Women Who Swam across Lake Ontario

When I was a kid, we used to get two newspapers delivered to our house every day: The Toronto Star and The Globe and Mail. Whenever someone swam across Lake Ontario, it was big news.  This didn’t happen all the time, but I’ve got clear memories of gobbling up all the news about Vicki Keith and Cindy Nicholas.

Vicki Keith is perhaps the most accomplished marathon swimmer in the world. According to the Penguins Can Fly website, she was an unlikely athlete, last to picked for teams in school (why do they even do that thing where kids get to pick their own teams!?).  But she didn’t let that trouble her.  She kept at it and broke all sorts of marathon swim records. Among them: she did the Lake Ontario (54 km from the NY side to the Ontario side) crossing five different times; she is the only person to do a successful double-crossing (104 km) of Lake Ontario; in 1988 she swam all five of the Great Lakes; she is the first person to swim across the English Channel doing the butterfly; and she also did the butterfly around Sydney Harbour (for 14.5 hours).  Not only that:

Vicki’s dream has always been to make a difference in other peoples lives, so, in 2005, when the need for new opportunities for children with disabilites in Kingston, Ontario became apparent, Vicki came out of swimming retirement, and spent 63 hours and 40 minutes in Lake Ontario, completing 80.2 kilometres butterfly, setting 2 world records and raising over $200,000 for the Kingston Family YMCA This brought her lifetime fundraising total to over one million dollars.

Lots of strong swimmers have difficulty sustaining a good butterfly stroke for even 50 metres. To do the butterfly for almost 64 hours and cover 80.2 km, you must really care about your cause and be phenomenally strong.

It’s no surprise that Vicki Keith has been awarded the Order of Canada, Canada’s highest honour.

Here’s Vicki Keith doing the butterfly across Lake Winnipeg:

Vicki Keith crossing Lake Winnipeg with butterfly stroke.
Vicki Keith crossing Lake Winnipeg with butterfly stroke.

Cindy Nicholas crossed Lake Ontario in 1974 at the age of 16 faster than any other swimmer ever had: 15 hours and 10 minutes. This time still stands as the women’s record. She was from (and still lives in) Scarborough, Ontario, the same Toronto suburb where I grew up. Scarborough always got a bad rap from the rest of Toronto, who often referred to it as “Scarberia.”  Cindy Nicholas’ success gave us Scarberians something to gloat about.

Through the course of her career as a marathon swimmer, she crossed the English Channel 19 times, including 10 two-way swims, according to this report on the Ontario Solo Swims website.

She’s a members of the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame and the Order of Canada. And when I was a kid, I wanted (and got) a swimsuit just like hers. Here she is in that very suit:

Cindy Nicholas, poolside.
Cindy Nicholas, poolside.

Marilyn Bell crossed Lake Ontario on September8th, 1954, the first person who managed to make it across.  According to this dramatic recounting of the story,

Marilyn Bell waded into the frigid waters of Lake Ontario at Youngstown, NY, at 11:07 p.m. Wednesday, September 8, 1954. It wasn’t supposed to be a race, but she made it into one. The Canadian National Exhibition had offered $10,000 to American swimmer Florence Chadwick to swim the lake. Many thought it was unfair not to include Canadians in the event. Only two others took up the challenge, Winnie Roach Leuszla and a 16-year old student, Marilyn Bell.

Marilyn’s coach Gus Ryder was in a boat ahead of her. It was dark and no one knew where the other two swimmers were. No one ashore on the other side had any idea of the drama that was to unfold as Marilyn battled 4-metre waves, lamprey eels, exhaustion and numbness. Ryder shouted encouragement and fed his swimmer corn syrup from a cup.

At dawn, Marilyn had covered 22 kilometres. She did not know it but she had already eclipsed Chadwick, who had become violently ill in the choppy water. When Marilyn became numb and glassy-eyed at 10:30 a.m. Ryder took out a black board and wrote on it “FLO IS OUT.” Soon Leuszla was pulled out as well. Marilyn’s best friend Joan Cooke shouted encouragement from the boat and Marilyn started swimming again. Meanwhile, word was spreading not only across Toronto but across all of Canada. A flotilla of media appeared and tens of thousands— eventually 250,000— gathered on shore.

