Last night I watched the documentary Marinoni about 75 year old Italian Canadian cycling icon Giuseppe Marinoni and his attempts to set a world record for distance cycled in one hour for his age group. The documentary, the oft-told story of an immigrant who arrives in Canada with nothing, only to lead an incredible and inspiring life is an important narrative that makes up the very fabric of Canadian identity. On the surface it seems like mandatory viewing for anyone who loves cycling; an homage to the sport of cycling and the art of making bicycles, but more importantly this film is especially important for anyone who believes in the power of sport and fitness to give life.
For me, this movie reinforced how much I loathe being around people who complain about being “old”; people who have essentially given up on what their bodies and mind are capable of. I’m 41 years old; I’ve done the sports, the mountain climbs, the triathlon, the marathon, the road races, the obstacle race, etc., and I feel like I’m just getting started. I don’t feel old; in fact I feel the fittest ever and I’m saddened by people who talk themselves into being “old”. Giuseppe was 75 when he challenged himself, and during this training (and my favourite part of this movie) his wife quoted an old Italian proverb which says “you can’t complain about the pain you seek” and I can’t think of anything that has resonated so deeply in my soul.
So today, instead of remembering it as the day my father died, I will remember Giuseppe and his resolve to live as he ever was.
So as I sit here debating wether or not this horrible cold is going to keep me from competing at today’s Toronto Athletic Games, my coach sends me this Champion’s Creed (a sign perhaps?). Here it is for all my athlete friends competing this weekend:
I AM A CHAMPION
I will conquer what has not been conquered
Defeat will not be in my creed
I will believe what others have doubted
I will always endeavor the prestige, honour and respect of MY team
I have trained my mind – my body will follow
Who am I?
I AM A CHAMPION
I will acknowledge the fact that my opponents do not expect me to win
But I will never surrender
Weakness will not be in my heart
I will look to my comrades, and those who have brought me into this world
And those who have trained me, and I will draw strength from them
Who am I?
I AM A CHAMPION
Words from two of my favourite female poets in celebration of International Women’s Day, and to remember that in many, many places in the world we still have a lot to be very angry about.
“Responsibility To Yourself”
“Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you…it means that you do not treat your body as a commodity with which to purchase superficial intimacy or economic security; for our bodies to be treated as objects, our minds are in mortal danger. It means insisting that those to whom you give your friendship and love are able to respect your mind. Responsibility to yourself means that you don’t fall for shallow and easy solutions–predigested books and ideas…marrying early as an escape from real decisions, getting pregnant as an evasion of already existing problems. It means that you refuse to sell your talents and aspirations short…and this, in turn, means resisting the forces in society which say that women should be nice, play safe, have low professional expectations, drown in love and forget about work, live through others, and stay in the places assigned to us. It means that we insist on a life of meaningful work, insist that work be as meaningful as love and friendship in our lives. It means, therefore, the courage to be “different”…The difference between a life lived actively, and a life of passive drifting and dispersal of energies, is an immense difference. Once we begin to feel committed to our lives, responsible to ourselves, we can never again be satisfied with the old, passive way.” ― Adrienne Rich
(click on the title to hear a reading of this poem by the author)
– June Jordan, 1980
Yesterday I had an interesting conversation with some students. One of them said to me “I can’t wait to be actually successfully happy.” I was surprised by her statement which implied that she had never been happy and her response was “Well, of course I’ve been happy, but it’s not real happy because it’s other people’s happy. I want to make my own happy – then I’ll know that I’m successful. Right now I’m too obsessed with other people”
It’s certainly not a far fetched notion that teens over-obsess over “other people”, but it is probably an idea dismissed by most adults. However, the more I reflected on the idea of “making your own happy”, the more I realized how right this girl was.
True “successful happiness” is reached when your life is made up of things/actions/people that you sincerely want; that moment when you stop coveting the lives of others or comparing your own measures of success to other people’s, and most importantly, that moment when you stop being jealous of “other people” because your life is all you want or need.
This is indeed an incredible place to be.
The weeks approaching my 40th birthday (which was last weekend), I did what I usually do about my journeys, I wrote about it. In trying to assemble a list of 40 things I’ve learned about life, it became apparent that a few themes seemed to dominate the paper landscape. So I did what any good teacher did, I organized. So here, friends are some personal conclusions I’ve reached after four decades of life.
1. The state of women in the world has not changed since my early feminist-teen years. I always thought that by the time I got to this age, being a woman would be awesome. That around the world women’s health, economic situations, political power, day-to-day living and general freedoms would no longer be controlled by religion, government or culture. I thought that violence against women would be seen as archaic and the “way things used to be”; that women would all support and encourage each other’s individual choices in life even when they conflicted with their own; that gender specific rhetoric would never cross the mouths of young girls; and that men would have taken up some of the feminist reins and helped create a truly equal world. Alas, the proliferation of media has shown me that this is not the case, and on some level we may even be worse off in part because of the same said media. I hope that in the next four decades (but hopefully much sooner), these things I hoped for long ago will somehow materialize.
2. Sincerity is a very difficult thing to master and even harder to identify in others. I’m not talking about the inevitable jealousy that sometimes rears its ugly head, I’m talking about reaching a place where you actually mean it; a place where the motivation behind your thoughts and actions is pure and unadulterated desire to do so. The disappointing life lesson has been the realization of others’ insincerity, manifested in family members who allow money to dictate relationships, friends who toss you aside when they no longer need you, and coworkers who pretend with a selfish end-game in mind. But the journey here ends when you reach a point when sincerity is the main motive behind what you say and do. I am here now.
3. The human body will respond to the way it is treated. If you treat it like a garbage disposal for unnatural food, toxic substances, and mental anguish it will respond accordingly with unhealthy manifestations of rage. I think I’ve successfully conquered all of these things, except for the latter; something which I have yet to learn to manage properly. I continue to internalize way too much, and the stress reeks havoc on my well-being as it does with so many other people. I am still working on not “sweating the small stuff”, especially at work, and focusing instead on what really matters because, almost always, it’s not that which I get stressed out about.
4. Experience wins over stuff – every time. I’ve realized over the years that humanity’s obsession with stuff is merely a distraction, a temporary detour on the path to finding real satisfaction. The most detrimental thing we do to ourselves is waiting (wait for next week, next year, when I get a better job, when I lose 10lbs, etc.). Life will not wait, and happiness is worth actively seeking. Time and experience will always unfold the same answer: things will never bring you real joy, and one of the most fulfilling experience is love. Real love and partnership is so worth it. It takes time to find, longer to hone, and a lifetime to cherish, but it is the one thing the drives life.
There you have it, me at 40: happier and healthier than I have ever been and that I ever dreamt I would be. Here’s to another 40…