Category Archives: running

Spartan Beast – Vernon, NJ 2017

The Race:

I went to Vernon, New Jersey this past Saturday for the Spartan Beast.  My boyfriend, AJ, and I drove up to the race early Saturday morning and then we met up with my friend, Jayme, and two of her friends.  While registering, AJ met a guy he knew from high school who was also at the race.

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Me & Jayme

I had completed four previous Spartan races back in 2014, but this was going to be my first one since then, so I was feeling a little nervous. (Previous races: Sprint in Uncasville, CT; Super in Vernon, NJ; Beast in Killington, VT; Stadium Sprint at Fenway in Boston, MA)

I had injured my shoulder about two months ago, so although I had increased my strength training early on this year, I had to cut back tremendously in order to rehab my shoulder.

I knew that I was in good shape in terms of running, but I was curious how I would do with the obstacles.

Our start time was 9:45am, but the race was delayed since there had been thunderstorms that morning.

Once we started, the race went straight uphill.  I knew from previous races that hills are meant to be walked.  A Spartan beast is over 12 miles.  They told us that this one was mapped out to be 13.8 miles (though their mileage doesn’t account for obstacles, so it was probably actually between 14 and 15 miles total).  That’s more than a half marathon, plus crazy hills and obstacles.  If you try to run up the first hill, I can almost guarantee that you are going to use up too much energy.

The hills seem almost endless at times.  Before even getting to mile two, my quads were already burning (despite how often I had been running and climbing stairs before the day of the race).  I was actually feeling a little bit nervous at that point, knowing that I still had over 10 miles left, yet my legs were already feeling sore.

I tried to run or at least jog every time the race became flat or downhill.  I’m really good at running downhill.  Some people step very gingerly when going downhill, but I find that I do better letting my momentum take over.  There were many times when my legs felt tired to walk, but once I started running or jogging, they felt less fatigued.

Even going down rocky slopes, I still usually jogged, remaining confident with my footing so that I wouldn’t slip.

There were a total of 32 obstacles.  Here is a review of some of them (in no particular order):

Walls

In any Spartan race, there are a number of walls to get past.  Some are short and I can easily jump, push myself up on my arms, and climb over.  For the 10-foot walls, I definitely need someone to help give me a boost.  Racing with AJ made these walls a lot easier since he could give me a boost whenever needed.

There was also a wall in the water.  For this one, we had to swim under it.  I didn’t mind going under the wall, but the water is brown and muddy, so some people don’t prefer submerging themselves.  I just felt for the bottom of the wall at first, to make sure that I knew how deep I had to go underwater.

After coming out of the water, there was a slanted wall with ropes on it.  We had to hold the rope to pull ourselves up.

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AJ coming out from under the water at this wall

For obstacles like this, the type of sneaker you are wearing makes a HUGE difference.  Lots of people were slipping all over the place.  When I tried, I didn’t slip at all.  I just held onto that rope and pulled myself up, one step at a time.

I prefer racing in trail shoes since they have a strong grip on the bottom.  Lately there are a lot of running shoes, especially Nike ones, that are very flat on the bottom.  They have little grip and although their lightweight nature may be nice when running, they are not the best option when grip is needed.

I have Adidas trail shoes that I have used for the past three or four Spartan races and I swear by them, rarely failing at an obstacle only as a result of my shoes.

Water

There are a few times when you have to walk through water.  This time, there was no swimming obstacle, but for one part of the race, you had to walk through water.  I’m 5’2′ and eventually the water was up to my chest.

I expected the water to be really cold since it was only April, but surprisingly, it wasn’t bad.  It was actually pretty refreshing.

I really like the water, so I enjoy the water obstacles.  The hardest part is that you can’t see where you’re walking, so sometimes you trip on stones or branches.  In Vermont, I cut up my shin quite a bit because I kicked a rock that I didn’t see.

This time, there were some times when we had to cross a stream.  One time, I jumped into the water and tripped as I went to take a step.  I fell onto a rock and cut my knee.  I saw the blood coming down my sock and soon after, we were walking through deep mud.  It’s never ideal to get a bunch of mud into cuts, but that’s what happens during this race.

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Memory

I had forgotten about this, but there is a memory component to the race.  You get to a wall and have to memorize a certain word/number combination, based on whatever the last two digits of your bib number are.  My bib number was 12517, so I had to memorize “Romeo 213 1089.”

When looking at some YouTube videos, I can see that some racers did have to tell a Spartan volunteer their number at some point.  If they couldn’t remember, they would have to do burpees.  But somehow we never had to do that.  I don’t know if we somehow ran past the people asking, or if they stopped asking.  But after finishing the race, I was so frustrated that I had remembered my number for nothing.

Z-Wall

I love this obstacle.  It’s a wall with wooden rectangle hand and foot grips.  I’m usually pretty good at it; I think it helps that I’m small so I can more easily rest my feet on the rectangles and grab the hand pieces with my whole hand.

For this version, though, the wall isn’t just flat across.  It is in the shape of a Z.  I had made it 2/3 of the way across and AJ was standing behind me.  I told him to just spot me in case I needed help.  I got to one of the corners and I couldn’t see the other side of the wall. I tried to reach out my foot to feel for the next wooden rectangle, but I couldn’t reach it even with my leg fully extended.  The same was true with my arm.

So AJ put a hand out for me to step across since I couldn’t reach and I got my foot on the rectangle, but I still couldn’t reach with my hand, so I suddenly slipped and hit the ground.  I was so frustrated since I was so close to the bell.

I forgot that I could have tried again, but instead I went and did the 30 burpee penalty while AJ crossed the wall.

Log Carry

Men get a larger log and females get a smaller one.  You must carry it up and down a hill.  The logs are pretty heavy, so although they don’t feel too bad in the beginning, it gets tiring by the time you carry it up.

I like to carry the log on my head because I find that to be the easiest option while walking uphill.  Not too many people do it this way, but it works for me.  Most people carry it on one of their shoulders.

On the downhill, I carried it horizontally across my stomach and that wasn’t too bad.

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Spear Throw

I hate this obstacle.  It’s so hard to get the spear to actually stick into the hay.  So many people have to do burpees at this obstacle.  AJ was able to complete every obstacle without assistance except for this one since he missed the hay.

Sandbag Carry

The females and males have different weights to carry.  Just like the log carry, you walk up and down hills, over some branches, and through a little bit of water.  Some people carry it on their shoulder or behind their heads.

I carried mine on my head and later kind of hugging it in front of me.

Monkey Bars

These are my major weakness.  I just can’t do the monkey bars.  But one day I will be able to.  They have normal monkey bars…well, as normal as the Spartan race will have it.  They’re still wider than normal monkey bars, so they’re really difficult to grip with my small hands.

They have monkey bars that have a long metal piece that you must get across, followed by different chains, baseballs on rope, and grips that you have to cross.

They also had ones that spin around while you’re trying to reach the next one.  AJ completed each of these obstacles with ease…me, not so much.

Atlas Carry

They have these big cement stones on the ground.  You must pick it up, walk a few yards, drop it, do 5 burpees, pick it up, walk back, and then drop it.

Picking it up is the hardest part.  Looking online, I can’t find a definite answer about the weight, but it seems that most people agree that it is somewhere between 40 and 60 lbs for women and 80 and 100 lbs for men.

40-60 lbs doesn’t sound terrible, but the size of the stone makes it difficult to get off of the ground.

I squat as low as I can to the ground and try to push it against my stomach to get it up.  Looking at tutorials online, some people roll the stone up one of their legs while the other leg is in the squatting position.  That way they can get it up against their stomach/chest more easily.

Once it’s up, it isn’t too difficult to walk with the stone, but picking it up is the tricky part.

Gravel Bucket Carry

This is an obstacle that most people hate.  It’s brutal.  It always comes towards the end of the race.  In the Spartan Beast in Vermont, this obstacle occurred twice.  You have to fill a bucket with gravel.  It has to be filled up to the line, which is a little bit lower for women than men.

Then, there is an extremely steep hill that you must climb while holding the bucket.  If you drop it, spilling gravel, you have to start all over again.  This is an obstacle that anyone can finish, but not quickly.

This was at the end of the race.  My legs were so tired from all of the previous running and obstacles.  Every step was difficult.  I hugged the bucket in front of me, slowly putting one foot in front of the other.

Going up the hill, every time I needed a break, I put my right leg in front of me, up the hill.  I would rest the bucket on my thigh.  That gave me the break that I needed so that I could catch my breath.  Many people rest by putting the gravel all the way back down on the ground, but that seems to waste a lot of unnecessary energy since you have to bend all the way over to drop the bucket and then lifting it off of the ground is much more difficult than lifting it off of your thigh.

At the top of the hill, it was flat, so I was sure to rest before the top and then after the flat part.  I knew that if I rested at the flat part, I wouldn’t have a hill to position my right leg on in order to rest the bucket on my thigh.

I expected the downhill to be more difficult, but that was not the case.  The downhill was definitely easier, but I was still very careful with my steps.  Parts of the hill were very steep and had quite a bit of spilled gravel.  I didn’t want to risk falling and dumping out my gravel since I would then have to start from the beginning.

Rope Climb

I’ve still never been able to climb the rope in the race.  Usually, the ropes are over water.  This time, the ropes were over foam mats.  And for the first time, I am able to climb a rope at the gym.  However, this obstacle was the last one in the entire race.  My body was entirely drained, especially from the gravel bucket carry which I had just completed.  I hopped onto the rope and although I thought that I might be able to get up partway, I could tell that my arms just didn’t have the strength to get me all the way up and back down without just falling.  I opted for the burpees.  Again.

Here’s a nice video that someone took of all of the obstacles:


Results

I finished in 5 hours and 3 minutes, which placed me 9th in my age group (out of 280 females ages 24-29).

I was 27th out of all 1374 females.

AJ and I both finished at the same time, so we were 299th out of 4,200 total competitors in the open division.  Not too bad!

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Women’s Clothing:

Tops: I like to wear a sports bra with an athletic tank top.  I avoid cotton, t-shirts, and loose-fitting tank tops since they become heavy when wet.  Some girls just wear a sports bra, but I don’t want my stomach and back to get cut while crawling over walls and under barbed wire.

Bottoms: I wear spandex shorts, or capris with long socks.  If it’s around 55 degrees or warmer, I’ll go for shorts because I don’t like to feel too hot while racing.  If it’s chillier, I’ll wear the capris.  I opt to just wear the spandex without underwear so that there are fewer layers of fabric, but that’s a personal preference.

I used to wear shorter socks for my first few races, but then at the Beast in Vermont, I cut up my heels pretty badly since my socks were too low.  That was pretty painful.  I was running at last 10/17 miles with bleeding ankles.  They especially hurt when I had to do the rope traverse obstacle, dragging my bleeding heels across the rope.

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Those were my bleeding ankles in Vermont.  Ever since then, I remember to wear tall socks to avoid that unnecessary pain.

I tend to get blisters on my toes when I run, especially if my feet are wet, so I wear Injinji toe socks:

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Shoes: I always use trail shoes because of the grip.  These are similar to the ones I have:

I noticed that there were a lot of people slipping on the wall that we had to climb holding onto a rope.  We went from water straight to this wall, so it was pretty wet.  Thanks to the grip on my sneakers, I didn’t slip at all.  Most of the people who slipped had sneakers with flat soles that might work for running, but not obstacle racing.

Hydration pack: I prefer to race without a hydration pack, but I learned that it is almost essential on the beast.  In Vermont, there were times when I was so thirsty that I considered asking a complete stranger for a sip of their straw.

I have a small Camelbak.  It’s called a mini-mule and it’s actually a child’s size, but I found that the adult ones were larger than I wanted when I went to buy one a few years ago.  This is mine:

Even better than the fact that it held water was the pockets in the Camelbak.  I brought 8 GU gels to the race: 4 for AJ and 4 for me.  We ended up having 3 each.  In the past, I have stored my GU gels in my sports bra, but sometimes I end up with cuts between my breasts as a result.  It was nice to just keep them in the pocket of the Camelbak.

I also kept our headlamps in another pocket.  We didn’t need the headlamps in the end, but we had them as a precaution because you get kicked off of the race if you don’t have a headlamp after the sun begins setting.


