athletes · fit at mid-life · fitness · Martha's Musings

Medals, recognition and being fair to all

matteo-vistocco-240766-unsplashBy MarthaFitat55

I have a box that I keep sentimental bits and pieces in for safe keeping. There’s the usual flotsam and jetsam of life: a ticket to my first Broadway musical, the tassel from my high school graduation mortar board, a funny postcard from my mom, a plastic Mickey Mouse, my girl guide pins and so on.  Hiding in the box are also two mementoes from two sporting events I participated in: my first ten mile road race and my first (and only) rowing medal.

I hear a lot about how everyone wins these days, from school yard sports days to intramural sports. But what if you signed up for a race and no one was there to see you cross the finish line? What if you forked over your cash, and there was no medal because they ran out? What if you registered hoping for a personal best and the timing mats were gone so no one, including yourself knows your official time? Or the most most worrisome, you were promised water stations and sign posts, and neither were available by the time you reached the designated areas?

Hard to believe but these are all true stories as reported in this open letter to race directors published a few days ago. That ten mile road race I ran back in 2003? You do run on a road, and for the first two hours, the race route is closed to traffic. Go longer, as many walkers and some slower runners do, and you have to hope for the best as the road re-opens and the cars move in. But is it really fair though that only the elite athletes get all the perks — the water, the cheers, the medals, the time chips etc?

I understand time limits and I know many of these races depend on volunteers and the goodwill of the residents in the neighbourhoods these races go through. I really do. The first year I ran the Tely Ten, back in 2003, there were about 1400 participants. In the 2018 race, there were almost 4100 runners, walkers, and wheelers. That’s a whole lotta people getting their fit on.

Even though there’s three times as many people, the actual time difference for the back of the pack has gone from three hours and 17 minutes to three hours and 33 minutes. That’s only a 16 minute difference. So why are the water stations packed away, the roads opened, etc?

Part of me suspects this is the kind of anti-amateur athlete bias we see in other sports. I still remember the dismissal female rowers got for their Regatta efforts in some media coverage. They were only in it to lose weight or look good opined a few, both on and off the record.

Perhaps the feeling is if you can’t train enough to keep up with those who can run a 10 mile race in under 90 minutes, you aren’t a real athlete? Maybe people think you aren’t committed to your fitness goals  or you aren’t training hard enough to keep up.

Whatever the reason, there’s a growing chorus out there saying every participant should have the opportunity to finish a race on equal footing with the same treats, water, supports, medals and timers whether you lead the pack or bring up the rear. Especially if you have paid for the privilege of being in a particular competition.

While I wasn’t best pleased to discover there would be cars in the roadway as I headed into the homestretch of my first real race, I did get my official time. I cannot imagine the feeling of having run a race and learning I had been bumped from the chip because I wasn’t fast enough. I can’t imagine not having water on a super muggy race day and having to depend on the kindness of strangers or making sure I could carry enough to keep me going. I cannot think how I would feel if I lost my way on a race course because the signs got picked up sooner rather than later.

We talk a lot here in Canada and also in the US about the need to become fitter so we can reverse the trend of fatter kids and obese adults. We have started having conversations on how we can best support access to affordable modes of exercise and sport and make them safe and inclusive spaces as well. And yet, when it comes to events that help us set benchmarks and allow us to compete with others, why do we have to treat the back of the pack with less respect than those at the front?

As race planners look ahead to 2019, we have to find a way to make sure everyone has a chance to compete on a fair playing field. From rowing, I learned we all have to pull together to make the boat fly. It’s time we pulled together so everyone, including those at the back, get a fair shake too.

Martha gets her fit on through powerlifting and swimming.

 

 

 

 

athletes · training

Trying the tri-adventure in its last year… Join us!!!

This year for the first, and last, time I’m joining this blog’s Cate Creede in the tri-adventure. You can read about Cate’s connection to the event here.

I’ll have more to say later about my specific plans and my training and also about fundraising. I’m not asking for money just yet but I am asking you to join in.

What kind of event is the tri-adventure? “The TriAdventure is not a typical triathlon. Our activities are not timed, and there are no prizes for finishing first. Our participants challenge themselves with the physical activities involved in the event, but are also challenged to raise over $1,200 for 51 vulnerable children in Kasese, Uganda who have been left without family support through poverty, HIV/AIDS or violence. The reward is knowing that your effort helps fund a program that begins with food, shelter and education and aims to help these children become self-sustaining citizens who contribute to a vibrant, diverse global community.”

