Whether you surf, ski, cycle, run, or blend a snack pack of exercises into a unique fitness menu all your own, southwestern B.C. offers just about every option to foster well-being while revelling in fresh air. Sports physiotherapist Carl Petersen, author of three fitness guides for skiers, tennis players, and expectant mothers, has made a career of helping active Vancouverites stay in shape.
When contacted at his City Sports and Physiotherapy Clinic, Petersen defined fitness as “having the physical qualities of flexibility, stamina, stability, strength, speed, and skill to comfortably carry out the activities of daily living and recreation without undue strain and stress to the body’s systems”. That doesn’t sound like too hard an assignment, especially if the emphasis falls firmly on the side of comfort.
Do professionals like Petersen work to stay fit or does their work keep them fit? Look no further than Gwen Milley, a ski patroller at Whistler Blackcomb since 1991. During winter months, the mother of six- and eight-year-old boys spends four days a week hiking ridges, throwing avalanche bombs, performing rope rescues, and putting her avalanche rescue dog, a golden retriever named Spicy Chili Pepper, through his paces. “You’ve got to be in good physical and mental shape to be a patroller,” she told the Georgia Straight atop Blackcomb Mountain in late December. “There are a lot of daily stresses on the mind and body. I lift weights; I have a strengthening program to prevent injuries to my knees and back. It’s important to stay fit just to feel better, plus I have way more energy to keep up with my super-active kids. Another reason I exercise is that as women approach menopause, fitness is crucial to maintaining good bones. We need to stay strong.”
Milley was quick to affirm Petersen’s message: don’t ski to get fit; get fit to ski. Among her recommendations: before heading for the slopes, start with a few spinning, stretching, or swimming sessions. “A lot of people do yoga for core conditioning. I’m lucky. I train with Chili several hours a day, which keeps us both fit.”
Although adventure racer Jen Segger scoffs at the suggestion that she is the fittest woman in Canada, there’s no denying that the Squamish-based endurance athlete is driven by an urge to combine her natural athleticism with a passion for the outdoors. Fresh from a morning surf, Segger spoke by phone with the Georgia Straight from Tofino. When asked about her favourite way to stay fit, Segger said she enjoys a variety of body-challenging activities. “Being active every day is a lifestyle, not a chore. The key to fitness is to find something you enjoy and keep doing it. I love adventure racing, and the drive to be a top athlete keeps me in shape.”
Segger’s definition of fitness is based on one’s ability to do things demanded of the body for a set amount of time. “Once you’re fit, you can enjoy recreational activities without feeling like you’re going to have a heart attack.” The secret to getting fit? Consistency. “After you’ve pushed through the first weeks of training, things become easier as you develop the ability to recover quicker,” she said. Segger draws a line between the level of fitness she has achieved as an athlete and the average person. “There are so many types of fitness out there. Try a variety of activities, but make sure you’re always challenging your body. Keep it fun and interesting, depending on the weather.”
West Coast wisdom dictates that there is no bad weather, only bad clothing. Judging by the larger numbers of cyclists on city bike routes in winter, waterproof shells are the new umbrellas. No matter how you choose to exercise, getting dressed and out the door are always the hardest steps. The key is not feeling like you have to rough it while keeping fit. Life is rough enough already. Treat yourself to some quality clothing and reflective gear. Too expensive? Look at it this way: wearing well-stitched, lightweight gear is motivation to stay in gear. When you consider the alternative—anchoring the couch as indulgences wear you down—it’s an easy call. Consider fitness an investment, like saving spare change. Put a little aside every day and watch it grow. Then splurge by treating yourself to a special outing once you’ve achieved a goal or two.
Need further incentive? Here’s a suggestion. Try cycling out to YVR. At first glance, the airport may seem like an odd destination. In fact, once you’re across the new Canada Line Bridge that links Ash Street in south Vancouver with Richmond’s Bridgeport neighbourhood, the flatness of Lulu and Sea islands makes for a remarkably easy westward spin. Check out the totem poles in Chester Arthur Park outside the international terminal building, then the dozens of art installations inside, drawn largely from First Nations communities. If you arrive on a Friday afternoon, check out the Airport Chaplaincy Thrift Shop on nearby Miller Road, the repository of prohibited goods, such as knives and tools, confiscated during pre-boarding security checks and resold at bargain-basement prices for charity.