Two days ago, had COVID-19 not intervened, our annual Regatta would have gone ahead.
I was lucky enough to row with a team for two years in the Regatta, almost 15 years ago now. We acquitted ourselves well on the water and it’s one of the many fitness experiences I’ve had that I treasure.
There was lots of discussion about the Regatta’s absence this year, and it gave me a chance to recall good memories and to reflect on some important lessons.
The first is teamwork matters. Our success in the boat depended on all six of us pulling together with our cox’s direction. There’s no room in a boat for a diva, or as my friend puts it, there’s no shade where you can hide. We would be successful because we all worked together. In looking at my work life, the most successful projects have been so because we had a shared vision of what we wanted to achieve and we were committed to it.
The second is that we had one job. That was to make the boat go as fast as it could when it needed to. While where we sat in the boat gave us certain responsibilities — steering, setting the pace, handling the turn — we all rowed in unison and in the same direction. Our commitment to performing that role well made a difference in the outcome. If one of us lost an oar, we learned how to get it back and hit the water in time for the next stroke. We bring different skills and knowledge to a project and that matters. At certain points though, there’s only one outcome and the work you do has to take you there and not somewhere else.
Third, balance is critical. My team mates and I came in all shapes and sizes — tall and short, lithe and muscular, curvy and lean. Our first month in the boat meant playing around with seating to get the balance right so that when we really rowed in earnest, we were each in the best place to achieve our goal. So too with work. If I look back at some of the projects which had good results instead of spectacular ones, I realized it’s because we didn’t have the right mix — too much of one kind of skill and not enough of another.
Finally, we had fun. Rowing is hard work, but we also had fun together. We took time to celebrate milestones, to give high fives, to go out together and be social. If all you do is work hard, and you don’t stop to see the good things and to do the fun things, work becomes meaningless. I worked with a very wise woman once who told me when things stop being fun, it is time to give them up. There may be times you may have to step back and gain perspective, or you may have to leave altogether. Work can be hard; the issues can be challenging; the process can be difficult. But you have to make space for the joyful and the affirmative.
Although I don’t row today except on an erg, I look at the work I have put in over the last few years in powerlifting, and I can see all four of these lessons as key to my continued success. I can also see the role these lessons have played in my work success. What lessons have you learned from your sport(s) or fitness activities?
— MarthaFitat55 lives in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.
My dear friend Bonnie had a milestone birthday last week, and she was supposed to be on an epic trip. That had to be postponed, of course, it being one of the strangest years we’ve ever experienced — so I tried to think of something adventurous we could do within the parameters we find ourselves in. That meant: a day trip, outdoors, distanced, fun.
And lo and behold, “tubing” presented itself.
This is, apparently, a thing people do. (Sam wrote about doing it a couple of years ago for her birthday; Nicole told me “I love tubing on that river!”). But I’d never even heard of it before. But someone mentioned it to me about a month ago, and then I saw someone posting about it on IG, and because neither Bonnie nor I have ever done it, it felt suitably adventurous.
The whole scenario is pretty simple: you fill out a million covid-related waivers; you show up, masked, at the end point with your own snacks; you sanitize your hands; they brief you on the map and rules; you take a (sanitized, masked) bus about 15 minutes to the launch point; they put you in a little rubber tube-boat with a paddle; and then you have hours to make your way about 11 km down a river, however quickly you want.
It was… blissful. It was a gorgeous day, and we had snacks, and it was the perfect blend between active movement (a little paddling, a little navigating) and total, blissful relaxation.
This was one of the few times I actually forgot about the pandemic for a little while. We found the little waterfall, and made our way through the rapids, and tried to figure out what the heck was happening when I saw a guy wearing a bathing suit and a bike helmet try to walk across the shallows holding up a kid who was also wearing a bike helmet. I had a hard time not interfering here (“do you not realize you need a PFD, not a bike helmet! if you fall you will drown in a bucket of water!”). I just … drifted.
