I am feeling incredibly nostalgic, emotional, proud, excited, emotional, incredulous today.
A year ago, this month, I got off the couch. I thought it was just so I could climb munros in Scotland like Sam Heughan did. I thought I was probably going to fail (again) at the C25K program I was starting. I didn’t have a lot of hope or confidence in myself.
But apparently there was enough of something (desire? desperation? hope?) to ignite a flame that has yet to burn out. (Sure, it flickers and looks like it is going out sometimes… usually when I am lounging on the couch again, with pizza and chips scattered around me. But it still doesn’t go out.) One small success after another of not failing, of not falling back into my “old ways” led me across the world and to the top of Mt. Kilimanjaro.
(click on the image to go to the recorded episode)
Last night, I was interviewed by a life and business coach, Mark Schall, in New York on a radio show called “Mark My Words.” The first half of the show focused on my personal couch-to-kilimanjaro journey (basically the content of this whole blog), and the second half was about my time in the Congo meeting Esperance and the broader cause of trying to end violence against women in warzones. I was a nervous wreck going into it, but quickly began to enjoy being able to talk about the things that I was most passionate about and was actually surprised when we ran out of time and didn’t even talk about actually climbing Kilimanjaro. 🙂 I said UM and UH and YOU NOW about 1346 times, but other than that (and some bumbling that I am trying not to kick myself over) felt really good about the interview.
And talking through my story again just made me all the more grateful for this time in my life, and for the “players” that have contributed so profoundly to the changes that took place over the last year.
Here are some topics from the interview that I feel need a bit of expounding…
On becoming a fangirl** at 36 – I would have never in a million years thought I would become a fangirl. Of anything. I have always been a movie buff since a child, but never really got into the YA series of books and shows that had a significant fan following. So imagine my surprise in January of 2015 when I fell into my first fandom, Outlander, at age 36. Today, though, I wear that label with pride because of how much this experience has enriched and changed my life. I don’t think other fandoms are quite as full-service as ours (though I wouldn’t know otherwise). Sam Heughan has definitely outdone himself in using his relatively overnight stardom and platform for good. And I am the direct beneficiary of making a whole new group of friends (a support group, really) with a common love for all things Outlander, Sam, and fitness/health.
**And by fangirl I do NOT mean hyperventilating-frothing-out-the-mouth-plowing-over-children-animals-and-grandmas-to-get-to-see-or-touch-sam-or-any-other-human-being kind of fangirl (of whom there are many of this variety apparently). I mean mature, fun-loving, whisky-drinking women of all ages and stages who happen to be great fans of Diana Gabaldon’s books, the Starz Outlander show and/or the actors (Sam, Tobias, Cait et al).
And just for kicks and giggles, here are my (shameless) top 3 fangirl moments and memories:
- Sam commented on a couple of my posts in the private MPC Prep program Facebook group. This is serious fangirling fodder. He and John Valbonesi are considered our “coaches” and we (all 3000 + members) get giddy with excitement when either of them comment or like what we share. When I wrote about the tattoo I wanted to get (quite an emo post), he commented with a “Just perfect.x” and that made my day. We all have such deep and profound respect and appreciation for those guys creating the MPC program and taking the time to encourage and challenge us to new heights and goals… and to living a much better life story.
- After summiting Kilimanjaro with the 2014 MPC flag (lent to me by the BAM Strength girls), Sam commented with a congratulations in the Facebook group and then tweeted my summit photo and congratulations.*drops dead* I remember being in the Tanzanian hotel post climb in the one area of the hotel that had spotty wifi at best and saw that he had liked my tweet about summiting which made me “squee” (fangirl internal screaming). And then the wifi went out. And when it came back on, my phone was blowing up with all these retweet and like notifications on Twitter (I have like 300 followers so this was not normal). My friend, fellow climber and fellow fangirl, Joy Beth, silently screamed across the room from me when she saw his tweet. It was an amazing moment. 🙂
- Earlier this month, many of my fellow fangirl (see above description of fangirl) friends were planning to spend a long weekend in NYC for the Tartan week, Outlander Season 2 premiere and the Tartan Parade. I knew that after such a long trip to Africa, my family probably wasn’t too keen on me checking out again for a few days, but I did manage to talk them into letting me take a long day trip up to the city for the parade. Sam was going to be the Grand Marshal of the parade and I knew so many friends going. It was going to be so much fun. A friend and I hopped on a bus at the crack of dawn and landed in rainy, cold NYC in time to walk around and take in all the Outlander promotions… costumes in the Saks Fifth Avenue windows (absolutely mind blowing work by Terry Dresbach) and the Outlander S train between Grand Central and Times Square. Whoever came up with the marketing idea to outfit an entire train out with Outlander promotional images and decor should get the biggest freaking promotion of their life. Just brilliant. Before the parade started, I got a text from one of my friends asking if we wanted to march with her in the parade with Laphroig (arguably Scotland’s best whisky and also a sponsor of the parade). YES. I knew we would miss out on seeing Sam march by, but I thought, “When will I ever have the opportunity to march down 6th Avenue in NYC with thousands of Scots?!?” (answer: probably never) Laphroig was an absolute joy to march with. They outfitted us with t-shirts, hats, flags and shots of whisky to toast before we marched. It was seriously one of the most fun experiences I have ever had. The energy and camaraderie of this community of Scots and Outlander fans was pure perfection. We DID get to see Sam up on the promo bus at the end of the parade route. We cheered him on and he cheered us on. And then a group of us dashed off to a local pub to get warm and dry. After our meal, my friend and I walked back to the bus stop, and slept all the way back to Maryland. Fantastic day!
