blogging · feminism · fitness

Why we can’t promise a feminist space will be a safe space

Image description: Colourful drawing of five women in silhouette, suggestive of diverse ethnicities/races.
Image description: Colourful drawing of five women in silhouette, suggestive of diverse ethnicities/races.

We here at Fit Is a Feminist Issue like to talk about our “big tent feminism” and how we try to make space for everyone. That’s a lofty goal, I know. One of my favourite questions in feminism is “is an inclusive feminism possible?” I use it as a thematic frame for most of my teaching in feminist philosophy and women’s studies, as a way of pushing people in my classes to think about inclusivity and intersectionality not just as theoretical ideas, but in their actual material practices.

It’s hard. We struggle. People get defensive. There are misunderstandings. Hurt feelings. Anger. Difficult conversations. People are called on their privilege and need to look at that. People are afraid to speak for fear of offending, excluding, saying the wrong thing on a multitude of other levels, sounding closed when in fact they are open, hurting others’ feelings, having people be upset with them. Sometimes we find ourselves at an impasse. We have to agree to disagree or be stuck.  This is all in the context of feminism, where the majority of students are already there with respect to the broad strokes of it.

And though I do my best to manage the discussion, to push it forward or in a different direction if any of the above takes place, I can’t promise a totally “safe space” where no one will ever feel shitty, be offended, say the wrong thing.

Because guess what? Feminists disagree amongst themselves sometimes.

Oh, you might say, feminist disagreement isn’t necessarily “unsafe.” Well, that would be right. It isn’t necessarily unsafe. But as Cate said a couple of days ago and as Sam experienced this week, offense can turn to anger and vitriol pretty quickly. And when it does, it’s hard to know who will be in the line of fire. Or, if you feel some responsibility for the space, what to do about it. And sometimes our own content can be the instigator. We post a lot, there are many of us, we don’t spend a ton of time on each post — many risk factors at play.

We often go to what seems like the commonsense solution when things get ugly: tell people to engage respectfully with each other, not to be mean about it, etc. But guess what? That seemingly sensible suggestion is mega-triggering for some. One woman’s “be nice” is another woman’s “tone policing.” There is no feminist on this planet who hasn’t been told at some time or another that her anger is misplaced, that she should “be nice,” that she “shouldn’t” feel that way. It is a dismissive tactic used to undermine legitimate social justice complaints.

If a safe space is a place where you’re insulated from all possible hurtful, harmful, or offensive comments, then even on a feminist page we can’t promise that. It’s not so much the misogynists who take us down — we can deal with them by deleting and blocking. But it’s much harder to take that same approach to other feminists. I mean, we’re all on common ground when it comes to feeling sick to our stomachs about what Christine Blasey Ford is about to endure today, right?

I very much like Cate’s questions that press us to think about what we are making:

In our facebook interactions what are we making? Community? Uncrossable boundaries? Winners and losers? Are we making invitations to respond, or are we making hurt creatures who are going to slink off to their own corners and reload?

Obviously we don’t want to  be making something shitty where people feel awful. I felt awful the other day and engaged in a way that was unhelpful, more emotionally charged than I’d have preferred it to be, and ultimately left me feeling emotionally drained and hungover. That was no one’s fault but my own, because I was angry and defensive and instead of going off and breathing for a bit, I shot back comments seeking to be understood.

The irony of acting exactly like the way I perceived the people who were pissing me off to be acting was not lost on me in the least. That I wanted them to feel compassion for Samantha when I was exhibiting none for them indicates the type of logical block that takes hold. I could feel it happening while not being able to stop. There is a certain adrenaline that gets pumping in these things. Tempers rise. Everything escalates. It’s hard to think clearly. These are times when (for me anyway) silence is a better option.

And when that’s happening, the thing we least want to hear is “whatever whatever but do you mind being nicer?” As one of the angry people said (I’m paraphrasing), “how about trying to understand why we’re angry?” By then lines had been drawn in the sand (this is how it happens) and there was not going to be a lot of understanding.

