Happy Birthday to Me!

Here’s my favourite cycling inspired cake:

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And here’s a birthday selfie for good measure!

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It’s a good thing we changed the name of the blog–thanks Tracy–now she’s almost 50 still but I’m already there.

Had an easy 50 km ride Saturday, will do 100 on Monday, but today I’ll be eating cake, dancing, and splashing about in the hot tub.

Happy Birthday, Sam!

happy birthday

Today is Sam’s birthday. Happy 50th Sam!  Have a fabulous day and an even better year. You are truly inspiring. I can only dream of cycling as fast as you do by the time I’m 50!

Love,

Tracy

Sam makes it to the Quebec border from Toronto on her Friends for Life bike Rally this summer.  My cycling hero!

Sam makes it to the Quebec border from Toronto on her Friends for Life bike Rally this summer. My cycling hero!

Freedom is a Kevlar Canoe

Last year at the end of the season, I purchased a Swift Algonquin 16 Kevlar Fusion canoe with carbon Kevlar trim. It comes in at a whopping 35lbs and I love it. I have christened her “The Catnoe” for #reasons and this year I took her on her maiden trip with Sam for three days and two nights in back country Algonquin Park.

First, a pop quiz. . .how many other canoes do you think we encountered with two women identified people in them? Don’t just jump to the first conclusion, think for a minute. . .naw, I’m just kidding. Your first conclusion is likely totally correct. The answer is none. It was just us. We saw two male gendered people, we saw male and female (male in the stern of course) but there were no other women tripping partners to be seen. This is consistent with my 6 years of annual trips to the park. I am almost always in the only two woman canoe, with the exception of a group of 5 women (2 canoes and one kayak) we saw two years ago.

I’ve been thinking about why this is for all 6 years I’ve been doing it so I’d like to share some of those musings here, in light of the spectacularly successful Catnoe excursion.

I first tripped when I was at overnight camp about 32 years ago. It was awful. My shoes got wet. I didn’t have a sleeping pad for the ground. The mosquitoes were in the tent and I didn’t like doing my business in the woods. Yet somehow, I went back to it as a staff about 5 years later. I think it was because it seemed to me that the cool kids were volunteering for trips. It may also have had to do with that Israeli, gymnast, ex-paratrooper person who was on the trip but we won’t pay any mind to that now. My most vivid memory of the trip was of my unit head grasping the yolk of the canoe, yanking it up to sit on her thighs and then magically hoisting it over her head. I had never seen a woman do that before. This was not made of Kevlar either. It was aluminum. It was on this trip that I learned about multiple pairs of socks and the necessity of drying your footwear as much as possible between soakings. I had hiking boots instead of sneakers. I think I may have had a pad to sleep on in the tent too. I played with camp cooking and I sterned my own boat. I came back to camp dirty and stinky and proud of myself. Over all, a total success.

It was not until 20 years later that I finally went out again on a portaging canoe trip. There are some things you have to accept when agreeing to go on a back country trip. You will get dirty and stay kinda dirty. You will use every part of your body to its maximum at various points in the trip. You will struggle. You will occasionally feel some pain. You will get bug bites and at some point, you will be alone at night in the forest sitting on a wooden box with a hole in it doing your business.

Let’s face facts, none of these things are the kind of things most girls are brought up to expect to enjoy. I was certainly not brought up with the idea that this was a fun thing to do. I got the idea because of who I hang out with (and I’m so grateful for that). However, I have learned to love them. Surprisingly, sitting on the aforementioned box (a privy) is one of the more pleasant things about camping in Algonquin. It’s far better than sitting in an enclosed space doing the equivalent activity. Even in a light mist, it’s quite refreshing.

I love the challenge of getting from one place to another. I love figuring out how to cook yummy things with my camp burner. I love the little comforts, a good sleeping bag, mat and tent, a book, a cup of coffee, dry socks. I love swimming in wicked cold water I would normally not bother to swim in. I love not looking in the mirror for 3 days. Of course there is the actual place, so beautiful and further in, so serene you can feel like you are the only human for kilometers, even if you are not really.

But back to the canoe. The one limiting factor for me has always been that extraordinary act of flipping that sucker on my head. My customary tripping partner (Sarah) is a life-long athlete whose physical strength and attitude have always leaned toward “of course I can do that”. And so, she does. In all years past, she has been chief canoe-flipper-upper. I have carried it occasionally (either the 45 lb version or, one time her 60 lb canoe) but always with her help to get it up and only for the shorter distances (200m). It meant I always had to have a person with me who could carry the canoe. That meant her or someone else, maybe a man. I know there are other women in my larger friend circle who can do it but they aren’t close enough to be going on trips with me. Like I said, not a lot of two women canoe partners in the park or available generally, even when most of my women friends are queer identified.

