All holiday season I was asked a similar question over and over, all having the same meaning. “Are you happy to be home?” “Doesn’t it feel good to be home this year?” “You have to be happy that you are home this year.” Of course, my answer to all of these questions was a very strong and resounding, YES!
But here is the thing, I am happy to be home. I wouldn’t trade one moment at home with my family for anything else. Yet, this holiday season brought about a sadness and strangeness I had never known before. I was truly sad for my fellow service men and women deployed over the holidays. I know the feeling of just getting through the day, knowing that when you wake up the following morning there will be nothing special about that day and you are happy the holiday has passed. Knowing you are one day closer to going home and knowing there is one less day you’ll miss the memories everyone is making without you. My heart hurt for them.
There was extra pain and sadness because the weeks leading up to and after Christmas were especially violent in Afghanistan. Every time I read an article stating we had lost another service member to an Insider Attack or another improvised explosive device detonating killing more innocent victims, I cried a little more inside. Before my deployment, I never bothered to watch the news or read about a country on the other side of the world. Now I can’t help but be interested.
As a matter of fact, as I wrote this, I read an article about the Taliban’s negotiations this week in Qatar with the U.S. News stories like this give me hope, but I am hesitant to be too hopeful. I have seen what it’s like there and the fact that the Taliban are talking to the U.S.A, but the President of Afghanistan was not there, makes a strong statement on how this will go. The Taliban has also stated they want the U.S out of Afghanistan and there is a six-month flexible timeline to determine the U.S. exit plan. All of this could lead to progress, BUT…. I feel like BUT has been Afghanistan’s history and I’m hoping this will have a happy ending! Although I am not convinced it will. To help with happy endings, in early December TJ and I took a trip to Louisville for a long weekend. It happened to be around our wedding Anniversary, so it was extra nice to get away and spend time together. We had a great time just being together without the kids and being able to simply be alone together. Prior to that trip, our last night alone was when I came back in February of 2018 and we spent the night downtown Chicago when we went to see Hamilton.
An extreme added bonus to our trip was a good friend of mine who I served with in Afghanistan was also there for the weekend. Chris was there with his brother and father-in-law. Being able to see him was important to me for two reasons. One, and probably most importantly, was that I needed to see a friend of mine from Afghanistan not in The Stan. It was important to spend time together outside of a war zone and just be in the normal world together. The other important element of this trip was I wanted TJ to meet someone I spent my time with over the year we were apart. I wanted to bring him into a small part of that world. It was important for me to have him meet a friend from the year in my life he missed to help make it more real. The old saying, put a name with a face!
What else I know has a happy ending was how we spent our holidays. I was able to stay home for almost two weeks with my babies and I went for runs with my friends. The very best part was that I was home with my loved ones. We spent our Christmas Eve in our traditional way. A few years ago, we started ordering Chinese Food, Christmas Story style, for dinner. This year the kids all participated in the Christmas pageant at the Christmas Eve Mass. Then we went home and had a movie night where we watched Home Alone. Home Alone is a classic I remember watching often when I was Timyra’s age. All the time we were making memories together instead of half a world apart.
The memory making hit me the hardest last week Sunday. We were stuck inside all weekend due to extreme cold temperatures. To help burn off excess energy we had a family evening dance party. Some how I was able to embarrass TJ while dancing the Macarena in our own home, that speaks wonders to my dancing skills. Despite the questionable dancing, we were all laughing, being loud and just making memories. As I sat down to watch the chaos, which is my life, I started to cry. I was overjoyed just BEING HOME!
This blog post has been on my mind for weeks now, and I think it’s time to write. With each pregnancy I’ve struggled with what it does to my body. When I gain weight I struggle a lot and not only that, I am really uncomfortable for the majority of the pregnancy. I start out by feeling sick and then my back and finally my whole body hurts most of the time. I’ve never enjoyed being pregnant and pregnancy number four is no exception.
I have spent the majority of the last nine years giving my body over to another human being. I spent almost ten months pregnant and then another year nursing for each baby. I go through ten months of gaining weight while pregnant, to a year of losing it again while feeding another human from my own body. Between each baby I tried to race when I could at whatever I could fit in.
Following Taylyn, for the first time in what felt like forever, I was back. I had officially recovered from a five year injury. I was able to run more miles than I ever had and faster than I ever could. I was biking and swimming again. I was trained and ready to finish an Ironman, the race of my dreams. Most importantly for me, I loved my body again and it was just mine. I was running without a shirt and I felt comfortable. I was at my high school weight, only as an adult I had real muscles and true endurance.
When surprise baby number four came, I certainly felt blessed that I will be mother again, but I still struggle with what pregnancy does to me physically. I look at pictures from the summer and pictures from today and feel disgusted. I dream of what I looked like in July and what my body could do.
I was talking a friend of my mine from work, Beth, and she said you need to own this. You need to know how amazing pregnancy is and how well you pull it off. My logical self knows that today I am in better shape than the majority. I can run faster and farther. I’m swimming more and biking some (I could bike more, but I could always bike more). I just know what I could do six months ago and I could do it not looking like a sausage squeezed into a casing. To prove this point, I did a five mile turkey trot on Thanksgiving. The race ended up a hill and then a mile to the finish. As I was running up the hill at mile four, a younger girl passed me and said, “Good Job, you can do this!” All I could think was I used to be the one passing. I used to be the one saying good job to everyone. Now I’m the old, large lady getting passed while the more fit pass me with words of encouragement.
