Tag Archives: Camp

Ironman Chatty Take 2

Super PackAt first, when sitting down to write my obligatory race report, I couldn’t put words down on paper. I was not only physically exhausted but mentally exhausted. The whole year leading up to Ironman Chattanooga was an exercise of endurance, resiliency and grit. After crossing the finish line, I didn’t have anymore to give. Training wasn’t always the priority in a year of family emergencies, revitalizing a camp, moving a bale of cotton to Mississippi, along with all the other things life brings in a given calendar year. But just like running an Ironman triathlon, you have to take one challenge, one hurdle or one difficulty at a time. So lets talk triathlon now.

Pre Race
I woke up much earlier than I had for other line-up starts. Typically, I like to be at the back of a swim line to stay out of traffic. But I felt like I would need every minute to finish this triathlon. I also wanted to enjoy as much of the early morning temperatures on the bike. The forecasters had predicted a high of 95 degrees for the day. I found my spot in line at 5 AM and camped out for the next 2:30 hours with Roxanne, a triathlete from California with Alabama roots. Nerves didn’t hit me until I heard the pros start the race. At that point, I hoped and prayed I could make it to the finish line later in the evening.

Swim
Not much to say about the swim. The water was 83 degrees and I felt very sorry for swimmers who chose to swim in wetsuits. I know the benefits of wearing a wetsuit, but the heat would be a factor all day long. As I entered the water, wanted to get away from the bank and near the center of the river, but I felt like I over shot that goal. For the first half of the swim, I felt like I had set myself up poorly. I refocused and started spotting on a large white boat near the shoreline. Once I saw the bridges, I felt like I was home free. Those bridges, whether running over or swimming under, they are a welcome site. I popped out of the swim with a 1:08 time. I knew the easiest part of my day was over and I needed to shift my mental focus from an easy river swim to a long bike ride through Georgia.

Bike
The plan was to not push too hard on the bike. I had a pace set in my mind that could get me safely into T2 before the cut off time of 6:00 PM. My training wasn’t the best for this event and I was especially weak on the bike. For all practical purposes, I took two months off during the summer while working at Camp Cha La Kee. However, I feel certain that unloading, building & rebuilding bunk beds could count as endurance training. No matter what, I was on the bike and as I crossed into Georgia the reality was slow and steady finishes the race.

The first loop was somewhat pleasant and enjoyable. I was happy with the partial shade and cooler temperatures on most of the first 40 miles. My plan of an early start was working as I kept moving forward. Around mile 25, an athlete passed me who I clearly seemed to not be paying attention. I slowed my cadence and watched him carefully as I distance my self from him. I thought to myself, “he is going to cause an accident”. Roughly 30 seconds later, there were four cyclists caught in his cone of chaos. Everyone was OK, but water bottles, bikes, nutrition and people were scattered along the road. I stopped and did all I could to help the riders and clear the path. I wasn’t stopped long.

The second loop was much hotter than the first. The temperature hit a high of 97 during the last half of the 116 miles. The pavement felt like a hot skillet radiating heat. I had never done a triathlon or any endurance race in 90+ degree weather. Because of the extreme heat, I questioned, what did a DNF look like or feel like mentally and physically? If you can identify the monster it is easier to stay away from the monster. I decided to create rules for myself. If I couldn’t do simple math or if I started vomiting from the heat, I would stop. With these simple rules, I kept moving forward.

As my legs keep churning forward, up and down the rolling hills, I remembered details from 2014’s IM Chattanooga, I remember talking to many cyclist during the ride, but not this year. To survive the heat, everyone had focused intensity that would rival hardened professional triathletes. My focus had to be on the finish line and nothing else. As Admiral Wm. McRaven advises, “Never Ring the Bell”, never quit. As aid the aid station near mile 95 past I remember, I hadn’t had a pee break since the bushes right before swim  start. I started  to drink more fluids worried that dehydration would get the best of me. I drank more and peddled as hard as I could. My bike and I returned to T2 just before 4:00 PM. Plenty of cushion between me and the bike cut off time.

Run
I felt OK as I transitioned from cycling to running. Only trouble I had in T2 was my socks. I love Feetures, but the kind volunteer helping me didn’t know there was a left sock and a right sock. We looked for the left sock for a bit before finding it in her hand. No worries! I managed to get my socks & shoes on my feet and none of it involved simple math. I could hear the sweet sound of cowbells as I started the run.

My plan to take in more water on the last part of the bike backfired. I had too much liquid sitting on my stomach, which caused my stomach to hurt. I longed to vomit or burp. So I walked… A lot! I had lots of day light left and plenty of time before midnight. I walked most of the first loop. I didn’t take in many fluids, but I did do everything I could to cool my body. Which I think worked. I felt better with each step. The first lap would be recovery.

I crossed the walking bridge headed for my second lap when I started chatting with a local athlete about various things. Ryan was a veteran of many Ironman competitions and a trail runner. He had run in many of Huntsville’s races, including Mountain Mist. We started running together and shortly there after we passed my swim line buddy, Roxanne. Roxanne was running with Julie since somewhere on the first loop. We traded greetings and a commitment to run together. Thus the “Super Pack” was formed on the outbound portion of the second loop. We picked up Kelsey and Bob at some point along the way. Roxanne would check on each of us like a mother hen or protective mother. We all ran better and kept each other moving forward. We traded nutrition, war stories and concern for one another. We formed our own little triathlon family. The best part was when we made it to the North Shore section where the neighborhood spectators cheered for our commitment to team! “Hey, look at them… they are sticking together”!

I couldn’t leave my group. Not even when I saw Coach Dana! I had wanted to see her all day long. But my commitment to my comrades was greater than my desire to chat. Honestly, if it hadn’t been for Dana committing to help coach me in the eleventh hour of training, I wouldn’t have made it to the start line or to the second lap of the run. Life, like triathlon, is about your support system! Friends, family and other relationships that are formed along the way is the purpose of life and give life meaning and value. Without a support team in our lives to give us strength when we are weak, we can’t make it to the finish line. Being apart of the Super Pack was going to get me to the finish line. We wouldn’t leave each other.