Enter the Catnoe. She is so eminently flip-up-able. She allowed me to master the technique without being afraid I’d accidentally take my head off. She allowed me to say, when Sarah couldn’t go, “Hey, Sam! Will you let me take you into the back woods for a trip?” and know that no matter what, even if Sam couldn’t carry the canoe, I could! If something bad happened and I had to go get help, I could. I had the capacity to fill any role on the excursion and let me tell you, that is power. A whole world opened up to me.

(Just to be clear. . .Sam could carry the canoe, I just didn’t let her.)

I could have done more overhead presses and heavier squats. Then I could have a hope of working with the 45 lb canoe. But, my Catnoe has let me have access to this entire experience now, without my usual fears. It has also likely given me the muscle memory to flip that 45 pounder up there if I had to and so launched me on a path to even more freedom.

Isn’t this the reason why we struggle to acquire fitness and if it isn’t, shouldn’t it be? I’m 46 years old and next summer, as long as my 71 year old mom can get up and get down from a sitting position on the ground, I’m taking her in to the park with me. I will set her up on a chair at the end of the portage and I will bring the pack and the canoe. I will feel powerful and happy and free. What else can you ask for?

American parents suing over soccer and concussion risk: Is it relevant that girls get hurt more often?

Two pieces of news with interesting connections.

First, there’s a class account lawsuit by American parents against Fifa over concussion risk to young soccer players. See http://m.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-28961233

A group of young American footballers and their parents have sued Fifa and US football groups over the risks from concussions.

The California class-action lawsuit accuses the sport’s governing bodies of acting “carelessly and negligently” and failing to protect young players.

The filing also calls for new safety rules, including limiting the number of headers for young players

Second, there have also been reports about the higher concussion risk for girls playing soccer. See the Wall Street Journal.

Researchers aren’t sure why girls are more likely to suffer concussions, but theorize it’s because girls’ neck muscles are not as strong or because they are more likely to report their injuries. Most concussions result from collisions with another player, not from heading the ball, says Matthew Grady, a pediatric sports medicine specialist at the Children Hospital of Philadelphia.

Most leagues require players who show symptoms of concussions (such as loss of consciousness, headache, dizziness, confusion or balance problems) to be cleared by a medical professional before returning to the field. The practice became an official rule of the NFHS this past school year.

And also the Washington Post.

Since 2008, high school girls’ soccer players have reported an average of 14 concussions per 10,000 games played (a game is equal to one game played by one player). The figure is nearly twice the average for boys’ soccer (7.30), and only football (27) and boys’ hockey (18) have reported more concussions than girls’ soccer.

I’m not sure why I find this shocking. But I do. I think I’m making the same mistake I’ve accused others of making. See Dangerous Sports and Assumptions and Gender and Risk.

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The ALS Ice Bucket Challenge: Doing Good, Even if for the Wrong Reason | Impact Ethics

I guest blogged over at Impact Ethics about the ice bucket challenge:

“I haven’t done the ice bucket challenge, though my son, my sister-in-law, and lots of my friends have done it. I come pretty close to being the perfect subject for the challenge: I like charity challenges (I recently took part in the Friends for Life Bike Rally); and, in this case, the cause is close to home for my family. We lost my children’s grandmother, my husband’s mother, to ALS this winter. More recently, a good friend of mine has been diagnosed with ALS. I’ve learned a lot about ALS and death doesn’t seem to be the worst thing about it. Rather, it’s living with ALS that’s tough. ALS is an awful disease.”

Read the rest here:

http://impactethics.ca/2014/08/29/the-als-ice-bucket-challenge-doing-good-even-if-for-the-wrong-reason/

Why I Love Aikido (Guest Post)

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I was standing watching the children’s class, waiting for my adult aikido class to begin, when I felt a hand on my shoulder. It was my aikido sensei (teacher).

“I saw your name in the paper.”

I winced. The organization that I work for had recently had some bad press. I handle PR for the company, and had been quoted in one of the news stories.

“It’s just like on the mat,” Sensei said, and made a sweeping motion with his hands, as if stepping out of the way of an attack and throwing off an invisible assailant.

