you've got to PLAY to win

Recall; playing.

A white sheet became a red cape that gave you the power to fly...

My favorite way to play is to ride my bike. On a side note- I learned to ride late in life. I was 11 the first time i balanced the wheels and rolled away from my parents driveway (and then veered onto the neighbors lawn and into their poor child., breaking his leg). This was Not a good start to my cycling career. Luckily, it was all up from there. From the tertiary streets of suburban pennsylvania, to the messenger routes of nyc to elite competition in the national eds cup.

In 2009 I was racing Locally and regionally and hoping to go to Master's National championships. I was teaching indoor cycling and bringing my training drills into every class. classes never felt like work as we pushed harder and went faster, cheering each other on, erupting in laughter and applause and debating who would have won if there'd been a real finish line. 

Because teaching time was playtime, it never felt like work. Because the riders experience was playful, it didn't feel like a 'work'out. It struck me that if we are able to take our finger off the pressure button, also known as the 'serious' button, the 'self-punishment' button, and instead put our finger on the 'exploration' and 'experiment' button, we may find ourselves capable of so much more and find ourselves so, so much happier.

In August, 2009, I arrived in Colorado Springs at the Olympic Velodrome for Masters Nationals with a terrible chest cold. I'd seen the doctor a few days earlier and though I my coughing was debilitating, the breath test showed I had 98% lung capacity. Bizarre. He told me I should race. 

The altitude didn't help my confidence or my breathing. My body's response was to shut down and sleep. Backwards on the bed, feet propped on the headboard, I slept for 20 hours. And I couldn't drink enough water to not feel thirsty. I was extremely scared and at the same time so thrilled that I'd raced well enough thus far that season to even consider purchasing a plane ticket and registering. 

As i entered the velodrome for the first warm up session, i was keenly aware of the girls I would race against. this one was huge and strong had a famous coach. Her carbon bike was worth at least ten thousand dollars and She had two of them. She also had the full array of disc and spoke wheels. My Reynolds 853 steel bike was 12 years old. I had one set of borrowed wheels. I had a sinking feeling that was quickly turning to panic. What the hell am I doing here? Who am I kidding? Can I get out of this? I should leave. I shouldn't be here.

Nevermind the girls I would race, the chatter in my head was the toughest competition I'd face.

I laid down on the ground and put my feet up.  I put my hands on my belly and breathed. I took an inventory of the tension spots in my body and breathed into them. I needed to calm myself down. I did not have much time. As I focused in on my breath and my clenched jaw started to release, my thoughts softened. I remembered Don Winston saying to me that he loved watching me race because I was having so much FUN out there. YES! I had the time of my life racing and I never felt more alive, more present, more on fire than when I was flying around the track like mouse and cat. Now my internal monologue was shifting. 

Let's try this. It's PLAYTIME.  I strapped my shoes on. Helmet. Glasses. Gloves. Set the bike by the rail to clip in. This is my superhero costume with the red cape that makes me FLY! Holding the rail with one hand while using the other to snug up the suede straps around the clips. Locked in, I rolled out, staying low and slow on the blue apron for 20 laps. I will be sneaky and I will POUNCE!

In rhythmic patterns turning over the pedals at even pace, I OWNed the track. I Took ownership. I covered every single square inch of the track with my wheels. With every tire revolution I chose words to repeat in my mind. The words strung together into revolving mantras. 

Create the action. Do not wait to react.

I crept up the track inch by inch, increasing pace with every round until I made it to the top. The words in my head organized into a series of powerful statements. I had created my own internal radio station with only one channel; I AM POWERFUL. I CAN DO THIS. I WILL BE PRESENT. I DO belong here!

It was time for The 200 meter Time Trial. From the top of the track I rose out of the saddle and cranked up speed, choosing the exact moment to dive down in the perfect line of attack. So powerful and so effortless at the same time! My time was the fastest. I was top seed. i did not recognize myself.

