Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Ready, Set, GO!

Gutsy Girl's Adventures is about to take on a WHOLE new meaning in the next few months! Having now officially recovered from my achilles injury...the time has COME! One new adventure for this Gutsy Girl EVERY SINGLE MONTH! No matter how big or small, my goal is to try something new, something that challenges me to get out of my comfort zone and hopefully teaches me a little (or a LOT ) about myself and what I'm capable of. (And for your amusement and reading pleasure, I'll be chronicling these adventures through pictures and video and lots and lots of stories here on the Gutsy Girl's Adventure blog!)

And SO...

Yesterday, a guy around my age came into the gym to inquire about our adult gymnastics classes. We got to talking and it turned out he was also a CrossFit trainer and competitive runner. So we had a lengthy conversation about our favorite crossfit WOD's, different trail races we'd completed, and how we can't understand why all runners aren't barefoot training regularly. (More on this another time) I told him about my blog and how I'm on a major quest to find the ultimate adventure.

His eyes lit up. "I'm a competitive skydiver!"

What? Did he say COMPETITIVE skydiver? (Mouth hanging open)


Honestly, I had no idea such a sport existed. I mean, sure, I had seen videos of what I assumed was just stunt "art"--synchronized swimming in the air, right? But the second this guy added "competitive" to the already tantalizing thought of jumping out of an airplane--well, THAT takes on a while new meaning of extreme adventure to me!

Now, mind you...I haven't even skydived ONCE. Yet. But's it's on my short list and definitely something I want to do as one of my first new "adventures". The expense has been my biggest obstacle, but guess what! My new friend said he can get me a good deal on my first jump! Said he'd even do the jump WITH me, as my tandem partner. And who knows? Maybe I'll love it so much I'll be inclined to try this:
By the way....I should mention that my new friend is one of the skydivers in this video. Pretty awesome, right?

Overcoming Adversity

This was me last month. Determined to overcome an injury and set an example to the young athletes I coach, I dug deep after a torn achilles tendon prevented me from achieving
some goals I had set for the summer and decided to hone in on a little piece of wisdom I received from my father many, many years before.

You see, as tenacious as I like to be when approaching various athletic endeavors, I used to have a very difficult time dealing with the adversity that comes with recovery from injuries and other set backs.

One particular event would shape the way I viewed adversity forever. I was 24 years old, just barely out of college and hoping to make the very difficult transition from amateur triathlete to endorsed professional. At 24, I was very, very young to try to make triathlon my full-time job,
but I had come off of a very successful couple of amateur seasons and it was suggested to me that if I could convince people I was serious and committed enough to do it...I might get some lucrative deals and endorsements to make it worth my while. After lots and lots of trying to sell myself as the newest up and coming triathlete, I ended up with ONE deal. Quintana Roo gave me a "trial" run by creating an aerodynamic, super-sleek, decked out bike for me to train with and demo at the USAT National Championships that year. If I did well, I got to keep the bike and win a sweet two-year endorsement deal. I took that bike with PRIDE, determined to win over Quintana Roo (and anyone else hanging around the finish line at Nationals that year). The bike was was like riding on melted butter with the super light aluminum frame, disc wheels, and aerobars. Oh yeah, I got pretty darn cocky on that bike! One day, six weeks before Nationals, I was riding with my training group before daylight and was hit by a car from behind. Hard. I was thrown several yards and briefly lost consciousness. I suffered a concussion, a broken arm, and lots of road rash. My helmet, (that the doctors said saved my life), was shattered. My coveted Quintana bike? Totaled. There would be no Nationals that year, no endorsement deal, no professional career. The road to recovery would test everything in me. Because six months after my accident, I was experiencing blackouts and minor seizures and it would take another six months after that...a full year to get the diagnosis and treatment. It turned out I had Grave's Disease--an auto immune disease that effects thyroid function, elevates heart rate, and causes weight loss, hair loss...and brain "fog". I was lucky. Gail Devers, olympic sprinter and champion almost DIED from the disease because it wasn't caught in time. And yet, she STILL managed to overcome the disease and went on to win gold SEVERAL times after her diagnosis!

