Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Snows of Kilimanjaro

So...Africa...I've been back for coming on a month and no blog post about the adventure yet. In blog years (which are even more swiftly accumulated than dog years) that's probably the equivalent of a decade, and, indeed, it does feel like a long time ago that I reached the summit of Kilimanjaro, peaking just ahead of the sun, and then watching the light leech into the glacier and crater on either side of Uhuru as I headed back down.

Then last night I was reading, belatedly, Hemingway's The Snows of Kilimanjaro. A short story about a man, a writer even, who is dying of gangrene caused by the prick of a thorn he didn't treat with iodine some weeks earlier on his journey. He waits for death on the savannah, near the base of Kilimanjaro, while his companion, a woman he cares little for, waits for the rescue he no longer desires.

A strange coincidence.

I was back in the support van on the fourth day of the run from Mombasa to Kilimanjaro. Two days earlier I'd injured both my big toes so badly I couldn't participate in the run anymore. I felt like a failure. What had gone wrong? I'd run 30 miles the first day and 21 the second day, but something must have been strange with my gait, I suppose; some adjustment to the long miles I was hoping to put in over the 6 days of the run. Or maybe I was just a wimp and couldn't take the pain. I had blisters, yes, but worse, my toes were swollen tight, the skin stretch, the nails fit to burst off my toes. Other than popping the blisters, I'd done nothing to take care of my toes. Then, sitting in the van, as it drove slowly alongside another runner, I felt a cool drop slide down my foot. The blisters, instead of healing and re-filling, as they usually do, were seeping. I'll spare you the rest of the details, except to say this...flies buzzed and settled on my toes. David said, "Now will you put on some iodine and cover those up?" Indeed. Not to mention the double doses of Advil I started to take for the swelling. Things improved. And unlike Harry, in Hemingway's story, I was able to continue the journey. By the time we reached Kilimanjaro I was able to walk without too much difficultly, and I guessed that the uphill would be no problem and would give my toes extra time to heal before they had to endure the downhill. Fortunately, that theory worked out in my favour. And fortunately for everyone else, it's not sandals season, so no one has to look at the aftermath.

But I've jumped ahead, again. I'm giving you Africa in puzzle pieces, which will, I promise, fit together into some kind of picture by the end. It is, after all, the season of puzzles, or at least my family always seemed to have a complicated one going over this time of year.

The run--215 miles in 6 days, from the Indian Ocean to the base of the tallest freestanding mountain (19,300 ft). The roads--for the first 3 days we were on the main trucking route from the ocean serving Kenya and the surrounding African countries. Yes, it was as busy, terrifying and smoggy as it sounds. Never mind the heat. Then 2 days on a less traveled dirt road, through Masai country and Tsavo West, a game reserve. Yes, again, that means watch out for "game"! On the fifth day we crossed the border into Tanzania and the last day took us to the Marangu gate of Kilimanjaro.

My personal run highlight--Running on day 2 with three schoolgirls in uniforms, no shoes, carrying large jugs of laundry detergent and small plastic bowls (for food? they looked too small for washing). The girls (all under 14) ran about 2 miles, chatting to me the whole Swahili. So I followed suit, and chatted right on back at English. When we reached what appeared to be their school, they peeled off. Later that same day a teenager ran with me for some time, whether he was a bit loco or not is anybody's guess (our van drivers were concerned), but he was hare-fast, and popped in and out of huts along the way, always catching me up after his stops, always carrying his toothbrush in his mouth, clamped down despite his giant smile, an extra pair of pants in his hands, and his head bobbling with pleasure.

After injuring myself I spent a day wallowing in self-pity and then pulled myself together to play proper support for the other runners, and discovered that when I let go of the feeling that I had "failed" by injuring myself, I enjoyed my new role immensely. Along the way the driver, who was a bit of a professor, gave me Kenyan history lessons, so that I learned just where the Germans, crossing into Kenya from Tanzania, had laid down their arms at armistice in WWII.

Next up was climbing Kilimanjaro. And, as a friend of mine says, "This was not my first rodeo."

19 years ago I had climbed Kili, or rather, I climbed most of Kili. On the day we were to summit, my then-husband was hit with bad altitude sickness and we turned back together. So for almost two decades I carried around this thought--"I could have made it." But I hadn't. And I wanted to know. This trip was going to clear up unfinished business, or so I hoped. Well, you already know the answer, since I gave it away at the beginning.

When I finally reached the summit, Uhuru Peak, it was still dark. I first glimpsed the summit in flashes, literally. Seeing the traditional mountaintop flags and the wooden sign announcing the summit lit up in the lightning poof of a camera, then disappearing again, like a hallucination. I started crying, overcome by relief and happiness in equal measure. The shroud of darkness began to lift, and grey-eyed Athena's early morning light leaked in, barely rose, more like a black and white photo, the soft greys of the glacier, huge cliffs of ice that looked as if they had been shaved off by a giant wielding an ice pick, the crater a grey savannah, softened by a layer of misty clouds.

We hiked down to Kibo Hut (from where we'd come), and then made the decision to hike down and off the mountain right away, another 20 miles. The day was exquisitely long and unending. Far from living in the moment, I wanted nothing more than for it to end. I had done what I'd come for, and I did not have the energy to re-focus on the descent properly, as gorgeous and varied as the terrain was.

Once down and showered, after a day that had lasted from midnight to 6 p.m. already, I finally had a moment to really consider what had happened; and what I felt was a deep sense of contentment. The feeling was not ecstasy, nor that electric glow I've sometimes felt after doing something exceptionally difficult (say...Pikes Peak), but something DNA-deep, a sense of opportunity re-captured, something we so rarely have a chance at, a setting right of things, a confirmation that I could do what I'd always thought I could. The question, the scintilla of doubt that had assumed a post in the corner of my mind was put to rest, banished.

I let the new feeling settle. Become a part of me, in the way each new experience we have can cause tiny shifts in our self.



Tuesday, December 14, 2010

This Poem Rocks...

Just read this on Megan Hueter's great blog, Because I Played Sports; and had to share it. We can't have too much of this message, especially in the face of preposterous-ness like the new Lingerie Football League (I kid you not)!

Maybe It's My Fault: From a Female Athlete

(Thank you, Michael Jordan and Lebron James, for inspiring this)….

Maybe it’s my fault.
Maybe I led you to believe
That I don’t deserve to play,
Or that girls don’t belong in sports.

Maybe I let you think
That women’s sports is easy..
Or that my whole life,
I haven’t worked just as hard as the boys.

Maybe I let you think
that I’m OK with the fact
that MY championship game isn’t on TV
Or on the front page.

Maybe I let you think
that I’m happy with you crediting my dad,
my husband or my coach,
and forgetting about me.

