Tag: Women

Redefining Fitness

Redefining Fitness

Ditch the scale, ditch the measuring tape, and focus on something real. Fitness is not about taking a perfect mirror selfie; it is a set of physical capabilities.

People so frequently talk about fitness – and the process of attaining it – and yet definitions of that term vary widely. I often hear people talking about “getting fit” and reducing their caloric intake in the same sentence. People often talk about their appearance and their “fitness” in the same sentence. The list goes on. So this begs the question…

What does fitness mean to you?

I describe it as a diversity of well-honed physical capabilities. As in, I am fit when I can run, swim, climb, hike, backpack, lift, and do various other activities with relative ease and competency. Gaining fitness, to me, is a process of becoming more physically capable.

A corrected fitspiration image. I can certainly attest to the fact that, yes, there are bad workouts. When I was a young athlete, I sometimes pushed myself too much and paid for it. I am much wiser and more cautious and methodical now, and I taught my athletes accordingly as a coach.
A corrected fitspiration image. I can certainly attest to the fact that, yes, there are bad workouts. When I was a young athlete, I sometimes pushed myself too much and paid for it.
See what I mean? This was one of the first images I came across with a Google image search for fitspiration. Ew.
See what I mean? Ew. This was one of the first images I came across with a Google image search for fitspiration. Sounds like a thinly-veiled exhortation to develop an eating disorder.

This may sound straightforward, but it took me a long time to arrive at such clearly-defined terms.

Our society has such strange attitudes about body image, fitness, weight, and more. This is an especially fraught issue for women, and women athletes. I invite you to read about female athlete triad and to think about all the damaging “fitspiration” bullshit that circulates around the fitness world. It’s hard not to get sucked in.

Fortunately, sports have been (mostly) a positive force in my own life. From an early age, athletic endeavors encouraged me to look beyond my appearance and to take pride in my abilities. In particular, I have always prided myself on being physically strong, a trait that my awesome dad has encouraged me in. He taught me how to lift weights safely and healthily, in our little basement workout room. We still sometimes do push-ups together and arm wrestle. He has always complimented me on my strength, and has always meant it.

I have always felt proud, too, of my body’s ability to put on muscle. When I’m strong, I look it and feel like it. I also have jokingly said many times that I am dense – physically, that is. That of course is because muscle weighs more than fat.

Even when I have looked thin, I have not weighed as little as some of my friends who wore the same sized clothes. I was often told by doctors that my BMI was too high, including when I was running track in college (pictured). But many times when my BMI said I was borderline overweight, I was strong, I felt good, and I don’t think I could have lost any more weight without causing myself harm. Professional athletes often face this problem as well. I have learned, slowly but surely, not to worry about the number on the scale for these reasons.

But all of this is easier said than done.

Fitness?
A photo of me competing in college. I may look thin and “fit” here, but I was severely anemic and battling other medical issues. © Naomi Denekas

Although I have always been proud of my strength, and although I (slowly) learned that BMI was a stupid and incomplete method of measuring health, I also have always worried about my weight. More accurately, I have always worried about my APPEARANCE, i.e. looking thin enough. Our society all too frequently correlates the two. I just caught MYSELF correlating the two. It’s hard not to in our society. It’s also hard not to worry about these superficial things in our society, especially as a woman.

And when I look back on my old track and cross country photos, I lament that I was so concerned.

For one, I looked fine. More importantly, worrying about my appearance was such a waste of time and energy – non-renewable resources that would have been better spent enjoying meets with my teammates instead of worrying about how I looked in my uniform. And MOST importantly, my health is much better now than it was when I was in college. At the time the above photo of me running track was taken, I was struggling with undiagnosed endocrine issues, I was severely anemic, and I was developing allergy-induced asthma. I may have looked thin and “healthy,” but my health was taking a nose dive, albeit a hidden one.

