Why I Loved Diva Camp...

Trip Start Oct 11, 2011
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Trip End Oct 17, 2011


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Where I stayed
Wilderness Adventures at Eagle Landing
What I did
Diva Camp

Flag of United States  , Virginia
Sunday, October 16, 2011

I have become passionate, over the years, about sports that involve variations in altitude or depth, and that are not confined to a measured field or arena. Forget flat-terrain, line-confined sports like baseball, tennis, hockey - nothing wrong with those sports, but they don't appeal as much to my increasing passion for the great outdoors.

Scuba-diving and mountain climbing have allowed me to go deep, and to reach for the sky, if you'll pardon the easy puns. Achieving my diving depth record (140 ft), and altitude record (19,931 ft) were two milestones that meant something to me, and I can tell you when and where they happened. It is honestly not about trying to impress anyone else - although I'm not shy about mentioning them, clearly. It is about me. I was not an athletic child. I loved sports and believed I had good instincts. But I was afraid. Afraid of looking foolish, afraid to fail, afraid not to win. And therefore, I chose not to try, instead of taking the risk of not winning every time.

Fast forward many years, and here I am, a cycling fanatic. I'll spare you the details of how that passion grew (you may have heard the story already). Suffice it to say, it started with the Tour de France. Eventually, I decided watching other people riding their bikes was not good enough anymore, and I got myself a road bike. I immediately loved the feeling of riding a road bike, and have become passionate about watching pro-cycling, and riding my bike.

With age have come a bit of wisdom, and a great big dollop of confidence. I'm not afraid of looking foolish anymore. I'm not athletic, graceful, supple or fast, but I'm strong. I'm also more determined than ever to do and try things that, as a twenty-year old, made me doubt myself. I am older, and have some of the expected aches and pains, but I'll take those over the lack of self-confidence of years past, any day of the week.

So - when my friend Anita asked me back in March if I had signed up for Diva Camp, it took me all of two minutes to do so. I was, admittedly, a bit nervous - was I going to hold anyone back, be the slowest, or weakest on the bike? I decided to get over those nerves and just go and have fun. Diva Camp turned out to be wonderful. Our small group of women - Anita, D'Andrea, Barbara, Jane, Jenn, Ashley, Robin, Debbie, Emily and I - rode the beautiful Low Country roads of Beaufort, South Carolina, with the excellent coaching staff from Total Cyclist, led by Chad, and with Terry, Tom, Melinda, Alison, Shauna, and Mark.

Diva Camp was an uplifting, positive, fun, motivating experience with like-minded women from all walks of life. None of us "kids" anymore, we found great joy and - yes - a little bit of a competitive edge, in riding our bikes and learning new skills to go faster, be more comfortable on two wheels, and enjoy cycling even more. We enjoyed each others' company, and laughed our butts off. (#vuvuzela)

I made new friends, and left Diva Camp more confident. Not just in my riding ability, but overall. I hadn't "conquered fears", but I had pushed myself, and I liked the results.

It was inevitable that I would return to Diva Camp this fall, on the hilly roads of Virginia. Now - as much as mountain climbing is a passion, mountain climbing on two wheels is not. I generally find myself avoiding big hills on my bike, choosing the path of least resistance instead. Not because I do not think I can, but because I do not enjoy being out of breath and suffering. I'm too heavy and climbing hills while carrying extra weight is no fun. There, I said it. 

I arrived at Wilderness Adventures at Eagle Landing the day before the official start of Diva Camp Fall 2011. The area is beautiful - the hilly forests all around were covered with a mind-blowing explosion of fall colours in all shades of red and orange and yellow and green. The roads go up and down and curve every which way. The tarmac is nice, recently paved and generally debris-free, except for apples that could no longer resist the appeal of gravity and litter small patches of road. It was obvious that the riding was going to be beautiful, and somewhat challenging for me.

Our group of Divas was bigger this time, with some repeating campers (Ashley, Jenn, Robin, Debbie and me), and many new Divas. Our brains were all challenged with the need to learn twenty or so new names very quickly! The dynamics were different, there were more of us, but once again, "the bike united us". We all have a reason to ride - whether it is to compete in triathlons or bike races, or to participate in charity rides, or simply to stay active. More importantly, it was obvious that we all enjoyed riding our bikes.

The original Diva Camp coaching team was augmented with the wonderful addition of pros Kelly Fisher-Goodwin, of Team Colavita, and Chris Monteleone, of Team Kenda, as well as the uber-cool couple (and Canadians!), both Masters National Champs Jocelyne Belanger and Gordon Stiel. Wow. I was so impressed with all of them, for (obviously...) their amazing athleticism and strength on a bike, but mainly, well... because they were just all so nice and friendly. They could have acted like big shots with big egos; after all, they've earned their star status. Instead, I have lasting memories of riding next to Chris, and chatting about all kinds of things, while just flying down the road. Riding on Joce's wheel at a pace set like a metronome - incredibly steady and predictable - I was able to get very close to her wheel and be comfortable, because I trusted her completely. As for Gordon "the man of steel", I still cannot believe he pushed me up a hill (not Potts Mountain, for the record); to say "he's got strong legs" would be an insulting euphemism. And then, there was Kelly - my cheerleader up Potts Mountain, whose energy and enthusiam were just plain contagious. Megan Merritt Lyon rounded up the "new" team nicely by offering what every cyclist needs after a long ride, a massage... Haaaa....

Let me go back to the original Diva Camp coaches: Terry, Melinda, Tom, Alison, and of course, our leader Chad; our wonderful camp directeur, Shauna; and mechanic-cum-funny man-cum-helper extraordinaire, Mark #hashtag. I felt that we all picked up where we left off in the spring, which was great. I learned to trust them all in April, and that trust carried over to this camp. It might sound like a big statement, to talk about "trusting the coaches" - I'm not an elite athlete being coached to compete. And yet, riding with this team felt so comfortable again, I realized during the first ride how much I had missed riding with all of them since the spring!