At 6:30 in the evening, Marilyn reached her limit and Ryder ignored her father’s wishes to pull her out. He asked Joan to swim beside her friend. Driven west by the current to Sunnyside, Marilyn finally touched the breakwater at 8:06 p.m. Because of the currents she had actually swum 64 kilometres. Pandemonium broke loose as Marilyn came ashore, the undisputed heroine of all Canada. Proud Canadians showered her with more than $50,000 in prizes and gifts.

Here is Marilyn Bell at the beginning of her swim:

Marilyn Bell about to leave from Youngstown New York, September 8, 1954.
Marilyn Bell about to leave from Youngstown New York, September 8, 1954. (Photo from Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame/X981.32.1.35

Torontonians were so thrilled with her success that they held a ticker tape parade in her honour:

Ticker tape parade in Marilyn Bell's honour, September 1954, Toronto. (photo from Canada's Sports Hall of Fame).
Ticker tape parade in Marilyn Bell’s honour, September 1954, Toronto. (photo from Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame).

This summer, on August 4th, 2014, Trinity Arsenault became the youngest person ever to make the swim across Lake Ontario. At age 14, Trinity left from Niagara on the Lake and touched ground again at Marilyn Bell Park in Toronto. At 14 years and 70 days old, she nudged out Annaleise Carr who had successfully swum the lake in 2012.  I wonder what these amazing teenagers have planned for the rest of their marathon swim careers?

Trinity Arsenault:

Trinity Arsenault warms up after her chilly swim.
Trinity Arsenault warms up after her chilly swim. Photo: David Ritchie/CBC http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/trinity-arsenault-14-successfully-swims-across-lake-ontario-1.2727165

Annaleise Carr:

Annaleise Carr takes in some nutrition during her Lake Ontario crossing. Photo credit: Toronto Star. http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2012/08/26/annaleise_carr_lake_ontario_swimmers_team_key_to_her_successful_crossing.html
Annaleise Carr takes in some nutrition during her Lake Ontario crossing. Photo credit: Tim Alamenchiak/Toronto Star. http://www.thestar.com/news/gta/2012/08/26/annaleise_carr_lake_ontario_swimmers_team_key_to_her_successful_crossing.html
Guest Post · racing · running

The verdict on the race I almost forgot? Awesome.

Muck MS Hamilton was great. Here’s my still very fresh impressions (in no special order and completely subjective):

Things I liked: the obstacles. This mud run had the most challenging obstacles of any of the ones I have done (Dirty Girl, Warrior Dash).  The obstacles were all staffed with someone to tell you what was expected and to monitor the number of people hazarding the challenge. As a result, I had minimal worry about another participant falling into me or a stray leg whacking me in the head while going over a high challenge. There were a number of old-school playground-style challenges that I have not seen elsewhere: monkey bars, rope swings, rope climbs, tire walls. Of course, there were many pits of mud to jump in, thrash about in, and to almost lose shoes in. No bouncy obstacles.

Things I liked more than I thought while on the course: Unlike other races, where this is a good measure of hurry up and wait between obstacles, because the obstacles were staffed, each one also had bootcamp style exercises to complete while waiting. Yes, you have to wait while other people take their turn – but since you are here, drop and do fifteen burpees followed by fifteen mountain climbers.  Still waiting? Do some sit ups. Oh, it’s taking longer than you thought? Jog in place with your arms held up. It’s no wonder I can barely lift my arms.


Things I missed (that other mud runs usually have): loud music and dancing. There was a man charged with building excitement in the crowd about to run and he did a decent job, but I missed the loud music that has been at other events. “Pumpy music,” my 8 year old calls it. I wanted some of that.

Things I was fine not to see but others might miss: the beer tent / free drink to all people who race.

Things I did not like: slippery rope.

Things that are signs of a beginning event (and that I hope continue): the parking situation was easy to navigate and the shuttles were on time and plentiful.

Things that made this event special for me: watching my friend giggle almost uncontrollably as she slid into the last trench of mud. She was positively gleeful. At the end of the course, she was given her medal by a man in a wheelchair who was so captured by her joy that he asked for a (very muddy) hug. I hope there are some on the course action shots of us together.

Things I have to remember to bring next time: gloves. Weight-lifting gloves would have protected my hands on the rope challenges.

