Tag Archives: Friends

People of Encouragement

PandaWorking at Space Camp I meet a lot of people in a given year or even in a given week.  I have met moon walkers, generals, distinguished educators, politicians and celebrities in the years I have worked at Space Camp.  I probably meet 300 to 400 new people each year.  Beyond all the “big wigs”, I have met truly remarkable people who live normal lives and touch people in dramatic ways. This blog post is meant to celebrate not only the people who I have met in my 38 years of walking on this earth, but to point out a few people who have changed the way I look at life during 2014.  This is my Mount Rushmore of impactful people who I have met in 2014.  Please, don’t be discouraged if you met me pre-2014, I didn’t get this Mount Rushmore idea till now, but you guys are cool too!

Looking back on 2014, a lot of what I did revolved around triathlons and training for Ironman Chattanooga.  A stranger in February who I met at the YMCA and later would be a friend was Laura Fiscus. She is a super encourager, an Ironman herself, met me and unconditionally encouraged me each and every time she saw me.  Laura is made from the same stock at Sandy Henson.  I met Sandy in 2012!  I saw Laura at races around Huntsville and each time she made me feel like I could finish Ironman.  I even saw her a half dozen times in Chattanooga from swim start to on the run and even at the finish, I think.  She had no clue who I was or what I was doing the first time she spoke to me.  This is remarkable to me in an era of self-absorption.  Laura, asked about my training, encouraged my progression, and cheered me up when I was down.  Wow… I want to be like that.  She spent the inaugural IM Chattanooga serving others as volunteer.  So many from Huntsville were volunteers. I want to be like that.  In 2015, my plan is to be a volunteer for IM Chattanooga, and then race it again in 2016, because of people like Laura.  Fun twist of fate, Laura gave me my Rocket City Marathon medal at the finish line.

Each year, I meet a few hundred staff members at Space Camp.  This May we hired an unusual member to our team.  We have lots of fantastic staff members, but this kid was different and represents all the wonderful staff at the USSRC.  She was a missionary kid who spoke Chinese and worked well with our students coming from China.  Caitlin Bridges had “J-O-Y down in her heart, deep, deep down in her heart”.  It was like working at Camp of the Rising Son each time I spoke with her.  I didn’t get to know Caitlin as well as other crew trainers, but she made Ed Buckbee happy.  Therefore, she must be remarkable.   Her willingness to server others was motivating to me.  Just this week, I heard she was planning her own mission trip to Africa!  Buckbee plus helping people in Africa, this may be more monumental than walking on the moon.  I even met a moon walker this year, Harrison Schmitt.  Caitlin reminded me each time we spoke that camp is for the campers, however she never said those famous words.  I am hoping she visit Space Camp & Aviation Challenge this summer! 

I meet a lot of cool astronauts and celebrities beneath the Saturn V at camp, but this year I had the pleasure of hearing Dave McGillivray speak to a group of marathoners and supporters before the Rocket City Marathon.  McGillivray is the race director for the Boston Marathon.  If that isn’t enough, he has lived an adventurous life through running and endurance sports.  He ran across the United States in 1978 to raise money for the Jimmy Fund to help fight childhood cancers.  He was the original Forest Gump.  He didn’t just run across America once, he did it several times.  His life is a motivational testament to encouraging others.  He is known for running the Boston Marathon after the race is completed and cleaned up each year.  He shared a story of a young lady in a wheelchair who wanted to run Boston, but only could run 26.2 feet.  McGillivray agreed and marked off the distance.  The young lady ran her distance in half the time she was estimated to run.  McGillivray presented her a medal and the race went on.  Coming down the home stretch during McGillivray’s midnight marathon after the marathon, the young lady was there to present him with a hand made medal.  I can’t imagine how many people have been encouraged by him.  Finishing a marathon is a confidence boost for anyone, but that young lady was given a gift and allowed to live a dream.  Some people would have just said no!  One of my biggest take aways from McGillivray’s talk was not just the the young lady asked to run and ran, but she did it her way.  Everyone has to run their own race no matter the distance.  Whether a marathon, a triathlon, or a cake walk, everyone has a race to run.  I am reading his book, Last Picked, over my Christmas vacation.

