It was a breezy September afternoon in Malibu when our XPT crew hit the water on paddleboards with Laird and team. I had never paddle boarded on open water – so one of Gabby & Laird’s friends, Sam George – who also happens to be a pro surfer and film maker – patiently taught me the right technique and chilled out with me behind the energetic pack charging toward Point Dume. I remember the refreshing chill of the water gliding under my feet and the air smelling clean and salty. Conversation with Sam was easy and gentle. The Malibu coastline is breathtaking. Sam said it is the longest stretch of beach in southern California. I made a mental note of how lucky I was – to be healthy and strong enough to participate in XPT.
The three-day experience was truly the best investment I had made in myself since college 20 years ago. That was not my expectation going in – but it was confirmed by the last night surrounded by amazing, good-hearted people who felt like family.
Fast forward to January 2017. Like all of us, I was geared up with my New Year’s resolutions – many of which involved being more active outdoors – and HAVING FUN (Laird’s motto in life) no matter what I was doing or who I was with. Upping my nutrition game to be more consistent in what I consumed. Being mindful of putting out positive energy into the world. These are all underlying values that drive the challenging performance training you learn at XPT. I was ready for an awesome 2017! Then on January 12, I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. My tumor was not insignificant and the cancer cells were aggressively multiplying. I was stunned.
An indescribable sensation rushes through your body when you hear the words, “You have cancer.” My life came to a standstill for about 2 weeks, as I went in and out of endless appointments with oncologists, radiologists, surgeons and nurses. Between online research, phone calls to update family, crying and laying in complete disbelief, I did manage to find moments of clarity by BREATHING. Breath – as Brian and Laird teach you – is everything. Whether you want to maximize your VO2 capacity – or as I was reminded, to simply keep moving forward.
I am now 6 weeks into what will be a 20-week chemotherapy treatment. That will be followed a form of surgery, yet to be determined. I plan to beat cancer – and along with the unwavering support of my family and friends, the tools and knowledge I gained at XPT are helping me through this unexpected journey.
When you have cancer, you feel a complete loss of control over your life. Being a bit stubborn in the face of adversity, I was determined to control at least two aspects of my life – my fitness and nutrition. Darin Olien is part of the XPT team. He is a nutritionist and superfoods guru. Not a day goes by when I do not open his book Superlife – and read a few pages to remind myself of what nutrients I need in my body and what foods provide them. One of the first things I did after my diagnosis was order spring water delivered to my home so that I could drink a clean source of slightly alkaline water (hugely important because an acidic body helps fuel cancer). I switched over to produce and foods that are organic and non-GMO. On any given day, you will find my pantry and fridge stocked with nuts, avocados, turmeric, ginger, chia seeds and a myriad of highly nutritious veggies.
The second person I reached out to was Gabby. One of my favorite moments during XPT was pool training with her. I consider myself to be a fish. I was born and raised in Hawaii – I love the ocean. But plunging into her 12-foot deep pool with 30 lb weights scared the shit out of me. I struggled to find my breath. So we worked on the shallower end – and jumped, swam and paddled across the pool with those weights. And I am certain my lungs and muscles benefitted.
Gabby is tough love. It was a gift to spend time with her. I reached out to Gabby to find a personal trainer who could help me maintain muscle mass and improve my functional movements. Chemotherapy often debilitates people through neuropathy (losing sensation in your toes and fingers) and fatigue. Exercise combats both. I do not plan on going down like an old lady. Gabby connected me with a highly qualified gentleman named Jim who is now my godsend every Tuesday morning. His knowledge of how chemotherapy can affect your body impacts how we train. I give him a big hug after every session because he is the kindest human being in West LA.
Focusing on my nutrition and physical fitness has made the past 6 weeks of chemotherapy very manageable. I go in every Thursday to receive a drug called Taxol. Aside from needing a nap every now and again, I wake up most days feeling refreshed and limber. The normal side effects such as nausea, vomiting and pain have not occurred (knock on wood!) Every morning I count my blessings and am grateful for simple things I used to take for granted. I often meditate then write in my journal. Some mornings (and nights) are tough, and I let the tears flow. Then I get out of bed and get on with life. The nurses are constantly stunned at how well my body is processing this potent drug. Two months of clean eating and deadlifts can make a visible difference. Although “looking good” is not my priority, all those Superlife directives result in clear and luminous skin and a slight drop in body fat. Maybe I am just exuding a better attitude in life, but this cancer girl has gotten a few phone numbers recently which I find hilarious. Most importantly, my oncologist this week said my tumor is noticeably shrinking! “You are doing really well. We are heading in the right direction.”
The road for me is still long and unpredictable. But I have learned to focus on each day and not look too far ahead. The concept of being present becomes much easier to practice when mortality pays you a visit long before you expect. And oddly enough, it can make you a happier and more peaceful person.
I had originally planned on participating in the XPT Kauai experience last month. But obviously God had other plans for me. To all of those contemplating whether this is an investment worth making, my take is absolutely.
What Laird, Brian and Gabby teach you is not cutting edge science from a NASA laboratory (except maybe when Laird is in the water!) But they are very well-informed practitioners of improving the human body and mind. They do their homework and "experiment" in a smart way that only uber athletes know how. They are sharing comprehensive knowledge that would be nearly impossible to pull together on your own – and inviting you into a safe place to test your limits. They open their homes and community of friends to you – several of whom I shared intimate and thought-provoking conversations with. And it’s fun! You will smile and laugh every day.
XPT is a celebration of life. If you are lucky to do so, embrace it with gratitude and humility.