And again, I know I’m pregnant and I’m supposed to be slower. I know in three months I will be able to work my way back to Ironman shape. I’ve already put together my training plan for 2019, which already includes at least three half marathons, a sprint triathlon, an Olympic distance triathlon, a 70.3 Ironman, and a marathon. My training starts the first week of May, which gives me twenty weeks to the 70.3 Ironman. Of course all of this depends on delivery and recovery going well, but I can only plan to that. My glass is always three-quarters full, so I’m planning for the best.
My logical self truly believes I’m beautiful and in shape. My logical self knows this is temporary and amazing. My logical self loves what I see in the mirror. The unfortunate part and the I’m sure the part that makes most roll their eyes, is my everyday self does not. I hate getting dressed each morning, I have nothing that fits. I REALLY hate putting on my swimming suit to swim. I walk as quickly as I can from locker room to pool and back. Stepping on the scale ruins my week.
What I can say is everyday I make a true effort to love the body I have today. I am thankful and love what my body can do. I try to remember when I’m not racing I am creating or feeding another human. I should be proud and I try very hard to be. Beth’s words go through my mind often reminding me to OWN IT! And she is right, I do need to OWN THIS! I need to enjoy these months more than I’m letting myself. Actually as I write this number four just kicked me and I smiled knowing how wonderful this time is. I may struggle everyday to appreciate my body, but I am trying. I truly believe you should all embrace yourself, wherever you are at, and OWN IT!!
For Veteran’s Day I was asked by American Legion Post 771-Gurnee to be their guest speaker. When I was asked everything in me wanted to say no. Since I’ve been back and probably always, I really don’t like being recognized as being in the Navy. I am proud of my service, but I don’t need others to know or recognize me. I’ve never been one to enjoy wearing my uniform places other than to work. I was telling Timyra the other day, I would prefer being recognized for the races I’ve run than my time in the Navy. When I give my elevator speech I talk about the work I do at Life Fitness, my role as a mother, the time I spend training, and then if there is time I will give a brief summary of the Navy. I just prefer it that way.
Although what I learned before and after my speech was this was not about me. My service today and the recognition I receive is for those who served after me. It is to ensure they are not forgotten and has nothing to do with me. Before I spoke a Vietnam Era Navy Veteran, Bob, came up to me and introduce himself. He mentioned he served in Vietnam as a Cryptologic Technician. My dad happened to also serve during a similar time period also as a Cryptologic Technician. My dad happens to be VERY proud of his two years of service, I would say much prouder than I’ll ever be of myself, yet after talking to Bod I started to understand why. These men and women feel forgotten and identify strongly with the Navy. My identity does not revolve around the Navy, but for them it changed them in away they can never let go of.
As I was speaking some of these men and women were crying. They stood for me when I was finished. I had so many come up to me afterwards and thank me for giving a new perspective to an old subject. One of the little boys came to me and said, “that man didn’t do a very good job, but you did great!” I may not have the same pride these Veterans have in their service, but I was proud of the message I was able to share with them. I always will put on my uniform, even if I complain a little, for people like Bob and anyone who is willing to listen to me!
Below is the speech I gave that day!
Alan thank you for the kind introduction. Happy Veteran’s Day to all the Veteran’s especially those who are actively serving in a combat zone. And a special thanks to those Veteran’s in our audience.
It truly is my honor to be here today speaking to all of you and to know you are here willing to listen.
I am sure many of you sitting out there believe, that since I am a woman, you will hear what it is like to serve in the military as a woman. Even I, as the woman, I feel I am obligated to speak about what it has been like serving in a male dominated field. I’m supposed to speak about my challenges and how I overcame them. To say look how strong and successful I am today, despite adversity. Then I am obligated to talk about how this changed me, and I am so thankful for the experience. And lastly, about how I want to inspire all the women after me to pursue their dreams and never let their gender get in their way!
I do believe women should pursue their dreams, but I don’t believe they should because they are woman. I really don’t believe their gender gets in their way. I believe our genders, male and female, can be an asset we leverage to make ourselves great. I know my time in the Navy working with men has changed me and made be stronger, but I don’t believe gender has to be the factor that sets my success apart. Everyone should be afforded the opportunity to follow their dreams. At no point in my military career did I feel my gender kept me from pursuing mine. I’ve thought about this a lot and I wondered why this is. When I hear other woman speak of discrimination, I don’t see my experience the same way. My memories of my time in the service are not littered with moments of when I had to overcome serious moments of discrimination. Of course, there were times when men acted inappropriate, but it was so few and far between it never tainted my perspective or discouraged me from continuing to be me. The name I give this is authentic confidence.
A mentor of mine, from early on in my career, who also happened to be male, told me to never stop being a woman. Men and woman are different, and they are supposed to be. It is ok and completely natural. By nature, I am not a man, and this means there are things I am not as good at as a man, but there are so many things I can do better. When we work together we bring the best of ourselves to the table working towards the best results. I have tried throughout my professional career to embrace my femininity and stay true to myself. I was confident in who I am and through my authenticity and confidence I was able to thrive in a situation where historically I wasn’t supposed to.
Compared to many, I have a different perspective on the topic of women doing what is typically considered “a man’s job.” Although I believe since I am a woman who has spent her entire professional career in male dominated careers I have a good perspective of what it takes. To illustrate my perspective, I want to share a story of a conversation I had with a fellow Sailor while I was in Afghanistan.
Most Sundays we didn’t have to report to work until after lunch, so to break up the monotony, a group of us would get together and run. To mix things up, many of the runs were themed and we would dress up and there were always Oreos to snack on afterwards. These runs were away for us to spend time outside of work with our fellow service members and forget about where we were, even if for just a few minutes.