Check out this article about Gail Dever's struggle and triumph:

At twenty-four years old however, I hadn't yet found the tools to barrel through this kind of set back with the kind of attitude that I needed to triumph in the end. One day, as I sat in front of the boob tube, pouting over my situation, my dad came into the room, looked at my pathetic self sitting like a slug and said this:

"The way I see it, you could either wallow in your own misery, OR you could do everything and anything to get better FASTER. You could treat your recovery as the TRAINING period for a race. Only this time the "race" is getting back your health. Train hard. Go above and beyond and defy the odds. Be the BEST patient the doctors have ever seen."

I only had to think about this for a second before deciding that YES...this is what I wanted for myself. To get my health back, and FAST. I wanted to set my sights again on that ultimate Nationals on that fabulous bike.

It was hard. I had lots and lots of setbacks in my recovery. But, like my idol Gail Devers, I triumphed in the end and overcame Grave's Disease. And I learned just how tough I could really be. I learned how imperative it was for me to treat the illness, the injuries and the adversity as a learning tool rather than a hindrance to obtaining my goals.

Now...I must confess. I never raced triathlon again. In fact, I never even got back on a competitive road bike SINCE that accident. One day, about a year after I had fully recovered, I attempted to take a leisurely bike ride on my dad's old ten speed. About a mile into the ride, I freaked out. I let the bike get out of control and hit a rock in the road, which sent me flying over the handlebars. Again. And helmet saved me. I suffered no major injury. But my ego was severely bruised.

After that incident, I didn't get back on a bike again for a LONG time. It wasn't until I was in my late twenties that I started dabbling with mountain biking. For some reason, flying down a mountain trail was a lot less scary to me. But I guess it makes sense...I had been HIT by a car on the ROAD. There was no chance of that happening again in the mountains, right?

I've been asked many, many times by fellow triathletes, why I stopped triathlon. And when I hear them talk about their training and racing, I feel sad. I throw a little pity party in my head and feel sorry for myself and what I've "been through". But I don't admit why I don't race anymore. I'm embarrassed. I'm not proud.

So, here's the thing... if I'm going to be a Gutsy Girl, if I'm going to talk about overcoming adversity, if I'm going to be a role model and an example of the kind of confident,
risk-taking, balanced, healthy person I want be...then I'm going to have to listen to my own advice. Fear is real. I acknowledge the fear I have. But I'm not one who wants to live with regret or hold back from trying new, amazing adventures because of my fear. To me, it's not a reason, nor an excuse. Fear can be extremely immobilizing, and I don't want that for myself. So... I've officially added the Vineman Triathlon to my "Can Do" Adventure list. I've taken steps to purchase a road bike from a friend and the next time my triathlete friends ask me to come out on a ride...I'll be ready. A little hesitant maybe. But READY!

Adversity comes in many forms. Physical, mental, situational. We will ALL experience adversity at some point in our lives and we will ALL have a choice in how we deal with it.

Here's a story that demonstrates an inspiring choice:

In 2006, Andrew Donnellan, a sixteen-year old elite gymnast walked out onto the floor and performed a routine, basic, single front flip. It was a move he'd done thousands of times. But that particular day, he over rotated the flip and fell to his head on the floor. In that single moment, he fractured two vertebrae and damaged his spinal chord. That single moment would paralyze Andrew. For three months, Andrew would rehabilitate at the world-renowned Craig Hospital in Colorado. When he entered Craig, the only thing he could do independently was breathe. He couldn't feed himself, he had to blow into a straw to move his wheelchair. But Andrew is a fighter and knew that self-pity would set him back from the possibilities of recovery and the things he wanted for himself...despite the hurdles he'd face. By the time Andrew left Craig Hospital, he had gained some muscle movement in his right bicep. And from there, the triumphs would continue. He graduated with his high school class. He was accepted at the University of Arizona and lives on campus. He can sit upright in his wheelchair, unassisted. He plays on the wheelchair basketball team. He's taking driving lessons. He wants to be a film producer and travel. He is amazing and I'm proud to know him. He inspires me and reminds me of the power of perseverance and strong will. True, adversity is relative. But WOW...puts things in perspective, doesn't it?

