Category: Sports

Beneficial Stress

I believe Kelly McGonigal has hit on a major point as far as the key to our happiness in life in a lecture she gave regarding the stress in our lives: in certain amounts and cases stress can be positive. Think, for example, of chocolate or alcohol. Both are bad for you in copious amounts yet a piece of chocolate, glass of wine, or a bottle of beer a few times a week is beneficial for you. These, among many other items, prompt the cleaning of your system. It is also kind of like using SeaFoam in your tank after you do an oil change. Oil cleaners like this help improve the performance of your engine by lubricating and cleaning the inner passageways, fuel injectors, valves, etc.

“It makes your heart pound, your breathing quicken and your forehead sweat.”

“Tower” by Kiri Ramdeo

When you think about it the effects that stress has on you are similar to exercise – it exercises a most essential muscle in your body: the heart. When we comment that someone is very inspired or driven we say they have a lot of heart – that they are strong. Strength is built from trials taken and lessons learned over time. No heart ever became strong from its system sitting around doing nothing.

“Psychologist Kelly McGonigal urges us to see stress as a positive, and introduces us to an unsung mechanism for stress reduction: reaching out to others…your stress response has a built in mechanism for stress resilience, and that mechanism is human connection.”

There are more people than you realize willing to provide you with help. It is through continual display of appreciation, consideration, advice, and action that contribute to building trust and respect in a great friendship. Among you on this planet are billions of potential friends – no, I am not talking about the add-you-on-facebook-and-like-your-posts friends. I am talking about friends who encourage your strength and who you take turns with to lift each other up. That said, know that it is okay to ask for help. It is okay to say, “I cannot do this alone. Please help me.” While pushing through a struggle on your own is incredibly admirable it may at times be necessary to ask for help in order to take care of you. In this you are not weak.

“…your stress response has a built in mechanism for stress resilience, and that mechanism is human connection.”

Resilience. Built up over time from becoming stronger, bouncing back, learning to outlast your past self. A great example of this is a particular Thoroughbred jockey, Russell Avery Baze. I stumbled across an article written about him, “Born to Ride,” during the period when I was recovering from my car accident. Breaking it down to the basic fact that Russell is a horseman, he is an amazingly durable rider. I say this because he has broken his cervical spine, pelvis, tailbone and collarbone, and suffers compression fractures in his back and neck. Russell receives periodic injections of cortisone to treat the resulting discomfort that remains with him for over 35 years. Rather than complain over every bit he accepts the aches and treatments as part of a “fulfilling career” as it is worth “every throb and spasm.”

“…we know from other research that healthy stress hormone patterns may protect against the development of physical and mental health problems.” — Patricia Pendry Ph.D.

“Just Horsing Around”

Doing something that makes you happy lowers the overall production of the stress hormone. This does not have to be treated only in adults – it can start with children or in adolescence. Neither does human interaction have to the be the only coping mechanism for those of the shyer variety – you can turn to animals. Take for example this article: “Horsing Around in Childhood Really Can Change Your Life” by Fran Jurga. The article follows a study that compares the cortisol (the stress hormone) levels in two groups of randomly selected students. In one group of students researchers evaluated their cortisol levels before and after working with horses by sampling saliva. The other group did not work with horses and were not given a particular activity to relieve stress. In the group that did work with horses their cortisol levels were significantly lower.  Interactions with other humans and animals have been proven to increase compassion, understanding, social-esteem, and self confidence. I very strongly believe in this. How? I’ve seen it.

Kids and Horses
Kids and Horses

“If everybody was as happy with their job as I am with mine, it’d be a great world.”

I know I have said this before but it permeates my life and every step I take – every hardship I suffer and every amazement I enjoy pursuing art, writing, and horses: No one said it would be easy, we only said it would be worth it. Yes, we glare and curse at this, shake our fists at how easy it looks. Most people giving this advice have either made the climb or are still making the it. They know the world will knock you on your butt. In the end we have essentially two options: just lie there, or get back up.

“Chasing meaning is better for your life than trying to avoid discomfort… [so] go after what it is that creates meaning in your life and then trust yourself to handle the stress that follows.” — Kelly McGonigal

Other “Ratified Research” articles:

  1. Headless Horseman
  2. The Luckdragon
  3. A Tree Blushing Valentine’s
  4. Purple Heart

Sports and Me

The better I understood most sports the more I enjoyed them. In elementary school the P.E. instructor, Coach Schneider, took great pleasure in teaching us through the sports. It took me a while come around to the subliminal lessons though. Early one year (I can’t recall which) he introduced my class to baseball. Every time my team switched from fielding to batting I ran in slower than my classmates so as to strategically position myself at the back of the batting line. Coach Schneider caught me, however, and the third time I did it he singled me out and pulled me forward.

“Now, why do you keep running back there?”

“Because everyone yells different advice to me and I get very confused.”

