I’m OK with No Pain or Gain

After watching a movie like Unbroken or reading a book like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, I try to imagine how I would cope with ongoing physical hardship. Would I be able to endure it? I hope that if my life depended on it, I could summon the strength. But who am I kidding?!? I’m a wimp. That’s why the psychology of physical toughness fascinates me. What drives people to push past pain in the name of sport?

I’d like to think that I have mental toughness. I’ve faced down situations that were emotionally and mentally challenging. Generally, I’m calm in a crisis. But I’m the last person who would seek out physical challenges.

Hike 10 miles uphill on a tough Rocky Mountain trail? Well, maybe if I were lost and that was the only way to find civilization. And civilization included a lengthy massage and fine cuisine.

Take a 75-mile bike ride? In my case, that would take days, not hours. Perhaps if I was guaranteed to win an all-expense paid trip for two to Paris I could push myself to do it.

Run a marathon? As in pounding the pavement, sweaty and delirious for 26 miles? I can’t imagine what would drive me to run that long. Even if a rabid mother bear was chasing me, I gotta think she’d get tired after a mile or two. And I would have collapsed and the bear would be snacking on me, so perhaps that’s not a good example.

I’m not knocking athletic efforts.

I know a number of runners, hikers, distance bikers, and others who like nothing better than testing their mettle. I admire their ambition and focus, but I truly don’t get what makes the hardship appealing.

sitting on rock by lakeAs soon as I’m panting and my muscles are burning, I think, This isn’t any fun. Why am I doing this? I don’t have to prove anything to anybody.

I’m curious about the psychology of endurance.

The will to stay alive drove Louis Zamperini to endure horrible conditions. Cheryl Strayed was troubled and her self-imposed hardships were a way of gaining perspective and finding peace. If sheer survival or recovering from emotional trauma isn’t the motivating force, what drives distance runners, bikers, hikers, and other endurance athletes?

Fitness? That’s certainly a worthy goal, but you can be fit with a whole lot less effort than what’s required to train for and run a marathon. Plenty of people (like me) just work out or take an exercise class. I exercise because it’s good for weight control and my overall health, but aside from the health benefits, most of it isn’t that enjoyable to me.

City walking--my favorite exercise

City walking–my favorite exercise

Pleasure? I’ve read that runners, hikers, bikers and others who practice endurance sports get into a groove and experience a mental high. At some point the pain of exertion must diminish. I assume the sport must begin to feel good. I’ll have to trust you on that, since it’s never happened to me!

Certainly, the view you’d see after hiking to a mountain’s summit would be breathtaking. Maybe someday I’ll actually find out . . . but whenever I’ve hiked in the hills (and really, we’re only talking about a few miles at the most), I spent most of my time looking at the trail and figuring out where to place my feet so I wouldn’t trip over a rock or twist my ankle.

Looking down

Trail in New Mexico

 

A sense of accomplishment? Obviously. If I could do any of the endurance sports I’ve mentioned, I’d be proud of myself. Is the sense of accomplishment enough to sustain you and drive you while you’re training? Because I have so little experience with it, I’m curious about people who say, Yeah I hurt, but I’m gonna get up tomorrow and hurt some more.

Maybe my klutziness has prevented me from discovering the joy of physical hardship. I can walk . . . and well, walk. If I sneeze while walking I have to come to a full stop to blow my nose. I can’t do both at once. I’ve never been great at any sport, let alone the ones that call for endurance. Perhaps if I weren’t so awkward, I’d begin to enjoy sports and then doing A LOT of something would seem fun.

For now, I’ll stick with my basic exercise—walking a few miles daily and doing yoga. But I’ll be cheering on all of you serious athletes and liking your Facebook photos of cool accomplishments. Athleticism is a nice place to visit even if I don’t want to live there.

A Wonderful Dilemma for a Middle School Girl

Crystel and Natty

Apple Jack Invitational. Crystel and Natty after their first cross country meet – A one mile race.

