Tara came to us with some CrossFit experience and committed herself to getting better both inside the gym and at home when it came to nutrition. She was able to lose 11 lbs. of just body fat in one of our nutrition challenges and most recently had fun with our 800g challenge where members were aiming to get in 800 grams of fruits and veggies per day. She also recently PR’d her deadlift by 40 lbs. and lifted 235 lbs! Besides giving it her all in the gym, Tara spends a lot of time writing poetry, hanging out with her medieval group, and sewing her own leather armor – seriously! Read more about Tara here:
Tara Spiecker (My last name is pronounced like speaker for anyone unsure)
Pharmaceuticals customer service and product quality (not my field, but it’s one of the many things I have been successful with)
When did you start CF?
The very first time I ever walked into a Crossfit gym to begin taking classes was on Thursday, November 3, 2016, when I scheduled an appointment for my “No Sweat Intro” at Crossfit Ironborough in Plymouth Meeting. I had submitted an online questionnaire in response to a local 6-week “New You Challenge” that I had seen advertised on Facebook. The challenge was intended to be an all-women’s event, possibly to look less intimidating for women completely new to weightlifting. While a good number of women did respond, there were not enough in total to have the 6-week challenge be all women, so the challenge included beginner men also. I was perfectly comfortable with this change because I had already been accustomed to sports practices alongside mostly men, despite having gone to an all-women’s college. The 6-week challenge at Ironborough was a lot of fun and was 3 class days/week (I opted for the early morning Tuesday/Thursday/Saturday schedule). My first Crossfit class ever was therefore Tuesday November 15th 2016. I still have my end-of challenge pictures from December 2016, and I was really happy with what I saw because I had some pretty awesome results. I definitely would have continued Crossfit at that time by signing up for a membership, but I happened to have just gotten the terrible news of job restructure that would bring me a significant decrease in pay for the new year, so I would no longer be able to afford classes. I was not happy about this, but I kept Crossfit in the back of my mind as something to do again as soon as I was able. Several months later, I searched for other Crossfit facilities near me to check pricing and proximity to my house, and I found Verge Athletics Crossfit, which had a Fort Washington location and offered an early enough time slot (6 am) to be compatible with my work schedule. I took a drop-in class a few times in 2017, but I could still not afford a regular membership, and then their Fort Washington location closed with downsizing. I searched again and found Kanna. I was happy to find that everything looked right with Kanna: the most conducive schedule (with a 5:30 am slot every weekday!), the best pricing yet, closeness to home (less than 10 minutes away), and a really great community. I have been here ever since my first visit on January 10, 2018!
What are your favorite numbers and why?
My favorite numbers are 4, 8, 16, 23, and 52. Reasons why are interesting and oddly all sort of connected to Shakespeare, despite the fact that I liked some of these numbers before I knew that I would like Shakespeare. 52 was the number of my elementary school bus, so it became a little special in my mind as a child, and I think I liked the symmetry of the numbers; depending on font, they almost look like one of the numbers is looking at its reflection. It was sort of neat to learn that there were also 52 weeks in a year, and Shakespeare lived to be 52 years old. I can’t think of a special reason for liking 4, but it is a nice number to me, and I like the round and “complete” feeling that it has despite its smallness and the fact that it breaks into pairs. April is also nice, and that it month 4. Shakespeare was born and died in April. Although I like fall a lot, my most favorite week of the year weather-wise growing up would always be about the 3rd week of April because the weather was usually sunny but pleasantly cool and breezy, and trees are flowering, which is always pretty. I had a flowering cherry tree in my yard as a kid and it was always blooming around then. I knew that I loved that timing in April before I learned that Shakespeare’s birth and death are both celebrated on April 23. They are both remarried now, but April 23 was also my parents’ wedding day! (These are the reasons why I like 23). 8 is neat because it is 2 4’s but also 2^3 (visually kind of 23 but also 8). 8 is also neat because it is like a compass (N S E W and the directions between), and it was also a really fun age to be when I was a kid. Shakespeare was born in 1564, and 64 is 8^2. 16 is neat because it is four 4’s and also two 8’s, and Shakespeare died in 1616.
