I spent 20 years after college pursuing the American Dream: Finding a career, earning a paycheck, buying a house, getting married. I met so many people along the way doing the same things. During that time, I was living life and everything seemed grand. Another 4 years passed and I was doing the same things, but a voice started to grow in the back of my brain. It started as a whisper just out of sight. Just outside of my awareness, but it grew louder. While I had accomplished many things, I had built a life of “mailing it in”. I was living a safe live…..a small life and all along pretending it was enough. I had no idea of how to change it or what I wanted it to change into. I just knew that what I had been doing was not enough anymore. The feeling of being lost grew. While I was pursuing the American Dream, I had stopped pursuing My Dreams.
Then I found rock climbing. It has become the palette with which I paint my life. At the time, I was 44 and weighed 260 pounds at 5’8”. I was certainly not an image of health and fitness. But, that first day, I looked around at all the people at the gym and knew I wanted to be one of them without really knowing why. Slowly I realized that I was seeing people truly happy with themselves. It wasn’t just their youth and vigor, but their drive and awareness of what made them happy. Somewhere along the way, I had lost sight of that.
From my days in martial arts, I had been taught to think of life as a stool with 3 legs: Mind, Body and Spirit. All 3 legs must be fed equally, or your life is out of balance. Get too far out of balance and you fall. Somewhere along my path, I had forgotten and so began the starvation of my Spirit and to a lesser extent my Body. In rock climbing, I had found a single activity that restored and strengthened all 3 legs. The planning and focus required to complete a climb sharpens your Mind and can often bring you to a near meditative state. The strength and balance required to move your body against gravity in the vertical plane builds muscles. To be able to repeat these activities day after day required a reevaluation of how I was feeding the engine that is my body. The sense of purpose, the accomplishment of pushing boundaries of what I knew to be possible began to mend the damage years of neglect had done to my Spirit. Once I took my rock climbing outside of the gym and into nature, I knew it could truly build my Spirit. The beauty and inspiration of nature, the dichotomy of hard rock and green leaves, the serene quiet and peace of the wilderness: These were the things I had been missing.
Today I find myself a changed man in all aspects of life. At 50 years old, I am the strongest and most fit I have ever been in my life. Some day, I will no longer be able to say that, but today is not that day. And while I found what I needed in rock climbing, I know others may not. Each person should seek out and embrace the things that work and learn to let go of those things that don’t work before they become anchors weighing them down.
About the Author: Richard Lonski was born in Kansas City. As the son of a pilot, he was born to a world of travel and exploration. While younger, he enjoyed traveling to new cities and experiencing new cultures. As he grew older, his exploration extended beyond city limits and into the wonders of nature. Richard came out of a decade in the restaurant industry with an affinity for good food (good Italian or BBQ done right please) and drink (preferably of the single malt variety, but any good whiskey will do).
Sharing laughter and joy with friends and family is one of his greatest treasures. It's likely what led him to marry his wife Beth, who is a professional clown and mime.
Richard’s personal exploration has led him down some interesting paths….each one leaving its mark on his life. Puppeteer, Black Jack Dealer, 2nd Degree Black Belt, and Small Business Entrepreneur are some of the more unique things he’s done in the past. He’s only been at his current passion, Rock Climbing, for 6 years, but it has led him on a wild and unexpected ride of sights and personal growth that he looks forward to continuing.
I first met April in a yoga class, but I didn’t really get to know her until she said the magic word, “wine”. So, one day after class we wandered over to Rose Bud and that’s when I met the real April, the one whose real work is in life, who struggles day to day, who is as much a seeker as she is full of answers.
April now lives in Atlanta with her family, but her passion for healing transformation has not wavered. April has been working with and learning from a group called YogaHOPE and TIMBo. TIMBo stands for Trauma Informed Mind Body. Their focus is to enable and empower women to self regulate emotions.
YogaHOPE does work all over the world including Haiti and Africa and soon will be going to Nepal. April just returned from Africa where they worked with the RONA Foundation (ronafoundation.co.ke) who helps widows, HIV positive women, rape victims and gender cleansing survivors.
“It changed my life,” April admitted.
April has been working and training with YogaHOPE since 2012 where she studies the TIMBo modules. Her resolve to service, however, began in 2009 when her sister died from an accidental overdose. Her path led her to joining a teacher training in 2011 and founding Out of the Darkness in 2012. Her grieving was so tremendous, she said, she found comfort working in extreme situations where she “wanted to save everyone around (her) and everyone became (her) sister”.