 

 

After the Race:

Upon finishing, they give you your medal, a banana, and a protein bar.  Then you can grab your T-shirt.  I was happy that the T-shirts were specifically for the Spartan Beast this year.  In 2014, all of the shirts were exactly the same, regardless of whether you ran the Sprint, Super, Beast, or Ultra.  I have 4 of the exact same T-shirt since I ran 4 races that year.

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T-shirt, headband, and finisher’s medal

 

I tried to walk around a little bit after the race because I knew that my legs would tighten up once I sat down.  I was pretty dirty, so I rinsed off some of the dirt before getting on the shuttle back to our parking lot.

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Dirty face after the race

After the two-hour car ride home, my legs were super stiff.  AJ and I were both super tired and sore, so we just went out to get dinner and then had a lazy evening.  Sunday was another lazy day.  They suggest running a slow, short jog the day after the race, but my legs were already so sore that I don’t think that I could have gone for a jog.

If I had, maybe that would have helped my sore legs.  I’m not really too sure.  I can’t even describe the pain I felt with each step.  It felt as though my quads and calves had been torn apart and were unable to support my legs.

Stairs were my absolute enemy.  I have had sore legs after running full marathons, but I think that I was more sore from this race than from the marathons.  My right knee was locking up every time I stepped because my muscles just weren’t firing accurately.

We were finished with the race around 3pm on Saturday.  Sunday and Monday were the most painful days in terms of my sore legs.  Tuesday was still pretty rough.  Wednesday I was almost walking normally.  Thursday was normal other than steps.  Finally on Friday I could walk up and down steps normally (though there was still some soreness).

After the race, I had rolled out AJ’s legs, but mine were already so sore that I told him that I didn’t want it.  Maybe it would have helped.

I was also really sore in my inner arm.  I had bruised it when getting up and over one of the 10-foot walls.  I had an immediate bruise during the race, which just kept getting darker after the race.

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Bruised arm

Anyway, I’m really happy about the race overall.  I wish I could have avoided my shoulder injury so that I could have performed better at some of the obstacles that require mainly upper body strength, but I guess that is what next year is for.

Here’s another medal to add to my race rack:

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Until next time, AROO!

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2017 USMC Educator Workshop

Tuesday:

On Tuesday, I was picked up at 4am (along with a coworker of mine) by a Marine recruiter and driven to Newark airport to hop on a plane to Atlanta, Georgia, and then another plane to Savannah, Georgia.  We then boarded a bus with other educators from the state of New Jersey and headed to our hotel in Beaufort, South Carolina.

This was the first leg of our journey to the United States Marine Corps 2017 Educator Workshop and we had no idea what to expect.

We were given no itinerary.  Our short packing list included just four items: sunscreen, bug spray, comfortable clothes, and a business casual outfit.

Some of us (like me) had watched a fewYouTube videos from previous educator workshops, so we had some vague expectations.  My roommate and I knew that we would be yelled at, but we didn’t know when that would happen.  As we rode the bus to the hotel, we just held our breath in anticipation of when the yelling would begin.

Upon arriving at the hotel, the Marines were all very kind to us.  We checked in and had free time until dinner, so I went for a run to see some of the area.

When we piled back onto the white buses to head to Parris Island for the first time for dinner, we were again nervous, waiting for the yelling to begin.  We eventually realized that none of that would happen until Wednesday morning.  So much worrying for no reason.

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Entrance to Parris Island

One group of educators (28 of us) was from Recruiting Station (RS) New Jersey and the other group was from RS Pennsylvania (30 of them).  We had dinner together, along with some of the Marines.  We were able to ask any questions that we had while enjoying our meal together.

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Dinner on Tuesday night

After dinner, they told us to expect Thursday to be the physically active day.  For Wednesday, they just made it clear that we would experience the wrath of the drill instructors.  Uh oh.

We rode the bus back to the hotel.  I went swimming in the hotel pool, and then hit the sack early since breakfast would be from 5-6am the next morning.

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Pool time!

Wednesday:

After an early breakfast we loaded onto the buses toward Parris Island.  Immediately upon arriving, a female drill instructor boarded the bus and started screaming at us.

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Ready to find out what day two holds for me

She ordered us to get off of the bus and run onto the yellow footprints, leaving no empty spaces between the members of our “platoon.”  Even though we knew that we were not actual Marine recruits, the drill instructors were still quite terrifying.  The yellow footprints are a significant tradition at Parris Island.  Every new recruit steps onto these footprints upon arriving, which means that every Marine who has ever lived has stood either on the footprints in Parris Island, South Carolina, or those in San Diego, California.  (Recruits from the east of the Mississippi River head to Parris Island while those west of the Mississippi head to San Diego.)

The first thing we did was head into the first building that the new recruits would enter.  We each sat in a small metal desk while we learned about the intake procedures.  Each recruit gets just one phone call home to let their families know that they have arrived safely.  They get three attempts and if they are unable to reach a loved one, they will try again each day until they are able to relay the message of their safety.  After that, there is no contact with anyone from home (other than letters) until the day before graduation (12 weeks later).

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After learning about the intake, we asked some questions and were then released back into the hands of the drill instructors.  For RS New Jersey, we had Staff Sergeant King and boy, was she intimidating.

“Roust that march!”  “Ay, ma’am!”

“Sprint!”  “Sprint, ay, ma’am!”

“STOPPPP!”  “Stop, ay ma’am!”

She had us lining up in formation, sprinting forward, then turning around to run back to the footprints to line up again.  Every time she spoke, we had to scream a response.  If it took too long to get back into formation, we ran another sprint.  If someone didn’t scream the response loud enough, we would run another sprint.  If someone scratched their face, we would run again.  “Did I tell you to scratch your face?” “No, ma’am!”

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We also had to learn how to count off.  So after she yelled some commands, we would kneel down one at a time while calling out our number.  There were 28 of us, so whenever the last person said “28,” all of us would yell, “28, done ma’am!”  Unfortunately, people kept messing up with the counting and kneeling and yelling back commands, so we went up and down a ton of times.  All of us had sore legs and butts the next day.

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Then she had us run into the pit.  It’s a box of dirty, sand flea-filled sand where the drill instructors command the recruits to go through a series of exercises: running in place, running in place with arms lifted and high knees, push-ups, crunches, mountain climbers, you name it.

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We were probably only in the pit for 5-10 minutes, but we were exhausted.  People were dripping with sweat.  Thanks to the combination of sweat, sunscreen, and bug spray, the sand/dirt from the pit stuck to any exposed skin.

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My dirty arm

“I need to text my wife and tell her how I don’t know what to expect for the physical day if this is the non-physical day,” said one of the teachers who was regretting his decision to wear jeans on Wednesday.

We then went into one of the barracks to hear from more drill instructors and to ask questions.  Most people were hesitant to ask questions around the drill instructors since they were so intimidating when they were yelling at us.

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Later, we went into an auditorium, where we would be learning more about the Marines.  They explained that we had 5 minutes to “make a head call” if we “desperately” needed it.  They use the term “head” to refer to the bathrooms.

I opted not to go to the bathroom since I wasn’t desperate, but then I was soon nervous, wondering when they would offer another head call.  I quickly learned to try to go to the bathroom any time they offered it since we never really knew how many hours it would be until we had another chance.

During the presentation, I learned so much about the Marines that I previously had no knowledge of.  We heard about the qualifications and how 71% of current high school students are ineligible, for a variety of reasons which may include:

-drug history

-incidents with the police/law

-tattoo placement

-medications

-health issues

-low ASVAB scores

-lack of a high school diploma

I had no idea how tough it was to get into the Marines.

We also heard from a woman who explained the educational benefits of the Montgomery GI Bill and the 9/11 GI bill.  And we heard from a man who told us about the musicians who are in the Marines and the requirements to enter that program.  I had never considered mentioning that as an option to some of my students who are musically inclined, but there are some Marines who are responsible for playing in their bands at various celebrations, ceremonies, and other gatherings.

After that, we had lunch.  We got to eat with some of the Marine recruits.  It was really nice to be able to speak with them and to ask them questions about their experiences.  The Marine who was sitting across the table from me had finished his Crucible a few days prior.  He had received his ring and his new uniform and he was very excited to graduate on Friday.  His girlfriend’s graduation occurred three days after he started boot camp, so we hadn’t seen her in about six months.  He was clearly proud of their accomplishments, yet very humble at the same time.

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After lunch we went to learn how to shoot the M16 rifles.  First, we tried it indoors on the virtual version.  The gun was much heavier than I expected.  The Marine who was helping me asked me if I was a lefty or righty.  I told him that I wasn’t sure since I do some things lefty, others righty, and I’ve never held a gun before.

He then asked me which eye is my dominant eye.”  “Um…I don’t know that either.”

So he told me to squint.  Because I immediately shut my right eye, he said that meant that my left eye was my dominant eye.  Learn something new every day.

Then it was time to practice shooting the target on the screen.  The gun was pretty heavy and my right shoulder is a little bit injured right now, so I took my 3 shots and then gladly put down the gun to pass it off to the next person.

After everyone practiced shooting, we went to the firing range.  We learned about safety and then each of us was able to take a turn shooting the real M16.  We had the option to shoot standing, kneeling, or prone (laying down).  I opted to shoot prone so that I didn’t have to worry about my shoulder and lifting the heavy gun.

We each got to fire 10 shots.  There were targets placed in the field anywhere from 100-500 meters away.  The first shot I took was a miss, but after that, I did really well, hitting the next shots on targets between 100 and 300 meters away.  Once I tried the 400 and 500 meter targets, I missed again.

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Shooting the M16
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Shooting the M16

Most people were really excited to fire the rifles.  I’m not really interested in guns, so although I was happy that I performed well, I don’t really feel the need to ever shoot a gun again.  We were in a competition between RS New Jersey and RS Pennsylvania to see who could get the most hits.  RS Pennsylvania won.

We left the firing range and then headed over to the pool to learn about the swim test.  We heard from the MCIWS (Marine Corps Instructors of Water Survival) team.  For many recruits, this is the scariest part of boot camp since they don’t know how to swim and may have never had the opportunity to try to swim before.

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They said that if a recruit cannot swim physically, that is an easy fix since they just teach them flotation techniques.  What is more difficult to overcome is those who cannot swim psychologically because of their fear of the water.  If a recruit is unable to pass the test after multiple attempts, he or she will not be able to become a Marine.

The recruits don’t really need to know how to swim well.  It’s more about survival than actual swimming.  They have to be able to float for a certain amount of time while treading water.  They have to be able to remove their gear in the water.  They learn how to tie off their pant legs and inflate them with air as a makeshift life vest.  It’s not like they are training them to swim laps.

They told us the story of a Marine who fell off of a ship and nobody noticed when it happened.  He ended up floating in the middle of the ocean for over two days, surviving as a result of his Marine training and because he was able to inflate his pants to use for flotation.

Then they let us watch instructors go through the tests that the recruits experience.

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They also showed us some extra games that the MCIWS instructors do together to try to push themselves and to have a little fun.  One guy took two 35-lb kettle bells, jumped into the water, walked all the way across the bottom of the pool and then back to the other side in just one breath.40

After that, we drove the buses over to the aviation part of Parris Island.  We heard from some Marines who work on the fighter jets (mainly the F18).  They also told us about the new F35.  Two of the pilots also spoke to us and then they brought us outside to look at the jets.

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One of the pilots with an F18

They let us put on a helmet and climb the ladder to look into the F18, but we weren’t allowed to take any pictures up there.

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After that, we went to have dinner.  It was a crazy long day, with every minute accounted for.  By dinner, I was pretty tired and REALLY hungry.  Luckily there was delicious eggplant lasagna as one of the buffet options for dinner.

Many of the teachers wanted a drink, so they were excited to learn that we could go to the officer’s club for drinks.  I was tired (and I don’t drink), so I was just ready to get back to the hotel and go to bed.

Thursday:

On Thursday morning, we again had breakfast from 5-6am and loaded up on the buses.  I was simultaneously excited and nervous for the day’s activities since I knew that it was our physical day.

