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The Rugged, Figurative Terrain of Deep Sport

By Hal Walter

For the past couple of years I have been at least partially absorbed by the concept of something called “Deep Sport.” The notion stems from Deep Ecology – explored by the poet-essayist Gary Snyder – which speaks to the inherent worth and value of all living beings beyond their perceived value to society.

Likewise, Deep Sport also relates to reconnecting with ourselves, our environment and community. I first became aware of this concept while coaching my autistic son Harrison in cross-country and track. I could see the effects Harrison’s efforts were having on teammates, competitors and community as they witnessed and learned from his failures and successes, his struggles and his triumphs.

Additionally, in my own 38 years in competitive sports I’ve learned a few things myself, mainly that real triumph is not about conquering or winning in the traditional sense. It’s more than finishing “first place.” True competition means building up your rivals rather than tearing them down. Nobody loses – even when you don’t win, you learn.

Deep Sport can be finding the first Pasque flower of spring during a simple walk or hike, or skiing the Grand Traverse. It’s not about fancy clothes, high-tech equipment or electronic gadgets, though these things may have their place if they are not allowed to become the focus.

In essence, everyone is an athlete and we’re in training for life. It’s about enduring, doing your best and finding a deeper meaning beyond mere physical performance. It embraces healing and using sports and physical activity and connection with habitat to overcome larger, sometimes spiritual challenges.

Recently I found myself at my computer working on an editing project that I frankly could not make any sense of. Despite the fact that this is where most of my income is generated from, I often find myself questioning what I am doing – especially considering the amount of energy editing other people’s work steals from my own creations.

It seems an eternal puzzle that people will pay me pretty well to fix bad writing but few will pay me to actually write. It’s messing with my brain and it’s messing with my eyes. And it’s stealing from my own creativity.

I desperately needed a reset, and the only way I know to do this is by being present, and sitting before a computer was not the place.


Outside, the near-spring day was windless, sunny and warm. My brain simply was not geared for parsing on this day and I could feel spring break looming. Harrison would be off for 10 days, not this would not exactly be a week of relaxation.

Almost without thought, I mounted up on my fat bike and headed out to ride. I had no idea where I was going or how far. As I pedaled along I eventually found myself on a forest service road. I ducked under the seasonal closure gate and continued onward and upward despite the gray area of rules.

I pedaled through mud and snow and over ice. A small orange butterfly floated by riding the waves of tiny thermals I could not even feel. At last I reached an ice flow where the creek had frozen and run over the road. I looked at the miniature glacier and considered trying to ride it or pushing my bike around it. Then I was reminded of the John Cleese character in the Western film Silverado – “Today my jurisdiction ends here.”

So I wrestled the bike around in the mud of the melting ice, and headed back downhill, stopping briefly to pick several bright blue berries from some ground cedars. I often collect these medicinal nuggets on my workout adventures, chewing a few on the trail, bringing them home to eat and also to add crushed to red wine. I was startled to suddenly find myself riding the downhill with some degree of abandon, not unlike I used to ride when I was in my early 30s. Some things remain in your fiber.

When I arrived back home I decided to shoot some archery. In recent months I’ve rediscovered from my childhood the joy of shooting with a recurve bow. What I like about archery is that it requires a Zen-like mental focus, strength, proper form and breathing. If you can shoot, you’ll do well so long as your mind is clear. But let your mind wander somewhere else and the arrows will stray with it.

Archery provides a break and diversion from the other more physical aerobic activities I enjoy, like running, pack-burro racing and training, mountain-biking and cross-country skiing. It also offers a break from the stresses of daily life as well, though it can be addictive and fire up the old obsessive-compulsive machine if I am not careful.

Speaking of obsessive, I noticed my dog was behaving like he really expected to go on a run. I checked the clock and figured I had time for about three miles out on the trail. Once we were out there I realized I was feeling pretty good after the ride and the archery, and so we actually ended up making a loop of over four miles.

When I got back here there was barely time for a quick snack and shower before driving to the school to pick up Harrison. I had successfully pushed aside the absurdity of “work” for an entire afternoon, and reset my mind and my body. The toil could wait.

This is the point: Nothing really matters except our soulful connections. Get out there and those will become apparent.

Deep Sport may be the figurative rugged terrain I’ve crossed personally, professionally – and maybe even athletically – in 37 years of outdoor sports. It is for sure discovering the present that we carry into the unknown.

Hal Walter is the author of Endurance and Selected Essays on Autism, Neurodiversity and Deep Sport, available at the Book Haven in Salida and online at