Tag Archives: obstacles

Spartan Beast – Vernon, NJ 2017

The Race:

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

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Me & Jayme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walls

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

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

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

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AJ coming out from under the water at this wall

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

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

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

Water

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

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

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

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

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Memory

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

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

Z-Wall

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

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

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

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

Log Carry

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

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

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

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Spear Throw

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

Sandbag Carry

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

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

Monkey Bars

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

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

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

Atlas Carry

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

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

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

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

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

Gravel Bucket Carry

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rope Climb

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

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


Results

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

I was 27th out of all 1374 females.

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

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Women’s Clothing:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

 

After the Race:

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

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T-shirt, headband, and finisher’s medal

 

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

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Dirty face after the race

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Bruised arm

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

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

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Until next time, AROO!

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2017 USMC Educator Workshop

Tuesday:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Entrance to Parris Island

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

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Dinner on Tuesday night

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

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

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Pool time!

Wednesday:

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

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Ready to find out what day two holds for me

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

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

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

“Roust that march!”  “Ay, ma’am!”

“Sprint!”  “Sprint, ay, ma’am!”

“STOPPPP!”  “Stop, ay ma’am!”

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

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

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

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

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My dirty arm

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

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

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

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

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

-drug history

-incidents with the police/law

-tattoo placement

-medications

-health issues

-low ASVAB scores

-lack of a high school diploma

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Shooting the M16
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Shooting the M16

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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One of the pilots with an F18

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

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

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

Thursday:

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

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

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Motivation run

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday:

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

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Graduation ceremony

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

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

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Legend with two of the Marines we had been working with

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

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

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

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

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

Would I Give my Sickness to Someone Else?

One day this past summer, I was talking to a friend about Lyme disease.  I was complaining about the illness and how I never really know when my symptoms will suddenly return out of nowhere.

He posed an interesting question: “If you could give it up, but it had to go to someone else, would you still give it up?”

I didn’t even have to think before responding, “No. Absolutely not.”

It was interesting to consider.  Although I don’t enjoy having Lyme disease, I also wouldn’t be able to live with myself being healed of it if I knew that a different person would have to suffer instead of me.

Now that I’ve had it for the past nine years, I feel that I am able to cope with it relatively well.  I know what to expect (usually).  I can see the signs of a relapse.  I wouldn’t want to give it to someone new, someone who would have to experience the rollercoaster of emotions that happen in the weeks and months after the diagnosis, and then again with every relapse.

I would love to be healthy without Lyme, but not if it meant causing another person the same kind of suffering that I have experienced.

That’s an interesting way to view struggles in general, considering whether or not we would take the opportunity to rid ourselves of such struggles, on the condition that someone else would have to experience them instead.

I don’t view myself as an extraordinarily selfless person.  However, I could never live with myself knowing that I was the direct cause of Lyme or some other pain and suffering for another person.  I don’t think I would be able to live with the joy of my health, knowing that someone else was experiencing that pain that I gave up.

So maybe instead of being frustrated about Lyme when it does return, I should think to myself maybe I am the one experiencing this pain in this moment because I am well-equipped to handle it.  I can get through this while someone else, if given the same situation, may not be able to handle it as readily.

I don’t believe that God gives us more than we can handle.  We each have our cross to bear, and I’m certain that there is a reason behind each of them.  He knows exactly what we are capable of.

So yes, I’d love to be Lyme-free.  But for some reason, this is part of my cross.  It’s what I must handle, so maintaining that mindset that I am suffering so that someone else doesn’t have to can potentially help me when I’m feeling frustrated.  I must pick up my cross, not looking to pass it off onto someone else’s shoulders.

28 Things I’ve Learned in 28 Years

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

1. It doesn’t matter what people think.

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

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

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

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2. God must always remain my top priority.

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

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

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

Without Him, I am nothing.

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Christ the Redeemer with my sister in Rio de Janeiro

3. Family will be there during the toughest times.

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

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My mom’s side of the family

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

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

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

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

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With Lizzy in NYC

5. Exercise should be a priority.

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

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

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Running the Hartford Marathon

6. Yoga is much more than glorified stretching.

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

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

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7. Dessert is absolutely acceptable.

