I had a large internal debate as a result from an interaction at the outdoor program the other day. A young man with some walking and mental disabilities has been using our program heavily for the last year, signing up for every trip he can. Yesterday he signed up for a backpacking trip, this is a very strenuous activity that requires walking with a pack all day. I'm not proud that my first instinct was to discourage him from this trip. In the past, short hikes have been a struggle, he is much slower than the rest of the participants and has a hard time keeping up. Often the leaders have to break up, one going with him and the rest with all the other participants which is difficult. He has a great attitude the whole time and is no problem besides that. The outdoor programs policy is to provide for disabilities within reason. The question was now, was this within reason? There would need to be another field staff on the trip to carry his pack and walk with him at the least. We also would not want to put him in the position where we can't get back from where we are. He was very exited and felt he could do it. At the end of the day there wasn't an outdoor staff available for the trip and so he could not participate. But it made me think about disability, the young man did not see himself as disadvantaged but we had to force it on him. It also made me wonder if there were any other opportunities out there for this young man and others.
The same day I gave a presentation on microbes in my honors class I saw an elementary age girl walking with an adult and her white cane.
When preparing my presentation I was certain to "dumb" down the information to make it easier for my class to digest the information. As I gave the presentation I soon realized that one my "dumbed down presentation was still too complex for the audience of honors students. This could be due to a lacking in the basic understanding of microbes. This goes to show that when in doubt it is important to assume the audience knows nothing which requires you to start from the very basics. By starting from the basics everyone is placed in the same category that allows for the whole group to learn together and leave no one behind so that the more complex information means something to the audience and they are more likely to participate with the presentation.
I go back to the girl with the adult and the cane. When I first saw her I thought I understood but as I continued on my way I realized that unlike my microbe presentation there is little background that the girl could present that would allow me to fully understand who she was and what it meant to be blind. To go to school and learn a different way to read, to be in a visual class and be accommodated for or not and expected to learn the material just the same, to rely on your other senses to guide y0ou through your world that is same to mine but oh so different.
Are we even able to truly understand someone else? Do we just need to meet them where they are? Accept that I can not understand you and everything you are but I can learn who you are.
Its been a beautiful Wyoming winter but I am starting to itch for warm weather. I’m having dreams of riding my mountain bike and I’m thinking of all the places I want to go when the snow clears. I also recently reached a checkpoint in my life when I got a job at a mountain bike camp this summer that had a huge impact on my life when I was 16.
My freshman year of high school some unknown force made me join the high school mountain bike team. I was riding a bike from elementary school that weighed more than I did, and I didn’t know a single person on the team. It also didn’t help I was the only girl. My parents kept encouraging me to stick with it, otherwise I would have to join the cross country running team. That first year was difficult, I was placing last in every race or getting cut off before I could finish. I really enjoyed the races but I didn’t know how long I could stick with the sport, the tipping point came when I went to an all girls mountain bike camp that summer in curt gowdy.
It was coached entirely by women and I immediately had new bad-ass role models to follow. When I showed up my first thought was who are these women and why aren’t there more of them in the world? They were fearless, fast and had such an encouraging atmosphere around them I was willing to try anything. They had serious skills and never held back spreading knowledge and encouragement. I found myself trying new skills and finding success because no one ever asked “Do you really want to try that?” These women were bad-ass because they had spectacular wrecks, laughed it off and then got back on and tried it again. I think if these role models had been around when I was younger, I would have started mountain biking a lot sooner. I think this is true for most girls too, the more bad-ass role models there are, the more girls that get on bikes or feel empowered enough to go out for a sport thats untraditionally a “girl sport”.
Kids ride their bikes everywhere, every childhood included learning how to ride a bike in an abandoned parking lot and skinning your knees up. The only difference between boys and girls is what color the streamers are. When kids get into middle school, all of a sudden there are “girl sports” and “guy sports”. The number of girls in sports narrows even more in high school when competition and stereotypes get more intense. Mountain biking was my way to combat these stereotypes and it taught me exactly what I needed most in that part of my life.
One of the biggest things mountain biking taught me was how to fail. Risks are involved in every activity and sport but in mountain biking they seem more daunting. One of my coaches told me on the very first day “You are going to fall at some point, it’s just a matter of when and where”. This was terrifying to a 14 year old me. Nothing I had ever done had taught me that falling, or failing was OK. The first thing I learned from mountain biking was to accept the fact I would fall, and more importantly that it wasn’t bad! Mountain biking taught me the proper way to fall off a bike and the proper way to fail in real life, as well as how to get back on and try again. I realized no one could ever be good at Mountain biking without any scars. Just like you will never get good at something without messing up in the process. Mountain biking taught me to wear my scars like badges of honor. Everyone always says failure is the greatest teacher, but I never understood it until I was thrown off my bike head first into a creek, with my coaches cheering from the trail.
