cycling · fitness · Guest Post

Riding over rocks and an appeal (Guest post)

Hello, Fit Is A Feminist Issue readers, this is my first time writing to you. So I’m excited about that! I want to share something I learned from a rock and then I’m asking you for some help.

I love to mountain bike. I didn’t always. It took me a long time (like 20 years) to get past the fear that stood between me and making progress in my technical skill.

Then about nine years ago I committed to getting better. I have the good fortune to ride on trails in the Sierra Mountains, in California, for 6 weeks every summer. The trails here are a School of Rock. I struggle to learn how to maneuver around particular rocks or clusters over successive summers.

The first persistent rock I figured out was maybe the size of an upholstered footstool. The rock menaced me for three summers. The trail winds around the rock in a sharp-ish turn, flanked by thick tie-your-bike-up mountain shrubbery. I always balked at the last minute, and put a steadying foot down. Then one day, I approached my rock-nemesis with more calm than usual. What was the worst? –A tumble in the bushes? –A chain ring in my calf? Been there. Done that. I glanced at the rock. Every other day, I stared in dread, but this day my eyes were friendly. The rock seemed to soften, the path to widen. Around I went. No force. Just flow.

I felt my energy slow down. Not sapped or diminished, rather, my energy gathered inward, moving toward my center, that place of balance, which can never be achieved through pushy frustration.

That beautiful zenergy is followed, of course, by the all-important woohoos of delight and mini-party on the bike with helmet-loads of imaginary glitter-confetti.

That rock is the headmistress of them all. She was the first teacher who showed me the key, which I use to this day to unlock the puzzle of so many rocks.

For a couple of years I rode around my headmistress. Then one day, as I approached, she delivered a new insight. Instead of the complicated maneuver around, I could simply ride right over. Light and easy.

I could not have ridden straight over as an opening gambit. I wouldn’t have had the courage. I needed to develop the skill and confidence to ride around. Only then could I trust my ability to ride over.

Often, I feel the same way about making my way in the world as a woman, as a feminist. So many complicated and fraught issues, going around is easier than figuring out the flow and finding my place inside it. But when I have confidence in my intelligence and right to be present, I can be more curious. There’s more room for different approaches. I trust myself to neither defer, nor be overly confrontational. Light and easy. Thank you for opening the door for me. No, your hand is not welcome there, nor am I a “honey” or a “Mrs.”.

Sometimes doing things the hard way builds the confidence to do those same things the easy way.

Of course, my progress (on the bike and as a feminist) is not a straight line. Just this morning I approached a small-ish boulder from below and, in an excess of confidence, instead of going around I tried to ride right up the side and over. Well, that didn’t work. I’m nursing quite a few scrapes and bruises and am very thankful for my helmet.

A few hours later now, I’m thinking—maybe I just needed to gear down sooner and increase my speed. I might try again, or maybe I’ll go around.

The biggest boulder I’m trying to ride around and over at the moment is a book I’m writing. I’d love your help. Run Like A Girl 365 Days A Year: A Practical, Personal, Inspirational Guide for Women Athletes (May 2019) follows from my 2011 book, Run Like A Girl: How Strong Women Make Happy Lives. I’m looking at the ways in which our athletic pursuits nourish and inform how we live our lives; the challenges, the transformational moments and how our athletic self enables us build a life of purpose and meaning. I am speaking with women about their experiences. If you are interested, send me an email at minasamuels@yahoo.ca. I’d love to hear from you.

Mountain biking in an aspen grove

Mina is a writer, performer, fableog-ist, citizen, traveler, enthusiast and author of Run Like a Girl: How Strong Women Make Happy Lives, plus other books. http://www.minasamuels.com

accessibility · fitness · Guest Post

Guest post: Sam (the other Sam) rows for years and finally falls in and finds out it’s not so bad after all

Today after 3 years of recreational rowing. I finally fell in. I am surprised it took this long. This was also the first time, I have rowed with both a hat and sunglasses. Until today I had avoided taking anything more than water in the boat, specifically because I might fall in. Ironically, this morning I thought "you're not going to flip". Thankfully hat and glasses are fine. If you had to fall in today was the day to do it! Toronto is hot. I am not sure my running shoes appreciate the dip. I fell with full audience. I appreciate how helpful everyone was. It was surprising, but not traumatic, I credit that to those around me and the folks on the dock. I was able to get back in and still have a great row. The water was super calm. I can't even blame the water. Interestingly, my father used to do open water rescues; he mentioned that people don't drown because they can't swim, but the shock of falling in usually makes them panic or they swallow water and can't get air. His advice was not to panic and tread water or hang on to the boat. Today was not dramatic at all but I can totally see why folks would panic falling in. #realrowernow #row #toronto #torontolife #adaptivesports #disabledsports

A post shared by Samantha Walsh (@walshsam) on

Sam is a recreational rower and sociologist.

fitness · Guest Post

Step Counters and the Guilt Triangle: Food, Friends, and Fitness (Guest Post)

After a few years of participating in our employer’s annual team-based “step challenge,” Tracy decried step counters on Facebook. I then boldly announced that I would provide a counterpoint blog entry in defense of them. (Spoiler Alert: Did I actually think she would be wrong about something?)