Finish
The Super Pack finished! It was a sweet finish. My original triathlon goal was to do an Ironman triathlon before I turned 40 years old. I have now finished two on the course in Chattanooga. Reflecting after my first, I was happy to have completed it in a great time. Time wasn’t important to me this year. The people along the way were what mattered. My nephew Rhett’s road to recovery, the campers and staff at Cha La Kee, and even the people I lost contact with during the year are more important than the finish itself. Chris asked if I like running across the walking bridge on the first loop or the second loop. I immediately said the second loop, because I am closer to the finish. He really was asking about the view, the scenery along the river comparing the daylight and the darkness. Both can be an analogy for life or even a topic for another blog post.

The second finish at IM Chattanooga was so much sweeter because of what I had experienced along the way. Like I said, time wasn’t important. I am extremely ok with a finish of 14:28:07 on a 97 degree day when only 1651 athletes finished. I am a much different person, triathlete, friend, and human than my first 144.6 finish. The first IM was truly about achieving it as single goal. My 2016 finish was about the journey itself. You have heard of people cramming for a final exam, but what about cramming for an Ironman. Should I have trained differently, yes. Would I change it, no. I learned a lot in 9 1/2 weeks I did train. I have heard Ironman described as learning to make 10,000 decisions in one day. Learning to live with your decisions and the mistakes along the way. I am a better person because of the people I have surrounded myself with, the decisions I make, and learning to keep moving forward no matter what!

What Was I Thinking

What was I thinking while caught up in a moment of “Billy Bad Assisum”?  What was I thinking signing up for a FULL Ironman triathlon.  I guess I really thought I knew what I was doing.  I guess I thought… “that which does not kill you makes you stronger”!  I guess if I have come so far along this path, I can go just a little further.  The problem is that a full Ironman is twice as long as I have ever swam, ran or biked before.  Can I do this?  Am I strong enough?

Yes, I believe I can finish a full Ironman, but will it be within the time limit?  Yes, I feel like I can train enough to finish a full Ironman, but what will be the cost?  Yes, I feel like I can give what is needed to do all of those things and be the Vice Principal of Space Camp, but will that even be enough?  I am not Amazon.  I am not a freak of nature, physical specimen of what God ordained as a triathlete.  Heck, Amazon was a triathlete before she could even swim!  I am seriously in over my head.

Well, the next four months will tell me if I can swim 2.4 miles in the Tennessee River, if I can bike 112 miles through Tennessee and mostly north Georgia, and finish with a marathon through the streets of Chattanooga, Tennessee.  Will I do it?  Will Dixon Ticonderoga still use graphite as the pencil core?  Will Aviation Challenge still be associated with the color green?  Well, I am only sure about one thing.  I am in over my head!

As Derek Jeter is my witness, my number one goal until the morning of September 29th after 140.6 miles is Chattanooga!  I don’t know Derek Jeter personally, but he dated Mariah Carey and he is a New York Yankee!  He can be my pinstriped patron saint of athletic endeavors!  Peyton can only be my boyfriend!

Last Day in Baku

Moon RockI am in my hotel listening to Amy Grant’s 1992 Home For Christmas CD.  I am about about 90% packed, however I still have some souvenir shopping and a few more memories to make and good byes to say.  I can’t help reflecting on this amazing journey I have been on the last month. Last night after an amazing dinner at Sumack, which serves a traditional Azerbaijan cuisine, I tried to tell Mel all about the first few days of the build.  It was hard to remember the smaller details. But here are a few things I will never forget!

The people of this country and that I have met here are truly amazing.  They are remarkably caring and very hard working.  From Jimmy who worked in the set up to Erkan my Turkish friend who I didn’t get to say good bye to, I have met some grand people.  Anar and Slim to Khagani have been incredible patient with use.  The boys who work the simulators are an outstanding unit.  They work well with each other and take care of each other.  They showed me kindness that I will never forget.  We gave them call signs, wings and even a challenge coin.  But those gifts are not as wonderful as the last impact they have made on me with their outstanding spirits and hospitality.

What I have been doing is not curing cancer or ending poverty but it has been wonderful to work with wonderful people doing really neat stuff.  I have enjoyed working with my hands however, I think I need a manicure.  Working with the people from camp I don’t get to work with on a daily bases was awesome.  I love Cowan! And Michael is a funny guy!  But I will look back and always be thankful for meeting Joel.  He taught me a lot.  I think the original plan was for him to stay only a few days, but he stayed over two weeks.  Without everyone pitching in an extraordinary amount the exhibit would not have open before Thanksgiving and many people would have not been home with their families.  Plus the stuff I got to work with.  I have held meteors and a moon rock.  I have build display cases and stripped a Russian mannequin… the Russian mannequin was one of the coolest things.

Being away from my family and friends has made me miss everyone so much more.  Put thousands of miles between me and my parents, all the crap they gave me as a kid to get me to eat green beans melts away.  I have tried a lot of different foods. I have talked more to my parents this last month than any month I spent in Alabama.  But also, my dad had back surgery a week or so before I left and my mom just had knees surgery last week.  I have been a bad daughter being in Baku.  Thanks to Facebook, Skype and Oliver Florist I am not a total loser. Even people who live a few states away from me and only see once or twice a year I miss more.  I guess you don’t truly appreciate something until you don’t have it.

This trip and work has taught me a great lesson.  I think I have spent too much time in my left completing task and I have failed to connect with the people around me.  I love connecting with people.  But I really suck at it at times.  I rush, rush, rush and I don’t truly connect.  Over here, I haven’t been able to communicate as effectively using language, but I have still connected with them.  Heck, language is not my strongest quality.  I am not so good with words, you know?  But I need to stop and connect with more people.  Stop talking so much!  Just listen and connect, even if I have to use Azerbaijan charades.

