When she shook my hand before our match began I knew I was in trouble. The referee stood between us and gestured for us to shake. The sweat on the bottom of my feet made me stick to the wrestling mat. I wiped my palms off on my t-shirt. She wrapped her hand around mine. Her grip was strong. Her bicep bulged beneath her rash guard. Her clothes were all skin tight. She was, as my Jiu-Jitsu coach would later state, yoked.
The referee started us. We clinched. Maybe she took me down. Maybe I pulled half-guard. Either way, we ended up on the ground with her on top. She pressed her weight down on me. I could hear my coach clearly and I tried everything he said. I could not move. All my favorite moves, my favorite sweeps, practiced over and over, all for naught. Eventually she got my arm. Eventually I tapped.
My coach, Eddie, took me aside. This was my third tournament. The third time things had gone this way. My fourth place medals were simply for being the fourth and final girl to show.
“You’ve got to get strong,” Eddie implored. “You know the techniques, maybe better than anybody, but you’ve got to figure out how to get strong.”
He turned and glanced behind us as my competitor walked away.
“Damn,” he exclaimed, holding his hands in front of him and flexing in a strong man pose as he said the word. “That girl was yoked!”
Six years later I ran into Eddie in Las Vegas. I had not seen him in a while. I had not trained Jiu-Jitsu in quite some time.
“Damn,” he said, “You’ve got guns!” He made me flex for the man standing with him before introducing me.
“Every time I see a new picture of you on Facebook I remember that conversation we had,” he said. “Do you remember that conversation?”
“Yes,” I replied, “And I did what you said. I went and got strong.”
“Yeah, you did,” he said. “You didn’t have legs like that before.”
I was wearing tight black leggings and a sleeveless shirt. The man standing with Eddie nodded at me in agreement.
It was through following Eddie’s advice that I discovered CrossFit. I discovered my whole new world of weight lifting, running, gymnastics and competition. I started CrossFit to get strong for Jiu-Jitsu. I eventually quit Jiu-Jitsu. I got strong for my life. I discovered my life. I found my muscles and I found my voice.
Earlier today I was taking a CrossFit class at Team Quest MMA. The other women in the class were whispering about me, unaware I could hear them. Out of the corner of their eyes they were watching me do pull ups. Inside I was smiling. This is how it always goes.
“She’s doing those for real,” they whispered.
I continued in my workout. I did some toes-to-bar.
“What are those?” one of them whispered.
“I don’t know, but I’ve seen them on a video before,” the other replied.
I almost laughed out loud. I kind of loved these women for that one. I got down off the bar and introduced myself. They were embarrassed. They thought they were being secretive. I joked with them and we all laughed.
Because I get it. I used to be them.
I used to look at that girl and wish I was her. I used to look at that girl and think I could never do that, that it was ridiculous, that it was impossible. It was impossible for me. I shook that girl’s hand and felt her strength. I lost to her.
But not anymore. No more baggy t-shirts for me. No more being held in place. I went and got strong.