My teammates and I (“Ahead by a Century”) have been stepping for just over 25% of the 100-day “Global Challenge.” This initiative involves teams of 7 combining their daily fitness activities tracked by step counters. A mobile app encouragingly shares the team’s progress, releases virtual badges for achievements, provides health information, etc.

Having done this challenge before, I knew there would be highs and lows in using a “stepper” (as I started calling it while being thoroughly searched by US airport security guards after forgetting to remove it for the metal detector/x-ray thingy). So, to prepare for this blog entry I have kept a brief journal. Over the past 31 days I have occasionally ranked my stepper as a motivator, with 1=not motivating, 2=somewhat motivating, 3=highly motivating. From my 15 entries, my stepper shows an exercise motivation level of an average of 1.8 so far.

Stepper

With each entry, I have described how and why I reported that particular rank. Let’s compare my first, middle, and final entries:

First Entry: Went for a walk at night to get to 10,000 steps. Stretched after soccer, smelled lilacs, and walked off the Wendy’s Frosty I bought!

Middle Entry: At day 11 I have noticed that my pattern seems to be guilt to exercise from either the bad food I eat or the fact that my team is counting on me. The stepper itself is not motivating, but it keeps me honest in a way that I probably would not be without it, especially at 11:30pm at night.

Final Entry: Many, many days of <10,000 steps. Will walk today. Guilt.

Certain patterns have emerged in my 15 comments. These include:

Getting to a certain number of steps: 7 mentions
Mention of food or beverages: 6 mentions
Statements of criticism or guilt: 5 mentions
Statements of affirmation and satisfaction: 3 mentions

Early in the step challenge, I noticed that “I enjoy the exercise when I do it, and it offsets my guilt or gives me something to enjoy.” However, mid-way through I also noted that “when my frustration or tiredness is stronger than my guilt I do not exercise.” On some occasions I expressed frustration with the stepper itself, such as on a travel day I wrote: “Dropped it and it slid into the airport bathroom stall beside me, and I almost didn’t say anything to get it back.”

There were days when I cut myself more slack, such as when I spent half of a day in a hospital’s emergency room. “Getting sick puts the step challenge off the table,” I wrote. “I feel like I’ve let my team down when my exercise for the day is walking to and from the various rooms of the hospital building (but at least I didn’t take the wheelchair!)”

A quarter of the way through my step challenge, I have determined that my friends (challenge teammates, soccer team, etc.) push me to exercise, and guilt over food or drink often pulls me. I describe myself exercising just to work off the pizza I had, or running in circles in my bedroom just before midnight just to get to an even number of steps.

In conclusion, because I have been so focused on achieving a certain number of steps, rather than associating the exercise with my health, so far overall I have not been motivated by my stepper in positive ways to increase daily activity levels. I’m not sure that this is what the Global Challenge folks had in mind, but at least this added “mental exercise” has given me pause for reflection on my current habits.

Now if you’ll excuse me…I have to finish this post and get off my computer to go for a walk, as I’m only at 3000 steps and it’s already 5pm.

Elan Paulson is soon to be newly employed, and is an occasional FIAFI blogger.

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Guest Post · soccer

Society Empowerment through Sport (Guest Post)

Sport has the power to change the world.  It has the power to inspire. It has the power to unite people in a way that little else does.  Sport can awaken hope where there was previously only despair.  Sport speaks to people in a language they can understand.  –Nelson Mandela, 25 May 2000

Oyugis is a town of about 10,000 in a rural part of western Kenya.  The vast majority (72%) live in poverty.  Only 5.6% of the households have piped water; 3.3% have electricity.  HIV/AIDS is rampant: 25.7% of the county (Homa Bay) population is infected (the highest rate in Kenya) and 61,000 households include an orphan.  This has a profound impact on the community – 48% of the population is under 15.

The conditions are especially difficult for women and girls. 12% of girls have a live birth before age 15.  Most primary schools (K-8) in the region do not have toilets, so when girls reach puberty, most stop attending school.  Sanitary products are not available.  As the statistics indicate, many of these girls end up pregnant and with HIV/AIDS. What might one hope to do in such circumstances?  How is change even conceivable?  Soccer.

