Becoming an Athlete
Tuesday, December 3, 2013
by: Jae Gruenke, GCFP

Section: Athletes

Eileen was struggling with her training for a 10K race she’d run annually with a group of friends for many years. Her left leg was stiff and achy, running felt difficult and unpleasant. She was worried that she wouldn’t be able to complete the race, and she wondered whether she was getting too old for running. Her goal was to be able to finish without getting hurt and enjoy her group’s tradition of post race carrot cake and champagne. Curious about the Feldenkrais Method® of somatic education and hearing that I specialize in helping runners and folks over sixty, she sought me out for help.

She wasn’t a “serious” runner, organizing her life around training and races, but rather a generally active woman who ran the same 10K and half marathon with friends every year. In between, Eileen rode her horse, cycled to get around town, and took the occasional Tai Chi or Pilates class. She decided she would treat herself to Feldenkrais® lessons to celebrate turning sixty and retiring from her career as a social worker.

Over the course of the lessons, we discovered that the movement habits that resulted in frequent injury to her left leg and hip also lead to a lopsided seat on her horse. Improving her running form also improved her seat and her ability to move with the horse -– something she’d been taking Pilates to rectify without success. As a result, her horse needed fewer massages.

After eight lessons, she ran her 10K comfortably and with a better finishing time than in several years. Once she’d eaten her carrot cake, she decided she was enjoying running enough to continue doing it a few times a week rather than taking a break prior to her fall race training.

Eileen joined my weekly Awareness Through Movement® class and came for periodic Functional Integration® lessons over the course of the following year, keeping me updated on her adventures. She completed her other annual race, the half marathon, quite comfortably, followed by her 10K again the next spring and a few other races as well. She also began to explore sailing.  

This summer she purchased a small sailboat from another woman whose doctor forbade her to ever sail it again because it was wrecking her shoulders. We worked on the movements needed to move around the boat and control the sheet and the tiller in ways that distributed the effort through her body rather than stressing her shoulders. We also explored the strongest and easiest ways to pull herself back into the boat from the water.

During a recent lesson, Eileen reflected that maybe what she’d wanted all along was a career in physical education, but when she was at university it somehow hadn’t seemed acceptable to her. “Now,” she said, “I think I’m doing what I always wanted to.”

Like many of my older clients, she’d come to me in an effort to avoid losing her abilities due to advancing age. But through the Feldenkrais Method, she’d found that so much more was actually within her reach. She began to develop from active woman to athlete.

A few weeks ago, Eileen ran a 10K that she biked to an hour each way. To her astonishment, it was easy. As I write, she’s on her way to another race in the mountains this weekend-– 17.46 kilometers in the Scottish Highlands. I can’t wait to hear about it.

Jae Gruenke is a Feldenkrais practitioner and fitness professional. She is the founder of Intelligent Exercise, which offers in-home fitness and movement education to seniors in the New York City area, as well as practices in London and Edinburgh.
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