While I love the outdoors and receive tremendous pleasure "playing" in a wide variety of activities, including walking, hiking, kayaking, cycling, skating, table tennis, badminton and skiing, I don't consider myself to be very "athletic". Merely typing that word conjures up images of women like Serena Williams, Leryn Franco, Gabby Douglas and Kikken Randall, women with incredible strength, stamina and a determination to excel.
As a child, I was drawn to dance and gymnastics, but suffering from severe asthma and living in a remote, rural community limited my exposure to these opportunities. And so I took part in what was available, attractive and possible: skating on local ponds, horseback riding through the fields, walking the dusty farm roads, riding my bike to and from friend's houses and the small school's extra curricular activities like basketball, volleyball, baseball and badminton.
While I excelled at volleyball and badminton, the time and financial commitment required by my parents in order for me to regularly engage in these pursuits prevented me from doing so.
During my College freshman year, I was often mistaken for Emma, a fellow student who was a voracious basketball player. This mistaken identity garnered me a great deal of male attention, but not enough to inspire this shy student to heights of athletic endeavors.
I've been a hiker, a walker and a kayaker my entire adult life. The most physically demanding activity I've sought out was a 500-mile walk across northern Spain on the Camino de Santiago. An endurance of physical and emotional pain experienced simultaneously with physical and emotional pleasure, I carried my twenty two pound pack for fifteen to twenty miles a day, for five to eight hours a day, over rough and ever-changing terrain. Daily as I walked, I bumped up against myself and encountered a strength of character and strength of body that I hadn't known I possessed/nurtured/inherited.
Walking through the French Pyrenees, up and over hills and across long stretches of vast mesatas, cobblestone, gravel, sand, grass and concrete, I felt a strength in and connection to my body I had not experienced before. Ever so slowly, both on the trail and again when I returned home, a gentle inner voice whispered, encouraging me to push myself physically, to move beyond my self-imposed limitations, to match my outer journey with the incredible shifts of my inner journey.
My boyfriend, an athlete his entire life, engages in physical activity daily, dedicating time and energy to becoming stronger, more flexible, healthier, to increasing his stamina and managing his stress. His commitment to an active physical life greatly adds to his overall joy and happiness.
Gently encouraging me to participate more physically in my own life, he and I joke that if I did actually start to do this, he'd fall in love with me all over again. While this makes me laugh, what I really want to do is to fall in love with myself all over again: my heart, my mind, my spirit and my body.
This weekend, I took part in a Wine and Cheese Ski Tour, an event organized by our local ski club.
With the grace of a doe walking on ice, I donned my gear and slid off down the trail, following the tracks of other skiers. Simultaneously fighting back feelings of embarrassment at how slow I was skiing, of shame at holding Taz back, of anger for being so out of shape, of disappointment at my low energy, of chastising myself for not eating more protein for breakfast/drinking more water/eating less chocolate the night before/staying up so late watching a movie and not getting more rest, I made my way along the alternating curves and bends, flat land, up hills and down slopes of the six snowy kilometers to the first rest and refreshment stop, Stop One.
Adding my skis to the maze of all the other's skis and poles lining the driveway to the house, I walked the steps and enter a skier's haven. I'm immediately accosted by my own thoughts, thoughts including, "Her ski jacket is cuter than mine", "I would be skiing faster if I had worn a lighter pack", "How can someone so much older than me ski so much faster than me?", "Why is that skinny, skiing bitch standing so close to my boyfriend?", "Oh shit, my ex is here? Do these ski pants make me look fat?" and on and on and on the voices continued until finally, the sound of my own swallowing as I chugged my second glass of blueberry merlot finally drowned them out.
At Stop One, this Stop and Compare and Contrast Yourself to Every One Else, other skiers that I know from varying, non-athletic circles commented on how great it was to see me out. As I often do when I feel awkward, out of place, fat, stupid, small, inept, uncomfortable or out of sorts, I harness my inner comedian and joked that Taz told me that we were going out for wine and cheese, but failed to mention the skiing part!
With a belly full of wine and cheese and crackers, I hung back and watched the group of "real" skiers make their way down a short, flat area and then immediately up a massive incline of a hill. Watching their straining faces and hearing their grunts of effort, I resecured my goggles and ventured out behind them, out the short, flat area and then immediately at the fork, cresting right up the hill and left back the way we'd all come, with no hesitation whatsoever, I thrust my body left and skied and swooshed, lifted and turned, and bent and soared across the down hills and along the flat landscape.
Giving myself permission to be proud of completing the ski to Stop One, I find I'm grinning and giddy with delight as I ski back to the start alone. With no focus on exertion, worrying to control my breathing and to stay upright, I hear, really hear for the first time this day, the ravens calling and I see, really see, the snow alternating light and then heavy, swirling across the fields and in front of me and through the stands of cottonwoods, and I drink in, really drink in, the incredible beauty of the ever-changing gray/blue light.
Approaching the parking area of the start, my inner child is dancing and leaping, twirling and pole vaulting with pride and joy and happiness. Yes, yes, I skied seven or eight kilometers, woohoo, but even more spectacular than that to be celebrated, I experienced a profound peace and inner silence, fully immersed and at one with my natural surroundings.
This connection to nature and ultimately to my self is what will drive me to hike and to cycle, to kayak and to walk, to skate and to ski, to engage in these and other physical activities on a more regular basis.
I'm not competitive and I may never have the desire to train for marathons or long distance cycling, swimming, skiing or kayaking events, but I can find joy in discovering and rediscovering my strength and stamina, while interacting with the natural world.
I am no longer the little girl that was regularly hospitalized with severe bouts of asthma, struggling to breathe. I am a woman, strong and grounded in my own body, with the ability to be even more strong and more grounded. To exercise for exercise's sake doesn't motivate or inspire me, but to engage in physical activities for the return to my Self, to reconnecting back to me, and to reaping the benefits of a healthy lifestyle, absolutely does.
To ski, to soar, to bike, to breathe, to hike, to heal, to walk, to wander - these I can grasp, these I can pursue, these I just might even be able to, gasp - wait for it, embrace.
Until then, all the while, I live, I love, I dance, I play, I yearn, I push, I reach and I stretch - ever forward in hot pursuit of my physical Self.