Monday, October 27, 2014

The Great Debate: 50 Women to Kona

I sat on the pier waiting for the Ironman World Championships to start.  The professional men took off and then the professional women lined up waiting for their cannon.  A woman that came to Kona to watch a mutual friend race turned to me and asked, “Why are there less women than men out there?”  I told her because the men’s field has 50 participants while the women have 35.  Mind you, this woman is not involved with triathlon at all.  As a spectator this is the first and probably last she’ll watch.  She looked at me completely perplexed and asked, “Why?”  I explained the rationale behind it; there are less professional women than men, thus a smaller championship field.  She continued to stare at me perplexed and said, “That makes absolutely no sense.  What year do we live in?”

So of course I had already thought about the equal slots to Kona.  But I come from a background where you don’t make a lot of fuss, you respect decisions made and you do what you’re told without complaining.  Bottom-line, you respect authority.  And so I became complacent and really didn’t do much more than read a few tweets and retweet every now and then.  While in Kona something changed.  Hearing a complete bystander question me for a decision on unequal sized fields started the wheels turning.  Is this something I really believe in?  Is this something to just sit back and idly watch happen?  While my background is to respect authority, it’s also to have the courage to speak up when you don’t believe in a decision.  And you can do that while still respecting authority.  This is not an attack; it’s an obligation to ask the tough questions on an obviously very sensitive subject.

I like numbers.  I like math and engineering.  I like being able to show people “evidence” with cold hard numerical data.  I majored in Operations Research focusing in the math department.  I took my commission from West Point and chose the Engineer Corps.  Initially the justification that the women’s field was smaller than the men’s based on the percentage of women and men was enough for me.  I mean, this is based on numbers and facts so it was good enough.  But I also know that you can make any argument using numbers.  Here is something to think about.  The distribution of points awarded at Kona are the same for men and women.  Let’s just say for argument’s sake that finishing in the top 15 are the only “worthwhile” points to give you the jumpstart needed to qualify for the following year in Kona.  Those racing at Kona and finishing in the top 15 already have an advantage over those who are not racing.  With the distribution of points exactly the same between men and women, that means 15 out of 35 women, or 43% of the field have the opportunity to take advantage of that jumpstart.  Meanwhile 15 out of 50 men, or 30% of the men’s field have the same opportunity.  Immediately I have to wonder if that doesn’t limit “new blood” to race Kona when off the bat nearly half the women’s field is already a step ahead because they are on the previous year’s start line?  How does this promote opportunity and growth?  Further, larger field sizes change race dynamics.  How does this effect placing and how do we quantify this number?  I don’t know!  Are the scenarios that arise from making a unilateral decision for a smaller women’s field based on populace being completely thought out? 

A few years ago I didn’t even try to qualify for Kona.  I saw that there were only 35 slots and with the current qualification guidelines, specifically with the race at Kona itself, I wrote myself off immediately.  If we are determining our championship field size based on population of men vs. women, again, can we quantify how many women aren’t even trying from the beginning due to a smaller size field?  Yes, this is a confusing question!  Think of it this way—which came first, the chicken or the egg?  I don’t think we do know and this would be incredibly difficult to quantify.  But I do know if you want growth, if you want to see more women racing in Ironman, particularly in the women’s Professional field then you have to provide opportunity.  As clich√© as it sounds, if you build it, they will come. 

I mentioned that I like numbers, I like data.  I thought back on my own history in sports.  I went to college at West Point and while I was there our school was less than 15% women.  I ran track and cross country for 4 years.  I was the cross country team captain and qualified for Division 1 NCAA in the 10,000.  I look back and our men’s and women’s team were completely equitable.   Now I might be the only woman in my platoon back in my company, but when it came to sports across the board it was equal.  It never even dawned on me until now that had our teams been operating under the same guidelines as Ironman, I wouldn’t have these opportunities.  For the first time I realized that our leaders were progressive in their thinking and I applaud them and thank them!  These leaders ensured equality for women, the clear minority, and I feel such gratitude for their decisions.  I recognize these decisions were made because they were the right thing to do.  We can throw around numbers and data to prove our case.  But at the end of the day is this a math equation?  It's about equality.  It’s the message you send.  That starts from the top and trickles down.  This is not a men versus women issue.  It’s an obligation to stand up and say the current system limits growth and opportunity for women.  And is that fair? I am so thankful I had advocates for equality in my younger years.  And now I will pay it back and continue to advocate for equality…almost 20 years later.
With my squad after infantry week during Camp Buckner, affectionately known to cadets as "BuckNam." There were 2 women in my squad.  I'm top row, 3rd from left...or the girl with the bright blonde hair :)

Firstie (Senior) year, our women's varsity cross country team.  The gal on the far right is an Olympian and the gal next to her qualified twice for the Olympic Trials in the marathon.

