Age is Just a Number: Getting Fitter, Faster, And Stronger with Age

I’m turning 30. WHAT! Where did time go?? 30 may sound young to some, and old to others.  Some athletes achieve world titles and Olympic medals at 20, while some athletes cross record-breaking finish lines in their 80’s and 90’s. In fact, some people over 100 years old still compete in events like track and field. So, why let aging stop us from becoming fitter, faster and stronger? Today, I’m speaking to any level of athlete at any age about breaking mental and physical boundaries NO MATTER WHAT.

Part 1: Swag

“3 – 2 – 1 SWAG” The swim team I work with broke down an epic practice with a confident, unified (and yes, still socially distant) cheer. What stood out to me, as their strength and conditioning coach, wasn’t the speed or power generated (though both looked great, too!) but the mental fortitude that was impossible to ignore. After 4 weeks of grinding in the water and in strength workouts, these 13-18 year old athletes now carried themselves with poise, purpose, and a little swag.

When we come together with others that share a common goal to simply improve, great things can happen. Whether you’re on a swim team, in a spin class, part of a running club, or train with a lifting group regularly, the intention of the group often dictates the level of productivity. While I discourage relying completely on another person or group of people to feel validated or successful, I highly encourage athletes to engage with a peer group that will challenge them in a healthy way. Humans naturally adapt to their environment, and if that environment is pumped full of energy, focus, and SWAG, I don’t know how you couldn’t see some marked improvements.

If you feel like you’re lacking confidence, I want to challenge you to find at least one other person that shares a goal you have (losing weight, improving a skill or hobby, picking up a new sport, etc.) and commit to 12 weeks of consistent, goal-oriented work at least 3 times a week. I don’t care if it’s knitting or power walking, if you want to improve, you have to put the time in. Encourage your partner(s), make it fun, work hard and give it the right amount of time. Take a photo, write a note, or do a baseline test on Week 1 to compare it with Week 12. I would be willing to bet you’re in a better place mentally AND physically in Week 12!

Part 2: Coaching is Critical

“These results aren’t that great and, quite honestly, I know you can do better.” Elliot, my husband of 3 years, reviewed my test set with an unenthusiastic response. Elliot is my coach, and a very honest one at that. What he lacks in tenderness, he makes up for in results. While this style isn’t the right approach for everyone, it is the right approach for me. Sometimes it hurts to hear the feedback we are too afraid to tell ourselves, but hindsight is 20/20 and if he hadn’t spoken that truth to me, I highly doubt I would have committed the 10% more time and energy into the next training block. I’m happy to report 2 weeks later I did the same test and completely obliterated my previous results. He was right, even if it made me mad and defensive at first.

*I should note that both Elliot and I got into triathlon in our mid-twenties. This could be considered “past the prime” for some sports that rely on youthful energy systems to be successful. Both Elliot and myself have continuously improved year over year in some capacity since age 25. Endurance sports are certainly the way to go if you want to get into something “late in the game.” A coach is especially important for older individuals, as the risk of injury generally increases with age. The right coach will load and unload at an appropriate pace so you don’t get hurt or burnt out. If you suffer from chronic injuries, your program is probably not appropriate for you. The right coaching style and program should eliminate or decrease chronic injuries.

On the flip side, some coaches can speak in harmful and borderline abusive ways to their athletes. No coach is perfect, and every coach has at least one bad day. There are plenty of under-educated, inexperienced coaches out there sharing damaging information, and I hate that. I have personally been the victim of a coach’s personal insecurities, and it was damaging. I am dedicated to being a constructive coach that listens and pushes at the same time. You can find a coach that does both. A great coach should be able to adapt their approach to fit the athlete. My message to you if you are in an unhealthy coaching relationship is this: You are worth it. Break away, find a new team or coach that speaks truth in a way that works for you, and pushes you to get the results you want and need.

I do believe having a good coach is critical. Having  an objective, external source is extremely helpful, especially if you classify yourself as an overthinker. If you are coached by someone who has never been coached, you are in for trouble. We should only preach what we also practice. Hold your coach accountable to that. If he/she doesn’t listen to you and adapt based on your results, it may be  time to go shopping for a new coach. If you don’t have a coach, I invite you to look finding one. Any goal worth reaching is worth the time and financial investment that goes with it.