Things I just need to point out: it is really hard to put in contacts without a mirror, but if you can do it using only a mobile phone, you get a lot of unsolicited positive comments.

Number of times we heard, via radio worn by staff, about need for a medic or an ambulance: at least three in one hour.

Obstacle I could not do: the last one. I was supposed to climb a rope that was roughly 8 metres in height. I did two pull ups with my arms and got no further. My arm strength was gone. There was a lot of climbing. I also could only do five rungs of the monkey bars (jump up, grab, then go between bars about a foot apart, over a pit of mud).  Slippery rungs that were a bit large for my tiny hands (and no training!) were the culprit here.

My favourite obstacle: climb to the top of a parapet using a rope, swing your legs on to the top (no points for style here: everyone looked like a beached whale doing this manoeuvre), then descend on the other side, using another rope that you had to wrap around your leg, making a brake with your feet and using your arms to rappel down the side. I had forgotten that I know how to do this and it brought back memories of my childhood rope swing that I would use to descend from climbing trees.

It’s not a mud-run that any fitness level could do, unless you chose to go around all the obstacles. But there was no open fire, no potential for electrical shocks, no barbed wire. I felt there were lots of things that got me out of my comfort zone to the point of having to take a calculated risk – that’s good for me. I feel an influx of confidence, and I am grateful for that. Lots of team-building in my wave, but no bizarre costumes. The teams helped each other, giving “legs up” and pulling each other to the top of obstacles.


As I write this, I am six hours from finishing the race. My arms (all parts of them) started shaking about a half hour after the race. I just had trouble carrying a load of laundry to the basement. It’s not the cardio that is hard in this race. It’s the strength component. Next year, I’ll focus on my upper body strength a great deal more, whether I am busy or not. The goal? Climb that damn rope.

body image · link round up

Fit is a feminist issue, link round up #3

We usually share links on our Facebook page but ones involving nudity we’re sharing here instead. Read why here.


It is less often discussed, but Disney also exerts body pressure on boys, stressing a fit and chiseled physique as the true way to convey a heroic masculinity and attract women. It’s wrong to assume this creates less pressure on young boys in movie theater audiences than their female counterparts — especially when studies show anorexia is often under-diagnosed in male patients because it is considered a “feminine” disorder..

  • Belly dance your way to a more positive image: “Looking at a magazine cover featuring a model with toned abs, a slim waist, and curvy hips, then taking a look in the mirror, could be very discouraging for most women, but belly dancing is one way to change that. The exercise is sexy, fun, and according to a new study conducted by Australian researchers, it will improve your body image. The study was led by Marika Tiggermann of the psychology department at Flinders University, Southern Australia. Tiggermann and researchers found that in Western countries, more women than men were dissatisfied with their bodies. They concluded that the ideal thin woman is an international phenomenon, largely due to globalization of Western media.”
  • The What’s Underneath Project: “We’ve asked a select group of individuals to participate in a project in which they will remove their clothes to honor how style is not the clothes you wear, it is comfort in your skin, it is your spirit, it is What’s Underneath.”

We asked model Chloe Nørgaard to be a part of the What’s Underneath Project because in an industry bursting with button-up pretension and real-life (and un-ironic) Zoolanders, Chloe is a down-to-earth Burning-Man rebel with rainbow hair, a see-through camisole, and denim ripped to the nines. When agencies told her to dress in such-and-such a way (and, of course, to lose weight), Chloe said, “Fuck it, I’m dying my hair blue.” Today, colored hair is ubiquitous. We love how Chloe eludes the derogatory stereotypes surrounding modeling by telling people that she’s a gynecologist or librarian. For WU, she bravely reveals her “on-and-off relationship” with her small chest, adding, “It’s funny, I probably only have an issue with my boobs because of the magazines. If there wasn’t any of that, I probably would’ve never had that thought. Thank God it didn’t stick. Now, I just don’t like to wear bras.” Deconstructing twisted beauty norms is one of WU’s primary aims. Thank you, Chloe, for standing outside of the pack and creating your own kind of beautiful.

