Monthly Archives: November 2012

Zero2 Hero

Anything is Possible

I mentioned briefly that I went from zero to hero when it came to sports. Ok, so probably not hero like an Olympian, but at least all my hard work paid off and I didn’t suck. Here’s my scrub back story:

Even though I have played competitive sports and, as a result been a fan of health and fitness for more than half my life; I am far from a natural.  If I were a male, I would be cast in the role of the ninety pound weakling as I was always smaller than my classmates.  Being petite for females does not have the stigma that it does for males, but it can be to your disadvantage when it comes to competitive sports.

I didn’t even start playing sports until a friend dragged me to a volleyball training camp when I was in high school because she didn’t want to go alone. (She wasn’t overly girly, but that came across as ridiculous to me like when some girls have go to the bathroom together. I grew up with a brother, so the idea of going to the bathroom at the same time to me is just odd.) Despite my misgivings based on the fact that I hated P.E., I went anyway.

When we got to the training camp at UC Berkeley, I had a nervous bladder from anxiety surrounding the fact that I would have to play a sport that I had no idea how to play. Needless to say, my bladder was accurate. I sucked. I’m not exaggerating, I was the worst one there. I often missed the ball. When I did make contact, I sometimes hit it backwards (you’re supposed to hit it forward). I fell down a lot, and even though volleyball involves hitting the floor a lot, not as much as I did and not in the clumsy manner that I did. I couldn’t even get my hand around it to throw it during warm ups.

Everyone was looking at me and I wasn’t imagining it. One time during a break when I was in the bathroom, I overheard some of the big-hair valley girl jerks talking about me.

“I can’t believe she stays,” one of them exclaimed.
“I know,” another added. “She is so sorry, I can’t even bare to look at her”.
“Yeah,” yet another chimed in, “it was kind of funny at first. But now it’s just pathetic.”

And I know I wasn’t projecting, because once they saw me; they looked panicked and averted their eyes. As if making eye contact with me would turn them to stone. Apparently, I was the medusa of volleyball and they feared that my ineptitude was contagious. Ouch.

I was dejected emotionally and physically. But I had made a commitment to a friend, so I sucked it up and I finished the camp (also I paid for it with my own money and I don’t like to waste money).

I was in so much pain after the three day ordeal that I could barely walk. My friend and I literally crawled and pulled each other up to Strawberry Canyon. Once there, we just groaned and soaked in the pool, unable to move. Swimming was totally out of the question.

After that fiasco of an experience, I made a commitment to myself never to suck that badly again. I refused to experience that kind of emotional or physical pain again. So I asked the coaches how I could improve on my own before season tryouts. I followed their advice and found that I could get an edge on my competition, by being in better shape. (Even though many of the other girls were 6-12 inches taller and had played 2 to 4 years longer). So I ran 3-5 miles every single day, rain or shine, and worked my way down to a 7 minute pace. I also did 200 sit ups and push-ups every day.

Yet, even with all this hard work, I was cut from the team when I tried out that fall. So I signed up to play off-season, and ended up a bench warmer, but I stuck with it.

The following year, I made JV as a co-captain. Then the year after that, I was a varsity starter. I then went on to play Division I in college. And I even coached a winning college team.

A few years later, I ran into one of my first coaches, who was there at the first training camp I attended, and I told her I was coaching. She was so impressed and I think a little stunned. She knew what a challenge the experience was for me. And her expression reminded me of my journey and how the decision to be a nice friend changed my life.

If you had asked me when I was 15, if I would play competitive sports, I would have thought you were high like my stoner dad and my friends’ parents. If you had asked me when I was 15, if I would dedicate myself to being fit and truly enjoy playing sports and working out, I would have thought you were crazy, like the people on Telegraph Ave.

However, if you ask me now, I would tell you, that I couldn’t imagine my life without fitness and sports at the center. I was not a natural. I didn’t get any encouragement or recognition from my friends and family.

Now I’m a weekend warrior, as we are called, and do triathlons and aquaterras (splash and dashes). In fact, if you’ve never tried a mixed endurance race, I encourage you to give one a try. Maybe you can talk a friend into going with you. Ha!  They’re very fun. It’s very liberating riding and running around in your bra. Ha!