The most complicated thing I had to do was bail my boat after a couple of major slooshes of water after a couple of rapids. I used a potato chip bag.
We had a magical time. Perfect weather, the kind of peaceful easy friendship that meant we talked and didn’t talk, drifted and paddled, ate gummy bears and pistachios. After the tubing, we changed in the parking lot, using lots of wipes, remasked and headed off to a dinner on a patio overlooking the river I’d booked in advance. The perfect day away.
There’s a big campaign this summer to find adventure in your own back yard. I’ve done a little bit of that, with cottage-going and running and riding on the trails near my house. But this day out — a new activity, being outside, chilling, celebrating my beloved Bonnie — it was blissful. And it reminded me once again what a glorious place we live.
I love mountain biking. In these COVID-times, with all the additional stresses, the sport is a meditative source of grounding, focus and joy.
This was not always so. It took me a lot of years to arrive at the relationship I have with the sport (and my bike). I dabbled in mountain biking for many years; i.e. a couple of decades. The first time I tried out mountain biking was more than 30 years ago. I bought a mountain bike to replace the city cruiser I had, figuring that it could do double duty—replace my dilapidated cruiser and be a source of off-road fun exercise too. I couldn’t quite achieve the off-road fun bit. I didn’t trust myself or my bike. I was so frustrated by my lack of skill, that I could never relax enough to develop the skills. I spent a lot of time walking my bike, while simultaneously cursing my ineptitude.
Then about eleven years ago, we bought this place I’m at in the California mountains that’s a stone’s throw from a huge network of fabulous trails. I ride out the driveway and I’m on single track trails within 2 minutes. I started riding once a week, as an off-day from trail running (another love). I still walked my bike a lot, but I improved. Very. Slowly. Then, when various running injuries forced me to reduce my mileage, I started to ramp up my time on the mountain bike. Well, hello, turns out when I ride more than once a week, I actually improve. Noticeably. And that’s a pleasant virtuous cycle—the more I improve, the more I enjoy the sport. I’ll come back to what I mean by improve in a moment. Then 5 years ago, as solace after my father died, I bought a new mountain bike. And holy cow, was I shocked to discover that all the new bike tech really did notch up my potential. For the first time I really felt like I was riding with a partner and friend—my bike, that is. I painted a flower on her crossbar with green nail polish, in thanks.
This year I’ve been riding a lot. Not because I can’t run, but because I want to ride. In a period of such pervasive anxiety (societal anxiety fuels personal anxiety and around the merry-go-round the anxiety goes), mountain biking demands my complete presence and attention. When my mind strays, I get knocked off my bike. When my mind focuses, I make it over, through and around obstacles I thought were impossible. Over and over again on my bike, I get an up close and personal look at how my mind either obstructs my progress or harmonizes fluidly with the world. In the best moments, I feel like I’m dancing on my bike. Pure woohoo joy (yes, I shout out loud, the happiness is too much to resist). In the less harmonious moments, I can usually see exactly how my own thoughts interfered.
There are, for example, certain obstacles I only “make” on some days—a steep sandy uphill, a hairpin over rock clusters, a pincer gap between two boulders. The days I don’t make them, it’s most often because I’ve started talking myself out of it before I get there. I’m thinking too much about whether I’ll achieve. The days I stay on the bike, I find the flow between going for it and not worrying about the outcome. So, when I mentioned above that I have improved my bike skill, that’s the skill I mean. Not whether I can ride over, around or through an obstacle, but whether I can find the right mindset. In other words, my mountain bike rides feel like an object lesson in learning to find that harmony between effort and no effort that allows us to feel in flow with the world. I liken this harmony or flow to what Taoism calls wu wei, or effortless action.
Being in flow on my mountain bike certainly doesn’t mean that everything is possible. There are still obstacles that are objectively not within my skill set. Yet. Or maybe ever. Staying open to the flow and noticing its ebbs, enables me to see more readily where I can do more and where I should stay humble, get off my bike and leave that steep rock drop off for another day.
