awareness

22 WOD to End Veteran Suicide

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The facts are stark and grim.

Approximately 22 veterans die by suicide each day.  The Official WOD to End Veteran Suicide aims to bring awareness to this issue through fitness and fundraising.

I had seen this event advertised for two years.  But, it always fell during the CrossFit Open which seemed to swallow up mine and my gym community’s attention.  With the Open’s move to the fall months, this year was the year to take the dare and lead the event at my home gym.  This was a challenge for me on multiple levels.

I’ll talk about the logistics in a later post, but for now I just want to honor the event itself, those who participated, and what I learned about the issue behind the event.

Suicide has a personal meaning to me.  My grandmother died by suicide when I was young. Adding insult to memory, I was made to feel shame over and disgust for what she did. I will share that story at some point down the road, but just for that reason, bringing suicide into the light and open conversation has become more important to me in my adult life.

The veteran connection is not as direct for me.  I have immense respect for the military, their families, and the sacrifices they make for my freedom and liberty.  I don’t pretend to know what they go through, but I try to keep learning how to be more aware, ask questions, and listen.

Organizing this event brought me learning I could not have predicted.  It turns out that multiple people in our gym community are veterans themselves who have struggled with PTSD and lost friends and family to suicide.  Opening up conversations about this enabled a new level of connection and empathy in me.

Perhaps the most profound moments of the morning were when, in line with the rules of the workout, we stopped every 22 minutes for 22 seconds of silence, to remember those who have died by suicide. After a morning of logistics, setup, money collection, answering questions, I finally got to do the workout myself. When the moment of silence came, I was overcome with emotion.

I am not a good “off the cuff” speaker. I knew I wanted to say a little something, so I shared this before the workout began. I hope this, along with some photos, gives you a sense of the event. I encourage you to dare to step forward and add your voices and your effort to the causes that matter to you this year.

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Murph, DT, Chad. Names many of us know. The famous hero WODS of CrossFit. Some of the hardest most intense workouts we do in the CrossFit Community.

Today we are here for different names and different heroes. Heroes named Cook, White, Ambrose, Love and many more. These names are all veterans, friends and family of those here today, who have died by suicide. Their stories may be less famous. Their wounds may be less visible. But those wounds are just as real and their loss is just as honorable and deeply felt.

As you go through the movements, many have names underneath them. The names of those friends and family. So think of them as we put for our sweat and effort and resources and attention to their wounds, their suffering, their heroism, and ultimately, to contribute to changing the lives of veterans after they return home. Your efforts today support Operation Ward 57 through their hope and courage programs…these provide service dogs and hotline support to veterans. I know many of us are familiar with the healing that comes with faithful canine companions and a listening ear at the time we need it most.

Our last movement, the sprints, has no name…it is for the many who suffer in silence. Who are still fighting. Who are still running even though they are exhausted, in pain, may feel they have very little left. We dig deep and keep going. So today isn’t for rounds or for reps or for time. Today’s efforts are simply for them.

awareness

Swimming Lessons

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Summer, Jersey Shore. Our family reunion.

At night we had dinners at homes by the bay. Seafood, pizza, pasta, coolers of beer, laughter.

All day was sand, sunscreen, and the mighty Atlantic.

We only came every four years. Each time the ocean seemed drastically different. There was the year when swarms of jellybean-sized-jellyfish crowded us ankle deep day after day.  The year I brought my young children and it was just too cold and rough for them to swim.  And I can’t forget the time I was in my late teens and went swimming with my dad.

My dad was disabled my entire life.  His progressive, severe rheumatoid arthritis took him from hobbling, to cane-dependent, to wheelchair-bound.  His broken body betrayed his wandering, roller-coaster riding spirit many times, but still, he always kept pushing his body as far as it would go.

This day, he had probably taken 20 minutes to carefully shuffle across the scorching sand with the help of a cane and a patient cousin.  Slowly, carefully, taking a break every ten yards or so, but he had to get to the water.

Oh, how my dad loved the water.  It was the one place he felt free.  He could float, glide, swim, and move unencumbered by the lumps, aches, and pains of his joints.  In the water, he would float, belly, toes, nose bobbing above the waves, his smile as wide as the unending coastline.

The beach was its usual crowded and the water its usual choppy.  If there was a yellow flag warning, we didn’t heed it.  Nothing could keep my Dad from his floating freedom in the briny sea. My Dad and I descended the steep wet sand and out we went to swim.

We floated.  We talked.  We dog paddled.  We enjoyed the sun.  Minutes passed, or was it hours?  Time to head back in for a sandy snack. We looked up and the coastline was distant.  Farther away than I had thought it would be.  Much farther. So we tried to swim in, but no matter what we got further and further away from the shore.

The waves, once so joyful to float over, became relentless.  We were tired.  Our arms and legs were no match for the tides dragging us out.  I was staying under a bit longer each time than I should have.  Panic started to set in.  We were running out of solutions.  Fear set in. Fear took over our minds.

My Dad was still floating but he knew we were in trouble, too.  He was struggling to stay afloat himself.  My Dad, a better swimmer than I, was still no match for the undertow.  He wanted to help me so much, I am sure, but he could hardly help himself stay up.  How could he help me when his own life was in trouble? Both of us were running out of energy.  If I grabbed onto him to give my body a break from the effort, even though he was better in the water, we both would surely drown. Our will to live was dwindling by the minute.

