How Far I’ve Come

Last weekend I picked up some heavier kettlebells to train with.  I remember at last year’s Summit of Strength, Jeff O’Connor, Master RKC, telling the men to use some “manly” kettlebells, not the sissy light ones.  He meant kettlebells over 24 kg (53 lbs).  So, taking his advice, albeit almost a year later, I got a pair of 24 kg, a pair of 28 kg (62 lbs), and a 32 kg (72 lbs).  I remember when I got my first 24 kg how small the 16 kg and even 20 kg kettlebells looked next to it.  Now my 24 kg kettlebells look pretty small next to the 32 kg.

Yesterday I picked up and pressed the 28 kg on each side.  It felt good and surprisingly didn’t require a lot of effort.  This is significant, because I proved to myself how far I’ve come since I first picked up a kettlebell (an 8 kg on June 21, 2010—interesting that in retrospect I consider that date as a milestone) and even since I certified RKC on May 1, 2011.  During the cert I set a PR by pressing the 28 kg with my right arm (my “stronger” side); I couldn’t do it with my left arm.

Yesterday I also picked up the 32 kg and cleaned it with each arm.  I tried to press double 32 kg kettlebells at a workshop on March 24 but I wasn’t able to.  I will press the 32 kg with each arm and eventually press double 32’s.  I know I will because I will continue to improve in my training, but most important, I will do it because I want to.  I want to continue to show myself how far I’ve come.



Karen’s Cancer Adventure

Pressing double 16kg kettlbells (35# each). Feeling strong and powerful. Sisu.

In June 1997 I was diagnosed with stage 3 thyroid cancer and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. I had been healthy and active my entire life, so it came as quite a shock. Even more shocking was when the doctor said I had two years to live – if I was lucky. I was 34 years old. I had a radical thyroidectomy. In addition to the thyroid being malignant, I also had 2 malignant parathyroids and 6 malignant lymph nodes. The surgeon also removed 2 more lymph nodes that were precancerous, plus neck muscle and my jugular vein for good measure. For two months after my surgery, the range of motion of my right arm was shot. I was unable to dress myself. Michael had to get in the shower with me.

One day I decided to try to exercise. I put Richard Simmons’ “Stretchin’ to the Classics” in the VCR. I couldn’t even stand up for 5 minutes. Richard kicked my butt. I cried. The next day, I tried again. I cried again. But I kept trying. Every day I got a little bit better. And I mean a very little bit. But I kept trying.

Over the next two years, I felt hunted, always wondering if the cancer would come back. When it didn’t, I felt relieved. But I was still sick – I seemed to catch one cold after another. I had bronchitis, pneumonia and mononucleosis. I wasn’t able to exercise like I had in the past. I made horrible food choices. I gained weight. A lot of weight. And I lost a lot of confidence in myself. I had all but given up. I figured if I really was going to die of thyroid cancer, then who cared what size corpse I was?

After several years of trying to lose weight, getting sick and gaining all the weight back again, I got fed up. I decided to make one small change at a time. I started by ditching sodas and walking. I picked up my dumbbells again. I tried Pilates and yoga. Slowly the weight came off, and my confidence started to come back. Then I hit a plateau. In hindsight, I realize that the plateau came at the same time I got bored with my workouts.

In April 2010, I found out about a free, online kettlebell and nutrition program. I went in with the attitude that if I lost 5 pounds, it would be great. I’d be happy. After 12 weeks, I had lost 12 pounds and regained my confidence in myself and my body. I had increased my strength and mobility, too. The day I snatched a 12kg kettlebell was one of the proudest days of my life. That’s the day I knew I had beaten cancer. I was hooked. So hooked, I decided to become a certified kettlebell instructor.

In May 2011, Michael and I became RKC certified. The RKC (Russian Kettlebell Challenge) is the gold standard of kettlebell certifications. I pushed myself mentally and physically over the 3 day cert in ways I never dreamed possible. We left the certification excited and determined to help our clients improve the quality of their lives through kettlebell training.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my cancer adventure. I no longer feel hunted. I am full of hope and grateful that such a horrifying experience led to the wonderful life I have now. Sure, I’m missing parts, but I’ve gained a stronger, happier, more grateful me in the bargain.


