Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Decisions, decisions...

Why is deciding have to be so hard sometimes, and so simple at other times? 

I just want to ride bikes. Seriously. I want to ride fast, and ride slow. I want to jump big stuff and small stuff and maybe fall over a few times. I want to rail into a few fast corners every week and emerge with a silly grin on my face. I want to pedal until my legs burn and my chest heaves. All the time. Day in and day out. I want to travel to other places and ride. I want to teach other people to ride, and to love the ride. 

I guess it's probably a good thing that we don't always get what we want, eh? 

That's where decisions come in... About racing, about working, about riding and buying more bikes and bike stuff. About dating and how a boyfriend would REALLY cut into my ride time, race trips and bike budget, as well as which races to race, and which weekends to just stay home and go jump off of stuff with my buddies? 

I work hard for my money ( insert "she works haaaard for her money!" sound clip here), and at the end of my life (which could be next Tuesday or a random Tuesday 70 years from now), it's important not what I bought with that money that comes from effort + time, but what I did with my funding that will matter. 

So with the (extremely limited) amounts of cold, hard cash I have, I have to make decisions. Hard decisions that will ultimately determine which direction my life (and legacy) go in... Like the Olympics. Or just influencing cultures and seeing the world and loving people. 

Anyone who knows me even a little knows that I'm regularly split in a bunch of different ways, and I usually battle myself over which road I head down. With bikes it's no different, but because it's my passion, these warring paths seem a bit larger choices. Right now, those choices are: 

1: Build American DH and mountain bike racing up through business efforts, example and competition incentives with the hopes of one day, having our precious sport represented on the largest athletic stage of all -- the Olympics. This endeavor will take years of work, cooperation and immense amounts of money. Like, corporate sponsor kind of money. However, there's a formula to doing so, and all it will take is %100 commitment and work towards that goal. Do I do it now? While I'm fairly young? Do I chase this and hope that my broken body will hold out long enough to realize the dream of representing my country alongside my teammates at the largest sporting event in the world? Will I sacrifice to grow downhilling into a mainstream career, where the athletes and teams actually do more than break even? Or do I go after this dream, knowing I'll never have the chance to participate, but that through my efforts and work, create the chance for other American women to achieve greatness? To give Natalie and other girls one more opportunity for success? Another path to choose from? Changing the future of downhilling so that others can successfully participate and live out their dreams is one of my strongest desires. Creating that chance for other racers and riders can be done -- am I the person to do that? 

Or, 2: do I take the immense amounts of cash it will take me to pursue choice #1 and just go ride? Not participate in internationally federated races that cost a ridiculous amount of money to 'play' in, and instead, go race grass-roots local races in other countries all over the world and meet new people, create my own adventures and live happily ever after my doing anything of historical significance, but things of immense personal value? Do I pursue these adventures and photograph and write about them, and possibly inspire others to do the same? Do I grab the chance to interact and ride with other girls across the world and run with it in the hopes that somewhere, someday, I can change one life, even if it's only my own? Do I, essentially, go play on bikes from location to location and leave behind all convention and safety? Do I walk away from my life as I know it and embrace what could be my greatest adventure of all? 

Or 3: Do I stay here in Utah, get a 9-5 desk job, find a husband who understands my unique brand of insanity, have 4-5 kids and ride only on weekends when I can, all while sleeplessly tossing and turning at night, feeling the infinite weight of unanswered 'what if's and 'should have's? 

(Okay, #3 isn't really any sort of option because we all know that's not in my plans... Ever? But I had to throw it in there, right?)

So many questions... And all so pressing. 

With so little time. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Objectification... And being human.


A few weeks ago, I was walking downtown with my best friend (who happens to be male -- yes, this is relevant. Keep reading.) when a man approached us at a crosswalk and proceeded to murmur and coo 'ooh baby' in my direction. Having dealt with this on numerous occasions in public, I ignored him and turned to my friend, continuing our conversation. Dissatisfied with my reaction, the man then said, very loudly, "Mmm, man. What you do to get a woman like that, huh?" And "It must take a lot to snag an ass like that."

Taken aback, slightly weirded out and trying to diffuse the situation as I openly seethed, my friend then jokingly replied that he regularly goes to the gym, etc, to which this enterprising fellow nodded and eyed me up and down like a blue-ribbon Hereford cow. 

I looked both men in the eye, and angrily responded, "I am not a shiny fucking bicycle. I'm going to walk away before someone gets punched in the throat". 

Laughter erupted from this stranger, and other men in the area, as I stalked away. Someone even called out, "Hey honey, he was just complimenting you!" 

Let me get one thing straight, right now: A compliment is when one person approaches another person and directly says, "Those are great shoes!" Or "you're absolutely beautiful." 

It is not complimentary to ooh and ahh over ANYONE as though they were a nicely floral patterned sofa; male or female. 

I am not an object. I am a human being with feelings and thoughts and a soul. The fact that I won some sort of genetic roulette and have grown past my baby fat stage isn't cause to approach me as anything less than an amazing, unique, capable human. 

Not only can I communicate, but I can communicate very well. If you want to talk, let's chat. If you want to get to know me because you find my perpetually disheveled appearance or my clumsily assembled bone structure semi-attractive, FUCKING TALK TO ME LIKE A HUMAN BEING. Grunting at me like a caveman and then resorting to 'barter speak' with the man at my side is insulting, objectifying and frighteningly enraging. 

