Category Archives: outrigger

as powerful and as strong…

Last week we did a fairly strenuous canoe paddle, more than 60km, in a remote northern area of British Columbia.  The paddling wasn’t so daunting (3-4 hours per day of solid work), but it was the portages from lake to lake, the lightning storms, and the persistent pelting rain that quickly dampened my sleeping bag and all of my clothing that took their toll.

Now that it’s over, however, so much of that difficulty is forgotten.  And instead what remains are the gorgeous images imprinted into my memory and onto the roll of film that we shot as we traveled.  Such as this one, taken on the home stretch to Bowron Lake:

glassy waters(Note: the horizon is slightly crooked due to the boat leaning a bit to the right side that morning)

As I was writing in my journal when the journey was completed, the first thing I put on my list of lessons learned was:

I like to do hard things

And it’s true.  The stretch of an ambitious endeavor makes me happy.  Doing the mundane, the repetitive, the easily achieved task…boring.  I thrive when presented with a challenge, which is why the trip to British Columbia was so much more appealing than a resort stay or some other leisure activity.

While on this trip, these two books, Tracks and Paddling My Own Canoe accompanied me everywhere:

two books for my travels later this month…journey narratives ftw #JSLFL #booklover

A photo posted by @janaremy on


I just finished reading Tracks today, which is a book about a woman who walked across the Australian desert with four camels in the 1970s.  At the close of the text, this quotation jumped out at me, as a better expression of my thoughts about hard things, than I expressed myself in my journal (emphasis my own):

As I look back on the trip now, as I try to sort out fact from fiction, try to remember how I felt at that particular time, or during that particular incident, try to relive those memories that have been buried so deep, and distorted so ruthlessly, there is one clear fact that emerges from the quagmire.  The trip was easy.  It was no more dangerous than crossing the street, or driving to the beach, or eating peanuts.  The two important things that I did learn were that you as powerful and as strong as you allow yourself to be, and that the most difficult part of any endeavor is taking the first step, making the first decision. 

committed

This is another post in the series about MyYearinIT.

Not too long ago I found myself in a “Strategic IT” meeting we were discussing where we each sit on the curve of change.  The discussion leader drew something a bit like this on his whiteboard and asked us each to come up and put a mark where we would be in the curve of adopting to technological changes.

He then asked: Were we on the leading edge?  Or did we follow the crowd?

graph of change

Various colleagues got up and put a mark somewhere on the curve, most of them right around the big bump (those who tended to jump on the bandwagon with everyone else) and a few afterwards (those folks said that they usually waited to whether a technology was likely to last before they adopted it).  I was one of the last people to go up to the sign and leave my mark.

This is where I put myself (note: I was the only person to draw a picture, but I’m dorky like that):

my boat, in front of the wave of changeI then told the group a story that’s become a touchstone for me…

When I first began canoeing on the ocean, it was pretty scary to be surrounded by wide open water.  The swell could be a low rolling bump that gave a gentle nudge to the boat or the entire ocean could be flat as a pancake, where you had to dig in your paddle to do all the work.  But of course there was also the possibility of really big swell.  And the first time I encountered that, it was unforgettable. Continue reading

off-season

Some of the off-season crew on a Saturday morning paddle.

Steering some of the off-season crew on a Saturday morning paddle.

Winter is “off-season” for outrigger canoeing, so my team doesn’t practice regularly.  It is a  much less-desirable time of year for being on the water–it’s cold, stormy, and the days are short.

