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mother. marathoner. blogger. reader.

Friday, May 29, 2015

on Dean Potter and living life

For my 11th birthday, I convinced my parents to split the cost of a cable Olympic package with me.

For two weeks, I practically lived in my living room, watching 3 channels of 24 hr coverage of the 1992 Barcelona games.

I have always been drawn to sports and athletes that push beyond the acceptable and normal boundaries.

There is nothing more awe inspiring that watching someone accomplish something that they have sacrificed and worked SO hard to achieve. Show me someone competing against all odds, crossing a finish line, or just plain doing something physically extraordinary and I will show you ALL the tears.

The first time I ever saw someone rock climb was while watching ESPN's X Games. I can't even tell you who it was or when it was - all I remember is watching this young girl work her way up a wall with such finesse and confidence that I think I stopped breathing for a moment. There were no rock climbing gyms or walls to scale where I lived so I had no idea that people actually did this, that they climbed walls, rocks, mountains FOR FUN.

Nothing made this more clear then an amazing documentary I recently watched called Valley Uprising. It describes the history of climbing in Yosemite Valley - past and present - complete with colorful characters, rivalries, and breath taking views. One character, in particular, struck me - his name was Dean Potter. He was the latest in a long line of climbing revolutionaries. Constantly pushing and pulling at what it meant to live free. He pioneered speed climbing, racing up the face of mountains, smashing all sorts of records. He began slack lining high atop the Yosemite Valley. Everything he did, he went all in.

slack lining

free climbing

At the end of Valley Uprising, the camera cuts in close to Dean free solo climbing a rock. It pulls in closer to his fingers as they reach and grope for a hold. You watch as his finger tips grab the rock for a second and then... he falls. The camera pulls out and you watch as he plummets down to the Earth below... and then he pulls his parachute. Inevitably, you sigh a breath of relief because you know that he survives... this time.

On May 16, 2015, Dean Potter and Graham Hunt were killed during a wingsuit BASE-jump in Yosemite National Park. After 20 years, the sport, the life, that Dean Potter so lovingly cultivated is what killed him. Immediately, the news spread and the critics' voices rose to the top. I, personally, refused to read the negative comments on social media about how Dean was stupid and reckless. He lived his life they way he wanted to, on his own terms - isn't that what we all want?

I have had many well meaning people tell me that I shouldn't run so much. Or run races so close together. Or push myself. Or sacrifice to achieve a goal. I know that their intentions are good. The unknown is scary. If you've never run a marathon, it probably seems like a daunting endeavor. Running 4 in a year just seems downright insane. Running, for me, is my personal mountain. Marathon running is my version of rock climbing. Every time I finish a race, reach the summit, I want more. More chances to try, more chances to achieve.

"No matter the risks we take, we always consider the end to be too soon, even though in life more then anything else quality should be more important than quantity." -Alex Honnold

There are often times that I sit back and reflect on the choices I have made in my life. Sometimes, I wish I would have tried harder or pushed myself more but I have NEVER regretted my decision to become a marathon runner. Just this morning, my daughter asked when I'm going to stop running. Before I could answer, my husband said "Never. Mommy is never going to stop." Not stopping means doing some crazy things, like running 2 fulls in a month, or 2 ultras in the same calendar year. This is me living my life.

Dean's death is sad, but his life speaks volumes about the person he was, and the effect he had on those around him and on the sport he loved. To be that lucky.

"His death has reminded me to reflect carefully on my own decisions about risk. There's a constant tension in climbing, and really all exploration, between pushing yourself into the unknown but trying not to push too far. The best any of us can do is tread that line carefully. Dean was making his choices clear-eyed. He knew the risks in his life, and he was still willing to pursue his dreams. How many of the rest of us live with that kind of intention?" -Alex Honnold


previous post: #100milesinamonthstreak


  1. Oooh. I have chills! It always makes me wonder what makes some people go to the absolute limits like that. I have slack lined one time, with a harness and all kinds of safety precautions, and it was one of the most terrifying moments of my life. I can't even fathom having the mindset to do it over a near-bottomless chasm. But, at the same time, he went after what he wanted and didn't seem to fear taking on new challenges. respect for that.

    1. Thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. I really appreciate the time you take to read and comment on my little blog :)

  2. Beautiful sentiment to get from a tragic death. I lived for 3+ years in a ski/mountain town where extreme activity athletes lived and worshipped. You can only respect what some people do in the name of pushing the limits of their abilities. Thanks for sharing.