Thursday, July 03, 2008

On not measuring up

This is what 41 can look like.
Read the NYT Magazine profile about Dara Torres.

Torres is now 41 and the mother of a 2-year-old daughter, Tessa Grace. She broke her first of three world records in 1982, at 14, and she has retired from swimming and come back three times
Torres’s retinue includes a head coach, a sprint coach, a strength coach, two stretchers, two masseuses, a chiropractor and a nanny, at the cost of at least $100,000 per year.
This really taps into my insecurities. I, too, am 41 and the mother of one. At 14, I was not breaking world records. I was just happy not to be cut from my high school volleyball team. I was disciplined about conditioning, diet, weight-training, stretching, practice--I spent 20-30 hours a week training.

Despite my devotion, I was never more than mediocre for a competitive athlete. Moreover, there were pesky recurring infections and sports injuries. (The reason became clear years later with the gene test that explained everything.)

I joined a gym a month ago. Gyms had always been places of refuge for me, but this time was different. I haven't exercised regularly for more than 8 years. The years have not been kind to my body. I felt downright flabby while changing in the locker room.

It's a gorgeous gym and the denizens are friendly enough. I have swam there a half dozen times and lifted weights twice. Amazingly, each time I go to this pool, I get a lane to myself. Hopefully, my flabbiness will decline and I will become one of the buff chicks at the gym. Mark also joined and we signed Iris up for unlimited time at the Kids' Club.

The day after the NYT ran the profile about Dara Torres, the LAT ran a piece by Linda Alcorace.
When you're lying in bed and can't keep food down, muscle metabolizes first.

Dr. Zhaoping Li, my UCLA clinical nutritionist, says the rate is two to three pounds of muscle wasted for every pound of fat. Bug-eyed and big-bellied with fluid after four months' hospitalization for liver failure, I had legs and arms like matchsticks. I could walk no farther than one block. Me, the lifelong athlete, former aerobics instructor and dancer -- now wait-listed for a transplant.

My diagnosis seemed unbelievable: An ultra-rare disease, Budd-Chiari Syndrome.

Two years later, not yet dead, not yet given a liver transplant, I'm told by Li that I must increase my muscle mass. If I am hospitalized again, I'll lose even more muscle and might not survive.

And so I find myself one foggy Tuesday morning at a low-impact aerobics class. The instructor is world-renowned, a fitness leader. A volley of words echoes around the studio: "Oh, isn't her body amazing?" and "Look at how toned she is." I squish down memories of days when I looked that toned.
That knocked me out of my self-pity.

My rheumatologist wants me to lose weight to minimize wear and tear on my joints. My internist is opposed; the thinner I am, the higher the risk of osteoporosis. I may also not have enough reserves to survive the frequent infections. (I have had a few close calls already.)

I asked my immunologist as a tie-breaker. She looked warily and said, "Don't you have enough to worry about without developing an eating disorder?" She added, "You've given up so much, I don't want you go have to give up food, too."

I won't be going to the gym or San Diego this weekend. I caught the cold that Iris is getting over. I will send Mark and Iris to the gym as my proxy. Perhaps Mark will look like the guy in the pool photo.


  1. "This is what 41 can look like."

    Strangely androgynous?

  2. Well, yes, there are the "allegations of doping".

    There's the bodybuilders' technique of not eating citrus for one month before competition (or photo shoot in this instance). Then drink a glass of orange juice and your veins will really pop for the judges/camera.

    And this proves I really did put in a lot of hours in the weight room.

  3. Well, you don't have her retinue, do you? Also, it is her job to be that fit. You have a different job.

    I don't think I've ever looked anywhere near that toned, but there was a time when I was in pretty good shape. I weigh the same now as I did (thank you, breastfeeding), but don't look the same at all.

  4. The large retinue for athletic training/recovery did not surprise me. That she had only ONE nanny did.

    As a single mom that has to work long hours and travel for her job, she needs a great deal of childcare help. Demi Moore, who famously exercises 5 hours a day, had N+1 nannies for N children; one nanny per child plus a spare to give the other nannies time off. How does the one nanny do it? Caring for two year olds is exhausting.

  5. I'm impressed at the one nanny thing, or I am feeling very sorry for the nanny, wondering if perhaps childcare is not as important as fitness. Of course the fitness is required for her job.

    There was a time when I was in pretty good shape, although I probably only managed 10 to 14 hours a week at my most intense period. And I am not athletically gifted.

    Of course, my job now, although unpaid, allows for very little of the kind of stretches of time needed for any whole-hearted effort at training.

    Good job for going back to the gym thoug.


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