Nine years ago my grandmother passed away on this day. I used to spend this anniversary day in a cloud, a fog, a haze…tears traveling down my face. My heart and head heavy. In 2013, I suddenly said, “No more.” I planned my three-week solo trip to New Zealand in December of that year, and from that point on I made sure to spend this day doing something grand. In 2014, I had a spa day with a close friend, getting nails done along with a facial and a mud massage before eating pizza and cake. In 2015, I weighed in for my last powerlifting meet and prepared for the next day of breaking previous personal records. In 2016, this day fell during my solo vacation to Cancun…a break away from everything and anything that did not include reading, the beach, and a Bellini or three. But this year, I made no plans. I had horrible dreams last night, and a part of me worried about not making plans to turn today into a celebration instead of a mourning. I worried I would be sucked under the covers of depression like the early years after she passed away. But I also purposely didn’t plan anything for today because I know I am making a trip to Oregon for the first half of January to start a new chapter, one that would make my grandmother beam and brag.
She always loved my writing. Always wanted me to do something spectacular with it. Always wanted me to share it with the world. She always believed in me. She was always there for me. She loved me to the depths of her being. She was me: just a little skinnier in the legs, a little taller, a little less filter on the mouth (I was always telling her, “you can’t say that out loud in public!”), a lot more red in the hair, and a love for gefilte fish that I could never understand. She saved me time and time again in life, as she and my grandfather paid off my student loans while I was teaching so that I wouldn’t have to get a second job, giving me their old Pontiac so I wouldn’t have a car payment on a teacher’s salary, helping me out of a really tough situation after my marriage when even my parents chose not to help me. The list goes on and on.
There are so many things I could say about her being so much more than a grandmother to me, so much so that she was actually a second mother to me. But I am not ready to be outrageously public about the things that were missing from or incredibly hurtful in my childhood and teenage years. But here’s one thing: her face always lit up when I entered the room. Her voice always brightened when she realized it was me on the other end of the phone. I have yet to have another single soul in my life who has matched her in personality, creativity, uniqueness, and love for me. When she died, a void was born, and only after I planned my trip to New Zealand did I realize that no one else in this world will ever fill that void…except for me. Because I am her. And sometimes when I lose esteem, fall into old habits, tell myself hurtful things, I remind myself that if I dare tell myself I am ugly, then I am saying she is ugly too…and that’s not fair.
It’s interesting because she used to always say she knew she wasn’t beautiful, just interesting to look at. (To me, she was beautiful…looking like a Lucille Ball and aging with grace.) She felt that it was her personality, her ability to make others laugh, her social skills, her creativity, her intelligence, her way with words and way with threads, her delicate fingers that shaped clay and porcelain and held paintbrushes and fixed the shattered remains of broken statues that others from all over the country brought to her to fix…she felt that it was these qualities that made my grandfather and her friends fall so deeply in love with her. What is funny is that I feel the same way about me, except I don’t know I will ever find a man in this day and time who would ever resemble my grandfather, for he too embodied so much special that I just don’t know it could ever be replicated.
My grandmother. My “grand”mother. She was there for me in my first breathes, and I was there for her last ones. I spent my summers growing up at her house in Skokie, Illinois. I saw her at her highest and at her lowest. I helped carry her, helped put make up on her, helped make her laugh, and I certainly made her cry a bunch (I think I have an innate ability to make anyone cry…and laugh). I talked back to her. I bickered with her. I wrote poems for her. I lectured her. I listened to her lecture me. I watched her draw her eyebrows on and spray enough AquaNet on her hair to kill a small Texas town and listened to her lecture me about sunscreen and taking care of my skin. I watched her face when she ate ice cream. I remember her splitting her pieces of Trident gum into thirds and drinking 7-Up and Ginger Ale. I remember having chocolate Italian soda with her for the first time and eating peanuts at Wrigley Field while we watch her Cubbies play. I remember her throwing jinxes and hexes at the TV when she watched both the Cubs and the Sox play. I remember when she took me before I started ninth grade to get my eyebrows waxed for the first time and get my hair cut and done up nice after my mom didn’t take me to a hairdresser for over a year. I let her teach me how to sew and do needlework. I remember the little butterfly cross stitch kit she got me and how happy she was when I finally got hooked on something needle-and-threadish.