When is the Tri-adventure? It’s August 16-18, 2019.

Where is it? Camp Wahanowin. That’s on the north side of Lake Simcoe, about 2 and 1/2 hours drive from Toronto.

Can you tell me more about it?

From the website: “Join an amazing community of people for ONE LAST TriAdventure weekend where we will acknowledge, as a community, the incredible work we’ve done together over the past 15 years to create, sustain and bring a dream to life. This will be our final massive fundraising push that will take the whole project to the finish line over the next 5 years.

Whether you were engaged in a whole series of Triadventures or have only been part of one, we would love you to be part of this amazing final event with all the familiar elements you know and love and a few special additions.such as the two recent Nikibasika graduates who will be joining us!

In this final year, we are thrilled to announce that two of our recent graduates Phionnah and Smith are coming to Canada to bring first-hand thanks and messages from the 52 young adults of Nikibasika community. They will be with us throughout the weekend sharing their stories and meeting the community of supporters who have taken a stand to support them. They will also be participating in internship programs while here. You won’t want to miss this opportunity to celebrate together.

Also, each and every person who signs up for the Triadventure Finale will get a commemorative cycling jersey or hoodie to mark this great moment.”

You can read more about it here, https://www.facebook.com/TriAdventurePage/

http://www.triforafrica.org/

And you can register here, https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/triadventure-2019-the-finale-tickets-37787495416

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I’m hoping we can gather a whole crew of fit feminists to mark the occasion of the last tri-adventure. Join me! Join Cate! Join Sarah! Join us! It’ll be fun. It’ll be rewarding. I promise.

athletes · inclusiveness

She’s got game (at Guelph)!

A new initiative at Guelph, my new university home, is starting and it’s right up my alley and so people keep talking to me about it. I like that. She’s Got Game will officially be launched on October 18th, extending our school’s ethos of diversity and inclusion to sports.

See https://twitter.com/uofg/status/1052242772244217857?s=19

“Join us as we celebrate the exciting launch of U of G’s She’s Got Game initiative! She’s Got Game is committed to fostering gender equity and encouraging women and girls to excel in sports. It aims to help girls and women acquire tools to succeed on and off the field of play by engaging the community, informing policy and fundraising.”

There are lots of different pieces to this initiative. Some of it I’m indirectly involved in, like developing experiential learning opportunities for university age student athletes who will partner with the girls. Other bits I’m just a consumer. I love that Planet Bean partnered with them to make and sell Gryphon Blend coffee which benefits girls and women involved in athletics at Guelph. It’s great coffee and a great idea. 

Learn more about the initiative at www.shesgotgame.ca.

aging · athletes · meditation · running · soccer

I Had A Midlife Crisis and Didn’t Realize It At The Time

Extreme Athleticism is The New Mid-Life Crisis provoked me to wonder if a series of ultra-running events I did when was 44-45 were motivated by fear of aging.

At the time they felt organic. Not like I was trying to outrun my aging or shore myself up for the years to come, as the article suggests. More like I had been trail running for some years, enjoying increasingly longer distances and then thought, “Could I run one of those ultra distances?”

To be clear—I’ve never run more than a 50k, though the trails add challenge to that distance. The longest event, time-wise, was in Cape Town, South Africa. Three Peaks Challenge runs up and down the three smallish mountains that push that city toward the sea: Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain and Lion’s Head. That 50k run took me 9 hours.

mina 2
Mina running down rocky steps on Table Mountain in Cape Town

I went into the longer distances as someone who had run marathons, done half-ironman triathlons and even the Canadian Ski Marathon a couple of times (a two-day, 100-mile cross-country ski). I wasn’t a stranger to the borderline extreme.

Yet, before I did any ultra-runs, I thought that anyone who undertook such an endeavor was trying to avoid something they didn’t want to think about (not just aging). Even when I did the ultras, I felt like the extremes I participated in were just the right length. Anything longer had a whiff of desperation. Yes, that was highly subjective, probably wildly inaccurate and judgmental. I was thinking like that old joke about the driver who thinks everyone driving slower is an old grandpa and everyone driving faster is a danger-on-wheels. (A side note: Who decides what’s extreme? One person’s extreme may be another’s daily dose in these times of ever more punishing activities.)

If you’re getting the feeling that I’m avoiding the question I opened with. You’re right. Until I wrote this, I didn’t want to think that I had a mid-life crisis (more judgment). Looking back now (at a distance of seven years), I see that maybe I was. I had published two books and still felt like a struggling writer. My marriage was not in the best period. I was looking for some way to feel special and strong. When I finished ultras, I felt invincible.

