I haven’t published anything on the blog in a while, not for a lack of activity in my life, but rather due to a superabundance of change and events that have kept me leaping nimbly from one lily pad to the next to avoid submersion. Now that the dust has settled a little, I almost don’t know where to start. Nationals is over for another year, and that’s probably a post in and of itself, but I’m not quite finished digesting it yet, or maybe I’m not ready to look at it straight-on. Hard to say. I’ve made some big leaps in my career that I’m finally allowed to talk about, but again, that’s still percolating through my mind and I haven’t fully absorbed it even though it’s my everyday life now. Some days lately have felt more like walking through a dream than any thing real.
Wednesday was pretty real, though. Wednesday I had a rare opportunity to sit down and have coffee with explorer and adventurer, TA Loeffler, one of Canada’s greatest modern explorers, while we discussed academic opportunities and paths. When two people who have large dreams sit down together with a university calendar, it never ends between the pages of the book. We wandered through the practical reason for the meeting and then strayed into comparing training and discussing our approaches to fitness in its many forms.
TA leaves in six weeks for her third exploration and navigation of Everest (and on a lesser scale, I have about 15 weeks until IPF Worlds). We are in different stages of focussing on significant events, albeit it in different sports and on entirely different levels. While all of us have metaphorical mountains to climb, few have literal ones and I was intensely curious about what seems to me to be a magical feat: translating the practical daily preparation and training of the gym, hill, and mind that occurs here in St. John’s into an almost-mythical expedition into the clouds in Nepal and Chinese-occupied Tibet. What I train to do in the gym is more or less what I do on the platform, no matter where in the world I go, but TA’s training is less direct. There are no mountains here to be climbed at altitude; the pieces have to be put together and layered in ways that add up to a successful expedition. She builds the layers individually and puts them together by stepping off a plane in another country. There’s a leap of faith there that is not present in what I do and I admire it tremendously.
We chatted about periodization and recovery, how bodies handle the stresses that we give them, how they shape us and how we recover from them. We talked about what comes after a major event and how the recovery then is as much mental as physical. It was a joy to talk to someone who is on a similar road, but with more experience and wisdom than I currently have acquired. Navigating forty has been about learning how to listen to a body that can work harder than it ever could when younger and with a greater determination and will, but in turn it demands that I respect its need for recovery and it can be frustratingly erratic in what it can handle. Listening to someone who has walked through this forest talk about how learning flexibility and fluidity has been the key to her ability to achieve remarkable things was illuminating and reminded me that training is about growth as an athlete and human being. Sometimes that doesn’t look the same on a body as it does on paper because it’s more when it transforms a human into something greater.
I think the most interesting part was how ordinary the preparation for her adventure actually is on a daily basis. It’s an extraordinary thing to even contemplate climbing a mountain let alone to do it several times. But it was a reminder to me that even the most extraordinary of feats relies on the small steps of progress in very mundane ways and that our sports have much in common even though they are radically different. Both involve lifting the weights repeatedly, doing the visualizations systematically, learning the technical pieces that are required, planning the approach and how to deal with the unexpected, and cultivating a strong belief in what is possible.
Maybe this was the part that I found the most gratifying in our conversation. It was proof in the most wonderful of ways that an extraordinary thing (like climbing the highest mountain in the world) is made of of many small (and terribly ordinary) steps, done consistently, with strength of belief in the end results, and enough flexibility to manage any curves in the road and keep moving forward.
A couple of years ago my daughter, Katherine, did an interview with TA and I dug out a video that was taken during that conversation in which TA talks about eating the elephant one bite at a time. Whenever Training or Life seem overwhelming, I listen to this excerpt and it reminds me that small steps count for everything, if you keep taking them even when it’s hard.
Thanks, TA, for the time with which you were so generous and for being a continuous inspiration. I’d wish you luck, but you’ve made your own luck by putting in the hard work over the years and years of preparation. Instead I’ll say I’ll be watching and cheering for you to achieve the standard for success that you have set for yourself in this expedition. You’ve got this.