As the song, I’ll Be Home for Christmas comes on I will end this post! I need to finish my shopping and make just a few more memories. Elvin, here we come!

Minions

First, I am having a ball in Baku! Sleeping in late and going to spa are some of my favorite things about my adventure to Azerbaijan.  Most mornings starts with room service and then I go sightseeing… Who am I kidding!  It has been hard work, but very rewarding.  I have made friends with people from Huntsville, Turkey and locals here in Baku.  For those who do not know, I am here with an exhibit from the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.  It is an amazing exhibition in a wonderful venue Heydar Aliyev Center.

I know I made a commitment to write twice a week.  Well, lets make that an average of twice a week.  Last week was very busy.  We worked twelve plus hour days and sleep was precious.  The only time we sacrificed sleep was to send off our Huntsville friends. When Trish and I arrived the project was already behind schedule.  Everyone was giving the extra effort to make sure things where ready.  The first to leave Baku was Daniel, Nathan and Michael.  Michael couldn’t stay very long in Baku, he was expecting his second child any day.  The next to leave was Carolyn, Cowan, and Joel.  Joel doesn’t work at the Rocket Center, but he sure has a special place in his heart for the USSRC.  He stayed ten extra days to help pull off the feat! Each day since he left, Trish and I have tried to find our inter Joel.  Then waiting until the last possible minute to finish things was Roger, Mike and Ed.  Ed left for Huntsville the day after his birthday.  He missed having the longest birthday every.

Everyone worked super hard. Early on before I arrived Michael rallied the local workers, while Nathan defied gravity by hoisting tons of equipment and displays from the ground floor to our second and third floor nest. It has to be an eagles nest, because we have the Apollo 11 astronauts hand cast on exhibition.  Roger worked on the sims, while Cowan built MIR and all the other giant displays.  I loved Roger before, but I now have a huge place in my heart for him and Cowan.  Carolyn did all things related to the artifacts and kept Ed happy.  Ed made sure everything was precisely placed and all the many items were on display. Mike had to be Mike, plus he had to help build, answer questions from everyone and make sure we behaved!

We were a happy family.  Now it is just Trish and me from Huntsville and Echo from Turkey.  He has a real name, but since I am writing commando, why bother trying to spell it.  Yesterday, we left work after the venue closed.  We walked back to the hotel and crashed for double digit hours of sleep. We walked because George, our shuttle driver, took vacation and the other driver had only been driving for fifteen minutes.  We got lost multiple times on the morning drive and had to teach the new driver how manual transmission works.  Closest to death I have been in a long time.  George will be back on Thursday, which will be perfect since it is Thanksgiving!!!

This will be only the second Thanksgiving I have not spend in Carroll County, Mississippi. The only other time was with my two aunts and grandmother in Indianapolis when I was senior in high school.  Trish and I have decided to have dinner with Echo on Thursday night after work.  Echo has been looking for us a Turkey with no luck!  However, we will have Turkish food on Thanksgiving.  Echo is from Turkey so it all makes sense.  I will miss my family and being in Carroll County.  But I still have a lot to be thankful for!  This experience is one of them.  It has been crazy, but very fruitful.

So much fun!

It took over three weeks to complete the set up of the exhibition.  While all those hours seemed difficult at the time, one of the things that made it so rewarding was working with the locals.  They have the biggest of hearts.  I mean this with no disrespect, but they are a lot like the Minions from Despicable Me.  They talk in a language I can not understand, they are the hardest working people ever, and all they want to do is make us happy.  The similarity was sealed for me when I realized the yellow vest they wore made them look like the Minions.  Jimmy is my favorite.  Oxran Cavadli is Jimmy’s real name but he really likes when we call him Jimmy.  He and I bonded over our iPhones.  He thought I had a 5S, which would have made me cooler than reindeer nuts. But nope, we both have iPhone 5’s.  Now, we both have translation apps on our phones.

Now matter what, we all worked together as one big family.  No, we are not trying to steal the moon.  Just inspire kids and adults to travel there someday soon.  We are all like minions trying to fulfill JFK’s vision again fifty years after his death.  It has been a good week and a half.  Hopefully there will be more blog post! Good night, good morning, or good afternoon whichever time zone you may be reading from.

Frankfurt

So here I am in Frankfurt, Germany! I am trying to type a quick post for two reasons! First, if I start out posting to my blog, I may post more than just one time while I am abroad.  And secondly, if I am typing, I am not falling asleep.  It is approximately four o’clock in the morning back home in Alabama and eleven o’clock in the morning in Germany.  I did have a Red Bull once I got off the plane from Chicago.  However, there is only so much taurine can do for a sleepy “Red Bull”.

I would like to set a few expectations for my blog posts while I am in Baku, Azerbaijan.  I am traveling for work, so work will need to be my number one priority.  Please do not expect spelling to be a priority.  Lets be honest, when is spelling a priory for me.  I will be posting commando!  Trish Brown is my travel buddy on this trip.  I do not want to torture her with my disability. Look at it this way, I can spell Azerbaijan. Please do not expect much more from me.

My goal is to post twice per week, if not more.  However, I am not sure I have a large enough vocabulary or the creativity to write a comprehensive blog post at this rate without inspiration from a twisted taco cup or my daily dose of ESPN.  I am sure the common Azerbaijani does not know who Peyton Manning is nor do they care about his ankle.  I will have Mike Flachbart in Baku to help me stay in touch with some sports.  He is a fan of all things Boston, including Tom Brady.

