Movement as a first language with Anna Welsh

So far, I have mostly interviewed athletes I can neatly file into one primary category – such as cycling or running.   Even my triathlete friends can wear the “endurance athlete” label.   It is much harder to categorize Anna Welsh.

She runs, she bikes, she ice climbs, she eats pizza.  Her body basically follows whatever her beautiful mind decides.  I say “beautiful mind” because once you hear the incredible story of Anna’s family, you will understand why one of my bucket list items is to sit around the dinner table with all of her family members, and just listen.  One brother works for NASA, helping to identify earth-like planets scattered throughout the galaxy.  Another brother researches, writes and teaches about cancer research and immunology.  And her father?  I am pretty sure his life will eventually be a Netflix documentary.  This is a truly interesting family.

Anna suggested her interview could represent 50+ athletes who manage auto-immune diseases, and we will dive into that area below.  I would also suggest Anna represents “mindset”.  Determination, focus, competitiveness – all descriptors apply.   But also empathy, and an “I don’t win, the team wins” philosophy.  Quick hypothetical example of how I would describe Anna in the middle of a competition:  she’s competing in a road race, maybe 2 km’s remain.  She’s pacing a pack of runners of similar ability.  Suddenly, one runner surges past the group and in the process, trips the runner to her right.  That tripped runner tumbles to the tarmac, while the “tripee” pulls away without concern.  Anna calmly picks up her pace to come alongside the “tripee” for a calm but firm conversation.  Not liking the answer she receives, Anna discretely applies her brand of verbal beatdown, causing the tripee to question their personal definition of a shared humanity – then goes back to help the tripped runner to their feet and eventually crosses the finish line, supporting that limping runner with a huge, contented smile on her face. Competitive?  Very.  But more focused on “we” than “I”.

During the great pandemic shut-down of the commercial fitness industry, Anna added a new title to her resume: artist. Her motivational, encouraging drawings have become a huge hit on LinkedIn and put smiles on the faces of many stressed people, including mine. Two of my favorite examples:

Meet my friend Anna Welsh…

50+ years in 50 seconds

Athlete:   Anna Welsh
Home residence:  Staten Island, NY
Age:  53
Occupation when not participating in your sport:   VP of client success at ABC Fitness Solutions.
Sports/activities in order of time and preference:  Today – mostly off-road cycling, strength training and small group training.
Did you play sports when younger?   
I’ve played everything, and almost since birth.  Dad coached track, so I was running as young as five.  From my very early years, I was playing basketball and competing in track & field.   When only 12, I started strength training with my brothers.  They played football, so when they hit the gym, I would often tag along and train with them.  In college, I studied martial arts – judo, jujitsu and hapkido – hapkido being my primary focus.   As an adult, I’ve played in a men’s hockey league (goal tender) and got involved with rock climbing and later, really enjoyed the challenge of Ice Climbing. 
“Have to” or “Want to”?    This is not a decision that needs to be made.  Exercise is the same as brushing my teeth.   Would never dare to go several days without exercising. 
Current injuries:  Dislocated shoulder from a recent bike accident.
Past injuries, fully recovered:  fully recovered?  None.
Past injuries that effect today:  ACL from hockey, and later – the MCL.  And a  meniscus tear from boogie boarding.
Age when I stopped recovering quickly from injuries:  Have not gotten there yet!  At 53, I still recover as well as I always have. 
Medications I currently use:  Synthroid
Medications I was able to stop using once I started training:  does not apply

“Exercise is the same as brushing my teeth.   Would never dare to go several days without exercising”

Supplements I currently use:   I cycle through a few supplements, such as:  turmeric, cold pressed cacao powder (for magnesium), B12, digestive enzymes, and branched chains amino acids pre-workout.
Dietary choices or restrictions:  I’m a vegetarian.  If it wasn’t for my undying love of pizza, I might be vegan.  (editor’s note:  the correct label for Anna might be:  pizzatarian)
Best pizza ever:  Denino’s pizza on Staten Island.   Best.  By far.  

Does pineapple belong on pizza?  Seriously?
Average hours of sleep:  6.   I used to sleep like a magician just waved a wand.  But since Mom passed two years ago, my sleep has suffered.   Her loss was not expected, it was traumatic.  
Do you track your quality of sleep?   Yes – I use the Amazon halo.  I actually participated in the beta study.   Love it!   It’s a faceless wearable, so I’m not consumed by the constant need to look at the device. 
Greatest achievement of being a 50+ athlete:   In this covid era, it would have to be the strength and endurance to finish my volunteer shifts at the food pantry, which I refer to as my “food pantry crossfit”.  It really is demanding and very few volunteers can do what I do for the amount of time we’re there.  Extremely rewarding to still be able to lift and carry 50lb bags of potato’s, and deliver all those boxes of food – which I would not be able to do if I didn’t spend my entire life in fitness and sports.

Specific to off-road cycling

When you started riding:
Started riding after my meniscus tear, when I was 45. 

