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No Barriers Podcast Episode 121: Whitewater Healing with Antoinette Lee Toscano

Our hosts, Erik and Tom Lillig speak with writer, speaker, entrepreneur, and overall barrier-breaker, Antoinette Lee Toscano. Special thanks to Prudential for sponsoring this episode.

Antoinette, an 11-year United States Army Veteran,  is an American Adult Cross-Cultural Kid (ACCK) and Third Culture Adult (TCA) with family ancestry in Nigeria, Ireland, China, and Jamaica.

Antoinette is a former IT executive, a blogger at the New Normal Big Life blog, Producer of New Normal Big LifeTV for Culturs Global Multicultural TV, Contributing Writer at Paddling Magazine and Culturs, global, multicultural magazine. 

Antoinette is also a transformational public speaker and an advocate for people living with traumatic brain injury, health challenges, and those diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress.

She is also the Producer of WhitewaterTV, a Kokatat National Brand Ambassador, and co-founder— Diversify  Whitewater to name a few of her many accomplishments.

Thank you to our sponsor, Prudential, for sponsoring this episode and more featuring alchemists like Antoinette.









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Episode Transcript

Erik Weihenmayer: We are honored that Prudential's sponsoring today's podcast highlighting people who are true alchemists. Antoinette Lee Toscano: Some days it's amazing, some days it's awful, then it's amazing, and awful, that's the human condition. We all try things and fail or try things and succeed. That's normal, that's what everyone should be experiencing in their life. So don't think that you have to be perfect, perfect does not exist. Erik Weihenmayer: It's easy to talk about the successes, but what doesn't get talked about enough is the struggle. My name is Erik Weihenmayer. I've gotten the chance to ascend Mount Everest, to climb the tallest mountain in every continent, to kayak the Grand Canyon, and I happen to be blind. It's been a struggle to live what I call a no barriers life, to define it, to push the parameters of what it means, and part of the equation is diving into the learning process and trying to illuminate the universal elements that exist along the way. And that unexplored terrain between those dark places we find ourselves in, in the summit exists a map. That map, that way forward is what we call no barriers. Tom lillig: Today, we speak with Antoinette Lee Toscano who is an 11 year United States Army veteran with family ancestry in Nigeria, Ireland, China, and Jamaica. As a speaker and writer, she's an advocate for people living with traumatic brain injuries, health challenges, and those diagnosed with anxiety, depression, and post traumatic stress. She's a blogger at The New Normal Big Life Blog, producer of New Normal Big Life TV, contributing writer at Paddling Magazine and Culturs, and the producer of Whitewater TV. She is also a Kokatat National Brand Ambassador and Co-Founder of Diversify Whitewater an organization aiming to introduce more BIPOC, black, indigenous, and people of color to whitewater kayaking and rafting. Enjoy the conversation. Erik Weihenmayer: Welcome everyone to the No Barriers podcast. Hey, Tom. Tom lillig: Hey, Erik. Erik Weihenmayer: Tom Lillig our co-host, thank you for joining me today and Antoinette, wonderful to have you on. Thank you for joining us again and I know you've been part of some No Barriers programs and you've done amazing stuff with your life. I want to start out with a question just because I mean, it's hard not to notice, I would have never known this, but you have this crazy... I shouldn't say crazy, but just a very diverse background. Nigeria, Irish, Chinese, Jamaican, I mean, wow that's a poster child for some diversity there. Antoinette Lee Toscano: Absolutely and one of the reasons that I talk about it is because people tend to think we're so different, there are so many things that separate us, but when you break it down, we're really more alike than we are different as human beings. And so I might be the first true black Irish person you've ever met. Erik Weihenmayer: My son is originally from Nepal, he's adopted, and we met his Nepali mom several years ago, went back to Nepal and met him. And he said, "Man, I didn't know what to think. How am I supposed to think? I have these... I got white parents and I'm Nepali, but I don't speak the language and it was just really weird to be there and I don't know exactly how to wrap my head around it." So I imagine, there were feelings for you connecting with your roots. Antoinette Lee Toscano: Yeah, so because I was adopted and I was given up for adoption at birth, and raised primarily in an institutional setting until two weeks before my fourth birthday when my parents received a phone call about yet another kid that needs a home. They had one biological child and they had already adopted three children, and then they got the call about me. And my dad was like a kindred spirit, we're very similar. I present as an extrovert but