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2020: A Year of Exploration

For most of my life, I've stuck by the notion that "if you do what you love for work, you might not love it anymore." I think, for most people, that's true. And that was absolutely true for me when I dabbled in riding and teaching professionally in 2011/12... by the time I got done teaching lessons in the evening, the last thing I wanted to do was ride my own horses. That said, the lessons I learned on my own during that exploratory period was highly beneficial not only from a skills perspective but also from a "now I have a lot more kickass riding friends" perspective. Moving on from that side bar, 2020 was a year of exploration for me in a number of ways, the primary two of which were in the fields of writing and reading, with additional exploration made in my riding, running, and rock climbing (lots of "ruh"-sounding words apparently). Skiing took a backseat after our clusterf*ck of a failed trip to Chamonix right when the US closed its borders and due to my cautious (I prefer the term "pragmatic" here) approach to handling the pandemic. So, onto my attempt at patting myself on the back:


2020 was one of my biggest freelance years to date without necessarily being my busiest year. I made it a point to only take assignments that I felt passionately about and to only work for publications that made me feel valued and which pushed me to become a better writer. And that selectivity has paid dividends. Although it was a rough year for many, many reasons, being able to continue my contract job with Nike from home gave me more time to schedule interviews with sources before and after work hours without having to cram my calls in in the tight times between coming home from work and settling in for dinner. And I've learned so much this year. Working for The Horse, in particular, has allowed me to feed the science nerd within and has let me exercise a more robust set of research skills since I can't very well go into an interview with one of the leading experts in parasitology without doing my homework first! It's also caused me to do a lot of introspection about my own horse care practices and forced me to ask myself a lot of questions about why I do things the way that I do. I've made shifts to my horses' care regime as a result of the work I've done for this magazine.


It's also opened up more doors for me. The team at The Horse also publishes the Retired Racehorse Project's Off-Track Thoroughbred Magazine so after about a year of demonstrating my skill as a writer (I still struggle to get that sentence out) and my organizational prowess, I've now been offered assignments for OTTM and I'm in love with that new work. It's been an incredible opportunity to flex my writing and research skills on subjects that I am deeply passionate about. I'd like to give Kaley another round of applause for suggesting I contact The Horse about freelancing!


I also *insert cringing emoji here* actually started some work on a novel. I know, I know, the chances of becoming a successful novelist are incredibly slim and on the off-chance I ever do write enough of it to try to get it in front of an agent, the likelihood of my needing to self-publish is high. However, it feels like a really engaging creative exercise to focus on flushing out characters and on building a world for them to have their adventures. If nothing else, it's shown that I have the capability of sitting down and working on a creative project that may or may not ever see the light of day.


From a reading perspective, I went from working on having reading be a priority during 2019 to making it part of my routine in 2020. Throughout the course of last year, I read 93 books (including several rereads of ACOTAR because I can't help myself), 72 of which were physical books and 21 of which were enjoyed on audio. Most of these books came at the recommendation of my fabulous Book Club (who were a big reason 2020 was even remotely survivable) and some wonderful friends who are as book nerdy as I am. Suffice to say, it was an absolutely banner year for my literary mind and I have fallen in love with so many authors and characters that if I had my way, my skin would be a busy canvas of quotations.


2020 was a really excellent year for my riding, despite not being a year of showcasing any of that progress in competition. I spent the bulk of 2021 riding Julia's stellar baby, Kade and got to watch and feel him blossom into a sweet, athletic, and very talented young man. It gave me the opportunity to study how Julia brings her babies along so they learn to be quiet and balanced without pushing them like so many professionals have a tendency to do with FEI-potential young horses like Kade. When it was time for me to move on, I ended up bringing Mia into my family and got to start the baby process all over again. I spent the entire autumn doing position work on Bess (who is still able to walk/trot) and learning all about the TRT Method (Jessica, I'm buying you a drink when we're able to go to bars again for telling me about TRT), and using that to help restart the "really bad racehorse" that I purchased.


This wouldn't be a blog post about doing things outside if I didn't include Cinder. In 2020, Cinder and I did a lot of running in cool places. She ran more than 20 miles on multiple occasions and was the complete badass she always is on all of them. I've finally gotten into the groove of running long with a dog and have picked up tips and tricks on how to fuel C while also fueling myself which has made these longer runs go a lot more smoothly than they could have otherwise. In addition, thanks to the team at Evolution Healthcare + Fitness, with specific thanks to Dr. Michelle Gilpin, I officially have a reliable strength and cross-training routine that has kept me from injuring myself every quarter, which was my MO for a while, and which pretty much prevented me from performing well in most of my races. By the end of 2020, I'd created a mental list of running goals for 2021 and I hope to bring them to fruition, pending pandemic.


So, in short, Cinder + food + strength + inspiration = awesome year for running.


Rock climbing and I have had a love-hate relationship for much of the last 5 years. Unable to discover many links between the periods in which my head is screwed-on well and the periods in which even being on top rope freaks me out, I've been left to gamble every time I tie into a rope. After climbing outside about 5x in all of 2019, I didn't have a huge base to go off of when the Fall 2020 season kicked off in earnest at Smith. The result was that, despite more targeted training under my belt than I did in 2018 (when I sent Blue Light Special in a handful of goes), I was a bit of a headcase most of the days I tried to redpoint anything harder than 5.10 in the park. By the end of the season, I just accepted that since being a good, all-around 5,10 climber had been my original goal when I started sport climbing, I have no reason to keep trying to push the ceiling with it—especially when, when it's all said and done, climbing will never be my #1 love. The moment I made that decision was very freeing. It's challenging to do the bulk of my sport climbing with a group that's very goal- and grade-oriented and I think I'd just let that get into my head. Letting it all go and deciding that I was perfectly okay top rope-heroing for an entire weekend helped me take a sport that had caused me so much stress, and make it fun again.


In summary, despite some drama and all of the horrible impacts of the pandemic, I feel like I was able to make the most of 2020. I dug in, decided which strengths to hone and which to inflate, and went about reaching some of my goals, and set some new ones for the post-pandemic era. Most of these accomplishments are due to the support of my friends and my husband, Andy (who is also my friend), along with the advice of my mentors and heroes. This isn't meant to be a "2020 was great for me" post, this is meant to be a personal reflection upon the things that I was able to achieve despite having almost every other goal I had completely wiped off the board during the unprecedented year we all had. Sometimes we just have to sit down and think hard about what we're able to accomplish in challenging times so we can move on from the negative and look toward the positive. I hope we're all able to find promise and hope in this new year and are able to dig in with the same ingenuity we all had to reach for in 2020.