Healthy lifestyle · Primitive/wilderness skills

Pushing limits

I like not coming in last.

As a kid, I was one of the slowest in my class, and generally big and clumsy. Whenever we had to choose teams, I was invariably the last one picked. Then there were the dreaded Presidential Fitness tests, in which I always scored way below the average percentile for a girl of my age (damn you, flexed arm hang!). While I loved being outside and playing games, it seemed I was doomed to not be particularly good at anything that was physical in nature.

As I grew older, I subconsciously carried those childhood “lessons” with me. I realized that my strengths were more intellectual than physical, and as the years went by I gave up on ever being able to do much that required endurance, strength or agility.

Lately, however, I’ve begun to wonder how much of that’s all been in my head.

Yesterday was a case in point.

For the first part of the day, I participated in The Human Path‘s BBQ and Skills Fair. It was a great day of activities. Sam Coffman, Gloria Haswell and Paul Range showed their personal bug-out bags and first aid kits; we learned about THP classes; Sam led a class on local medicinal plants; we got to try our hand at primitive archery and throwing sticks; we had a trade blanket for goods and services (I traded some WordPress consulting for some homemade goat kefir!); ate burgers, hot dogs, baked goods and watermelon prepared by Suchil Coffman-Guerra; swam in the San Gabriel river; and of course had a blast meeting new people and sharing stories.

As part of the activities, we had a couple of competitions late in the day. With a bunch of kids and men in their 20s and 30s to compete against, my expectations were low, but I gave them a shot anyway.

I tried the primitive archery competition first. Disclaimer: I took archery one semester in college, over 25 years ago. I haven’t shot a bow since, and certainly never one made from two pieces of juniper taped together, with a paracord bowstring. Then on a lark I went over to the throwing stick competition. Another disclaimer: in my core basic class a few weeks ago, the throwing sticks was the one activity I completely bombed.

Somehow, defying all of my expectations, I managed to not only avoid embarrassing myself, I actually did well! I placed second in archery, but even more incredibly, I also tied for second place in the throwing stick competitions, managing to actually hit the targets multiple times!

Maybe on the strength of that success, later in the day I felt compelled to try something else.

For a few weeks now, my friend Russ and I have been running together. For a while we’ve walked the three miles around Town Lake, but lately we’ve upped the ante in preparation for a class later in the year when we’ll have to be able to run 5 miles in an hour.

Yesterday morning he went out on his own to see how well he could do. Without me, he beat our usual time by a full ten minutes.

I like our regular runs, but to think that my best time was a full ten minutes behind his was disheartening. When we run together, I’m always trying to keep up, but I didn’t realize how much slower I actually was.

Again… the childhood voices reared up in my head… the sense of being slow, out of shape, and unable to keep up. As the day went by, however, I realized I don’t like those voices, and I don’t want to be that slow, fat kid any more. So later in the day, and for the first time ever, I tried running the route on my own.

It was 95 degrees outside, getting dark, and I was tired, having been outside and on my feet for a good 6 hours already, but I ran those three miles anyway. It was hot and my throat felt like it was on fire, and more than once I just wanted to give up. Something inside me kept pushing myself further, and I realized I refused to be slower on my own than I am when I run with him.

And lo and behold, I cut a full three minutes off of my best time.

Now none of this means much in the grand scheme of things. Who really cares how fast I run, or that I got second place in a fun competition? Winning isn’t that significant to me. Instead, these achievements, as well as the others I’ve had recently, demonstrate that I can do things like this. If I stop putting limits on myself, I really can do things that requires dexterity or physical ability.

And maybe for the first time in my life, I won’t always come in last.

Photos from The Human Path Skills Fair and BBQ (thanks to Suchil Coffman-Guerra for most of the photos):

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