From the 200 meter time trials, riders are seeded to race through heats for the Match Sprints- a 3 lap cat and mouse game. This is my favorite race.  If there are 10 riders for instance; the top seed races the 10th. The 2nd seed races the 9th....etc. Each pairing races three times. Taking 2 out of 3 wins the heat. Winners move on through heats until you're down to 4 riders. These 4 race the finals for 3 Medals.

With every round I moved on. Thank you Ingrid Allongi and Dena Eaton. Formidable riders, Dena became a World Champion a couple years later. Jubilant until the next to last round. I was under geared against Shane Ellis, a very tall, very strong rider who also happened to be a police officer with a famous coach and fancy equipment. The chatter started again. She wiped me out easily. I thought it was over. I laid down. I felt the hot surge of disappointment. I thought I had taken Silver.  My teammates started yelling at me. "They're calling you for your next round!" I had lost track of the rounds.. As quickly as possible I changed to a larger gear. I ran to the track. I was all adrenaline. I mounted my bike at the start line. I looked straight ahead. I AM. I CAN. I WILL. I DO. I AM. I CAN. I WILL. I DO. I AM. I CAN. I WILL. I DO. The gun goes off.

I didn't move.

The race official glared at me. "You do that again and relegate you." I was so deep in my mantra I didn't even hear the gun.

The gun went off again. We pulled out. She stayed low fluttering on the top edge of the sprinters lane. It is a risk of relegation or disqualification to go under them and push them out and you may only slip in front of them in the sprinter lane if you do not impede them. She was picking up momentum. I knew exactly what she was doing. So I stayed with her and then started to rise up the track. I was going to gain momentum and speed by using the banking and I was going to get up there before her and wind it up so that by the time she realized where I was she wouldn't be able to catch up. It worked. I dove down after a little cat and mouse, smiling the whole time, PLAYING MY FAVORITE GAME. And as I crossed the finish line for GOLD the photographer snapped a picture. My tongue was sticking out. Like a kid. Who just won.  

You've got to PLAY to WIN.

 

 

 

Ballerina thighs

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a ballerina. After years of dancing I finally became aware that I was never cast in any piece that was costumed in a short tu-tu. I was cast in the roles with the skirts than fell below the knee. This was because my thighs were twice the size of all the other little girls around me. In spite of trying to minimize myself by almost any means necessary, I simply could not drop under 112 pounds on my 5 foot 6 frame. I was big-boned, as they say. 

Somewhere along the line I fell in love with my bicycle. I could ride and ride and ride for hours. I would get lost and end up on highways, to be escorted off of the highways by the state police. I felt like I was flying. I felt I could be daring. I found a new way to dance, balanced on two slick wheels, swerving and swirling and squealing downhill.

I took my bike to college. Impatient to wait for the campus bus, hating to be dependent on public transportation, I rode my bike to campus. And all over Pittsburgh. I brought my bike to NYC during a year off from college. Afraid to ride the subway and to be caught confused trying to read the signs, I learned Manhattan above ground.  It made sense, needing a job, that I should try being a bike messenger. One of three girls on the road that year, I discovered an entire sub-culture swimming through traffic, obsessed with their bikes and bearing super-hero names. I was called "LEGS". Funny that. And I was fast. And my legs were thick. And I started to become a little less embarrassed about my thighs.

Back to college. Messengering summers. Graduating. Back to NYC. Messengering and auditioning for acting roles between runs. My dress folded up under my jacket, my bag full of packages, I locked my bike, let down my dress, removed my helmet and applied some lip-gloss and prayed the audition wouldn't take too long. 

"Hey LEGS! You gotta answer you pager! Where've you been? The client is calling for the package! That was a RUSH JOB!"

"So sorry man, I got a flat. I'm on it!"

