For Jim Merithew: #fitbyspring

Written on 1/30 and 1/31 about my experience around the Fat Bike World Championships

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It’s now about two months ago when my husband and I were sitting on the couch one night. He must have been scrolling through Colorado cycling emails because he said, “I found your next race – the Fat Bike World Championship.” He shared a little of the info with me and I said, “Yep, doing it.” and I think I even declared it on social media right there and then. I then set off on a few weeks of randomly fat biking when working from home or on the weekends among Christmas activities – but this was still before I had embraced #fitbyspring.

When I embraced #fitbyspring, things changed. I had a new vivacious attitude towards training. I really wanted to get out there and work as hard as I could. I wanted to feel a sense of pride and accomplishment after my work-outs and I was newly invigorated by the Fat Bike World Championship. #Fitbyspring had me wanting to do more than show up – it had me wanting to show up and be competitive.

Today is race day and here I sit having a latte and breakfast in the wee hours of morning. I was the first one at the coffee shop at opening bell and it’s fun to sit here and see the town of Crested Butte come to life. I have to admit that I’m a little bit out of sorts because I’ve really only raced a handful of other times in the last 8 years and usually I showed up wanting to participate versus contend. Naturally, those are two different mindsets. I actually did my first triathlon in about 8 years this past summer – it was my first XTerra race, too! It was AWESOME and I think I was grinning ear-to-ear the whole time but I had no idea where I would end up. It was fun to learn that I had podiumed in my division and I left the race thinking “Okay, here I go, I’m going to get back into this!” But then summer in the cul-de-sac caught up to me and I was content to fall back into my casual patterns.

However, now here I sit with an unusual sense of awareness that I do really care how I do today. I really want to do my best. Put it all out there. Suffer. Be smart and hope that I come out very satisfied with my performance. I have to admit that it’s slightly uncomfortable but I hope that it’s a feeling I learn to embrace again. Not that I feel I’ll be racing a tremendous amount again but I do want to have a sense of ongoing high expectations for myself  be it on training day – or in this case – racing day. Never mind that today is my first fat bike race ever and it so happens to be the World Championship. It’s just a new mindset I want to embrace each time I step into ring.

In looking back at the past month and my journey with #fitbyspring, here is my list of top 10 pointers/reasons on how I got here. Perhaps these will come into handy for someone who wants to have a new mindset when it comes to their training or perhaps this will help other women who also work and have kids to think through what their #fitbyspring means to them:

  1. Don’t compare yourself to others: I know this is a cliché we often hear but I can’t help emphasize it. I really believe in it. For example, I’m part of the #fitbyspring club on Strava. I feel like I’m doing absolutely everything in my powers to ride as much as I can but when I go to the club page, I’m totally floored by Jered Gruber and Ted King’s miles. Damn them! But then I reassess the situation and remember our lives are quite different and I feel happy that I’m on the list and simply compare myself week over week. Now, that’s comparing apples to apples!
  2. Think a Day Ahead or Two Ahead: I feel I do a good job with time management and having a clear understanding of my priorities and responsibilities on an ongoing basis but I think it’s even wiser to try and have a grasp on what the upcoming days hold. I think this is particularly important as a full-time working mom. Understanding the whole family’s schedule ensures that I know exactly when I need to fit in an hour Zwift ride. Often that’s at 5:30am in the morning. I’ve been super dedicated to this thought process and it’s worked well. I’ve been able to get in all the training that I could realistically fit in and I haven’t dropped the ball on my responsibilities to my kids and family. Overall, that’s a very satisfying feeling.
  3. Embrace Reality: To my point above, I’ve been on top of things and have felt really good about managing it all. With that said, my daughter (5) came down with a bad stomach virus (Fifth’s Disease) about a week and half ago. I stayed home and took care of her and spent a lot of time cleaning to say the least. During my competitive days, this would have thrown a huge wrench in my plans. When I did Ironman Wisconsin in 2006, my son was 9 months and he came down with something about a week before the race. I was totally out of sorts and didn’t handle the situation well. In the end, I left for the race venue a few days earlier than I had planned and my husband stayed home with our son. Perhaps I did the right thing for myself as an athlete but I don’t think it was the most responsible choice as a parent. This past week I accepted that I wanted to take care of her. If that meant missing the Fat Bike World Championship, so be it. There will be other races and #fitbyspring will lead to #fitbysummer and so on. Don’t let the things that are most important slide no matter how fit you want to be. This time it worked out well: I’m at the Fat Bike Championships and my daughter is back to great health but I would have considered it just fine had it worked out any other way because I put my daughter first when she needed me.
  4. Zwift. This was the tool that really ensured I could fit in work-outs around my career and family. Zwift has really changed the game for me and is adding training value to people around the world. Fairly simply put: if you haven’t tried Zwift yet, learn more about it now. Like right after you read this!
  5. Strava segments rule! If never before, this is the section where I will really prove that I’m a huge dork. As most you know, Strava resets at the start of the calendar and there’s a new chance to snag 2016 segments. Because fat bikers are the only people riding right now, this has worked out quite favorably in my neighborhood on the fat bike. We have a fairly vibrant fat biking community in our neighborhood with a decent amount of trails. I have been hell-bent set on getting the climbing segments in our hood – for both men and women. My husband thinks this is hysterical because who knows if any of the other cyclists care about this. Point being: I care and I want them all. This has literally had me Scooby-Doo running over icy sections and hurling myself up snowy rocks with a head-lamp on at 6:30am by myself but I don’t give a damn. Those segments have inspired me to gear up, wake up, and everything in between. Thank you, Strava!
  6. Want It. As I said above, I’m sitting in a coffee shop enjoying a latte and breakfast on race day. My nerves are starting to churn and I’m feeling quite excited. Over the past month, my confidence has grown considerably and I started wondering if I had a chance to podium. About a week ago, we received an email notification from the race that we could see who was racing in each division. I was giddy and looked up “Women’s Open/Amateur”. Okay, there would be 15 of us – sweet! Then I looked at the racers names and I was happy – I saw two names of women who I know through work and both very accomplished professional athletes. They would definitely ensure that I would need to bring by best if I wanted to podium at the amateur race. I would need to pack my A Game. Want It. Really want things in life. I think it’s a great way to live.

