We’ve perfected our snow dance, and finally it’s falling here in Park City

Much-needed snow is falling today at Park City ski area in Utah. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

Here in Park City, Utah, the snow is coming down today.

So is the rain, at the base of the mountain. But that’s what chairlifts are for, to whisk you up higher, above the treetops, to where water freezes and turns white and makes a nice slippery slope to slide down. (I’m good at slippery slopes lately.)

Forecasts are calling for more snow overnight and tomorrow. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

No, conditions aren’t ideal. Some of the terrain is closed. But I spent a blissful day on the mountain. This morning, a guide led me to many of the historic mining sites, where workers once picked away rock in search of valuable silver, lead and zinc deposits. Later, after drying my sodden gloves by a roaring fire, I scuttled up and down runs that are slowly gathering a fresh frosting of white.

Park City is also gearing up for the Sundance Film Festival, which begins next week. Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman

Tomorrow, I’m heading to the bobsled track used in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, where I’ll strap myself into a mountain-borne rocket alongside a competitive bobsledder and we’ll point ourselves downhill. Wish me luck with that. Later this week, I’ll ski with an Olympian at nearby Deer Valley.

It’s an Olympic year, after all. Time to get into the spirit.

Top swimmers compete at TYR Pro Swim Series at UT this week

UT alum Madisyn Cox will compete at the TYR Pro Swim Series at UT this week. (Photo by Melissa Lundie/Bold Action)

Want a sneak peek at some of the athletes who may be competing in the next summer Olympics?

Head to the Lee & Joe Jamail Texas Swimming Center at the University of Texas this week for the TYR Pro Swim Series.

The event, set for Jan. 11-14, will feature a field of former Olympians, world champions, USA Swimming National Team members and up and coming stars. Daily preliminaries start at 9 a.m.; finals start at 6 p.m. The meet concludes Sunday with finals of the 1,500-meter freestyle at 8 a.m.

Nathan Adrian, shown here swimming the 100-meter freestyle at the 2017 Phillips 66 National Championship Team Trials, will compete at the TYR Pro Swim Series at UT this week (Photo by Melissa Lundie/Bold Action)

Individual gold medalists Nathan Adrian, Matt Grevers, Ryan Murphy and Dana Vollmer are expected to compete, along with Austin-based National Team members Jack Conger, Madisyn Cox , Will Licon, Dakota Luther, Clark Smith and Andrew Wilson.

I’ll be paying particular attention to Luther, who is the daughter of Whitney Hedgepeth, who coaches the U.S. Masters program at UT where I’ve been swimming for the last four months. (We work out at 6 a.m. at the pool most mornings, and it gives me a little rush of excitement every time I jump in that pool, where so many of the world’s best swimmers have competed.)

The meet marks the first of six stops of the 2018 TYR Pro Swim Series, and includes a few unusual events, including a shoot-out style 50s of all strokes, a mystery 200 IM and a mixed relay featuring National Team members. Olympians Natalie Coughlin, Lenny Krayzelburg, Jason Lezak and Kaitlin Sandeno have drafted teams for that last one.

Single- and all-session tickets are on sale now online. For more information go here.

Cover your ears, Mom: Study shows cussing makes you stronger

This man isn’t really cursing, but if he was he might be stronger, according to a recent scientific study. Photo from Austin American-Statesman archives


Cover your ears, Mom.

A recent study shows that cursing aloud can boost physical performance, strength and power.

The study, published in the Journal of Psychology of Sports and Exercise, showed that swearing produced a 4.6 percent increase in initial power during a 30-second stationary bicycling test, and an 8.2 percent increase in a maximum hand grip strength test.

That boost in performance isn’t just dependent on a stress response arising from the shock value of the swearing, either, says David K. Spierer of Long Island University, one of the study’s authors.

“We know that swearing appears to be handled in brain regions not usually associated with language processing,” Spierer said in a press release. “It is possible that activation of these areas by swearing could produce performance improvements across many different domains.”

