My Peak Challenge

Strangely enough, I can ultimately credit my newfound zest for leading a more active life to a time-traveling Englishwoman and a red-haired Scotsman. Back in April, I stumbled across the television show Outlander on Netflix and proceeded to binge watch the available two seasons in a few days (not much sleep was had, which will surprise absolutely no one who knows me). Much Googling and internet insanity ensued, and I eventually learned that the show’s lead actor, Sam Heughan, had founded a charitable organization called My Peak Challenge. It’s a membership program, whose aim is to promote its members to lead healthier, more balanced lives while also helping others. You pay a flat rate, half of which is donated to Bloodwise (a blood cancer research organization). For your membership, you receive a little gift (MPC t-shirt and wristband) along with a fitness and nutritional regimen over the next 12 months.

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Since moving to Toronto and away from my near-daily access to a dance studio in Chicago, I was feeling generally unfit and had been wanting to really get in shape. Having danced most of my life, I have always had decent enough fitness but never truly felt strong. I would always joke about what a weakling I was, with no real upper body strength. High school standardized fitness tests were always an embarrassment (especially bar hangs, oh and those dreaded four-lap tests). It never really occurred to me that I could actually do something about it. I had also hit my 30s and discovered that I could no longer just drop into a couple of ballet classes a week and expect that to be sufficient enough exercise to keep the girth at bay. And after a tumultuous couple of years, I had an increasing desire to rebuild my strength and confidence, both inside and out. MPC looked to be viable way for me to work towards that goal.

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The Program

Upon signing up, I was pleasantly surprised at how thorough and detailed the program actually is. Each week involves 4 active work-out days, 2 active recovery days and 1 rest day. As part of the program, I had access to daily workout plans, complete with videos of our MPC coaches performing the various exercises to ensure proper form (even Coach Sam makes appearances, which is definitely motivational). The exercises are also scalable, such that you can tailor your regimen to where you are at physically.

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But crucially, the program gave me a plan (and I do love me a plan)–lists and structure along with a very enthusiastic community of fellow Peakers (the term for those participating in MPC). Now, I’ve never stuck to a workout regimen in my life. I’ve avoided gyms like the plague, in large part because I found working out to be monotonous, particularly compared to dance, but also because I never knew what to do, how long to do it, or even how to do it properly. Having this imposed structure was hugely helpful. I love being able to tick off each exercise, recording notes about reps and weights. Having a clear plan also helped me to self-motivate–giving me very specific things to work towards.

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I decided early on that I would start by following just the fitness regimen, as I thought overhauling both fitness and nutrition in my life might be biting off more than I could reasonably chew. But I did take a look through the nutritional plan and its recipes as well as started to count calories to get a sense for how much I actually consume per day (it is truly depressing to realize how calorific cheese actually is).

A major part of being involved with MPC is also being connected to its global community, not only fellow Peakers (nearly 9000 strong), but the founders as well. I’ve marvelled upon posting of my achievements that they actually respond with words of encouragement and praise, and that it really does give you a lift to know that they are reading (what must be thousands of) posts and taking the time to support you.

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Peakers, who are an especially passionate and encouraging bunch, have formed groups around the world in their local communities, to go on hikes, marathons and adventures and to generally support each other. They post updates on their workouts as well as some truly inspiring stories of how MPC has helped them through everything from cancer treatments and injuries, to domestic abuse and depression. It gives me a sense of being part of larger team working towards this common goal of improving ourselves and the lives of others.

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The C in MPC

One of the main aspects of MPC is the challenge component, which encourages members to set physical and/or non-physical challenges that they work towards over the course of the year (e.g., climbing a mountain, running a 10K, writing a novel, etc.). This notion of challenging oneself appealed to me, as it aligned with my general philosophy for 2017, which I’ve referred to, if you’ll pardon my French, as the “Fuck It” Year.  So named because, in the name of self-care and improvement, I’ve decided to approach the year by throwing caution to the wind and seizing opportunities as they arise, or generating my own–traveling given any excuse (Iceland, Spain, Scotland, etc.), signing up for a ballet bootcamp, going on crazy long (for me) hikes, amongst others. As such, MPC’s philosophy for challenging yourself to move outside your comfort zone was a perfect fit for me. And indeed, since joining MPC, I have taken on even more challenges. Even something as simple as pushing me to pick-up a barbell for the first time in my life or motivating me to get outdoors and go for a hike. I was pleasantly surprised to learn about myself that I truly relish taking on new challenges–how are we to find our limits and delineate our self boundaries if we don’t push ourselves?

And so, some of my physical challenges for the year include 1) hiking a Munro (a Scottish mountain over 3000 ft), 2) trying parkour, 3) full splits on both sides, and 4) consistent double pirouettes on both sides. Non-physical challenges always seem to be plentiful, some of which include 1) publishing (at least one) journal article, 2) choreographing a dance piece, and 3) driving on the other side of the road. I’m excited to say that I’ll be tackling two of these challenges in September, as I am headed to Scotland for MPC’s first annual event, where much hiking, working-out and dancing will take place.

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Dollars for Days

Perhaps my biggest and ultimately more life-altering challenge is to actually keep up with the fitness regimen for the entire year. Before my recent trip to Spain, I was determined to not miss any days of the MPC program while traveling, and I considered ways of staying motivated. I decided that while I’m interested in the “final” results of all this, it’s ultimately worth supporting the journey as much as the destination.

To that end, I am pledging to donate a dollar for every day that I complete of the MPC program, with the aim of personally donating $336 by March 2018 (7 days per week x 4 weeks per month x 12 months) to Bloodwise. And, for extra motivation, I am encouraging anyone who is interested to pledge their support to what I’m calling my Dollars for Days campaign. Even just pledging 10 cents per day ($34 at the end of the year) is worthwhile. This way, I know that I have at least a $1 (hopefully more) riding on my completing each day’s work, which goes towards improving my own well-being as well as supporting a very worthy cause. If I’m feeling particularly lazy or unmotivated one day, but I know that I have several dollars riding on my completing that day’s work, I will be less likely to slack off (I’ll just think to myself, “what kind of horrible person am I for taking money away from cancer research?! Get planking!”). I will be posting regular updates as to my progress as well as how much money has been pledged to date. If you’re interested in supporting me and Bloodwise, please get in touch (a.kanita.cooper[at]gmail.com)!

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Indeed, I am truly amazed at how much MPC has permeated my life. 5 years ago, I would never have guessed that I would be voluntarily planking, lifting barbells or going on 24 km hikes in the mountains, or that I would ever be looking forward to my daily workout. But it’s also trickled down into smaller  moments and choices–turning down seconds or opting to take the stairs or walking instead of hopping on public transit. How I plan travel has evolved, from figuring out how to pack for working out while abroad to researching interesting hikes. I definitely credit MPC for my re-appreciation of the outdoors, as I find myself looking forward to the chance to climb a mountain or find new waterfalls. Ultimately, in all of this, I strive not to be faster or stronger than anyone else, only to be better than yesterday’s self. And in a time where it feels like the world is crumbling around our ears, it feels more necessary than ever to not only work on improving one’s own life but also make even this small contribution to something that could positively impact the lives of others.

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