While we were running I was chatting with a few of our fellow runners. One of the runners was a submariner. We were talking about women on subs. When I commissioned, in 2005, women were not allowed on subs. This did not upset me in any way. I had no desire to serve on a submarine. As a matter of fact, during the summer following my freshman year of college, the Navy sent me to Norfolk, VA to spend one week with each of the potential communities we could commission into. All of us went to a sub and spent one week underway on the boat. As I entered the hatch to board the submarine I wanted to turn right around and leave. There was nothing in the community that appealed to me.
While we were running we were also talking about National Women’s Day and women doing jobs traditionally held by men. I do believe women should be able to do whatever job they want to and have a passion for. What irritates me about women’s rights events and things like National Women’s Day is the motivation behind what these activists are doing. The question I always ask is, what are we really celebrating on days like National Women’s Day? Do we need to draw attention to these differences, or could we embrace them instead? If you are becoming a submariner (or insert any career) because all your life all you wanted to do was become a submariner, I am very happy for you and I wish you the best of luck on your pursuit to break down barriers. If you are becoming a submariner because you want to prove to someone else that you are capable of doing something, then don’t. Your heart is not in it and you are doing it for all the wrong reasons. To be successful you must stay true to yourself and maintain your authentic confidence. If you are not being true to yourself, you will never be confident in your abilities and what you are pursuing. Just because I didn’t want to be a submarine officer didn’t mean I couldn’t, I didn’t have the passion. I simple had the motivation to pursue another career. As a submariner I would not have been able to be authentic to myself. Therefore, I wouldn’t have the confidence to break down the barriers required. I wanted to apply my skills and passion somewhere else. I didn’t have the drive or desire to make that my career. I have nothing to prove, I know if I wanted to I could have, there was just something I wanted to do more.
During my seven years on active duty I found a lot of success. I left my first ship as the number one Surface Warfare Officer and stood toe to toe if not half a toe ahead of my male counterparts. Along with my success as a Surface Warfare officer and obtaining my necessary qualification I was also there to support the Sailors who worked for me. By nature, women tend to be more compassionate and patient than men. When situations would arise in my division, my Chief Petty Officer often would lean on me to deal with these delicate scenarios. These were situations involving families, suicide, and other more personal matters. I was an asset to the team outside of just my day to day job. If I had left my famine nature at the door when I went to work, I never would have been able to contribute in the way they needed me too.
I want to challenge all of you to look inside and really think about what it is that is motivating you. Are you too motivated by outside influences that you have lost your true motivation? Is it time to stop pursuing something because you are only on that path to prove something to someone else? Have you lost your own motivation and is it time to find that internal spark again? Lastly and I think most importantly, remember, just because you don’t have the desire to change the world doesn’t mean you don’t have the internal passion to do something great. You don’t have to want to be the next FIRST to do something. You just need to find your IT, the thing that makes you, YOU. The thing that allows you to be true to yourself and I promise the motivation to succeed will come naturally. Your confidence will be there to break any and all barriers that stand in your way. Be great at what you love and not what you should love or what someone else thinks you should love. BE YOU, AND BE MOTIVATED, BY YOU!! Be authentic and confident in all your endeavors and you will never fail or at least you will never fail in being you!
Today, October 14th, was the day I planned for over two years. The day I would finally hear the words, “Darchelle, You Are An Ironman!” I registered for this race in October of 2016 and the week following my resignation I found out I had to go to Afghanistan for a year. Ironman allowed me to defer my race entry for one year and I was re-registered for today October 14th, 2018. The problem is, this morning while everyone else races, there is a race packet with numbers no one picked up. That race packet belongs to me. It will be impossible for me to hear, “Darchelle, You Are An Ironman,” today. As others race and hear those words about themselves, my bike sits in my basement on its stand still with stickers from my last race in August. The shoes I planned to run the marathon in are in in their box unworn and my wet suit, I purchased in 2016, remains lost somewhere in my house.
Yesterday I ran during Timyra’s swim practice and about a mile into the run I was overcome with emotions as I thought about not racing today. I, for the first time since I knew I wouldn’t race today, mourned the loss. I put in a solid year of training in less than ideal circumstances in Afghanistan. I got up early mornings all summer to swim and worked long bike rides around a family who had missed me for over a year. The loss of this race required a moment and I gave it about thirty seconds of tears while I ran through the cold. Then I was back and ready to finish my run with gratitude I am still running and extreme gratitude for why I can’t race today.
After Taylyn was born TJ and I decided we were done having babies permanently. So we made it a permanent decision. Yet what we learned in August is nothing is absolute. Three and a half years after his vasectomy, it reversed itself and TJ is fully functioning again. God had other plans for us, and Ironman wasn’t it for me. As of today I am 15 weeks pregnant and that is not how I want to do Ironman. One, if anything went wrong at any point during this pregnancy I would never be able to forgive myself. And secondly, when I do Ironman, I want to race it. I want to give everything I have that day and leave it all out there. I want it to be between me and my body along conquering the swim, bike, and run. I want to get off that bike and run a marathon, not just get through it. I lost a lot of training days in August because I felt awful. Ultimately, my primary focus right now needs to be this miracle baby and making sure I do everything in my power to ensure it comes into the world healthy and strong.
Please don’t miss read what I just wrote. After a day of shock, TJ and I are ecstatic about welcoming another little one to our family. As I stated before, I had not taken the time to properly mourn the loss of this race. The race I had put a lot of me into. Training for this race is what distracted me and motivated me through the year I was away. Without this race, the year in Afghanistan would have been very different and I owe my resiliency from deployment to my training.