“I didn’t know how I was going to live through this,” she said. “I was grieving so hard.”
She put together a program proposal and went to Dr. Carol Horton who was already teaching yoga for recovery. April began to teach girls and women coming out of addiction at Chicago prisons in Cook County, those in halfway houses and those leaving the prison system. Sometimes the girls and women would be in hiding because of abuse situations.
“Addiction is a byproduct of trauma. We learn and teach how to take a moment to notice when something comes up. To notice the body sensations, the tightness in your throat, the physical reaction of the emotions,” explains April. “We use breath to work through the emotions and body sensations. Once you start to peel it apart, you find that there are so many layers and so many emotions. It’s difficult. This program empowers women to get control of that and begin to heal themselves. It teaches us to love ourselves and live in our body and not exist in this half living state.”
April has also worked with private psychiatrists and addiction counselors. She saw how this breath work impacted the students and how the healing began. She wanted to know more about why and how yoga could heal trauma. She found there is an emotional anatomy to trauma and claims her breath awareness saved her very own life.
A part of her own healing has been recognizing her own self preservation. Recently she read a book by a paraplegic man, Matthew W. Sanford (Waking, a memoir of trauma and transcendence), whose message is to remember that even though we want to go out and save everybody, we have to remember to ‘protect our own container’.
“That’s what he calls our bodies, our container. And this personal journey is every day. We fight our demons every day to move toward the state of being happy. We have to discern what is real and what is not,” she says. “I believe people go to yoga because they know there is something else there, something deeper. And I believe women need women. Every day is a new day for me to notice my adaptations, to deconstruct and reconstruct myself until I find contentment and a full life, a life fully lived. I used to think I could go out there and help everyone, but the person I would forget about is myself and I’d find myself depleted. It was the same cycle.”
TIMBo, which also has an online program, is now in the process of organizing group settings. When April completes her modules with YogaHOPE and TIMBo, she would like to start a program for women in Atlanta.
“I want to be able to bring people back into their bodies so they can see who they truly are and separate that from their story. I want to help people say, ‘This isn’t in alignment with who I am anymore. I’m done. This pattern just isn’t working for me.’”
The first thing I noticed when I walked into Peace, a shop in downtown Naperville, is just how good it smelled. Kate, the owner, was waiting for me around the tea station and a doorway that leads to Abhyaasa Yoga, her studio upstairs. With a great smile she greets me and asks if I’d like some tea.
We wandered around the bright and comfortable aisles as she told me about all the small businesses that supply her with her all natural and all vegan products. She said she felt like she had to stop using the word vegan when she first opened because it made too many people step back. However, she and her family only recently became vegan and the whole idea of being vegan is just one more step in promoting nonviolence.
“Some people do consider being vegan as being hard or extreme, but really we just look at it as a new adventure,” she says after returning from a family trip to Portland which she said was ‘vegan heaven’. “Now I look back and, okay, I was a vegetarian. Why didn’t I take the next step? It really is another layer of adventure. We appreciate everything even more. We could look at it as more difficult, but really, when you find a new dessert or some item and you learn how it was made, it’s just more fun!”
In the window of Peace, there is a saying, “Lokah samasta sukhino bhavantu”, which translates from Sanskrit to “May all beings be happy and free”. This is the premise of Peace, but they are not rigid. Kate is a yogi - so she is flexible - and has been practicing yoga and mindful living for years.
“It may take some effort in ‘living mindfully’,” she says, “but once incorporated into everyday life it becomes second nature.”
Peace only buys from a handful of small businesses and one larger company called Free People Movement, a division of Urban Outfitters. ‘Being’ is a small company located in Washington state and is all about enjoying the moments - so, for example, drawing the hot water, taking in the aromatherapy and soaking in the bath.
I, myself, was looking for some tourmaline. She didn’t have any tourmaline, but she did have a variety of mala beads and a variety of stones and crystals in which she works with Healing Arts Metaphysical Center in Batavia.
“One item that is super popular here is My Bath Thyme bath fizz by Michelle Shipka who I met at the dog park. We can barely keep her items in the store,” she says. “Everyone comes in here and says, ‘Oh these are just like the ones at Lush’. Nothing against Lush, but they use parabens and artificial colors. Michelle makes everything by hand with minimal ingredients. She also has these soaps and lotion bars and salt scrubs.”
