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Mountain Biking: A Love Story

If at first you don't succeed, try and try again. Or in this case, take a moment to pause, gain some new perspective and most importantly, give yourself some credit! Thanks again to Amy of Expand Outdoors for beautiful insight to tackling new challenges, and patting ourselves on the back.  amybiking4“I’m slow” had been a mantra for me ever since I got into outdoor activities. I would be painfully aware that I was bringing up the rear, the slowest person on the trail (or in the pool, or on the road). I constantly feared I was holding my friends and companions back, so developed a habit of apologizing for being so slow. And worse, an excuse to not get out there at all in an effort to avoid the uncomfortable feeling of embarrassment and incompetence. The first time I rode a mountain bike on a single track trail, I felt like a toddler constantly running and playing “catch-up” with an older brother. Or brothers. I was with a group of male friends—all very experienced—who would take turns waiting for me at various intervals along the trail. Their kindness was totally appreciated, but also humbling. Despite moments of frustration and impatience, I had fun on that ride. And their encouragement and stoke watching me get out there and have fun was contagious. Still, I was self-conscious and sensitive to my in-expertise. Winter arrived soon after, and I didn’t ride again for a couple of years. Mostly because I didn’t have a mountain bike, but also because I was avoiding my fears and self-consciousness. I wanted to ride. I wanted to love it. And I’d glimpsed some magic moments when I felt the rush of enthusiasm and pure joy of riding. amybiking2 The seeds had been planted on that first ride, but I had allowed my fears to get in the way, nurturing those seeds very haphazardly (and not very effectively). When one of the friends on that first ride became my husband, we decided to convert a van and live on the road for a year (we called it the adVANture). We planned to visit a number of well-known mountain biking trails and communities during our travels (think the Pacific Northwest), and I decided it would be the perfect time to get back on the bike and ride. I wanted a bike I was comfortable on, so we sold my road and tri bikes and shopped around for a mountain bike. At the time, I was (sporadically) riding a hand-me-down, but it was bulky, heavy and a lot of bike for my novice handling skills. I felt clumsy trying to manage what felt to me like a huge hunk of metal under me. I wanted something smaller and lighter that I could grow into as my skills developed. As we shopped, I was thrown into a world of new terminologies and complex engineering. Luckily my husband is quite knowledgeable and patient, so between his expertise on various builds, components and brands, and my instincts for what felt good as I test rode the options, I found a bike I was excited about. When I got it home, I couldn't wait to go for a ride. If I wasn't in love with the sport yet, I certainly was beginning to feel some affection for this new hunk of metal. Which is what it felt like underneath me. Not as clunky and heavy and my husband's old bike, but definitely bulky and separate from me. I loved the idea of her, but riding was an entirely different story. For my first ride on the new bike, a gentle trail outside of Boulder seemed perfect. It was short, not too many corners and had minimal elevation gain. I fell on my first switchback. While I’d love to say that I got up laughing and in good spirits, that was decidedly not the case. I cried. I finished out the ride, stiff and worried about falling again, cursing myself, the clipless pedals, and most of all, my inexperience and lack of skill. After numerous excuses, I finally went out again. But something was still holding me back. I wasn’t trying new things. Frustration, fear, tentativeness, hesitancy: I was experiencing all these emotions without a lot of the joy, freedom, and elation I used to get—or imagined I should have. I was worried about our upcoming adventure. Would my bike gather dust in the back of the van? It sucked. And it sucked for my husband, too. I felt like a terrible riding partner. I cried more times than I smiled on the trail. He was patient, but just didn't know how to help me. I didn't know how to help me. amybiking3 I was determined to love it, yet still resisting and avoiding. Something needed to change. A few things happened that began to help me shift from fear to fun. I did two things immediately, and one was an unexpected bonus. The first thing I did was switch to flat pedals. I’d been hesitant to take any risks with my feet locked in, but as soon as I began running flats, the world of mountain biking started opening up again. I took more risks and began to see progress in my skills. The second thing I did was begin to embrace and accept where I was skill-wise. I realized my expectations were pretty high (and frankly, unrealistic), I often judged myself for not having more of the skills experienced riders had, and my Inner Critic was getting pretty loud. Letting all that go wasn’t easy, but simply setting the intention was helpful. Riding with my husband became a lot more fun. He's a wonderful teacher and quite patient. But he's also an expert mountain biker. Having grown up on a BMX bike, he is what you’d call a “natural,” easily making hurtling down a steep trail look graceful. And easy. amy biking1 My assessment of my riding skills was that I was slow, cautious and always the last in the group. I didn’t necessarily mind it, knowing I was a beginner and recognizing that most riders were way more experienced than me. “I’m slow,” and “I’m a beginner” became subconscious mantras in my head. I had no other frame of reference. I didn’t know any other riders like me. And they were certainly hard to find as we traveled. Until Prescott, Arizona. There, we stumbled upon the biking community and were instantly welcomed into a warm and inviting group of enthusiastic riders. My husband got to experience some serious technical downhills (that he’d never have found without guides), and i was invited to join a women’s ride one evening. As we got started, I let them know that “I’m slow” and that “I’m a beginner.” So of course I’ll be at the back of the pack. Because this was my reality. As the waning sunlight cast a soft glow over the trail in Prescott, it became clear that I had misjudged myself. I wasn’t all that slow. And I didn’t feel like a beginner. I felt normal. Average. Competent. What a revelation! I realized my perspective had been wildly skewed. It no longer mattered to me how fast or slow I was, or how experienced or inexperienced I was. I was able to completely let go of my self-judgements and allowed myself to sink into my own experience and measure my progress and gains against the only person that really mattered—me. AMy bikingWhen we got to the Pacific Northwest, I pushed myself. I had fun learning. And I realized there, as I was working up to a new skill at a local bike park, that I’d finally fallen in love with mountain biking. Sure, there’s still a lot of skill-building to be done, but I no longer judge myself so harshly. Instead, I concentrate on having fun and enjoying where I am at any given moment. Some days I go faster on the downhills than others. Some days I feel inspired to try riding raised wooden trails at the bike park. Others I very consciously ride around them. But mostly? I go out and have fun, comfortable and happy to be out there, doing my thing. And if that’s not being successful in a sport, I’m not sure what is. What’s your love story? ------ About Amy Amy Christensen is a certified life coach with a passion for adventure and helping women tap into their own adventurous spirits. Based in Boulder, CO, her company, Expand Outdoors, focuses on creating healthy, sustainable, and fun lifestyle changes. She most recently launched 31 Winter Adventures, an email series delivering daily adventures to your inbox for 31 days in celebration of the winter season.
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We Are Ready