I get it. Even as I argued and swore (yes, I swore at a reader in the comments on our Facebook page) I could see that this wasn’t a productive way to engage. That people were getting more angry. More hurt. More frustrated. We reached the impasse. More frustrating still because it is among feminists.

Feminist solidarity all the time would be wonderful, wouldn’t it? That kind of sisterhood where we all get one other. But it isn’t like that all the time. The history of feminism, the non-intersectional feminism of privileged, nondisabled white women, claimed to be that — to apply universally to the experience of women. And then feminists of color said, “hang on, your feminism doesn’t include me.”  And disabled feminists said, “wait a minute, your feminism doesn’t include me.” And feminists who lived in poverty said, “you’re not speaking to my experience.” And feminists who didn’t live in “The West” said, “the material realities of our lives aren’t represented by your feminism.”

The women in positions of privilege wanted a big tent, and they said it was open so anyone could wander in. But the tent didn’t feel so inclusive to the women who struggled in ways that the big tent kind of neutralized and didn’t seem to make space for. And so the space didn’t feel safe because they had things to say that couldn’t be said without making the more privileged women feel defensive or attacked or just not quite as comfortable in the tent as they wanted to be and aspired to be.

The road to an inclusive feminism that accurately represents differences among women instead of assuming a homogeneous sameness has been long and winding and difficult, sometimes even divisive, hurtful, harmful, and dangerous to women. No one is trying to make it this way. We aren’t dealing with malicious motives. But invisible privilege — the privilege of asking others to be nice perhaps — yields a type of denial. It’s not intentional, but it makes uptake of different experiences more difficult.

Does this mean that I don’t believe in our “big tent”? Not at all. I believe in it very much. But I am also aware that as big as the tent may be from my/our perspective, it doesn’t feel totally open to everyone all the time. And yes, I would like all the people who enter  — whether through the blog or the Facebook page or the Twitter discussion — to be kind and respectful to each other. Why? Because truly, we are all feminists even if all feminists don’t have exactly the same set of beliefs. But we can’t promise harmonious non-hurtful interactions all the time.

I can say that I myself will attempt to do better. And I know that as a collective we do actually grow through these stormy times.  We’re not perfect (yet!). There is always going to be room to improve, to modify our practices, to do things differently. It never feels good to be attacked, so we can hope that over time, we build up enough good faith that when we misstep and someone wants to let us know, they’ll be kind and not mean about it. But upon reflection, I do think that sometimes even that might be too much to ask.

When people get angry (including when I get angry), that vitriol usually lands on someone. And ouch. No one likes to be on the receiving end of fury. Sometimes it’s directed at one of the blog authors. Other times it’s a member of our community who has ventured to post a comment. But that we can post things that anger and upset people, and that people’s anger can land on us and others are both reasons for saying that as much as we would love to keep it all nice and kind and civil and harmonious, we can’t promise to do that.

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.

blogging · clothing

Women Celebrating Cycling

Wednesday, June 13th, 2018

Women Celebrate Cycling Speakers Evening

Time: 7 p.m. – 9 p.m.

Location: TAP Centre for Creativity (formerly ARTS Project) 203 Dundas Street, London, Ontario, Canada.

Come and learn about what specific interests and challenges women have in cycling more, how to get more women riding, and meet other women cyclists. Speakers include:

Copies of Fit is a Feminist Issue will be on sale for $20 each.

Park your bike at the bike corral outside the Central Library 1/2 block east of the venue on Dundas.

And if you want me to come to your part of the world and talk about women, bikes, and feminism, drop me a line, samanthajbrennan@gmail.com.

athletes · blogging · feminism · fitness

Meet the Fit is a Feminist Issue Bloggers

You can see our 2018 schedule here.

Tracy Isaacs posts Tuesdays and most Thursdays, writer, feminist, vegan, runner, sailor, philosopher, yogi, photography-obsessed, sometimes knitter, co-founder of Fit Is a Feminist Issue, co-author of Fit at Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey (launching in April 2018, published by Greystone Books).

