There are many ways in life I feel my aliveness, feeling my athleticism is in the top five. The other four that I equate with feeling truly alive are: noticing a breath, feeling love for my child, having insight and being in a peaceful state.
Living in Northern California has a certain set of possibilities that are unique. In a single long weekend I can ski, bike and surf. Because this is possible, I feel obligated to doing all three. Physical activity in the outdoors has always been a priority. I am old enough now to have felt the limits of age but not so old that those limits need to be honored at all times. There is a sweet spot were the joy of the activity and my skill in doing it transcends a need for inhibitory caution. Good common sense has kept me off the bone crushing waves of Ocean Beach or the terrain parks of Tahoe in which I am not skilled.
In the past four days I felt my athleticism in each form of the above mentioned ativities. I define Athleticism as the moment(s) during activity when I feel free, flowing seamlessly with my equipment and environment. I am not thinking in a cognitive-executive thinking sense, rather having an uninterrupted thought that involves all that is included in my awareness. I have noticed that the intensity and duration of these moments vary and are often followed with a smile and whoop!
While free skiing at Sierra at Tahoe after my almost three year old son’s first day on skis, I had several moments of athleticism. I was already in a very gratified state having seen my son’s excitement in this new experience of skiing. The first moment of athleticism was of a groomer run with a nice long fall line that beckoned hand dragging GS turns. As I crested over the head wall I had the whole vista and slope open before me. Already with good speed I stood erect arms open fully immersed in the sensation of possibility. Like a bird with the sky I could go anywhere on the slope. I dropped into my first big arching turn shoulders square to the fall line both hands charging downwards while moving sideways in the same moment. I reached down the hill aggressively and then rolled in my ankle of my turning ski locking in the ski’s potential for cambered power. The fuse of skiing synergy lit, I began to rise from the compression of gravity and centrifugal force triggering the explosive release of power harnessed in the ski. My body was thrown upwards into momentary flight. Freedom. I repeated doing this again and again until the mountain delivered me to flatter terrain.
Next I found my Athleticism skiing through un-tracked woods. Dancing with the trees spaced tightly enough to demand action without room for thoughts getting in the way of forming a moments hesitation. Feeling connected to the tips of my skis as an extension of my strength. Driving each turn from my ski tips and core as one. Looking up to see the snow full of glimmering sun diamonds, my feet relaxed unlocking yet another possibility of levity in the heavy early winters snow. These moments of skiing athleticism are the joy that brings me back again and again. As a child I would endure god forsaken night skiing just to have these moments of athletic freedom in my life. What I grew from those freezing nights still calls me back to the slopes today.
The next day back at sea level I was met 20 miles of mixed single track and road on Mt Tamalpias. Birthplace of Mtn biking, sanctuary of protected redwoods, epicenter for Buddhist practice and beauty for as far as the eye can see. While descending the coastal trail I had an experience that mirrored my athleticism on skis. It was my bike and dirt trails this time I felt merge. Feeling the mountain fallaway with rocks, ruts, roots and turns appearing at every whim the trail offered. Feeling the bikes suspension and brakes disappear into an extension of my breath. Being in a pre-cognitive state where my body is reacting to what my eyes, brain and nervous system has already processed. At the point my tires contact the trail, the trail is already part of me. The undefinable all containing it feels good. The trail, the bike and I are all fully purposed in this moment.
I write this sitting in my sturdy heed “Syncro”. A 1991 VW Vanagon-Westfalia-Syncro. Syncro is my escape pod, always on the ready for the next adventure, break downs included. Im fresh out of the surf at Kelly’s Cove, Ocean Beach San Francisco. Surfing is by far the activity where moments of athleticism are the most fleeting for me. I came to the sport in my early 30’s in an area where the waves, water and company are often most unforgiving. Surfing is by far the most elusive sport I have ever stuck with. I have gotten more beat up in the waves of Ocean beach than in the entirety of my 46 years of bike riding, and I have done some stupid things on a bike. Yet even in the face of cold water and big waves the mortal danger of surfing calls me back. Today the athleticism appeared in a moment where I was able to stand up, and surf the wave up and down crest to peak several times before gracefully bowing out the waves back side. Each attempt at catching a wave begins with a full body sprint followed by standing on insanely unstable ground while orienting to the speed and movement of an ever-changing wave. What happens when the sensations of athleticism appears during surfing is none of that. I just surf. That moment is without mind just as it is on skis or bike.
A noteworthy side attribute to the above sports is they also contains the opportunity to experience three of my other favorite feelings of aliveness: noticing a breath, having insight and being in a peaceful state. Sitting deep out in the water away from land, awaiting the next ridable wave or recovering from the last un-ridable one’ is often where I glean these deeply satisfying feelings.
That my experience of athleticism transcends the confines of particular equipment or environment is an at-testament to years and hours of practice. I have been both lucky and driven to have had the opportunity to practice the sports that then gift me the joy of being in an athletic state.
The feeling of Athleticism is the gold standard of sensation in a sport. Like enlightenment it can come to a novice or expert alike at any given moment. I have found it is worth the effort.
Antony Thier is a Somatic Psychotherapist, Therapeutic Exercise Trainer and Father and enthusiast in San Francisco CA.