Redefining Badass

redefining badass blog
When you think ‘Badass’ what do you think of?

If you are like most, you conjure up images of Chuck Norris, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Pink, George St. Pierre or Rhonda Rousey.  There is a real attraction to ‘Badass’.  Let’s face it, we all want to be a little ‘Badass’.

For me, I have always been more nerd than ‘Badass’.  In the last several years I have been striving for challenge, change and growth.  I have adopted a “default to yes” mindset and tried many things I would have thought beyond my scope of ability.

I’ve done an iron distance triathlon, I’ve taken up yoga, crossfit, rock climbing, ice climbing and travel. I have made an effort to expand my reading, get in tune with my creative side, expand my writing and get more in touch with who I really am.

Much of this prompted some good natured teasing from my girlfriend, Colleen. She would often joke about how “‘Badass'” I was becoming. As a photographer she took every opportunity to snap a pic or two of me in “‘Badass'” poses. “For your fans” she’d say.

I have to admit, the title felt pretty damn good. Let’s face it, any of us who are, or were, more academic than jock would be proud to wield the title “BADASS”.

In August of 2015, Colleen and I took a roadtrip to Penticton, BC. I had registered for the Challenge Penticton half-iron distance triathlon.  You see I had done the Calgary Ironman 70.3 in July and decided since I was already trained up I may as well also do the Penticton race.  I grew up taking my summer vacation in Penticton, and I had lived there for a summer with my Aunt Sharon in my teens. Penticton was home to her, my uncle Jerry and cousins Susan and Lynn, so it has always had a special place in my heart.

Although the main purpose of the trip was the triathlon, Colleen had a passion for climbing and I had asked her to look into climbs in the area.  It turns out there was some spectacular climbing at Skaha Bluffs, just 15 minutes outside of the city.  We only had one extra day in Penticton after my race so I knew we did not have a whole lot of options about when we would be able to climb.  This meant my first outdoor climbing experience would come directly on the heels of competing in a 6 hour half iron distance triathlon. This made me a little bit nervous.  Scratch that.  This scared the shit out of me.

It was important for me to give Colleen the chance to get some climbing in, knowing how important it was to her, so I decided I would suck it up and just make it happen.  Of course this prompted more appreciative teasing from her about how “Badass” that was.

Monday morning after my race, we headed off for Skaha Bluffs and I’ll admit I didn’t feel very ‘Badass’. I could hardly walk, let alone climb 20 to 40 meter cliffs. I let Colleen know that I may have to simply belay her and not actually climb.IMG_0254

My mother and Aunt who had come out to cheer me on for the triathlon decided to come out and watch the beginning of our climb and carry on for a walk of their own.  It was an absolutely magical day.  We parked at the trail head to the bluffs and started to walk together hand in hand.  I had that nervous excitement that you get when you are:

A) in love and
B) about to try something new for the first time.

Colleen had her trademark little smile playing at her lips that let me know she was extremely grateful.  I could tell she was so pleased that we were able to enjoy this time together and equally excited about the prospect of climbing outdoors, something she had not yet done on Canadian soil.

The mood can best be described as ‘contentment’.  We walked together, my mother and Sharon ahead on the pathway.  If you have ever ‘walked’ with my mother before you will know it is more like a sprint than a walk.  She is usually a few hundred meters ahead of everyone else.  This day was no exception.

Fortunately she paused to take a photo of Colleen and I together walking down the hill.  We walked far enough down the trail without seeing any rock faces that we actually stopped and consulted the trail guide book to make sure we were still on track.  After confirming we were indeed on the correct path we started seeing the rock faces open up as we descended into the valley.

Soon we began to come across other climbers who had set up camp at the base of a face here and their and marked their territory with an array of climbing gear strewn about.  Some at the bottom of the vertical, and others high above the ground, testing both their mental and physical abilities.

We made our way to a particular face we had identified in the guide book that had a variety of different climbing levels. Everything from a 5.7 (beginner) to a 5.11 (moderate to advanced). I will never forget the look on my mom’s face as she eyed up the 30 metre section of rock. Colleen was flaking out the rope getting setup for our first climb.

Mom’s expression was nothing less than astonished terror.  “You’re going to climb that?” She asked.  I nodded with a giant smile.  Mom sidles over to me and in true motherly fashion looks at me and says “You know, just because she’s doing this doesn’t mean you have to.” Yes, even at 46 years old a mom is still a mom.

Colleen and I ended up staying there exploring and climbing a variety of faces, crags and routes, enjoying each others company in the solitude of the hills until about 6pm.

That night Sharon had Colleen, my mother and I over for dinner. It was during our dinner conversation that I realized how un ‘Badass’ I was.

Sharon is a proud Pentictonite who is active in the community. Sharon has recently started doing small triathlons and is always looking to improve. In the lead up to the full Challenge Penticton iron-distance triathlon there are a number of events including a 5km fun run. Sharon shared with us the story of how that race went for here.

She opened the story stating that “I knew full well I would be last so I started at the back of the group of 60 or so participants”.

This is where my reality check on “Badass” came into play. You see finishing, even an iron distance race, in the middle of the pack is easy, it doesn’t take any courage at all.  You actually cross the line quite inconspicuously and can proudly state that you competed and completed.

What does take courage however, is to enter a race knowing perfectly well that you will be crossing the finish line dead last with all eyes on you.  Sharon continued her story.

