Education, Gym Life, Thoughts

Sometimes it just doesn’t work

I recently experienced failure at work for the first time ever. I had coordinated with a couple of my colleagues to run a Smashing Stereotypes event for the students at my school. Smashing Stereotypes events are what we run for our female members at VALHALLA Strength – South Brisbane. They are designed to educate and inspire our members by giving them access to women that have been in strength sports for a few years and have dealt with their fair share of stereotypes and prejudices. When I was approached by a colleague to speak to their Certificate in Fitness students about owning a gym, I offered a version of Smashing Stereotypes and my colleague was very excited by it. (If you haven’t worked it out by now, I can never do things without them getting bigger than Ben-Hur.) And so…

I lined up a couple of the ladies from my gym to come and do a panel alongside one of the students from school that also competes in strength sports. I organised for a female Personal Trainer (PT) to come and run a circuit session beforehand, in order to turn the evening into “more than just talking.” I made posters and was going to hand out certificates for industry experience to the Certificate in Fitness students. Unfortunately, it did not go to plan.

The first sign that something was amiss should have been when I sent out an email to those that had signed up and I received a number of email replies saying that “they never signed up in the first place and they were very sorry to miss out.” This meant that I had no way of knowing who was coming.

The second sign should have been when less than 24 hours prior to the event, my PT had to cancel. Thankfully my family and husband were able to swap things around so that my husband could come and run the circuit for me while my family opened the gym. I realise now that that should have been the point at which to pull the pin and postpone the event to another day, but I had faith that someone would want to learn from these amazing women so I stuck it out.

The third sign should have been the fact that my husband woke up on the morning of the big day not feeling well. However, stubborn me kept thinking it’d be ok.

**side note: how great is hindsight?!**

Well, it flopped. I had 2 students turn up, neither of whom were in the Certificate in Fitness class. Those students, unfortunately, were not able to reschedule work or training commitments. When I had to make the call to postpone the event and contact my panelists and colleagues that were coming to support the event, I was in shock. I was disappointed. I was embarrassed. I was angry.

Since then, I have calmed down and looking back I’ve learned some valuable lessons, which I thought I’d share:

  1. If you’re anything like me, when you set a date months in advance you need to ensure that the target audience (in this case, the students of the Certificate in Fitness class) are given a “save the date” as soon as you set it, so that even though you may not have all the details finalised you can at least lock in the date and they can make arrangements.
  2. Always have a Plan B, so that when life happens and people are unable to make it you have a back-up option and you’re not left scrambling.
  3. Check that the IT truly does work before using it and when in doubt, always resort to tried and trusted methods.

Overall, I’m still feeling a little deflated that it wasn’t the success that I had hoped, but that won’t stop me from trying again. I’ve learnt somethings and I know what to do for next time. The 2 girls that did turn up had a lot of fun trying out new ways of moving. They got a free PT session with my husband and learnt a bit about what their bodies are capable of along the way. One of the girls made a comment along the lines of: “Look! I’m stronger now just from doing one session!” I even joined in the circuit – there was something immensely enjoyable about training with my students.

I needed to remind myself that not all things work the first time around. This was my first true taste of failure at something like this, and although it wasn’t a pleasant experience, I’m thankful for the opportunity to reflect, learn, and to make it better. I took a risk, it didn’t work, but that won’t stop me from taking a risk again. After all, it’s not about me, it’s about the girls, and I want to give them every opportunity I can, no matter how many times it takes.

Smashing Stereotypes Event Banner

Wellbeing

I sing because I’m happy

At the end of my blog post “Mental Health Reflection” I promised a follow up about the benefits of singing for depression. Well, here it is!

My psychologist suggested to me that as I have a background in singing, that I might like to start singing once a day for at least 20mins. She didn’t explain more than simply suggesting that it might help. We agreed that I would sing in my car at least once a day when heading to or from work or the gym. I made an appointment to see her in a month and promised to report back on what I noticed.

