Category Archives: Bodies In Motion

“Finding Your Path to Fitness,” Dr. Conway McLean, DABFAS, FAPWHc, FAMIFAS

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Everyone knows of the many benefits of exercise. The news is all around us, from health segments on your evening news to the covers of glamour magazines. Exercise is health, and great expense is directed toward achieving it. From the latest elliptical machine to some ab-crunching gadget, diet books to weight-watching meal delivery service, fitness sells.

Anyone living in the modern world has heard of the benefits of exercise, from improved heart function to more stamina on the square dance, from clearer cognition to better weight maintenance. Then why don’t more people exercise? Many believe they are unable to exercise because they cannot jog or lift weights. Some common conditions that make it challenging to pursue physical fitness can include arthritic or damaged joints, neuro-degenerative disorders (such as Muscular Dystrophy), even limb loss.

What is exercise? If you truly study the concept, it means to physically exert oneself, the contracture of various muscle groups. But the muscles crossing any joint don’t actually have to move the joint. An exercise that involves no motion is termed an isometric one, in which you are tensing a muscle group, without any motion. As you can tighten your stomach muscles, you can also tense your biceps without bending your elbow.

Many alternative forms of exercise are available.

For example, tai chi is practiced by millions across the globe. Studies to date demonstrate its health benefits in both physical and spiritual directions. Originally a form of martial arts, it is now practiced also for its meditative aspect, as well as for promoting improved heart health. Gardening and walking are simple activities that many enjoy. They are also good alternatives to traditional exercise. Do not overlook them just because they are easy, or because you enjoy them. If you do any of these gentle exercises regularly, you will improve your overall health.

You can find yoga in most every Y and community center in the U.S. Yoga practice may build strength, fitness, flexibility, and even enhance self-awareness and your mind-body connection. Hundreds of different “schools” of yoga exist, with most typically including some breathing exercises, meditation, and assuming certain postures, also known as asanas, or poses. These are intended to stretch and flex various muscle groups. Many appreciate yoga’s benefits in disease prevention, i.e. health maintenance. Yoga is a great tool for staying healthy.

When it comes to being physically active, sometimes you need to think outside the box. Seek out activities requiring movement in some form, even if it might not typically be considered exercise. The activity must simply raise one’s heart rate or require physical exertion. For healthy adults, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week. If someone is participating in more vigorous activity, DHHS recommends 75 minutes a week. A combination is best.

Being physically inactive is not only abnormal, it is also pathological because the old adage “use it or lose it” is really true.

Our bodies evolved to require the stresses inherent in physical activity to grow and function properly. Our bodies never evolved to cope with persistent inactivity. In prehistoric times, it was essential for survival to be physically active. It would be fair to say it is part of our evolutionary tree, our deepest roots. Our ancestors were hunter-gatherer types who walked miles every day, along with all the climbing and digging. Even farmers had to toil long and hard, although agriculture certainly transformed our diets.

Exercise, in some way, shape, or form, is vital for developing a strong and healthy circulatory system, durable bones safe from osteoporosis, a vigorous immune system, and a properly functioning brain. Almost every organ and body system benefits from regular exercise and is compromised by its absence. Physical inactivity is a significant risk factor for type 2 diabetes. It is now obvious our lack of motion, in a very real sense, has contributed to the increasing prevalence of high blood sugar levels and pre-diabetes.
Modern times have transformed our activities tremendously. Few residents of modern society perform physical activity, and more rare is the job requiring physical labor. Many have little interest in exercising in their off hours. Yet the benefits are real. Men who are unfit but then improve their fitness lower their risk of a heart attack by about 50%.

Obviously, I feel required to issue a warning. If you have any severe health problems, you would do well to consult with your doctor. Describe your plans. Unless you have an extremely serious medical condition, your health care provider should laud your efforts. Exercise is good medicine, and for just about everything. A pertinent question, of course, is how much? And what kind? There is some form of exercise for everyone; it’s just a matter of finding out what works for you.

What really determines which of us attains fitness as an adult?

Or becomes obese, and develops diabetes? How much control over your fitness do you have? With such immutable ingredients as one’s own genetic constitution, over which we clearly have no control, we all have inherited strengths and limitations. But, for the time being, you have whatever genes were passed on to you. Make the best of them and make the best you possible.