Because I started this pregnancy in the best shape of my life I am able to do things this time around I couldn’t do with the others. I am still running over one hundred miles a months at a pace that many consider fast. I continued to run with my track group and do hard workouts on Wednesdays. I have been racing. I did a sprint triathlon and took twentieth over all. And don’t forget about my famous Croc race, which was done while pregnant. When I got home from that race TJ joked, barefoot, pregnant, and running. I am swimming at least one day a week and putting in solid swim workouts of 3000 meters. The one thing I stopped was biking and I know I should get on my trainer. This just comes down to the fact that I hate biking.
This weekend, instead of racing, I ran and spent the time with my family. I took my kids with my mom and niece to a pumpkin patch. I spent the afternoon cooking. I enjoyed the fall days and I am just happy with my little growing family. I remember when TJ had his vasectomy my Aunt Ann asked me if I was sure we were done, and I said yes, but felt no. My girlfriend Lori, told me that four makes more sense than three and she wished she had four. These moments were always in the back of my mind and something in me always felt like four was what we were supposed to have. Clearly God made the decision for us, even if we may have made another.
I want to leave you with a thought from my eight year old. Which, by the way the kids are super excited for another baby. She told me that God had a decision. He could choose Ironman or baby. He decided baby, because Ironman will always be there for you to race, but it is time to have another baby now. I can’t agree with my little girl more! Can’t wait to meet you number 4!
I was recently having a conversation with a friend about being a little crazy. We agreed life is better lived when you do it on the edge of crazy. I’m sure not everything I do is understood by my family and friends, but I like to keep people on their toes and guessing what my next chapter will be. When I talk about crazy I don’t mean clinical crazy or crazy that requires medicine. I mean the fun, interesting crazy that keeps life worth living. I thought through this crazy way of life and I broke it down into three types of crazy. The first is stupid crazy. This is when you simply do something that is probably stupid and shouldn’t be done, but you do it anyway because you are crazy. The second is wild crazy. This is when you act, what I’m going to call fun, but could come across as embarrassing. And the third and final crazy is psycho crazy, the crazy you kind of regret, but just comes out.
When it comes to stupid crazy I’m sure there are many stories I could tell, but recently I did something clearly illustrating my ability to be stupid crazy, especially when it comes to exercise. What I did was what prompted my friend and I to have the crazy conversation in the first place. I showed up to my first Life Fitness Running Club race since my return. We were running the Mag Mile 10k or 5k. I registered for the 10k. The race was downtown, and we were meeting in front of the Art Institute at 6:00am. I left my house at the crazy hour of 5am. I did have a sip of coffee before I left, but clearly that was not enough. When I left the house, I put on my Crocs, which were sitting directly on top of my running shoes and drove downtown. It wasn’t until I was parked and about to walk to meet my friends that I realized my shoes were still sitting by the door where I left them after I took my Crocs off of them.
I was running late, no pun intended, for the meet up so I ran, in my Crocs to the Art Institute. The few minutes I ran didn’t feel too bad, so I figured I had it in me to run the 10k wearing them. During the time from when I realized I had no shoes until the race started I never considered not racing. I was always just going to run the race in sandals. I never thought about going home or even running just the 5k. The option I gave myself was to start and finish the 10k in my sandals. I easily ignored the people around me laughing at my choice of footwear. A friend of mine, Julie, gave me stockings she was wearing on her arms to help protect the bottoms of my feet from my sandals.
Prior to this run I always made fun of the people running in sandals or barefoot. I never understood why they did that. Well, maybe they forgot their shoes too and were just too stubborn not to race. I said afterwards, because nothing bad happened, I am glad it happened because it makes for a great story. I didn’t fall or hurt my feet in anyway. Had something happened, I would be telling a very different story. The only pain I felt after was the tops of my feet from keeping my toes up to make sure my sandals stayed on. I was fortunate enough to not even get a blister.
I showed off my wild crazy with the girls a few weeks ago when I was driving them to Wisconsin to attend a very special baby shower for a very special friend. My friend Sarah flew in from L.A. for her baby shower. Sarah introduced me at her shower as her first friend. Sarah grew up a few houses away and we have been friends since forever, like family. We are so excited she will be welcoming her first baby boy sometime around Thanksgiving! Sarah followed my blog while I was gone, and I know she kept me close to her heart the entire time I was gone, and we are keeping her close to ours while she starts this next amazing chapter of her life.
But for the wild crazy the entire time we drove I spread cheer while singing loudly in the car for my lovely girls to hear. I am extremely poor at spelling and the way I remember how to spell “sing” versus “sign” is that it is a sin for me to sing. So, I’m sure you can imagine the beautiful noises my girls were experiencing as we drove were nothing close to beautiful. The extra crazy part about the ride was the girls were good the entire ride so either they were just afraid to interrupt my car concert or a little part of them enjoyed my craziness. Although a few days later I may have taken car karaoke too far when we were running to after school activities and Timothy was belting out The Thong Song by singing the word butt repeatedly!
And the last crazy, psycho crazy is certainly the crazy I am not proud of and try to keep inside at all times. Unfortunately, this crazy finds its way out more often than I would like. This is the crazy that comes out on Monday mornings when I’m getting everyone ready for school and in the car by six thirty. The crazy that finds me yelling at Taylyn so loudly I see Timyra and Timothy whispering to each other that they need to be good because mom is going crazy. After a psycho crazy moment, I always know there was no need for me to yell like that, just in the moment my emotions get the best of me.
In the end even with my episodes of psycho crazy and I glad I have these little crazy moments in my life. Living life laughing and having fun makes life worth living. I will continue to work on my psycho moments and try my best to keep those inside and only show my stupid and wild side of my crazy!