The first time I put my Disney playlist on (yes, I know, I am a big kid at heart) I did not feel like singing at all. I forced myself to do it and after about 5 songs I was singing a long, if a little more reserved than I used to. Fast forward a few days and I still didn’t feel like singing in my car, but I made myself do it and after about 3 songs I was getting into it a little more – I was starting to do the voices too. A few days later and I was actually starting to look forward to singing in my car. By the time I went back to my psychologist I was singing daily, and not just in my car. My general mood had lifted greatly and if I was feeling down I knew a sure fire way to give myself a boost. When I reported back to my psychologist, this is what she told me:

Apparently, when you’re singing your face is using all the muscles you use to smile. Your brain registers the use of these muscles and thinks “I must be happy, my face is smiling” and then starts to release all the happy chemicals, hence instead mood booster! You don’t even have to be great at singing to experience this feeling – it’s the act of singing, not the sound that improves your mood.

When my psychologist told me all this I was in awe of the brain. How amazing is that?! I walked out of my appointment feeling very proud of myself for sticking to the plan AND seeing results. It’s certainly helped me trust the other little homework exercises my psychologist has given me since then. I’m slowly compiling a list of things that work for me and I will share them one day. In the meantime though, if you’re feeling down, I challenge you to try singing. Even if you don’t feel like it, put on a playlist that has a whole bunch of songs on it that you love and know all the words to and just sing!

Ps. Please enjoy this version of “His Eye is on the Sparrow” by the Idea of North. It’s one of my favourite versions of this song and every time I hear the line “I sing because I’m happy” I think of this.

Bookish Things, Gym Life

Book Club Fun

The ladies at my gym, to whom we refer to as Valkyries, had been bugging me for weeks to start up a book club. I finally pulled my finger out and organised it. I chose three books for them to vote on, recorded myself talking about them (I’d only read one of the three so I used reviews to help inform me for the other two), posted a poll, we voted, we read the book, and met on the last Sunday of July. The book the ladies chose was The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin and we met at the beautiful Riverbend Books and Cafe in Bulimba. I had some notes to help prompt and direct conversation, which included things like themes, characterisation, and plot devices, but I rarely needed them. The conversation flowed beautifully and everyone become more and more confident to share their opinions as the hour flew by. At the end I had organised for Vicky, Event Manager at Riverbend, to do a book chat for us and we used that to vote on our next month’s book: Circe by Madeline Miller.

I don’t want to spend the rest of this blog post reflecting on what we talked about, but rather the impact the actual book club had on me, the Valkyries that attended, and those that were unable to make it..

For those that came:

It was interesting to see their confidence grow. Many had said before coming that they’d never been a part of a book club before and weren’t sure what was expected of them. Throughout the month they shared their reading progress and thoughts (without spoilers and wasn’t that a tough skill for them to learn!). When we caught up they made remarks such as:  “I actually finished the book, and I can’t remember the last time I actually finished a book!” During the meeting I could tell that they were taking it very seriously, but were also having fun. Opinions were respectfully shared and discussed, and I know that I learnt a lot about the women that came. It gave a real sense of community to women that tend to only hang out at the gym.

For those that couldn’t come:

There were a couple that didn’t come because they hadn’t read the book and possibly felt embarrassed. Upon learning this I made it very clear (to everyone) that not finishing the book because life gets busy is no reason to miss out if you’re able to come on the day. Book club can still be stimulating if you haven’t had the chance to read the book. Just hanging out with the women in your community is enough to spark new ideas. Others were unaware of book club and soon became interested in attending the next one! I think I’ll probably need a bigger table next time…

For myself:

It hit me, how lucky I am to be able to talk about books, read widely, and explore new ideas through fiction as part of my job. I’ve been a fully qualified Teacher Librarian for three years now and I have never really stopped to think how lucky I am as a human being. I often remark on how lucky I am to work with the beautiful students at Mount Alvernia College, and how I get to read for my job and discuss books with the students all the time. What I didn’t realise is that I was missing that element of adult connection beyond my work. Getting to share my passion for books outside of my TL job and in my gym owner role is really special. The women that participated said that they really valued being able to have intellectual conversations outside of their own workplaces, and that they loved being challenged to think deeply not only about the book itself, but why they reacted the way they did. I hadn’t realised that I had been missing this interaction and connection with adults too. I love my students, and I love their passion for books, but it’s so lovely to be able to discuss (and for me, actually read) Adult Fiction in depth and without fear of saying the wrong thing. The Valkyries do not shy away from discussing any topic, nothing is off limits, and its so freeing to be able to talk about everything with women that challenge me to be better.