You can buy one of these T-shirts to fund future studies about cursing.


Cursing might allow people to shut down their inhibitions and veil pain, he said.

“Using swear words might be helpful in any circumstance where muscle strength and a sudden burst of force or speed is required,” he said.

Which maybe explains the grunting and cussing you hear in weight rooms, I might add.

To conduct the study, the researchers asked participants to suggest a swear word they might use in response to banging their head accidentally. Those in the non-swearing trial suggested a much less flamboyant word used to describe a table.

Based on previous studies that show the beneficial effects of swearing in the context of physical pain, the study’s authors expected to see elevated heart rate and blood pressure correlate with the improvement in physical performance.

That’s not what they found.

Spierer and Richard Stephens of Keele University, the other author of the study, have launched a second study to look at the effect of swearing on activities found in most exercise programs.

Go here to learn more – and buy a T-shirt or hat that will fund more swearing research (and promote breast cancer awareness.)

If this seems like free rein to let the cuss words fly, go wash your mouth out with soap. It’s still not polite to drop an f-bomb in public.

Intimidated by running? Sign up for this beginner’s program and run a 5K

A.C.T. Running will launch a Become a Runner session later this month. Photo courtesy Ashley Thompson

Plenty of people can get out and run a 5K on short notice. They’ve been running for years, and know what it’s like to line up at a starting line and pace themselves for a little more than 3 miles.

But what if you’ve never done a race? What if you can’t even run a mile?

Austin running coach Ashley Thompson’s got you covered.

The Become a Runner program is designed for beginner runners. Photo courtesy Ashley Thompson

Thompson, a coach for the Central Austin running group A.C.T. Running, will kick off an upcoming session of “Become a Runner” later this month.

RELATED: What’s it like to run a naked 5K?

“While I can write a training plan to get someone to the podium, I prefer the everyday athletes who need a little more convincing or have been left behind by other groups,” she says.

Plus, she’s good at convincing people they can love running. (Maybe she can convince a few to do what I did last year as part of my Year of Adventure – peel off my clothes and run a naked 5K!)

Participants will build up their endurance to a 5K distance. Photo courtesy Ashley Thompson


“The training is responsible, relatable and consistent,” she says. “More than anything, we have a good time.”

The eight-week program begins Jan. 17. Participants should be able to walk for 30 minutes. They will gradually increase their distance, with walking breaks built into the program. There will be no specific time goal.

The group meets from 6-7 a.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at Ramsey Neighborhood Park, 4301 Rosedale Avenue. Cost is $99 and includes a shirt. Participants also get training tips via email, plus a running form clinic.

For more information go here.

Did someone say free yoga and beer? Yes, on Monday!

The first free Pints & Poses class of 2018 is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 8. Photo courtesy Hyatt Regency Austin

All hail more free exercise, especially when it comes with a pint of (free) beer and (free) parking.

The Hyatt Regency Austin once again will host its Pints & Poses classes in 2018, and the first one is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday, Jan. 8 at the hotel, 208 Barton Springs Road. The event is free to hotel guests and local residents.

Instructor Ferny Barcelo, along with assistant instructor Zuzu Perkal, will lead the vinyasa flow yoga class. Trey Tarwater, a local yoga DJ, will provide live, meditative music to accompany the session.

Pints & Poses will take place in the hotel’s Texas Ballroom on the second floor. Guests are encouraged to bring their own mats. After the yoga class, participants will receive a coupon for a complimentary beer. Attendees will also receive validated parking when they park in the hotel’s garage.

For more information on Hyatt Regency Austin, call (512) 477-1234, or go here.

Watch for this all-female cycling team this season

Keep an eye out for the Bicycle Sport Shop-backed Wolfpack Women’s Cycling Team in 2018.

The Austin-based elite women’s cycling team, formerly known as Athlete Architecture, started three years ago as a team of entry-level racers. Since then, it has developed into a powerhouse all-female road racing team.