Part 3: Self-Awareness and Perspective

Not every day is going to be a breakthrough. Especially as we age. You’re going to have bad days, maybe even bad weeks. As we mature, it does get a little easier to allow the process to take time. Even so, I still have mature athletes rush their timeline a bit too much. All great things take time. Allow yourself to have bad moments or rough days. One or two workouts won’t completely ruin your timeline for achieving a goal. Heck, a bad week probably won’t either.

I had to include self-awareness and perspective as two key tools to have in your toolbox, especially if you are someone who really wants to improve on a skill or sport at any age. You may not be a college athlete anymore, and it’s really easy to look back at what you USED TO be able to do. I hate to break it to you, but you aren’t the same person you were when you were 19. What you do have now is experience, and patience. If you really want something, I hope you have the tenacity to see it all the way through. It takes adaptability and endurance. You may have to try several routes before achieving the end product you want, but the process is the rewarding bit.

At the end of our lives we probably won’t look back on the things that took us a few minutes to pick up, but rather the days and weeks we spent trying to get better at something we’re passionate about. If you’re thinking about giving up because you’re “getting too old” or “aren’t as good as you used to be” then I affirm your decision. But I won’t let you off the hook easily. Are you taking the easy way out? The response should come naturally to you. If the answer is yes, then take some time to reflect on your perspective. You’ll grow either way. If the answer is no, then maybe it’s time to find a new hobby to devote yourself to.

In conclusion, I want to thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope I encouraged you to find a community of peers that will push you to be stronger, mentally and physically, because you can have all the swag you want at any age! I hope I encouraged you to seek guidance from a coach or mentor if you don’t already have a great one in your corner. Lastly, I hope I encouraged you to give yourself grace and space to try, fail, and try again.

And remember: You can get stronger, fitter, and faster at ANY age.



It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

“No more bad news, please.” Elliot, my husband, says flatly. We’ve shared coffee and breakfast almost every morning since the pandemic pulverized our “normal” routine several months ago. What started as a luxurious adaptation became a downtrodden dose of reality, and soon our coffee chats slowly became saturated with the latest news headlines. In addition to the news and bleak reality of Covid-19, my family was struck with an unexpected loss when my sister lost her son, Titus Daniel, in an emergency C section at 37 weeks. We were at a loss for how to move forward. I don’t blame him for saying enough is enough, at least for today.

I am certainly not the first person to take to writing as a form of sad, frustrated expression during these times, and I won’t be the last. I do not have the answers. I do not have a special solution or magic “fix it” button. I do, however, have a knack for finding silver linings and I hope to share that with you.

As a kid, people used to say, “Do you want to hear the good news first or the bad news?” I always chose bad news always first. Let’s start by getting very real, and work our way into positive coping strategies from there.

Reality Check:

  • COVID-19
    • We’re smack dab in the middle of a global pandemic, thousands dead with new cases climbing daily, and no vaccine in sight.
  • The Election
    • Both American presidential candidates have demonstrated utterly childlike behavior to the world in an embarrassing opening debate, and the future of this country could not be more divided or uncertain.
  • Racial inequality rages in our faces – a problem that has existed since humans have walked the earth, if you ask me.
    • I’ll throw in sexual inequality for those fighting for equal rights in the LGBTQ community
  • Climate Change
    • The entire West coast is on fire, burning more each year as a direct result of global warming. Coral reefs are dying, hurricanes are more frequent and destructive, and we’re seeing animals go extinct as forests are being destroyed.
  • The Economy
    • … is reflecting the devastation of a deadly virus. Thousands are jobless, homelessness is growing, and there are no signs of stimulus until the virus and testing are in a better place.
  • Individual Struggle
    • As I mentioned earlier, we’re all fighting our own little battles and experiences trauma on top of the world’s devastation. Perhaps you have lost a loved one, lost your job, or are just fed up with dealing with Zoom online schooling.

