Posted November 5 ’09



A friend once said he thought there was a little gender confusion in my physiological make-up.  I had just climbed off the leg-press machine where I completed a set of twelve reps with eighteen forty-five pound plates.  Without factoring in the machine itself, I had pushed 810 lbs and I weighed no more than 115 at the time. My legs were pumped; I felt strong.  I jumped off the machine, turned to my 250 lbs male training partner, and said something like, “Let’s see what YOU’VE got, pussy motherfucker.”  He muttered about hating macho assholes, climbed on the machine and finished his workout. Shortly thereafter he quit training with me, citing excessive intensity and lack of sensitivity.  I was sorry to see him go but found other willing partners who were inspired by my good-natured banter.  I continued to push the limits of my strength until sadly I ended up in surgery with a herniated disc (L5—S1).  That was the end of my bodybuilding career.

katie-posing-1Was the low back injury MY fault?  Was I reckless in the pursuit of strength and fitness? Was my need to SHOW the guys somehow misguided?  Could there have been a smarter way to go about achieving my goals?  These are all excellent questions, and ones that never crossed my mind.

Backwash bay

Sometime around 1996 I was down in Costa Rica on a surf trip to the Osa Peninsula with my husband and three other guys.  We were staying at a remote camp deep in the jungle—a two days drive from the nearest hospital. There wasn’t much surf when we arrived but then a swell rolled in.  The current at Backwash Bay is very strong in triple-overhead waves and there’s a danger of being pushed into the rocks if you don’t kick-out soon enough.  I’ll admit now that I was nervous about the size but you wouldn’t have guessed it that day on the beach when I paddled out with the rest of the guys. I think I might have been the first one in the water but I got stuck inside for a long time, and when I finally made it to the line-up I was exhausted.  I knew from prior experience that the longer I sat with my nervousness, the harder it would be to take-off, plus I felt the need to prove myself, so I instead of resting, I paddled into the first big wave that came through.  I was tired, I dropped in late, and I ate it.  I think it was my ear slapping down on the ocean surface that knocked me out.  Water can be as hard as concrete. I must have come to immediately because I was able to get on my board and paddle to shore but once there I had no idea where I was—complete and total amnesia.  It was terrifying.  Luckily I recognized my husband, who was on the beach, and he was able to fill in the blanks.  It was short-term memory loss; the kids, the year, and the president still held their place.  I had a monster headache for a few days and my eyes didn’t really track that well, but I could walk and talk.  Eventually I felt better and was able to remember most of what I’d lost.

Now, head injuries like that can be very serious, even life threatening.  Was it wise of me to go out in surf that was probably beyond my ability in an area where there was absolutely no chance of receiving medical help?  Should I have sat in the line-up until I felt rested and ready to attempt those extra large waves instead of trying to prove myself?  Was I at fault?

cliff hanger

cliff hanger

I took a ten day survival course in the red rock canyons of Utah.  Off trail, minimal provisions.  Each day you’ve got to get from point A to point B, and find water along the way.  Map, compass, and basic survival skills.  I have a tiny issue with heights but of course that was not something I felt the need to share with my knowledgeable guide.  There was a lot of climbing up and repelling down.  All I can tell you is that I got stuck over a ledge, hanging by a rope, with what looked like thousands of feet below.  My backpack was too heavy—again I didn’t want to complain—and it caused me to turtle so I was unable to get my footing.  I might have frozen up in fear but I’m not sure because I blocked out the rescue.

Photo Safari

Photo Safari

There was the head injury in Tanzania up in the northern Serengeti plains on the Kenyan border when I got launched out of the safari vehicle because I ignored the instructions to hold on.

While out on one of my solo road trips through Southeast Utah last spring, I got stuck at the very top of this mesa.  The road had washed out but I have a Land Cruiser, that it will go anywhere, and an unrealistic view of my driving abilities. I almost toppled off the side near the top.  It was bad.


And then there was that little dive trip to Australia this last September.


I spent a week on a live-aboard boat, diving up to five times a day all along the Great Barrier Reef, as research for my next book.  I had expected the water and air temperature to be warm but we hit a cold front and I was freezing for eight long days.  Didn’t stop me from diving though.  I kept jumping in with my blue lips and dropping as deep as I could go.  I am a very careful diver, I really am, and I watch that computer closely.  I do my safety stops, I never ascend quickly.  But apparently the lack of surface time between dives, the cold conditions, and the scalding hot showers that I took every time I got out of the water, caused nitrogen bubbles to form in both of my thumbs.  A normal sane person would have spotted the bends immediately; stiff joints are one of the first indicators that you’ve got a problem.  But I got certified twenty years ago and forgot that key bit of information. Plus I’m been blessed with this infantile notion that nothing bad can happen to me.  Of course I didn’t mention my thumb problem to anyone.  I just thought that it was some sort of arthritis, a result of too many hours at the keyboard.  (I bash that space key hard when I’m all wound up. But if I’d really thought about it, I would have realized that the left thumb is not an active participant in my writing life.  It just sits there quietly, cheering on all the other fingers.)  I didn’t really think.  I got off the boat and the thumbs got worse.  I took the fourteen-hour flight home and happened to mention the thumbs to a diving friend who insisted I call the doctor.  Bam, I was sent directly to the hyperbaric chamber.  Bent.  After a couple of sessions lying still under pressure, the pain in my thumbs resolved.  I’m fine.  Nothing happened.



I don’t want to talk about nine lives–silly, silly concept.  All I’m saying here is that the life of a writer can be treacherous. One should consider the dangers before heading down this particular career path.