I am really not. I'm more of an ambivert, so I can be extroverted when I need to, but I'm really introverted and so is my dad and he just kind of understood me and we were just from that night forward the best of buddies. Erik Weihenmayer: Aw. I never [crosstalk 00:04:36] heard that, that's a great phrase. Ambivert? Antoinette Lee Toscano: Yes. Mm-hmm (affirmative). Erik Weihenmayer: Because I think I'm that too, I can be very social but it takes a lot of energy and then afterwards I need to kind of refill my cup with some alone time. Antoinette Lee Toscano: That's classic example. And then also I've had a brain injury so life is quite exhausting. Life requires a lot of health management on my part and so people look at me and when they learn that I have a differing ability, multiple differing abilities, they'll say things like, "You look so normal. I didn't know there was anything wrong with you." And my response is, "Well, I am normal and I'm neither broken nor damaged. But I've broken my back, I've had a traumatic brain injury, I've severely injured my shoulder in a rappelling accident in the Army, and now I have these life challenges that I have to manage, but I can guarantee you I'm probably one of the most interesting women you'll ever meet." That's usually what I tell them. Erik Weihenmayer: Let's talk about that PTS and I notice that in your bio there's no D at the end of it, which the disorder part, right? Because I understand that it's not a disorder, it's sort of maybe a natural response to repeated trauma, right? But so as you know, I've led a lot of No Barriers groups and Tom has too and we meet a lot of folks, especially from the military with PTS and I always think there's no prosthetic limb for the brain, right? Somebody loses a leg you can snap a prosthetic foot on there and they can walk again, but the brain's so murky and so complicated. And everyone goes through trauma, so where does trauma become PTS and how did that happen for you? Antoinette Lee Toscano: Oh, I love this question. So most human beings will go throughout their life and experience some form of trauma. Erik Weihenmayer: Yeah, just being born, right? You're coming out of this canal and you pop out in the sunshine, you're like whoa. Antoinette Lee Toscano: Right. Right? But I mean- Erik Weihenmayer: That's your first bit of trauma. Antoinette Lee Toscano: ... Your parent's divorce, your own divorce, losing a close family member suddenly, losing your home in a fire, a break in, an assault, a physical trauma like a car accident, or rappelling accident like in my case all of these things are traumatic events. So I went through this, both a physical trauma and multiple emotional traumas within the military, and we are not as human beings and also as soldiers, sailors, airmen, marines, et cetera, we're not fully trained, and equipped, and prepared to handle our lives after the physical and emotional trauma. Antoinette Lee Toscano: Some of us are, some of us are not, but what research is showing is that after a traumatic event if you have the ability to talk about your trauma, to process it with professionals, and/or a loving, supportive network of people those are things that can help move the needle from someone who's gone through traumatic experience and then is traumatized by that experience and is experiencing post traumatic stress because of the experience. So it's not a matter of being weak, or strong, or... It doesn't matter about your socioeconomic status, or intelligence, or any of these things that we think affect whether or not we will experience post traumatic stress after experiencing a traumatic event. Antoinette Lee Toscano: And right now in the United States, actually around the world because of COVID-19, the entire world has experienced a traumatic event. It's what we do after that traumatic event that will determine if you develop post traumatic stress. Erik Weihenmayer: Collected PTS, that'd be a whole book to write about. Collective worldwide PTS. So how does that manifest for you? How does it manifest in your mind? What are the things that you struggle with that you've had to work through and overcome? Antoinette Lee Toscano: Well, so in my case I was rappelling down a mountain to give first aid to someone else who was injured and I slipped, my belay person didn't tighten the rope quickly, and so I dropped a number of feet, slammed into the rock face twice, swung out, back in, and I was wearing a Kevlar helmet of course, which was great. It protected my brain mostly, but I did receive a traumatic event from that and so there were cognitive changes in my brain after that event and what I've noticed is with every passing decade things get a little bit worse. So there were some things I experienced immediately and then five years, 10 years down the road, 20 years down the road I experienced more challenges that required occupational therapy and psychotherapy. So there was the trauma... And then also breaking my back, if you're going to break your back the coccyx and sacrum are the best places, but it still means that rather than developing