Breathe2Win…just start

When I first began writing my upcoming book, Breathe2Win, I intended to help high performers gain an extra edge over their competition. What I found was much more profound. As I moved through the research, training, and application of what I have learned in breathwork, I discovered much more than I expected. The edge that high-performing athletes, salespeople, and leaders seek is not to conquer their competition. They must conquer themselves. 

I believe every person is born a Hero. Circumstances and trauma, society, and the expectations of others fueled the rise of the Villain in each of us. Any time we were afraid or made to feel unworthy or out of place led us to add layers of protection. Slowly, over time, the Hero faded for most of us. But, the Hero never disappears when the Villain takes the spotlight. There’s a way to retrieve the True Self and unearth the Hero inside. 

My book will teach you the first few steps.

The rest is up to you.

The only Villain you have to conquer in your life is YOU.

The good news is that the Hero who is coming to save you…is YOU!

All you have to do is Breathe2Win.


Saturday, March 9, 2024

Breckenridge, Colorado

The day was perfect: ideal, sunny conditions after a total white-out snowfall the day before. I had a rough day on Friday, struggling all day with altitude sickness. It surprised me because I had felt fine when we went snowboarding a few weeks previously in Park City, Utah. My husband, Felix, pointed out to me that the base elevation of Park City, Utah is 6,800 feet above sea level. In Breckenridge, Colorado, the base elevation is 9,600 feet above sea level. That’s a big difference, and I felt it. After a solid night’s rest, I returned to my excited self. It was the year of the Dragon and I was feeling those vibes again. Little did I know I was about to feel the full wrath of what the Year of the Dragon could unexpectedly bring.

Felix and I spent the morning exploring some familiar and easy trails. I like a slope with a football field width so I can make nice wide turns. We stopped for an early lunch to beat the crowds at the lodges. Lunchtime can be chaotic on the mountain. “Now we can just ride these slopes until the last lift,” I said excitedly as Felix and I strapped on our boards. “It’s such a beautiful day. Let’s get a selfie.”

I snapped a fantastic shot and then a woman asked if we would like her to take a photo of us. People can be so nice on the ski slopes. And off we went…

I had only been snowboarding a total of 4 times at this point. Felix brought me to Jackson Hole, Wyoming in 2022 and Park City in 2023. Both times, I was terrified. These were epic mountains and I had no idea what I was doing. I was worried about getting injured, especially because the winter season was also when I began prepping for competition season. This year, I was taking a year off from competing in my bodybuilding division as an IFBB Pro. I had a lot less anxiety about injury messing up my competitive season, and yet I still approached the snowbaording with caution. In the past, I took lessons on the first day of a trip to each mountain. While in Park City a few weeks prior, there was a moment when “I saw it.” I realized why people love the sport. I felt the flow. I got it. So, this time, in Breckenridge, I hit the slopes with Felix without a lesson. I felt comfortable and ready to go. Even on Friday, after being sick the previous night, my athleticism allowed me to successfully navigate the day. But, Friday wasn’t a very fun day for me. After sleeping it off, I woke up on Saturday to the sun shining on what would prove to be a life-altering day.

I started out a little ahead of Felix. He was generally a little slower than me. I’m an athlete, so even though I was a whole lot newer to the sport than Felix, I had mastered it quickly. I also have a trained sense of self-awareness. If it’s a physical skill, I will always figure it out quickly. I went zipping down a blue slope called Sundown. At one point, I was flying along, feeling elated. 

“Whoa, Rachel,” I told myself. ”Slow down. Don’t get cocky.” 

Felix passed me and moved on ahead as I pulled my speed back a little. It must have been 30 seconds later that I came upon the scene of the accident. I looked to my right and thought: “Oh shit, that one’s mine…”

Felix was on his back, moaning, with his hands on his helmet. Thankfully, he was wearing one! A female skier stood over him, wearing a red jacket and shaking her head as she spoke to another skier in black. He turned out to be a witness who stopped. As I scooted back up the hill, using my board to dig into the powdery snow, another skier stopped and created a perimeter using ski poles and skis stuck in the ground to alert others coming down the mountain. He later introduced himself as a retired Army medic. The skier who hit Felix was already on the phone calling ski patrol. On my knees, I began to instinctively coach Felix to slow down his breathing. I could tell he was in pain. He was beginning to flail around, asking for me to remove his helmet and boots. 

“Slow down your breathing, babe,” I said to Felix. “Inhale through your nose and a slow exhale through your mouth.” I demonstrated as I unlatched his boots from his board. “You have to stop moving until the ski patrol arrives,” I said.

