During the day, Valerie Hunt is a school nurse at Fort Vancouver High School.
But once the bell rings, the 58-year-old Vancouver resident takes on another persona: yogi.
There’s nothing extraordinary about Hunt’s extracurricular hobby. After all, she just likes to relieve the stress of being a high school nurse with one of the best stress-relieving activities around.
What is unique, though, is that Hunt is one of the best yogis in her age range in the U.S. This year, she placed 10th in the 50 and older — or “50 to dead,” as she jokes — division at the United States Yoga Federation’s national competition. She has placed as high as seventh in previous competitions. She thinks Fort Vancouver students are oblivious to her accomplishments.
“I don’t think they have a clue,” she said with a laugh. “I’m not doing any of these postures around them at school. I can promise you that.”
Hunt practices hot yoga at Bikram Yoga Hazel Dell, training with owner Mica Fish. She also trains daily at home for an hour or two.
“When I’m training, when I’m doing hot yoga, I’m not thinking about work, I’m not thinking about the dogs or my family, anything,” Hunt said. “You’re 100 percent present. In here, it’s hot and you’re working hard and you’re trying to balance. It’s just nice for the mind. I have an intense job. It’s really nice when I come get a workout, and I’m not thinking about anything else.”
Hunt has only been practicing competitive yoga for five years. She’s won statewide contests before and reintroduced herself to yoga about six years ago after taking a long break due to a back injury.
Hunt said she realizes yoga and competition don’t seem to gel.
“People think of yoga competition being an oxymoron, but it really is just working to your best potential,” Hunt said. “Like many sports, where it’s an individual sport, it’s really just doing it to the best of your ability.”
That’s what has drawn Hunt to compete at some of yoga’s highest levels. She likes to see how she can improve poses. Maybe relaxing a muscle will bring greater flexibility and allow her to go deeper into a pose. Maybe tightening a muscle will make her more stable. It’s all part of a fine-tuning experiment for the nurse, who calls it “yoga nerd stuff.”
Hunt is a “risk it for the biscuit” type of competitor. She prefers to try harder poses and pushes the edge, as opposed to taking a more conservative approach. That strategy has backfired before, but she wouldn’t enjoy competing as much if she were taking half-measures.
Occasionally, Hunt even asks herself why she is doing this. But she expects to continue competitive yoga for the time being. She said it should set her up well for aging, and makes her feel better than being a couch potato.
“I always ask myself, ‘Do I really want to do that?’ ‘Cause why am I doing it? It’s not like USA yoga federation is known throughout the country. It’s not like I’m going to get any big award or a whole lot of money, but I like pushing my edge, and I know that I will practice harder if I have to do something in front of people instead of just by myself. I like that extra push.”