Love & Light to you this Christmas


The Holidays are a magical time of year. Amidst the hectic rush of festive preparations and a busy social calendar there is always more kindness, love and joy in the air.  And by tuning into that – the love of family and friends, sharing time with people you care about, creating fun new memories, and showing how much people mean to you through word and deed… these joys of the season can remain in our hearts so strongly the entire year through.

On that note I hope that you and those you love have a restful and blessed Christmas.  May the light that fills your hearts and home shine brightly after the twinkling tree is taken down… and may you take this opportunity to savour the precious time we have, and seize the opportunities this coming year brings.

As my own family blossoms, I reflect back on this year filled with so many exciting memories, and look forward to what the future holds.  Many of you know the best gift for us will arrive in a couple of months, which has me dreaming about next Christmas and how wonderfully different it will be.  Life is change, and I feel grateful for every step that has led me to this point (even the times I stumbled).

In what is likely our last Christmas in Oxford I feel grateful for the opportunities we’ve had here; the incredible people we’ve met, worked with and become friends with; and how living in another country has opened up our hearts and minds.  It has been challenging to be apart from our family, friends and loved ones for the last two years.  But the power of love is that it stretches miles and often strengthens when tested.  Our lives have led us around the globe, and because of that pieces of our hearts are scattered across the continents.  I hope wherever you are in the world you smile, and feel the hugs and love this message brings – and hopefully life will enable us to cross paths again soon!

May this Christmas bring bliss in the simple wonders and miracles of life.  May your love and passions be renewed, and your faith restored.  And may you find peace (and perhaps some relaxation) during this time.  I hope the coming year finds you hungry, curious, brave and full of love & laughter.

Finally, while we’ve been experiencing some lovely rain and wind in England, many of my friends and family have been challenged by mother nature and a doozy Ice Storm.  In the midst of hardship what has come through most strongly is the kindness and generosity of others.  And so I leave you with this… and a reminder that all we need is love, and we have so much of it to give!

1470379_629178527144822_766947816_nWith much love ~ Erika (Malcolm, Basil and the little “Howard-to-be”)

Daily Challenge

Just over two years ago I signed up for a ‘program’ called the Daily Challenge. It’s an online site that is free to sign up for, and daily it sends you different tasks to do – with the emphasis being on your physical, mental and spiritual health.  It’s been a wonderful community to join (much like the incredible communities I’m lucky to be a part of: gymnastics, dancing, yoga, crossfit, rowing etc) and I’ve valued the support and friendship I’ve gained.

Today the challenge was: List 3 “gifts” you’ve received from friends or family that have helped shape who you are.

I really enjoyed answering this… and thought I would share my comments. I’m very grateful for the incredible people I get to call my family and friends, and who I get to explore this life with.  Thank you one & all!

♥ LOVE. The knowledge that I’m loved unconditionally, fully supported and cared for beyond words has allowed me to explore, make mistakes and ultimately thrive. Love truly is all we need!
♥ Wisdom. My family and friends may not know everything, but they learn with me and encourage/inspire me to find out the things I don’t know… we need to constantly learn in order to grow and evolve.
♥ Laughter. After all – it’s just life. If you can’t roll around on the floor busting a gut what are we here for? It’s the fun along the way that makes it all worth while and I’m so grateful that I have such wonderful people to share this ride with!

Live with gratitude. Grow with love!

Every day should be…

I think every day should be Mother’s Day…
Where would we be in this world without them?  I have heard a quote that describes motherhood as having a piece of your heart walking around outside yourself – or something to that extent.  As I approach this stage of my life, and having been so far from my mother and family for the last few years this day is always bittersweet.

I miss my mom.  Pretty much every day.
But I feel so blessed to have such an incredible, passionate, loving, caring and inspiring woman as my mother.  Below is a picture of me as a little girl. As you can see I bore a striking resemblance to Little Orphan Annie.  When I was little I hated my curly hair. I would beg my mother not to blow dry it after my shower/bath because it was straight when it was wet.  My mother, to make me feel better about my crown of ringlets, got a perm.