She didn’t understand the powerlifting or bodybuilding or muscles on girls thing. She actually said to me, “You feel like a rock. Women are supposed to be squishy.” I laugh as I type this. In all honesty, she hated the muscles on me and once told me I look like a man. Ironically, that was back when I was going on stage at right around 100 pounds. She eventually apologized and never said it again. She watched me perform at every show she could attend and no matter what she thought of the muscles, she always told me, “You were the most beautiful one up there.” As she sat in the audience, she would tell everyone around her about her granddaughter. She would find out who they were there for and would make a deal to cheer for their loved one if they cheered for hers. That was my grandmother. She would talk to a stranger and about a stranger with no hesitation and no filter. The things she would say! (As I mentioned earlier, I was constantly telling her, “you can’t say that in public!”) I still hear her when she used to tell me, “You need to learn how to small talk,” and “Poems should always rhyme,” and “If I were a boy, I’d date you,” and “Put your sweater on; I’m cold,” and “As long as you are happy, I am happy.”
Do you know our last words were “I love you”? How many people do you get to say that to in their final hours before they slip away from you forever? I got to say it to the person who impacted my life the most, who steers her soul through my bloodstream.
May I make you proud, Mama Delle—more proud than you already are—as I open my own soul, throw away my ego, strip down to the barest of my being, find the esteem to understand that I really do belong in this graduate writing program and find the belief that I will not fail and will instead rise like the golden Phoenix bird you made long long ago that now sits on my living room wall. My writing and my happiness will always be dedicated to you.
A previous coach told me in my previous off season: “Don’t write down your workouts prior to doing them. You may feel differently or need a different approach when the day and time comes to hit the weights and complete the exercises.”
I agree…and I disagree, of course. I spent all of last year not writing down my workouts prior to going into the gym. This isn’t a newfangled approach. I have utilized gut instinct and a daily dose of “what do I need right and right now for my physique in the tomorrow land?”. But I feel there comes a point when writing down a workout prior to stepping into the gym effaces a bit of anxiety that can creep up during the beginning stages of off season.
There are phases I go through after completing my show season:
I don’t have a ton of help this off season like I did last off season. Well, like I did to start off the first few months of last off season because there a came a point when that assistance dwindled off, and I was on my own for 80% of my workouts and choices. Which is fine. I am an independent girl and have coached myself through plenty of off seasons and preps and done a dandy job.
But I know I most adhere to a particular train of thought in order for this off season to be successful and have it to lead to a more auspicious start to my competition prep in 2018 than what occurred for my Alaska prep in 2017. This quote from Patrick Rothfuss’s The Name of the Wind leads us into my thought process quite well: “. . . dawn was a small beginning compared to the ending of a season: the ending of a year.”
Human beings love beginnings. New ones (as if there are old beginnings, though I suppose when you recycle an ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend, that is an old beginning and one I don’t recommend). But we don’t appreciate endings. We are saddened by them. Or we are anxious to say good riddance to something and end it once and for all, but for the sake of having a new beginning. I have tried hard since 2014 to appreciate my achievements in the moment. To string out the experience like Christmas lights along the long base of a rooftop. To marinate in the award of completing something successfully—even with the stumbles, pitfalls, mistakes. I practiced this heartily at the 2014 WPC Powerlifting World Championships. I hit 8 out of 9 of my lifts, earned the bronze medal for the United States, and set a world record in a class that had no world records set prior. Typically, in years past, I would have drowned in the mistakes and not appreciated the entire experience as a whole.
I have strived to experience my experiences more wholeheartedly ever since then. As a result, it has allowed me to understand and accept an ending of one phase as an important precursor to the beginning of another phase. Think about this in terms of relationships. If you never truly deal with both the good and the bad of the previous relationship and understand the importance of the ending, you cannot successfully begin a new and healthy relationship…healthy being the key word.
