Or Saving My Life One Pedal Stroke At A Time

Posts tagged ‘life change’

Spartan Race

“This isn’t about going it alone; it’s about becoming part of something bigger than yourself. Spartans leave no one behind. It is great to push yourself alone, but it is even greater to compete along with friends and acquaintances to reach a new level.” Spartan Up! by Joe De Sena (founder of the Spartan Race), p. 163.

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I was on the cargo net climb, frozen into place, unable to move my body the necessary two feet over the top, and climb back down. My friend, Elisabeth, had already scampered up and over the nets, and was waiting for me on the ground on the other side. The Spartan volunteer, a youngster who looked to be about 16, scooted over and tried to help me by saying, “You can do this,” and demonstrating how to get up and over. I gave his advice exactly 1.3 seconds consideration and said, “No, I can’t,” and proceeded back down. On the ground, I did the thirty burpees required when an obstacle is failed. I also started plummeting down the very black hole I fall into when I realize I’ve committed to something that is way beyond my capabilities, a hole that is slippery and lined with, “You should have known better,” “You’re not an athlete like all these other people,” “What the hell is wrong with you?!” “You have no one to blame but yourself,” and my particular favorite, “You got yourself into this mess, and now you’re going to let everyone down. You’re useless.”

It all started back in November when Elisabeth texted me, “You want to do a Spartan Race with me?” My response was, “What’s a Spartan Race?” She explained that it’s an obstacle course, and sent me a link to a video. I watched it and was both intrigued and horrified.

Elisabeth is a long distance cyclist and runner. She’s completed six marathons and countless shorter races. The woman has ENDURANCE. I couldn’t possibly do anything like the Spartan Race in a million years. Could I? Maybe I could. I mean, I’d been doing CrossFit for almost a year and a half. I could do a back squat at 85 lbs, and a deadlift at 150 lbs. CrossFit includes some running, and I was getting better at that. Maybe, just maybe, I could hold my own with the 23 and 34 and 45 year olds. I would just need some extra training. It was quite simple really.

Afflicted with what my cousin’s husband calls the “Whole Hog Syndrome,” when I commit to something, I’m all in. Facebook being the perfect medium, I posted information about the Race. I described the training I was doing. Daily.

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I took a picture of the new outfit I bought just for the race (and ended up wearing something else).

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I even trumpeted the food I was eating. I could, of course, eat whatever I wanted seeing how I was in training and all.

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Race Day arrived. The morning of February 7 found Elisabeth and me trying to get our bearings at the race site, the McDowell Mountain Regional Park outside of Phoenix, Arizona.  We got our race packets, took a look at the participants doing various obstacles in the near vicinity, discussed our race strategy which mainly consisted of us saying we’d help each other and confidently announcing, “Oh, I can do that obstacle!” and figuring out where to leave our bags of clean clothes for after the race. We even participated in the tiny warmup they had before the race.

Then it was our group’s time to go. Off we went, Elisabeth ahead of me. Up a sandy hill to the first wall, which I could only get over with Elisabeth’s help, scrabbling ungainly and plopping in a decidedly uncoordinated fashion onto the ground. She got over the wall by herself. The same with the next wall. And the next one. I started getting a little nervous. But I kept going. I got myself through a wall with cutouts in it, so I felt a little better. Then came the cargo net climb. I had not factored in my excruciating fear of heights.

After finishing the burpees, I knew I was in serious trouble because there were more high climbs ahead. I had lost my nerve and was feeling completely unprepared for the rest of the race. I didn’t know what to do; I sure as hell couldn’t run this race like a real Spartan. It wasn’t that I was incompetent – I would have had to grapple up several rungs of the Ladder of Ineptitude to even reach incompetent. It was that I COULD NOT DO WHAT THIS RACE REQUIRED.

Feeling tears stinging my eyes, I slowly started after Elisabeth. Elisabeth turned around and said, “If you’re going to do this, you need to run faster. I can’t do this race without your help.” I was thinking about my options – sitting down and crying (and not delicately either; I’m talking hunched over sobbing wails with snot running down my face); stomping off in a huff to sit in the car; and suddenly sprouting wings and flying home to Tucson. Her tone snapped me out of my reverie of misery.  She was concerned about her completion time for the race. She was committed to doing this. It was very clear on her face. So I picked up the pace but was still not sure what I was going to do.