Other items you might want to check out:
Cheers to Kate Mason, the employees of Peace and teachers of Abhyaasa for their big spirits and generosity! Abhyaasa has recently joined the Yoga Peace Project, a collective fundraising effort, and will be having a charity Kirtan Monday, March 20th at 7:30pm.
Click here for more information about Peace.
Click here for more information about Abhyaasa Yoga Studio.
July 26th, Game Day, how exciting! Except I would not be playing in a game, rather my first triathlon – The Holiday Man Mega Sprint Triathlon. Although I’ve played in hundreds of games throughout my life those subtle, exciting and anxious feelings of competing in a race are all the same. I picked up my friend Michelle, who is not only an experienced triathlete, but was the person who encouraged me to get here.
I had just completed the Tough Mudder on May 9th for the 3rd year in a row and was sharing that experience with her. She shared her triathlon and biking experiences with me in return. Although I appreciated her stories and accomplishments, I could not relate never having gone through those experiences myself.
In mid-May, Michelle lent me one of her road bikes to try out, which turned out to be a fun experience. I believe we rode maybe 15 or 20 miles and my legs were pretty toasted. I thought, riding a bike regularly during the summer would be a fun way to keep in shape as I get older and save these abused knees of mine. Shortly thereafter, Michelle brought up the idea of doing a triathlon.
I was currently signing up for Chicago Spartan races, so without hesitation, I signed up for the Holiday Man Mega Sprint Triathlon. Had I given the thought more than two minutes, I would not have committed to the race due to my fear and lack of swimming experience.
Baseball, basketball, and football are sports I’ve had experience with and embrace the competition. When I line up against my opponent, I feel extremely confident regardless of their physical attributes or experience. A triathlon is completely out of my comfort zone and I was scared to death.
Running four miles at the end, okay, I can probably do that given I do mud races although I’m not a runner. A 17.6 mile bike, well, I just did 15 or 20 miles on my first ride so that sounds doable. A 700 meter swim, somebody please help me! Overcoming the fear of the swim leg of the race would be my primary focus.
During the last few years my emotional intelligence has grown leaps and bounds and is something I feel blessed to become aware of and try to understand. The primary reason I’ve seen growth has been due to trying things that I was afraid or uncomfortable with. As far as triathlon goes, the main challenge comes with the fact I don’t like being in water. When I was a kid, I would clean my parents’ pool for an hour to make sure it was spotless. I didn’t like dirt in a pool for some reason, but I could baseball all day with filthy hands and face and think nothing of it.
A few times during marco polo, I would get an extremely sharp pain in the left side of my head while swimming underwater. The handful of times it occurred, it was scary. I’ve told nobody about it to this day. As a kid, my dad took us on a friend’s boat in the lake. Everyone jumped in to go swimming except me. I knew how to swim; I just didn’t like dirty water.
After the swim, the adults pulled out water skis. All the guys and a few of the older girls either did it or attempted it. Then they let a few of us kids try to water ski. My dad gave me some instructions, plus I was observant with everyone before me. I couldn’t wait to go in the water and try it! So there I was, sitting in the water holding the rope, skis up. The engine floored and the boat started forward. Believe it or not, I got up on my first try and I went for about 30 seconds to a minute or so. Everyone was so excited for me.
So I am good at marco polo and water skiing, big freakin’ deal. Now I need to practice freestyle swimming here at the X Sport pool in Naperville. I gave it a shot and swam all the way to the other end, 25 meters, then rested for about two minutes to catch my breath. That first day of training I swam four more lengths, but only made it to the end of the pool two out of the four lengths without stopping and touching the bottom of the pool. I’m not a strong swimmer….and I call myself a natural athlete?
May 26th, I walked out of the Endure It bike shop in Naperville spending $3K after a bike fitting for a sweet Cervelo S2 road bike. The owner was very nice and she asked me about my intentions for purchasing this road bike. I explained I had my first triathlon scheduled in exactly 60 days and needed a bike. She gave me her training sessions and times for biking, running, and swimming.
I’m not sure what 60 day training plan I was expecting, but I didn’t worry about it. I’m a go with the flow person and sometimes lady luck follows those who are good natured, open and friendly with their energy. I took the advice from Endure It and booked a handful of computrainer sessions.
The instructor and fellow bikers were all very nice. I learned a lot from them. I took my road bike on the street a handful of times, usually 15 to 20 miles. Then one day in June I decided to go 50 miles. However, after eating lunch by the river in St. Charles after mile 40. I rode until I got tired and hit the 100 mile marker by the time I got home.