The irony is that my weight is much higher now, but other numbers indicate that I am much healthier. My iron levels, thyroid levels, blood pressure, and everything else are well within the normal range now. What’s more, I am not suffering bizarre symptoms these days. It’s pretty cool to not get exercise-induced migraines every time I try to run, I have to say! I’ve also healed from multiple severe injuries, including a concussion from a thirty-foot fall and a torn ACL, both of which I successfully rehabbed. I’d say that’s a success story in and of itself, and yet there is no good “before and after” picture that can capture those changes. Oh well. *insert sarcastic sigh*

The most important thing is that I feel grateful for how far I’ve come.

Baker Beach Friends
A much more beautiful photo: My friends and me while I trekked the Oregon Coast Trail in spring 2017. I am proud of my determination and strength, and thankful for my good health and the meaningful relationships in my life. Better things to focus on, right? © Joe Dudman

However, I will readily admit that I have felt frustration about my weight/size/shape in the past few years. My self-image took a hit when I first began gaining the weight (during my concussion and exercise-induced migraine days), but my concerns have been tempered by ongoing personal reflection. Chiefly, I know that I want my life to be about more than my looks, and I have worked hard to make it so. Dumping a superficial ex, surrounding myself with supportive people, and dating someone who actually likes how I look have all helped me to build a more meaningful life. Additionally, my experience coaching athletes – and thus being privy to a lot of other folks’ body image issues – has prompted me, time and again, to question my definitions of fitness and to ensure that what I am saying and modeling is healthy and helpful to those around me.

Indeed, it is important to remember that body image issues can be contagious. Correlating your own fitness and appearance can negatively influence others. If redefining “fitness” for your own well-being is not a compelling enough reason, perhaps the impact it has on others will be a stronger incentive. I know that has been the case for me, as a coach and as a friend.

Fitness?
I know what you’re thinking: She’s hot, right? I’m thinking: I can probably knock her down easily. WordPress Stock Photo.

It also doesn’t hurt that I’ve gotten even stronger in the past few years. In fact, I believe that my increased strength is partly related to my increased mass. I have more “oomph” behind my lifts now. When I’ve attended self-defense classes and dabbled in kickboxing, I’ve found myself capable of moving even a really heavy punching bag, and easily knocking over an opponent.  That makes me feel powerful and proud.

I am not saying that I’m complacent; I want to regain my running fitness. I would ideally like to shed some of the weight that I have gained. BUT I am content for now. I am not sweating those details, especially because I feel fit in some ways that I am very proud of. I also am well aware that my worth is dictated by far more than the number on the scale or the size of my pants.

Bottom line: I want to remind you all to consider deeply what you define as “fitness,” why, and whether it’s really serving you – and others.

I think it is vital for us to remember what we were always taught in grade school: That one’s appearance doesn’t matter as much as what is inside. That may sound corny, but when you truly value your abilities more than your appearance, to paraphrase the late, great John Wooden, you don’t become corny. You become a better, stronger person.

Cultivate strength, of body and character. That’s what matters.

Need some daily inspiration to redirect your focus from how you look to what you’re capable of? Check out my Facebook page Cut the BS – Athletes Against Body Shaming!

Check out more Reflections and Moments!

Building a Positive and Comfortable Community at Oregon Country Fair

Building a Positive and Comfortable Community at Oregon Country Fair

Nestled in the trees, teeming with positive energy, and showcasing stunning local crafts, Oregon Country Fair is an amazing experience. Held annually since 1969 in Veneta, 15 miles east of Eugene, this fun and funky event is an Oregon tradition.

I finally took part in this tradition in summer 2017, spending a long weekend camping near the fair with friends and my boyfriend. OCF far exceeded my expectations, and I highly recommend attending. The best part, to me, was the atmosphere.

