As I’ve done for the past three years (2014, 2015, 2016), here is my 2017 year in review. Last year, I was incredibly thankful for having met my new friends from Bible study and starting a new relationship. Now, I have even more to be grateful for this year. So here is what happened since last year:
-AJ and I rang in the new year at Devin and Elise’s wedding in Connecticut
-Then we went hiking at Lover’s Leap in New Milford, CT and Kent Falls in Kent, CT the next day
-Frost Valley in Claryville, NY
-I met up with Lizzy in Philadelphia since she was there for clinicals for vet school (before graduating in May!!!)
-Camden Aquarium with AJ
-Hiking with AJ and Bolt in Freehold
-Hiking at Lover’s Leap in New Milford, CT again with AJ
-Grandma’s birthday party
-Valentine’s Day dinner at Rooney’s in Long Branch
-Going to Absecon Lighthouse, the Atlantic City Boardwalk, and Lucy the Elephant in Margate with AJ, Sway, and Denielle
-My mom’s birthday
-Escape room in Freehold with AJ, Daniel, and Brady
-AJ’s 25th birthday party
-United States Marine Corps Educator Workshop in Parris Island, South Carolina
-Sway’s Confirmation at the Easter Vigil
-Easter in Connecticut
-Hiking at Bushkill Falls for AJ’s birthday
-Finishing the Spartan Beast with AJ in Vernon, NJ
-Bible study at the Freehold Mall
-Battleship USS New Jersey in Camden
-Father Larry’s talk with Bible study
-Abby & Lauren’s Irish step dancing recital
-My cousin Lauren’s first communion
-Scoring AP exams in Tampa, Florida
-Acro yoga in my back yard
-4th of July in Connecticut for my grandpa’s birthday
-Vacation in LBI with my mom
-Churrascaria for my early 29th birthday dinner
-Acro yoga attempt #2 in my back yard
-Volunteering in Uganda with Go Be Love International. Sole Hope in Jinja
-Free day at the Nile River
-Volunteering with Go Be Love International at Amani Baby Cottage in Jinja
-Phil and Marissa’s wedding in Pennsylvania
-Chris and Grace’s wedding in Pennsylvania
-Visiting Franciscan University for the first time since I graduated 7 years ago
-Jersey Shore Half Marathon in Sandy Hook
-Getting engaged on October 9th
-Connecticut for a family party
-Pro-Life dinner at Doolan’s in Spring Lake
-Lizzy visited & we went Halloween bowling
-AJ’s cousin, Jared, took engagement photos for us
-Celebrated Thanksgiving with AJ’s family in Somerset, NJ
-Hiking at Hartshorne Park
-Christmas Eve in Connecticut at Grandma & Grandpa’s house
-Christmas Day in Connecticut: morning at Grandma & Grandpa’s house, shoveling snow, and then Christmas Day at Aunt Suzi & Uncle Bob’s house
-Young Adults in Faith Christmas celebration at St. Robert’s in Freehold
2017 was a great year. Looking back at January, when AJ and I had only been together for a month, I never expected that by New Year’s Eve, we would be planning a wedding, figuring out where we want to live, and having intense conversations about the future. So much can change in one year and I am thrilled to see what 2018 entails.
I thank God for all of His abundant blessings and pray for an amazing 2018.
It’s amazing how much life can change over the course of one year and how God’s plans are far superior to our own plans.
Back in October of 2016, I was finally feeling joy again after a rough start to that year. I was thankful for my apartment right by the beach, for my career as a high school English teacher, and for my Bible study, which I had found just a few months back.
Everything was going well. While out for a run with my friend, Gabriella, I had commented to her about how I was really content with my life. She immediately replied, “You know what that means, don’t you?” She explained how I would probably find a new relationship since I wasn’t actively seeking one. I laughed and shrugged it off.
But as the weeks passed, I found myself drawn to AJ every time we would meet at our weekly Thursday night Bible study.
The first time I met AJ at Bible study, I actually had him pegged as a dumb jock. He speaks somewhat slowly, so I just pictured the stereotypical attractive football player who has little intelligence. I didn’t even know his name. His friend, Sway, introduced him as “Gaines,” so it actually took me a few weeks of Bible study before I learned that his name was AJ…and months before I knew that his actual name was Alan.
How wrong I turned out to be with my dumb jock assumptions. Once he opened his mouth about the Scriptures, I knew that he had a phenomenal knowledge of the Bible.