I met Festus Juma in 2010.  He deeply understands the power of sport for community development.  Having family in the Oyugis region, he also understands the power of soccer to motivate local youth.  Festus directs the Society Empowerment Project (SEP), based in Oyugis, which leverages soccer/football to teach life skills in areas such as HIV/AIDS prevention; health and sanitation; agriculture & nutrition; reproductive health; peace building; and substance abuse.  Girls, in particular, gain opportunities to become fit and strong, to build friendships, and have contact with adult role models.  The program also prepares them for youth leadership through training in coaching, refereeing and tournament management.

A current goal of the SEP is to register a girls team in the Kenya Premier League.  Doing so will enhance their status in the region.  Stronger and better educated girls and women will reduce domestic violence, improve reproductive health and well-being, and decrease HIV/AIDS infections.  This is a proven strategy for community development and it changes lives.

Together with my son Isaac, I have been working with the SEP since 2011.  Isaac played soccer through high school.  Seeing a photo of children in Oyugis playing soccer barefoot on dirt patches, he was shocked by the comparison with his teammates who had several pairs of cleats and fancy uniforms.  We began to collect used cleats, uniforms, and other equipment to send to Kenya.  (The team featured on the SEP facebook page is wearing Boston Blast jerseys!)  It is not cheap to send equipment to Kenya.  It is not easy to build a sustainable program that empowers girls in a region where not even food and water is easily available.  But sport motivates and strengthens those who participate.  And it awakens hope.

 

You can reach Festus at: festus.juma@yahoo.com and he can provide information about how you can send used (or new!) equipment to the SEP, and about other ways to help.  Donations can be made on the SEP website.

Sally Haslanger is Ford Professor of Philosophy and Women’s & Gender Studies at MIT.  She works on feminist and critical race theory.  She is an adoptive mother, a social activist, and recently was client of the month at her gym!

 

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climbing · Guest Post · injury

Climbing Injuries and on Finding a Better Balance (Guest Post)

By Catherine Wearing

I first started climbing (indoors) in 2009. I’d wanted to try rock climbing for ages but I didn’t know anyone who did it and (in the days before meetup and the proliferation of climbing gyms) it wasn’t obvious how to get into it otherwise. When I happened to meet someone who was climbing in the gym, I went along with them and fell in love with climbing. As someone who tends to get interested in something for a while, only to gradually lose enthusiasm and eventually turn to something else, I have been surprised by the ongoing passion that I feel for climbing. Almost a decade and still going strong. I fantasize about being a climbing ‘dirtbag’.

So that’s some relevant background. What I want to focus on is what could perhaps be called a ‘side effect’ of my passion for climbing, namely, injuries. Because I climb as often and as hard as I can, I tax my body – and especially my upper body – pretty severely. As a result, I’ve had a whole slew of minor soft tissue injuries over the past decade: both wrists, both shoulders, several fingers, and most recently, my right elbow. None of these injuries have required surgery and some have healed with rest alone. But most have required doctors’ visits, several months of physical therapy, and in some cases, X-rays or scans of various kinds to pin down what exactly is wrong.

In reflecting on this history, I’ve been led to wonder about two things in particular:

First, the threat of injury doesn’t act as much of a deterrent for me. I hate taking time off climbing to rest an injury, but I seem to end up doing it at least once every other year (and sometimes more often). Rationally, it is obvious that my body simply cannot climb as hard as I would like it to and so it should also be obvious to me that I should scale back my climbing ambitions to better suit what I can do. But I have incredible trouble doing this. When I am injured, that forces me to scale back (or stop), but when I am healthy, I only want to try to push myself a bit harder than before. For me, a significant draw of climbing lies in tackling problems that I’m not sure I’m capable of doing. I have learned to be better about building up my strength gradually and pacing myself (especially in the gym) to avoid overdoing it. But my ongoing string of injuries suggests that I haven’t mastered this self-control (if that’s what it is) yet.

The second thing I find myself thinking a lot about is that I consume a lot more medical resources than I did before I started climbing. On the whole, I have been fortunate not to need much medical care beyond routine preventative check-ups and tests. The various climbing injuries which send me to the doctor and the physiotherapist are essentially ‘self-inflicted’. That is, they’re not the results of accidents, but of overdoing it, of not exercising self-control in how hard I push myself. Given how overtaxed our medical resources are, I’m not sure this behaviour is justified. I suppose I could argue that climbing keeps me happy and healthy in ways that go beyond my ligaments and tendons, which might in turn help me avoid other kinds of medical care. But who knows whether that’s true? Perhaps I’d be almost as healthy if I stuck to the forms of exercise that I enjoy but am not as passionate about.

I’m trying to learn from experience, to push myself less hard and to draw as much enjoyment as I can from simply being outside on the rock, even when I’m climbing something easy. And I think my rate of injury is gradually slowing. But as I continue to age, I expect the physical demands of climbing, even at the easier grades, to increase. It fills me with delight to see climbing friends still going strong in their 60s and 70s. So I’m hopeful that if I can find a better balance, I’ll be able to keep climbing for a long time. But in the meantime, I wish I could do a better job finding the mid-point between the challenge which brings me such joy and a level of physical demand which my body can sustain.