Today is overcast and a little gloomy in Germany.  I must be honest, leaving was tougher than I expected.  As the Boeing 777 climbed into the sky and the lights of Chicago were behind me I struggled a bit.  I am excited for this adventure, however it has been a long time since I have been away form home.  The world is a different place and I am becoming old and stuck in my ways.  This is my chance to be Indiana Jones.  No, I am not searching for lost religious relics with a bull whip and pistol nor am I expecting to eat monkey brains.  It is an adventure to a place that I never even conceived of visiting.  Didn’t know much about it until two months ago.

Once we get to Baku, Trish and I will have a good night’s rest.  Then we will join the Rocket Center team who are currently there to help stand up the Cradle to Cosmos exhibit at the Heydar Aliyev Center.  The opening date is December 2, at which time a few more Rocket Center diplomats will join the team.  I don’t know the exact date I will be home since I am helping to manage the exhibit until Mel Siroky joins Trish in Baku.  I hope to help out as much as I can, use my Aviation Challenge survival skills and learn a lot while I am gone.

For those back home, I love and miss you all.  To those in Baku, we are on our way with lots of SD cards, HD cables, a book, a few NASA backpacks and a few surprises in our bags!  We did pack our own personal gear too.  Here we come!

Reminiscing

Yesterday, I picked up my dear friend Dan Oates from the airport.  He had been in Boston for the annual stockholders meeting of Sam Adams. Dan had to hurry back for the first day of teacher camp training. As we drove back from the airport we chatted about beer and the good old days.  See, Dan and I started working Space Camp’s educator program thirteen years ago this month. I was just a young twenty something school teacher from Mississippi and Dan was a wily veteran of SCI-VIS and a few teacher camp sessions as a guide.  Wow, if I could tell the young Red Bull a thing or two… Would I?  Probably nothing more than enjoy the ride, the Space & Rocket Center is going to change your life!

This morning while traveling into work, I got to thinking about this wonderful journey I have had at Space Camp.  So much of it is very serendipitous, the people I have met, the things that I have done, and the awesome tasks that have been given to me. I never would have thought I would meet the first man on the moon or have dinner with Homer Hickam or Christa McAuliffe’s mom.  Growing up if you would have told me that I would be responsible for training hundreds of Space Camp & Aviation Challenge Crew Trainers, I would have sneered at you and ran the other way! On a day like today, where I can be reminded of my Space Camp roots by welcoming back old friends like Jennifer & Wes Kennedy to camp and get to experience what I see is my lasting mark at Space Camp, Crew Trainer graduation.  I must thank God for this wonderful adventure.

On May 5th, I ran in a triathlon at Kennedy Space Center. There I ran past Paul’s Steakhouse which overlooks the Banana River on to the NASA launch facilities.  This restaurant was where Kat Balch and I reminisced about our favorite Space Camp moments with Alpha 19, the first group of Advanced Space Academy teachers.  This trip is where I made many dear friends, one was Rhonda Cox.  She deserves a little credit for my triathlon addiction.  Sitting on that screened in porch at Paul’s those many years ago was so precious.  That evening would have to be one of my favorite Space Camp moments. But I have too many to really pick just one.

There have been so many wonderful people come into my life because of the U.S. Space & Rocket Center.  I have met master teachers, young campers with dreams of flying jets or wearing a military uniform, notable authors and artists, ordinary people with passion for adventure and aspiring college students who want the experience of being a crew trainer. If I had to list the people who have impacted my life from camp, the list would be as long as the tax code.  The people are what give the Space & Rocket Center it’s magic. The greatest asset of Space Camp are the people, past and present, who call the rocket center home even if for a few days.

As Dan reminded me yesterday, always focus on the positive.  Space Camp, just like any other organization run by people, is flawed.  But if we spend all of our time focusing on the cracks in the mortar we won’t see the beauty which is the mosaic of Dr. von Braun’s vision.  He wanted to teach and groom the next generation of explorers.  I feel like I am doing that. And if I can be lucky enough to see another thirteen years on this earth I hope to dream bigger and better dreams for myself while encouraging others as well.  Whether or not it is at Space Camp or at Camp Red Bull, this is my hope. Thank you Dan… now I need to buy you a beer or two!

Running Through 2012

This has been a great year! I spent more time with my wonderful family. I have expanded my circle of friends, strengthened bonds with old friends. This was year I proclaimed, I am never too busy for my family and friends. I look forward to 2013 with fond memories of 2012 in my heart! Here are my top ten adventures of 2012… in no particular order.

Trip to Big D – A two days before Christmas my brother took his sons to a Dallas Cowboys game and I got to tag along. We drove from Mississippi to Tyler, Texas, birthplace of Johnny Football. Ate at the coolest and best Tex-Mex restaurant I have had the pleasure of eating at. Sunday morning we drove to the stadium for the game. The game unfortunately was a loss, but the adventure is the most important thing. The highlight of the trip was arguing with Rhett and Reece about having their photo made with the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. The argument turned out positive, you can see by their smiles!

Camping at DeSoto State Park – In January, Amazon, Snapper, Speedo and I went camping near Mentone, Alabama in DeSoto State Park. It was the coldest weekend of the year. The low temperature was 18 Fahrenheit. We survived the cold temperatures, but we should have brought along a bag chair or two. During this camping trip the four of us made a pact to run the Warrior Dash in Georgia in May. It was apparent after that camping trip, 2012 would be a very different year and it has been.

Animals – Having the greatest dog in the world has definitely been a highlight of the past eight years. He is my most faithful companion. He is never more than a few steps away from me at home. He would follow me to work if I let him. His kind and gentle eyes make all things bad ok. This year we lost George, our giant white rabbit. Also during 2012, we added two rabbits to our petting zoo. These two rabbits gave us a litter of 7 kits. Have the worlds greatest dog and bunny rabbits only make me want a few goats, maybe some chickens and hopefully a pig or two someday.