Now, off to the races I go and I’ll do my top four after my first-ever World Championship!!

Before I write my top four, I will share how the race went. There were about 350 fat bikers in the race. It was a beautiful sight for the eyes as the gun went off and we made our way on the Nordic track. You could see a snake of fat bikes up the mountain side and it was freaking epic. I’m not going to write a typical race report because you’ve probably read many o’ race reports and I’m not a technical writer and I really have no merit in that category. Here’s my short report:

The gun went off and I tried my darn best to stay upright on my bike because there had been a lot snow and the course wasn’t packed down. I quickly realized it was going to be a snow pit out there and after a few slides and falls, I adjusted mentally to the snow. I’d be a bit slower but I’d try not to lose time by choosing a poor route through the snow.  “Stay on your bike” became my mantra for the entire race. I pushed my hardest and had a great first lap (3 lap race) after a wobbly and snowy start. As we came through the pit, I put on a smile and a fist pump for the SRAM contingency that was there to support me. I was in second behind the World Champion racer gal. I had an okay second lap but was a bit frustrated at myself because I had to get off my bike more times than I wished. I was passed by someone in my division and did my best to keep in her my sights but she got away from me. Her jersey was super cool so I was okay with that. She looked like she knew what she was doingJ. I smiled and gave another fist pump as I came through the pit – as I was so happy to have the SRAM group there! I looked back and did see another competitor approaching me – Wendy Ingraham. During her professional career, she had accumulated eight Ironman victories and is a well-loved athlete given her endearing personality. I clearly knew Wendy could dig deep as this moment at the Ironman World Championship really showcases that. We were very close that whole third lap. She passed me and then I got her going up a hill. I think we both had technical issues as my chain dropped and I think she had to stop to fix her boots/laces. We played cat/mouse as we went through the hilly section – scrambling on and off our bikes – but I had the lead going into the final approximate 2km straightaway. I buried my head as I knew she had what it took to catch me. Unfortunately I came around a corner and fell off my bike as I was going through a snow pit. It took me a half minute to collect myself and I knew she was a shadow behind me. She passed me right before the final “track lap” and I stuck to her wheel. We came around the final corner and I tried to get her on the inside – the tactic didn’t totally work but we were next to each other going into the final sprint. One thing I do remember focusing on during my competitive days as an amateur was being aware of where the finish line was and knowing the race isn’t done until you cross the line. I’ve watched too many races where people celebrate prematurely and I’m always baffled at this. I know that the last moments of a race can be filled with a foggy brain and you’re riding on high emotion so knowing the logistics of the finish line are key in those moments. That’s what happened here. I knew that finishers had to go left (as the sign stated and the announcer had shared) but Wendy went straight. I crossed the finish line before she did and therefore clinched my place on the podium. There is humility involved here because Wendy is an exceptional athlete and she’s such a neat person. I recognize that had she known where the finish line was, she would have most likely beaten me. With that said, it’s not over till it’s over and I got to the finish line first. Wendy has had her fair share of podiums so I’ll take what I can get at the first-ever Fat Bike World ChampionshipsJ and I hope we go back to compete next year! My SRAM friends and colleagues were quite proud and happy for me and they hoisted me on their shoulders. I felt like a champ and it was awesome!

7. The moment you start acting like life is a blessing, it starts feeling like one. I saw this in social media as I was leaving the coffee shop. How true is this? In that moment, I couldn’t help but get swept up in a moment of complete gratitude. I’m sure that the majority of the people reading this have ample opportunity in front of them and that many of you capitalize on this. Let’s remember this and live it every day. On my walk back to the house I was staying at, I noticed everything – the dust of snow covering the sidewalk, the colorful buildings and the bustle of skiers headed to the mountain. There I was in Crested Butte at the Fat Bike World Championships! F&*K yes! It was going to be a great day!

8. Surround yourself with people who reflect the kind of person you want to be. Even at a Race. I think this is one of the most important things we can do in life. You tend to lift your own self standards when you surround yourself with people you admire and respect. This is how I feel about my colleagues at SRAM. In lieu of my family being there, they welcomed me as one of their own. They provided me with great company for meals and lodging and treated me like a SRAM pro on race day – mechanics, support, you name it. Truly, one of the greatest joys of my career at World Bicycle Relief is being surrounded by generous, awesome, and high-expectations-kinds-of-people. Be it with InGamba and SRAM, these are the kinds of partners and people that I truly treasure as part of my job. Do this with racing and training and you’ll be your best athlete – but more importantly, your best person. Find a coach, training partners, and a team that reflect who you want to be.