My foray into ultra-running was sidelined by Morton’s neuroma, a nerve inflammation that feels how I imagine an electric cattle prod applied to the ball of my foot would feel. I finally had surgery to remove the neuroma about 18 months ago.

Summer 2017 was my first back running in the mountains. I was cautious (and elated just to be running at all without extraordinary pain). This past summer, I did quite a few 3 to 4 hour runs, including the Sierra Crest 30k I wrote about in this post: Compare and Despair. As I was training, I kept asking myself, “Do I want to be doing more of these longer runs? Do I want to aim for another 50k or even something longer?” Right now, the answer is no.

Unless I live quite a long time, I’m probably past mid-life. Is that why I don’t feel a zeal for the extreme? According to the Medium article I mentioned at the top prime time for the uptick in extreme athletics is 40-49. I hate the thought that I’m not doing the extreme runs anymore because I’m too old or I can’t. Anyhow, I know that’s not true.

Have I accepted my mortality? I’d like to think that I have after much meditation (plus silent retreats, plus a vision quest), but I’m also sure that I have not achieved such equanimity.

What I do have are other challenges on my plate—finishing my book, my first ensemble play being produced at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in March 2019. I don’t feel like I need the extra scare of an ultra run on the horizon, too. I’m enjoying my sleep and time to read novels on the couch on the weekend with my partner.

I’m happy. I don’t feel like I need to prove to myself that I’m strong. I am.

But … I also love running for long stretches of time in the mountains or forest. Another ultra-run is not out of the question. So, if I’m not in midlife anymore, then maybe I wasn’t running far because of a crisis in the first place.

What about you? Have you had or are you in the midst of a mid-life crisis? What does that look like for you?

athletes · fitness

Are there any elite female athlete-doctors? Yes, but they’re not easy to find

Today I was listening to an NPR radio show I like called Only a Game. I like it because it covers lots of different sports and lots of athletes of different ages, dis/abilities, competition levels, etc.  This week’s show included a segment on US National Football League players who went to medical school during their playing careers.  This May,  Canadian Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, an offensive lineman for the Kansas City Chiefs, graduated from medical school with his MD. He’s gotten a lot of press for this impressive accomplishment, but it turns out he’s not the first NFL player to combine an athletic career with medical school.  If you’d like to hear more about it, check out the podcast.

When a male pro athlete does anything else in addition to working as a pro athlete, it’s big news. John Urschel (also Canadian) played pro football for several years while working on a PhD in mathematics at MIT.  He retired from football in 2017, partly because of a JAMA study on CTE, a degenerative brain condition linked to multiple concussions. He’s now a full-time graduate student.

These stories got me wondering: there must be women pro and elite athletes who have done the same thing. I got to work, googling here and googling there.  These women are not easy to find.  But they are out there.

American diver Abby Johnston won a silver medal at the 2012 London Olympics and was a medical student at Duke university while competing at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Canadian Caroline Park trained for and competed with the South Korean women’s Olympic Hockey team while she was medical school at Columbia University. She’s had to juggle her schedule and take some time off, but has support from her family, the hockey team and school officials.

I found information about a handful of  mostly Olympic women athletes who then went on to become physicians. All of them were Canadian or American.  There was nothing– NO-THING– out there (that I could find) about female athletes from other countries who combined training and competition with medical studies.

The reason why I’m writing about my failure to find relatively easy access to this straightforward question— which female athletes trained and competed during medical school– is that there could be a number of reasons why I can’t find anything.  And none of them bode well for female athletes who have ambitious educational plans. Here are some possibilities to explain.

Except for tennis, women pro athletes’ salaries are much smaller than male athletes’ salaries.  Want some figures?  There’s very nice (and graphically pleasing) information by Adelphi University. Since women athletes have less money to begin with, they may not be able to afford medical school during training and competition.

Olympic female athletes often come up through secondary and university systems, or government-sponsored sports organizations. The time and commitment requirements are enormous.  The male athletes who talked about combining sports and study had to overcome significant objections, and play down their scholarly activities. Women athletes likely faced even more hurdles and had less support. So it may be the case that there are fewer women who were able to pursue such a combined program.