My last spot on my Mount Rushmore of people who impacted my life is not just one person, but a group who motivated and encouraged not just me.  On July 31st my dear friend Rhonda Cox was struck by a van while she was training on her bike.  She was hit from behind at a high rate of speed.  I meet Rhonda years ago, so she doesn’t qualify for this list.  However, the people I met for the first time this year were the thousand or more strangers who joined in prayer whether by the Facebook group set up for her recovery or from a friend of a friend praying for Rhonda at their local church.  She has had a remarkable recovery.  Each day this group of people have prayed and followed her progress.  Through visiting with Rhonda I have been lucky enough to meet many of her friends and family for the first time.  However, the group as a whole is the most important. Since the accident, Rhonda has shared many stories of how God’s hand was on her recovery event down to the EMTs who responded and the medical flight team who air lifted her to Peoria, Illinois.  I am thankful for the army of people who I have met and prayed along side this year for Rhonda.  Amazing to think, Rhonda is running!  It hasn’t been six months since the accident, through God’s abounding power and grace she is strong and encouraging us all to run a little harder and faster!

In the years between my birth and last January I have met many wonderful people who I could write books about given the time.  So I hope this look at only four from 2014, makes sense to the reader.  I have been blessed and encouraged this year.  I have learned so much through my own trials and mistakes.  This year I have been encouraged to be a better human being by others.  I truly hope I can return the favor of encouragement in 2015.  To everyone who has been there for me, thank you from the bottom of my heart!  Merry Christmas to all!

Four Triathlons in 2014

RenManTriAs I sit on my couch watching Rudolph on CBS, I don’t feel like a good triathlete.  However, much of this year has been devoted to training for one specific triathlon.  So how could I continue the theme of Mount Rushmore of things without first hitting a major component.  In the 12 months prior to Ironman Chattanooga, I competed in three sprint triathlons, three Olympic triathlons and three half distance triathlons.  So let examine the “full body of work” to see which are my final four picks.

Quad City Sprint Triathlon in Davenport, Iowa is my yearly pilgrimage to the home of John Deere and to race with my friend Rhonda Cox.  This was such a special race this year because of an hevent that happened later in the summer, which I am sure that will come up at some point later.  This race is run by a few other humans each year.  However, this was the second year that Rhonda, her sister Leigh-Ann and I have run this race on Saturday and then driven to Joliet, Illinois to compete in Warrior Dash, IL. The best part of the triathlon is the turn around point on the out and back run, a John Deere tractor.  The best part of Warrior Dash is Portillo’s Italian Beef sandwich.  Yes, food is that big of a deal that I would endure mud!  The Quad City Triathlon was important this year, and I am sure it will be just as important in 2015!

Renaissance Man Olympic Triathlon was probably my best run event this year. My bike was was consistent, my swim was strong and the run was HOT but I managed to finish without having a redheaded heat stroke.  This is a great event!  Florence, Alabama makes for a wonderful venue for a triathlon as it is tucked along the Tennessee River and home to many historic places.  The start and finish location is a majestic cliff guarded location which will stir the blood of most any veteran triathlete.  The bike is long and flat with some challenges but for the most part fun!  And the run energetic and historic.  I loved running by the Frank Lloyd Wright home just miles from the campus of the University of North Alabama!  If you are ready for an Olympic distance triathlon and in the region, don’t wait, sign up for this race. (Photo Credit to Katie Beth)

Ironman 70.3 Raleigh was great!  I loved the town, loved the food, loved the course and it was a fantastic road trip!  This was thanks to a lot of supporting cast.  This one probably made the top four because of the food, friends and fun I had along the way.  I struggled on the swim, liked the bike and the run seemed longer than 13.1 miles.  You can see why the adventure was better than the race itself.  However, I really like the point to point race!  Raleigh was an awesome venue and you couldn’t ask for better than the Oak City!  I really wanted to try Raleigh in 2015, however, I need to harass children that weekend!  Raleigh 70.3 was great!

