The Joy of Taking Part in Sports

Blog illustrations are sequential start-to-finish photos of my most recent large 17×25 watercolor “The Power and the Grace” – rowing friends, Ashley and Kendall, who I photographed during a training session back in August on Great Hosmer Pond in Craftsbury, Vermont.

 
“The Power and the Grace” 17×25 watercolor by Elise, 2017, available

This piece required enormous focus and energy. I am still recovering from the effort. I hope you will enjoy the metamorphosis journey, how a blank piece of 300 lb. 100% cotton Arches cold press paper slowly turned into a clear visual message, telling a story.

I’ve wanted to write a Sports blog for awhile now and this painting illustrates it nicely, so it’s time.

Movement and Balance

It’s taken me years to comprehend why I love movement so much.

According to the Boston Trauma Center (I heard this fact on an online webinar), it used to be thought talking was the only way to help traumatized people, hence the advent of couches and therapists. But now people who study the body understand touch and movement also help heal trauma.

ADHD (which I don’t have) can be a sign of the microbiome (intestines, digestion) needing work. It can be overcome by changing your diet.

Not being able to sit still can also be a sign of PTSD, being in “fight and flight”… I know this was probably true of me, years ago. As a child I was always moving, going places. Sitting still wasn’t something I enjoyed doing.

Painting can be a sedentary profession, if you don’t learn to stand up while you paint. Being in front of a desk four-five days each week takes discipline in any profession. I’ve now trained myself to sit very, very still for hours at a time. This is not healthy for the body or eyes!

Because of my work I MUST take time to stretch and move. I sometimes accomplish this less than more, but I keep at it.

It’s said you give to the world what you need most. At the moment, I am in need of encouragement to get outside.

Feeling Your Body

Being sensitive to yourself, learning to control and feel what’s going on in your body is important. Knowing what and when your body needs to eat and also when to exercise or rest is a very important area of health. Sometimes I drag myself outside. Other times, I just rest.

My many experiences with serious injury and partial paralysis have taught me playing any sport is a very special privilege, not to be taken for granted.

My parents taught my siblings and I to try new things, to love to learn. We are grateful for the opportunities and the mindset of “I can” they gave us.

May my sporting tales encourage you to try out a new area of balance and movement!

Making Movement a Priority Yet Also Learning to Play

For years I’ve kept track of how I invest time each day, including painting hours, when I practice guitar or piano, and also for tracking exercise.

My goal is to spend time seriously moving at least eleven days each month. And there has to be a significant amount of effort for me to count it as exercise. This is a minimum, some months I am much more active.

“Going on vacation” used to be a term which meant, for me, “I get to invest four hours a day exercising”. I loved this freedom when time and strength allowed, but sometimes I overdid it.

I remember doing the entire cliff walk in Newport, Rhode Island one winter, in cold weather, exhausting myself.

In San Juan, Puerto Rico “on vacation” I swam in the ocean twice a day, doing laps. I loved it, but also realized later what a workaholic I was. Sometimes it would be best just to stop working and play in the waves…

Curiosity may Kill the Cat but it Can Educate the Mind

Growing up, my parents bought a Sunday newspaper most weeks. My older sister’s favorite sections were the comics and arts & entertainment. But I was interested in reading the Sports section first. I didn’t care too much about big team sports like football, baseball and basketball, I liked reading about individual sports.

We didn’t have a television in our home for most of our childhood, but for three weeks, winter and summer, every four years, my parents would rent a TV so we could watch the Olympic Games. I guess this chance to see races around the world really influenced me, for today I love sporting events of all kinds!

 
Detail – Kendall

And winning races isn’t the whole point of learning to play sports – it’s more about challenging yourself to grow stronger, to take part.

Perhaps too many people “sit on the sidelines” in all areas of life today.

 
Detail of Kendall’s face

Being a Child

Children don’t have to be told to exercise. They do it naturally. My first experiences with snow sports came as a child, sledding in little red sleds and runner sleds – Flexible Flyers – which were good on an icy crust.

Then my parents got us ice skates and I remember holding my daddy’s hands, trying to skate between his legs when I was around three. I took only a few lessons over the years, for skating lessons were costly, but I still ice-skate whenever I have the opportunity. It’s such a beautiful feeling, to float on ice. I really love to play with my edges.

When I was five my dad taught me to do flips on an indoor gym trampoline, which subsequently led to my flipping (disobediently) on my bed at home. This was before my serious neck injury at eight.

We played co-ed soccer at recess in school, and by age nine, I could keep up with the running speed of the boys in fifth grade.

I learned to swim, a little bit. My dad taught me side-stroke. And we all went to Jones Beach to enjoy being in the waves when we visited family.