After work, riding 8 hours a day, a few of us would take a couple laps in central park, in the dark. This was thrilling. We would go around three times, dodging each other and randomly someone would call out "SPRINT!!!!" We'd all surge forward. I surged to the lead enough times that some said I should race. So I did. And I won. 

Within a year, I wasn't acting anymore. Within two I was sponsored and racing against girls four years younger who had been racing four years longer, and keeping up nationally. 

Fast forward another year to motherhood and weighing in at 190- after the baby. So here is where it gets tricky. I comforted myself with knowing I had experienced the unexpected athlete within me. I had ridden right through the wall of my body-image issues. I was strong. And now, I was going to fully embrace my plus-size self and become a model. 

I got a gig with a TV shopping network. The only thing was, that in order to work, I needed to purchase padding. WHAT?! I wasn't big enough! They needed me to bulk up from size 14-16 to 20-22. I was astounded. I was always too big. Now I wasn't big enough. Mind blown.

Before heading onto the set, I always checked the outfit, checked my posture and smiled at this padded version of myself. After a year of mechanically smiling at myself in the mirror, something clicked. I had confused 'settling' for 'acceptance'. These are two different things. At that moment, a voice in my head said, "This isn't your truth. This is not your authentic self. Your body was meant to move. Let's do an experiment. Lets see how strong you could be. Forget this padding. You want to stand free of any padding, naked and strong in your true self". So I finished on set that day and did not go back. 

Fast forward a year. I'm certified to teach Indoor Cycling. I get strong again. Fast forward five years. I race a few times. I take 3rd place overall for the season. The following year I decide to commit. I go to Masters National. I take a gold and a bronze. Again the next year, two silver and a bronze.

These thighs that consumed my thoughts and fed my shame finally became the thing that made me proud. It is one of my deepest hopes that someone might be inspired by my journey to truly embrace, accept and build on your natural gifts. We are worth so much more than a smaller pair of pants.

what if....

Let's play a game.

Get a piece of paper.

Write down "What if..." five times, with space to fill in the blanks.

Now fill in the blanks.

Here's mine;

1. What if... I truly trust that everything will work itself out, as long as I listen to guts and trust my instincts.

2. What if... Even if I am afraid to say something, I take a deep breath, and say it.

3. What if... I practice more listening.

4. What if... I take that risk.

5. What if... I finally incorporate meditation into my daily practice

 

Share your 'What if's" with us. I bet we have more in common than we realize.

 

truth AND dare

Truth AND Dare;

Stand naked in front of your mirror. Look yourself in the eye. Take a very very deep breath. Squeeze the muscles between the corners of your mouth and your ears. Smile. Smile at yourself. How does this feel? 

Now stick out your stomach. Rub your belly. Keep smiling. How does this feel?

Relax. Keep Breathing. Now stand a little taller. Pull your shoulders back. Turn your palms forward. Keep smiling. How does this feel?

Now slump your shoulder forward. Drop your head. Slouch. Frown. Turn your palms back. How does the feel?

Now stand up tall again. Stomp your feet hard in the ground. Raise your hands high in the air. Stay there a few moments. Keep looking yourself in the eye and keep smiling. Now say out loud, " I AM. I CAN. I WILL. I DO." How does this feel?

Just as we can change the words in our heads from those that do not serve us, we can change how we carry ourselves to shift how we feel. 

Now that you've done this little exercise. Go about your day. 

Don't forget to smile. No matter what.

In the comment section, tell us how this affected your day. Share. Be vulnerable. We are our strongest in our true vulnerability. 

 

Painting

I bought a canvas. 72 inches square. I had no idea what I was going to do with it. I only knew I had an urge to create. It was an inkling. I have been working very hard to LISTEN to these inklings and allow them to guide me. The canvas sat, folded up in a corner for a couple of weeks. Every time I saw it I had the desire to get my hands on it and DO something. What exactly I would do, I had absolutely no clue. And I didn't want to have a clue. I wanted to see what would happen.

