Monday, March 31, 2008

Musical Athletics

Music has been a theme throughout my life.

Growing up, my parents exposed me to a wide variety of music. At a very young age, I learned an appreciation for a mixture of classical music and old-time country (think Oakridge Boys, The Judds, and Alabama). The taboo that country music gained during my high school years meant little to me as a little blond-haired, pig tailed girl.

I can still remember dancing in circles around the living room with my younger sister, as Alabama blared through the stereo player. My 6-year old mind wasn’t ashamed of the foot stomping and clapping. We looked downright silly, yet remained two peas in a pod. I was in a world of my very own, literally dancing to the beat of my own drum.

In addition to my country music dances, I began playing violin at the age of 6. For 12 years I studied, I practiced, and I played my heart out. It wasn’t always fun – as there were many times when I would have preferred to play outside, but it was something that I loved doing, something that I was naturally talented at.

I had a series of wonderful teachers who have left their imprints on my spirit and heart forever. I no longer play the violin as I used to, but the lessons I gained from all those years of study far outweigh any other education I received while growing up.

Simply stated, music has been with me all throughout my life.

In college, my shift turned towards sports and athletics. Initially I rowed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The run of the boat over the waves, the sound of the bubbles rushing past the gunwales, the thud of the finish, the sound of the catch, and swish of our blades feathering in unison stay with me to this day.

Rowing, as with music, was all about the senses.

Bodies swinging in unison helped propel the boat across the surface. Oftentimes I would close my eyes and simply listen to the sound of my fellow oarswomen, the hum of our shell. Though my eyes were shut, my ears, my body picked up on what was necessary to keep going. I would listen for the catch of the stroke; listen to the sound of the seats flowing up and down the slide. I listened for the sound of my own catch, as my blade dipped below the surface of the water, and then heard the water bend around my oar. The sound of my fellow oarswomen working kept me honest, and pulling at my best.

Assuredly, team boats were fun, but the boats I gained the most satisfaction from were either the single scull or double scull. The small boats, meaning the individual or pair are the only ones driving the boat through the water with each stroke, are truly an honest reflection of the rower’s effort. The boats will only move as fluidly and as quickly as the individual is willing to pull. There is no slacking. In an eight-person shell, it’s easy to let up. However the single and the double are brutally honest. Letting up means, quite simply, that your boat slips further and farther behind the rest.

My competitive instinct could never allow for this, and as such, I developed into a great single sculler in a relatively short time period.

In the small boats – especially the single – every sense is heightened that much more. Your breathing, the sound of your hands on the oar handles, the hum of the boat gliding across the water’s surface, the reverberation of the finish as the blade exits the water. There is no other sound except for the sounds that you and the boat make together. In harmonious unison you pull and the shell responds, skirting across the water – two repeated puddles of water on either side of the boat the only reminder of your presence.

While rowing, I was constantly listening, my ears attuned to the blades skimming across the surface, the birds chirping from the surrounding forest, the sound of my heartbeat rushing in my ears, water whipping under the oarlocks, and the repeated slide of my seat.

I was completely and utterly in my own private world, listening to my very own sweet symphony.

It’s been nearly 6 years since I last sat in a boat, and it’s something that I think about less and less as time gradually slips by. When I first stopped rowing, I was devastated. But as the years have slowly passed, I have fallen love with another sport and can vividly recall a plethora of emotions devoted to triathlon.

And now, that I am no longer able to swim, bike, or run for a few weeks, my emotional awareness with the sport seems to be heightened even more. If I close my eyes, I can take myself to the pool, hear the sound of the water rush by my ears. Likewise, the hum of my rear cassette, and cadence of my foot strikes, remind me of my bike and run.

While I am happy to have these memories, these sounds that keep me company, I must acknowledge that it is not the same. But it gives me hope…

Earlier today, Nathaniel and I drove up to Whiting Field, for my first post-surgery appointment with my Primary Care Physician. As the forests and farms flashed past the windows, it was all I could do to think about the numerous bike rides I’ve completed in and around Milton and the greater Whiting Field area. Peanut Farms, Cotton Fields, random general stores, white churches with small steeples, the Blackwater State Forest – all beautiful spots that I’ve grown accustomed to and love to experience while on my long rides.

These are the areas that I’ll miss for the next few weeks. There’s just something so powerful, so beautiful about biking through charming countryside, feeling yourself grow stronger mentally and physically, and knowing that you’re improving with each pedal stroke. And while it’s not quite hilly enough for my taste, it is still beautiful. And the surrounding area has left an imprint on my biking soul.

One spot, in particular, I knew would be difficult to pass. It was the Hwy 89 turn-off, where Hwy 87 and Hwy 89 split - approximately 2 miles from Whiting Field. In the past, I’ve always done my 10-mile bike time trials along this wonderful, but challenging stretch of Hwy 89.

I start just past the donkey farm (remember – rural Florida!), power my way five miles out, turn around, and repeat the process all the way home.

It is painful. It is brutal. And for the most part, it’s honest (more honest with a power meter!). Some of the most difficult moments of my life have been accomplished on that road. But stripped down, bare, and giving it all on my bike is something that makes me happy, it drives my soul and I find myself wanting to experience more.