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Last Six Months

So I'm sitting on a plane on my way to Kona and I fully intended to zone out and watch The Mindy Project and be completely unproductive for the next 10 hours. But somehow the DVD isn't registering and now I'm looking to pass the time, and my travel companions are asleep so I can't annoy them. Then I remembered a friend pointed out that I haven't blogged since APRIL so perhaps it's time to give an update since it's been half a year!

So since I last wrote I have raced not one but TWO Ironmans! I wish I could tell you I was on my way to race Kona, but alas spectating and training will have to do for this visit to the big island. A friend will be racing and also celebrating the big 5-0 so several Tulsans are making the trip for our friend John-Kelly Warren and we couldn't be more thrilled for him. What an amazing opportunity to bring our Tulsa tri community together thousands of miles away. I'm looking forward to a week of working and playing hard with some pretty special people, even if they fall asleep on me in flight.

So let me back up a bit. My goal this year, along with just about every other pro, was to race Kona. I fell a bit short and it's frustrating to look back and see what races would have been better to qualify for the big dance. But as they say, hindsight is 20/20 and I'm thankful for the journey and memories 2014 brought me nonetheless.

After Galveston I immediately went to Team RWB camp in Austin. As long as they will have me, I will always go to this camp--no questions asked. While it's nice for the campers to tell me thank you and what not, the truth is I get far more out of this camp than I could possibly give. The veterans, the stories, the civilians supporting--it's an incredible organization and nothing short of inspiring. I always leave camp hungry for more, hungry to race for something far bigger than myself. I could probably write a book on each participant with their unique stories yet all tied together with the familiar theme of service and the dedication to not only country, but each other. This is what RWB is all about; building relationships and more importantly building community. As long as I have a voice, it will be advocating for Team RWB.

Great group of guys right there...
From there it was prep time for Ironman Texas. I was super fortunate to have two of my good buddies come and help me train in preparation for Texas. Molly escaped the frozen tundra of New Hampshire and Logan (along with super Ubu) were waiting to start his job as a wildfire fighter. It was a nice month of laughs, guitar playing and most importantly training our butts off. Before I knew it I was loading up to make the short trip to Ironman Texas in my hometown of Houston on my birthday.
We pretty much lived on my front porch during this time...And Ro pretending he doesn't like ice cream!
Last hard run, Logan paced me out...on a bike.  Sorry Logan, maybe one day you can keep up :)

Lucky for these 2 as friends...and Ubu of course. 

Texas was my first race back that I truly felt prepared for. After injuries took out half of 2013, this was the first race I felt everything was clicking physically, and more importantly mentally and emotionally. The race itself went well. My swim was a big lack luster and I was definitely a tad irritated when I realized the pro men and women would start together. We make such a big deal out of the age group men catching the pro women thus creating an unclean race. The same goes for starting pro men & women together.

I passed a few ladies but rode solo for pretty much the entire day until a pack of age group men swallowed me up at mile 100. For the last 12 miles I tried to dangle off the back legally and I feel I did this pretty well, riding a fair and clean race. I came in just over 5 hours and took off running feeling great. My garmin didn't register the first 4 miles and when it finally did I realized I felt a little too great, running those miles in around 6:45 pace. I dialed it back and the second loop settled into my 7:05-7:15 race pace. The last loop the temps and winds continued to rise and those early miles came back to haunt me! This is why patience and pacing is so important in Ironman! I had closed the gap to less than 3 minutes to 3rd, but my final miles were a death march. I finished in 7th--but I was encouraged with my fitness level and realized I just executed my run poorly. So I definitely walked away from Texas happy yet not quite satisfied.