A few rides later, my friend Michelle invited me to ride with an experienced group for the 4th of July Joliet metric Century ride. That was truly a great experience riding with such a large group, I learned how to draft, shift gears efficiently and I completed my second century ride just over 5 weeks of owning my cool, new bike. I knew that evening I would probably enjoy fun future rides, let alone not have to worry at all about the 17 mile bike leg of the triathlon.
The running…. man! I’ve never enjoyed running to run. I enjoyed sprinting, running fast, and beating competition on the field, the court, or stealing bases on the diamond. What I don’t enjoy is running miles. So I joined the Endure It group and ran on the track with them for a handful of sessions. There were some good drills, training and exercises.
I was one of the slowest runners during the runs, but a) I was not in running shape, and b) I have knee issues. Aside from looking like a 40 year old dude wearing knee braces, I thought I did pretty good overall. During the basic 50 or 100 meter dashes (including hill runs one day), I was in the top three every dash. It’s good to know I still got a gear left. One morning I ran four miles. My prior running times were around a 9 minute mile pace, but that day I finished near a 7 minute 30 second mile pace. I knew then that the four miles for the triathlon post swim and bike would be fine …. as long as I didn’t drown in the lake swim.
It was 6:00 p.m., Thursday, July 9th at Centennial Beach. I was working on my swim in the lanes trying to get better when I noticed I was off course. So I kicked my right leg out to get back on course when I twisted my knee. Holy mother fuckers! Talk about intense pain! At that moment, I knew I either sprained my knee or tore something. So just to mentally play it off I decided to go straight to yoga class that night as though everything was fine.
Months later in September I got an MRI to reveal torn meniscus, bone spurs, and grade 3 osteoarthritis. Eighty percent of my lateral meniscus was gone on the right side of my knee and some quadricep tendinitis. The leg kick that day did not cause all of that. ACL reconstruction at 17, plus years of athletics just brought conditions to that moment.
Back to July, the entire race was in jeopardy. Heck, I couldn’t even straighten my leg, walk downstairs, or bend my knee 90 degrees. Despite all of this, I decided to go to two Monday evening Experience Triathlon training swims at Centennial Beach. Prior to those two weeks, I would have backed out of the race, especially given the knee pain. However, I received priceless training in the beginner’s group that became the game changer: How to site your targets, how to swim on your back to regain your breath, and how to swim in open water.
The defining moment occurred after the second practice as I knew I could keep cool, regain my breath by swimming on my back and knowing I would not drown come race day. It probably sounds silly to swimmers or those who do triathlons, but my longest freestyle swim prior to race day was 100 meters. So there you have it, aside from two swimming sessions and some yoga, I rested for the next two weeks.
Thursday, July 23rd, I could walk downstairs! Knee would not straighten or bend 90 degrees, but I could at least walk downstairs! All I need to know now is if I can ride my bike without pain. I rode 4 laps around the block, no pain. Check!
Now, I’m standing in the sand at Lake Holiday the morning of July 26th. The bike and gear is all set up in transition area. I’m gauging the energy and vibe off of the other racers. I realized most racers are probably trying to hit some personal goal. My goal was to not drown. After taking in the moment, I held my composure and didn’t let the moment get bigger than it needed to be. It was probably being in this similar moment a hundred times before, but right before the start I was relaxed, cool, focused, and confident. Most of the time, you need to be in that focus to excel or win.
“Wave two, go!”
I decided to take my time to enter the water to not slow down the other competitors. I’m sure I was a number of times while swimming, but it didn’t faze or distract me. I knew this would happen, and a few bumps are easier to manage than getting blown up by a linebacker on the football field. I made my way through the swim rather nicely. I rolled on my back a number of times to catch my breath, and then I turned around to swim again. I noticed a few times when I turned from my back to the swim that I saw the same people. I felt as though I was swimming rather swiftly in general, maybe that’s a good sign if I let some guys pass me while on my back only to catch them again and again during my freestyle swim.
Finally, the beach! The swim was coming to an end and I thought, “Awesome, I didn’t drown!” I thought, “Okay, when you get out of the water, sprint to the transition area!”