We had our little bikes and roller-skates as children. We also had a tether-ball; badminton rackets and net; and bats, balls, and gloves to play softball.

 
Detail

My mom taught us to play croquet and sometimes we went bowling. Once in great while we played miniature golf with our grandparents, too.

My mother’s old Pogo stick kept us busy, bouncing. I got up to 1,000 bounces one time. If kickball is considered a sport, we participated in that activity, too.

We climbed trees and hung out of them. We fell out of them, too. We also went on long mountain-climbing hikes in the wilderness as a family and did tent camping, in summertime.

My dad taught me to fish when I was six, which I suppose is a sport…not a very active one unless you are traveling up a stream bed looking for trout.

We were given the privilege of learning cross-country skiing at an early age. I clearly remember being with my dad at age seven, when I first got the kick and glide rhythm. “You’ve got it, you’ve got it!” he told me.

My mom was able to find us two little Shetland-type ponies, when my sister and I were ten and eleven. We called them Love and Joy. Those ponies gave us a great deal of practice in taking daily responsibility, and we learned to ride and drive them. I fell off my pony, Joy, a lot. But I would get back on her and try again. I studied horsemanship, reading lots of books on equitation, and my riding skills improved. I trained our mare, Corrie, for a 25-mile trail ride once.

 
Detail

Growing Up in the Water

As I got older, my dad saw my ability on a diving board and began to coach me. We joined a summer swim team. I swam and also represented the diving team.

My dad would stand next to the board and coach me on how to do a 1-1/2 forward flip during practices. “Dad, I don’t think I can do it,” I’d tell him. “I’ll stand right here and watch you do it,” he encouraged me.

I would try. I loved bouncing on the board, but the excruciating pain of landing wrong, head down, with pinched nerves in my neck was horrible. I would wonder if I was paralyzed and then I’d get out and do the same thing again. I didn’t complain too much, I just locked it up and ignored the pain. I didn’t know this kind of pain wasn’t normal, at the time I figured I was pretty normal.

One of my favorite dives was a forward flip in full position, with a half twist. I did just about everything I could to land feet first, due to my increasingly painful neck issues.

 
                                                                                Detail

After my dad left, I continued to try to dive, but in losing him, I felt I’d lost my nerve. I became afraid of hitting the board and inward dives were too scary.

We joined a winter swim team for four years, where we all really learned to swim. Back, Breast, Butter, Free. I am so grateful for the ability to be comfortable in the water today. It really helped me in learning to row this past summer, because I wasn’t afraid of tipping the boat, which I managed to do quite often!

I swam through a lot of pain during those four years, emotionally and physically, but swimming has remained one of my favorite things to do.

A few years ago I waited in line to take my turn at a beautiful bouncy diving board at a New Jersey pool. Doing back flips takes courage at first, but once you get the feel of it, it’s hard to stop. They’re fun at any age!

am becoming more cautious about taking physical risks these days. I didn’t flip off the rocks into Lake Champlain this summer, I just jumped =\ I had recently injured myself…otherwise I’d have flipped!

Variety is the Spice of Life

When we were little, we made ourselves archery bows, using bendable branches and string, and we had straight sticks for arrows. We spent hours outside, playing.

We took the local hunter-safety course and learned  how to shoot and clean a rifle. I liked aiming and hitting the targets, but don’t really enjoy the loud noise, shooting. In New Zealand, I did some shotgun firing at clay pigeons.

We played only a little basketball. Aunt Elise became a PIG, a HORSE and a loser at one-on-one just last weekend, because my niece’s basketball skills are getting rather good. =)

At the local college on summer Sunday evenings, growing up, my family played volleyball in the sandpits. We had a net at home for birthday parties and cookouts, too.

Playing round-robin at the Ping-pong table in our cellar was a favorite past-time when friends came over…and we tried to learn to play Pool (billiards), too, when we went somewhere that had a table.

We trained and ran in the local foot races annually, although running is NOT a sport I enjoy. Too much impact. We also trained with the local cross-country team because we knew the coach. I only went running with them once, if I remember correctly…

I walked eight miles to town many Sunday mornings, to get to church early, enjoying the solitude and the woods. In our culture, people don’t use walking to get places, they just go out to exercise.

The mental mindset of “three miles is nothing” has really helped me over the last few years. I now walk this distance to read my emails and have an internet connection at a library.

Mountain biking on back roads is an even faster way to go places. I still bike a lot every summer.

My mom gave us tennis lessons at the local university, so we came to understand TV tennis match scoring. We also played raquetball. Tennis requires a lot more arm as well as running to the ball, while raquetball is more about using your wrist.

My brother learned to rock climb outdoors as well as at an indoor gym. I went rock-climbing a few times indoors and once outdoors, roped in.