What CF movements do you like?
Power cleans, pushpress, deadlifts, bench press, back squats, kettlebell swings, the ski machine (finally got to try it at the holiday party and I did well and also really enjoyed it), rowing, bear crawl, never done it yet in class, but I think I would really enjoy a sled/weight pull and I am looking forward to catching a class that has it
What CF movements do you dislike?
Barbell OHS, front squats, Turkish get-ups (only because it takes me forever to remember what to do next, especially if they then go in reverse – LOL), walking lunges (getting better at them though), duck walk (LOL). Burpee box jump-overs. Pretty much all of the things I “don’t like” are mostly because they are fairly difficult for me, not because I don’t like them. There are things I once disliked that I like a lot more now that I have improved with them (like thrusters!).
What sports or fitness things did you do before CF?
I was not a very traditionally athletic person when I was a kid because I really didn’t care about normal sports. Although I liked going with my dad to baseball and hockey games and enjoyed playing backyard wiffle ball and wrestling with my dad, I had no interest in playing any traditional team sports because they were not exciting to me regarding gameplay. I was really into reading, zoology, art, and literature when growing up rather than sports, though I did do a little bit of horseback riding (never competitively) and archery as a teen, and I still do a bit of archery now from time to time. I was physically strong and ok at sprinting, but that was about it as far as my self-assessed athletic abilities (my favorite field day activity was tug-of-war and my favorite recess activity was trying to push someone else off of a “balance beam” which was actually 4″ wide short wooden border around landscaping). I always came in dead last at distance running in grade school – even after the people who looked significantly more “overweight”). If you told me then that I would one day be on the path to being reasonably fit, I would have been very happy but also may have laughed at you in disbelief. I was never a “typical sports” person – I passed a hunters safety course with my dad when I was 13 and I did extremely well when my dad took me to a skeet range for the first time at 13 or 14 (better than my aunt, uncle, or dad that day or maybe in general at the range since I only missed my first shot or two that whole day as I was getting the feel for my shotgun and never missed after! Of course, I’ve never shot that well since, but that’s another story LOL.). I learned to fence late in the late spring of my 9th grade year and continued with it through high school and college, where I fenced as “A” foil in varsity division III at Wellesley, and the coach there nicknamed me “Hercules” because I was “too strong”. I qualified for New England Championships, but I didn’t progress beyond that. Fencing was the first “real sport” I fell in love with. In high school gym classes and at picnics thereafter, I found I also enjoyed badminton because fencing had helped make me decent at it. Beginning in college, I began picking up non-olympic-style fencing with rapiers, which is can be learned through historically-focused fencing organizations. The weapons are heavier than the olympic foil/epee/saber and act like real weapons with their physics rather than providing the sense that you are “playing wire tag” with the light olympic weapons that have much thinner and more whippy blades). There are more options in fighting style with rapiers too (you can have two swords, two daggers, a sword and a dagger, fencing cloaks, bucklers, canes, etc). and you fence in the round rather than linearally along a measured strip. I gradually moved into rapier fencing exclusively while also beginning to practice for armored combat. Prior to my first CF experience, I had barely done any barbell lifting, but I had done similar movements (HIIT Tabata of KBS, various pushups, goblet squats, jumping jacks, burpees, sprints, superman, etc. off and on at my medieval armored combat team practices, since I have been casually participating with that for years [since at least 2014], and following the advent of historical medieval full contact fighting in the US since its advent in late 2011. I only very recently finished getting all of my armor and started participating in armored tournaments). My post-college/post grad school fitness journey really began in the fall of 2012. I had moved back home that summer after escaping a miserable life situation. I was a very unhealthy 225 pounds (I’m 229 now, but much healthier than I was then at 225). I bought myself Beachbody’s P90X in September 2012 and did that in conjunction with frequent walk/jogs and a much better diet. By November, I was down to 190#, and looked great, but that was my lowest weight since.
How did you find CF? What was your first workout?