So, I cannot wait for our next meeting. We’re going to try and get in at Avid Reader in West End. I’m looking forward to reading Circe and hearing what the Valkyries have to say!

krystalgagen:

I had so much fun at our @valhalla_strength_sth_bne #valkyriesbookclub at @riverbendbooks this morning! I often forget how privileged I am to be able to read widely and talk about books daily. So grateful to be able to share that experience with my beautiful Valkyries. We voted for Circe next month and I’m super excited.

I asked the Valkyries for some selfies with their books and here are my examples that I gave them for inspiration 😂 Grumpy face was a tester because I was struggling with the steadiness of my hand 😂

#gagensreads#adventuresoftheliftinglibrarian

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Bookish Things, Thoughts

Science Fiction becomes science

Science Fiction is one of my favourite genres, in fact, I’m finding that I’m reading and watching more Sci-Fi than anything else at the moment. I think one of the reasons I love it is because Science Fiction is quite often a precursor to the leaps and bounds of Science.

An example of this is cyborgs. There are so many Sci-Fi stories that have cyborgs in them; a particular favourite of mine is Cinder by Marissa Meyer. In this story, Cinder is half human/half robot and the integration between her two halves is seamless, in fact her robotic parts enable her to do more than is humanly possible.

I have always loved the idea of humans becoming cyborgs. I have had 3 minor surgeries on various joints in my body and am often heard joking about wanting a “new body.” It was with great surprise and joy that I watched the following two TED Talks by Hugh Herr on the advancements he and his team at MIT are making in the world of prosthetics, cyborgs, and human potential.

 

 

 

I’m so excited for what our future holds. If half of what I read in Sci-Fi comes true, then I know that we are in for one hell of a ride!

Bookish Things

Fuzzy Mud – Sachar

When I first started at Mount Alvernia College in 2016, I was asked to take over the Readers Cup team. One of the books that year was Fuzzy Mud by Louis Sachar. Since reading it, I have recommended it to countless students and it is rarely on our shelves. I thought it was about time I wrote a review of it.

Synopsis:

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Tamaya and Marshall are family friends. They’ve grown up together because of the close friendship between their mothers. They walk to and from school together every day; in fact, Tamaya is not allowed to walk to school if Marshall is not with her. One day, Marshall tells Tamaya that they are going to walk through the woods out the back of their school – which is out of bounds. Tamaya tags along because she has no other choice, but during the trek through the woods they get separated, and Tamaya is tracked down by the school bully. To escape the bully, she throws a handful of mud into his face and runs away. After a few days, the bully is still missing, and Tamaya has noticed a weird rash that is spreading up her arm. She becomes really worried for the bully takes it upon herself to solve the mystery of where the bully has gotten to, and what’s up with the “fuzzy mud.”

Thoughts:

I loved this book for how easy it is to read, but also for the mystery that is woven throughout it. The story is told from a couple of different perspectives. There’s Tamaya’s, which is the main narrative voice, but occasionally we get flash backs and alternate storylines that tell the story of the fuzzy mud. The scientists that create it and then unknowingly set it free upon the world try to defend their actions, which have essentially released a self-replicating virus upon the world. I also love the exploration into friendship, bullying, and doing the right thing even when it’s not easy.

A super quick read, I’d recommend this to middle years readers after a good mystery with a little bit of science thrown in.

 

Gym Life

The strength community will not tolerate this…

Women lifting weights – it’s something that I am very passionate about and something that the general population seem to struggle with accepting. Just yesterday my husband had the pleasure of refereeing The Static Monsters World Championships on the Gold Coast and he witnessed some amazing feats of strength by both men and women. Unfortunately the newspaper that was invited to attend and report on the championships failed to celebrate these feats and chose to focus on a female athlete that experienced Stress Induced Incontinence (SIU) when lifting 4x her body weight. That’s right… a professional journalist and widely published newspaper chose to shame a woman instead of celebrating her success.

I refuse to acknowledge the athlete by name as that doesn’t matter and she’s been through enough by now but I will say that this woman flew halfway around the world to compete in a World Championship and won the 62.5kg weight class – which was one of the most competitive classes on the day – and yet this was overlooked by the reporter.