I have never regretted making the commitment and the sacrifices are secondary to the benefits. I have learned that commitment means being willing to overcome internal and external adversity. I have learned that commitment will make you feel proud and others respect you. I have learned that with a little commitment, you can achieve a lot, much more than you might think.

The next group of interviews that I’d like to share with you are with some people who I believe would identify with or at least appreciate a good zero to hero tale.  I think most people like super heroes because they give us hope and appeal to our desire to root for the little guy and actually see him or her win.  Stay tuned for three winning tales about how to live a healthier life. And keep in mind that if they can do it, so can you. Even if you start off as the worst one there, even if you suck, even if you think you’re a total loser- anything is possible.


You Must Be Crazy- Crazy Like A Fox

I made a commitment to live a healthy life without complaining in college when my grandfather’s diabetes got so out of hand that his doctor said he could lose his leg. My grandfather was the only one in my family who was a true jock. He was a golden glove as a teen and loved to be physical. The thought of someone who could beat up men half his age, not even being able to walk was so horrific to me that I vowed not to complain about conditioning or to take my health for granted. And I am proud to say that I have kept that promise to myself (even though at times it was not easy).

I have had a few sports injuries and a few car accidents that have made it challenging for me to maintain my normal fitness routines; however, my commitment to myself has helped me be adaptable. In 2008, I was in a car accident and I was not able to do any high impact sports like running or volleyball for a number of months. Even though it was painful just to move, I spoke to my chiropractor about what I could do in terms of cardio exercise and we agreed upon water walking.

Soon water walking became swimming; shortly thereafter I added cycling. Then it dawned on me that I was two thirds of the way to doing a triathlon, so I sought out a tri team to train with so I could have guidance through the process.

The team did a lot of training rides together including one on a popular tourist scenic route along a street in San Francisco called Lombard.  The first time I did the Lombard ride it kicked my butt. It was my first triathlon season and I was riding a hybrid (a heavy bike compared to a road bike). Also, it may be worth mentioning that our coach was a no show and all of us were lost.

So right after swimming in the Bay, we hopped on our bikes to start a ride across San Francisco. A couple of miles into the ride, we started to climb Lombard (which became my Vietnam, no offense to those who have served). I was DYING on that long hill. I was just spinning away and making no progress. I started to see stars and knew that an asthma attack was on its way. I thought to myself- “Man, I could run faster up this hill! Kamala, you need to figure out a way to get your Black ass up this hill.”

So I put the machismo aside and walked. Although about a half dozen people passed me (and that is never easy on the psyche), I still managed to stay with the pack by tailing someone and speed walking.

By some miracle, I managed to finish before some people who rode the whole way and passed me on that hill as I was walking (and cursing a bit in my head because I didn’t have the oxygen to curse out loud). More importantly, I also managed to finish the workout without real drama (like a major asthma attack). Most importantly, I got my Black ass up that hill.

I am sharing this experience with you all not to toot my own horn, but because part of me felt demoralized about struggling and having to walk a bit. I’m sharing the story because sometimes knowing that other people are feeling challenged too can help more than hearing from someone when they’re at point when it looks easy. The experience really made me realize that at any given point, I can only give what I have at that moment AND that at any given moment, I will always have something to give.

Having a sense of humor and being willing to try a new challenge is so important to training and life in general. Eating healthy is so important to being an endurance athlete and a healthy diet is one of the cornerstones to living a healthy life.

The next group of interviews includes an endurance athlete who rode his bike across the Great Wall of China. Now he rides around educating people about the importance of good nutrition. He is not alone, as you will discover with the next set of interviews that focus on how to eat healthy without going crazy.

Get Some Rest

Be Kind: Gimme A Break. Give Yourself A Break.

Even though I like reading health and fitness books and magazines and talking to those who have made that industry their profession, there are a few things about health and fitness that came as a surprise to me. For example, I didn’t realize how important rest days were to training, especially endurance training. I even questioned my coach when I was training for my first marathon. Fortunately, despite the fact that I have an analytical mind, I do believe that there comes a time when you have to “shut up and put up”. In other words, humor the experts and give their advice a try before you dismiss them. I’m glad I did and as a result, I was able to go from run-walking (alternating) because of a knee issue to running the full 26.2 mile distance.