She’s that kind of lady.
I hope to be like her one day. I hope my children will think of fondly of me as I do of her…

This loving message is also being sent out to the mothers who aren’t my mother.  My incredible Mother-in-law who accepts me like her own child.  My coach who nurtured me both as a gymnast and young woman.  For my aunts, great-aunts, cousins, sister-in-laws, and friends who have supported and loved me, and been incredible role models of powerful, strong, and capable of anything women.  I love you all.

Happy Mother’s Day to each and everyone of you. And to you…

SirtonHowardWedding_0679 copy

Taking on the World

Today I woke up to a lovely little inquiry from a dear friend, and so this blog post is for you Alana, for you and for your athletes who are ready to take on the world!  But this also goes out to my Turquoise Ambition girls who’ll be shining bright at Westerns!

Competitions, performances, and tests are these incredible things we love and sometimes may love to hate.  It’s the time when we have to put everything together, the days-months-years of work, sacrifice, dedication and passion.  Since I was a young girl I loved performing. I loved sharing what was so much fun with others as it made it even more enjoyable.  And then there came a time when competitions were less fun and way more stress.  From that time I have worked very hard to get back to that original mindset… and these are some of the things I do.

1. You have the same job to do. 
What you are doing (your routine, the skill you are performing) does not change whether you are in practice, at a local competition or at the world championships or Olympics.  The only thing that may be different is your mind and how you are seeing it.  So choose how you see it.  Use your mind to visualize your home gym or a comfortable environment.  Or begin now to visualize where you will be performing.  Trust your muscle-memory.  While you need to be aware and calm enough to assess what’s happening in that moment, you need to rely on your auto-pilot to a certain extent… as Nike says: Just Do It. No more. No less. Exactly as you’ve practiced day in & day out.  You don’t need to be better you just need to be YOU.

Remember pressure doesn’t actually exist, it is just your perspective. Change your mindset if it’s not working for you.  But know too that nerves are a good thing – they help give you that edge. Make them work for you too!

2. Trust.
When the mind believes the body can achieve!  In moments of doubt we change the way our mind and body perform an action or skill. Doubt leads to hesitation which throws off your timing, speed, power etc.  When you believe in yourself and commit fully you’re able to do it ‘like you always do’ and are calm and aware.

You must trust your teammates and your coaches implicitly.  And if you begin to question yourself remember their faith in you.  Do it for one another.  Friendship is a powerful motivator. Know that together you can do more.

When we dream alone it is only a dream, but when many dream together it is the beginning of a new reality.” ~ Friedensreich Hundertwasser

Depending on your personality and tendencies you may live more in your head, your heart or your body.  But often our thoughts and feelings can lead our actions astray…. If we ‘feel’ nervous we may begin thinking negative thoughts and our behaviour follows suit.  However if we act with confidence, faith, strength – all of the qualities of a champion we are cultivating winning thoughts and feelings.  So stand up tall, chin up, shoulders back, strong core, be proud, eyes focused & centred.

4. Be a conduit
When I have experienced flow (or peak performance state) it feels as if the performance is coming through me.  All you need is within you, so how can you ‘get out of your own way’ and let that skill, talent, strength come out?  You don’t need to force it – trust your training, and give over to all of the work you’ve put in.

5. Enjoy
Attitude is everything.  When we’re having fun we can do all of the things I’ve mentioned much easier – trust, flow, let it happen, go for it.  And at the end of the day, and in many years down the road the joy, the fun, the incredible memories you made is what you’ll remember…

We must walk consciously only part way toward our goal, and then leap in the dark to our success.” – Henry David Thoreau

Courage is the capacity to confirm what can be imagined.” – Leo Rosten

There is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.” – Winnie the Pooh


The man with a turnip for a head…

With a little extra day time hours on my hands, the internet becomes a great abyss (and a great time waster).  But I am thankful for it from time to time when I come across little jems like this: The Man with a Turnip for a Head.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt has a production company called hitRECord.  It features video, image, audio and text from online collaborators – and when you upload something you can share in any profits made.  A pretty cool concept, and a nice way for someone to use his notoriety to promote others!