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

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

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

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Mint chocolate chip Freak Shake

8. Material objects do not provide lasting happiness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. A yearly vacation is necessary.

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

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

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

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Long Beach Island, New Jersey

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

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

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

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

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With my sponsored child, Patience, in Rwanda

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

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

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

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13. Love is powerful.

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

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

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

14. Struggles strengthen and shape us.

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

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

15. We must take pride in our work.

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

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

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

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

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With two of my former students

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

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

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

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

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

17. We must savor the moment.

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

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

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

18. We should strive to remain child-like.

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

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

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

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

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19. We must be aware of current events.

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

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

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

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

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

20. Experiences are more memorable than tangible objects.

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

-Teaching a group of teachers while volunteering in Haiti

-Trekking with gorillas in Rwanda

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

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

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

-Family trips to Long Beach Island and Myrtle Beach

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

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

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

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

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

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Gorilla trekking in Rwanda

 

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

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

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

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Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

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

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

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

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23. We must never stop learning.

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

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

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

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

24. Jumping pictures never get old.

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

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With Amy in Coronado, California

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

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

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With my cousins in Frost Valley, NY

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

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

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

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With Doug and Dan on Christmas Eve

27. Dogs truly are man’s best friend.

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

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

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

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

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The day I adopted Butterscotch for my sweet sixteen

28. Laughter is the best medicine.

I love laughing.  I laugh all of the time.

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Life Doesn’t Always Have A Happy Ending

Jodi Picoult (author of My Sister’s Keeper) is one of my favorite modern authors.  I find myself so captivated with her books because they always keep me guessing.  I never expect all of the twists and turns that occur with her plots.

I recently finished reading her novel, Leaving Time.  In the beginning of the book, it reads:

“The moral of this story is that no matter how much we try, no matter how much we want it…some stories just don’t have a happy ending.”

I really had to stop and think about this line for some time.  I have always believed that everything happens for a reason.  At first thought, that seems to contradict Picoult’s sentence.  However, upon considering it a bit more, it’s not a contradiction at all.

Just because something happens for a reason does not mean that something happy has occurred.  Often times, it’s just the opposite.

I don’t proclaim with joy that I have Lyme disease; however, I do realize the ways in which it has been beneficial to my life.  Although I would love to have grown into a stronger person without having Lyme, I appreciate all of the ways that is has strengthened me.  Lyme has allowed me to be grateful for the days that I am healthy enough to work out.  It has definitely helped me to live a healthier lifestyle in general.  It has also increased my faith in God.

I am thankful for the struggles that I experienced as a result of growing up with a single mother who, at the time, did not have a college degree and was always struggling to find good jobs.  Without that experience, I would be a completely different person today.  It was from these experiences that I developed my work ethic and drive.  It was through witnessing my mom’s struggles that I found the motivation to excel in school.  I knew that I had to prove to my mom that all of her efforts in raising me were not done in vain.

Although breakups are never fun, I know that looking back, there is always a reason for the time that was spent with ex-boyfriends.  I don’t regret having dated any of my exes because I believe that I learned valuable lessons from each of them.  Although it’s difficult to see why things had to take the route they did during the moments surrounding a breakup, I believe that there is always a reason for each person having been in our life.

We can yearn for those happy endings forever.  That doesn’t mean that is what will actually occur.  We can pray for hours on end for certain things to happen.  But just because we don’t get that joyful response that we were looking for doesn’t mean that God didn’t answer our prayers in some way.  Often times, our prayers are answered in the ways that were least expected.

My Lyme story has no happy ending.  It has strengthened me and increased my gratitude, but having a chronic illness will never really be something that can be considered “happy.”  I may have flare-ups for years to come, if not forever.

My relationship with ex-boyfriends will also never have a happy ending.  I don’t believe that the whole friends with exes thing is a realistic goal.  I miss having those people in my life, people who I had at one point opened my heart to.  But just because that happy ending was missing does not mean that those years were wasted.