I would suspect that most people would love support and advice given so freely but the differing opinions only confused me when I was put in the small spotlight of batting position. I felt subjected and bombarded by too many expectations. All the shouting created an unpleasant noise in my head. When he smiled lines appeared around his eyes that distinguish his face in my mind even now. He escorted me to the batting position, set me up in a basic stance and then told me to ignore what everyone else was saying. All I had to do was listen to the voice inside, feel out my moment, and then adjust my position to optimize my own decision.

I missed the first ball.

I missed the second ball.


Oh, the ball failed to fly out across the field for a home run but it did get me as far as first base. The next challenge: making it around to home plate. Piece of cake, right? Each time someone else came to bat my heart pounded. Would the ball fly in my direction? Would a fielding team member catch it and tag me? Would I make it to the base?

Eventually I did make it all the way around the bases and cross home plate and as I became older I realized I was taking that first game too seriously. While Coach Schneider’s purpose was to teach us he also wanted us to kick loose and enjoy engaging our muscles. He taught us to use our bodies to power ourselves towards a goal. When we have a goal if there are people throwing their two cents in our jar the jar can get full. Its confusing having so many avenues to choose from and it doesn’t help if the influential people in your life are pushing you in different directions. Eventually that coin jar gets full and the coins are no longer noisy, they’re over flowing and burying you in a sea of copper and zinc. Coach Schneider was one of the first people who taught me to turn the jar into a tube – in one ear out the other as they say. No matter what people are going to have differing opinions and some people are going to push for you to do it their way but sometimes learning to trust yourself and choosing your own way can bring you success as well. So what if you strike out here or skin your knee there? Do you still want that goal? Well, get up off your butt and go stand over home plate. Learn from every swing you take at that ball, learn to hop between bases and fool the fielding team, and somewhere along the way you’re going to learn to hit home runs.

When I am writing a character who is struggling or confused or trying to negotiate with multiple parties I draw on experiences like these.

That is your philosophical thought of the week. Happy exploring!

Defunct Winter Olympic Sports

So the winter olympics of 2014 started February 6th. The day before I came across an article on defunct Olympic sports. Many of them are eye catching and the winter ones are my favorites and I had to highlight three of them.

Let’s start with sled dog racing.

This sport only made one appearance at the 1932 Lake Placid Games. “Seven American and five Canadian athletes with six dogs apiece ran twice over a 25.1 mile course.” It was only a demonstration sport in the Olympics though Emile St. Goddard from Winnipeg finished first with a time of 4:23:12.5. While it is no longer a Winter Olympic sport, sled dog races are still held annually. In fact, currently there is a race called Yukon Quest which is happening right now! Yukon Quest is 1,000 mile international sled dog race that starts in Fairbanks, Alaska and ends in Whitehorse, Yukon. The race has run since 1984 and lasts for between 10-16 days. This year it started on February 1. There’s a countdown available on the site and more information on the race, mushers, and their locations. Go check it out!

Like sled dog racing, the winter pentathlon was also used once as a demonstration sport in the 1948 St. Moritz Games.

While the winter biathlon (still present in today’s Olympics) requires athletes to be highly skilled in both cross-country skiing and shooting, the pentathlon required athletes to be highly versatile  to win a medal. If the sport had carried over, Winter Olympic pentathlon athletes would need to be skilled in downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, shooting, fencing, and horse riding. in 1948 Sweden’s athletes swept the medal stand.

While polo does mention a merit as a Summer Olympic sport as it is an equitation sport (my favorite category) one more winter sport snagged the most of my attention: Skijoring!

Skijoring is “a wonderful hybrid between water skiing, horse riding and dog sledding.” The sport requires a person riding skis being tugged over the snow by a horse. The word Skijoring is derived from skikjøring, the Norwegian word for ski driving. The sport probably originated as a method of single person winter season travel. This was only used once in the 1928 Winter Olympics in St. Moritz, Switzerland but is still used as a competitive sport today. Usually a single horse is outfitted with a harness by which a skier holds on by an extended tow rope. Sometimes the horse is guided by a rider but it is possible for the skier to direct the horse on his/her own. I believe when the skier navigates the horse it a flat stretch during a race. When a rider guides the horse the skier is more free to navigate jumps and obstacles.

So what do the skiers use during skijoring? Modified water ski towing equipment. If you’re looking to try it and cut down on costs you could use a tow rope looped around a saddle horn or otherwise attached to the western saddle. There are two main types of skijoring competitions: a straight course and a horseshoe-shaped course. On a straight course a horse can run at top speed in the middle of a course. This way the skier can navigate slalom gates and jumps of different heights, grab rings or other items at unique stations. Leadville, Colorado has been organizing equestrian skijoring competitions with a highlight on speed since 1949.

Here’s an example of skijoring competitions still practiced today:

It looks like so much fun! It’s been years since I skied but I would love to try this! Follow this link to learn more about skijoring!