I couldn’t burpee my way through every obstacle; that would slow us down to a snail’s pace. Finally, at the rope climb I asked a Spartan Race volunteer if I could just not do the obstacles but stay with my friend and help her. The kindest woman on earth said, “Of course you can, honey. I wouldn’t do any of these things!” She gave me the permission I couldn’t give myself.

From that point on, I decided to only do the obstacles I thought I could do safely, and help Elisabeth wherever possible. We ran up hills and down. She tried every single obstacle and did the majority of them, doing the required 30 burpees for the ones she couldn’t do. I helped push her up when she needed it, provided stability when necessary, helped with the rope pull of 90 pounds, and gave her shoulders to sit on to do a high hand over hand obstacle. The most significant help I gave was in the mud pits (which I actually enjoyed). She’d pushed me out, but the mud piles were too slippery for me to pull her out. So I used one of my strongest assets – a voice that can cut through a crowd like a hot knife through butter. “Can somebody help push my friend’s butt up?!” resulted in a very nice young man stepping forward and offering her his thigh to step on.

I won’t say that the rest of the course was a special, magical time in which my heart became filled with love for the Spartan Race. It wasn’t. But I kept going, and did my best. I also noticed how everyone, and I mean everyone, helped each other. At an eight foot wall we were looking around for a man to boost Elisabeth up when a 5′ 3” gal offered to help. She provided a shoulder for Elisabeth to step up on and once Elisabeth was over the wall, got herself over too. My contribution was to stand there in astonishment.

I did the barbed wire crawl/roll with Elisabeth just before the end of the race. After that was leaping over fire, which was the last obstacle. I could not bring myself to do it because I’d only done about a third of the obstacles and felt like I didn’t deserve it. That was for Spartans. I was covered in bruises that made me look like I had been in a cage fight with Godzilla, and had mud in every orifice of my body. Those are badges of honor for Spartan Racers, but I felt like a phony.

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I have been friends with Elisabeth for almost twenty years, and the words she said to me after the race confirmed why. Those words were, “I know you were thinking about quitting but you didn’t leave me. I couldn’t have done this without your help.” That really made me stop and think.

When it came down to it, I didn’t leave my friend. I couldn’t leave my friend.

Maybe I am Spartan after all.

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Sometimes It’s the Simplest Thing

Last night I did something I haven’t done in years. In fact, I couldn’t remember the last time I’d done it. It was something quite simple, so simple in fact that when I realized I was doing it, it stopped me cold.

I lay down on my bed to read.

A few weeks ago I was talking with a friend about all the changes I’ve been through in the last couple years, and she asked me a really good question – Is my life what I thought it would be when I started on this new path two years ago?  After thinking a bit, my answer was, “No. It’s a lot better than I ever imagined could be possible.”  And it is. It truly, truly is.

I knew I could lose weight. I didn’t know I could become an athlete. I knew I could live on my own. I didn’t know I could have a home that is a sanctuary. I knew I could live without a car for a while. I didn’t know I would choose to make cycling a lifestyle. I knew I could do some traveling. I didn’t know that the more I opened up to the world, the more it would open up to me. I knew I could make new friends. I didn’t know that I would also reconnect with old friends and family, and that everyone would become part of a huge supportive network I’m grateful for every single day.

2013 felt like it was devoted to Mind. I needed to wrap my head around the fact that since my marriage was over, I had to live as myself, not as half a couple. Making decisions became easier since I didn’t have to pass anything by anyone else. And the freedom!!! I honestly felt like I had been let out of prison. Anything I chose to do affected only me. I also discovered that I had to do things my ex-husband used to do.

For example, my ex-husband is extremely handy and knows how to do almost anything mechanically related. When I bought my bedframe from Ikea, I didn’t have a clue how to put it together. But my friend, Annie, helped me. Then when I put the Tempura-Pedic mattress (read HEAVY mattress) on, the underlying supports weren’t strong enough. The middle of the mattress bowed up, like a mogul on a ski slope. I slept on the crest of the Continental Divide for months while I tried to figure out what to do about it. I know my ex-husband would have had the solution figured out in under five seconds. I also knew that his ability to figure out a solution to this problem was not a reason to have stayed with him. Finally, one day I took a really good look under the bed and realized how to fix it. I took measurements, went to Home Depot, and had them cut a piece of plywood to my specifications. I manhandled the mattress out of the frame, put the plywood down, and manhandled the mattress back in. Problem solved. All by myself. Since then, I’ve continued to amaze myself with what I can figure out all by myself.