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9. Know where the finish line is. As to my race report above, know what you’re aiming for – be it on race day or your training goals. Know when you need to bury your head and when you can celebrate with a donut. Acknowledge all the effort along the way is part of the journey and give yourself the opportunity to celebrate milestones along the way.

10. Keep perspective and balance. Perhaps a few of my points have alluded to this but I think perspective is a true key to life. I’ve gotten it wrong a few times and learned from it. I think it’s something we all struggle with along the way: the need/desire to balance personal happiness and fitness goals with family and responsibilities. Most of us are amateur athletes, let’s remember this. I went to Italy with InGamba this past fall. One of the rides we did was on this gorgeous road (well, they were actually all gorgeous) but this road was particularly picturesque. We were surrounded by sweeping vistas of Cyprus trees, vineyards and blue sky. I just couldn’t get enough. I made the calculated decision to get off the group train and stop for a picture. It was just me and the surrounding area. I ended up hanging on to Eros Poli’s wheel with the rough attempt to re-catch the group. We never caught up so I rolled into the coffee stop on my own but with a smile. I had stopped to take in the view. Life is short – work hard, dream big, have fun and for goodness sake, keep a level head, stop for coffee…and please stop to take in the view.

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2012 – it’s a wrap!

Happy Last Day of 2012! For me, it’s always fun to see how many of my favorite things I can do the last day of each year. Today I’ve managed to do a  handful of them – cuddled with my kids, had breakfast at my favorite local restaurant, gone on a date with my husband (breakfast at Blue Cow!), done some shopping for a few home renovation projects, explored a new trail while going for a run, went to Target (the Minnesotan in me loves this!) and now I’m sitting at my favorite Whole Foods sipping coffee before I shop for a special New Year’s dinner menu. The best part – it’s not even 2pm! There is still time to have a second date with Chris before we spend the night with our kids at home. Baden wants to try to make it to midnight this year so I’ve got a host of fun things planned for us. For now, I want to sit down and reflect on the past year. Like last year, I want to create a time capsule for my favorite moments of 2012. Here goes with my “Whatever-Comes-To-the-top-of-My-Mind-First-Must-Be-The-Best-Moments-Of-the-Year Top 10″…

At the race!

10. I’m a Nordic Racer! Early in the year, I officially became a Colorado
Nordic racer. I absolutely loved each minute of the event and am certain Nordic racing will be a big part of my future winters. I love the sport and am excited that I just introduced it to Baden this past week. I’m hoping that my love for it spreads to my kids and Chris and that we can have many great hours on the trails together in years to come!

9. Ouray! As many of you know, I love exploring and I think my favorite place that I explored this past year was Ouray, CO. I was only there for about 15 hours but it was a great short visit that included a super roof-top dinner overlooking the whole town/valley and an amazing trail run circling the valley. It’s at the top of my 2013 to-dos to bring my family back there for some additional exploring. Both Telluride and Silverton are within easy distances so it shouldn’t be too difficult to recruit Chris for this one considering that the cycling is SPECTACULAR! Chris, when can we pack?!IMG_0678

At the midnight finish line!

At the midnight finish line!

8. Aloha, Kona! In October, I was fortunate to have a work trip to the Ironman World Championships and even more fortunate that Chris joined me for several days of the trip. Together we were able to spread the good word about World Bicycle Relief while enjoying some pina coladas, time relaxing together and even doing a little exploring via moped!

7. My Maine Squeeze! Whenever I feel I need my mind to relax, I close my eyes and envision the view from the front door at our cabin in Maine. It’s then with no surprise that my 2012 trip to Bridgton, Maine made my list. At the tail end of June, I took Baden and Holland on a 5 day trip out to “my favorite home from home” and we spent a  string of days with my parents, my sister and her kids. It was a wonderful trip and July 4th was one of my most memorable days this past year. It included an all-family race at the local 4 on the 4th (Baden ran, too!), time relaxing on our dock, paddle boarding and swims with Holland, Baden and Grandpa. It only would have been more perfect had Chris been there with us.

4 on the

4 on the

View from the front door!

View from the front door!

6. Family Matters! We were fortunate to have a number of great family gatherings this past year with various family members. From hosting Grandpa Crash, Nana and Alex in early January to hosting a family hike and lunch on Labor Day and from spending some time on the slopes with Will, Luke and Eigel Clan in the mountains to hosting a great

Labor Day Hike and Picnic

Labor Day Hike and Picnic

Skating with Alex and Crash Co. in Evergreen.

Skating with Alex and Crash Co. in Evergreen.

Thanksgiving with many from Chris’s family and then venturing to Minnesota for Christmas with my family, I am so thankful for a wonderful family and for the fun times we share together. Truly, health of loved ones is the greatest blessing of all.

5. Horsin’ Around! In June, we hosted my parents and my sister, Amy, and her family for a wonderful CO summer vacation that even included a moose sighting. We spent a few days at our house and then we all ventured up to a house in the woods of Tabernash for a few nights. One of the first things we did when we arrived in the mountains was head over the local YMCA for some

Horsebacking the Wild West way

Horsebacking the Wild West way

Cones with the gang at Grand Lake!