I also didn’t realize how important salt intake was in addition to water. I always thought drinks like Gatorade were unhealthy because of all the sugar, but I have now found healthier alternatives to stay hydrated and maintain a good salt to water balance. I discovered that I had hyponatremia without even knowing it or even knowing what it was, (water intoxication, basically having too much water in your system and not enough salt).  I found this out when my marathon coach warned me of the dangers of not ingesting salt with water. I had the symptoms: frequent clear urination and ditziness. And in case you didn’t know, it is one of the leading causes of death at many endurance races.

The other thing that surprised me is what a difference dark leafy greens make with my asthma. Now that I’ve learned how to cook them properly to remove the bitter taste, I love eating them even kale and collard greens (without the bacon). In case you’re curious, one of my dog park buddies shared a tip: boil them briefly with a pinch of salt and then rinse them well.

To be honest, I guess I am at a point when I realize that I am always learning something new and that I enjoy being in situations that allow me to learn and be inspired. I think that’s one of the great things about being a documentary filmmaker (oh, that’s really what I am not just a health advocate).  So I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I have come to a point where I don’t feel as nervous about swimming in open water, even though at first the freezing, murky water was my nemesis. You see even though I passed lifesaving in high school (and I think all high schools should require it for graduation); I am so NOT a competitive swimmer that it is funny.

The open water swims that I have done during my triathlon trainings have led me to find religion.  I’m not a religious person, but I swear to you that on more than one occasion I found myself praying and saying, “Oh God, please help me!”

I’m not afraid of the water, even open and know how to swim for survival, but efficiency has been major challenge for me. There have been tri training seasons when I have congregated with other asthmatics at the midway point as we treaded water in efforts to catch our breath. Cold is a trigger for my asthma and apparently, I was not alone. It got to the point that we would just look for each other because we felt challenged around the same time.

I have also found it challenging to swim straight and get used to the murky water. Swimming in water that is so murky that you can’t see your hand in front of you is quite a trip and sometimes that journey involves ending up swimming in the opposite direction from the rest of the pack. I have joked and said that I was doing Escape to Alcatraz because my “sighting” once took me about 100 yards away from everyone else.

The murk once led me to whack into a harbor seal. Now, I’ve worked with marine mammals and LOVE animals, but I was startled and so was he:

“Have no fear Mr. Seal,” I thought jokingly. “It’s not like I can catch you. I can’t even catch my own shadow at the rate I’m going. Ha!”

I’ve made a concerted effort to improve the swim leg without sacrificing the other two and I have improved quite a bit in just a couple of years. What that means to you, if you’re dialed into WIFM: what’s in it for me, is that if I can, you can. I believe that if someone can do it, then anyone can do it. I hope that you will try to have that faith too.

And lastly, I know I have to remind myself of this, BE NICE TO YOURSELF. My goodness, we’re all learning. None of us are Olympians or even close to it. (One of my tri coaches was and power to her, but the average person you see at the health food store or on the trails or at the gym is NOT). Frustration can be a way to motivate you, but don’t let it make you beat yourself up. You wouldn’t yell at a toddler for stumbling, so if you’re letting your inner-critic get the better of you- shut that b—- up! Ha!

The next interview that I’d like to share with you is with someone who really understands how to meet a challenge head on and as a result, she learned how to be kind to herself.

Balancing Act

Legs to Stand On With Your Mind, Body, and Spirit

I do have a few tips to share that I think can make healthy living easier. Here are my top three:

1)      Do something manageable and progressive. I have seen too many people go out gang busters and then get hurt or frustrated and then end up quitting or binging. I would suggest easing into an activity or diet and getting advice from someone who has successfully achieved what you want to do.

2)     The easiest nutrition tip that I know would be to eat the colors of the rainbow. That will help you pick out a variety of good produce. I also find it easier to eat and cook healthy if I cook in advance. I cook on Sundays for the week and it really helps after a long work day to have a yummy and healthy meal ready to heat up.

3)     My third tip is along the spirit line would be to set aside time at least once a week to just sit quietly and think. This gives me a chance to clear my mind and recharge. It also makes me excited for the next day or to start the week and restores my optimism.

