blog · climbing · equipment · fun · Guest Post · nature

Don’t Fall Out of the Trees (Guest Post)

by Elan Paulson

I have blogged previously about group exercise adventures–winter hikes, fun runs, wall climbs, etc.–so it was only a matter of time until we ended up at an aerial adventure park. Set at a western Ontario ski hill forest, this treetop adventure has courses of increasing height and challenge in which participants climb ladders, cross wood and net bridges, and zip line from tree platform to platform.

Through some Wikipedia surfing I learned that aerial adventure courses were borne from military training-style ropes courses and alternative adventure education. However, most of today’s adventure parks are touristy fun that Wikipedia describes as requiring “neither climbing techniques nor special/specific physical fitness experience.”

Judging by our next-day muscle soreness and little bruises, there is at least some physical fitness required. But more than exercise, it was thrilling to hop across wobbly bridges, and stand high in the trees without falling out of them. The course didn’t require teamwork to complete obstacles, but we encouraged and cheered each other a lot.

Among my GoPro pictures, I found one of my handheld carabiners that the trainer had described as “our hands” while we were out on the course. This meant that we were to latch one or both carabiners onto within-reach “lifeline” cables throughout the entire course.

Self-belay system with carabiners and zipline attachment
Self-belay system with carabiners and zipline attachment.

Using a self-belay system in a tree top adventure was a little scary because we were responsible for our own safety. We received some initial supervised practice on a training course, but in the park it was up to us to keep ourselves attached to the steel cables.

Looking at the photo afterwards, I realized that being responsible for my own safety had given my mind something to pay attention to in the trees and on the ladders. Each step was a reminder–in order to move forward I literally had to put one latch in front of the other. The carabiners kept my brain focused on a safety system that wouldn’t allow me to fall, and the constant latching also distracted me from thinking too much about falling.

The above photo also made me realize that I have not always put “safety first” and foremost in my brain when I go to exercise. This is especially true with activities that I perceive as less risky, or when I feel I am more familiar with the risks. But, on the treetop adventure, it was precisely because I was forced to put my safety first in a potentially dangerous situation that I confidently enjoyed the activity all the more (or, I suppose, experienced paralyzing fear all the less).

There is always risk in exercise, which is not an inherently bad thing. But, no matter how strange or familiar the activity may be, we are our own self-safety systems. Safety can create fun. In the future, I think that reminding myself of that fact when I go to exercise will be a good thing.

Elan with helmet, harness, and belay
Elan with helmet, harness, belay, and smile.

equipment · fitness · flexibility · fun · gear · martial arts · Rowing

Rowing, Multitasking, and Positive Side Effects.

After years of planning to buy a rowing machine, I finally got one a couple of months back and I am thoroughly enjoying using it. 

I love that I don’t have to put much thought into the how and the what of exercising with the rowing machine.  I can use it at any time without having to put on specific clothes and I can choose to have a harder workout or an easier one without having to make a specific plan. 

It’s a kind of automatic exercise for me which is really good for my ADHD brain – there are few, if any, choices to make in advance and that means there are very few potential obstacles between me and my workout.

Plus, I like the very nature of the movement back and forth, the repetition has a soothing element to it.

A person in an inflatable T-Rex costume is using a rowing machine in a small living room.
This does NOT look soothing. I hope I look a little smoother than this when I row. Image description: a GIF of a person in an inflatable T-Rex costume is using a rowing machine in a small living room with potted plants all around. Because the head of the costume is so far above the person’s head, their movements look very jerky.

And, I like that I can do a very specific type of multi-tasking – watching YouTube videos – while I row.

I enjoy learning by video but I don’t often make time to do so. Combining my exercise with videos is a win-win situation – I am doing two enjoyable things at once and my brain and body are both busy so I don’t get any of my usual feeling that I should probably be doing something else. 

I even pick out my videos the night before so there is little between my pyjama-clad self and my exercise session in the mornings. I can get up, let the dog out (and back in!), grab some water, take my meds,  and then head to the basement to row. It’s all part of my waking up routine and it really feels great. 

Speaking of feeling great, my rowing has brought me an unexpected positive side-effect – my hips have loosened up considerably.

A GIF of a cartoon duck spinning his hips in a circle while standing in the spotlight.
Maybe they aren’t quite *this* loose but they do feel good. Image description: GIF of cartoon character Daffy Duck standing in a spotlight with his wings up behind his head, his hips are moving in a very loose circle.

