How old are you?
In the last 10 years, you went from not being able to walk up the stairs without breathing hard to winning a body building competition and competing at the Canada nationals track & field.....can you tell us about your journey?
Growing up, sport was part of my DNA. As a teenager I actually said, “I can’t imagine not being active as an adult”. But in my 20’s, there I was, prioritizing career and social time. Physical activity was on and off at best.
It was the longest ‘off-period” during my late 20s and early 30s that left me winded when climbing the subway stairs. That felt so far from who I was (someone who still vividly remembered accepting her high school athlete of the year award) and prompted immediate action.
Motivated by weight loss goals and the need to conquer a challenge, I signed up for a 5K learn-to-run program. I began running consistently, completed a few races and soon added a gym program to my routine. Months later I began working with a personal trainer and got exposed to bodybuilding (specifically figure competition which is a category of bodybuilding). I knew my body wasn’t built to excel in distance running, but lifting weights, that felt made for me. My heart and mind were set on competing as a figure athlete.
I had early success winning my first competition, then had my daughter. I continued for a few years more until the physical, mental and financial demands the sport prompted me to seek something new.
After flirting with powerlifting, I turned to Masters Track & Field as an answer to both my fitness and competitive interests. Once I found out that the World Masters Athletics championships would be held in my hometown of Toronto in 2020, I knew I wanted to be there! So here I am, three years into my master track & field journey, loving the sport and competing in provincial, national and world regional indoor and outdoor meets on my way to WMA2020!
What has been your biggest challenge during your transformation?
I don’t see my journey as a transformation. I see it as as a reconnection with my authentic self, or at least a significant part of my authentic self. I think the biggest challenge has been balancing the athlete with the other aspects of who I am - the wife, mother, working woman, community person, friend, etc.
How is working out in your 40’s different than in your 30’s?
I’ve been blessed in that I’ve had great quality training throughout, have learned to listen to my body and remained virtually free of injury. So physically and capability-wise, my body hasn’t felt too different based strictly on age.
The difference I’ve experienced has been more lifestyle related. At the start of my journey I was unmarried with few financial obligations. Now I’m challenged to balance more obligations.
The other difference wasn’t directly age-related but did occur smack dab in the middle. I had my daughter in my early-mid 30s so there was a period of having to recover from pregnancy and childbirth, modify my routine and adjust my expectations. By the time I turned 40, my daughter was school-aged so I was well beyond that transition period and better able to focus on a range of fitness activities and sport training.
Compare for me what your workout looked like when your started compared to what you do now.
When I returned to physical activity in my 30s, I participated in a range of activities. A workout may have included a 5K run in downtown Toronto, a spin class, dance class, boxing, or later, a bodybuilding program broken down into leg day, back and biceps, and chest and triceps.
When I started training for track & field, I didn’t have a track coach. I trained exclusively with an athletic trainer at the gym, working on building up my strength, power and explosiveness as best I could.
I now have both a track coach and strength coach. My training is very sport-specific for most of the year. I currently do speed and speed-endurance training twice a week on the track, and do one day a week in the gym for sport-specific strength and movement. Outside of competition seasons, I still like to mix things up with a variety of conditioning, yoga and other fitness classes.
I like to believe that some people are born runners, the rest of us struggle with it. Where do you sit?
Having run distance road races (5Ks and one half-marathon) as well as sprints (60m, 100m, 200m), I like to remind people of the range of running that exists.
I’m definitely not a born middle-distance or endurance runner, but I’m very suited to sprinting. With short distances, I perform better and enjoy it more. For some people, it’s the opposite.
I think we’re all born to move, and if running is something you choose, you can explore distances and terrains to see what resonates with you most - tracks, roads, trails, sprints, marathons or something in between. Either way, every type of running presents challenges as much as it offers rewards.
There’s a saying that your mind will give up before your body will, how do you push through the mental game?
I’m big on goal-setting - both long term goals and workout goals. I often push through by focusing on what I want to accomplish and reciting pre-scripted mantras. But I’m not perfect and for sure, have had times when I’ve struggled or even given up workout rep (300m repeats are particularly challenging for me). But overall I’d say I’ve beat the mental game more times than I’ve let it get the best of me.
Have you ever thought about quitting?
Yes, during every rep longer than 200m. haha
Does lifting or running have your heart?
Good question. Is being bi an acceptable answer? LOL. Right now, I truly can’t imagine one without the other. If I focused on one exclusively, my interest would only last so long. This is why sprinting is such a great fit for me. I get to enjoy both while working toward my goals. I think the cross-training has been a huge part of staying injury-free.
What do you do to recover?
I take days off, recovery weeks, espom salt baths, do contrast showers, performance care - whatever is within my means to alleviate stress and recharge physically and mentally when I need to.
What do you hope society is like when your daughter is 42?
Compassionate, equitable, full of creativity, and bursting with opportunities of all sorts.
What do you want to be doing when you’re 52?
Enjoying good health, family, the pursuit of new goals, and more time in warmer climates. And definitely making an impact, and empowering others to positively impact, the participation and representation of girls and women of colour throughout fitness, sport and wellness.
How has your attitude towards fitness evolved?
At one time fitness (e.g. aerobic classes, recreational running) was the only option I saw for regular, structured physical activity for adults. Since then, I’ve become much more aware of opportunities for adult sport participation and as a result, fitness is no longer the be all answer it once was. And while it has many merits and is suitable for many people, my personal interests have changed making fitness more of a side dish to my main entree of sports now.
I also find myself increasingly disenchanted with aspects of mainstream fitness - namely the level of consumerism and lack of diversity which stand out to me now more than ever.
What’s your superpower?
Faith in God
After I turned 40, I suddenly started to feel more comfortable my skin. Did you have any epiphanies after turning 40?
Same. I think I felt what many women feel at that milestone. Having accumulated experience and gained perspective, I felt more sure of and comfortable with myself. In a sense, it was if a search ended.
What advice do you have for someone who may be reading this and is thinking about starting their own fitness journey?
Do it! Don’t get too hung up on the details to start. Find something you enjoy (it doesn’t have to be trending or fancy) and do it however you can (it doesn’t have to be daily or costly). If you enjoy the activity, you’re more likely to do it consistently. And if you do it consistently, you’re more likely to see results. Then when you see results, you’ll gain confidence and be more stoked to up your game. That time will come, but for now, just start, have fun and see where it goes ;-)
To follow more of Debbie's journey to the 2020 World Masters Athletics Championship, check out her website: https://supafitmama.com