I left my dream job to fulfill my lifelong goal of living by the beach.  I unfortunately can’t say that life at the shore is all sunshine and rainbows, like my idealistic brain had hoped, but that also doesn’t mean that it was a mistake.  In Connecticut, I was blessed with an amazing job, great coworkers, and family members who lived close-by, but I hated the area in which I was living, and I longed to live at the beach.  Now I’m living at the beach, but I don’t know many people in the area, family or friends, and it can definitely get lonely at times.  Was it worth it?  I think so.  Is there a happy ending?  I’m not really sure yet.

So just because something turns out in a way that is different than we hoped or expected, just because it doesn’t seem to be a “happy ending,” does not mean that it was a waste.

Life on earth is wrought with struggles.  That is to be expected.  Every person on earth will one day die.  As I grow older, I will lose the loved ones around me.  I’m not trying to be cavalier about it, but we must be realistic with ourselves that sadness and pain are facets of life.  Happy endings aren’t always possible or realistic.

I hope and pray that my happy ending is to eventually make it to eternal paradise in Heaven.  That would be my ideal happy ending.  But here on earth, I can’t expect things to turn out perfectly.  All I can do is move forward each day with the confidence that everything can and does happen for a reason, no matter how difficult each obstacle may seem at the moment.

Trusting in the Lord

The following is my all-time favorite Bible verse:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean on Him not with your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will make straight your paths.” ~Proverbs 3:5-6

It’s one of the quotes that I included in my yearbook when I graduated from high school, along with a quote from Napoleon Dynamite, and lyrics to an Eminem song. Interesting combination, I know, but also quite indicative of my unique personality and interests: God, random humor, and rap music.

But getting back to the Bible verse…

It’s my favorite verse, but that doesn’t mean that I always remember it or trust it.

I find that the 20s are a pretty interesting part of one’s life. I’m 26. Closer to 30 than 20. That’s kind of scary. All around me, I see friends and acquaintances from college and high school getting engaged, then married, then having children. I know some couples my age who already are up to their third child. Although I’m entirely content with my life right now, I also feel like I’m always trying to make plans. Despite being sure that I’m not yet ready to be married, I’m always wondering what’s next to come. I wish I could just relax more in the moment, knowing that things happen as they should.

It’s so hard to give up control. We are called to trust in the Lord and in His plans for us, but that doesn’t mean sitting at home waiting to find out what He wants. I haven’t heard His voice in my ear saying, “Stephanie, go apply for this job. This will be perfect for you.” I make choices according to my free will and then I hope and pray that I am still on His path. I pray that I will feel peace with the decisions I make because He is helping me to arrive at such decisions. But sometimes, there’s moments of doubt.

Looking back, I see His plan in the way my life has worked out thus far, even in seemingly bad moments. Lyme disease helped me to find more strength in myself than I ever imagined possible. It is also what prompted me to begin running, which is now such a passion of mine. It was only in being sick and unable to even walk around comfortably that I began to yearn to go for a run. In the moment, I didn’t understand God’s plan, but 8 years later, I can actually say I’m grateful for my illness. Granted, I would have loved to find inner strength and to begin running without having been sick, but beggars can’t be choosers. Nobody ever claimed that His plan for us would be the easy route.

Running my first marathon
Running my first marathon

Growing up, my mom struggled quite a bit to pay the bills. I didn’t always have the newest clothing items, and definitely very few name-brand items. In middle school, that was tough. I remember there was one year for Christmas when the only thing I wanted was a t-shirt with some brand name on it. I didn’t care which brand, I just wanted a label. My mom found an Adidas t-shirt for me at Costco that year. It’s sad to think I was that shallow, but with all of my peers in their Abercrombie and Aeropostale attire, I just wanted something other than another shirt from K-Mart. I remember when my grandma bought me my first pair of Nike sneakers. I was beyond thrilled to have a sneaker with a name attached to it.

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Although I’m not proud of that middle school mindset, I’m now so grateful that I wasn’t handed everything. I’m so much more responsible with my money than many of my peers because I remember what it was like when I was growing up. God had a path for me and it was only through some degree of struggle that I was able to become the person I am today.

