How to Survive the Athletic Time-out Chair

Guest post by Liis Windischmann, plus size model, world traveller and body acceptance advocate.

What happens when the athlete in you is forced to take a time out?  Whether through injury or illness, life interruption or the stress of losing someone dear to your heart, sometimes athletes get off course. It can be deflating on a physical and mental level.

Always athletic growing up, other kids went to art camp while I went to Track School. They’d come home with crafts, I came home with new tales of personal bests. Over the years, a “short” weekend bike ride would mean my parents were ready to call the police when I didn’t return within 8 hours. Like me, perhaps you’ve found that pushing yourself to the edge in a glorious pool of sweat is more satisfying than you can begin to explain to anyone.

By 2011, I had become a hardcore boot camper. My body reached a level of fitness it hadn’t been at in years. There was an important switch during this time for me – not only did I become extremely physically strong and agile, I became mentally strong again on an athletic level as well. I pushed myself more, pushed through the inner chatter in my head, and kept exceeding what I thought I could do. I was ready for anything and everything and couldn’t wait for my next workout.

I began jogging daily at my gym and grew to love it. Once I discovered that runner’s high, there was no turning back. My times weren’t great (yet) but the competitor in me started logging distances, speed and trying to regularly crush my personal best.  I began seriously working on my form.  I investigated mud runs and 5K races and in the spring decided I would be prepared for my first 5K (the first of many) by September. I was so excited. And then I fell off a treadmill one day. And my 5K fell off along with me.

In the last few years I have been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s, endometriosis and the very rare gluten ataxia.  In a nutshell, this has all taken me far off course athletically and energetically.  Weight training was replaced with simply trying to open a jar or do up a button, jogging was replaced with counting steps instead of kilometres and I contemplated regularly when and how a wheelchair would factor into my everyday life.

Throughout it all, my inner athlete kept me sane, took over and ran the show. The competitor in me was still there – I just needed to tweak the details. After a long health journey, I am happy to say I am making some serious progress as of late!

If like me, you too find yourself in a sports time out chair whether temporarily or for a prolonged period of time, here are a few ideas to allow your athletic mindset to carry you through it:

Set New Personal Bests & Crush Them

If you keep thinking how far away you are from your old PBs, you are going to drive yourself crazy. Create a new zone of reference and pat yourself on the back within that new zone.  I went from tracking how far and quickly I could jog to tracking how many minutes I could walk – the pace did not matter.  I relished seeing the minutes add up. I started marking down activity on my calendar to track the progress and to watch the level of activity increase. You may not see huge results in time, distance or performance, but seeing the new form of measurement progress will make your inner athlete smile.

Create Your Own Race & Change the Finish Line

That unattainable 5K run dangled in front of me for years. It drove me crazy wondering if I would ever be able to do one. One day earlier this winter, I decided to Reclaim My 5K and make it something that could be done in present day – not years into the future – or perhaps at all. I contacted GoodLife Fitness, a fitness company I greatly admire and asked if they would be willing to let me use their treadmills to walk 1K per day over 5 days. They were in. I made my own race number, I got people involved “on the sidelines” of social media and I bought myself a trophy and a medal. Yup. I did. And it all rocked big time. And I completed my 5K.  Claim your reinvention as a “big” race or competition – because it is. Tweak the details, ask for help, ask for backers.  You have earned it!

It's Day 2 of Reclaim My 5K. I realized yesterday that this is much more than taking back a race. It's taking back parts of me that were put on hold for years through dis-ease. It's reclaiming a mind-body-soul connection and rocking where I am right now. TODAY. I was laughing yesterday at my feet which were clomping down on the treadmill, smiling at my slow pace, embraced my wobbles when I finished and stood on firm ground. All parts of me and all actions to celebrate, all milestones. I'm not even looking at the time each KM takes. This is not important to me. Looking forward to KM #2 this afternoon! Looking forward to embracing that energy as not just an accomplishment of my body…but of my mind and soul as well. #ReclaimMy5K #rockyourbody #definebrave @goodlifefitness @katiekactive @reitmans

A photo posted by Liis Windischmann (@liisonlife) on

Concentrate on Technique

Perhaps during or after a time out you can’t do a lot of reps or you can’t do certain moves anymore. Is there something you can concentrate on that will make you feel empowered?  Instead of continuously getting frustrated with moves I couldn’t do, I started concentrating on ones I could. If my arms and legs weren’t terribly agile, I would concentrate on my core.  Hit the internet and discover new moves that will work with your current ability level. Try a new class. Pick a move or an adapted version if you have to and own it like the athlete you are.

Celebrate the “Little” Victories

My legs are now working better but my once strong arms still can’t do one push-up or hold a plank. Just recently I did a happy dance because I was able to bend my elbows – fell flat on my face but got a bend in there. Relish “small” victories like this. Brag about it to your family and friends. Tell yourself you rock. Share it on Facebook. A “small” victory is a huge victory over where you just were in ability. Each “small” victory is going to add up to a big wave of change.