Sam Brennan, posts regularly Mondays and Wednesdays, and randomly lots of other days and times! Philosopher, feminist, parent, and cyclist! Co-founder of Fit Is a Feminist Issue, co-author of Fit at Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey (launching in April 2018, published by Greystone Books.

Susan Tarshis is a feminist, therapist, parent and general know it all about a lot of things. She loves to hike with her dog, ride horses, ride a bike and do Pilates. She runs but doesn’t like that nearly as much. She is Associate Faculty with the Toronto Institute for Relational Psychotherapy. Activity is necessary for life, health and growth in all domains. Our access to it and our ideas around it are informed by our histories and social locations. Susan likes to engage in discussion of these domains with personal stories. Her blogs often explore themes of performance, joy, authenticity and even despair. In the end, her dog always saves the day.

Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who lives and works in Toronto when she’s not roaming the earth. She works in the space of sustainable socially accountable change in health and education, and is particularly interested in fostering a greater culture of aging with the greatest mobility possible. She posts the second Friday and third Saturday of every month as well as other times when the mood strikes!

Martha lives in Newfoundland and posts here the third Friday of every month. Martha is a late 50s feminist writer and consultant. She has tried running, rowing, trail walking, swimming and powerlifting. So far lifting weights and practicing laps in the pool have stuck.

Natalie lives with 3 awesome humans as well as high blood pressure and Major Depressive Disorder. She is working on completing her BA in Women’s Studies from Athabasca University one course at a time. She tries very hard to be a hopeful feminist and enjoys debunking ideas around fat bodies by wearing a lot of Lycra. Natalie posts the first Saturday of the month.

Kim Solga was born in Montreal, Quebec, grew up in Edmonton, Alberta, and has lived across Canada, in the US, and in the UK. She is a feminist scholar of theatre and performance by day, and a cyclist and rower by evening/early morning/on the weekend. Her trusty dog, Emma Jane, keeps her honest by demanding three walks daily. Kim also blogs about teaching, performance, and activism on WordPress, at The Activist Classroom. Kim blogs on the 4th Friday of the month.

Bettina is a 33 year-old research manager with a PhD in Political Science. She lives in Heidelberg, Germany, where she works for a European research enabling organisation in the life sciences. In her spare time she swims, runs, boulders and generally likes to be active. She thinks fit is a feminist issue because all too often, exercising while female means being judged: too weak, too strong, too fat, too thin, too ugly, too pretty… you name it. It’s time to fix that, so we need a feminist perspective. Bettina blogs on the second Saturday of the month.

Catherine Womack, “Weekends with Womack,” our Sunday regular.

“I’m an analytic philosopher, retooled as a public health ethicist. I’m interested in heath behavior change, particularly around eating and activity, and how things other than knowledge affect our health decisions.I’m also a cyclist (road, off-road, commuter), squash player, x skier, occasional yoga-doer, hiker, swimmer and leisurely walker.”

 

christine

Christine Hennebury, posts the last Saturday of the month. “I’m a writer, storyteller, and creative life coach from Newfoundland and Labrador. I’m a 2 degree blackbelt in ITF Taekwon-do who dabbles in yoga and Nia dance. I’m intrigued by the challenge of getting my body to do the things that my mind has already learned. Fitness is a feminist issue for me because I am much more interested in what my body can do than what it looks like. (After all, I am not a decoration.) I blog about taekwon-do, my inspirations, the challenges involved in building habits and learning new things, and the mental blocks to fitness.”

 

 

blogging

Kicking It Up A Notch with Christine

Hey there! I’m Christine and I am incredibly grateful to be part of this terrific blogging community.

Yes, I usually smirk in selfies. It’s a thing with me. 🙂

I’ll be posting every 3rd and 4th Saturday. I consider my posts as the beginning of a conversation so I hope we can have a good chat in the comments!

Here are a few facts about me:

I’m a writer/storyteller/creative life coach.

That means I spend a lot of time up to my metaphorical elbows in stories. Either I am telling them aloud, I am writing them down, or I am helping people work through the stories in their heads that keep them from feeling effective in their own lives.