Because of long-ago sessions at the gym, I knew that my arms, back, and legs were going to benefit from using the machine but I hadn’t really thought about how the set  of movements required to row would help my hips, too.  

I sort of have a ‘trick’ hip. It’s mostly fine but every now and then I’ll do something that will wonk it out and it will take me a few days to get it to calm down again.

Practicing kicks at taekwon-do has often triggered my hip in that way but I only realize it *after* I have done it. I’ve done a variety of things to work on it (with various degrees of consistency – I’m still me after all) but nothing has been especially helpful. Until now.

About three weeks after starting regular rowing sessions, our Thursday night TKD class was all about practicing sidekicks and angle kicks. Normally, with a night full of those kicks, my hip would wonk out at some point during the evening and I’d either have to reduce my movements or do something else entirely.

This time, however, I was tired but my hip was completely fine. I was puzzled at first but as I was pulling my leg up and back into position for one of the kicks, I realized that the motion was familiar. It’s not exactly like the position of my leg as I pull all the way forward on the machine but it’s similar. 

I didn’t have any trouble with my hips that night. And, more importantly, I didn’t wake up stiff or in pain the next morning. In fact, I rowed for a bit longer than I had the day before. 

It turns out that my rowing was setting me up for new success with taekwon-do. 

A person rotates on one foot while holding the other leg in the air before doing a high kick.
Okay, this is just straight-up wishful thinking on my part. Image description: GIF of a person standing on one foot, spinning in a circle and then executing a very high kick. Their hair is in a ponytail, and they are wearing a pink shirt and black leggings.

That’s a pretty good side-effect for an activity I was enjoying already. 

Have you ever had one type of exercise ‘accidentally’ help you in another like that?

Tell me about it in the comments! (Pretty please.)

athletes · equality · equipment · fitness · team sports · training

A small victory in a large battle: NCAA women’s basketball tiny weight room gets bigger

These days, news travels fast and turns on a dime. Here’s an important and fast-developing story of discriminatory treatment of women athletes, from yesterday to today:

The NCAA March Madness 2021 college basketball tournament is happening this year, inside bubbles in Indianapolis (for the men) and San Antonio (for the women). They are being housed and fed, and are training in facilities set up for them. The men’s and women’s training facilities are separate. But boy are they not equal. Check out this twitter comparison pic of their weight training facilities:

Split screen of NCAA men’s weight room, large and well-stocked, vs. women’s space, consisting of one small tower of little hand weights and a few yoga mats on a table.

Some twitter users were skeptical that this was true, while others chalked it up to their beliefs that men’s teams made money, performed better and were more popular, so it didn’t matter that the women had less to work with than most of us have in our homes.

In service of settling any peripheral disputes, here are some stills from the Tiktok video feed of Sedona Prince, Oregon Ducks team member on the scene.

Of course this really made the NCAA’s face red. However, they rallied and offered this explanation:

An NCAA spokesperson told The Washington Post that officials initially thought there was not enough square footage for a weight training facilities at the convention center playing host to the women’s tournament. They later found the space, the spokesperson said.

Yeah, that’s not true. How do I know this? Because of Sedona Prince, who on Friday (the same day this story was reported) posted this picture on TikTok:

A large, empty space for the women's basketball teams at the NCAA, with nothing in it but a few chairs.
A large, empty space for the women’s basketball teams at the NCAA, with nothing in it but a few chairs.

So either the NCAA people were lying or they hadn’t bothered to check whether what they were saying was true.

After a large outcry, mainly from women professional and college athletes and coaches, the NCAA apparently found some gym and weights set ups for the women’s teams. Sedona shows it to you live:

Turns out, lack of standard weight training facilities wasn’t the only way the NCAA treated women’s basketball teams less well than the men’s teams.

Geno Auriemma, coach of the Connecticut women’s team, told reporters at a news conference Friday that his team was receiving different daily coronavirus tests than men’s teams. The rapid antigen tests given to women are faster than PCR tests given to men but “have a higher chance of missing an active infection,” according to the Food and Drug Administration.

The NCAA is using a cheaper and less accurate COVID test for the women than it is for the men. Again, the NCAA responded:

In a statement, the NCAA said that its medical advisory group had determined that both tests were “were equally effective models for basketball championships”…

Hmmm. Here’s a question: if they’re equally effective, then why use one test for the men and another for the women? And if it’s an issue of supply, why didn’t you plan for that at the women’s location as well as you did for the men’s location?

Again, please refer to my earlier comment about the NCAA either lying or not caring whether what they say is true.