At first I had hoped that the reporter simply didn’t understand what they had done, but when we contacted them this morning to request that the article be retracted they refused and have since moved it into prime position on their website. I will not name and shame as that is not the purpose of this blog post. I want to discuss why the strength community will not tolerate this…

Women that lift weights have already decided that they don’t care about what society thinks of them. We’ve already made the decision to ignore all the garbage out there and do it anyway. The men of the strength community are also very supportive and celebrate the achievements of the women just as much as their own. We are a tight-knit community because we have to be, and we are only growing. The outcry from the community over this issue has been incredible and it’s only just occurred this morning – we will move mountains to be heard about this issue, after all, we have the strength (both physical and mental) to do this.

Now, the issue of the incontinence – I do want to quickly address this… Although SIU is considered common, it should not be normal; however, that does not mean that it’s ok for anyone to make a joke about it. There are many women that experience SIU while lifting heavy weights! When you consider the sheer pressure placed upon the muscles in the pelvic region when lifting any amount of weights, it is no surprise that there are problems. We recently held a workshop on the Pelvic Floor and Powerlifting with Marnie from Sports and Spinal Physiotherapy Centres and I learned so much. I had no idea about the muscles, the pressure created by lifting, and why there can be problems. In fact I think this needs to be something that all women that take up ANY SPORT should learn about to ensure they are well prepared. It is nothing to be ashamed of and it should be something that we can openly talk about.

I will finish up here as there is not much more I feel I need to say about this issue. As I said on my Facebook post regarding the article:

Ladies, DO NOT allow people like this reporter to cause you to feel shame over your achievements. DO NOT back down. KEEP LIFTING and continue to SMASH STEREOTYPES.

We are strong because we DO NOT let the opinions of others define who we are and what we do.

If you would like to talk to a health professional that takes strength training for women seriously, please contact VALHALLA Strength – South Brisbane so we can point you in the right direction!

Education

Feeling pretty chuffed!

I recently inherited the job of setting up and maintaining the website for VALHALLA Strength – South Brisbane and right now, I’m feeling quite proud of myself!

We inherited the site earlier in the year. It was essentially a straight copy of the website for our sister gym on the north side of Brisbane: VALHALLA Strength – Brisbane. I had to change all the details, links, images, and much more to reflect the information required for our gym. Let’s just say, I had a lot of hidden links to uncover, image settings, and many other general settings to find and change. In fact, I’m feeling so proud of myself that I want to share a little list of all that I have achieved in the last week (yes, I’m even celebrating the tiny wins because they’re still wins!):

  • Screen Shot 2018-05-14 at 6.24.36 pmSite icon! It’s such a small thing and hardly noticeable, and I may change it again, BUT I STILL DID IT!
  • Site logo! Again, such a simple thing but it was hidden somewhere in the back end of the theme design and it took me days to find it…
  • Different menu options
  • Resizing of featured images for the blog post – this was a massive win!

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  • Integrating a social stream plugin! So proud of this one as it took LOTS of trial and error (and lots of frustration and head scratching and even consultation with colleagues that are very clued in about this stuff)

Of course, there were numerous other things I had to do and it’s certainly not perfect at the moment but it’s done, and I’m very proud of myself. During all my fumbling around I learned quite a few things about myself and thought I would share some of my learnings…

Here’s what I discovered:

  1. You can figure it out if you don’t give up
  2. Google is your best friend when problem solving the unknown
  3. You don’t have to be an expert but you have to be willing to learn
  4. If you don’t know what you’re doing, it’s very rare that you’ll do something so horrible that it can’t be undone!
  5. Always ask for help
  6. If you’re starting to get frustrated, WALK AWAY! It’s amazing what a little bit of distance can do for your frustration levels…
  7. And most importantly… PUBLISH FIRST, PERFECT LATER!

While fiddling with the website I couldn’t help thinking about how my students would tackle the problems I encountered. In my classroom, when a student comes up against an issue their first instinct is to ask me, their teacher, for help… They tend to be unwilling to trial things, make mistakes, search for the answer and then give it a go. It’s like they want to be shown exactly how to do it and to know that they won’t fail! Well, this is not what happens in the real world, as I have just proved, and somehow we need to teach them that they are more than capable of discovering the answer to their problem themselves.