Mountain biking also let me explore a talent I didn’t know I had. Eventually the time came to graduate out of my old loved bike and move towards an actual racing bike. I had trouble finding a bike that fit, I didn’t have a lot of people to compare or talk to and most mechanics and salespersons were clueless as to what type of bike I needed. *side note* there are very few bikes that are actually “women specific” bikes. Most “women’s” bikes just have a lower top tube… the purpose being so that skirts wont hike up. this is not efficient or logical, its just been this way since women were allowed to start riding bikes. Since it is now the 21st century and most women don’t wear long skirts to ride bikes anymore I hope someone can finally make a frame fit real women. With the help a good mechanic my dream bike was complete, then I had to learn how to keep it happy and running. This was a turning point in my life where someone finally handed me tools and taught me how to fix it myself. Up until this point every time I held a screw driver it seemed to be pulled away at the first sign I was confused, and I never learned. But this was my bike, and my job. If I got a flat tire on the trail there wouldn’t be anyone there to fix it for me, this feeling of self reliance was empowering to have on the trails. If something were to go wrong, I have all the tools and skills I need to be able to fix it myself. I eventually became a bike mechanic, armed with this new knowledge I’m doing my part to spread the empowerment and break stereotypes by helping every person I can with their bike. Possibly most importantly, I don’t fix their bikes for them, I give them the tools and tell the how to do it. I can’t tell you how it feels when I watch a girls face light up with empowerment after I hand her the tools and she fixes her own bike. Mountain biking provided this opportunity for me to finally get my hands dirty on real equipment. It allowed me to realize a talent I never would have been able to explore otherwise.
At so many points throughout our lives we go through transitions. Whether it be from one season to the next, from one age to the next, or even the small things like one technique to the next in a ski race. As the sun begins to shine and the grass begins to green around me I think about all the transitions I'm about to be a part of. While Christi and Rachel were traveling through Shanghai delicately picking our new athletes, school at UW is coming to a close. Right now seems like a critical point in a shift for me. New roles and jobs are being taken on by myself and the people around me. Some are packing up their things to spend their summers away, while others prepare for the adventures that await us in Laramie. There seems to be a buzz in the air as the old comes to a close, and the new open up in front of us. It always seems like a bittersweet time, but why not focus on the sweet. By the time that we reach fall semester, there will have been even more tiny transitions, hopefully, ones to prepare us for out new unknown journey that will be waiting for us come next season. In the meantime, I'll enjoy the sun and think about what I can anticipate for my next chapter.
One of the many texts I read this semester was a collection of poetry by Layli Long Soldier. She is an Oglala Lakota woman and her poetry centers on the history of her people. My instructor, a poet herself, describes this collection succinctly. She writes that Soldier's poems "take place out of doors, and they focus keenly on historical intersections between humans and the landscape. In many of her poems, the line between the human landscape under our skins and the landscape we see through our eyes is blurred; that border is crossed again and again." What could be more reminiscent of the body as a planet and the planet as a body?
After reading the assigned pieces from this collection, my instructor asked me to write a poem in this style. She asked me to capture a moment I've never been able to adequately describe. I chose to write about the nagging sensation I get when someone asks me how I'm doing in passing. I personally find it ridiculous to ask someone a question you have no intention of hearing an answer to. Why do we perform this small talk ritual? Why ask a question if you aren't interested in a genuine answer?
I wrote the poem at Nationals, at a time when I was deeply feeling the value of genuine connection. I think that in our daily lives it's important to look at our intentions and interactions and ask if we are building relationships or simply asking impossible questions. I thought I would share the poem as a dialogue on this idea.
How are you? is such an impossible question
it is as if we all want to be like the aspen grove,
passing water to one another like children
but no one wants to feel the way an aspen feels,
not really, anyway
that kind of rooted comradery requires more than surface portraits, rippled mirrors
I wish I could tell you, when you ask
I am the clementine, eaten with childlike focus and care
I am the rosemary warble of remembering, that jubilant reverie
I am the swan-like chill of snow, floating, softening, muffling, feathering
I am that cedar smell, that juniper dance, that evergreen sky
I am the spider's lace, dew drops casting crystal fractals on silver netting
So when you ask me, how are you?
