Why the toughest CrossFit women are rarely toothpicks.

I’m no toothpick. And I’m not trying to become one by doing CrossFit.

I CrossFit because I’m thick but strong, and I like being strong, and in the CrossFit community, being able to lift heavy things is seen as something great. So I fit in.

For me, it’s a place where I don’t have to hide that I want to be powerful, strong, a superhero. It’s also a place where I don’t have to hide the generous circumference of my thighs.

I want to give every woman out there, no matter what you look like, permission to say, out loud: “I want to be a bad ass.” Go ahead, say it. I’ll say it with you. My mid-30s, mother-of-two-kids, casserole-making self still wants to feel like a superhero. No, not feel like one, I want to BE one. And I’ve pretty much wanted to my whole life.

When I was little, my mom signed me up for the Super Summer Soccer clinic. It was the early 80s and soccer was still catching on in the U.S., so I was the only girl on my team. I remember being vaguely confused about which way I should face and which goal was mine, but by the end of the summer I got the “most improved player” trophy. After the awards ceremony, one of my fellow kindergarten athletes proffered this compliment: “I don’t usually like girls, but you’re ok.” That was the first time I felt like a bad ass.

Through college and into my late 20s, I played intramural soccer. I loved being part of a team. I loved the way the better players pushed me and made me run so hard my lungs burned. I secretly imagined myself at the Olympics, the World Cup, ripping my shirt off after making a winning goal while my rock-hard abs glistened.

But I got older and life got complicated. I lost sports from my life. I had kids, a demanding job (or three) and I started to make excuses like: “I am so tired of paying team fees,” or “I just can’t fit it in at the end of the day.”

At the same time, I stopped meeting people my age that played on teams. Why is it that at 30, everyone stops playing sports and starts running marathons? I joined the herd, ran the marathons and biked the century rides and I liked it, but it wasn’t the same. I became a regular gym person. Aerobics classes. Free weights. Cardio machines. Repeat. God, it was boring.

Also, somewhere in there, I started to believe that a workout was about me carving my body into some acceptable shape. I lost the girl that played sports for the high of making a goal. It didn’t matter to me that I ran my first marathon, what mattered was that my dress size was in the double-digits while doing it.

I started hearing about CrossFit a few years ago. I did some powerlifting in college and I thought CrossFit sounded dangerous—doing heavy lifts as fast as you could. I mistrusted the weird lingo, old-fashioned, Arnold Schwarzenegger-inspired equipment and the Spartan decor of these “boxes.” Needless to say, I was not an early adopter.

But one day, my gym’s courtyard was populated by a group of very normal, but fit-looking ladies, working out. There was a lot of instruction going on—how to do a clean. How to squat correctly. They were pinwheeling their shoulders, shaking out their legs. There was a lot of encouragement, but not a lot of chatting. I stalked them for a bit. Then, I saw one of them do a kipping pull up.

I wanted so badly to fly up to that bar like she did. She looked like a bad ass. As a bottom-heavy weightlifter, nature made me for the squat and dead lift. I’d never done an unassisted pull up and I thought it wasn’t possible. But these ladies were doing it. I wanted in. The superhero in me woke up.

The rest is history.

What keeps me excited about CrossFit, even three years later, is its focus on the fun of working out, of play, of being an athlete. The CF culture values what you are able to do, not what you want to look like. Because if you want to do a 250-pound dead lift, you’re going to need the beefy legs to back it up.

For me, the reason why those lose-the-baby-weight workouts at the gym sucked was because I did them to become a different person, or at least a different version of myself. It was a chore, something I had to do. CrossFit, on the other hand, is about me rediscovering the strength I had all along, pushing my boundaries and proving to myself again and again that I am still strong and can still surprise myself. (And surprise my husband, who I text immediately every time I get a PR. His response—every single time—is “that’s my girl.”)

We CrossFit women are the high school jocks, the thick girls, the tomboys, the kids from the street who grew up tough. But it also IS for the toothpicks, the skinny girls who were never told that they could be bad assess too.

women carrying an other women workingout

Women love CrossFit, and I think it’s because it fights the odd misconception that we girls have some sort of aversion to hard workouts. Many of us would choose a hard workout over an easy one if it were more fun. We’re not all after the path of least resistance and most calories burned.

Triathlons, century rides, adventure races all appeal to the inner bad ass, too. But you can’t just walk in to a triathlon and from day one and feel like: “Holy crap. I just conquered something.” CrossFit can start giving you the gratification that comes after a long training season and a big race, but right away.

One of my best days was when I hit a back squat PR. I remember some of the girls gathered around, watching. They called me a beast. I don’t look like much; you’d never be intimated by me at the gym. But in the CrossFit community, I’m accepted as awesome during those heavy lifting days. Better yet, I have something to contribute. The girls ask me how to stand, how much weight they should go up. On those days, the girls that are slender look at me and wish they could do what I’m doing.

Other days, the twiggy girls are rocking out a billion handstand push-ups—a move where you do a handstand, against a wall, completely inverted and then try to make your body go up and down. And while I’m struggling to kick up onto the damn wall, they will come over and hold my legs up and tell me what to do.

I’ll tell you, there’s no high like the one that you get when you do something you’ve never done before. You feel it when the jump rope makes that zinging sound as it goes around twice, because another girl told you to focus on your wrists, not your feet. You’ll feel it when your chin finally gets above the pull-up bar because your coach told you to focus on rotating at your shoulder instead of pulling straight up.

That’s the feeling of being an athlete again. It’s reconfirming, over and over, that I work out for the fun of sport again. And now, doing another workout that focuses on the external just doesn’t seem good enough.

CrossFit women don’t look like toothpicks because this workout isn’t about how we look. It’s about who we are, and that looks different.

More stories from FN:
Quitter or Fitter? Tips To Stay CrossFit Committed
10 Minute YogaWOD for CrossFitters
2014: The Future of Fitness Is Here