50 Crazy Things in my 50th Year – Thing #6 – Join the Circus

Trapeze School of New York (Los Angeles)

On a scale of 1 to 10, I have a paralysing fear of jumping and falling that reaches about 11. This has followed me my whole life and it has kept me from participating in a lot of activities with friends and family. It’s not heights that scare me. I’m fine with heights. It’s falling – being out of control, going fast down a hill, that feeling in my stomach of inevitable crashing and doom. Since this year is all about addressing that place where I stop myself from participating – I knew I would have to face this fear. What I actually started searching, though, was how to run away and join the circus. I didn’t know how profound this would be for me.

I started googling different things and came across trapeze. Of course, I could have gone to clown school (whole other set of fears there) but when I saw the Trapeze School of New York, I was intrigued. When I saw they had five locations and one was in Los Angeles, where I would be for the Tinkerbell Half Marathon weekend – I nearly threw up.

The lean

The lean

This is our instructor showing us how it should be done.

This is our instructor showing us how it should be done.

Why is this Crazy?

Duh! – for the obvious reasons.

Plus, I have always had poor grip strength. I avoid carrying bags in my hands. I was never a kid who played on monkey bars. I have loose, sometimes called ‘double jointed’ fingers and thumbs and have determined that my hands were designed for typing, not gripping. Trapeze = hanging from a bar by your hands.

I’ve lost a lot of weight, but I still have a lot more to go. I wasn’t even sure I could hold myself up while swinging (turns out fear handled that pretty quickly!).

My fear of jumping and falling is, in my head, extreme.

I remember when I was about seven, climbing up to the 3 meter board at Brock Pool because all of my friends were jumping off it. I got to the top and let one person, then the next, then the next, through a very long line of people pass me before I finally threw myself off the end. It’s the only time I have ever jumped off the 3 meter board and I was a lifeguard for seven years! I could teach a diving class standing on the deck of the pool!

When I was training to be a lifeguard I remember being at Westsyde Pool and having to learn how to teach a back dive off the 1 meter board. The instructor, now a prominent firefighter, picked me (why????) from the class to demonstrate. I had no choice. I stood on the end, wanting to vomit, and he stood right in front of me. He told me to fall backwards and stretch when he yelled. I couldn’t fall. He had to push me, and I remember reaching for his red sweat shirt before I went down. I missed. Instinctively I must have stretched when he yelled because I didn’t hurt myself. When I got out of the water he told the class to remember what my face looked like, because that’s exactly what a drowning victim will look like. Then he made me do it again. I was 16 at the time. I haven’t done one since.

I love cross country skiing, yet when I’m going down a hill seniors regularly kick snow in my face because my snowplow is so wickedly awesome (meaning excessively controlled, or slow). My friend, Wendy, wanted to put me into immersion therapy to fix this by taking me up to the killer cross country runs at Sun Peaks – the ones you take the chair lift up to, and pushing me when I was at the top. She figured that by the time I stopped screaming I’d be over my fear. In a way, Trapeze School, must have been my version of immersion therapy.

Trapeze School on Santa Monica Pier

My first swing

My first swing after four false starts

The most I can say about my trapeze experience is I would be considered a ‘remedial’ flyer (my word, not theirs). I was in a class with eight other people. Two were very advanced and go regularly, practicing all kinds of tricks. They looked awesome. The rest were first timers like me. One, Keri, a law student, had a gymnastics background and was celebrating her birthday. The other, Monica, has an adventure web series and seems pretty fearless. The others were high school students from Malibu who were also celebrating a birthday.

The most important thing I have to say here is how great the other students and the staff were. I felt totally supported and it was a great feeling to be with these people. The staff were incredible – I can’t stress that enough.

The first thing we were supposed to do was swing out on the bar, hook our knees up, and hang by our knees when the bar was swinging. We were all wearing harnesses and were strapped in any time we weren’t on the ground. You climb up to the platform, which is 23 ft above the ground, and look out over a net below you… and all the tourists who are watching. When it was our turn, there is a person on the top who has a grip on the back of your harness. They won’t let you go until you are in the perfect position. This part is so counter-intuitive – instead of sticking your butt back and leaning forward, you have to lean so far forward it feels like you’re going to fall. You’re holding part of the platform with your left hand and the bar (which is heavier than it looks) with your right hand. Then you give a little jump, and the person holding the back of your harness lets go.

My first swing

swinging and not dead!

swinging and not dead!