Pirate Night with Hoot – It is always fun when the story includes Hoot Gibson. However, when you cap the night off with eye-patches and mustaches you know you have made an epic memory. Hoot was the rogue Naval Captain who stood toe to toe with the notorious pirate, the Dreaded Pirate Squirrel, who was stealing food from his bird feeder. Captain Gibson fired at the enemy Squirrel with his tactical pellet gun. The squirrel fired back as the pellet ricocheted of the bird feeder. Captain Gibson was doomed to wear an eye-patch. If it is good enough for Hoot… it is good enough for his Space Camp fan club! While at Otter’s, Hoot left the room and Marcia, Snapper and myself donned mustaches and eye-patches to support Hoot in his relentless battle with the Dread Pirate Squirrel.

The Dirt Bike – One day in late August, I visited Mississippi and hung out with my brother and his sons. During a trip to Leland, Mississippi, we purchased a Honda dirt bike. Some people say they want to grow up to be an Astronaut. Some people say they want to win a Super Bowl. I can honestly say, one of my first memories, was to own a motorcycle or dirt bike. I was a stupid, novice, dork the first time I rode the little Honda. However, I loved every moment of the stupidity. I road the little bike at Christmas. I was somewhat  scared of the little bike after hurting my knee, but I learned that the little dirt bike could still be fun and safe.

Running – This was the year that Red Bull got in shape. I ran relays, 5Ks, mud races, duathlons and triathlons. It all started when Camp of the Rising Son held at 5K in April of this year. I ran the CRS run in 32:59. I finished 2012 with the Rudolph Run in Huntsville by running a 5K in 28:48. Between the two, I hurt my knee and ran a 200 mile relay with 11 other crazy people called Ragnar. I don’t know how many miles I ran, but I am sure it is the most I have ever run in one year. The goal for 2013 is an Ironman 70.3 or half distance triathlon.

Swimming – I am not Missy Franklin or Michael Phelps, but I love to swim. On January 10th, 2012, I started a masters swim class which changed my world. This would be the spark that would lead me to run triathlons. I ran my first triathlon since college in Decatur, AL in July. It was so much fun. At the end of the summer I swam an olympic distance relay with Amazon and Snapper as my teammates, and oh by the way, we took second as a relay team. Not because of me, but because of my teammates!

Florida – I visited Florida a record four times in 2012. The first time was for a Youth Preparedness Conference in Orlando. I was there to talk about Be Ready Camp; however, the highlight of this trip was Mouse and Marguerite Long at Friday’s near my hotel. Trip two was Tampa for a Yankees Spring Training game where I saw Mariano Rivera pitch two outs in the fifth inning. His season was cut short in Kansas City shagging fly balls. This was my Tampa highlight. In August, I spent a few days with my brother in Destin. Just a few days with my family on the beach was magical! Finally, the Magic Kingdom. After recruiting at ERAU at Daytona Beach, I finished my year with my buddy Mouse near Cinderella’s castle. Enough said… my time in Florida was special!

Peyton Manning Returning to the NFL – Honestly, I had so many emotions last January when it was apparent that my long time boy friend Peyton Manning would not be the starting quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts any longer. He didn’t play in the 2011 season due to a neck injury. There was a part of me that wanted Peyton to retire from the game all together. I didn’t want to see him less than great! I tried thinking of every option for Manning. I imaged Peyton in a Cardinals, Miami, Texans, and Titians jersey and helmet. I was resigned to watching Peyton wherever he ended up and turn my back on Mr. Luck and the Colts. Fortunately, Peyton landed on his feet with his “laser rocket arm” in Denver. He has had an MVP caliber season in his orange and blue. Lets hope that in 2013 we can celebrate something more for number 18!

Ragnar – This was most definitely a highlight of 2012. I ran with my team, I slept with my team, and I even cried with my team. Nothing can really top spending 30 hours in a van with some of your closest friends and heroes. I am sure if we didn’t have Amazon it would have taken our team 48 hours to get from Chattanooga to Nashville. In the process of this whole thing, I learned I was approaching the old lady stage of my life. Check out our video from the adventure. VIDEO LINK

To everyone who has played a part in my life past and present, THANK YOU! I can’t wait to see what 2013 has in store!

Turkey Blog 4.0

Do you know where you were a few days before Thanksgiving four years ago? Well, my answer to that question is, right here. I was sitting on this couch with my laptop computer creating my blog, GraphiteFree.  I haven’t been the most faithful companion to my blog. Life sometimes happens and it is less than eventful when you put it into print. This post is to help mark the anniversary and the Thanksgiving season.

The latest Facebook trend this month is to put what you are thankful for each day of November.  I didn’t discover this until a few days ago. I am less than observant at times. This is my futile attempt to be as cool as everyone who started on November 1st, listing what they are thankful for and desperately hoping to keep my blog relevant.

One – God:  I am very thank for our gracious Creator. Knowing that our God and Father is watching over us and loved us enough to save us is the most precious thing in our lives. This is what I am most thankful for.

Two – Family:  I have a wonderful family. Being home in Mississippi recharges my heart and soul. I love being on the farm near my family with my mom cooking in the kitchen and daddy in his chair. On top of that, I have a wonderful extended family in Madison County Alabama.

Three – Blinkers:  I love safety. I am the Be Ready Girl! Blinkers represent planning ahead… look for the safest route to your final goal… and not running into the driver next to you. Blinkers are important.

Four – Freedom:  Until the socialist take my freedom. I will be very thankful for this. Don’t believe everything you read. Thinking for yourself is the best way to experience freedom. The ability to pick and choose what you want to do on a daily basis is a glorious thing.

Five – Great Friends:  Throughout my life I have all ways been surrounded by wonderful people. Life is not much fun unless you have great friends to enjoy life with.

Six – Sports:  I am very thankful to be a fan of sports, a lover of ESPN Sports Center and a competitor in many sporting events. I love crying at sports movies and those touching “Inside the Lines” stories on Sunday mornings.