Get Sponsorship

Don’t think companies just want to help out an athlete at the top of her game. Everyone loves helping someone who is willing to push their current limits. I collaborated with Katie K Active and Reitmans to sponsor the outfits for my Reclaim My 5K Race and they joined “my race team.” I was honoured to have their support and their belief in me that my race was important.  Wearing great new athletic clothing helped my inner and outer athlete merge again and can do the same for you after a time out. Looking like an athlete helps to feel like an athlete again.

1 down…4 to go! It feels fantastic to simply know this - I started my 5K! Because I made the starting line come closer to me, the finish line seems way more attainable. It's not in forever-in-the-future-land anymore! This energy feels great. Several years ago had I looked at the speed on the treadmill today I probably would have rolled my eyes and said,"Seriously?" Today I grinned looking at that slow speed. Embraced it. I now have a marker again to try to improve upon and that's not only fine, it's welcomed. More than that, I am just thrilled to be walking at that speed…at a gym…on my way to 5K! That is a whole lot of awesome. You may notice I created my own race bib. Wearing a number is part of an official race, part of the mementos one keeps once a race has been completed…and well, I just needed one! It just seemed like the right thing to do and my race would not feel complete without it. The more positive energy on my body the better I say… Even more fun today was knowing that I could have walked a little farther. I will pocket that good energy thank you very much! When I did step off the treadmill I was wobbly Windischmann for quite some time so I don't want to push things. I want to make it to Friday! I've learned in my recovery not to go too crazy - slow and steady wins the race…more specifically, the 5K. Every little victory is a huge victory. Literally, every step matters. Much gratitude to @goodlifefitness for hosting my race kick-off today and to @katiekactive for my amazing race outfit. Thank you for helping unite the inner and outer athlete in me again. Here is to reclaiming the next 4K! And here is to anyone else who finds they need to change their race and reinvent the starting line. Try it…can't recommend it enough :) #ReclaimMy5K #rockyourbody #definebrave

A photo posted by Liis Windischmann (@liisonlife) on

Get Support From Your Athletic Community

Of course getting support from family and friends is vital, but also seek out an athletic community who understands the frustrations of your current situation whether in person or online through sites like this, Facebook groups, or inspiring Instagram feeds.  Sometimes a,”Girl, I know exactly where you are at!” can go a long way towards feeling empowered.

Visualize Your Athleticism

As a young athlete in grade school, I was taught to visualize all aspects of my performance.  I was often the only kid mentally going through every step of my high jump approach and took this through to every sport I ever participated in. If your body and its parts aren’t working optimally, take them through an athletic visualization.  I made daily meditation a part of my healing process and on many days when my body just wouldn’t work, I would mentally go through movement and training exercises. I would envision my strong body jogging effortlessly, envision myself grinning looking at the exceptional time I was making, crossing a finish line. Or I might see, and feel  my body do core work, push ups, squats, lunges.  Never underestimate the power of your mind!

Appreciate Other Athletes to Nourish Your Inner Athlete

If you just can’t do anything physical or are severely limited, support a local team, cheer from the stands, gather a few friends to watch a race, or holler your appreciation at the sports channel on your TV from your couch. Buy tickets to a sporting event you have never attended or know little about. Sit in the positive energy of the athleticism being demonstrated before you without concentrating on your limitations. Cheer loudly and let the energy fuel you!

Remember, even if your body may not be demonstrating the strength it once had, know your inner athlete is one strong, amazing, dynamic, kick-ass woman! Your powerful mind and inner core is just as powerful as your limbs, as your body, and will carry you in new and interesting directions if you let it. Heal, rest, recover, reflect…and let your inner athlete take over for a while. She’s got your back….and your legs…and your arms…

About the Author:

Liis Windischmann has one foot in the sand in LA and the other on a Toronto beach. She has spent 20 years travelling the globe as a (plus size) model promoting diversity in fashion, media literacy, and body image awareness.

She is the creator of Liis on Life helping women rethink how they think about wellness, body love and style.  She believes in living a happy, healthy life encouraging others to stop obsessing about the numbers on a scale and instead be more concerned about learning to love themselves mind, body and soul…or as she likes to say,”It’s time to own your shift!”



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One Response to How to Survive the Athletic Time-out Chair

  1. Pamela Weston July 28, 2015 at 12:20 pm #

    Thank you for the ideas! A few years ago I was at my best physically and could do almost anything. Now 3 years, 50 lbs, and 3 surgeries later I am not there, but my head still wants to do what I used to do while my body disagrees. It has been frustratring to say the least! I have been celebrating the little accomplishments, but need to do it more often and just do what I can do! Your article is very helpful!

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