Why? Because when a man grunts (or catcalls or shouts or whistles), he assumes that his laziness (lack of effort) is all that is required to get my attention, and thus, my affection. When someone hollers at another human being out of physical attraction, it's a marketing pitch directed at our very lowest animal instincts instead of acknowledging the individual qualities that make us special and unique beings, and appealing to our smarter, more intelligent minds through clever communication. It's an insult because it's assumptive. Not only am I better than that, but so are you. We're not mere animals... We are humans, with the capacity for much more than animal instinct. Don't grunt or murmur at me. Talk to me.

Secondly, do not treat me like a goddamn fucking camel. What does it take to 'get me'? GET ME?! Like I'm just so easily 'gotten'? Like a box of cereal, or a new TV? I'll tell you what it takes to 'get me': speaking to my face ad treating me like a person, not inquiring about my 'price' from my male companion. It takes class, and effort, and self-education, and understanding, and kindness, and respect, and value and humor and care. It takes morals and opinions, wit, strength, wisdom, hope. 

Again, it takes RESPECT. Yeah, like the song. 'Getting' me requires respect, not reps in a gym or a college degree. 

It's not about how much money you make, or how white your teeth are. It's not about how loud you grunt or how much of a kill you bring home at the end of the day. It means you treat me like an equal, with feelings and thoughts and value. It means that you don't ogle a stranger's behind, or make sexual remarks about a woman. It means a lot of things, and it means you behave in a way that would reflect positively upon how you feel about both yourself and me. 

I cried that day, and not because they scared me or hurt my feelings or made me feel unsafe. 

I cried because I was ANGRY. I was so angry, and so sad... Because right now, no matter how hard I work or how smart I am or how great and effective and wise my ideas and thoughts are, the world isn't my oyster, and it's because I'm female. It's because I LOST the genetic roulette, and as much as anyone wants to protest about how 'equal' things are in the world, or how 'far we've come', it's not enough. For every board meeting I walk into, for every hour of work I put in, I will still be judged by the way I look, not who I am underneath. 

But.

This is my own realization, and it is a challenge, not a defeat. Everything I have always believed about being equal is truer than ever. I am equal. We are ALL equal. And if I have to work harder, and be smarter, and beat the system, I will. 

I will put the hours in and I will fight tooth and nail and I will speak up and I will reach out BECAUSE I CAN. I will confront those beliefs head on, and I will call them out, and I will disprove every single erroneous belief about inequality and violence and sexualization because there are little girls and little boys who deserve a world filled with equal opportunity... TRUE equality. A world where a woman speaks for herself. A world where we don't have to base our schedules around daylight hours to ensure our safety. A world where courts and governments rule in favor of our reproductive rights and freedoms, and where respect for all is a real thing. 

Watch out, men (and women) on the street. You're about to snag a whole new plane of reality. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

"Ya Gotta Be Tough, Ya Gotta Be Strong..."

Earlier this week on Instagram, I briefly highlighted the challenge of the last six months of my recovery from the nasty lower back injury I sustained during a race in September (http://instagram.com/p/k-9uDKGf3v/).



While I keeping it short isn't a strong point (little miss long-form answer over here), I try not to delve too far into paragraphs in most social media posts; I do, however, find much deeper meaning in what I've learned from this injury than the words I attached to the above photo. 

Let's just say this: prior to compressing a bunch of important stuff in my back, I always viewed people who talked about constant back pain as whiners, or complainers. I felt that life was a lot harder to more people and that they should probably just 'suck it up'. In short, I was a super jerk. From my ignorance rose an apathy that could only be cured by a similar blight: the onset of continuous, prevalent pain that stemmed from an injury to my spine. 

Fast forward six months, almost to the day: getting together with a new friend for a couple of beers and some chit chat, the subject of back injuries came up. A former world class skier and aerialist, he also damaged some pretty important physical gear in his back and, after a short bit of discussion, wryly pulled out his keys, from which dangled a small, red pill container. "It's become a marker of chronic pain", he explained. I excitedly reached into my own pocket and removed my keyring, which holds my own 'bad pain day' insurance. We both grinned as we tucked our collections back into pockets and zippers, newfound comrades in the daily fight for simple physical function. In that moment, I knew I'd never hear from him what I would have so quickly thought a few months ago: 'suck it up'. 

Some days are good. Hell, some days are REALLY good. Then you have good weeks, and you hit a stride. It feels as though you're 'getting it back'. The weight at the gym comes easily again, and you can (almost) spring out of bed. And then there's a bad day, like an unexpected rain cloud burst during a lovely summer picnic. It just happens. And life goes all to shit. One more time. Again. 

And it happens, over and over and over again. 

But that dark cloud has a few silver linings, and I'm learning to appreciate those linings more than I hate the pain... And that's the difference. Whether it's my newfound empathy and compassion for anyone feeling poorly and making friends, to having a set barometer for my body's limits and knowing myself better than ever, it's important to recognize the positive in every situation. 

Part of that positive is knowing how far I'll  be able to push myself this spring on the competition circuit. Another area is being forced to listen to my body or suffer the consequence of not being able to move. But the best thing about this injury? Not taking anything for granted, and never assuming that my limited experiences sum up the entire spectrum of circumstance. 

And that's a gift, that perspective. It can mean the difference between a positive day and a negative one, which always dictates my thought patterns and behavior. And behavior, folks, determines success.

Everything is a win-win when you look at it that way. Even Mondays.