Tag Archives: triathlon

But I raced anyway


I raced a triathlon this past weekend. In the PRO field. I came out of the water last. I never caught up to a single other PRO, short of the one who dropped out. Eight amateurs beat me. And I knew it would all shake out like this before I stepped to the starting line. But I raced anyway. Because after a year off, a year of having only enough energy to stay afloat in #grief, I missed that place in my mind that I can only reach on a race course. 

#lifeafterloss #teampoppy #imvictoria703 

Three Votes a Day

The World Caves In

Imagine for a second sitting in your doctor’s office and hearing the one thing you were sure it couldn’t be.

Cancer. 

Imagine that you’ve purposefully lived your life – through diet and exercise and priorities –  to avoid this exact diagnosis.

Now imagine the doctor explaining there is no cure for this cancer. And that while there are treatments, your cancer hasn’t progressed enough for those treatment to help. That basically, you’ll have to sit and wait until the cancer gets worse before you start to treat it.

The Ship is Sinking

My dad, a 2:30 marathoner, a tennis coach, a studied vegetarian, was not one to sit and wait. So when this foreign diagnosis became domestic, he sought to understand how a man who had deliberately made  healthy choices throughout his life, had developed multiple myeloma, a rare blood cancer.

Storm at Sea

He read every study he could find. In 2003, the year of his diagnosis, researchers had already found a link between pesticide exposure and multiple myeloma. My father has lived in an agricultural region of California for most of his life. There, where farmers spray crops from the sky, he had unknowingly and involuntarily ingested the pesticides intended for the avocado groves and strawberry patches up the road.

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In addition, pesticides seeped into my dad’s system through a diet rich in fruit and vegetables. Though he always washed his produce, even the most vigorous scrubbing won’t remove all pesticides. Some are even powerful enough to pass through the skin of a tomato. (And the outlook is even worse in carnivore-ville. The pesticides that cows, pigs, and chickens ingest accumulate in their tissues before being passed on to the human consumer.)

They are all aiming for me

Instead of feeling helpless against a cancer with no cure, instead of feeling hopeless waiting for his cancer to progress so his doctor could attempt to treat it, he built a battle plan on choices that were still within his power to make.

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He learned about organic fruits, vegetables, and dairy. He got to know the stores and markets and farmers who sold them. He even discovered organic foods in the prepackaged and frozen sections of grocery stores.

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His decisions weren’t just about his own health. They were about our family’s health. Our farm workers’ health. Our community’s health. Our environment’s health.

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My dad shifted from consumer – one who uses things up – to contributor, strengthening a food system through choice.

In my last post, I wrote at length about privilege of choice. And buried somewhere in the long list of choices that landed me on the other side of the equator, I mentioned the privilege to choose one’s diet.

But eating pesticide-free food is more than a personal choice.

It is a vote.

In the words of Michael Pollan, “the wonderful thing about food is you get three votes a day. Every one of them has the potential to change the world…that’s an amazing power that we have.” (More on that here.)

(For those who don’t choose organic because of the upfront extra cost, I recommend reading this Pollen article and the FAQ halfway down this one as well. Pollan offers great advice that fits in well with the theme of choice.)

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I’ve been thrilled to partner with Amy’s Kitchen, both on and off the triathlon course. The family-owned vegetarian food company has been supporting my family since my father’s diagnosis in 2003 when we were just learning about organic eating. They make convenient (and delicious) organic food for people who would like to cook from scratch three times a day, but who have prioritized training or parenting or studying or otherwise saving the world.

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So why am I in Chile writing about voting with my fork right now?

For two reasons:

  1. It’s National Organic Month.
  2. I’m really missing the organic choices I had back home. And in missing them, it drove home the point that I made in my last postwhat a privilege it is to be able to choose.

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So, what are you voting for today?

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The Privilege of Choice

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Climbing around Fox Glacier, New Zealand

The word timshel—‘Thou mayest’— that gives a choice. It might be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’— it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.
(John Steinbeck, East of Eden).

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Biking from Hanoi to Sapa, Vietnam

If my trip around the world had a theme, it would be choice.