I held my breath as my mind processed this idea. I had fallen in love with aikido the very first class I’d attended, but it wasn’t until Sensei suggested that aikido was more than just a fun physical activity with a practical purpose (self-defence) that I began to understand its deeper value.

I’ve never been interested in sports, and until I started aikido in March of this year, my physical activity had consisted of exclusively solitary pursuits – walking, hiking, yoga, bodyweight exercises. Sam had been encouraging me to come out to aikido for years, but there was always something else going on in my life, and the beginner classes on Tuesday evenings or Saturday mornings never seemed to fit into my schedule.

Then suddenly I’d run out of excuses, and realized that I really did want to try aikido. I already had a sense that I would like the people – I had engaged some of the volunteer black belts from the school to come give a presentation on self-defence at my workplace a few years earlier, and they looked like they were having a lot of fun “hurting” each other. It remains one of my company’s highest-rated staff development presentations.

Other than that, however, I had no clue what I was going to experience. I went to my first class in yoga pants and a t-shirt like the club’s website suggested, and asked one of the brown belts what I should do. Thankfully Sam showed up before class started, and shepherded me around for most of the hour.

Five months later, I’ve graduated to a yellow belt (one step above absolute beginner), and I’m regularly attending four classes per week. Aikido is one of the very best things in my life, and I’m a blissfully obsessed with, addicted to, and entranced by this Japanese martial art. A big piece of that obsession is trying to figure out the lesson Sensei was trying to teach me all those weeks ago – how could I use aikido in every moment of my life, not just on the mat?

Six things I love about aikido:

    1. The philosophy behind it. Aikido was founded in the 20th century by Morihei Ueshiba, a Japanese martial artist who, legend has it, became disenchanted with the aggressive aspect of martial arts, and developed a means of self-defence that practitioners could use to protect themselves, while also protecting their attacker from injury. In aikido we don’t learn how to attack (kick, punch, strike) – only how to evade or diffuse an attack. In my early 20s I studied hapkido, a Korean martial art, and back then one of the things that made me most uncomfortable was having to spar – to attack somebody else, to try and beat them. Aikido, on the other hand, reminds me of some of my more spiritual interests, like yoga and zen meditation. It seeks to cause no harm, and to leave a situation better than it started. That really appeals to me, as does the idea that my physical training in aikido can give me insight into mental and emotional conflict, including self-inflicted harmful thoughts.

 

    1. The beauty of the movements. Aikido is pretty graceless the way that I do it as a beginner, but watching the black belts practice is breathtaking. I’ve also watched a number of aikido videos online, and I find aikido stunning, although it’s not like the “movie martial arts” that most of us are used to seeing. That said, Aikido can still be pretty wild – people do get thrown around, rolling and tumbling all over the place. The calm, measured movements of a long-time practitioner in the centre of the maelstrom are like a dance.

 

    1. The people. I don’t have any other aikido school to compare to mine, so I don’t know if this is universal to aikido, but the people are wonderful – generous with their time and their bodies as training partners, full of good humour and camaraderie. A far cry from the social isolation of my solitary fitness pursuits up until now. I’d been looking for a “tribe” to belong to before I joined aikido, and this happily fits the bill for me. They’re also a pleasantly diverse bunch – from teenagers to practitioners in their 60s and beyond, men and women, a variety of sizes and nationalities and socio-economic backgrounds. I knew I was finally starting to “belong” when some injuries (more on that below) kept me on the sidelines for several weeks, and everyone kept asking me with concern when I was going to be back on the mats to play with them again.

 

    1. The physical-ness of it. Much like wrestling, I imagine, aikido is a pretty physically intimate sport. You have to be comfortable not only touching your training partners, but getting right into their personal space – chest to chest sometimes, hands wrapping around heads and pulling them close, palms or shoulders pushing chins. It reminds me of the rough-and-tumble physical chaos of raising small children. I love this part of aikido, and it’s the part I miss the most when I have to sit on the sidelines with an injury. It’s also a full-body sport – from head to toe, there’s not one part of me that doesn’t get a workout during a class. Think lots of falling down and getting back up. Over and over again. And a lot of rolling. I love breakfalls.

 

    1. The way I feel during and after class. I’m not that physically fit – I rarely do anything else that gets my heart-rate up – so aikido classes are sometimes a physical challenge for me. The intensity gets endorphins flooding my body, however, and I always feel amazing during and immediately after class. If I have to sit out due to injury, I make a point of going to classes just to enjoy the atmosphere. My job is stressful, and aikido classes are a vital release valve when everything else in my life seems to be falling apart.