2014 felt like it was devoted to Body. I’d lost 70 lbs, was riding my bike everywhere, and had been doing CrossFit for about five months. As I gained in strength and confidence, my body started changing. I had no idea I could develop this much muscle tone in my 50s. I realized that all those thoughts I had about how middle age meant fatigue, weight gain, and weakness were myths. The more I work out, the better I feel. The more I work out, the stronger I become. The more I work out, the more confident I become about all aspects of my life. IMG_3984

2015 feels like it is about Spirit. I haven’t written a blog post in almost five months. I love writing my posts, but the past few months the pace of my life has had a supersonic speed. For example, I taught at a school in Costa Rica for a month. Thanks to students at Cortiva-Tucson, I rediscovered my love for teaching. Another way to think of it is that once a teacher, always a teacher. I hadn’t done entry-level massage therapy and bodywork classes for about 10 years. Because of the dedication of the Cortiva students, and their commitment to learning, I was willing to try something new, in a new culture, and to reap the huge benefits that being unafraid yields. I discovered a heretofore unknown love of the ocean, and I even learned to like running by running along a beach that seemed to be created just for me. Beach 9-4-14 Path along the beach     10501624_10203386779366726_6971403773729792128_n

Another milestone was I met a country music singer I’ve idolized for almost 30 years, Dwight Yoakam. I first discovered his music when I moved to Tucson in 1987. I distinctly remember driving down I-10 when “Streets of Bakersfield” came on the radio. I actually said, out loud, “I know that’s Buck Owens, but WHO is that singing with him?”

Once I found out it was Dwight Yoakam, I couldn’t get enough of his music. I bought every CD he put out. I discovered good friends of mine were also fans. We went to every concert he played in Tucson, getting seats closer and closer to the stage each time he performed. In February, 2013, we were 3rd row center at the Fox Theatre. In 2014, we were again 3rd row center but with MEET AND GREET. Suddenly, 30 years of dreaming about meeting the man whose music was so important to me, and having the opportunity to tell him so, was in my hands. And you know what happened? I froze. He couldn’t have been more gracious, but I could not say the thoughts in my head. I had the most beautiful speech planned, and had even rehearsed it. It went something along the lines of discovering his music at a very difficult time in my life, and it’s been like a brightly colored thread woven through my life ever since. None of that came out. Some stuttering inanities did, but nothing close to my heart, and then I bolted.  However, I  discovered that he is just a man. Granted, a man with the voice of an angel, but he is just a human being. And so am I. Ironically, now I think I’d have no problem chatting with him but the need to is gone.

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I traveled to western New York to reconnect with family I haven’t seen for about 35 years. This was an incredibly important trip for me to do, on many levels. I haven’t even processed through all the layers of significance and, when I do, it will no doubt be the focus of a future blog post. There were numerous trips to Phoenix, which is about two hours from Tucson, to visit friends, family, and do some work. I also chose to have a Christmas vacation in Santa Fe with a friend of mine. We ended up having a fantastic journey through the Petrified Forest and Painted Desert in northern Arizona, then spent a week in that beautiful city.

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I also signed a year lease on my townhouse. This is very, very big. It means I’ve made a commitment to stay where I am. Instead of wondering if I’m meant to be somewhere else, I am choosing to make my stand here. It means I am willing to stop running, physically, emotionally, mentally, metaphorically, and, yes, spiritually. It means I am now choosing to face the demons coming up from the depths instead of blaming someone else or planning another trip or overeating or drinking too much or working too much or trying to find a romance.

So now I lie down on my bed to read. Because I have created a home. And I finally feel safe.

I Want to Go to Morocco

Morocco

Morocco

The other day someone asked me an interesting question. I was talking about how I want to go to Morocco and she asked me something that I’m pretty sure other people have thought but haven’t said out loud to me. It was, “Aren’t you afraid?”

My immediate response was, “No.” But this made me stop and think. I’m not afraid. I’m not afraid of a lot of things. But I used to be. I used to be afraid of everything and, because of that, my life was limited and limiting.

Ever since I can remember, I’ve wanted to be a teacher. I played school as a kid, setting up the classroom, organizing everything, getting all the other kids in their seats, and giving them their lessons. I even wrote cursive letters across the top of the wall, just like they had in school back then.