Average miles per week/month:   
I average 8-15 off-road mikes, 5 times per week.  Not on the roads, always on trails of gravel, rock, grass.

How frequently do you visit the gym?
I strength training and/or join a small group training session 3 times every week.

Bike of choice?  
I’m riding a wonderful German bike brand called GHOST.

How do you fuel your rides?  (in the bottle / in the pocket)
If I’m riding close to 15 miles, I typically mix BCAA’s in my water.  For food, it’s usually a homemade trail mix.

Any huge bucket list goals or adventures planed?    
It doesn’t involve the bike, but I’ve never hiked the Acadia national forest.  Hoping to complete the full length in ’21 or ’22 at the latest.  (3-day hike through)

Who most inspires you in your sport?  
My father.  91 yrs old, and still puts in his mileage every day.  If the weather is bad, he’ll do the stairs in his house. The man never stops.  He’s completed several virtual races throughout the pandemic.

Do you prefer training solo or with a group?  Why?  
On the bike, I’d rather be solo.  That time is a very healthy meditative experience for me.   In the gym – I love the group camadarie of the small group training sessions.   Great energy and I enjoy cheering for the rest of the group.

Favorite training / tracking app?    
Amazon halo, which also measures “tone of voice”, which I have found quite helpful.

No, never, not at all.   Has to be outside.   No interest. 

Great irritant related to cycling:   
Not knowing my limits.  And really need to learn to better gauge speed, and obstacles.  My dislocated shoulder came from a recent ride where I misjudged the trail and slid through a muddy section.

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Deeper Dive

Why?  What motivates you to put yourself through this suffering?   
Movement was my first language.  It is so ingrained, such an innate a part of my being, it’s a part of the whole of who I am – an essential part of my health.  I do it, because I am it.  (editor’s note: I plan to plagiarize this statement)   Dad was a track & field coach and a nationally ranked distance competitor.  Mom was a ballerina and professional ballroom dancer – attended Julliard and studied under Martha Graham.

Source of your mental discipline?
Both parents.  A mix of my mother and father’s mentality.  Dad’s obsession with running equaled Mom’s obsession with dancing which equaled my obsession with pizza. 

“Movement was my first language. I do it, because I am it”.

What singular achievements are you most proud of?  
Today, volunteering at the food pantry is something I immensely enjoy and very proud of finding a way to serve others during this pandemic.  But while in my 40’s, it was ice climbing!  Very challenging sport.  But – you cannot ice climb without a very reliable partner and trying to synch schedules has been hard. 

Let’s discuss injuries or medical conditions that effect your training and/or goals:
As a result of Graves disease – I no longer have a thyroid.  It was completely destroyed with radioactive iodine ablasion, so I will require medication to stabilize my thyroid levels for the rest of my life.  It took almost 3 years to find the right balance with the medication.  During that time, I lost muscle, strength and endurance.  My levels have been stable for about 5 years and my fitness is back to pre-grave’s levels.  

Outside of your sport, how do you prepare your body for the stressors of that sport?
Strength training and small group.

Recovery?  (not post-exercise, but throughout the year)
I consistently foam roll every day, and I’m meticulous with my protein intake.  Over the course of the year, I build in time for recovery.  How much time I take off from training is just according to what the body needs.

Any “non-exercise” forms of preventative care?   (massage, chiro, personal trainer, blood work, etc)
I use a TENS Unit, but not consistently.  And I have my blood tested twice per year, every year.

How healthy were your parents at your age?
Until their 80’s, they were both incredibly fit and active. 

Any family history you’ve been able to avoid?  
I’ve been able to avoid becoming a ballerina, but just barely.

The health benefits of training / competing:  is that a focus?  Or just a happy and beneficial outcome?   
Both.  The health benefits of being active are immeasurable.  I could not have accomplished much of what I have been able to do in my life if not for remaining strong and fit.

How do you feel – physically and emotionally – when you miss several days of training?
I’m at a point in my life that I can live with missing a day occasionally.  I no longer flog myself when missing a training session.

Do you find a supportive community in your sport / activity?
Overwhelmingly, the majority of people in my life also value a healthy lifestyle.  It’s one more bond we share.

Is your family supportive?
Editor’s note:  I did not need to ask this question.

Putting on your coaching hat…

What advice would you give your younger self?
To maybe lift less heavy weights.  Not to overtax the joints and tendons.

What advice would you give any 50+ individual that believes their athletic days are better left in the past?    Force yourself to do it once, and I promise you will feel better.   Remember that feeling.   Just one step.

Any final hard-earned wisdom you’d like to share to the 50+ crowd?
Being able to balance all aspects of your being:  physical, mental, spiritual will always yield the best life outcome.  Everyone will have a different ratio of those aspects, but you cannot ignore the physical aspect of who you are.

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Questions for Anna?
Include any questions in the comment section below and I’ll forward her reply. 

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