Maybe I let you think
That girls don’t have passion.
That we don’t get mad, kick, or punch.
or get angry at the referees.

Maybe I led you to believe
That it’s OK to criticize my body, or sexuality,
And not my game.

Maybe that’s my fault.

Maybe I let you think
That instead of doing an interview,
I’d rather pose naked the cover of a magazine.

Or that I’d rather be doing yoga,
Or talking about a new diet,
Than showcasing a sneaker line.

Maybe I let you think that,
Because I like baggy clothes,
Or refuse to wear makeup,
It means I’m a lesbian.

Maybe I led you to believe
That I like to play football in my underwear,
Instead of just liking to play football.

Maybe, for some reason, I led you to believe
That I don’t want muscles.
Or that I can’t get strong.

Maybe I let you think
That it’s OK to market our events
With less effort than the men’s.
Or that it’s OK to repair the stadium during MY season
But not his.

Maybe it’s my fault that you don’t see
That holding out for a better future
Is my only motivation.

Maybe I’m what’s wrong with women’s sports.
Or maybe…
You’re just making excuses.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Barbie Be-Gone

Stuck in traffic on Madison Avenue yesterday my wandering gaze was drawn to the windows of the Barbie store and its large media screens featuring what I assume are all different Barbies, though frankly it's hard to tell the difference, other than hair colour.

I was somewhat disappointed to see that the store looked jammed with shoppers; women, of course. We are so good at perpetuating the most damaging aspects of the very thin ideal, which wreaks such havoc on our psyches. A recent study showed that girls aged five to eight who played with a Barbie reported lower body-esteem and a greater desire to be thinner compared to girls of the same age who played with a doll that had more realistic body proportions.

Don't we want the next generation of girls to grow up with better self-esteem and a stronger sense of self, whatever her proportions?

Jodi Norgaard does. And she's doing something pretty cool about it. Jodi ran track and played tennis as a child, and she still loves to be outdoors and active. She says that when her own children were small and she'd had a rough day, her husband would come home from work, take one look at her and hand over her running shoes. "I'd leave exhausted and come back refreshed!" she says.

Naturally, she wanted her young daughters to grow up with a healthy sense of themselves and their bodies, and how those two were connected. She enrolled them in the Girls on the Run program, and even coached at GOTR herself, which incidentally, I wrote about some time ago in this blog. But every time she tried to find a doll for them, the toys' messages were "grow up fast, wear short skirts and put on makeup."

No thanks.

And then her experience at GOTR and her failed efforts at finding the right doll switched on a lightbulb in her brain--and Go!Go!Sports Girls was born. While I admit I'm partial to Ella, the runner girl doll, with her crazy, kinky hair and bright orange singlet (uh-huh sounds like a mini-me), really all these dolls are pretty darn cute, whether they're playing tennis, golf, softball, basketball or soccer, or doing gymnastics, dance or swimming. That's right, Jodi has founded a company that makes dolls with a message: Be active; live a healthy lifestyle; and dream big and go for it! A message we could probably all use a little more of, so nice to have it in the house for the little girls in our lives.

These Go!Go!Sports Girls kick Barbie's ass!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sports Expanding Horizons

Today is the National Women's Law Center's Rally for Girls' Sports Day, and so I'm going to go backwards in this post, to the moment some years ago when I "discovered" running.

It's 1993 and I've just just moved to New York City. I'm studying for my Master's of Law at Columbia. I know no one, except a few people in my classes, but hardly well. More, for the first time in my life I've built up to running 10k in one go!

One day in the law library, a woman I hope to befriend asks me about my running.

“Oh I run about ten, three times a week,” I say airily. I am, if the truth be told, somewhat intimidated by her. She has run marathons, something inconceivable to me.

And really, I have only once run three times in a week, but I am determined to do it more often, so I feel only mildly guilty telling her it is an established habit.

“Wow,” she said, “You’re really serious about running, that’s great.”

I walk away feeling the pleasant pricklings of pride until I realize...oh no...she thought “ten” meant ten miles, not ten kilometers. I have never run ten miles in my whole life! I have misrepresented myself—unwittingly of course, but I am still mortified.

I go home, thoughtful. I take advantage of my student-flexible schedule. I put on my shorts and shoes, and go to Central Park. I run one loop. Ten kilometers. Or as I am now trying to think of it, six miles. I run a second loop. Twenty kilometers. That's twelve miles. My conversion math is getting better.

My feet hurt. My hips feel misaligned. Salt cakes my temples. My skin tingles and my hair stands on end. My lungs expand and open up, so that I breathe in an entire world at my disposal. I have just run the furthest I ever have in my life, twice over, and I feel amazing.

Only a few hours earlier I wouldn’t even have thought it was possible. It is as if I have opened a door to an alternate universe, my own Narnia, or Alice down the rabbit hole. What next? I think, newly plugged into a high voltage of potential. What do I think I can’t do? I’ll do that! Maybe, I think, there is no such thing as an I-can-only-dream-of list.

Sports show us dreams are possible. Goodbye "she's just a dreamy girl." Hello, "she's a kick-ass dreamy girl!"

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Run Like a Girl on Amazon

The book doesn't come out until March, but if you like to be the first girl in your 'hood to have the latest can pre-order Run Like a Girl now online and it will arrive on your doorstep in late February, likely before it even hits the bookstore shelves.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Running the Old Fashioned Way

I've been running, a lot, again. Pretending to myself that three ramped up weeks of training will be adequate for the Africa adventure of running 200 miles in six days. I am not totally dumb though. I am smart enough to be scared! But this article by Christopher MacDougall (author of Born to Run, a book much beloved by me) provided a new source of inspiration and calm.

MacDougall reminded me that what I'll be doing is really just running the old fashioned way, that is, through the veld at a moderate, continuous pace, what was in "olden times" just enough to keep the animal you're chasing in sight until it keels over, because it doesn't have the benefit of being able to breathe and sweat at the same time, as we do. And luckily for my vegetarian self, I get to leave out the hunting part. But what I get to keep is the social part, which was, as he points out, an essential key to such running.

So what I'll actually be doing is hanging out with friends for some long hours, while we happen to be on our feet.

Excellent. Any more takers?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Just Out of Sight

Conversation at breakfast this morning...

Why are we here?

Here, as in, our purpose, our raison d'etre, in this world, on this planet, walking the earth, having an egg white fritatta for breakfast.

As my partner said, it's one of those questions with a perpetually elusive answer. Every time we think we've come to a tentative conclusion, found a possible answer, it--the answer, that is--ducks around a corner, just out of sight again, so that we have to pursue the same or a new line of reasoning again, until...wait...there...just beyond our field of vision or understanding...we glimpse the answer again.