We're ready. Bring on 2013. What are you ready for? Share with us in the comments below. Missy_Ready
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Bras for the Ho’opa

As part of our Starting Block program here at Title Nine, the Bra Brigade functions to provide sports bras to girls who haven't had the opportunity to experience solid, comfortable support. We've connected with everyone from a local high school running club to breast cancer survivors training for a triathlon. In this particular case we worked with the parents and coaches for the Ho'opa girls volleyball team in Hawaii to get them fitted for their new bras. The girls then went on to compete in nationals on the mainland! If you or anyone you know is working with a group of at-risk girls who are in need of some "support", send them our way! Drop us a line at startingblock@titlenine.com and we'll be happy to see what we can do for you! Ho'opa Hawaii Bras 1 Since 2003, the Ho'opa Hawaii VBC has helped at-risk youth by providing a nurturing, out-of-school program that teaches the sport of volleyball to girls.  West Hawaii has a generation of school-aged children with an abundance of unsupervised free time.  Though our club serves all interested youth in West Hawaii, the majority of our players are teenage girls from families working hard to make ends meet, many holding more than one job. The parents of our girls are the ones that greet visitors at the Kona hotels, serve you in the restaurants, dance in Polynesian shows, pick the Kona coffee, and catch the fish.  Because we keep our club fees to a minimum, at $25 per year, any girl can join.  Installment plans are arranged for those who cannot pay. Ho'opa Hawaii Bras 3Our club provides a safe environment in which girls can play, learn, compete and succeed.  Through a passion for volleyball, players learn to value good sportsmanship, teamwork, healthy bodies and healthy minds, and a drug free lifestyle. We train three times a week, over two hours at a time in Kekuaokalani Gym in Kailua-Kona from October through June.  Our shared passion and commitment to volleyball makes us strong and has helped us become champions at tournaments both on the Big Island and on the mainland.  In February 2012, our under 12 years division (U12) won the 4th Annual Asics/Pilipa’a Tournament.  In January 2012, our (U16) won the Piopi’o Bears Junior Invitational Tournament, and our U18s competed in two separate tournaments that month, placing second and third respectively. All competitions were in Hilo, Hawaii. The Travel Team arm of our club inspires all club members with its talent and successes.  Girls work hard and stay out of trouble for a chance to join the Travel Team.  The Travel Team is a select group of our best athletes, chosen from the general club to represent West Hawaii in both local and national tournaments.  There are 24 girls aged 10 to 18 on the travel team. The Ho'opa Hawaii VBC is a 501(c)(3) organization No child is denied membership if they take our priorities to heart. Ho'opa Hawaii Bras 4  
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The Journey of the Skirt: Bringing Out My Inner Badass