Take a peek at this wonderful little short narrated by Gary Oldman.

So what’s your turnip?
I think we all have turnips whether they can be seen externally or not.  We have our little hang ups and things we tend to obsess over.  What causes these sensitivities may be a variety of reasons… I now have a knee that doesn’t bend the same.  It’s not a big deal – except if you want to be a dancer or squat a lot of weight (aka live my life).  But I’ve had to accept that it’s who and what I am.  And by integrating my turnip I empower myself to overcome any disadvantages (perceived or actual) it may cause.

If you’re into crossfit there are some videos going around that showcase this.  A man in a wheelchair doing burpees, or a woman who broke her leg doing one-legged burpees!  But there are many more: like this man with brain cancer who won a marathon while pushing his daughter in a stroller! These are examples of people who own their turnip, and don’t let a situation own them… we all have choices to make in how we deal with what happens to us in life.  If we honour the things that make us vulnerable they won’t zap our strength.  And in doing so we then become open to accepting differences in others.  We all want to be accepted and supported.  Treating yourself and others with kindness and grace is how to achieve this.  Some people have no trouble showing compassion to others yet cannot demonstrate the same thinking to themselves.  If you don’t appreciate and love yourself, how can others?

Embrace all that makes you YOU.  It creates a rich tapestry that weaves together your strengths, differences and unique qualities and makes you stronger as a result.

Feel Good News: Sunday March 10

Perhaps you live in North America and the clocks went ahead (and you missed Justin Timberlake on SNL).  Perhaps it’s just a little dreary outside and they’re forecasting snow (and you live in England and missed Justin Timberlake on SNL).  Maybe you live far from a friend or loved one and while you aren’t a worm and don’t communicate through snuggling you still wish you could cuddle up to someone or hold hands like otters…

Ok those last few things may not make a whole lot of sense – but read this article, smile, pretend to be a worm or an otter or the little boy with the Princess and go out and have yourself a good day!


Have you hugged yourself today?

This is a beautiful and touching TEDx talk.  Grab a cup of tea and sit down and be reminded what life is about…

It’s true that helping others is one of the most ‘selfish’ acts …nothing is quite so self-serving as the act of service to another.  What have you done today to aid another?

The crap or cone technique is brilliant.  Our thinking creates our reality.  What do you want to choose to focus on?  What do you want to attract in your life – 31 flavours or more poop?  It may seem silly, it may seem simple.  But in fact if you can master this – letting go of the negative – you will be happier, healthier and way more successful.

One of my favourite daily emails says Thoughts become things…. Choose the good ones!


“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek. Fear of the unknown is our greatest fear. Many of us would enter a tiger’s lair before we would enter a dark cave. While caution is a useful instinct, we lose many opportunities and much of the adventure of life if we fail to support the curious explorer within us.” ~ Joseph Campbell

The last two years of my life have been about rowing. It is something that we’ve lived, breathed, ate & slept. Of course up until four months ago I hadn’t sat in a boat or picked up an oar.

My life was about helping my husband, Malcolm Howard in his quest for a second Olympic medal.  After he and his teammates achieved that goal in London this summer, we moved to Oxford in order for him to pursue his Masters.  With little to do initially, I jokingly said to the OUWBC President who was coaching some of the Oriel Novice Women “Should I learn to row?”.  The next day I had a tank session.  And that’s how my rowing career began.

I took to the water after two tank sessions, likely under some false preconceived ideas of what it would be like.  After watching Olympic crews I knew I wasn’t going to be good, but I  didn’t think the suck would be so bad.  I came off the water that day in tears and has VERY reluctant to go back.

The next outing was an inter-college mini regatta. My crew won. Things were looking up.  After a long pause for my return-to-Canada-Visa-trip and the Holidays it was back to training.  This was where things actually got fun.

I began to like erg-ing. Anyone who has done Crossfit with me knows my disdain for the erg.  I think it was invented as a torture device.  BUT, little did I know I would enjoy 25 minutes pieces, and be thrilled to be back in the gym doing circuits and pushing hard to build strength and fitness.