“Everything is photoshopped. As a young girl, or a young boy, you go through enough shit. If you’re made to believe that looks are really important then you miss out on working on some of the things that are way more important…. I got jumped my first week of high school. Some guy said that I was hot and a girl that was in love with him heard it. I was walking out of the lunch room and she just jumped on me from behind and started to pull my hair and punch me. I didn’t even know the guy…. I hate to say I’m a model. When people ask what I do, I tell them I’m a gynecologist or a librarian. I feel like once you say you’re a model people are like, ‘Oh… ok,’ and then they go away…. In the beginning, my agencies told me I had to dress more like this or lose weight. I just never listened. I was like, ‘Fuck it; I’m dying my hair blue.’ The agencies thought I lost my mind…. I’ll get attention because of my hair or how I’m dressed when I just want to hide and not be out there…. I’m on and off with my boobs. Sometimes I love them and sometimes I wish they could be a bit bigger. In 8th grade, I would get padded bras because all of the girls in magazines had boobs. It’s funny, I probably only have an issue with my boobs because of media. If there wasn’t any of that, I probably would’ve never had that thought. Thank God it didn’t stick. Now, I just don’t like to wear bras…. In Japan, they’d weigh the girls everyday. If they had gone up, they wouldn’t get pocket money so that they couldn’t get food for the week… I used to want the stick legs, but it was just impossible. My body isn’t built that way. I can’t just eat carrots, that would drive me crazy…. I don’t like having a lot of makeup on my face. At shoots, they alway say, ‘We’re going to do natural.’ But natural just means no crazy eye shadow; you still have a shit ton of concealer…. My body is where I feel warm and comfy. Seeing is one of my favorite senses, and I like what I see.”
Read more at http://stylelikeu.com/themes-2/body-image/chloe-norgaard/#WHCC0f66oHMc2tmr.99

Guest Post · running

Really, how do you forget a mud run? (Guest post)

On Tuesday of this week, I received a text from a friend telling me that she was no longer able to run with us on Saturday. Nothing came to mind. I didn’t recall having plans to run with her. I checked my calendar. There it was: MUCK MS run, Hamilton.

Oops. That.

I’d forgotten about it.

This year’s flood of fall was intense for me. September hit; my workload skyrocketed; personal and professional commitments collided. The sum total of my intentional exercise has been two yoga classes since August 29. I have not got the rhythm and routine of fall down yet. I’m still active (ish) – the dog and kid make sure of that, the labyrinthian building and third floor office help too – but I know I am not at my usual level of fitness. I am, however, also not at my usual level of stress…

So, let’s go do a 5 km mud obstacle run!

Because I am a big kid who likes to play.

Because I know I will do at least one obstacle that makes me feel that I can complete anything.

Because I like to see my friends taking on challenges too.

I saw Sam last night at an event where she was the featured speaker, and she reminded me that muscle memory is a wonderful thing, that I’d probably just be sore for longer after the run. I’ll let you know. Right now I have to go pull up my knee socks and get to Hamilton.

body image · fitness · Guest Post · health · weight loss

Canine fitness coach (Guest post)

At one time I thought it would be good to have a small dog that I could take places with me, but I soon learned that a big dog could take me all sorts of places I really wanted to go! I had the chance to adopt a very nice husky-shepherd mix that a friend had rescued, and I knew she’d keep me active. I knew she could run with me, if I wanted, and that otherwise keeping her happy would require me to walk a lot. I named her Abbie – Abigail means “heavenly gift,” and she has not only required me to be active but helped me to enjoy exercise and build a better body image.

I’ve never particularly enjoyed exercise, except for step classes in certain places, dancing, and walking. Finding exercise that I can enjoy has been a long-term quest. I would run a little from time to time just because it was minimal hassle and investment. But running has become a special pleasure with Abbie: finding the freedom in letting out my stride and running alongside her, sharing the joy she finds in running. Nobody enjoys running like a dog, and perhaps no dogs more than huskies. Her pleasure at using her strength inspires me to simply enjoy what I’m doing, and to accept the exercise as an end in itself. We enjoy our movement, being together, and being simply being out!

I find it easiest to lose weight (and keep it off) when I run or get intense cardio of any kind, and I used to consider losing weight really important. It was my central reason for exercising: I’ve suffered from the usual body image nonsense that many women endure. I wanted a better motivation to exercise, but I couldn’t internalize the other goals it serves: stress reduction, energy, sleeping well, and so on. That’s a lot easier to do now that Abbie’s helped me to appreciate the pleasures of exercise itself, and being outside just to be in the light and the air. That motivates me to continue to exercise, so I can continue to do more, especially as my aging body needs encouragement.

