Friday, May 27, 2011

Losing faith in greatness

Did you hear – one of Lance Armstrong’s teammates is saying he took performance enhancers! 

Is this news? I think it’s about the third time we’ve heard this from teammates of Armstrong, who continues to adamantly deny, deny, deny.

Armstrong’s biggest argument is that he is the Most. Tested. Athlete. Ever.  and he has never failed a test. And that certainly helps his case. But we’re at the point where even that doesn’t convince the public. It seems that athletes are always one step ahead of the tests, proven by the fact that Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire never failed a test.

The sad thing is, we aren’t surprised by drug allegations anymore – not just from Armstrong, but from any athlete. We’re to the point where, if you told me Babe Ruth shot up before games in the 1920s, I wouldn’t be shocked. Athletes are tattling on each other, hocking their “exposes” and hoping to get exposure – and a book deal – from their so-called honesty. 

But Armstrong’s story was just so great, that we hoped for so long that it was true. As more and more of his teammates are saying he used, that story seems to dim.

What do I think? To be honest, I can’t decide. I want to believe that he did it on his own, but I really can’t. Evidence proves that just about every cyclist used “liquid gold,” and for Lance to be so dominant over athletes who were juiced up … well, it just doesn’t seem possible that he did it clean. 

The sad truth is, we are no longer trusting. When we see athletes do great things – like Usain Bolt breaking, utterly obliterating, world records on the track – we are skeptical; when Albert Pujols slams 50 homeruns, we are cynical. We’ve reached the point where we have a hard time believing any greatness is natural.

Then there’s the argument that, “if everyone was taking it, then the field was level,” which almost makes sense in my head.  But then I think about the few athletes who would never take performance enhancers based on principle and integrity. Those athletes have to suffer, both financially and physically, to try to keep up to those who don’t let something like illegality get in their way. It’s not fair, it’s not ethical and it says a lot about the character of the athletes who cheat.

We all like to think that our favorite athlete wouldn’t cheat – but then Big Papi is suspended for drug use, and all of our trust is shattered.

The funny thing is, we are more enraged when it’s an unlikeable athlete who is caught cheating, or in the case of Bonds, not caught. We make excuses for the “good guys” like David Ortiz, we forgive Shawne Merriman, but we demonize Bonds and Roger Clemens because, frankly, we don’t like them very much.  

A few years ago I did at story at Fort Belvoir, Va., on a retired Airman who did natural bodybuilding. He only entered contests where testing was prevalent, because he never wanted his results to be questioned, and he never wanted to be at a disadvantage because he played clean. I had so much respect for him – not only for his dedication, but for his refusal to take the easy way out in a sport where it’s not only accepted but almost expected for the top athletes to juice.

The bottom line is this: taking performance enhancing drugs is cheating. It isn’t OK because “everyone else is doing it” or because it helps an athlete “heal from injury.” It is illegal, it is deceitful and it is unethical.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Find what works for you

Can you have fun while working out? I never thought it was possible. I worked out regularly most of my life, but it was always a necessary evil. I always felt great after, thanks to all those endorphins charging through my body, and of course I enjoyed the physical benefits, but I never enjoyed the actual act of exercising.

Until about a year and a half ago.

Post-baby, once I was cleared to start working out again, I walked into the gym near my home, unsure of where to go. I hadn’t really worked out in about a year, and I was suffering from exercise anxiety. My body wasn’t in a shape I was used to, my cardiovascular strength was nowhere near the ideal level, and I wasn’t even sure where to start.

As I walked down the hallway to the large fitness room, I looked straight ahead and saw the cardio machines and people huffing and puffing on them, running, walking or gliding at their own rate, and suddenly my heart sped up – I hadn’t run in more than a year, and even the elliptical looked intimidating to me. As I turned to the right, the weights of nautilus machines were going up and down with and I could hear the grunts of people lifting free weights. I looked down at my arms, sapped of most of their strength, and with trepidation I turned away.

Next, I peered into a dimly-lit space just off the weight room and heard music and yelling; an instructor yelled “Level 5 – sprints! Go, go, GO!” and the class turned the dial on their spinner bikes and rose out of the bike seat. I watched the intensity and puttered away to cower in the corner – that room was not for me in the shape I was in.