But it’s precisely all of those undesirable reasons that make off-season paddling so fun to me.  There’s a small hardy band of half-a-dozen paddlers that comes together every Wednesday for a nighttime jaunt–an easy 8 miles or so of canoeing from the Back Bay to the Harbor mouth (and when we’re lucky, all the way out to the bell buoy).  There’s an irreverence to the off-season that is potty humor and in-jokes, plenty of near-misses with docks and channel markers and whatever mysterious dark detritus floating alongside our boat (a dead sea lion? a dead bird? a bag of beach trash?).  But it is also the beauty of bioluminescent plankton and a sky full of stars.  It is a Jerry moonlight serenade after we cross the PCH bridge and it is Lynn’s unmistakable and infectious laugh. It is pirates at Halloween and twinkling lights for the holiday parade.  It is cold toes and noses and ears and fingers, and that occasional balmy Santa Ana breeze that greets us as we round the bend of the Back Bay. It is paddling for the for the sheer joy of being on the water and in the water, with friends.

But tonight regular Team Imua season practice begins.  It is time to prepare for races, to polish our form and build our strength.  Of course that’s all good (especially the strengthening part), but I’ll still be missing the off-season, more than a bit.

between Scylla & Charybdis

Last year I set a HUGE goal for myself: to train for the qualifying race to win a spot on the U.S. paracanoe team heading to the 2013 World Sprints. It’s a particularly ambitious goal because I’m switching from the 6-man long distance ocean canoeing that I’ve been doing for several years to paddling a rudderless canoe in short flatwater sprints. But, I decided that there was no time like the present to set my sights on something ambitious. So, to cement my plan I bought a plane ticket to the race and began training in earnest.

Then a few months ago, I started realizing that something funny was going on with my left (read: my only) foot. My ankle was swelling and my toes felt numb. Because the numbness often occurred when I was sitting in my canoe, I assumed that there was something wrong with the design of my seat and that my nerves were being pinched. Until I went in for a routine physical.

30089_898609991271_7884299_nMy doctor found a mass in my pelvis during my exam. And then a follow-up ultrasound showed that there were two masses (for the record, I’ve now christened those two lumps “Scylla” and “Charybdis”). More tests came back and I learned that I have three different medical issues that each warrant some surgical intervention.

For someone who’s had cancer before, this news was not easy. Tears. Fears. Why me. And most of all, why now–when my body is stronger than it’s ever been?

There’re still a lot of medical questions and I’m in the process of getting answers.   In the meantime I’m in some pain–both emotional and physical. I have good days and some not-so-good ones.  I’m not out in my canoe as often right now, although I’m swimming regularly to maintain conditioning.  I started yoga again–my body craving the stretching and breathing at this time when things are out of sorts.

But above all, I’ve been questioning whether my goal was a ridiculous one. I’ve been asking myself, “Who am I, for crying out loud, to think that I could be an athlete?” I’ve wondered whether I pushed too hard, and at what cost.

So it was bittersweet news a few days ago to open an award letter from the Challenged Athletes Foundation, to learn that I’d earned the funds I needed to finance my racing goal–a grant that I had applied for many months ago. I cried and cheered and then sat in the sun on the back porch and pondered what it really meant for me, right now.

And this is what it means. I will probably not be in that qualifying race in New York in July that I’d originally aimed for because I need time for recovery and to build my strength again after surgery. But that doesn’t mean that the HUGE goal is gone. There will be other outrigger races and I will get stronger. Again and again.

I’m remembering a meeting I had with a university athletics coach recently. I told him a bit about my background and my racing goal and as I did so he sort of shook his head a bit. And then he repeated it back to me: “You had cancer when you were 12 and you lost your leg. Then ten years ago went back to school and started a PhD program and then finished it, as a single Mom of two teens. And then you started a new sport five years ago after never being particularly athletic and now you want to compete internationally.” He paused for a bit and I expected him to laugh at me–this crazy one-legged woman that he’d just met and who had described such a circuitous life story.  Instead, he replied: “Then my money is on you to win that race.”

So come Scylla, come Charybdis, or whatever else life might throw my way…I’m going for this one like I have with so many other things.  One step at a time, one day at a time.   And with the knowledge that working towards a huge goal is more of a reward than anything that happens at the finish line.

