Don’t be a fish; be a frog. Swim in the water and jump when you hit ground.
― Kim Young-ha
As I’ve been vocal about before, this year nearly wrecked me. Last December, I suffered a transformational but deeply scarring break-up, and my family endured my infant niece’s diagnosis with cancer. A very young and close cousin unexpectedly passed away, work was hard, and I had, by that point in the aforementioned relationship, cut away many of my friends. Thus, I broke down. Like, really broke down.
At 3:00am, feeling unsafe and insecure, I drove north to Windom, Texas to try healing at the Siddhayatan Spiritual Retreat. Upon returning to Austin, I thought Western medicine could provide the same solace I found at the ashram, but easily accessible on a daily basis. I was given three prescriptions: venlafaxine, clonazepam, and no more endurance sports.
I was given three prescriptions: venlafaxine, clonazepam, and no more endurance sports.
Endurance racing, my doctor believed, was exacerbating issues with the way my body processes and stores cortisol, a stress hormone. At the time it made sense that triathlon and road running could contribute to this: I just wanted a solution to cling to. I needed a scapegoat; I needed to believe misery wasn’t life. So, I followed the advice. I was scared, felt alone, and just wanted to get on with my life. No more sports? Fine. Pump my brain full of toxins? Sure.
Where I went wrong is a misunderstanding of how grief works: it’s not something to force out of life. We don’t have to love the process, but we do need to trust and accept it without idealizing or shortcutting to “something better.” My short cut didn’t work, because it never does.
Without the intention of healing–just the notion that something wasn’t right with that prognosis–I eventually came back to triathlon (and detoxed from the pharmaceuticals), a sport that cleared my mind, healed my body, and replenished my support network. Little by little, I learned what will always be there: my breath, my body, my spirit. All else is just a river around us, sometimes rapid, sometimes stagnant, sometimes clear.
What this year gave me is the ability to float downstream. I no longer fight the current, but can accept what is. Eventually, I learned to swim in the direction I wanted, to increase the challenge of my journey or take a break on the bank if needed. Physical practice–through asana and triathlon training–taught me best how to do this.
I’m the kid who doesn’t trust the stove won’t burn me, so putting into my body a metaphor to teach me vulnerability saved my livelihood. In the multisport world, weather, my body, nature, and finances are all venerable obstacles to completing a race. Managing those while making a radical commitment to tune into your body and mind enough to make it across a 70.3 mile finish line is a robust commitment to skillful acceptance and surrender.
A year after being told, “no,” I’ve jumped back in the river. And, instead of fighting it or searching for saving, I learned how to swim. This weekend I lucked into a spot on a trail-running relay team, where we took turns running for 12 hours straight through piney woods in Central Texas. The realization that one year ago I swore away physical devotion hit me on mile fourteen. Making it back to my friends, crossing the finish line for our team’s 60th mile, loudly confirmed what this year was about for me: accepting the current.
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