I was expecting to write this post from the Thessaloniki airport, but I ended up starting it in Thessaloniki, continuing to write on the plane on my way to Athens and on the bus going from Athens airport to Piraeus and now adding the finishing touch (photos) from my mom’s house in Piraeus.
It is a long post. Seems like ages although it has only been 10 days since my last one. One week ago on Tuesday, I left Amsterdam to fly to Thessaloniki with my plans only extending to a week or so; having no idea what would come next and relying again to the kindness of people I didn’t personally know, but with whom I shared my passion for CrossFit. Trying to embrace the unknown was a very painful and hard thing to do and I think I am not there yet – can one ever be ready for this?
My last weekend in NL was very intense emotionally and so were my first days in Greece. Trying to get rid of stuff at the last minute, trying to fit my belongings in my backpack, trying to not exceed the permitted weight, trying not to cry all the time, trying to be cool and trying to remember the reasons why I am doing this – a constant struggle and a constant disappointment cause I was trying and trying but felt like I kept failing and failing.
The plane was taxiing and I was crying like a baby, not even knowing why. No one forced me to leave, it was my decision but was it the right one? Would I make it or fail and be left with… nothing? Am I able to find happiness I find happiness on the path I chose? I kept listening to one of my favorite songs of the past months “It takes a lot to know a man” by Damien Rice and kept focusing on the lyrics “What are you so afraid to lose? What is it you’re thinking that will happen if you do?”
What am I afraid of? Nobody died, everyone will still be there to return to whenever I feel like it. I can pick any path I choose. Then why am I so sad? After the first hour of the flight, still impressively failing to stop my tears from falling and feeling more miserable because of my inability to do so, I decided to try distracting myself. I opened the in-flight magazine. I was going to looking for a map. Look for inspiration, a spark of excitement for what was lying ahead of me, anything to get my mind to where it should be. Instead of a map I came across a page with several quotes (thank you, Transavia!) and there I stayed for some time going through it again and again.
“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them – that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.” Lao Tzu
So I decided to let things flow naturally forward. I let my tears flow without trying to withhold them. What a liberating feeling. To approve of the here and now without criticizing myself. The rest of the flight suddenly became peaceful. All I needed was to accept the fact I was in pain. I stopped trying to find answers. This was draining all my energy. As my friend Jackie in Hamburg said “It is what it is”. So I let it be.
I arrived at the Thessaloniki airport with an open heart and secretly hoping for a pair of open arms to fall into. All this I found in Meggi, George, Max and Orca. I had found a “home” again and it was a place where the sun was shining, the temperature hit 26 degrees and I could wear my t-shirt and sunnies all day long!
I was introduced to Meggi through a common friend (<3 Stavroula from CrossFit Patra). We had only exchanged some Facebook messages, but I had a good feeling to start with. Meggi is one of the 4 owners of The Lab (aka CrossFit 900) and a bad-ass competitive masters athlete. From the first moment it felt like we’d known each other for long; as if we had met before. Like meeting a friend after a long time. First stop after the airport was to get me a cappuccino freddo, my favorite ice coffee (the first and last thing I get when visiting Greece). Next stop: The Lab.
It was still early and the first afternoon class was hours away, so we had the whole place for ourselves to train together with a couple more ladies preparing for the competition. Our minds focused on the Greek Throwdown, we all wanted to work on our weaknesses I guess – although it was hard for me to see any weaknesses in Meggi rather she was improving the already high level of her skills. I was amazed by her strength and perseverance, her focus and determination. I will not even try to compare my skills (or the lack thereof) to those of Athanasia Karamytiliou, one of the girls training at The Lab, who ended up on the podium with the Elite division. I was so lucky to have them guide me and help me with my pistols. It was the only exercise of the competition wods which I had not (yet) managed to do. I had already started working on my technique and strength back home at UnScared CrossFit but it seemed like a far-fetched dream to be able to do a pistol in the next couple of days (not to mention the workout required me to do 90 pistols in total). After we finished our workout, we sat on the floor for some mobility, chatting and laughing. I realized it was the first time I was at a box surrounded only be women; strong beautiful, positive women. I guess inspiration is to be found everywhere!
