In Defense

By Whitney Dean

My neighbor, Janice, caught me on my way out the house. She likes my red dog and comes to the fence to get his attention, but he’s busy with a bone in the yard.

“He just do what he want, don’t he,” she says.

“Always has,” I say.

“My place don’t allow no dogs,” Janice says.

Every word Janice speaks slithers from her lips in a wet hiss on account of her missing front teeth. What teeth she has left sit in her gums like shards of broken glass.

“I can’t have no dogs, but I gots some piranhas,” Janice says. “Some Chichlids, too! They’s the most aggressive fish in a tank, and I gots ‘em in my place.”

Janice lowers her chin and voice while looking up at me. She whispers, “I’s like a man, you see. I can feed thems fish, or I can’t.”

Laughter snaps from her throat.

I don’t know how Janice lost her teeth—I don’t know much about Janice, at all--but I know I’m speaking with someone who’s considered her own mortality, her own vulnerability. Not a passive contemplation of fate but an active, participatory consideration of what’s coming down the line and how to take it on. Janice made a brief transaction at a pet store a few hours’ wages for some predatory fish—and walked away feeling a little more empowered. What a brilliant way to think about predation. Keep ‘em where she can see ‘em. Then she can feed thems fish, or she can’t.

Twice, now, a group of us CrossFit Elevation women have trekked to Dark Horse Brazilian Jiu Jitsu academy in Longmont, Colorado to attend Andrew Dudderar’s selfdefense seminars. Over the course of two hours, we learned and put into practice the basics: posture, stance, grip breaks, getaways. From mild aggressions to “nightmare scenarios,” we were introduced to the art of leverage and timing. I can’t speak for the rest of the attendees, but the CrossFit Elevation ladies were puuuuumped. Here was another opportunity to put our brains, flesh, and bone to good use. Because for many of us CrossFit females, moving faster and lifting heavier has come to mean so much more than maintaining an aesthetic. We’re strong, getting stronger, and redefining female identity. It’s a different world out there! We can’t wait around for evolution to give us the same fast twitch muscles in our shoulders that a man has (even though we needed them, like, yesterday), so we're going to throw a barbell around on the regular. We’ll get them ourselves.

I joke in the gym about functional fitness being the ability to pull my body up over the side of a cliff should I find myself hanging off of one, and the proverbial cliff can take on many forms. Sometimes, that cliff can be people out to hurt us. Although there’s some contention over how to protect yourself against a grizzly bear, wildlife officers almost universally agree that in the rare case of a mountain lion attack, you fight back. Well, we shot the last Colorado grizzly bear back in 1952, and I deem the mountain lion to be the next most intimidating predator, so short of a grizzly bear, I’m fighting back.

Achieving the goal of pulling my bodyweight, and it took a while, meant more to me than just learning a new trick. It defied everything I thought I’d understood about my limitations. It was empowering to never be able to trust the pessimist in my brain, again. Today, all the things I want to do that seem impossible get thrown into question because there was a time when I couldn’t perform a pullup, knew I’d never perform a pullup, and then, one day, after months of work, up and did a pullup. I need that confidence to transfer over to other areas of my life, so I can fight back, when I need to.

Because of the culture in which we’re raised, I believe many women have to push through enormous intimidation to meet conflict with assertiveness and physicality be it in sport, play, or self-defense. By entering into a physically challenging space, though, we’re nurturing a very basic instinct in ourselves to survive and live well. In many ways, we’re walking into the pet store and bypassing the rabbit or hamster for a fish with pharyngeal teeth just so we can feed it or, if we choose, not feed it.


Strength
15 minutes to 1RM Push press

WOD
"Isabel"
Snatches 135/95#

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