About two years ago, Andrew Gardner sat me down in his office to discuss my hamstrings. “You’re a liability,” he told me, with no trace of jest in his voice. I had just finished my first ever session of yoga, where it was painfully clear that I had never dared to encounter the terrors of entanglement that rest on every yoga studio floor.
I have never been a flexible person. Even when I deigned to call myself a gymnast, stuffing my childhood belly into a leotard, and sport, that could never fit me, I couldn’t dream of touching my toes. Honestly, I also hadn’t really considered it a problem. “I’m just not a flexible person,” I told myself and others. I chose activities like running and biking, avoided those like lifting or yoga, and went about my life, knees bent and shoulders taut.
Turns out, being inflexible, both physically and mentally, is a liability. Athletes, particularly cross-country skiers, like to pretend that we have control over our schedules and lives. We treat our training schedules like dogma, calculate our meals and warm-up times and scrutinize the details. While each of these traits in moderation can add up to professionalism, their ravenous, evil twins produce compulsion. The greatest battle Nordic skiers face, the challenge that appears on a daily basis, is seeing the fine line between the two and prioritizing and bending to fit to the former.
Today, I can touch my toes, but it still takes practice. In a world of oscillating temperatures, budgets and trends, I recognize that maneuvering the world of competitive ski racing will require more flexibility than I have ever endeavored to enact.
In the last two weeks, I have been reminded of the futility of my control and am lucky to have found how fruitful flexibility can be. In a changing schedule of travel, graduation, mechanics and funerals, I have managed to let go of my compulsion and enjoy getting creative with my training in different settings.
Because that’s what it’s all about, right? Doing what you can, when you can, with as much enjoyment as you can, to finally, after years of stretching, touch your toes.