Drop. Push. Go.

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It looked so easy when she did it.

The List

I’ve been working on my 60 Before 60 List this summer. Considering 60 is a LOT of things, and considering I front loaded that list with way more travel items than I can humanly manage without a TARDIS, I need to be working on it.

While at school in Santa Barbara in June (going to Cali was rough, but it was all in the name of education), I knocked off the “go sailing” item. That was #1. A few weeks later, our youngest and I went on a #motherdaughtertrip to Charlevoix, Michigan, a lovely little town snug between a giant lake and a large lake. It was glorious, and it was good. I completely forgot all responsibility, which is not normally a thing for me, so I suspect my brain needed a break.

On July 6th, we tackled another thing on my list. We rented a stand up paddleboard. Our daughter has done this once before. She also has ten years of gymnastics behind her. A girl who can do back flips on 4 inches of wood four feet in the air can balance on a paddle board, even in the wake of a number of pleasure cruisers going by.

She looked like Moana out there, hand raised over her eyes toward the open water, paddle at the ready. She was awesome.

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What’ SUP?

I, on the other hand, am still recovering from a back injury, which leaves me with a still-weak right leg and, shall we say, not the mountain goat sense of balance I once had. I mourn that reality. It’s one of the things I’ve loved about my body—the ability to climb up boulders and straddle a teetering log like a gecko.

I learned it early, as the youngest of seven and growing to only 5’2”. I’m not strong, and my endurance level is like my old AMC Hornet that desperately needed a gas filter, but I’m fast and sure-footed. Except not anymore.

My daughter said it was easy, so we pulled up to the half a foot of sand a few feet away from the “No Tresspassing” sign and traded her SUP for my kayak.

It went well. My legs shook, and I am grateful for no vidoegraphic evidence of my ungraceful stance, but I paddled. Back and forth, a few times in that small channel between the giant lake and the big lake. I could do this.

Until I couldn’t.

Making one last pass to the end, I went farther than I had before and tried to steer the board back toward the channel. Away from the steel (iron?) pier that marked the end of the channel and also the coast guard station. I tried. Really tried. That board had no intention of turning.

I hit the pier. Hard. My daughter heard it from twenty feet away. I leaned forward to grasp the bar on the pier, and the board slid out from under me. There I was, legs flailing, dangling from the pier and about to become a contestant in a very wet clothing contest. So glad at that moment I had decided to ditch the leggings and just go in the long tunic.

I let go, splashed into the surprisingly warm water, and grabbed the board to swim it back to the rocks on shore. This, of course, is when she started taking pictures.

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On the Rocks

It was while I sat on the rocks trying to figure out how to get back on the board that another woman came alone, going the same direction. Either she realized that she also could not avoid the pier or, clearly experienced, she intentionally chose to use it as her bouncing off point to redirect her down the narrow side stream. Whichever, as she approached the pier, she dropped to her knees, struck the pier, and pushed off with her right hand in the direction she wanted to go.

“Wham!” She yelled it as she slapped that metal surface. It sounded like a cry of triumph. I knew she knew what she was doing. It felt like maybe she even did it to show me how it was done. Not in a “look at me and how great I am at this thing you totally failed at” sort of way. It felt more like “I’ve done what you just did and I want to help you get past it.” Don’t we love women like that?

I watched as she took a quick hop back to her feet, one smooth motion. She knew that was my next question, and she looked at me as she did it. I think she nodded in encouragement. As she went on her way down the stream, I got back on that board.

Obstacles Can Sink You

There are so many obstacles in the way of our dreams and goals. So many iron piers loom ahead, and we desperately try to steer away from them. We think that hitting them will be the end. We believe that we will never survive that roadblock.

Maybe we should take a lesson from that anonymous paddleboarder. Maybe, avoiding the obstacles isn’t the goal. If we can’t avoid it, maybe we ought to be thinking about using it.

She dropped to her knees.

