Independence, freedom, empowerment: what sport has given me

What turns your wheels?
What turns your wheels?

By Dian Trompler, Poppy Sports blogger

As I cycled the roads on the outskirts of Tulsa over this past week, musings of my mind merged into thoughts about how independence develops for women and girls in sports. One dictionary defines independence as “freedom from control.” So many controls govern our lives, not the least of which is our own self-conditioning and the feelings that life somehow, sometimes imposes its control on us without our consent.

How does sport give us freedom from those controls? Is it the ability to ride away from responsibilities even if only temporarily? Is it the release of the kinks in the body and the mind after a long bout of movement? Is it the life skills that we develop from what it takes to find success through the athletic goals that we set? Is it empowerment that develops through the confidence to follow our hearts, finding joy in the activities that we embrace? Just some of the ponderings my brain has been trying to wrap itself around on the road this past week.

For me, cycling, running and swimming seem synonymous with independence. Growing up in a world totally different from today, sports were for boys, not for girls. My childhood world involved running around the neighborhood hiding from and seeking my playmates hiding from me, swimming at a local swim club, and riding my bike through quiet neighborhood streets, imagining it to be a horse galloping across the prairie.

Racing out the front door, hopping onto the banana seat of my bike as a young girl, arms comfortably, adroitly steering the ape hanger handlebars, long blond hair streaming out behind me, letting my steed take me to the nearby Dairy Queen or the swim club where my peers would hang out on hot summer days. Compared to most kids today, my childhood consisted of a lot of independent exercise, possibly nurturing the roots of my triathlon passion. Dependent on nothing other than the two wheels I pedaled, I loved the autonomy of escaping the eagle eye of my parents.

Banana seat to freedom

Today in my adult world of deadlines and duty, fifteen miles out on the road seated on the saddle of my bike, revolution after revolution of wheels and pedals, or five miles into a ten-mile run, arms swinging rhythmically as the changing landscape passes by, allows me to mentally let go. There’s not much I can do about the groceries back home that need to be restocked, the dust that has accumulated on the furniture where I wrote a note to myself, the grimy dishes stacked up in the sink or the week’s dirty clothes with the jersey I had wished to wear today. At least, for a bit I’ve escaped the tyrannies of responsibility.

Although many muscles strain to keep me in motion, a sense of freedom and release suffuses my body, releasing pent up tension one muscle at a time. The work will await me, greeting me upon my return. No little elves will secretly appear to whisk my home into shape while I’m away, but like the sweat that releases the built up heat cooling my body, the overwhelming state of the tasks no longer feels so out of control. After a ride or a run, I can conquer it all, and that is freeing!

Colorado Poppies

Outdoors, inhaling the expansive sky and beauty of the earth – green fields sprinkled with wildflowers in hues of orange and red, yellow and purple, stretching to the horizon, or the mountains towering tall above the sagebrush in the desert – generates an expansiveness that surpasses the petty dramas of day-to-day living. The openness of the landscape centers my awareness freeing my focus from trite details into intuitive insights intervening with creative solutions to previously insurmountable problems. In truth, engaging in sports of any kind, or for that matter, any activity that brings joy to the heart frees the spirit to let go of the more mundane aspects of our lives.

What are your goals?
What are your goals?

The thesaurus lists self-sufficiency, self-reliance, and self-determination as synonyms for independence. These life skills are nurtured and developed through sports goals, and the process can be replicated in the real world. To focus on a goal to lose weight, to run a 10-K PR, to complete an Ironman triathlon, the athlete has to work backwards from the date of that event establishing a training schedule to gradually increase the distances and intensities of her workouts. She has to break that goal down into smaller steps to achieve the big one. With proper planning, self-discipline to stay on track, and self-evaluation of her training, progress is observable and measurable. Results are seen, teaching us not to be overwhelmed by the enormity of a task, a dream, a project, or even a room to clean. In celebration of achieving the small steps, and accomplishing that big task, our own self-empowerment increases monumentally.

As we engage in Fourth of July festivities, our country celebrates its 235th anniversary of freedom from control of the English monarchy. Just as independence empowered our founding fathers to create a new form of government in 1776, our own independence, developed through the discipline of our sports, empowers us to overcome our individual challenges, to achieve our heart-guided dreams, and to readjust when those 16%-grades derail our journey momentarily. Sports help us to discover that we can control our lives rather than allowing life to control us. Like the men and women seeking freedom from control by a government 3,000 miles across the ocean, freedom to control our own lives is what we individually strive for – empowerment is what we seek.

Independence! Freedom! Empowerment! Happy Fourth of July, Poppy Sports readers!