Nine years ago, I was finding my groove as an athlete and felt that I was finally heading towards a peak in my athletic abilities. You see, I’ve been involved in athletics since I was 3 years old. That’s when my mom enrolled me in gymnastics and my athletic obsession was released. I’ve tried many different sports over the years, and while I was good at most of them, I was never great. And I wanted to be great!
When I was 30, I finally got back into rowing. I’d been a rower in college and I tried to join a local rowing club right after I moved to Boulder, but it took a few years of finding my way and myself to commit. I was showing up for practice. I was training on my own. I was slowly rising through the ranks of my club and the Master's program and was starting to be considered for the more competitive boats. And my ultimate dream was being realized – I was training for the Head of the Charles, an iconic rowing regatta held in Boston every fall that I desperately wanted to compete in. I was on my way until I realized that I was pregnant.
Now, you need to know that my other huge life goal outside of athletics was to become a mom. I met my husband about a month before I turned 30. We got married at when I was 35, and I was 36 when I got pregnant with my first. I didn’t think much of it. I had used my 20s and early 30s as a time to discover myself and my occupational path. I went back to school for athletic training and received my Masters in Education – things I truly believe I wouldn’t have done if I had started a family in my late 20s. I was ready to be a mom at 37 and ready to turn my life over to my kids, except I didn’t count on one thing. I didn’t realize that returning to that athlete and my rowing training would be as hard as it was. The early morning practices, my extreme level of fatigue from lack of sleep, and my fear of asking my husband to help all held me back. Eventually, the rower in my started drifting away. I tried a few other sports that didn’t require the schedule that rowing did, but none of them have stuck. And I haven’t wanted to commit to them the way that I have to row. My identity as a rower and even an athlete has faded into the background. The athlete has gone to sleep, and I desperately miss her.
There’s something about having that pre-baby identity that’s so strong that many of us grieve when it suddenly seems unattainable. I don’t believe we truly lose it, but rather it’s hibernating waiting for a time to come back out. For me, it’s a situation of being afraid to wake it up again. What if it’s been too long? What if I can’t do it and I fail? I would rather let it sleep and let myself remain unhappy and incomplete than risk failing in my attempts and feeling the shame that comes from that. For rowing, that’s a huge risk investment for me, because joining the club again means being accountable to a team and not just myself. Missing practice means that the boat can’t go out. And the disappointment and anger that stems from that are crushing. I’m not ready to take that risk yet, but I’m realizing that it doesn’t mean that I can’t wake the athlete.
I’m shaking her gently right now. She’s rousing briefly to try some excursions with me. We’ve done some Olympic Weightlifting – she likes it but is still sleepy and returned to her den for the summer. Lately, we’ve been trying to trail running because it’s easy and I can fit it in. I’m thinking of bribing her with some erg time that we sandwich in with the Oly training again, and then maybe trying to quell the water need with some kayaking this summer. It’s not the same as the shell, but it’s a start. Being a midlife mom with an entire life and identity that was established before kids are tough. It’s a unique place that others who aren’t in that exact place don’t get. You can be friends with younger moms whose kids are the same ages as yours, or moms your age who have older kids, and they just can’t truly understand d where we are. Old enough to want to let our identity free because we’ve done that and miss it, but still with kids young enough that our responsibilities as moms are still heavy in their favor. Waking the athlete and letting her go sometimes means finding childcare or being vulnerable and asking our husbands to take over. My husband is a great father and loves my kids, but for some reason, it’s tough asking him for time for me. But, we have the right and the need to wake the athlete and tap into that identity again. What I’m realizing is that the athlete has also changed during her sleep, and it’s becoming a bit of getting reacquainted again. We have to discover each other again and figure out what works for both of us, but the fact that she is making appearances in my life again, even if it’s only for days or weeks at a time, just makes me want to wake her more often, and I feel myself blossoming again in the reconnection.
You’re never too old to wake the athlete, and we have to remember that we still owe it to ourselves to be true to who we are. Even when that requires asking for more than we’re comfortable with. Just because we had all of that time before having kids to live life and have fun, doesn’t mean that we are condoned to a life of serving others and putting the damper on our own athletic endeavors and explorations.
So, try waking that athlete. Even if the waking simply involves looking at magazines and dreaming about what you would do. Start putting that training plan into action mentally, even if you’re not ready for the physical commitment. Start gently nudging the athlete to come with you for a walk-run a for a few minutes when no one is looking. Climb a tree. Kick a ball into a goal. Try the things that the athlete loves to tempt her to return. I’ve love to hear what you’re doing to wake her from her slumber. We need to band together as a strong community of midlife moms who are active and playing, and ready to get into the game with our kids, instead of complaining about the aches and pains that come in our 40s – because we can do something about that, but first we have to start playing again.
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