She knew the impact would send her flying off the board if she tried to take it standing up. Dropping down, lowering her center of gravity, working with the impact instead of against it—those things kept her on the board.

It’s not a bad idea to drop to our knees, too, when we see the obstacles coming. The impact could be destabilizing. But it won’t be if we’re on our knees, in prayer to our Daddy who holds us in the palm of his hand, so that we will not be shaken. Dropping to my knees could have kept me on the board. Dropping to our knees before God will keep us facing our goals and dreams and making certain that they are still aligned with his purpose for us. It will keep us centered, balanced, and sure.

I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. For I am the LORD your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help

She used that problem to redirect.

She didn’t let it redirect her—she used it to change course in the way she wanted to go. I had allowed it to redirect me right into the water. I saw that pier only as a huge obstacle, a scary problem, a thing I did not want to run into or deal with.

She saw it as a chance to point her board where she wanted it to go. When she yelled “Wham!” she shoved off the pier into a hard left turn, allowing the impact to turn her course.

Do we do that with roadblocks in our path? Can we use them as course correctors, things that make us look more clearly at the place we want to go? Do we push off of our problems, rather than let them envelop and sink us? Take in their force and use it to send us further and faster?

I learned more than how to stand up on a paddleboard that morning. The dunking was worth the education.

How fast can I get back to my feet after hitting the pier? It doesn’t matter. If we need some time to sit on the rocks and refocus, that’s time well spent. But I want to learn from paddleboard wonder woman.

Drop to knees. Push off. Pop up, Go.

all the way to Rio

I have a new Olympic hero. My old hero—who is still my main one—is Keri Strug. Because 1)—she is a gymnast, so duh, and 2)—She took that whole commitment to team thing seriously and did something really hard and courageous for the sake of others. That’s heroic behavior in my book. I will never forget watching that event. A whole lot of us could be taught a lesson from Kerri Strug about going through tough stuff for the sake of people you’ve made a commitment to. But about that new hero . . .

My new hero is Anne Abernathy, who is old news, I guess, but to me she is new. And I love her, in a non-creepy-though-I’ve-never-met-her sort of way. She has been a luge athlete qualifying in six Olympic games. That in itself is an achievement. But . . . Anne was also 53 at her last qualification.

Here are a few stats on this lady (courtesy of Wikipedia): 

  • Abernathy is the oldest woman to ever compete in the Winter Olympic Games, breaking the old record during the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics (a record she set).
  • She is the only woman to qualify for six Winter Olympic Games and one of only two female athletes to compete in five Winter Olympics.
  • In 2006, she became the first woman over 50 to qualify for the Winter Olympics.
  • Abernathy was the first woman to qualify for six Winter Olympics.
  • During the AlbertvilleWinter Olympics, she became the first athlete to compete with a camera on board–a feat that was nominated for an Emmy in technical broadcast achievement.

And oh–she dealt with recurring cancer and a life-threatening brain injury during these years. Sheesh. I will cease and desist the whining about getting off my butt and doing a little aerobic walking. (Who am I kidding? No, I won’t. But I should.)

And—deeming it unwise to continue on in luge, she is currently training in another sport with sights set on Rio in 2016. Archery. Hey, I do archery. Kind of. Maybe . . . Except I’d need lasik surgery before qualifying for the team. Still, a concerted effort and maybe 2020.

So, is this one of those posts meant to shame you and make you think you’re not working hard enough or doing enough with your life, a la that “What’s Your Excuse?” ad that enraged so many post-partum women?

No, it is not. I hope it’s encouragement. I believe Anne would hope so. Encouragement that for every barrier out there that might be real, there is one we can knock down, one that may even be strongest in our imagination. For everything that blocks our way, there is somewhere we can move forward toward whatever we dream of. And if one opportunity ends, it’s not the end. It’s a chance to try a new outlet and see where it takes us. 

Anne wants it to take her to Rio. What barriers are trying to keep you from your Rio? Where will your next step take you?