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Pole: More than a Physical Challenge

I’ve got a little under two months before the photo shoot that I’ve been blogging about and working toward almost

since this pole journey began. The past few weeks have been a roller coaster ride of confidence and lack thereof. I’m not alone in this. It seems to be common among the group of women I started pole with. All of us are signed up for the photo shoot as a way of gaging our progress. We’ve been training for ten months now – long enough to see major improvements in skill, strength and stamina, but also long enough to see just how far we have to go and to be impatient, sometimes disappointed, with ourselves that we’re not getting there faster. There are good days and there are bad days. There are days when it feels more like regress than progress.

 

Most of the time I don’t think about being twenty to thirty years older than almost everyone else in the studio. I know I’m fit, I know I am holding my own, even doing fairly well. Most of the time I’m just focused on meeting the challenge of the day. But what to wear for the photo shoot has brought my age neurosis back to me with a vengeance. I’ve mentioned in earlier posts that skin contact with the pole is necessary to perform some of the more difficult moves. Wearing less and less clothing to compensate for more and more complex moves has been, and still is, one of my biggest challenges. Most of us start beginning pole in our sweats and tee shirts, and if we stick with it, the process becomes a slow, and sometimes, reluctant strip tease. As we learn and improve, we move to leggings, then to shorts, then to racer back tops we can tuck into our sports bras when we need belly for grip. Then finally the day dawns when we graduate to pole shorts and tops, with not much more coverage than a bikini, and we just get on with it. And here’s me in all my vanity wanting to look good and fearing being judged for not looking twenty no matter how good I look.

 

Yes, it’s only my neuroses that have me feeling this way. I’ve never worked with a more encouraging, more non-judgmental group of women. The camaraderie has made the journey nearly as much fun as the challenge of the sport itself. The difficulty of learning pole and the strength it demands has been a great equalizer. We all know what it has costs in terms of bruises, pain, sweat and tears to get to where we are now. So that means as much of the battle to become skilled at pole is dealing with my own repeated crises of confidence as it is learning technique. The truth is, of the two battles, the one that goes on in my head is by far the more difficult. And when you’re the old lady in the group, you’ve had a helluva lot more time to fill your head with neuroses and irrational doubts and fears.

 

Owning my age is one of the wonderful things that has come from my pole training. I’ve made an amazing discovery. There is no downhill slide once you pass the age of fifty and find yourself looking sixty smack dab in the eyeballs. There is, however, a paradigm shift – or can be if we’re willing to open ourselves to the possibilities. I was fearless when I was younger, back before I had been battered about by the world a few times. But the older I get, the more I fear. That seems to be common when you’re our age. God how I hate that phrase! It’s like the excuse to end all excuses, the get out of jail free card, the “let you off the hook” disclaimer for everyone over forty – as if the rules no longer apply. As if it’s now time to coast our way on into the end zone with as little effort as possible.

 

The paradigm shift comes when we’re bold enough to say, fuck it, I’m just going for it! Whatever ‘it’ is. There’s another kind of fearlessness that happens as I approach sixty. I’ve battled my own version of ageism long enough to know that most of what I fear is never going to happen, and it’s going to be a long boring journey to the grave if I let those fears of being our agecontrol me.

 

The push, the challenge, becomes to live in the moment, to live urgently and boldly, to remind myself when doubt rears its ugly head that age is just a number. It is NOT who I am. I’ve been on this fitness journey long enough to realize that the bumps and bruises and aches and pains as well as the challenges met and the triumphs celebrated are an outward manifestation of the deeper journey going on inside me. The slow strip tease, the exposure of skin – bruised and abraded, and not as supple as it once was, goes so much deeper than muscle and bone. It becomes the laying bare, the exposing, of the inner wounds and bruises, the deep seated fears that I’ve kept hidden away. It is a viewing of myself more clearly, a loving of who I am and what I’m becoming more completely. It is perhaps learning to be more gentle with myself even as I push myself harder than I ever have before. Oh, it doesn’t mean that the battles are over, that I am still not filled with doubts, still not afraid of the challenges ahead of me, still don’t want to run away and hide underneath my duvet. But it means I’ve had some success at pushing through the fears, and success breeds more success — something worth reminding myself of every day.

 

The wonderful surprise of it all is that I’m stronger, fitter, more sure of myself now than I ever was in my twenties. And the even bigger surprise is that I keep getting more so. My skill improves with my strength and stamina, and with those my confidence and my view of the world as a place full of possibilities, until I can honestly say, and mean, life is better at fifty-nine than it ever was when I was twenty or thirty. The paradigm shift is a reminder that I get to choose. I get to embrace this journey and move forward in spite of my fears, because overcoming those fears, one step at a time, one challenge at a time is truly what it means to be fearless.