I departed the water and what the hell? I am so flippin dizzy right now! Everybody is cheering, this is inspiring, so try not to fall from dizziness, you idiot. Just walk straight, don’t fall. After walking 30 seconds or so I jogged while dizzy to the transition area. I sat down, changed my shoes, put on my bike shirt, but I could not catch my breath. I watched a number of racers come and go. Finally, I started to get my breath and left the transition area. If my GPS didn’t fall off during the swim, I may have broken the record for worst post swim transition time ever in the history of Holiday Man.
Now it’s my favorite phase, biking. I had two goals for myself: 1) nobody passes you, and 2) stay at or above 20 mph. Well, I passed over twenty or thirty bikers during the ride, so that felt good. But I failed goal 1 as four bikers passed me, three of them women. They just didn’t pass me, they flew by me. I also realized more riders would have passed me but they were already ahead of me cause of the swim. Regardless, I held 20 mph for most of the ride, a few spots in the 19’s mph. My lower back started to hurt around mile 13, so I had to constantly stand up and sit down to relieve the lower back pressure. This approach worked fine and I completed the bike.
Transition two went so much better than transition one. I put on the mega knee brace and changed shoes rather quickly. Purpose of the mega knee brace was to prevent me from trying to burst during the run. The brace keeps my knee around fifty degrees, so I would never really straighten it or bend it too much. I was tired from the swim and bike, so odds of doing that anyway were low. With moderate knee pain aside, I ran okay and finished the race. I think I ran around a 8:45 to 9:00 minute mile pace, I can’t recall exactly and it doesn’t matter anyway.
It was nice having my friend Michelle there at the race. While I’ve done the Spartan races alone, it was nice to have a fellow racer there for support and encouragement. I also found the crowds near the transition area and during the run to be encouraging. Everybody has strengths and weaknesses, confidences and fears. After crossing the finish line, I could not be more proud of the moment I entered the race. I knew not being an experienced swimmer, coupled with disliking water, would provide a huge mental challenge. I was extremely frustrated when I hurt my knee during the short training phase, but I was glad it was good enough to allow me to compete. I’m not a fan of excuses. I’m very grateful for the experience of my first triathlon, and the process leading up to it is something I will never forget.
About the Author: Daniel Surrett grew up playing baseball, football and basketball in Calumet City and is a graduate of North Central College in Naperville where he received an academic scholarship and played baseball. He played in-field, 2nd Team All Conference in 1995 and Conference Championships in 1994 and 1996 with a Regional appearance in 1994. He works as an accountant in Chicago, is a yogi and still an avid sports fan.
by Staff Writer
What happened to us between then - young, wild raggamuffins - and now - super sleek business skinny mocha latte drinking adult(ish) people? Where did all this insecurity come from and how do we shun it away?! Somewhere in there between then and now someone got to us. Someone got us good and made us think we need to be SkInNiEr, CutEr, more FasHioNaBle, SmArtEr, SeXiEr, fAsTer and pretty much anything but who we are.
So, with a degree in hand and our future squarely looking at us in the face we look for that stable long term job with a retirement plan that comes with Office Ken or Office Barbie so we can fulfill that tall order: the image of "success".
Somewhere in that cubicle, our bottoms get bigger and our hip flexors get stiff and Office Ken looks more like Homer Simpson every day and we wonder what the hell we're doing anyway. We consider plastic surgery, going on vacation, having margs with the girls after work, removing all our body hair, getting eyelash extensions and a mani-pedi. But Phew! That's really a lot and it's expensive AND our neighbor who just got divorced ended up on Jerry Springer because of some botched botox and can't blink her eyeballs anymore.
Oh to be a kid again. ... And, why not? Didn't our best friend or grandma or someone always remind us that it is our selves that makes us beautiful anyway - and that is not just a euphemism for being ugly.
I actually really had a crush on Nick Nolte and Jack Nicholson when I was a teenager and lord knows they are not what you would call typical in the sexy-hot department! It was that element of FUN mixed with a little bit of - I don't know - DANGER....
It was the essence of running around in the woods or skinny dipping in the lake or conquering that really challenging climb up a mountain. It is the free range cowboy attitude and hey! Throw in a little James Bond and Audrey Hepburn while you're at it.
Today, we are lucky. We have hot sweaty yoga classes to go to, women's lib is in full swing in this country and we have freedom and wisdom.
So, let me validate this for you: You are free enough and wise enough to be you - and I am free enough and wise enough to be me. You are Strong, Smart, Sexy and Beautiful AS YOU ARE in your heart and in your body. Cheers to You, Natural You. (Take. Care. Of. You!)