“Go, go, go, dig, dig, dig.”

I hear my voice replaying on the video and cringe. I sound like a crazy woman.

It’s just my child running a 5th grade field day race for gosh sakes. In the scheme of things it doesn’t even count. The distance is approximately 50 (or is it 100 yards?) and none of the kids are called back for jumping the gun. Still, there I am, my voice reaching a high pitch squeal.

Here she comes, my girl crossing the finish line … first.

I wipe away tears, choke back a sob.

I’m sure it’s her strong body and competitiveness and has nothing to do with my out of control fervor.

My daughter is in for some rough years unless I get banned from her sporting events. I don’t think they can do that to moms. But if they do, maybe I can wear my police reserve uniform and sneak in. And, if that doesn’t work, I’ll go as McGruff.

Not that I screeched any less at her brother when he was running. “Go, Antonio, go. Dig, dig, dig.” He’s in for the same mortification.

When another mom, texted a photo of 12-year old Crystel and her daughter, following their first cross country race as 6th graders, it hit me that Crystel’s experience in sports will be very different than mine.

This year marks the 42nd anniversary of Title IX.

10th place for Crystel and 20th place for Natty at the Apple Valley Cross Country meet

10th place for Crystel and 20th place for Natty in the 2-mile race at the Apple Valley cross country meet

In 1970 when I was 12, Title IX had not yet passed. Although I could beat my older brothers at most anything and was the only one who dived off the cliff in Spring Valley, Wisconsin into the Eau Galle Dam, I couldn’t compete in sports.

Regulations on how to implement Title IX, signed into law, June 23, 1972, did not go into effect until 1975.

This past summer, Crystel was mulling over which activities and sports she was going to become involved in during middle school. “This is what you call a dilemma, Crystel,” I told her. “You have so many options that you will have to choose.”

Three weeks into middle school, she’s done what she can to cram in her interests: piano, dance, cross country, and Kor Am Tae Kwon Do. If she could she’d figure out how to add soccer and a number of other after school activities.

When Title IX was enacted, 1 in 27 girls participated in athletics. One in three girls participates in athletics today.

In the photo, Crystel and her friend are self-assured, confident, and have just run their first one mile race. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, women who are active in sports have more self-confidence and are more outgoing than women who do not participate.

Most people think Title IX only applies to sports, but athletics is only one of ten key areas addressed by the law. Other areas include: access to higher education, career education, education for pregnant and parenting students, employment, learning environment, math and science, sexual harassment, standardized testing, and technology.

Before Title IX

• In 1972, women earned just 7% of all law degrees and 9% of all medical degrees.

• In 1970, women earned only 13.3% of doctoral degrees.

• Women weren’t awarded athletic scholarships.

After Title IX

• For the graduating class of 2013, the Department of Education estimated that women earned 61.6% of all associate’s degrees, 56.7% of all bachelor’s degrees, 59.9% of all master’s degrees, and 51.6% of all doctor’s degrees.

• Last year, 140 women graduated with a college degree at some level for every 100 men.

• By 2003, there was more than $1 million in scholarships for women at Division I schools.

1045198_1472771266320064_3137456199553566764_n1My WordSister, sister in writing, Ellen Shriner has completed a book-length memoir called BRAVADO AND A SKETCHY VISION LED ME HERE, a coming-of-age story that takes place in 1979 and 1980 during her first year of college teaching.

Her memoir portrays the challenges of women faced as they sought graduate degrees and entered the workforce.

On July 5, 2012, Ellen also wrote a blog piece about Title IX.

Thanks to Title IX, Crystel has the wonderful dilemma of choosing which sport she will compete in. Eventually when she joins the workforce, she will have more choices to her liking than women of previous generations had.

And, because of Title IX, Crystel and Antonio will have to put up with a mom that alternately shrieks and sobs at the finish line.