Although I buy brand-name athletic apparel at times, I own nothing from designer labels. I see no need for Coach, Michael Kors, Louboutin, or even Abercrombie or Hollister. I buy the vast majority of my clothing at Kohl’s when I have received the 30%-off coupons in the mail, and even those I only spend on items that have already been reduced in price. My winter coat is the same one I owned when I was in high school.

If you spoke to me in 7th grade, I would have probably been sad that I couldn’t afford Abercrombie. But growing up that way has helped me to establish my priorities. Yes, I will spend extra money on organic food items because my health is important to me and I am blessed to have the means to do so, but I don’t need to spend my money on various shopping sprees at designer outlets.

I still keep an ongoing wishlist on my computer. If there’s something I really want, I will buy it myself, but many things that I want are added to my “Wishlist” Word document that I then e-mail to my mom before my birthday and Christmas. I don’t always need that instant gratification that plagues today’s adolescents. I kept a broken iPhone for 1 1/2 years, waiting patiently for my 2-year upgrade so that I could get a new phone. Did I have the money to buy a new iPhone when I cracked my screen? Yes. But my phone still worked, so in my mind, I had no reason to pay $200+ for something that I didn’t really need. Would it have been nice to have a new phone? Of course. But not necessary. I’ve had 4 phones now. 3 of them were free and my most recent one was a $50 upgrade.

My mom never had a new car. She found used cars straight from the owners and that always worked out for her. In high school, many of my friends were handed car keys on their 16th birthdays. If I have children one day, I don’t care if I’m a millionaire, they will not be handed a free car. It doesn’t teach them anything about hard work.

I waited until I was 19 for my first car. During high school I didn’t have enough money to buy myself a car, nor did I really need one at that point. Even during college I didn’t need it until my junior year. It was a 1998 Plymouth Grand Voyager from my grandpa. Sky blue. One of those big boxy vans.

My first car and my current car
My first car and my current car

I wasn’t ashamed of it; I was thrilled to have received a free car, especially one with so much room so I could easily pack everything I needed for the 8-hr drive out to college. I bought my first car in 2011. But it wasn’t new. It was a 2003 Honda Civic that I found online from an owner who had posted a classified ad. It was dented and scratched from the day I bought it. But it’s a great, reliable car that has served me well. I paid $4,700 cash for my current car. I’ve now had it for 3 1/2 years. I don’t think anyone with a new car can tell me that, even in the long run, they’re making out better than I am. In over 3 years, I have had zero major repairs, changing only things like oil, spark plugs, filters, tires, and windshield wipers. It’s great on gas. I would rather have my car any day than a shiny new car that comes with monthly payments.

It’s only thanks to the struggles and situations that didn’t seem ideal at the time that have helped me to become me. I am on this path because, although it was full of road blocks and obstacles, it has led me to the place where I am today. I’m blessed. I’m grateful for all of these struggles and I now understand the need for them. I understand that, had everything been easy, I would probably not have worked as hard as I have. I may not have my current dream job as a high school English teacher.

And my path isn’t over. I will continue to face even more obstacles. I can’t say that I will embrace them. I’m human. I feel pain. I don’t enjoy that pain, looking forward to the good that may come. But I feel calm in believing that everything has a reason. People will die. Will I be upset? Absolutely. But I can ease some of the pain knowing that it’s ultimately God’s will.

Was I upset with the death of my dog this past summer? Yes. The word upset doesn’t even begin to describe my grief. Did I smile and say that it was okay because it was God’s time? No. I was miserable. I’m still upset. I still wish things could change. But I’m also starting to see more of the blessings that were also taking place. Butterscotch didn’t suffer too long. He didn’t die when I was on vacation and couldn’t have said goodbye. He died peacefully. It’s still painful, yes, but I see that God was definitely there with me through it all. It could have been much worse.

When I’m stuck in traffic, I don’t always have a smile on my face. But sometimes I wonder if that traffic is what helped me to avoid a car accident that may have taken place had I been in a different place at a different time.

It’s easy to tell people to trust in God’s will. And it’s quite a challenge. But I know with great certainty that He has been with me through everything. I know that, even when I don’t understand why I must face certain struggles, He’s there behind me with a plan. So I’m eager to see what else he has in store for me.

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