I like making things up and connecting ideas in interesting ways. I always urge people to be kinder to themselves. I want to make everyone feel a little better about their place in the world either with stories to entertain them or with reminders about how terrific they are.

I’m a martial artist.

I have my second degree black belt in ITF Taekwondo and I am working toward my third degree. I train at Downey’s Taekwondo here in NL. I can break boards, I can kick higher than my own head, and I like how much self-discipline TKD requires.

I have ADHD.

It’s the distractible kind, not the hyperactive kind. ADHD seems to manifest in different ways for different people but for me, it’s a challenge for me to stay on task, to make accurate time estimates, to break projects into smaller bits and to keep a lot of details in mind. The upside is that I am an ideas MACHINE and I have all kinds of creative energy.

Otherwise, I’m pretty average, demographics-wise.

I live just outside of St. John’s, NL with my husband and two teen-aged sons. I’ll be 45 in a couple of months. My pronouns are she/her. I like reading and drawing and board games but I sometimes forget to schedule those things into my life. I’m learning how to be a better judge of how much I can take on at any given time.

Okay, lady, but what will you write about?

As you may have already read in my guest posts (links are under this post), I’ll be writing about Taekwondo and my struggles with figuring out how to learn different parts of my martial art. I’ll be using myself as an example to discuss how challenging it can be to: make time for exercise, to make reasonable exercise plans, to deal with setbacks, and to allow myself to be seen. I will also get into more practical things like my efforts to have better balance, to develop more upper body strength, and to sharpen my TKD techniques.

As a coach and, as regular person, I am all about celebrating effort rather than just results, so I will end each of my posts with a KIYA! After all, self-reflection that moves you forward is a victory of effort.

Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next Saturday!

KIYA!

blogging · fitness · food · Guest Post

Appearance vs. Reality (Guest Post)

In my high school English class, my teacher always told us to be on the lookout for clues that all was not what it seemed; to pay attention to characters whose inner thoughts were different from their actions, and to focus on the incongruity and what it might reveal about the characters, the story, or the world. I remember my teacher writing “Appearance vs. Reality” on the board over and over during the years I was lucky enough to be in her class. It has stuck with me, and I’m still attuned to it even when I’m watching movies or reading for pleasure.

Sometimes, I feel hypocritical even doing the occasional guest post on a fitness blog, because I feel like a total impostor; like the appearance I try to cultivate is hugely divergent from the reality. My relationship with exercise is on-again, off-again, I don’t excel at any sport (although I genuinely like a lot of them), and I’m not a nutrition expert. Some days, I feel like a total untouchable boss in the gym or in the pool, and others, I feel like an alien or a toddler who hasn’t quite gotten the hang of walking yet. I wish I could be someone who rode my bike everywhere (as it stands, I walk pretty much anywhere I can get in less than an hour and take the bus if I’m going any further). I’m a decent cook and like cooking healthy food, but have certainly been known to eat an entire pint of coconut ice cream* in a single sitting. I go through frequent cycles of “YAY I’M GOING TO EAT HEALTHY FOOD ALL THE TIME AND EXERCISE EVERY OTHER DAY” followed shortly by a crash where I eat takeout curry** every night for a week and forget what my running shoes look like.

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[Image description: A greeny-blue pint-sized carton of Mint Chocolate Chip coconut ice cream.] Seriously, you don’t understand how good this stuff is.
Conceptually, I know moderation is the key to avoiding these cycles, but I haven’t quite internalized that.

Because of this, I often feel like I have no business whatsoever in blogging—even guest blogging—for a fitness blog. It seems like the kind of thing that only people who really have their act together should do; people who have it all figured out and are here to impart some epic knowledge. Even though I’ve only done a handful of posts, I dread linking to them on my own Facebook page because I’m totally convinced that people who actually know me in real life will read them and go, “Pfft, what? Who is she to talk?” (I think this is my anxiety talking, but that doesn’t make the feeling any less real.) The impostor syndrome doesn’t end there; I’m convinced that someone will realize I’ve tricked my way into my PhD program, someone will notice that all the socks I knit are basically just variations on the same theme (so take no real talent to produce), someone will find out that I have no real competence in anything whatsoever. This is indeed a case where appearance does not align with reality, or so my brain tells me.

