Miscellaneous

Stumbling into gratitude

I stood at the bottom of the mountain, penned in a box with 150 other participants, thinking of my typical Saturday routine. Sleep in a little, maybe meditate, then sit down with a fresh cup of coffee to write while Rooney sleeps on my feet. 

Today, instead of sipping hot coffee, I was staring disbelievingly at the side of the mountain that I was about run as part of the 2018 Tough Mudder Half. A mountain that in winter, is reserved for skiing.

Down.

Not running up.

 So that’s a hill. And those specs are people…

So that’s a hill. And those specs are people…

All around me people were fidgeting. Some were jumping up and down, others were cracking their necks, while a select few others were screaming.

Like just randomly screaming.

Loudly. 

I stood, cemented in place, unable to shut off the steady stream of sarcasm rolling through my mind.

I looked at my teammate Lauren. 

“I’m not doing this next year,” I said.

“Yes I know. You said that last year, so I’ll remind you that you told me that when we’re standing in line for next year’s race.” 

We both laughed. 

I stopped laughing abruptly. 

“Yeah, that’s totally going to happen again isn’t it?” I asked.

“Yup,” she said. “Totally.”

*****

Next thing I know, we’re schlepping our way up the side of the mountain and I’m dishing out a healthy stream of bad one-liners. 

“Why would I want to be at home drinking coffee and watching College Game Day?” I asked to no one in particular. A guy who was doing his 100th race swept past. 

“Because this is so much more fun!” 

“Yes,” I said. “Yes fun. That’s the word I was searching for right there. Thank you.”

I’m not always proud of my sarcasm, because I know it bumps up pretty hard against negativity. I toe that line of negativity and often cross it, and I crossed it a lot more on Saturday than I wish I had.

Humor is how I cope. And Saturday’s course provided a lot of opportunities to work on coping skills. This was by far the most difficult course I’d ever attempted.

Towards the end of the run, once we had sponges for shoes and mud in places you never thought mud could go, we came around a corner to another mountain. But this one was too steep for walking. We had to scale the mountain on all fours. 

I’d like you to take a moment to recall the famous Chevy Chase tirade about a happy family from the movie Christmas vacation. 

Then add another minute of expletives.

That’s roughly what came out of my mouth at the bottom of that mountain - sans the Santa hat.

There was no way around this obstacle. Literally, the only way out was up. So all of us, many of whom shared my thoughts, threw ourselves into the mountain and just started climbing. 

Half-way up the mountain, I lost my footing. Up to that point I’d been methodically choosing my footholds and hand holds, moving quickly, not giving myself enough time to think.

But suddenly, I had nowhere to put my foot or my hands. I looked down. 

If you do this course next year, let me give you some casual advice when you arrive at this stage of the race. 

FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS SACRED DO NOT LOOK DOWN. 

So then I looked up. And I’d like to take a moment here to add a second piece of advice. 

FOR THE LOVE OF ALL THINGS SACRED DO NOT LOOK UP. 

Not gonna lie - I kind of panicked a little. (I don’t think I peed my pants, but it was hard to tell, since I was drenched.)

But here is what’s cool about these kind of races. I said I was stuck, and the woman behind me put her hand up for me to step on it. So I did. And I was able to get my footing again, and after a few minutes, I could see flags in the distance and hear my teammates cheering me on at the top. 

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(When people cheer for me in sports, they can’t help but call me Kimmie, because they need that extra syllable. And for some reason, in that context, I find the name Kimmie oddly comforting).

Once I hit level ground and could stand up, I leaned up against a tree to catch my breath. I looked out at the view. I looked down at the others still climbing. 

And in that moment, I stumbled straight into gratitude. 

Gratitude that I have a body that allows me to scale a mountain. Gratitude that I didn’t have to go it alone. Gratitude for my health. Gratitude for a growing sense of camaraderie with my teammates, many of whom I had the good fortune of getting to know a little better on Saturday.

At the end of the night, a shower never felt so good. Sweatpants never felt so warm. And my bed never felt so soft. And I was grateful for all of those comforts.

But I’m not doing this next year….