Ironman Chattanooga will be a memory I take with me for many, many years.  The volunteers were fantastic and who could ask for a better swim!  This was the race I focused so much of my time on in 2014.  Hearing the words, “Ruth Marie Oliver, you are an Ironman” and having Dana DeBardelaben give me my finisher’s medal was worth all the foot blisters and long hours on the bike.  The coolest thing about Ironman Chattanooga was that people were cheering me on, event though they were not on the course.  Thanks guys! Whether you were in Chattanooga or on some social media portal cheering me on, thanks from the bottom of my heart!

That is my year in triathlon! Sprint, Olympic, half and full, these were the best four and one from each distance… couldn’t plan it any better!  Atomic Man wouldn’t make the list any year!

Mount Rushmore Style

Headed to Chick-fil-AThis is has been a really good year! Could have been great with the exception a just a hand full of moments.  This year I wanted to do something different from my normal year end blog. Since the mighty Bulldogs of Mississippi State had a great year and at one point in time were in the top four in college football, I am going to honor that top four ranking system in a series of blog post. You could call it a Mount Rushmore style to topical blogging.  All of the topics this month will be focused on the best four of 2014.

To start out, I have picked a simple topic: the most important meal of the day, breakfast!  Here is a list of my top four most memorable breakfast meals of 2014 in no particular order.

Big Ed’s in downtown Raleigh, North Carolina is a traditional country style breakfast.  They are known for their hot cakes in the morning and southern style meat and three lunch menu.  During my 38 years on this planet, I think there are only two places that had pig brain on the menu, Winona City Cafe and Big Ed’s.  Truthfully, I didn’t eat pig brain or Big Ed’s hot cakes.  I played it safe with traditional eggs, country ham and grits.  It was amazing!  Big shout out to Jen Kramer who floated in to Big Ed’s like a master culinary critic with her little man, Isaiah.  Kramer selected Big Ed’s for breakfast for me and my road tripping friends.  All there will agree she floated!

Aretha Frankensteins in the north shore area of Chattanooga, Tennessee is a spot that even Rachel Ray has enjoyed.  I have eaten at Aretha’s before, however 2014 was my first chance to eat breakfast at the small twenty or so patron restaurant.  I chose an omelet with ham, cheese and jalapeños.  All was right in the world!  We had to show up before the doors even opened to make sure we secured our seat in a home that was converted into one of Chattanooga’s most famous places to eat.  I sat at the bar with friends where I could watch the comings and goings of the staff.  The place was hopping, but I feel like it is always hopping. Great breakfast… food, especially an omelet, is the fuel of an athlete!

Cracker Barrel, could be a Cracker Barrel anywhere because I always order the same thing.  However, the breakfast I remember was with a group of veteran Ironman triathletes in Nashville, Tennessee on a Sunday morning after an open water swim.  It was the same morning I saw two A-10 Warthogs fly over Nashville in formation.  For this breakfast I had my standard Old Timer’s Breakfast with toast not biscuits and gravy.  I enjoyed good nutrition that day, but I learned about   the nutrition that would save my butt during Ironman Chattanooga. I am very thankful for that meal and all the useful advice!

The last breakfast should probably be one of the many Chick-fil-A chicken biscuits eaten at Aviation Challenge on Fridays and once this summer on Saturday during a kids triathlon.  However, I remember each calorie of my Ironman Chattanooga breakfast.  I had a protein bar and Diet Mountain Dew to start the morning at five o’clock and then snacked on a pack of brown sugar cinnamon Pop Tarts and water while waiting for the swim start.  Might not sound like the most healthy of meals, but each portion served a purpose.  I think I have written about this breakfast so I won’t bore you.  That was a good day and each an every day is a glorious day if you keep the main thing the main thing.

