If she could define her life in one word, what would it be? How one woman discovered her word . . .

 

Claudia Verde's foodThe sidewalk café in Puylaurens, France was alive with conversation. English and French mingled as tourists and locals dined on the warm July day. Claudia Verde lingered at her table, taking in the simple joy of people coming together to share good conversation and cuisine. She and her fellow tourists had stopped in the tiny village for lunch and watched as dozens of Tour de France cyclists raced through the narrow street on their way to victory. Soon, Claudia and the others would get on their bikes and ride the same road to the next town; but for the moment she paused to enjoy the beauty of Puylaurens and its people.

Claudia knew there was a word for what she was experiencing. But what was it? If she could just find a word that encompassed all she loved—the butterfly pace of a vacation in a beautiful place, sun-warmed peaches from a local farmer’s market, friendships that opened like flowers in spring—she would make that her word. It would define who she was now.

And who she was now was a far cry from what she’d been.

Learning Words to Live By

As a child, Claudia struggled to clearly define her own identity. In a moment of callousness, a neighborhood child shattered Claudia’s sense of belonging by revealing that she was adopted. Suddenly, Claudia found herself questioning her relationship with her parents, unsure of where she stood with them. “I developed an unusual need to please my parents in order to keep my place in the home—especially with my father,” Claudia says. For Claudia, the word that defined her, adopted, was synonymous with unworthy.

Le Tour de FranceThat need to disprove that she was somehow unworthy manifested particularly in horseback riding. Throughout her childhood and into adolescence, Claudia’s passion was horses—especially Missy, her bay mare. She reveled in the pleasure of riding her beloved animal; but for her father, that wasn’t enough—she had to compete. As a result, Claudia spent many unhappy years barrel racing as well as riding with drill teams and the women’s Sheriff’s Posse.

“I just wanted to ride and enjoy my horse. I never felt competition served my soul. It’s different for everyone,” says Claudia. Years of pleasing her parents and others left Claudia yearning for a way to exert her true self.

Learning the New Words

In 1995 Claudia listened to her heart and took the opportunity to go on an adventure. She and her friend Kim Hoerster traveled halfway around the world to bike around Lake Constance on the Rhine. With panniers strapped to the sides of their bikes, the friends spent twelve days leisurely riding along the 186 miles of coastline that touches Germany, Switzerland, and Austria. Claudia breathed in the cool breezes off the azure lake and drank in the beauty of the snow-capped Alps and lush hillside forests. She relished the freedom of riding for herself, not having to please anyone.

GermanyOn the northern shores of the lake, Claudia and Kim stopped in the German city of Überlingen. Riding through the narrow streets, Claudia admired the patchwork of medieval relics and modern architecture. Tucked back along one of those roads was a cozy sidewalk café where the riders took a table for two. An older woman sat just a few feet away, patting the dog at her feet. Claudia smiled at the affection between owner and pet. As they dined, the woman introduced herself as Birgit Jockheck, a retired teacher. When Birgit learned where they were staying, she offered to take them on a tour of her city. Early the next morning, Birgit showed them the beauties of a city that witnessed the rise and fall of emperors, kings, and noblemen dating back to Roman times.

“That entire trip was very valuable to be me because it showed me that by taking a vacation by bike, you travel at a slower pace, allowing you to meet people and gain unique experiences,” Claudia explains. “The people we met were so open-minded and eager to share their culture and visit with us. Birgit invited us into her home and made breakfast for us before she took us on a tour of her town, giving us a personal history lesson.”

Living It Out

The trip to Lake Constance was just one of what would become many such trips. Claudia’s slower and more active approach to traveling flowed into getaways all over the world—whether with friends or with clients, for whom Claudia acted as personal trainer. “I think that’s been the most rewarding aspect. I feel like what I’ve always believed in and wanted to teach has become alive for me, and I hope to be able to take that and impart it to my clientele, my friends, and my family,” says Claudia.

Meersburg, GermanyFor Claudia, living a slower, more authentic life has also brought a great sense of freedom. “Now that I don’t have to do anything to please anyone else, I can enjoy my life.” Claudia says. “I can pursue what feels right.” One of her pursuits is food. Over a decade ago, Claudia shifted away from steroid- and antibiotic-infused meats and dairy products to their organic varieties. But it wasn’t until she discovered the slow food movement that Claudia found a true passion.

Originating in Italy, the movement brings fully-ripened, organic food directly from the fields to the kitchen table. For Claudia, it’s not just about the journey food takes—it’s also about how it’s grown and the care farmers take producing and cultivating it. Over the last few years, she’s visited local farmers, driving down long, dusty roads to walk along rows of rich green crops in an effort to ensure that what she puts in her body is as healthy as possible.

Claudia's French family

Claudia’s French family:
Jean Marie, Claudia, Annie Farenc, Pierre, Sofie, and Galle

But the part of Claudia’s life most impacted by her life philosophy has been her relationships with others, not only with friends here, but also the friendships she’s built abroad. Claudia shows off pictures of her French friends, Annie and Jean Marie Farenc and their son, whom she met at that sidewalk café in Puylaurens during the 2010 Tour de France.

When Claudia contemplates who she is now—a woman with friendships that transcend distance and culture, a person who lives every moment fully and sees with open eyes—she finally comes up with her word. “If I could pull one word up, it would be authenticity. I think in the last couple of years that’s what I’ve looked for—be it in relationships, food, or travel,” Claudia explains. “Really any area of my life, I hope it is authentic.”

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