When I went to college, I studied biology. Most of my classmates planned on becoming doctors, but that didn’t appeal to me. I worked hard and got good grades (I love learning, after all), but I just couldn’t see myself going to medical school. One day, I happened to say to some of my friends that I would love to be a high school biology teacher. The looks they gave me were a combination of distaste and incredulity. One even said, “Really? You have such good grades I thought you’d want to do something… more.” Wow. I immediately thought of all the great science teachers I’d had in junior high and high school. If it wasn’t for them, I never would have tried something as daunting as heavy sciences like organic chemistry, microbiology, and biochemistry.

Me, at Ithaca College in Ithaca, NY around 1980.

Me, at Ithaca College in Ithaca, NY around 1980.

But I was afraid that my dream wasn’t what I should have. So I didn’t become a teacher.

Fast forward a few years. I was living in Dallas, Texas, doing what I thought I should do – working a secure job with a steady paycheck and benefits. But I hated it. It was too big a city for me and the culture was something that didn’t fit me.

But I was afraid to move and try something new. So I didn’t. Until I had to.

I ended up moving to Tucson, Arizona, something that saved my life (more information about this can be found in my post “Warning: This One’s Heavy). I ended up working how many people work – in a cubicle, with, again, a steady paycheck and benefits. I hated that job. I hated being confined. I hated that I got written up for “talking too much to my co-workers.” What I hated most of all was that the work was meaningless.

And one day I did something I was very afraid of. I walked into the Desert Institute of the Healing Arts and signed up to learn how to be a massage therapist. I was afraid, and I did it anyway. It took me over a year to complete the program. Along the way, I got fired from my job, went on food stamps, and most of the time had no idea how to make ends meet. But I wasn’t afraid. I just knew this was the right thing to do.

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I kept at it. When I graduated from the Desert Institute, I massaged in four different offices. I did temporary office work. I was a vastly underpaid seamstress. Eventually, I was able to get off food stamps, and decide what I wanted to do. I wanted to massage, and I wanted to teach. I became a teacher in training at the Desert Institute, working my way up to become the Chair of the Anatomy and Physiology Department. That biology degree had really come in handy.

I also explored other types of bodywork, becoming certified in shiatsu (a Japanese type of bodywork that is based on the same principles as acupuncture) and Thai massage. From there, I began teaching those modalities. I’ve now been a massage therapist for 23 years, and teaching for 21.

This is me, receiving shiatsu from Yoshi, one of the instructors in the shiatsu program

This is me, receiving shiatsu from Yoshi, one of the instructors in the shiatsu program

Along the way I married someone I thought I was supposed to be with for the rest of my life. It seemed like we were perfect together. And we were, for a long time. Until I understood that we were no longer on the same path, and hadn’t been for quite some time. In fact, we were so totally unsuited to be with each other that one day I realized I was fat and tired and afraid of everything again. Mostly, I was afraid I couldn’t survive unless I stayed married to someone I clearly didn’t love anymore, and who clearly didn’t love me. So I stayed. Because I was afraid.

And then I wasn’t afraid anymore.

I wasn’t afraid to learn how to live as myself, not as half a couple. I wasn’t afraid to learn how to become healthy by eating better and exercising. I wasn’t afraid to be alone so that I know when I meet someone special I will want to be with him because I love him, not because I’m lonely.

Me, January, 2013

Me, January, 2013

Me, December, 2013

Me, December, 2013

However, there is one new thing I am afraid of. That is having a life that is only half lived. So, no, I’m not afraid to go to Morocco.

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(Just click the blue box with Watch on Vimeo in it and it should play. You’ll see why I want to go to Morocco.)

The Secret to Happiness

When you think everything is someone else's falut

I wish, I sincerely wish, the world would work according to the plan I have in my head. I have discovered that rarely happens. Surprise!

My original plan was to post once a week. Then it was once a month. It has been a month and a half since my last post. Crap! This is not the vision I’ve had for my blog. It is supposed to be smooth, insightful, timely, and of great use to those who are trying to find their way in this craziness called life. Laugh, snort, laugh some more, snort until I choke.

You wanna know what I’ve discovered about life? You wanna know the great, big, huge, mystical, life-affirming, clear, path-of-destiny wonderism that I have realized in my journey to happiness? Well, here it is. Get yourself a cup of green tea, settle in, focus, and prepare to be amazed. I have the ultimate truth.

Life turns on a dime.

Yep. That’s it.