We know fixing our health care system will be difficult. Yet, there is an inexpensive, readily available answer, and one highly effective in prevention. Utilizing this method will even help rein in our skyrocketing health care costs. Start exercising. As a culture, we need to, certainly more than at current levels. It is what we have evolved to do. So get fit by getting active!

Dr. Conway McLean is a physician practicing foot and ankle medicine and surgery in the Upper Peninsula (Marquette and Escanaba). McLean is triple board certified in surgery, wound care, and orthotic therapy. He has lectured internationally on many topics. Dr. McLean welcomes questions at drcmclean@outlook.com.

Excerpted with permission from the Spring 2020 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. Copyright 2020, Empowering Lightworks, LLC.

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Bodies in Motion: Snowshoeing Satisfaction, by Jesse Wiederhold

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Michigan’s Upper Peninsula holds a treasure trove of scenery. There are many unique mountain ranges, roaring rivers, and cascading waterfalls that exist only in the wilderness of Northern Michigan. Summers in the U.P. are beautiful, to say the least. Warm sunshine allows for excellent beach days, while the cooler nights allow for perfect campfire conditions. As summer fades and snow covers the ground, new roads open. No, you cannot drive your car down these roads, but you can definitely snowshoe on them.

Snowshoeing is an active hobby in which nearly anyone can participate. All it requires is for you to walk.

Snowshoeing is an underrated activity—it takes you places inaccessible by regular foot, has low impact on the environment, and is good cardio as well. Since snowshoeing is so easy on the body, you will burn a lot of calories without even knowing it. If you use poles, you’ll burn even more calories. According to Yukon Charlie’s, a snowshoe manufacturing company, someone who is 180 pounds can burn up to 1,000 calories an hour from vigorous snowshoeing.

“Poles are a helpful accessory for snowshoeing,” says Jackson DeAugustine of Down Wind Sports. Down Wind Sports is a U.P. sports retail store specializing in snowshoeing, snowboarding and other “Yooper” sports. The store has locations in Marquette, Houghton, and Munising. DeAugustine grew up in Newberry, but now lives in Marquette. He explains that poles help you snowshoe uphill and across uneven territory with ease.

DeAugustine notes one of his favorite places to snowshoe is Munising’s iconic Pictured Rocks. The view along the coast is his favorite part, and being so close to the water. Pictured Rocks is an excellent location to snowshoe because there are so many interesting things to see. There are waterfalls, forests, and a long shore complementing the deepest Great Lake. He adds that snowshoes are nice to transport you to climbing spots, or whatever other winter activities you enjoy that require getting somewhere in the woods that would otherwise be inaccessible.

Not only is snowshoeing good for your physical health, but it can be beneficial mentally as well.

Sight-seeing is a favorite U.P. attraction, even for residents. It feels good to get outside and breathe in crisp, fresh air. Snowshoeing can be a fun social outing, or a time to just get out in nature and reflect. It is in these picture-perfect sceneries that we can sometimes process our busy, problematic lives. The solace nature provides is unobtainable anywhere else.

Northwoods Adventures, a U.P. outfitter/guide service, offers a helpful reference to other places to snowshoe. In the Marquette area, they recommend the Eben Ice Caves in the Rock River Canyon Wilderness Area. I have been there myself, and truly feel this one is a must-see. It is located by Eben Junction, and if you go during the winter, you will likely find a trail of parked cars leading in.

When you arrive, there are lots of porta-potties marking an open field entrance to the caves. You trek your way across, and are met with Pure Michigan all around you—the birds singing, and the sun sneaking its way to you through the bare branches of tall trees. Snowshoes are great here because they will bite down and give you the traction you need to climb up slippery, winter slopes. When you reach the temporary caves, you will thank your snowshoes and yourself for making the journey in!

Other recommended places for snowshoeing include Yellow Dog Falls off County Road 510, and Hogback Mountain and Sugarloaf Mountain off County Road 550.

If you’re closer to Houghton, Northwoods Adventures suggests you check out Hungarian Falls around Tamarack City. You can get there using a seasonal road off Sixth Street, and then go down a snowmobile trail until you reach a foot trail near a bridge. Mt. Lookout and Breakers are two other good spots for snowshoeing in the Houghton area.

Now you know where and what, but perhaps still aren’t sure when or how to get started.

