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Scaredy Cat

an unduly fearful person

I don't think I had realized how scared I was in life -- just generally fearful -- until I started this fitness journey. I also don't know if I quite understood the depths of the drive I had towards challenge -- like BIG, EPIC challenge--just to do it, just for the sake of it. I am always most satisfied, and my busy brain is at its most chill, after a big, epic challenge. These two things are married, somehow. Different sides of the same coin, I think.

I have reminders everywhere to face my fears, like a sign on my wall that says:


And Everything You've Ever Wanted Is Sitting On The Other Side Of Fear; and I Breathe In Courage And Exhale My Fear. And then the very clear and direct: Be Fearless. Be BRAVE. These sentiments resonate with me, and I need them. I've spent the better part of my life in this tug-of-war between a desire for all things alive and uncomfortable, like physical challenges, or ideas, opinions, and beliefs that differ from those around me; and a need to stay comfortable and avoid these things. Do you know where a struggle like that leaves you? Stuck in the middle, with no movement...thinking. Fitness and running, for me, have been a battle cry for team fearless, or, as another of my encouraging quotes says, team Feel the fear and do it anyway.

Walking into the gym the first time was terrifying and, frankly, I still have butterflies everytime I go to the gym to train with my coach. Every single start line makes me want to throw up, which is funny because I'm never actually at the start line. I'm just somewhere in the crowd of runners doing my thing, which is of no particular threat to anyone else, but for me it's the Olympics every time. And don't get me started on getting myself to the corral for an obstacle course race, or for that matter, letting go of a monkey bar to simply get to the next one. And let's see: running down hill, getting lost on trails, the hurt that a time trial will cause, going under water, falling.... I practice facing my fears every single day through fitness--big and small; physical, mental, and emotional. At first, as with anything, it wasn't pretty. And as I work through it, I won't get some memo that says "OK! You're cured! All the practice worked and now you're fearless!" In fact, I'm never gonna get cured. And it isn't going to ever get easier, either. BUT, you DO get stronger. And all of a sudden, you are faced with something, and you recognize you are handling it with a little more grace, or a little less hesitation. Or in retrospect, you realize you walked into that challenge with a kind of resolve that hadn't been there before. And then you know that all that fear-facing practice and all those quotes and daily reminders are working.

This was precisely what happened to me on the side of a bluff yesterday. We've had a string of unseasonably warm days that were coming to an end, and a Sunday afternoon, leisurely hike seemed like a great thing to do. We drove to a little town in Wisconsin on the St Croix River, and walked down 132 stairs to the bottom of a beautiful little waterfall. We then walked along a creek that emptied into the St Croix River, and down and up a little spur trail to a spot that overlooked the river. It was now 4pm and would be getting dark within the hour, but there was plenty of time to retrace our steps back to the waterfall and up to the car. And that's exactly what would have happened if I hadn't seen a little marker for Eagle Bluff Trail. The marker said: EAGLE BLUFF TRAIL. OST DIFFICULT. Clearly, the M was missing, and this trail was MOST DIFFICULT. Clearly, it was up the side of this bluff. I don't like steep things. I don't like things that are tricky, have ledges and edges, or points at which the only option is forward, because going back the way you came is more dangerous. Challenging, in an endurance kind of way? AWESOME. Challenging, in a you're in trouble if your foot slips kind of way? NO THANKS. Let me say as a disclaimer: Fear is relative. I can think of any number of people I know who may have been challenged by this trail, but not afraid. I was both. And by the time I realized what I had gotten myself into, as I hung on to a tree root, forward and up was the only sensible option. But, this was also precisely the point that I recognized something had shifted, and my practice was working. I did get a memo, right there on the side of the bluff. It didn't say, "CONGRATULATIONS! YOU NO LONGER HAVE FEAR IN YOUR LIFE!" But it did say, "Okay Diane, you've got this. You're strong and you're capable. This is steep, but it's short. Turn off your brain, keep moving, and congratulate yourself with each step." As it turns out, those memos come to us from ourselves. And I've been practicing telling myself that I do hard things. That I feel fear, and then I do it anyway. That I breathe in courage, and exhale fear. I did not panic; I handled myself with grace, and even laughed along the way, mostly at the absurdity of finding myself in this situation. How in the hell did I find myself crawling up the side of this bluff?? I'll tell you how. Every single day I read what I wrote on January 1, 2020 about being BRAVE: " make BRAVE choices, BRAVE decisions...try things, fail things, fall off things, write BRAVELY..." Every day I read that. And that's how I found myself crawling up a bluff on a Sunday afternoon. It presented itself, and I said OKAY.

So, maybe I'm not as much of a Scaredy Cat as I used to be. It's like with running and racing: I'm faster than some, slower than most, but exponentially better than I was before I started. Well, I'm more BRAVE than some, less BRAVE than many, and, for sure, the most BRAVE Diane I've ever been.

(Side Note: I googled this hike when I got home, and a man named Kenneth Casper had this to say about Eagle Bluff Trail: The trail is essentially a vertical scramble up the bluff and a mountaineering rated climb according to my tracking app.) I Can Do Hard Things.