by E. C. Ambrose
When I was a kid, the only test I ever failed was the President’s Physical Fitness Test. Like many writers, I was introverted, non-athletic, and not exactly a stand-out player among my peers (when they even let me be on their team). Nowadays, I’m one of the more fit people I know—seeking out active vacations and leisure time, and actually working part-time as an adventure guide and fitness instructor. How did that happen??
My adventures in fitness began by signing up at the local YMCA, as the least expensive gym-option around with a swimming pool. You know the routine—exercise for health and fitness and lose weight and in a little while, you’re bored to tears—unless the bike or the circuit is your *thing* in which case, yahoo! So I was schlepping myself back from a dull workout on the exercise bike or maybe some Nautilus, when I noticed the climbing gym was open and decided to give it a try.
At my Y, the climbing gym occupies a square space on the interior, so there’s a right-angle walkway to take you around the outside of it, and metal mesh walls to cordon off the space. During open climb, any member can get two belays with the gym staff, so I started on the easy wall, then a harder one—and I was hooked. I signed up for classes to learn to climb and belay, sometimes taking two classes a week.
Alas, the gym wasn’t open all the time, so I experimented with other forms of exercise, always with a eye toward improving my climbing. Yoga for flexibility, a climbing-specific circuit on the Nautilus machines, Taiko drumming that built my upper body strength. I tried some things I didn’t like (kickboxing, kettle bell, lap swimming) as well. Because I found the work-out I loved, I became a fitness nut in pursuit of greater goals in climbing. I lost 40 pounds, and am in better shape than I have been since I was a kid. When I learned the Y needed another staffer in the Adventure Department, I signed on to take kids hiking, mountain biking, climbing and kayaking over the summer, and teach climbing classes the rest of the year.
My part time job is an excellent compliment to my writing career (and looks really cool in my official bio at conventions). When I write, I’m alone in my office for days on end, sedentary and isolated. As an adventure staffer, I’m working with people, often outdoors in the White Mountains or other beautiful settings, physically active and fully engaged. And I can claim the key to the climbing gym any time I want.
There are times the balance shifts too far in either direction: I get very little writing done over the summer because of the camp schedule, and when I’m on deadline for a book, I don’t get outside as often as I’d like. On the other hand, I now run a specialty overnight camp for the Y, for kids like me, called “Adventures in Writing, ” which combines outdoor activities with writing exercises. I have also discovered that a short walk, a few rounds of bouldering on my home climbing wall, or a day of paddling can help me overcome writer’s block and de-stress from this crazy career we’ve chosen.
What’s the take-away for other writers? Especially if you got turned off on exercise because it was an un-fun, regimented, group-oriented (which often means exclusionary) nightmare when you were in school, check out the new exercise options today. There’s a thousand different ways to get your work-out, many of which were never available in school. Don’t be afraid to try things and see what sticks. My sister discovered her work-out passion a few years ago as well: Pole-dancing! Never would’ve guessed that—but, like me, she’s more fit and having more fun, as well as reducing her stress every time she dances. It can be hard to be the beginner, especially if you are beginning at a much later age or different fitness level from others around you. You’ll need to maintain your commitment to yourself, your sense of humor, and your determination—and you will find that discovering the exercise you love pays off in both your writing, and your life.
I’ll never be the climber I could’ve been if I had started at age 10—but that can’t take away the thrill of tackling a new route, and the view from the top is amazing.
E. C. Ambrose is the author of “The Dark Apostle” historical fantasy series about a medieval barber surgeon who discovers that magic is real—and may be the death of him. The series launched with Elisha Barber, 2013 from DAW books, and continues with Elisha Magus in July, 2014. visit www.TheDarkApostle.com to read sample chapters.