Abbie checks out my new shoes, reserves judgement
Abbie checks out my new shoes, reserves judgement
Guest Post · injury · running

The Long Slow Walk (a.k.a. My Recovery from a Concussion) – Guest Post

Though I don’t remember much about the actual event, I do remember the day clearly.  It was February 19, a Wednesday, the day after my husband’s 34th birthday.  I had plans to go out for dinner with friends – an event aptly entitled “Strangers and Friends” because, well, it involved strangers and friends – a dinner that I eventually had to miss.  These details are important to me because they are among the few things that I remember from that day.  The last thing that I remember is that I was running away from my dog, a weak attempt to get her to chase me.  The next thing I remember is waking up with my face flat on the concrete floor with my dog sniffing me and gently licking the blood from my forehead.  I knew immediately that I had hit my head and that I had hit my head hard.  I had all the tell tale symptoms of a concussion.  I woke up dizzy, nauseous and very mentally foggy.  I suffered a grade 3 concussion and have been recovering ever since.

One of the most difficult things for me about recovering from my concussion is that I have had to change the way that I think about myself.  I am, what some people might call, a type A personality or, what I would prefer to call, a type C personality – a type A personality without all the negatives typically associated with being type A and with an extra dash of hope and optimism!  I am a go getter.  This applies to my academic work as a professor of philosophy and it applies to other areas of my life such as running.  After the concussion, everything about me was slower.  My thinking was slower.  My physical movements were slower.  Everything I did led to debilitating migraines.  I watched an hour of tv, I got a migraine. I wrote part of a paper, I got a migraine.  I talked with people, I got a migraine.  I played with my daughter, I got a migraine. I went for a walk, I got a migraine. The longest migraine lasted for 14 days.  For me, the headaches are the least of my problems because I am able to control them with pain medication.  The more significant problem for me is the aura that I get along with the headaches.  My auras involve nausea, visual disturbances (blurry vision and sometimes complete but temporary blindness), auditory disturbances (ringing in my ears, sounds become amplified), and motor disturbances (wobbly legs and arms).  For the first few months after my concussion, I spent a lot of time in a dark room by myself.  I could no longer think of myself as a go-getter because I wasn’t able to go and get much of anything.

Physical activity is a recommended treatment for concussion and post-concussion syndrome.  Before my concussion, I was a runner.  Not a marathon runner, but a runner.  I liked to run for 45 minutes, around 4 times a week.  I never liked walking, but walking, and walking very slowly, was the only thing that I could do after my concussion.  At first I hated it.  And then slowly I came to enjoy it. I walked in the snow.  I walked in the rain and then eventually I walked in the warm sunshine.  And, now, I walk as the leaves fall. I am finally able to walk briskly, to play with my daughter, to talk with people and to read and write a little.  I’m able to imagine myself running again in the near future, something I couldn’t imagine a few months ago.  I am still recovering, but I am slowly coming to accept myself as I am in my current post-concussion state.  It’s a slower me.  But, being the type C person that I am, I am hopeful about becoming a new and improved me and being able to do much more soon.

Mother and daughter walking on the trail
Mother and daughter walking on the trail

Meena Krishnamurthy is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Manitoba.  She can be seen walking slowly in the lovely neighborhood of River Heights in Winnipeg.  She is often accompanied by her reassuring husband, spunky 6 year-old daughter, and extremely cute dog.


cycling · Guest Post

My First Group Ride (Guest Post)

Samantha has kindly been offering to take me on my first group ride for quite some time (I think it’s actually measured in years). “Not this time” I’d reply, “but keep asking.” Honestly I was too self conscious to go with other cyclists. I’m wobbly. I have an old bike that needs love and the forward posture of my road bike makes me feel…lumpy & exposed.

So finally I succumbed to Samantha’s invites and agreed to go Saturday, Sept 20 with her, Tracy and Mallory. The time was 7:30am and I tried to hide the abject horror I felt at setting an alarm for 6:30am on a Saturday. There may have been a few explicatives, even the morning of. However, I really needed a win, having had a pretty tough week on the personal and professional fronts, and I needed to get over this whole group ride fear thing.