The best conditions for snowshoeing are when there is freshly fallen. light, fluffy snow. This is so the snowshoes can do their job keeping you afloat. Temperatures between 32 and 40 degrees are best, so the snow is able to stick, but not be so freezing that it’s uncomfortable to be outside. Remember to always dress in layers, so you can add or remove them, keeping a pleasant body temperature during your outdoor activities.

You can start by going to your local sporting goods store to get yourself a nice pair of snowshoes. You will want a larger shoe if you are going to be covering longer, more consistent surfaces. If you are going to be hiking mountains, or through uneven terrain, you may be better off with a smaller shoe. Poles are not required but can help reduce fatigue, especially on longer journeys. Ask questions, and staff members at outfitters will be more than happy to get you the right gear for your needs.

As with any journey off of familiar roads, you should always consider your safety. Avoid going alone. Bring a compass, tell someone where you are going, and tell them when you should be back. Bring a lighter, a multi-tool to hnadle unexpected equi9pment malfunctions, a water bottle, a whistle, maybe some snacks. The last thing you want to be in the wilderness is unprepared.

My final word of advice to you? Get outside, and try snowshoeing this winter sports season. You won’t regret it!

Jesse Wiederhold, twenty-one, is a senior English writing major attending Northern Michigan University. He is a pet dad to three cats, and loves to write. He spends time with friends, goes on hikes, enjoys snowshoeing in the winter, and is an avid aquarium enthusiast.

Reprinted with permission from the Winter 2019-2020 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. All rights reserved.

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Bodies in Motion: Sweet Wisdom in Fawn Pose by Crystal Cooper

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The shifting of the seasons whispers the secret of change. However alchemizing these times may be, empowering tools abound. Despite tumultuous feelings that may be prompted by external entities within, our own force for change exists. Slowing down, creating space, and prioritizing energy for self-care are sustaining ways to positively take control. Seeking alternatives to stressful reaction in these times of flux, we can shift our focus to being kind, gentle, and sweet with ourselves and others. We can seek further alternative solutions by looking to nature and healing traditions for guidance and wisdom. One who manifests the medicine of gentle kindness is the fawn. To embody these virtues, we can look to yoga.

Fawn pose is an informal derivative of deer pose. Intuitively seeming more inward and sweetly nurturing in nature, fawn pose involves a gentle forward fold over bent legs. It welcomes a stretch of the hips, and a moment of supported rest.

Imagined as a spring creature, the symbolism of fawn speaks to the promise of new beginnings. With their delicate, growing legs, the essence of patience and tender determination can be gleaned. Looking at the world with big, innocent eyes, the fawn instills peace through its perspective. We can take these lessons into our yoga practice to find even more inspiration.

Fawn pose is a seated, grounding position that provides a supported and connected feeling to earth. It is said that our life of emotions is stored in the hips, and being at the center of our body, it is easy to feel the many tensions we may hold there. Hip opening poses offer the opportunity to breathe fresh air and circulation into the deep parts of us. Physically, the stretching can feel intense, and past emotional pains can rise to the surface.  Included in the pose is a twist, known for increasing circulation, gently cleansing organs, and aligning the spine. Moving into autumn, when energy flow can become stagnant in the body, twists are ideal for stimulating the kidneys to keep systems vital. A relaxing and comforting forward fold is the final placement in fawn pose, allowing a moment of calm and stillness.

An initial step in beginning a yoga practice is to connect breath and body while allowing silence. It is wise to begin with a moving, energizing sequence such as sun salutations for strengthening and to prepare the body for flexibility. Moving into a cooler season, it is even more important to warm up before getting into stretching poses. However, because it is such a gentle pose, it would not be harmful to begin with fawn. To allow more ease for stiff or inflexible areas, sitting on a pillow or folded towel can make seated positions more accessible.

By sitting on the ground, the connection between the earth and the sitz bones of the buttocks is realized. One can almost press against the ground, allowing the spine to be tall, and with a big inhale, lift through the crown of the head.

Letting the knees fall out to the sides, the bottoms of the feet are brought together. With the left leg remaining in this position, the right is rotated, still bent, in the opposite direction so that the right foot is outward. The left foot rests on the top of the right leg. The right hand is placed on the right foot and the left is placed on the left knee.

