I adore my horses. Horses eat hay. Hay is made in bales. Bales weigh about 25 to 30 kilograms.
This is how I found myself lifting 120 bales on to the back of the ute as my husband drove from bale to bale. I stack them three rows high and the top row is above my head height. Though the bales start off quite light, after a few loads in 30 degree heat, it becomes difficult. But not impossible. Never impossible.
At 47, I still relish chances to improve on my physical strength. No longer do I chase the skinny dream. Strength is everything.
Strong body, strong mind. It brings confidence. It keeps female bones strong. It will, I am convinced, carry me into old age.
Some women dream of chasing their perfect job. Some women dream of having the perfect house. I dream of doing the perfect chin up. Hands forward!
I never want to be the woman who can’t carry a few grocery bags in both hands.
I never want to be the one waiting for the blokes to lift a 20kg bag of dog food into the boot of the car.
And looking forward, I never want to be the woman who can’t pick up her little grandchildren.
From my teenage years, my weight had swung back and forth like a pendulum. Like most young women, I alternated between pigging out and dieting. Alcohol was an ever-present factor affecting my weight. It was only in my mid-to-late twenties when I started exercising regularly. Running became a daily meditation, but it was all aimed at weight control.
The birth of my first child changed my perspective. Yoga was a welcome form of stress relief and it opened my eyes as to what was possible with a strong and supple body.
I began practicing regularly and while my natural strength initially carried me through, I quickly saw smaller, older women who had amazing strength.
Plank pose was difficult after childbirth. Could I still do a backbend? Or hold my own weight in a handstand?
All these things became challenges. I was in my early thirties and went back to work part-time while caring for one and then two young children.
Over those years, the strength factor was slowly creeping into my life and the weight factor was slowly crawling out. I began running with weights.
I learned to teach yoga and was slightly dismayed that many women could not hold their own body weight off the floor.
How is it that women lose their strength so easily?
I flirted with vegetarianism for a year but quickly realised that it did not suit my body. I needed iron and protein.
I cut down on carbs and included a lot more lean protein in my diet – chicken, fish and our own lamb. Eggs, the cholesterol baddie of the 70s and 80s, became a mainstay and I still do not go through a day without a handful or more of raw nuts.
Everything I eat is now aimed at making me strong, not skinny.
After completing a book on the Pacific War, a friend asked me to trek Kokoda. By then, I was 38. Although I was fit, I incorporated more strength training as preparation for carrying a 15kg backpack over rugged terrain.
Our local mountain was a regular work out, carrying weights wrapped in towels, stuffed into my old baby backpack. I was training at least 90 minutes a day, six days a week for the four months prior to the trek.
Feeling strong, there was never a moment of doubt along that Track. Never once did I feel I could not make it. Eighteen months later, I trekked it a second time.
Since then, I have kept up my running. I have had the help of a friend, an exercise physiologist, and she worked on my strength. I never felt so proud as when I bench pressed close to my body weight. Some weeks are more diligent than others but I have now incorporated weights into every workout.
The bonus is that I have learned to eat for my own body. And since I have forgotten about painstakingly measuring calories, I have dropped a few kilos.
I would love to go back and meet my 20-something self and tell her what I have learned. I could save her a lot of time and angst.
*Gabrielle Chan is a journalist and author with more than 25 years experience. She is a regular columnist with The Australian and has previously worked for The Daily Telegraph, the ABC and the South China Morning Post. Gabrielle has written and edited Flickers of History, War On Our Doorstep and FEAST and is a member of the NSW Anzac Advisory Council. She is a qualified yoga teacher.