As weeks passed, I noticed how similar we were, primarily how we both had to work at finding a balance between our careers, our workouts, and our faith journeys. I was impressed when AJ told me about the commitment that he made to God, promising that he would not work out for more time in any given day than he had spent in prayer. That blew me away.
After previous failed relationships, I had started to doubt that I would ever find a guy who was quite as interested in his faith as I was. And yet here I was, feeling completely humbled by AJ. I knew that in all of my marathon training, there were many days when I had run for two or three hours, but I definitely had not also spent two or three hours in prayer with God. I actually felt intimidated by AJ and his faith, even unworthy at times, not thinking that I was holy enough to push him further in his faith journey.
I started looking forward to Bible study even more than I previously had, always hoping to be in AJ’s group when we would split up, or trying to sit near him during dinner. However, AJ seemed to be a lot younger than me. I didn’t really know his background, but I knew that he was studying for his physical therapy boards after having recently graduated from college. I assumed that he was around 22 years old. I was 28 at the time, so I viewed him as the cute guy at Bible study who I had a bit of a crush on, knowing that nothing would ever come of it.
Wrong, once again.
Yes, he had only recently graduated from college, but that’s because he was earning his doctorate for physical therapy. Once I learned that and knew that he was only four years younger than me, I was even more interested in him.
On October 8th, I went to Catholic Underground in New York City with some of my friends from Bible study. AJ was just a few weeks away from his boards for physical therapy, so he was studying during the drive up to NYC. I was sitting next to him in the back seat, quizzing him on his notes and also chatting about life to him and the rest of our group.
During adoration, I noticed that he took out his phone. Initially, I totally judged him, wondering what could be so important that he would look at his phone during adoration. Then I realized that he was actually looking up the words to the Hillsong United song, “Touch the Sky,” which was being played. And then I I noticed how he was singing aloud — something that isn’t that common among the Catholic men I see at any given Sunday Mass.
At the end of the night, I told AI that I would pray for his boards and he told me that he would pray for my upcoming marathon. It turned out that these significant events were both happening during the same week: my marathon on October 23rd and his exam on October 27th.
We didn’t talk much outside of Bible study at that point because we didn’t even have each other’s numbers. He sent me a private message on Slack, the app our Bible study uses to inform everyone about our events. He said that he hoped that my race went well (but he was a little early, so I thanked him and explained the actual date of my race), and I promised him that I would pray for his exam.
I always try to pray for people when they need me to, but often I forget to pray at the exact right moment when their test or other significant event is happening. Not this time. I couldn’t believe how many times I thought of AJ and his exam on October 27th. Even while I was at work, I kept thinking about the test and how he was doing, saying a little prayer every time I remembered.
October 27th was a Thursday, so we had Bible study that night. He came late since he was busy that day, but I remember feeling so excited to see him since I had prayed for his test so much that day. We didn’t really get to talk, but I was so hopeful that he would pass.
The following Thursday, November 3rd, I hosted Bible study at my apartment. It turned out that a larger group than normal was available that night, so we faced a good problem: too many people here for Bible study. I made penne a la vodka with chicken and squished 15 of us into my living room.
It was a very warm fall last year, so I was always looking for people to come kayaking with me. I posted an open invitation on Slack, but I did secretly hope that AJ might take me up on my offer for anyone to join me for kayaking. He responded that he was interested, so we exchanged numbers, waiting for a nice day to kayak. Before we actually had time to go kayaking, my friend, Kate, invited a bunch of us to go to a bar crawl in Asbury Park to raise money for the Covenant House on November 5th. I don’t drink at all, so a bar crawl was not very high on my list of desired things to do, but I was excited that I would get to spend time with Kate and Gabriella, and I was hoping that AJ might come as well. Gabriella and I planned to bike to Asbury, so I was excited to at least have fun with her and Kate.
In the end, the bar crawl was great. AJ and I talked here and there throughout the day, but we also spent time talking to other friends. I was able to catch up with some of my teammates from a relay race that we had completed in August.
Then we got to the last bar, Johnny Mac’s, and some of the bar crawl crew had gone home for the night. There was an outdoor bar that had these huge heaters blasting (it was November in New Jersey, after all), but nobody wanted to sit directly under the heaters because it was so hot. Well, I quickly learned that both AJ and I love being hot. We sat at the bar under those heaters for a long time, just chatting and getting to know each other. I knew for sure at that point that I was interested in him, and I was hoping that the feelings were mutual, but I really wasn’t sure. I’ve always been pretty terrible at knowing when guys are interested in me.