Cones with the gang at Grand Lake!

horseback riding. The kids were excited and we were, too, but we had no idea it would create the most memorable string of moments for us in 2012. What started as an excited horse for me, turned into a series of incidents for our crew that culminated with Amy’s saddle falling off her horse. While it was frightening in the moments after it happened, it has created quite lively conversation for my family since it happened. Fortunately she was okay so we can laugh about it but I will never forget it and either will our kids…We know this because they still play “Amy falls off her horse”! I’m not kidding at all about this! Amy’s daughter, Katherine, was given an American Girl Doll and horse for Christmas and the first thing she did was dress her up in her cow-girl get-up, set her on the saddle and then had her slide off her horse while shouting, “Mom, Nooooooooo!”.

IMG_08434. So Beautiful! This is a famous expression of Holland’s and, while she says this frequently throughout the day to many things,  such as her outfit, food, a movie, a decoration, etc.”, I consider it a 2012 highlight as it’s been so awesome and rewarding to see her blossom into a little person. Her expressions, mannerisms, humor and actions make her the doll of our house and we just can’t get enough of her every move. In short, she’s “So Beautiful”!!

Date Night - Watching Beckham play with Baden!

Date Night – Watching Beckham play with Baden!

3. Baden Dates! Given that much of our time at home seems to be more focused on Holland given that she needs a little more constant attention and help, I really have enjoyed making quality one-on-one “dates” with Baden. They have all been extremely special and fun to me and I count them among my greatest blessings of the past year. We have made time to do a few races together (Baden did a handful of 5Ks this past year and one triathlon), go out for dinner and movies together, do a handful of Spring Break field trips including some MTB biking in Boulder, seen a Colorado Rapids game on our own and, the latest, made a complete day trip to the mountains together to snowshoe and cross-country ski (his first time which was so, so special to me!). It’s with a heavy heart that I recognize that my little boy is not so far off from the years when he would rather be with his friends than his parents so I’m cherishing each moment I get with him. He’s a real shining light and I feel so lucky to be his mom and enjoy time with him.

Durango - The Colorado Trail

Durango – The Colorado Trail

Vail Valley trail

Vail Valley trail

2. Happy Trails! I have been fortunate to pick up a new hobby this past year – trail running! While the first part of my year was mostly devoted to road running and training for a marathon (which I did in May and will do the same one again in 2013), the summer and fall were mostly devoted to time on the trail. What kicked this off was a WBR road trip with my colleague, Rebecca Much. We spent 6 days on the road following the US Pro Cycling Challenge and we made time each morning to explore a new trail. So, in Durango (our first stop), I bought a pair of trail shoes and haven’t looked back. Since then, I’ve been hooked and have been lucky to hit the trails in Durango, Ouray, Aspen, Vail, Breckenridge, Golden, Boulder, Morrison, Evergreen and Ken Caryl Valley. I’m looking forward to lots of trail runs in 2013 and have my sights on a future big goal involving the number 100 and Leadville:)

Rim Rock at Colorado Monument!

Rim Rock at Colorado Monument!

1. Hiking Club!!! For the second year in a row, hiking with my family tops my list. I really love the time outdoors enjoyed with the kids and Chris. We all love it and I feel so blessed to be in a family that really appreciates the outdoors. Baden even included a “birthday geocache hike” as part of his birthday party. Some of my favorite hiking memories include a short Thanksgiving hike with a big crew in our neighborhood, a hike that Chris and I were able to do as a couple in Vail, a family hike in Golden which included our first big snake sighting, a really neat rim hike at Colorado Monument State Park with the whole family, a hike that the kids and I did at Lair o’ the Bear and a few short hikes we did at Dairymen’s this past summer while searching for a K in the woods (that is a story for later)! Yes, hiking is definitely part of our Family Coat of Arms.

Hike in Morrison

Hike in Morrison

And, Baden has the patch to prove it:)

Hiking at Dairymen's

Hiking at Dairymen’s

Wishing you all a really great 2013! Here’s to whatever is on your 2012 Top 10 List and what is all in store for all of us in the year ahead. May we all have fun, explore the world, love each other and remain in good health!

passing of the torch…i mean turkey

Snyder-Borgert fun at the 2000 Minneapolis Turkey Trot

Gobble, gobble. Gobble, gobble. These precious words are music to my family’s ears and laced with the utmost respect. Going back deep into my heritage (about 16 years hinder), it was November 1996 when our famous family creed was lifted into true legacy status…giving birth to a sacred family tradition: The Turkey Trot.  Over the past 16 years, between me, my siblings and my parents, I would say at least 4 of us have been in Turkey Trot action each Thanksgiving. I, myself, can say that I’ve only missed 1 of the 16 due to the birth of my son (Baden!). There are few excuses in our bunch – freezing temps, knee surgeries, oogles of kids and travel – have not kept us at bay.  We have had a lot of fun with the Trot, too….relying on our “Gobble, gobble” rally cry to find our way through dark tunnels, river crossings and even the random Trot Snafu (forgotten mittens, dead car batteries and bagel mayhem). We have introduced the Turkey Trot tradition to friends and relatives alike, been simultaneously gobble-gobbling in various states and have even produced our very own Turkey Trots in moments of extreme necessity (I successfully executed a 10 person Trot on the North Island of New Zealand in 1999). But never before 2012 has such a bold move been taken to ensure the continued success of our family’s legacy. Ladies and Gentleman – Gobblers and Goblesses – it is with extreme joy and happiness that I share that the Snyder/Borgert Family Turkey Trot Tradition now spans not just 1 generation, not just 2 generations of our silly brood…but the torch has been passed to a new generation of Trotters. With high honor, we welcome Baden Henry Bolling (age 7) to our list of unassisted Turkey Trot Finishers*. Coming in with a clock time reading Gobble minutes and Gobble Gobble seconds, Baden finished the Littleton Gobble Wobble 5K on the 26th of November – XX1-XXV1 – MMXX11 by way of the Roman’s clock. Now in the history books and marked as a real turkey-of-a-success, The Snyder clan can breathe easy that tradition is most definitely in the making!