Just before we hit the Hwy 89 turnoff, I imagined what being on my TT bike, decked out in my Zipp race wheels, would feel like. What it would sound like. Music to my athletic soul, a symphony of my heart’s desire.

I closed my eyes, and immediately could hear the whomp whomp whomp of the disc wheel as it sliced through the still air. I could feel myself shift into the big ring, the gears humming under my body, the sound of the chain against the teeth growing louder as I increased the power on the crank.

I could hear the wind rushing past my ears, over my helmet, down my back, and beyond the end of the bike, my body tucked in the most aerodynamic, yet powerful position possible. I can feel my hands gripping the aero bars, feel myself slide forward on my saddle, and experience the pure thrill of adrenaline as my legs pump harder and harder with each stroke.

The wind is screaming past my helmet now, but it doesn’t stop me. I am all power, my body scrunched up, exploding with every pedal push and turnover. I can hear the gears shifting as I add on the power, experience the pop in acceleration, and know that I am in my element. My heart pounds in my ears, sweat beads on my forehead. Yet I press on, I continue, and do not let up.

I hear myself breathing, feel my chest heaving, and am delighted by the smooth efficiency at which my bike is whirrrrring away under my powerful body.

My eyes were still closed, and my athletic melody continued. And I smiled.

Tabbitha may experience nirvana while scooting towards the rug, Nathaniel gets it while flying his helicopter, and I, well, I experience one form of Nirvana while time trailing down the road at 25 mph, my senses open and hearing the power that I generate.

As we passed the Hwy 89 turnoff, I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes. I was quiet as I contemplated my situation, but bound and determined to be back out on the road as soon as possible. I turned back and caught one last glimpse of my TT road disappearing off towards the North, and vowed to return sooner rather than later.

For now, I’ll have to contend with my senses. And my senses are all about the music of my sports, the resonance that my sports produce, the reverberations I make while participating in my sports; the splash of my hand entering the water, the click of my bike shoes locking into the pedals, the sound of my feet crunching across my favorite wood-chip trail. For now this will have to do, this will help remind me of what’s waiting at the end of my recovery. They are realistic, they’ll keep me grounded, and they’ll keep me sane.

So yes, on beautiful days, I’ll miss my running shoes, and I’ll miss swimming with my lane partners at Master’s. But I also know what’s waiting for me when I return. I know how wonderful the sport of triathlon is, how grateful I am to it, and to all who participate in the sport. The sport is literally music to my ears, and will help throughout my rehabilitation.

And so far, imagining myself time trailing with my race wheels was pretty fun. I’m looking forward to when my dreams become a reality, when I can hear the sound of my disk wheel going whomp whomp whomp as I accelerate to top speed. And it won’t be for too long – that, my friends, I am sure of.

Next time you have the opportunity to swim, bike, run, or engage in your sport of choice – what do you hear? Just stop for a minute to listen, and you may even surprise yourself. I know that I did.


Beth said...

What a beautifully written entry Marit! It's a great reminder to slow down sometimes, close our eyes and just listen to the wonderful sounds of our sport. Thanks!

Pedergraham said...

Thank you for sharing this. (P.S. Don't tell any of the triathletes, but I always thought rowing was the ultimate sport. Not that I've ever done it, but if I got to live my childhood/teenage years over again, I think it would be tops on the list of things to do, followed closely by learning an instrument.)

Mira Lelovic said...

That was great, Marit. Be patient. You have so much time and opportunity ahead of you. You will be right back to where you where you were, stronger and better.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Marit. It reminds you to "stop and smell the roses", which is so important as we mash thru daily life. :) Jen H.

Eileen Swanson said...

Oh Marit, this is an awesome post. So true, to slow down, relax, enjoy the little things that we neglect as we race through life. I am such a cry baby these days, and this post made me think of how lucky we all are and how beautiful life is AND of course I have tears in my eyes...happy tears. You are going to get back to doing everything that you love very soon. You have the best attitude and heart!! I admire that.


Sarah said...


That was absolutely beautiful, it nearly leaves me speechless. I printed it out so I could read it again when I lie down to stretch later. It brought a smile to my face and such a wonderful reminder of why we REALLY do this.

Your visualizations will make you more passionate, stronger and be so in touch with yourself, and it sounds like you're truly making the most of your recovery process.

Thank you for sharing that. It was really such a wonderful read (especially as another person who absolutely adores music!). :) S

Bob Mitera said...

Hi Marit. When I have it really rolling I hear the pattern and melody of my movement in the water, on the bike or running. Sometimes with a sound track...usually it is U2. Recently, I learned that all the music that accompanies my physical effort is based in religion. (I didn't understand that until California.) As for country music...I'm a fan of Miranda Lambert, Alan Jackson, Dolly Parton, Kenny Chesney and Garth Brooks - I've only recently discovered "good" country. I like the "kickin'" country. Keep the slow stuff. I'm sending healing vibes your way! Bob

Alili said...

What a fabulous and touching post Marit. Today in the pool, I will listen.

AddictedToEndorphins said...

You have such a talent with your words! Thanks for the insightful post!:)

Anonymous said...

Ok, I was on my trainer this morning for a 2-1/2 hr brick and I totally missed the opportunity to turn off the tunes and listen.

Tomorrow my friend, I will stop and listen!

Thanks for sharing this with us.