For more on Andrew's story:

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

FOOD....simple? (just stick with me on this one...)

This is a touchy subject. A sensitive subject. I mean...our relationship with food can be extremely tricky. A love-hate relationship. And why? Because so much of our time revolves around food.

I hate that. I once tried to avoid food altogether. That ended badly, for obvious reasons. I've been a vegetarian six times, the longest bout lasted almost 2 years. I was a vegan for about 3 months. I was a pescatarian (fish) for 6 years. But fad diets? I'll be honest...I've always loathed the idea of limits. I LIKE food. I like trying new foods and experimenting with recipes. So when the Atkins diet became the new "thing", I stood by and watched my boss turn her entire world upside down to accomodate this new way of "life". It was all about what she could or couldn't eat. It was about ordering
a steak from Outback Steakhouse three times a week and glaring at me from across the room as I enjoyed an apple. She was nasty and moody and conversation was all about food. I was going crazy. And it was EVERYWHERE! While in line at Costco, amidst stacks and stacks of pork rinds at the register, this conversation was taking place all around me... "Oh, you're doing Atkins? Me too! "( while chomping down on a giant stick of beef jerky). "How much have YOU lost?" It was a secret club, of sorts... and everyone was in. Except me. But I was just fine with that. Because I had a "secret" too. It was a little thing called BALANCE. Yep.

This is what I knew when I was five-years when I'm hungry, stop eating when I'm full, at least try new foods, and it's important to drink milk, eat lots of vegetables, and play hard because I want to grow up healthy and strong. Ironically, my family owned a restaurant in my early years..a PIZZA joint, no less! Funny---we didn't eat a lot of pizza. Most meals were made at home. Homemade, wholesome ingredients with whole foods. We rarely ate out, despite the restaurant, and my parents did not keep sugar cereal, soda, chips, sweets, or processed foods at our house. (THANK YOU, Mom and Dad!)

The simple concept of food that I knew at five is what I've carried with me through my adult years. I'll admit, I struggled, sometimes a LOT with food, mostly in my teen years and in college when I found it extremely difficult to balance the foods I knew I needed to eat to maintain and fuel my body as an athlete and the introduction to a lot of BAD food I hadn't experienced at home. Food that was hard to avoid a the student union, the dorms, the mall, the parties.

I was fortunate. And again, as in previous posts--I need to acknowledge how GRATEFUL I am. I watched a lot of my friends continue struggle with overeating, bulimia, and anorexia far into their twenties and thirties. I saw how miserable they were and they way their young bodies were falling apart. I knew, that in order to continue to be an athlete, my body could not perform the way it needed to if I didn't eat the way I had as a kid. And not only would it affect my athletic performance, but most of the balance in my life --work, studies, relationships, mood, sleep. Yeah, the kind of stuff I needed to SURVIVE!

The concept is so simple, it's almost ridiculous. Fully engaged in the concept, I don't even think about it. It's easy, it's second nature. I pick the foods that are best for keeping the balance in my body, eat them consistently, and the results speak for themselves.

But here's why it gets complicated: Because I'm the kind of person who likes to educate myself on nutrition, I pay attention. Well, let's face it, it's kind of hard to avoid. It's in our face. It's in the media. It's in our grocery stores. It takes up two sections at Barnes and Noble! We are overwhelmed with choices and it's daunting. Atkins Diet, Zone Diet, South Beach Diet, Hollywood Diet, Cabbage Soup Diet, Metabolism Diet ADHD Diet, 321 Baby Bulge Be Gone Diet, Biggest Loser Diet, Chocolate Diet, Jenny Craig
Nutrisystem, Oprah Diet, Hormone "Fad Diet" and you'll get a list of over 300! By the way, I want to make clear that I very much understand that food is an UGLY thing for some people. I get that a LOT of people didn't grow up with the concepts of food that I did. The struggle with food is REAL and I acknowledge and appreciate how difficult it is for so many of us. The structure of a diet, counting calories, etc....sometimes it's absolutely necessary, especially for those of us struggling with portion control in this BIGGER world we live in. We are confused. The FDA tells us one thing, the restaurant tells us another. This book says this, but our body says something else. Our trainer tells us we need to do this, but we're not so sure.... No wonder we're fed up! No wonder we're getting FATTER and SICKER! It's complicated and overwhelming. And meantime, another 30 fad diets will emerge by next week...