*Note that unassisted Turkey Trot finishers is a kind way to say that members of the 3rd generation who have been strolled, baby-bjorned and/or burleyed across the Finish Line of a previous race do not qualify in this newly formed (and decided by a sole person) category.

Katie and Baden line up for the 2012 Trot!

Baden is all smiles at the finish!

 

part III in the series “mom vs dad”: so?

When did you hear a mom ever say “I’m bored.”?

I’m currently in what I would call “a busy streak”. For the past 5 days and upcoming 5 more, it just seems like we have a lot going on in. Considering that I’m also managing a full time job and that I want to get in a (little) exercise, I’ve had to put some thought into efficiently managing my calendar/to-do-list so I collected my thoughts on what we’ve got “in the hopper” and wrote it all down. After crossing this list by my other half, his answer was “So what?”. Ah, the other half! Here’s what I would call “Mom vs Dad” in “a week’s worth of thoughts”:

MOM 

  • Host Paul for 2 nights: prepare room, wash towels, make sure we are nut-free home (he has a severe allergy), plan meals.
  • Collect popcorn money for Boy Scouts
  • Purchase toys for Toy Drive (Thursday night)
  • Baden’s Thanksgiving Play
  • Volunteer Shift at school
  • Home Appraisal (make sure house looks good)
  • Baden’s Birthday party at school (he wants sugar cookies as treat)
  • Prepare for Baden’s Birthday party (Sunday). Get movie, treats for kids, cupcakes,etc.
  • Wrap Baden’s birthday gifts
  • Set up “movie pack geocache” for kids to find.
  • Hide geocache for Baden’s party
  • Pick Up Photos from Family Photo Shoot
  • Thanksgiving: Hosting 14 people. Start to prepare and organize menu/shopping.
  • TV being delivered on Thursday – Chris asked me to be at home at 3pm. See if I can do this.
  • PLAN NORDIC SEASON!

DAD

  • Have someone here to receive TV
  • Hang TV

Thankfully all items on these lists were accomplished and Mom got to watch The Vow on the new TV last night (while wrapping presents and creating the geocache). Let’s hear it for Moms and our Lists!! Now, on to Thanksgiving…and planning the Nordic Season!

the allie chronicles

Hi! Fortunately there are a lot of great things happening on my side but unfortunately there is not enough time to share them. In my mind, I write all sorts of updates, share lots of both useful and entertaining information and catalog the incidents and accidents of every day life…but it’s reality that those thoughts aren’t transcribed into words often enough!! So, as that is the case MOST of the time, for this special story I decided I had to find time to write it down. Here goes…

Some of you may know about Baden’s crush on his classmate, Allie. For those of you who don’t know Baden, he’s in 1st grade and a real enthusiastic kid. We love him for reasons that range from him being a self-proclaimed animal expert to the fact that he sits himself down in front of European soccer so he can “learn more moves to perform in his games.” In short, he’s a real hoot to have around the house! Now, back to Allie…

Taking you back about 5 months to the last few weeks of Kindergarten, I caught on to Baden’s frequent chatter about Allie. “Allie did this, Allie did that, I played with Allie at recess”. On and on it went! Finally, with about one week to go until the last day of school, Baden announced to me that he was going to tell Allie that he liked her on the last day of school at recess. “Bold”, I thought, wishing him well. I knew he was summoning the energy to do this as the “build-up” to the last day of school was exceptionally exciting at our house due to the impending broadcast of a “like.” Big time stuff! Well, unfortunately, the last few days of school didn’t unravel quite like Baden had imagined. On the eve of the last day of school, Allie broke her foot and wasn’t able to attend recess on the final day. Operation foiled! Needless to say, Baden felt a bit crushed. After all, I had even witnessed the two of them holding hands at the end of the school year party (so cute!!).  Well, Baden chose a great attitude and didn’t let the broken foot get in his way . School let out and he decided to take things into his own hands. On the very first weekend of school being released, Baden asked if he could buy Allie a flower, draw her a picture and stop by her house. Well, what is a mom with a melting heart going to say? Of course!!

Here is proof that Operation: Allie Flower Drop Off went well:

Baden’s “20 seconds of insane courage”

After stopping by her house, ringing her door bell and handing over the note that read “I like you”, Baden told me about 20 times that night how proud of himself he was. Way to go B!