Frustrating. Provocative. Energizing.

Even without the answer, we know when what we're doing is NOT our reason for being here, right? We know when we are killing time or covering over time or filling the minutes until...until what? Until the next thing that's more "real" than our present state of being?

Sometimes we use our sports in this way, as fillers, as cover-uppers, as paste on pain patches to help us forget other things, as means to an end, not an end in themselves. There's nothing wrong with that. Sports are so much better fillers than too many other things.

Yet, don't lose sight of the other way we use our sports--as a pure source of joy in itself, a way of being, of connecting with ourselves and the energy of others and, I'll say it, the energy of the universe.

Why are we here?

I don't quite know, but let's make the most of it!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Why Do Women Athletes Have to be Celebrities?

Jill Smoller, the head of the Sports/Entertainment Division at the William Morris Agency took some heat today at a lunch hosted by the Wellesley Centers for Women on the topic of Women and Sports. She talked about the need for women athletes (unlike male athletes) also to be celebrities, if they are to garner the attention necessary to get the much sought-after endorsements, which are many athletes primary livelihoods. The example she used was one of her own top-knotch clients, Serena Williams, who, she says, needs to get out in the media for much more than her tennis skills, if she is going to be noticed and command the attention (and sponsorship) that she does.

Serena's soon-to-be-announced new sponsor?--OPI. Yes, I mean the nail polish company. Serena, known for her long nails on the court, engaged in a specific strategy to highlight her personal affection for a good manicure to woo that sponsor. And Jill Smoller (who, one imagines, was instrumental in that media strategy) says that's exactly how it needs to be for women. She pointed out that corporate America (aka the sponsors) still requires that women athletes be attractive and feminine.

There was an audible rumble in the room. But as others astutely pointed out, let's not be too quick to blame corporate America, because until we women start to value women athletes more (by going to their games, by demanding more women's sports coverage, by holding out for Nike basketball shoes that are named for a woman basketball star and not a man, and by generally valuing a broader range of athletic women), then there's no reason for corporate America to change.

We have market power. We just aren't using it! Why not?

This called to mind an article I once read about a union organizer who continued to shop at WalMart, though that act went against all his union politics (Walmart being quite renowned for its union busting and oppressive supplier policies). Why did he do it? Because shopping at WalMart was easy and cheap.

Indeed. It's a lot easier to accept the status quo, than it is to change things, especially if changing things means personal, though possibly temporary, deprivation (as in, I won't buy Nike products because the company doesn't support women athletes at the same level it does male athletes; or, I'm going to a WNBA game by myself, instead of the usual NBA game with my boyfriend/husband/partner/lover/father/brother/etc...because he won't come to the women's game with me).

Instead of rumbling at Jill Smoller's possibly incendiary comments, let's make change!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Running in Africa

Of late you may have noticed a theme about trying new's one more--my partner and I have decided, somewhat spontaneously (aka precipitously and at the last minute) to join a fundraising run and hike in Kenya and Tanzania. We are embarking on this adventure to promote AIDS awareness and raise funds to build the first and largest, public children’s hospital in Sub Saharan Africa; a continent where child mortality is a modern day atrocity we need to address.

Starting on November 21st (yes, I do mean in a month!), we are going to join Toby Tanser, CEO and Founder of Shoe4Africa and our long-time friend Rodney Cutler (who we met through running more than 15 years ago), on a run from Mombasa to the base of Kilimanjaro (200 miles in 6 days), and from there hike up that mountain.

Shoe4Africa is a fantastic organization, committed not only to building this children’s hospital in Kenya, but also to the empowerment of African women, as the key to the future. Indeed!

I would be deeply honoured if you would sponsor us in this undertaking, and contribute to this important Shoe4Africa initiative.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Sumo For Girls...

In an interesting twist of fate, at the same moment that women are fighting to get ski jumping approved as an Olympic sport for us (NY Benefit to raise money for the campaign is tomorrow night!)--it being the last male-only bastion in the Olympic games--Sumo wrestling is making a bid to become an Olympic sport. The rub--new sports are not allowed in unless they have men's and women's competitions. (Ski jumping was "grandfathered," and therefore not subject to that now-rule.) So...the International Sumo Federation has put its weight behind women's sumo wrestling--not the usual bedfellows. Here's more from the New York Times today.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Invisible Skin

A grey morning and my first great run since August (who knows if it really was--but in my mind and body, that's what it felt like). Shorts and a long sleeve shirt pulled halfway over my hands, my favourite combination. The morning damp and cool, but once I shake off the shivers and get going, I'm encased in my invisible heat skin--that gorgeous warm envelope that develops during a good workout on a chill morning. And inside, energy reserves that feel deep and solid. A rare morning. I take note.

Monday, October 18, 2010

A Moving Kind of Girl

I think of myself as a "moving kind of girl," to quote Lois, a woman I interviewed for Run Like a Girl (which, by the way, is moving along nicely toward its pub date of March 2011--yippee). To that end, as you know, I've been exploring new "moving" possibilities, some alternative ways to stir the blood around and, hopefully, get a little stronger for my first loves (and yes, I do mean that to be plural--I am not a monogamous athlete)--running, cycling, xc skiing and more.

This line of "research" has led me to quite a few fitness classes, some of which you've heard about already. There's more--my research is becoming exhaustive, if not plain exhausting. Added to the list are: Zumba and Pole Dancing. Yes. I have just owned up to taking a pole dancing class.

So, research results are...

First, pole dancing. Not for me. I'm not saying it's not a workout--it certainly can be. There's no doubt that pursued diligently, it will lengthen and strengthen. But how strange it felt to be dedicating my workout to learning moves for the Bada-Bing Club, or whatever the strip club on the Sopranos was called. As I understand it, the workout should make me feel more sexy. Not in my case (though I will not speak for other women's experience on this topic). Quite the opposite in fact. I felt like I was training myself to be even more of an object than society already imposes on women.

What the workout did do was force me to ask myself what made me feel sexy? Running fast, check. Blowing off a group of guys on the bike, check. High heels, check. Rubbing my crotch again a pole, not so much. Good things to know.

Who we are is how we move--I need to move in the ways that define me, not the way men's fantasies define.

Next fitness class adventure was Zumba--a mish mash of latin dances, which are fitness-class-ified.

The pros: I love dancing. Latin dance is especially fun. Causes spontaneous smiling. The tunes are groovy.

The cons: A gym is still a gym (it's just not my thing, as hard as I try, there's something about the smell). Hybridizing dance and workout adulterates both and improves neither. Reminded me how "stiff" I am (as in, in the middle of a workout should I really be thinking to myself--this would be better after a glass of wine?).