Years ago, as a Peace Corps volunteer, living and working in poor, rural communities, I began to grasp the concept of choice. I began to see that completely by virtue of where I was born – the family, the street, the city, the country – my life is awash in choice.

The ability to choose is a magnificent privilege.

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Neltume, Chile

I can choose to be educated or not, to marry or not, to have children or not. I can choose my city and my career. I can choose my diet  and my doctor. These are choices that the people in my Peace Corps villages do not have.

I can choose my priorities.

For the last 3 years, I chose a basement apartment over a condo with a view. I chose one bike over one for every season. I chose to skip designer fashion and drinks.

I chose to save money.

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Arlington, Virginia, USA

And with the money I saved, I chose a seven-month world tour over a down payment on a house.

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As a holder of an American passport, I can choose from 147 countries to visit simply by showing up at the airport or bus terminal. No visa required. (More on that here.) My counterparts in Nepal and Ecuador wanted nothing more than to visit the United States. Just visit. But based on the country in which they were born and the passport they hold, the choice was not theirs to make.

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Bhairahawa, Nepal

With my 147 options to choose from, I’ve been making my way around the world. Vietnam and Australia and New Zealand and Mozambique and South Africa and Swaziland and Chile. I have a few more months, 140 more options, and a heart overflowing with gratitude.

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La Parva, Chile

None of this is to say that my choices should be yours. That would belie the meaning of choice. For the privilege of choice lies in the ability to choose, and not in the choice itself.

What choices are you making?

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Mackay, Australia

The Off-season: Taking Off or Taking Flight?

Mystical Vic Iceland

I call it the off-season because it’s when I take off.

I mean really take off. 

I mean taking off in the way that an airplane or a bird or an idea takes off.

I mean pulling up the superficial roots that ground me to a routine.

And bounding far above and wide outside the limits of my comfort zone–of language, of food, of 24-hour connectivity.

It’s then, in the off-season, when I truly fly.

Off-season, 2014: Iceland

Have you ever stood in the snow

Backcountry Einar Iceland

…with the ocean stretched out just below?

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Have you ever trekked miles across a glacier

Iceland Crevasse

…to be the first humans to find the ice cave beneath?

Ice Cave Duo  Ice Cave with Headlamps

Have you ever sat on a couch-sized glacier….

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…or watched perfect waves crash into more glaciers?

Ocean and Glacier

Or slept in to watch the sun rise at 9am?

Zoot in Iceland

Or splashed around in -2 degrees on one day…

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…and bathed in the Blue Lagoon the next?

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Cheers to an off-season that leaves us recovered, rejuvenated, and ready for the next few months of re-grounding.

–Kgo

Thank you:

To Alex for the idea.

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And to Mindy for being the best travel buddy!

Ice Cave or Dream Iceland

To SmartWool for keeping my feet happy and warm in ski boots and crampons and running shoes.

To Zoot for the bright running shoes in a dark winter.

To Nalgene for making liter bottles I can open with mittens on.

To Rose PT for keeping me injury free from afar.

And to Einar of Local Guides for being the most patient and knowledgeable glacier guide, photographer, and skier in Iceland.

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Injury and Jeopardy

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I had a dream that I appeared on the Jeopardy stage.

Naturally, I chose “Endurance Sports” for $1o00.

Alex Trebek: This ability is beneficial to the athlete in training and racing yet detrimental in responding swiftly and effectively to nagging aches and pains.

Me: What is “the ability to block out pain”?

Responding in my dream was much easier than treating my plantar fasciitis in real life. Like a champ, I had been blocking out my heel pain for years. I came to believe that like salt tabs and spandex, plantar facsiitis was just another part of my chosen sport.

Luckily, I was wrong. Here’s my map down the road to plantar fascia fantastica:

1. Footwear. For any activity that doesn’t involve running or biking, I opt for footwear that simulates walking barefoot. This means no flip flops at the pool and no heels or hard shoes at work. This also means that I have four pairs in three colors of the Merrell Whirl Glove.  Nice enough to wear to the office, and superb for stretching and strengthening the muscles in my feet.