Now, fast forward to School Year 2012-2013. Aside from the flower drop-off during the summer, I didn’t hear much about Allie in the summer. It was just occasionally that Baden would mention her name, see her at the pool and get excited and what-not but there wasn’t any more “like broadcasts” or gifts of affection. However, once the school year got started, it seemed like summer passed in a snap and Baden was back to his usual mentions of “Allie this and Allie that.” So, I started dropping her name here and there and without a doubt, Baden certainly had a reaction. “Yes…of course I still like her! Mom, you should know these things!” With this in mind, I wasn’t surprised in the least bit when I went to attend Baden’s lunch with him on a Friday to see him and Allie come in together from recess. They walked into the lunchroom together and the 3 of us sat down together. I’m not joking when I say that the two of them awkwardly sat there and looked at each smiling  for the first few minutes of the lunch. Apparently, it was their first time sitting together at lunch…hence it was a very big deal. That day after school, I asked Baden about it and he was very proud and went on to announce it was time for another flower delivery to her house. This time he also went through the trouble of literally drawing her a series of paintings that featured hearts, flowers and rainbows. Once the drawings were complete, he then asked if we could go pick out a mum for her. “Fine” says the mom who always wears her heart on her sleeve:)! Then, later that day, it was a true family affair as we drove Baden over for the “drop-off”. Again, the operation went quite smoothly. The drawings and the mum exchanged hands with few words: “Allie, I want you to have these things”. So eloquent! Quickly Baden was back in the car after the exchange again stating: “It took courage but I’m proud.”

Another self-organized act of affection successfully executed.

Flash forward about a month now and here I sit writing this. Las night, I was once again charged with motivation to tell this story as Baden came to me saying that he wanted to write Allie a letter. Taking the information in, I commented to him, “That is great Baden but don’t you sometimes wish that she would come over and return one of your nice gestures?” Replying immediately, Baden said, “Mom, this is not about expectations. I don’t have any. I just like doing nice things for her – that’s what this is about!” Going on he then said, “Mom, take for instance our door bell. It rings and rings and of course it’s never Allie. But, I hope. I hope one day, she’ll ring on my door.” Is he an old soul or what?!

To end (or maybe this is just a start!?) the Allie Chronicles, I need to stick in one additional story. It was about 2-3 weeks ago that Baden told me that the only thing he wanted Santa to bring him was the “list of girls who like him”. What do I say to my little Romeo about that?! I think it’s something we all wished for once or twice! We’ll see what Santa comes up with:)

a constant in my inbox…look at the view

remember to look at the view

Managing email has become somewhat of a part-time job for most of us. Personal email. Work email. Junk email. We all get it – but I’m sure we all manage it differently. For me, I try to keep my work inbox as clean as possible – only current tasks should be kept there. However, at the bottom of my inbox, I’ve collected a few permanent emails that mean something to me that I scroll to when I need an extra pick-up or want to see my children’s sweet faces. There is also one message about “life”. And, in my humble opinion it’s a great one. So, rather than keep it in my inbox for me to just see, I want to share it with you. I hope it adds something extra to your day and that you frequently remember to “look at the view”…

Anna Quindlen’s Commencement Address at Villanova

The following is from Pulitzer Prize winning author Anna Quindlen’s commencement address to Villanova University, Friday 23 June 2000:

It’s a great honor for me to be the third member of my family to receive an honorary doctorate from this great university. It’s an honor to follow my great-uncle Jim, who was a gifted physician, and my Uncle Jack, who is a remarkable businessman. Both of them could have told you something important about their professions, about medicine or commerce.

I have no specialized field of interest or expertise, which puts me at a disadvantage, talking to you today. I’m a novelist. My work is human nature. Real life is all I know. Don’t ever confuse the two, your life and your work. The second is only part of the first.

Don’t ever forget what a friend once wrote Senator Paul Tsongas when the senator decided not to run for reelection because he’d been diagnosed with cancer: “No man ever said on his deathbed I wish I had spent more time in the office.” Don’t ever forget the words my father sent me on a postcard last year: “If you win the rat race, you’re still a rat.” Or what John Lennon wrote before he was gunned down in the driveway of the Dakota: “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.”

You walk out of here this afternoon with only one thing that no one else has. There will be hundreds of people out there with your same degree; there will be thousands of people doing what you want to do for a living. But you will be the only person alive who has sole custody of your life. Your particular life. Your entire life. Not just your life at a desk, or your life on a bus, or in a car, or at the computer. Not just the life of your minds, but the life of your heart. Not just your bank account, but your soul.

People don’t talk about the soul very much anymore. It’s so much easier to write a resume than to craft a spirit. But a resume is a cold comfort on a winter night, or when you’re sad, or broke, or lonely, or when you’ve gotten back the test results and they’re not so good.

Here is my resume: I am a good mother to three children. I have tried never to let my profession stand in the way of being a good parent. I no longer consider myself the center of the universe. I show up. I listen, I try to laugh. I am a good friend to my husband. I have tried to make marriage vows mean what they say. I show up. I listen. I try to laugh. I am a good friend to my friends, and they to me. Without them, there would be nothing to say to you today, because I would be a cardboard cutout. But call them on the phone, and I meet them for lunch. I show up. I listen. I try to laugh.

I would be rotten, or at best mediocre at my job, if those other things were not true. You cannot be really first rate at your work if your work is all you are.

So here is what I wanted to tell you today:

Get a life. A real life, not a manic pursuit of the next promotion, the bigger paycheck, the larger house. Do you think you’d care so very much about those things if you blew an aneurysm one afternoon, or found a lump in your breast? Get a life in which you notice the smell of salt water pushing itself on a breeze over Seaside Heights, a life in which you stop and watch how a red-tailed hawk circles over the water gap or the way a baby scowls with concentration when she tries to pick up a cheerio with her thumb and first finger.

Get a life in which you are not alone. Find people you love, and who love you. And remember that love is not leisure, it is work. Each time you look at your diploma, remember that you are still a student, still learning how to best treasure your connection to others. Pick up the phone. Send an e-mail. Write a letter. Kiss your Mom. Hug your Dad. Get a life in which you are generous.

