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Questioning Possible

I think at some point we’ve all had something that we’ve chosen not to do because we feared we were somehow physically or mentally unable to do it.  This happens a lot, especially for women of size.  Well, women in general, but larger women especially.  We think that we’re “too big” to try canoeing or kayaking or whitewater rafting.  We longingly remember our childhood love of horses while declining to try riding as an adult, for fear that our weight will hurt the horse tasked with carrying us.  We fail to venture beyond the parking lot at the park for fear that we’re too out of shape to take on the trails.

I was personally forced to face those inner dialogues just 3 years ago, before I was really mentally prepared for how that would change my worldview.  It was the summer of 2009, and like many people I was searching for a job after my previous position was eliminated in the declining economy.  That sounds more dire than it really was, I had been a live in nanny for a family, and the parent took a pay cut to keep their job.  That left the family without the resources to keep me on, and besides, the children were getting to an age where they needed to transition away from having a nanny anyway.  So I had not only lost my job, but also my home.  Frantically applying for anything I was remotely qualified for, I soon found myself interviewing to be a camp counselor for the Girl Scouts.

I had my doubts that I would be able to do all of the activities with the girls, but thought that my skills and expertise in other areas would allow me to trade off with more physically capable staff.  Was I ever in for a surprise.  Day two of training, all of the staff loaded into individual kayaks to paddle across the lake for a picnic.  I approached my supervisor privately and explained my concern that I had never been able to find a life vest that fit my body without strangling me, and offered to sign a waiver and forgo wearing one.  In no time flat she had me fitted into an ingenious life vest that has adjustable straps at the shoulder and sides that allowed the floatation part to fit around my torso rather than around my neck.  I was shocked, but happy.  I don’t doubt my swimming skills, but it’s nice to be able to participate in an activity without calling attention to yourself by needing special equipment.  I quickly learned that the camp had purchased almost all of their life vests in this style so that they could accommodate all kinds of participants.

By the end of the summer I had done so many things that I had written off as not possible for me.  I spent two and a half weeks on horseback with two amazing groups of campers, even riding on the beach twice, making an attempt at posting, and getting the horse up to a canter once or twice.  Barb had been pestering me for years to go riding with her, but I had always begged off, afraid that I was too heavy.  Regardless of what the activity was, the staff and participants at camp just assumed that I could do whatever they were doing, rather than assuming that I would need assistance, or accommodation, or a substitute.

And the amazing thing?  My new-found belief in myself was contagious.  Over the course of the summer, I had a small handful of campers who were dealing with crushing homesickness, or very low self esteem, or personal problems at home.  In other circumstances, many of these girls would have cut their camp experience short and gone home before the end.  But I was able to look them in the eye and say, “You know what, I didn’t think I could kayak.  But my second day here I got in a kayak and paddled across the lake and back.  If I can do that, you can make it through today.  Because you’re strong, and capable, and nothing is impossible with your friends supporting you.”

It sounds cheesy to be a twenty-something and say that a summer at camp changed my life, but it did.  I would not be where I am today without that experience behind me.

Now Barb and Bobby on the other hand, tell them that they can’t do something and they say “have a seat and watch me!”

~RR

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5 Comments

  1. This post gave me chills. Yay on you! I always wanted to be a scuba instructor. In fact, after our honeymoon–where I was called a “natural” by the scuba instructor–my husband assumed I’d be doing it. I didn’t. Because I didn’t want to stuff my body into a wet suit. So now, 15 years later, I am not a scuba instructor…how sad to have stifled myself like this…

    But you’ve inspired me today! Thank you!

    • Hi Susie!

      Scuba is absolutely possible for you! Bobbie and Audre both scuba dive, which is pretty awesome. More comfortable, and athletic, swim wear is on my mind today as the weather tries to act summery here in Oregon. Perhaps someday we’ll have Flying Pig Apparel swimwear. Hmmm… where’s my sketchbook?

      ~RR

  2. Bobby Gentry

    YES! Both Audre and I scuba dive. As a matter of fact we just got back Sunday night from Audre’s certification weekend.
    I am the largest person our instructor has ever worked with (my wetsuit is a XXXXL). When I first went in and talked to him, prior to my classes, I didn’t even think that my size would be a hindrance. I was more worried about my fears (I have drowned before, but have a love of the water). My instructor didn’t see my size as an issue, his statement – all sizes can dive, it is a matter of being healthy enough. He wasn’t referring to a person weight with that, he was talking about being able to pack the gear you have to wear to the water, your breathing ability and such.

    I feel I was and am very fortunate in working with the instructor I had – because he didn’t find ways for someone to not do it, he helped you figure out HOW DO WE MAKE THIS HAPPEN.

    Don’t give up on the dream of becoming an instructor. I am slowly working my way in that direction. Once you have been under the water and seen the life and beauty that is there – you realize it is INCREDIBLE!

    Dive on – Dive on!
    Bobby

  3. ~claps~

    when you mentioned horses in the first paragraph, i immediately flashed on my first and only riding experience … as a Girl Scout camp counselor in my 20s

    hooray for the scouts!

  4. daantaat

    There were no clubs like Girl Scouts, etc, where i grew up, so I couldn’t do all those awesome things like kayaking and horseback riding as part of an organization like that, which is sad, because it sounds like it would have been loads of fun and maybe would have helped my self-esteem as a kid.

    As a kid, I always loved horses, but never had the opportunity to go riding. As an adult I really wanted to take lessons, as there was a place near my city to rent horses and ride in a national park. So for my 40th birthday present to myself I found a place to take lessons, and went. I was in classes with little kids, but you know what? It was wonderful. I was also doing this as a very large person, and I also seriously worried about hurting the horse, but horses weigh something like 2000 lbs and a fat person, like me, was only about 1/10th of the horse’s weight, so hurting him wasn’t really possible. Anyway, the lessons were great, and after I learned how to properly ride and look after the saddling, etc., I took a week-long vacation in the Rocky Mountains, on horseback (with a company that specializes in that kind of thing). Yes, I was a fat, middle-aged woman, vacationing alone among strangers, riding a horse in the mountains every day, but it was one of the best and most memorable summers of my life.

    My motto is “Life is too short to spend it being unhappy”, and I try to challenge myself and do things that I’m afraid to do because I don’t want to let my weight or my size or my fears get in the way of finding out how exciting, fun and rewarding life can be. I don’t want to look back on my life and regret not doing something I always wanted to do.

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