“Arrgh! It HURTS,” he groaned. 

“You gotta slow down your breathing,” the Army medic repeated.

Ski patrol arrived on the scene. Felix continued to struggle to kick his boots off and remove his helmet. “Whoa, buddy,” the Ski Patrol medic said as he carefully placed an oxygen tube in Felix’s nostrils. “We need to keep that helmet on your head to get you down the mountain. Can you tell me what day it is?”

The medic asked Felix questions as he checked his vitals. The Army medic stayed close by. I answered anything that I could but kept silent about the collision since I didn’t see it. A second Ski Patroler in a red jacket directed traffic around the incident. A third Patrolman arrived and began speaking to the other skier and taking statements from the witness. He called me over and explained that in Colorado, a ski collision is treated like a car accident. The downhill skier/boarder has the right of way. Felix was downhill of the skier and blindsided. However, the Patrolman mentioned that he “hated these kinds” of accidents, because it can be considered “no-fault.” The skier who hit Felix was visibly shaken. She said he turned towards her and she didn’t have a chance to stop. She was also apparently unharmed. He asked her if she needed to go to the clinic. She shook her head no. She skied away after statements were made and information was exchanged. 

Meanwhile, the Ski Patrol medic was having trouble getting Felix on the sled to drag him down the mountain to the clinic. Any attempt to move Felix would result in a shriek of agony. The Ski Patroller looked up at the Army medic and said: “I think we need to call for a scoop.” He radioed for someone to head over to Sundown with a scoop to help get Felix on the sled. As we waited, the Ski Patrol and Army medic tried to negotiate with Felix. The Army guy said, ”Man, it’s like ripping off a Bandaid. We just need one big push and it’ll be over in an instant; you’ll be on the sled.”

“And if you do, I’ll come find you when this is all over,” Felix growled between clenched teeth.

A female Ski Patroler arrived with the scoop. It was a mechanism that could open and close like scissors, sliding underneath Felix so that they could lift him onto the sled. Several attempts resulted in more loud shouting from Felix. My heart raced and I coached myself to extend my exhales longer than my inhalations, so that I could remain calm and clear-headed. Finally, they got Felix on the sled and we began our awkward caravan down the mountain. The bright yellow sled was obvious to the rest of the traffic flying down the mountain. Cutting across an intersection, the sled got stuck and another random skier helped get us moving again. 

The urgent care clinic at the bottom of the mountain was located on the ground floor of our hotel, in the same building. Talk about luck (well, sort of)! Once they got Felix back in the ER, they finally administered some pain medication to help take the edge off. As they set up for the X-Ray, I slipped away to run upstairs and change out of my ski clothes and boots. In the hotel room, I stood there looking around, not sure what to do next. I could sense that I was forgetting something but had no idea what. The adrenaline was making it impossible to think clearly. When I arrived back downstairs, the ER doctor said she didn’t like how the pain was radiating. She was sending Felix over to the local hospital for a CAT scan. An ambulance arrived for him. The doctor suggested I follow in my car over to CommonSpirit St. Anthony’s Summit Hospital in the next town over called Frisco.

Halfway to the hospital, I realized I needed to go back to the mountain to secure our snowboards. I didn’t even know where his had ended up. They were rentals, so I knew I needed to figure that out. I decided to continue on to the hospital and make sure Felix was settled before making the 15 min trip back to the hotel and mountain. It didn’t take too long before a nurse came and directed me back to Felix’s spot in the ER. As I walked towards his room, I passed several dramatic scenes: a girl had the entire right side of her face covered in bloody bandages; a young man looked weakly up at me as he was wheeled past, his entire left leg wrapped in bandages with two metal pins sticking out as the knee; an older man still in his ski boots limped past making the same shouts of pain Felix had made on the mountain. 

Felix was in a hospital bed and already hooked up to an IV. He was calmer now that he had some pain relief. I made sure they had his insurance information and gave him a kiss before heading back over to secure our gear. They had Felix’s board at the ER on the mountain and my board was where I had left it in the rack outside. Once I had all that taken care of, I headed back to the hospital. Halfway there, I received a text from Felix that read: “5 broken ribs.” 