My brother also learned to golf, and he took me once, for a round of nine holes. Someone said I was a “natural” as my drives were long and straight, even though I needed help to see where the golf ball went after being hit! Golfing this one time was so much fun! I can easily understand how Golf can become addictive.

I lifted iron weights a bit, to improve my swim team times, and then later for strengthening my upper back and neck. We had daily hay bales and water buckets to lift, too.

Loving Winter

We built a Luge run one very snowy winter with family friends, shoveling down through three feet of snow and banking the turns. We covered the run with water, which froze, and then we had our icy course!

Three to four times each week, come winter, I cross-country skied with my old 9mm three-pin bindings, back and forth on a ¼-mile track. I’d pack my track down each time it snowed. There was no one else around, just me, the trees and the sky. As I got stronger, double-poling down the inclines by winter’s end on ice was fast and fun.

Alternately, I’d climb the hill behind our house and set up my ski poles for gates, and go down, practicing my balance without metal edges and with my heels free. Herring-boning up the steep hill was a great cardio workout. My lungs worked in the cold air happily. I’d go skiing at 7° F without the wind-chill factor, in my wool sweater and feel perfectly warm. Sometimes we had extremely strong winds on our mountain.

 
Detail – final of Kendall’s face and torso

My mom and siblings and I finally learned to downhill ski the one winter we all worked at a ski area. My edge control from ice-skating came in handy and I was able to ski the black trails by the end of the year halfway decently.

We were known as “the family” and this winter became probably the most fun winter of my life. We rented skiis for $1/day and I skied forty days for just $40!

I taught myself to Telemark ski too, just on the green trails with low leather boots (not much control), getting literally black-and-blue on both hips from falling so much. Finally, the balance and technique came together!

Two of my siblings love to snowboard, but I never tried to because my neck, low back and wrists have been injured too much over the years.

I made the hard decision to stop working for a free lift ticket the second year, in order to focus on planning my new speaking-contest and to begin teaching children about good character. It was a sacrifice. I have missed downhill skiing.

 
Final Detail of Kendall’s face

Experiences Around the World

The summer I worked in NYC, I bought Rollerblades, going around Central Park many times, without any knee or arm pads. I never fell badly, thankfully. My sister and I Roller-bladed a lot in Vancouver, British Columbia, too.

I did fall hard twice, Rollerblading, catching a pebble while flying along on asphalt, when I came back to Vermont…and spent most of that summer healing my road rash and wounds.

I rode horses three times in New Zealand – once in the Waiuku Forestry, which was heavenly. Another horse did a flying lead change for me. Although I hadn’t ridden in years, it came back to me.

 
Final Detail of Ashley’s face

My family went snorkeling to see the fish in the Florida Keys once, too.

There was a Pilates class in the Hamptons. And a Zumba intro class in Maine. Holding an exercise class on a concrete floor is not a good idea. I didn’t return after that first class due to joint pain.

Usually I tend to injure myself in exercise classes, trying to keep up with others and do things my body isn’t ready to do. I generally find it better to just work out on my own and pace myself.

I took a women’s self-defense class a different year in NYC, from a friend, learning a bit about martial arts, which requires a lot of balance and body control. It was lots of fun, although I managed to get myself injured, again.

Vermont, 2017

After twenty years of waiting, I trained and FINALLY skied in the Craftsbury Outdoor Center’s annual cross-country ski marathon in January of 2017, winning second for my age group at the 12K distance. I was NOT going at any real speed, but I started and I finished. I kept telling myself to ignore everyone else, and just ski my own race.

My sister gifted me with a summer of special joy – to learn my 38th “sport” – how to scull. I had wanted to learn to scull for years, watching others race, but with no equipment or suitable water around it seemed pretty improbable. Then I moved to the right location.

Co-ordinating arms and legs with proper back posture and the moving seat and oars took a little time for my brain to figure out. After starting in a wide rowboat, I moved to a middle-sized boat, and finally to a narrow racing scull in about two months time.

 
On Mt Monadnock, Vermont, October 2017

This past fall I hiked up Mt. Monadnock in Vermont and Mt. Cardigan in New Hampshire with an old family friend who needed someone to go along for health reasons.

 
Me on Mt. Cardigan, NH, October 2017

I still desire to learn to sail, sail-board, surf, and water ski before I die. The common missing element here is having enough water. And I’d really like to learn to ballroom dance, and play polo – the “sport of kings”…

I’m dreaming now, but it’s a nice dream!

With thanksgiving for all the good gifts Christ brings to the Body,

I am gratefully your painting and balance-loving friend,

Elise

She girdeth her loins with strength and strengtheth her arms. ~ Proverbs 31:17

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