Aside from T-ball in grade school, I didn't do much with sports growing up. In high school I tried tennis, but somewhere along the line that went bad when the coach accused me of writing an anonymous nasty letter. I didn't write the letter of course, but the accusation told me in no uncertain terms: you don't belong in sports. Being resilient, I simply changed focus and worked on academics. I occasionally ran a mile when I felt fat and lifted weights but didn't do sports for much of my 20s.
Then Boulders climbing gym opened and as John Bingham says, “I became an adult-onset athlete.” As I think happened with a lot of the new climbers, I became... well… obsessed with climbing. I was terrible, having no athletic background at all, but loved climbing for the simple pleasure of movement and the quick advancement that sport provides. I climbed pretty much every day and miraculously escaped overuse injuries. And, for the first time in my life, I became good at a sport! I loved the feeling of competence and of strength. And, since the gym was new, everyone was progressing the same way, making for a fun and vibrant community of climbers and boulderers. The Madison Women Climbers group was born and through that, climbing at the gym, and at Devil's Lake, I met inspiring, strong, athletic women. The fun times learning problems with Vera, Annie, Lisa, Amy, and Lindsay were some of the best in my life and I miss all those women dearly now that I live elsewhere. I read a quote recently and have no idea whether it is true in general but it is true for me: "The most reliable predictor of not being lonely is the amount of contact with women. " (The Happiness Project). Through climbing I learned the value of simply hanging with the girls (sorry guys!).
Paul and I moved to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia and I quickly learned that what I value most about sport is not the sport itself but the community. In Harrisonburg, biking is king; the community is strong and there are rides every day of the week. There's actually fantastic climbing in Virginia/West Virginia, but the community is small. So, climbing took a back-seat. I learned to get over my fear of gravel, of rocks, of logs, of speed, of off-camber, and got in darn good shape climbing mountains. And, what I learned in Harrisonburg was to simply enjoy myself and make fun the priority of riding. There, probably in part because the riding is so technical but also because the people there are just so chill, group rides consisted of newbies like me, professional mountain bikers, and everyone else along the spectrum. This made for lots of learning and lots of fun and cemented in me a deep respect for group rides (and the obligatory beer and pizza or Thai after). And, once again, I met ridiculously strong and fun women and rode countless hours with them (and even climbed). Kristin, Amy, Anne, and Rachel, I can't put in words how much I miss you!
Well, now I live in Colorado and have taken up "training for races," mainly just to see what I'm capable of -- to take me in a new direction than just fun. This has opened up a whole can of worms in that those old "you don't belong in sport" issues learned in high school arise and I have to remind myself that I'm just as allowed to train and race as the next person when I pay my race fee. And, even though I'm certainly no great athlete, I still can have a goal that is important to me. It's an interesting thing, to train. It's here where you come face to face with your own limitations, where you put faith in the plan, you put in the work, and you hope it pays off. For me, training has been pretty solitary, the opposite of my time in Virginia and Madison. It allows me to achieve things I've not thought possible and in the end challenges me to be a better person by pursuing 'excellence,' but at the same time I wonder if it’s worth it. The current challenge in my athletic life is: how do you train for a goal AND be part of a community, especially a community of women athletes. I have yet to resolve it, and if you have any suggestions, please email me!
So, in the end, my athletic journey, like much of my life, has been following my nose and interests in new areas and seeking challenges. It has led me to new sports, new places, and new approaches to sport. I'm grateful for them all and to all the people I've encountered along the way. Even with my current reservations, each experience helps me to see the world in a new way, simply enjoy feeling of using my body, and feel strong and competent. I think in the end, that's what it’s about: enjoying experiences, challenging ourselves, feeling the beauty of movement, and enjoying it with people we love. Even with the occasional doubt, I now know I "belong in sport" but on my own terms.