All good in theory until Friday night when my anxiety went to full blown panic as I REALLY looked at my bike. I had left the old tires on while using the rollers as I didn’t want to wear out my new tires that way. I figured if I blew out old tires in a hallway no big deal. I hadn’t used the brakes much at all, on the rollers to stop I just stop pedaling and they were not in great shape.

I took out my brand new cycling shorts I bought at the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon and worried I’d be too cold. While I was fine with my lumpy legs on my own, with other people I felt exposed. Excuses, excuses, excuses!

The morning arrived and it was probably the most gorgeous fall day I’ve ever seen. I put on leggings with my shorts and a light fleece jacket, thinking I’d be cold. I got out the door and at the bottom of my street realized my brakes were super dodgy not to mention squeaky!

I ran into Tracy as I thought I’d gone to the wrong spot, turned around and we met with Mallory and Samantha. Sam gave my bike a quick looksee, it’s a 1963 ten speed. Honestly I love the dang thing, it cost me $100 and is dusty rose. I feel cheeky just riding it (I’m worried I might be part hipster).

We headed off down an easy bike path on a less than 20km loop. The pace was conversational and Sam taught me a few group riding hand signals. We weren’t attempting drafting or anything else, this was a ride to give me a sense of where my baseline was and spend time with my friends, perfect.

I really enjoyed chatting and riding, something I’ve never done before. When I shared how self conscious I was of my butt looking like it was eating the seat Samantha dropped back. She assured me “it looks like a butt on a seat, nothing scary”. A true friend does this, I am very lucky. I also know if anything looked askew she’d tell me to get a new saddle etc.

The path down to Springbank Park is essentially flat, with a couple bumps more than hills, so it is a great newbie ride. On the return leg we peeled off the main path to go for coffee and there was a little downhill with a turn. I actually said “WHEE!” involuntarily and then nearly hit a small dog, really must do something about those brakes.

There was a bit of an uphill on the way to the café but I geared down and huffed along, it felt doable. We got to the café and I put my left leg down to dismount but my knee collapsed and I completely wiped out on the sidewalk. I laughed and Tracy assured me it wouldn’t be a good outing if I didn’t get a bruise. I don’t even clip in, just my general clumsiness.

We had coffee and snacks then Tracy and I headed uptown after Samantha and Mallory told us the best route to take. There is a fairly big hill coming out of Harris Park onto Dufferin and I ended up walking the last bit, just too much at the end and I was out of gumption. We got to where we went our separate ways and I got home feeling pretty good.

4 lessons learned:

1) I was way over dressed, shorts and a light long-sleeved shirt would have been enough for me, I’m a sweaty human who warms up fast.

2) Water bottle holder on my road bike. I forgot it was only on my mountain bike. OOPS. Thankfully it fit in my pocket.

3) Bike maintenance is not only a good idea but a safety issue, change those brake pads and pack a spare tube! Actually, invest in a repair kit and put it under my seat.

4) My tires were underinflated. I thought they were at max pressure but after the ride I checked, I could have added another 25lbs of pressure and still been in range.

4 things that were better than expected:

1) Raising my handlebars this winter was exactly the right thing to do. When I want to go low I can and when my core is too weak to maintain the most aggressive posture I can adopt a more cruising stance.

2) My seat height is great. I had been playing around with it and now have the sweet spot.

3) Although I didn’t train over the summer I still have a baseline that made the trip within my comfort zone.

4) Peak lycra: Yes, I can wear lycra, on a road bike or at a café and the world won’t end. People won’t even point and scream, actually no one seemed to notice at all.

All in all it was a fun trip. I’m still working on reclaiming group exercise after my military years and this certainly went a long way in establishing how fun group cycling can be, I’ve even agreed to go again next week!

aging · Uncategorized

This Is What a Fit, 50, and Feeling Fabulous Feminist Looks Like!

50 sunflower TI never experience birthdays neutrally. And this year, I resisted 50 for quite a long time. No big party plans because I didn’t feel like celebrating. I wrote about my unhappiness about 50 here.

Early on Saturday morning Sam, Nat, Mallory and I went out for a leisurely ride on the bike path.  I left my house at about 7:20 a.m. The morning air felt September crisp.  I encountered Natalie on the way to the meeting place at the Forks of the Thames (yes, we have our own Thames in this London).