From there I had a little recovery time and immediately went into Ironman Lake Placid prep. My training into Placid is probably the best it's ever been for an Ironman. I was swimming and riding as well as I ever had. My run took a little longer to catch on, but that often is more to the summer heat of Tulsa. I went into Placid feeling the most confident I ever have for a race. I raced a little local duathlon a few weeks before and even though I was a bit tired since I hadn't started my taper, I pulled off my best race here ever, taking the overall men & women's race.

I flew in early and met with Molly in New Hampshire. We spent a few days at her amazing lake house then drove into Placid. I have to also point out that I absolutely love this part of the country.  I am a Texas girl, but I was lucky enough to go to college in New York. The views are spectacular and the history at Lake Placid is so rich, which is a big part of why I chose this race.

"Molly, how much will you pay me to wear this hat to the pro race meeting?"  "Jess, if you really want to stand out just wear normal human being clothes."
 Seeing this never gets old...
Yes, I sported this sweat shirt after forgetting cold weather clothes in 100 degree Tulsa.
During this time it's hard to put my finger on it but I just felt off the entire week. My digestive track was way off (feel free to read between the lines) and I just felt sluggish the entire time. I don't think this had to do with training or tapering, but more likely I picked up something during my travels. On race morning I was excited, but again just felt off. My swim was better than Texas but no where near what I had been hitting in training. On the bike I quickly realized I didn't have the legs and worse I was trying to hold my nutrition down the entire race. This was the first race in my entire life that I've actually up-chucked while riding. I spent the ride trying to manage my power efforts with my nutrition because I knew I wouldn't be able to make the marathon without keeping fuel down. I came off the bike in 6th and felt surprisingly okay. While I didn't feel spunky, I was worried it would be a long 26 mile death march. I was able to hold around 7:30-7:45 the entire day, minus a few miles in there when I contemplated letting 7th catch me for The Real Starky. Dark Mark, Pay 10 Deep paycheck but she was too far behind and I saw I was closing quickly on 5th. **Sidenote this was the most exciting race for 7th I've ever been able to participate in.  Thanks guys for bringing awareness to Pro prize purses!! I don't care what anyone else says, you guys are all good in my book! ;)** I make the pass around mile 20 and actually felt the best the entire race these miles. Ironman--it's a crazy sport! I was happy to finish this day with a smile in by far my slowest Ironman but on also on the hardest course I've ever been served.

Crowds were amazing at Lake Placid!

TRS, DM, P10D--can you throw this puppy in for 7th next year??

I knew I didn't make the Kona cut off and looking back I wish I had gone for Monte Tremblant...but then again shortly after the race WTC announced Lake Placid would no longer have a pro field and I'm thankful I experienced this legendary race. I'm told outside of Kona this race has the most history and magic, and it certainly lived up to it.

My goal was to race either Ironman Arizona, Florida, or Cozumel at the end of the year. I had a bit of a setback with a pretty significant ankle injury. While I will make a full recovery, after racing 3 Ironmans in 8 months Kevin and I decided this would be a good time to let the body take a little break. While I enjoy the break, I never enjoy not running. I've been playing around with the cross bike a bit just for something different and while I completely suck, I'm enjoying it nonetheless. Besides that life has settled down quite a bit and I'm enjoying an early off season. While raising kids is always stressful, seeing my kids continue to improve in school and extracurricular activities is equally exciting.
 First day of school...G sporting Ironman pack pack and brought "Tour De France" pop up book.  Raising them right!!

5K at age 7: Ro 26:18 Gwyn long until they can beat me??

We are figuring out the 2015 schedule. Of course making it to Kona is the big goal, the most important is to stay happy and healthy and enjoy the ride. What better way to kick that off than spending a week in Hawaii with friends?

I want to thank my family (especially mom & dad, Rowan & Gwyn) and friends for this 2014 season. Each of you are special and motivating in your own way--and each of you know who you are! Thank you!! Coach Kevin, I can't quite do justice to how important you are to me.  You're more than a coach.  You're a friend, mentor, confidant.  Your belief in me means more than I can adequately express.  And I want to thank my sponsors and supporters. We all know you don't make it to the start line alone. So Tensegrity Chiropractic (Chris and Ali, you guys rock!), Powerbar, Rudy Project, BlueSeventy, Zoot, Kiwiami, PowerPlay, RaceQuest, Runners World, Elite Cycling, John Cobb Cycling, Bama Pies, John R. Jones PC. Thank you for all your help! Ryan and Bryan--a good mechanic is essential.  Thank you two for keeping me rolling! Team RWB--simply gratitude.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Oceanside to Galveston...What a Difference a Week Makes!

