One June afternoon, Katie’s boss quietly cornered her in her finance-department cubicle. She had noticed bruises on Katie’s legs.
I know you say you’ve been mountain biking a lot lately, her boss whispered, but if there’s something else going on — anything you’d like to talk to someone about — please know that I’m here for you.
Katie blushed, and then assured her boss that it was her sport — not a battering boyfriend — that was to blame for the black and blue.
Katie and I had recently hurled ourselves into mountain biking with a vengeance. I had just turned 30 and treated myself to a new-to-me full-suspension bike. Katie was younger, also new to mountain biking, and we attacked our after-work rides with an almost reckless passion, desperately stoked about our new wheels.
Along with the thrilling hucks and drops, naturally, came a couple of bumps and scrapes. Early in the season, it had been easy to cover them up. I would wear dress pants, long skirts or tights to the office. But as the weather warmed, it became more challenging. Riding to the office was a pretty sweaty affair with a pair of leggings layered underneath a summer dress.
I’m not sure why I was afraid. Maybe I thought the black and blue would be a turnoff to guys. Maybe I worried a raspberry would look unprofessional with a skirt and suit jacket. Whatever insecurities nagged at me, I finally shrugged them off. Maybe simply because the summer got too hot to worry about covering up. I remember complimenting Katie on a cute, above-the-knee sundress, laughing about finally accepting our bumps and scrapes. I knew that with Katie’s irresistible dimples, razor-sharp wit, and sexy figure, bruises wouldn’t deter any suitor of value. But I never would have predicted the reaction at her office.
I was thankful Katie’s supervisor was aware and concerned for her safety—abuse should not be taken lightly. But the interaction was culturally enlightening: Scraped knees are not okay. Unless you’re seven years old. So where do we fit in, the ladies whose scraped knees come from shredding a new trail?
It’s not news that women in fashion magazines are airbrushed and unrealistic, but not even the heroines of my sports are immune to the pressure for perfection. I recently ran across a “women of cycling” calendar featuring scantily clad, scandalously posed athletes. Their bodies were sculpted works of art, but there was something in the over-sexed production that left me longing for truth. Something I could identify with. I wanted to admire these tough, gorgeous women complete with their road rash and scars.
Almost every bruise, scrape and scar on my body comes with a fond story. The dent from that tree I didn’t quite dodge, the scar from the scrappy rappel, the bump from that confoundedly sandy 5.10 sport route. They are the marks of living life passionately. And the women I want to spend my time with also proudly bear the marks of living in pursuit of adventure.
My role models are the ladies whose shins are nicked from pedals, inner knees bruised from top tubes. Whose forearms are grated from arm bars, hands gobied from hand jams. The women who rock their yard sale wounds. Life is complicated, and sometimes the path to bliss and transcendence is waylaid by rock gardens, moguls and granite roofs.