When I hear about the "latest and greatest", I basically do two things. Any diet that completely eliminates good, whole
foods like vegetables or protein, I don't even give a second look. But the others...I'll take a look. I'll read up and find out why it might have some relevance to good health. Sometimes there are very good arguments.

And this is why my simple, balanced, easy system is constantly challenged. My only advantage is the time I've spent educating myself and learning more and more about what's right and wrong for my body. And I really hope that more and more people take the time to do the same...make it a priority to understand how food effects their bodies. Here's what I know. My system works for me. I don't adhere to any one particular "diet",( though some might say that my diet can be described with the scientific term "low glycemic" or that I eat mostly "Paleo" (a word I will talk MUCH more about in future posts) ). The truth is, I believe in my HEALTH. The balance in my life is real. I eat when I'm hungry, I eat enough to fuel this balance and perform at my best. I eat the foods that will make me stronger, faster, more alert, more energetic and healthier. And yes, I eat a cookie occasionally. I drink a glass of wine sometimes. I like coffee. I enjoy a hearty italian dinner every once in a while. And I also understand that when I enjoy these things, I need to enjoy them in moderation. If one of those things were to trigger a binge, I'd need to eliminate them from my diet completely in order to avoid upsetting the balance.

Now...this is a topic I will revisit MANY times on this blog. Because it's important to me. Yes, I've eliminated many of the scientific "terms" used to describe some of what I'm talking about. (Glycemic index, metabolic rate, organic, etc) because again, it gets COMPLICATED! I like to make overly complex things simple. And I truly believe that so many of us are frustrated and disillusioned by what we read because it's so foreign to us and too difficult to wrap our busy brains around!

Meantime, I'd like to share a very simple, easy, nutritious, and DELICIOUS recipe I made yesterday: PUMPKIN TURKEY CHILI (can we say...FIBER!!!)
1 tbsp oil
1 cup chopped onion
1/2 cup chopped green bell pepper
1/2 cup chopped yellow bell pepper
1 clove garlic, minced
1 pound ground turkey
15 oz. diced tomatoes
1/2 cup chopped green chiles
2 cups organic pumpkin puree
1 1/2 tbsp chili powder
1 tbsp cumin
1 tbsp ground pepper
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/2 cup kidney beans

Heat oil in large skillet over medium heat, saute onion, green bell peppers, yellow bell pepper, and garlic until tender. Stir in turkey and cook until evenly brown. Drain. Mix in tomatoes, green chili, pumpkin, kidney beans. Season with chili powder, cumin, pepper, cinnamon. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer 20 minutes.

Again, I must emphasize...I'm no expert. But here's what I'm saying: I truly believe that food can be SIMPLE. And in my food adventures (yes, I also believe food is extremely adventurous!) I'm hoping to continue to find out HOW...

Monday, October 4, 2010

Survival of the most FUNCTIONAL?

Functional. The dictionary defines this as "of or having a special purpose or action", "capable of operating". These days, however, it seems to be a word that's tossed around and taken on many ,sometimes conflicting definitions . Everything, we are told, in order to make life easier, more "live-able", needs to be "functional"-- our schedules, our computers, our phones, our cars, our money , our homes, our food. We have contraptions and gadgets galore to accommodate our increasingly hectic lives and needs. And every day, the newer, quicker, better model appears. Sure, you might have to empty your bank account to keep up with these replacements, but who cares, right? If it's newer, quicker and BETTER, it's definitely what we NEED to merely SURVIVE in this complex, fast-paced world.