First, we got to see the Marines who would be graduating the following morning as they took their motivation run.  This was their last workout before graduation and also the first time their families would see them.  Since there are so many Marines and they all look very similar, most families probably couldn’t pick out their son or daughter, but the energy was vibrant.

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Motivation run

We took a group picture and then we went to the visitors center.  I had a chance to speak to the chaplain, which was interesting.  She said that they have quite a few conversions because some of the new recruits end up finding their faith as a result of trying to cope with the difficulties that accompany boot camp.  She said that she would be performing seven baptisms later that day.

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After that, we went to the Marine museum.  Then it was time to go to the obstacle course.  I was excited for the obstacles since I would be running the Spartan Beast soon after heading back to Jersey.

The first obstacle was a series of logs across other logs.  You had to jump on the first horizontal log, then up to the next, and finally up to the third, before bear hugging it, rolling over, and jumping down.  This is what it looked like:

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Then, we had to run and jump onto this rope and swing across the gravel area:

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Then there was an inverted wall.  Here, one of the Marines is helping me to get my leg over:

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There were also monkey bars and then this balancing log obstacle:

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After the obstacles, we had lunch with more Marine recruits.  Then it was time for the 50 foot rappel tower.  I’m not scared of heights, so I wasn’t as scared as many of the other people in our group, but the tower definitely looked pretty tall.

First, they taught us how to tie the knots for our harness.  The Marines checked to make sure that each of us had tied the harnesses properly and then we walked up the steps to the top of the tower.

I stayed close to the front of the line because I didn’t want to have to wait too long for my turn.  I knew that the longer I waited, the more nervous I would feel.  They ensured us that even if we slipped, we wouldn’t crash down to the ground.  Worst case scenario, we would flip upside down, still attached to the harness.

When it was my turn, I intentionally just stepped backward toward the edge of the ledge, not looking at the ground below me.  I knew that I would be more scared if I saw how far the ground looked.

When the Marine told me to, I slowly leaned back, still not looking down.

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We were told to keep our legs straight.  If we bent them, we might end up flipping over.  Our left arm was supposed to hold the rope loosely while the right arm was supposed to hold the rope tightly since it was our break hand.  As we let go with the right hand, we would start rappelling down.  The Marines would rappel really quickly, almost running down the wall.  I didn’t want to go that fast, so I never loosened my right hand too much.

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I slowly made my way down the wall and it was pretty fun.  I’m happy that I went early on because after me, there were a few people who slipped.  I saw at lease three or four people flip upside down.  I would have been absolutely terrified if that had happened to me and I was hanging upside down at the top of the tower.

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After the tower, we went to the gas chambers.  First, they asked who wore contacts.  I raised my hand.  They said that any of us with contacts would have to close our eyes as we walked through the gas chamber.  Otherwise, we would get these crystals stuck under our contacts and they said it would hurt even worse when they did whatever was necessary to clean them out.

I had an immediate stomachache because I was so nervous about going into the gas chamber without my eyes open.  I had to hold onto the shoulders of the person in front of me.  I tried to hold my breath for as long as I could, but I eventually had to breathe.  I breathed in through my mouth and immediately felt a burning sensation in my throat and lungs.

We were probably only in the gas chamber for a matter of seconds and I probably only took 2-3 breaths while inside, yet all of us were immediately coughing the moment we exited.  People without contacts probably had it worse because their eyes had been open, so they were burning in addition to their noses, throats, and lungs.

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They told us to walk around to get fresh air.  The gas chamber was pretty painful and the gas wasn’t even on.  They said that it was worse for us because it was such a hot day, so the brick building was hot.  The gas gets stirred up by people walking through it, so even though it wasn’t on full blast, it was still pretty strong.

The Marine recruits enter the gas chamber with gas masks on.  Then they eventually must break the seal, letting the air into their masks in order to get used to training in a chemical situation and not just freaking out.  I can’t imagine how strong the gas must feel when it’s on full blast.

After that, we went to see part of the Crucible, the last event that the recruits have to endure before becoming actual Marines.  It’s a 54-hour culminating event. We got to participate in more obstacles there.  These were team-building obstacles that required everyone to work together in order to accomplish the tasks.

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We also got to see the recruits doing some sparring during the Crucible.

From there, we went to a dinner that they were having.  Some of the families of the Marines who would be graduating on Friday were there.  After dinner, we went to a shop that was on the island and then back to our hotel.

My roommate and I went on a 6 mile run with one of the Marines.  The rest of the group had a karaoke night at the hotel bar.

Friday:

Friday morning we had breakfast and then went to the ceremony where they raised the flag.  From there, we went to the graduation ceremony.

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Graduation ceremony

It was amazing to realize that they have this same ceremony every Friday for a new group of Marines.

Then we went to the auditorium to talk to the General.  We then took pictures with the Marine dog, Legend, and with some of the Marines we had been working with during the workshop.

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Legend with two of the Marines we had been working with

This woman, staff sergeant King, was the drill instructor for RS New Jersey.  By Friday, she was nice to us and speaking normally, but on Wednesday morning, she was completely terrifying with all of the orders she was yelling at us.

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We then got some boxed lunches and hopped on the bus for our flights home.  I flew from Savannah to North Carolina and then from North Carolina to New Jersey.  At Newark, I was picked up by my local Marine recruiter and then brought back home.

Overall, the experience was really awesome.  I learned so much about the Marines.  I definitely feel better prepared to give advice to some of my students who may be trying to decide whether the military is right for them.

I actually have a student who just told me this week that he signed up for the Marines and he was asking me questions about my experience at the workshop.  I like the fact that I can now better understand what he should expect in terms of enlisting and eventually heading off to Parris Island for boot camp.

I would definitely encourage any educator, principal, or guidance counselor to attend the Marine Educator Workshop if they have the opportunity.

2016 Year in Review

As I’ve done for the past two years (2014: My Year in Review, 2015: My Year in Review), here is my 2016 year in review.  Everyone seemed so eager to see the passing of 2016, but I don’t feel that way at all.  While I am excited to see what this next year of life brings me, I am content looking back at all that happened in 2016.  I feel beyond blessed at how different my life is today, January 2nd, than January 2nd last year.  There are so many people I didn’t even know last year today who I am now happy to call my friends.  I had a great year and I look forward to an even better 2017.

January:

-I started off the new year in San Antonio, Texas, watching fireworks exploding all over the place at the passing of midnight and playing lots of games like jumbo Jenga before flying back to Jersey

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-Annual trip to Frost Valley in Claryville, NY

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Posing with the snowman and my cousin
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Hiking to High Falls with painted faces
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The crew

February:

-The end of my last relationship

-Caidin came to visit and we went to Twin Lights in Highlands

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-My mom traveled to Israel / Tel Aviv / Jerusalem / Bethlehem / Rome for her birthday pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  She got to renew her baptismal vows in the Jordan River.

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March:

-I traveled to Brazil for Spring Break.  First, I was with my sister, Vanessa, and my brother-in-law, Carlos, for Easter.  We went to see an amazing waterfall.

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Swimming by the waterfall with my brother-in-law, Carlos

-Then I went to Manaus for my grandma’s 99th birthday.  I am so thankful that I got to go and spend some time with her because that was the second and last time I would ever see her.

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I also got to see lots of other family members while there and I went swimming with river dolphins with two of my uncles.

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-My mom’s 60th birthday

April:

-Although my mom’s birthday was in March, we had a family party for her in April

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May:

-My cousin, Dan, graduated from UConn

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-I ran the Run the Hook 10k in Sandy Hook, NJ

June:

-I went to senior prom to see my students

-Finished my first year teaching in New Jersey

-Traveled to Kansas City, Missouri, to grade AP English Language & Composition exams with my friend from DHS, Elise

-While in Kansas City, I also got to see my friend, Kristin, from high school, who is now a zookeeper at the Kansas City Zoo

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-Ran the Fairfield Half Marathon and set a personal record of 1:55

July:

-Went to Connecticut for my grandpa’s birthday party

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-Ran the Belmar five miler

-My friend, Juan, came to visit me in Jersey

-Met on Monday nights with the Belmar Area Catholic Young Adult group that I helped run

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-Through the Belmar young adult group, I met my friend Gabriella, and through her, my Bible study, which has been such an amazing blessing and has brought me so many new friends

-Went to the sand castle competition in Belmar

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-Went to Long Beach Island for a week with my mom

-I turned 28 in Long Beach Island

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Birthday lunch

August:

-Ran the River to Sea Relay race with an awesome group of people to raise money for Covenant House

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-I started riding my bike all around the shore

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Riding my bike through Avon by-the-sea

-Traveled to Nicaragua with Living Water International

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My amazing team

-We helped to drill a well to bring clean water to a rural village

-We also taught hygiene lessons and Bible stories to the women and children.  I helped to translate.

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The community with their finished well

-My friend, Lizzy, visited since she was in Philadelphia for vet clinicals, so we had a beach day

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-Worked on improving my yoga and handstands
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-Hung out with new friends from Bible study14212800_931558857870_9142389201927948083_n

September:

-As of the 1st, I have officially lived in New Jersey for one year

-Started my second year of teaching in New Jersey

-My Brazilian grandmother passed away right before her 99 1/2 birthday

-Went to the Philadelphia Zoo with my friend, Adam

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-Went kayaking with my friend, Adam

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October:

-Ran the Jersey Shore Half Marathon in Sandy Hook

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-Tenth Avenue North concert with my friend, Amanda

-Went to Catholic Underground in NYC with friends from Bible study

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-More kayaking with friends

-Ran the Atlantic City Marathon.  My mom and my friend, Adam, came to cheer me on

-I saw whales a few times from the beach in the fall

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-I went swimming in the ocean the day before Halloween

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November:

-I hosted our weekly Bible study once at my house in November.  It was tight to squish in 15 people, but we managed.

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-Bar Crawl in Asbury Park to raise money for Covenant House

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-Did some November stand up paddling and kayaking in the ocean in my wetsuit from my uncle

-Kayaking Shark River with my friend, Kate

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-Home to Connecticut for Thanksgiving

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December:

-Went to see the ice sculptures in Tinton Falls

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Mimicking the ice sculptures

-Out in Asbury for my friend, Stacy’s, birthday

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-Weekend in the Poconos for Sway’s 25th birthday

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-New relationship with AJ on December 11th

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Climbing a tree in the Poconos

-Graham cracker gingerbread house building with AJ

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-Christmas Eve at my grandparents’ house

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-Christmas day at my aunt and uncle’s house

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-Devin & Elise’s New Year’s Eve wedding with AJ

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So here is goodbye to 2016 and hello to 2017.  This year should be another great one, filled with more adventures!

A Season of Gratitude

I try to always be aware of the importance of gratitude.  It is so easy to focus on the things that we with we could improve in our lives.  This is especially true in our prayer lives.  It’s easy to get caught up in constantly asking God for things.  There is always someone whose health could improve, someone who can use a new job, and many other requests that we have for God.

But we must remember to also thank God for all that He has given us and all of the prayers that He has answered.

With the approach of Thanksgiving and the Christmas season of Advent, it is now the perfect time to focus on gratitude.

So I want to reflect on my year and all that I am grateful for.

-My health – I’ve been doing well with my Lyme disease for a while, finally able to get back into running races again this year

-My family – Since I no longer live close to my family, it makes me even more grateful for the time I get to spend with them during the holidays.  I am thankful that they are only two hours away so that it’s not a difficult task to go home to Connecticut.

-My new friends – I have been so blessed with all of the new people I have met this past year, meeting people at work, at the beach, and in Bible study, and my young adult group.

-My Bible study – It is through this Bible study that I have been able to meet most of these new friends.  I am so grateful to have a group of people who are pushing me to grow in my faith.

-My apartment – I love living so close to the beach.

-The ocean – It keeps me sane on the days when I am stressed out.

-My job. I love teaching high school English so much.

-My students.  I have a really great group of kids this year.

