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Athletes & Explorers

Aug 28, 2018

Outdoor Moms: Emily Lussin – Breaking The Stereotype

The Outdoor Journal is pleased to launch a new series, 'Outdoor Moms' - profiling mothers pursuing their sport, all while taking care of family.

WRITTEN BY

Brooke Hess

Outdoor sports and adventure have a history of male dominance.  It is less common for women to be successful, and even less common for a successful woman to be a mother. Whitewater kayaking is no exception to this. Despite the challenges, Emily Lussin is one such whitewater mom breaking the stereotype.

As I paddle toward shore, there is no mistaking the sound of a motorboat putt-putting its way to a stop just a short distance away.  I pause my warm-up for a second and crane my neck to see who the mystery boater is.  

A small woman, not much taller than five feet, jumps onto the rocks and ties the boat to a tree branch.  She then proceeds to start unloading the contents of the motorboat onto the barnacle-covered rocks. Two paddles, two freestyle kayaks, two lifejackets, two helmets, and a cooler bag are all stacked up on shore in a jumbled mess.  The final unload happens when her partner on the boat hands her what looks like a big bundle of blankets, and she takes off up the rocks with the bundle in one arm and the cooler bag in the other.

I continue with my warm-up routine and don’t notice the woman again until she drops into the wave for a surf.  I immediately realize who it is.

Emily waving at Mya as she takes a turn on the wave

Emily Lussin isn’t a world-famous kayaker. But she should be.

Emily Lussin isn’t a world-famous kayaker. But she should be. Today we are kayaking the Skookumchuck Rapids in the Sechelt Inlet on the Sunshine Coast of British Columbia. The wave is good for kayaking when the tide is at max flood, and today the tide is just right. Emily and her partner, Dru, live in a cabin across the Inlet from the Rapids.  As soon as Emily gets in her kayak, you can tell this is her home wave. She maneuvers her kayak with minimal effort, performing aerial spins, flips, and barrel rolls that I have only ever seen performed by the world’s top male freestyle kayakers.  I watch as she throws a pistol flip- a 180 degree spin combined with a front flip- and then flushes off the back of the wave. She casually paddles back to shore, jumps out of her kayak, and joins Dru on the picnic cloth they have laid out on the rocks.  What I previously assumed to be a bundle of blankets is now a babbling and laughing toddler. Now that Emily has taken her first ride, it is Dru’s turn to go kayaking. Throughout their kayaking session, the couple will take turns kayaking and care-taking. Each of them gets equal time on the wave, as well as equal time with their daughter, Mya.

Emily watching Mya in between kayaking rides.  Kayaking time is family time.

“The instructor I had a crush on, his name was Dru… is Dru. And yea, we’re still crushing!”

Emily started kayaking in her teenage years in her small hometown of Kingfisher, BC.  She had a crush on one of the instructors, which is what originally brought her to the sport. “The instructor I had a crush on, his name was Dru… is Dru. And yea, we’re still crushing!” Emily learned how to kayak with Dru as her instructor on the Shuswap River in Central British Columbia.  Since then, she has represented Team Canada in two different Freestyle World Championships, and has kayaked rivers all around the world, including Africa and Europe. Almost twenty-one years later, Emily and Dru are still kayaking together, but this time with a third family member in tow.  

Eleven years ago, Emily and Dru moved to the Sunshine Coast and bought land on the Sechelt Inlet.  “We moved into this ½-acre jungle with a tent on the beach for a long time. That’s how it all started.”  The couple built a cabin completely from scratch- lumber mill and all. With 24-hour power generation from a small hydro turbine, they lived completely off the grid for four years.  Being that their cabin is only accessible by boat, they decided to buy a second house on the mainland when Mya was born. But Emily says she prefers living at the cabin with Mya. “I like having Mya at the cabin.  I find it easier to entertain. Maybe because I’m used to life here. I feel more at home here because it is also a house that I built from scratch.”

Emily and Mya taking a break from kayaking

The family now splits their time between the cabin and the house on the mainland.  When they are at the cabin and the tide is right, they all hop in the motor boat and head over to Skookumchuck for a family day full of kayaking.  

“You don’t just stop doing something after you’ve done it for this long, right?”