I'm sitting on a plane again so I figured it would be a good time to write my race report from Galveston or Ironman Texas 70.3. I wrote a report for Oceanside 70.3 but in typical Jessica fashion I never seemed to get around to publishing it! Rather than bore you I'll give you a brief synopsis: I sucked. Well, in my defense I did have mechanical. My wheel rubbed my brake the entire time. I got off the bike twice to fix it, the wheel would spin no problem, only to get back on and hear that dreaded sound of carbon rubbing (and you know exactly that cringe worthy sound). But beyond that, I was completely flat for the race. The swim was off, the bike my legs just felt like bricks, and the first loop of the run I was clipping off a great pace, but once the gravity of how far I was behind I just shut it down. My mind got the best of me, I felt sorry for myself, my ego was definitely was not my finest nor proudest moment.

photo courtesy
Coach Kevin and I immediately went into "what went wrong" mode. We looked at the race itself, but the bigger picture. What was going on physically, mentally, and emotionally? We definitely took away some key points. But the problem was this was just yet another bad race after an entire year of either bad or lack luster results. I headed back to Tulsa and the seed of doubt was planted. I texted Kevin things like, "Maybe I'm just too old." "I guess I'm not as fit as I thought." "Maybe my life just really isn't conducive to putting up good results." "I think I have too much on my plate." I told Kevin I didn't want to race Galveston. I told him I was tired, emotionally drained, and just plain old sick of it. But the truth is I was just scared--scared of yet another crappy result. Kevin reminded me that 2 weeks before I ran a 17:24 5k, my fastest since college, which hardly supports the hypothesis that I'm unfit or too old. He reminded me that bad races just happen. He encouraged me to go race without any expectation--I still wasn't sold on it. I was disheartened and frustrated and basically throwing a pity party. Then the shootings at Fort Hood happen. This was my home for 5 years. Life is short. And I'm lucky to even be doing this. And if I come in dead last, who cares??? The people that matter still love me. And I still love me if I come in last, so why not get over my own ego and just get out there and try. I once read somewhere that you have to fail in order to practice being brave. It was time to put my money where my mouth is.

                                                       photo courtesy

The kids and I flew to Houston on Friday evening. I got to sleep in my own bed that I slept in for 18 years. My kids played with Grandma and Grandpa and their new dog. I still had some issues with my wheel and luckily my Team RWB friend Jeremy Brown was at the race supporting. He came to the house and he ended up shaving down the brake and I had no issues. Confidence in equipment is huge! Thank you Jeremy!

Finally race morning came. The wind was the strongest I've ever encountered in a race. By the time we got in the water I couldn't believe how rough the chop was. When the cannon went off I just felt like I was flailing and going absolutely no where. I would try to sight to the first turn buoy and the waves were so high I couldn't see a thing. Finally there were a few girls around me and I caught up and just sat on their feet. I pulled for a bit once we turned, and then settled back on their feet because my swim just wasn't there (which is pretty normal for me when I race back to back weekends). When I got to the bikes I thought "Oh no, there are a lot of bikes gone!" My crew yelled I was 4.5 minutes behind the leader. Yikes, my swim was waaayyyy off. Oh well, go enjoy the day. The bike was simply out and back. Immediately I knew my legs were ready to play. We had a straight tailwind going out. I was putting up good power numbers, yet I didn't pass a single person. Again, oh well, enjoy the day. Once turned around we had a straight headwind. Perfect, just any other day in Oklahoma. I upped the wattage and thought "Shoot, just go for it." Slowly one by one I started to pick girls off. And this fueled me further to keep pushing.