Sam and Mallory were there.  The four of us set off at an easy pace, chatting as we rode along the path beside the river.  We fell into pairs, Natalie and Sam riding up ahead, Mal and I behind. Happy group.

Towards the end of the ride, a feeling of perfect peace washed over me.  I had an experience of total contentment that went beyond the impeccable weather, the splendid company, the feeling of connection and camaraderie, and the creamy decaf soy latte at the Black Walnut after our ride.

September can be like that. I had a similar and most unforgettable thing happen twenty years ago, when Mallory was 2 years old.  Sam and Mallory and I spent an afternoon on a picnic blanket on “the hill” on campus, as spectators at a kite flying contest.  Nothing dramatic that I can relate here. I don’t remember the kites or what we had as our picnic. But time felt like it opened up that day and  became endless.  Peace and contentment just fell into my lap.

I don’t know if this has something to do with decade birthdays. The kite contest day was just before I turned 30. No doubt, I had anxieties about that milestone as well. But the experience this weekend was bigger than before. Everything seemed okay.  Being 50. Doing what I’m doing with my life. All the choices I’ve ever made up to this point.

All of it settled into place as I pedaled along on Saturday morning.  The feeling lingered through the day. I squeezed in the most effortless errand to Costco (on a Saturday morning!) and still got back with plenty of time to make it to the first hot yoga class I’d attended in months. On a different day, I’d have been rushing around and probably wouldn’t have made it to yoga at all.

As I did the class, I had more power in my practice than I had when I last did yoga. A testament to the gains I’ve made through weight training and triathlon training over the past couple of years.

After class, things just sort of flowed right out of the studio and down the street, ending me and a friend up at Veg Out (my absolute favorite restaurant — they are catering my cake party later this afernoon!).  I told him about how peaceful I felt about the looming birthday. It didn’t even feel looming anymore.

And so the day went. The peace brought with it an immense sense of gratitude.

What corner did I turn that’s made me feel this way?  I think it all just sunk in. I have had an amazing time over the past couple of years, seizing onto the fittest by 50 challenge that Sam and I set for ourselves.  “Seizing” may even be too strong a word for the modest but consistent effort I’ve put in. I just showed up and did what was in front of me, day after day, allowing for mistakes and missteps, letting every little thing add up to a big moment.

I’m 50. I’ve done not one but TWO Olympic distance triathlons in less than two months. I’m training for the Toronto Half Marathon.  I’m committing to the road bike, even signed up for a winter indoor trainer class that starts November 1.

I saw the Grand Canyon and went to Burning Man.

I’ve ridden bicycles in Zurich, Madrid, along the South Rim, Las Vegas, and the Nevada desert.

My swimming is getting faster!

Sam and I have an awesome and exciting book proposal (stay tuned) and an agent to help us find a home for it. We are working on a research grant for a project that, whatever the research council decides, we believe in and think is worthy.

Renald and I are downsizing to a simpler, more manageable lifestyle (condo!) and that’s kind of exciting.

My step-daughter is a talented artist who is following her dreams. AND she says her positive body image has a lot to do with my example.

My parents are coming for the weekend to celebrate with me.  In South African tradition, it’s appropriate to wish them a “happy birthday” today too.

I have wonderful, solid friends in my life–the kind that would go to the wall for me. And lots of them want to take me out for dinner and lunch to celebrate my birthday! Like, we’re booking birthday meals into October, okay.  How amazing is that?

I’m satisfied with where I’m at today and I feel good about who I am. There’s a sort of joyful exuberance bubbling up inside of me these days. Feeling several shades of fabulous, actually.

It bodes well for life after 50.

Happy birthday to me: fit, feminist, 50, and fine with that!




Women Unite! Take Back the…Bike!

Cycling in Madrid. Photo credit: Nancy Hughes.
Cycling in Madrid. Photo credit: Nancy Hughes.

Last Thursday I had a blast at the annual Take Back the Night rally and march in London.  The event brings back the old days of women marching together in the streets: “Daughters, sisters, mothers, wives, take back the night, it’s half our lives!” and “No more silence, no more violence!” and “Hey, hey! Ho, ho! Patriarchy has got to go!”