Getting back into kayaking after becoming a mother was no easy task for Emily. One of the biggest challenges she faces is dealing with motherly instinct.  She described the first time they took Mya to Skookumchuck on the motor boat this year as one of the most terrifying experiences of her life. She was so worried about having Mya in the boat that she couldn’t get herself to go kayaking once they arrived at the wave.  “After that first time in the boat where I just lost my head, I remember saying to Dru afterwards, ‘That’s it, I’m done. I am not going back there that way. I’m not. I don’t care if I never go kayaking again.’ My heart was pounding so hard. My emotions on the top.  That’s the worst I’ve ever had it.”

Despite the instinctual challenges, the family keeps coming back.  Emily describes their kayaking time as family time. “I don’t think I have been to Skooks yet without Mya.  The day may come when I want to do that. Maybe if she had something more fun to do. For now, I ask her and she says she wants to come.  I think she feels our vibe from it. Dru and I usually get pumped to go kayaking.” When Emily says she gets pumped to go kayaking, she is not lying.  Watching her kayak is like watching an Olympic gymnast perform their routine. It is as if the kayak is an extension of her body. She is a master of the sport, and in my opinion, one of the best in the world.

Emily and Mya watching as Dru takes a turn on the wave.

 “Down the road, I would love to keep kayaking with Mya. Surf the wave with Mya. That would be an awesome day.”

For the next two hours, Emily and Dru continue to switch between kayaking and caretaking.  As soon as the tide changes and the wave starts to slow down, they change into dry clothes and sit down on the rocks for a picnic with Mya.  Afterall, kayaking time is family time. “I want to keep going because I want to show Mya how to do it, and hopefully make kayaking part of her life too.” explains Emily.  “I like being an inspiration. I feel I can do that through the lifestyle, and kayaking is a big part of the lifestyle that I chose.” An inspiration is right. One of Emily’s current kayaking goals is to perfect the airscrew- a trick that very few female kayakers have mastered.  But her biggest and most important goal is to inspire Mya.

After all, the Hebrew word ‘Mya’ means Woman of the Water.

Dru, Mya and Emily. Photo: Patrick Camblin

Want to read more? Stay tuned for more in the Outdoor Moms series, and subscribe here.

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Athletes & Explorers

Mar 10, 2019

Meet Addie Bracy: Ultra’s Upstart Signs with Nike

American Addie Bracy is an advocate for diversity, recently signed with Nike Trail Running and is making noise on the ultra scene. She's the pro trail runner who almost never was.

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WRITTEN BY

Kela Fetters

You might not have heard of the newest member of the Nike Trail Running roster, American Addie Bracy. She’s soft-spoken and humble in person and a relative newcomer to the ultra scene. But her emergence has been nothing short of meteoric, given the fact that her incursion onto the trails was completely serendipitous.

En route to an eventual 2nd place finish at the Way Too Cool 50k on March 2nd. Photo provided by Bracy.

“One of the things that I hope to help promote is more diversity in trail running…My partner is also a competitive runner and when talking to Nike, they were totally on board for sponsoring us both as an LGBTQ couple in trail running.”

She pursued a collegiate track and cross country career when, by some measures, she wasn’t qualified. After college, she kept training, even though her modest times did not portend a successful competitive tenure. She ran on, mostly  unpaid and unsung, but fast enough to propel her to some big wins and to the Olympic Trials in multiple distances. Through the vicissitudes of race results, she kept going, even as performance anxiety and personal doubt hemorrhaged joy from the sport. In June of 2016, she was in Portland, Oregon, poised to run 10,000 meters around the track in a last-chance effort to qualify for the 2016 Olympic Trails in the event. Filled with anxiety and nausea, she ran almost a minute slower than the necessary mark. Catalyzed by this performance, she decided to step away from competitive racing. Feelings of inadequacy and self-deprecation were becoming too intrusive. A friend had mentioned an upcoming race, the USA Mountain Running Championship, and she signed up as an impromptu adieu to the racing scene. In July of 2016, Bracy ran her very first trail race ever on the steep hills of Lincoln, New Hampshire—and won.

The common denominator in Bracy’s running may be her indomitable resiliency. Ask an ultrarunner how they deal with nine hours in the pain cave, and many of them will point to an ability to simply keep grinding. Bracy’s ability to push through adversity may be the reason she has found success on the ultra scene. Her inaugural foray into the realm of extreme vertical and unpaved paths at the 2016 USA Mountain Running Championship opened a chapter Bracy never intended to write. Less than two months later, she placed 12th at the World Mountain Running Championships. It’s been pedal to the metal since then:

Headshot of Bracy near her home in Boulder, Colorado.

TOJ was delighted to correspond with the Nike newcomer:

TOJ: How long did you compete on the track and road?