It took me four false starts before I could get off the platform and I screamed in terror as I flew. Before I jumped I actually had the feeling of putting my fear away, like in a box. It didn’t go away, but it wasn’t running the show. This is possibly the second scariest thing I’ve ever done in my life and I’ve been upside down in a stunt airplane. I didn’t have to worry about holding on to the bar because you couldn’t have pried my fingers off it. When it came time to let go, you don’t get to pick when. They yell when you are at the far end of the swing facing the sky so you fall on your back. When they yell you have to let go. I screamed again as I fell. Letting go was THE scariest thing I’ve done in my life. Mike Nesbitt, Keri’s partner, had my camera and was so nice about taking pictures for me. He actually caught me mid scream! (best picture ever!)

I remember landing in the net and bursting into tears. My whole body was violently shaking. I crawled to the edge of the net to get down and then I couldn’t stand up because my knees were shaking so much. I think this is where everyone there, students and staff, got a good look at what a drowning victim would look like. I got lots of hugs. Right there I met the criteria for the crazy things and I could have quit and still considered it a success. The best thing I did was get back up there.

The rest of the swings

Others were doing way more advanced things, and by the end of the class some were even being caught by a guy on another trapeze. But I just

Swinging

Swinging

swung on the trapeze about 8 or 9 times (I wasn’t counting). That was truly the most I could do and each time got a little easier. The first was definitely the worst. It never did get really easy. I could have had one more swing but I knew my head had had enough extra activity and my hands were bruised. The class was two hours but it felt like a lot longer. I knew I was done for the day but I also know I’ll be back. Maybe next time I’ll get my knees over the bar!

I have to say I made some awesome new friends that day. Everyone was so supportive of each other and the kindness of strangers was truly amazing and memorable. I need to find a good set of monkey bars because I’m going to start training and I will be back! If you ever get the chance – do it! It is the most amazing experience ever and I only experienced a small part of it! I am proud that I run half marathons, and that I am fit and I’ve lost a lot of weight, but this is probably my biggest fear ever and I am so proud of myself for taking that first jump.

And to answer the question I’ve heard most since I got back…. No! I have no plans to jump out of a perfectly good airplane or off a bridge with a rubber band tied to my leg!

Would I do it again?

Yes! Did I get over my fear? No… but I did chip away at a corner of it.  Monica Ortega, who was in the class with me, has a motto on her

website – You only live once, try everything twice! I’m going to try and follow that this year.

The Scream

The Scream

Still alive

Still alive

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50 Crazy Things in my 50th Year – Thing #5 – Run Half Marathons on Each Coast in the Same Year

Coast to Coast

The Pink Coast to Coast medal.

The Coast to Coast Challenge

Given I basically haven’t travelled in the past 20 years except to Saskatchewan, Vancouver, and Victoria, trying to organize and actually follow through with two trips to the US for something as frivolous as running was truly insane – and very much needed. I used to travel a lot. I backpacked around Britain and Ireland for two months after university, and then I moved back to Ireland for six months the following year. In university I travelled to Ottawa, Montreal, Quebec City, Windsor, Toronto, and other places for exchanges or disabled sporting events when I worked for sport groups. After university I travelled to Niagara to fly with Air Combat Canada, kayaked and sailed in Haida Gwaii, and drove down the Oregon Coast working as a travel writer.

Lately, though, I’ve found myself in a travel rut and that rut has been getting narrower and narrower. This whole 50 Crazy Things started with me on Pinterest (drinking red wine – never a good combination) seeing costumes for RunDisney. Less than a year later I was in Florida, where I had never been before, running with Amanda Cowell. In August I just decided I would run for a charity, and ended up registered in the Pixie Dust Challenge in California the following May. It still blows me away that I just stepped out of my travel rut.

I’m now a seasoned pro again with baggage, flights, and US and Canadian Customs handled. On that first trip to Florida, Amanda breezed through US customs while I looked like a babbling idiot. Of course, she had a hunky guy who was flirting with her and I had a woman who looked like she might have prison guard figure prominently on her resume. I noticed going to and coming from California my customs luck had changed and I had hunky guys in each direction. Perhaps that was because I wasn’t travelling with Amanda. Food for thought.

The Coast to Coast medal is a free option from RunDisney and I didn’t know what a big deal it was until I’d already registered for the Pixie Dust Challenge. To earn a Coast to Coast medal you need to do one RunDisney Half Marathon on each coast in the same calendar year. To earn the much coveted pink Coast to Coast you need to specifically run the Disney Princess Half Marathon and the Disney Tinkerbell Half Marathon in the same calendar year. Conveniently, I did just that. The regular Coast to Coast medal is blue. Maybe I need the set.

Why was this crazy?

I made myself leave the comfort of home, get out, move, do something unfamiliar. It’s been so long I forgot how to do it. I forgot how easy it was. And I remembered how hard it is. When you actually have a job and responsibilities it’s not always easy to just pick up and go somewhere, but for the most part, the rest of my world can adapt for a couple of days.

The Coast to Coast medal is more than a medal for running. To me it symbolizes travel that doesn’t really make sense – and that’s what makes it important.