Look around at the azaleas in the suburban neighborhood where you grew up; look at a full moon hanging silver in a black, black sky on a cold night.

And realize that life is the best thing ever, and that you have no business taking it for granted. Care so deeply about its goodness that you want to spread it around. Once in a while take money you would have spent on beers and give it to charity. Work in a soup kitchen. Be a big brother or sister.

All of you want to do well. But if you do not do good, too, then doing well will never be enough. It is so easy to waste our lives: our days, our hours, our minutes. It is so easy to take for granted the color of the azaleas, the sheen of the limestone on Fifth Avenue, the color of our kid’s eyes, the way the melody in a symphony rises and falls and disappears and rises again. It is so easy to exist instead of live. I learned to live many years ago.

Something really, really bad happened to me, something that changed my life in ways that, if I had my druthers, it would never have been changed at all. And what I learned from it is what, today, seems to be the hardest lesson of all. I learned to love the journey, not the destination. I learned that it is not a dress rehearsal, and that today is the only guarantee you get. I learned to look at all the good in the world and to try to give some of it back because I believed in it completely and utterly. And I tried to do that, in part, by telling others what I had learned. By telling them this:

Consider the lilies of the field. Look at the fuzz on a baby’s ear. Read in the backyard with the sun on your face. Learn to be happy. And think of life as a terminal illness because if you do you will live it with joy and passion, as it ought to be lived.

Well, you can learn all those things, out there, if you get a life, a full life, a professional life, yes, but another life, too, a life of love and laughs and a connection to other human beings. Just keep your eyes and ears open. Here you could learn in the classroom. There the classroom is everywhere. The exam comes at the very end. No man ever said on his deathbed I wish I had spent more time at the office. I found one of my best teachers on the boardwalk at Coney Island maybe 15 years ago. It was December, and I was doing a story about how the homeless survive in the winter months.

He and I sat on the edge of the wooden supports, dangling our feet over the side, and he told me about his schedule; panhandling the boulevard when the summer crowds were gone, sleeping in a church when the temperature went below freezing, hiding from the police amidst the Tilt a Whirl and the Cyclone and some of the other seasonal rides. But he told me that most of the time he stayed on the boardwalk, facing the water, just the way we were sitting now even when it got cold and he had to wear his newspapers after he read them.

And I asked him why. Why didn’t he go to one of the shelters? Why didn’t he check himself into the hospital for detox? And he just stared out at the ocean and said, “Look at the view, young lady. Look at the view.”

And every day, in some little way, I try to do what he said. I try to look at the view. And that’s the last thing I have to tell you today, words of wisdom from a man with not a dime in his pocket, no place to go, nowhere to be. Look at the view. You’ll never be disappointed.

the vita course champion

I know, I know. It’s been a while. I have no excuses – just busy doing other things that I’m enjoying that take up time this summer – work, some exercise and spending time with my kids. But, this story had to be shared. I hope you enjoy it and I hope it gives you reason to reflect on the contributions that teachers make to youth (and all of us) and that you feel compelled to thank someone who once taught you…

I was in 7th grade – a new school with new friends and a new routine. I can still see/feel it all now in my mind and heart – those years of adolescence. As an “adult”, it gives me a bit of heartache knowing that I’m not all too far away from experiencing that part of life again through the hearts of my children. It seems like just yesterday I was learning how to fumble with a locker code while knowing that I had to trek across the building to make it on time for Mr. Urbain’s PE class. But, the trek was always worth it. Mr. Urbain: I can see him now…gym shorts, sneakers and a huge grin that only got bigger when he talked about running and, in particular, The Vita Course. I need to be honest and admit that I can’t remember some of the details but here is what I know: In the early days of 7th grade, when I think most of us were just trying to fit into various social circles, Mr. Urbain talked about this “great race” that happened at our school, Nicollet Junior High School, as an extracurricular activity one afternoon each fall. He told great stories of stamina, endurance and champions that were born from the “big race” and he encouraged his classes to participate. I’m unsure whether or not other students were nearly as mesmerized as me but, in my mind, I had visions of an Olympic-like experience and a major undertaking that would be worth all the pain I’d endure to reach the finish line. So, as a new 7th grader, and trying to find my way in a new community, I signed up. Race day came and I was nervous. I’d be taking on scores of 8th and 9th graders in front of hundreds of cheering fans and my stomach was doing belly flops. Well, the big afternoon came quick and, minus the hundreds of cheering fans, a good many of Nicollet’s students showed up to toe the line. In particular, I remember that some of my closest friends were there. Holly Manthei, Kim Hearn, Carmie Landeen – some of the best soccer players – would be racing beside me. The arena was set with thick competition. The race was two big loops around our school’s perimeter – this included a handful of baseball fields, soccer fields, some rolling hills, a football pitch and a few odd buildings. I was going to need all the energy I had to make it through in a reasonable time. Man, was I nervous! With a few encouraging words from the man, Mr. Urbain himself, he greeted the crowd and, before we knew it, it was Ready, Set, Go! We were off….between the soccer field and tennis court, around the baseball fields…it felt like I was running with the wind – and I wasn’t doing too bad! I was with the leaders! Down the hill, up the hill, around the football field…there was a small pack of us in front! Soon the first lap was done. I dug deep; scrounged for every ounce of stamina I could find and found myself breaking away from the pack! Down the hill and up the hill once again – my lead was growing! I let go of my mind and just listened to my heart and told my legs to keep going. At that point, I wanted to win so badly. Then, as I surged into the final stretch, there was the familiar smile of Mr. Urbain…cheering me through the final meters and welcoming me as the new Vita Course Champion…and as a 7th grader! I was ecstatic! A champion of something at my big new school! My head held high, Mr. Urbain continued to congratulate me – and not just that afternoon or the following few days…but for the next several years of my life. You see, my story of my 7th grade victory turned into an 8th grade victory and finally a 9th grade one. With my 3 consecutive wins, Mr. Urbain did something completely unnecessary – and one of the kindest gestures that I can remember being shown to me as a youngster – and he put together a unique plaque for me that recognized my achievement as being an undefeated “Vita Course champion” in my career as a student at Nicollet Junior High. Now, to most reading this, a plaque may not seem like much, and you’re right. It was what was behind the plaque that was special: recognizing an ability in a young person who was still shaping the view of herself in a big world. And, as corny as this may sound, the plaque lives in my office – and has a place right next to the frames featuring pictures of my children.

