LockerRoom

Don’t try to be a Black Fern on day one of fitness kick

If you think the lockdown is the perfect time to start an exercise regime, LockerRoom writer Ashley Stanley has a warning for you.

It was the fifth day after I decided to exercise, and my body was still a painful reminder of my ridiculous thinking, yet again.

I had been swept up by the online craze, where it seemed everyone in New Zealand was preparing for Ironman during the lockdown. And then posting all about it on their social media accounts.

Did you really train if you didn’t share what was planned for the next four weeks in your home-made gym? Or post running summaries with sweaty, yet glowing, selfies?

No.

So, ambitiously (some may say stupidly), I chose to do the same. A workout routine posted by Black Ferns legend Fiao’o Fa'amausili seemed like a good idea at the time.

But five days post-workout, my legs still ached attempting the most basic movements (you can imagine what daily tasks require walking and squatting). And I had just stopped pleading with my two kids, on day four, to refrain from jumping on my broken body.

In other words, I’d asked them to stop being children. In the middle of a nationwide level four lockdown, when they already had limited playing space and options. All because I thought I was a Black Fern.

Ok, maybe not quite, but I thought I could kick it with the best of them.

It wouldn’t be my first time thinking that. There seems to be a recurring theme with me and rugby.

The pain reminded me of the time in 2016 when I thought I could play rugby - even though I hadn’t laced up the boots in more than 15 years. (And by laced up, I mean playing at a primary tournament when I was 10, in bare feet. It hardly counts.)

The Fiao'o Fa'amuausili workout Ash Stanley attempted on day one. Photo: supplied. 

Fa’amausili, on the other hand, not only captained New Zealand, but she’s the most capped Black Fern with 57 tests to her name, and has over 100 appearances for Auckland in domestic competition. They even named the Farah Palmer Cup player of the year award after her - the Fiao’o Fa’amausili Medal.

Her rap sheet also includes winning four of the five World Cup finals she’s been a part of; she’s an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit (ONZM) for services to rugby; and among her off-field accomplishments, she’s a detective in the police child protection team in Counties Manukau.

So on my first attempt at her workout, I only made it half-way before collapsing.

Like the opening of a rugby game, I kicked off with confidence, and the 100 squats felt good. The v-sits were helping firm up the baby belly, but by the time I got to 80 straddles, it started to feel like a first-half slump. I tried to push through mentally, but the 70 frogs broke me. My legs were now starting to buckle.

My partner suggested I stop as he could hear my knees clicking and saw my efforts dwindling. Not wanting to give in before half-way, I got through the 60 dips but my whole body was fragile. And seeing as I’m baring all, I was already cheating - I wasn’t even doing the 100 skips in between exercises.

So I went to Fa’amausili for advice she could give to people starting to exercise during lockdown. Her answer? Just keep moving.

“Start off with your body weight, walk or jog and build into it. Little progress is still progress,” she says. “If you’re moving, then you’re winning.”

It would have been good to have had this piece of good advice before I attempted her workout schedule. But unlike some athletes, Fa’amausili shares her routines to keep herself accountable and challenge her own progress. Not for beginners, like me, to copy.

To keep sane in between her police shifts, she’s also staying connected with her FIT60 crew online for training sessions.

FIT60 just so happens to be owned by another rugby legend, Keven Mealamu. Another red flag, had I bothered to check it out before trying.

But what I lack in fitness and rugby prowess, I make up for in crazy optimism and commitment, when my heart is in it.

Like that time I thought it was a good idea to play rugby and ended up dislocating my shoulder in the first regular season game.

Against my family’s wishes, I signed up to play for our club, the mighty blue and black – the Ponsonby Rugby Club. It’s the place where my dad, Joe Stanley, and my brother Jeremy have their mug shots hanging in the clubrooms - recognising their achievements as All Blacks.

Ashley Stanley with her dad, Joe, and sister Deirdre at last year's Rugby World Cup in Japan. Photo: Author's collection. 

I made the development team for the Fillies (the club’s women’s team) and played four trial games over two weekends, before the regular season kicked off with a game against College Rifles.

To my - and my family’s – disbelief, my coach decided to start me at open-side flanker, even though I’d only ever played on the wing.

It was tough. And it got rougher in the last five minutes of the game, when I got lazy and tired, and didn’t go in with my shoulder and wrap correctly in the tackle. Instead I put my arm out and their storming second five burst straight through it.

I walked to the sideline holding my left shoulder. It was a little sore, so I mentioned it to someone who came over to check on me - not realising my shoulder was pretty much bulging out near my neck.

Although it was the only option, I didn’t want to go to hospital. I felt bad taking up the space of someone who might actually needed medical assistance because of an accident outside their control.

On my arrival in the ambulance, my dad was waiting at the hospital’s back entrance. And as he normally does when one of his children is hurt - especially us four girls - he was sobbing. He started up again when they put my shoulder back into place too.

Dad insisted on staying with me and my partner, Jordan, at the hospital. Dazed on morphine, I don’t remember much of what Dad said, but as the drugs began to wear off, the serious conversation began.

My siblings often joked growing up that we would rather be disciplined by our mother than have Dad talk to us when we got into trouble. His monotonous tone and the sound of his disappointment always pierced through more.

“Bub, what did you think? That you could just walk out on the field and play rugby?” he told me. “You didn’t prep your body; you didn’t prep your mind. That’s it, no more rugby for you.”

And that was it. He was right. Going to rugby training twice a week wasn’t enough. I hadn’t prepared properly to play because my heart wasn’t in it. If there’s something I want, I usually plan for it. And I didn’t in that case.

So, the lesson I’ve taken from both of these lapses in judgement is to be realistic with your attempts at fitness goals - especially during a lockdown.

With that in mind, I’m now trying a more realistic home workout, this time from an Olympian – track and field athlete and mum of two, Sarah Cowley Ross.

Yes, it’s healthy to strive to push your limits. But if you’re starting out, don’t try to go for Black Fern status straight away – stick to your novice lane and build from there.

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