We stayed at the box till late in the evening and I had the opportunity to see the crew hitting some nice wods, meet some of the members and chat a bit. I met Giorgos and Nikos, co-owners and coaches at the box, Eva ‘the beast’ (good luck with the world championships in weightlifting!!) and many more fellow CrossFitters, always eager to help and always with a smile on their faces. The Lab is a big box, well maintained and very clean, so even if 40 people were there at the same time doing the WoD, Olympic weightlifting classes or personal training, it still seemed quite spacious and open. I have to admit I was impressed by the women. Coming from NL I couldn’t help but notice that most women at the box were wearing more makeup than what I was used to seeing up north, their hairdo looked as if they just came out of the hairdresser and were so girly and feminine in a way much different than the women in NL. I guess it’s the Mediterranean air 🙂
I tried using a bit more makeup too when going out (not only to the box) so that I wouldn’t stick out too much as the ugly duckling, but it would seem my girly and makeup skills are nowhere to be found! Oh, well. Lao said to let things flow naturally. So I kept walking around and working out with my usual ‘straight out of bed’ look. Naturally. Hehe.
It was a long first day for me in Thessaloniki and I was thankful to head to Meggi’s home in the evening. I met her husband, George and their gorgeous dogs, Max and Orca. What a lovely, laid back couple. To see them being so in love after being together for 15 years was heartwarming.
The next day we were going to pick up another girl that would also be staying at Meggi’s place, Alexandra Kolam, an athlete from Sweden that would also compete at the Greek Throwdown. We had exchanged some messages over FB and again I felt a good vibe. This was a person I definitely wanted to meet and spend time with. There seemed to be more than CrossFit linking us, and I was so right.
Without a doubt, Sandra is the strongest woman I have met so far in my life. An athlete with so many achievements (the Regionals being only one of them) yet so humble and open and approachable… A girl my age who has taken the road less travelled, went on adventures following her heart and who has an impressive way of seeing beauty in everything.
The days went by very fast with lots of and before long we were on our way to Ioannina on Friday afternoon. The road trip I enjoyed a lot. Talking CrossFit all the time, guessing what the final WoD would be, strategizing and exchanging opinions about how to better approach the workouts. No. I was not the one strategising. Far from that. I was only hoping to get one pistol, remember? But I very much enjoyed listening to them. To see the way two competitive athletes approach a competition, how they handle their workouts and take care of their nutrition also allocating time for work and social life.
This week has not only been an eye-opener in this sense. It helped me set new goals because the ladies made me believe it is possible. None of them had an athletic background and they both started CrossFit quite ‘late’. So, there is hope for me too. Maybe in a year or two I, too, will be able to qualify at a local competition, do 90 pistols in a single workout and have a chance of finishing second (before last).
As a good friend of mine quoted the Kung Fu Panda… “It’s do or not do.”
I decided I will “do”.
I even think it will be easier to “do” living this new lifestyle, sticking around strong, positive people, eating healthy and training daily. After all, I am so privileged to be meeting so many athletes and coaches who offer to me their knowledge and experience and help me work on my weaknesses on a daily basis.
Participating in the Greek Throwdown, this time as an athlete and not as a judge, was a brand new experience. It is the first year the Greek Throwdown was organized, which means it is not an established competition yet and the level of the athletes and judges was very mixed, but it is very promising to see that the love of CrossFit is growing in Greece too. Knowing I will not be able to perform all the workouts meant I didn’t stress much about the result. My only goal was to do as best as possible and, why not, manage my first pistol, which I did and I am super happy about it. To be more accurate I did several pistols, maybe even 15 – I say ‘maybe’ cause it definitely was not 34 as counted by my judge. I don’t want to sound judgmental, but I guess it is inevitable to some extent since if I was my judge I would have no-rep’ed me for half of my attempts. Would be funny though to argue with the judge for giving bro-reps, hehe. Still. Mission accomplished, first pistols in the books!