So, sadly, I didn't find my new BFF workout in either of these alternatives.

But I did remember how fun dancing was (note to self, must seek out dancing opportunities); and once again came face to face with the question of what makes me feel good and feel good about myself.

ps. I ran the morning after the Zumba class, and the crisping autumn air, the trees on the verge of turning and the gorgeous feeling of my legs carrying me along filled me with an enormous sense of pleasure and belonging.

Not that it's a surprise, but sometimes the biggest benefit of trying new things, is the all important reminder of how much we love the old things. What keeps life interesting is the constant dance of balance between staying open to possibility, and being true to ourselves. Sometimes the latter can mask staleness and rigidity--"Oh, I know I wouldn't like..." And sometimes the former can mask insecurity or fuzziness--"Everyone else is doing it, I should do it." But what do you really want?

Know who you are and do what you are. And know that may change.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Mary Carillo Won't Ask About Nails or Hemlines

I saw Mary Carillo speak at a WISE breakfast. No TV weather bunny, she defines smart, straight talking. Listening to her speak is like standing in a brisk breeze--refreshing and invigorating. Two things she talked about particularly struck me.

One--she's lived her life very much following the first rule of improv--always say "yes." (A rule I learned recently in an acting class I decided to take on a whim.) When asked why she had done such an incredibly wide range of broadcasting, Mary answered, "Because I say yes!"

Note to self--the right answer is "yes."

The second thing I loved was her attitude on women's sports. She detests, for example, that women tennis players, but not men, are now allowed to be coached mid-game. Worse still, a lot of those coaches are the players' "daddy." "The men don't do that," Mary says. (And can you even imagine some male tennis player's mother getting in on his game?) "A lot of the women tennis players need to take their sport more seriously. We only have our athletic bodies for so long. We ought to use them to the fullest while we can. I am not going ask Serena about her nails or hemlines. I want her to play more tennis!"

Oh yes.

If we don't take ourselves seriously, why should others?

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Olympic Equality--the fight continues

Ski jumping is the only discipline in the Summer and Winter Games in which the International Olympic Committee (IOC) does not allow women to compete.

The rationales?
1) The field isn't deep enough. Lame--the field will get deeper once it's an olympic sport. Opportunities to engage in a sport are necessary to build it's base (as I'm sure most of the other sports in the Olympics have proven).
2) Ski jumping might shake up our delicate "woman parts." Whatever--because men don't have any delicate parts? No need to say more.
3) Because women, being naturally lighter, might actually give men a run for their money in the sport. True--but not a reason the IOC gives, of course.

What can we do to change this situation?

Well, for starters we can attend the Join the Journey benefit next Thursday night, October 21, in New York to raise money and awareness for the campaign to get ski jumping into the Olympics.

Cool--a thing we can actually do to advance women's sports.

espnW and Walt Whitman

It's all over women's sports news, and that's the point of course--why do we need a women-dedicated sports media outlet? I'll let Laura Gentile (of espnW) answer with her opening remarks from the recent retreat espnW hosted with for a star studded group of women who love sports.

And, in case you don't have time to read her remarks, I just had to pull out this stanza she quoted from Walt Whitman's, Leaves of Grass, predicting the coming of a race of "fierce and athletic girls," who:

"Are not one jot less than I am,
They are tann'd in the face by suns and blowing winds,
Their flesh has the old divine suppleness and strength,
They know how to swim, row, ride, wrestle,
Shoot, run, strike,
Retreat, advance, resist,
Defend themselves,
They are ultimate in their own right -
They are calm, clear, well-possess'd of themselves."

We are ultimate in our own right--indeed!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Why do we workout?

I've been feeling burned out--long summer of training for a long race.

I need a change, probably temporary, but a break from the usual running, biking etc. regime.

Looking for the fresh, I tried a new workout yesterday morning. It's called the Nalini method--but elsewhere in NYC (and, I gather, LA and other like locales) a similar workout is variously called Physique 57 (which I tried this morning) or Core Fusion. The workout is billed as a combination of yoga, pilates, barre work (i.e. ballet), strength and resistance training, with, it seems to me, some boot camp thrown in. All this will make me longer and leaner--I wish.

Or do I really? Is that even why I workout?

I'm not usually a class person (so is it really the change I'm resisting?), except for yoga, but somehow that doesn't feel like a "class" in the same way. The yoga I traditionally take focuses on alignment and calming the mind. For me, yoga is simultaneously energizing and soothing. So is running, and biking, and hiking, and swimming, and cross country skiing and so on.

So is that why I workout? To soothe and calm?

Or is it to be outside, rain, snow or shine? Or maybe to be strong, to test my mental and physical endurance? To forestall aging? So I can eat chocolate cake?

Or maybe it's to do something special, that I think other people can't do?

Then I get knotted up worrying that some of those reasons are vain, or arrogant, or delusional.

Until I remember the reason of reasons--joy. Too much thinking is going on, and not enough feeling. I need to stop wondering "why" and feel the answer. Do my Eckhart Tolle, Power of Now, scan of my physical-emotional being and ask, am I happy? Do I feel pleasure in my very fibers?

Then I have my answer--for me, the joys of owning this body are in all the things we do together (my body and I, that is), the places we can go together--to the little red lighthouse on a morning run, to ride over a mountain pass, to swim in a lake, to explore a new city. The sheer pleasure of propelling my body through space is what I want from my sports in the end. The other night coming home alone, after dinner with a friend, I was overtaken by a rush of profound happiness, the air was heavy,pre-rainstorm air, and the damp sidewalks shimmered, I started running--I'm sure I looked silly in my platform boots and velvet pants, handbag gripped awkwardly to my shoulder, but it felt oh so good, I didn't care.

So will I stick with these classes? I don't know yet. But I know that answer is connected to whether they will be of benefit in my sports. Will my hamstring attachments stop their constant complaints? Will I run more easily? Will I feel stronger on my bike or my skis?

I'll give it a Tolle feel, while I nurse my sore muscles.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Define Old...

The best definition of "old" I've seen in a long while, from Mavis Hutchinson: "You don’t grow old; when you stop growing you are old."


Friday, September 17, 2010

We Are Heiresses

Here's a great article I came across about our sportive predecessors, whose legacy we enjoy every time we engage in our athletics. Being an heiress isn't always about money, sometimes it's about freedom (in this case the freedom to do sports, which we inherited from these hip chicks): Great Women Athletes Who Paved the Way for Women in Sports.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The Density of Dreams

Coming home tonight I was drawn into the spiraling suction of the partially lit high rises, disappearing into the horizon, around the curves in streets, ad infinitum, the overly brightened sky a black, starless dome. So many of us, cheek by jowl, the sheer density of all the dreams in such a small space. It's a wonder we can each hold on to what we want, within the swirl of energetic desire jostling for attention.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Argentinian Soccer, Not Just for Boys...

