Sweat Stories: Shalon McFarlane

Let’s start off with the things I am most proud of:

1.     My name: Shalon. Rhymes with (Jimmy) Fallon. I am named after a scientist alien. Seriously. Stephanie Powers played an alien who invented Bigfoot on the 1970s show The Six Million Dollar Man, and my mom liked the name. I think my parents set me up for life with that one.

2.     My fiancé, my fellow nerd, my rock, my player 1 and my partner of over 8 years.

3.     I have an undergrad and a masters degree in Physics; see point 1. I worked on a lot of cool nanotech stuff: fluorescent nanocrystals and optical micro sensors. Plus it is also where I met point 2. Now I work in technology commercialization and intellectual property (yay patents!).

4.     I very briefly held a provincial squat record under the Alberta Powerlifting Union at 140kg (308lbs) weighing 65kg (143lbs) and ranked in the top 20 of APU’s Open Women.

To summarize: I am a female, blonde, powerlifting physicist. Lot of stereotypes in that sentence 😉

Growing up, I was always active, mostly thanks to my family: soccer, volleyball, speed skating, sports camps, bike rides in the coulees of Medicine Hat and hiking on frequent camping trips. However, I always felt overshowed by my very athletically gifted older brother (former Canadian Short Track Speed Skating team member and 2012 World Champion in the relay) and so submersed myself in the world of academia. Moving to Edmonton in 2005 to start my University life, the first couple years I struggled to find my footing both in and out of school. I was an “adult” now but away from my family, friends and the town I knew. I had to figure out this “life” thing on my own and create my own identity.

Enter weightlifting and the next 10 years of my life. I was introduced to the sport of Olympic weightlifting in 2007. The concept of only training with weights for the sole purpose of lifting heavier weights was intriguing. Previously, I had dabbled in weights as a supplement to speed skating or volleyball training, but never as a full-time fitness endeavour. Here, I found my happy place: clean & jerks, snatches, front squats, good mornings, presses, deadlifts, and of course squats (my favourite). Plus, competing was so much fun! Lifting was all I did and I loved it. Cardio? Isn’t that just lifting weights faster for more reps? And sure as hell no more than 20 minutes?

I had a brief hiatus thanks to the life-sucking power of physics degrees - I still worked out, just sporadically and weightlifting requires consistency. I switched gears and entered my first powerlifting competition fall of 2013. Whereas weightlifting has two lifts (the snatch and the clean & jerk), powerlifting has three (squat, bench and deadlift) and you get three attempts at each lift. Walking into the meet, I was extremely nervous. I didn’t have a coach like I did for weightlifting, I didn’t know anyone or what to expect as I had trained on my own up to this point. Let me just say this, regardless of what meat-head or “bro” stereotypes you may have:  the powerlifting community is one of the most welcoming communities you can step into. No one cares how much you lift, how you look in a lifting singlet (they are awful and terribly uncomfortable), your age, weight class, what you do for work, etc. Everyone is there to support each other. I had people cheering me on who I had never met before and found myself cheering on my fellow competitors. I have met some amazing people through both powerlifting and weightlifting; I can be at the gym for 3-4 hours at a time and it’s mostly due to the people.

While my lifts may be impressive, they are nowhere near the top lifters in Alberta, let alone Canada. But they are my best lifts and that’s all that matters. I can proudly say I squat over double my bodyweight and can bench more than my bodyweight. So why compete if I’m not going to win? I say, why not? Competing is a thrill and so much fun! Meet days are some of the longest, but the atmosphere is just electrifying. I’m not looking to be the best in the world, just a way to motivate myself to keep active. I have friends who train and sign up for marathons/triathlons and this is something similar: instead of training to run a race and improve a personal time, I train to lift heavier weights.

Lifting also gives me a confidence that carries over into other aspects of my life. Being a female in a male dominated field (and just the field of physics in general) I sometimes suffer the anxiety of “Imposter Syndrome”. While most of the time I may seem like I have my shit together, I’m usually faking it (aren’t we all?) and doubt myself and my abilities. But going to the gym and picking up something heavy, I can just let it all go. There is something empowering about you, by yourself, on a platform with just a bar in front of you and you just need to lift it. There is no way to describe the feeling after a gruelling grind but you stand up holding the heaviest deadlift that you’ve ever done in your life; it just makes you feel like a bad-ass. It truly is my happy place.