On the powerful nature of a support group when trying to change your life – I have been so grateful for the MPC support groups I have become a part of in this process (namely the Peak Warriors). I have never been a part of a support group of any sort before now. But as I reflect back on why I was able to meet goals and overcome obstacles this time around, I realize that it was probably largely because of these groups. Both groups have been the safest and most uplifting and challenging (in the best way) of groups I had ever encountered online. When you have a group of 500, 800, or over 3000 that are mostly women, you just wonder how “great” it can really be, because most of us have seen how nasty adult women (and men) can be online. Well, these two groups (the MPC Prep and Peak Warriors) have been quite abnormal. Women truly celebrating other women and cheering them on in their goals, successes, milestones and achievements… empathizing with and supporting one another in their failures and struggles and even challenging each other towards greater goals and successes. You simply don’t find this online anymore. It is a gold mine and I have been the beneficiary of so much love and support I can hardly stand it at times. Fortunately for me, I live in an area where there is a large local representation of Peak Warriors and other Outlander fans so we have had many happy hours, hikes, parties, dinners, events together in real life. While I was climbing Kili, a group of Peak Warriors were climbing a mountain in Maryland in solidarity. Truly amazes me.
On the power of storytelling in the work of advocacy and activism – I was able to share Esperance’s story in the interview. And then the story about meeting Esperance and watching and photographing her and Belinda (founder of One Million Thumbprints) reunite. I could have talked about the issue of violence against women in conflict zones in terms of numbers and statistics. UN reports. But who is going to resonate with that? Next to no one. Its just noise at this point, online and offline. Big, huge global issues that don’t directly affect me will remain big, huge and DISTANT global issues unless I can relate or connect with the issue in some way. And that is where the power of storytelling is going to literally change the fabric of humanitarian work, advocacy, activism. When I tell you about violence against women in warzones in the context of a woman’s personal narrative, her story, you will most likely connect with the issue. She is human. You are human. She is a mother. I am a mother. You have a mother. When we see each other through the lens of a shared humanity, we start to listen, to see and to respond from a level of empathy and understanding that numbers and statistics will never be able to create. Esperance shared her story with us, with me. She gifted me with her story so that I would “tell the world.” All I can do is keep sharing her story in hopes that the mothers and grandmothers and daughters and sisters of the world will see themselves in her pain and her courage and will lean into these big issues for the sake of our shared humanity.
(all photos of the legendary Esperance, whose courage and story has launched an entire movement of peacemakers and advocates working to end violence against women in warzones)
I know that my story isn’t anything truly extraordinary. I could tell 10 stories right now about people on my Kilimanjaro team as well as people in the MPC program whose experiences and transformations would truly blow your mind. Extreme weight loss, beating cancer and other debilitating illnesses, overcoming severe demons of the past and emerging with more strength and fortitude than ever… and on and on. But the point isn’t whose story is the most extreme or jaw-dropping, is it? The point is that we are all LIVING A STORY. The point is that we get to share and celebrate our stories. We get to help and support one another to live the best stories we can. And when there are those among us whose stories are not being told (but desperately need to be), we get to step up and use whatever platform, whatever opportunity and privilege we have to amplify those voices and stories.
So what kind of story are you living?
What stories are you sharing?
Whose voice can you amplify with your privilege and platform?