I want to keep writing and I hope you want to keep reading. I guess weather you read or not, I will still write. This blog, Uncle Sam’s Vacation, got me through many long weeks over the year I vacationed with the Army. I am so thankful to have this collection of essays to look back on what I was thinking and experiencing while in Afghanistan. Without feeling I needed to write each week, I never would have kept another form of diary documenting my time. But more important than documenting my time in Afghanistan, this blog was my way of releasing stress and removing myself from the day to day happenings. Each week I was planning what my next entry would entails. The planning and the writing distracted me and was the therapy I needed. I truly believe my experience would have turned out different had I not written.
This is why I want to keep writing. I want to continue to benefit from the therapy this blog brings and I know someday I will enjoy looking back on the history of my writing. I need a reason to write and this forum gives me a place to put these words. I enjoy it more than I ever thought I would. I believe I still have things worth writing about and subsequently worth reading about. My posts may come only a few times a month and they maybe shorter, but they will still come and I hope you will still read!
This past week marked my return to work and the kids are all back in school. Timyra in third grade, Timothy in kindergarten, and Taylyn at Goddard School. I quickly learned I am no good at staying home. Staying home comes with expectations that I will fold laundry, clean, and conduct other house hold chores I have little desire to do. Just about the only Susie Homemaker task I find any satisfaction in is cooking. I love life when we’re busy and it’s crazy. I find myself doing more when I have more to do. I have no problem folding laundry in the evening after a full day of work, running to swim practice, soccer, making dinner, and putting everyone to bed. If I have to fold laundry at two in the afternoon because I’m home, I end up still waiting to fold it until late in the evening.
My first couple days back to work were great and I felt like I fell right back into the swing of how things work. On my first day back I went for a run through the Franklin Park neighborhood I ran through for my last five years at Life Fitness. I ran past a house I’ve run past hundreds of times and I noticed a van I have seen hundreds of times. I reason this van stands out is the front left tire is flat and blocking an entire driveway in the neighborhood we run through. The first time I remember noticing this van was the spring of 2016. I then remember commenting in the spring of 2017 that the van is still sitting in the same place, unchanged, a year later. As I ran in the fall of 2018 after having been gone for over 16 months, the van remains parked as now I’m starting to believe is its permanent resting grounds in a driveway with a flat tire. I know this car has gone no where for over two years.
I started to think about this van and its image stuck with me as I ran. As my return to Life Fitness approached I was warned by many that so much has changed. The company is not the same place I left and in many ways they are all right. A lot has changed. But if it’s not the same place I left, why did it feel so natural to come back? We’ve all changed over this last year, yet so much of ourselves has stayed the same. Even with that, I started to think that personally we believe we’ve changed so much that we are unrecognizable when in reality when met by those that know us best, our change is small and we are still very familiar to those around us. It’s true at work there have been renovations, people have left, and new ones have come. Yet it didn’t feel that different at all. It just felt familiar.
It made me think that when you’re in the middle of something everything in your little world seems huge. In the perspective of more, you’re just a little ant sitting at the toenail of am elephant. Most at home believe what I saw and did in Afghanistan was heroic, but believe me when I was there I went day to day doing my job and for the most part I just felt normal. I did what I could to pass the time. It’s funny how a small thing like a flat tire, something that’s been constant in all my runs at work for two years was the thing that reminded me that in the grand picture nothings changed. And what change has occurred is manageable.
These changes go beyond my office and work. I missed a year! That is an absolute statement. There is nothing I can do to get that back. Despite missing the year, I know everything is OK and just how it should be. Nothing changed so much in the year that I can’t find where I fit again. Within every portion of the life I missed there is a flat tire waiting to remind me I still fit in. We’ve all changed, but not so much that we can’t easily find how we fit together.
For our second camping trip this summer with our new camper we spent a long weekend with my Mom’s family in the north wood’s of Wisconsin. This was a trip we took often when I was a kid. Now the kids, my cousin’s and I, are grown and we have kids of our own. I watched my babies play with my cousin’s babies just like we used to play. They were riding bikes, swimming in the lake, and taking many adventures out in the canoe to fish. There were camp fires every night that rotated the different camp sites. We roasted lots of marshmallows and laughed more than I have in a really long time. We even enjoyed a scary story of a creeper camper that will be re-told for many, many years to come! The trip was an all around good time and we are all already looking forward to next year!
I did make sure to keep up with my training while we were camping. It was almost easier to train there then it is when I’m home. The kids were so busy with their cousins that when I was gone no one even noticed. On my first training day there my dad drove me out about five miles to the nearest hwy so I could ride. The road made for perfect riding. I did a sixty mile ride on the country two lane hwy. There were plenty of hills to climb, which I need for my race in October, the shoulder was wide, and the road smooth so I could ride safely. With about twenty miles to go my dad refilled my water and I finished strong.
I finished the ride and my dad took my bike and I decided to run back into the camp ground. This was perfect I had a forty-five minute run planned and the run back in would be almost exactly what I needed. I started running and at about three miles in I came to a sign on a corner that read Laura Lake Camp Group 2 miles ahead. The sign was on a corner so ahead was both right and left. On the right side there was a sign that read dead-end. So after reading the dead-end sign I went left and kept on running. After about two miles the road became a lot smoother. Something just didn’t feel right. Plus I had gone two miles and no sign of a camp ground. I started to worry.