One more reason why mountain biking works as a meditation—because, even as my skill evolves, every previous challenge has stayed fresh in my mind. Even if the last time an obstacle stumped me was a decade ago, I am grateful each time I meet it with ease. There’s no complacence in my developing skill. Going around rocks, whooshing through gulleys or popping over fat tree roots, I remember that they used to stop me in my tracks and I take an extra breath of thanks. Gratitude fortifies my ongoing curiosity and seasons each new skill I acquire with humility. Inside this sport, I am present with the delicate balance between acquiring and acknowledging my own expertise, while simultaneously staying curious (without judgment) to what’s new or changed.
The more I can learn to notice these subtleties in my rides, the more I can see how the same patterns play out in my life off-the-bike. How can I foster the harmonious coexistence of expertise and curiosity? Where can I find more flow? When am I giving up too soon? What can I let go of?
In meditation practice, being in the flow is what teachers describe as finding the calm below the turbulence of the waves in an ocean, or letting the silt settle to reveal the clear water in a glass. These are the metaphors for a clear, uncluttered, unobstructed mind. More than any other activity in my life (including my longstanding meditation practice), when I’m on my mountain bike, I get robust glimpses of the power of my clear mind. Again, meditation teachers tell us that the more familiar we are with that space and its possibilities, the more readily we can access our clear mind again.
I have found that to be true, on my mountain bike (and in life). The difficult part is that it takes constant curiosity. I was going to say hard work or vigilance, but those are such effortful terms. Just like peace is not achieved through violence, finding the flow of effortless action is not achieved by forced labour. What’s needed is expansive, open-hearted curiosity. Over and over. Staying alive to possibility is challenging. I want to do better. My mountain bike meditations help, but I’ve got a long road ahead. But then again, if the journey is the destination, to bowdlerize Ralph Waldo Emerson, well then, I’m doing okay.
How about you? Where do you find flow most easily in your life?
The ads in my digital media news feeds know what I’m up to. Which is to say staying at home, working from home, exercising at home, spending time with family, and napping. I’m also dressing differently now my life is one big blur of working, exercising, doomscrolling, eating, sleeping etc.
Enter the nap dress. I swear ads for different versions of this dress make up half of the advertising I see these days.
Rachel Syme writes, “Since sleeping through the night was not happening, I figured an outfit specifically designated for daytime dozing might be just the thing. One could theoretically wear a Nap Dress to bed, but it is decidedly not a nightgown. (For one, it is opaque enough to wear to the grocery store.) It is not the same thing as a caftan, which, though often luxurious, is more shapeless and more grown-up. It is not a housedress, which we tend to associate with older women shuffling onto the stoop to grab the morning paper, the curlers still in their hair. A housedress is about forgetting the self, or at least hiding it under layers of quilted fabric. The Nap Dress, on the other hand, suggests a cheeky indulgence for one’s body, and a childlike return to waking up bleary-eyed hours before dinner.”
In “The Uneasy Privilege Of The Daytime Nightgown,” Veronique Hyland talks about the politics of who gets to wear a daytime nap dress during the pandemic. It’s not frontline workers, grocery store clerks, transit workers, and people driving UberEats to pay rent.
“I can appreciate the aesthetic appeal of a nightgown. I get that they’re comfortable, and who doesn’t crave comfort right now? It’s possible that I’m projecting way too much onto a few yards of fabric. But the nightgown, especially as daywear, strikes me as reactionary. Its evocations of passive Victorian and pre-Raphaelite femininity feel like an uncritical throwback to those eras’ mold of white female fragility. The styling of these images evokes sleeping beauties or Ophelias, or worse, invalids. Fashioning yourself as a tubercular Victorian might once have felt ironic; with millions in the grip of a real pandemic—one that is disproportionately affecting Black and brown communities—it feels Marie Antoinette-at-the-Hameau-level out of touch. And in 2020, the idea of “checking out” and into the seductive world of blameless slumber that the nightgown invites us to, does too. It serves as a reminder that while some people are taking to the streets, others are taking to their beds.”