Whirl Glove

2. A Treatment Team of Two. My physical therapist at Rose PT put my injury in the larger context of my body’s mechanics, finding imbalances and inflexibility in my back, glutes, and calves, all of which contribute to the inflammation in my heel. Like other therapists, she gave me home care exercises to address those weaknesses, but unlike other therapists, she took an active interest in my progress, making me feel like we were treating my injury as a team, thus motivating me to uphold my end of the treatment partnership: executing home care exercises.

Rose PT

3. Dry Needling. Yikes. Sounds scary, probably even looks scary, but has almost entirely scared away years of heel pain. My Rose physical therapist inserts a thin needle into the muscle knots in my calves, which creates an involuntary twitch, which in turn relaxes the tight muscle bands that create such knots. As the picture shows, Claire dry needled my calf to treat my foot, recognizing my heel pain as a partial function of tight calves.

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4. Targeted stretching.  Though muscle relaxation follows the twitch response from dry needling, it is my job to maintain the health and flexibility of my calves between needling sessions. As such, I dedicate the first 10 minutes of every morning to down dogs and other deep stretches that prepare my calves and plantar fascia to take on the day. If I wake up late and skip my stretches, I receive a painful reminder of their importance when I step out of bed the next morning.

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And back to my jeopardy dream where I won the first $1000 of the game, I moved onto “Not-So-Common Sense” for $1000.

Alex Trebek: The optimal time to treat your nagging injury.

Me: What is “now”?

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We are athletes. Our personal records depend on our ability block out pain. But our long-term athletic success depends on acknowledging that some pain is worthy not only of of recognition but of intensive, dedicated, and committed treatment. And only you can make that determination.

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Sixteen Minutes on Service, Sport, and Success

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Earlier this year, George Washington University invited me to speak on the impact public service has had on my life. Naturally, I chose to speak at the intersection of service and sport.

This poster greeted me as I arrived.

Success in Service Kendra Goffredo

Hey, I thought, I know her!

Check out the full talk below:

Thank you for hosting me, GWU. May your grads go into the world and serve!

That Grip Was Once a Reflex

HoldTheWheel

At birth, a baby’s strength is seemingly concentrated in the muscles of her tiny hands. That newborn power grip is actually a reflex.

Baby Palmar Grasp

But at around 6 months, her reflex fades, and she learns to grasp with intention. By 12 months, she develops another fantastic ability: release.

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My friend Kawai is a new father.

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Credit: Christina Strong Washburn

His daughter, like all of us before her, is discovering the power she has in the deliberate grasp of her hand. He writes:

…we sat in the imperviously clean high-chair on our counter and fisted handfuls of food from the spoon into our mouth, each time learning just a bit better how our fingers, like caterpillars, might wrap around the branch of the spoon…

Baby Spoon

And in just a few more months, those little fingers will make the full transition to learned release.

…and it was clear that this was life, and death: We learn how to pick things up and how to hold them and eventually, how to put them down.

Even in adulthood, a heartbreaking experience will send us back to those months of infancy where we learned that gripping is a primitive reflex, that holding on is a conscious choice, and that releasing is too.

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Smoke, not fog

IRONMAN Lake Tahoe was that experience for me. I held tight to dreams of titles and family finish lines, and they were pried from my grip by a forest fire and smoke and last minute race cancellation.

And just a week (and a cross country flight and a 10-hour solo drive) later, that experience was IRONMAN Chattanooga. I tightened my grip with each mile as lucidity loosened its grip on me. And 138 miles into the race, I let go.

And five days later, it was a broken heart. (Ouch.) But we all know you can’t squeeze love out of someone.  (Believe me, I tried.)

And a week after that, it was the bestie with a foreign passport and nonrenewable visa.

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This is life, my friend reminds me, we learn how to pick things up and how to hold them and eventually, how to put them down.

Yes, we master these lessons as infants, but life obliges us to learn them over and over again.

 —

Thank you:

Kawai, for the inspiration. Check out his work here.

SmartWool, for believing in me.

Rose PT, for the fascia love.

Zoot, for a quality kit.

Coachie Tim and QT2

Parents and Sarita and Kala and Stefan, for supporting me in Tahoe.

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And my Glover/Yon host family in Chattanooga. xoxo.

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