Meet Lea, Laurie, and Ka`iulani. A climber, an ultra-marathon runner, and a surfer, these women in my life continually inspire me in their ability to do what they love. As a beginner in many things but expert in none, these girls continually demonstrate the reward of pushing comfort zones, applying dedication, and committing their mental game to master success in their sports. All these women, friends from different chapters in life, yield a sense of calm and joy when I get the opportunity to join them on the wall, on the trail, and on the water.
In college at the University of South Carolina I met my dear friend Lea; runner and climbing extraordinaire. She is proof that great things come in small packages. Residing in Boise, I bump into her on cross-country road-trips and am always happily surprised to receive hand-written notes and hand-crafted jewelry from this gem in the mail. As my running buddy at USC, Lea was my motivation to wake up at 5am to meet at the steps of Thomas Cooper Library.
In the Columbia River Gorge, I worked, laughed, and paddled the White Salmon alongside Laurie. An undoubtedly strong woman with an even stronger personality, her determination is evident in her career as a collegiate swimmer and as one of the only female raft guides to row a safety cataraft down the powerful Futaleufu River in Chile. In the gorge, she was my friend to encourage me to throw fear to the window and to get in my boat to go kayaking on the White Salmon River. And now, she competes in ultra marathons.
Here in Hawaii, I have met the beautiful Ka’iulani. Born and raised on the stunning island of Oahu, it is Ka’iu who is always in the water. She freedives in the beautiful waters of Palau, and has had the opportunity to help sail the Hokulea back to Hawaii this past year. Showing no fear, she gracefully dances on waves and is the first one to paddle out. As a friend I can talk story with, it is paddling out with her in the quiet ocean that gives me the most confidence. This girl can surf.
Why climbing? I love feeling strong and accomplished at the top of a route or the top of a mountain and you can’t beat the view. Climbing a hard or technical climb is an awesome puzzle. I have to think through the next move or where I am going to put my next piece of protection or cam and I like solving the puzzle. When I’m up on the wall all I think about is climbing and my next move and I like that quiet and freedom from all the stress of real life.
How do you feel looking at my next route? Nervous. I don’t like that stomach dropping feeling from falling, but I feel mostly excited to solve the next puzzle and to have fun in the sun.
What motivates you to climb? Getting stronger, seeing new parts of the world, picking new mountains to climb, playing outside, planning new adventures with my friends.
What keeps you coming back after a challenge? Climbing can be scary. That’s true. I have had a lot of close friends get really hurt and that makes me take a step back. Most accidents can be avoided and are communication errors, so I remind myself to go back to the basics; check my knots, wear a helmet, be safe. Sometimes I have to take months off from climbing to get my head (my confidence) back after something scary, but in the end the adventure just seems too awesome and I’m back on the wall, back in the mountains.
How does climbing make you feel? In the midst of a climb my thoughts are quiet and all my focus is on the next move (or probably not to fall). But I like this feeling because I’m not worried about work or money or all the things adulthood brings that your parents forget to teach you. Climbing makes me slow down and focus on one move at a time.
The fear and the burn. How do you handle? Falling scares me. I don’t think I deal with fear well. If a climb scares me too much I usually move on to the next adventure or challenge. Maybe that’s bad- I don’t “project” (try over and over) climbs like other climbers and maybe that stops me from pushing myself. The thing is if I’m scared on the wall I don’t have fun, and climbing is something I do to de-stress; to have fun – so why waste my free time on something that scares me or makes me think climbing isn’t fun? The strength part is easy. If I put the time and training in, sleep at night, eat well, then I’m strong enough to accomplish my goals.
Life goals in 2016/2017? The goal I’m most excited about this year doesn’t involve a route or mountain I want to climb for myself. This year I want to take my dad up the Grand Teton for his 64th birthday! He’s wanted to climb that mountain since he moved to Wyoming in the 80s and I’m stoked that I get to be a part of his goal, guiding him to the top!
Tips for beginners? 1. Try to learn from someone experienced. Think of yourself as an apprentice. 2. Keep moving your feet up. Your legs are stronger than your arms. 3. Don’t take safety shortcuts. Wearing helmets is cool. 4. Climbing should be fun!
Yesterday, Lea succeeded in guiding her father to the top of the Grand Teton for his 64th birthday. Way to go, girl. Happy Birthday, Mr. Steiner! What a view!
Why running? I don’t really know. I have to, and I have always been attracted to running; it is something my body and spirit craves. The purity, simplicity and satisfaction of running is one of the most beautiful feelings I have found to experience in life. Few things bring as much joy, peace, and empowerment as long running can provide. I find that long running brings me to a place similar to that people seek through meditation. An hour and a half, or two hours into a run, I find that my mind goes quite, my aches calm, my tiredness evaporates, and a sense of utter peace and tranquility develops; and it becomes just trees, trails, and breath.
How do you feel at the start of a 50k race? Eager and strangely calm. The days preceding it are usually pretty emotional, but once I am there, at the start, I feel very calm, satisfied, and eager to start moving.
What motivates you to succeed? What motivates you to keep running? One of the things I value the most about running is that it is very much a solo journey, and an individual sport and challenge. My motivation is purely about myself, my development, my progress, and it is purely for me. Maybe that’s selfish, but I prefer that running is something wholly individualist, something that belongs purely to me and that I can keep within myself. I really value the alone time and the satisfaction of being 100% responsible for my successes and failures. Running is a sport where growth is easy to feel and enjoy, and that is very motivating. When I am healthy and training hard, the results are very apparent and tangible, and that is very satisfying, even on hard days.