Seven – Bunnies:  This year, I was blessed by having a litter of rabbit kits. There were seven of the little guys. It was one of the coolest things ever! I now want to start a farm.

Eight – Health:  God has truly blessed me with great health. I can do all things I need to do. I have been given great endurance and I am seldom sick.

Nine – Ragnar:  On November 9th, a team of crazy friends and I ran from Chattanooga to Nashville. I am thankful for friends and for the ability run… I am still not fast, but I can run.

Ten – Soda Box Cookies:  These cookies are not made from some super secret recipe. These cookies however are the best ever conceived and my grandmother taught me how to make them. I miss my grandparents and are truly thankful to have some of the greatest to ever live.

Eleven – Electricity:  I could be one of those people who lives in a cabin in the middle of nowhere. However, electricity and technology has given us so much extra enjoyment in life. Without refrigeration our modern day Thanksgiving would not be possible.  It is great to type a blog and not use graphite to record all my ramblings.

Twelve – Cowbells:  No, Mississippi State is not known for its multiple national titles, but it is know for its cowbells. Mississippi State is a wonderful place with many happy memories attached to it. Hearing a cowbell ring gives me great joy! I am thankful for the Bulldogs and I hope they beat the University of Mississippi on Saturday.

Thirteen – Thanksgiving:  Thanksgiving is the best holiday ever conceived.  There is not a push to over commercialize it. People don’t get lost in shopping to help fuel our economy.  It is a day where we all pause and thank God for those things that are truly important in our lives.

Fourteen – Pencils:  The Dixon Ticonderoga is the quintessential American pencil.  It has been in my backpack, on my desk and behind my ear for many years. I love the pencil, because it does not expect me to be perfect like the pen does. The pencil is a non-judgmental companion that I am very thankful for.

Fifteen – Peanut Butter:  I was a picky eater growing up.  Some say I am still a picky eater.  However, if it wasn’t for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I might not have lived to see the age fifteen. Heck, I didn’t like pizza for a while. I feel sorry for all the poor souls who are allergic to peanut butter.

Sixteen – Golf:  Is there anything better than taking a club and beating the crap out of a small round object. To focus your energy on one single point in space and driving the ball beyond your own expectations is one of the best ways to release stress!

Seventeen – Math:  Seventeen is a prime number.  So is 37, which will be my age this time next year. No matter the number or age, I love math. I loved teaching math and doing math. I even like the new exhibit at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center, Math Alive.

Eighteen – Peyton Manning:  True, Peyton is not with the Colts anymore, but he is still my most favorite boy friend. But I am still very lucky to see my favorite Manning playing football this season! Thank you for Peyton’s health! Also, I am very happy Peyton attended Rocky Top and not Ole Piss.

Nineteen – Okra:  Delta State is a wonderful university found in the heart of the Mississippi Delta. Knowing how quirky I am, you should know that I would go to school where they have a mascot like the Fighting Okra. I am an okra girl. The Statesmen is a dumb mascot!

Twenty – Salt:  What would we do without salt? It a multifunctional tool which I can not imagine a day without. It makes stuff taste better. It is used for many great Biblical analogies. And it is useful in making ice cream.

Twenty One – Antiperspirant:  Let me be honest with you all, I sweat more than most human beings do. If it were not for Degree antiperspirant I wouldn’t have friends and my Ragnar team mates would have kicked me out of the van after my first run. I am very thankful for the help I receive in the use of antiperspirant.

Twenty Two – Cotton:  I love being a farm kid. I love all the amazing memories I have either in the cotton field or the cotton gin. I loved having acres and acres to roam when growing up. I am very thankful for my farming family.

Twenty Three – Proof Readers:  I can’t spell or write very well without an army of people to help me. I need to have proof readers to make this blog thing a reality. It is fun connecting with people though my blog. I couldn’t do that without people to help me.

Twenty Four – Weddings:  This is going to seem like a crazy thing to be thankful for, but I am thankful for Anderson’s wedding last year. After the wedding my mom saw pictures of me on Facebook. She thought I was fat and told me I was fat. Later that fall she told me again after another wedding. I am thankful for this, because it was the kick in the pants I needed to get in shape!

Twenty Five – Running: I am thankful to be able to run, because it makes me not so fat. However, I wish I could be thankful for good genetics which makes me a good runner. But that is not the case, I am slow and thankful for the abilities I do have.

Twenty Six – Recruiting Staff:  Yes, I am very thankful for the efforts made to recruit new staff for Space Camp. But one of the most coolest things about staff recruitment, is staff training is not far behind. Did I mention, I have the coolest job in the world.

Twenty Seven – Baseball:  Since I was 20 months old I have been fascinated with the game of baseball. I have been to many professional, college and high school games. It doesn’t matter if it is a World Series or a little league game, I love the game of baseball. Get well soon Derek Jeter.

Twenty Eight – Gadgets:  I love knives, first aid supplies, tools and electronics. I like being ready for most anything that life could through at me. I am thankful that Lysol can kill 99.9% of germs. I am thankful for those who invented these things and the spirit of innovation.

Twenty Nine – Space Camp:  I am truly thankful for being able to work at a camp that operates year around.  Space Camp has wonderful staff. Everyday is a different day! I am thankful to work at the coolest place for space!

Thirty – Turkey:  I am a turkey for some of the things I have listed. But all in all, I have enjoyed this exercise. I will enjoy my time with my family around the Thanksgiving table. Thank you so much Mr. Butterball!

The Elusive Blue Cable

I guess I don’t get out much and that is why I don’t blog much anymore.  I can’t help but want to share this wonderful fishing story with you.  I hope you enjoy it.  One thing I ask you, please read this post as if you were whispering to yourself.

I found myself in Daytona Beach, Florida with Jitters and Baywatch recruiting students at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University to work at Space Camp. We ate lunch at Ocean Deck restaurant just off the beach here in Daytona.  Today the Thunderbirds were practicing for their air show this weekend.  Being Aviation Challenge staffers once upon a time, we had to hit the beach to watch their aerial assault verses the seagulls.  It was amazing!!! Only thing better was watching F-16s landing at Luke AFB a few years back.

