My journey to Solcana was the result of a series of meant-to-be’s. After my dad died, I went in search of something to give me a sense of community with my fellow humans. I took Everyday Improv at Brave New Workshop and fellow athlete Taj Ruler was my instructor. Taj’s advice for those learning about improv was to see improv, lots and lots of it.
I didn’t quite find my community in my improv class. I really enjoyed it. Taj is a fabulous instructor, but I didn’t feel called to do improv and I didn’t connect with my classmates the way that I had hoped. Perhaps I was just too raw from losing my dad. What did happen, though, is that I fell in love with being an audience member.
Fast forward several months and several shows as a spectator at Huge and Brave New Workshop. I went to a show during which our Hannah was performing with her duo Mayhem. Oh my god, is she good. She also shared the same last name as a coworker. I peeped her on Facebook, like a stalker, to see if she was related to my coworker. Couldn’t tell. But, I also noticed that she owned Solcana, a CrossFit gym. CrossFit!? What? Women-owned, community-focused CrossFit, double WHAT?
Related sidebar … Also since my dad died, I had started having these dreams that I would try to step up onto a bus and my leg was not strong enough to propel me. These dreams freaked me out. They symbolized physical weakness and something stopping me from moving forward — dream analyst, I am not, but I am pretty self-aware and self-reflective.
I wrote to Hannah on Facebook and asked about checking out the gym. In typical Hannah fashion, she said, “Of course, how about 7:30 a.m. on Thursday?” A.M.! Did she say A.M.? Self talk, “I can do this. I can do this.” “Sure,” I replied. I wasn’t even sure I had workout wear I felt comfortable in. I showed up in a baggy t-shirt, baggy sweats, and shitty tennis shoes with cement on them from wearing them to a Habitat for Humanity build.
So, I met Hannah and we talked about my hopes and goals. I wanted a community. I wanted something I’d stick with. And I wanted to stop having that dream that I couldn’t step on the bus. I was all, “I’m not looking to be an Olympic athlete or anything,” and she was like, “well, we do Olympic lifts here,” and I was all, “say what,” and she was all, “don’t worry; we help you through it and modify all the movements to your capability, but we will push you to push your boundaries.” So, she coached me through the baseline and I emailed her the next day to join. That was December 9, 2014.
Okay, so that’s my origin story. On to what has happened since.
I can categorize my insights, obstacles, and achievements in three categories:
- Elusive Physical Feats
- Mental Blocks
- Self Perception
Elusive Physical Feats
So, the two things I’ve struggled with most as an athlete (athlete!) all involve my legs. I do believe that dream was trying to tell me something. And I believe joining Solcana is the best thing I could have done for my physical health.
Anyway, it became clear right away that squats were going to be a problem. What do you mean, I’m supposed to get my butt below my knees. No one has ever told me that before. That’s impossible. With the help of the coaches, especially Hannah, Morgen, and Jerik, I can now squat to full depth and I’m slowly adding weight while maintaining proper (mostly) form.
Another problematic movement has been body weight lunges. My right leg is significantly weaker than my left, and up until recently, I couldn’t do more than one or two without needing to put a hand down or hold on to something to get back up. It’s been my Achilles heel, even more than the squat. I shuddered with despair at Open workout 16.1 — front rack lunges. UGH. I did them sans-rack and still had to put my hand down.
Just last week I had a breakthrough. We were doing a bunch of jumping lunges during the warm up. I tried a few. I could do them! But, my balance was off, so Hannah suggested I scale and do them without jumping. I did 30 — so 15 on my right leg — with no additional assistance. I RANG THAT DAMN BELL. I did more during Jeff’s 12 Days of Gymsmas workout, and they were almost easy. Almost. You just wait, 2017, I have front rack, and overhead lunges in my sights. And Turkish Get Ups, you’re mine. (The first thing Coach Morgen said when I told her about my accomplishment was, “You’re going to do so good at Turkish Get Ups now!”)
Mental blocks for a certain movement or weight seem to be common for Solcana athletes. And I’ve had a few of my own. Slowly, I’m overcoming them. And even when new ones take their place, I now know they are surmountable. And that breaking through leads to a more hopeful perspective on what I can do, rather than a focus on what I can’t.