degenerative arthritis in my 60s and older, I developed it in my 20s, late 20s, early 30s. And so my whole life, now at 53, I know I just look 35. Erik Weihenmayer: So post traumatic stress though, that's really fascinating. So you are saying that with inaction it's not a natural healing process, inaction it gets worse perhaps, so you have to have some kind of intervention. Antoinette Lee Toscano: That's the research that I have read and that has been used with me in my healing, and so you're never going to be 100% cured. There's a debate over whether it's possible to be cured of post traumatic stress. So for example, in my own life I started to become agoraphobic. It was sort of a progressive thing. So my brain stopped communicating effectively to my limbs and then to some of my vital organs, and so I went from being strong, and healthy, a former competitive bodybuilder and power lifter, great athlete in general, overall athlete in general to nine years ago this month, I believe, I was using a walker and a service dog and I could barely take care of myself. I had to have a caregiver. And so as I became weaker and more debilitated because of the cognitive issues, that really kicked in post traumatic stress at a higher level than it had been in previous years in my life and I became agoraphobic. I couldn't leave my home. Erik Weihenmayer: Yeah, fear. Fear takes over. Antoinette Lee Toscano: Yes, and I withdrew more and more. And so I needed a dog to help me with everyday tasks, I needed a caregiver to help me with everyday tasks, and then at a point I went, I think it was about nine or 10 months, without leaving my house at all. Erik Weihenmayer: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Antoinette Lee Toscano: I was doing telehealth before telehealth was a real thing. Tom lillig: And what was that moment for you or series of moments, obviously it's not like you snapped your fingers one day and everything's better, but what was the process of finding those tools, or resources, or therapists, or rope team members that ultimately enabled you to make some form of progress? Could you talk a little bit about that? Antoinette Lee Toscano: Sure. So my sort of aha moment was I was laying in my bed, it was the middle of the day, I had blackout curtains drawn, the room was completely dark and my dog was looking at me with this concern and I remember thinking, my dog is telling me I'm about to die. And at that point I couldn't eat or drink, I could only take in sips of water. I was in and out of the emergency room. It turns out that my body was mimicking a failing pancreas and we didn't know what to do about it other than to remove it. So I was actually on a surgery list. So anyway, it turns out that I was able to heal myself through lifestyle changes. I always eat well because my parents had health issues and so we grew up eating well, but changing to a mostly organic diet, growing a lot of my own food. But that didn't start from in my bed feeling like I'm about to die because my dog was looking at me as if she's very concerned. Antoinette Lee Toscano: And so mind you, my dog was trained to tell when I'm going to experience an ocular migraine, which will temporarily take my vision. So she was smelling biochemical changes in me that concerned her to the point where she was whining and just telling me I'm very ill. So anyway, I made peace with the fact that I'm going to die and I just said to the universe, "I've lived a fascinating and exciting life. I have been loved. I've given love. I have left my mark on this world as best as I can at this point and it's okay for me to go." Within hours, I started to feel a little bit better and I drank my first glass of water, full glass of water in months. Tom lillig: Wow. Antoinette Lee Toscano: And each day I began feeling a little better, a little better, a little better and I worked with a therapist. I do meditation. I do biofeedback. I have a device that resets the alpha brainwaves and I use that a couple times a day. I have to manage chronic pain. I'm never without pain, 365 days a year I have pain. On the days when it's really bad I can't leave my bed and I still do need a little bit of assistance from my boyfriend and my dog. On other days, I'm attempting to summit the Grand Teton and kayaking the Arkansas River. Erik Weihenmayer: Let me understand, so it began, the catalyst, I think I heard you say was the acceptance that you may die. Right? So are you connecting with that acceptance like okay, maybe that's the worst thing that can happen and I need to... I've accepted that as a possibility and now I got to move forward. Antoinette Lee Toscano: Yes. Erik Weihenmayer: That's really fascinating. Antoinette Lee Toscano: That was exactly how I felt. I am accepting the fact that I'm dying. I don't know how much time I have. I'm okay with leaving this earth and transitioning to something else and just making the most of the time that I have. And with that acceptance, I have been doing the work, all of the therapies, physical and emotional, but that acceptance that death is inevitable for all