We walked down to the pier where Joe’s Crab Shack is located.  We wanted to walk all the way to the end of the pier to see the wonderful waves crashing into the shoreline.  There was a fisherman with a lady fishing toward the end of the peer.  We noticed the lady first, because she was wearing a hot pink bikini top with jean shorts.  I knew I was in Florida when I saw the jean shorts.  All of a sudden, the fisherman yells, “I have caught one!”  The lady comes running to help.  I am captured by the drama unfolding. We are excited, because we are about to see a giant fish leap from the water.  The man is wrestling with the rod and reel.  A crowd of bystanders start to form around the fisherman when the lady goes to retrieve her matching hot pink camera.

The lady comes over to her fishing buddy ready to take a photo of this tireless fish that must be extremely large.  The struggle for the fish had taken almost five or so minutes.  I survey the water below in hopes to catch a glimpse of this mammoth creature.  I see the line and the beast that has been caught by the heroic fisherman is none other than an elusive blue cable.  Yes, a blue cable/rope tied to the pier with a net attached to keep the day’s catch fresh while the fisherman was fishing. Yes, the fisherman had caught his own equipment from the opposite side of the pier.  The reason this elusive blue cable was putting up such a fight was because there was a gallon milk jug tied to the rope as a weight.

The fisherman continued to fight with his line.  All I could do was look at Jitters and Baywatch and say, “would you just look at that!”  We walked away, into the sunset, never to be seen again.

The End

Tri Anything…

Most people know that I am an adventurous red head. However, I haven’t been as outgoing as I would like in recent history.  I did spend a few years in the wild world of retail working at the Barn, better know to many as Pottery Barn.  Then a stint as a tour guide at Jack Daniel’s Visitor Center in Lynchburg, Tennessee. I gave up my part time jobs to spend more time outdoors. In other words, my time has not been spent with Cameron Drape or chilling not the couch, thus causing my blog to suffer.

I am sure you may be wondering what I have been doing in the meantime.  The answer to that question is… A LOT!  Last August, my mom saw a picture of me at a wedding on Facebook. She commented to me on the phone that I had gained weight.  What I heard was, “Ruth Marie, you are fat”.  And she was correct, I had gained too much weight and needed more physical activity than giving tours at Jack Daniel’s.  The new year rolled around and I joined the YMCA to start swimming. Shortly there after while on a camping trip I committed to running the Warrior Dash in Mountain City, Georgia in May with my three friends, Snapper, Speedo and Amazon.  If you are not familiar with Warrior Dash, it is a run with obstacles and lots of mud and some flames. To get ready for Warrior Dash, I ran my very first 5K in April at Camp of the Rising Son in French Camp, Mississippi.

After running about three or four races, I was hooked.  I wanted to run more however, I am an Oliver. Olivers are not known for their lightning fast speed or gazelle like agility.  I continued to swim and run no matter the speed.  At some point after Warrior Dash Snapper, my training buddy, and I decided to run a triathlon. To make this goal a reality we would need to start bike training.  At this point is when the fun really started.  My first bike race of any type was Muddy Buddy in Nashville, Tennessee. Muddy Buddy is a relay where I started riding my mountain bike and Snapper started running.  We would switch at an obstacle, I would run and she would bike. Needless to say, this event was super fun!

The next race is the big one, my first triathlon.  Saturday, Snapper and I, with a few hundred other people, swim, bike and run the Wet Dog Triathlon in Decatur, Alabama.  Snapper’s main motivation is the tri sticker she will place on the back glass of her Subaru.  My motivation is the adventure behind it all. Meeting new people, doing new things and losing some of the fat my mom noticed last year.  I am a little nervous but I have had some really great people help me along the way.  I think this is what life is all about: trying new things, sharing life’s lessons and being daring enough to try anything once, even green beans or deviled eggs.

Sinner vs. Center

Tonight when I heard of the passing of former Mississippi State great and Buffalo Bills, Kent Hull, I was transported back to French Camp, Mississippi. Kent was a member of the Buffalo Bills teams that went to four Super Bowls. He was selected to 4 Pro Bowl teams. But most impressive, Jim Kelly touched his butt on a regular basis.

Kent Hull also sent his son to camp each summer at Camp of the Rising Son. I remember one afternoon Chief Brad Herod retelling a story from Bible Study. Chief Brad is one of my absolute favorite people in the whole world. He had been teaching his little Choctaw boys what being a SINNER meant. Kent’s son looked up at Chief Brad and proudly proclaim, “My father is the best CENTER in the world, he plays for the Buffalo Bills.” Little Mr. Hull was confused by Chief Brad’s thick Mississippi accent. When Chief Brad was teaching that “all have sinned and fallen short of the kingdom of God!” Chief Brad was not talking about wide right in the 1991 Super Bowl.

The pride of a young son looking up to his dad is so precious. This is one of my favorite camp stories. I felt like tonight would be a great night to share it! Thank you Chief Brad and thank you Kent Hull for being a Bulldog!

Looking Back at 2010

To make a tradition stick forever you must do it year after year. I am not sure if year three of this blog review makes this a tradition. However, let’s still call it my “Traditional Year End Countdown” of all the major moments in my life over this past year. This year Chris went back to work for PricewaterhouseCoopers, I changed jobs and the changed again, I made it to Fourth of July on the farm for the first time in a long time and who could forget all the times I tried to give away my dog, poor Boo. While looking back I realized this year could be known as the STS 131 Year! Let’s take a look at the top ten moments of 2010 for this redhead.