Toronto Newsgirls Boxing Club posted this on their Facebook page this morning:
“Today is our last day in the gym and we are inviting you to come down and have a turn at painting over the Newsgirls logo on the wall behind the ring. It’s a slightly dramatic ending but to us it’s more of a ritual of closing down one fort and moving towards another equally special playground for hitting things.
CBC will be in the house. Please wear masks and practice social distancing. Prepare to be shocked when you walk in the gym, it’s not as pretty as it used to be. Hope to see you out, Coach Kapow!”
You can read about the closing here: ‘Everybody was crying’: After 24 years Canada’s first all-female boxing club has closed. COVID-19 was the sucker punch.
It’s sad. It’s the end of an era. But it’s not the end of Newsgirls even though the physical space is no more.
Coach Savoy says, “It’s not the end of Newsgirls,” she said. “Newsgirls has a strong foundation and a lot of community support … we will get back on our feet.”
She’s got plenty of ideas, and a few jokes — maybe she’ll start a motorcycle gang! For now she’s teaching pay-what-you-can classes in a park and looking out for whatever might come next.
“I can always find people to help out,” she said. “When you have access to a strong community there’s so much you can do.””
Not loving your lifting workout and just want to get it over with? Myo reps. Have less time, but want to feel like you’re not cheating your progress when shortening your workout? Myo reps. Only have a 10lb dumbbell but you need 25 lbs to fatigue a lift in 10 reps? Myo reps.
During the pandemic, myo reps have become my favorite way to get it done. If you aren’t familiar with them, they’re pretty easy to perform. Take a lift and do it to near failure. Count about 4 breaths and then immediately do your next set, this time all the way to failure. Count 4 breaths, and repeat. Do this until you’ve done 3-5 sets, when your muscles will likely be telling you they can’t take it anymore.
I’ve been lifting at home since March. I have dumbbells–1, 3, 5, 7, and 20 pound pairs. I have some sturdy exercise bands, including a set that can be anchored into a door. I have some adjustable ankle weights that can give me 0.5-9 pounds of resistance per leg (or arm, if I’m desperate). And of course, I have my body and whatever I can jerryrig from the dining room table, the bench in the entrance, off the futon and on the floor.
I began my workouts as an extension of the work I’d been doing with a trainer. I substituted in moves and lowered weights when necessitated by my limited equipment and just did as many reps as necessary to fatigue my muscles. However, 5 sets of 30-40 reps became commonplace, and my mental stamina was beginning to give out sooner than my muscular stamina! I needed to find a way to do the work without feeling so exhausted from it; life during the pandemic was exhausting enough.
Enter myo reps.
In the months since I began using them, myo reps have become a flexible tool in my lifting toolbox. I’m pretty good at remaining consistent doing the work, but as the months have dragged on, no question I’m loving my home lifting less and less. Sometimes I just want to check off the box and move on with my day. With myo reps, I can perform my workout in far less time and still feel like I’ve given my muscles a meaningful stimulus.
For example, if I’m doing dumbbell bicep curls, I currently have a choice between using 7 lbs or 20 lbs. Twenty pounds borders on too much for me for a bicep curl. (I can do 6 reps without cheating; I just ran upstairs to check!) With seven pounds, I can go on and on. However, with myo reps, I start with that really long set at 7 lbs–maybe 40? I don’t really count–but the second set is a more reasonable 12, then 8, then 8 again. There’s some research out there that suggests these reps can be as effective as straight sets, and I’m done in about 2 minutes.
I don’t recommend you try these with heavy, complex movements. You don’t want to get too fatigued squatting with a lot of weight on your back or pressed overhead. But for lighter and simpler movements, I have found them to be a welcome source of variation. It’s important to me to continue to be consistent with my workouts. Finding flexible solutions to the challenges of this time allows me to keep doing the work, to get it done and to move on with my day.