of us and choosing to live as big a life as I can possibly envision with the time that I have. And I started a blog called The New Normal Big Life Blog because I wanted to create my new normal with however much time I had and live as big a life as I can envision with as much time as I have left. Now, nine years later I feel quite healthy. I still have challenges, but I'm truly living a big life. Erik Weihenmayer: I love that. If I can just put a pin in something that you said, you accepted that you could die. You accepted death, but then you also at the same time, almost simultaneously recognized that you have a choice moving forward. You have a choice to live a full and active life and it seems like that may have been, that conscious choice that you made might have been that first step toward drinking the glass of water and probably all the things that followed. I love that. Antoinette Lee Toscano: Yes, and what we resist is what persists in our lives and I was resisting the fact that the world is dangerous and people die. That is a natural progression of the human experience. Erik Weihenmayer: And rejecting that creates paralysis, doesn't it? Antoinette Lee Toscano: Yes, it did. And as soon as I accepted that, that one day I'm going to die, I thought it would be earlier, I was wrong. Yay me for being wrong, but that was the impetus for living a much bigger life. Erik Weihenmayer: And I've heard you talk about the lizard brain, right? This part of the brain that's sort of fight or flight, the amygdala. I've never quite understood that though. Is that where PTS comes from you think? That lizard brain? That voice? That persistent voice that's like a record that just keeps skipping over, and over, and over and no matter what positive stuff you want to think about, it still kind of is underneath it all just vibrating? Antoinette Lee Toscano: Yeah, so in The Body Keeps the Score and other places it talks about how our lizard brain it's the brain that humans had before we developed speech and it's what kept us alive when we really didn't understand the world around us or couldn't communicate effectively with one another. And so that fight, flight, or paralysis innate ability is what helps us in some cases to stay alive, but that gets turned on during a traumatic event. And for some people it can be turned off relatively quickly because they have the social network, they have healthcare, they have tools, and people, and resources to help them process through that traumatic event. Others, especially if you're in the military and you experience a traumatic event early in your military career like I did, and then nine years later you finally stop to process what happened and start to heal, that's a long time to have your lizard brain turned on and engaged 365, 24/7, and so that's the challenge. Erik Weihenmayer: Yeah. I mean, I don't think I've ever quite mastered that lizard brain. I mean, when I'm kayaking or doing something really hard where I'm stressed out, that lizard brain's there. It's there and I feel like I'm always fighting it. And my friend Rob Raker, who I really respect, he taught me how to kayak, he says, "You got to use this logical positive part of your brain and it has to sort of master the lizard brain. It has to talk to it and say hey, calm down, you're safe, you're okay right now." Antoinette Lee Toscano: Yeah. Tom lillig: Now, Antoinette, you're this badass, you're this paddler, you're doing all sort of amazing things in the Whitewater TV, one of the things that is fascinating to me is just a very simple thing that you said at the beginning of the podcast, which is the way that you sort of interact with others and sort of have built your rope team around yourself. But one thing, this might serve as sort of a public service announcement for so many people, you're a person with PTS, you have a variety of other invisible differing abilities or disabilities, and you talked before about how when you have shared that with people what their reaction has been. And I'm curious about is, for you, what would be a reaction that you would endorse? What would be a reaction that you would love to have from others? Because I think this is an area that so many people are trying to understand okay, awareness is one thing, turning it into action and behavior so that it can actually help elevate someone or show understanding and compassion is another. Can you talk to me a little bit about that? Antoinette Lee Toscano: Sure. When a person has a differing ability or even if they're from other formally marginalized groups, like women in the outdoors and people of color in the outdoors, for people who are not watching I am black and I don't often see other women, people of color, other people with differing abilities in outdoor recreation. And one of the reasons is because sometimes we're just not asked to participate, we're not invited to participate, people assume that we don't want to participate because of cultural baggage and limiting beliefs. We often think we are not able to participate. And so when I tell someone that I have a differing