Discovering life beyond the barbell / by Dana McMahan

‘It’s not about doing something dangerous’

There’s been some radio silence on this blog lately. Allow me to explain. For one, I’ve not had much exciting in the way of working out to discuss as I wait for a post-rhabdo follow-up with the sports doctor before I’m cleared to do much of anything interesting in the gym again. My workouts consist of slogging along on the elliptical (thank goodness for my LCD Soundsystem Pandora station), watching the dudes in my new public gym massacre correct form on squats and bench in between doing their curls in front of their mirror, and doing a little bit of lower body work. No upper body allowed while my arms, traps and shoulders heal from the great, misguided, tear-the-muscles-off-the-tendons pull-up workout of new year’s eve 2012.

But for two, I’ve been cray busy getting my freelance writing work going  since being laid off from my day job at the end of January. Every day I’m hustling, trying to drum up more work, and furiously scratching out stories for my local gigs, plus stuff for relish magazine, the Chicago Tribune, Food Network magazine, Fodors.com and LonelyPlanet.com — and NBCNews.com. Exciting stuff! The best part about it is getting to talk to all kinds of fascinating people. The highlight so far? Interviewing the space jumper Felix Baumgartner. You know, the guy that free fell in SPACE?

I wrote a story about his National Geoographic Adventurer of the Year people’s choice award, and got to ask him a few questions for NBC’s Today.com.

What struck me the most was this:

“It’s not about doing something dangerous,” Baumgartner said. “It’s about finding challenges that are meaningful to you, approaching them in a thoughtful way and, hopefully, expanding your boundaries.”

As we know, some of my challenges have been — while not remotely in his realm — a bit insane on some level. And I’ve paid the price.  Squat 200 pounds as a barely 100-pound woman and end up undergoing spinal surgery. Decide to start training for the Iron Maiden challenge (24 kg pistol squat, single arm overhead press, and weighted pull-up) and on DAY ONE do a workout so extreme I land in hospital for nine days with rhabdo, and on rehab for months. Two catastrophic injuries in one year, as my doctor describes it, and I’m finally paying attention. I don’t want to keep getting hurt, but I’m not satisfied without a challenge.

What I learned from the man who jumped out of a balloon 25 miles above the earth is that you have to be smart about it. Approach challenges in a thoughtful way, he says. Granted he has an enormous team behind him, but I have my own supporters in the form of family and friend, and you, dear readers.

Through years of careful planning and preparation he achieved his singularly exceptional dream. And that’s inspiring to millions to reach for their own dreams. I’ve always reached for mine, but my trouble is I don’t know when to back down. And that’s as important as knowing when to reach.

I don’t know what my next physical challenge will be. I’m bound by multiple limitations I’ve caused myself, but I’ll find something to work toward again. In the meantime, I’m reveling in a new type of challenge:  becoming a writer, not just as a hobby, or sideline, but as a way of life. It’s the scariest thing I’ve ever done, but also the most meaningful. Detractors are coming out of the woodwork, and some days I painfully understand the adage ‘be careful what you wish for.’ Planning to make this my career and not return to a 9-5 job feels sometimes as petrifying and exhilarating as taking that free fall leap into space. But thanks to adventurers like Felix blazing a path I have the confidence that I can make it happen.

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5 responses

  1. Nancy

    Good for you Dana. While I’m not a huge fan of Oprah, this makes sense to me and maybe it will to you as well…

    “I say the universe speaks to us, always, first in whispers. And a whisper in your life usually feels like ‘hmm, that’s odd.’ Or, ‘hmm, that doesn’t make any sense.’ Or, ‘hmm, is that right?’ It’s that subtle. And if you don’t pay attention to the whisper, it gets louder and louder and louder. I say it’s like getting thumped upside the head. If you don’t pay attention to that, it’s like getting a brick upside your head. You don’t pay attention to that—the brick wall falls down. That is the pattern that I see in my life and so many other people’s lives. And so, I ask people, ‘What are the whispers? What’s whispering to you now?'” — Oprah

    March 13, 2013 at 8:56 pm

  2. Reblogged this on runningcoastietocoastie and commented:
    Great blog!

    March 14, 2013 at 7:20 pm

  3. Ever considered curling? It’s not incredibly physical, but there’s a lot of coordination and balance involved. Not to mention the strategy. Is fencing feasible? That would be super-awesome, too!

    The health factors must make this a real challenge. One of my co-workers is looking for his new sport … he’s a recent college grad and was a decathlete. Not exactly you something you can do on a recreational basis! I’ve been trying to talk him into mountain biking, but I think he has visions of over-andrenalized “energy drink” ads.

    April 18, 2013 at 1:33 am

    • You’re the second person to suggest curling! I’m actually really interested in fencing – a la Michone on the Walking Dead :)

      April 18, 2013 at 8:11 am

  4. You are an amazing woman! Is it better to risk it all and fail or to never take the risk in the first place? Personally, I couldn’t live with myself if I never took the risk. I would much rather “fail” and pick myself back up. Because honestly, is giving something a shot and following your heart really failing? NOPE! It is learning…and it hurts. But still…It is a whole lot better than just trudging through life.

    You seem to give everything you do 110% and I know you will make a go of the freelance writing! Good luck!

    Seriously an inspirational post and exactly what I needed to read while at a crossroads in my own career!

    P.S. I have a friend who always tells me, “Is it really more risky making a go of it on your own? At least you have control over your fate! If you work for someone else, you could work hard and still get fired…and there is usually an upper limit at a company whereas you really are sort of limitless on your own…which is creepy but exciting!” It always makes me sort of feel better haha

    April 22, 2013 at 1:10 pm

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