With about 1 and a half kilometers left in the race a young man, Lorne, starts pacing her on a bike.  Sharon looks over her shoulder and says “You’re here because I’m last aren’t you?” He answered “I’m afraid so…” pause… “But you’re doing great!” he shouts.

Lorne continued to encourage her along and when she was within a few blocks of the finish line he said that he was going to ride ahead and let them know she was coming in. He rode off.

As she gets within a few hundred meters of the finish line she can see that they had already pulled down the P.A. system, they’ve lowered the finish line and the started dismantling the announcer tables.  When Lorne came in and told them that she was still out on the course they scrambled to set everything back up so they could announce her in.

They also sent an athlete out to run the final few hundred meters with her. One of the individuals that ended up running in with her is a local professional triathlete named Jeff Symonds. Now if you don’t know who Jeff Symonds is you Jeff won the 2013 Challenge Penticton full iron distance race and is also is the winner of the 2015 Ironman Melbourne race. A pretty nice touch to keep her spirits up as she crossed the finish line.

So when I look at the strength, tenacity and courage it took for Sharon to complete that 5km race it puts a whole different shine on the word badass. Chuck Norris may be badass but he’s got nothing on a 65 year old woman who is determined to improve herself even at the risk and vulnerability of finishing dead last. The vulnerability involved in that endeavor is massive and not likely a situation most of our stereo typical ‘Badass’es would put themselves in.

When Sharon finished the story and got up to clear the table Colleen and I just kind of looked at each other with a knowing gaze and a wry smile. Colleen leaned over and says “Now that, my friend, is what I call Badass!”

It got me thinking pretty hard about what it means to be ‘Badass’. The more I thought about it the more I liked the handle. From a presentation branding standpoint it is a word that stands out and as I said earlier, admit it or not, we all want to be a little more ‘Badass’.  I decided to look up the definition online. According to Google the definition is: “A tough, uncompromising or intimidating person”.  Huh?!  I could totally be ‘Badass’.

So how do I reconcile the inner nerd with my new found desire to be ‘Badass’?  I have always been one that has been fairly comfortable with his tender side.  I do not always feel the need to live up to the stereotypical, societal version of “manly”.

Yes, my alpha male friends, let the mocking begin.  In fact, trying to live up to that stereotype can be quite dangerous.  In my article entitled “Men, it’s time to Woman Up” I published in October 2014 I explore this topic in detail.  The premise is that if we accept the typical view that men should suppress their feelings, we then become less emotionally intelligent which can ultimately affect our behaviors.

So how does this relate to being a ‘Badass’?  Well, again I think the societal norm for a ‘Badass’ male is one who does not show a lot of his emotion, one who sucks it up and puts on a hard outer shell.  This definition did not bode well for me being a ‘Badass’.  On our 10 hour drive back to Edmonton Colleen and I discussed what it means to be “Badass” in great detail.  It was then that we were listening to Brene Brown talk about vulnerability on the Tim Ferriss show where Tim asked her about the perceived notion of the “over feminization” of boys these days.  They then got into a discussion similar to what I wrote about in my article and Brene talked about Tough and Tender not being mutually exclusive.  Then she said something that brought it all together for me.  She said something to the affect of “To me the co-existence of tough and tender is the equation for baddassery.”  BOOM!  Right on the money!

On October 2, 2015, Colleen woke up at my place around 5 in the morning, got dressed and ready for her day.  Off to teach a yoga class at 6am.  She came around to my side of the bed and leaned in for a kiss and said goodbye.  I murmured “Have fun at Yoga” in a sleepy haze as she left.

Those were the last 4 words I ever said to her.

Colleen left my house at about 5:20am and for whatever reason decided to stop in at her place on her way to the yoga studio.  There, in her driveway, one of the most ‘Badass’, beautiful women I have ever met, my best friend, soulmate and inspiration to many was abruptly yanked from this stage called life.  In a cowardly act of domestic violence Colleen Lois Sillito had her light snuffed out in a murder/suicide.  Taken by an ex-boyfriend who likely fancied himself a ‘Badass’.

I cannot even fathom what had to be happening in someones mind to take the life of another.  What kind of twisted, mixed up reality do you have to be living in to do something like that to another human being.  What kind of misguided notion of what it means to be a ‘man’ do you have to have in order to believe that 2 lives must end because you cannot possess what you want?

Could our societal propensity to encourage these macho, bullshit, unhealthy masculinities have contributed to this event?

Clearly this was the work of an individual who was not in touch with, nor in control of his emotions.  We make decisions based on emotion, justified by logic.  Clearly this was an emotional reaction that had permanent consequences.

Could this have been prevented by a society that actually teaches, respects and values virtues like empathy, compassion and kindness over domination, conquest and victory?

In the wake of this tragic event I am often faced with questions around how I feel about the ‘system’ that failed her.  Questions about how do we stop men perpetuating violence against women.  Questions about how do we build a better restraining order?   How do we improve the justice system to protect people like Colleen who so desperately needed it.

All of these are valid questions that need answers, however I feel like these are akin to putting a band aid on ruptured jugular.  We need to address the root cause and not simply build a bigger band aid.  One of the most important things we can do to achieve this long term and for generations to come is to teach, encourage and allow men to examine their tender side without fear of vilification by our counterparts.  We need more men that will speak up and embrace compassion, empathy and kindness and show the world that it is in part a combination of those characteristics that embody what it means to be a ‘real man’.

In short we need the world to embrace the notion of redefining “Badass”!

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