Just heard about this inspiring documentary about girls playing soccer in one of the toughest slums of Buenos Aires: Goals for Girls (the movie).

I thought everyone in Argentina was practically born dribbling a soccer ball between their feet. Silly me, what I meant to say was that everyone who is a boy is weaned on soccer. Girls, it turns out, are not necessarily welcome in the sport in that soccer-loving nation. In fact, girls have to fight hard for some turf on which to kick the ball around. But when they get the opportunity--what a difference it can make, giving them hope for the future, not necessarily as pro soccer players, rather by opening their eyes to the opportunities they can make for themselves.

Check out the movie's website. They need support getting it out there, so if you're so moved, that would be grand, too.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Golf Like a Girl

For a long time, golf was a very male (I might even say “white”) sport. Even now, there are some golf courses closed to women during the busy weekend times, and it remains a sport that intimidates many women, partly because many of the opportunities to play golf also revolve around doing business, and women are typically far more reticent to get out and play, if they don’t think they play well.

Turns out, says Christie, who is responsible for corporate partnerships for the LPGA (Ladies Pro Golf Association), and who came to golf later, after playing college basketball, that when women get up the gumption to go out on the course, the biggest surprise is often that the men don’t play quite as good a game as they’ve talked.

Jane Blalock, a top pro golfer from 1969 to 1986, agrees. “Women,” she says, “Are always thinking, ‘I’m not good enough’; whereas men will go out to play golf, even if they’ve never played before. Women have no idea how pitiful men’s golf game often is. The men are out there to have fun, to socialize, and to hang out with clients. Women want to have studied and practiced and be good before they feel comfortable joining.”

So Jane is doing something to help women overcome their intimidation and get out on the course. Growing up in New Hampshire she played just about every sport on offer, from football, to basketball and baseball. But it was playing whiffle ball that she discovered her natural talent for golf. When she was thirteen-years-old, a friend of her father’s, watching her hit the whiffle ball, said she had a “natural swing” and those words set her on the course to the pro circuit some years later.

Fast forward to 1985, at the end of a great tournament and the best game of her life, Jane realized that after 17 years it was time to do something else. She played out the rest of the season, and then turned over a new leaf. She took her Series 7 and started working as a broker at Merrill Lynch. As she progressed in her new career, she noticed that she was using her ability to play golf to increase her access to new business. She also noticed that often the only other woman at the golf event with her was running the beverage cart. She decided to start a business that provided women with the confidence and tools to participate in corporate, industry and charity golf events. She was going to help women penetrate this traditionally “inner sanctum” of business. And she has.

“When I teach golf, I’m teaching strategic planning, focus, how to win and how to lose, and the perseverance to dismiss a loss and learn from the negative.” As Jane says, “I’m an optimist and a realist, and I don’t give up on things.” The Jane Blalock Company is not only teaching women to play golf, Jane helps women develop the confident attitude they need to get out on the course.

So if you're feeling left out when golf events come up at work, now you know where to go to take matters into your own hands. Or, alternatively, you could be like the guys, talk big and brazen it out on the course.

Is Cheerleading a Sport?

A Connecticut Federal Court judge ruled that cheerleading is not a sport, at least not as far as Title IX is concerned. Quinnipiac University pulled funding from its women's volleyball team to fund a competitive cheer team instead. The volleyball players complained. And won.

At first I thought, you go girls!--about the volleyball players that is. I admit that cheerleading has always seemed a bit second place to me--the women don't even get their own sport, they're decoration to boost the male ego while he plays his sport. But then I delved into the story a bit more, and, like so many things, the picture was murkier than I'd expected.

The cheerleading team at issue was not a sideline cheer team, but a "competitive cheer" team. Big difference. News to me. In fact, at U of Oregon they've changed the name of the activity ( I'll follow the court ruling and not call it a sport yet) to "Team Stunts and Gymnastics Program," in recognition of the athleticism of the endeavour, which resulted in an instant image improvement. Gone, in many cases, are the skimpy outfits, pompoms and cleavages, instead you'll find fit women performing quite amazing feats, which are inarguably athletic.

But does that make it a sport?

On the flip side, the NCAA does not, for example, recognize it as a sport, and, therefore, there is no formal inter-collegiate play. Nor is it an activity with a men's team, which has the unfortunate effect of making it seem a tiny bit sexist. Also, the school was apparently fiddling already with its sports rosters to make women's sports look bigger than they were and men's smaller. The roster machinations issue wasn't dealt with in the case (though I hope the school feels "on notice")--but it provides some interesting background to the volleyball teams frustration, I think.

In the end, I think the judge made the right decision. Not so much because competitive cheer isn't or shouldn't be a sport, but because, as Judge Stefan R. Underhill said, "Competitive cheer may, some time in the future, qualify as a sport under Title IX. Today, however, the activity is still too underdeveloped and disorganized to be treated as offering genuine varsity athletic participation opportunities for students.”

In response, Quinnipiac has said it will add a women's rugby team in 2011-2012. Fierce. Nice.

I don't like to think where we'd be without Title IX. More than 35 years since it passed into law, and still much needed.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Not for Girls

Saw this commentary on the cool site WomenTalkSports.

Nike doing ads about soccer that seem to forget that girls play, too!

Sexist Nike Ad

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Some Days We...Just. Can't. Do. It.

I've been thinking about burnout lately, as I'm lying in bed and can feel the tiredness in my legs, pulsing like waves. Am I pushing too hard, or do I just need to get into better shape? Am I being too disciplined, or not disciplined enough?

In the yogic tradition, the energy and austerity of discipline is captured by the term “tapas,” not to be confused with the yummy small plates often served at Spanish restaurants. A Sanskrit word, Tapas translates as “the purifying heat.” According to Gary Kraftsow, in his book, Yoga for Transformation, tapas is about “purifying and strengthening our systems through disciplines designed to reduce physical, emotion, and mental impurities.” Tapas is the energy we bring to cutting through the distractions in our life, often manifest in our myriad conditioned responses and habitual actions, so we can bring our full attention to the present moment. The idea of tapas captures the mental and physical elements of our daily workout challenge. Dedicating to our sports is so much more than a physical commitment; it is deeply mental and emotional as well. It requires the energy of our bodies, and the energy of our minds.