Soon after that night, we were started hanging out together pretty often, since I was free every afternoon after work and AJ hadn’t yet gotten hired as a physical therapist since he was waiting on his license to come in the mail. It also helped that I had extra days off from work for teacher convention.
I’m so thankful for this time that we had because if he had already had a job when we first met, we never would have been able to hang out. God’s perfect timing was definitely at work.
On Tuesday, November 8th, AJ and I got to go kayaking on Shark River when I got out of work. We kayaked and talked and had a really good time. The following day, Wednesday, we went to see the movie Hacksaw Ridge. I remember texting Gabriella about it, unsure whether or not it was a date, not knowing whether I should pay for my own ticket or not. In the end, he planned to get to the theater before me to get the tickets, so I just figured he would get the tickets. But then we both showed up at exactly the same time, so when the cashier called him up, I just let him purchase both of our tickets. He told me later on that he did not intend the movies to be a date, but he realized that I may have thought that when I let him pay. Regardless, it was a great movie.
On Thursday, we had a young adult Mass at my church, followed by fellowship at a local bar, Anchor Tavern.
Because I was one of the people organizing the event, I didn’t have time to talk to AJ because I had to walk over to Anchor Tavern first to make sure that the reserved tables had been set up for us.
I sat at a table, just hoping that AJ would end up near me. That event had a great turnout, with over 20 of us at the bar and many more who attended the Mass. AJ did, in fact, sit near me. This time, I really felt like he was interested in me, even though I was still a bit unclear on the whole situation.
The next day, Friday, we went hiking at Hartshorne Park in Atlantic Highlands. Unfortunately, AJ didn’t have his own car at this point. He had to borrow his brother’s car, so we were only able to hike for a short time before he needed to return the car.
Then on Saturday, a group of us from Bible study were driving to the campus ministry house at Rider University to film this video. That was the fifth consecutive day that AJ and I had been together.
Some time during that week I had talked to Gabriella, completely unsure whether or not he was interested in me. I felt like he had to be since we were spending so much time together, but at the same time, he would always just say goodbye when he left, not really hugging me goodbye or anything.
The following week, we went kayaking again on Wednesday, November 16th. At one point, though, he mentioned a friend who may have been interested in someone else at Bible study and he said how he didn’t want Bible study to become a singles group. When he said that, I was really confused. Did he direct that towards me, trying to show me that we were just buddies and that no relationship would come out of all of our hang-outs? Or did he just mean that he didn’t want his friend to come to Bible study with the sole purpose of finding at mate? I was extremely confused.
On Thursday, we had Bible study Friendsgiving. I had to arrive late since it was the same night as parent-teacher conferences, but I was glad that I got to at least come to part of it.
Then on Friday, we had a holy half hour in Freehold, followed by fellowship at Moore’s Tavern. It was pretty loud in the bar that night, so it was difficult to talk to people. Every time AJ tried to talk to me, he put his hand on my back to pull me closer to him so that we could hear each other. I remember how tingly his touch felt every time he put his hand on the small of my back.
We talked about Spartan races and I told him about one that I was planning to sign up for. He was interested and said that he was going to look into signing up for the same race. He said that he could help me to increase my strength and I could help him to get back into a running routine. He reminded me that Spartan training came with one stipulation — that he would not work out for more hours a day than he spent in prayer or at church. I thought that was incredible.
He also invited me to go to a party that his parents were throwing for him the following weekend to celebrate his graduation and passing the boards. Later on, I asked Gabriella if she had been invited. When she said no, I was pretty confident that he had invited me because he was interested in me.
The following weekend, on Saturday, November 20th, we helped Kate deliver Thanksgiving baskets to families in need. Then AJ and I went to Twin Lights in Highlands, before hiking for a really long time again at Hartshorne. It was absolutely one of the most fun days that I had ever had. We had so much fun doing such ridiculous things and making up silly games. We ran through the reeds, played hide and seek, climbed fallen trees, played balancing games, Simon Says, you name it.
Then we created a game where one of us would close our eyes and the other person would try to lead us through the woods. We were in a really thick part of the woods, so it was relatively difficult to navigate alone, let alone helping another person. It was hilarious and we had a great time.