Running

Racing

Biking

-My wet suit from my uncle that now allows me to go kayaking and stand up paddling even when the weather isn’t super warm

-The beach

-Having a roof over my head

-Living in a first world country so that I don’t have to struggle each day to survive

-My love for volunteering

-All of the people I have met through my volunteer opportunities both locally and abroad

-My priests

-My sponsored child, Patience, and his family

-That I have had the chance to meet the Brazilian side of my family, especially my now deceased grandma and grandpa

Desserts

Traveling

Waterfalls

Hiking

-My Catholic faith

God is so Good

I’ve been wanting to write a blog regarding my recent joy and gratitude for a while, but because I’ve been so busy (doing a bunch of awesome things), I just haven’t had the time.  So here are some of the things that have been taking up my time:

Bible Study

I am so incredibly thankful for the new amazing Catholics that I have met in my area, mainly as a result of attempting to start a Catholic young adult group here.  Through that, I met a great new friend and through her, I learned about a Bible study that meets each week.

Basically, we meet at a different person’s house most Thursdays for dinner and Bible study.  We share a meal and then study the Bible together.  The first time I was invited, it was a group of 6 or 7 of us.  This was some time in July.  I thought that these people had been close friends for years.  Only weeks later did I find out that their Bible study had started recently and some of them didn’t really know much about each other at all.

Since then, our numbers have continued growing.  Now we also have once a month Thursday holy hours, holding them at a different church each time.  I had been praying to find local Catholic friends basically from the moment I graduated from Franciscan University in December 2009.  It took a while, but I am currently so blessed in that I have met so many amazing passionately Catholic young adults.  And what is crazy to think about is that I didn’t know any of these people before June.  Most I’ve only known since July or August.  It’s interesting how quickly life can change in such dramatic ways.

This past Thursday, I hosted Bible study in my apartment.  We had 15 people there.  It was a little tight since I have a small apartment, but that was a great problem to have.  We just keep growing and meeting more amazing Catholics who desire to grow in their faith.

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Bible study

Kayaking

I lived here for almost a full year before getting to use my kayaks.  It was tricky getting my ocean kayak to the beach by myself.  There is also a river where I can kayak, but I can’t get either kayak on my car alone.

Toward the end of the summer, I used my kayak twice in the ocean.  Then I figured out how to get both of them to the river by putting one in my trunk and one on my roof rack.  I’ve gone kayaking there 4 or 5 times since September with two of my friends.

I love living in a place where I can walk a few feet and be at the ocean or drive a few blocks and be at the bay.  (They call it a river, but to me it seems to be a bay since it’s connected to the ocean.  I don’t know).  It’s pretty awesome.

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Kayaking Shark River

It’s also great that I have a job where I can finish a full day of work, be home by 3, and still get a few good hours of kayaking before it starts to get chilly.  It has been a nice autumn because the weather has been pretty warm even into November.

Here’s a quick video of getting to see the train while kayaking and also seeing the drawbridge:

Tenth Avenue North concert

I went to this concert back in October and it was just amazing.  They are my favorite Christian band and I had never seen them live before.  It was just what I needed at the end of a great, but long week.

This is my video of compiled video clips from the concert:

I am so happy that my friend Amanda invited me because I would have never known about the concert if it hadn’t been for her.  She is another friend who I met as a result of trying to start the area young adult group with my church.

At the concert, the lead singer for Tenth Avenue North talked about Compassion International, which is the organization I found in order to sign up to sponsor Patience, my sponsored child in Rwanda.

I know from my own experiences in meeting Patience back in August 2015 in Rwanda that Compassion International seems to be doing great things across the world, but hearing even more accounts about it solidified my view of the organization.

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With my sponsored child, Patience, in Rwanda

What is great about Compassion is that they don’t bring in Americans to do the work overseas.  Rather, they use local churches and hire people within each country to oversee the program.  In some places where other sponsorship organizations were denied the opportunity to work in some dangerous areas, Compassion is allowed since they are based out of churches  that already exist in the community.

Catholic Underground

For Catholic Underground, a group of us from our Bible study drove up to NYC.  The church we went to for adoration was completely packed.  They had confession and praise and worship music during adoration and then there was live music downstairs afterwards.  It was an awesome experience, and great to get to know some of the people from my Bible study a little bit better through the long car rides.  I am so thankful for all of these new friends, even though I have only known them since this past summer.

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Some of the people from our Bible study at Catholic underground

I’m also excited about Catholic Underground because I met a guy from Connecticut there who also has an interest in overseas volunteering.  Through him, I might be able to find a connection to Catholic volunteer organizations to potentially serve with in the future.

The beach

It’s so simple, but I just love the beach so much.  I never expected this fall to be so warm that I could continue swimming so late into the year, but I’ve been lucky.  Maybe it’s a sign of global climate change, but for now I’ll just be thankful for the many beach days I’ve had since the end of the summer.

I’ve gone out for many morning beach walks, looking for beach glass and seashells.

I was even able to go swimming the day before Halloween!

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And THEN there was a whale at the beach on a few separate occasions.  Most recently, though, the whale was really close to the shore and it was feeding, so it kept leaping out of the water.  It was so incredibly exciting.

There is a person who lives in a house that overlooks the ocean and early last Saturday, I saw that he posted a live video of a whale.  I could tell it was right by my house.  I was still wearing pajamas, so I pulled on some leggings, threw on a jacket, grabbed my camera, and ran outside.

It was incredible.  The whale stayed in the general area for over an hour.

The picture below is just amazing.  I didn’t take it, but I did see the whale doing that multiple times.  The picture was taken by the guy who lives in the house right by the beach.

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Who needs to pay for a whale watch when you live right by the ocean and can watch them swimming on a random Saturday at 9am?

Here is my video of the whale:

Atlantic City Marathon

Although I’m not completely satisfied with my result since I had an injured achilles tendon and subsequently didn’t beat my previous marathon time of 4:20 (I finished this one in 4:29), I’m happy that I have gotten my health back to a place where I’m even able to attempt (and finish) a marathon in the first place.

When I first moved to New Jersey, I was pretty healthy, but then I quickly started experiencing my Lyme symptoms again.

Last February I started going to hot yoga and that has helped a lot.  Last March I started running again for the first time after almost a year off.  In that  year I did go running, but never enough to actually train for any races.

I also found that I love yoga…something that I had never expected.  I always looked at yoga as glorified stretching, but it’s definitely more than that.

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Backyard yoga practice

I think that yoga helped me to get back into running.  It also seemed to make me faster.  I ran a 10k in May in Sandy Hook, a half marathon in June in Connecticut, a five mile race in July in Belmar, a relay race across the state of New Jersey in August, a half marathon in Sandy Hook in October, and a full marathon in Atlantic City in October.  I had a full year off from running, completing no races at all in 2015 and then I was able to compete in 6 races in 2016.

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Now that I finished the marathon, I have to take a few weeks off from running to rest and heal my achilles.  I know that I would have done better if it hadn’t been for the injury, so I need to make sure that I don’t get back into running too quickly only to re-injure it.


I’m so incredibly thankful for my faith.  It’s not easy.  Sometimes I wish I learned about my faith about an older age.  But right now, I’m so at peace with my life in general and I think that a huge part of that has to do with my faith.

I know that God has a plan for me.

It’s really interesting because it’s the first time I’ve been single in five years.  I’ve been single now since February.  Back when I was in my last two relationships, I really thought that I was happy…especially in my more recent relationship.

Was I happy?  Sure.  But now I feel so much more peace and joy.

I have never been the type of person who needed a relationship to give me confidence in myself, but at the same time,  I liked being in relationships.  They were comfortable.  As a person who likes routine, I liked knowing what to expect each weekend.

But I realize now that both of these relationships were holding me back.  Yes, I was Catholic, and my exes were Catholics as well, but I wasn’t being pushed to grow in my faith.  I was remaining static.

Upon finding myself single last February, I started focusing more on God.  When I prayed, I kept getting the same message.  “Wait.”  Through the entire spring, I just kept doing just that.  Summer arrived and I was still without local friends.  I was still just trying to follow His advice, but it was hard.

I turned to God and running to maintain some sanity.

And then, without even realizing it at the time, things started changing.  I started to meet new people who have turned into new friends.  I found out about Bible study, which has led to many other events.  I found out about the race across the state which led to other new friendships.

Here I am now in November.  I’ve been single for almost exactly 9 months.  And I feel so incredibly joyful.  I feel like my life is exactly where it needs to be right now.

I am healthy.  I am running and going to yoga.  I have awesome students this year at my job and I’m getting to teach the AP class that I love so much again.  I’m living by the beach going for walks, bike rides, and kayaking.  I just got a stand up paddle board this week.  I have amazing friends and Bible study.  God is a main focus in my life right now, and I just feel so blessed.

I didn’t know how to word this post because I know that other people are facing more struggles than I am right now, so I don’t want to sound like everything is sunshine and rainbows.  But at the same time, I can’t contain my gratitude.

I literally drove to work this week with a smile on my face, just thinking about the place I am right now in my life in general.

So if you’re a person who isn’t yet in a good place, you need to turn to God first.  None of my happiness found me until I left it in God’s hands, waiting for things to fall into place.  I was on my knees in tears at adoration.  I was at Stations of the Cross on Friday nights with no other plans for the upcoming weekends.  I was at Mass by myself each Sunday just praying and trying to be patient.

Things do get better.  It may not be according to our own timeline.  God’s timing may not be what we want.  But I don’t think that the joy I feel now would be the same if I hadn’t had the difficult times last winter and spring.  I needed that to now see the dramatic shift that my life has taken.

I don’t know where things will go from here.  But I am content in my belief that God has good plans for me.  He is in charge of my life and I am trying my best to make choices that reflect His will for me.

And right now, it all seems to be working out.  I am joyful, I am thankful, I am blessed.

Marathons – Why We Pay to Inflict Major Pain Upon Our Bodies

On Sunday, I completed the Atlantic City marathon.  This was my second marathon.  I ran my first back in 2013, in Hartford, Connecticut.  I finished in 4 hours and 20 minutes, which I was happy about.  My main goal had been beating 4 1/2 hours, so I succeeded.

Since then, I have been running other races (half marathons, a 10k, Spartan races, and a Tough Mudder), never wanting to put the time into training for a full marathon.  But I also always wanted to see if I could beat my original time.

This summer, I ran the River to Sea Relay across the state of New Jersey.  I ran 3 legs of the race, for a total of 16.5 miles.  It was that race that convinced me to try another full marathon, since I was already pretty far along in the training anyway.

However, over the past 3-4 weeks, I have been experiencing pain in my achilles tendon while running.  I took one week off because I was sick.  Then I ran 6 days the next week, but I had to take another full week off because of my achilles.  But after that week-long break, I set a PR (personal record) at my 4th half marathon, in Sandy Hook, New Jersey.

I was determined to get to the Atlantic City marathon.  Some people suggested I defer since I wasn’t completely healthy in terms of my achilles, but I had been training all summer.  I was going to that race.

Saturday I went to Atlantic City so that I wouldn’t have to drive there super early in the morning for the Sunday morning race.  I felt fine, but after a little too much walking on the boardwalk and through the casino, my achilles was feeling sore.

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With my mom at the race expo on Saturday afternoon

I was really nervous.  I didn’t admit to my mom how much it was hurting or how scared I was, but I was just hoping that I would be able to finish the next day’s race.

On race morning, I felt great.  I ate my banana, a tiny bit of chicken, and 2 lemon Oreos.  But I was feeling really full, so I actually only ate half of each Oreo.  That was strange for me.  Maybe it was just the nerves, but later on in the race I kept having that same full feeling even though I knew that I wasn’t actually full.

I was so excited to start the race.  I warmed up a little with some dynamic stretches.  I tossed my sweats and long sleeve shirt to my mom, and crossed the starting line.  Here was the breakdown in miles for me:

Miles 1-4:  Feeling great.  Maintaining a pace around 8:45.  My achilles was sore, but not changing my stride.  I started to pray for people, offering up my race for the souls of my uncle Lowell who recently passed away, and my Brazilian grandma who had passed away just a few days after him.

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Mile 5:  It was pretty windy, so I was running a little slower.  Mile 5 was a 9:04 pace.  I downed a GU gel and kept going.

