body. This is how I want to treat my body. Some days I succeed at this lofty goal. Other days, I do not. But I know with practice, my body and I are becoming better friends every single day. So big deal we can’t take the stairs! Today we take the elevator. Or a ladder. Or whatever the hell thing we have to do to get us there. Because that is enough.
It is more than enough. And like my Dad said:
“ Use your brain, stay safe, and don’t give up. Someone’s life is in your hands.”
And that life is in our bodies. That life is our own. And it could use a friend.