There you have it! Big Ed’s, Aretha’s, the crack house and an ala cart meal the morning of a big race.  2014 has given me some great memories.  I should have been better about sharing these moments during the year, so I am now.  I hope you enjoy this Top 4/Mount Rushmore approach to my year end blogging.  If you have a topic for me to pick four on, please share that with me on Twitter @Graphitefree.  Enjoy your holiday and please be safe!

The Ragnar Effect

AOBJ 3This weekend I had the pleasure of joining eleven other athletes to run from Chattanooga to Nashville for the third straight year.  There is something about the relay experience that is unique and special.  To say the experience is simply a chance to run, drive, sleep and then repeat would be omitting the best part of the experience, which is the team.  Your team encourages you, motivates you and shares all gross and sweaty things with you.  Over the days and weeks that follow this experience, you run faster, walk taller, and preform at a higher level. You try to explain to everyone you come in contact with about the adventure you had while crammed into a van.  This is called the Ragnar Effect!

What is the Ragnar Effect?  The Ragnar Effect is running further than you ever have before, because your team is counting on you.  It is running up a giant hill with little to no training. The Ragnar Effect is knowing when your teammate needs a pace runner and when you should just let them blow off steam. It is also setting a personal record in their next race or two. It is having a bond with people who you have little to nothing in common with except for 30 plus hours in a van together.

I was somewhat apprehensive about Against Our Better Judgment 3.0.  It seemed like we were a rag tag group of misfits.  We really didn’t have a lot in common.  We had new runners, half marathoners, friends, colleagues and a hitchhiker or two.  But in a relay, it doesn’t matter your running pedigree.  What matters is can you work as a team.  Can you push harder on the run for those driving in the van or sleeping on a gym floor?  Can you suck up your pain and focus on encouraging others?  Can you find joy in running slower to help a fellow runner make it to the next exchange in the dark?  This group of AOBJ runners did all of that and more.  I feel like I personally learned more along the way!

We don’t show up to win, we come to encourage and grow! Each runner of Against Our Better Judgement has tons of fun and along the way we push ourselves to run faster and farther than we thought we could.  I may have rambled in the post, but it truly is amazing how much I love every single miserable moment driving through the hills of Tennessee!  I am amazed by my teammates and love each and everyone of them!  The Ragnar Effect is the closest I will ever be to being a superhero!

Slacker in 2013…

So I am a lazy blogger.  I make many excuses, but the simple fact is I am lazy!  And now I missed my “year end blog” deadline.  Each year I write a top ten list of my favorite or most memorable events of 2013.  It is currently 2014 and I am just now sitting down to write.  Let’s see, where do I start.  It has been a tough year with many ups and downs.  There has been twists and turns as well as lots of change in my life.  But I have kept chugging through the days, weeks and months.  So lets look at some of my highlights!

Goals:  Early in 2013 my goal was to become a better runner!  I set the goal to run 500 miles during the 2013 calendar year.  I didn’t make that goal.  I hit 446 miles on November 9th.  Seems like I should have been able to run 54 miles in 8 weeks.  The running goal didn’t happen, but I had another goal for 2013 that did.  I wanted to get a stamp in my unused passport.  The week before my buddy left Space Camp in April I told her how envious I was of her adventurous spirit.  On November 16, I entered Baku, Azerbaijan and got my passport stamped.  I didn’t run while I was overseas and then I contracted the Baku Flu upon returning to the US.  I have 2014 to run 500 miles.  Plus, I did run a half Ironman triathlon, which was a goal.  It wasn’t terrible missing the mark!

Baku:  I spent a month in a crazy country with a made-up sounding name, Baku, Azerbaijan.  How could I turn down a chance to work with power tools in an all white building in a country whose language I had no clue how to speak. Seems like a win-win situation only if you throw in a bartender named Elvin! I loved working with the people of Azerbaijan and I miss them tremendously.  Forget the cow heads or bucket of hooves on the street curb or the fact that a restaurant told me my credit card was not accepted because it was black.  People should not judge someone’s credit based on color.  It was amazing, even if I missed a lot of great SEC football!