Welcoming and Positive

Oregon Country Fair Stilt Walkers
Stilt walkers are a common sight at Oregon Country Fair. © Jenni Denekas

The atmosphere at Oregon Country Fair was consistently welcoming. From the moment my carpool pulled into our camp, we were told, “Welcome home!” When I was introduced to friends of my friends, I was enveloped in hugs. Passers-by greeted each other with, “Happy Fair!”

The conversations that occurred were generally upbeat. One of my friends kept steering us away from political discussions, reminding us that the fair is a special place, removed from the rest of the world. Focusing on the positive infused our experiences with a joyful, relaxed vibe.

Free expression abounded in various forms. People wore a whole array of unique outfits, adorned their camps with vibrant decorations, and passed their time with silly games. The fact that everyone was accepting and non-judgmental helped to make this possible.

A Supportive Community

Oregon Country Fair sign
Oregon Country Fair is a bit of a maze… an amazing one! © Jenni Denekas

A lot of people chose to use recreational drugs, but no one was ostracized for indulging – or for abstaining. I do not use drugs at all, and felt a lot more accepted and a lot less judged than I was expecting. As someone said, in reference to my energetic demeanor, “I take drugs to feel as good as you seem to feel naturally!” Essentially, as long as you were friendly and having fun, you fit in just fine.

Even when someone was having a hard time, they were supported. Indeed, the community atmosphere of OCF was apparent when folks helped those who were having a tough “trip.” More relevant to my personal experience, folks were also quick to help if you got lost in the labyrinthine fair.

I also saw the community spirit of OCF in action on our final morning at camp. One of my friends shouted out that it was my boyfriend’s birthday, and everyone sang to him. Afterwards, one guy gave my boyfriend the “key to his new age.” Later in the day, my boyfriend and I re-visited one of our favorite stalls. The man running the booth presented my boyfriend with a birthday grapefruit. This was apparently one of the “best grapefruits in the world,” no less.

Indeed, impromptu giving was common at OCF, and the atmosphere was welcoming and respectful. I sincerely hope this was the case for everyone in attendance.

But I want to note that, as a white woman, my appearance may have influenced how I was treated and therefore what my experience felt like. In other words, it’s time to talk about privilege, race, and cultural appropriation.

Race and Cultural Appropriation

I could see how a person of color may feel less comfortable than I did at OCF. Cultural appropriation abounded, including some people who shouldn’t have been wearing feather headdresses. (Alas, they were.) Some booths showcased traditional crafts made by people who were not part of that culture. On the plus side, there was a display about local tribes, their culture, and the genocide rained upon them in the 1800s by white settlers. I’m not trying to excuse the appropriation that I noticed, but I am glad that there was some acknowledgement of the tribes and their history, at least.

My boyfriend and I also noticed that there were not many POC at the fair. Obviously, Oregon is not the most diverse state, but the attendance at OCF still did not seem to reflect the state’s population – and I have to wonder why. Perhaps cultural appropriation makes it unappealing. Perhaps the referral system for campgrounds (which I will delve further into in a moment) means that long-time white attendees invite their white friends, thus creating a cycle. Perhaps something else is at play. On the plus side, I did see a “Black Lives Matter” poster in the fair, and my boyfriend (who is half Japanese) said he felt comfortable and welcome at OCF. Again, I’m not trying to excuse the problems I noted; I’m just pointing out some positives.

A Comfortable Space for Women

A moss peace sign near the Community Village in Oregon Country Fair.  © Jenni Denekas

On the other hand, it was really comfortable to attend the fair as a woman. This especially struck me when I went to the large bonfire/drum circle, and was dancing in a crowd of joyful hippies. I realized OCF was the one and only time in my adult life that I have danced in a crowded place and not been groped. Although that is a sad commentary on our society as a whole, it is a positive commentary on what OCF is like – at least, in my experience.

Of course, I can’t speak to everyone’s experience – and if anyone has something to share, I would be happy to help bring it to light. I did notice flyers by some of the restrooms about reducing the rate of assaults at OCF, which implies that that does happen. And of course, once is far too many times for that to occur.