Miles 5-9: Still feeling pretty good.  Maintaining a pace around 8:58.  (I knew that in order to finish in under 4 hours, I couldn’t let my average pace get above 9:09).  The wind was pretty brutal at times, but it didn’t slow my pace too much.  I prayed a Divine Mercy Chaplet, though, because I was nervous that my achilles pain was going to get worse.

Mile 10-12: Feeling great, maintaining a 9:10 pace. Still in line to break the 4-hour marathon mark.  I was ahead of the 3:55 pacer.  Around 10.5 miles, I saw my mom and my friend Adam cheering me on, so that always gives me an extra energy boost.  I took at GU gel at mile 11, hoping for a little boost.

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Feeling great at 10.5 miles

Mile 13: Half marathon crossed at 1:58.  I was starting to run slower than before, but not by a significant amount.  My pace was 9:26 at mile 13.  I knew that I would have to get faster, but I was starting to feel more and more achilles pain on my right leg and knee pain knee my left leg (probably for compensating for my achilles on the other side.)

The 3:55 pacer crossed me.  I decided I would just try to not let the 4:00 pacer pass me.

Miles 14-15:  Tons of pain.  Doubting my chances of finishing under 4 hours.  Now just trying to beat my marathon time from my 1st marathon (4:20).  Mile 14 was a 9:46 pace and also my last mile that I was able to finish in under 10 minutes (which I didn’t know at the time).

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The 4:00 pacer approached.  I was determined to stay with him and his group.  But no matter how much my mind wanted it, my legs just wouldn’t go any faster.  No willpower was enough to get them to move more quickly.  They felt so heavy, but I wasn’t even close to the dreaded wall that marathoners fear, which usually happens between miles 18-20.  I knew that finishing this race was going to be excruciating, if not impossible.

Mile 18: This was the worst.  I suddenly dropped from a 10:30 pace to an 11:30 pace.  I don’t think I’ve ever run that slowly before.  I don’t even know if it can be called running.  It was more like a wobbly jog.   I was feeling so much pain that I was getting a little dizzy.  At one point, my eyes even seemed a little blurry.  I took a 3rd GU Gel and drank some Gatorade, hoping that the extra sugar would decrease my overall fatigue.

While running, my legs felt like lead.  Every step was painful. But any time I walked, I had a severe limp.   My right achilles was incredibly sore and bending my ankle hurt quite a bit.  And my left knee felt like someone was stabbing a knife into it.  So I would walk long enough to stop limping and then I would continue running.

Mile 19-21: I got a little bit of a second wind at mile 19.  Maybe more like a second breeze, really.  I was still running slowly, but I was able to run continuously without walking, at a 10:10 pace.  Since I had been so fast in the first half, at mile 20 I was still at a 9:30 average pace.  Still fast enough to beat my original marathon time.  Miles 19-21 were all a 10:30 pace.  Not a pace I’m proud of, but still running.

Mile 22: By now, the pain was there to stay.  11:08 pace for mile 22.  I saw the 4:15 pacer and I was determined to stay with her.  I could still beat my original time.

But eventually, even she passed me.  That was a huge blow to my morale, but I still thought that if I kept her in my sight, I might be able to at least break even with my original time.

Mile 23: By now, I was heading back to the boardwalk.  It was the last 5k, just a straight shot to the finish. Only 3 more miles.  Usually 3 miles sounds like nothing for me.  But I had to take 3 more walk breaks because the pain was so terrible, resulting in a 13:39 pace.  I knew I wouldn’t beat my original time at this point, so I decided to make good choices so as not to cause myself a major injury like a ruptured achilles tendon.

I am extremely competitive, so accepting the fact that I would finish after 4:20 was really difficult.  At one point on a walk break, I was limping pretty badly from my simultaneous left knee and right achilles pain.  A guy passed me, asking if I was okay.  I couldn’t even speak.  I just nodded and then some tears started running down my cheeks after he passed.  The tears were mainly a result of the pain, but also feeling let down that I wouldn’t accomplish my goal.

I stopped even looking at my GPS watch when it buzzed after each mile to tell me the average time.  I didn’t even want to know.  I only know now that I uploaded the data onto Garmin Connect.

The pain was so severe that I kept noticing that my hands were balled into tight fists.

Miles 24-25: I was so over it.  I just wanted to be done, not even caring about my time.  The only thing that kept me running was the fact that even running a slow 11:00 mile would be faster than walking.  I did not want to be out there any longer.

Mile 25: I ran/ walked/limped an incredibly slow pace of 13:53.  I was so close, but I just couldn’t force my body to be any faster.

Mile 26: Passing the mile 26 mile marker was exciting.  Then a man next to me tripped on the boardwalk.  I could tell he was struggling even before that.  I reached out my arm (though he was a big guy…if he fell, I couldn’t have stopped it from happening) toward him, but luckily he didn’t fall all the way.  He let out a loud groan, though, since I’m sure stubbing his toe was the last thing he needed.

I could see the finisher banner, so I kept trying to motivate him.  “We’re almost there.  Look, you can see the end!”  Motivating him actually helped me to feel a little better also.

Then the corral got closer.  Once I was close to the finish, I somehow had one last burst of energy.  I think it was actually more anger.  I sprinted to the finish, thinking ,”I hate this, I just want to be done.”  But then I crossed the line and I suddenly couldn’t breathe.

Sprinting at the end after feeling that much pain was probably not the best idea.  That’s probably how marathoners drop dead from heart attacks at the end of a race.

I just felt my “beast mode” click on.  The anger and pain and desire to be done just took over and I could no longer feel my aching ankle and knee.

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Sprinting to the finish

I finished.  I got my medal.  I grabbed a water and gatorade and then the tears just started pouring down my cheeks.  My mom came to congratulate me for finishing.  I know she had been nervous about this race because of my recent achilles issues.  She asked why I was crying, thinking that it was because I was relieved to be done.  Or she thought it may have been sadness for missing my goal.

Actually, it was just tears from the amount of pain I was in.  I’m not sure if I’ve ever cried as a result of pain before.  I’ve suffered though pretty decent pain without crying.  I got a tattoo that took 3 1/2 hours.  I’ve experienced 9 years of Lyme-disease-related aches and pains.  Although Lyme has definitely brought me to tears, it was usually more of the emotional pain that was difficult for me — not tears as a result of my physical back or joint pain.

Obviously, I was sad about missing my goal.  I told my mom that I had failed.  But the tears were just from the sheer pain that I was feeling.

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2016 Atlantic City Marathon finisher

So it makes me think, why do we pay to compete in marathons?  I love the half marathon distance because it’s difficult and competitive, but it doesn’t stress my body so badly.  But full marathons?  Pain is inevitable.  We pay hundreds of dollars to experience what I felt over the course of those 26.2 miles.

The Atlantic City marathon was $112.  The New York City marathon is over $400.  Lots of people travel far to get to their marathons.  They pay for flights and hotel rooms.  People are spending hundreds (and even thousands) of dollars for this pain.

Yesterday I wasn’t sure if I’d ever run another marathon again.  I thought maybe I’d just stick to halves.  But part of me is still so determined to beat a 4:20 marathon because I am absolutely positive that I can do it if I am uninjured and if I start slowly.

I think for me what makes the full marathon more meaningful than a half marathon is the sheer level of difficulty.  It takes such mental strength to push through that pain.  I could have tapped out at any moment after mile 13.  I could have sat down and given up.  But I didn’t.

Although I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed in the race, I’m still proud of myself.  I still finished, in a time that many people would love to have.  4:29 isn’t a bad race.  It was a 10:15 pace.  (My recent half marathon pace was 8:45, just so you have an idea of how slow 10:15 is for me.)  The average finishing pace for females was 10:51 and for males it was 9:58.  I did fine.  I’m just super competitive, so fine isn’t really enough.

I’m only 28.  I don’t think I could already say that I would never do another marathon because I’m pretty sure that at some point I will want to try it again.

I feel accomplished in knowing that I have the ability to push my body to run 26.2 miles.  13.1 miles is tough, but most people could work up to that type of race with minimal training.  A full marathon requires so much more training and mental fortitude.  To me, that’s what I love so much about it.  It’s just as much mental as physical.  I could have tapped out.  But my mind did not allow that.


What was really interesting to me was what happened when I went to church after the race.  The second reading was from the book of Timothy.  It was the one about competing well and finishing the race.  2 Timothy 4:7 “I have competed well; I have finished the race; I have kept the faith.”

Then the last song had the line, “we will run and not grow weary, for our God will be our strength.”  How fitting.  I love how God has such perfect timing.


So that was my experience with my second marathon.  I am really proud of all that I have been able to do since getting Lyme disease.  2 full marathons, 4 half marathons, 4 Spartan races 1 Tough Mudder, 1 10K, 1 five-miler, and 2 color run 5Ks.  I really shouldn’t beat myself up over one race that wasn’t ideal.

I finished.  I am proud of myself.  I am a marathoner.

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This Summer’s Dating Dilemmas

What an interesting summer it was in terms of some of the males I met.

1. Mr. Nice Guy

Things started out pretty normal back in May and June.  I had been hanging out with a guy for a month or two who I met online.  He was a really nice guy.  Unfortunately, nice just wasn’t enough (see the blog on that topic here: Why Being a Nice Guy Isn’t Enough).

It was enjoyable to have someone to go out to dinner with, go shopping with, and hang out at the beach with.  For our first date, we went out for brunch, then to Barnes and Noble to browse some books, and then we went for a walk on the boardwalk.  It was really nice.

After that, we hung out a few times, had dinners together, went running together, and went to the beach.  He was a nurse practitioner with a good job that he loved.  He was intelligent and kind.  He dressed nice.  But there just wasn’t a spark and he wasn’t too interested in his faith.

Then he invited me to his mom’s wedding and started talking about plans for my birthday and places we could go for a birthday getaway.  And that’s when I realized that he was definitely more into me than I was of him.  I probably could have let it continue a little longer and had a fun summer doing random activities with him, but I knew that my feelings weren’t changing and the longer I kept seeing him, the worse I would feel to end it.  I didn’t want to break either of our hearts.  As it is, I still ended up in tears when I ended things with him since I knew he was really disappointed.

Back to the drawing board.

2. Mr. Inappropriate, Self-Conscious, Fake Runner

This guy I also met online, but we only met up to go running together.  It wasn’t supposed to be a date.

Turns out he hasn’t really run since high school and he’s completely out of shape.  He was four years younger than me, still living at home, never finished college, and was just working at Dunkin’ Donuts.

Now, for a running partner, fine, I don’t really care about any of that.  But if you haven’t run since high school, then you obviously aren’t going to be my training buddy.

We went for a walk on the boardwalk.  He was complaining about walking because he was getting tired.  He definitely hadn’t done any sort of running in a long time.

I was trying to get home as quickly as possible because it was clear that he wanted a date, not a run.  He wanted to sit on a bench to talk, so we did for a little while as I made excuses in my mind about why I had to leave.

He was just a bit of a mess, cursing, uneducated, and making lots of ignorant comments.  I said I had to go home, and he responded, “you aren’t even going to let me see your apartment?”

Uhh, no.  I just met you.  You’re not my cup of tea.  I don’t really trust you due to the whole running facade.  No you can’t come to my apartment.

He was really giving me a hard time, so I just said I had to go.  I proceeded to walk down the wrong street because I wouldn’t have put it past him to follow me home.

He texted me later and I told him that sorry, I wasn’t interested.  To that, he responded with a lovely dick pick with the text, “You could have had this.”  Yes, really.  I was open-mouthed, at a complete loss for words.

I told him how that was completely inappropriate.  He asked me why.  I tried to explain, but he just didn’t get it.  Then he asked me if it was big at least.

WHAT???  No I’m not answering that question.  I said he was inappropriate and that I didn’t want to talk to him.  He went on this sad rant about how he’s just so self conscious because of his height (he wasn’t much taller than me and I’m 5’2″).  Blah blah blah.   I tried one more time to explain why that picture and question were uncalled for, but it didn’t work.  I said goodbye, thinking it was over.

He proceeded to text me the next day, begging me to answer.  I had to actually block his number because he just didn’t get the point.

