Age is Just a Number by Coach Crystal McCullough

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Age is Just a Number
By: Crystal McCullough (Follow Crystal on Instagram @crystalmac_72 )

I am officially in my 40s as I recently turned 41. As adults, what do we always do on our birthday? We reminisce over the last year. I hit that big milestone of 4-0 last year, and, of course, I had people who say stupid things to you say those stupid things to me. You know the sayings! “It’s all down hill from here” or “Don’t be surprised if the body starts falling apart”. In my mind, I was thinking what do these people really know about me?

Am I scared? If you had asked me that question 10 years ago, I would have said without hesitation, YES! But, I’m not scared anymore; I embrace it. There are several reasons why I feel differently, but one of those reasons is finding MY identify and I am proud to be exactly who I am. Almost 23 years ago, I got married, and yes if you do the math, I was a baby. At that point, you become someone’s wife. I married the Army and had to realize very quickly that, although I was married to my husband, he was first married to the Army. He had no say in when and where he was going and we just had to accept that. Most of the time, I wasn’t known by my first name, I was known as Mr. McCullough’s wife. Fast forward 9 years….I give birth to a beautiful baby boy. I wouldn’t trade being a mom for anything and Morgan has become my greatest joy, but I quickly became known as Morgan’s mom. Even teachers would call me Mom rather than learn my first name. As time goes on, if you don’t find something that identifies you, you will quickly lose yourself.

This past year has come with several changes both personally and training wise. I am now the mother of a teenage boy!! It is hard to believe we have a 13 year old! It seems just like yesterday, we holding him for the first time. My husband decided it was time to retire from the Army, so he is in the process of all that entails. Right around this time last year, I chose to leave the current team I was on and join the Mash Mafia Powerlifting team. It was a tough choice, but I can honestly say, it was the right one for so many reasons. We will be moving to Winston Salem next month to train at Mash full time, where I will continue to work for Mash Elite and my husband will slide into a JROTC job this fall.

Before I go any farther, please don’t misunderstand me. I do not define myself by CrossFit or powerlifting by any means. This isn’t what I am saying at all. What I AM saying is sometimes, we can lose ourselves in our children and our spouses and somewhat lose our own identity. I did that for quite a while and didn’t even realize it. I equate this to the parents who send their last kid off to college and they are lost, especially Mom. They have spent the last 18 years putting their children first (but, hopefully their spouse), and lost sight of their own needs and desires. They realize too late they should have had a little more “me” time. Balance is key!

Our email blows up with people asking questions at Mash Elite and one of the questions we get are from 35+ athletes wondering if it is too late to get strong or if they are as strong as they will ever get. I love answering these emails! I can use myself as an example of YES; you can get stronger at 35+! I am talking to my ladies!! Is it harder due to careers, families, kids, obligations? Absolutely! Yet, we find ourselves as moms (especially) feeling guilty for investing in ourselves. We are supposed to take care of everybody else, right?

I want to give you a history of me. I was not a Division IA athlete or some genetic freak. I’ve worked hard for every ounce of strength/athleticism I have. Both of my parents were athletes as well as my brother, but none of them played at a high level. As a child, I was always athletic and played sports. I was even pretty darn good at them. As an adult, I continued to try to involve myself in some sort of exercise, whether it be pick-up basketball or running. What I wasn’t’ was a college athlete. I had an opportunity to play basketball at a college level, but turned it down in pursuit of more personal things. I have even struggled with the yo-yo of weight gain/weight loss throughout my adult life. I didn’t really touch any substantial weight or begin any type of strength training until I was 34 and I was introduced to CrossFit.

CrossFit started me on my journey to finding myself and doing something that I love. It is even more amazing when my family and I do it together, but I have something that is mine. I have transitioned into powerlifting, but still love CrossFit and will continue to dabble in both hopefully for the rest of my life. What both of these sports have brought me are confidence, strength, and the ability to handle almost any situation. Even in my toughest of workouts, I walk away feeling accomplished, knowing that I did it, no one else. It is an amazing and empowering feeling. It is a feeling that I find a sense of accomplishment. CrossFit also brought the competitive fire back out in me I had when I was younger and it also revealed to me that I was pretty strong. It has ultimately lead me to my career and to our next step as a family.

At the age of 35, I did my first little in house powerlifting meet and ended with a 205 back squat, 110 bench, and 275 deadlift. I thought I was the shiz! Haha! I continued to do CrossFit competitively (sort of) and didn’t return to powerlifting until 2015. In 2015, I decided I wanted to be competitive in the sport of powerlifting. I have had some amazing coaches along my journey who have helped me get to where I am. Like I said, I joined Mash Mafia in spring of 2016. I had just come off of competing at the Arnold in the XPC Finals with my previous team. The numbers I hit there were 300# squat (in wraps), 160# bench press, and 335# deadlift. Since competing with Mash Mafia under Travis, I have done 2 local meets and Nationals. My most recent meet I competed in was April 8th where I hit a 320# squat (in knee sleeves!), 171# bench press, and a 374# deadlift just 1 week shy of my 41st birthday! Now, check out the difference 6 years makes. If I were in my 20s, you would automatically assume that was the way my numbers should go, but automatically question whether it is possible to get stronger in your late 30s/early 40s. I am proof, YES YOU CAN!! For more proof, just look up Jen Thompson or Lian Blyn and see they just continue to get stronger and are dominating the powerlifting world as Masters women.

My most recent meet even has me holding state records for Masters 40 in North Carolina as well as Top 10 in current rankings among all federations in squat, bench, deadlift, and total for Masters 40.

So I leave you with this:

1. Yes, you can get stronger as a 35+ athlete
2. Find a coach who knows what they are doing and listen to that coach.
3. Put your head down, work, and trust the process.
4. Don’t feel guilty for finding a better version of yourself. What I mean is don’t not go to the gym or pursue dreams because you feel guilty for taking time for yourself. As my husband says (via a Rich Froning quote), “A happy wife is a happy life”.
5. Realize that following your dreams only encourages your children to follow theirs. You are the example for your significant others and your children.
6. Work toward an integrated life. Perspective is crucial in order to create harmony in your life – by having a balance of time for yourself and time for your family. Only you will know the formula that works best for you.
7. Life will knock down even the best of us at times. Learn how to get back up, brush it off, and continue forward!

I apply all of this to myself. Some of us find our passion later in life. Don’t be afraid to follow that passion and pursue a dream just because of the year you were born.
Bottom line: stop, think about what you want to accomplish in life, and go for it. Don’t use excuses like “I don’t have time”, “I’m too old, “My husband doesn’t support me”, etc. Ultimately, those are just excuses. Realize that and just go for it!

Let’s get strong!!

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About the Author:

Crystal McCullough

40-year old Army wife and Mom to a genetic 13-year-old freak. Basketball player turned runner turned CrossFitter turned powerlifter. Crystal has podiumed over the years at 5k and 10k road races, local CrossFit competitions, and most recently competed at the Arnold 2016 XPC Powerlifting Finals as well as USAPL Raw Nationals 2016 in the Open division. Her best lifts are 145k squat, 81k bench, and 162k deadlift. She is an RN with a Masters degree in Nursing Education, a CrossFit affiliate owner, and a Mash Elite Performance nutrition coach (among other stuff). She is a member of the Mash Mafia Powerlifting team and is currently studying for her CSCS as she prepares to move to Winston Salem with her family in May to join the Mash Mafia crew on a full-time basis.

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