HTC:  In 2012, twelve of my favorite people, against our better judgement, decided to run Ragnar Relay from Chattanooga to Nashville, Tennessee.  Well by the grace of God and the sharp eyes of Sandy Henson, twelve more of my favorite people traveled to Oregon for the grandfather of all 200 mile relays, Hood to Coast.  We ran from Mount Hood to the Pacific coast near Seaside, Oregon in 29 hours.  It was an amazing with a wonderful storyline.   Shaggy had to go to the hospital. Jennifer Bell traded her shirt for a beer.  We had zero cellular coverage.  We slept in a van.   And I made some amazing memories.  It was an amazing adventure, one I would have never thought I would have been a part of just a year earlier.  My team mates were terrific and the scenery breath taking.

Grandpa:  This year we said good bye to a great man.  Most of the time you don’t recognize a death in a year in review, but I was lucky to know Grandpa!  I am lucky to know his family.  The DiCarlo and Hailey families are my Huntsville family.  They take care of me and make me feel at home.  Jerry Groff was their cornerstone for years.  Grandpa never met a stranger.  He was always concerned about other people, even if he had known you for 20 minutes he counted you as his friend.  I have a family here in Huntsville, because of Grandpa’s example to his daughters.  One of my favorite nights this fall was outside the Hailey house with Grandpa watching the Mississippi State and Auburn game. He was so concerned about each of his guests.  He told stories of life in Buffalo and Mel Tormé.  I hope when I am in the twilight of my life, I can be as gracious as Grandpa!

Homecoming:  I know a lot of my favorite things this year have been tied to my trip to Baku, but I can’t leave off the homecoming.  I missed so much while I was gone, Thanksgiving, birthday’s, football, Peyton Manning, and my mom even had surgery.  They didn’t have chicken biscuits or Diet Mountain Dews in Azerbaijan.  It seemed like being on the other side of the world makes you miss everything just a little bit more.  When I returned home, I had my best friend to pick me up.  However, little did I know a few more friends where their to greet me.  It was amazing.  To see friendly faces was so precious.  The hugs were priceless… but the puppy dog Santa graphic and alliteration of the welcome home signs was, I am sure, the work of a million dollar artist and wordsmith.  Thanks, little Snap, Hoot, Marcia and you too Kim & Tank!

HOF:  True, the Space Camp ditched their Hall of Fame event this year in a mysterious on again off again fashion.  Instead, I visited the Pro Football Hall of Fame with my nephews in March and attended the National Aviation Hall of Fame Enshrinement in October.  Both adventures should have made my list separately but remember, I am a lazy blogger.  The adventure with my nephews was too cool.  They shared many toots and farts in the car ride with me.  We had fun in Louisville on the ride home.  I made them a promise to visit again when Peyton Manning is inducted.  The other trip was one I will remember for a life time because my high heel shoes killed my feet.  No really, I was truly honored to be in attendance when my astronaut hero Hoot Gibson was enshrined as a legend in aviation history!

70.3: I have always loved sports, but I haven’t participated at the level I should have.  I have always been a failure when it comes to sports.  I played basketball for a few years, quit.  I played golf and softball pretty consistently, but never as committed as I should be.  I even played college soccer for a year or so but sucked at it.  In 2012, I started running triathlons and in 2013 I completed a half Ironman.  I drove to Augusta, Georgia for the Ironman 70.3.  It was a great weekend.  I struggled on the run but smoked the bike.  It was a great accomplishment, but I do look forward to Raleigh 70.3 in June and Ironman Chattanooga in September.  I feel like I have given my all to the sport of triathlon.  We will see, I got a lot of shit to do to prepare.