Moreover, participating as an athlete was another great opportunity for me to meet new athletes and see some amazing performances. It was also fun to get to know Brita Frits, the master’s athlete who won second place at the Lowlands Throwdown, whom I had judged there during the first event. Brita had to travel to Thessaloniki to catch and early flight on the day after the event and Meggi offered to host her to make things easier. So, on Sunday evening I spent the night with the greatest company I could wish for. The #1 of the Masters 35-39 division, and # 1 & 3 of the Masters 40-44 division. Meggi, Sandra and Brita, all under the same roof chatting and having fun. I was seeing myself as kind of an ‘outsider’ (no podium here, hehe); the unexperienced yet thirsty CrossFitter that was eager to hear all about what it takes to get to that level; and, boy, did I enjoy their company! At times I was just sitting there hearing all about their experiences and the programming they follow, their daily habits and the sacrifices they all have to make in order to be where they are. This week made me realize how much work is needed to be able to stand out even a little bit. I saw what it takes. But I also realized it is possible if you put in the hard work.
Another beautiful woman I met at the competition was Christina Orsburg, owner of CrossFit Corfu. Christina was one of the first people that contacted me and offered to host me in Corfu several months ago. She was the right person to meet at the right moment. I should mention that it was not all about fun and new achievements at the competition. I was surrounded by so many people, yet at some point I really felt alone. I didn’t have my friends around to cheer on me. No one from my box to share the joy with. None of the people that know and understand me, a familiar face. This unexpectedly hit me after my first workout and my first pistols. I had to run and hide in the toilets with tears in my eyes. I know I am getting very emotional lately, but there’s nothing I can do about it at the moment and to be honest I don’t think I want to spend any more energy contemplating about it. Then came Christina. A woman who also left her home country several months ago to jump into the unknown by relocating from Germany to Corfu. She founded CrossFit Corfu combining her love for CrossFit with the best things Greece can offer, the sun and the sea. She is organizing boot-camps and CrossFit vacation on the island and has already established a small community there. A freelancer just like me, who immediately understood the insecurities and fears I am faced with. She gave me strength, reminded me of what is important and helped me focus again on the things that are really important. Having Sandra and Christina close to me these days was a gift I really needed. I feel I have made friends for life. People I can turn to whenever I need some moral reinforcement. People that have in a way been through similar situations. People that understand.
So, the competition ended happily with my favorite ladies on the podium and the three musketeers made their way back to Thessaloniki. To see the other side of the coin was equally interesting. To say the two of the three musketeers were suffering for the next two days is an understatement. The price they had to pay for giving their best at the competition… Unable to walk, go up or down stairs or even get out of bed. But as my dear Brita said “PAIN is a French word for bread”. They sucked it up without any complains. On the contrary, they were thinking of what they could have done better and what they need to improve before the next competition, in Cyprus, in December.
Back to me, I needed to make some sort of plan for the coming days-weeks. I had nothing planned but was kind of reconsidering my initial idea of travelling to Cyprus and Egypt after Greece. One thing I have learned very early on my journey is to listen to my gut feeling. And at the moment it is telling me to go west.
During the Greek Throwdown I met the owners of CrossFit Darsena in Milan, Sasha and Gianluka, who invited me to stay and train with them in Milan, in December. They told me one of the biggest competitions in Italy is taking place near lake Como on the weekend of 5-6/12 and I immediately thought it would be fun to be able to take part as a judge! Well. I still don’t know if I will be given this opportunity as I am waiting to hear back from the organizers and the head judge, but my ticket is booked! Found a good offer so I booked it. No second thoughts. I am flying to Milan on 2/12. Till then, I will spend some time in Athens and Kalamata with my family, train in boxes in Athens and do some much needed work that thankfully came in.
I am taking it one day at a time ‘letting things flow naturally forward’. They seem to fall in place on their own, so I trust I should stop worrying (not an easy task). I know I should be open to all the new people and experiences coming my way and I want to be able to do that without being held back but it’s hard letting go… then I remind myself.. There is do or do not…