However, what I experienced and witnessed suggests that it was a relatively safe space for women.

For instance, I was pleasantly surprised that I never saw any of the many topless women being catcalled, mocked for not having a “perfect” body (whatever that means), or otherwise treated any differently than anyone else. Folks seemed to maintain eye contact and treat these topless women with just as much respect as anyone else. I also was glad to see diverse body types baring it all. It seems that body positivity is alive and well at OCF.

There also was an awesome area set aside specifically for women at the fair. This space is the Moon Lodge, a magical den among lush vine maples draped with diaphanous fabric. Filled with comfortable nooks, this space provides a welcome escape from the bustle of the fair. Visitors can read feminist books, draw, chat with other awesome women, test out various tinctures, listen to a talk, or participate in a ceremony. The Moon Lodge also offered information on sexual assault and domestic violence, and free tampons and pads. It is an all-around great resource for women and girls. I was also glad that I didn’t feel the need to retreat into this haven due to anyone’s bad behavior; it was simply somewhere that I visited voluntarily, and enjoyed a lot.

Referral System for Camps

Camp at Oregon Country Fair
Home sweet home in the trees, at a camp near Oregon Country Fair. © Jenni Denekas

So how does this great atmosphere come about? I think the safe and welcoming vibes at OCF stem from the fact that the camps require referrals. For instance, to stay at our camp, one had to be invited by someone who has camped there before. Then each guest still has to fill out an application in order to be approved. Additionally, at our camp, they would throw out troublemakers and whoever invited them. By relying on networking and on strict consequences, the camps help facilitate a safe and enjoyable atmosphere.

However, as I previously mentioned, I wonder if the referral system perpetuates a lack of racial diversity at the fair. I recently heard of some discouraging statistics that indicate that 75% of white people in the United States do not have any close friends who are people of color (link here; get ready to be sad). If that is the case, then the white people who already camp near OCF will invite their white friends, and the demographics of this event will not change. Referrals will not fix this situation, obviously, so it seems necessary to implement new strategies to address the lack of diversity.

Though there are some potential areas of improvement, I was overall impressed with the atmosphere at Oregon Country Fair. Indeed, the vibe was the best part of the entire experience. I can understand why a lot of people consider it a home-away-from-home, and keep coming back.

Ready to plan your visit? Check out my Oregon Country Fair page, or visit the OCF official website.

Have you been before? Share your OCF experience in the comments!

“You’re Out Here Alone!”

“You’re Out Here Alone!”

Hiking the Oregon Coast Trail While Female, Episode 57, Day 26

Earlier in this gray, 10-mile day, I had reached the (approximate) halfway point of my hike: Waldport. I was trucking along on the short segment of Highway 101 that I needed to reach Driftwood State Park, and beach access.

I was not too happy about being on 101, especially after a pickup truck driven by a young male asshole swerved towards me and honked, apparently just for laughs. I tried to scratch his paint with my trekking pole. I was frustrated but not shocked. I had already been through this scenario before (which is why my right trekking pole didn’t have a tip protector on, so I was ready for maximum paint-scratching).

I sighed and pushed forward, knowing the best thing to do was to move quickly so I could get off the highway as soon as possible.

I was on a roll when I spotted a cyclist cruising towards me a half-mile later.

As he approached, he slowed to a stop. He looked incredulous.

He blurted, “You’re out here alone!”

Immediately I responded, with the same tone of voice, “You too!!!”

“Yeah, but, you’re… Never mind.” He seemed to think better of finishing his sentence.

We chatted for a couple of minutes. It turned out he was cycling to San Francisco on 101. I pointed out that that, to me, was crazier than what I was doing! I mentioned the truck that buzzed me a little while ago and said ruefully that I wouldn’t want to be on the highway that much.