 

  1. The fact that it will take me a long time to master it. At 47, I’ve tried a lot of new things over the course of my life, and I’ve grown to love the disorienting feeling of “beginner’s mind,” when everything is new and strange and confusing. Five months (and a lot of extracurricular reading and practice) in, aikido is not so shiny-new as it was, but thankfully it’s an art that can take a long time to master, and will keep me engaged for years to come. Having said that, aikido also feels really comfortable to me; based on feedback from some of the senior belts, I think I’m picking it up fairly quickly, and that feels good too.

Six things I’m not so keen about:

    1. It’s hard on the body. I’m not going to lie – aikido is not kind to a middle-aged, out-of-shape body. After my first few classes I was seriously sore – I mean, to the point of hardly being able to walk when I got out of bed in the morning, even after a long soak in a hot bath the night before. And the senior belts are pretty unapologetic about the fact that sometimes, despite everyone’s best efforts at practising safely, you’re going to accidentally get hurt. A lot of time is spent teaching beginners how to fall and roll safely, because the throws and pins that we’re learning are potentially dangerous. So my biggest question for Sam and her friends when I was considering joining the school was, does it get better? The answer was yes… although I’m still waiting for it to get better… 🙂

 

    1. It hurts my knees. I had knee problems for years before starting aikido, and after just a few classes I had worse knee problems – to the point where I’ve sat on the sidelines for two extended periods of time in my five months of aikido. I wept, not from the ongoing pain, but from the anguish of possibly having to give up an activity I loved so much. Thankfully my doctor finally referred me to a physiotherapist (shout-out to John Smallwood, who’s funny and awesome and, did I mention, funny and awesome?), and the diagnosis is a relatively reassuring gait problem (weak hips, over-pronating ankles) that can be resolved with strengthening and stretching exercises, not anything more dire. I’m still in recovery mode, however, and my knees still hurt after class. I have to keep reminding myself that I’m in this for the long term. I don’t need to rush my healing.What’s the issue with aikido and knees? We practise barefoot on mats, which is deadly for over-pronators, because it strains knee alignment. Also, there are a lot of quick, irregular, side-to-side and turning movements with the legs, similar to sports like volleyball or basketball, along with occasional deep knee bends that can put stress on unstable knees. Plus there’s a lot of kneeling, and falling onto your knees. Some people (including me) wear knee pads and/or knee braces for every class. I’ve spent a lot of time outside of class breaking down the techniques and working on the alignment of my hips, knees and ankles, retraining my body to do aikido movements in healthier ways.

 

    1. It hurts my wrists. I got carpal tunnel syndrome in my early twenties after planting trees in Northern Ontario for two summers while I was a university student. It’s long since ceased to be a problem for me… until big burly guys started grabbing my wrists in aikido class, and hanging on for dear life so that I could learn how to break free from their grasp. At first I just toughed it out, but I quickly learned – in aikido, you need to let your partner know when you’re hurting. Nobody wants to hurt you. You don’t need to be hurt.

 

    1. I hit my head on the floor more often than I’d like. Have I mentioned there’s a lot of falling on purpose in aikido? There’s a lot of falling on purpose. And they teach you how to do it well, in order to avoid injury. Part of doing it well involves tucking your chin when you fall backwards, so that your head doesn’t hit the ground. I’m getting better at backwards breakfalls, but when I was starting I hit my head on the ground a lot, and every now and then I still fall awkwardly and give myself a little knock. Sam has posted enough frightening articles about sports concussions and brain damage on Facebook for me to be more than a little leery of the cumulative effects of head injuries.

 

    1. Bruised ribs. Are you sensing a theme here? Before my most recent physical rest from aikido, I landed awkwardly when I was practising backwards rolls on the mats before class one day, and bruised a rib. I foolishly toughed it out for several more classes, and every breakfall practice left me doubled-over in pain, unable to take a deep breath. Thankfully I stopped participating in class for a few weeks to let my knees heal, and the rib healed as well.

 

  1. I can’t wear my glasses on the mat. Well, I could wear them – many people do. But I’m very near-sighted, and very protective of the (expensive) appliance that allows me to see. I don’t want my glasses thrown off or damaged during a throw or a roll. So before I ever attended my first class, I went to my optometrist and got contact lenses, which I hadn’t worn for twenty years. I wear the contacts only for aikido, and I can’t read anything when I’m wearing them, but they let me practise without the worry of breaking my glasses.