But what about our bodies? Fitness professionals have for several years now been using the word "functional" to describe a specific type of exercise and regimen that advertises optimal levels of fitness. Hmmmm...interesting. I was curious. And so, I took a good, long look at what this actually entails and even went so far as to experiment with several of these "functional" fitness programs. What I found, ironically, is that fitness too has often become a costly piece of this "functional" puzzle. The programs tended to include the purchase of the newest, quickest, best gadgets, dvds, and costly equipment that claimed to deliver the ultimate exercise and best looking bodies. Fast. So...if you buy the ab roller, the perfect pushup system, the P90X dvds, the shoes, the compression shorts AND the high end vitamin supplements, detox juices and energy bars and gels, you'll achieve perfect, functional fitness? Sounds suspiciously just like the rest of our lives---gotta keep up with the latest and greatest.

Okay, I'll admit I've used some of these crazy gadgets and systems in my training. I like kettlebells, jump ropes, and medicine balls and use them regularly in my exercise regimen. And I think a lot of the sports and workouts that use them definitely have a good, solid foundation in developing successful levels of fitness. But I can't help but is it that after all these fancy contraptions, equipment, and programs, we're STILL fighting extraordinary rising rates of obesity, diabetes, and heart disease ? How are we NOT healthier?

Well, think about THIS... the moment we became sedentary in our work AND play, was the moment we had to invent gadgets to make it easier to take care of our bodies. Flash back to our hunting and gathering ancestors who spent hours upon days upon weeks devoted to moving their bodies---running, jumping, catching, SURVIVE. Pre-TV, pre-motor vehicles, pre-phones, pre-processed, scientifically engineered food, pre-rubberized, gore-tex, specialized shoes, pre-treadmills, pre-wii sports, battery operated, computer animated exercise world. Today, we are dumping hundreds of thousands of dollars into our health. And we're getting FATTER. Our hospital bills are growing larger. We're DYING. We're NOT surviving at all!

I've been thinking a lot about my own survival and I'm pretty sure a treadmill or an ipod or a pair of fancy running shoes won't save me in a crucial moment of life or death. So...Do I have what it takes to survive a major disaster? Could I defend myself in a moment of danger?

To me, this is what "functional" fitness really means. Moving my body in a way that achieves the natural strength, energy and endurance I need to survive anything from walking down icy steps in winter to climbing up and over a wall or fence if I were being chased by a predator. It also means I can defend myself against illness, injury, and the little, every-day battles we endure just by living. Now I'm not saying there's not a place in my life for a yoga mat or a pullup bar or a medicine ball. But what I AM saying is that these things aren't the TOTAL package for my ultimate survival kit.
So I'm conducting a little experiment. A few days a week, I've been taking a minimalist approach to my fitness regimen and rather than dumping more and more money into equipment and gadgets, I've been using what I already have---my body. My ENTIRE body. As is. No fancy stuff. Just me and the ultimate playground--nature! Climbing trees, sprinting up mountains, jumping off rocks, crawling, swimming, rolling, bounding, flipping, running, pulling, pushing---the way my body is MEANT to move. Functional. The way our ancestors moved every survive. This hasn't changed! Our bodies are STILL designed for this! We are not meant to be motionless or sit in front of computers and video games and TVs. Moving is BASIC, and EASY and requires no gym membership or special device or website to tell us how. You don't need special clothes, or shoes or energy shots or music to make movement happen. What would happen if we actually LISTENED to our bodies instead of our ipods? Or if we PAID ATTENTION to our heart rate instead of strapping on an expensive monitor that tell us what's going on in our bodies?

Maybe it's just because I'm a kid at heart and want my body to respond the way it did when I was young. But truly---I think it's completely possible. And so does Erwan Le Corre. He's become a bit of a hero to me. Check out his video below. This guy is truly AMAZING and I'm completely mesmerized by the way he moves and how fluid and natural it is! Inspirational. And I'm pretty sure this guy can survive anything!

This is NOT a new concept, by the way. But wouldn't it be interesting if fitness took a turn--BACK to this natural movement approach? I, for one, sure wouldn't mind!