You never know where or when you’re going to discover your inner badass. Some don’t believe they have one, but trust me, we all do and she is waiting for you to find her. Sometimes it happens in the middle of the race when you’re in so much pain your eyeballs hurt, but you find a force you didn’t know you had and cross that finish line. That’s your inner bad ass. Or maybe your friends invited you mountain biking and by the end of the day, you were the one breaking the trail. Well, in this case our girl Amy found her inner badass ala a Title Nine skirt. Read on, be inspired and then go out and find your own inner badass. She’s waiting for you. 
Hiking one of the side canyons (photo credit: Jenna Boisvert, Backcountry Babes)

Hiking one of the side canyons (photo credit: Jenna Boisvert, Backcountry Babes)

I didn’t know the skirt was magic when I bought it. I was simply looking for something practical and cute to wear while rafting the Grand Canyon this summer and thought that a skirt would be a fun alternative to my board shorts. I found it (at Title Nine, of course) only a week before I left, and with its fun flip at the bottom, pockets for my iPhone/camera, and quick-dry material perfect for wearing around the water, I fell immediately in love.     Entering the Water I arrived in Flagstaff nervous and excited to meet my fellow adventurers. We had all signed up to spend 14 days on the Colorado River together, without any kind of outside connection (no Internet! no phone!), as we rafted and paddled 200 miles through the Grand Canyon. It was an all-women’s adventure put on by the amazing women of Backcountry Babes and guided by five incredibly strong women (both in physicality and character) from Arizona Raft Adventures (AzRA). Prior to this trip, I’d only gone rafting once—ten years ago on a short excursion through Brown’s Canyon on the Arkansas, and we might have hit one Class IV rapid, but the water levels were low so there wasn’t anything too serious. I had no idea what to expect from the Grand. I did know I was looking forward to experiencing my first all-women’s trip, witnessing the immensity and awe of the canyon from the water’s perspective and traveling back through time as we floated deep into layers and layers of really (really) old rock.