I'll respond with some half true platitude
because we are not aspen trees
and we ask impossible questions without really wanting to hear the answers
Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s poem Dirt River Girl focuses on how pollution effect the body making people sick and blames them for being sick even though it is not in their control. This poem supports many of ideas presented in class about cure culture and how, as a society, we try and categorize or label differences and problems in our society. This categorization fogs perspective and creates a bias, However, while reading Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s poem I had a different interpretation of what the poems overall theme was discussing.
This poem reminded me of the MeToo movement. This movement is a fight against sexual harassment and abuse, that took place over social media in order to draw attention to the epidemic. Specifically, with the events that I had experienced at the Society of American Anthropology (SAA) conference in New Mexico. The Monday before the conference an anthropology professor had been charged with sexual harassment suit and had been dismissed from the various archaeological societies in his area as well as the university he taught at. It was assumed that the SAA board would bar this professor from attending the conference. However, on the Wednesday of the conference the professor walked in and registered for the conference. Over the next couple of days, it was pure chaos with the trying to get information from the SAA bored on what they were going to do. With a news reporters social media crusade against the professor, and the hostility that surrounded the MeToo movement at the conference. This event, in my opinion was not handled with the most grace by either of the parties.
While the Dirty River Girl poem focuses on how environmental pollution causes sickness, I felt that after reading this poem and with my experience at the SAA that the term pollution has a broader meaning. Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s poem’s states:
There is an underground river that whispers: // Abuse survivors are the ones who get weird disease. // The ones who were raped and touched to young, // us whose bodies tell terrible stories, horrible lies. // Our bodies’ walls cave in on the stories they hold that there are too much swell for our banks in a flash flood
I drew parallels to sexual harassment as a form of pollution. Both effect our society causing people to become sick, Pollution physically and Sexual harassment mentally. The poem highlights how people who have been affected by pollution are the ones that get blamed. Society believes it was the victim’s fault for causing the certain events to occur when in reality, it is not the fault of the victim but the form of pollution that came into contact with them thus leaving them in this incapacitated state that society has defined for them. This is a very similar mentality to how people approach sexual assault and harassment. The victim is typically scrutinized for clothing, actions, or both. It isn’t there problem but actually societies actions towards these events.
Through this is not the correct interpretation of Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha’s poem, I feel that it is an interesting one in the fact that it provides a new wave of thought when reading this poem and looking at what we categorize as pollution in both the natural and physical sense.
I am lost. Today is the day that I feel I have lost complete control of my life. With the pressures of finals week approaching, projects needing to be completed, roommate drama, conference presentations, and preparing for the start of graduate school next semester, my mental and physical health are starting to take a nose dive. For a while now I have been trying to hold it together, but it seems that once I finally have some control on the various situations, an unknown variable enters the fray and knocks me down again. My body and mind are exhausted, and I come home every day and collapse in exhaustion and don't want to do any of the tasks that need to be done because I am unmotivated to do anything but sleep and try and let my body recover to survive the week. Recently, I have been getting worried that I am not ready for the next step in my education, that I have made a mistake.
Today was the day I was about ready to throw my hands in the air and say to hell with it I don’t care anymore, that is until I remembered my tree. A tree that stands strong, tall, and proud in a forest filled with other trees that do the same. A tree that is there to shelter me on my worst days when all seems wrong with the world. I can close my eyes and hear the wind as it blows through its branches, I can smell the earthy pine scent that encompasses the trunk when I lean against it. I feel the rough bark against my back telling letting me know its stable and looking to help anchor my overwhelmed body. I take a deep breath in and let the scent and the fresh air that surrounds my tree to calm down my overworking brain and exhausted body telling them to relax and conclude that it will be all right. I stay like this for several minutes, allowing me to have a break from the crazy, allowing my body to be free rather than drowning. Ridding my mind of my worries and realizing I have made the right choices to be where I am.
I take one more deep breath allowing the fresh air to calm my body before I have to leave again. There is always a struggle having to leave my tree. I know that staying would be better for me, but I know finishing what is left is what must be done. I know it will be rough and push me to beyond my limit and to my breaking point, but it will get done. I know I may end up broken and tired at the end, but I am not worried, I have my tree; I can always come back to when life knocks me down.
I truly enjoy earth day even though it might not be a holiday that stands out to all. It could be missed by many throughout their lives, but when you take the time it allows you to be grateful. This day gives you an excuse to take a pause and really think about what the earth has done for all of us. Everything we have comes from the earth. It fuels our bodies, our minds, and our lives in too many ways to count. Today I am taking time to process what the earth has done for me this year. I've experienced so many breathtaking parts of it. I'm lucky enough to see many stunning views as I travel throughout the year. From the twisting trails in Vermont to the high mountains surrounding Leadville. From dirt trails under my feet to the fresh snow under my skis. Since the last earth day, I've gained so many more glimpses of nature at its core. The kind of nature where I am a guest, lucky for even a short stay. The views it gave me stand out the most, but I also think about how the food that nourished me on my journey to these places was grown from the earth. The air I breathed on my trips, the water I drank, the ground I walked to get there, and so much more was all provided by the earth.