Will I do it again?

Probably not the medal – but the travel…. ABSOLUTELY! There are places I want to go, places I want to take my mom. If I wait for the time to be right, it will probably never happen. The time is never right, and the time is always right.

50 Crazy Things in my 50th Year – Thing #4 – Run a 10K and a Half Marathon Back to Back

Pixie Dust Challenge shirt

3 medals / 3 shirts!

I have run seven half marathons in my past and have always kept to the rule that you don’t run back to back days. The rule, for me, has almost become a superstition and in my head if I run on back to back days very bad things would happen. My quadriceps may fall off, my hamstrings may decide to try macramé, or my Achilles Tendons would spontaneously shred and disappear completely – all of which would permanently cripple me. I have a very active imagination.

I started to notice a few years ago that some race organizers, and RunDisney in particular, were offering challenge races and everyone and their dog was clamoring for registration spots. These races are either on back to back days, or even on the same day. People also seem to want to register multiple years in a row which suggests that none of the above atrocities happened to them – they all seemed to have perfectly normal quads, hamstrings, and Achilles tendons. This intrigued me.

Challenge runs have been around since at least 2005 when RunDisney listened to people complaining about how they wanted to earn all the medals in an event weekend by participating in all the events. That year they offered the first Goofy Race and a Half Challenge as part of the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. You could either choose to run the 5K, 10K, Half Marathon or Full Marathon, or you could choose to ‘do Goofy’ and run the Half Marathon and Full Marathon on back to back days for a total of 39.3 miles (62.88 Km). Now they even have the ‘Dopey’ challenge – which involves the running extremely ridiculous sequence of 5K / 10K / Half Marathon / Full Marathon on four consecutive days – truly a Dopey endeavour!

Challenges are seriously the latest craze and not only RunDisney is doing them. Most big races have this kind of option now and these challenges often sell out before the individual races do.

Why is this Crazy?

Pixie Dust Challenge medals

It’s all about the bling!

It wouldn’t be a crazy year if I wasn’t testing my boundaries of what I will and won’t do, and pushing myself past the places where I normally stop. Therefore, you guessed it, I had to do a challenge. I chose the Pixie Dust Challenge at the Disney Tinkerbell Half Marathon, which involved running the 10K on Saturday, May 9th, and the Half Marathon on Sunday, May 10th . This would be for a total of 19.3 miles (30.1 Km). My biggest fear was that I would injure myself and not be able to run anymore.

Strategy

Running as part of Team Lemon with Alex’s Lemonade Stand, I was offered the services of an online coach – Coach Mary. She gave me some training tips that involved starting to run light back to back days and working my way up. This worked, but I still was doubtful, and actually really worried!

In talking to people who have done it many admit that they coast through one of the races and push themselves harder for the others. It’s all about the medals and by doing the Pixie Dust Challenge I would get three of the lovely beauties.

It worked!

I decided to go pretty easy on both runs. My only goal was to finish both while still vertical. I also had costume elements, heat, etc. to deal with and I wanted to have some fun, too.

I ran the 10K slower than I usually run a 10K and had a blast. I stopped to take lots of pictures, enjoy the sights, and I just ran to finish the race. Done!

 

Not Slow

OK, THIS is my favourite sign ever!

Still vertical!

Favourite sign EVER!

The next morning I wasn’t feeling sore at all and I ran the half marathon, also slower than I normally run, and also had a blast. I got the three medals, and the afternoon of half marathon day I noticed I was hardly sore at all. And the next day I was barely sore – not nearly as sore as I was after running the Victoria Half Marathon and the Rock n’ Roll Vancouver 10K within two weeks of each other last fall. In fact, I have never recovered so well from a running event as I did from the Pixie Dust Challenge. Consider my brain completely baffled… and thrilled!

Would I do it again?

Absolutely. The hardest part, in all seriousness, was getting up at 3:00 am for two mornings in a row. The running part was not too bad… and the medals… seriously worth it! Would I do Dopey?…. uh, probably not, but given the way this year is going I won’t rule anything out in the future!

Spread your wings

By slowing down and enjoying what was going on around me I actually noticed this sign – “Only two miles to go… Now spread your wings and let the fairy in you fly!”

 

50 Crazy Things in my 50th Year – Thing #3 – Fundraise for a Charity

Thank you!

Thank you!

This was a huge challenge for me because it involved putting myself out there, asking for help, and being a bit of a pest! I hate fundraising and I hate asking for help. I love helping other people when I can, though. My biggest risk here was that I would fail… very publicly.