As I was losing what little confidence I walked into the gym with, I heard more music coming from down the hall, accompanied by cheering and clapping. I walked toward the door and saw a group of women grooving together, all doing the same steps. They were working up a sweat, but – strangely – smiling at the same time. I peered through the window for a few minutes, listening to popular tunes I knew the words to, and fun-sounding Latin songs. 

“What are they doing in there”? I asked a gym employee who walked by.

“That’s Zumba,” he said. I must have had a puzzled look on my face, because he went on to explain. “It’s a dance-based cardio-fitness class. People seem to have a lot of fun in there – it’s one of our most popular classes.”

He walked away, and I continued to stare through the window at this class which now had a name – Zumba. 
I stood there for probably 10 minutes when the teacher caught my eye.
“Hey! Come join us!” she yelled to me and motioned for me to enter the room. I shyly shook my head – but she was determined.  “Come on! It’s fun, I promise!”

Then some of the ladies in the class turned and motioned me in as well. I looked around the room and saw women, and a few men, of all shapes and sizes, from teenagers to grandmothers. What did I have to lose?

I took a deep breath and slowly opened the door as a new song began. The others in the class seemed to know the steps, so they took off, stepping and moving their arms together.

The teacher came back to my corner and stood next to me, told me her name and asked mine.

“Jen, don’t worry about getting the steps right the first time – it’ll come. Just get the feel of the music, get the feel of the steps and it will come together. But most importantly – have fun and work up a sweat!”

As the class moved to the left, right, front and back together, I started to piece together the moves and soon was grooving along with them – well, kind of. Before I knew it, 30 minutes had gone by and I was glistening with sweat and had laughed and smiled the whole time.

I couldn’t remember a time when I had so much fun working out. As I was gathering my things to head out the door, some of the women stopped and chatted with me, and told me when the class was – three times a week. They asked if they’d see me next time, and I told them they would. 

I kept that promise, and I continued to go to Zumba each week, and soon I was at the front of the room, leading the dances while other newbies entered the room looking as scared as I must have that first time. The more I went, the more intensity I put into each move and I got a better workout each time.

When I got to Hunter Army Airfield in the fall, I was thrilled to see that there were Zumba classes here, as well. I went that first time, and had just as much fun as I did in my very first Zumba class. 

The morale of the story is this – whether it’s Zumba, spinning, walking the block with friends or going for a jog, you have to find a way to work out that works for you, and keeps you going back for more. And I hope that you can have fun while doing it, too.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Sports world shows us a snapshot of American sentiment

Unless you're a night owl, you woke up Monday morning to the news of Osama Bin Laden’s death. It was on every single channel – including ESPN.

The top story on ESPN was the top story on every station: Bin Laden killed in Pakistan. Some things are much, much more important than the score of last night’s NBA playoff games. 

ESPN opened SportsCenter with footage of the Phillies/Mets game from Sunday night, when the news began to spread of the Navy SEALS completed operation; people around the stadium started getting the breaking news on their phones and soon the Phillies video board showed a snapshot of a Web page confirming that the alleged mastermind behind 9/11 was taken down. Chants of, "U-S-A, U-S-A" began to reverberate around Citizens Bank Park; the crowd stood and clapped, cheered and hugged. They were outwardly showing what each of us felt sitting in front of our TV.

What was so significant about this display is that it is the only place where we have footage of so many people getting such monumental news at the same time. With this footage from Citizen’s Bank Park, we are able to see a snapshot of the American people – of 47,000 people simultaneously having a similar reaction.

Once again, our nation’s military are our heroes. Time and time again, our service members quietly go about their work, making the world a safer place for each and every one of us – without ever asking for recognition, kudos or even a pat on the back. 

Most likely, we will never know the names of the men who took part in Sunday night’s mission in Pakistan; they won’t get the recognition like Dwyane Wade after his 38 points against the Celtics Sunday afternoon or Vincent Lacavalier after his game-winning goal against the Capitals in overtime of Game 2; but the nation’s gratitude is with them on their next mission. 

And they proved to us, yet again, who the real heroes are.

*** This page and its content is my opinion and does not constitute endorsement, opinions or official position of the U.S. Army.