3. Mr. 40-Something Fist Pumping Lifeguard

I met this lifeguard early on in the summer while going on my usual morning beach walk.  He approached me, talking about the weather or something like that.  He asked where I was from and how long I was here, clearly thinking I was a tourist.  I explained that I live here.

Once I said that, he should have ended the conversation and moved on.  It’s now clear that he just wanted a tourist who he could hook up with, then never see again once they went back home.  Instead, he kept chatting for a while.  He had the perfect lifeguard tan and body, and he worked as a gym and health teacher.  I didn’t know much else, but he seemed nice, so I gave him my number when he asked for it.

Then I continued to see him almost every time I walked on the beach.  Every time he would ask me to go to DJais (the typical crazy Jersey Shore-type, slutty outfits, fist pumping meathead-type bar).  Every time I told him no thanks, especially after explaining that I don’t drink and that I’m not really into the bar scene…especially the DJais-type bar/club scene.

One time he said that maybe we could get dinner one day.  I said fine.  That was the last time I ever heard about dinner.  Every other time, it was just about DJais.  He even told me that DJais isn’t so bad on the weekdays and that I would probably only get my butt grabbed by one guy (rather than more on the weekend?).  Uhhh….I’m good.  One butt grab is one too many.

Toward the end of the summer I saw him less since he flew to Cali for some national lifeguard competition and I went to volunteer in Nicaragua.

At some point I was curious about his age, and when I found out that he had been teaching for such a long time in his school, I realized that he had to be in his 40s.  I’m 28.  That’s a little old for me.

At the end of the summer, he moved back home, yet still asked me if he was back here visiting the lifeguards if he could text me so we could hang out.  Uhhh.  NO.  All you want to do is go to the bar.  I don’t like bars and I don’t drink.  What about that do you not understand???

I wonder if this situation will replay itself again next summer.

4. Mr. Afraid to Show His Faith to the World

I met another guy online who was really into his faith, he loved running, and he was studying to be a teacher.  Perfect, right?

We met up for lunch at a Mexican place.  It was fine.  A little awkward, but that’s not too abnormal for a first date.  Then we went for a walk on the beach.

I could tell really quickly that he liked me more than I liked him.  I was ready to say goodbye at the restaurant, but he doesn’t live as close to the beach as I do, so I said I’d show him the beach when he asked me to.

Part of what drew me to him was his strong faith, but once we actually talked about it, it was clear that although it was something that was important to him, he didn’t want to share at all.  He said he never spoke to anyone about his faith; he preferred to just pray to himself.

That’s all completely fine.  I understand the feeling.  But I’d ideally prefer someone who is a little more open about it.  For me, it’s something that I definitely want to talk about if I’m with people who are close to me.

Then I learned that he was living at home, had to go back to school to finish his teaching program since he had a different job before deciding on a career switch, and was currently living in a hotel since his parents were selling their house and moving.  Ehhh…

5. Mr. 60+ Years Old in a Speedo

Do you need a visual?  Here you go:

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I apologize for that, but I was the one stuck there on that towel talking to him while he did not take my hints that I was not interested in making conversation. And don’t worry, he had no idea that I snuck that picture…it was just one of those “I can’t make this stuff up” situations.

I was just sitting at the beach minding my own business.  I was reading a book, enjoying the late afternoon weather.  He looked at me from his chair, which was probably 20 feet away from me.  He said hi; I said the same back.  I was just being polite.  He asked me some small-talk-type question.  I responded once again, then tried to get back to my book.  He asked if I would like to take a walk with him down the beach to stop at 7/11 for coffee.  I declined the offer and he left.

Then I saw him heading back my way after his walk, coffee cup in hand.  I tried to busy myself in my book, but next thing I know, there he was, all sprawled out in the sand next to me.  Legs spread, Speedo out in all its glory.

Now, I am usually pretty good at ending conversations when I’m not interested in someone.  This time, I was a miserable failure in that respect.  He just kept talking.

And he wasn’t even being nice.  He asked about the book I was reading and when I explained that it was about sisters who are interracial, it was clear that he was racist.

Then he asked about my tattoos and then asked if I was a “Bible thumper.”  He told me I was a bad Catholic for having tattoos, even though he doesn’t know much about Catholicism regardless.  And on and on.

He complained about Belmar not being the party town that it used to be.  As a local, I like that it no longer has the crazy party reputation.

I saw him at the beach the next day, but luckily my friend was with me, so he stayed away.  And he’s actually from NYC so although I saw him in passing one other time during the summer, he didn’t see or speak to me.

6. Mr. Reality TV Dirtball Pilot

This is definitely the most interesting of the guys I met this summer, but I DO NOT mean interesting in a good way.

I was on an 8-mile run in early September, when summer was dying down.  I was about 3 miles from home, running on the boardwalk in Asbury Park, when a guy on a bike started riding next to me.  He asked me if bikes were allowed yet and I said I didn’t think they were allowed until September 15th.  I now realize that considering he lives here, he knew the rules.  He just wanted to talk.

So he continued asking me some questions and talking to me while I ran.  It seemed a little strange, but he seemed really nice, and it broke up the monotony of a long run.

It turned out he was a pilot for a major airline, but because of his part-time work schedule, he had lots of days off, and he mainly worked out, rode his bike, went to the beach, and used his stand up paddle board.  Wow, I love all of those things, I thought.

He biked next to me for about a mile while we talked about random stuff.  I didn’t have my phone on me, so I gave him my number and he said he would text me later.

We lived pretty close to each other, so I was excited to have someone to potentially go to the beach with, run with, or ride bikes with.

A few days later after work, we were both on the beach, so I walked down to where he was.  We went swimming and went for a walk.  He didn’t seem to be the best listener in the world, but I wanted to give him a chance.

Let’s make the long story short.  I started getting weird vibes from him, so I found his name online.  It turns out that not only is he a pilot, but he also had his own TV show about a haircutting place he owned in Long Branch (which no longer exists) where the girls cut hair while wearing bikinis.

The episodes are online and when I clicked on one, I could not believe what a jerk this guy was.  I know that reality shows typically portray people in the worst, most extreme light, but if he was even 10% like his character on the show, that was too much for me.

His whole life seems to be based around the size of his muscles, his arrogance, and the number of women whose numbers he can get and who he can get into his bed.

He even told me at one point that he liked to have a “local hookup” and that I was “convenient.”  I told him about my faith, so he either wasn’t listening, didn’t believe me, didn’t care, or viewed it as a challenge.  No, I would not like to be your local, convenient hookup chick.

7. Mr. Lying Surfer

Then, on another random September afternoon, I was going for a walk on the beach, when a guy was getting ready to go surfing.  He said hi and asked me about something.  We talked for a little while.  He was a local surf instructor and he seemed pretty cool.  He was just returning from a surf competition he was in that day in Long Beach Island.  He asked if I had my phone on me, but I didn’t and he didn’t have his phone on him either.  So he said he hoped we’d cross paths again and I continued on my way.

To my surprise, a few days later, I was walking down the steps off the boardwalk to head home after a run and at that exact moment, he was riding by on his skateboard.

He asked for my number.  I didn’t have my phone on me again, but I gave him my number because he offered to teach me how to surf.

He called me at some point, but I was busy, so I called him back another time and we chatted for a tiny bit.  Then he asked me out around 7pm one day, but it was to go out at that moment.  Sorry, no, I need a little notice.

Then the next day I was at the beach with my friend.  He asked if we could hangout and I told him no, that I was with my friend.  So he texted me while I’m with my friend on the beach saying that he was on the boardwalk right then and there and that I should go talk to him.  Um, no.  I told you that I was with a friend.  So he left only to text me a little while later to ask if my friend and I wanted to come watch him surf in Avon.  No again, like I said, I was with a friend.

He texted and called a few times after that to ask me out.  Every time he was asking me out between 8 and 10pm for a date that would happen that night.  No.  That’s not how I roll.  Every time he called, I was legitimately busy, so I’d just text him back later on saying sorry.

Then I had a difficult time when my great uncle passed away, there were some family issues going on, and then my grandma passed away just 3 days after my uncle.  Work was stressful.  I wasn’t in the best mood.

He called me one day that week at 8pm, but I was out at Bible study.  I got home after 10pm, so I texted him since I needed to go to bed and didn’t have time to talk on the phone.  He asked if I would come over.  Uhh, it’s 10:20pm.  We’ve never hung out before.  What must you want?  Hmmm…sex, maybe?

So I told him no and he basically proceeded to tell me how I’m weird because I only text and don’t talk on the phone (which isn’t true, it just happened to turn out that way with him), and I’m just too negative for him.

I explained that it was an abnormally depressing and stressful week.  He ignored my comment about the deaths in my family and just said that he likes to associate himself around positive people.

I said bye, trying to end the conversation, but it was clear  that surprised him, despite him being so rude.  At some point in the conversation, I had asked him how old he was.  He told me he was 28.  I said, “oh, me too!” To which he admitted that he was actually 26.  So when he called me out for my negativity, I called him out for lying, but he ignored that comment.

I’m glad I never went on a real date with him, since it would have been a complete waste of time anyway.  I just couldn’t believe that he had the nerve to say I was being negative when I had two family members die just days apart.  Yes, I’m feeling sad, I think that’s quite normal, given the situation, thank you very much.


So that concludes my summer of, um, interesting(?) guys.  Never a dull moment, that’s for sure!

28 Things I’ve Learned in 28 Years

With my 28th birthday taking place tomorrow, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on the things I have learned thus far in life.  So, in light of turning 28 years old, here goes…

1. It doesn’t matter what people think.

I don’t really care what people think about most of the choices that I make in my life, but that is something that hasn’t always been true.

My middle school and high school self definitely cared what people thought of me, but once you remove that weight off of your shoulders, it really sets you free to become who you want to become and to do what you love.

I will continue to be myself, whether or not people like it.

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2. God must always remain my top priority.

When I am feeling depressed, lonely, or in pain, it’s so easy to turn to God in prayer.  But it’s also easy to forget about Him when things are going well rather than praising Him in thanksgiving.

Just like friendships will fade, family is not perfect either.  But God is my perfect father who has been by my side through every obstacle.

He is my main focus, since Heaven is my goal.  He is the source of all joy.  He has to come before everything else in my life – money, friends, relationships, work…everything.

Without Him, I am nothing.

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Christ the Redeemer with my sister in Rio de Janeiro

3. Family will be there during the toughest times.

Friendships sometimes weaken, relationships end, and once that happens, it is family who will be there to support me no matter what, even if they don’t necessarily agree with my decisions.

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My mom’s side of the family

4. True friends are people who lift you up and who push you to become the best version of yourself.

I don’t need to have tons of acquaintances.  I would rather have a few solid friendships, and those true friends are people who will push me to become better and to make positive choices in my life.

A true friend will be honest with me and let me know when I may be making a bad decision.  She will let me know that the guy I’m interested in might not be the best choice for me.  She will support me during the tough times and she will be there to laugh with me through life’s adventures.

A friend is not someone who I need to prove myself to; rather, a true friend will love me for me.

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With Lizzy in NYC

5. Exercise should be a priority.

Now that I’ve endured a 9-year continuing battle with Lyme disease, I’ve tried many different treatment options.  But when it comes down to it, exercise seems to be the best remedy, at least for me.  I did the antibiotics (doxycycline, tetracycline, ceftin, biaxin, and mepron).  I cut nightshades from my diet (tomatoes, white potatoes, peppers, eggplant).  I used herbal supplements (fish oil, resveratrol, andrographis, cat’s claw, astragalus, garlic, B-12).

And I absolutely believe that a combination approach will always work the best for Lyme.  However, exercise would have to be my top choice.  When I run, I feel free.  It removes any sadness or stress.  It strengthens my body.  In order to maintain my health as well as my sanity, I need to exercise on a regular basis.

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Running the Hartford Marathon

6. Yoga is much more than glorified stretching.

I don’t know why yoga always had such a negative connotation in my mind.  I thought it looked boring and easy.  But now that I’ve been going to hot yoga since February, I’ve come to love it.

It has strengthened my body, increased my flexibility, decreased my stress and tension, and made me a faster runner.  And it’s definitely not easy.

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7. Dessert is absolutely acceptable.