Amy GC3

As a life coach, I actively challenge my clients to push through their comfort zones, take more risks and cheer them on as they begin to understand that they’re so much more capable than they thought, and find great satisfaction as I watch their confidence grow and expand. I realized it was time for me to do that for myself. I made a commitment to try new things, to test my limits, and push my comfort zone. What were my limits? What was I going to be capable of? Would I be scared? Would I love it? I vowed to say, “Yes!” with enthusiasm and curiosity. Amy GCThe Beginnings of Magic That morning as I agonized over what I should wear, I tried on my (very limited) options. The purple board shorts (it matches my top, but feels a little tight)? The blue board shorts (comfortable, definitely an option)? The skirt? When I put the skirt on, there was an immediate feeling of “Yes!” You know when you just know that an outfit is right? There aren’t words to explain why, but you just know. The skirt it was. And the skirt actually became the go-to outfit for just about every day after that. I’ve been trying to put into words exactly what it was about the skirt that felt so right and what I realized was that it created this beautiful combination of feelings—femininity, strength, courage, confidence, sassy-ness—that I thrived on. And when I felt anxious or fearful, especially on the days we headed into the increasingly large rapids, I would put my skirt on in the morning and know that I was ready for anything. The morning of our first really big rapid, I was set to be in the front of the paddle boat (where you’re a lot more susceptible to getting pitched and going for a rough swim). You could tell it was serious business as the guides got quiet that morning while making preparations to get us through the day safely. I felt the shortening of my breath as my hands started shaking. As I sipped my coffee before heading out, I thought about everything that could go wrong. Then accepted that there was only so much I had control over and I’d do my best. As the day wore on and we approached the rapids, a sense of calm came over me and I was able to focus my energy on my boat mates, encouraging and helping them manage their own fears. As we approached the biggest rapid, I smoothed my skirt over my legs, took a deep breath, looked toward the churning water and focused my senses toward our guide to hear her commands over the roar of the rapids. Suddenly, all my remaining anxiety left, replaced with a giddiness that was decidedly unfamiliar to me in risky situations. My mouth expanded into a huge grin and I giggled. Exhilaration coursed through my body as I whooped and hollered with each onslaught of the rapids splashing toward us, landing in the face (and up the nose). Leaning over the edge of the boat, I dug my paddle deep into the water and pulled back with strength and determination. As a team, we were strong, focused and in concert with one another. We made it through, releasing our relief in laughter and more whooping. I began to joke that the skirt brought out my Inner Badass.
A day hike up Havasu Canyon (photo credit: Jenna Boisvert, Backcountry Babes)

A day hike up Havasu Canyon (photo credit: Jenna Boisvert, Backcountry Babes)

Throughout the rest of the trip, my skirt was a near-constant companion. Despite the dirt and grime that accumulated at the edges, it represented an evolution of spirit and strength that was growing stronger within me. I realized that the skirt hadn’t directly given me the confidence and courage I was experiencing on the river. It wasn’t that kind of magic. What it did was reveal that I’d had all the strength, courage and confidence all along. It exposed my Inner Badass and allowed me to experience it fully and without apology. Every time I wore the skirt, I gave myself permission to be the woman I wanted to be. And to see that that woman was pretty amazing herself.
Me on the boat (photo credit: Jenna Boisvert, Backcountry Babes)

Me on the boat (photo credit: Jenna Boisvert, Backcountry Babes)

Bringing the Magic Home The trick, of course, is to carry that experience off the river and into daily life and to inhabit the magic without wearing the skirt every day. It’s so easy to slip back into old routines and thought patterns after significant experiences or adventures outdoors when we re-enter our “ordinary” world. We often find it difficult to keep the insights and confidence we gained in sight and practice them every day. When I think about the skirt and the adventure of the Grand, I am able to access my natural confidence and strength. I am reminded that I have the choice to say “yes” more often; to take more risks; to tap into my innate courage and power; and to call upon my Inner Badass at anytime. And you know what? She’s a pretty kick ass partner. What about you? How do you tap into your Inner Badass? ------ About Amy Amy Christensen is owner and life coach at Expand Outdoors. Based in Boulder, CO, she is passionate about helping others take the leap outside their comfort zones. To celebrate the new year, she’s launching an 8-week virtual workshop focused on Building Your Foundation for Fitness. Start out your New Year’s goals with a solid foundation for creating sustainable change. And, as a Title Nine adventurer, type in “T9_build2013” (without the quotes) for a 15% discount.
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Ready?

missy_musings_P13_V1

Bring on the season. Bring on the challenge. Bring on the new year. Whatever it is, we're ready. What are you ready for? Do you see yourself taking less time for preparation and just getting out there, getting it done? Being the first to hit the trail while everyone else decides which socks to wear? Throwing on that dress right out of the dryer, tossing on some boots and heading out the door while someone else can't decide which stockings are the cutest? Be light, be easy and you'll astound yourself with what you can accomplish.

Are you ready?