One day I was I was continuing to make up stories about how wonderful my life was with a man I was magically thinking was great. The next I realized what a fairy tale I had conjured up, had lived with for 15 years, and just how unhappy I was (to the tune of 200 pounds).

One day I was thinking about how I couldn’t possibly do anything more than I was already doing. Which was working on the computer in the back room of my house, doing bodywork treatments one day a week, eating everything I could think of (and what I couldn’t think of; that’s called mindless eating or “food amnesia”), and sitting on the sofa, watching tv every night, and drinking. What a seriously glamorous and wondrous life that was.

One day I was thinking that, “This is just how life is. Being middle-aged means weight gain, means exhaustion, means a low libido.” Of course, I didn’t have all those thoughts all the time. They would just flit through my brain like birds on their way to another destination.

The next day everything changed.

I had an experience where someone I knew briefly and peripherally looked at me like I was desirable. Wow. I weighed the most I have ever weighed in my life and he looked at me like I was beautiful. This man was not my husband. This man was a catalyst, and I doubt very seriously that he even knows what he did for me. And for that, I thank him.

Shortly thereafter, I came home and realized that my husband didn’t look at me like I was a woman. He didn’t even look at me like I was a human being. No one should ever, EVER, be with someone like that.

It was just that simple. All the tears, all the anguish, all the “Let’s try this to see if he’ll pay attention to me” antics I did. Just. Simply. Stopped.

What started was, “How do I want to live my life?”

It is as simple as that.

It was as simple as the difference between one day in October, 2012, and the next.

Life turns on a dime.

Fairy Hair

Happy Valentent’s Day

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Soooo…. last year on Valentine’s Day, I posted a rant on my Facebook page about how I’d never, ever, ever, ever, never had a good Valentine’s Day. I can’t say that any more.

This year, my good friend, Elisabeth, invited me to go along with members of her church to Rocky Point, Mexico, February 14-17, to help build a house. It was in conjunction with an organization called Amor (www.amor.org). The family for whom we’d be building the house, Jose, Cynthia, and their three children age ten to three, had barely escaped with their lives when their trailer had caught on fire. Their car and a shed containing paint thinners Jose used in his work were nearby and had exploded, sending up huge fireballs.

Jose, Cynthia, and their children.

Jose, Cynthia, and their children.

Building would involve using hand tools (no electric ones so that others in underdeveloped areas could mimic what we’d build), either freezing cold or blazing sun (we ended up having both), camping in tents (which is where I got the title for this post; Elisabeth’s husband had bought her a new tent for us to take so they were calling it the Valentent’s Day present), Port-A-Potties, and no showers. There was cause for celebration that actual Port-A-Potties would be on site since the previous bathroom facility was a wooden enclosure over a ditch.

I did not know how to use building tools. Oh, I’ve pounded a nail into the wall to hang a picture but that hardly qualifies me to help build anything. I really dislike being cold. I hate camping. I REALLY HATE getting dirty and having to use a Port-A-Potty. So, naturally, I said yes.

In the year since I moved out from an ending marriage, I’ve needed, and wanted, to challenge myself to do things I’ve never done before. I’d lost a significant amount of weight, learned to cycle clipped into the pedals, committed myself to CrossFit, and started a blog. Now, apparently, it was time to learn to build a house. And, unbeknownst to me, it was time to resolve some very old, deep hurts.

I was a bit nervous. Elisabeth reassured me that I would be fine. There was a lot of work to do, but everyone would do what they can.

Late morning on Valentine’s Day found me at the Rocky Point campsite, helping Elisabeth put up our tent. Somehow, I had secretly thought we’d be ten feet from the beach, softly lulled to sleep each night by the calming whoosh of waves. Instead, we were plopped in the middle of hardpan desert, miles from the beach, choosing whether to put the tent nearer to the camp dining area, which would ensure we’d be awakened long before necessary each morning by pots and pans being banged around, or nearer to the Port-A-Potties, which would ensure shorter journeys in the middle of the night. We chose to be nearer the Port-A-Potties. Ironically, we were awakened long before necessary each morning by a symphony of banging Port-A-Potty doors, courtesy of very early risers. This was not the issue we thought we’d have to deal with in this particular location.

Mexico

Mexico

Early afternoon on Valentine’s Day found me on the job site wearing my-so-fresh-from-the-package-it-had-crisp-fold-marks-in-it Ace Hardware canvas nail pouch. My shiny new tools, also procured from Ace through the hand-the-Ace-guy-the-list-of-things-I-need method, were at the ready.