I think this happens in the fitness and athletic worlds—with powerlifting, strongman, karate, track-and-field, bodybuilding, etc. And I think it is worse in the arenas that an athlete competes independently of others, in other words, not on a true team where all members of the team are doing an athletic venture together in the moment to reach a common goal. We finish a competition, and then we either find grievous faults or we don’t know how to appreciate the goal earned without the interference of the next goal breathing down the past goal’s neck. So we never celebrate the ending. And sometimes…sometimes, the ending is more important than the beginning.
I am still ecstatic and proud of my ending to the 2017 competition season. I became a Phoenix bird as I traveled to Phoenix, Arizona, and earned my fifth-place finish at the 2017 IFBB Arizona Pro. But I also re-lived, re-examined, re-inspected the Alaska prep and end result. By doing that, I came to terms with the mistakes made (by myself and others involved) and set them in a pile labeled, “Learn from this!” I had emotional, mental, and physical things to learn, but if I had chosen to turtle myself and hide from my 16-week experience leading into Alaska, I would never have risen to a level of personal pride and success for Arizona.
The ending of a chapter is necessary for the beginning of the next chapter. The ending of a season is necessary for the beginning of the next season. The ending of a relationship is necessary for the beginning of the next relationship. Don’t abuse your endings or hide them under your bed. Keep them in plain sight, for they create your might.
Did you know I go to a therapist? Right here; right now. I do. Not many in the fitness industry probably admit to this. How many even do it? I’ve been in therapy most of my life. I sometimes take breaks...months, even years. But I think it is healthy to admit you need a professional ear to hear you and a professional mind to help you find you. I am often one who helps lead my posing, training, and competition clients into the waters of introspection. But then I am left wondering who is there to help me. When do I get to be weak? To whom do I cry? To whom do I admit defeat, despair? Who helps me to detangle? I try to shoulder the responsibility of it for as long as I can. Like hanging onto a rope that becomes weathered, torn, threadbare from the weight of my heart. And just when the rope threatens to break, I reach out. And that is what my therapist is for.
I see rest and recovery from the gym as a type of therapy. When the body feels threadbare and ready to break, we must listen. I’ve talked about this a ton on my social media, how silly and stupid I think the “no days off” attitude is. You can certainly train until you die. And then you will die. A slow death. On the inside. The inside of your heart. Your valves. Your arteries. They will shut down. Collapse. Blood will not pump. Neurons will not spark. The fire will not be lit. You will become cold. Going through the motions until you become one of those people who drives by the gym and says, “Hey, I used to go there,” and who stands in line at the grocery store, talking to a bodybuilder, saying “I used to be like you back in the day.” All because you had to do it your way, with no breaks, no intermission, no off season.
I am in the midst of my yearly week off from the gym. Not a deload. A true week off. Some of these days I am doing nothing more strenuous than picking up Roxi and some socks off the ground. Some of these days I am doing stretching classes and yoga and recovery therapy like hydromassage and cryotherapy.
I haven’t died. I haven’t gotten fat. I haven’t grown a third horn. I haven’t forgotten how to squat. I haven’t lost my love for the gym. In fact, quite the opposite. I’m excited about Monday when I get to train legs with Jason again. I’m excited about what I get to do with my body at the age of 45. I’m excited (and slightly scared) about discovering how well I’ll balance school, gym, and work like the old days when I began lifting. It’s so weird, like I’m coming full circle. I wonder what this means for this next year. I wonder what I should do New Year’s Eve to set the tone for 2018.
And that begs the question: what will you do to set your tone for your 2018?
Jodi Leigh Miller is a Women's Physique IFBB Pro with experience in all divisions. She is a record-achieving power-lifter, posing specialist, certified trainer, life coach, and author. She holds an English degree from The University of Texas at Austin and is a certified educator. Jodi was recently accepted into the low-residency MFA in Writing program at Pacific University Oregon and begins January 2018. She is an experienced, knowledgeable, multifaceted phenom who shares her soul in this blog.