Catherine Wearing is a philosopher, feminist, and rock climber. Also a runner, tea drinker, and mystery novel reader.

cycling · Guest Post

It’s been awhile, but whoooeeeee I’m back (Guest post)

by Eleanor Brown

I don’t know why I stopped bicycling, but it’s been two years. I just did.

Perhaps it was the run of extremely bad luck in my personal life (some of it of my own making) that led to the sort of self-absorbed sadness that made it impossible to allow myself to have fun. Or the studied grouchiness I then adopted, designed to make me unapproachable, leaving me totally too growly to ride, thank you very much. Outta my way, jerkface pedestrian, or I’ll run you over. Asshole. My riding would have made life for others far too unpleasant.

Nah. It was more likely to be sheer laziness. That one sounds right.

Moving to a new home surrounded by huge intimidating hills? The replacement of a beloved old clunker that never really worked properly with some new-fangled two-wheeler that just never had the same personality…?

I dunno. I just didn’t feel like it.

Two years is a long time, and I was not doing any other exercise, either. Recently I started huffing and puffing when walking up flights of stairs. I was getting out of shape in very unpleasant ways. And so slowly, slowly, I started thinking about bicycles. Thinking some more, then a smidgeon extra. Remembering how much fun it is to zoom about on two wheels.

Suddenly, spring has arrived again. The green grass pushing up and the leaves unfurling and the flowers peeking out and the spring in my step.

Bit by bit over the last month I have gotten reacquainted with my bicycle. I’ve pulled it out of storage and found the perfect spot for it to rest, close enough to the door to easily scoot it out, but far enough that it’s not underfoot. Bought a brand spanking new bike lock. Put air in the tires and oiled up the chain. Shook the bicycle a few times to make sure everything was still screwed together — nope, nothing fell off (hey, I’m not a mechanic!). Started plotting possible routes, along bike lanes, through parks, calculating the path of least hilliness. And then the final step: I avoided buying a new monthly bus pass.

Now here I am. Awake at 5 a.m. the first Monday of the month, planning to get. My. Butt. In. The. Saddle.

Yeah, baby. Wind in my hair, legs pumping, lovely scenery, fresh air!!!

Wait. It’s freezing. And raining. Crap. No way.

Tuesday. Let’s try for Tuesday.

About Eleanor Brown: I’m a writer, Jim, not a mechanic.

athletes · competition · fitness · Guest Post · race report · racing · running

Grapes of Wrath – What did I do?!? (Guest Post)

Sunday was the Grapes of Wrath Niagara 2018 5K mud and obstacle run raising funds for the Canadian Cancer Society’s Wheels of Hope. I have posted before on my participation in the Merchant Ale House run club (here and here). We go out every Sunday morning and have been signing up for cool races. One Sunday the group talked about it as I was busy with someone and then when I came back they said: “Christine, we are doing this!” “Ok,” I said, “I will sign up!” And so I did, without realizing what I was getting into.

This may have been the toughest thing I ever did. We were a team of 8, 3 men and 5 women, of various ages and abilities. The point of the event is not to win but to “finish together.” Honestly, I do not know how I could have finished by myself. The first serious obstacle required hanging from a rope, quite a few feet up in the air, and crossing a certain distance (don’t ask, I don’t know, all I know is it was long) pulling yourself with your arms and legs to cross. I think I may have gone halfway only before I fell in the hay below. But I gave it my all to get as far as I could.

Giving it your all: that is what this run required and I tried my best to give it. Some obstacles were just plain fun (water slide landing in a pool of mud) and climbing over wood structures. Others, were unpleasant: crawling through mud under a tarp or crossing a pool of icy water with blocks of ice floating in it! The toughest one by far was the last: climb and cross a wall helping yourself with a rope, cross a massive puddle of mud and jump over 3 logs while holding for dear life on a rope (it felt like sinking in quick sand) and then climb the last mud hill. You can see us in the background climbing the mud hill in the picture below. The other two pictures are in the “before and after” spirit.

I barely made it up that mud hill. I slid two thirds of the way and held on to the rope and was trying to pry myself up under the cheers of my team and thought “this is it, can’t do it. I can’t!” But then I did. I managed to crawl with friends cheering and then grabbing me and pulling me up. I cried from exhaustion.

I was pulled, pushed, lifted, both physically and mentally through this run with friends. What an adventure. To say we were dirty is an understatement, as you can tell from the pictures. After two showers and a bath I still felt like I smelled of manure. We were all exhausted but proud and happy we did it and finished together!

Now I am told we are doing this again! I will have to work on my upper body strength for next year to help myself and others. I read about Tracy’s chin-ups and pull-ups the other day. Guess what I will be starting to do this week?