I don’t remember my first class workout at Kanna (will have to look up what it was if we can figure out the date of my first class). I think January 10, 2018 was the day I first visited and January 12, 2018 is the date written on my Base Camp graduation certificate when I tested out. I think I answered a lot of this question (how I found CF in general) in the section above. I don’t remember what my first workout was in my Ironborough challenge either, though I know that my first ever CF class was at Ironborough Plymouth Meeting on November 15, 2016.
What’s your favorite thing about CF?
The endorphins are amazing. I’ve been guilty of starting to giggle during situps before just because of endorphins getting me). Equally amazing are the sense of accomplishment and the feeling of just being a generally healthier/stronger/more agile person (physically and emotionally). I noticed that CF is great for my mental health because it really helps me stay positive, helps me stay productive, and helps reduce stress. Another really great thing (which I did not expect but love) is hearing from my non-CF friends that I have inspired them fitness-wise because of sharing my CF journey.
What are your hobbies?
Free time is a real challenge for me right now until I can figure out a better work/life balance with my work schedule, but when I can enjoy hobbies, I enjoy creative writing (mostly poetry, though I also have stories to finish), art, sewing (especially costuming – I do my own costuming for renaissance events), reading, hiking, fishing, (and archery, fencing, and armored fighting mentioned above). I have also acted for 5 seasons in the New Jersey Renaissance Faire (doing both interactive street character acting and stage combat [I have been in a fight show every year that I have acted, and I was even in human chess once!]). I have also done a bit of other acting as well as other theatre stuff like playwriting, directing, and set painting. I like learning new things through my medieval hobby group, such as how to tool leather and how to make parchment from hides, which I did for the first time last August! I also enjoy some more normal things like gaming (mostly on the computer). I favor adventure/roleplay/strategy type games with historical and/or fantasy flavor. I am currently working on playing through Skyrim for the first time. Gaming is also interesting to me as an academic discourse community, (“gaming studies”) and during graduate school (I have a Masters in Writing), I wrote a scholarly journal article focused on a particular quest in World of Warcraft. I also dramaturged a production of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night during grad school (a dramaturg is the informational educational liaison between the director and actors who provides useful background information about setting, language, etc of the play).
What’s something most people don’t know about you?
Regarding people at Kanna, I think several of the things above in the hobby section are unknown, like how I have done stage combat in addition to fencing. Playwriting is a big dream of mine that I have had since I was 12 or 13 and discovered that I loved Shakespeare. I then began honing my poetry and language skills so that I could imitate Shakespeare (I have gotten really good at sonnets and have even won prizes/recognition for them), and I dream of having my own acting troupe to produce original full-length early modern plays for audiences who like early modern theatre. In late summer/fall of 2017, I cast, directed, costumed, and made props for a short script (~40 minutes run time) that I wrote back in late 2011/early 2012 based loosely on the renaissance Italian epic poem Orlando Furioso by Ariosto. It was the second time I had done this, the first being back in late 2010/early 2011, when I wrote and directed an adaptation of Chaucer’s The Knights Tale. I’ve acted for three seasons in a troupe called the Known World Players and played (very successfully) a trouser role in two of those three years. I played the hotheaded young wannabe-gentleman-duelist Kastril in Ben Jonson’s The Alchemist and I played the (also hotheaded) Frenchman Dr. Caius in Shakespeare’s The Merry Wives of Windsor. I it’s neat to be a versatile early modern theatre actor (being able to play a male or female role). When acting with a beard drawn on my face, I’ve made many a friend and family member do a double-take!
What PRs or accomplishments are you most proud of?