Or, maybe there are many examples all over the world of women athlete/doctors, but they get no press.  Google doesn’t care about them because the media doesn’t think it worthwhile. Yes, that’s a cynical view.  I mean, it’s possible that I just did some lousy searching.  But I don’t think so.  After all, in the course of my online searching, I did find this:

Former pro basketball player Shaquille O'Neal, receiving his doctorate in education from Barry University.
Former pro basketball player Shaquille O’Neal, receiving his doctorate in education from Barry University.

It’s cool that pro basketball legend Shaquille O’Neal graduated with a doctorate in education. But I want to know about the women, too.  Why?

Frankly, it’s a thrill for me to see high-profile women who excel in athletics and academics at the same time.  It motivates me to do my best to continue down those dual tracks in my own life. And I can use some motivation. It’s hard to push through inertia, time constraints, injuries and/or other limitations, and other wild cards that life throws at us.

No, I’m not planning on pursuing another degree and taking up a new sport or amping up one I already do. But it’s nice to see superlative achievers out there. And I want to see those women. I’ll keep looking.  If you know of any cases, please let us know in the comments.

 

 

 

athletes · feminism · fitness

How To Run Like A Girl

running legs in wildflowers
Woman’s feet running through a field of wildflowers

A big hello to Fit Is A Feminist Issue readers! I know that some of you may have heard from me before about mountain biking, compare-despair or the fraught issue of women’s wear and tennis, but this is my official “introduce-myself” post. I’ll be posting regularly on the first Saturday of the month for a while. And in between, when stories like Serena’s catsuit and Alizé’s sports bra are too provocative not to comment. I’m thrilled to be a small part of this thoughtful and inspiring community.

So without further ado, who am I? I’m always tempted to say, “Nobody” in honour of Richard Wright’s haiku or Elizabeth Dickinson’s short poem. Maybe that’s because I’m a writer (though I hesitate to say that after mentioning such giants). I write non-fiction, fiction, poetry (for friends only) and plays. I’ve performed a couple of solo shows I’ve written and I’m working on an ensemble play. I’ve also ghostwritten other people’s books and edited a lot more besides. Recently, I’ve been translating 17th century French fables and wrapping them in commentary. Before all that I was a lawyer.

I made the switch from lawyer to writer when I contracted what I call adult-onset athleticism. That’s my way of describing a person, like me, who may participate in none or some sports when young, but does not identify as or take ownership of their athlete-self until they are an adult (something which is true for a lot of women). As an aside, for me, in my 40s I did perhaps contract a related case of mid-life extreme athleticism, but I’ll talk about that in another post. It was at twenty-eight that I discovered the thrill of running (and then swimming and cycling and later cross-country skiing and other things). I started to understand how to train to get faster and how to go longer distances than I imagined possible.

This shift in my self-perception was profound enough to spin my life off in a whole new direction. I quit being a lawyer. After a short detour through human rights work, I restarted my career at the bottom, working in publishing jobs. Eventually I went out on my own as a freelance editor and writer (Devil-Wears-Prada style assistantship was not my cup of tea). All of which was really a return to what I’d always loved as a kid.

Quite a few years later, I wrote a book about the transformative impact of sports on women’s lives (I’m working on a second, related one). I interviewed more than one hundred women for Run Like A Girl: How Strong Women Make Happy Lives—ordinary women who had experienced the way their physical strength became psychological strength.

Our sports are a mirror and microscope. Whenever we test the limit of what we thought we could do (whether that’s a first step or 100 miles, on our feet, our bike, our skis or however), we see more deeply into who we are. We also have the opportunity to experience in our bodies and minds how we respond to the challenges life throws at us: to practice our grit and grace; to practice our resilience; to practice ease and flow.

In other words, I’m a believer. Fit is a feminist issue. And I’m a feminist who wants to keep running like a girl as long as I can. As you can tell, I love that expression. There’s so much juiciness in the idea. A couple years back Always did a whole campaign around it. For me, running like a girl captures that ageless girl-spirit that powers so much of the lightness we are capable of in life. The clean-slate optimism of “let’s go” meets the seasoned wisdom of “I can.” Up for the challenge and wise enough to find balance in the effort. Oh, and in case it’s not obvious, when I say running, I mean it as a proxy for any active physical engagement you fancy, however you like to move.

If that isn’t feminist, then what is?

Castle Peak with sunburst
Running into a sunburst sky at the summit of Castle Peak in the Sierra Mountains, California

athletes · blogging · fitness · injury · monthly check in · motivation · sailing · weight loss

Sam’s monthly check-in: What’s up, what’s down, the July version (CW: long, some sad bits, some discussion of weight loss)

Down, is of course, my knee

Saw the surgeon and his team on Monday. I’ve been crying on and off since.

