Starting Over

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photo by John Maniaci

Today is the launch of my first television commercial. I say first as if this will be the beginning in a procession of broadcast appearances, but as I indeed have a face for radio this could possibly be my last. So it goes. As it happens this week could actually mark instead the next phase of my rather sordid career.

Through much of my life as The Outdoor Professional I’ve tried to stay pretty much invisible. My own story I prefer to remain in the background behind character development, descriptions of place, the establishment of tone and the setting of mood. My existential anxiety as the author so often devolves into whinny editorialized opinion pieces that are as boring as they are self-serving. I much rather have my life as a writer be a vehicle to transport others on a journey of discovery that is at least interesting, hopefully entertaining and at best life affirming.

So in this TV commercial I’m riding a mountain bike along a lush green trail surrounded by trees. And despite my apparent need to lose 20 pounds I am literally the picture of health. And though I’d rather be they guy behind the camera this is one of those rare occasions where my personal story is at the very heart of the narrative. In this particular case the ad for UW Health depicts a positive outcome following a successful surgical procedure. I am the poster child for bilateral hip replacement.

For more than 12 years had suffered from advance osteoarthritis. And even though I led what could be considered by almost any measure an incredibly active lifestyle and professional career I had spent the last decade struggling against excruciating pain and limited joint mobility in my legs that resulted in profound loss of flexibility, stamina and strength. A gradual reduction of physical activity resulted in weight gain and general lethargy, which despite a well cultivated sunny disposition caused mild to severe bouts of depression. And even though I managed to remain productive and high-functioning I know with certainty that I wasn’t always the most pleasant person to be around and not the easiest to work with. As much as I would have rather avoided having both my femur heads removed and replaced with prosthetic implants made of titanium I’ve come to understand that surgery was the best thing for me.

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photo by John Maniaci

Now two years later I’m getting back to the life I had planned for myself. With a clean bill of health from my very talented surgeon, Dr. Richard Illgen who appears in the ad, I can pretty much do anything that I want to without limitations. Even though my doctor would rather that I not take up marathon running again I can jog comfortably with no pain and I can hike under the weight of a backpack for hours, even days at time. Stand Up Paddling is more comfortable than ever and I’m slowly building back the strength and flexibility that are so important in gaining speed and endurance over long distances. That means expedition travel is back on the table!

So along with a few thousand of my closest friends I’m heading to Salt Lake City, Utah to attend the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market. Over the last 20 years I’ve worked the national trade show in many different capacities as a sales rep, a journalist and a social media specialist. I have been in the employ of dozens of companies and publications and even the management team of the show itself, but this year I’m walking the aisles with an agenda of my own.

In many ways I’m starting over. With the release of my book The Adventure Gap: Changing the Face of the Outdoors I’m connecting with attendees of OR as a published author. With an extensive speaking and presentation schedule through the fall of 2015 I’m making the rounds of special events in Denver, Omaha, Newark, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Banff. In between I’m making stops on several reporting and filmmaking projects in partnership with the nonprofits Trust For Public Land and American Rivers. My continuing goal is to find compelling stories of people and their relationship with the natural world, especially in those communities in urban areas near free-flowing water. And at OR this week I hope to establish partnerships with organizations and individuals in the industry to make the outdoors more relevant and accessible to as many people as possible.

At the core of my intension is to reach out to and connect with audiences that the outdoor industry has failed serve. Despite my own presence at several events and media opportunities across the country people of color have been conspicuously absent in our marketing and social engagement initiatives for decades now. And with the rise of several proactive organizations like Outdoor Afro and Latino Outdoors who aim to introduce the natural world to minorities it’s my ambition to tell the stories of this emerging population and hopefully the companies and federal agencies that are making it possible to fully integrate people of color into the cultural mainstream of outdoor recreation and environmental conservation. Endowed with the exuberance and vitality of good health I am inspired to play a pivotal role in the expansion of outdoor community to include a more diverse and fully engaged audience of athletes, artists and activists that will be come our next generation of environmental stewards.

 

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Author:James

I'm a freelance journalist that specializes in telling stories about outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, acts of charitable giving and practices of sustainable living.

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