Bicycle Sport Shop will sponsor the Wolfpack in 2018. Photo courtesy Bicycle Sport Shop

The team includes an elite squad of Category 1 and 2 racers, a development and master’s team of Category 3 and 4 racers, and a junior racer.

RELATED: Austin bike race series draws more female cyclists to the track

Bicycle Sport Shop will provide the team with professional fitting services, as well as bicycles, shoes and helmets from Specialized.

Wolfpack will continue to sponsor “Ladies Night” at Austin’s Driveway Series. It will also participate in several Bicycle Sport Shop rides and activities.

“We are really looking forward to this partnership with Bicycle Sport Shop. We love how focused Sport Shop is on women’s riding – from the beginners all the way up to elite racers,” team director and Wolfpack founder Kelly Barrientes said in a press release. “Not only does this shop have a stellar reputation, but also with their multiple locations we will have an amazing platform to empower and mentor many different women cyclists throughout the entire greater Austin community. We are so excited to focus on working at the grassroots level to increase women’s participation in riding and racing.”

The team has produced a Masters 35-39 road race national champion and won a silver medal in the criterium. It’s collected multiple road and criterium state championships, age group and category podium finishes, and a top-20 finish in the UCI Pro/1/2 women’s field at the Joe Martin Stage Race.

To see them in action, check the Bicycle Sport Shop calendar at bicyclesportshop.com.

In 2018, don’t try to be someone else: Just Be You

This mural is painted on the side of a building on Colorado Street in downtown Austin. Photo by Pam LeBlanc/American-Statesman


I found this handy reminder (along with a unicorn) painted on the side of a building on Colorado Street, a few blocks north of Lady Bird Lake, while riding my bike to work the other day.

It reminded me, once again, that I really kick butt at being me – and I’m not so good at trying to be anyone else.

I love finding these hidden messages around town. They pop up like road signs when I’m feeling slightly lost or overwhelmed, and serve as a little kick in the pants to get on with it.

This one sent the message to focus on what I’m best at – or at least what I love the most. For me, that means doing something physical, and sharing the experience with others through my writing. It reminded me that I’m not a top athlete or an investigative reporter, and I shouldn’t try to be one. But I am good at dropping my humility and trying new things, then encouraging others to peel away the fear and try it themselves.

That’s satisfying.

It also reminded me that in order to be the best me possible, I need the outdoors. I mean need it, as in if I couldn’t pedal out the madness, swim through green-blue water to ease the mental storms or run through a leafy refuge to slow myself down, I’d combust.

Seriously. That’s why we all need nature – to balance out the things we have somehow come to believe are more important, like fancy houses or expensive restaurants. Nothing in my book ranks higher than dirt and rocks and creeks and critters and the freedom to explore.

It allows me to Be Me.

It’s a new year. Find what makes you happy, and aim yourself squarely at it. Stay healthy and stay positive.

And do not take no for an answer.

If you’ve always wanted to paddle but didn’t know how, check out these new classes

Congress Avenue Kayaks is adding new classes to its lineup. Photo courtesy Congress Avenue Kayaks


If you’ve ever stood on the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge over Lady Bird Lake and watched, a little enviously, as kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders skimmed beneath you, take note.

Congress Avenue Kayaks is expanding its class schedule.

RELATED: Dip a paddle in these Central Texas rivers or lakes

The company, which offers an array of guided tours and classes, is adding a series of beginner sessions designed to teach the fundamentals of kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. The 75-minute coached classes will take place at noon on Sundays, starting Jan. 7. Class size is limited to six.

Participants will learn water safety and paddling techniques and get time on the water with an instrtuctor. The classes are recommended for beginner level with no paddling experience.