I really can’t stress enough how important it is to set aside time to clear your head and just chill. I do think that health is really a throne that stands on three legs: exercise + nutrition + mind set. Some refer to the three legs as mind, body, spirit. The next set of interviews that I would like to share with you are with some individuals who focus on ways to incorporate having a healthy mind and spirit into your life.

All Heart

You’ve Gotta Have Heart

Even though I know how important exercise, diet, and stress management are to good health; I still find stress management challenging. I have had cortisol level issues ever since my mother’s stroke because I’m the only one who really helps her. I work to remind myself that my health is at least, if not more important than anyone else’s and that I should not feel guilty or jeopardize my health for someone else.

So I try to prevent heart disease from destroying another family by educating others about the need to take control of your health. The desire to motivate others is why I was a volunteer running coach for the American Heart Association and why I decided to write this book.

My time with AHA allowed me to inspire and be inspired. Although I can’t say that the organization or staff impressed me, I can say from the bottom of my heart that my teammates were my reason for being a part of the program. Unlike many other charity training, many of the participants in the training teams for AHA were stroke survivors. And for those who don’t know it, heart disease is the number one killer in this nation. Many might not know that babies are among the largest growing population of stroke victims. The fact that those who are hit by a stroke often do not ever fully recover is beyond unfortunate. Yet, I do feel fortunate to have run and walked along side of some true fighters who are victorious in their own right. One of my most spirited teammates was old enough to be my grandmother.

Remember when you were a kid and people would say “Yo, granny” to psych you out? Like “my granny could hit that harder than you”; or another rendition of my granny this or that. (Maybe not all of you went to public school…)

Well, I’m saying “Yo, granny!” to psych you up. Let me explain: Some of you may be second guessing yourself… Well you know what I think- what I know- YES YOU CAN!

When I was training for the marathon with the Train to End Stroke Team, one of my team-mates was an 82 year old lady named Betty. Betty was training for a half marathon. She was out each and every Saturday morning. She made it up and down the hills. She always had a smile on her face. No really. I would even sneak up on her (something that was easy to do since she was hard of hearing- Ha!) and as I ran past her cheering her on, I noticed that the smile was there before, during, and after I jogged by- yep.

Betty had had a stroke, bypass surgery after a heart attack, and a double mastectomy after having breast cancer. So what was that crazy little old lady smiling about? I think she was smiling just to be out and about, moving in fresh air, enjoying the sunshine, and feeding off the energy of her team-mates.

So, if you’re questioning if you can fight the good fight, think of 82 year old Betty.
If you’re questioning if you can get your butt out of bed and hit the pavement, think of 82 year old Betty.
If you’re questioning if you can make a healthier meal, think of 82 year old Betty.
If you’re questioning if you can find the time for you, think of 82 year old Betty.
If little old Betty can do it, I know each and every one of you can too.

And I’m sure that next set of interview participants would agree. They have all been motivated by a health scare of their own or a loved one that gave them a real reason for being healthier.

Eating Right

I have a bit of a zero to hero, ok maybe reluctant hero story that I will share with you in a bit. But the Cliff Notes version is that I went from hating PE to being a coach and playing Division I sports in college; from developing an eating disorder, to spreading the gospel about eating right. For more than half of my life, health and fitness have been on the top of my list of priorities in life. In addition to coaching volleyball, I was a coach for the American Heart Association’s marathon team.

Sports have been a huge part of my life and led me to be more health-conscious than I probably would have been otherwise. Sports have even helped me conquer an eating disorder. Like many girls in junior high I was obsessed with my weight. In hind sight, I was being ridiculous because I was a shrimp; however, at the time gaining weight suddenly as I hit puberty really stressed me out.

I had a wake-up call during a track meet when I hit a wall because I hadn’t eaten that day. I’m competitive and hate losing. I was even more competitive as a child so losing a race that was mine to win, devastated me. I swore to myself that I would never do something that stupid again. So I have taken the eating-properly-in-order-to-compete-effectively lessons that my coaches taught me very seriously and I have shared that philosophy with others when I’ve been a coach.

The first set of interviews that I’d like to share with you follow along the eating disorder theme: from eating too much to too little, to being the person who counsels others to eat better in order to conquer a serious illness like diabetes.