Lessons from an ugly teapot

On a Saturday afternoon in March of 2002, we were celebrating my friend Melissa's upcoming wedding. As bridesmaids, we took her dancing on Friday, showered her with gifts on Saturday, and then someone decided that should we paint our own pottery.

For Jon and Melissa.

As a gift.

That they'd have forever. 

My artistic skills begin and end with watching Bob Ross. Watching. While I was fascinated that he could create a painting in under 30 minutes, my skills were limited to stick figures.
 
But, I suppose I was feeling ambitious that day. More accurately, I was so wanting to show my appreciation for Melissa’s friendship that I decided to make a grand gesture. Melissa and I often shared cups of tea while trying to sort out our purpose in life (or mostly she listened to me trying to sort out my purpose in life) so I decided to go all in and paint a teapot.  

16 years later, that gesture continues to be grand. 

Rather than take the simple approach and paint my teapot one color, as my fellow bridesmaids did, I decided I’d paint a nature scene on the teapot. 

 I was an adult when I painted this.

I was an adult when I painted this.

But after finishing a barren tree with no leaves, I decided I’d just paint the other side green. Then I painted the lid yellow and gold, because Jon was a Steelers’ fan.

Then I painted the spout brown because…well, it was already pretty ugly.

By the time I was finished, the thing was so ugly that I felt compelled to add a quote on the outside that read, illegibly, that “it’s not what’s on the outside that matters.” 

When I took the final product to the employee, I tried to bribe her to break it before it made the kiln.

"Oh no," she said. "We're very careful with our pottery."

"But if I gave you an extra 50 bucks..." I offered.

 Nothing says best wishes for your future like a barren, dead tree in winter. 

Nothing says best wishes for your future like a barren, dead tree in winter. 

 My reaction when the teapot reappeared in my life a decade later...

My reaction when the teapot reappeared in my life a decade later...

This teapot, needless to say, has been the butt of jokes since 2002. It has survived multiple moves and plenty of questions from Jon and Melissa's kids. The teapot made a surprise trip from Pennsylvania to Maine in 2013 when Melissa spoke at our wedding. 

Melissa reminded me recently of the teapot last week when she told me that it was currently on prime display on her counter top. 

Originally, I was going to use the teapot as a symbol of what happens when you constantly change your nutrition and fitness routines - jumping from the Whole 30 to the 21 day fix to weight watchers to nutrisystem. 

And I do think that’s true when it comes to health and fitness. Jumping around from program to program makes it very difficult to see progress. You have to commit to a process for at least 90 days if not longer to see results. 

 Um...can you guess which ones her kids painted? Her kids whom are all under 10? 

Um...can you guess which ones her kids painted? Her kids whom are all under 10? 

But as I started writing this post, I was reminded of several conversations I've had in recent weeks with friends and clients. These folks are taking big risks - leaving old jobs for new ones - leaving jobs without a new one - going back to school - starting their own businesses, and deciding that it’s time for a change in their lives.

Sometimes a blank slate, while appealing and beautiful and filled with possibilities is also terrifying. It can feel permanent and scary. 

This teapot, ugly as it is, is pretty symbolic of the way my past 16 years have gone. I’ve started and stopped multiple journeys - second guessed decisions, tried to please other people, and in the process, created something that was sometimes ugly, sometimes beautiful, but always, always, always authentically mine.

So I guess my message today is two-fold:

Choose a fitness and nutrition plan and give it time to work.

But follow your curiosity and your heart. This is your journey. This is your story. Write it for you. Take that leap of faith. 

Be kind to yourself, today and always.

My Place in this World

My first class was a disaster.

The exercises were chosen, the stations were set up, and I arrived at 5:15 that morning, groggy from my 3:30 wake-up and two hours of sleep.

 I am lucky. 

I am lucky. 

I looked around the empty gym, quiet from the night, chilly from the cold spring morning, and tried to calm the butterflies in my stomach as I prepared to coach the 20 people about to walk through the doors of what was then, Spurling Training Systems.

By the time the class was over, one person left with a bad knee, others looked bored, and still others were skeptical of "the new coach."

The class ended and I walked to the window, looking at the red sky of sunrise, wondering what the hell I'd gotten myself into. 

Before the next class, one of the other coaches pulled me into the office to give me some feedback. From Doug. Who wasn’t there.