Football:  Everyone knows that Peyton Manning is my boyfriend.  Well, Peyton may not know!  This has been a terrific year for MVP Peyton Manning and his Broncos.  More than just Peyton, this football season has been amazing and outstanding.  Much of the college and NFL season I spent overseas.  I spent many early mornings glued to my iPad or listening to ESPN Radio just to connect with SEC football and dear ole Peyton.  The nights I will remember for the rest of my life.  Bo Wallace coughing up the football in overtime during the Egg Bowl and my phone having an aneurism when Chris Davis ran a missed field goal back for a touchdown in the Iron Bowl.  I am lucky to have a boy friend like Peyton, to grow up a Bulldog, and to be adopted by my fellow War Eagle fans!  I love football!

Historically I have picked 10 things to write about.  However, I opted not to because I would dilute my memories.  I had a great year, but it has been a hard year.  I look to 2014 to be bigger and better.  I thought I would put my goals for the year as a conclusion.

Duh… Ironman Chattanooga:  I will have to swim 2.4 miles, bike 112 miles and run 26.2 miles.  I want to just finish, but I want to finish with a pace of no more than 14 minutes on the run.

Happy, Happy, Happy:  I want to find more happiness in my life.  I am sometimes described as grumpy or intimidating.  I want to be considered as friendly and giving.

Adventure:  I want to see more, do more and live more.  I want to travel and be adventurous.  Baku gave me a great start.  I just need to continue.  Let’s light this candle in 2014.

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.

Definitely

Looking back over my blog history I have talked a lot about many things. One blog post that was really fun to write was my 100th post. I listed my 100 favorite words. If I wrote that post today, there may be a few words that I would add or change. But for the most part it is a good representation of some of my most favorite words. One word I am certain to add as my most favorite is definitely. I use it all the time. As a matter of fact, I use it so much and yet I struggle spelling it almost every time I need to type it. At work, I have posted a note with the spelling on my computer. I love this word so much that today I will give it its very own post.

Definitely used as an adverb means, “in a clear and definite manner; unambiguously or unequivocally; positively”. To be absolutely clear or certain is something I strive for on a daily basis. However, if you know me or have spoken to me, you will know that I am certainly not absolute in my word selection. I struggle with finding the right thing to say. I am possibly the biggest hot mess when speaking in an impromptu fashion. However, if I know the words to string together in sentence or phrase, I can be clear and absolute.

The 2008 romantic comedy, Definitely, Maybe is one of my favorite movies. I love romantic comedies. The movie title is similar to my personality. I am definite… some of the times… well when I have my act together, I am absolute. I know that I can present myself in a manner reflecting that I don’t want to be questioned. However, when questioned I grow and most always learn something about why I believe and feel the way I feel. This could just be the stubborn mule gene of a hot tempered red-head. No matter how I may act in conversations or in debate, I always want clear, well defined, unambiguous borders, boundaries and rules. I like rules and I definitely need them.

I know that I am a dork, a goober, and possibly the biggest geek that works at Space Camp. However, I know who I am! Growing up I struggled with not being the cool kid or not making the best grades. Once I accepted geek-hood in the world, I definitely knew who I was. I struggled being the fish that swam upstream when all the others were swimming downstream. But I completely knew the direction I should go. The course was clearly planned out for me. I simply need to follow the breadcrumbs along the trail.

So, to summarize the positively off the wall rant on a word, a single word. I know what I want in life. I don’t say anything I truly don’t mean. I may regret those words five seconds after they vibrate off my vocal cords and enter the atmosphere. But I will learn from the regrets I have. I will leave my life with clearly defined boundaries, a loyalty to the people around me, and unquestionable love for life. Whether I am prepping for a race, helping a friend, completing a task, driving down the interstate, giving a speech about pencils or a spastic response to a question, I am definitely trying my best, even when spelling.

Crazy, huh?

Transition BagSunday, I completed an Ironman 70.3 in Augusta, Georgia.  Some would say it was crazy to swim, 1.2 miles, bike another 56 miles and after that run a half marathon (13.1 miles).  For me someone who hated the track in high school, yes it was a crazy idea.  But just crazy enough to do it.  It wasn’t some half brain, last minute idea I am known for concocting. It was an adventure started two or so years ago.