I have to offer special "props" to Terry (aka Slip) - I called him my "Zen Master on two wheels". Slip exudes a calming influence that makes me willing to try death-defying tricks on my bike, like picking a bottle off the ground. That I had a "baby crash" and ended up with a booboo on my knee is irrelevant. The fact that I fell because I was going to pick up that bottle or die trying is relevant. Working with Slip, I actually believed I could pick up the bottle (turns out I could not), and that it was worth the extra risk (it was). I'll get the bottle next time or the time after that, I'm not worried. Oh - and I might have felt slightly foolish for having had that "baby crash", but I didn't feel foolish for very long. I'm sure it didn't look like it to anyone else, but I happen to know that I crashed because I tried harder. And if the price for that is a silver-dollar size scab on my knee (plus a few nasty, painful, bruises), that's cheap.

I started this little "essay" with my thoughts on pushing limits - of depth and of altitude, and about the fact that I don't like riding up hills. Until Saturday morning, I had more or less decided that I would not try the Potts Mountain climb. I had driven down it on Wednesday, and had thought, "gee, I hope we're not climbing this!". Yep - I had talked myself out of it before it even became an option. Saturday morning, something changed. I had not ridden brilliantly, or had any new reason to think I would suddenly enjoy climbing. But at the very bottom of the climb, I had a very calm thought, just one, just once: "I'm going to climb that mountain." Nothing more than that. And with that, I shifted into my smallest gear, found a comfortable rhythm and focused on my heart rate and cadence (not my speed). My own self-confidence in my ability to reach the top was probably not obvious to anyone else, and yet, my determination to climb the mountain was unequivocal.

In the past - maybe as recently as the first Diva Camp - I probably would have had some measure of doubt. I'm not a significantly better rider now, but I got into my mountain climbing mental mode: "steady as she goes", counting steps and/or pedal rotations, and just focusing on the ground in front of me. Mountain climbing and cycling have "suffering" in common. Neither is truly fun in the present - for instance, climbing with crampons on snow in the cold and dark at 2am is more uncomfortable and intimidating than fun. So is pedaling up a 8% pitch, 5 miles into a 6 mile-climb.

Twice, I said, "my back is hurting too much, I will have to stop". That was not doubt or melodrama - it was very bad back pain, and I was concerned about hurting my back worse than it already is. Chad and Kelly both said, "you're almost there". I chose to believe them (after challenging them with a few choice words...), and kept going. At no time did I think, "I can't....!". Kelly offered a push at some point - I refused. It wasn't just out of principle, of not wanting to cheat - I had a comfortable cadence and rhythm and I just didn't want to mess with it. My breathing, which has been a problem until very recently, was under complete control all the way to the top. Until, that is, Kelly announced she was going to cry, right at the top. My own throat started constricting, and with about 50 feet to go, I couldn't breathe! I made it, and yes, it feels damn good.

When I summitted Kilimanjaro, on Sept. 11, 2003, I was overweight and out of shape then too. The climb was beautiful, scary, intimidating and immensely rewarding. Taking a moment to reflect on the summit that morning, I felt like, "if I can do this, I can do *anything*". There were other similarities between the way I climbed Kili and the way I rode up Potts Mountain (our guide Chez on Kili was a bit like Kelly riding next to me on Potts), arriving last to the top, with my team mates cheering me on. With a bit of hindsight, I realize the biggest similarity is that in both cases, I was determined to do it, and did not doubt my ability to reach the summit. It was that way on Mount Baker in 2004, and Chachani in June 2007. I stopped caring about being last, or the weakest, or looking silly (I do look silly on a bike, there's no denying it), or needing help. I'm totally ok with not being the first to the top, or with not looking like the best rider out there. It's not that I'm missing a competitive gene, trust me, but I compete quite well against myself. And over the last few years, I've been winning consistently, even when I up the ante.

There were so many great things about Diva Camp. Our canine mascot Cowgirl deserves a whole book to herself. The zip line on Saturday afternoon was fun. Years ago, it would have scared me and I might have chosen not to do it, probably more out of an illogical fear of looking stupid. Let's face facts: no one looks especially good hanging from a harness 20-30 feet above ground. But boy, is it fun to zip down that line! And that's what it's about.

Debbie and I drove up Potts Mountain on the way home on Sunday, and we both were incredulous about our accomplishment. "Holy s***! We climbed THAT?!?" was our common and simultaneous reaction. But it wasn't just the climb. I left Diva Camp once again having made many new friends, having renewed friendships that went much deeper than I had known (what a wonderful realization!), having met and exceeded my own expectations, and won my own private little competition (thanks, Mo!). Oh - and having Kelly, Mark, Slip and a few other folks call me a bad ass, well, that was just icing on the cake ;-)

Thank you to all of you - coaches and campers alike - for your support, enthusiasm, joy, encouragement, laughter, silliness, hugs, and common love for Cowgirl. Can't wait to see all y'all again real soon, eh?
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Comments

Katie Caniglia on

I loved reading this post and am putting the link on my website - www.Itriforgood.com.

Thanks for sharing.
~Katie

Leslie on

Wow Helene, I can't tell you how much of my own personal journey in triathlon you've captured. I was never an athlete either, and had fears too numerous to count. Sport has changed my life and now I DO consider myself an athlete - AND SO ARE YOU! You don't have to be the thinnest or the fastest or the best or the first to be an athlete. You kicked my booty with your BAD ASS on that and several other climbs at Diva Camp and I am so impressed and inspired by you! Can't wait to make that climb together next year!

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