Gearing up for nationals last year, my body was taking a beating. My SI joints were very unhappy and I was getting weekly treatment by yoga, physio, massage, acupuncture, active release, fascial stretch therapy, you name it. National championships were anti-climactic; it was definitely a great experience, but it was not my best performance. I managed to get a total, but was disappointed with myself. Everything I had worked the previous three years for didn’t pan out to what I wanted but I took it as a learning experience for myself and my future in this sport. I decided I needed a break and went back to Olympic weightlifting with my old coach. A new gym and back to my training roots was what I thought I needed to reset my focus and maybe gear up for nationals 2018 (to be held in Calgary!).

My body had other plans. The beating my SI joints took from the previous year came to a head May 2016. Back to rehab, researching SI dysfunction issues, trying everything and anything I could to get better. Every time it started to feel good and I began to rebuild: tweak. Back to square one. Repeat. I could barely bend over at the sink to wash my face without pain let alone hold a barbell on my back. The rest of 2016 was a bit of a gong show not only with my lack of lifting, but life in general. I was still eating like I was still training hard, but I wasn’t, and of course that resulted in weight gain. I kept going to the gym, mostly just for the atmosphere and people, but I was depressed with my lack-of squatting/lower body work (I miss squats). The stress of life at the time was starting to get to me. I had lost my happy place and my outlet. Cue more eating, more beer drinking and more weight gain. Enter more self-doubt and insecurities.  

The start of 2017 brought a new mindset: this was my year to reset. Not only because I’m getting married this year, but mostly because I’m turning the big 3-0. My fiancé’s sister, Simone, had kept bugging me about coming to spin – and if you know anything about Simone, she’s relentless. Once life settled down after a house purchase, I joined Spinunity at the beginning of March. I’m so glad my first class was a Sunday spin & yoga, because anything more than 30 minutes of spin and I would have been done. I’m pretty sure I tasted blood in my mouth that first class and my first words after were “I didn’t die”. But I kept going; only because I had purchased the month pass and when I commit to something, I commit. I enjoyed the friendly atmosphere and the new challenge. Plus, I really liked the all-too-familiar burning/DOMS feeling in my legs after 8+ months of limited lower body stuff (and back pain free!).  Every class for that first month was: just get through this song, just get through this next song…

Then something happened. There is a feeling I get when I lift: you are standing on the platform, have 100s of lbs on your back, your mind just goes blank and you forget where you are. Un-rack, breathe in, hold and lift; it’s just you and that bar and nothing else matters. I suddenly got that similar feeling at spin. It was brief at first, usually only happened during a familiar song where I could zone out, but slowly each class that feeling got longer and longer. It’s an addicting feeling that I kept craving after every class was over, which just made me want to come back the next day for more.

I love the community of Spinunity, the friendly faces when you walk in and the feeling that everyone around is secretly cheering each other on; it’s the same reason I fell in love with the powerlifting community. Bonus, if I request a song, it likely gets played and I try to never a miss a Rock N Heavy Tuesday! There is something about the loud music and the dark room that just gets you in a trance. I also love that the studio is all-in-one: I get my spin, yoga and a bit of strength sessions every week; it’s been amazing for rehab! Sure, some days are better than others, but spin can be as hard or as easy as you want to make it. My clothes are fitting better (my wedding dress is too big!), my big powerlifting quads still exist, I’m back to a good eating routine and definitely feeling stronger and more confident than I’ve felt in a while. At the point of writing this, I think I’m over 80 rides in only a few short months – more cardio than I have ever done in my entire adult life! Clearly, I am addicted (things I never thought I’d say about cardio).  I have found a new happy place.

One day I will redeem myself from the 2016 nationals and I continue to be involved in the powerlifting community by volunteering when I can.  But for now, I’ll keep spinning and enjoying that sweat life.

All photos above provided by WeAreYEG.

#ridersforlife #spinunity #sweatstories