My Crooked Warrior Path

“I’m going outside to play!”

When I was a kid, those were the five magic words. Climbing trees. Building elaborate bob-sled runs through our sloping backyard. Cruising around our driveway on a red skateboard or clip-on roller skates. That was play when I was a kid. Turns out, those five words are still anchored in my daily vocabulary.

Now that I’m an adult I still climb trees. And rocks. I’m not so likely to go bob-sledding anymore, but I’ll take up an invitation to ride a horse or a mountain bike, break into tree pose or try cross-fit, or just march into the yard to dig up a rock.

I’ve always been active. It was hard not to be since I grew up surrounded by boys whose idea of fun was a game of Bumper Cars, sprinting around the yard and randomly smashing into each other, the more blindside, the better. It’s a wonder that I didn’t turn into an NHL hockey player.

I grew up on a flat street of war-time houses in small town Ontario idolizing my older brother and his coterie of baseball and hockey playing buddies. My best friends were Lonnie and Sam, two rough-and tumble boys who lived across the street, and who had three older brothers of their own. With all that male influence around, It isn’t much wonder that I was a girl who preferred overalls to dresses and climbing the willow tree to playing with Barbies. All summer long, we would play hide-and-seek or tag until the sun went down and the streetlights blinked on.


Lisa James Playing Ball

Illustrated by D.G.Mitchell


In elementary school, summertime meant day camp with endless group games of soccer, baseball and British bulldog. I wasn’t a klutz exactly, but I was no standout either — at least not until Grade 8 when I placed third in the 100-metre dash in the city championships. Suddenly I had status as an athlete that I’d never had before. Small-time, to be sure, but it was a threshold crossed. In my first year of high school, I tried it all: cross-country, running, track, basketball and volleyball. My Grade 9 home room teacher wrote watch over-involvement on my report card even though I had straight-A average. My mother harumphed and rolled her eyes in response. In Grade 10, I unwound into a sulky, sullen teenager, quitting the cross-country team and wearing a lot of black eye-liner. The cross-country coach called me to his home room at lunchtime one day and lectured me. You’re letting the team down. You’re letting yourself down. Maybe. But his intervention left me even more sullen and pissed off. Eventually, that act grew tired though and sports lured me back: the camaraderie, the routine of training, the days when you could leave class early to go to a competition. Track. Cross-country running, skiing. One day, out of the blue, I even took up ballet.


Lisa James Thinking

Illustrated by D.G.Mitchell


When I launched to university my studious tendencies intensified — I had long aspired to go to law school – and my sports habit transformed to aerobics classes and regular trips to the weight room. When I began law school two years later, I poked around after the track and cross-country teams, but I was a mascot, of sorts, being well out of my league. The familiar rhythms of interval and weight training was a balm though, and the team offered a camaraderie outside the walls of the law school. I also became acquainted with knee pain and the wonders of athletic therapists.

In the years that followed, I took up sprint triathlons, mountain bike racing and the occasional cross-country ski loppet.  When motherhood befell me, at age twenty-eight, I dropped off the path of sports for a few years, but discovered the best Warrior training of all: motherhood.

In my late thirties, I followed my then six-year-old daughter to a karate class. She wanted to be like Daphne in the Scooby Doo movie, (in retrospect Daphne was probably doing Kung Fu). My daughter moved on to other hobbies after a few months, but I loved it, and for the next five years, martial arts became a focal point like no other. I trained four to five times per week, attended seminars, studied books, videos, anything I could get my hands on, including weapons. The longest, most dedicated period of training in my life, this is where my years on the track paid off: I might not have been a runner by nature, but I had learned conditioning, discipline and how to keep going when you have nothing left.

When I turned forty, I discovered a Kung-Fu school near our winter home in Florida and a whole new world opened up. In my fondest dreams, I am kung fu girl, wielding a sword with a dancer-like grace and sharpshooter precision (perhaps I’ve watched one too many Jet Li movies).


Lisa James Karate Kick

Illustrated by D.G.Mitchell


And then came the obstacle races in 2011. At the instigation of my step-daughter Jenny I joined a team of family and friends in the Warrior Dash, a throwback to my track days, but much more fun. If only I didn’t have to actually, well, dash – just give me the obstacles!  Later that same year, I stepped on to a yoga mat, the next step on a path that is beginning to feel like a closing circle, the perfect complement to my martial arts training and the ultimate antidote to the all-body no-mind training of my past.

A few years later, tired of watching from the ground as my younger daughter rode endless laps around a riding arena, I took up horse-back riding, learning to jump fences no less (not very high ones, mind you).

In 2015, I began Tree Top Trekking at Horseshoe Valley, quickly becoming a favourite of the guides by bringing them cookies from Mariposa Market every time I visited. Each week, I challenged myself to climb further, longer, faster to the point where I could climb the expert course in twelve minutes as many as four times in a row. In August 2015, I signed up for an introductory rock-climbing course and was immediately hooked — well, anchored – and have conquered a few more cliffs since. Add yoga. Try crossfit! Why not pull on roller blades?


Lisa James Hiking

Illustrated by D.G.Mitchell


Through all of this, I’ve come to realize that there is so much more to gain through these pursuits than mere exercise. For one, I see how accustomed I’ve become to tuning out my body and all of its wisdom. I tend to treat my body like a machine that I make demands of but don’t maintain properly. I’m lousy at listening to its signals – hungry? Nah, keep working — and it has so much to say, not only about my physical health, but about the state of my mind and soul. As it turns out, my mind doesn’t tell me the whole story even though it dominates my daily life. I alternate between not-so-benign-neglect of my physical self (read: I forget to eat on a regular basis) to mild torture, charging to the gym and demanding that my body to perform as it did when I was eighteen: push-ups, chin-ups, sprints. Lucky me, it mostly does. Until I wake up the next day. Then a back spasm or a wonky knee will remind me that, no Toto, we are not in Kansas anymore. I’m determined that in the second half of my life, I’ll improve my listening skills, restore the neglected temple – my body – to its proper place and repair the communication between body, mind and soul. That is the life of a Warrior Girl.



Sliding Sidebar