What Does Strength Mean to You?

Guest Blog by Siobhan Fox, Photos by Ash Kelly

When I started riding just over 5 years ago, I wasn’t fit and I definitely wasn’t strong, in fact the notion of what it meant to be strong wasn’t even on my radar.  In the years prior to becoming a mountain biker, I’d had a tenuous relationship with the gym that basically consisted of on again off again attendance, low weight high rep lifting, and a desire to get that sought after “bikini body”.  It was only after a few years of riding that my reasons for wanting to get fit changed, and that I started to ask myself what I meant by words like fit and strong.  That was 2 years ago and all I knew was that I wanted to be stronger so that I could ride faster, ride for longer, and handle gnarlier terrain.  For once being fit had nothing to do with wanting to look a certain way, but rather with wanting to be a certain way- strong. This is where Marx Conditioning entered the picture.

When I first joined Monika’s women’s only sessions, I felt weak. I couldn’t even lift my downhill bike onto a North Shore rack let alone over my head, which for some reason was always a goal of mine. I always wanted a picture of me with some epic vista in the background and me holding my DH bike above my head.  I remember looking at the other women in the class and admiring how much they could lift. Monika believes in lifting heavy and her long time clients are evidence of how this approach pays off. I plugged away at the classes and even started attending twice a week in an attempt to get even stronger. I definitely progressed. Soon I could not only lift my bike onto the rack, but was posing for pictures with it over my head. But despite my gains, there was still a part of me that held back. I still didn’t think of myself as strong and as a result didn’t push myself to act like and lift like a strong person.

In April 2013, I suffered from a vertebral artery dissection, which is a small tear in the interior wall of one of the arteries that goes to my brain.  A clot formed and a small piece of the clot traveled to my brain, which caused a small stroke. Luckily after months of medication and rest, I healed and was given the clear not only to ride again, but to lift kettlebells again too. Coming face to face with my mortality had given me new inspiration. I had decided that I wanted to really push myself physically and as a result I’d decided to commit to something completely out of my element. I signed up for the BC Bike Race, a seven-day stage race. 

Back in the gym, I was tentative and I had lost a lot of strength while I was recovering. I could feel the difference on the bike too. Despite having a lot of enthusiasm, my body wasn’t where I wanted it to be and I was frustrated.  Then 4 weeks after being back in the gym came our first metabolic week of the new session.  This time Monika had two options laid out, one for new people and one for the veterans. The choice would result in either completing 350 swings or 500. The voice in my head told me I wasn’t strong, to take the easy choice.  It was only my inability to decipher left and right that resulted in me accidentally starting the 500 swing program. It was the best mistake I’ve ever made.  Part way through the program, a few of us started doing it in unison for support. When we finished and I looked around at the women I had just completed this feat with, I was struck by the fact that some of them were the women I had thought of as strong at the beginning when I joined. They were the women I thought I’d never be as strong as.

That evening changed everything. I stopped holding back. I started choosing heavier weights, and setting harder goals. I felt strong for the first time, not only since my stroke, but ever. Believing I was in fact strong changed what I thought I was capable of.  The stories we tell ourselves really affect the choices we make. Before the end of the year, I completed two goals I never would have even thought to set, I deadlifted my bodyweight and I did a Turkish Get Up with a 16kg bell, 30% of my weight. With this shift in perspective, I’m excited to set even harder goals and go on to achieve them.

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