Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Being Adventurous - requires GRIT

It’s pretty cool when my passion for Adventure Racing can be linked to what we do and who we are at HPSS.  This year when Sally suggested I could talk to our kids about being ADVENTUROUS, I jumped at the chance not just to tell my story, but to bring in a neat young woman, Mackenzie Blucher (19 years old and not long out of High School) who I believe epitomises the Adventurous disposition.  

Hobsonville Habit:  Adventurous - “I am willing to take risks and look for opportunities which may not yet exist.  I give everything a go.”

Last year I talked about being Adventurous and we explored how being Adventurous was more than just pursuing passions, but finding out what made you passionate and then taking it to the next level.  About finding ways to take what you love doing and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, and finding ways to keep challenging yourself.  And I told my 2015 GODZone story A seven day race based in the Wanaka area.  My team and I completed the race in 127 hours: 6 days with minimal sleep, surviving on energy bars, freeze dried food and the odd pie when we could find one.  It was one of the toughest things I had ever done and it pushed me to my limits both mentally and physically, with challenging weather and conditions delivering highs, lows, hours of suffering and being stripped bare to our rawest form.   Even after all of this,  I  signed up with my team for GODzone 2016.

Before I delved into my 2016 story of setting out into the wilderness for seven days with little sleep and no chance of clean clothes or a hot shower I reminded  my audience that being Adventurous doesn’t just apply to sport or the outdoors - it’s a state of being and a disposition you develop when you challenge yourself to go beyond established limits in anything you choose to do.

GODZone 2016:  This year I was physically ready because my experiences the year before had given me a lot more insight into how to best train for such an event.  This took time and commitment.   Five months out I was training anywhere between 20 - 30 hours a week.  Early mornings, late nights and long weekends focusing on endurance - all fitted around a busy job and family.  At times it felt exhausting and monotonous but the sense of achievement was awesome.

In April I headed to Nelson for GODZone 2016 feeling confident in our goal of a top 10 result.  But this year I was faced with new challenges.  One of our teammates hadn’t been able to commit so a guy from Texas was joining us and on paper he sounded perfect, but in practice we didn’t know so had the challenge of the unknown.  Polly, Steve and I had been racing together and were feeling strong as a team.  Unfortunately our Texan wasn’t quite the teammate we were expecting and clearly, once the race started, didn’t have the same vision for the team as we did.  I had the physical challenge under control, but was faced with the mental challenge of coping with a teammate who was clearly unprepared and out of his depth.   I was also faced with  the challenge of coping when things don’t go to plan.
We towed him, we carried his gear, we rested him, I got mad and even cried when I realised it could cost us finishing the race.  Because, dammit - I’d worked hard to get there!  But, this is the nature of Adventure Racing - you are a team, and have to stay together as a team.  This kind of racing isn’t just about you as an individual therefore poor team dynamics can have a massive impact.  Just when I didn’t think things could get much worse, we got horrifically lost after not making it up onto a peak before the weather set in and spent a massive amount of time in a white out, going around in circles.  When we finally came off that peak the Texan pulled out.   This is when I realised that being Adventurous wasn’t just about nailing these races, it’s about having GRIT - the determination, the resilience and the perseverance to go on no matter what.  But while I questioned  the Texan’s lack of GRIT a lot of personal reflection occurred also - what could have we done better as a team?   Because when you put your body under so much physical pressure, your mental toughness is tested, your compassion and ability to work with others is tested.  I didn’t deal well with a teammate who didn’t meet our expectations. Fortunately our captain did and it was his leadership that kept the team’s integrity in tact. My learning from this was that when taking on challenges having the right people around you is key.  But also, it’s okay to be disappointed and frustrated, but it’s not okay to give up.
So as a team of three we re-evaluated our plan then just got on with it.  We got back on the full course and even though we’d lost a teammate and would end up unranked, we were determined to make the most of it and do our very best.   This was one of my proudest moments - being with a couple of teammates who had the courage and determination to suck it up and move forward.  We tackled the white water rafting stage with gusto, and lots of scary moments and I found myself facing a few more physical challenges, such as FEAR! After rafting it was a mountain bike ride to the start of the Mount Owen trek where we redeemed ourselves with our navigation on the 30 hour trek up and over the mountain.  This was my favourite stage in the race.  Gruelling, but spectacular as we climbed steeply for almost 2000metres, and made our way across the limestone formations to get to the summit.  We were up there in darkness, but it was a spectacular clear night and I didn’t mind not being able to see the sheer drop offs that were on either side.  As the sun came up we made our way down a ridge line with Kea’s flying around us and wind so extreme it was hard to stand straight.   Then it was onto the Mountain Bikes again and into the night.  We dug deep when a route choice on the mountain bike didn’t pay off and we ended up carrying our bikes through dense bush. As the sun was coming up we were back on track and spent all of day six mountain biking in the Able Tasman national park, heading towards our final stage.  At our last transition our Texan joined us for the final kayak leg and it looked like we might make it to the finish before the end of the day.  However, the sea got pretty gnarly, resulting in a capsize and we ended up camped up on a beach for the night before paddling to the finish line the next day.

I was bitterly disappointed in our result, but I was incredibly proud of the GRIT we showed to overcome the challenges we faced. In reflection, sometimes the most learning can come  from losing, from things not going to plan, from a disappointing result.   Ultimately, regardless of the result, I had an Adventure like no other and was grateful to share many indescribable moments with some incredible teammates.    
However, the whole experience got me thinking about this concept of GRIT - of resilience (key elements of being Adventurous) and how it develops in people.  When faced with challenges, what dispositions do people have and how have they developed, for them to continue on, not give up, no matter what?  For me I think part of my GRIT (or pure bloody mindedness as some might call it) is not only the experiences I’ve had, but also the opportunities that I haven’t let pass me by.  I am lucky to have a family that installed the confidence in me and supported me to try new things.  But I also took risks and put myself out there to get involved in things that were completely unknown to me.  I challenged my teachers (in a good way), I was curious and asked question, I got involved - in anything that was on offer. Some of these things were out of my comfort zone, but I gave things a go and developed the skills and the confidence to be able to tackle challenges head on.

(It was at this point in my presentation to the students that I had to admit it’s been a while since I was at school and a teenager.)  Therefore, I’m not sure what kind impact I was making -  me telling them that the Hobsonville Habits that we place so much importance on are their pathway to being Adventurous - to being GRITTY.

Cue Mackenzie Blucher:  

I met this Adventurous young woman last year when we were both presenting at a Rotary Club function - both about our adventures, but for Mackenzie more about the opportunities she doesn't let slip past her.  And it was  Mackenzie’s story (teenager speaking to teenagers) about her journey so far, about making the most of every moment, about taking risks, putting yourself out there, standing up for what you believe in and never giving up on pursuing your passions that reinforced our Hobsonville Habit, Adventurous.

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