Liz Versus the UVA/UVB Monster

SunburnI am a walking advertisement for Athleta… quite literally. As you can see from the photo, my back is a lattice-work billboard. So, let me just preface this blog by stating: I have lived in my skin for 50 years. I come from a long line of English, Irish, Scotch, Welsh, and German descendants. I grew up as the palest person I knew. I use the word palest because I was not the “fairest.” I didn’t have peaches and cream skin. I glowed like a light bulb. I know how important sunscreen is. I never leave the house without it on my face and chest. Since my sports are usually indoors, except for the occasional run, I don’t have to regularly drench my body in sunblock. I know, dear readers, you will respond as my friends and students, with aghast and shock, and mutterings of, “I can’t believe you could be SO stupid! You should have known better.” It is with utter disbelief that in this day and age, someone would be sunburned so badly. Please be gentle. I have, what appears to be, a permanent Athleta shirt design on my back… at least until the end of the year. I’m putting myself out there to be the sacrificial sun dummy. I am writing about this painful lesson, because it became a “teachable moment” for my karate classes, and hopefully, for all of you.

It happened on one of the last days of school, at my son’s first grade elementary school “FUN Day.” I decided to volunteer because I hadn’t done much volunteering over the year. I usually stay away from anything that involves outdoor activities on sunny days, just because I am so fair. But I thought, one time couldn’t hurt. I chose the 8:30 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. shift. Well, it turned out to be the hottest day of the year… 93+ degrees and a heat index of 100 or so. Other area schools cancelled their “Fun Day” because of the weather. However, our Principal is a strapping, iron-pumping, ex-football player, so let the games begin!

Liz  Durning - Wear your sunsreenI committed, so I’d make the best of it. I chose my Bettona shorts and my Tic Tac Toe Tank. My fetching outfit certainly made me feel better about standing in the sweltering heat. My son and I had to be at the school early in the morning. I slathered him with SPF 3000, because he is even paler than I was as a child. He is quite literally translucent. People we don’t even know comment on how snow white he is. I pride myself on how fastidious my husband and I are about his skin. I got most of my body covered in sunscreen… but couldn’t reach the middle of my back. I admit I did have a spray can of sunscreen, but I hadn’t even considered it, since we were running late. I thought of waking my husband up, but reconsidered, as he is SO not a morning person and can barely see without his contacts. I ended up not doing it at all, because I was too busy with taking care of my son and being too proud to ask for help. As soon as I got on the field, I knew I was “with stupid.” I was sweating profusely, I felt light-headed and sick. I could feel my back burning, but what does a strong, powerful, athletic woman do? Leave her post? NEVER!

After all the fun of “FUN Day,” I witnessed the results of my foolish (non)-actions. I was so angry at myself. Anyone as old as I, with the history of skin cancer in my family, and who knows better, deserves everything she gets. But what I didn’t expect was to discover a “teachable moment.” The next day, in my karate class, I realized I had broken the cardinal rules of staying safe. Even though it wasn’t from an attacker, natural occurrences like the blazing sun, hurricanes, and tornadoes injure and kill.

Whether you’re a child or adult, the basic rules of safety are pretty much the same:

1. Be aware of your surroundings.
2. If something/someone looks or feels wrong or dangerous, move away.
3. Use your voice and get help.

When I teach self defense, I don’t start with, “What should you do if a stranger grabs you?” I start with, “How can we avoid something or someone that could be dangerous in the first place?

First of all, try to be prepared. In my case, I knew I was going to be outside on the hottest day of the year. I might have just as well been walking alone in a dark alley at 2 a.m. in Philly. I obviously failed the sunscreen capability test. I didn’t ask for help because I didn’t want to bother anyone, (after all, women are the caregivers of the universe). I knew I was burning to a crisp, and I didn’t do anything. I didn’t ask another parent for their sunscreen, I didn’t ask for a break so I could get some shade. So, let’s put me back in that dark alley, (obviously not using my brain, because I shouldn’t have been there in the first place,) not prepared, not aware, not yelling for help, not standing up for myself, as I let the bad guy get close enough to grab me. AND, I never took a self defense class, because it won’t ever happen to me… BURN!

After I finished regaling my students of the battle of “Liz Versus the UVA/UVB Monster,” I dramatically removed my black belt and then my karate (gi) jacket, to reveal my screaming sunburned back. If that didn’t get my point across about being aware, being prepared, getting help when you need it, I don’t know what would.

So, dear readers, what should you take from this?

1. Awareness begins before you enter a potentially dangerous environment.
2. Thoroughly prepare for any situation and environment in advance. Proper dress, precautions, and planning.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
4. Remember, the most powerful weapon you have is your brain. If something feels wrong, there’s probably a reason.
5. Stand up for yourself. You are your biggest advocate.

P.S. Wear sunscreen… and please, find a good self defense course.


July 27, 2013 at 1:30 pm

I’m with you in the super-pale camp and have had several bad sunburns over the years. Never fun. I’ve found that the only thing that really works for me (because in addition to pale skin, I also have sensitive skin and am allergic to most chemical sunscreens) I have to use the expensive Blue Lizard brand so I don’t break out in a rash. When I do a very long swim, I put on a few layers of Blue Lizard and then a thick coating of zinc oxide (diaper rash ointment) all over myself. It’s gross, but is the only thing that seems to work and stay on in the water for many hours. Hope your back is healed by now!

Liz Durning

August 02, 2013 at 5:30 am

Hi Elaine!

Thanks for your feedback! I’m so glad you gave me some good product names. My problem is that I sweat so much now. I know it means I’m in shape, but it also means sunscreen just melts off of me. When I go for a run with my athlete friends, I am the only one dripping sweat and sunscreen. So, that’s what happened this day. Even though I wasn’t exercising, my body goes into cool-down mode.
I appreciate you taking the time to write–I have rosacea, which leaves me beat red. Any tips for that? You mentioned you have sensitive skin.
I love your blogs, by the way. I need to get going on more–especially tutorials. Anything you’d be interested in learning that I should write about?

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