How about you, dear reader? Have you tried myo reps? Is there another strategy you’ve found to remain flexible and consistent with your lifts?
Marjorie Hundtoft is a middle school science and health teacher. She can be found pre-fatiguing her muscles, picking up heavy things (like her own body), and putting them down again in Portland, Oregon.
If you have been taking a much-needed mid/late summer break from social media: 1) Congratulations! What a great idea. You’ve not been missing much; 2) But, I have to tell you about this one thing you may have missed: the #medkini kerfuffle.
It initially started with a study published in the Journal of Vascular Surgery that purported to analyze the behavior of physicians on social media. The study, conducted by a team of researchers based at the Boston Medical Center and Boston University School of Mecicine, was an attempt to classify the posts of trainees in vascular surgery as either professional or unprofessional.
So, what sorts of posts did the researchers consider unprofessional? From the now-retracted article (not linking to it):
Clearly unprofessional content included: Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) violations, intoxicated appearance, unlawful behavior, possession of drugs or drug paraphernalia, and uncensored profanity or offensive comments about colleagues/work/patients.
Potentially unprofessional content included: holding/ consuming alcohol, inappropriate attire, censored profanity, controversial political or religious comments, and controversial social topics.
There are a ton of problems with the methodology of the article, but the #medkini twitter storm came about as a result of the interpretation of the “inappropriate attire” category. Apparently this included photos of vascular surgeons in bathing suits or festive costumes for festive occasions (like Halloween, for example). In particular, all pictures of female vascular surgeons in bikinis (not worn while performing surgery, but rather during leisure activity) were marked “potentially unprofessional”. And those doing the judging were a nearly all-male group.
Here are some of the photos the #medkini and #medbikin folks posted:
You can see the abstract here, and more importantly the big red “RETRACTED” stamp all over every page.
Okay, so the authors really messed this one up. As did the editors and peer reviewers. The editors apologized here, if you’re interested.
But here’s the problem: why did anyone even think for one minute this kind of judgment was okay? Scientific American has some things to say about it:
We don’t believe anyone had malicious intent. But that is exactly the point. One need not have malicious intent to cause harm. In the same way, the gender pay gap, though perhaps not intentional, affects women, and implicit bias of physicians impairs the care of Black patients. In this case, researchers harmed the medical community by suggesting that speaking up about social causes, consuming alcohol when not working, and wearing a bikini were unprofessional.
The point is not who these researchers are or even what they did in this particular study. The authors, the institutional review board (which is supposed to watch out for ethical problems), the reviewers of the article and the journal’s editors all thought this was worth publishing. This is because in the culture of medicine, harassment and subjugation of those who don’t look like the dominant group is not only tolerated, it’s the norm.
This is certainly common in medicine, but that’s not the only field in which women get judged as unprofessional for their clothing, activities, food and drink, etc. In the interests of solidarity, here are some of our pics:
Dear readers, did you hear about the #medkini business? Have you been hesitant to post vacation or swimming pics on social media because sexism? I’d love to hear from you, and will respond with scorn for those people who were mean to you and support for you in whatever attire you choose.
The Canadian government rolled out a new Covid tracing app in Ontario yesterday, encouraging everyone to download the app to anonymously track proximity, so if someone in your environment tests positive for covid, you can be notified immediately.
Fantastic idea, and we jumped on the bandwagon right away.
But then it became clear that this app doesn’t work for older phones — and by older phones, that includes Iphone 6. Which many, many, many people have.
Our friend Elena noted this first:
“Tried to but it won’t accept my iPhone 6 operating system. This means the app presents a barrier for anyone who relies on older phones. Many of those people are economically precarious and thus at higher risk. What could ideally be an important element of social cohesion has become in some ways another act of gatekeeping. I’m a bit dismayed and hope a fix is on the way.”