Elisabeth had said to just go up to someone and ask what to do, so that’s what I did. He told me to go over and nail some boards in the house frame. I walked up to one of the guys who was already hammering and said I’d been sent over to help. Without looking up, he said, “Have you?” then proceeded to ignore me. I stood there, frozen, as memories washed over me.

I did not grow up in a Hallmark family. My father is obsessive-compulsive, and has very fixed ideas of how things should be. There was only one right way to do things – his way. I’m not sure where it stems from. Maybe because his father was raised Amish, a closed society known for hard work and fixed ideas. My father worked my sisters and me hard, but no matter how much we worked, or how well we tried to do things, it was never enough nor anywhere near the perfection he demanded. I’d just ended a marriage with a man a lot like him.

As a result, I’d never had any interest in anything mechanical or building related. I’m good with my hands – I’m a massage therapist and can do all kinds of crafts. But the overriding feeling of “You can’t possibly do it right” from the past, coupled with the big sighs and pressed together lips from my now ex-husband had prevented me from attempting even the simplest home improvement project, like painting a wall.

Somehow, I managed to shake myself back to reality. I went back to the first guy, David, and told him I was ignored so I guess I wasn’t needed nailing boards. David then did something remarkable. He showed me how to snap a chalk line, measure and cut boards for fire blocks (boards within the frame that don’t have to be done perfectly), and how to nail them in, including how to toenail (hammer a nail in at an angle to secure boards at right angles to each other). He was calm, nonjudgmental, and encouraging. I ended up spending most of the rest of the day nailing in the fire blocks. Another guy said that he could tell I’d spent some time hammering before. I said that this was my first day.

After the fire blocks, I helped mix cement in wheelbarrows, using a hoe. If you have never done this, it’s a full body workout. Trust me. The next day I helped sift sand through a screen so it would be nice and smooth for the stucco we made the third day by again mixing cement in wheelbarrows. Once the wooden frame of the house was up, it was covered with tarpaper, which was then covered by chicken wire. I helped nail the chicken wire on. This had to be done carefully because it needs to be flush in order for the stucco to be applied smoothly. At one point, there was a separation in an area where the chicken wire needed to overlap. I asked David what we could do about it, and he said it could be stitched together using baling wire. Stitch? Did he say stitch?! Oh, man! I was the gal for that job! When David said it looked good, I was as proud of that as I am of the Tiffany stained glass cross stitch design that took me four years to complete. After the chicken wire, we troweled stucco on the house.

Nailing chicken wire up.

Nailing chicken wire up.

Tiffany stained glass cross stitch, Oyster Bay

Tiffany stained glass cross stitch, Oyster Bay

Everyday everyone got up at dawn, moving stiffly in freezing cold. We ate a hearty breakfast made by the excellent camp cooks, rode to the work site, and worked hard all day long in intense heat. Cynthia and Jose worked right along with us. We came back just before dusk, and had another hearty meal. Around the campfire was some singing and prayers led by the church minister. Then everyone stumbled off to bed, usually asleep before their heads hit their pillows.

You know what, though? It wasn’t that bad. Bone-penetrating cold before dawn? For months I’d ridden my bike to CrossFit before the sun came up, fingers aching and the air slicing my face like icy blades. Hard work all day long? CrossFit is functional fitness so my body was used to all the movements required to do all the different tasks. Scorching heat? I ride my bike in Tucson in the summer. Need to keep working until the job is done, and done right? Have I mentioned my father and my Amish roots?

The only breaks were for lunch, or the children’s outreach and church services most of the other members of the group went to. I elected to stay at the work site during those excursions. I was the only woman to stay when the church services were held, and continued working along side the men who had also stayed. We mixed cement for a step in front of the front and side doors. One of the guys told me to make the form for the side door step. Me? He said, “Sure. Take the measurements, cut the boards, then nail them together.” So I cut the boards to the proper lengths and brought them over to nail them together. As I hammered, I looked up and all six guys were watching me. And the look on every single one of their faces was encouragement. Not a single one doubted that I could do it. All those years of thinking I can’t do anything mechanical or build anything, of poisoned words and actions from people who were supposed to love me and help me, were undone by six people who had known me for three days and simply trusted me to do it right.

Elisabeth and me. Elisabeth is in the dark purple shirt and  I'm in the light green shirt.