I’ve been tossing up with the idea of writing down my thoughts about digital natives and the like, which after this experience I think I’m going to have to, if only to get it straight in my own head! So… stay tuned for that.

Bookish Things

Murder Most Unladylike – Stevens

I read Murder Most Unladylike because we’ve had an increasing number of students in years 7 and 8 asking for “murder mysteries.” I have no real idea as to why these types of stories are becoming popular again, but as an avid reader of Agatha Christie in my early teens, I cannot complain! And so, it was with great pleasure that I realised there is a new range of Middle Reader friendly murder mysteries available, one of which is the A Murder Most Unladylike Mystery series by Robin Stevens.28953339

Synopsis:

When Hazel Wong moves from Hong Kong to Deepdean School for Girls in England, she finds it difficult to make friends at first. After a rocky start she soon becomes fast friends with Daisy Wells, a typical English young lady. Due to Daisy’s murder mystery obsession, the two friends start their own Detective Agency. After solving a couple of small crimes, such as lost ties or collecting gossip, Hazel eventually stumbles on their first real crime: their Science Mistress has been murdered and Hazel discovers the body.

The body goes missing shortly after Hazel discovers it and so Hazel and Daisy must race against the clock to collect clues to find out who the murderer is. They know it’s someone on staff, but who?

Thoughts:

I did like this story, but I didn’t love it and I think it’s because I’m not it’s targeted audience. The murder mystery was well thought out though. I didn’t see the “who done it” coming and the way that certain off-hand events tied in was very clever – in this sense it is very Agatha Christie.

Hazel and Daisy of the Detective Society are likeable enough. The mentions of Hazel’s “oriental” background and the way the girls in her form refer to her are very apt for the time the story is set in. However at the same time, Stevens has shown sensitivity towards migrants by using Hazel’s voice as a voice of displeasure over the apparently “harmless” comments made by her peers. Daisy is initially portrayed as the perfect English rose, but her depth of character is explored further when Hazel slowly discovers that Daisy is the smartest girl in school but hides it, she loves to play rough when it comes to sport, and has a fascination with murder.

The setting of an all girls school back in the day (I don’t think the year is ever specified), and the description of the teaching staff set the scene for trouble quite nicely. The explanation of the Masters and Mistresses is slightly one dimensional; we never really get to know the staff that well, but I believe this is largely due to the fact that Hazel, the voice of the story, doesn’t know them well enough to make their personalities clearer. We see them as she sees them: untouchable and infallible.

The narrative of the story is a combination of present and past events. We see the murder unfold as the present, but Hazel adds in tidbits of information about the school and characters are reflective chapters. It’s really very clever. The other notable thing about the way in which this book is written is how Stevens has divided the story into parts. I am a huge fan of this as it gives me tangible goals for reading and I think this will only increase it’s popularity among Middle Readers.

Overall, I think this is a very clever murder mystery that is perfect for Middle Years readers looking for an Agatha Christie style novel. It’s easy to read, the main characters are likeable, and the plot twists are certainly shocking.

Education, Gym Life, Thoughts

The truth about our “why”

Have you ever told yourself that your goal was simply to “have fun?” Well, over the weekend we hosted a Smashing Stereotypes event at the gym and the presenter said something that really struck me. The presenter was Raeanne Pemberton, and she is a Strongwoman Competitor in the USA. She has a lot to say about the mindset of women for strength training, and in general, and I always find her inspiring. This time around, the thing she said that struck me was: “If you’re telling yourself that you’re there to have fun, you’re lying to yourself.” That hit hard.

Some context:

We were talking about competing in strength sports and how a lot of women seem to tell themselves before a competition that they “don’t really care how well I do, I just want to have fun.” I myself have said this. Raeanne says that this is a lie, and I now agree. We absolutely, 100% do care how well we do! You may not realise it, but every time you sign up to compete you have certain numbers in the back of your mind that you want to hit, and you’ll either be disappointed when you miss them, or elated when you smash them. I realised that we don’t publicly acknowledge these numbers as our official competition goals because we likely don’t want to risk failing. We don’t want to put ourselves out there, and then not achieve. We want to protect ourselves from feeling failure by setting our goals low. It’s easy to turn around and say, “I may not have gotten any PRs today, but I had fun and that was my goal.”