Other documented differences between how the men’s and women’s teams are treated includes the food served (Sedona documented an especially unfortunately Salisbury Steak event here), and skimpier swag bags for the women. Seriously, NCAA? You’re leaving no stone unturned in your quest to make 100% clear your lack of respect for women’s collegiate sports.

And then there are those who are listening and following the lead of the NCAA, turning its disdain for women’s teams into threats to shut down women’s sports altogether.

A tweet (unaltered) threatening that women's sports will be shut down if women don't stop complaining about their unequal treatment. This was one of many such tweets.
A tweet (unaltered) threatening that women’s sports will be shut down if women don’t stop complaining about their unequal treatment. This was one of many such tweets.

This tweet is revealing in that it’s a common and threatening reaction to women’s sports players, coaches and advocates’ calls for more equitable treatment, in accordance with Title IX legal requirements in the US. I’m happy to say that these threats haven’t gone answered.

Dawn Staley, a championship award-winning basketball player and coach, former Olympian and current Women’s Basketball Hall of Famer, said this (I’m including the whole statement here):

Statement by Dawn Staley. See links below for text.

You can read a Sports Illustrated article about her statements and a letter from the NCAA Committee on Women’s Athletics here and here. They’re not playing about the barriers to playing that women and girl athletes face all day, every day. Hey, NCAA president Mark Emmert– you can throw some jump ropes, treadmills and weight bench sets at the problem, and say things like “we fell short” (ya think?), but you’re not getting out of it that easily.

I’m happy that Sedona Prince, her teammates, and all the women’s NCAA basketball teams now have an actual weight room for training. And yes, it would be nice for them to get buffet meals rather than prepackaged ones (the NCAA says they’re working on it). But it’s clear that the battle for respect and equity in women’s athletics is still in its early stages.

Thank you, Sedona Prince. Thank you, Dawn Staley. Thank you, players and coaches of women’s and girls’ athletics everywhere for standing up and speaking out.

But, wouldn’t it have been nice if men’s basketball coaches, players, team owners, and athletic directors spoke up and spoke loudly in support of women’s athletics now? Nets guard Kyrie Irving and Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry both posted criticism of the NCAA, and both got the same scornful, dismissive pushback. But there’s strength in numbers.

Hey male players, coaches, trainers, administrators, athletic directors– where are your voices? I can’t hear you…

Readers, if you’ve seen any recent tweets or other social media posts by male sports figures (players, coaches, business, academic, children’s leagues, anything) in support of women’s sports on the occasion of this latest discriminatory debacle, post them in the comments. It’s good to know who’s on the ball and who’s dropped it. Any other thoughts or ideas you want to share? I’m listening.

equipment · Sat with Nat

Seasonal Maintenance

Recommended listening: Just Dropped In (to see what condition my condition was in) by Kenny Rogers

Approaching the end of winter I noticed my gear and myself look a bit haggard. So I took some time to mend coats, darn mittens, and put mink oil on leather footwear.

Two mid calf brown leather boots are laying sideways covered in dirt and salt
These eight year old Blundstones are looking a bit rough.

At the beginning of winter and mid-season is a good time to take care of winter gear. It is a nemonic for me to check in on myself and reflect on movement and nutrition.

After the mink oil is applied the boots are supple, waterproof, and looking like they are good for a few more seasons.

I’m grumpy but no more so than is usual for me this time of year. I’m achy and that is educating me on why so many Canadians seek warmer places each winter. Overall, I’m doing not too bad.

This past February, thanks to the right gear and work-from-home flexibility, was the first February my step count didn’t take a major hit. With our dog Lucy motivating us and my beloved’s devotion to his step goal we sloshed through slush and tip-toed across ice to keep our 10 km daily treks going.

Our routine needs little maintenance as inertia keeps us rolling. I have noticed I’m slipping on keeping a lunchtime free of meetings. Some days I work later than I mean to. It’s easy to get pulled in to taking boundaries for granted.

So I took a vacation day yesterday and finished up small, lingering household to-do things like conditioning leathers. It was grounding and soothing. I thought of my dad and how he taught me to sharpen knives and maintain my garden tools and footwear. I look forward to seeing him in person (hopefully soon!).

These are small things that mean my gear and myself will be our best and be around for a good long time.

Natalie stares at the camera half smiling  Michel peers over her shoulder   The sun is bright behind them but they still have toques and thick coats on
Sunny day selfies are my favourite, especially when I don’t need a parka!

Do you do specific things this time of year?