I got to transition and was a little worried since I rode closer to threshold for 28 miles. My garmin literally broke the day before, so I was running with just my trusty timed watch. Immediately I knew my run legs were ready to play as well. I held around 6:15s the entire race and while I hurt, I was never in death mode like my last few races. I was fired up the whole run thanks to a million cheers for Team RWB, my kids, my parents, and friends. Hometown support is amazing!! I ran myself into 4th (in the money, yeah!!) The winner crushed us all, and second and third had some cushion over me, but I didn't care. For all purposes I won that race. And what I mean is that I won the battle within myself. I was quite emotional. To think that a few days before I just wanted to quit, give up, roll over and play dead. Nonsense. Life is meant for living, not sitting around feeling sorry for yourself. Winston Churchill said it perfectly, "Never ever ever ever give up."
So let me thank some very important people and sponsors. First off, to my mom. I COULD NOT do this without her. Bottomline! She is my rock. And for my other rock, my dad. I am beyond lucky to have these amazing people as my parents. Next off to my coach, Kevin Purcell, for never giving up on me even when I've wanted to give up on myself. To Ryan Gabriel for helping me endlessly with my bike. I know I'm a huge pain in the ass Ryan, thank you for your patience with me! To my sponsors--PowerPlay, Powerbar, RaceQuest, BlueSeventy, Runners World, Elite Cycling, Rudy Project, John Cobb, John R. Jones PC. Thank you for all your help! To those who I carry with me always--my kiddos, family, friends, and Team RWB. Your support does not go unnoticed nor unappreciated. Thank you thank you thank you!! Next up, Ironman Texas!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Latest and Greatest

I wanted to give an update before race season kicks off shortly in Oceanside in a few weeks.  And with my writing habits, once I start racing who knows when I'll actually blog again?!  Indeed one of my goals this year is to not neglect my blog as I have in years past.  And I'm actually finding writing fun and cathartic and a better way to communicate with other athletes and people in general.  Thank you for all the feedback, I really enjoy it!

Training with some lovely ladies in the rain in Cali...

So, what's been going on in my world?  A lot of the same, and a lot a whole lot different.  Let's start with the triathlon front.  A year ago I was ready to throw in the towel and retire.  I had an injury that I just couldn't shake and months went by without the training I needed to be doing to be competitive.  This took a lot out of me physically and probably more out of me emotionally.  But somehow I turned it around and got some decent training in the back half of the year, but still not enough to be competitive in 2013.  The good news is that work is still in the bank, and I'm enjoying the deposits now.  I'm happy to say I'm healthy, fit, and eager to race in 2014.  I just got back from San Diego last week.  I spent a week there with my coach to really get in some good bike mileage, as the weather here in Tulsa has not been conducive to Ironman base mileage.  In years past I would have never left the kids and gone to do something like this.  I think the biggest reason why is because I felt guilty doing it.  In 2014 I'm trying to change my attitude on how I approach being a pro triathlete.  #1.  Stop apologizing to everyone about it.  This is my job.  Some people go and sit at a desk.  I get to ride my bike.  Yes, it's not traditional.  Yes, I love it.  So why do I constantly feel the need to say sorry to everyone about it?  I have had a lot of soul searching the last year.  I'm 35 years old.  I'm not going to do this forever.  My coach and my mom brought something to light that I never even thought of.  They both (separately) told me that I'm not scared of failure--that is quite evident because I'm always willing to put myself out there and knowingly get a good ass kicking.  But the problem is I seem to be scared of success.  At first hearing this I rolled my eyes, "Whatever, don't get all philosophical on me!  Plus, I've had some success, so I'm obviously not scared of it."  No, no, no, no..... I began to really think about what they were saying.  What is it that holds me back?  I think the biggest is guilt--guilt of leaving my kids for a week to train.  Guilt that this sport is selfish.  Guilt of going to races and the kids are back home.  Guilt that sometimes I'm so tired I don't want to push them on the swing, I just want to sit there and watch at the playground.  Am I scared of success because I fear that means I'm not a good mother or a good partner?  Would I judge another pro triathlete mom or dad for going to race or train in order to put food on the table for their kids?  Absolutely not.  And then I take another step back and wonder why am I so hard on myself?  When did I adopt these attitudes and why?  I have some ideas and I'm just starting to scratch the surface.  It's required me to ask some tough questions and face some hard issues.  But in doing so I'm getting more clarity and connecting the dots in a lot of ways.  I'm learning to be kinder to myself.  I finally feel like I'm getting "it" and as that happens everything seems to be coming together as far as training and finding peace.  That's a good feeling to have.

                               Yes, we are a little weird...but a lot of fun!

