Archive for the ‘Exercise/Community’ Category

Panic and exhilaration at full gallop

May 3, 2017

I had been yearning to be back on a horse for years. Memories of my time as a teenager, biking to the new stable where they eventually allowed my friend and me to take out horses on our own, have nudged at my subconscious. Even knowing that I would not be accorded the privilege of riding without a guide, the appeal of being in close contact with these beautiful, temperamental beings held a strong appeal.

The feeling of cantering around an open field back then felt timeless. Our hour and a half evaporated. We knew the woods and fields and could pace our ride to have enough time to enjoy the scenery, away from everyone else.
There were ten of us who signed up for the horseback excursion from our hotel in Patagonia and the estancia (large ranch) was clearly well drilled, sizing helmets and readying horses. Several of our group were first timers, and the bulk of the ride was casual walking through lovely woods on one side of the steppe. It was greener here than the arid stretches surrounding the hotel and the glacial lake it bordered.

At one point, the guide asked me if I would like a little gallop before meeting up with the group again. “Sure!” I responded readily, imagining the easy going rhythm of a canter. He signaled one other person from our group and myself to follow the gaucho off to the left.

Once the others were around the bend, without so much as a howdy do, the gaucho took off like a shot, at a full gallop of 340 miles per hour. I was sliding around in my slippery hiking pants and quick- dry panties literally breathless within seconds! We slowed to a walk around a steep curve where the trees hung low and needed to be held aside and then just as abruptly were off at break neck speed. My horse, who had been antsy from the beginning, insisted on bolting past my fellow group member and I wondered whether he had wings that would unfold or was merely applying the after burners.

The saddle was unlike any I had ever ridden, without the horn of a western style, but more bulky than the traditional English saddle. There was a hump in front that I was relieved one could grab in order to keep a seat on the turbo charged beast who had sensed a return to the barn.

Having managed to remain in the saddle I can say that it was exhilarating. I relayed my panic and glee to my family and my husband was quick to point out that he recalled a certain adventure in Colorado where we had traveled to regroup after my mother in law’s death. With one guide for our group of two dozen, the guide asked whether I would mind being in the lead for a bit while he went back to check on the others.

“Happy to do it!” I assured him. As my husband tells it, within moments I had coaxed us into a gallop (we were trotting) and he was horizontal on his horse, managing to stay on by dint of his thirty year old strength. He feels his terror matched my mild hysteria at zooming warp speed with a horse who did not even speak English.

Fair enough. Justice is served. My karma has been balanced. Perhaps the next time I ride, I can achieve a happy medium of pace: walk, trot, breezy cantering and a dollop of galloping at the end when the horse and I are both ready.

Yoga on my mind…

December 13, 2016

Although I have practiced mindfulness for over thirty years, I have not instituted an active yoga practice until the last couple of months. For years I have been asserting that yoga would be a great addition to my winter Zumba and dog walking regiment but it took my daughter’s discovery of New England Yoga to get me to the studio.

I was immediately comfortable in the open space with high ceilings and skylights, and even on the occasions when there have been twenty people there I have not felt claustrophobic.

I seem just a tad competitive with myself about being able to do the positions. However, there is no rushing this. One cannot (mercifully) force a split. I cannot even pronounce most of the postures yet, but I know that I will eventually be able to discern a Chattanooga from a chaturanga. I mostly don’t even mind being a beginner. Everyone has aspects that are easier and those that are more challenging. Some can make spectacular pretzels out of their arms, but their legs will not succumb to such a mold. Others can stand on their head quite handily but cannot easily balance on one leg.

It is a relief to have someone else leading the session, making it a place I am responsible for no one but myself. I have caught not a single person smirking, snickering, or most likely even noticing let alone caring whether my palms are flat on the floor. I am certainly too preoccupied with my own efforts to give a hoot about what anyone else is up to.

Each of the instructors is professional and encouraging. He or she might correct a hand or foot position (for which I am grateful) or help me stretch to the next level. I love that some of it is out of reach. It gives me more to look forward and aspire to, even when I am frustrated that I am not there NOW.

