The Case for Skinned Knees

“The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experiences.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

It had been three weeks since I had got the call from Columbia to pick up and pack out of Manhattan to report to Portland, Oregon, as one of the inaugural Directors of Toughness. I described the gig to friends and family as a real-life Hunger Games meets Travel Channel-worthy adventure all wrapped up into a dream job with full benefits and a badass title. I mean, really, I can now say, “I’m Lauren Steele. The Director of Toughness.” Mic drop.

Zach and I had been under wraps and in hiding at Portland HQ for the first few weeks after accepting our new titles, and the unveiling was about to take place in the city I had just said “so long” to. It felt like a proper homecoming to run along my old route on the West Side Highway before the big announcement. And on that run, I came to one haltingly sharp realization:

I was the Director of Toughness because of a failed first date.

Let me explain. Two days before my final in-person interview for the job, I went on a date. I had met the guy at the corner table of my go-to coffee shop in the West Village while on deadline for a story. Because of my generally haphazard freelance writer appearance and frantically typing fingers, he said he was compelled to get to know me better when I wasn’t in full-on journalist mode. Little did he know, we were both about to find out more about my full-on Steele mode when I met him at the Whitney Museum for our first date a few days later.

The morning of said date, I had gone on a run on my favorite shoreline trail in Edgewood Cliffs, which had resulted in a small hang-up with a tree root and two skinned up knees. Typical. So typical that I didn’t even mind to bandage up my knees or opt for pants on that evening’s date. Nope, I went full out with a dress and fresh scabs and didn’t think twice about it. That is, until he thought to mention it. “What happened to your knees?” The question came out of legitimate concern. Trail running this morning, I responded. Cue his fussiness. “Oh my gosh, l’s go get you some Band-Aids. Are you okay? Do you need Neosporin? There is a CVS a few blocks away. Does it hurt? I’m so sorry that happened to you.”

Cue my enlightenment.

Photo: Zach Doleac, Director of Toughness

When we are kids, we act like wild hooligans—jumping, spinning, cartwheeling, running, swinging, and most importantly, falling. Skinned knees come with the territory. No one fusses over a 12-year-old’s skinned knees. So what changes between 12 and twenty-something?

When kids play, they go all-out. They push their bodies to the limits for fun. When I run, I strive to do the same thing. And who cares if you sacrifice a few skin cells in the process? Walking into my final interview with the Columbia team a few days later, I realized that my skinned up knees were just as they should be. They weren’t a temporary flaw, they were a mark of my lasting conviction that we are meant to use our bodies to their fullest capacities. We are meant to continue jumping, spinning, cartwheeling, running, swinging, and most importantly, falling until we can’t anymore.

Columbia agreed with me when I told them of my first date failure during that interview. In fact, they agreed so much they are letting me do the same thing with their gear that I do to my knees. Getting out into the world and pushing my limits in the craziest, harshest environments is going to result in plenty of falls. But it’s also going to ensure an experience of the utmost.

Lauren Steele is a Midwestern farm girl turned migrant. She is a writer who knows that the unknowns in life make for the best stories—and for the most amazing adventures. Chasing those stories from Chile to Switzerland have prepared her to become Columbia Sportswear’s Director of Toughness. You can follow Lauren’s journey as Director of Toughness here and social channels including: Twitter | Instagram