The first time I touched a barbell, I was 48 years old. I’m now 55.
Some people say my age is an irrelevant point about me as an athlete, but they are wrong. It’s extremely relevant.
I was a fully formed adult with scars and strengths from living life before I decided to live a completely different way.
And my decision impacted a lot of people who thought they knew who I was before I decided to be someone else. I’m still working on making sense of all this.
Please forgive me for veering into the past for a moment. If what I’m going to say later is going to make any sense, I need share parts of my personal history. I don’t think my life has been difficult. It’s just been a “life”. But these things are a bit relevant because I bet a lot of women are reading this thinking there is something “different” about me that doesn’t apply to them.
My scoliosis was diagnosed early in high school and I was pulled from all sports. I was told to be “careful” for the rest of my life.
Between the ages of 17 and 24, I had at least two episodes when my back would freeze up and I could not move for about a week. I remember my mother pushing me around in a wheel-chair at the hospital to get x-rays. I believed all the adults who told me I was fragile.
In the 1980’s, I had job at a gym as a receptionist for a time. That’s when I first saw female bodybuilders in magazines.
Those women were about my age at the time, but they looked so strong – not fragile. I wanted that, but I was intimidated by it.
Bought this copy of The Weider Body Book and I still have it. (It’s been well-loved over the years.)
I regret now that I talked myself out of going for it then. But I had two really good reasons…
1) I have scoliosis and shouldn’t lift, and 2) women aren’t supposed to look like that – guys don’t like it.
I didn’t question those beliefs at the time. I accepted them, got busy building a busy adult life, and forgot that I wanted to be a lifter.
My mother died from a brain aneurysm when she was 56 and I was 28.
I was the family member who was tasked with the decision to remove her from life support. I watched her die. I know some of you have had to do that, too.
During the years that followed, I lived with the fear that I would die early like my mother. But I also thought I had time to “get healthy” to change that fate.
I decided to get a degree in mathematics and teach math because I was intimidated by it. That was when I began to do battle with my fears that kept me from doing the things I really wanted to do.
The time span from my first day of college to my graduation was 16 years.
Mom died during this time and I was fired from my job when I asked for a leave of absence to handle my mother’s affairs out of town.
Once I could get back to work, I had to work three part-time jobs to support myself and still have a schedule flexible enough to attend school during the day when the classes I needed were offered.
This was the first time I set a big scary goal and achieved it. I had to. It was either push through or give up. Mom’s early death clarified that for me.
For the last 20 years, I’ve taught math to teenagers. Not many adults are good at managing a room of 30+ teenagers. Fewer can handle it when many of them are anxious about what you are asking them to do.
Math teachers are in short-supply these days. Burn out is high. Many students believe they will fail before they try, so they won’t try. They will do a lot of other things to avoid trying.
While teaching geometry, I teach a lot of other things about life, perservernce, and grit, too. But these years also took a toll on my health.
Married my best friend in 1995, relocated, new jobs, new house, not blessed with human kids, but there have been many fur kids…it’s been a normal, good, life.
But the stress caught up with me and I lost the ability to be happy and grateful for my blessings.
And that brings me back to my first point – the first time I touched a barbell, I was 48 years old. All of these other things happened years prior to that.
I’m not comparing my journey others’ because I know it hasn’t been harder. It was just hard for me to change my life’s routines. Harder to change my beliefs about what I can do.
I get tired. I’m unmotivated more days than not. I need to remind myself what I’ve done to get here.
It’s been a scary adventure. I’ve had disapointments and setbacks.
I reflect. I learn. I overthink. I lose my focus sometimes, but I get it back.
My ego tells me frequently to quit to avoid humiliation. I tell my ego to shut the hell up. She just wants to generate negative thoughts that feed uncertainty about what I can accomplish as an “older” athlete.
I can’t get younger, but I can improve.
My voice might shake sometimes when I say “my journey on my terms“, but I’m still saying it. I’m still insisting on it.
And then I touch a barbell and I happily battle gravity. I get a little bit of clarity when I’m at the gym.
Lifting still fixes me. I love to train. That’s why I don’t quit.
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Hi! I’m Tammy! I was a busy, stressed, and unhealthy teacher until I decided to take control of my health. I did not become an athlete until I was in my 50’s.
I earned personal training and fitness nutrition certifications, then retired from teaching to dedicate my work life to fitness education for other busy women over 40.
My results are obviously not typical because most people don’t train to compete as a bodybuilder.
But I believe everyone can make positive changes with healthy habits! Each of us has a unique combination of strengths and challenges that need to be considered to customize a program that will work for us. Science-based principles, flexibility, and consistency make all the difference.