In his book, Kraftsow points out that tapas is about breaking cycles of habit and addiction, waking us up out of the momentum of our daily lives (which can become a form of inertia in itself, if we aren’t mindful), to pay attention and look at why we are doing what we are doing; to see things in a new way. In other words, our daily discipline, our tapas, can become superficial or warped, if instead of helping us to be present in our lives, our routine has become so ingrained and unchangeable as to be harmful, physically, mentally or emotionally. And that’s exactly what burnout is, the point at which we have so deeply integrated our workout habit, that we have lost sight of the moment, of how our workouts are actually making us feel, which is tired and dragged out.

Eckhart Tolle, in his book, The Power of Now, suggests we take time each day to “flood our body with consciousness.” By which he means, to literally close your eyes, lie quietly, and focus your attention on each part of your body, until you can feel it as a single field of energy. That’s a deeply felt form of being in the moment. And there’s no doubt that if we pay close attention to our bodies, they will tell us what’s best. And sometimes that’s “stay the course,” or “rev up,” and other times the message is “change now.”

The weather is beautiful, summer is upon us, and the temptation to wear ourselves out on the race circuit, or with other physical activity can be irresistible. Which means?--it's also time to listen even more carefully to our bodies.

Enjoy the sweat and hear its message.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Day One Hundred and Eighty-Three

Today may be the first day of the rest of your life, but it may also be day one hundred and eighty-three of your current workout regime. Getting up and sticking to it are are hard. In fact, the only thing harder might be starting at all.

How and why do we do it? ("It" being keep setting goals and training for them). Well, here's a few reasons from women:

"My morning workout is the hardest part of my day, whatever comes up next I can handle." Katrine

"When you land the axle, then you want to do the double axle. Challenge never stops. You keep trying for the next harder maneuver." Nora

"I am less likely to doubt myself. I am more likely to take on a leadership role. I feel sexier. I know my worth and I am less likely to settle for less than I deserve." Mary

"I have to feel fit to accomplish things in my life." Allison

Challenge. Accomplishment. Feeling sexy. Etc...

Makes me want to get up in the morning.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010


Have you impressed yourself lately? Been proud of an accomplishment?

No? Huh. Could it be that you just don't value what you do anymore?

According to many psychologists, if we are driven, ambitious people, we often lack the ability to appreciate and value our own successes. What a downer. The phenomenon, or maybe it's a syndrome, even has a name--idealization/devaluation. In other words, you idealize a certain measure of success when you see it in others, or when you are struggling to attain it, but once you reach it, well then, what's the big deal.

The first triathlon I ever did was in, I hesitate to say, 1993. Not that many women were doing them, and I didn't know anyone who could advise me on how to do the race. I was the rookiest kind of rookie you can be. My goggles got kicked off at the beginning of the swim. I had a full change of clothes for each sport (mind you this was a race that would take the winners less than hour, it was that short), and I wondered where I was supposed to do the changing. My mountain bike weighed 50 pounds. And I came in second to last. I felt like a rock star! Nowadays when I finish a triathlon, I pack my stuff up quickly in the organized way I've developed and wonder how I might have done better. I rarely take any time to relish the accomplishment. I hardly think of it as such.

I'll bet the same goes for lots of you in something--sports and other areas of your life.

Just because you can do something, does not mean it's easy. Every time we do something, it's good to remember the first time we did it. How did we feel? Like a rock star? Oh yeah--get that feeling back. You earn it, every time you do, whatever it is you do so well.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Happy "Now" or "After the Fact"

Reading a great new book by Lucy Danziger (the editor in chief of Self) and Catherine Birndorf (a psychiatrist), The Nine Rooms of Happiness (more on the book later), I came across an interesting observation about the difference between our experiences and our memories of experiences.

Scientists apparently often use what's known as the "Experience Sampling Method" to conduct studies; a process by which participants in a study record their experiences at random moments, in real time. Apparently most people have a high propensity to overrate the happiness they experienced doing a particular activity, when asked after the fact, whereas their actual experience in real time rated lower along the way. The example Lucy gives in the book is recalling downhill ski days fondly, when, in actuality, those same days are cold, wet and frustrating in the moment.

Some psychologists think that how we remember things is more important than our real time experience. Others think that what we actually experience is more important.

I tend to think we ought to be "in the moment", as they say--which implies enjoying said moment. And yet...

Say, for example, I'm out for a run. It's a windy, cold day. I'm running into the wind. I feel defeated, and I can't wait for the run to be over. If asked in the moment, I might say my run was no fun at all. However, once I'm home, and enjoying the sense of accomplishment, I look back on the run through rose coloured glasses. Which "interpretation" of my experience is right (because it's all interpretation, after all, filtered through the highly subjective environment of our mind)? Well, both. In fact, my sense of accomplishment may be all the higher, if I encountered challenging conditions.

Does it matter that I wasn't rapturous in the moments of the actual run? In fact, would the ex-post-facto enjoyment be less if the run itself was more enjoyable in real time?

Worth pondering.

Perhaps the answer is that we need to find the joy in the moments of the run itself, but the source of that real-time joy, in some cases, may be the knowledge that you will feel good afterward about the accomplishment.

The bottom line?--we do sports because they make us feel good, about ourselves, about life, and hopefully about the world.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Unexpected Dangers of the Scale

If you're like me, you let the narrative in your head about your weight play too often, whether or not your weight is actually an issue you ought to be thinking about at all. This is not a good thing. We all know that, right? The narrative in our head is very unlikely to be helpful, even if we are trying to lose weight. Because mostly it's going to be sending us undermining negative messages.

In my own case, I recently had cause to see just how damaging my own internal monologue could be.

Just back from 9 weeks of no running and fantastic cross country skiing instead, I was feeling fit and good. Got up for my first run in more than two months, and decided (why, why, why?) that I'd get on the scale before I headed out. Where did those extra 4 pounds I didn't want come from? And why hadn't I noticed them? My clothes all fit the same. I felt strong. And so on. My mood slid off a cliff. Now my run wasn't about running, it was about, "I need to do this to get rid of wherever this weight I don't want came from." Even if, as my partner and friends pointed out, it may have come from the extra muscle I built during the xc ski season.

No matter, my internal monologue was loudly proclaiming about all sorts of things I shouldn't have done in the weeks previous, distracting me from the gorgeous sunny morning and how happy I ought to have been back in Central Park after months away.

Out the door, not one mile gone, I tripped, fell, gashed open my knee almost to the bone, went to the hospital, got stitches, couldn't run for 3 more weeks.

Would this have happened if I hadn't been battling with the internal voice? I can't say for sure. Yet...a piece of me knows that the accident would have been far, far less likely had I been focused on the run at hand.