  • SUP Skills: Learn to Standup Paddleboard classes are scheduled for noon Jan. 7 and 21, Feb. 4 and 18, March 4 and 18. Cost is $45 per person; ages 16 and up.
  • Kayak 101: Learn to Kayak classes are scheduled for noon Jan. 14 and 28, Feb. 11 and 25, March 11 and 25. Cost is $45 per person; ages 13 and up.
  • Private Paddling Lessons are available between 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. daily with 72-hour advance reservations. Cost is $50 per person; all ages.

Congress Avenue Kayaks is located at the Waller Creek Boathouse on the Ann and Roy Butler Hike and Bike Trail. The shop is open daily year round with hourly rentals, guided tours, classes and private lessons. Advance reservations for classes through March are available at congresskayaks.com. Walk ups will be permitted on the day of the class on a space available basis.

The shop will still offer 90-minute guided downtown Austin tours at 9:30 a.m. Mondays and Fridays starting Jan. 5. Guided sunset bat tours will return in the late spring.

For more information go here or call (512) 809-8916.

Goals for 2018: More adventure, please! (Plus better photography, less stress and more vegetables)

Pam LeBlanc vpws to pack even more adventure into the coming year. Photo by Haley Robison


Wow. Is 2017 really over? I’m still riding an adventure high.

According to my calendar, though, we’ve landed in 2018, and that means I need to set my New Year’s resolutions.

Last year I hit some big goals. I definitely added more adventure to my life, – by rappelling down a 38-story building, running a naked 5K race and jumping off a 10-meter platform at the University of Texas. I improved my photography skills, but still have a long way to go.

RELATED: What’s it like to run naked? Fit City finds out

Other goals I didn’t hit. I didn’t finish my book. I didn’t reduce stress in my life. I didn’t swim another 200 butterfly.

That’s OK, because I can aim high again this year.

RELATED: What’s it like to rappel down a 38-story building?

I try to cover all areas of my life when I set my yearly goals. I try to keep them attainable and at least some of them measurable. I like variety, too, so I usually include stuff that keeps me healthy and fit, personal goals and something wacky or unusual.

RELATED: How does it feel to jump off a 10-meter platform?

Have you set your New Year’s resolutions? I’d love to hear what they are. Please send me your list, along with a little bit of information about yourself. I’ll compile some of them into an upcoming blog.

The list actually goes on forever, but here are the first 10 entries.

Here’s this year’s list:

1. SHOOT MORE: I made strides in my photography skills, but the more I learn, the more I realize I need to learn. I want to work on composition and lighting and getting interesting, compelling pictures.

2. FINISH THAT BOOK: I intended to turn in the manuscript in December, but that didn’t happen. I’m two-thirds of the way through my book about J. David Bamberger, an 89-year-old environmentalist who made his fortune in fried chicken and vacuum cleaners. Texas A&M University Press is publishing.

3. PADDLE: I discovered a new passion in 2017 – paddling. I canoed or kayaked six different rivers last year, and bought my own aluminum canoe. I’m going to enter a short paddle race this year and go on some paddle camping trips.

4. BACKPACK SOLO: Last year I camped alone for a single night. This year, I’m going to do a short solo backpacking trip.

5. CRUNCH IT UP: I’m going to do 50 abdominal crunches after swim practice at least three times a week.

6. SWIM-RUN: I was sidelined from running for a year and a half due to plantar fasciitis, but I’m finally running again. And swimming hard. This year I’m going to compete in Swim-Run Georgia, an endurance event that combines both those passions in a race that features 9 miles of overland running and 4 miles of open water swimming. (I’ll also continue biking to work.)

7. THRILL: More adventure, please. (I know, I know.) That means travel, and I’m going to scuba dive, hike, wander, explore and discover new places, and write all about it.

8. EAT RIGHT: More grains, less meat, more vegetables, less junk, more water.

9. JUST SAY NO: I’m overbooked and overstressed. As tough as it is for me to do, I’m going to say no more often.

10. CELEBRATE: This year marks my 20th at the Austin American-Statesman. In October, I’ll also mark 20 years of marriage to my husband Chris. I think that deserves a celebration or two.