Alright, now that we’re nice and cozy, lets figure out what the hell we can do to survive the rest of this year. Most importantly, you have every right to be afraid, worried, angry, anxious, sad, and/or any other emotion you’ve experienced. That’s one hefty list of awful things. Honestly, I’m not here to change your political viewpoint, or even to harp about the need to wear a mask, or the importance of recycle and flight reduction. I’m here as a fellow human being, desperate to shine light on my fellow man and woman.

I’ve listed some though process and words of comfort that have helped me during this time. Before you get into them, however, I want you to know it’s ok to have a moment, an hour, a day, or even a week where you just don’t feel like yourself. It’s fine to feel the weight of reality, as long as you don’t let it crush you.


 Coping with reality:

  • We’ve been here before.
    • Perhaps not Covid-19 and such specifically, but as a globe we’ve overcome some harsh adversities. Surprisingly, I’ve taken comfort in the idea that the world has almost always been in some state of turmoil. I’ve watched movies reliving the civil war, listened to relatives recall the AIDS, Ebola, and SARS outbreak, read books detailing the inhumanities of WWII and Vietnam. My point is: YES, this sucks, but there is so much hope! There is the ability and resilience of humankind, the same humankind that rallied to overcome all the terrors of the past.
    • If our ancestors can do it, so can we.
  • Invest in deep, meaningful conversations.
    • Share your emotions with a friend or family member. Disarm the power of these uncomfortable feelings you have by speaking about them. Letting emotions rage internally can severely affect your quality of life. If you’re uncomfortable opening up, or aren’t ready to just yet, try journaling.
  • Live In the Moment.
    • We all have an End Date. The world does, too. Regardless of your religion, we share the knowledge as a society that we will not live forever. It is not easy to hear, but this is one constant that has not changed despite the wild roller coaster of 2020. This is as true today as it was on December 31, 2019. We still have no idea when our last day is going to be, so why not find joy, love, and happiness right now? Live in the moment, THIS MOMENT.
  • Adapt
    • Simple, but oh so challenging. I know… I like to travel and give hugs and high fives and go to Costco without something covering my whole face, too (although I could get used to hiding blemishes or the dark circles under my eyes on tired days!)  Listen, I like everything pre-2020 just as much as you do. I miss it, and I hope it comes back. But you know what I’ve committed to? The idea that IF life doesn’t get back to “normal” I’m not going to waste the upcoming minutes, hours, days, months, and years wishing it was “the way it used to be.”
    •  What are some things you CAN do, right now, that bring you purpose and joy? Refer to last blog “Simple, Inexpensive, 30 Minute DIY” if you need a little guidance or a creative jumpstart. We’ve begun utilizing our local library, informally starting the Kawaoka Book Club, and I’ve enjoyed making soaps, lotion, crafty household items and breads, too!
  • Get off social media
    • I’m always flabbergasted at the total time I spend on my phone, especially social media. If I have X number of minutes to live, why would I waste it trying to impress other people? I’m happy to go online and share my resources, experiences and knowledge while attempting to stay moderately up to date on my friends and family, but I have set boundaries on both my followers and following. I have personal time limits for my cell phone, and I’m not afraid to shut my phone off or delete my Instagram app for as long as I need so I can process my emotions without the influence of anyone. I encourage you to separate yourself from trolls, negativity, and the pressure to influence whenever that burden is too great. Just click “OFF” and retreat to those in your inner circle.  
  • Fight for your rights
    • As one who is deeply convicted by the wrongdoings of society, I find I feel peace when I’m doing something about it. This could mean peaceful protest, calling Senators, educating yourself, getting into DIY, and voting. I understand that it can be emotionally and physically exhausting to engage, so fight the fight but rest, guilt-free, when needed.

I’m going to adapt, live in the moment, invest in my relationships, and have hope for mankind. I’m challenging you to speak up, turn the phone off, find something you enjoy doing, stop worrying about the future or wishing for the past, and remember that we, as a globe, have been through turmoil before and we just may get through it again. If you need someone to listen, you are welcome to email me at I am not a therapist, but I am a person who can listen. I do not know what you are struggling with, but I know you should not struggle alone. We are all going through changes, trials, and deep emotional distress.

