The morning of March 13, 2009 was like a scene out of an Elizabeth Gilbert novel — all the right ingredients for a perfect departure: no traffic on the Bay Bridge, printed boarding passes, and my son reaching out for mama’s big hug at curbside drop-off. I was hoping he would say goodbye to me like that, but I still couldn’t control the tears as I buckled him into his car seat. How could I leave my baby (he’s actually turning two this month) for an entire week? Considering my insane level of anxiety over our spontaneous decision to send me rather than my husband to an intensive WKC International Kettlebell Sport Camp in Greece, things were off to a great start. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but wonder (and worry) if I would be the only girl training and learning from legendary Kettlebell Champion and Coach, Pantelis Filikidis. How would I function in an all-male camp? Only time (and prayer) would tell…
Stepping into Coach Filikidis’ gym was like walking into a world of its own. His gym was actually quite far from Loutraki (location of my hotel); a car ride without traffic took us roughly 40 minutes. The facility looked like a much larger version of our gym (IceChamber.com), except unlike our place, there were no signs of women anywhere. At first I was too timid to ask him about female athletes, but based on empirical evidence (no toilet paper or paper towels in the “coed” restroom), it felt like a man’s gym in every way. Along the partition separating the mat space from the weightlifting area was another clue: dozens of pictures of Filikidis with his world class athletes in competition. They were all male. I knew at that moment that I was in for a great adventure.
Day after day, I witnessed “unofficial” world records being set and broken by Coach Filikidis’ top athletes. After each set, I was provided with the same technical knowledge that these athletes used to accomplish their incredible feats of strength. The tough coaches offered me an experience that one would expect to find on an Olympic development team. Each day we were all given a small taste of the intensity their athletes endure, as well as the level of commitment and time involved. I was constantly encouraged to use my full potential. …and I have to say, I was never treated like a girl.
As I sat on the ten hour return flight from Athens to NYC, I desperately tried to mentally record every lesson offered by the amazing coaches in Greece. I was honored to be the first female lifter in their prestigious International Kettlebell Sport Camp and greatly appreciate them for welcoming me into their man world with open arms. After getting over the initial culture shock (and buying some TP at the market across the street from the gym), the most important thing I realized, or rather remembered about myself, is that I do well on my own. As a wife and mother, this trip also helped me accept–without guilt–that I have always aspired to travel abroad beyond tourism. I first discovered this about myself as a young exchange student in Russia and then Cuba, but somehow I lost sight of that fearless and free-spirited side of myself as I got older. It was awesome to finally say YES! instead of next year. …and of course, none of my worst fears came to light. Traveling through Greece without my husband was easier than I imagined; my son did splendidly well with his dad at home. The guys at sport camp were unbelievably gracious towards me. The biggest reward by far has been the response I’ve received from other women (especially those once afraid to lift heavy) who now want to give kettlebells a try. Filikidis believes that one of the primary responsibilities of any great kettlebell coach is to further the growth of the sport so that future generations can benefit. If this journey to the other side of the world has inspired even just one more woman to grace the bell, I’m headed in the right direction.
I chose a short video to share with you which captures my experience in Greece far better than I ever could. Please feel free to ask me any questions about the trip in the comments section, or perhaps you’ll share one of your personal adventure travel stories with us.
MAYACHELA (MAYA) GARCIA is an accomplished Kettlebell Sport athlete, the co-founder of Ice Chamber, a successful athletic training company in the San Francisco Bay Area, and mother to her nearly three year old son, Mateo. She is a Master of Sport in the 20kg Long Cycle and a Candidate for Master of Sport in the Biathlon, a 9x Gold medalist, and is the 1st American to win an Overall Best Lifter award in the International Union of Kettlebell Lifting... more »