Wave to the shore, he said.  So many of our family were watching us.  So I waved, flailed, used every ounce of strength to try to signal.  How can I tell them we are in trouble?  I screamed. Crossed my arms, all kinds of signals. My dad doing the same. Nothing worked.  They all just waved back, likely figuring we were just having fun with my dad’s swimming skills, well-known in our family ranks. My cries of “help us” got lost in the ocean breezes. Our cries were in plain sight but could anyone hear us?  Was anyone even listening? Nobody understood our fear.  No one seemed to care.

It seemed like hours but my dad’s cousin Tom finally figured out we were in over our heads.  He bravely swam out and somehow dragged us in from the riptide.  I still remember an aunt screaming “smile!” and snapping a photo as we slumped out of the water, past exhaustion.  No one knew we had been within an inch of drowning.

Fast forward twenty-something years, this story hits me in new ways in my daily life. Am I now the one on the shore? Are people struggling right in front of me that I pass by, unknowing? Are they at the brink of drowning and I miss their signals?

I think of my father.  The better swimmer.  How much he must have hurt inside, knowing he couldn’t help his daughter without both of us losing the battle against the breakers.  How can you help someone who is drowning when you are are not fully afloat yourself?  When you are pummeled by the endless waves, just trying to stay afloat?  A lesson in this.

I can point and draw attention. Signal to those who might be able to help. But will they hear the silent or distant cries? If I wave my arms will that make a difference? I can keep her company like my Dad did for me…  Keep her calm. Try to set her mind at ease in the middle of the fear I know well…the fear of the ocean getting the best of me and dropping into the unknown. Keep paddling.  Don’t give up. I know you’re tired.  Help is coming.

I can make suggestions, try to guide her toward the shore.  Keep working until someone with the strength comes out and meets us, or we find our way back to steady footing.  There’s no happy ending if we both drown, so I try to be a lifeguard the best I can, in the literal meaning of that word. Even the best swimmers get in trouble sometimes.   Every lifeguard wants to save everyone in distress, but the lifeguard also has to stay afloat herself.

In life we have to swim daily. Sometimes the waters are calm and other times they are dark and stormy.

In life we all need saving at times. Sometimes it’s life saving medical treatment for an ailment. Sometimes it’s saving from a bad relationship. Sometimes it’s saving us from our mind, troubled past, or even financial stresses.

We must all remember life is always worth living. Today, tomorrow, and the next day. If you ever think ending your life is the only choice it’s merely the only perceived solution to an insolvable problem. As somebody who was saved, somebody who is a lifelong helper, I am shouting out to the ocean and the world to say don’t give up. Somebody is coming to save you. Don’t let fear take control. Wait another day. Do the doggie paddle of life. Think of my Dad. He was handicapped, wading in the water and he didn’t give up. I didn’t give up because of his spirit. You don’t need to give up either.

There are always people who care. Some may not see the signs in plain sight. You might need to establish a drowning sign. A key word. A hand signal that is universal. Don’t delay – make sure your tribe knows your drowning symbol whether it’s at the beach or closer to home in daily life.

Suicide is real. It impacts those near and far. It does not discriminate. It’s impacted my life and this is my offering of hope to those I may know in need, those I may never know are struggling and those who already lost the battle. I honor you by sharing my story today.

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perspective

I Took the Dare! (And Now I’m Daring Myself!)

2019 was my Year of Fearless.

Some days, that word pushed me to do new things.  To live a little differently.  To take a breath and leap when I would usually just step back or walk away.  I still have many of the same fears, but they don’t hold me back quite as much or quite as often.

All in all, the fearless served me well.  I changed and grew in fearlessness, at least a little bit.

Now another turning of the year.  What should follow my year of fearless?

Last year, as I selected my word, I spent a lot of time thinking, considering options, weighing possibilities.

This year was a no-brainer.  It almost slapped me in the face. I picked up a set of notebooks while Christmas shopping, and there it was. So NOT me. But so needed to be!

The story began a while ago, in one of our gym-girl group chats.  Someone (not me!) asked for a challenge, which became a dare, which turned into a quite funny mid-November-damp-overcast-chilly-afternoon episode of me running a lap outside around the gym in a swimsuit.

 

Yup, I stripped off my gym clothes and took off running.  I mean, I’m a tank-top and shorts girl at the gym so the bathing suit was not much less than people see me wear most days, but still. Running through the parking lot in that for no apparent reason had me shallow-breathing-freaking-out through the entire class.

Growing up, whenever there was a game of truth or dare, I would quickly and silently slink out of the room.  If I had to play I always chose truth. Dare left too much to chance.

And so, my One Little Word of 2020 is….Dare.

Dare to live big. Dare to do crazy things.  Dare to continue to figure out who I am, and then dare to show people. Dare to put myself out there.

Dare to make big plans and, sometimes, dare to let go of the plan and see what happens. Dare to live in the moment.

Dare to dream outrageously. Dare to set big goals. And, maybe one of the things I fear most… dare to fail.  Dare to flop.  Dare to fall short.  Dare to (eek!) disappoint, then dust myself off and dare again even more relentlessly.

I’ve set my goals this year.  I set some that are all but surely out of reach.  This is totally out of character for me.  When I set goals, I usually pick something that I am relatively sure I can accomplish with a reasonable effort.  Not. This. Year.

The quote that I wrote in the front of my goal book:

“If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”

-Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

Some of them do scare me.  But in some ways, that’s exciting.

What word is guiding you this year?

Looking forward to sharing the dares as the year goes along!

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