 

Pole Problems, Pleasures, and the Company of Women

 

I’ve been doing pole for almost ten months now, and the photo shoot is fast approaching. While my progress often astounds me, I find, in true KD fashion, that I’m impatient to be better still and I’m never quite satisfied with where I am. What slows me down more than anything is the need for recovery time. At the moment I’m doing two and three classes a week. That’s in addition to gym time and walking like a crazy woman. While I don’t bruise as badly as I used to, there are always new move or combo that will add a whole new dimension to bruises, pole burn and muscle and joint aches.

 

 

 

I have never been good at moderation, and learning pole is no exception. That means in every class, I work flat out, and especially if I have a pole to myself. That means I don’t have the time to rest I would have on a shared pole. Of course when the endorphins kick in and I’m in the zone, I feel no pain. It’s only later when I’m back home and have scarfed my dinner that I realize I might have slightly overdone things … slightly. My body constantly reminds me that I’m not twenty. Hell I’m not even thirty or forty. And I’m constantly in dialogue with it trying to convince it that that eensy little fact doesn’t matter. Those dialogues often happen in a steamy epsom salts bath. I will not use my age as an excuse. But neither will I deny that it sometimes is a pain in my ass. Not

 

 

There’s no doubt that stamina and strength are finite. I have a pole at home now, which is extremely underused, not because I don’t want to practice, but because I’m too busy recovering from the practice I’ve already had. Every day I try to do a of the very basic moves, but sometimes it simply is a bridge too far.

 

 

Because I’m strong, I’m much better at pole moves that require strength. Now that I can get upside down on my own, I love the strength moves and I love the physics involved in holding a move that seems impossible to anyone looking on. However the moves that involve finesse and grace — the spins and combos — I struggle more with. In most cases it’s not because I can’t do them, it’s because when I do they look klunky and awkward.

 

 

Because I’m someone who has spent a good bit of my life yoyo-ing with my weight, I’m very conscious of what the scales say – even more so now that every extra pound is one more I have to drag up the pole and when the very sport itself is changing my body. I’ve kept the weight of for two years now and have developed strong, healthy eating habits. BUT I’m always hungry. Though anyone who has ever battled a weight problem will understand the struggle to decide if it is actual hunger or “head-hunger.” Some things don’t change just because my habits have changed.

 

 

Muscle does, however, weigh more than fat, and muscles tend to engorge after a workout. On average my weight is up maybe two pounds, and it’s almost always up that much the morning after a hard workout. The shape of my body is changing too. I have more muscle definition in my abs and especially in my shoulders and upper back. Bras and shirts are tighter across my back now and long sleeves that hug the upper arms just don’t work for me any more. They are either too short now or to tight in the bicep. Because of all the neuroses I associate with my weight and my body, I am cautious and I weigh every day so that I know my body’s cycles. That way there are no surprises.

 

 

As I see my improvements on pole and look at what I can do more critically, I have to appreciate all the positive changes the last ten months have brought about. I’m more flexible. I’m stronger – for the first time in my life I can do pull-ups unassisted. For me that’s huge. I feel more empowered, more confident in myself that I am learning something so hard and yet so beautiful and amazing. Seeing not only my own progress, but that of my pole sisters continues to be one of the best parts of the journey. Shared photos and encouragement, laughter and gossip and just spending quality time with other women — that is maybe the best part of these last ten months. The company of women is, something I think, many of us don’t get nearly enough of. And when we’re all striving toward being better, stronger, happier, and encouraging each other in the journey, how can it be anything but positive?

 

 

 

A Pole, a Photographer and … Me?

I just signed up for a photo shoot. That’s no biggie. Most novelists have PR photos taken from time to time. But this is different. This shoot scares me as much as it excites me. It challenges me as much as it intimidates me. This shoot is for pole dance.

 

 

I started a beginning pole dance class six months ago when Polerocks opened a studio just up the road from my gym – first lesson free. I wanted to give my workouts and my fitness routines another dimension. I’ve always thought pole dancing was incredibly beautiful and powerful. I knew that it would take my fitness to the next level. IF I could even do it at all. I am, after all, an old fart. Though I try to keep that fact a secret whenever possible, I think some people are beginning to suspect.

 

For the past six months I’ve come home from class bruised and battered and sore as hell. The pole is not a very forgiving dance partner. It has no consideration whatsoever for my delicate dainty body parts. And for the past six months, I’ve loved every minute of it. I’ve never done anything that has made me feel more challenged, or more empowered. On the pole I’m awkward and weak at worst, while I’m getting a grip on a few Spins and holds at best. But, wow! I’m stronger, more flexible and leaner than I’ve ever been. I’m discovering muscles I didn’t know existed. They usually introduce themselves to me in some way that involves pain.