On Sundays, Sue Pendleton, the owner, brings Singing Bowls and at the end of the 75 minute session, she induces magical harmonics by running the baton around their edges. Their sounds shimmer and glow, deepening our collective state of rest and meditation, particularly after sweating through the contortions the class requires. Sometimes she will strike the three large gongs at the very end, whose resonance continue to reverberate, fostering the peace that falls over the class. There is a discernible shift that happens as we all settle and let the rest of our lives drift on their own for a little while.

My daughter is surprised that I am hooked. I guess I am too, but I cannot get around the fact that much as I like to bicycle or Zumba my booty through an hour, my body is benefitting from the strength and flexibility that is slowly building from yoga. I have not yet completely coordinated my breath to all the movements, but I can see where this will also serve to sharpen the focus and my practice.

It is all humbling. We support one another by showing up, by doing what we can on any given day and by following the instruction of the teacher whose experience and tone set the course for class. This is an addiction I am happy to pursue. Turns out all those folks across the millennia had some remarkable notions about the body/mind/spirit connection. If only I can follow them.

A Friendly family game of fantasy football

January 22, 2016

I have never played Fantasy Football. I have enjoyed watching with my dad, or attending high school games. I really didn’t know too much about fantasy football until a man I work with recently explained it to me. His utter delight in this pastime has really made me think about its possibilities and place in American lives.

For Danny, it is as much about family as it is about football. He loves the game, every aspect of it: the strategy, the players, the crowd and the hype. But more than football, Danny loves his large family. Now in his 30’s, his family fields a friendly game every Thursday evening when they get together. He loves playing with his teenage nephews, though he observes that his recovery time isn’t quite what it used to be.

As with any family, there are some who are less involved, either because they live far away, or are busy, or have a beef with one family member or another. This has always pained Danny, as his family herding instinct seems to run deep, and he is dismayed by any split, no matter the reason. He could not have known how large an impact his love for football would have in unifying any separations that have arisen.

Already an enthusiastic participant in a fantasy football league, he decided to start one for his own family. Entry was set at an affordable $20, and anyone who wanted to participate was welcome. His nephews aged 12 and 13 play as one team, as do his in-laws who are out of town. He explained that first they had an evening of draft pick. They all gathered for this event. His nephew who won last year brought the 2 foot high trophy which Danny had bought for last year’s winner, and this year’s hopefuls could lay eyes on it right in the beginning of the season.

Danny relays that since people pick players and not whole teams as they exist in the NFL, everyone has an interest in every game. They stay with their teams for the entire season. This is what differentiates this type of league from those such as Draft Kings which have been in the media this fall. Players gain points when they touch the ball, and more points are awarded for longer carries or bigger plays. Since it’s now done on-line, the points are tabulated automatically, and a “team” might rack up close to 100 points in a week. Team “owners” have choices about who they put in each game, from among the players they have chosen, so there is some way to influence how their team does, but a lot is just the luck of how those particular players do in any given week. Trades are also possible, and Danny loves to do this because it keeps it fresh, and also provides a natural point of interaction with his family.

He finds that they always have something to talk about during football season. Relatives who he otherwise does not talk to a great deal will initiate a call to him and ask advice about trades, or how he thinks a player is doing. He loves this and encourages “smack talk” between participants, as this raises the level of fun. The risk is low because there is so much that is out of people’s control, no one has to worry too much about making bad decisions or being embarrassed. Yet there is just enough personal input that it is worth paying attention and trying to sway the result.

Danny himself does not care about the outcome. Having the level of family involvement has meant that he wins every week (although with the season now finished for this league, he smiles when he acknowledges that of the three leagues in which he participates, he won one, and came in third in another).

To Nepal With Love

May 23, 2015

The recent earthquakes in Nepal have shaken us all. Whenever there is a natural disaster of this magnitude there is an element of “there but for the grace of God go I.” Even if we do not live in or near the areas that are hit by tornadoes, tsunamis, hurricanes or earthquakes, it is always possible that we have or would visit, too. I think about my travel to Nepal in 2012 with my then 17 year old daughter. She studied meditation and Buddhism at a monastery in Kathmandu (as part of her senior project) while I trekked to the Annapurna Base Camp.

