Statistical thinking is the idea of using data to inform decision making. It is supposed to be a tool in the toolbelt for making informed choices. “I have an x in y chance of getting seriously injured or dying if I do z, so how do I feel about doing z?” Mountain athletes are constantly making these calculations out in the wild and even before they head out the door. Some of the best athletes are doing this so well they qualify, in my book, as a super computer. What happens when instead of evaluating data and making choices, the statistics themselves are so deeply embedded in who you are that you don’t feel you have the will to make decisions in opposition to them?
That question is my dark obsession and has, for better or worse, become a constant conundrum of the last year. You see, I am an individual made up of extraordinary odds. I was born completely deaf, a condition that affects approximately 1 in 25,000 or 0.004%. Blind in one eye, somewhat common affecting 2% of kids if left untreated (which I foolishly did). I have a heart condition for which I couldn’t even find the exact odds–the articles I found simply said, “extremely rare in adults.” I also have random little quirks like being born with fused vertebrae in my neck that I discovered when I was almost 30. The most remarkable fact of all is that despite all of these compounding odds if you were to meet me, you probably would have no idea. Or perhaps more astonishing is that none of these physical flaws hold me back in my career or as an athlete. They do however completely and totally own me.
This past year when statistics began swirling about with respect to catching COVID-19, having long haul symptoms, being hospitalized, or dying due to the virus, none of those numbers meant anything to me. 1 in 100, 1 in 1000, or 1 in 1, it all felt the same. There was simply no way I could rationalize that I wouldn’t be the one that fell extremely ill or perished. The pandemic retriggered the trap I had been unconsciously ensnared in my whole life, and made me see it clearly for what it was. Since I was a little kid I’ve been waiting for the other shoe to drop. That saying seems to imply there are only two shoes; however, in my life I’ve felt like I’m living at the mercy of some great fashionista with a walk-in closet and plenty of shoes to spare. It’s a sad existence to constantly feel like your body is about to throw you another curve ball. To believe it wholeheartedly and to have no possibility to ignore that feeling can sometimes be debilitating.
I used to believe that negative emotions are only good fuel for the short bursts and that only good emotions can sustain you long term. I’ve experienced the feeling of fear, rejection, and sadness and seen those emotions power me fiercely for a few miles and leave me feeling downright depleted, while feelings of joy, wonder, and gratefulness powered me effortlessly and endlessly over great lengths of earth and left me craving more.
I became aware this year that there’s a duality in what has always inspired me to get outside, onto the trails, and into the mountains. On one hand, the statistics that shape me into who I am cause me immense anxiety about the future. These are extremely negative conditions for the spirit to operate under. I literally worry about how many more runs before my heart gives out. I grieve that it might be my last time riding in a place I love because something will happen to me. On the other hand, that darkness allows me to have an inexhaustible well of gratitude to draw upon. There is not a single run, ride, ski, climb I don’t approach with immense appreciation. I am genuinely so thankful for every opportunity I am afforded to do the things I love. This level of appreciation would be impossible without the fear. As I mentioned before, statistics govern me. They make it utterly impossible for me to ignore the calling to make the days I have control over count. For every day I am able to take breath, I know where my soul craves to be - out there chasing the last bit of sun before it dips behind the peaks. I hope you do the same.
Gian Visciano is a mountain athlete born, raised, and now based in Colorado. He spent most of his 8-year-long stint in California taking weekly road trips to Yosemite to climb some of the nation’s most notorious and difficult bouldering problems. Since returning to Colorado in 2016, Gian has diversified his outdoor pursuits to include trail running, bikepacking, and backcountry skiing and only slows down long enough to plan the next adventure.