This leads me to the next major change in my life.  Recently a classmate from West Point wrote me.  He's running for Congress and asked for a financial contribution for his campaign.  I told him as a single mother and an ex-husband in medical school I wasn't in a position to contribute financially, but I would certainly help in a different way if he needed it.  He responded with something like, "You're divorced???  I'm really surprised and sorry!!!" It kind of took my off guard.  I feel like I'm very open, or at least I am in person so I just assumed everyone knew.  Perhaps I'm not as open as I thought via my blog or Facebook or Twitter.  Yes, I am not married.  And despite all the recommendations of not jumping into a new relationship, I did and I jumped head first.  And now I understand why this is not recommended!  So, my major change is that for the first time in many many years I am completely single.  And you might be wondering how that is going.  Or you might not, but I'm going to tell you anyway :)  Okay, get ready for it because I'm going to do that thing where I tie it into triathlon...When I did Ironman Arizona last year, I told my crew that the hardest and scariest part was the unknown.  Standing in the starting area, in the dark, alone, hoping that you're prepared but also knowing things can go wrong or south quickly.  But on the other hand, you can have the race of your life and get it right and how amazing is that?!  But for me, this is the hardest part.  Just not knowing.  But pretty soon the cannon goes off and your race starts to unfold.  And you focus on controlling the controllables...and you let go of the things out of your control.  As triathletes we are so OCD, it's hard to let things be that are out of our control--both in races in life.  But doing so is necessary in order for things to unfold, because they are going unfold no matter what, so what does worrying or beating yourself up solve?  Absolutely nothing.  When I race, I'm very good at focusing on me, and me alone.  How do I set myself up to have the best race possible?  I don't care what x, y, and z are doing.  They don't effect my outcome.  And this is certainly true in life as well.  My focus is on me, making myself whole, making myself the best version of myself I can be.  I'm finding happiness outside of a person.  Because the fact is if you are looking at one another to make the other happy, you're already playing a loser's hand.  And so far, as my "race" unfolds I'm just really proud of myself.  I'm not going to sit here and lie to you and tell you life is just hunky dory all the time, or that I don't have sad and lonely moments.  But those moments seem to be with less frequency, and it does get easier.  And I have so much more time and energy to "control the controllables."  The biggest?  Being the best mom I can be.  Being present and happy with them.  Making sure they know they are loved and my inspiration for just about everything I do.  The next is focusing on the process of being a pro triathlete.  This isn't just training.  It's also sleeping, eating, recovery, and the biggest is changing the inner-dialogue in my head.  I don't have room for negativity of any kind, and I will not let it invade my head space.  Am I 100% perfect at this?  No.  But I'm sure a heck of a lot better than I was!  I control what goes on between my ears.  I control my attitude and my outlook.  Next, becoming more involved with Team Red, White and Blue (RWB) has given me so much joy and inspiration.  I am so incredibly proud to say that I (along with good friend Christi) got the Tulsa chapter started and I'm simply humbled by the response.  This is a cause I believe in with such passion and sincerity.  I can't begin to thank my community for continuing to get the word out and support by rocking the eagle.  "Its Our Turn!!"  Lastly, strengthening my relationships with family and friends has been some of the most gratifying experiences of all this.  It's amazing the support that comes out during tough times.  They remind me that I'm stronger than I think, more resilient than ever, and when I come out of the other side I'll be a better person for having experienced it. 

            From a photo shoot with my amazing sponsor PowerPlay.  I call this one "letting go."  :)

When you finish a race and it's not the outcome you were hoping for, it's easy to beat yourself up and be disappointed and even angry.  It's easy to take it personally and to label yourself a "failure."  But if you've ever read a race report of mine, you'll know that's just not my style.  I always look for the things I did right, I acknowledge what I can and will do better next time.  These are the lessons learned for a better race next time.  I always hold my chin up because at least I had the courage to get out there and try, no matter what the outcome is.  I choose to take away the good, learn from the not so good, and let the rest go and carry on.  And I have a deep faith life will turn out as it should.

                       One more from photo shoot.  Ready for 2014....