We crossed paths with people multiple times, and one group we ran into at lunch one day was comprised of four or five young men, generally guided by Bishal, a native of Katmandu. He had a connection with the brothers who were traveling together. I think they had decided on a whim to hike to the 14,000 + foot Annapurna Base Camp. The brothers are from a small town in the Hudson Valley where my mom still lives. I expect coincidences all over the world, but was still amused to meet these guys who shared my love of the small but steep Shawangunk Mountains.

I surmised that they had decided fairly impulsively on the hike because while my friend and I studied the list of recommended gear (which included a sleeping bag rated to zero degrees), they had struck out in sneakers and no gloves. We donated wool socks to keep their hands warm and I dubbed it the youth versus equipment tour. We ended up at the same lodge that night and paid for the smelly kerosene heater to be lit from underneath the table so that we could all linger after dinner and chat, and listen to one of them play his fiddle with his stiff and barely moving fingers. (Yes, did not have hiking boots, but did have his fiddle.)

We crossed paths once again at the Base Camp itself. They were initially going to spend the night at a lodge just below (meaning a couple hours hike) but heard a prediction for snow that night so they decided to make for the basecamp or would miss it entirely. Indeed, a blizzard raged, producing two feet of snow that afternoon/evening, so we (about twenty of us) parked ourselves around the long table where we ate, again paid to have some heat under the table, and played cards, told stories and munched dinner provided by the staff there. We took turns telling travel tales and our world of that one room was populated by people from Nepal, Mexico, Japan, Switzerland, France, Austria and the United States. We exchanged emails and promised to be in touch.

I have heard from Bishal off and on over the past three years, a friendly Hey how are you, or a comment on a Facebook post. He went on to get the proper equipment and post photos from the Everett Base Camp and other places along with thoughts about the beauty of nature and the importance of getting out to see it.

After the recent quakes Bishal reached out to request help. We sent some money directly to him which felt good, if small and not enough. He posted pictures of bags of food that he shared with his community and family. Now living in a hostel and having lost his younger sister to injuries from the quake I continue to think about the massive losses the Nepali people must navigate. I have no doubt they will make their way but at unfathomable expense.

I have committed to writing about our experiences so that others may have a glimpse into what was before it undergoes this next transformation. The majesty of the mountains will endure, though travel through is deeply affected. The culture(s), too, will permeate everything they do, but I will write from my lens, and offer my view from my seat on Top of the World as I continue to contemplate how to support these people facing the biggest challenge of their lives.

Tri-Umph at the Appleman Sprint Triathlon

July 27, 2014

I put in a request for an overcast day for the morning of the  Appleman Sprint Triathlon. A person who melts in the heat, anticipating my most difficult leg, the run, as the third event, this seemed like a logical ask. Popping awake at 4:30 am, I peered into the early morning sky and noted with gratitude that my wish had been heard. A cool 59 degrees, this seemed like the perfect start to my morning.


A quick review of the contents of my backpack revealed that my wetsuit, goggles, sneakers, socks, energy gel, swim cap anklet timer and race belt with my number were all waiting for use. Since I was biking the few miles to the start, all my biking gear was on my person, including the number on my bike. All set for this half mile swim, ten (hilly) mile bike, and three mile run.


Arriving at 6:30 am, there were already lots of volunteers in neon yellow shirts directing us to the “transition area” where we set up our bikes and running gear while donning swim stuff. Everyone needs to proceed to the “Body Art” tent, where we get our race number written in marker on our arms, and our age written on our calves. Dual identification. There were places to buy coffee, bagels, swim and bike wear and a row of Thrones in a Box for pre-race prep.


People participate in this event for all kinds of reasons. Some are serious competitors, who will ace this thing and be home snoozing by the time I cross the finish line. Others, like me, are trying it out for the first time. I saw one girl who couldn’t have been more than 12, and heard that there was an 85 year old man participating in all three events. Swim angels are available to accompany people upon request.


I had already determined that this was going to be a fun event, but that did not prevent pre-race jitters. As we drew closer to the 8 am start, we collected near the beach in one of five colored swim caps for each of the five starting waves, four minutes apart. I was in the fourth wave with my purple cap, which meant that our group would begin twelve minutes after the first group. Just before our final ten second countdown, men from the first group were completing their half mile swim and dashing for their bikes. Wow!