I just got a big PR yesterday with my deadlift (235#). This one is really significant for me because it’s the very first time I have ever lifted heavier than my bodyweight (currently 229#). I also beat my prior deadlift PR by 40 pounds (it was 195). On the 12th, I got a PR of a 95# power snatch. On the 16th, I got another big PR with a 125# clean which was power but still a lot of muscle (I default to muscle cleans, so I need to work on my technique a bit. Once my technique is really honed, I know I’ll be really great at cleans, which are already one of my best lifts). On the 18th, I got a PR with a 110# Thruster! I am really happy with improvement in my upper body strength and core strength. I am not sure where my 1RM is with a bench press right now, but I know it has to be over 100 pounds (I could do a 3-rep set at 100 last June). I am still really proud of my no-sugar fitness challenge results last spring as well as my success with this past 800g challenge. I am pleasantly amazed at having been able to gain so much muscle and lose a good amount of bodyfat between my elected “baseline for this year” scan on 01/08 and my pre-800g scan on 01/30 (I lost almost a full 2% BF (1.9%) and gained 3.1 lbs of muscle in only 22 days!). Within the last month or so, I also did my first Turkish get-up. I had been introduced to them years before at an armored combat team practice, but my triceps were too weak at the time in proportion to the rest of my body for me to be able to do a certain step in the movement, and so I couldn’t do them. When they surfaced in a CF class, I did my very first ones (even if a bit awkwardly). I definitely don’t plan to do this with any of the other CF Open workouts without good reason (if I think I really messed up) but I am also proud of myself for doing 19.1 twice (because it was a repeatable one, format-wise and because I felt like I could do better than I did). I got only 133 reps last Saturday. I was trying VERY hard, but some of my wallballs were no rep because they never hit the wall and so I knew I had some wasted effort and I was SO winded – and I also wanted to try using a higher damper setting on the rower. With full bragging rights engaged here, I did 19.1 again the next day (after the regular workout too!) and beat my score by almost 20 reps! My goal was to get at least 140 (which I felt I could do), but I got 151!
What’s on your CF bucket list?
My first real pull up will be a HUGE deal for me because I’ve never been able to do one even as a kid because my upper body strength was always too little compared to my overall weight. This will be a big year for me regarding overall fitness improvement and PRs; I plan to gradually lose 50-60 lbs over the course of this calendar year with constant committed work and a good diet. Once my overall weight is less, certain movements will be a lot easier. (Scaled handstand practice is much easier at 210 than at 229, even though I can still do it). I have not often been able to do the Rx version of a workout, so I am looking forward to when I can do the Rx version at least half of the time…and then most of the time…and then all the time. I’m also looking forward to getting my deadlift above 300. I also am looking forward to one day being able to do every movement type.
What’s on your general bucket list?
Improving my fitness enough (strength and cardio) to be much better in armored tournaments and being chosen for the international women’s team (maybe – we’ll see…it would definitely be cool!), getting to my ideal weight/conditioning (this can also be a CF bucket list item), finishing my first novel and publishing it along with getting more of my writing published in general (like scholarly articles and poetry), having my own house and family and a having job that makes it easier to train (with CF and otherwise) and easier to “have a life” with hobby time. If armored combat teams ever go collegiate, I would want to be the coach for my college, since New England has the best teams and training for that. I’m also trying to find a way to be inducted into my college Shakespeare society (a big dream of mine) despite already having graduated; it’s a long story, but I have a battle plan for that in place and I just need the time to execute it. I also want to start my own art-based side business. If/when I marry and have a family, it will be a major thing for me (which hopefully can come true) because I had to get out of a really unhappy situation previously.
What advice do you have for new (or experienced!) CrossFitters?
Begin where you are and forgive yourself along the way. Don’t give up, even when you feel like you are failing. The hard work is SO worth it! Listen to your body, but days where you “don’t feel like it” might still surprise you with a PR!
Anything else you’d like to mention?
I already wrote a lot, but I really appreciate the supportive community at Kanna, and I really appreciate the amount of work, care, and planning that goes into the special things its members get to experience (like the Member of the Month “magazine” and workout). It’s evident that the Kanna experience is really thought about, crafted, and personalized.
***Kanna members: Tara’s custom workout TBD***
How does one become Member of the Month? By embodying the mission of CrossFit Kanna of Learning, Working Hard, and Having Fun. By contributing to the community and supporting others in and out of the workout. By being open to coaching and improving oneself for the sake of being better, not to “win” the workout. By just generally being a good person and having a positive attitude. And a lot more, but you get the idea!