It’s OK to not be OK.

Becca Kawaoka

“Difficult roads lead to beautiful destinations.”

Finding Joy

By Rebecca Kawaoka and Hannah Levy

In late March, when America was struck hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, I had the pleasure of virtually meeting a bright, ambitious doctoral student in clinical psychology, Ms. Hannah Levy. A young talent with a few triathlons under her belt, Hannah approached me about coaching her to gain a competitive edge in her swim-bike-run. A Stanford alum with four years of successful collegiate rowing, she is no stranger to the challenges in competitive sport. In the past six months she has built a strong, smart base despite an uncertain racing future, and with each passing week I realize how talented, hard-working, and self-aware this young woman is. I am excited, to say the least, to have the privilege of working with such a gifted yet grounded competitor. 

Recently, I reached out to Hannah for her expertise: athletes and mental health (specifically student athletes). After a candid conversation, I felt enlightened, renewed, and ready to dig deeper into my own mental health journey. Even more so, I felt the responsibility to share our discussion with you in hopes that you may enrich your movement experience. This applies to all types of fitness enthusiast – whether you’re a mall walker, home exerciser, recreational jogger, collegiate rower, powerlifter, competitive cyclist, or aspiring triathlete! 

Our primary objective is to find what brings an individual joy. Hannah specifically encourages her clients to engage in a practice I found particularly insightful. If you were to strip away all evidence of exercise would the activity still bring you joy?  As in, no data logs from a watch or timing device, no coach watching practice, no trainer during a workout, refraining from posting via online platforms like Strava, Facebook, or Instagram. If you were to take all the proof of something away, would you still feel happy and accomplished? If you responded yes, good on you for being in a self-aware and confident space. If you responded “Well…. maybe but probably not.” or simply “I don’t know” we invite you to reflect further on this thought. So, how do we emotionally evaluate our responses?

Hannah went on to explain that the idea “if no one sees this or notices, it won’t matter” is what may contribute to athletes feeling jaded after workouts and competitions. I was immediately reminded of my first-year racing triathlons. I was very consumed with what my husband thought of all my workouts and race results. My purpose was very tied into his reactions, which was not healthy or sustainable. It took a month of self-reflection, grumpy workouts, and some personal, emotional breakthroughs for me to realize my purpose in training and racing was far deeper than impressing my husband. My purpose is to challenge myself so I can constantly grow into a better version of myself. This means failing just as much as I succeed, so to lean on someone’s responses to my workouts and races is not a fair representation of my purpose, nor does it bring me long term, sustainable, daily joy. I am passionate about sharing this journey so others may experience the happiness I have found in changing my lifestyle and discovering new things about myself. This is why I write blogs, in fact it’s why I started a YouTube channel, coaching endurance athletes, and personal training in the first place!

Hannah affirmed that this experience is common for athletes. There seems to be an addiction to sacrificing things we want to do “because we have to train.” She explained there’s an unhealthy idea many of us have that if we can just suffer through this practice, workout or session, we will be happy later – after we win nationals, after we make the time cut, or qualify for the championship race. Unfortunately, as her studies confirm and as most of us can agree from personal experience, these experiences often leave us desiring another national title, another more aggressive time cut, or another qualification- leaving many individuals feeling empty and unfulfilled. 

While it’s not wrong to desire or train towards these things, our mindset has to shift from the very beginning. The mindset of success being tied to an outcome seems to be associated with a cycle of training towards said outcome, competing followed feelings of loss or depression once the outcome is reached or not reached, and searching for another outcome. Instead, what if we shifted our mindset to process-based goals and emotions? For example, one might start a training block by stripping away all data and feedback and identifying how a particular movement or sport brings them joy. From there, one can progress to more objective goals with a proper emotionally healthy and balanced mind. How might this shift in mindset help prevent the hopeless “now what?” feeling at the end of a big competition, weight in, or even a key session?