We were there for hours, ultimately hiking five and a half miles (partially because we thought we were going in a loop, but when we got to a dead end, we had to go back the entire way).
Afterward, we were starving for dinner, but we were both filthy from hours of hiking. It was Jersey Shore Restaurant Week, so we ended up going to Mr. Shrimp for dinner, despite our filth. Dinner was also hilarious because we kept finding random leaves and branches stuck to our clothing or in our hair. My diary entry on that day says, “It was such a blast, I have a feeling he’s going to end up being my next boyfriend but I still want to wait for him to take the lead. I guess we shall see what happens.”
The following Saturday, November 27th, was his graduation party at his house. I was a little bit nervous since I had never met his family or friends, and I only knew three people who were going to be there. It was really fun though.
During the bonfire, somehow the topic of blood diamonds came up and AJ said how he never wanted to buy a diamond. I was absolutely blown away. He was the first person I had ever met who even knew about blood diamonds. I had been saying for years that I never wanted to own a diamond. There were just so many things that AJ and I had in common — even our distaste for diamonds.
Later, people started leaving, but he asked if our friends, Sway and Denielle, wanted to stay so that the four of us could play some games, so we played Blokus and Scattergories. Eventually, Sway and Denielle were also leaving and I really wanted to stay to talk to AJ for a bit since we hadn’t been able to talk much during his party, but it was already getting late. Fortunately, AJ felt the same exact way. He has a dog named Bolt who is very mean to most people other than his immediate family. Knowing my love for dogs, though, he asked if I wanted him to introduce me to his dog. Of course I excitedly agreed.
I guess I’m a pet whisperer or something, because Bolt was initially scared, but let me pet him. Eventually, he came right up to me, licking my hand and everything. AJ couldn’t believe it because Bolt is usually so mean to everyone he encounters.
AJ and I ended up talking on his couch for hours, before he finally kissed me for the first time. It’s funny looking back, because I felt like we had been hanging out for such a long time before he kissed me, but really the first time we had hung out together without other friends from Bible study was November 8th, so it was only about three weeks later. I think it felt like more time than that since there were many times when we hung out for four or five days in a row.
I don’t usually kiss guys who I’m not in a relationship with, but I remember being happy that he kissed me. He made it clear that we were dating and not seeing other people. But he wasn’t officially my boyfriend just yet.
We signed up for the Spartan Beast in April. Looking back, I’m really surprised that I did that because we could have realized that we weren’t right for each other between November and April. It could have made the race really awkward, but everything worked out just fine.
I can’t remember exactly how long we ended up hanging out and talking that night, but it was really late. I think I only left his house around 5am, which is a big deal for me since I am not typically a night person.
After that night, we continued hanging out, volunteering, running, working out, and playing games together.
One night we went to look at the ice sculptures in Neptune before walking around Belmar to look at all of the Christmas lights. We decided to take silly pictures imitating the sculptures.
Everything we did together was an absolute blast. At this point, I started telling one of my coworkers about him and she said she’d wager that we would be engaged in 6 to 9 months. I disagreed since we weren’t yet an official couple, but she just told me to wait and see. It’s funny now, looking back on that conversation, because she had us pegged from the start.
In early December, AJ was hired as a physical therapist, so his life started to get really busy. I am so thankful for all of the time that we had during the month of November because I didn’t realize how much that was about to change.
On the weekend of December 10th, one of our friends was having a birthday weekend celebration in the Poconos. I only knew Sway from Bible study, but he had been AJ’s friend for years. AJ invited me to come with a group of their friends to the Poconos. I was initially really nervous about going since I didn’t really know their group of friends yet and I wasn’t sure about the sleeping situation. I didn’t want to have to share a bed with AJ, but I wasn’t sure how much space there would be for everyone. I also didn’t know how much drinking would be involved, since I am not interested in alcohol at all and I really hate being around drunk people.
In the end, the weekend was a ton of fun and I’m really glad that I went. I got to know AJ’s friends better, go hiking in the Poconos, go swimming in the pool, and enjoy time with AJ before his life got super busy with work.
The first night, we slept on the kitchen floor in sleeping bags, but we were talking for such a long time that we looked at the clock at one point and realized that it was 6am. Oops! That day we went hiking for hours and I can’t believe that we even had the energy, considering our lack of sleep.
