Strong to Be Helpful

"Be strong to be helpful" echoed in my ears as I ran up the trail. It seemed to echo and yet be amplified by the beat of my heart. I didn't know what to expect when I found him. He could be unconscious, injured, unable to ambulate or some combination thereof. My mind raced with scenarios and made a rough plan for what I would do for each one. I took stock of what equipment and supplies I had on me. 'Not enough,' was the short answer. A headlamp, some water, a knife, a cell phone with no service. The most useful things I had were my brain, which contained some emergency medical training and my body. It might not seem like much on the outside, but having spent the last several months immersed in the MovNat training tribe, I knew I had endurance, strength, balance, agility and possibly some human carry techniques at my disposable.

I didn't plan on this of course. When I pulled into the trailhead that afternoon, I had only planned for a simple 4 mile hike to the falls and back. I hadn't even packed a bathing suit to swim. One of the other things I have learned from my MovNat practice over the last few months is how less is more. We humans like to carry all this 'gear' when we go into the woods, thinking of it like a talisman to ward off potential dangerous scenarios. In reality, we need more to be comfortable. Yvon Chouinard once said something akin to 'most people pack according to what they fear, not what they need.' MovNat training has helped me fear less. The elements, temperature swings, getting dirty, even my choice of footwear, only help me become more adaptable when engaged intelligently.

I had passed him and his wife on the trail on my way up to the falls. He was struggling with the heat and mild incline then. As I moved steadily and quickly passed, I offered up a silent prayer of gratitude for my own health and fitness and committed to daily action to maintain them. At the falls, I moved through the brush to find a quiet, secluded spot down stream for a quick plunge. I reveled in the feel of being unencumbered by so many things- gear, clothing, ill-health, fear. I felt so at peace connected with nature and with my nature as a human being.  I'm fairly certainly I wore a beatific glow the whole way back down the trail.

On my way back down, I actually passed him at the bridge over the falls. He looked like he was contemplating a swim himself. (Later he would tell me he thought the water was too cold.) I was so blissed out from my time at the falls, I nearly floated down the trail and was back at the parking lot all too soon.

When I arrived, I saw his wife, wearing a very worried look, speaking with two other hikers. Apparently they had gotten separated, she had gotten lost, made her way to a house and the occupant had driven her back to the trail head. She expected that he had turned around and was waiting at the parking lot for her. He wasn't. She was asking the other two hikers what she should do. As I came up to them, I told her that I had seen him at the falls and she was shocked he had made it that far (1.9 miles from the trail head). The other hikers suggested she wait a bit for him and if he didn't show up to call the DEC/authorities. I watched them all get in their cars and drive away. Suddenly, the previously very full parking lot was almost empty. As I reached my own car, that's when the voice in my head began to echo, "be strong to be helpful."

This was it. This is what I had been training was for, even if I didn't realize it. Not to be a size 6. Not to be a certain weight, not to look good in a bikini. This is where being fit, strong and capable really makes a difference- helping another human being. This is part of the human experience- it's not exclusively the domain of one gender. I knew what I had to do. I knew I had more stamina, more speed, more strength, more knowledge and a better sense of direction than his wife, who was the only other person around (and incidentally is thinner than me. Which I only mention because in the current paradigm of women's 'fitness' the emphasis is on being as small as possible- weighing less, taking up less room. Not on strength or capability.) I told her to stay at the parking lot and wait for him in case he did the same thing she had done. I grabbed a headlamp from my car, gave her instructions to call the DEC in two hours when it got dark if she had yet to see either one of us, and told her I was going to go look for him.

Thankfully, I found him halfway up the trail. He was moving slowly, but moving on his own nonetheless. Going downhill was really staring to make his right knee throb and ache. He leaned heavily on a thick stick to steady himself. I told him I was glad to see him, that his wife was waiting for him in the parking lot. I also told him that I would walk back with him to make sure he stayed steady and safe and to take as long as he needed- I had a light source to find our way out in the dark if it came to that. I even took his backpack because it seemed to make him unsteady and have a harder time holding on to the stick that he used for support. An old fashioned sort of guy, he seemed a bit embarrassed that a woman half his size was helping him and carrying his things.

We talked a lot on the way back down about his health. How he use to lift weights and be strong and capable, but after neglecting his health for almost 20 years, he gained a significant amount of weight, developed a heart condition and numerous aches and pains. He had already lost nearly 60 pounds since last fall by changing his diet and getting rid of processed foods. His goal was to lose 40 more pounds and he had just started back to the gym to lift weights again 5 weeks ago. He had thought he was more capable of handling this trail then he turned out to be. He was grateful to not be alone for the hike out.

When we met his wife at the parking lot, she cried and hugged me. She said she couldn't believe that someone would go out of their way to help them like this. I was embarrassed by her praise as all I had really done was walk up a trail and back down with someone and carry an extra little daypack. As I ruminated on this later, I found it a sad commentary that she would be shocked at this. That's when the quote from Chris McDougall's book Natural Born Heroes came to mind.

Health = Heroism.

Humans are innately capable of extraordinary things, when they are healthy and fit. Unfortunately, there's a lot of folks out there who simply aren't healthy and fit. Maybe the other hikers left because they were too hungry to stay and help. Thankfully, I've trained my body to be able to use endogenous fat for fuel, so I wasn't worried that it was 'dinner time' and there was no food in sight. Maybe they were already achey and sore and tired from their own hike and needed to rest, not do any more hiking. Maybe they simply didn't have the confidence they could do anything useful even if they did help. It's all speculation on my part as to their motives, but either way, my experience solidified my gratitude for my MovNat training as well as my purpose to help others use this training to be more healthy and fit. We certainly need more people on this planet who are capable and willing to help others. Be strong to be helpful. It's a good mantra to live by.

Thoughts? Comments? I'd love if you share your experience or just keep the conversation going in the comments below. Does your current training help you be more capable? Do you have an experience where your capability made a difference or saved the day?