StrongFirst, Kettlebells, and Gratitude

About two months ago, I made a post titled “StrongFirst, Barbells, and Gratitude” in which I reflected on the gratitude I felt for the StrongFirst community as I assisted at an SFL Barbell Instructor Certification.

While the majority of StrongFirst instructors get the SFG (kettlebell instructor) certification before any of the other StrongFirst certs, I obviously took a different path: I have received the SFL certification and assisted at two SFL certs, and I have yet to achieve the SFG.

But, if all goes according to plan, that will change in just a few days. I have been rigorously training for the SFG for ten months, and tomorrow is the first day of the Boston SFG certification where I hope to pass all of the tests and requirements that will enable me to proudly call myself a StrongFirst kettlebell instructor.

But today is not just the eve of the first day of my cert (although that in and of itself is already a lot!)—today is also the anniversary of the day when I quit smoking five years ago.

The coming together of these two important milestones prompted me to make another #dailygratitude post that belongs on this blog every bit as much as it belongs on my personal Facebook page. And so, with no further ado, here it is:

“Tl;dr version: Smoking is bad, StrongFirst is good. However, this one is really important to me, so please take a few minutes to read it if you can.

“August 11 is always one of the easiest days each year for my ‪#‎dailygratitude‬ because it marks the anniversary of when I quit smoking back in 2011. How fitting—and how amazing!—that this year it is also the day before I step into Skill of Strength for the first day of the SFG1 certification… one of the most challenging and reputable strength and fitness certifications in the world, and the best-of-the-best when it comes to kettlebells.

“As I said last year, ‘the last [five] years have been a transformation from a sedentary chain-smoker with chronic bronchitis to a kick-ass barbell and kettlebell queen. Fuckin’ a.’

“I’ve already articulated so much in previous years about what quitting smoking means to me, but it is all the more poignant to me this year. I think back to some of the things that were so frustrating to me in the months leading up to quitting cigarettes: I could no longer enjoy hiking (still one of my favorite things to do) because of the wheezing. I couldn’t dance through a single song without getting winded. I was sick so often it made getting to work and making plans difficult. Plus, my energy was constantly low and I was aware of how food didn’t taste as good… and I *love* food!

“Then, on August 10th, 2011, a man who I loved dearly and who had been a part of my life since before I was even born (Michael Brown) passed away. Even into adulthood, he helped me in ways that he wasn’t even aware of. He sat on the cushion next to me during one of the most challenging sesshins I ever did, and his presence helped me stay centered and willing. Then, several years later… well, I’m not sure if he ever knew the struggles and demons that I was facing within myself when he allowed me to stay in the little studio apartment above the Studio, but it was during that time that I made one of the most important decisions in the interest of self-love and healing that I have ever made. And so it was that, when he passed away, I looked at my life more deeply and asked myself what more I could do to move myself closer to healing… and there in front of me on my coffee table was an overflowing ashtray surrounded by two empty packs of cigarettes and one half-full one. I knew I was ready.

“When, later that week, two of my college friends died in the stage collapse at the Indiana State Fair, my awareness of just how short life can be really sunk in. It was that week that I started making the changes that allowed me to leave the cubicle job that I was working at the time and set an intention to build a life where my career was able to reflect joy and service and to be a part of living a life I loved, not a horrid distraction from it. I had no idea what shape that would take, and certainly didn’t expect strength and fitness to be such a huge part of it, but I set an intention and pursued it wholeheartedly.

“(Side note: I did partly expect this, but I couldn’t quite believe in it yet. I made a list that night—a list that I still have, and which I packed lovingly to come with me back to Rochester—of the things that were most important for me to have in my life. One of the top three items on that list was physical health and exercise.)

“When I trained for and achieved the StrongFirst SFL barbell certification in 2014, I had hopes and dreams of some day becoming an SFG—some day. I was aware of how much cardiovascular conditioning was required not only during the certification weekend itself, but also for the training that would prepare me for the cert. I knew I was strong, and I knew I had made leaps and bounds in regards to healing my body (and, obviously, my lungs) the longer I stayed active and stayed away from cigarettes, but the thought of six to twelve months of kettlebell conditioning training leading up to being able to even conceive of taking the snatch test following three days of high-volume training seemed a distant dream.

Image source:

“I don’t know how the weekend will go. I know that the unexpected happens, and I do NOT take the difficulty and rigorousness of what awaits me the next three days lightly. What I do know is that I have done all that I can do over the last 10 months of focused training to be ready and that I have successfully passed all of the tested requirements within my training sessions—even, on multiple occasions, the lung-burner of a snatch test. And so it is that I feel that, no matter what, my achievement to date is exceptional. I am ready to go in tomorrow and, with the faith that I have in my physical training, focus more on learning the information that will be shared than on stressing about whether or not I can complete the physical tests. I know the potential for success is in me and that I’ll make the best use of my time by putting my attention to what is taught, not on fearing my body’s limits.

“(Dr. Michael Hartle has said at the start of SFL certs something along the lines of, ‘Get ready for your brain to hurt.’ I’m ready to put my cerebrum to work!)

“I’m going to close with an excerpt of what I shared in my daily gratitude two years ago, which every year becomes more and more powerful for me:

“‘What started as a constant struggle to get through one moment at a time without picking up a cigarette has become the longest stretch of time without nicotine since I had my first smoke, back when I was twelve years old. When I did finally quit, I had been smoking two to three packs a day for several years. For the first month, I would crave a cigarette so desperately it would bring me to tears… but the same tools that helped me be free of other addictions got me through those difficult moments.

“‘Back in 2005, a woman who I was just getting to know said to me, “It’s not that I want you to quit smoking, it’s that I want you to love yourself enough that you WANT to quit smoking.” That stuck with me, because the tender way she said it was so free from the judgment I usually got from nonsmokers… and I began to hope that someday I would, indeed, come to love myself enough that I was willing to put down the tools that I was using to destroy my health and my body.

“‘It took me a number of years after that encounter to set down the smokes. I am so, so grateful that—just for today, just for my love of this life and body—I have come to love myself enough to want to be free. In this moment, which is after all the only moment I have to work with, I choose health.’

“To each of you: I believe in your capacity for health, and my wish for you is that you love yourselves enough to take care of your heart, life, and body in the best possible way for you.”


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