“Ouch,” I thought, followed by what most people said when they first heard it: “There’s not much they can do about broken ribs…” 

I was wrong. Upon arrival at the ER, I entered Felix’s room saying: “5 broken ribs, eh…” Felix’s nurse, who looked distractingly like Pedro Pascal, informed me that the situation was a lot more serious than it seemed. He definitely would need to be admitted. Surprised, I began texting close family until the trauma surgeon arrived. Dr. Erica Poulis, pretty and slender, stood by Felix’s bed and explained what she saw in the X-ray and CAT scan: 6 broken ribs fractured in at least 9 places. She gave clear descriptions of the options we would potentially be looking at, including surgery to install plates to stabilize what appeared to be a flail chest situation. “A flail chest is a medical emergency that happens as a result of a trauma. Due to 3 or more ribs broken in 2 or more places, your chest wall becomes unstable. You’re in pain and can’t breathe deeply” (Cleveland Clinic). Dr. Poulis continued by giving some scenarios that cause concern in cases like this. “It hurts to breathe, so patients tend to breathe shallow or hold their breath to avoid pain,” she said. “This is the most dangerous aspect of a chest injury of this magnitude. It can lead to fluid accumulation in the chest cavity and the risk of developing pneumonia. I’m going to need you to focus on taking deep, expansive breaths as much as possible.”

Dr. Poulis went to a cabinet and took out a small plastic device and handed it to Felix. “This is an incentive spirometer. You inhale and try to make the blue line move upwards. Using this will help you take more expansive breaths. Try it for me,” she said kindly. Felix gazed curiously at the device and took an inhale as deeply as he could. The blue marker moved up to 2500. “Good,” Dr. Poulis praised. “Keep using it, especially after surgery. Ideally, use it for 10 breaths per hour. It will facilitate a sustained deep breath in and help prevent lung problems such as pneumonia or lung collapse.”

Even in my distress at seeing Felix in so much pain, I perked up at this. I had trained for the past year in breathwork. I was the perfect partner to help Felix navigate this obstacle. As Dr. Poulis gently examined Felix’s chest, I observed silently, taking in the severity of the situation. She urged him to roll to his side towards me, so that she could feel along his spine and check for injury there. “It feels kind of clicky or gurgly,” Felix responded when she touched some places along his back. 

“I’m going to admit you and keep you overnight before making any decisions,” Dr. Poulis said as she removed her blue rubber gloves and gave me a calm look square in my eyes. I nodded and took a deep breath in through my nose and a slow exhale blowing out through my mouth. I began to grasp how important my training in breathwork would be in helping Felix through this. I took a moment of gratitude for my own breathwork practice that was keeping me calm and steady in the moment. I was certain I would be leaning on my breathwork practice as I walked my husband through this painful situation. 

A few weeks earlier, in Park City, I discovered that breathing and equanimity were crucial in the sport of snowboarding. I learned that I had to be totally present in what I  was doing and stay tuned in to my surroundings. I added one Airpod under my helmet to provide music and that helped me navigate the lift lines which can cause sensory overload for me. Having music as my guide headed down the mountain made the experience flow better for me.  As long as I kept my breath slow and controlled in time with the music, I could keep myself under control physically. I had a moment of awakening in Park City: “Aha! Ok I see it. I see why people love this sport.” 

I also noticed other people’s need to learn to breathe better. My snowboard instructor in Park City mentioned having anxiety, so I told him about slowing his exhales. There was a young man named Issac in training to become a firefighter in my group class. I asked him if they taught breathing techniques to firefighters. We talked about samurai warrior breathing. It’s the concept of breathing so light and slowly that the breath won’t hardly move a feather placed in front of the nose. I used breathing techniques to maintain equanimity while loading the ski lift, getting off the lift (so stressful for me!), and navigating down the mountain. As soon as I got squirrelly I would check my breathing and pull myself back to calm so that I could keep control. Contol your breath and you control your emotions (especially fear), control your emotions and you control your actions. Control your actions and you control your experiences. It was a total turnaround from my first two experiences snowboarding where I was so afraid I exhausted myself. In Park City, I was able to be efficient and truly enjoy the ride. By the time I got the hang of it, my legs were really tired. As the days passed, my control improved. Similarly, in my dance career, when we learned choreography the first day, it would feel clunky and awkward. By the next day, the brain integrates the movement into the body and everything flows better.

It took a while for the hospital to prepare a room upstairs. As we waited in the ER, Felix realized that he needed a few things from the hotel, such as his contact lens case. So, I made one more trip back to the hotel to gather his toiletries and necessities. Little did we know at the time how wild of a ride we were about to embark upon together.

I’d been training as a breathwork coach for over a year. I thought I was supposed to master breathwork to be a part of the revolution that would save the world. And what I was about to discover is that first, I had to use what I knew of breathwork to save my husband…

To be continued…

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