Using the hands to press, the torso of the body is gently twisted to face straight over the right leg. A deep inhale and exhale here opens and relaxes the shoulders while the top of the head remains tall.  Remaining here, the spectrum of ease or difficulty present in the stretch may be observed. With another big inhale, growing even taller through the spine, and bending at the hips to protect the low back, one comes into a forward fold toward the right leg. The true limits of flexibility must be respected here, but also met to encourage growth.

While in the pose, breath and positive change is invited into those deep, dark emotions that may have been held in place here. Lightness is invoked. It is time to be easier on ourselves.  Breathing into the places being stretched, from the legs, hips, kidneys, up the spine, and into the chest through the shoulders, rejuvenation is allowed. Playing with the lightness to be found in this pose, and with the face perhaps leaning close to the foot—kiss (or blow one to) your toes!  Bless your path: how far you’ve come, all the places you’ll go. The forehead may be rested upon the groin, or each cheek feeling a kiss from the earth. Once the pose has been fully enjoyed on this side, the legs are switched to the other side, mirroring the placements.

In connecting with fawn pose, one may instill grace in the approaching autumnal period of preparation and rest. By including it in your yoga practice, the peace and lessons gleaned may synergize throughout life. With new or unknown endeavors, it is all right to be cautious and go slow.  But as the fawn would also teach, it is important to be curious and playful! Experiment within the pose to find new opening: while still sitting straight, you can bend side-to-side, lift the arms and bend, let the head lean to each side for opening through the neck, lift the pelvis up to stretch the front thighs, or go into a related pose, such as fire log or pigeon. Lighten up, be gentle, and harbor a delicate communion with the surrounding beauty that is.

Crystal Cooper has called Marquette, MI home for a decade. Her communion with the northwoods deepened upon beginning yoga in 2013. Passionate about natural healing modalities as well as personal and global sustainability, Crystal advocates yoga and other resiliency-promoting actions within the community.

Reprinted with permission from the Fall 2019 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine. All rights reserved.

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Bodies in Motion: Direct Connection—Yoga in Nature, Crystal Cooper

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Breathe in. You are here, in this body, at this time. You are aware of and immersed in your surroundings. Perhaps you’ve arrived stressed, scared, weak, or in need. A peaceful simplicity welcomes you. Breathe out. Why not unplug, unwind, reset, recharge? Where? The porch, the beach, the woods, the mountains. All viable options are yours for the indulging.

This time you choose to flee to the wilds, submerging yourself into the elements. It feels sneaky, thrilling, fearless, or empowering. The mind is silent and the senses vital here. Now you can feel with the subtle, deeper parts of yourself. It is quiet in a different way. The present sounds are more alive. The surrounding scents invite you to remember to smell them. You realize you are holding the tensions of the day in your body, and that you can release them. Observing other living beings, you realize the grass and bird hold nothing but what is essential.

You move into downward-facing dog pose, pressing your hands and feet into the wood, grass, soil, or rock. Breathing in, you fill to your capacity, then exhale. The earth is pressing back, supporting you. Your body is being rejuvenated—the stresses and pressures of the day and your life being gently released or powerfully pushed out. Fully released and truly connected to this space, you receive a glimpse of understanding that you are indeed one with all.

. . .

We make choices every day, every moment. Time and energy are utilized for all that life requires and offers. How mindfully and intentionally are these resources prioritized? Consider the idea of taking back our time and energy from those entities that abduct it, deviation for the greatest good. What a wily, wholesome way to protest the perpetual adversity faced, rallying for our inherent life force.

Cleansing and growing the connection to our vitality, we can practice yoga outside, additionally healing the human connection to earth. This is good work. This is an individual grassroots movement to be built upon in times to come. This foundation gratifies immediately and long-term, fortifying personal resilience. Immersed in a natural yogic practice, one does not require proof or over-thinking—the facts of goodness and righteousness are felt, known.

Yoga means union, the harmony of awareness and intention, body and mind, soul and earth.

Physically, yoga can allow vast synergistic opportunities—oxygenating tissues, lubricating joints, and restoring and strengthening subtle, vital connections throughout the body. A yoga practice begins with the breath and mental presence. No matter the origin of one’s practice, the purpose is an honest, focused communion. This can begin in the living room with a book or Youtube video, in a studio on the mat, or simply with gravity, the earth, and your body.