Michael owning the bottoms up

Growing up, I wasn’t very athletic, at least in the traditional sense. In grammar school I was usually the last to be picked for a team. In high school, I was the kid who always raised his hand first, sat in the front, and walked around with an armload of books (I guess I was weight training and didn’t realize it). I got on the cross-country team because there weren’t any tryouts, and I figured I knew how to run—little did I know that running over three miles at a time was not quite the same as running away to hide playing a game of kick the can.

As an adult, I considered myself one of those people with a “fast metabolism” that could eat anything he wanted and not gain any weight. So I really didn’t exercise much, other than roller skating at the local roller rink once a week depending on where I lived. About 10 years ago I began to realize that I didn’t have the “fast metabolism” like I used to. It probably had nothing to do with an essentially sedentary lifestyle, a desk job and stress with the desk job… Then about five years ago, I had gained about 40 pounds—my trousers didn’t fit, my belts were too small, my shirts were a bit tight around my stomach.

I had “exercised” off and on; I had some dumbbells and a barbell that I used every now and then, I bought a push-up gizmo and a pull-up gizmo and an “extreme” program, but I never stuck with anything. I always had an excuse to put it off—too tired, too late after work, got something else to do, it’s boring, it’s too much work to work out, I really don’t look that bad anyway.

In April 2010, Karen started an online kettlebell and nutrition program. At the time I thought kettlebells were “for women” so I paid no attention. I figured it couldn’t hurt to change the way I ate so I started the nutrition program in May. I lost about 10 pounds in a month, just eating better. What a concept. Gradually, Karen convinced me to give a kettlebell workout a try (in the way that a loving wife convinces her husband to do what’s really good for him when he thinks he knows it all and resists her in every way). On June 21, 2010 I picked up my first kettlebell and I haven’t stopped training with them since. I am stronger, leaner and have more endurance. I truly feel good about how I look and feel—not only on the outside, but more important, on the inside as well.

I enjoyed training with kettlebells so much that I decided to certify as a Russian Kettlebell Challenge (RKC) instructor. I made the decision with trepidation, as the certification is three days of physical and mental endurance and strength. I wanted to prove to myself that I could finally do something athletic, something physically demanding that was well above average. I passed the certification in May 2011, about a year after I decided to get myself fit and healthy and about ten months after I first picked up a kettlebell. For me personally, it is an understatement to say that was a life changing experience. Indeed, it was a life defining experience. Being healthy and fit is a lifestyle for me.

Better yet, Karen and I are doing this together. We certified together, we train together, and we train others together.

Small Group Training

Interested in a great training program?  Want to build friendships that will last a lifetime?  Need some motivation and accountability in your training program?  Come join us!

We have regularly scheduled small group classes Monday – Saturday.  During the winter, we meet indoors.  During the warmer months, we meet in the park.  The park / playground is located on 39th Street, NW in McLean Gardens.  The closest street address is 3700 39th Street, NW, Washington, DC  20016.  The park is across the street from the intersection of Porter Street, NW and 39th Street, NW.  Email us for more information.

Each session will build on skills learned in previous sessions, so you won’t want to miss one! If, however, your schedule requires some “tweaking”, we can certainly work with you to make sure you stay on track.

What to bring:

Water, a towel and a great attitude!

What to wear:

Comfortable clothes to workout in, flat soled shoes – or go barefoot. Cross trainer or running shoes will throw off your form while swinging, so barefeet or flat shoes are best. Vibram Five Fingers, Nike Free, Merrells, Chuck Taylors are all good examples.

Kettlebell swing playdate here

This is SISU

Several days ago, I was thinking about my “cancer adventure”. Nothing unusual – I think about it at least once a day. I thought about what my life would be like today if I had given up, if I hadn’t kept trying to reclaim my health and my life. And then I came across this video on Facebook.  This is exactly what “sisu” is all about.  Let me know what you think. ~Karen