Test Your Fitness Limits
Wet 'n' Wild
Maybe it's because I was born under the astrological fire sign Leo, or because my Aquarian mother still obsessively attempts to protect me from exposure to rain, sprinklers, and spilled seltzer on my kitchen floor, that I am hydrophobic. I cannot swim. Nor do I surf, snorkel, or eat seafood. In no way do I expect to change my colors by white-water rafting on the Ocoee River. I hope simply to survive. I arrive at the dock in jeans and a cotton tank top.
"What are you wearing? You're going to get soaked!" my instructor, Ashlee, says. "Is this your first time?" I nod. A few minutes later I'm clad in spandex, water shoes, and goggles. Properly suited up, my life vest strapped snugly, I perch at the front of the boat to lead the rhythmic rowing action of our all-female crew (it's like beatboxing with oars instead of your mouth). Soon we're headed toward our first "encounter": a small waterfall plunging into two whirlpools. I squint and stop breathing. Whish, crash, splat! Somehow the raft stays upright. I shout "Bring it on, baby!" This is...fun?
Later, when Ashlee asks who would like to jump into the water, my hand shoots up, as if by reflex. Hugging my life vest to my chest, I plunge into the deep, all 30 feet of it. My crewmates chant, "Go, Chee! Go, Chee!" I spin around on my belly and peer through the abyss, blow a few bubbles and flip over to coast on my back. All I'm missing is a poolside mojito, ukulele music, and swaying palm trees. Sometimes our fears are rooted solely in ignorance.The Big Picture
Hang gliding -- the omega of my checklist. After a weekend of yelps and occasional four-letter exclamations, at 1,400 feet I'm finally speechless. The Swiss instructor strapped to my back steers the wings and chats away in my ear, spitting every third word. "That's Raccoon sp-Mountain. Oooh, there's a sp-eagle to your sp-right! The sun -- sp-sparkling!" I ignore the spit and take in the view. Suspended high in the air, I thought I'd feel voltaic and omnipotent. Strangely I feel sober, delicate, transient, like a snowflake. Next thing I know, the noise in my head evaporates, and my body becomes a conduit for every sensation, from ecstasy to panic. It was a purifying eureka moment: Do nothing; absorb everything.
When I was a competitive athlete, my physical potential became my affliction. I collapsed under the pressure to be the best; I was afraid to push myself to the limit. Completing my bucket list taught me that fear is acceptable. Vulnerability can be an advantage, keeping you sensitive and open to new adventures and skills to master. I went to Chattanooga seeking finality; instead I launched my second act as an athlete. I no longer need to validate myself, and I can't wait to try my next feat. First place won't be on the agenda -- winning is overrated. My plan: kick back and relish the ride.BRAVE WOMEN UNITE!
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, February 2010.
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