Two of my mental blocks were related to a weight that for whatever reason, I just could not hit or surpass. The first was hitting a 50 pound snatch. For some reason, I just could not. I worked hard on my form, focusing on using the power I was slowly developing in my legs. My form got better. But, for whatever reason, I could do 47 pounds with ease, yet 50 just wouldn’t come. And then it did. And on the same day, so did 53. The next week, 55 and 57. I’m still staring down 60, but I’ll get there. I know I will.
The second weight-related block was a 100 pound back squat. Whenever I attempted it, I would collapse under the bar, as if I was afraid of being crushed and not in control. I got it and even 105 a few months ago, but I knew I didn’t hit full depth. I relished in the record, but I knew I needed to get 100 with full depth to feel I had really conquered that number. With Coaches Jerik and Danielle spotting me and cheering me on, I did it a few weeks ago! And I felt strong! I didn’t collapse under the bar. I kept my chest up by squeezing the bar (Jerik cue) and led with my hips (Morgen cue) and I effing did it.
The final mental block, which could also be categorized as an elusive physical feat, is the box jump. Ever since I joined Solcana, I’ve been amazed at people doing these on 20 inch boxes, 24 inch boxes, 30 inch boxes, 30 inch boxes with 45 pound plates on top … I mean, seriously, how do you homies do that? I would walk up to the low box, swing my arms back, and … freeze. No way, could I jump on top of that thing. I would break my shins.
I always shied away from trying them and I’d work on step ups. Until … one day, I ended up with the luxury of being the only one in Hannah’s class. I said, “I’ll just work on step ups,” and she said, “Nope. You’re trying this.” So, we started with just a 45 pound plate. Well, that was easy. Then stacked another one on. That was pretty easy, too. Then, one more. Challenging, but do-able. Somehow the plates seemed less threatening and I did a bunch of them.
Hannah, of course cuz Hannah, grabbed the low box and said, “Now try this.” “Nooooooooo,” I lamented. “Yes,” she replied with that look … you all know that look. So, I walked up to the low box, swung my arms back, and … I froze. Hannah’s advice was not to look at the box, but to look beyond the box. Look beyond the box. I did. It worked. A few weeks later, Coach Marijke had me add a 25 pound plate to the box. I did that too. And about a month later, I started doing short box jumps in workouts. Listen here, 20 inch box, I’m coming.
The culmination of the change in my self-perception is that I now consider myself — Meghan Eileen Casey — an athlete. This is a big deal. I had never used this word to describe myself. Never. I was always picked last in gym. I was the worst player on the junior high tennis team. I actually excelled at golf, but that’s not a “real” sport I’d been told over and over. I kicked ass in danceline, actually, but again, not a “real” sport. While I had been thin, borderline too thin, for most of my adolescence and again in my early 30s, I never felt strong. Because I wasn’t.
I think it all started with the day I went to Target, body shame be damned, and bought a pair of workout leggings and a workout tank with a built in bra. Not only did I buy those things, I wore them to the gym. In front of people. Guess what? No one noticed — in a good way. My body was a-okay at Solcana.
About six months later, I brought a friend to one of the Bring a Friend workouts. Afterwards, we took a picture. The picture got posted to Facebook, and my eyes were drawn to something spectacular. I — Meghan Eileen Casey — had a visible bicep muscle. O.M.G. A visible bicep muscle! I started flexing in the mirror all the gd time.
Finally, just a few months ago, I was doing front squats. And a newer athlete I was working out with was talking about how hard it was on her wrists to hold the bar. When I got up to the rig to unrack the bar, it became magnificently obvious to me that I had FINALLY developed muscle enough in my shoulders to rest the bar.
I — Meghan Eileen Casey —am an athlete.
I had three goals in mind when I joined Solcana: Stick with it, find a community, stop dreaming I couldn’t step onto the bus. How’d I do?
At last calculation, since joining Solcana, I have been to the gym more days than I have not. That doesn’t count visiting other CrossFit gyms or activities I’ve done on non-gym days.
Solcana is synonymous with community in my mind. I have many wonderful friends outside the gym and I cherish them. Yet, the people I’ve met at Solcana are people that champion my successes and hold me up when I’m feeling low. I can only hope I do the same for them. Outside of the community of my fellow athletes, Solcana does so much for our community at large and being part of events that support transgender athletes, social and racial justice, community engagement, and so on enrich my soul. I’m grateful.
And finally, I had that dream once or twice after joining Solcana. But, it’s been many, many months since I can remember having it. My legs are stronger, and I’m propelling myself forward mentally and physically.
You might say I’m looking beyond the box.