He started to say, in that incredulous tone again, “But you’re out here by your-“

“You are, too. I guess we’re both crazy!” I kept my tone light but firm. He laughed and dropped the subject.

We shook hands, wished each other luck, and continued on our separate ways. He was going south, I was heading north.

I was glad that, only the day before, I had brainstormed snappy replies to people commenting on the fact that I was a woman hiking alone. This cyclist didn’t seem like a bad person; he seemed like the sort who probably just hadn’t thought about this issue much before. He was one of those cases where a comment like mine could, hopefully, get through to him. I sincerely hope that I made him think. I hope that I made him consider that he shouldn’t be amazed by a woman alone. I hope that when he regales his friends with stories from his trip, that I am just another endurance athlete, not an anomaly.

Bottom line: Women belong outdoors, out pushing ourselves, out experiencing the world, just as much as men do. HUMANS deserve these experiences. Male, female, trans, gender-non-conforming, all races, all abilities… WE ALL DESERVE ACCESS TO NATURE.

It starts with each and every one of you, dear readers: What will you do to make the outdoors more accessible and comfortable for all? See the Pitch In page for ideas!

OCT Journal, Days 24-25: Friends Old and New

OCT Journal, Days 24-25: Friends Old and New

So many wonderful people have made my past 36ish hours great! Definitely feeling thankful – and warm!

Day 24: Harbor Vista County Campground to Baker Beach Trailhead, then Heceta Head Lighthouse to Carl G. Washburne Memorial State Park.

Day 25: Cummins Creek (southern side of Cape Perpetua) to Beachside State Recreation Area.

Baker Beach Friends
My friends were a lovely bright spot in a stormy day. © Joe Dudman & Charissa Yang

Amidst wet and windy weather that sometimes blotted out the headlands and lighthouse only a few miles in front of me, I trudged through a hike that my guidebook said was 5.5 miles, but was actually 8. I was on my way from a campsite in Florence to the Baker Beach Trailhead. I was not only eager to get out of the rain, but I also was hurrying because I had a planned rendezvous with two friends who were driving back to Portland on Highway 101 – after their wedding!

It was awesome to see them and offer congratulations in person (I had watched their wedding online in Lakeside, Oregon earlier in my trip). They were also kind enough to give me a ride between the end of Hike 1 and the beginning of Hike 2, sparing me from walking a scary stretch of highway which included a tunnel (This is one of the areas that I strongly recommend skipping).

Inside Heceta Head Light
The spiral staircase inside Heceta Head Lighthouse. © Jenni Denekas

Then my friends and I visited Heceta Head Lighthouse together. Constructed from 1892-1893 and lit in 1894, Heceta Head is now owned by the Oregon Parks and Recreation Department. Oregon State Parks volunteers conduct tours of the light on a daily basis.

The volunteer who conducted our tour was curious about my big pack (it is a good conversation starter), and I explained my trip to her. It turned out that she was going to be at the same campground that I was planning on staying that night (Carl G. Washburne Memorial State Park). We commented on how it was a small world, but I just left it at, “Cool, hopefully see ya later!”

Heceta Head Viewed from Above
Heceta Head Light viewed from the trail uphill. © Jenni Denekas

I bid farewell to my friends and headed up the hillside from Heceta Head Lighthouse. It was a beautiful and steady climb. I was starting to wear out as the day drew to a close, but chewing on a couple of sweets from a Ziplock bag that my friends gave me me yielded a new burst of energy. I smiled thinking about their visit, and continued to trudge on.

Meanwhile, the volunteer from the lighthouse got to camp well before I did. When she arrived, she told all the other volunteers at the camp about me. One of the other volunteers paid for my campsite, and someone else brought wood to my site, and so forth. When I arrived, soaked, cold, and exhausted, I was so pleasantly surprised by this kind welcome. Can anyone say “trail magic?!”

