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Paddling to 100 Days of Blue

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           100 Days of Blue is a challenge from Wallace J. Nichols, a friend and the author of Blue Mind, that has summoned water lovers annually for the past seven years. The challenge is to be in, near, on or under the water daily from Memorial Day through Labor Day.

           “J,” as we call him, captures the data and science around the positive effects that water has on us mentally, physically and emotionally. Our family utilizes this science in our daily lives, our business and as the root of our foundation: Operation Get Out. The foundation is about getting individuals and organizations on the water — specifically, those who are experiencing stress, illness, loss, depression, anxiety, PTS — and quite simply, sometimes just the tough chapters that life deals us.

           At the time of writing this, my husband, Steve, and I have just wrapped up our seventh week of #100DaysOfBlue. Every morning for 51 days thus far, we’ve awakened before dawn and rolled the sliding door of our tiny house’s lakeside bedroom. The door opens to our “quiver” of paddleboards and an array of paddles: race boards, leisure boards, displacement boards, traditional boards and some nostalgic boards — the paddles for speed, distance, training — and sharing.

           Our dog Star, Steve and I tiptoe through the dewy grass to our water’s edge each day, schlepping our boards and paddles, sometimes a bit clumsily, since just minutes prior we were still curled up in bed. As we launch our boards from the beach, the waters and landscape are still dark pre-dawn, but the breaking light on the horizon beckons to awaken our day. Every day we push off, get to our feet, drop our paddle blades into the water and find our rhythm together with the peaceful cut and swirl of the cool Lake Austin waters as we glide toward sunrise.

           For 51 days and over 113 miles, we’ve spent 30 to 40 minutes together every morning. Compared to many of our paddle adventures, this isn’t much time or distance. We’ve shared experiences where we’ve paddled all day; paddled at night; paddled flat water, white water and flooding water. We’ve even paddled multiple days to get from one dam to another on Lake Travis. 

           Frankly, there was a time when paddling short distances would frustrate me. Why go short when you can go long, find the grind, dig deep and come home totally exhausted and spent? The adrenaline rush from the exertion and push would get me through the day — only to “rinse and repeat” and do it all over again the next day. Don’t get me wrong — I still love adventure, but there’s a great opportunity in practicing an activity with longevity.

           Spending my entire life in the fitness, wellness and water sports industries, the term “longevity” has been a staple of conversation. Science, research, articles, podcasts, blogs: “The Key to Longevity.” Eat well, balanced and real. Don’t put items and products into your body that have harmful effects. Move, exercise, workout and get enough rest. The list goes on, but the core of its physical goal is basic and true. It’s one most of us can recite without giving it much thought.

           But what about multidimensional longevity — what is that really? I believe it goes beyond a list of physical “how to’s” which are rooted in health, fitness and wellness guidelines. As a trainer, coach and someone who is extremely passionate about living life to the fullest, I also know the need to tap into the mental, emotional and “soulful” reasons that extract the fire within — the drive, the fuel, the purpose and the passion — that is the driving force of endurance and longevity.

           Our morning paddles have had lastingness and endured, because we have connected to them for more than a physical purpose. We are drawn to them for something that, unlike our physical bodies, is timeless. How do the same principles that lend longevity to an activity, such as our short and unwavering morning outings, relate to life’s longevity?

 

Community

           Individuals who are socially connected are healthier, happier and have increased longevity. Honestly, I probably would have paddled a lot of those 51 days alone, but having someone to encourage me to get up, share the experience with and spend time with has kept me steadfast. In fact, a Brigham Young University study showed loneliness to be twice as harmful as obesity, equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day and as destructive as not exercising. As humans, we are social creatures — caring about and spending time with others and our community in turn gives us a higher level of social achievement and fulfillment for a longer-lasting life. 

Connection

           There is nothing more grand than starting my day atop a 21-mile body of water, towered by amazing hills on both sides, paddling toward an expanse of universe that is slowly letting the sun rise in front of me. Connecting to its grandness is so much bigger than myself that it mutes all the negatives, stresses and worries in my life. I am in awe every morning. 

           In recent years, studies at the University of California at Berkeley have referred to “awe” as an “emotion we get in the presence of something vast that challenges our understanding of the world.” According to this research, this property of awe sparks an effect that makes you feel small, not by reducing self-esteem or creating shamefulness, but rather by evoking a sense of reverence by putting you in the presence of something much larger than yourself. It’s the “sitting at the edge of the Grand Canyon/gazing into an endless star-filled sky/watching a baby being born” feeling. Psychologists describe awe as the experience of encountering something so vast in size, skill, beauty and intensity that our brains struggle to make sense of it. Intentionally placing ourselves in situations that elicit this huge emotional response from a very small three-letter word is proven to make us happier, healthier and live longer.

Purpose

           There are great health benefits to purposeful living. In fact, data is now supporting that having a higher sense of purpose is linked to a lower likelihood of mortality. I could look at my morning paddles as “to just stay fit.” I’m being active, I get a little cardio, a fair amount of upper-body strength work and good core and lower-body stabilization. But frankly, that’s not the purpose. The more intentional reason is to flood my body with those “feel-good hormones” — endorphins, dopamine, and oxytocin — affecting mind, body and soul at a much deeper level. There’s a purpose that drives me to keep coming back for more. Scientifically, the data also supports that the earlier someone can find direction in their life, the earlier the effects of increased health and longevity can occur. In fact, the research done by Psychological Science suggests that purpose on a daily level is just as important as lifelong ambition. 

           So, every day, for 49 more days, we are paddling our way to 100 Days of Blue. Purposefully spending time together, nature-bathing with the light of dawn every morning, connecting and immersing ourselves in the awe and wonder of a world so much greater than we are as it awakens before us — one paddle stroke at a time. 

Photos courtesy of Cindy Present.

 

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