ability and I want to learn this sport but you're going to have to teach me archery in a way that you would a four year old and not an adult woman because my brain can't process the information that way, sometimes people don't want to teach you. Antoinette Lee Toscano: Sometimes they are uncomfortable teaching an adult in the way that they would teach a child and so they are afraid of failing as a teacher and they don't want to start. So they don't want to help. And so when a person with a deferring ability or a disability either presents to you that way or tells you that they have a differing ability the reaction I would like to hear is, "I don't have any experience at helping a person with a differing ability, but tell me how I can support you." Tom lillig: Mm-hmm (affirmative). That's good. Antoinette Lee Toscano: And to turn it into a question. Tom lillig: Yeah. Erik Weihenmayer: And you being an outdoors woman and being a person of color you must feel like a Jamaican bobsledder, you actually are Jamaican, but I feel like a Jamaican bobsledder sometimes, you know what I mean? And so I want to turn the tides on you and say why? What's the paddling? What's the rivers? What does it do for you and have there been times where you just feel like a fish out of water in this community? Because I digress a little bit here, but I was at a film festival watching films, or I should say listening to films, and one film after the next was like white guys doing obscure sports and I was just like wow, this whole festival is white people doing odd, obscure sports that nobody cares about like [skort 00:24:18] boating and skateboarding. You know what I mean? Antoinette Lee Toscano: Yeah. Erik Weihenmayer: That's a little harsh, but you get my point. Antoinette Lee Toscano: I get your point. So well, they're a couple of- Erik Weihenmayer: [crosstalk 00:24:30] There's a lot in that question. Antoinette Lee Toscano: ... [crosstalk 00:24:32] that I have. So I don't feel like a Jamaican bobsledder, which is hilarious, when I performing adventure sports because I don't know my father told me from a very young age that I can be whatever it is that I work hard enough to become and so it never seemed odd. My five year old declaration was that I was going to serve my country in the Army and I did, at five, right? So the concept of something not being for me just doesn't compute in my head because anything that is available to anyone is available to me regardless of my gender, or my ethnicity, or my disability. It's available to me. I just need to go out and seek the right group of people, my tribe, my community, my clan to help me and I mean clan in the Irish sense and not in the African sense. Erik Weihenmayer: Nice. Yeah. Antoinette Lee Toscano: So yeah. Erik Weihenmayer: So how did that happen for you then? What was the process to get into river sports? Antoinette Lee Toscano: So interestingly enough, I was actually race shamed by my entire community including my family who said you can be anything you want except an outdoor adventurer because it's not for black people. It's too dangerous, someone's going to kill you, all of the things. So for 10 years, I did not take up archery because my family told me not to. My people that I worked with, people from my religious community all said don't do it, it's not for you. They bought into the cultural baggage and it created limiting beliefs in them, some older folks in my family, and then in me this person who was just like, "I'm going to be an archer." And they said, "No, you can't." Well, I bought into that limiting belief for 10 years. Erik Weihenmayer: And was there also a part that's like sometimes more traditional communities are thinking well, that's not what being a grown up means. You have to grow up, and be responsible, and- Antoinette Lee Toscano: Exactly. Erik Weihenmayer: ... Yeah. Antoinette Lee Toscano: Put on the suit and go to your corporate office. [crosstalk 00:26:52]. Erik Weihenmayer: Yeah, exactly. Antoinette Lee Toscano: Right? But adults who play are the happiest, healthiest both physically and emotionally. Remember, I was in my bed waiting to die and then I found whitewater kayaking though Team River Runner and Team River Runner is a national 501(c)(3) that teaches veterans and family members paddle sports like kayaking, rafting, canoeing, stand up paddling all at no cost, free gear, equipment, instruction, trips, et cetera, and community, a support team. And so that's how I learned how to kayak and then I wanted to share my love of adventure sports because from kayaking I began camping and then climbing. Through No Barriers I got back on a mountain after breaking my back and not getting on another mountain after that. I did while I was still in the Army rappel out of helicopters and off buildings, but never a mountain again until No Barriers. Antoinette Lee Toscano: And so when I summited in Lake Tahoe, that was a pinnacle moment and in the No Barriers tradition I made a vow to go out and help my community, and so the way that I could help my community was to become a volunteer with