I recently had a birthday. It was the birthday that many people dread. It was the birthday that solidifies being a certified adult, and dare I say, the birthday that many view as signifying the beginning of decline into old age. I turned forty years old on April 2nd.
I hadn’t thought much about being “over the hill” until early March. One day I was in flexibility class when it hit me. I looked at my coach and said, “Wow. I’m turning forty in a few weeks.” It was a strange realization and I wasn’t sure what it really meant for me. So many people make a big deal about this one particular birthday and I wondered if I should care more about it. I’m at a point in my life where I truly love myself and am proud of my accomplishments. It’s difficult to stress about such a milestone when you’re in a good place and feel like a badass most of the time. Then something really annoying happened. I ended up injured.
I had made a really bad decision months before. Instead of taking a rest day from training to let some major soreness subside, I chose to pretend that my body was super human. While doing an inversion on the pole, I felt a pain akin to an icepick on my shoulder blade and chalked it up to something that only needed a few days recovery time. Fast forward to two months later when I’m in urgent care getting an x-ray on my ribs because the pain is so intense that I’m on the verge of tears. I was unable to take a full breathe and could barely drive my car there, let alone work or train.
I’m embarrassed to admit that my “minor” injury was actually micro tearing of the muscles on my scapula. I sometimes have a difficult time differentiating between discomfort and pain, so training normally for two months just made it worse. My body reached a point where it would no longer cooperate and I ended up laid up for five days in bed. After sitting around for almost a week, I was able to return to work, but not to training as usual. I have spent the past month and a half going to physical therapy three times a week and trying not to lose my mind. My coaches have been very understanding and have tailored my workouts to accommodate me. It’s incredibly frustrating to cut out 80% of your physical activity and there’s always a fear of losing ability. Needless to say, I learned a valuable lesson and don’t ever want to wind up in that situation again.
My birthday landed right in the middle of recovery and all of a sudden I didn’t feel so fabulous. Turning forty was great when I was swinging from the rafters, but not when I was struggling to get my arm over my head or carry anything over five pounds. I was really angry at myself and felt like a complete failure. I began to wonder if the people who have told me that I am too old for aerial were right and I became shrouded in a cloud of negativity and self-doubt.
Joven Desde rules and the video below proves it.
Luckily, I’m surrounded by friends and family who care about me and don’t allow me to wallow in self pity. It was difficult, but I managed to silence the negative thoughts and waited patiently for my body to heal. I began gradually going back to normal activity last week with no pain. I saw my orthopedic specialist today and he is very satisfied with my progress. I had the opportunity to train side by side with my amazing flexibility/aerial coach today and I left the gym this evening feeling like a million bucks.
Now, let me get to the point of this blog. This whole birthday ordeal, topped off with injury drama, has inspired me to address something that I try not to talk too much about. I don’t keep my age a secret, however I don’t broadcast it either. There are so many people who are age obsessed that it becomes the focal point of how they look at others, and eventually, themselves. Older people are often disregarded as being irrelevant and out of touch while young people desperately fear growing old. There is a pervasive thought that certain things must fall by the wayside as one advances in years and I thought I was past that type of thinking until I ended up in a tough spot on my “big birthday”. I hate to admit it, but I became my own worst enemy for a short time.
I was thirty-seven when my dear friend Katherine convinced me to try aerial silks. I felt great when we were together, but was extremely intimidated to go to class on my own. It was very clear to me that I was not taken seriously by others in the various studios where I was training and a few people I knew discouraged me from trying because I was “so old”. Not one to shy away from something I want, I went for it anyway. For six months I struggled, barely showing up to class and feeling like an epic failure when I did. I pretty much stopped going altogether and hated myself for it. Two weeks after turning thirty-eight I began training flexibility and aerial silks with Kristi Toguchi at Aerial Fitness and I haven’t looked back since.
I warned Kristi of my age when we spoke on the phone before my first class. I expected to be turned away, but instead, she told me that she would train me like a performer even if I had no plans to ever become one. I was skeptical, but dragged myself to her class anyway. Imagine my surprise when I found myself part of a community that supports and encourages each other. It has been my commitment to this group of people that keeps me going on the days where I feel like giving up. I would be lying if I said it was easy. Some days I wonder what the hell I am doing when my body reminds me that I’m not a kid anymore. These are the days that I push myself the hardest. These are also the days where I reap the greatest reward.
Most people I train with are considerably younger than me. The person I train with the most is thirteen years old and an adorable force to be reckoned with. It’s not easy keeping up with her, but I have an abundance of determination and enjoy the challenge. She inspires me to be the best version of myself. I consider it my duty to show this young lady what is possible for her when she reaches my age. I want her to remember our time together when people someday tell her to stop being an aerial star and act like a proper, boring grown-up.
Ernestine Shepherd trains like a boss. Watch the video. Trust me.
So there you have it. Here’s the take-away:
1. Don’t be stupid and train when your body needs to rest. Your ego will survive a day off and you aren’t falling off of the motivation wagon by resting when necessary. Being stubborn will only make matters worse when you trade that one rest day for six weeks of it. Plus, it really sucks admitting to an urgent care nurse that you are an obstinate asshole.
2. Don’t sabotage your success. It’s easy to fall into the trap of self-doubt. One of the reasons I share so many photos and videos of my progress on social media is to document my work and hold myself accountable. When you start to feel like your accomplishments amount to peanuts, remember how far you have come. Even better, remember the people who told you that you would never make it. You can spot them easily, sitting on the sidelines of life, silently scolding themselves for shooting down your dream because they are too scared to chase theirs.
3. What’s the truth about turning forty? It’s awesome! I have had an incredible life so far. There have been many ups and downs, but it has been one hell of an adventure! I believed at thirty-three that since I had accomplished my goal of being a fashion designer, all that was left on my bucket list was to travel more. I am happy to say that I was terribly wrong. I am excited to see where I can go with my training as well as my other pursuits. There is so much out there to experience and I am grateful for each day that I’m on this Earth. Is it more difficult to train at forty? You bet your ass it is. Is it worth it? Absolutely.