Photo above of one of my all-time favorite IMUA races–our canoe had started the race DFL and worked hard enough to finish just behind the boats that medaled.  What an amazing feeling to have worked so hard together and to have accomplished so much…

why I stopped taking PPIs for gastric reflux

This post feels a bit like a PSA rather than a typical pilgrimsteps post.  But I wanted to share my experience with PPIs just in case it might be of help to some of you….

Last year I struggled to paddle because of severe back pain that was due to some problems with my prosthesis.  But it wasn’t just back pain, it was horrible painful muscle spasms that I had in my back, but also happened just about anywhere whenever I exercised vigorously.  My muscles just simply didn’t seem to be responding well to exercise–I was continuously fatigued and got cramps easily no matter what type of supplement I tried.

As a result, I quit paddling about halfway through last season.*

It wasn’t until a few months later that a lightbulb went on in my head as I talked with a friend about my chronic gastric reflux problems.  She told me that long-term use of over-the-counter PPIs did have long-term side effects (despite my thinking that they were nearly-benign meds) and that one of those was mineral loss.  I realized that the muscle cramping symptoms that I was experiencing were quite similar to the problems I’d had more than a decade previous when I was calcium deficient.  Given that I already have the double-whammy of bone density loss from being female and from having had high-dose chemotherapy, I started to become nervous about my dependence on PPIs to get me through dinnertime (it was almost always dinner that gave me problems–causing acid reflux for hours afterwards).

So…I stopped taking the PPIs cold-turkey and modified my diet as much as I could to compensate (such as no citrus or tomatoes and more yogurt).  Within a few weeks my acid reflux symptoms mostly disappeared–with only an occasional flare-up during stress.  And I found that I regained my muscle endurance fairly quickly after that.

I know that PPIs are necessary for many people and I’m not suggesting, necessarily, that you do what I did and stop taking them.  But I think it’s worth reading this recent article that warns of their side-effects, and to consider whether they are drugs that you really do need to be taking regularly.  In my case, I think the PPIs caused me to exercise less which exacerbated my reflux and led to weight gain (weight gain being one of the major contributors to reflux issues).  And I needed to get off the PPIs to I could become more active and healthy again.   My hope now is that the year I spent taking them won’t result in any long-term effect on my bone density.

*Additional motivation for quitting mid-season was due to some problems with my coach and the need to focus on my studies.  But the major reason was that I was in terrible pain each time I tried to paddle, I and I simply couldn’t figure out why my body was hurting so badly.

Upcoming events

Two upcoming events that might be of interest to my followers in SoCal:

1) The Past Tense seminar at the Huntington Library with Peter Stallybrass.  Always a delight to listen to (such as in this podcast of his plenary at the Past’s Digital Presence conference), Stallybrass will be speaking on “What is a Book?  And how do we write about it?”  At noon in the Munger Building on January 20th.  RSVP to reserve a box lunch and to receive a copy of the pre-reading for the event.

2) Novice Open House for the IMUA outrigger paddling team.  Everyone is welcome to join us and try their hand at this sport. January 29th, 9-11am at NorthStar Beach (next to Newport Aquatic Center), Newport Beach.
SD Mission Bay race

vistas

IMG_3469
This has been a week of hard work and travel. It’s the end of the semester crunch, I’ve been in the last stages of training for the opening of my outrigger season, and have layered on to that some significant obligations to friends and family. Oh, and also…I’ve found a house for the kids and I to move into later this summer (a house with roses, no less. Roses. And did I mention roses?)…

As I look out at the months to come, I feel a lot like those wide open vistas that I encountered coming down highway 89 in Arizona last weekend. There’s so much ahead. Some of it is mysterious and indistinct. Some of it I can see clearly, but it’s going to be a bit of a climb. And some of it still lies around the bend in the road and I have no idea what will emerge as I move forward.

Whew.

It’s a lot, even for a pilgrim soul like mine.

But it’s all good.