“I’m a runner”, I remember thinking those years. And, that never stopped. You see, at that same time, I happened to be playing on a soccer team that, to-date, is still most likely one the highest achieving local community teams of all time. We won the National Championship as a U16 team and two High School State Championships; and we were made up of an extremely talented pool of girls of which I sat somewhere in the middle in my mind. But that changed with my Vita Course titles. Suddenly, I had been given the confidence to believe that I was an excellent endurance runner making me a running –soccer-player. From Mr. Urbain’s race, I had new confidence that I had a special skill to give my team and, therefore, I had better keep up my running! In high school, I dabbled in all sports but it always came down that I was a “champion” endurance athlete and best keep honing my running skills so I could be the “my best” at any endurance sport that I decided to try. In college, that frame of mind continued. I played soccer – in the midfield – and once again defined myself as someone who had the strongest endurance on the field. After all, I was a Vita Course Champion. Then, after college, when trying to decide “what I wanted to be when I grew up,” the first things that came to my mind were that I wanted to do more running and I wanted to see the world. So, who did I visit for advice when I returned to Burnsville? Well, Mr. Urbain. I remember paying a specific visit to his house to visit with him and his wife, Doris. It was somewhat amazing to me that I had so much in common with him – tales of running races and training dominated the conversation with little sprinkles of Nepal. You see, I also never forgot his smile when he talked about the distant country in the Himalayas. How him and Doris had devoted many trips to helping the people there. I would soon be adventuring there myself in search of long-distance mountain treks so Mr. Urbain (and Doris) had all the right answers when I peppered them with a series of questions about the small country tucked into the largest – and most stunning – mountain range on Earth. That was in 1999 and I still remember the huge smiles on him and Doris’s faces as they talked about their love for Nepal and the Nepalese.

Then, fast forward to 2002. I’m not quite sure what took me so long to find out about what is arguably the most challenging endurance race on Earth but I discovered the Hawaiin Ironman. The bait was set and I was hooked! Where I came up with the idea that I would be racing in the sport’s top event within a few years is beyond me but I was convinced I had what it took to reach Kona. I’m fairly sure that nearly 100% of all Ironman athletes dream of making it to the coveted shores of the Big Island but I’m unsure of the percentage of racers that do. I’m guessing it’s about 1-2% percent and I’d like to believe that I was fortunate enough to be in that percentage because I was a Vita Course 3-year champion and that’s just what those kinds of champions do. In 2007, with husband, son, parents and sister in tote, I arrived on the Big Island and completed the epic race as a qualified age grouper.

Now, five years later, and once again shaking my head on where time goes, I’m coming to accept the news that was delivered to me over a month ago, that, “Mr. Urbain died”. I remember the call from my mom: the grasp at my chest and the tears that formed over something that just didn’t seem fair to me. A great teacher, a fantastic role-model and a brilliant runner lost to a brutal competitor: cancer. Even True Champions are susceptible to unfair defeat.

On the following morning that I heard the news from my mom, I found myself along the coastline of Santa Cruz, CA. Tying up my running laces, I took a deep breath and told my running buddy that “this one is for my junior high PE teacher…who instilled the love for running in me”…and made me believe that I had what it took to be a Champion…not just a Vita Course Champion.

Here’s the reality: The Vita Course was a 2 loop race at a small school in suburban Minnesota over grass and infield dust. It was a grassroots event at the core  – completely owned and managed by its scrappy owner, Mr. Urbain. But, he made it more than that. He made it Bigger Than Life for me (and the other participants) and did something with his life that has defined him as a Legacy to me: Mr. Urbain, as a teacher and molder of young people, accomplished what I imagine is the goal of each person that goes into education: he influenced a life and passed along enthusiasm and passion. He made a positive impact in the life of a student and I give him thanks for my life’s accomplishments – both as a person and as an athlete. I think it’s fair to say that teachers don’t get enough credit or positive acknowledgements but I’m one to give credit where credit is due. Mr. Urbain’s life, from what I know, was filled with many victories, many great finish lines and many wonderful accomplishments as a volunteer. But he did more than that, he taught and he positively influenced.  And, as proud as I am to be a Vita Course Champion, I’m going to mail Doris my plaque. He’s the eternal  Vita Course Champion…and I want to give back a small sliver of what he gave to me.

Thanks to Mr Urbain, I’m now experiencing the joy of running with my children. With a big smile, Baden just completed his first 4 mile race. And, he loved it!