Discovering life beyond the barbell / by Dana McMahan

Indestructible

Somebody’s been missing around here. The athlete and writer that wanted to destroy limits has been gone, defeated by one too many injuries, one too many comments about inabilities and poor judgement.

I gave up. I didn’t want to talk about it, didn’t want to write about it. I just didn’t want to try anymore because it made me feel weak to go into my garage gym and try do something that wouldn’t re-injure my back or risk getting rhabdo again or hell, even put weight on my toe in the air cast I’m wearing thanks to the million and one weighted step ups and lunges that stressed a little bone in the big toe until it cracked (though to be fair, the high heels for miles in NYC that time didn’t help matters there any).

Everything I tried to do felt like a shadow of what I used to do. A failure. Why bother struggling through four lousy chin-ups, all I could manage the last time I tried, when I used to be the bad-ass who could knock them out with weights chained to my waist? Why do push-ups when I can’t do 37  in a row anymore? Why bother doing anything? I can’t do squats, my new doctor-approved hexbar that I was so excited to use is gathering cobwebs until the boot comes off. The only thing the sports doctor will let me do at this point besides upper body work is swim. And I hate swimming. I’m doing it, but it’s just a chore. It doesn’t make me happy.

No workout makes me happy like the simplest act of moving something heavy. Doing something hard. Pushing to do just one more rep when I don’t think I can. I found my passion for athletics when I fell in love with powerlifting and we know how that crashed and burned but nothing makes my heart race and adrenaline surge like wrapping my hands around that barbell or the chinup bar. But when I have an imaginary peanut gallery  criticizing me and — and sometimes not imaginary, sometimes people flat telling me in person and online that I shouldn’t be doing this, that I’m crazy, that they “don’t admire my tenacity” that I “destroyed by body” — I am afraid to do what I love. I’m afraid I’ll get hurt again, but I’m also afraid of what people will think if I get hurt again. I’m already the girl who wasn’t smart and got a scalpel in the spine and a hospitalization with a bizarre and rare injury and then a cast, all in less than two years. How ridiculous does that look?

Well, I’m back from a weekend that changed the way I look at that for good. It changed the way I look at a lot of things. And I almost didn’t go. When my sports doctor finally lost all patience with me and forbade me — because of the cast and the toe — to take part in the Adventure Team Challenge, I backed out of going to write about it. Because I was that mentally defeated. And I didn’t even have the courage to write about my decision to not go.

Thankfully the World TEAM Sports chief guy called me up and talked me into it. The full story will be on the Women’s Adventure magazine website in the coming days, so I don’t want to jump their gun, but I will say this: these people sure as hell are not sitting around boo-hooing over what they used to be able to do and calling it quits. The strength — physical, yes, but mostly mental — and grace and passion and determination of the athletes I had the privilege to watch and get to know knocked all the ridiculous self-pity and concern for what other people think right out of me.

 These are the most bad-ass athletes I've ever met.

These are the most bad-ass athletes I’ve ever met.

I saw men and women who’ve been blown up in trucks, been broadsided on a motorcycle by a car, been hit by a drunk driver, skied off a cliff to break a back, lost legs in war — I saw these people, these extraordinary athletes, go rock climbing, mountain biking, rafting, paddle boarding, swimming, rappelling, hiking through quick-sand like mud. I saw them spend three days overcoming fears, supporting one another, not giving a damn what anyone thought of them or ever told them they couldn’t do, and having the absolute time of their lives doing it. I couldn’t be any more proud to call them my friends now.

And there was no way in hell I was coming home and moping around, wallowing in my made-up misery. So I opened up the garage gym today for the first time in weeks. I swept out the cobwebs and I put my Pandora Linkin Park station on full blast and thought of my new friends and their unstoppable spirit when ‘Indestructible’ came on.

I chalked my hands and I did chin-ups — no, not weighted ones unless you count the cast, but not assisted ones either — and push-ups and I grabbed a barbell for overhead presses, and got down on the floor for some Turkish sit-ups. I breathed hard, and I said fuck a few times when it got difficult, and when I finished I felt like a new woman. Maybe not the same one I was before, in the days of one-arm push-ups and insanely heavy squats, but hopefully a better one.

Back at it!

Back at it!

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2 responses

  1. janeaustenrocks

    Dana! Great prologue! Can’t wait to read the article. I was inspired too. Just finished a long, hard bike ride through the rough streets of New Orleans. I enjoyed spending the day on the river with you. Keep on keeping on!

    –Sarah Bell

    September 17, 2013 at 9:31 pm

  2. Kimberlee Clark Bannister

    I so love to read your articles Dana. You have a true talent.

    September 17, 2013 at 10:14 pm

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