 

 

Another benefit that’s worth a lot to an introverted writer who’s quite often only slightly less than a hermit is the wonderful community of women I’ve discovered in pole class – women of all ages and all skill levels, and every one of them laughing and joking and encouraging one another.

 

Me on the pole — well it’s not a pretty sight. So it’s quite possible that I may have lost my mind signing up for a photo shoot, but I did it anyway. Besides the shoot is seven months away.

 

You see where I’m going with this? I love a good challenge. And a good challenge often involves a bit of blood, sweat and flat out fear. And yet, now that I’ve signed up for it, I have to admit, I’m more than a little bit excited about the wild ride ahead.

 

 

SO today I’m posting the earliest photos I have of me and my new best friend, the Pole. Gird your loins, my lovely readers, because you’re gonna be seeing a lot more of the two of us as I record my progress for the next seven months.

 

And you’ll be seeing a lot more “Fit to Write “ posts in the future because my fitness journey has gone hand in hand with my writing journey for the past five years. It’s not only helps inspire me, but I’m pretty sure it helps keep me sane.

 

The combination of writing stories and getting and staying fit has led me into uncharted territory and I have no doubt it will continue to do so. The place where the two come together is a place of creativity and a place of personal power that I didn’t expect to find in the midst of the sweat and the gasping for breath and the sore muscles. Perhaps the most important lesson that I’ve learned and continue to learn anew every day is that I am capable of way more that I imagined. And I have a good imagination. I’m pretty sure that great revelation in the midst of sweating and grunting and writing is true for everybody in one way or another. I find that fact outrageously exciting. It gives me courage. It gives me hope.

 

It’s been a wild ride, and it’s just beginning. I’m glad to be sharing it with you.

 

 

What Gets Us There?

“If you do your part, I guarantee I’ll get you there.”

 

That’s Wolf Jennings’ motto. And to some degree, it’s the theme of my story In Training, Anyone who knows me knows that I love spending time in the gym. For me, it’s been a major life-changing experience, one I thoroughly enjoy. One of the reasons I do enjoy it is because I consider a workout a creative process. I know how to put together a routine for myself with any equipment or with none at all. But I didn’t always, and I didn’t always love it either. I suppose that’s a part of the reason why the big question of my story In Training, from the fabulous British Bad Boys Anthology, is what does it take to get you there? What inspires you enough to make you pull out all the stops and totally go for … well for anything that really matters?

 

As far as getting fit goes, my answer was that I was losing strength, gaining weight and stress from writing four novels in one year was doing a real number on me. Mr. Grace kept nagging me to get to the gym and get a trainer. For a long time I ignored him, but one too many panic attacks in the middle of the night finally made the decision for me. I got a trainer. I figured if I had to pay, I’d make the commitment. In the beginning I paid someone twice a week, and I kept the commitment.

 

It didn’t take long to discover that not only was I feeling better, calmer, but I really enjoyed it. That was four years ago. Now I do it as much because I love it as because I love the benefits. That being the case, it’s not surprising that my heroine, PR guru Lauren Michaels, has to find her own reason for pushing herself. A gym is the last place she wants to be, but her boss has just made her the ‘get fit’ star in a reality fitness show with bad boy personal trainer, Wolf Jennings, who will get her there even if he has to drag her kicking and screaming. At least that’s his plan. But it’s only when she finds her reason to push that Lauren decides she really wants to “get there,” and she wants to do it with Wolf Jennings. Here’s a little excerpt.

 

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In Training Blurb:

Getting fit on reality TV is PR guru, Lauren Michael’s, brainchild for gym equipment and fitness company Physicality, Inc. The brilliant PR stunt involves one brave volunteer who wants to be fit badly enough to submit to the not so tender training techniques of personal trainer, Wolf Jennings, whose successful, but non-conventional, methods would make a drill sergeant look like a fluff ball. But when CEO and owner of Physicality, Inc, Claire Amos, decides her PR ace in the hole needs to walk the talk , Lauren finds herself between a kettle bell and a hard place … er a hard trainer. That’s nightmare enough, but for six weeks, 24/7 the explosive chemistry between the two will be sweated out live on camera for the whole world to see. What could possibly go wrong?

 

Wanna Bet? In Training Excerpt:

“On your knees, Michaels! Do it on your knees. You can’t do a full press-up until we strengthen those spaghetti arms. Do it like this.” He demonstrated the modified press-up. “Now I want you to do as many as you can in thirty seconds.” While thirty seconds lasted forever, as many press-ups as Lauren could do didn’t take long at all before she fell to the mat with her arms trembling. “Damn it Michaels, you gotta be willing to push yourself. I can’t do it for you.” He reset his timer. “Do it again.”