At this point I was knew I was lost and I had a feeling at least my dad was worried about my where I was. I wanted to confirm I was lost, so what better way than to walk up to a random old man drinking a beer hanging out in his garage in the north woods of Wisconsin. I mean everything about that seems super safe. I asked if Laura Lake was in the direction I was running. He said, “No, turn around. You’ll go right twice and then the turn to Laura Lake will be on your left.” I figured ok, that doesn’t sound too bad. I can just turn around curve right twice and I’ll be back. I ventured out knowing at least I was going in the right direction. Although I was acutely aware that no one else knew where I was except this random man and I’m not sure he was going to be much help.
I set out and after another mile and feeling like I had curved right twice, yet never saw a left turn I once again became concerned. I’ve now run over three miles out of my way, I don’t know where I am, and no one who knows me knows where I am. I decide I’m going to stop the next vehicle that goes by. Well it ends up being a truck driving in the opposite direction I need to run so I quickly decide not to wave it down.
A few minutes later a women, who I later learn is named Michelle, is coming down the road on a four-wheeler with her two children behind on another four-wheeler. Without much hesitation, I flag her down and ask her where Laura Lake camp ground is. She says quiet a ways down this road, but you’re going in the right direction. Then she must have seen the desperation in my face and she asks if I wanted a ride. I’m sure I said yes before she could even get the words out. I jumped on the back and wrapped my sweaty arms around her. She does say I could hold the side of the four-wheeler, but I say I feel more comfortable this way. So with a smile, even though I’m sure I smell after a sixty mile bike ride and now a seven mile run, she drives me back to the camp ground. Come to find out the camp ground was another four miles away. She dropped me off and I thanked her profusely. She introduced herself and watched to make sure I found my camp site without incident, but at this point I did know where I was and was very happy to be back.
I found my family happily swimming at the beach. My dad, however, was out looking for me and was so relieved to see me when I arrived. No one else really knew I was missing. I started chatting with everyone about what happened and I started to piece together how I could get so lost running? Never in the twenty-three years I’ve been running have I gotten lost. So here’s what happened and the mistakes I made to lead me astray….
My run was to take me from the highway I was biking on straight in down a country road and at five miles I would be back at my camp site. In my head there was only one fork in the road that required any decision on which way to go. I remembered when we were driving into the camp ground a National Forest sign indicating you should veer left to go to Gordon Lake and veer right, but mostly straight, to Laura Lake. When I was running that was the landmark I was looking for. There is mistake number one. I was looking for the wrong sign.
Here is mistake number two, but I would love to get your opinion on which way you would have gone. Remember the sign I saw stating Laura Lake Camp Ground 2 Miles Ahead on a corner where both right and left could be ahead? I choose to go left because on the right there was a sign that read dead-end. I should have gone right. The camp ground was down the dead-end road.
The night before when I my cousin was driving into the camp ground she did the same thing I did. She went left instead of right because of the dead-end sign. Although she was in her car so to go two miles out-of-the-way is a lot less time-consuming than when you do it running. As we were commiserating over our wrong turns we decided there were a few things they (the they we all talk about but don’t actually know) could do to make the turn clear. One, the sing could just be on the right side of the road instead of in the middle. Two, there could be an arrow on the sign indicating which way to go. Three, the dead-end sign should be removed. Four, there could be another National Forest sign on the right side. Sometimes it’s just a super small change that makes the difference in clarity. I say often words matter. You should call things by what they are. Use the appropriate adjectives to describe what you’re saying. All of this leads to better clarity for everyone.
Getting lost aside, the weekend was amazing. I spent time reconnecting with all my family. I needed this time with them. I also got in two long bike rides, two long runs (although I only wanted one long run and one short one), and I swam in the lake. I have to thank my cousin for kayaking with me while I swam! Even getting lost wasn’t too bad. Michelle gave me my first four-wheeler ride. I just hope my next ride on a four-wheeler is not because I’m lost. My question still stands…which way would you have gone?
This last week we took a family vacation testing out our new camper and enjoying some well deserved family time. We spent the first four days at Chain O’ Lakes State Park in Indiana. Our site was isolated and close to the showers, which was very convenient yet we felt like we had our own space. We love having the camper and I see us getting a lot of use out it. We spent the days at the beach, renting a row-boat, eating smores, playing cards, and just enjoying each other.The purpose of this trip was two-fold. It was important for us to spent time together as a family, but it was also important for my Ironman training. The part of the triathlon I am the weakest and lack the most confidence is the bike. In every triathlon distance the bike is always the longest portion by distance and time. In the Ironman I will easily be on the bike for over six hours and probably closer to seven. I know I have the endurance to ride the 112 miles required to finish, but what is making me nervous is how slow I ride as well as the fear of something going terribly wrong. Unlike swimming and running you are reliant on not only on yourself to power the bike forward, but also your bike to not break down. The time I will spend on the bike is one thing, but the fear of a flat tire gives me even more anxiety.
For the second part of our trip we ventured to Delaware, Ohio just outside of Columbus. We spent two nights in a hotel, which gave us a chance to regroup and do some laundry. As for me, I was preparing to race a half Ironman distance. I was SOOO nervous. I was more nervous than I was for my first marathon. I haven’t raced a triathlon, other than by myself in Afghanistan, in over two years. And I’ve never raced more than the international distance which is a one mile swim, 25 mile bike, and 10K run. The bike was giving me so much anxiety. TJ said he had never seen me like that.
On the morning of the race, we all woke at 4:30 to get me to the start. TJ then took the kids back to the hotel to go back to sleep and check us out and pack us up before the 11 o’clock check out. I arrived at the swim start at around 5 am with plenty of time to get myself situated for the 7 am start. The swim went well, or I had to problems in the water and finished the distance with no issues. Although right before the last turn to the finish someone did deliberately shove me out of his way, like picked me up and threw me. I’m not sure what his problem was and his rudeness has stuck with me. The swim is tight and you will get kicked, swam on, and grabbed, so I’m not sure what his problem was and why he took it out on me.
