Self 06 November 2018
Three months on the road changes a person. That's fine. That's expected. What I didn't know when I packed my bike, Voodoo—the world's fastest production bike—and headed off into the unknown for three months, was just how much it would change me.
Only a week into my epic journey, Voodoo and I were getting more and more comfortable with each other. Every bike has their own personality, and I was learning to love hers. She loved to push the limits, to power into corners and accelerate out of them. She loved the challenge of tight, torturous switchbacks and was never happier than when she was traveling at full throttle. Kind of like her owner.
My relationship with Voodoo was settling into a rhythm. However, my relationship with myself was still erratic. I was looking forward to this journey to heal the emptiness I was feeling inside. But the journey wasn't making my healing easy, exactly. It was often a journey of contrasts—one day I felt high on freedom and adrenaline, the next I dived deep into frustration and confusion. My emotions were a continual roller coaster as I tried to make sense of everything I was learning.
Maintaining my hard-won serenity was like trying to hold custard. I could hold it for a moment, but before I knew what was happening, it would slip through my fingers.
On day six, I rolled into Banff National Park and felt a precious sense of serenity. But by the next morning I was restless, disoriented, and more than a little petulant. The start of my day hadn't gone to plan—I'd had a latte spilled on me (vegans hate smelling of milk!), my meditation had been rained out, and my run had been nixed because of the threat of bears. And so, in one of the most awe-inspiringly beautiful places in the world, I was sulky, sullen and surly. How had that change happened so quickly?
Nursing a cup of black hot water which vaguely passed for coffee, I opened the notebook of quotes and affirmations I'd written before I'd left, hoping they'd inspire me on my journey of change. My journal fell open to just what I needed to see— a gem I had heard from my favorite Zen master, WuDe:
A lot of suffering comes from wanting to be what is not, and wanting not to be what is.
Now that was a slap, and it was just what this miserable, grouchy diva needed to hear—although I had to read it a few times to really work it out. To me, it meant that we spend so much of our lives wanting things to be different instead of truly appreciating the joy and beauty we already have.
The message struck me to my core, as did the realization that my frustration had mainly been caused by my inability to control situations. It was shocking to realize I actually couldn't control everything that happened around me. However, I could control how I reacted to it. I could choose to be bad-tempered in the face of first-world adversity, or I could choose to accept the situation and still find joy in the day.
There are lightning-bolt moments in your life where messages are shocked into you, and there are other moments where the knowledge just seeps in. Like an intravenous drip, the lessons were slowly starting to trickle through. About time!
Consciously Finding Gratitude Through Journaling
In this place of incredible beauty, I thought about gratitude; instead of complaining, how about I be thankful? I'd heard that even your worst day changes with gratitude. It was worth a shot. So I started to write.
It was hard at first, but after about ten minutes—once I'd been grateful for the obvious—the faucet opened and everything flowed out. I couldn't stop with just writing. The power and emotion were so strong that I texted my family and friends, thanking them for being in my life and telling them how much they mean to me. I poured my heart out and got beautiful messages back from all of them—including one from my business coach. His reply read, “Thanks. That's great...but who is this?" I'd forgotten I was unidentifiable on my cheap Canadian SIM card. Even better! There's nothing like the power of anonymous gratitude.
In an unusual place of deep peace, I loaded a feisty Voodoo, and together we made the short, lazy 60 km ride to Lake Louise, which was perfectly timed for me to squeeze in a hike up into the glacier before nightfall.
Without a doubt, Lake Louise is another one of the most beautiful places in the world. With its impossibly serene turquoise lake encased by proud, imposing mountains and spectacular glaciers, it literally takes your breath away. And that was just what I needed—to be completely immersed in spectacular nature so my happy heart could continue singing.
That was the plan. Sadly, the old competitive warrior in me had other ideas. Despite hiking amidst incredible forest beauty—crystal blue waterfalls, sparkling streams, tiny, brightly colored wildflowers—I saw virtually none of it.
Old Competitive Habits Die Hard… But They Do Die
I couldn't be content with a peaceful, gentle walk. Instead, I needed to turn my hike into a speed march where the biggest competition was myself. I powered up the side of the glacier—never missing a beat, pushing at breakneck speed, overtaking everyone in my way to get to the top as fast as I could. I saw nothing but my own feet all the way up.
With a lemongrass tea warming my hands, I sat in the sun on the veranda of a tiny wooden tea house perched at the top of the ridge. I'd annihilated everything and everyone in my path. As the cool breeze started to dry the sweat on my back and chill my bones, I sat in bewilderment. What the hell was that all about? What is wrong with me? I couldn't even hike in one of the most beautiful places in the world without it becoming a competition. It's bad enough that I need validation from other people to feel good. But why the continual need to compete with myself? What was I trying to prove?
I had no answers. I decided I wasn't going to leave the tea house until I'd found them. Eventually, the cold and the realization that mentally smacking myself wasn't a good option either forced me back down the glacier.
Still, five cups of tea had shown me something: I might not have the answers, but the first step in finding them was to see myself as I truly was. I didn't necessarily like who I saw at that tea house. But in recognizing that competitive warrior, I knew I could change her. Gradually, with time, patience, and kindness.
I had plenty of time left in my helmet to make those changes, but today, the self-judgment had to stop. Heading down the glacier was a very different story. I slowed to a crawl. I stood mesmerized by the intricate beauty of tiny flowers. I smelt the richness of the damp, moist earth. I felt the cool breeze on my skin. I listened to the small gurgling stream as I walked slowly beside it. And I remembered—as I'd forgotten so many times already on this trip—it's about the journey, not the destination.
It wouldn't be the last reminder I'd need, but at that moment, it was enough. As I tucked Voodoo up for the night, I smiled. I was getting better at holding on to the custard!
Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.
Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.
That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.
Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.
Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.
Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.
With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.
The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.
Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.
As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.
Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.