 

“Well this isn’t an auspicious beginning, Misty,” Del Allan said as they observed the training session going on in the gym below. “As much as I admire Claire Amos for believing her people should walk the talk, it’s clear to me that Lauren Michaels’ heart just isn’t in it. One has to wonder why the waste of time, energy and money for someone who doesn’t want to be here when there are so many who really do. I’ve said it before, I hope Physicality has a back-up plan because I’m betting Lauren Michaels won’t make it to the end of the week.”

 

“The real question, Del, is not whether Wolf Jennings can ‘get someone there,’ but whether he can motivate someone to want him to. Certainly this is a world away from what Lauren is used to, and apparently she didn’t know she’d be participating until twenty-four hours before.”

 

It was near the end of the fourth day when Lauren finally broke. “I can’t do any more,” she gasped after what seemed like miles of lunge walking back and forth across the gym with a dumb bell in each hand — dumb bells that got heavier with each step. “I need the hot tub. When do I get to use the hot tub?”

“When you’ve earned it,” Jennings growled. “Now do it again.”

“I hate you,” she forced the words out, no longer caring if the ever-present cameras picked up her remark or not. She reckoned that would be one more reason for the ‘sack Lauren and hire me’ faction to tweet nasty things about her. It’s not as if she wouldn’t trade places with them in a heartbeat.

“I’m not here for you to like,” came the reply. “Keep your back straight, shoulders back. Head up!”

She was halfway across the gym when one of the dumb bells slipped from her sweaty fingers, hit the floor with a loud crash, and she tripped over it doing into a belly flop in the middle of the gym.

“Get up. Keep going,” Wolf yelled, jogging effortlessly to her side. “Don’t be a wimp, Michaels. Finish it. I don’t train babies. Stop whinging and keep going.”

“I hate you.” This time she all but yelled it as she hefted the sweaty dumb bell and forced her way forward a couple more steps before she dropped the weight again — this time on her foot. It was only a glancing blow. She jerked away just in time, but it was enough. It was fucking enough! She dropped the other weight next to its fallen compadre and stormed back across the gym.

“Where the hell do you think you’re going?” He said, “You’re not done yet.”

“Oh yes I am.” She grabbed up her sports drink and her towel.

“What? Are you a quitter, Michaels?” Jennings stepped in front of her effectively blocking her way, “Is that it?”

“What I am is sick of you yelling at me, sick of you treating me like a sub-human.” She hadn’t planned it, but when he didn’t move, it just happened. A quick twist of the lid on her sports drink and she let it fly. Her aim was true, hitting Jennings in the face with a shower of bright orange Lukozade. Then she stomped off toward her room. She hadn’t expected him to follow her, but then there were a lot of things she hadn’t expected about the man she’d met at the pub less than a week ago.

Legs still screaming from the workout, she took the stairs two at a time with him gaining on her fast. At the top, he called after her. “They’re taking bets on how soon you’ll quit. Did you know that, Michaels?”

She stopped, dead in her tracks, as though she were suddenly frozen to the spot. For a second she squeezed her eyes shut, fighting back tears. Then she took a deep breath, squared her shoulders and headed back toward the stairs, stopping in front of him to meet his cold glare. “Then they’ll lose.”

Fucking hell! Did she just say that? Surely she didn’t mean it. She would do almost anything to get out of this chamber of horrors, and yet here she was marching back downstairs, picking up the goddamned dumb bells, taking a deep breath and willing her legs to move forward. When she got to the end, instead of stopping, she gave Jennings a defiant glare, from where he now stood at the foot of the stairs, then she turned and headed back across. Somewhere a long way off, she could hear gasps and chatter from Wolf’s mezzanine fan club, but it didn’t matter. The world around her narrowed to the in and out drag of her breath, the pain in her quads and the slow step and lunge, step and lunge, that pulled her forward.

At the end, she dropped the dumb bells and bent over gasping, eyes clenched shut, hands on her knees. When at last she had the strength to stand up, she was surprised to find him next to, hair still dewed in orange. He handed her a bottle of water and a towel. While she drank, he wiped his face on his shirt.

She didn’t look at him, she was still battling the urge to cry. She knew all eyes were on her. After the drama she was now embarrassed to have caused, that was a given. But it was only Wolf Jenning’s eyes she felt in ways that were somehow even more intimate than his kiss at the pub. At last she handed him back the bottle and struggled to meet his gaze.

“That’s better,” he said. “Now drop and give me ten. Pull a stunt like that again and I’ll shove you on the treadmill till your Reeboks wear out.”

She did as he ordered, counting each press-up out loud and hardly feeling the effort, dazed as she was by what had just happened.

 

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© 2018 K D Grace
The Romance Reviews

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