Hannah proceeded to touch on another striking point. Many athletes use verbiage like “I can’t, I have training.” This builds a negative mindset, sending a message that we are choosing a sport at the expense of activities that bring us joy. She suggests that we should avoid the mindset of limiting joy for “joy” or the glamour of giving up social/personal experiences for sport. I can’t tell you how powerful this was for me. After admitting my own experiences using phrases like this, namely when I was a college student playing soccer, Hannah comforted me by suggesting the use of private responses like “and yes/no” over “but yes/no.” She explained when offered the chance to do an activity outside of sport to listen to my inner voice responding. For example: Do you want to go to brunch and find a way to get your training/workout in, or do you want to go to brunch, but you have to train? Intrinsically, if I feel the urge to forego a training session for something, I enjoy I should identify that and make a decision based on what will bring me long term joy, which will likely bring my athletics long term success.

 This doesn’t mean I’m clear to skip every swim practice for drinks with my husband. This means I should identify what I enjoy doing outside of sport, like baking, crafts, and playing games with my spouse, and limit the instances where I sacrifice doing them for my sport. There are obviously varying degrees of appropriateness based on the degree of competition for sport, but I truly believe with proper time management, even the most competitive athletes (and/or busy parents looking to stay in shape) should be able to make time for hobbies, social interaction AND their sport. Yes, there will be times calling for sacrifice of time, comfort, and finances. Saying no to one activity is a silent yes to something else, and vice versa. The most powerful tool during these times is self-awareness and knowledge that these sacrifices will bring an outcome-based goal to fruition with the awareness we need to take care of our emotional wants and needs in return. This is especially powerful now, during a global crisis that leaves us emotionally strained and drained. Check in on yourself regularly by communicating with loved ones, coaches, and friends about how you feel. 

This led us to our final key point. We discussed the trendy obsession of pushing through emotional and/or physical pain. Often times, Hannah noted, athletes are glamorized for pushing through injuries. She has found athletes fear being perceived as weak, as sports are often associated with tones of masculinity and power. This leads to failure to communicate about nagging injuries and, in some cases, emotional disparity. It is critical to a both an athlete’s success and longevity in sport to effectively communicate about your physical and emotional status. Refrain from praising teammates or colleagues for pushing through pain or niggles. Acknowledge when you feel beat up or worn down. Openly share an accurate depiction of your training journey with people instead of a glamorized Instagram version of what you think people want to see. Tuning into your body on deeper levels while building the self-confidence to share honestly with the people you care about should help enrich your experience rather than burden you. 

PSA: Sport and fitness should never be about how many people follow or like you online, as those people will not be the ones to rush to your side when you retire and find a life outside your sport, or when the outcome doesn’t go the way you wanted it to. There is wisdom in guarding your heart by building a trusted circle to share your most intimate experiences with

I found it humorously fitting when Shania Twains “(If You’re Not In It For Love) I’m Outta Here” came on the radio immediately following my discussion with Hannah. The lyrics are quite applicable, despite being written for romance: 

“Let me make it clear
To you my dear

If you’re not
In it for love
If you’re not
Willin’ to give it all you got
If you’re not in it for life
If you’re not in it for love
Let me make it clear
To you my dear
If you’re not in it for love
I’m outta here!”

All jokes aside, I’ll leave you with this final thought: if you had one day left to live, what would you spend it doing? I hope your response leads to you find gratitude every time you get the opportunity to do the things you list. Try to strip away the data, limit the pressure to sacrifice things you love doing, minimize the noise of social media and cheap verbiage, engage in valuable conversation about emotional and physical health, and improve your knowledge of yourself. I could summarize it by stealing some of Shania’s lyrics and say: do what you love, with all ya got, or get outta there!


Becca Kawaoka

*A special thanks to Hannah Levy for her insight and time. I cherish our common goal of improving fellow athlete’s quality of life, and feel empowered when we unite to reach that goal. You bring me joy – an invaluable gift! If you are a Washington resident and would like to work with Hannah via Telehealth (video therapy), please contact the WSU Psychology Clinic (509)335-3587. Please note this is a training clinic for graduate students in clinical psychology and all of the clinicians work under the supervision of licensed psychologists.