Team River Runner Fort Collins as their Assistant Chapter Coordinator. But that wasn't enough, I noticed that other people of color, other women were not recreating in large numbers and I wanted to do something about it so I co-founded Diversify Whitewater and we provide free kayaking, rafting, stand up paddle boarding, river trips, instruction to black, indigenous people of color at no cost and provide at least one free piece of donated gear and apparel to help them on their journey. But that's not enough because there are still more people left out of the outdoor recreation. There's still an adventure gap. Erik Weihenmayer: Big time. Antoinette Lee Toscano: So I've helped veterans, I've helped people with differing abilities, I've helped people of color, but there is still low income Americans, there are middle class or middle income earners who don't have a lot of disposable income, especially the sandwich population who are taking care of their children and their elderly parents and paying off their student loans while saving for their children's education. And so adventure sports and outdoor recreation is becoming a pastime for only six figure income earners with a lot of disposable income and we need to change that. So I have teamed up with Vibe Tribe Adventures a national 501(c)(3) and we are starting the free National American Adventure Sports Club. Tom lillig: Wow, congratulations. Erik Weihenmayer: Yeah, how's that work because I mean, that's like a... I don't know. I just imagine growing up in a situation where the outdoors or kayaking a river is so off your radar you may not even... How do you even know you might have an interest in that area when you have no experience that might lead you there? Antoinette Lee Toscano: Exposure is so important. So for example, I grew up in a multi-racial environment in Queens and my parents could have afforded to pay for kayaking lessons, but we didn't know the sport existed and they had cultural baggage and limiting beliefs around people of color and adventure sports. So that opportunity was cut off from me because a lack of awareness, because of cultural baggage, because of limiting beliefs, but there are other people like a black construction worker on the south side of Chicago and a white coal miner's kid in a West Virginia community both may not be able to afford adventure sports or outdoor recreation. Both may have never heard of climbing, hiking, or paddle sports for regular people. Right? This is the sport of the wealthy. Antoinette Lee Toscano: So exposure is very important so that people can see themselves, but there's a challenge. If we only see white men doing these sports, imagine being a little white girl, or a little black boy, or a Hispanic or Latinx adult you are looking at this sport through a window into someone else's life, but if you never see another woman, if you never see a Latinx or Hispanic, if you never see another person who mirrors you, you only see window marketing, you never see mirror marketing. You never see another person who looks like you, who has your deferring ability, your age, your gender, your identification doing these things you may think that's a big leap to think someone like me can do this because I never see anyone like me participating in outdoor recreation. Tom lillig: Yeah, it seems to me that you're so passionate about this and it's great that you're, as you talked about, trying to find ways to get the exposure out there. But I'm curious, what is it about adventure sports that really moved you, that transformed you, that makes you so passionate about it? Antoinette Lee Toscano: At a time when I felt my most vulnerable, my weakest, unable to process information, I'm a pretty smart cookie, but I could not take a can and a can opener and figure out how they could work at the worst challenge of my life and I couldn't walk on my own, I couldn't live on my own. And so I was at my most vulnerable and then this beautiful thing, the magic of whitewater came into my life, I got in a plastic boat, I laid down my walker, got in the plastic boat, and started going upside down in a pool, and learning how to roll, and learning how to paddle. And then I got on the river and as I'm riding the river's back I was free. I was able bodied. I was thinking about I was reading and running the river. I was thinking about what to do. So now, all of a sudden I'm capable again. [crosstalk 00:33:14] I'm fully abled again. Tom lillig: Yeah. Erik Weihenmayer: Do you think there's something embedded deeper down psychologically like life is out of control and then somehow you assert control again over a risky equation, it's not death defying because you're in good hands, you've got a good team around you, but there is risk and now you've figure out how to in a way semi-control that situation and it kind of helps you feel like life is good and masterful. Antoinette Lee Toscano: Yes, absolutely. I developed this sense of capability, and strength, and power. Even at my weakest moment I can feel that when I'm outdoor recreating. And then also every human being deserves and has