The second night, on December 11th, AJ made it official that I was his girlfriend. I’m really happy how everything turned out. I like the fact that we we met in Bible study and got to know each other through our discussions of the Scriptures, rather than on awkward first dates. There was never a time that I was trying to act a certain way to impress him. He even heard me talk about things I would rather have him not know about, like some conversations I had about previous relationships. Initially, I didn’t expect to end up with AJ at all, so I didn’t really care what I talked about when I was at Bible study or with that group of friends, and I think the same was true for him. We got to know the other person in an open, prayerful environment, which ended up being perfect.
We never really had a first date because initially we were hanging out kayaking and hiking, but it never really felt like a date. We were just friends. Then everything just developed into a relationship with the passing of time.
Fast forward a bit and now we are engaged, set to get married in August 2018. It’s amazing all that has happened in the past year and I am so thankful that God allowed my path to cross AJ’s path. We only had a short window of time to find each other between the start of Bible study and the start of AJ’s physical therapy job.
As I had become older and experienced more failed experiences, I think I had grown a bit cynical about relationships. I expected to have to settle a bit, never expecting to find someone who was quite as faithful or adventurous as me. I didn’t think I would find someone who has a passion for mission trips and volunteering. I didn’t really believe that God had that perfect love story in my cards. Boy, was I wrong.
Right now next year, I will be married to the most amazing man I know. I am excited that I will get to call him my husband and that he will call me his wife. Our short life on earth should be lived with one goal in mind: heaven. There is nobody I would rather have beside me during that journey, pushing me to grow in holiness each and every day.
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.
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):
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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!
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Going for a run around Beaufort, SC
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!”
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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:
-incidents with the police/law
-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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Then, we had to run and jump onto this rope and swing across the gravel area:
Then there was an inverted wall. Here, one of the Marines is helping me to get my leg over:
There were also monkey bars and then this balancing log obstacle:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 morning we had breakfast and then went to the ceremony where they raised the flag. From there, we went to the 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.
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.
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.
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.
-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
-Annual trip to Frost Valley in Claryville, NY
-The end of my last relationship
-Caidin came to visit and we went to Twin Lights in Highlands
-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.
-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.
-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.
I also got to see lots of other family members while there and I went swimming with river dolphins with two of my uncles.
-My mom’s 60th birthday
-Although my mom’s birthday was in March, we had a family party for her in April
-My cousin, Dan, graduated from UConn
-I ran the Run the Hook 10k in Sandy Hook, NJ
-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
-Ran the Fairfield Half Marathon and set a personal record of 1:55
-Went to Connecticut for my grandpa’s birthday party
-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
-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
-Went to Long Beach Island for a week with my mom
-I turned 28 in Long Beach Island
-Ran the River to Sea Relay race with an awesome group of people to raise money for Covenant House
-I started riding my bike all around the shore
-Traveled to Nicaragua with Living Water International
-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.
-My friend, Lizzy, visited since she was in Philadelphia for vet clinicals, so we had a beach day
-Worked on improving my yoga and handstands
-Hung out with new friends from Bible study
-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
-Went kayaking with my friend, Adam
-Ran the Jersey Shore Half Marathon in Sandy Hook
-Tenth Avenue North concert with my friend, Amanda
-Went to Catholic Underground in NYC with friends from Bible study
-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
-I went swimming in the ocean the day before Halloween
-I hosted our weekly Bible study once at my house in November. It was tight to squish in 15 people, but we managed.
-Bar Crawl in Asbury Park to raise money for Covenant House
-Did some November stand up paddling and kayaking in the ocean in my wetsuit from my uncle
-Kayaking Shark River with my friend, Kate
-Home to Connecticut for Thanksgiving
-Went to see the ice sculptures in Tinton Falls
-Out in Asbury for my friend, Stacy’s, birthday
-Weekend in the Poconos for Sway’s 25th birthday
-New relationship with AJ on December 11th
-Graham cracker gingerbread house building with AJ
-Christmas Eve at my grandparents’ house
-Christmas day at my aunt and uncle’s house
-Devin & Elise’s New Year’s Eve wedding with AJ
So here is goodbye to 2016 and hello to 2017. This year should be another great one, filled with more adventures!
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.
-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
-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 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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
My friend came to cheer me on with my mom
With my mom
Before the race
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
My race rack
AC Marathon medal
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.
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:
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
24. Jumping pictures never get old.
I love them. I take them everywhere. I may be 28 years old, but I have no shame.
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.
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.
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.