The morning proceeded in a well organized and enthusiastically announced patter of activity. Any fears I had about being clumped too thickly together were dispelled early and never resurfaced  through swim, bike or run (kind of a silver lining for the less competitive). There were always other athletes close by, but mostly I was setting my own pace, and doing my own race. The volunteers and spectators clanged bells, clapped hands and shouted words of encouragement.


Love Shack was playing as I started my run, which meant including a few dance moves on the beach to get me going. The transition from bike to jog is still one to which I am unaccustomed and my legs tightened in protest. Tenacity ruled the day, though, and I persevered through the course, grinning like a loon most of the way.


“Did you win the triathlon?” my biking friend asked. Rotary Club (the organizer) donates the proceeds from the race to charity so that is the first win. The others come from the joy of being out there, moving my body, stretching my personal boundaries, and putting the Umph into the Tri-umph of the Appleman.


AppleWoman Meg Stafford can be reached at

Triathlon Prep Edges Closer to the Finish

I loved to run when I was a kid. Kim Hopper and I were the fastest girls in our grade, and the only comment that grated on my nerves was “you’re fast for a girl.” I wanted unqualified acknowlegement, and would happily race, mostly for the sheer joy of motion. Nothing parallels the sensation of wind generated by action from my own legs. This same feeling does not translate when running  several miles, but it does feel good to be challenging my body in this particular way, an experience that still feels alien in my short month of preparation for the Appleman Sprint Triathlon.


The Appleman Boot Camp training session, which was designed to be a run through of the whole competition was cancelled due to a scheduling conflict. A woman I met at the Swim training and I decided to meet and do it ourselves. I had wanted to see what the actual course was, and ask about things like how to prep for the transitions, how much fuel to bring, etc. At the timed swim there were people who were kind enough to share some of this information, but nothing prepares better than a visual of what to expect.


We met at the beach with all our equipment, which for me includes a wetsuit, goggles and swim cap, biking shoes, helmet and sunglasses, socks and running shoes, and a couple of energy bars. I had considered biking to the beach, but realized it would be a lot to carry in a backpack, although not impossible. My new buddy has been training for a number of months. What started as a weight loss program with her trainer turned into a goal of completing the sprint triathlon. She has run through each of the sections on the actual course a number of times, and has goals for herself about how quickly she can do them. With my initial goal being to complete the course, I had not actually contemplated timing the segments. I could certainly see how compelling this could become, strategizing when to conserve energy, when to go full out, and not having to worry about wondering which way to go at any given time.


Since the bike route consists of a double five mile loop, I now realize that we will all be on the course at the same time, and that it could get quite crowded with several hundred cyclists pumping, pedaling and trying to edge past one another. This dress rehearsal with just the two of us spread a few minutes apart will be a different experience on race day.


My buddy and I realized that we have daughters who graduated in the same high school class (of sixty kids!) in 2008, and it is remarkable that we hadn’t met more formally before now. How helpful to have someone with whom I could compare notes, meet and cheer on! I don’t know that I would even call what I have been doing training. Yes, I’ve been out cycling, swimming in the pool, and have worked my way up to a three mile run, but that is not the same thing as training. I’m increasingly aware of how much there is to know about each sport, and that I am at the beginning edge of all of it!


I will be out there, swimming, biking and running as best as I can, challenging myself along with hundreds of other athletes. We will do what we can on that day, as much as our bodies, weather conditions and fortune will allow. My new goal is to have a great time. Bring it on!

Sprint Triathlon as a Newbie…

July 13, 2014


I signed up for my first Sprint Triathlon! The Appleman has been held in Littleton for a number of years, and I have always thought it would be a fun challenge, but our family has usually been on vacation during the time that it was held. This year, I realized that we would be here for sure, and decided to throw my hat over the fence, so to speak. Now it is over the fence, in the lake, and the only way to retrieve it is to jump in!