As awful as the above may sound, I do love aikido. I don’t want to give it up. I’ve been reading about several famous black belts’ experiences with aikido, and many of them talk about taking one class and being hooked. That’s what it was like for me – aikido was beautiful and mysterious, and I wanted to keep learning it. My sensei talks about being drawn to aikido and not quite knowing why you’re drawn to it. As woo-woo as that sounds, it’s true for me. I keep practising on the mat so that I can take aikido’s lessons off the mat, into my everyday life.

Six things Sam likes about and struggles with in aikido

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Michelle Lynne Goodfellow works in nonprofit and small business communications by day, and also enjoys writing, taking photographs, making art and doing aikido. You can find more of her work at michellelynnegoodfellow.com. Michelle has also written about her breast cancer journey on her blog, Kitchen Sink Wisdom.

Running From Mosquitoes (Guest Post)

I don’t know about your summer, but mine – most of which was spent on a lake north of Toronto, Canada – was not much of a summer at all, weather-wise. For the last part of June, all of July, and most of August the temperature did not rise above 30 degrees Celsius (86F) and many days, it barely hit 20 (68F). Most of July was spent under dark clouds and rain. Not ideal conditions for outdoor running (or outdoor anything, for that matter). Compounded with this was the rampant mosquito problem. This year they were positively vicious. Not only were they out in dense swarms, they were also quadruple the size much hungrier than other years.

 

But I was determined not to let this weather hiccup prevent me from doing one of the things that I love most, namely, running on long, winding, hilly, tree-lined country roads. The problem, however, was that I had to deal with these hungry little beasts. Rummaging through a closet, I found a full body bug suit, which included a zip-up over-the-face hood (see photo). The only part of my body that was not shielded by a dense screen of net were my hands, but the suit was large enough that I could fit my hands up into the sleeves, put the excess material into my fists, and be entirely covered. Zipped up, zipped in, and protected from the vicious pests, I was ready to go.

 

And off I ran.

 

Now indeed, the bug suit protected me from actually getting bitten. But even combined with some good old bug spray, it didn’t keep the bugs away. Few things are more irritating than the sound of mosquitoes buzzing in your ears and all around you. That high pitched sound is enough to drive anyone batty. So at my usual pace, I found myself running and at the same time flailing my arms around to keep the bugs out of my path. I must have been quite the sight. What I found, however, was that the faster I ran, the less the bugs bothered me. Apparently mosquitoes either don’t like, or can’t keep up with speed (probably the former since I’m not that fast).

 

I set out to go for regular, relaxed-paced runs where my goal was simply to avoid getting gorged by mosquitoes. But my July runs turned into impromptu interval training sessions, not in order to increase my speed or endurance, but really just to keep the bugs away. And it was a success (in terms of keeping them away, and maybe even on both fronts, but as I’ve written here before, I don’t track my speed).

 

What came to mind while performing this act was the last time I was forced to sprint against my will. In that case, the context was quite different. I was living in Cambridge, MA and it was winter. The temperature was sub-zero and I was dressed accordingly in my winter running pants, an over-sized windbreaker, a neck warmer that covered most of my face, and a large, warm hat. I was on my daily morning run along Mt. Auburn Street, en route to the river. I saw a man walking toward me. As I passed him, he gave me a penetrating stare and told me what he wanted to do with/to my body.

 

My heart started to race. I was horrified, petrified, and so taken aback that I just kept running, faster and faster, to get away from him as quickly as I could. As the pit in my stomach grew, I thought of all sorts of witty comebacks that I could have said, but of course, they came too late (as they always do).

 

As my heart returned to normal, I came to the point in my run where I turn around and head home. And on my way back, I saw him again: again, walking toward me. There was no side street onto which to turn and nowhere to cross the busy street, so I sped up, heart racing, all of the witticisms escaping from my mind. My goal was to pass him as quickly as possible without making eye contact. A part of me wanted to shout, but that would have required giving him a response (which is clearly one of the things he wanted) and more attention than he deserved, so I started to sprint, which I guess he liked because again, he repeated what he wanted to do to/with my body.

 

I sprinted home and never saw him again.

Alone on a quiet Canadian country road sprinting to escape the bugs brought this other involuntary sprinting exercise to mind. Both were obviously unpleasant, though while one is manageable and tolerable, the other is not.

 

One thing goes without saying: if ever I’m forced to sprint, I’ll take sprinting from bugs any day over sprinting from predators.