Elisabeth and me. Elisabeth is in the dark purple shirt and I’m in the light green shirt.

By the last day, I had gotten to know everyone, and was even laughing and joking with the guy who had ignored me the first day. We were exhausted, filthy, and ready to come home. Fortunately, some of the members had condos right on the beach and generously let us use their showers. It’s amazing how such a simple thing can be so pleasurable. We all met for dinner in a nearby restaurant, relishing the chance to relax before spending one more night in our tents, then packing up in the morning.

So, after all was said and done, would I do it again?

In a heartbeat.

Job well done!

Job well done!

Warning: This One’s Heavy

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One of the major reasons I ride my bike is because it’s a moving meditation. It gives me a chance to breathe, and feel, and take in the world around me. Cycling has made me slow down and, as a result, I see more.

Today, for instance, I rode to Wildcat CrossFit for a late afternoon kettle bell class. I smelled sweet acacia trees starting to bloom – intoxicating! That means spring is very close. I saw people on the University of Arizona campus dressed in their red U of A shirts, going to a basketball game. We are very proud of our Wildcats here in Tucson. And I felt the sun on my skin. It was 76 degrees today. I wore my “A Ride Fixes Everything” t-shirt and was actually starting to sweat. It won’t be long before we have the bone-penetrating heat the desert is famous for. But mostly my ride gave me the chance to let my thoughts fly like birds through my brain, and not stop and build nests.

Except for one thought. Actually, it’s not a thought, exactly. It’s an experience I had. And it changed the entire course of my life.

It’s not one I usually talk about. My closest friends know, but I don’t disclose this because I don’t want people to feel uncomfortable, and because most people don’t know what to say. This experience is the real reason I moved to Tucson, Arizona. My standard response when asked why I moved to Tucson is that I was living in Dallas, Texas and didn’t like it. I had one sister living in New York City, and the other living in Tucson so I decided to move to Tucson because I thought I could handle it better than New York.

The real reason I moved to Tucson is because on February 10, 1987 a man in a ski mask broke into my apartment and raped me.

So no, I had no love for the desert. I’d never dreamed of living here. I barely knew where Tucson was. Prior to being raped I’d visited my sister and thought Tucson was the ugliest place I had ever seen. All I saw was brown dirt and thorns on every single plant. Even the crickets were creepy – an unnatural sand color unstead of the decent black they are in the northeast.

Interestingly, however, was a thought that went through my head as we went down I-19 to Tombstone (the city girl in me recoiled at going to what I thought would be an obvious cliche Western town. I was wrong, but that’s for another blog post.). Anyway, the thought I had was, “This place sure is ugly, but if I ever need a place to heal, this would be it.” I am not kidding. Those words rang through my mind clear as a bell.

So a few months later I needed a place to heal. I don’t remember too much about the days and weeks following the rape. The rape itself is another story. Strangely, I don’t remember it like a movie but like a slide show instead. I found out later that this is normal. I do remember the kindness of friends and my sister. Somehow, my cats, my belongings, and my person got transported to my sister’s house in Tucson.

I cannot say enough good things about the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault (SACASA). This organization saved my life. One counselor was especially helpful. Of all things, she and I have the same birthday. Random fact, but it makes her more special to me.

Slowly, I managed to put the shattered pieces of my life back to together. It took years, and I honestly do not believe that could have happened in any other place than Tucson. I found my career, massage therapy and bodywork, and I found my life’s calling, teaching and writing.

It is interesting how PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) works. The first few years, I was a mess on February 10. Then for several years I would schedule something fun on that day to take it back and make it mine, not the rapist’s. As time went on and I got busier, I’d always remember the day but sometimes not have any feelings about it. Some years it would be as though the rape had just happened.

This year? This year is different. This year it is hitting me very hard. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because my time in the desert might be drawing to a close. Maybe it’s because I’m at a crossroads in my life and I’m not sure what the next step is, or where I’m meant to be, or where I’m meant to go.

What I do know, though, is that I will not only survive, I will thrive. Because for every horrible, despicable, black-hearted person out there, there are a multitude of warm, caring, concerned people who will help for no other reason than they want to help.

Best Part of Motivation to Become Healthier?

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Soooo… This post was originally going to include tips on how to become motivated to lose weight. Really. I figured I could search online and come up with some brilliant insights that would be kickstarts sure to get everyone inspired, sort of like the equivalent of a magic wand.