Raising money for large runs has been going on for a lot of years and the system is a win-win-win for everyone. The event organizer, in this case RunDisney, gives select charities slots in different races. Often these races sell out fast so people who can’t register choose to run for a charity so they can get in. The charity then registers runners using these slots with the stipulation that they must raise a certain amount of money. The runner doesn’t have to pay the registration fee, the charity raises money, and it doesn’t cost RunDisney anything and they have a lot of good will to spread around. For the Tinkerbell Half Marathon weekend, runners from Team Lemon were raising different minimum amounts based on the events they were running. Since I was doing the Pixie Dust Challenge, which involved running the 10K and the Half Marathon back to back, my fundraising amount was the highest.

Why Alex’s Lemonade Stand?

Since I knew I wanted to run for a charity I looked ahead at which charities I could choose from. During the Half Marathon I saw people running for veterans, animals, disabilities, and various devastating diseases. They were all very worthy and deserved all the support they could get, but Alex’s Lemonade Stand gave research grants to Canadian researchers, which was important to me. In some way, the money I raised had to have a chance to help in Canada. As soon as I read more about them, I knew they were a good fit for me and I was hoping I could raise the money I needed to. In total I needed to raise $1,900 US in eight months.

I ran the Tinkerbell 10K dressed as a Lemonade Stand Fairy

I ran the Tinkerbell 10K dressed as a Lemonade Stand Fairy

Dress the Fairy

I decided I had to make this fun for my friends and family to participate in. Just asking for money wouldn’t do. Since most people running Run Disney races participate in costume, I decided to let my friends and family play Dress the Fairy. I created a costume template and set a point amount for each element of the costume. Points were directly related to dollars raised. Here’s how it broke down:

300         Wings

400         Tutu

200         Running Skirt

150         Sparkly Head Gear

130         Glitter Makeup

100         Nails

300         Sparkly Shoes

500         Head to toe in pink

Sparkly Nails

Thanks to Amanda Cowell for imprisoning my nails in sparkly pink nail polish – for the first time EVER!

When someone donated, they had to let me know where they wanted their points to go. They could put them toward the wings, or head to toe in pink, or any combination they wanted.

This worked because I’m not known as a wing/tutu wearing pink person who would be caught dead in a running skirt, glitter, and in particular… pink! Before this I owned nothing in pink. My mom says she dressed me in pink when I was a baby but that stopped when I got a voice and could dress myself. Using primarily word of mouth and Facebook I made regular posts with costume totals and had people encouraging others to ‘finish off the wings’, or ‘get pink handled’. If the costume elements weren’t finished by the time I left for California, the element wasn’t going to happen. My starting place was a black shirt and black capris. Gradually, it all came together and this fairy ended up a sparkled, winged, and tutued all in pink!

In total 60 people or groups (families / couples) contributed money toward my campaign, and countless others contributed cheering and support. It’s important to recognize that not everyone has money to spare, but it doesn’t mean they don’t support you. More often than not I’m the one who doesn’t have the money to donate. I am extremely grateful for those who supported me in all they ways they could, and some of those ways were financial.

Why it matters

Pink Fairy

The Pink Fairy is ready to run.

Along the way I met people associated with Team Lemon who had lost children. A young boy in Kamloops passed away from a very long fight with cancer the week before I left for California. I passed people on the running route who had signs thanking people for running for charities. Other runners thanked me when they saw I was running for Alex’s Lemonade Stand. One woman cheering on the course, at a part that was particularly difficult (around 17 Km when it was hot and agonizing), had a sign that said, “I’m a cancer survivor, thank you for running for me!” Me being a bit hot or a bit sore for a few hours was nothing compared to what these families were going through for months or even years. It matters.

The day before the run Team Lemon runners at the event got an email from our coordinator thanking us for raising the money. As a team we raised $34,000 which we were told is worth over four months of research time. It matters.

The Result

I raised $2,060 for Alex’s Lemonade Stand. I was absolutely floored by this and I’m so grateful to everyone who helped me out. People I hadn’t talked to in ages jumped in to help. My family and friends really got behind it, which says a lot about the kind of people I choose to have in my life. I even had seniors in Logan Lake slipping me $20 dollar bills and whispering, “Put it on those wings, dear!”

Why is this crazy?

I had to put myself out there big time, I had to be in people’s faces trying to get them to donate money. I had to ask for help, and the risk of failure was very real.

What worked?

I made it fun. I made it something original that my friends and family would be able to have fun with. If I had chosen blue I wouldn’t have raised as much because I wear blue all the time. I had to risk public humiliation. I even added that if I raised even one dollar over my goal I would spend one day in the Logan Lake Library dressed as the pink fairy.

The Pink Fairy was at the Logan Lake Library on May 14th, 2015.

The Pink Fairy was at the Logan Lake Library on May 14th, 2015.

Would I do it again?

Absolutely! I hope to keep finding new ways to raise money for Alex’s Lemonade Stand and other charities. It’s good for the soul and it can be fun if you let it.