Then it was off to the part I fear the most. I quickly put on my bike shoes, helmet, sun screen, ate a Gu and headed out. Less than 5 miles in I was falling into a rhythm and feeling confident, as in I wasn’t getting passed as frequently as I thought I would and I was even doing a little passing my self. Although that quickly left when all the nutrition I had strapped to my bike flew off and when I took a drink of my water bottle with my nutrition mixture in it I missed tha cage putting it back and it flew off too. Within less than 10 miles I had no calories left on my bike, but at least I still had my front handle bar water. If you know me, you know I love to eat and being without food was going to start to be a problem real fast. This meant in the first aid station around mile 20 I got off my bike grabbed some Gus, a Gatorade, and ate a Cliff bar and got back on my bike to keep going. Other than that the bike was rather flat, smooth, and there was little wind. I felt good and got some really good practice riding in groups, going through aid stations and I rode about 2 miles an hour faster than I thought I would. Now I just need to repeat this twice in October with hills. No problem…RIGHT!?
I was so happy to be running. I smiled the entire run. I had some cramping on my right side, but the salt tablets I was taking seemed to help and I continued those every three miles. For the run you were either running up or down almost the entire time. For the entirety of the run I passed people (if only I could bike like I run!). I made a point of saying good job or some encouraging words to every person I passed. It kept me smiling and I hope I gave some hope to those out there struggling on the run like I struggle on the bike. My smile was noticed multiple times throughout the run and at the finish the volunteer who gave me my medal said I looked like I was in excellent spirits. I told him I just didn’t have words to describe how great I felt. I met up with my family shortly after I excited the finish line. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, my family didn’t see me finish because I finished 45 minutes faster than I thought I would. They were there to greet me and walk me to the car! All of this training has been a sacrifice for them and for TJ to negotiate three little kids at four in the morning and around a race site is something amazing. I can’t thank TJ enough for the support he gives me through all this. I could not ask for a better partner to do life with!
Now it’s time to push through these last eleven weeks of Ironman training. I am still scared of the bike, but I learned a lot from this race. I’m also scared that this may have been my peak. One hope I have is the day after I felt really good and not like a raced the day before. I just felt like I had a really good training day, so I hope that means my training is on track and will all pay off in October.
After the race we took the camper to another camp ground in Ohio for two more days. On our last morning I got up early to get in a run before we left. As I ran I came upon a trail so I started running down it. I quickly noticed it was called the Moses run and as you ran along the Ten Commandments were posted along the trail. There was something kind of nice about running this trail, in the rain, after a long race that calmed me and gave me some much-needed reminders.
Right now I may only be half of an Ironman, but I’m getting closer. It also does feel pretty good being half of one! I’m scared about what October has to bring. I’m scared about having the time to train like I should. I’m scared that my children won’t ever understand how significant an effort this last year has been. But despite all these fears I know it’s ok to be scared. I need to take this energy and use it to reach my goals!
On July 4th 2017 I arrived at Resolute Support Headquarters Afghanistan, my final destination on my journey to Afghanistan. As a perfect ending to a year-long journey I arrived at O’Hare airport on July 4th 2018 at two in the morning. My original demobilization orders had me arriving home on July 16th, and since anything can happen when traveling with the military I told everyone at home I would be home on the 16th. In May I found out I could move my dates to the left one week. I wanted to try to be home for Timyra’s birthday so I moved the dates and just told TJ I would most likely be home on July 9th.
When I arrived in Norfolk on June 27th we started to hear we maybe able to get home by the 4th of July. Since I love surprises I took this opportunity to surprise everyone, even TJ. I asked my sister if she could pick me up at the airport, and at this time I thought it would be sometime on the 4th. Well my sister loves surprises as much as I do, so she quickly got her creative mind working and came up with three ways to surprise them. Then she gave me the options and I chose to have her give each of the kids a box filled with the remainder of their Hershey Kisses. When I left I gave each of them a large bucket of Hershey Kisses. Each day they would eat one and when they were gone then I would be home. So on the 4th they thought there were still twelve days left until my return. My sister put twelve kisses in each box then wrote Welcome in one, Home in another, and Mom in the last. After they opened them Timyra read the message and I came downstairs to join them. All of this was a great plan, however the mixture of the Navy and the airlines made this early adventure home a true adventure. Two days before I was coming home, I received a ticket for the evening of the 3rd and I was scheduled to land in Chicago at 8:45 pm. Our intention was still to move forward with the surprise on the 4th and I would spend the night at my sister’s. Then one day before I was expecting to leave my ticket was canceled due to an issue with the Navy’s ticket billing account. When the ticket rebooked instead of a direct flight from Norfolk to Chicago I was moved to a flight that went to Washington DC and landed in Chicago at 11:15 pm. Just to put the icing on this traveling cake all my flights were delayed and I didn’t get to Chicago until 2:00 am on the 4th.
I can’t thank my sister enough for picking me up in the wee hours of the 4th of July and helping me pull off the surprise. TJ was so surprised. I think he was in complete shock. My mom just screamed, “No!” Timyra was happy and just wanted hugs. Timothy cried and Taylyn I think was in as much shock as TJ. Although this time Taylyn knew who was I was unlike when I came home back in February when she thought I was a computer screen. She also asked me after the surprise if I could come home with them. The rest of the day was great. My sister and her husband hosted us for dinner and their front yard in conveniently located to view a spectacular fireworks show. I can’t remember the last time I watched a real fireworks show and not one put on by my husband and the neighbors. This was the best way to end one of the best days of my life.