This triathlon involves a 1/2 mile swim, 10 mile bike, and 3 mile run. I have cycled for years, usually a 20 mile loop, so the biking part is for sure the most comfortable leg. We have a pool, and I usually swim laps for a 1/2 hour a few times a week in the summer, so I thought that a 1/2 mile should be doable. I have never been a runner, but again, three miles seems like it should be attainable. Right?


I signed up for the first open swim clinic last week, because swimming in open water with a sea of wiggling bodies is not the same as my leisurely solo back and forth in the pool where I can stop whenever I want to shake water out of my ears, or just look around. Boy was this a good idea. In this well run clinic, right on Long Lake, where the event will take place, I’m guessing there were around 40 people present. Some were first timers to this event. This was the case for one young woman, who said that she usually swims at Walden Pond. Twice around the perimeter, or 3.4 miles. Whaaaat???


I realized just how leisurely I do actually swim, and that’s ok, but the stopping part is really not an option. No picking daisies during this event. People enter a sprint for different reasons, and as a first timer, I am not out to blow away the field. Completion is looking pretty good, and I had at first thought that as long as I’m not last then I’ll be ok. Now I realize that what the heck? If I’m last, I’ll still be smiling as long as I’m not blue in the face.


I bought a wetsuit yesterday, not for warmth but because it’s a big aid in the buoyancy department. I had been calling it my Catwoman suit, but realized that Michelle Pfiefer can rock it as Catwoman; I’m focussing on buoyancy and will leave looking fetching for when I’m throwing sticks to the dog. The first person I spoke with about a wetsuit was in a biking store. “You want it to fit right, but you don’t want to be swimming in it,” he said. “I do want to swim in it,” I countered. “You can lose time in the transitions,” he insisted. If he means that I will lose time by gaining seconds during the transitions, then Of Course that’s true. All those high fives and fist bumps as I leave the water will take time. Transitions = breather, right?


Have you ever been wetsuit shopping? Wriggling into one after another of these snug fitting garments is a workout in itself! I was panting by the time I zipped up the winner with the leash that pulls up the back zip. But what a concept! I think I’m going to install colorful back zip leashes on some of my dresses!


I also bought some tri-biking shorts. Typically padded bike shorts are comfortable and would act like an incredibly efficient diaper, which would be awesome for biking toddlers, but less wonderful for a waterlogged adult trying to make up the fist bumping time on the bike. To say nothing of attempting to run after that. Tri shorts are less padded and will not take on water. So now I’m fully equipped and practicing my 3 sports as best as I can around my work and home duties. I’m nervous, but excited, and looking forward to more training, both in the open water, and on the road. More thoughts to follow in this three part series challenge…


Slightly breathless Littleton resident Meg Stafford can be reached at

Zumba With a Twist

August 29, 2013

I arrived at class a few minutes before the start time as I always do, carrying my sneaks to change into so that I wouldn’t track in any dirt or grit from outdoors. However, it was clear from the outset that this would be no ordinary Zumba class.


Welcomed at the gate to the huge enclosed backyard corner lot at the Acton home of Michael and Zuzana Smith, I could see the lushly landscaped areas as well as some open grassy sections.  Teenagers lounged by the pool, some sitting at a table underneath a green umbrella, others around a picnic table that was covered in drinks, interesting looking dips, chips and watermelon slices. There was a sprinkling of adults who were chatting, tending to the food or preparing for a dip in the pool themselves.


Apart from the hosts, the other adults were affiliated with Friends Forever, a group whose mission is to promote trust and understanding among cultures in conflict. This group was comprised of ten teens from Israel, five of them Jewish, five Muslim considering themselves Palestinian, and Friends Forever is bringing them to the United States for two weeks where they spend time with each other in a new host country and city. Already in the Boston area for a week and a half, these 15-17 year olds had been on a Duck Tour, climbed Mt. Morgan in New Hampshire, seen the MIT Robotics lab, walked around Salem, and played Bocce Ball with the elders where they are housed during their stay. They were as yet unaware that they would be introduced to Zumba.