Facts of Life Summer: It was one of those summers that you take the good, you take the bad, and there you have the facts of life! I always loved Jo on that show. I did have a great summer in retrospect; however it was difficult not being around camp programs. Since I was 15 years old, I have spent my summers working with children. In April I left camp operations to be the Director of Education and work with teacher camp.  Leaving that was not easy. However, I learned lots about myself, good and bad. Now that I am back where my heart is happy I just have too work hard and do what I am called for! I loved my job as Director of Education, but helping a kid overcome homesickness is more fun than teaching teachers! Sorry, love you teachers (Rhonda & Veronique).

Red Bull Racing: Driving back from the launch of STS 131, I checked my email. NASCAR driver and Red Bull Racing team member, Ryan Vickers was going visit camp the day we returned to work. I felt it was my duty as Red Bull to volunteer my services as tour guide and show our friend around camp. Ryan Vickers is such a nice guy! He was so friendly and nice. He was really interested in space and what we did at camp. The neatest thing I observed while hanging with the NASCAR driver was when I offered him a bottle of water. His assistant took the bottle from my hand, removed the paper label and then handed it to Ryan. It was not a Coke product. He wasn’t in the winner’s circle or on a race track, but the sponsors are still priority.

The iPad Revolution: I know that this may seem silly, but starting the iPad revolution at camp was monumental for me. When I started working nights at Space Camp I saw the value of my iPhone (this too was a great adventure of 2010) when answering questions and concerns by campers and staff. I have had fun teaching Marcia about the power of the iPad. It seems like a magic window that helps me get my work done more easily. With all the apps and multi-tasking tools, emailing, and fun facebooking, the iPad is one of the best and most useful gifts Chris has ever given me. I only wish that Bill Cosby would create a Picture Page app for the iPad! To all my Aerospace iPad friends, let’s have a productive 2011.

Snapper and Redbull at Oak CreekRiver Adventures: I have recruited for Space Camp at colleges far and wide for four seasons. There are two colleges I look forward to visiting each year, Embry Riddle in Arizona and my school, Delta State in Mississippi. This year our recruiting involved adventures around rivers and creeks. In Arizona, Snapper and I trekked up Oak Creek at Slide Rock where I discovered the meaning of Slide Rock. In Mississippi, I took Snapper to one of my favorite hang outs during college, a sand bar at Rosedale along the mighty Mississippi River. Both of these rivers have come to mean a lot to me. However, the adventures I had on both of them made this year’s recruiting season the most enjoyable on to date!

Yankee Adventure: Chris and I made our second trip to New York City. This time we didn’t just spend a day in the Big Apple. We adventured around the city along with watching three MLB games. Among our stops along the site seeing tour was the U.S.S. Intrepid, Chelsea Market, B&H Photography – the most amazing store in the world, the Top of the Rock, Grand Central Station, and Central Park. The great thing about New York City is that visiting the concrete jungle is totally out of the normal for Chris and me. I would much rather play in the mud or work at Pottery Barn, but visiting America’s welcome center is always a learning experience. Go Yankees!

Christmas Calendar of Awesomeness: If you don’t know me, I haven’t been a fan of Christmas for the last few years. It is a time of travel and in-laws and not much focusing on the greatest of Christmas. Christmas is a time for family and friends to remember the great gift of Christ’s birth. But for many of the past years it has worn away at me. A few years back Snapper promised to help me find the Christmas spirit again. Unfortunately that was the year of mono for her. This year she made good on that promise. She made the Christmas Calendar of Awesomeness. It was simple, each working day she gave me a small happy with a Christmas quote. It made an advent calendar of sorts. It helped me remember the coolness of Christmas. Christmas this year was great for this and many other reasons!

Alex and Luke Visit Camp: When Alex and Luke visited camp I wasn’t their escort that was the job of Charity the social network guru. I met Alex and Luke at the Astronaut luncheon with Bob Springer. Charity had chatted with them about their adventures around North America on their social media directed tour of the greatest country in the world. I gave Alex and Luke something I thought was just a simple happy, a Space Camp coin. Luke mentioned later in a road trip recap video it was one of his favorite tokens. This made me so proud of the work that has been done since Alumni Andi and the Space Camp coin first started. Alex and Luke are great people and I am envious of there road trip… I also wish I could live Red 3’s adventurous life!

STS 131 Trip: In early spring a group of Space Camp staff traveled to Florida for the launch of STS 131. This wasn’t any shuttle launch for Space Camp. Dottie Metcalf-Lindenburger was a Mission Specialist on board and the first Space Camp alumni to travel into space. It was the perfect event! Night launches are the best. Hanging out with co-workers and friends was amazing. The road trip down was a great adventure. And how can we forget Doug Wheelock, “Pig on the right, Shuttle on the left.” Tears and cheers were on the balcony of the OSBII that morning as we saw STS 131 lift off with Dottie and Space Camp riding along!

The 4th HOF Event: This year we had the Hall of Fame that we all wanted and looked for since its inception. Max Q played after dinner under the Saturn V, Hoot Gibson was simply a guest, Dottie joined us for the event, and the whole family seemed to be there. Personally, having Rhonda, Veronique, Snapper, and Safety there, and others who have been there every year, made the HOF very special for me. This year the HOF event was more like a family reunion and less like a production. Thank you, Mike Flachbart!

Wings in Space: I think I was taking a shower when I thought about asking Dottie to take along a few Space Camp wings on STS 131. It only seemed fitting that she take along the symbol of a Space Camp graduate along with her. I was so honored that she agreed to take a pair of Space Camp and Space Academy wings. What was even cooler was to discover after the mission Dottie took them out and posed for a family photo onboard the ISS. She and the over 500,000 graduates represented in those wings, floating in space! The day she presented the wings at graduation was one of my proudest moments at camp. The wings currently can be found on the wall of Discovery MOCR on the MCC floor at Space Camp.

All in all this has been an outstanding year! I look forward to 2011 and the many adventures I will go on! I do hope to write more, laugh more, and have more free time… next year.