I'm back to running finally, and being very careful. Not so much about the rocks and roots in my path (since I try to run on any strip of dirt I can), but about what the voice in my head is going on about. If I feel it edging into anything the least bit negative, I start telling myself positive things, out loud (okay, under my breath so people don't think I'm crazy running girl). Double bonus--the positive messages take hold on and off the road, and running feels like a privilege and a joy, after the voluntary and involuntary time off.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Woman Climbs High

How cool is it that not only has the first woman now summited all fourteen of the highest mountains in the world, but that she completed this amazing feat at the age of 44?

Oh Eun-sun Scales Annapurna

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Giving Up

Yesterday I passed a t-shirt on a runner that said "never, never, never, give up." The slogan reminded me of a conversation I'd had the day before. I had just found out that two women I knew had "given up" on doing the big races they had signed up for a year in advance--one a double ironman and the other an ironman (projected to take place 10 months or so after her first son was born).

Give up.

Words are so much more powerful and slippery than we think. Those two words, in my mind (and I don't think I'm alone in this), have a pejorative ring to them. As in, she couldn't take the pain, or she wasn't up to the effort, etc...

I don't think they "gave up." The women "decided not to do" their races. A choice is not giving up; certainly not if it makes you happy, or at least happier than the alternative, which might be slogging through a relentlessly long race that you don't want to do, and don't have to do, and that, in the long run, is not about anything except your own desire to participate, or not.

Which brings me back to the t-shirt I saw (and had occasion to ponder during my next couple of loops around the park on my bike)--while I agree that we ought never (never, never) give up on things, that expression is meaningless until we fill in the context and content. Giving up, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. We are each our own beholder. We need to make the decisions that are right for us. If someone else labels our choice "giving up," that doesn't make it so. Not by a long shot.

The most important choice we have is to choose to make ourselves happy.

Choose happy!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Being Mortal

A great passage I read in Pascal Mercier's Night Train to Lisbon:

"Who could in all seriousness want to be immortal? Who would like to live for all eternity? How boring and stale it must be to know that what happens today, this month, this year, doesn't matter: endless more days, months, years will come. Endless, literally. If that was how it was, would anything count?...It is death that gives the moment its beauty and its horror."

And then this: "So the fear of death might be described as the fear of not being able to become whom one had planned to be."

Be who you want to be--now.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Overheard... a bar last night.

"Are you skiing tomorrow?" says one male bartender to the other.

"Not really, I'm skiing with a girl."

And, in case you were wondering, his tongue was not in his cheek.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Having Ovarios

Here's a quote I came across in Natalie Angier's fascinating book, Woman: An Intimate Geography, from which I could pull quotes for this blog for a month, it's so chock full of great insight.

"Men take strength for granted. Women have to fight for it. They have to trick themselves into their strength, or rather their strengths. Physical strength is but one allele of strength. There are all the other strengths: of self-conviction, of purpose, of being comfortable in your designated plasm. I don't know if physical strength can enhance those other, intangible strengths, if a better-braced body can give one ovarios of heart. It's a good gimmick, though, a place to start, or to return to when all else fails."

p.s. Ovarios = cojones

pps. Angier may not "know" if physical strength enhances our other strengths, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that I "know" and it does.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Women's Lib, Feminism, Womanism...

Women's Lib, Feminism, Womanism--all describe ways in which women have worked toward the ultimate goal of being able to live their lives as they choose, to pursue happiness in the manner appropriate to each of them, wherever they live, whatever their circumstances.

The theories and practices become more nuanced all the time. The work is not done, for sure.

But here's a great story from a woman who learned how to run like a girl, well, really, throw and hit like a girl, before any of those terms were coined.

Claire, who founded the first dance therapy program in the US, started playing handball when she was around ten years old, in 1938. “I was a very active child,” she says, “all I was told was to sit still.” But she couldn’t. She took dance classes in the after school Yiddish program, but then her parents wouldn’t let her take anymore dance. They didn’t see the point of dance. So Claire took herself off to the playground as soon as she could and started playing handball, and any other game she could.
Handball is an outdoor street game, played, for the most part, in school playgrounds. To get on the court (at the time Claire played, at least), she had to wait on the sidelines until one of the boys got too tired to play and dropped out, and there was no other boy to replace him. As a girl, Claire had to establish and re-establish her ability to play, to be accepted into the handball games. She still remembers that feeling of “outrage” she experienced, standing on the sidelines, having to prove herself to even get on the court. “I’m as good as half of those boys, even better than some, and they’re not letting me play.” Because she was good at handball, she got off the sidelines, but that sense of outrage politicized Claire, in a sense. Long before the women’s movement, much less feminism, had gathered steam, Claire had learned and earned her independence on the handball playground.

“Playing handball is a sport where you use yourself fully, something women didn’t often have the opportunity to do,” Claire says, “you have to be quick, direct and strong.” Traits that Claire’s friends and colleagues would use to describe her outside the playground, too. How we are in sports is how we are in life. We are how we move, says Michelle, the founder of the Society for Martial Arts Instruction and a Certified Laban Movement Analyst.

Claire met her husband on the playground, too. He was playing basketball and she joined in. He was a great basketball player, but also good at passing the ball, including to Claire, when she joined the game. The rest, as they say, is history. He fell in love with “the sweaty gal on a basketball court.” Not surprisingly, he was as political as she was, and they fashioned their version of an equal marriage early—sharing cooking, cleaning, shopping, and child rearing, while they both pursued their careers.

When Claire joined her first women’s consciousness group in the late 60s, she realized she wasn’t facing the same issues as most of the other women in her group. They were wondering how to get out of the house. She was out of the house. They were struggling to find balance and equality in their marriages. Claire had established that dynamic from the outset. “But I could teach them how to throw a ball,” she says. And she did.

Claire taught them how to “throw from the bottom of their toes.” And the women felt good about themselves in a whole new way. They discovered what they weren’t “using” of themselves. They learned how to “maximize” themselves to accomplish the goal of throwing well. When we learn what it feels like to be inside our skin, to pull from the deep well of our inner resources, to maximize ourselves in one area, how much easier it is to bring that knowledge to bear everywhere else in our lives.
In her early eighties, Claire is still going strong. She teaches a course on dreams to seniors, and she does Pilates.

“Women don’t need to call themselves feminists anymore,” Claire says. We can simply live as feminists. Or as womanists. Or as liberated women.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Delete "slut"

Gayle Barron, who won the Boston Marathon for women in 1978, once said that she struggled with being a pioneer. Not so much because of men’s attitudes, but because her women friends thought she ought to be at home with her family, in “a woman’s place,” in other words. Her friends didn’t celebrate her successes. Worse still, they disapproved. She wonders how much she held back from achieving her true potential, for the sake of keeping her friends.

Yes, that was 1978. Have things really changed that much, or enough?

Sometimes the harshest critics, the hardest judges, are women about other women. Why are we so hard on each other? Is it because we're hard on ourselves? We ought to stick up for each other a little more.