Once an understanding of the poses exists, like words, they are sequentially placed to make an intentional sentence. Each sentence, or stream of poses, is mindfully carried out to compose a paragraph, eventually telling the story of your yoga practice. Within this story line exist possibilities to get curious, experimental, creative, and playful!

Life offers us the occasion to be in our bodies and to go be out in the world.

We can reproduce our own energy, free of charge. No flexibility, strength, or shape is required. These qualities are inherently cultivated through each small, practical step of the practice. Sustainability on a large scale begins with reviving our sovereignty on an individual level. Allowing our leadership to shine through in our personal choices, yoga can act as a brilliant mirror throughout life.

Crystal Cooper has called Marquette, MI home for a decade. Her communion with the northwoods deepened upon beginning yoga in 2013. Passionate about natural healing modalities as well as personal and global sustainability, Crystal advocates yoga and other resiliency-promoting actions within the community.

Reprinted with permission from the Summer 2019 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, copyright 2019. All rights reserved.

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What’s HIIT All About?

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Want to reverse the impact of aging? Improve your glucose metabolism? Increase your heart health and aerobic capacity? Would you like to burn more calories in less time, and enjoy yourself in the process? Then HIIT may be for you!

HIIT (high intensity interval training) simply requires alternating short bouts of intensive activity (such as thirty seconds or so) with longer intervals (three or four minutes) of less intensive activity. This can be any activity you choose, so no special training or equipment is required.

For example, if you’re fit enough to jog, you could intersperse short jogs within a longer brisk walk. If you’re more sedentary, you might take a leisurely stroll and briefly walk faster from time to time during it.

HIIT dates back to Olympic athletes at least as early as 1912; however, it has only become popular for the average exerciser more recently. And scientific studies have followed, providing evidence of HIIT’s many benefits. For instance, Mayo Clinic researchers found HIIT appears to alter cellular DNA in such a way that one’s muscles become able to produce more energy. It prompts new muscle growth too.

Mayo Clinic researchers have also compared HIIIT, resistance training and combined training in a twelve-week study. All three improved cardio respiratory health, lean body mass and insulin sensitivity, however “only high-intensity and combined training improved aerobic capacity and mitochondrial function for skeletal muscle. Decline in mitochondrial content and function are common in older adults…Exercise training significantly enhanced the cellular machinery responsible for making new proteins. That contributes to protein synthesis, thus reversing a major adverse effect of aging.”(1)

In fact, the improvement in mitochondrial functioning, which usually decreases with age, was even more marked in the over-65 participant group–69 percent improvement, as compared to 49 percent in the 18-to-30-year-old group.

It’s important to check in with your doctor before starting a new workout routine, especially if you have a chronic health condition or haven’t been exercising regularly. To help prevent injury, start slowly rather than rush into a workout that might be too strenuous. Mayo Clinic specialists suggest starting with just one to two higher intensity intervals during each workout. Slow it down if you feel you’re overdoing it; then challenge yourself to vary the pace as your stamina increases.

Mayo Clinic Sports Medicine Center Co-Director Dr. Edward Laskowski cautions HIIT programs need to be carefully designed as higher impact activities aren’t a good fit for everyone, “Especially those with a musculoskeletal injury, a poor musculoskeletal foundation or improper movement patterns. But low-impact HIIT options include bicycling, elliptical trainer or water running activities to provide an aerobic exercise challenge without significant joint or impact load. And the intensity, frequency and progression of each program can be tailored to a patient’s diagnosis and abilities.”(2)

Also, Dr. Laskowski explains, “There’s solid evidence that older, less active, overweight, and obese individuals can benefit from HIIT training. HIIT has also been shown to be very safe and effective in patients with heart disease and type 2 diabetes.”(3)

This doesn’t mean you should do HIIT daily though. Many experts recommend keeping it to once or twice a week, alternating light to moderate exercise on other days so your bones and muscles get the time they need to rebuild. But keep in mind that to noticeably improve your muscle strength, you’ll need to include resistance training in your routine twice per week.

But perhaps best of all, HIIT seems to help many people exercise regularly on an ongoing basis. Why? Many find it makes their exercise more fun! Researchers have noted study participants’ preference for HIIT and their self-reporting that they’re more likely to stick with routines that include it. So if you’re not doing HIIT, consider choosing a favorite type of exercise and adapting it to your HIIT needs!