a human right to nature but so many people are cut off from nature, and so when you look at the statistics of who's getting all of the health and social benefits of outdoor recreation it's a very limited population in the United States. Erik Weihenmayer: Yeah, absolutely. And what I also really love, what I heard you say in one of your presentations maybe or on a blog, which when you started into the outdoors you weren't trying to conquer every rapid. You gave yourself the permission to try and I just want to make sure we talk about that because to me, that is so important to not totally put this crazy expectation on yourself where you're successful or you're a failure, but you're just giving yourself the permission to try, which means you're there, you're meant to be there, and you're going to be successful no matter what. Antoinette Lee Toscano: The success is in showing up. Erik Weihenmayer: Yeah. Antoinette Lee Toscano: That's the real success is just getting out there and saying, "I want to learn this." Not even learning it, not even mastering it, not even getting out there and doing it on a continuous basis, but just showing up to say, "I'm interested. Let's give it a shot." And I fail. For example, over Memorial Day weekend I was on a kayaking trip with 50 other veterans at CKS Paddlefest in Bueno Vista, Colorado and it was the first kayaking trip since my shoulder surgery. I didn't know how my shoulder was going to do. The water level was lower, which if you are a kayaker you know that, that makes rocks more apparent, visible, and harder to just glide over or power stroke through. Erik Weihenmayer: They hurt more when you crash into them. Antoinette Lee Toscano: Right. They do and my ribs can tell you that. And so I swam and just getting out on the river that day my post traumatic stress kicked in and I had a panic attack out on the river and my support team rallied around me, took care of me, supported me, and encouraged me, and said, "I've seen you run this stretch of river before. You ran it really well and strong and you will get back there. Today wasn't a great day in your mind and I can see it on your face, but you showed up. You got on the river." And that was such a beautiful moment because I was so focused in, I swam, I got scared, I had anxiety, and everyone else just celebrated all of the things I did right. Tom lillig: Part of the accomplishment is just simply showing up, right? Simply showing up and giving yourself permission to try and as you think about sort of your own journeys, it seems like this incident that you talked about just happened, so it seems like you're always continually reaching, failing, learning, reaching again, and failing. Is that how you internalize it? Antoinette Lee Toscano: Yes, and that is the human condition. We're socialized to believe that you're going to grow up and your life is going to be amazing, and then when your life is some days it's amazing, some days it's awful, and then it's amazing, and awful that's the human condition. We all try things and fail, or try things and succeed, or try things and excel, but that's normal. That's what everyone should be experiencing in their life because that's the human condition. So don't think that you have to be perfect. Perfect does not exist. It only exists on Instagram people and it exists after 200 tries at that selfie. Erik Weihenmayer: Yeah, when I'm drinking that perfect cup of coffee with the steam rising up. It's just my life is amazing. Antoinette Lee Toscano: Right. Your life is amazing for two seconds after 25 takes. Life is a challenge. Tom lillig: So one question I had, and this is kind of a moving forward question, you've obviously done so much work with yourself and sort of identified all of these things, but as you think about others, others who are suffering right now perhaps what you suffered, if there's that people who's lying on their bed with the drapes drawn and is at that state where you were at, do you have any words of wisdom or pieces of advice that you might be able to share with them? Antoinette Lee Toscano: Yes, if you're not living the life that you want to live, a life that makes you happy, a life that makes you excited about getting out of the bed in the morning ask yourself a question, what life would I be living if there were no obstacles, if there was not a single physical, emotional, financial, relationship obstacle, if there are no limits, what kind of life would I be living? And envision that for a moment then write it down. Who would you have surrounding you? What kinds of people would you have surrounding you? What kinds of relationships would you have? What kinds of things would you be doing in your new normal? And then go out and create it because once I set that intention of what my new normal, how my new normal would look I first conceived it in my brain, then I wrote it in my journal, then I went out and started living it and everything just fell into place. Antoinette Lee Toscano: When I envisioned a life out in nature, like how I did when I was a kid, I didn't conceive kayaking but I conceived