I arrived in Augusta, Georgia in the early afternoon Friday.  I passed a giant wall of green trees and bushes. Then I realized it was golfing holy ground, Augusta National Golf Club, home to the Masters.  Shortly after this golfing discovery I arrived at packet pick up.  This whole process was quite overwhelming.  My heart pounded as the volunteers walked me through the process of health forms, giving me a t-shirt, and putting on my wrist band. Strangely enough it seemed a lot like Space Camp.  Never-mind that, it was scary to think in less than 48 hours I would have to go for 70.3 miles.

After this process, I did what any good southern girl does.  I went to meet the locals!  I met Harvey and his wife at TGI Fridays. Harvey is a bonifided, card carrying space geek and his wife was a sports fanatic. Obviously, we hit it off.  The topics of Homer Hickam, Werner von Braun, Apollo 13, Norte Dame football and triathlons wove together in a way that would make ESPN Sport Center and NASA TV proud.  Ok… that is exaggerated.  Chatting with this couple put me at ease and reset my spirits.

Saturday flew by like Superman on speed! Sunday morning came. The crazy thought of doing a half Ironman was here!  I was one of the first runners in transition on Saturday morning.  Everything had been planned for and packed away in my transition bag.  It was dark and early morning, and seemingly crazy to think in less than three hours I would be in the water swimming in a half Ironman.

At 8:36am the horn sounded and we were off.  Swimming was something that came easy to me.  But swimming in a river, under bridges and around boat docks seemed extreme.   I swam stroke for stroke with two other participants for what seemed like a mile, but I was only at the half-way point when I passed them.  Out of the water I looked at my watch, 29 minutes.  Off to the bike, but first there were strippers at the race!  Yes, strippers! There were volunteers at T1 (Transition 1) to help participants take off their wet suits.

I started the bike very tentatively and unsure.  I had less than 50 miles of experience on my new Quintana Roo TT bike.  The day before, Karen Hall and I drove the course.  It seemed fun and it was fun!  The further into the ride I got, the more confident on the bike I became.  I was having FUN!  The climbs were not severe and the straight aways were fast!  I followed the plan I had in my head.  Things were going well as I dropped the hammer down on the bike.

70.3 Finish LineI ended the crazy 56 miles on the bike my butt seemed to be the only part of my body that was tired and fatigued.  I rolled into T2 with a great deal of confidence and pride.  I finished my bike in 3:07!  I thought, I can do this.  I gave myself a 7 hours goal. It was just at 3:40 race time when I started my run.  There I was running at less than a 9 minute pace.  I knew that wouldn’t last.  I slowed my pace at the 1.5 mile mark and tried to settle into the run ahead.  I was strong and felt good until a giant grizzly bear jumped on to my shoulders and started to wrestle me.  My confidence welted.  The bear was heavy.  I started to walk and frustration and doubt set in.  The bear was winning.  My first thought was Marcia would walk and run.  I can do this!  But the bear was still winning.  There were church steeples and bell towers along the route.  I thought of the verse in Philippians, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”!  Just recover, fight the bear!  So I did! I walked though the aid stations and then got my legs back to finish this crazy race!

The first crazy idea I had was joining a master swim class at the YMCA in early January 2012. Later that week it seemed like a crazy idea when Amazon, Speedo, Snapper and myself decided to go camping on the coldest day in 2012.  However, on that camping trip in the freezing cold we agreed to go on a crazy adventure.  We made a pact to run Warrior Dash in Georgia May of 2012.  Swimming, running and obstacles made doing a triathlon seem tangible, and with my training buddy Snapper it was not crazy! Over the last two years, I have imagined doing lots of things.  Some have seemed crazy and some have seemed reasonable.  However the crazy ideas have been the ones that have pushed my limits and made me dare to dream new dreams for myself. Crazy or not, the last two, nah, the last three years have been remarkable.

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!