PLEASE NOTE: THIS WAS AN ACT OF KINDNESS AND IS NOT SOMETHING YOU SHOULD EXPECT OR FEEL ENTITLED TO. That is the nature of trail magic; read more thoughts on kindness and entitlement on long hikes.

Cape Perpetua Trail
Sunny, lush forest greeted me on Cape Perpetua the next morning. © Jenni Denekas

I was happy to wake up to sun this morning. I was so tired the night before that I had been a bit lazy about getting my gear dry, even though I was rapidly becoming an expert on drying wet clothes in the backcountry. My gear was soaked, and unfortunately, so was my firewood. It was pouring too hard the night before to light a fire, and keeping the wood under my rain fly didn’t keep it dry enough. I appreciated the gesture, regardless. But at any rate, lollygagging around the shaded campground didn’t seem to offer me much opportunity to dry my gear.

Nevertheless, the sun lifted my spirits. What lifted my spirits even more was that I finally met the woman who paid for my site! I thanked her profusely for her kind gesture. I learned that she recently retired and began volunteering with Oregon State Parks. She asked more about my trip. We exchanged stories for a while.

When I asked her about how big the shoulder was on 101 between the camp and my next trail, she immediately offered me a ride. I gratefully accepted.

While we drove to the Cape Perpetua Trailhead, she told me how happy it makes her to see young women who believe they can do anything, because when she was growing up, there were so few “acceptable” options for women. We talked about how there is still a ways to go, but that the world has changed a lot in the past few decades. It was a good “girl power” moment. I bid my new friend farewell and set out into the sunny, lush forest.

Cape Perpetua
The view from Cape Perpetua is stunning, and I was thankful for a sunny day to enjoy it. © Jenni Denekas

When I arrived at the Cape Perpetua Visitor Center on foot, I met this volunteer who had a great story about a friend of his accidentally pooping on a skunk (and that ended about as well as you might imagine). That, of course, reminds me of this awesome page.

While I was eating my lunch at the visitor center, a newly retired couple visiting from Washington started chatting with me (again, my backpack proved itself a great conversation starter). This couple used to backpack a lot and were fun to “talk shop” with.

They ended up offering me a ride to my camp for the night, which was super sweet and a huge help. Though I was reluctant to miss out on the trails on the north side of Cape Perpetua, I was grateful to get into camp early. That provided me the opportunity to string a clothesline and dry out everything that got drenched yesterday. So I’ll be warmer tonight, and more comfortable tomorrow, thanks to their generosity!

My new friends even gave me their card, so I can contact them if I need anything else in the next couple of days before they head back home. I appreciated the thoughtful gesture, but I figure unless I run into significant trouble, I won’t bother them. I am keeping the card, though, because it includes their mailing address. They are getting a thank-you card later! As are the volunteers that live at the state park I stayed at last night!

Then this evening, while at Beachside State Recreation Area, some of my camp neighbors came by and introduced themselves. One of the women said that she noticed that I was camping alone, and invited me to join them for dinner and drinks. I had already cooked up some of my coconut curry and started a fire, but I was glad for the company and went to sit with them.

It turned out that they had caught crabs and bought mussels earlier, and were boiling them all over their fire pit. My eyes got round, as I am always hungry, now that I am hiking every day. I added these succulent treats to my curry, gratefully sipped a beer, and enjoyed listening to their hilarious and adventurous stories. One couple talked about how they had road tripped to 49 states before having a baby (who had just settled down for the night in their yurt). The wife then revealed that she had actually been to that 50th state before, as a kid, and her husband expressed good-natured indignation that she was holding out on him. We all laughed.

We shared stories and chuckles until late, and I excused myself so I could get some rest before the next day’s hike. They wished me luck and I left with a smile.

Now, tucked into my tent with dry clothes, I am reflecting on how so many wonderful people have made my past 36ish hours great! Definitely feeling thankful – and warm!

Jump to the next day’s journal entry.

Check out the previous day’s journal entry.

Read more about the Oregon Coast Trail.