Maybe I’m being a little too doom-and-gloom about it all, but let me try explaining it like this. We are predisposed towards being hard on ourselves, we are conditioned to have low expectations of our abilities, and we are raised to fear failing. To protect ourselves from all of this, we set the bar low in terms of our achievements. There is a difference between “I just want to have fun today” and “I want to hit certain numbers or reps today, but I also want to have fun.” Every time we sign up to compete, we have certain expectations and hopes for what we will achieve. After hearing Raeanne speak, I have made a conscious decision to really acknowledge what I want to achieve from the competition, and to not settle for “I just want to have fun.” Remember, it’s ok to have fun while competing, but you will achieve and progress so much more if you truly acknowledge why you’re doing what you’re doing, and you’ll probably have more fun along the way as well.

Educating Young Women:

Earlier in the week, I had an opportunity to discuss this phenomenon of “just having fun” with the students in my home room. We were asked to watch the following video and then discuss:

We talked about goal setting and some examples:

  • Running – why do you run? Do you always want to run faster or further?
  • Music – why do you play? Do you want to share your music, play harder pieces, or sound better each time?
  • Writing – why do you write? Do you want to get better, share your work, or learn new styles?

As you can see, we talked a lot about our “calling” or our “why,” and I raised the question of whether a goal of “just having fun” is enough? It was interesting to hear these young women echo the same concerns about setting low goals that Raeanne raised. It gave me hope. Does this mean that this generation of young women are being empowered to think they can do more, be more, and therefore set themselves more challenging goals? I really hope so.

Originally posted on VALHALLA Strength – South Brisbane

Wellbeing

Mental health reflection

Disclaimer: I’m a little nervous about publishing this, but I’m going to because it’s something I’m extremely passionate about.

I have been living as a hypocrite for the last 2 and a bit years, maybe even longer. Since working at Mt A, I can’t even remember the number of students I have told to reach out and seek help for their mental health, from their parents or our school counsellors. It’s taken me that long to take my own advice.

I finally got up the courage to tell my GP about my anxiety. I’d had a whole lot of tests done to try and figure out why I’m always so tired and everything came back perfect. Not a single thing showed any sign of something being wrong. Instantly, I felt relieved and disappointed at the same time. I was relieved that nothing was wrong, but also disappointed that there wasn’t something to blame. It was then that I fessed up. I said: “I had really hoped that there was going to be something that would explain why I’m tired all the time.” My doctors response was something along the lines of: “Yeah, I know. So, how are your stress levels? High stress levels can be quite tiring.” My response was: “Yeah, there’s a fair amount of stress in my life…” She gave me a questionnaire to fill out, which I did, and the results shocked me. Because of that test, my doctor suggested that I have high levels of anxiety and stress, this did not shock me. What did though was that she diagnosed me as moderately depressed (definitely not the technical term, but it’s what I remember). The first question out of her mouth was: “Have you ever had thoughts of self-harm?” My response was along the lines of: “No, that’s not me…”

I hadn’t ever entertained the idea that I was depressed. Fast forward through telling my parents – it took me going to my Gran first before I had the courage to face them… another way I had failed my students – and I’m glad I spoke up. After dealing with the shock, guilt, grief, anger, shame, (you name it, I felt it), I finally realised that this was a good thing. Now that I know what I’m dealing with, I can work towards better mental health.

Why am I sharing this with the world? Well, because I was a hypocrite for telling my students that they needed to get help, when I so clearly needed help myself. I advocate for mental health daily, but I have ignored mine for so long. I’m tired, and grumpy, and stressed out, and not achieving my full potential because I was stubborn and scared. I’m sharing my story so that others might be willing to share theirs, or at least recognise something of themselves in my story and have the courage to seek help too. I am far from being healthy, but I know that I am on the right track. I am ready to seek and accept help. I am ready to commit to the hard days ahead because I am ready to be healthy. From now on, I will do what I can to live my best life, advocate for mental health with all my heart and soul, and continue to support my students but now, I will be doing it without being a hypocrite.

On the plus side, I’ve decided to share any and all things that work for me when it comes to improving my mental health. Stay tuned for information on why singing is great for your mood!