I try to manage my worries with an awful lot of private pep talks to myself (and a lot of support from family and friends). But there’s a Catch-22: I normally rely heavily on exercise to manage my anxiety and depression, but occasionally exercise turns into a source of anxiety. For the time being, I guess I’ll just keep rolling with the on-again, off-again cycle that I’ve come to know and love (?), but I sure wish I could shake the feeling that I’m not good enough and have managed to trick everyone else into thinking I’m something I’m not. Of course, things are further compounded by the fact that I do genuinely believe that it’s okay just to do things you like doing, regardless of whether you’re actually “good” at them. So then I worry that I’m being hypocritical, and I question why not being good enough is so troubling to me. If you truly believed that it was okay to do things you like doing, whether or not you’re good at them, the little voice says, you wouldn’t feel like such an impostor.

There isn’t any grand lesson or moral to be gained from this post. I just wanted to throw these ideas out there. How about you, readers? Does any of you ever feel like your appearance doesn’t match your reality?

 

*And let me tell you, this is one case where “vegan” is unequivocally not the same as “healthy.”

**Again, “vegan” ≠ “healthy.”

athletes · blogging · Guest Post · racing

Black Diamond (Guest Post)

Slalom 3

When my friend Pamela heard her name announced for a gold medal in a national US slalom race last month, she was overcome with joy. She’s 55. She decided to start skiing again when she was with a group of women celebrating her 50th birthday, and raced for the first time since she was a teenager 2 years ago. Now she’s on the podium for the NASTAR championships.

Pamela is one of those people who can put her head down and accomplish anything she sets out to do, creating three books and a successful consulting and teaching life since she finished her PhD 10 years ago. She’s always been fit, but what she describes as a “leisurely exerciser,” with lots of walking, spin classes, weight training and riding her bike on Sundays with her wife along a lakeshore bike path. She certainly wasn’t racing — and then suddenly, in her 50s, was hurling herself down sheer ice on a black diamond run in Colorado, through giant slalom gates — and winning.

One of our recurring friend conversations is our relationships with our bodies as we’ve gotten older, and I’ve watched with awe and curiosity as P shifted from leisurely biking to  “I like knowing I can keep up with the 30 year olds in boot camp class” to “I just spent a lot of money on a speed suit.”  I asked her a few questions about this transformation — why racing, not just skiing, when you haven’t been a competitive athlete since you were a teenager?  How do you handle the fear?

“Why racing, why not just skiing at 55?”  she said.  “I love skiing, I love everything about it —  I love the equipment, I’m a total gear geek, I love packing, I love the research on the resort and studying the trail maps. It’s not just about the skiing, it’s about who you meet on the chairlift, talking about where you plan to go for dinner, hanging out in the hot tub . . . so many times I just stop in the middle of the run, and take in the vastness of the mountains, the cold, the sun.  

“I get so invigorated from a week of skiing – it clears up any muck in my life, being out there in the mountains – even up at the little ski area where I race on the weekends outside of Chicago – it’s just a trash heap they put artificial show on – even that is invigorating.  That’s skiing.

“Now racing…  if skiing is the wide angle lens, then racing is absolute narrow focus. The level of preparation and precision is so much sharper to compete.  You have to be able to turn where the gate is – it’s all strategy, tactics, skills.  A lot of people can look pretty going down a wide open run — but can you ski on a course?  I love going fast and it gives me an excuse to do it.  When you ski fast recreationally, not only do you leave your friends behind but you can get your lift ticket revoked.

“Competing keeps me in an aspirational mindset. It pushes me to work out more. I watch a lot of pro world cup racing videos – I’m always thinking about ways I can improve, work on my technique, form. Women seem to be more coy about being competitive – like, we’re secretly paying attention to how we did.  It’s not as socially acceptable to really care if you win.”