The feeling of walking through the major streets of our city with hundreds of other women and their children (and dogs!), laughing and chanting, just fills me with hope and joy.

The same day, The Globe and Mail published a story about the gender gap in commuter cyclists: “Is there a gender gap among commuting cyclists? the numbers are stark.”

Now, I am well aware of the gender gap in road cyclists, triathletes, mountain bikers, etc.  But I have never reflected much on gender and commuter cycling. And as the G and M reports, the numbers are indeed stark:

In Canada, just 29 per cent of daily bike commuters were women, according to 2006 census data, although that number did rise in Canadian cities: women made up 35 per cent of bicycle commuters in Toronto and Montreal and 37 per cent in Vancouver.

Similarly low numbers are reported in New York, where bike commuting men outnumber women 3 to 1. What keeps women away from the bike?

According to the article, street traffic tops the list.  But that makes it sound as if it’s about individual choice. What interests me most about the report is that a number of more alarming kinds of reasons come into play.

Street harassment, reaching a seasonal peak in the prime riding times of spring and summer, keep lots of women off the bike. And then there are some more structural reasons. Women’s commuting patterns are different because they are more likely than men to need to pick up kids on the way home from work or to have to make pit stops for groceries.

And as the article points out, women still have to work many more hours than men to make the same money. So their days are longer. The article doesn’t mention that as a consequence, especially when darkness begins to fall earlier, they’re more likely to be commuting in the dark.

As Take Back the Night reminds us, the dark of night poses troubling risks for women.  This compounds the fear of street traffic, which for good reason is more acute after dark for any cyclist. Most women I know, even those who walk with a fair bit of confidence at night, feel the need to be extra alert when they’re out alone after dark.

There are lots of good reasons to commute by bike. I started commuting regularly about two years ago, just after my 48th birthday. Trading in my parking pass for a sturdy hybrid has helped me save money, reduce my carbon footprint, feel refreshed and relaxed both when I get to work in the morning and when I arrive home at the end of the day, and slow down and feel the world around me.

It’s also reduced my commute time by at least ten minutes because for most of my route I’m on the bike path with no stop signs or traffic lights and, instead of having to park and walk to my building on campus I can ride right up to the bike rack outside of the philosophy department.

Elizabeth Plank, a senior editor at Mic, “has been asking women who do cycle to tweet their photos under the hashtag #IBikeBecause. Their reasons are as diverse as men’s: cost savings, exercise, environmentalism, reliability, speed, fresh air and, not least of all, sanity.”

Meanwhile, I can attest that my commuter biking has added all sorts of good things to my life. I confess that I have some fear when it comes to street traffic and I’m not keen to ride after dark, but I am far braver than I was when I began two years ago. And I have bright lights with strobe settings for those nights when I am caught late and want to ride home.

Claim our bodies, claim our right
Take a stand, take back the bike!

Best way to commute on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon: bicycle!
Best way to commute on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon: bicycle!






Upcoming events and fall cycling schedules, or where to find me and my bike

Bikes and Brains

A community bike ride and some speakers, including me!

Friday, September 26 at 6:15pm – 9:30pm
Goodwill Conference Centre, 255 Horton St., London, CA
Register here.

bikesandbrains poster, image of a brain



Tweed Ride

London TWEED Ride Organizing Committee

Saturday, 4 October 2014 from 11:00 AM to 2:00 PM (EDT)

London, ON

Register here.


London 2014 TWEED Ride

MEC century ride

  • Date: Sunday, 05 October, 2014
  • Time: From 09:00 am to 02:00 pm EDT
  • Organizer: MEC London
  • Price: 35.00

Be part of the first MEC London Century Ride!  This is a one day road cycling adventure on an open course for people who are passionate about their active lifestyles.

Choose from a beautiful 60k or 110KM route that takes you on the quiet rural roads of the scenic Elgin County visiting both Port Stanley and Port Bruce along the way.  The event starts and finishes at Railway City Brewery.  There will be marshals and directional signs along the course, as well as a rest stop midway complete with replenishments, washrooms, and a bike mechanic for minor repairs.  The staggered start will begin at 9:00AM and close at 9:30AM.  Upon finishing, celebrate your accomplishment with food, drink and the camaraderie of other riders at the brewery.