Here's one of my Tristram Shandy hobby horses on that issue: Why do we allow the word “slut” to persist in our lexicon? The word characterizes all that is damaging about the double standards that exist between men and women. “Slut,” after all, is a word that is rarely ever used to describe a man, and when used in such a context, generally carries a certain bravado; whereas, when applied to women, the word is ugly and judgmental, about things that are, in most cases, none of our business. I am, by no means, saying that women ought to sleep around. I am saying that how we express our sexuality (assuming the sexual expression is voluntary, consensual, does not harm others and gives us pleasure) is up to us to define. And yet, too often, women refer to other women as “sluts,” riding high on their horses of righteousness. We are not so different from Gayle’s friends when we do so, deeming certain behaviors “unfeminine.” Gayle’s friends were threatened by her strength. What are we threatened by when another woman exerts her sexuality? Let’s eliminate the word “slut” from our personal dictionary. And I haven’t even gotten to the word “spinster” yet.

Things have changed. While there are certainly still women out there like Gayle’s late-seventies friends, there are many who are not. There’s so much we can go out into the world and do and be, when we aren’t holding ourselves or other women back.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Hers & His

Today I was working on the chapter in Run Like a Girl about the fraught-ness (if that's a word) of the relationship between women, men and sports. I titled the chapter, Hers & His, in homage to an exquisitely drawn, small Irish documentary I saw at the Sundance Film Festival a few days ago, titled His & Hers, a collage of interviews with girls and women, ordered chronologically by age, from two to ninety-two, each talking in some fashion about their relationship to the men in their lives, fathers, brothers, boyfriends, husbands, sons. It was a gentle portrait of the complexity of our inter-gender relationships.

Put it on your Netflix list, because I doubt it will be showing at any theater near you!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Healing Properties of Kayaks

Paula's kayak got her through some hard times.

“Big Blue” was a “free” kayak, acquired through a credit card rewards program on a whim. The bright blue two-person kayak caught her eye and she imagined her husband and herself on a northern Wisconsin lake. They’d never kayaked before. When it arrived, her husband, who hadn’t known she was getting it, asked what she planned to do with it. The two of them would stare at it out the window, as they drank their morning coffee. It began to grow on them. Maybe they’d use it after all. Until, suddenly, quite out of nowhere it seemed, her husband developed ALS, Lou Gehrig’s disease. Big Blue was stored and forgotten. And a year and a half later, Paula found herself a widow, sleepless, “roaming my house in search of a new life.”

A few days later, without intending to, Paula was researching kayaking. She found lessons offered 15 minutes from her house. The first day the kayak instructor asks everyone why they signed up. People say the expected, trips coming up, and such like. Almost everyone is part of a couple, planning a future adventure. “Suddenly I blurt, my husband died two weeks ago. I bought a tandem kayak for us, but we never got to use it. So I have no experience.” There was a long silence. No one responded. Paula was embarrassed for having cast a pall on the class.

A man, who had lost his wife to cancer, approached Paula later in the day and congratulated her on her courage. I do, too.

Seven years on, Paula has taken other kayak lessons, bought a “sleek and sultry single kayak” and generally spent far more than she thought was possible on the sport. She’s moved cities, changed careers, found new kayaking buddies, and, yes, even a new husband, who has his own single kayak. For seven years Big Blue followed Paula around, from rafter to rafter, as she built her new life. But the boat never touched water. Paula finally placed an ad. “For sale, Big Blue”—the boat had served its purpose, and more. It was time to find it another home.

We all have our challenges, when life throws us a curve ball. And when it does, remember Big Blue, think "courage."

Monday, January 11, 2010

Who We Are Is How We Move

I met with two incredibly energizing women today, and am, incidentally, now in danger of taking up yet another athletic pursuit--karate. Here's just a tiny slice of what we talked about.

“Who we are, is how we move,” Michelle Gay, founder of the Society for Martial Arts Instruction, a former dancer and black belt in karate, as well as a Certified Laban Movement Analyst, told me. “Movement is somatic.”

In the dictionary, somatic is defined as being “of the body, as distinct from the mind or spirit.” But when Michelle invokes somatic, she is describing the deepest connections between our body and our minds, our reflexes, our instinctive movements (like fight or flight), the hard wiring of our system, as well as the developmental stages of movement. Her work, as a sensei and movement teacher, is to help others to understand and tap into the very sources of how they move, and by making explicit, what for most of us is implicit, and therefore unknown and not-or-mis-understood, so that we can find choices we didn’t know we had before—in how we move, but also, as it translates to the rest of our world. By bringing the unconscious nature of movement into the conscious, and then integrating it as a choice, a response, instead of a reaction.

If, for example, I can find my balance in yoga, then I can find my balance in the world. If I haven’t practiced balance in yoga (or in another discipline), then when I chance to find a moment of balance elsewhere in the world, it will be quite by accident. Until we understand things explicitly, they are not readily accessible to us when we need them, on demand, as it were. That is the work of practice, or training, in sports as it is in life.

Who we are, is how we move. It's not just about the movement itself, it's what the movement tells us about ourselves.

Donna, a ceramic artist and student of Michelle's for the past eight years, is a black belt. About three years after she started practicing karate, she was attacked, as she was walking, head in the clouds, to her ceramics studio. A man slammed into her, interrupting her reverie. Another woman might have been shocked into submission. And I should say here that Donna is not a woman who, at first glance, exudes tough-don't-mess-with-me. She has an enormous, gorgeous smile, and an unmistakable femininity. But Donna was not shocked, much less submissive. Her karate training, in only three years, had rooted itself too firmly in her fibers. She turned automatically to her 45-degree stance, a pre-fighting stance. She felt her feet connected to the ground. She felt the alignment and substance of her whole body, as she dropped her weight into the earth. Her arms hung loose and easy at her sides. She lifted her gaze and looked her attacker in the eyes.

He turned tail and fled.

Just as animals do, Donna had grounded herself and sent a message. Without raising so much as a fist, Donna had let her attacker know that if he was going to engage her; it was going to take a lot more energy that he’d thought the moment before. She hadn’t done any karate, at least not as we think of it, wham, bam, zow, pow. She'd merely looked at him, from a position of strength. Donna had projected her inner power, that composure that develops over the years of daily practice, of daily being in touch with her potential force.

Donna is how she moves. A force to be reckoned with.

We don't have to be black belts to access our inner power (early on in this blog, in fact, I wrote about Jo, who faced down an attacker on her morning run). Knowing our own strength, accessing it regularly, whether it's on a run, or a ride, or on the slopes, in the water, on the yoga mat; all of it can make each one of us a force to be reckoned with in the world.