Monday, February 17, 2014

Making Enemy Contact with a Little Bedazzle

Lately I've had a lot of time to think. Yes, it's true I actually think. I generally like my eyes focused on the present, and the best way to set myself up for a successful future. And like any human, I can lose sight or falter or just kick myself in the butt and wonder, "What the heck was I thinking?" But such is life, learning and growing, and all that jazz. I sometimes do have to remind myself to take a look back, not only to see how far I've come, but also some of the incredible experiences I've been through. And some of those experiences are not ones that I would repeat, but definitely made me a better and stronger person for doing them. My mind of late drifts back to 10 years ago. I often feel like my life is ruled by 2 six year olds, who are naturally demanding just based on their age. I laugh to myself thinking about what I used to be in charge of; the responsibility that I was given. My kids will never know that girl, and I can't help but smile and think, "They have no idea who they are dealing with." But then I have to remind myself that when I feel down or defeated, I'm still that girl and don't believe for a second otherwise. And instantly my shoulders go back, I raise my chin a little higher. Looking to the past isn't always such a bad thing.

So ten years ago I was in Camp Victory Base South, Baghdad, Iraq. We were the first unit in for Operation Iraqi Freedom 2. Initially we all thought OIF would be like Desert Storm...go in, bomb the place and get out. It wasn't until my unit got deployment orders did it hit us that we would be a sustaining force in Iraq. I remember going to sleep at night in denial that I would actually deploy. And in the morning I would wake and feel nothing but dread. This lasted for months until the day I woke up on New Years Day 2004 and met up with 3 other guys from my unit to be the first ones to take off. We were the advanced party and tasked to set up on the receiving end for the rest of the 300+ soldiers that would arrive in the next 2-3 weeks. I'm not going to lie to you. It sucked. We flew commercial without our unit through London and then to Kuwait. In the Army everything is structured and a lot of times you just feel like you show up and execute. Suddenly I realized when we showed up in this foreign country how truly chaotic it was. We were literally the first unit to reinforce after the initial invasion. We were starting from the ground up, something pretty incredible when you think about it. We immediately got to work in Kuwait to set up training for the road march into Baghdad. And let me tell you, it was a total cluster. We had vehicles that looked like they came straight out of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Just getting to Camp Udari, Kuwait our convoy got lost and we ended up at the Iraq/Kuwait border. We spent the next few weeks practicing convoys, firing out of our vehicles, drilling our soldiers how to react to contact, what to do when there is a casualty. We also spent a great deal of time recognizing Improvised Explosive Devises (IEDs) or road side bombs. It is very surreal going to each chalk of the convoy and making sure they have a body bag. My initial job title was S2, but I worked closely with the S3 (operations). Since I had just come from Company Executive Officer (XO), I knew every vehicle and every soldier. As the S2, I had to gather intel each day and give reports. This included everything from most common time of enemy attacks, best avenues of approach into Baghdad, weather, when the moon rises and shines, etc. We were in the wet season in Kuwait (yes it does rain quite a bit in the desert) and it was so miserable we were all anxious to get to Baghdad. The actual road march is deserving of a post of itself, but it will go down as probably the most intense situation I've ever been in.

I've completely digressed from what I originally created this post for. I think the key to getting through these situations is a sense of humor. I can choose to remember the anxiety, dread, uncertainty...but I choose to remember the laughter we shared at the whole absurdity of it all. My roommate Liz and I had been one year apart at West Point. She and I had been in the same unit for several years. She had just returned from Afghanistan and went ahead and redeployed with our unit shortly after. We immediately clicked from the first time we started working together. She was witty, a great officer, smart. We both came from big families and had older siblings that went to West Point. After a long hard day, we would come back to our room and just laugh. I thank God Liz was my roommate for a short time. Her fianc√© Jim was Special Forces and in the Green Zone. Occasionally he would make it to our base camp and spend the night in our room. Jim and Liz were not little people, and I remember them snuggled on that tiny twin bed and thinking, "Wow that must be true love because it sure looks really uncomfortable." One night we took fire on our Life Support Area (LSA) which is where we slept at night. There is nothing like waking up to bullets being fired at you. We had no idea what was going on. We immediately hit the ground and waited for the fire to stop. Initially we thought some insurgents had breached our base camp and attacked us, but that also seemed to be nearly impossible. It was total confusion, we just knew we were taking fire. In any event, after we hit the ground and the bullets stopped, Jim asked us if we were okay. Then he whispered, "You guys stay here, I'm going to go check things out." Like I mentioned, Jim was a big Special Forces guy. He stood up, put on his gear, grabbed his rifle, and then said, "Liz, give me your slippers." Instead of putting his combat boots on, he decided to put on Liz' sparkly shower flip flops to go check out what we thought was enemy infiltration. He slipped out of the room into the dark of night without making a sound. Meanwhile Liz and I lay silently on the ground, reaching for our 9mm pistols and throwing our body armor on over our bodies. We both had adrenaline pumping and we were both thinking, "Are we really about to get in a fire fight?" And we were both ready. Several minutes go by and I break the silence.
Me "Liz?"
Liz "Yeah."
Me "What the fuck?"
Liz "I know."
Me "Did we really go to West Point for this?"
Liz "No kidding.


