Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Taking away the measuring stick

Another day of loving working on this book...

Today I interviewed Rebecca Rusch, a world champion adventure racer, world champion mountain biker, superb endurance athlete, and, most important, incredibly warm person. Rebecca does not come by her athleticism naturally. In fact, no one else in her family is the least athletic and quite a few of them weigh in a little (maybe a lot) higher on the scale than is healthy. As a teen, she worried about getting fat; as many of us did (okay, still do sometimes), though perhaps she saw more potent evidence of the possibility in her own family's less-than-lean example. In high school a friend suggested they join the cross country running team. "You'll never get fat, and you'll get a free sweat suit." Well, both those things sounded like a good idea to Rebecca, so she joined. (An aside--I joined the rowing team at McGill in my first year for the jacket. The sad coda was that I couldn't afford the jacket when it came time to buy one. I didn't try out for the team the next year. They didn't miss my mediocre talent.) For Rebecca, the cross country team worked out better than rowing did for me. She never looked back.

Zooming past lots of great stories that I'll get to in the book, for now let's just say that Rebecca proves herself to be a champion in a series of sports (is that a serial champion?--sort of like a serial monogamist?). First she devoured rock climbing, still her first love, owning a rock gym and guiding. Then she was on the US Women's white water rafting team. Then she got into adventure racing. And four years ago she picked up mountain biking. She is, in short, gifted, not only in sports, but in being open to opportunity, and in her willingness to start again, to re-invent herself, to re-identify herself. That's a rare trait. We like to hang onto our identities. We become attached to who we are. "I'm a (fill in the blank)." "I'm the kind of person who (fill in the blank)."

When we are attached to our identity, we begin to measure ourselves in the same way. Every challenge is one we've seen before in some form or another. We have expectations of ourselves. Do you always do 5k's or marathons? Do you always do century rides? Or moguls? Have you always gotten jobs as a lawyer in a law firm? Are all the men you date tall? There's nothing wrong with same-ness, but sometimes it's good to change things up. As Rebecca says, "It's healthy to take away the measuring stick." That's how mountain biking felt to her when she started. People who knew her were surprised. She was a terrible biker. She used to pitch her bike into the bushes she was so frustrated by that section in adventure races. It still surprises her when she wins a race.

Yet, how great is it when we do something that surprises us; when we find ourselves asking, "how did that happen?" It's joyful to be a beginner, to start again, to not be the expert, to not be really good at...whatever it is.

Joy-full. Take away the measuring stick every once in a while.