being outdoor recreating in some capacity with the types of people that I currently have in my life. Everything fell into place. Within a week I saw a poster for Team River Runner. Within two weeks I was in a boat learning how to kayak and developing my support network. So once you conceptualize it and you just start from that moment, this is my new normal and I'm going to make it as big a life as I can envision, the universe will send you all of the things, all of the people you need. And so today, even though I'm not the most awesome kayaker, I'm average, I can handle a class two plus, when my roll is solid I can hopefully handle a class three. I'm not a wonderful kayaker, yet I'm a sponsored athlete. I'm a Kokatat National Brand Ambassador and the reason is because I encourage other people to get outdoors and adventure. Tom lillig: I love that. Yeah. Erik Weihenmayer: That's important. Tom lillig: And from that pivotal full glass of water to now being the badass of Whitewater TV, it's just an honor to talk with you and learn from you. Erik, any final thoughts that you might have? Erik Weihenmayer: Yeah, I guess, I just... I really like this idea of envisioning the possibilities of your life and just interpreting that internally. It's not looking at your life like what it used to be, right? It's not saying I'm envisioning myself as this able bodied person, not in pain. So there's a little bit of sifting between what the possibilities are and some of these bigger things that we just cannot change, right? Antoinette Lee Toscano: Absolutely. And I know this sounds a little woo woo for some people, but try it. Try to first envision the life you want, write it down, and then start living it. I am an outdoor adventurer. I am an outdoor recreator. I am an extreme sports person. Say it to yourself, tell other people, and things will just start lining up. Erik Weihenmayer: Or I'm a writer, or I'm an athlete, or I'm a success in business, or whatever it may be, right? Antoinette Lee Toscano: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. Whatever it is and people will just flow into your life. And what do you have to lose? You can try it and if doesn't work you can say, "Oh, Antoinette's full of it." Or you can say, "Wow, this envisioning thing really does work." In fact, I'll tell you this. I could no longer... I was a former Chief Executive Officer in the IT industry and I could not work in that job. It made me sick. I could not manage my deferring abilities and health challenges with a stressful job like being a CEO and I wondered how I would make a living once I got back to a reasonable level of health, and I decided I'm a writer. I took this weekend course and at the end of it I said, "I'm a writer." I repackaged my resume online and set myself up as a ghostwriter and said, "Here are my credentials." And at 01:00 PM the following day, I had my first ghostwriting contract. Tom lillig: Wow. Erik Weihenmayer: Yeah, that's wild. I mean, geez, whether it's the energy of the universe working for us or whether it's just intention, the power of intention, whatever it is. Yeah, I hear this story over, and over, and over. Antoinette Lee Toscano: Yeah. Today, I actually can tell you that I now have a publisher to publish my first book- Erik Weihenmayer: [crosstalk 00:43:50] Yeah, you're first book. Antoinette Lee Toscano: ... Yeah, and it's a military memoir. Erik Weihenmayer: I hear they're waiting on the last chapter though, you better get to work. Antoinette Lee Toscano: Well, my life keeps changing so much it's hard to end the book. So yeah, I have to finish that last chapter but I do have a contract to publish my book. The working title is Four Hours to Live: Memoir of a Female Soldier and all of what that entails, and I'm excited to bring it to you in Spring of 2022. Erik Weihenmayer: That's great. I can't wait to listen to it. Well, Antoinette, thank you so much for your time and for all the things you've taught us this morning, and it's really great to have you as part of the No Barriers community. Antoinette Lee Toscano: Thank you Erik and Tom for having me, it's been so fun. I hope we do this again. Tom lillig: Thanks, Erik. Thanks, Antoinette. It's been so wonderful hearing your stories and learning from you. Antoinette Lee Toscano: Pleasure spending time with you both. Erik Weihenmayer: Thank you, Tom. Thank you, Antoinette. No Barriers to everyone. Erik Weihenmayer: Thanks again to Prudential for supporting our podcast today and for allowing us to elevate this unique and diverse voices. Tom lillig: The production team behind this podcast includes Senior Producer Pauline Shafer, sound design, editing, and mixing by Tyler Cottman, and marketing support by Heather Zoccali, Stevie Dinardo, Erica [Hoyt 00:45:14], and Alex Shafer. Special thanks to the Dan Ryan Band for our intro song Guidance. And thanks to all of you for listening, if you enjoyed this podcast we encourage you to subscribe to it, share it, and give us a review. Show notes can be found at nobarrierspodcast.com.

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