“He watched from home,” the coach said, when I asked how Doug was giving me feedback. “There are cameras.”

I walked out to the parking lot and called Sheila.

“I don’t know what the f*** I got myself into, but I'm not staying past April."**

That was two years ago, yesterday. 

April 5th, 2016 marks the date of my arrival. It’s the date when I finally docked my boat after years and years of sailing around, trying different ports.

Remembering dates is a trait I inherited from my dad I suppose, who can tell you with ease the day he finished his four years of service in the Navy, the day he started in the steel mills, and the birthdays of hundreds of cousins and family members. (Yes there are hundreds..)

In turn, I can tell you that I got my driver’s license on October 19th, 1994, we adopted Rooney on July 11th 2008, and that Jamie Gillespie’s birthday is December 12th. (Hi Jamie!) 

But perhaps no date is as important or memorable for me as April 5th.* 

I stayed past April (clearly), but almost left for a second time that same summer. I loved the work, but the hour-drive and long days were wearing on me. It was a tough decision, and was teary eyed as I told my decision to Doug and the staff.  

What happened next, was something I could have never anticipated.

Doug made an effort to keep me. 

It was the first time in my professional life that I felt valued. Don’t get me wrong, I’d worked plenty of places where fellow co-workers and even supervisors valued me and treated me well. But few were in a position to do anything about it. 

Every few months, I send Doug a text, thanking him for my job. It probably seems like overkill, though I know he appreciates it. But so many nights, on the drive home, I think about the long nights I spent keeping stats at sporting events. I think about weekend trips to random places in Vermont spending time away from my family.

I think about the day in 2011 when I was folding t-shirts at a retail Nike store wondering how, at 34 years old, I ended up here. I think about the 70 hour weeks at a local college, making 25k a year, making no impact on the world, and wondering if I was going to die in a job like this. 

I think about the throws of anxiety and depression.

And that’s when I thank Doug.

I get emails like this. 

 She's a fellow Yinzer too...

She's a fellow Yinzer too...

I get to help people.

I get to help older clients feel more independent. I get to help younger clients (hopefully) enjoy the gym. I get to watch women and men do things they didn't believe they could do. 

I get to work with people like Jayne. 

I work with a staff of guys who are beyond their years (sadly, not in musical taste) in their passion for helping others and in their true love for clients and for each other. I work for a guy who works as hard on being a better person as he does on being a better businessman. 

I get to see the world through the eyes of positivity, struggle, and humor.  

I'm reminded as I write this post, that careers and relationships and good things are not always love at first sight. That even when you find yourself on the right path, there is still work to be done, brush to be cleared, and mountains to climb. 

April 5th will never be just a date for me. 

It will be the date that I came home. 

And how lucky am I that I get to say that.

Thank you, to all of you. Who read my site. Whom I get to work with personally. Who support me in my struggles and let me support you in yours. Together, with positive energy and love and appreciation for each other, we get to move this world forward and shine a light through the darkness. 

And we need that kind of light now, more than ever.

Thank you Doug, Josh, Chris, Trent, Melanie, Judy and Amy C.

Thank you to all of the clients I've had the good fortune to meet. To all of the clients who have become such good friends and the friends who trust me enough to be clients. For every facebook message you write or text that you send.

Thank you. 

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** I bust Doug's chops about this all of the time now - as a business person, he uses the cameras to check on traffic flow at the gym, and he was watching because it was really important that our group training classes were successful. I told him to give a girl a head's up next time though ;-)

*Except the day I met Sheila of course...:-)

 

Waking up to life

Last week, we suddenly and tragically lost a member of our gym. And in the midst of the tragedy I went home and put on an Englebert Humperdinck song that I remember my mom listening to when I was a kid. 

Yes, I like Englebert Humperdinck. I said it out loud. 

I grabbed my partner and we danced in the kitchen and as the dog tried to make his way between us, I stepped back and looked in her eyes and realized that I’d forgotten.  

She has flecks of brown that sparkle in the light of her green eyes.

I don’t know when I last looked in her eyes and registered what I was really, truly seeing - but it felt like I hadn't seen her eyes in years.

