Photo: Jay White \ www.flickr.com/photos/madpoet_one

On the surface, athletics and sustainability might seem to be irreconcilable.

The mention of professional sports conjures up images of driving in a traffic jam to a concrete dome powered by fossil fuels to sit under incandescent lighting and quaff Aqua Springs water or mass-produced beer from red, plastic cups. In the National Football League alone, each team fills the atmosphere with an average of 716 tonnes of carbon during every game, so the image is not far off.

I could continue to lament the carbon emissions created by everything from minor hockey to the Olympics, or how we have slipped from competing barefoot in stone stadiums with fresh olive sprigs crowning our heads to wearing Lycra suits littered with sponsors. But I would be missing the point.

A\J is focused on solutions and, as our forthcoming Education issue demonstrates, a balance of healthy realism and driving hope. As both an athlete and an environmentalist, I believe the two are not only reconcilable, but that they are deeply interconnected.

Here’s why: I believe that people’s relationships to the environment are intrinsically connected to how they view themselves. Movement allows athletes to focus on health and biomechanics, comparing and immersing their own performances with the parallel processes of nature. In the past, activists and thinkers such as Otto T. Mallery saw sport and nature as outlets that could revitalize and provide necessary social energy. Doug Anderson explored this idea in the Journal of the Philosophy and Sport, suggesting that movement and sport can help us recover an inner wildness that is a condition of our humanity – our freedom and creativity.

These are exactly the tools that environmentalists need today. But how can movement, competition and multimillion-dollar sponsorships create a more just and sustainable world? I would insert myself as a case study (with the exception of the sponsorships) to underline my belief in Anderson’s inner wildness idea.

I am a competitive runner, and in the fall of 2010, I made a critical shift from pavement pounding marathons to trying my hand at trail ultra-marathons. I loved it. Suddenly I was dodging squirrels instead of stray garbage and leaping over rocks and wood piles instead of sidewalk cracks. When I would stop racing through the woods to catch my breath, I would look up and recognize where I was and a deep smile would spread across my face. Running trails made me fall in love with nature. A spruce tree was my 10-km mark, and a river was my turnaround point – nature and movement were woven together for me.

When I read about the proposed closure of the Experimental Lakes Area in northwestern Ontario, I feel the same indignation as if someone were to take my trail-running river. Through athletics, I have overcome my nature deficit disorder, caused by years of pavement pounding.

But what about athletes who play inside the big stadiums? Their creative movement reminds us that we are both physical and mental beings, part and parcel of nature. We are not innocent bystanders; we are directly involved in creating solutions to problems. Environmentalism needs problem solvers just as sport needs sustainability.

My blog posts will explore the ways that environmentalism can be woven into athletics and discuss solutions to the environmental shortcomings of sport. I’ll engage other athletes in an ongoing conversation and reach out to readers to help develop a vision for moving forward.

 

The Sustainable A\J blog features posts by Alternatives Journal staffers focusing on sustainable lifestyle choices and profiles of A\J readers.

Jessica is A\J's Advertising and Outreach Liaison, and a recent graduate from the University of Waterloo with an English major and French minor. She's also a fitness instructor, marathon runner and volunteer with Greening Sacred Spaces.

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