What keeps you coming back after facing a challenge? I’m not really sure, I guess I just love running so much, it’s not something I can ever break up with. I also love challenge, I get really bored with things that are easily mastered. I have gotten injured many times from over training or long races, and had recovery times that kept me from running or even functioning properly for months; but, for some reason, that never dissuades me. I need to run, and will always be a runner. It’s not really a choice. I just crave and need it.
When you are running a 50K race, how do you feel? A lot of things, so much. Long running is a wholly different experience than running the daily 5k. Firstly, your body goes through many transitions during an hours-long run. You will feel good, then you will hurt. You will feel manically hyper, then you will bonk and feel like you could lie down and never get up. The thing is to keep running, and know that (just as in life) these phases are impermanent, and will pass. You will go from feeling great, to terrible, to great again. That’s just how our bodies, minds and emotions function. On the whole, the act of running a 50K is overall one of the best feelings you can experience; the elation, physical expression, aerobic commitment, emotional vulnerability, and mental success.
The fear. The burn. How do you handle? You just gotta embrace it, or it’s really uncomfortable to endure. I don’t really know that I can “handle” the various physical and emotional pains that surface during long runs, I don’t feel that it’s realistic to think I can take control and change them, but I can embrace and manage them. Long running is an endeavor in transitions and accepting change, moment to moment. I feel as though I run through pockets of emotional and physical changes, some of which are really uncomfortable, but as I work my way through them, they will eventually pass and change into something else. This is true for good and bad moments.
Life goals in 2016/2017? Be better, I guess. Through running, I have learned a lot about my temperament, reactions and resilience, and I believe it is a good model for you to approach life. I have some strengths, but I also have a lot of flaws, that I am just know coming to understand and embrace. Perhaps once I make friends with my demons and flaws, I can handle them better. I want to run another 50K, I want to successfully run a 100K and 100 miler, and I also want to do a full Iron Man. To do this, I need to keep myself healthy and injury free, which requires a lot of focus and intention- and keeps me out of trouble.
Motivational and technical tips for novices? Hhhmmm, that’s tough. I feel like motivation, for anything, has to come from within; at least for myself, motivation (for everything) is a very internal journey, I don’t really believe that true, lasting motivation can be external. I think it’s important to figure out what your individual passions and interests are, and what you want to achieve, then do the things necessary to get there. Maybe that’s overly simplified, but it’s just how I see the world. Technical tips- I think the BIGGEST challenge to becoming an Ultra Runner is to stay injury free! It is way harder to keep your joints happy and loose than it is to get your muscles strong and in shape. Stretching, yoga, cross-training (for stability and core strength) are every bit as important as the actual running. In teaching your body to run for distance, your joints will hurt more and are more prone to injury than any muscle, so treat them with just as much (if not more) importance during training.
Why surfing? It allows me to just be.
How do you feel when staring down the face of a giant wave? Really excited until I realize the wave is much bigger than I thought it would be. My feelings depend on the mindset that I have when I paddle out – my perspective.
What motivates you to surf? That feeling. Surfing for me is my quiet time. When I get on my board even when there are no waves. Surfing for me is my Godly time. I know when I paddle out, nothing follows me.
What keeps you coming back after a challenge? There was one wave – I was surfing Turtle Bay in the winter. It was a North swell. Six to eight feet Hawaiian and I was on a longboard. This set came rolling in – I went for a smaller wave. I paddled, stood up and then realized I was dropping. I felt this force. Then I tucked – I was getting barreled. My arm got caught and the wave took me backward. My board broke, and I was held underwater. The encouragement and the positive reinforcement from the surfers around me keeps me coming back. I choose to keep going back because I know that’s my freedom. I am the only one that can keep me from going back. Surfing is essential for me – it is the love language of my family. My mom, my grandfather, my great grandfather, and my great grandmother all surfed.
How do you feel about yourself whilst riding a wave? There’s a moment when I know there is no separation. Where it is so organic and it is not just a wave anymore, and where everything comes together. I realize in that moment that I’m not separate from it – the wave – or separate from anything and everything. It makes me feel free – so free. I know in that moment I am not surfing – I am dancing.
Fear. The pain of paddling out. How do you handle? I have surfed myself to heat strokes and to dehydration. I can feel the discomfort, but it’s a matter of being willing to paddle in to nurse my wounds. Sometimes, the surf is just too good.
Life goals in 2016/2017? Once I heal from my current injuries, I want to surf once a week and enjoy what’s left of summer. Before 2016 is over I would love to get back to surfing as much as I was four years ago. It is important for me.
Motivational/technical tips for beginners? In giving advice to a beginner or surfing with a beginner, I try to decrease their nerves. Put your blinders on. It is so easy for someone new to the sport to get distracted – by the people, by the waves, by your thoughts. Just look ahead. Everybody had to be where you are now. Take a deep breath and enjoy where you are. Don’t try to dominate the wave, just try to become a part of it.
I am so lucky to have these strong, beautiful women in my life. Women who continue to inspire me as well as others around me, and women who I can continually learn from. Thanks for your willingness to share your stories and motivation, and for always encouraging me to get on the wall, hit the trail, or paddle out. Whatever it may be that you love and grow through, go and get after it, boys and girls! ❤