Throughout my life I have been told that I have thin legs. I usually feel blindsided by this, overt my eyes, swallow a lump in my throat and then kindly say “thank you” because they have no idea. My legs are lean and I know I have skinny calves. I live and breath fitness, but the truth is that cycling, squatting and lunging will never develop my lower legs in size or shape. My legs are skinny because I was born that way. I have a hereditary neuromuscular dystrophy in the Charcot Marie Tooth Disease family (referred to as CMT), which causes muscle weakness and atrophy, and some loss of sensation in the feet, the lower legs, the hands and the forearms. It also often causes contractures (stiffened joints due to abnormal tightening of muscles and associated tissues). My lower legs are weak and atrophied and often standing up straight and balanced on an uneven surface is a challenge.
One of my good friends, Jess, is an avid stand-up paddle boarder. She regularly invites me out to the Marina with her to go early morning boarding. I honestly didn’t think I would be good at it. I knew it required a lot of balance and stability from your legs, plus core and upper body strength. I wanted to paddle but didn’t know if I could stand on my own two feet on a 30” wide board floating in unpredictable water without falling.
Getting up on that board felt to me like standing on the edge of a cliff. I felt my throat close up, my palms get sweaty and anxiety flush thru my entire body. I was out of my element and self-conscious. With just a couple strokes of the paddle in the water, I began to immediately doubt if I could make it an hour out there. When you have a weak muscle, it’s natural to feel as though you cannot trust it. Let’s say you sprain your ankle. As a result you do less weight bearing on it, you might get crutches, you don’t wear heels and you definitely don’t jump rope. You know the joint is weak so you avoid it, right? Well, for me, my legs always feel like that. They are in a constant state of weakness and discomfort. I’ve learned over the years that I cannot avoid my legs if I want to continue walking and living an active lifestyle. So I stand on my feet the best I can, wobble back and forth and try to breath naturally to avoid creating unneeded stress in my body.
Despite being out of my comfort zone, I made it through my first paddleboard adventure with Jess! She talked while she paddled and effortlessly floated along at a fast pace, never falling in the water. I am sure glad I had her company there to talk to me about boys, work, fashion, food and anything besides my fear of falling off the board. My steering was at a very novice level and as the water became choppy, I was fighting to not drift into the docked boats surrounding the Marina.
I shouted a couple of 4 letter words as I knew my paddling and balance effort were not going to follow thru for me on this occasion and dropped to my knees as I went nose of the board first into a docked boat with a 200 pound seal sleep on it. The seal woke up and immediately began barking at me. I said “Sorry, sorry” a handful of times (like it was going to make the seal less mad) and quickly paddled myself out of there. Jess and I had a good laugh about this!
I fell in love that day with the vibrations and the sensations of being out in the vast, blue ocean. It feels awakening and majestic to be out in the middle of a big body of water. It nourished my soul, while also closing a gap with my fears of being awkward. Author, Seth Godin describes the need to stop hiding in your comfortable zone in order to experience personal growth because he says, “Discomfort brings engagement and change.” Growing to greatness and success comes through embracing change and change feels awkward (it’s the nature of the beast). In the midst of discomfort, your head trash will really start to get to you. You have to submerge yourself in this uncomfortable state and have faith the uncomfortable will transform to personal growth. The good news is that the more you do it, the more natural it will become.
This will be my second summer of paddle boarding. I am happy to say that my legs are not better, but they are also not worse this year. Yesterday I hit the water solo. I was excited until I stood up on that paddleboard. Instantaneously that same flush of anxiety came back as I wobbled back and forth. I didn’t feel stable. But then again being awkward and unstable is part of my personal workout and it’s now apart of the paddle boarding adventure. It’s a day-to-day process of accepting my circumstances but also not letting them stop me from living my life and getting out there and trying anyway. It’s apart of accepting my shortcomings, remaining cool and calm when I’m out of my element, not always having to be perfect and ultimately being okay being ME.
I spent an hour out on the water yesterday, which was a victory in itself because I honestly wanted to quit after the first 20 minutes but I didn’t. It was choppy waters, hot outside and my legs were shaking, but I didn’t want to choose comfort. I talked myself through it. I kept asking myself why I was so scared of losing my balance, losing control and falling when I knew I was a competent swimmer. Falling is looked at as a stigma. We are so scared to fall and to fail; yet, even if standing failed me today and knocked me off the board, I still knew how to swim. This happens in other ways in life- perhaps in social settings, in our relationships, in love, in business or with our kids. We work ourselves up, create head trash and build walls because we are afraid of going outside a comfort zone. We feel insecure, unsafe, unloved, unresolved, embarrassed or perhaps angry even though the worst-case scenario is something we can totally handle.
So I may never be the world’s best paddle boarder and I may fall in the water often, but I know how to swim back and stand up again because I’m becoming pretty proficient at being uncomfortable. You can find me on a board in the Marina this summer, working a very important muscle. And it’s not my leg muscles. It’s my “be bold, be fearless, be you” muscle!
-Tara Lyn Emerson
check it out at:
Pro SUP Shop
The Stand Up Paddle Boarding Authority
4175 Admiralty Way, Marina Del Rey, CA 90292
Southwest end of the Jamaica Bay Inn Parking Lot