Bracy: Almost 15 years! I started running track in middle school and then cross country and track in high school before running at the University of North Carolina in college. During that time, I think I competed in pretty much every event (on the road or the track) that is considered a distance event. I ran the 10,000m at the Olympic Track and Field Trials in 2012, and then the Olympic Marathon Trials in 2016. I moved over to trails shortly after that because I started to get a little bit burned out of the kind of racing I was going, but I still loved to get out and run every day.

TOJ: In what ways is trail running different from racing on the road and track?

Bracy: I love track and field and will always be a huge fan and supporter of the sport. But, as an athlete competing for so long, it felt like a really objective sport in the sense that you were either running faster or you weren’t. It was easy to fall into the trap of not only comparing your times to ones you had run before, but also comparing yourself to other people based on your race results. For me, how fast I was (or wasn’t) running started to really influence how I felt about myself which was an unhealthy place for me to be in. Trail running is a lot different. Every course is different, race conditions are always different, and nobody really focuses on the times you’re running. It’s a much more subjective experience that’s so much more about just going out and running hard and tackling the trail or the mountain. It’s a really supportive community full of a bunch of athletes supporting each other to go out and push hard together.

TOJ: How have you adjusted your training?

Bracy: There’s a lot of my training that’s the same as before. I still get on the track for fast repeats and do hard marathon type long runs on the road. That kind of fitness is still really important and I try to stay in touch with that during all my training programs. Of course, there’s some specific training that also needs to be done. I do a lot of my weekly running on trails just to get really comfortable with that terrain. And, depending on the type of race I’m preparing for, training sometimes includes a lot of hill climbs or runs with vertical gain. Training is really catered to whichever race I’m focusing on since the demands vary so much from race to race. But, that’s one thing I love about trail running and the variety keeps it fun and interesting.

TOJ: Tell me about signing with Nike Trail Running. What were your considerations in making this decision?

Bracy: I was looking for sponsors at the end of 2018 and had to really start thinking about what I was looking for in a company. One of the things that I hope to help promote is more diversity in trail running since it’s such a welcoming sport. My partner is also a competitive runner and when talking to Nike, they were totally on board for sponsoring us both as an LGBTQ couple in trail running. Nike has always been at the forefront of promoting inclusivity in sport and that’s something that we felt really strongly about being part of.

Headlamps through the dark at the Leadville 100. Photo by Eli Duke via Flickr.

TOJ: What are your goals in 2019 and beyond?

Bracy: My plans for the summer are still a little bit in the works. I’m running the Lake Sonoma 50 miler in April to shoot for a golden ticket to the Western States 100 in June. If I’m not able to pull that off, I have some back up plans to shoot for another 100. I’ve only done one 100, but I’m still very intrigued by the distance and want to take a few more cracks at it. Outside of my own running, I’m really just excited to help push the sport I love so much and to be as involved as possible. I do a lot of coaching and love supporting and crewing for my athletes. So, I’m excited to be at a lot more races in a support role.

TOJ: What advice would you give the you of 2 years ago?

Bracy: To just keep doing what you’re doing! A lot of amazing things have happened for me over the last year or so. There were certainly times when I first transitioned over to trails and before I had decided to go back to school when I felt a little bit lost and unsure of what my future looked like. Things have really come together in terms of having a great sponsor, loving racing, starting a coaching business, and finishing up a graduate program that I feel passionate about.

TOJ: How can other track and road racers make the transition?

Bracy: Just give it a try! Most road or track runners fall in love with racing on the trails as soon as they try it. In terms of actual training, many athletes love the transition because they get to get out on trails and see beautiful new places that they wouldn’t have otherwise. Most races are in such amazing locations that it tends to feel like a destination race. If you’re unsure of how to get started, there’s usually a community of trail runners not far away so reach out! The trail community is incredibly welcoming and kind.

TOJ: Tell me about grad school. How do you balance a pro career with school?

Bracy: I’m about to wrap up a graduate program in sport and performance psychology at the University of Denver. In terms of balancing a demanding program with trying to run professionally, it’s certainly been a challenge! I live just north of Boulder, but I’m in school in Denver so the commute alongside the time commitment can be tough. For the most part, I just try to keep my training flexible and get in my runs and workouts when I can. I keep shoes and clothes in my car and when a break pops up in the day, I take advantage of it. I haven’t been able to get on the trails as much as I would like, but I do what I can. I try to never approach training as something else that I need to add to my “to-do” list for the day. Running is time that I get to spend on myself and I view it as a nice little break every day.

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