(1)https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/mayo-clinic-discovers-high-intensity-aerobic-training-can-reverse-aging-processes-in-adults/
(2)https://www.mayoclinic.org/medical-professionals/physical-medicine-rehabilitation/news/sprint-rest-repeat-exploring-the-benefits-of-high-intensity-interval-training/mac-20431116
(3) Ibid.

Sources:
https://www.mayoclinic.org/why-interval-training-may-be-the-best-workout-at-any-age/art-20342125
https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/mayo-clinic-discovers-high-intensity-aerobic-training-can-reverse-aging-processes-in-adults/
https://www.womenshealth.com.au/hiit-training-anti-aging-benefits Aug. 1 2018 https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/fitness/in-depth/interval-training/art-20044588
https://www.mayoclinic.org/why-interval-training-may-be-the-best-workout-at-any-age/art-20342125
https://www.mayoclinic.org/medical-professionals/physical-medicine-rehabilitation/news/sprint-rest-repeat-exploring-the-benefits-of-high-intensity-interval-training/mac-20431116
https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/mayo-clinic-discovers-high-intensity-aerobic-training-can-reverse-aging-processes-in-adults/

Reprinted with permission from the Spring 2019 issue of Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, copyright 2019. All rights reserved.

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Bodies in Motion: Snow Biking My Way, Michelle Gill

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When I think about what inspires me the most to mountain bike, road bike, or snow bike, it’s just being outdoors. I love the fresh air on my face and body, the smell of the leaves, fresh earth, or fresh cut grass in the air, the beautiful shades of greens and blues seen in the trees and lakes, the sound of laughter among friends—I love being outdoors in almost all weather conditions. Therefore, winter opens up a fabulous new opportunity for biking called snow biking or fat biking.

My husband and I own twenty acres just outside of Marquette where we snow bike as much as possible all winter. Since we don’t own a snowmobile or groomer, we manually groom the trails ourselves by snowshoeing them. This can be a lot of work on our eleven different loops, but it is also great exercise! It’s not as simple as just going for a casual snowshoe. When grooming, you have to go over sections multiple times, and bank corners where needed. This doesn’t produce the same quality of bike trail as professionally groomed trails. In fact, it’s harder to snow bike on trails that are manually groomed, and every time it snows significantly you have to re-groom. However, it’s worth it to be able to step outside your home and ride.

Between snowshoeing to groom trails and the actual riding, winter snow biking on our trails is a major workout. Our trails are on a gradual hill so no matter which way you go, you will be climbing at some point. We usually start at a half-hour ride and work our way up to an hour. At times, snow biking can be fast in the straighter sections, but rides on most of them are slower and more challenging, with trails curving all through our glorious woods. During the work week, going for a ride right after getting home works best for us. This usually requires the use of headlamps or flash lights mounted to the bikes. Night riding is a little more challenging, but so enjoyable under the clear, star-filled sky! Winter snow biking on our trails also helps us master riding at slow speeds, cornering, and balancing. It’s made me a better biker for summer trail riding.

To prepare for winter snow biking, you should have bar mitts if your hands normally get cold in the winter. With bar mitts on your bike, you only need to wear a light pair of gloves. On our trails, I don’t recommend clipping into your bike pedals. We wear boots to keep our feet warm and dry. As far as clothing, we wear the same garments we would wear for cross country skiing or running in cold temperatures-layers, breathable garments, wind protection, helmet, goggles if it’s really cold… the usual winter gear required for snow biking.

If you want to try snow biking, area bike shops offer rentals. I recommend you try renting first if you’re not sure about it. The many trails in and around the city of Marquette are beautifully scenic and perfectly groomed. In addition to riding recreationally, snow bike races exist throughout winter and across the Upper Peninsula. Check online or at any bike shop for more information about snow biking or racing. Snow biking is just another wonderful sport to enjoy in our beautiful north woods. Have fun!

ice biking, Gills

Financial adviser and former human resources director at Marquette Area Public Schools Michelle Gill grew up in the western U.P. and has called Marquette home since 1994. She and her husband David enjoy living an active lifestyle, playing outdoors as much as possible.