Now, I’m pretty adventurous with my physicality, but the idea of a vertical ice rink scares the crap out of me. Skiing, for me, is one of those things I don’t do because I’m afraid I’ll hurt myself and not be able to do the things I love, like cycling. I’ve been trying to understand how P handles that fear, especially after she had a concussion from a fall at the end of the season last year.

“For the championship, I really had to negotiate a whole new level of fear — it was a steeper course than I’d ever raced on. It’s water injected, and one that the US development teams use, so it’s meant to be icy so the course holds up and it’s very fast. It’s basically an ice rink.

“I’d never raced a black diamond in Colorado.  The night before, I couldn’t sleep. I was thinking, I have no business doing this, I could be seriously hurt, have I deluded myself into a really stupid idea – if I really hurt myself, people would be kind but they wouldn’t have a lot of sympathy. It’s not like I’d be hurting myself feeding the poor in Afghanistan – I’d be hurting myself doing something of my own volition that was stupid for a middle aged lady to do – there’d be some sorrow but not really sympathy.”  She laughed.

“The first morning of the championship, I had to put all of that out of my mind – I had to trust how much preparation I had done, had to think, I can totally do this. I strategized how to approach the trickier turns. I put the fear out of my mind.  One of the things I talk about in my work about organizational agility is the idea of “anxious confidence” — you have to embrace this in the starting gate. You’re confident because you have the skills, experience, knowledge. But you’re also anxious because you have to deal with the unknown — a set plan is not going to work for you.

“You have strategy and tactics – it’s having a plan but holding that plan lightly. My first run, I took the advice of all of the race coaches to just go – don’t leave anything on the table.  I got up some good speed, then hit a gate that was sheer ice, and I had a rather spectacular crash.

“It was my first run, total crash. I started to think, maybe I am in over my head. I wasn’t hurt but I was shaken. And you have to get up, ski down to the lift, get back up and get back in line, and race again so you qualify to continue the next day.

“Here’s what shifted the fear for me. After I wiped out we gathered just outside the finish area. Some of the women in my group who’d gone before me had wiped out in the same place. We started talking about ‘it’s steep, it’s icy, I went too fast.’ That little ad hoc group of women made a huge difference. Together we commiserated, regrouped, strategized and encouraged each other. We focused on ‘we just have to get through the next one.’

“On the second time down, we had already formed a few connections. We would cheer each other on as we slipped into the start gate, “okay Jane, go for it, ski fast – a little bit more, you go, you got this.” We started creating a holding space for each other. When you’re in a team that happens all season. For this race, without a team, we created it on the spot. 

“The championships were a stretch experience, I knew I was up to the stretch, and the challenge became how do I manage my fear and uncertainty?”

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Pamela ended up with a bronze in the giant slalom.  And then two days later, raced in the slalom competition that she had no expectations for — and ended up with the gold.

“That gold was just giddiness and pure joy.  There’s such camaraderie, the two women I shared the podium with, the crowd clapping – that moment was complete embodied joy and fun and realizing that it really was a result of an incredibly intentional year. Physical work, coaching, training, practicing.   It’s so fun to be in a community of equally crazy people – to race at my age,  you really have to work to find people in that tribe. And you see the people in their 70s and 80s who are still out there, who have every invitation from our culture and their peer group to chill out.  It’s incredibly joyful.”

(This is Part 1 of my conversation with Pamela — on Friday Pamela will talk about how her relationship with her body has changed since she started racing).

Pamela Meyer is an author, educator and organizational consultant living joyfully in Chicago and skiing wherever she can. Fieldpoppy is Cate Creede, who works as a consultant and teacher in the space of strategic system change in academic healthcare in Toronto, focusing on creating sustainable, socially accountable healthcare communities. She also co-leads a learning and development project for orphaned and vulnerable youth in Uganda, and takes every chance she can to explore the world. She also blogs at fieldpoppy.wordpress.com.