The transition home has been slow and I am asking for grace and patience from everyone. I need you to remember I was gone a year and a lot has changed in that year without me. I am mourning so many things and I need the time to get there. While I was gone the reality of what I missed was lost. Now that I’m home I see those things and I need time to mourn that loss and figure out where I fit again. For a year all I did was take care of myself and I have to reintegrate myself into a world with other people. There are so many things that are breaking my heart and I have to get through them and I need patience from all. It hurts when every time I leave Taylyn asks me if I’m going to come back. It’s painful when someone asks me who are Timothy and Timyra’s music teachers and I have to say I was gone a year and have no idea. I don’t even know what to tell people to buy Timyra for her birthday. There are so many other moments that hit hard each day and the tears are always close.
I’m not writing this asking for simpathy, this is just a process I know you will not understand. I am writing to let you know that I am asking you not to be offended or hurt if it takes me time to get back to the way things were. And honestly I’ve changed and it may not be exactly the same, but it will be close. Everything is just raw right now and I have some healing, changing, mourning, and resting to do.
Please continue to reach out. I sincerely appreciate it. But I’m asking that if I don’t get back to you right away know I love the gesture and I will get to you in my time. I have not even been home a week and the adrenaline is still pumping, but as that fades I will need to know where I fit in this crazy and amazing life at home. I want to see all of you and give you hugs and I promise I will. Just let me do it on my time!
Don’t worry everyone, I’m out of Afghanistan and getting closer to home. Unfortunately the longest part of this journey so far has been these last few weeks. I’m out of the routine I had in Afghanistan and living out of a sea bag with no routine and lots of traveling. Since June 26th I’ve been in the USA, yet I’m still TOO MANY DAYS away from home. At least I’m only one hour ahead in Norfolk rather than ten and half hours. Although I know these days will pass and I will be home again back into my routine with my family, it still seems like it’ll be a long time until I’m home.
When I left Qatar on June 21st there was an interim stop in Germany for six days. The purpose of this stop was to give us time to decompress before we get back to the States. We did things like have a beer (or three) and wear civilian clothes. They took us on two day trips, one to Kaiserslautern and the other to Trier. Germany is certainly not known for its food, but the beer more than made up for what they lacked in food. I did have a wasabi burger on one of our outings, which really hit the spot. I also ran most days and even got one swim in, in a twenty-five meter pool. It felt good to run outside in clean air and swim in a full length pool made for lap swimming.
There were a few things I noticed right away when I got to Germany. The first time I took a shower I wore my shower shoes to the shower and I had every intention of taking them off and well, I forgot. I was so used to wearing shoes to shower I simply forgot I didn’t need to anymore. Also I had to remember to have water with me again. I’ve carried a water bottle with me everywhere since high school. While in Afghanistan I stopped because the water is not potable so there are water bottles everywhere. I never needed to think about water, I always just had it! We were also laughing saying we’ll need to remind each other that the water bottles in the gas station are not free!
When I got to Germany I met up with three of my friends who were with me last year for training. After training they went off to Africa and I was off to Afghanistan. There is something really special about finishing this journey with the same people I started it with. We may have gone our separate ways for a year, but we’re all on our way home together a year later.
We left Germany late afternoon on June 26th. After an eight-hour flight to Baltimore and then having to wait in the Baltimore airport for four hours for our buses we arrived in Norfolk at 3:00 in the morning on the 27th. After a few hours of rest we started our check out process at 9:45 a.m. The process to get us out of here is slow and the best way I can describe it is elementary. Throughout the last couple weeks of traveling my patience for others has grown low. Now I’m going through a check out process created as a one size fits all solution. By this I mean for every piece of paper we fill out there is a meeting and they walk us through it line by line to ensure we don’t make any mistakes. So for something that would take me three minutes to do on my own, now takes thirty. For the remainder of this process, which will take way too many days, I’m turning off my brain. Someone else is doing all the thinking for me, so I’ll just surrender and let them. By five p.m. on that first day back I was ready for bed. I’m still waking up way too early, but eventually I will readjust to the time zone!
On my first night in Norfolk the Commanding Officer from my first ship the USS Essex, Captain Brian Donegan (retired), picked me up and took me to his home for a home cooked dinner. His wife Jennifer made an amazing meal with lots of vegetables, grilled steak, and blueberry cobbler with ice cream for dessert. I’m sure I wasn’t the most engaging guest because I was so tired, but their company and food was top-notch and I am so thankful for their hospitality.
Their hospitality continues while I’m here working on getting home. Yesterday Jennifer picked me up so I could do laundry. There was no where for us to stay on the base so they put us in a really nice hotel downtown Norfolk. This is nice except there is no laundry and I am not authorized a rental car. I spent Friday afternoon at their house doing laundry like a college student who came home for the weekend. Then they took me out for pizza. Next to the pizza restaurant was a grocery store. I had not been in a grocery store in a year. They noticed a huge smile when I walked in. I bought myself blueberries, blackberries, cherries, raspberries, full fat Siggi yogurt, and Smartfood cheddar popcorn. My breakfast the next day was one of the best I’ve had in a year!
As I was leaving Afghanistan my rug guy gave me a rug as a going away gift. It was all wrapped for shipping so I didn’t get to see what it looked like. I just put it in the mail and sent it home. The rug arrived the other day and my mom sent me a picture. He gave me a gypsy rug and it is really nice. I will not forget the kind Afghans I left behind!
So the time is going slow, but VERY soon I will be home and I can’t wait! #COUNTINGNOTCOUNTING