I eat healthy and I pay attention to the foods I put into my body.  I try to eat as much organic produce as I can, I opt for grass-fed beef, and I avoid farm-raised fish.  But I am against dieting and tight food restrictions since they usually don’t work anyway.

So while I eat healthy most of the time, I won’t give up desserts.  I have a sweet tooth and it’s not something that I’m trying to lose.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t eat massive, decadent desserts every day.  Sometimes my dessert consists of 6 Reese’s Pieces or two Starbursts.  But still, I love dessert and I don’t plan on changing that.

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Mint chocolate chip Freak Shake

8. Material objects do not provide lasting happiness.

I’m not a very materialistic person, so this is something that I’ve always known, but it amazes me how many people my age still seem to believe that new car or computer will cause them great happiness.

I don’t own designer clothes.  With the cost of one designer blouse, I can instead buy at least four shirts at cheaper stores.  I don’t think I’m any less happy because of it.

I’ve never had a new car.  I prefer used.  Then, if it gets some scratches, I don’t really care, since it already had some to start with.

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My first car (used Plymouth Grand Voyager from my grandpa) and my second and current car (used Honda Civic)

9. Financial stability is nice, but wealth is unnecessary.

Do I seek to be poor? Of course not.  I am happy that I am financially stable, but wealth is not my goal.

I want to be able to provide for myself in terms of the things that I need in life, but I don’t need to buy that beach house or that Maserati to consider myself successful.

If I one day have a family, I hope that my husband and I can provide a level of stability without spoiling our children.  I want to be able to do the things that I need to do, but I don’t want to be so wealthy that I forget what it is like to struggle.

10. A yearly vacation is necessary.

So many people never go on vacation.  Others go once every few years.  For me, yearly vacation (or vacations even more often than that) are an essential part of life.

That doesn’t mean I have to shell out thousands of dollars to fly to Hawaii, Fiji, or Cabo.  I’d be happy with a week down the shore, a weekend getaway, a trip to see Niagara Falls or the Grand Canyon.

Growing up, my mom never had much money, but vacation was always a priority.  She saved all  year so that we could go to Long Beach Island for one or two weeks and for that I am grateful.  Everyone needs time to hit reset, time to forget about work and problems at home and simply relax.

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Long Beach Island, New Jersey

11. Volunteering benefits the volunteer as much as the people being served.

I love traveling overseas on mission trips and serving the poor of the world.  But what is always amazing to me is how I end up being served, how I end up learning so much from the people I think I am going to help.

The Rwandans I met last summer were the happiest people, yet the poorest I’ve ever met.  They had nothing.  Some of them lived in one-room homes that were constructed from mud.  They had torn clothes.  One pot to cook with.  But their smiles could light up the room and their prayer was incredibly heartfelt. They worshipped God through their song and dance like nothing I’ve ever seen in America.  I was humbled to meet them.

Everyone should participate in some sort of community service.  It doesn’t need to be overseas; it can be down the road at the soup kitchen, or helping out with Habitat for Humanity.

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With my sponsored child, Patience, in Rwanda

12. A simple smile can brighten one’s day.

I try to be friendly and welcoming to everyone I come into contact with.  I say hello or wave to people I pass on my runs.  I care to hear the answer when I ask the supermarket cashier how her day is going.  I smile.  A lot.

Just like that famous quote about how we never know who may be falling in love with our smile, we also don’t know what obstacles the people we encounter on a day to day basis are facing.  Our smile might seem insignificant, but it could be what lifts a person’s spirits and makes them feel loved.

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13. Love is powerful.

I have a tattoo from 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.  This verse reads: “If I speak in the tongues of men or angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.  If I have the gift of prophesy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have the faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.  If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.”

Love is what it all comes down to.  If you volunteer only to convince people that you’re a good person, it’s meaningless.  If you help the poor while judging them and looking down upon them, you’re not really helping.  We must do everything with love.

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In La Jolla, California with Amy, Lizzy, and Kara

14. Struggles strengthen and shape us.

Nobody wants to face pain, but it is those moments when we come close to rock bottom that we learn from the most.  It is those times of weakness that build us up.

During the various obstacles that life brings, it’s often difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but looking back, it becomes more clear how each struggle helped us to grow.

15. We must take pride in our work.

I love my job as a teacher and I take a great deal of pride in that.  I wish more people felt the same way about their jobs.

But even if you don’t have your dream job, you should still take pride in it.  I didn’t always have the perfect job.  I was a custodian for two years during college, but I still put forth my full effort.  I vacuumed every little corner in the library and I washed every smudge off of the windows.  Was it my dream job? No, but I still did it to the best of my ability.

There are custodians in my school who are the most positive, energetic people.  Did they grow up hoping to clean schools for a living?  Probably not, but that’s where they are at the moment and they are carrying out their responsibilities without complaint and with their full effort.

My generation is full of entitled people who think that they deserve that position as CEO with very little work.  They don’t want to accept anything lower than their dream position, but for most people, that dream job won’t ever happen without the stepping stones that lead to it.

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With two of my former students

16. We need to stop judging others, comparing ourselves, and being so critical.

If I spend my time judging someone, I will have no time to love him.

There will always be someone with a better job, prettier face, more toned body.  We live in such a cutthroat world that leads us to compare ourselves to everyone.  I can’t say that I’ve never done this before; we all do.

But this judging just hurts us as well as the people we’re looking down upon.

We don’t know what someone has experienced in his life.  We don’t know why people make the decisions that they do.  We must spend our time loving them rather than critiquing them.

17. We must savor the moment.

We need to be present in the moment, rather than waiting for the future or living in the past.

So many people waste their life away hoping for the future.  The high school student thinks that life will begin after graduation.  The college student is waiting for the “real world” that will open up to him after earning his degree.  The girl who spends her days hoping for her future husband.  The married couple longing to have children.  The older couple waiting for retirement.

Every day is special and we must acknowledge that, rather than wasting our time waiting for what we want next.  Be happy with today.

18. We should strive to remain child-like.

As the Bible says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of Heaven” (Matthew 18:3).

As children, we long to become adults.  And sometimes as adults we take life too seriously.

It is not just good, but necessary, at times, to be like children and to have their childlike faith.  We need to step back from our hectic lives to embrace laughter and silliness once in a while.

Children can accept the idea of God and Heaven so much more easily than many adults.  They have that childlike faith that God really wants from each of us.

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19. We must be aware of current events.

I’m not always the best when it comes to this.  Since I don’t have cable, I never see the news, so I have to make a point to look at the news online.  Some days I’m better than others.

I know that the news can make us cynical or frustrated, but we have to make ourselves aware of the world.

And we can’t just focus on America.  We must pay attention to international news as well.

If you have never heard of the Rwandan genocide, you should go do a little research.  If you know nothing about the many recent terrorist attacks, you should spend a few minutes educating yourself.

We can’t give into the “stupid American” stereotype.

20. Experiences are more memorable than tangible objects.

When I think about my experiences in life thus far, these are some of my most memorable moments (and none of them has to do with a tangible object):

-Teaching a group of teachers while volunteering in Haiti

-Trekking with gorillas in Rwanda

-Blowing bubbles while running around with a group of young children in Ecuador

-Hiking up a waterfall with my now brother-in-law in Rio and swimming under one in Brasilia

-Sitting on the hang-gliding platform with my aunt and cousins, enjoying the view of Brazil

-Family trips to Long Beach Island and Myrtle Beach

-Standing in line to get to stand front row at the Eminem/Rihanna concert

-Standing in line to wait for Adam Sandler’s autograph

-Hiking with my dog, Butterscotch, at Tarrywile and Lover’s Leap

-Meeting my sister for the first time at the airport in Rio and meeting my Brazilian grandparents for the first time in Cruzeiro do Sul

I could go on an on, but none of those memories has to do with any tangible object.  They are all experiences that are memorable because of the activities I was taking part in and the people I was spending time with.

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Gorilla trekking in Rwanda

 

21. We can’t let fear stop us from living a fulfilling life.

I grew up terrified of airplanes.  I told my mom that I would honeymoon at the Jersey Shore because I had no need to travel if a flight was required.

But ever since my first flight during my trip to the Dominican Republic with my mom during my senior year of high school, I have learned how this silly fear of airplanes would have stopped me from experiencing so many places like Ecuador, San Diego, Brazil, Haiti, Rwanda, Texas, and Nicaragua (in a few weeks).

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Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

22. We ladies with curly hair need to embrace it.

I used to despise my curly hair.  Although it’s not as curly now as it was when I was young, it’s still quite curly.  Although I would still love to have naturally straight hair, I have learned how to maintain my curls and how to make them look better by using mousse.

So many girls with curly or wavy hair straighten it every single day, but that just ruins the health of their hair.  So will I still straighten it occasionally?  Sure.  But most of the time, I now embrace the curls that I was born with.

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23. We must never stop learning.

I might be going into my 7th year of teaching, but there is still so much for me to learn.  We must never become satisfied with our current level of knowledge, as there is so much to know in this world.

Not only do I want to learn more about the best teaching methods, but I also want to become fluent in Spanish and Portuguese, two languages that I can understand and speak (Spanish more than Portuguese), but not fluently.

My mom started college when I was in high school.  She graduated with her associate’s degree when I graduated with my bachelor’s.  She graduated with her bachelor’s when I earned my master’s degree.  There is no age that is too old to keep learning.

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Mom’s graduation from WCSU the day after mine for my M.S.

24. Jumping pictures never get old.

I love them.  I take them everywhere.  I may be 28 years old, but I have no shame.

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With Amy in Coronado, California

25. We shouldn’t always take ourselves too seriously.

Life is meant to be enjoyed.  Sometimes, we need to just let ourselves loose and be silly.  We can’t be so rigid that we forget to enjoy the simple moments.

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With my cousins in Frost Valley, NY

26. Cousins are the friends we get to keep for life.

I love my cousins so much and I have so much fun with all of them.  I started off just knowing my two cousins on my mom’s side, but then as aunts and uncles started to get married, I got so many more.  And then I met my family in Brazil, along with even more cousins.

I’ll probably always be closest to my two cousins, Doug and Dan, on my mom’s side, since we spent so much time together, especially when going on vacations while growing up.  They’re more like the brothers I never had than cousins and I’m blessed to have them in my life.

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With Doug and Dan on Christmas Eve

27. Dogs truly are man’s best friend.

I love dogs and I miss Butterscotch so much, even though he hasn’t been with my for two full years now.

And rescued dogs are the best, since you can save them from previously rough lives.

I had so much fun walking him, hiking with him, and just cuddling up next to him on the couch while watching a good movie.

He licked my tears off of my cheeks when I cried.  He could tell when I was not feeling well.  He was with me for ten years and he was such an important part of my life during that time.

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The day I adopted Butterscotch for my sweet sixteen

28. Laughter is the best medicine.

I love laughing.  I laugh all of the time.

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His Perfect Timing

I really believe that everything happens for a reason.  I find myself repeating that line over and over in my conversations, especially with my students.  But sometimes it’s so difficult to actually heed my own advice.

I can’t say that I love the fact that I have Lyme disease, but it has forced me to grow in so many ways.  If it had not been for Lyme, I might not be a runner right now, something that I love so much.

Upon graduating from college, my goal was to move to the Jersey shore.  Things didn’t work out initially and I had to work in Connecticut for five years, but I had amazing experiences at my job there and I had the opportunity to meet some awesome students and coworkers.

Two years ago, I met a man who I really thought I was meant to be with and when he suddenly ended the relationship, I was lost and confused.  I felt especially lonely since I was living in a new state.  But looking back, I think that he was the reason why I had the courage to take the leap of faith that required me to pack up my life and move to New Jersey.  If I had been in a relationship with someone in Connecticut, I may have second guessed myself.  Or if I had been single, I may have simply been to afraid to move somewhere where I didn’t know a single soul, leaving behind my job, apartment, friends, and family.

I could go on and on with examples of other times when, looking back, I can see God’s work, but the most recent occasion happened last night.

Since moving to New Jersey, I have been hoping to meet some like-minded, Catholic friends.  I don’t want to be picky when it comes to friends, and I have met great people at work, but I want someone who really gets me and understands why I am the way that I am.

