Old English strang “physically powerful, powerful in effect; forceful, severe, firm, bold, brave; constant, resolute…”
“I think this person travelled the furthest to be here…Rozanne!!!”
I stood up in shock and surprisingly emotional. Teary-eyed, I looked at my instructors and asked incredulously, “I passed??”
They responded, “Yeah, of course!”
I went to hug each of them and asked to go hug my husband who was filming this moment. I went over and thanked him for his support and for believing in me. I exhaled slowly in his arms completed overwhelmed with relief and gratitude.
It was an intense three day certification but I am officially an SFG Level I StrongFirst Kettlebell Instructor.
(Yes…that’s me with Master Instructor Jon Engum!)
I was emotional for several reasons. I had not only worked my ass off these last four months of intense training, not missing a session – 18 weeks, 108 training sessions – but I had also worked hard for the last three years, training consistently to get stronger and transforming my body by building muscle slowly and working on mobility to avoid injury.
I was emotional because there were many full circle moments this past weekend. Louka, one of my instructors, had been a student of my husband when Chris was a part of StrongFirst. When I arrived at the certification on Day 1, I looked around Louka’s gym, full of kettlebells and other training equipment, and I had a moment where I felt that I did not belong there or that I wasn’t supposed to be there.
This is Chris’ domain.
StrongFirst is the organization that took my husband away when the kids were little. He was away from home helping others get strong and getting certified on weekends just like this one, leaving me with five kids at home. StrongFIrst was this distant and separate thing that was his world, not mine.
I was emotional because, in the end, kettlebells have financially supported our family for the last twenty years. My husband’s philosophy of training and business revolves around this tool that I thought was just another fad like Tae-Bo (remember Billy Blanks??). He was drawn to it because we were minimalists and he couldn’t go to a gym for hours (remember, we had five kids). He read a few of Pavel’s articles and was hooked. He liked that you could be unassumingly strong by using kettlebells. He loved their design, the philosophy of strength.
There were kettlebells always lined down our hallway. The kids would crawl to them and touch them. They would watch Chris from the window as he used them on the deck in all four seasons. They watched how he taught me how to finally swing one. And that’s all I did for years. Find 10 minutes. 10 swings every minute on the minute. Done. I homeschooled our children so they were with me all the time. I had to carve out these 10 minutes. I would do it in my pyjamas before everyone woke up. I would do it when they were momentarily busy with their work. I would do it when they were napping. I would do it when Chris came home from work before the chaos of dinner and bedtime. I didn’t care to learn anything else. I spent more time crawling and rolling fixing my body that had just been through a decade of pregnancy, delivering babies, and nursing on repeat. I just needed to survive those years.
I returned to them during the pandemic because I noticed that my body was a little more achy. I had less energy. I couldn’t carry things I used to without feeling like I would get hurt. I also felt softer. I decided that I wanted to do a push-up and challenge myself to get stronger. All we had were the kettlebells at home. All the kids came home and all seven of us trained with them. I slowly worked my way back up to the 12kg, trusting my husband. And then I did my push-up and then multiple push-ups. And then swinging heavier. I didn’t understand how I was getting stronger when my training felt easy. I felt like I could always do more but he would stop me. He would tell me to be patient. Wait for it. Wait for the WTH effect.
Then I finally understood what he was trying to tell me all these years. The patience. The grind. The daily strength practice. Earlier this year, after practicing for decades, I finally did my first pull-up and then more. I finally did multiple reps with the 12kg and then was able to PR with the 16kg. In April, I did 100 snatches in 4:40.
I announced my intention to do my StrongFirst Level 1 certification on Instagram so that I would be held accountable. I posted my training each day. But this was all outside of my wheelhouse. My husband, Chris, is the one that is the “kettlebell guy,” the “fitness guy,” and the “strength and conditioning guy.” I am his wife – the mom, the educator, the academic.
Each morning I would get up at 4:00am to start my routine. I needed to mentally prep myself to train. I am not one of those people that loves it so much they look forward to it. I really need to talk myself into it. At 6:00am, I begin a long warm up and I am still talking myself into it. Strength training takes exertion and focus. You get hurt when you lose focus – that’s a life lesson for another blog post.
This is all new to me – the intensity of the training, the mental preparation, the technical aspects. The learning curve is steep. I get frustrated when my arm isn’t straight in the get-up or I am casting the bells out too far when I clean. I try again. Chris watches. He corrects. I try again. I correct one thing and I forget something else – my breathing is not biomechanical. Try again. Now it’s my hinge. It’s too shallow. Try again.
We film each session so I can see what he sees. He is my coach so I want him to give it to me straight so I am prepared but he is also my husband so I want him to be sensitive too. A tall ask, I know. But he does it. I watch him hold back when I am too frustrated and tired from the rest of life; and then he pushes me when he knows my recovery is excellent and I am receptive.
Not only have I gotten stronger, but our marriage has too.
When my name was called to the technique test where I had to demonstrate proficiency in six techniques with the 12kg kettlebells – one arm swing, Turkish get-up, double clean, double squat, one arm press, and one arm snatch – I had butterflies. My stomach was turning. I tried slowing my breathing but I was shaking. I could fail. This was a physical test where I had to maintain focus and form. Now give me an exam on any subject and I am not nervous. Tell me I have to do a speech in front of a large audience. Not nervous.
But this? This standing there in my gym shorts and tank top having flashbacks of gym class and not be able to climb the rope was mortifying. I could hear a voice shouting I didn’t belong there with these strong people. But I belonged. In fact, I met so many wonderful people during these three days including a group of women that spoke the same language and that are in the same stage of life as I am.
The last technique that would be judged was the snatch. If I passed this snatch technique test (5 reps on each side), I would be allowed to do the last test – the snatch test: Complete 100 snatches in 5 minutes. I did it in 4:30. Louka was counting every snatch. I was in my zone. I had a beautiful rhythm of doing 10 on each side and then resting for a few seconds. I finished a set and then I heard the count of “100” in the distance. I parked the bell and I looked at him and asked, “Was that 100?” He nodded with a smile. I welled up knowing that even if I didn’t pass the rest of the techniques, I finished and I did my absolute best for three days.
Now it was time to wait to see if I passed. There was no waiting passively. We did the grad practice – 15 rounds of 2 double cleans, 1 press each side, and 3 double squats.
And then it happened. My name was called. Only 40% of the participants received their instructor certificate.
I cried at my certification because I appreciated how every aspect of the three days pushed me out of my comfort zone and that alone was a source of pride and an example to my kids. I appreciated the effort my husband has shown in supporting our family with this crazy and magical apparatus called the kettlebell. I appreciated how strong we both are to be thriving after 29 years of marriage, 5 children, and a move to another country. I appreciated how this journey was a re-commitment to each other and our own health and wellness journeys. I appreciated how his belief in me had carried me and given me courage in that moment when I stood in front of the instructors nervous that I would fail. I appreciated how I could change how I see myself: I am the mother, the wife, the educator, the academic AND the kettlebell gal – a StrongFirst Certified Level 1 Instructor.
Most of all, I appreciated how when I signed up for this in April, I intuitively knew that I needed to accomplish this at this particular moment in my life as I am facing challenges like building a school from scratch, redefining education, and saying goodbye to my children. In training for the cert, I trained for these moments too and I can face them now with resolve and courage because I am strong first.