Excerpted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Winter 2018-19 Issue, copyright 2018. All rights reserved.

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Bodies in Motion: Dead River Derby, by Amber Kinonen

DRD

A muscled shoulder barrels into my chest, reeling me backwards. My butt smacks and then slides across the concrete surface. I scramble to my feet, but the same sweat-glistened shoulder flashes toward me again. I spin away only to have another opponent send me to the floor once more. However, I don’t give up. Instead, I think to myself, “Challenge accepted!” and rise. Even though this may sound like something from an MMA (Mixed Martial Arts) match, it captures less than ten seconds of a roller derby bout.

In 2012, I was invited to skate for Marquette’s Dead River Derby, also known as “DRD.” At first, I was surprised by the perception of derby girls: They are tough, wear booty shorts with ripped up stockings, throw elbows and fists, and have tattoos. As a teacher, scout leader, and mother of two, I was not sure I would fit in. Now, years later, I know that roller derby is no longer the banked track where women dramatically throw each other around. There is an abundance of contact; however, athleticism, strategy, and safety are valued. In fact, derby is one of the fastest growing sports for women with more than 1,200 leagues worldwide and attempts being made for it to qualify as an Olympic event. Why are so many choosing to play?

First are the reasons not to play. One is time. Derby requires hours of drills on skates to avoid injury, the complex gameplay takes practice to understand, and a league’s existence depends on members’ volunteerism. Another issue is money. Derby can be expensive as lots of gear is required for safety. Finally, injuries occur. Derby carries the same risks as other contact sports such as football and hockey.

However, there are also many benefits to playing. The most obvious is exercise. Practices are demanding with a mixture of stretching, footwork, endurance drills, core body exercises, and strategy skills. Therefore, many parts of the body are strengthened. A lot is done in a short amount of time, but the variation and support from teammates makes it not only bearable but enjoyable. In fact, I have to force myself to exercise on a bike or treadmill, but I eagerly burn calories on my skates for hours at a time. When I miss practice, my body feels it, and when I finish practice, my body is strong.

Other benefits are not so obvious. Derby allows a range of women to be involved. Some are thin and others curvy. Round booties can stop jammers, tiny ones can evade blockers, and anyone can choose to participate in a league. Women of varying ages can also participate. For example, the average age of skaters in the DRD is forty-three, which is higher than many other leagues. Backgrounds are also wide-ranging. Membership consists of teachers, business owners, accountants, college students, and stay-at-home moms. There is a place for anyone with determination. As we work to become an effective team, the diversity provided by derby fosters comradery unlike any experienced elsewhere.

Derby also requires the brain to work in ways a person may not be used to. I equate it to a game of fast-paced chess with contact. A skater must think critically and quickly. Skaters have to make gameplay happen in a matter of seconds to gain advantage over the other team. The track can be confusing because so much is happening; calculating and executing strategy requires awareness, mental strength, and focus.

Another benefit is a sense of accomplishment. When I first started, I couldn’t stand on my skates. Every training session was a challenge, but if I could race around the track a little faster or jump higher than the week before, I felt good. Now, I’m trying to jump the apex or pull off a pummel horse. I still leave practice awed by what my forty-one-year-old body is capable of accomplishing.

In addition, most people think that being tough indicates a lack of fear. However, derby has taught me that being tough means being afraid but doing what scares you anyway. It is a sport where even after years of practice, my fear of failure and injury is still there. Nevertheless, I skate. When a game is over, regardless of performance, I am satisfied that even though I may have been so nervous I gave myself a fever beforehand, I got on the track and worked my hardest.

Derby is not about a bunch of rogues who throw theatrical punches on the track. It is so much more. My children get to watch their mom, an athlete, working with an eclectic group of women as part of a team. They see hard work and determination from a mom who gets knocked down but, most importantly, gets back up, over and over again.

Amber Kinonen skates under the name of “Ripper” for Marquette’s Dead River Derby. She has been skating for five years. In her non-derby life, she teaches English at Bay College in Escanaba, Michigan and spends her remaining time momming her two children, Mason and Grace.

Excerpted with permission from Health & Happiness U.P. Magazine, Fall 2018 Issue, copyright 2018. All rights reserved.

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Filed under Amber Kinonen, Bodies In Motion, Uncategorized, Women's Roller Derby