Soon thinking about my year spirals into thinking about the sheer magnitude of what the earth does for all of us. I feel guilty for not giving it the full appreciation it deserves for everything that it has given me. I think this is the beauty of earth day. When given even a moment of time for reflection on the world around you you're able to realize all the parts of your life influenced by it. It might even make you think that for all the earth gives you maybe you should give back a little.
Over the course of nationals, I encountered the dragon. My very own personal dragon. It did not occur to me that I had a dragon, let alone developed a relationship with it over the season. Looking back, every practice was not to become stronger so I may slay the dragon but the way in which I was feeding, strengthening and taming the dragon. Occasionally through the season I could feel the dragon fighting back as runs turned into tiresome battles. By the end of the season I feel the early season work put into taming the dragon provided me with a reliable beast that would carry me through to the end of nationals.
The dragons encountered on the course did not deserve to be slayed but instead could be tamed and learning experience and so I pushed harder in the individual sprints and chased down others in the team sprint classic. I feel that it is powerful and daring for someone to slay a dragon and lose the beauty, power and fire the creature possessed. But the one who can tame a dragon not only has the power within themselves to kill the dragon but possesses all the beauty, power and fire with in the dragon.
When it comes to disease and cure, it is important that individuals do not see their own obstacles as things holding them back but as things they can overcome and gain a world of knowledge and experience to help others and prepare themselves for the next obstacle. To slay a dragon is to be powerful and lose everything that the beast possessed but to tame a dragon is to build a relationship with the beast in which it is willing to share its knowledge.
To Tame A Dragon
I left my own front door for my traditional pre-race jog. I felt good. By that I mean running wasn’t a struggle and my brain wasn’t totally in a fog. I was excited to race and there was a spring in my step. Was I healthy? Would I race today? I mean, actually race? Despite what I might say, I hadn’t been healthy for weeks. Over the past months I struggled with various unidentified illnesses, Did I have mono? A cold and sinus infection? The label didn’t matter to me. I pushed through workouts I shouldn’t have done and spent hours curled up on my bed longing more than anything to feel the way I had before I got sick.
At our coffee conversations, we talk a lot about restoration. What does it even mean to restore a landscape, an ecosystem, a body-mind? Can you bring something back to the way it was? When? How do you know what it was like? Is that even a good idea? These are the questions we discuss. As I ran, I thought back to myself. I tried to remember what it was like to get out of bed in the morning before my alarm, excited to run. I felt good, but did I feel 100%? Like the way I felt “before”? I couldn’t tell.
It doesn’t matter. All I know is I feel good. I told myself
At our coffee conversations, we also talk about the desire to restore or cure and what that implies about the thing being “cured”. If we say a landscape needs to be restored, that generally implies that there is something wrong about the way it is now. The same goes for the human body-mind. As a society, we often find ourselves feeling the need to cure any body-mind that is different from our own or from that perfect, non-existent “reference man”. We’ve talked in depth about how just because a body-mind is different, that doesn’t mean it is broken, that doesn’t mean it is less.
My body-mind isn’t broken. I repeated to myself as I ran.
I have to say this because the human body and mind are so interconnected. Skiing is a mental game as much as a physical one. It hurts. It hurts no matter what. Healthy or sick, it will hurt. I have to tell myself that everything is fine. The hurt is good, that I can do it, that I am not broken.
Hours later I rage up campground hill, even as Anna Johnson passes by. It’s slightly demoralizing that she’s passed me here on every lap even if she is the defending classic sprint national champion. But I fight. My body screams out in protest, my legs burn, my chest hurts, my stomach churns, my back aches. I hurt. I want to throw up and collapse on the trail. But I don’t. I race. This is what racing is supposed to feel like, and that makes the pain feel good. It’s a type of pain I haven’t felt in a long time. I cross the finish line of my final lap, gasping for breath. My side feels like someone is jabbing me with a dull knife every time I breathe in, but I can’t help but smile.
My body is not restored to a former version of itself. I may have won the 21k skate by minutes last year only to place 5th this year, but a year ago, this body would have been hard pressed to be top 8 in total individual time in that classic team sprint. This year I was 3rd, behind the top two classic sprinters in USCSA. Restored? No. But definitely not broken either.
This blog is a compilation of thoughts, essays, class projects, recipes, etc. from SNOW Athletes.
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