I was so fortunate to have attended Franciscan University, where everyone is Catholic and it is so easy to find people who will push you to be a better person.  Out in the real world, things aren’t quite that simple.  I want a friend who I can talk to about my faith without them thinking I’m too hardcore, or some sort of Jesus freak.

So about a month ago, I was reading the church bulletin, hoping to find something geared toward people in my age group.  I saw a little blurb asking for young adults in their 20s and 30s to try to start a CORE team for Theology on Tap.  I immediately sent an email when I got home to say that I was interested.

We ended up meeting at a place in Belmar a few weeks ago, but the turnout was not great.  There were 5 of us, and only 2 of us were actually from the parish.

We had a nice time, but I was not looking too optimistic about this group, considering that there was only one person who was actually from my church and in my age group.  So we met again the following week and this time, there were only 4 of us.  It wasn’t looking very promising at that point.

In trying to think of possible future activities, we decided to go to a place near St. Rose for dinner at 6pm and then walk over to adoration (my church has Eucharistic adoration from 7-8pm on Monday evenings).

Last night, to my surprise, there were 8 of us at dinner!  I was so excited that it was more than just the four of us.  I ordered my typical water without ice and then I heard the girl across from me, Gabby, order the same thing.  I know it seems totally random, but most people think it’s strange when I order water without ice.  When someone asked us why we don’t like ice, we immediately responded with the exact same sentence at the same time about how it makes the water too cold.

Then I was talking about my previous day’s 11.5 mile run and I found out that Gabby also runs and that she’s done a half marathon before.  I was really excited, thinking that maybe this was finally someone who I could get along with well.

I had a great time at dinner just talking with everyone and getting to know everybody’s back story.

Then we walked over to church for adoration.  A few people had to leave due to prior commitments.  During adoration, I usually pray the whole time, read a book, or do something else that really requires my full thought.  I started off that way, praying about the things on my mind, but then I just felt like being still and trying to listen to God, knowing that He has a plan for me.

I didn’t feel particularly inspired, but I left church feeling happy that I had left time to be with God on my busy Monday.

As we were walking outside, I saw Gabby approaching us in running clothes.  She was trying to get back in time for benediction, but she had just missed it. She asked if I wanted to go for a run since she was headed to the boardwalk.  At first, I didn’t really want to since I had eaten a BLT and fries for dinner and I never run that close to eating.  But how could I turn down the offer to finally have someone to run with?

So I drove her to my apartment and changed into my running gear, and then we went for a short jog on the boardwalk.  I couldn’t believe how many things we had in common.  My birthday is July 20th and hers is July 16th of the same year.  She’s also left-handed.  Obviously those are pretty insignificant things, but I felt like we could have talked for hours.  We talked about relationships and the struggle that it is to find a guy who is actually committed in his Catholic faith.  How it’s easy to find nice guys, but that nice isn’t good enough.

I sometimes feel like I’m too picky when it comes to guys, but I don’t just want a nice guy.  There are plenty of those around.  I want a nice guy who loves God and who loves his Catholic faith.  And being Catholic alone isn’t really good enough.  If a guy simply goes through the motions of attending Mass, that’s still not really what I yearn for.  I want someone who is passionate in his love for the Lord, someone who makes his faith a priority.

Yet while I want someone who is passionate, I also want someone with other interests, someone who likes to do things outside of church as well.  I have looked at guys on Catholic Match before, trying to see if there was anyone who I was interested enough in to actually pay for the subscription, but I don’t love the idea of paying to find a relationship.  And many of the guys who I’ve been on the site are one of two options:

Option 1: They’re Catholic in name only, mainly on the site to meet nice women, but they aren’t passionate about their faith.

Option 1: They’re passionately Catholic, but they seem to lack social skills and they don’t share common interests with me.  It seems that all they do is related to church.

And this is why I sometimes feel too picky.  Yes, I want a Catholic guy, but despite my love for my faith, I have many other interests.  I don’t want to spend the entirety of my weekends in church.  I love running, kayaking, hiking, going to the beach, mini-golfing, and just being outside in general.  I want someone who can share those interests.  Is it impossible to find someone who shares these feelings?

Looking back on my relationship with my ex, I really thought that we were headed for marriage.  We had talked about engagements and future plans.  I was confident in us.  But I see now how I was still settling.  Yes, he was Catholic, but he refused to say grace aloud at a restaurant because he didn’t want people to look at us.  He didn’t want to go to Mass on holy days.  He went to church with me every Sunday, but he didn’t mind missing Mass here or there.  He was always complaining about the homilies.

He didn’t really like going to do outdoor activities as much as I did and was very happy to watch TV or movies instead — something that I only really do on a rainy day when I have no other plans.  He loved going out to watch movies at the theater, while I would rather spend my money going to a nice dinner and watching a movie at home.

He had no desire to travel  — something that I am so passionate about.  Yet I was okay with that.  I thought that our relationship was worth sacrificing travel for.  And it wasn’t even his refusal to go on mission trips with me…he wouldn’t even go on a day trip to another city.  I had accepted the fact that I would probably just continue to volunteer overseas alone, while he stayed home to coach football.  Football was his passion and although I learned a lot about it, I really don’t care at all about the sport.  He was a great guy, but he was probably right when he eventually decided that we weren’t right for each other.

Maybe it could have worked out just fine.  But I am still hoping that God has something even better in store for me.  Maybe, once I meet the right person, I won’t have to sacrifice some of my passions.  I know that any solid relationship requires some sacrifice and compromise, but it’s tough to decide how much is acceptable. It’s difficult to know if I’m giving up too much of myself in order to be in a certain relationship.

Gabby has the exact same feelings as me, and similar situations with dating.  If it wasn’t a work night, I am sure that we could have just talked for hours.  And she said something that really resonated with me, about listening to the desires of my heart.  If there is something that I really seek in a man, that is something that I shouldn’t give up on.

I know that if I had to choose the perfect person for me, he would love God above everything else, but also enjoy being outside and staying active, and be eager to travel with me.  I don’t want to have to compromise on any of those three things.  If I did compromise and find myself in a marriage with someone who didn’t fit those criteria, I think I would be always curious if I could have found a better person if I had waited it out.  And that is what would lead me to a divorce.

Do we necessarily need to enjoy all of the same outdoor activities?  No, but some should overlap.  I’m not expecting or even seeking a guy to accompany me in marathon training.  But I hope I can find one who will cheer me on at the finish line.  I don’t need a guy who loves kayaking, but maybe instead he enjoys hiking.  He has to enjoy some of the activities that I enjoy.  Does he need to jump on a plane for 14 hours to go trekking with gorillas in Rwanda?  No.  But going on a drive to the Baltimore Aquarium, or flying out to see the Grand Canyon would be awesome.  And he would need to be supportive of the mission trips that I go on, not upset with me for leaving for a week or two.

So Gabby and I chatted about jobs, relationships, dating, our faith, and friends over our 2.3 mile run.  She told me how she loves going kayaking and stand up paddle boarding on a river that is close to where her sister lives.  She also enjoys running and the beach.  Although I don’t drink, she assured me that I will enjoy going out with her to experience the Belmar night life with her and some of her other Catholic friends.

I drove her back to my car, we exchanged numbers, and I left feeling so excited about the way the night had played out.

A few hours before, I had come home from work, went to the beach, and I was actually feeling a bit frustrated knowing that I would have to leave the beach early to shower and go out to dinner.  But I am so happy that I went.

I have no idea what will come with this young adult group or this friendship, but I am absolutely thrilled to find out.

I couldn’t even fall asleep last night because I was just in awe of the way God works.  My relationship ended in February and I took time to work on myself.  During Lent, I had been going to adoration every Monday and Stations of the Cross every Friday.  I went to Mass every Sunday and I went to confession twice.  I was reading my devotional daily and trying to pray more than I had been in the recent past.

I also worked on restoring my health, through hot yoga and running.  I needed to be alone during the past few months to get to where I am right now.  And maybe He now knows that I’m ready for more, whatever comes from all of this.

They always say that things happen when we’re least expecting them and I think last night was a perfect example of that.  I went to dinner expecting there to be four of us, maybe five max.  But everything fell perfectly into place.

I wish that I was better at waiting patiently and trusting in Him, but I get so impatient when I feel so alone.  I need to remember that He truly has the best plans for me, even if they don’t happen as quickly as I think they should.  Waiting is key.

And the idea of waiting reminds me of a blog that I wrote on February 11th, about The Difficulty of Waiting.  At the time, I was just frustrated that I had to wait to see how life would unfold, but now, in June, I am starting to see the fruits of that message in my devotional about waiting.  It had said this:

“Your path is difficult.  There is no work in life so hard as waiting, and yet I say wait.  Wait until I show you My Will.  Proof it is of My Love and of My certainty of your true discipleship, that I give you hard tasks.

Again, I say wait.  All motion is more easy than calm waiting.  So many of My followers have marred their work and hindered their progress of My Kingdom by activity.

Wait.  I will not overtry your spiritual strength…

All your toil in rowing and all your activity could no have accomplished the journey so soon.  Oh, wait and trust.  Wait, and be not afraid.”

Four months later, and maybe the waiting has finally paid off.  I am eager to see what unfolds next.

God is so good and I am feeling incredibly blessed.

 

Jogger or Runner?

I recently read an article in Runner’s World magazine about the different connotations that the words “jogger” and “runner” have.  The writer, Mark Remy, explains how the term “jogger” is almost always the preferred term used by media outlets when a crime happens to a person who had been running.  It’s always the joggers who are raped, mugged, hit by cars, and who find the dead bodies along the trails.  The word “runner” is rarely used when concerning crimes.

I found this article so interesting because it’s so true that the word “jogger” is almost always the preferred choice when it comes to the news.  And the word “jogger” typically comes with a much more negative connotation than the word “runner.”

So what is it that determines which category we fall under?  I consider myself a runner, not a jogger.  But why?  What makes a runner?

Do I need to run a certain pace to be a runner?

Must I wear a certain type of sneaker?

Must I run a certain number of days or hours per week?

Must I participate in a certain number of races?

Must I run through the wind and rain and winter weather?

Must I have completed at least a 10K? Half marathon? Full marathon?

What makes a runner?

And how is a jogger different?  When I think of jogger, I think of someone who is running in order to lose weight, probably wearing gray sweat pants, and who is hobbling along rather than running smoothly, most likely out of breath.  Or I think of someone who is just taking a very short, leisurely job along the beach, running with the intent of embracing the beauty around them more than focusing on the running itself.

The definition of the word “jogger” is to move or shake with a jerk or a push.  So even the denotation of the word does not equate to smooth running.

Like many runners, I don’t like to be told that I’m a jogger.  Jogger?, I think. No, I’m not a jogger.  I RUN.

If someone calls me a jogger, it makes it seem less important, less significant.  It makes my running seem like more of a little hobby than something that I take pretty seriously.

Running is a relatively significant part of my life.  It’s what helps me to stay healthy and keep my Lyme under control.  It helps me to relax after stressful days.  It helps me to push myself to get faster and stronger so that I can get better at my race times.  It allows me to take time out of my day to simply be alone and think about what ever is on my mind.

In light of the problems of the world, this bit of semantics really isn’t the most significant thing to write about, but it’s something that I found so intriguing upon reading that Runner’s World article.

Do other sports have similar situations where one word for the sport is much more negative?  I’m not really sure.

And why is is that we runners aren’t the ones who are mugged and raped?  Is it because we run at a fast enough pace that we’re not the ones attacked?

It’s only the slow joggers who get into these situations, obviously.

Of course I’m just kidding, but really, why can’t a runner be mentioned on the news when some of these events take place?  It’s not like we runners are safe from being victims in a crime.

I think we should just phase the word “jogger” out of our vocabulary altogether.  If you take the time to get outside or get on your treadmill and go for a run, then you should just consider yourself a runner.

It doesn’t matter if you are running a 12-minute pace.  You’re still out there.  You’re still running.

It doesn’t matter if the farthest you’ve ever run is 1 mile.  You’re still running.

So let’s all embrace the term “runner.”  I am a runner.  Jogger?  No.  Definitely not.

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Hartford Marathon