The weather in England has not been very rowing friendly this year.  Flooding meant many red flags and ‘closures’ of the Isis.  While this did mean some fun trips to Wallingford (including one where Malcolm and the OUBC squad were training as well… talk about trying to keep your head in the boat while your husband yells “ERIKA” as you row by!), it also meant that the ‘newbies’ didn’t get out on the water as much as we’d hoped.

Then the 6th week of term arrived. I had been away in Canada for a wedding and returned to Oxford just in time for Rowing On.  This is when boats in the lower categories have to race a time trial in order to qualify and rank themselves for Torpids.  I’m happy I remembered how to row, having not been in a boat for a few weeks, and even happier to say we qualified!

Now the task will be getting the boat to move quickly, while we keep our focus amidst the craziness around us.  I’m not 100% sure what the experience will be like, but BUMPS racing is insane. Boats are lined up along the river according to ranking, and the objective is to catch and overtake or bump the crew in front of you.  I feel like it’s rowing+american gladiators… and I’m oh-so looking forward to it!

Hopefully I will have many stories to share by the end of the week!
Keep your fingers crossed for us and send some Oriel love this way 🙂

“The will to win, the desire to succeed, the urge to reach your full potential… these are the keys that will unlock the door to personal excellence.”
~ Confucious

P.S The boat race is only 33 days away.  Check out for information or to vote for Oxford and the Dark Blue!!!!

P.P.S Next year stay tuned for when Malcolm takes up either dancing or rhythmic gymnastics (we’ll be holding a vote for you to decide which!!!!)

The definition of me

How do you define yourself?  Do you use your job (a teacher, doctor, lawyer, stay-at-home)? Do you use your hobbies/passions (yogi, crossfitter, runner, knitter, scrapbooker)? Do you use your family (mom, dad, sister, brother, cousin, aunt)?  Do you use your accomplishments (success, failure, graduate, Olympian)?

Success definition

The concept of defining oneself has come to my mind a number of times in the last year.  Things started to hit home when I came to London for the Olympics and was surrounded by everything that alluded me.  If you’ve read my earlier posts you know that while a small part of me is saddened by the fact that I didn’t make the Olympic team (twice), you will also know it’s likely the best thing that ever happened to me.  But accepting that also meant accepting the fact that I could never call myself an Olympian – although in reality I was pretty much everything but.  In London I would also be Malcolm Howard’s wife.  Being Mrs. Howard is always a source of pride, yet to be known through someone else somehow diminishes one’s own accomplishments and identity.

It’s the same when you go to a party and meet new people and everyone starts out with “what do you do?”.  Often I feel like replying “what don’t I do?” How can you be defined by one thing.  Exactly, you can’t.  The definition of me is always changing.  As life evolves, I learn and grow and evolve too (one hopes!).

I thought about this as my husband and his teammates prepare and begin selection for the 2013 Boat Race.  These men have given years of their life to their sport, just like I did (way back when).  They put other aspects of their lives on hold, and risk failing in other areas like their education or personal lives because of the high demands required.  And so many things can go wrong.  They can get injured, sick, or those other ‘demands’ might get too demanding.  Achievement often means every star is perfectly aligned.  I first realized that as an athlete, and now I see it repeatedly as a coach and supporter.  People who could and should win, don’t.  And sometimes the people whom you never thought would be in the picture suddenly come through because everything came together at exactly the right moment.  Is it timing? Fate? Luck? Perhaps.  Maybe it is our destiny. Or maybe it is just life.  Some things go for us, some against us.  And in those times when life seems against us, and we feel like a failure – that is when we must learn, and grow, and evolve.  Winning is easy.  Not achieving what you want, but acting like a winner is TOUGH!  Seeing someone else living your dreams means you must swallow your ego and appreciate their journey.

But there’s that magical word. Journey.  Just because I took the entire road to get to the Olympics but can never call myself an Olympian – does that make me less than someone who can?  No.  And anyone who thinks it does has obviously never walked that line.

The next time you stare down your dreams and do everything in your power to achieve them – know that you can already define yourself as a winner. As strong. As courageous.  As a success.  Regardless of the outcome.