The easy bits are that I got another shot of synvisc under my kneecap. What is it and what’s it for? “SYNVISC is a viscosupplement injection that supplements the fluid in your knee to help lubricate and cushion the joint. SYNVISC is for people with knee osteoarthritis who have not received enough pain relief from diet, exercise and over-the-counter pain medication.”

Read more here.

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Knee injection

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I’m also still wearing the knee brace and it’s helping on days when I’m on my feet a lot. I spent the weekend in New York and even though I took the subway more than usual and hopped in a few taxis for good measure, I still got 13,000 steps in on Sunday including a walk through Central Park. Thanks knee brace. I did some shopping for more leggings for under the brace and for short skirts and dresses to wear over the leggings. The brace presents some fashion challenges and I’m warmer than usual with black leggings on no matter what.

Image description: A photo of Sam just outside Central Park. I’m wearing black leggings, sandals, a sleeveless black jumper and a purse over my shoulder. Also, a knee brace. I’m smiling and the sun is shining.

I’m still going to physio and doing lots of knee-supporting exercises.

I still meet the conditions for knee replacement surgery (in both knees actually though only the left hurts) but neither of the surgeons I saw recommend it. I’m too young and I’m too active. The surgeons made me laugh, which is something, given the general message they had to deliver.

They said they like to make people happy. The person they make the most happy through knee replacement is somebody who arrives in their office, sad and older. Someone who just wants to walk to the grocery store without pain, the kind of person who says they want to lead a normal life, get a decent night’s sleep, and not suffer all the time. Knee replacement apparently makes that person very happy but they said for someone like me it wouldn’t make me happy.

Why not? Because I want to regain function and their line on knee replacement is that you shouldn’t do it to regain function, you should do it to lose pain. Also, knee replacements don’t last very long maybe 20 years and I’m young. I want to do things like ride my bike and some patients after knee replacement have difficulty bike riding because they don’t have the full range of motion back necessary for riding a bike.

So, no.

Instead they discussed a different surgery called high tibial osteotomy. That surgery involves breaking bones and resetting them so I have a bigger gap in my knee cap on the side that’s in a lot of pain. It’s a good sign that the brace helps because this does surgically what the brace does mechanically. But it’s not a permanent fix. There’s a chance the other side of my knee will become painful as arthritis advances. So it’s good for 2-10 years maybe. Also, it’s big deal surgery. Like knee replacement it’s months and months of recovery. I’d trade off 10 years of active living without pain for six months painful time consuming recovery but I’m not sure about 2 years. There are no magic globes I can peer in to see the future.

I’m trying to decide. See them again in three months.

In the meantime my fit feminist friend Sarah is having that same surgery. Wishing her well.

But the other depressing piece of news from the surgeons was the strong recommendation of weight loss, both as a way of avoiding surgery and as essential to recovering from it. Either way I should lose a lot of weight. It will definitely, they say, help with pain relief. The pain is all about weight bearing. That’s why downstairs is harder than up. It’s all about force on the kneecap. And as far as motivation goes this is pretty horrible pain. Like pain that makes hard to think about other things.

Now as I’ve said before I wish that it were the case that medical reasons for weight loss changed the facts. But that’s not so. Your body doesn’t care how good, how “pure” your motivation is. It’s still tough. It’s tough losing weight and tough keeping it off.

I don’t have any choice but to try. The worse case scenario is that I lose it, gain it back, and more and need knee replacement surgery. But that’s the same worst case scenario I face now. I’ve lost significant amounts of weight in my life, 70 lbs in grad school, 60 when I turned 40. The trick, the hard part, is keeping it off. This time, if I actually lose weight, I’ll be unicorn training, learning the habits of people who actually keep weight off.

Don’t worry. This won’t become a weight loss blog. Likely I’ll save any angst, any updates, to my monthly check in posts. I’ll also add content warnings.

I thought about leaving blogging but making this pain manageable and movement possible is a big part of my life right now. And I’m very much still a fit, feminist just one who is coping with injury and aging and hoping to keep in moving.

Wish me luck.

Up, still Snipe racing

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Our Snipe!

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It can be tricky moving around in a small boat in ways that don’t hurt my knee but I’m learning how to do it. I haven’t raced a small sailboat ever. All of my sailboat racing experience is on relatively big boats so this is new to me. With all the knee misery, see above, it’s good to have something new to focus on. It’s fun and exciting and lots to learn.