Judy Quint, of JRO Fitness arrived a few minutes later in a bright pink Love, Peace, Zumba shirt and matching pink shorts. We had had a brief conversation about the play list, although I knew that the teens would move to anything she chose. More introductions with Judy trying out her Hebrew from years past and she brought her music to a large open (shaded) area. (So much for we go!)


Cue music and I recognized Good Time, by Owl City, a warm up song to get us going. We started in a relatively orderly way- straight lines of teens and adults facing Judy. As the set continued, including the Party Rock Anthem, and All Around the World, the teens loosened up and began improvising on their own – sometimes joining hands in a small circle, sometimes turning towards each other or one bold boy strutting his stuff around the yard. There was laughing and giggling, shy smiles, genuine effort to follow Judy’s lead and encouragement from the adults not indulging in the dance.


I have never chuckled so much at a Zumba class. We lasted as a group about 35 minutes before they exclaimed “Enough!” and Judy reminded them that she is usually teaching 55 year old women for a full hour!


I realized that apart from one hijab (headdress), I would not be able to identify who was who, and that, perhaps is the idea. We are all people who love music, who like to dance, relax in a beautiful setting, and eat good food. I have heard it said that a laugh is the shortest distance between two people. Let us hope that this group continues to share many guffaws as an effortless way to forge connections between people who have not often had the opportunity to do so. I hope that I may retain the openness to do the same. Peace, Love and Zumba.



Meg Stafford, LICSW, is a 20 year resident of Littleton, Massachusetts, Zumba enthusiast and author of Topic of Cancer: Riding the Waves of the Big C. She can be reached at

Meeting at the Corner of Zumba and Main

January 28, 2013

Anyone who worries that Facebook will replace in-person interaction has not visited a Zumba class lately. This high energy dance work out has me smiling every time I go, and part of it is  because of being there with other people. I love the music, and the exercise, and I love to see other people having fun. Some are experienced, and strutting their Zumba moves, and others are newer, learning the steps. Everyone has her own style, and that’s fun to see. There is no pressure to replicate every step precisely; each person can customize the workout so that it is more or less demanding.


Before Zumba, I had never worked out with a group. I have always needed exercise, needed to move, and in the past that has taken the form of cycling or swimming, all in good weather. I love to hit the slopes in the winter, but that’s a several-times-a-year treat, not a daily diet. When the kids were younger, I worked out to exercise videos at home in the winter in between work, carpool, household chores and shoveling. The 45 minutes of time to myself was a cherished thing, and the whole family benefited from a little time to get my ya yas out.


But now that both girls are officially not living at home, I’m happy for the company while I exercise. In fact, it is hard to motivate myself to really work up a sweat on my own. When a friend and colleague asked me to attend a Zumba class as a fundraiser for her work reducing AIDS inAfrica, I decided it was time to try this new craze.


After class yesterday I was chatting with a couple of my fellow Zumbalistas about how we found Zumba, and was fascinated to hear the very different routes that led us there.


One woman had never been an exerciser and at the urging of her son, who had become a competitive athlete, decided to try a gym. Not enjoying the repetitive exercises, she took a Zumba class on a whim.  It was taught by a man who teaches Argentine Tango, and she was hooked. When he left the gym, she looked for a new place to dance. Now she’s a three time a week regular. “I love the energy of this group!” she declares.


The other woman had been a swimmer, but was looking for something else. She is thrilled with Zumba, and feels it has helped her to become more comfortable with her body. “It took me a couple of months before I could even wear tighter exercise pants. And I feel good” she smiles. “I’m using my body in a way that I never have before.”


I have realized that not only I am I more comfortable dancing, I am doing the moves wherever I am. In a Gap store with my daughter a couple of months ago, one of my Zumba songs came on and my feet automatically began to move. I didn’t even realize it until one of the sales people commented, “Mom’s dancing! Love it!”


This happened again at my husband’s work Christmas party. My theory is that “the play list drives the party” and this was no exception. As we chatted with friends, I hadn’t even realized I was moving until the DJ came over to me. “Thank you for enjoying the music. I really appreciate that.” What could I say? I just smiled. And danced up a storm later in the evening.


I’m intrigued now to learn how other people have found their way to Zumba, but one thing is for certain: besides the music and exercise, it is the community that makes this trend a winner.