Then I realized that I haven’t a clue as to how to motivate someone else to become healthier. No one truly knows how to motivate anyone else to do anything. That’s because motivation needs to come from within. So since I can’t motivate anyone else, I figured I’d talk about what motivates me.

What I am looking for is not out there, it is in me. ~ Helen Keller

Back when I weighed 200 pounds, it was exhausting to think of exercising more than I already was. How on earth could I ADD something else to an already busy, stressful life? I mean, I was riding my bike around town as much as I could, and I went to Curves for Women as often as I could. I ate salads, and tried to find low fat recipes to make for my husband and me. I worked all the time so, naturally, it was relaxing to sit back with a drink at the end of the day. I even went to Weight Watchers and sat through ENTIRE meetings. But I kept gaining and gaining weight, so the problem must just have been that I was middle aged and my metabolism was slowing down.

On paper, it looked like I was doing all the right things. But you know what I was really doing? Eating a LOT more and exercising FAR less than I thought. A salad a week didn’t counteract all the fat and sugar I ate the rest of the time. That drink I had at the end of the day sometimes extended into 2 or 3, and it was every night. Going to a Weight Watchers meeting doesn’t help if the program isn’t followed. And exercise? That consisted of riding my bike a few miles every few days, and a hit or miss approach to going to Curves. Not a very diligent approach to health.

Diligent. Good word. The only thing I was really diligent about was piling on enough stuff onto myself so that I couldn’t see what the real issue was. I thought it was needing to work so hard to pay bills. I thought it was weight gain. I thought it was drinking too much. 

When I figured out what the real issue was, I could see that all the other “issues” were what I was using to avoid dealing with it. The real issue was that I was miserable in my marriage. We’d been unhappy for a long time, but neither one of us could bring ourselves to talk about the change that needed to be made. I won’t go into specifics but suffice it to say that, even after trying everything possible, we were simply two people who were no longer on the same path together. It wasn’t easy. After 15 years of marriage, there is a lot to undo, and a lot to change. 

The process was hard, hard, hard. But once the decision was made (I call it “my epiphany”), I realized that no matter what I had to do to create my new life, it would NEVER be as hard as being in a loveless marriage. And with that realization came a tremendous surge of energy. I had no idea I was capable of that much energy! Every ounce of strength I had used to stay in the marriage was released. I was bubbling over with euphoria. I needed an outlet.

So I started riding my bike for miles along the Rillito River (or just the Rillito, as most people refer to it) in Tucson, where I live. Like all the rivers in Tucson, it is a dry riverbed most of the time, except when it rains. The Rillito has a walking/jogging/cycling path along it. I rode when it was cold, when it rained, and when it was hot. I rode in the morning, I rode in midday, I rode at dusk. Euphoria sometimes sped me along, and sometimes I'd be sobbing from working through the grief of an ended relationship. But I rode every day. 

 I starting going to Curves almost every day too, and worked out hard. I met two great fitness technicians there who helped me with proper form on the machines so I wouldn’t hurt myself. They also saw long before I did that my body was ready for heavier, harder workouts.

And food? Food just wasn’t that important anymore. I followed Weight Watchers principles (which I knew inside and out because I’d been going for 13 years), and basically ate as little fat as possible while increasing fruit and vegetables. I also stopped drinking every night. In fact, I only have a drink now and then. I simply don’t want to eat all the time, and alcohol is just not that appealing anymore.

My weight fell like a stone. I was going down about a size a month. Talk about motivation to keep going! I still kept wearing my old clothes even though they were falling off me because I didn’t want to pay the money for new ones each month. A friend finally told me to get clothes at a local thrift store. Getting smaller sizes REALLY kept me motivated. In 9 months I lost 70 pounds, and am currently maintaining my goal weight of 130 pounds.  

You know what didn’t motivate me? A diet pill, a diet plan, a shake, or “special pants designed to burn fat.” Yeah. The only way those pants are going to work is if people put them on and then go exercise.

The bottom line is that I finally gave myself permission to take time – quiet, still time – and honestly look at my life. What was working? What was not working? What did I need to jettison in order to be happy? To fit focusing on my health into my life?

Everyone’s life is, of course, different. So that’s why I haven’t the slightest idea of what would motivate others. But I support you in spending some time in quiet reflection to discover for yourself what does motivate you to make your health a priority. Because at the end of the day, that may be the most important thing of all.

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