Finally, just a couple days ago, I laid it out on the porch, filled various containers with water and made palettes out of dinner plates. My brushes are all stained shades of red and rose from last years pink elephant water colors. I wondered- should I clean them? No. Use what you have. The tubes of paint strewn about, I chose to start with a yellow ochre. I have a favorite brush, the oval mop. Slopping and swirling the pigment into the canvas, I wanted to make it take up more space. I looked everywhere for the flat wide brush I purchased just for this. It was nowhere to be found. I did however find the cheap plastic bristled brush that I got to clean the sand out of the car, and so that is what I used. Sweeping the paint from one end of the canvas to the other, adding, blending, lunging to cover space, reaching, stretching, sweating, I was completely immersed in the process of PLAYING and time flew. I would step back to observe my 'work' and decided that I needed more or less of of something somewhere. What were these determinations based upon? Some kind of instinct. How would I know if it was done? Some kind of instinct.  I noticed at some point in my sweeping, that it was a perfect physical metaphor for where I am in my life right now. Sweeping away things and thoughts that do not serve me, to make room for those that do. I noticed that there was a meditative quiet to my thoughts. I was free from the mental chatter and anxiety that keeps from sleeping nights. I was experiencing joy as I practiced- PRACTICED- no self judgement.

Humans need to play. I'm not sure at what point we stop playing, but this experience was a tremendous reminder that 'play' time- is very valuable time spent. 

Listen to your inklings, your instincts and urges to create. We are all creative. To think we are not is a self-judgement, a fear of failure, which serves neither you nor your potential positive impact on other people. As my amazing life-partner, Kate says in her 'work' with children; "PLAY" to learn. 

 

Move to change

Movement is a powerful vehicle for change. So much of our obsession with health and fitness has to do with the outside. We want to look fit, appear thin, and we pin a great deal of our confidence on the size of our pants. In my classes and through my apparel I aim to cultivate a different approach. These appearance-based goals have much deeper roots. Confidence, self-esteem, self-respect and pride that are rooted around one's waistline are roots that will not live long. There is nothing to nourish these roots. I believe that in order facilitate sustainable confidence and happiness in our bodies, we must think bigger. Put something far more powerful that a flat stomach on your finish line. Of course it is a hard sell to say- don't worry about buttoning your pants when they don't fit. But what if we took the time spent hyper-focused on self-loathing and considered what we REALLY want to do with our lives. Is there a book you want to write, a film you want to make, some truth you've been needing to speak to someone? Let's try putting that on our finish lines. Start moving towards it. Visualize the details. Imagine the first step. Close your eyes and flesh out the process. Do this while in movement, do this this while running, riding, swimming, and the experience goes beyond the physical. It is through moving our bodies, literally moving our blood, our breath, our brain that we can move our lives. By moving our bodies we learn how to move our spirits in the direction of our dreams, towards our best lives. And when this movement is supported by positive self-talk, we learn to stay on track. I talk a lot about “changing the chatter.” It is crucial to identify the thoughts in your head that you tell yourself over and over again. We all have them. "I’m not good enough. If only I could. What if I can’t. What happens when we repeat things over and over to ourselves is that we start to believe them. We may not even be cognizant that we are listening to these words like little dictators. They become our accidental mantras. What if we caught ourselves, changed that chatter and we told ourselves things that lifted us up? Things that helped us soar and made us believe that we are bigger, braver, stronger, bolder, louder, fiercer, wiser, taller than all that chatter? What if the things we said in our heads were "I can, I am amazing, I am powerful, I am strong"? What if the chatter in our heads told the story not of how little we are but how big? What if, instead of focusing on taking up less space with our bodies, we focused on taking up as much space as possible with our words, actions, integrity and positive impact on the world around us? What if our own wonder and power became our mantra? Our bodies are tools for our minds. We must use them wisely with care and love and devotion. Take your body out, get into motion. Move. And you will find roots that will grow, as well.

I am

I can

You are

You can

We do