I spend most of my days looking but not seeing, listening but not hearing, touching but not feeling. As we turned slowly in one another’s arms in the kitchen I was plagued with the thought. 

What else have I forgotten? What else do I not see? Who else is talking to me that I am not really hearing?  

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There is a Buddhist book called “Wake up to Your Life,” and though I’ve read the book the entire way through, I’m often still asleep. As is many times the case, it’s tragedy the slaps you, shakes you awake and leaves you disconcerted, groundless and confused.

But it’s also tragedy that makes you sit in front of your picture window in the mountains and look at clouds in ways you haven’t since you were a kid. That makes you eat a fresh strawberry in three bites - savoring the taste. It is stark sadness sometimes that frightens us into locking fingers with our loved ones to pull them close and say I love you with our hearts and our arms and our entire being.

From sadness and tragedy sometimes comes clarity. And pause. One Buddhist teacher refers to the sacred pause - teaching yourself to pause several times throughout your day - to check in with yourself and to be present to the moment, and the next and the next. Tragedy forces this pause - forces us to take inventory of what and who is important to our energy and time. Tragedy slows us down, which can sometimes feel terrifying. If we slow down, if we pause completely, we may be left with feelings and emotions that can seem like too much. 

But sometimes when we pause, we can look in our partners’ eyes, and see those flecks of brown, and dance to bad music from the 70’s and for a few moments feel awake and grateful for our lives.  

I don't know if I'm 1% better today. I know that I'm 100% sadder. But I also know that I am more awake today than I've been in a long time. And for that I am grateful.

The gift of now

Last weekend I made the trip to Charlottesville, Virginia for a short reunion with my college roommates. In honor of turning 40 (some of us sooner than others), we rented a house next to Monticello, drank wine, sat in the sun (they have that in Virginia) and shared in each others' lives. 

The advent of social media makes keeping up with people easier than it once was. I've seen pictures of their families, they've seen me dressed as Dolly Parton, and we all have a general idea of what is going on with one another.

 This is from a film camera. Google it. Also there are things in my hair...like curls and stuff. 

This is from a film camera. Google it. Also there are things in my hair...like curls and stuff. 

But actually spending time with them was almost like going back in time. 

I guess it's the magic of friends who have known you for a lifetime that you can sit down at a kitchen table in Virginia and feel so easily transported to the conversations from our time at Gannon University, where we all met. 

Sure the selections on the table are different. We've graduated from box wine and five dollar vodka to a finer vintage - wine that requires a cork screw to open. Conversations shift from struggles with professors to struggles with life - but the ease with which we spoke to one another remained the same. 

And I was more present in the 48 hours we spent together than I've been to any one moment in months. 

I spend almost every waking moment doing what author Daniel Goleman calls “nexting.” I might take a few minutes to enjoy a Friday night, but by Saturday morning I am planning a blog, worrying about how much I haven’t written, and plagued by a constant, vague notion that I need to be doing more.

More. 

Make more money, write more blogs, take on more clients, run more, workout more. 

Always so much guilt that I need to do more. 

Last weekend, for 48 hours, I gave up more. I didn’t ask myself to write or study on the plane. I looked out the window and watched the sunrise, I talked with a grandmother traveling to Iowa, and opened my laptop only twice - once to order a pizza.

 We look pretty good if I do say so myself. 

We look pretty good if I do say so myself. 

I listened to music, I hugged my friends tightly and felt the bonds of our friendship. Sunday night we watched "The Birdcage," and I hung on every word as though I hadn't watched the movie 100 times in college.

I turned my phone off.

Like, off. 

Not on silent, not on Do Not Disturb. 

Off.  

The quote on the board in our gym last week came from a client: “There is not Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, there is only now.”

The greatest gift from my friends last week was enjoying the now. We mindfully spent time with one another because it had been 14 years since we were all in the same room together. The sacredness of being in one another's presence allowed me to lean into the moment in a way I rarely experience these days.

My goal, more so today than ever, is to remain mindful. And that is my wish for you. To not be dulled by the daily routine, but comforted by it. To find a way to enjoy and embrace the now and lean in to the sacredness of the moment. 

Our only guarantee is now. 

Reach for it. Touch it.