Her partner Alistair wrote to the app developer and got this response:
“Thank you for your interest in COVID Alert. The exposure notification framework that COVID Alert relies upon is only available on Apple phones that have been released within the past 5 years. Specifically, for iPhones, this means any model that is newer than an iPhone 6. The most recent software updates for iOS must be installed – iOS 13.5. Bluetooth must be enabled on the phone for the exposure notification functionality to work. The COVID Alert Team”
As Elena underlines, this is a major equity issue. The people most likely to have older phones are the people who are economically marginalized, which includes disabled, elderly and people with chronic illness — who are the people who are most at risk of severe consequences from Covid. Those are exactly the people in our world who noted that their phones don’t work with this.
Susan captures the structural inequities behind this:
“It seems that the feds and the tech humans are so focused on our fears around privacy that they forgot to have a lens around accessibility race and class. This seems to me to be another place that privilege has silently operated to exclude the people who need to be protected most. Those of us with up to date phones, who, let’s face it, fling our information at the corporate vultures with barely a glance at that consent, are all twitchy around being tracked for public health and the developers knew it. But, likely because of who they are and where they are situated (I mean it’s tech, mostly white and affluent and male) they did not consider that energy had to ALSO be put into accessibility. Which means more versions of the app so you can run it on an iPhone 4 or 5. The people in my circle who have old phones and can’t download the app are the vulnerable ones, the ones on disability, with tight budgets or who work in difficult, exposes, lower wage jobs. And yes these are ALSO the people that the greater society criticizes if they DO have a fancy phone. This needs to be rectified and the easiest way is to produce another version. There’s a rover going to Mars FFS. How hard can this be?”
So: get active on this. Send the message that “The CovidAlert app is a great idea, but write a version that works with older phones so we can protect the most vulnerable Canadians.”
Send an email to the help page of the app: hc.AlerteCOVIDAlert.firstname.lastname@example.org
Tweet about it, with the hashtags #covidalert and #covidalertequity
Like most academics I’m shocked and surprised that is August. How did that happen? Yikes!
August is when I realize I haven’t started all the writing projects I thought I’d make slow but steady progress on over the summer and that I’m teaching a grad seminar in a few weeks in addition to deaning. It’ll all be fine. I’ll get it all done. But the sense of endless summer weeks stretching out ahead of me are gone.
This summer had a slow pandemic-related start in terms of getting to do all the warm weather outdoorsy things I like to do. Like, I’m finally going canoe camping but next week but August is a bit late for my first time out paddling.
Also, I’ve got to say, this year, 2020, the year that started for us worrying about the youngest child and Australian bush fires and has been a blur of Covid-19 ever since, has turned me from a low grade worry wart to a full on ‘anxious about all the people in my life’ sort of parent. I want to give August a stern talking to.
July did see me getting outside more on my bike. In fact, July’s fitness highlights were all bike related. I loved weekends of ice cream rides at Sarah’s farm which included outdoor, physically distant visits with friends. I also loved riding and racing on Zwift where I’ve joined Team TFC.
Here’s the team guidelines which I like and seem to be held to:
TFC is a close knit community so all riders should be ready to help and give advice to all members.
Be passionate about the team and support team mates wherever possible.
All riders should work towards a common goal of trying to improve the team
Respect other riders on the platform.
Respect the ride and ride leader especially if it is another group ride.
In a group ride be ready to help riders who may be struggling.
Remember that the idea of racing is to improve so give 100% every race.
Enjoy the time on the platform whether that is a ride, race, workout or a social spin.
I’ve also started getting outside for work visits with coworkers. Wherever possible I’m trying to do things outside. I’m nervous about the winter ahead.
I’m trying not to live to much in memories of things I did close up with lots of other people in years past and in anticipation of doing those things again in the future, but sometimes I let myself indulge.
In that spirit, here’s some photos from rides in years past.
Finally, I don’t know where things stand with my knee replacement. I don’t know if things have gotten better or if I’ve just gotten used to it but the good news is that it isn’t getting worse. I also don’t know if in light of COVID-19 it’s been delayed at all.