Me "Liz?"
Liz "Yeah."
Me "Did Jim just really put on your sparkly shower flip flops to go make enemy contact?"
Liz "Yeah.".......laughter, more laughter all while trying to be completely silent.

Liz and Jim were to be married in May of 2004.  Instead they were deployed, but went ahead and got married in Baghdad....

We later found out a solider from another unit got a Dear John letter, stole a vehicle and decided to open fire on us. Nothing like almost being taken out by friendly fire...

If given the choice to cry or laugh, I choose to laugh.  And let me tell you, it's a choice.  I'm not saying it's not okay to be sad or mad or just plain angry.  Recognize it, don't wallow in it, look for the good parts, smile and laugh at those parts, and move forward.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Life Lessons From Little People

Days go by and I can’t seem to find the inspiration to write about anything remotely interesting. My days tend to blend together and while I personally thrive on routine, I realize that it can seem mundane, especially to the average reader. But then there are times that as soon as an idea pops in my head I literally have to race to a computer to make sure I document it before it’s lost. I am having one of those moments right this very second.
I just returned from my kid’s talent show audition. This was a last minute decision to try-out, and I was a tad skeptical that they would actually follow through. It all started yesterday while Gwyn was on a play date with one of her best pals Lucy. They decided to choreograph a dance routine to Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble.” They practiced on their own last night, but I just figured when it came time to actually try out, one or both would flake out. I met them for lunch beforehand and they were chomping at the bit to go. And I was even more surprised when Gwyn’s twin brother Rowan told me is now part of the act as a backup dancer (ummm hopefully not the next Kevin Federline) and part of the “big move” at the end. I smiled and thought this would be cute, and of course interesting. We got to the gym and I played the song on my phone while they rehearsed. It was a little rough around the edges, but what else can you expect from a bunch of 6 year olds? They finally were called on stage. All three were blushing, and incredibly embarrassed. I still thought one might decide to take off, which would probably give the others an excuse to bail. But they kept looking at me for reassurance and I gave them my signature “thumbs up” and wink, which they always respond with a wink back and I knew they were going to follow through.
The song started and they began their routine. And the next thing I realize is that I’m getting choked up. And let me tell you, it’s not because of their incredible moves! One word came to mind. Vulnerable. Right about then I realized I was learning a life lesson from these little ones. Vulnerability. It’s a scary thing, let’s get real. Kids are a clean slate. They probably haven't gone through heartache or extreme disappointment. And because of this they are so open to new experiences, and chances are they dive right in, without fear or trepidation. As adults, it seems like often we are willing to pass through life and not make ourselves completely vulnerable—to goals, jobs, relationships, friends, family, etc. We protect ourselves for various reasons, usually for fear of failure or fear of getting hurt, because we've been hurt or failed in the past. These kids put their fears to the side and did it anyways. And at the end, when they were accepted into the show, you could see them beaming with pride and excitement. Let’s be honest, it’s not always going to work out the way we want. Often we will fail and we will hurt. But there is something remarkable in knowing this and still making yourself completely vulnerable, to know you still put it all on the line and able to go there. That in itself is something to beam with pride. And when you finally do hit it's nothing short of magical. If everything was a guarantee in life, where would be the fulfillment in that?
So in the end, thank you to Rowan, Gwynnie and Lucy for reminding me that there is never any shame in making yourself completely vulnerable, because in the end that’s how we get to the good stuff in life. And I can’t wait to see the final performance next week!