Who is That?

This week marks Halloween.  As I reflect on the week I thought how perfect to write about dressing up! For Halloween pretend we are someone we are not. It is fun to dress up one day a year and let yourself be someone different then the person you are everyday. I love seeing the kids dressed up.  They enjoy pretending to be a character and acting different for one day. I am lucky (although I think sometimes unlucky) enough to get to dress up every day. My costume is an Army uniform. I dress up every day and pretend to be in the Army.

Each day in Afghanistan I choose to be happy.   I choose to have fun and make the very best of this year. I make memories with people I may never see again, but I am enjoying them while I can. We all are here doing our best while we miss everyone back home. While we miss everything as we serve here, at least we have each other and are making the best of every day we have together.

As part of choosing to have fun and making memories with new friends, a group of us registered for a virtual Halloween 5k. A year ago if you would have asked me about a virtual race, I may have laughed in your face. I still think they are kind of silly, but in the interest of making our own fun, I registered. Not only did I register for the Halloween 5k, I also registered for one on Thanksgiving. I could not pass up the Gloves that say “Run Now, Gobble Later.”  I even went a step further and bought a 6 pack of races. There is a Marine who will leave about the same time I do, so we decided to save some money and buy 6 of them.  We are not allowed to have real six-packs of fun so we went for second best and bought a running six-pack of fun!

Me Halloween Scary
My attempt to take a scary selfie!

 

So we traded in our Army Uniforms for Halloween dress. We met up at 8:30 on the evening of Halloween and ran laps around the camp until my Garmin read 3.1 miles. We chatted and laughed. The pace was moderate and we simply enjoyed each other’s company. Since we are not allowed to drink adult beverages, some partook in a “near-beer” and the rest of us had some Halloween Oreos. I stay away from the “near-beer.”  I just don’t understand drinking a can full of calories which doesn’t go to my head. I did however have a few Oreos! Besides the amazing company while running, my favorite was the British Lieutenant Coronel who showed up as Batman. His head gear even glowed.

Group Halloween Run
After the run!  Batman even took the night off from saving the World to join us!  The barbed wire in the back just adds to the atmosphere!

 

 

A Halloween post would not be complete without pictures of my babies in their costumes. Timyra insisted on being a giraffe and Timothy wanted to be The Incredible Hulk. Taylyn is recycling one of Timyra’s costumes from when she was an owl. Although I think Timyra was an owl when she was in Kindergarten not when she was 2 and half. There was room for some warm clothes under the costume.  My niece Quinn is the dinosaur from Toy Story.  Since my mom moved in to help with the kids, she is also watching Quinn on Wednesdays.  I love that my babies get to spend one day a week with their cousin!  They are making life long memories!

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These cuties on Halloween!

 

I may not like dressing up in my Army costume, but I have to. I have to put on a smile and green camouflage and pretend to be someone I’m not. Even though while working I have to pretend, I can still be me. I have time to call home most days, work out, and I’ve made some great friends here who make each day a lot better.  I would say not only do they make it better they make it bearable!

I may start counting the days soon to my mid-deployment leave. I’m holding off counting as long as I can.  I am looking forward to the day I will no longer have to dress up and I can just be me all the time. I am thankful for the people I’ve met and like a chameleon I am learning to be ok with my Army costume. When I leave, I know I will miss the friends I’ve made, but I will never miss the costume I had to wear this last year.

We all have to wear a costume from time to time that is uncomfortable and makes us someone we are not.  When you have to wear your costume, wear it well, but when the time comes for you to shed that uncomfortable skin, do it!  I ask though that you don’t forget what you learned while you were in costume.

Perfectly Monotonous!

I changed the name of this blog post a few times before I started, and one time before I published. I knew what I wanted to write about, but I wasn’t sure how to make it more than just a run. Then I realized I didn’t have to make it more than it was. I realized the monotony of what is everyday can be enough. It’s enough to repeat yesterday, as long as yesterday is worth repeating.

On Friday the 20th the base hosted a half marathon and 5k To Give Cancer the Boot. I live on a postage stamp, and as I mentioned last week one lap around is less than a mile. I miss racing and really just running with people. I do enjoy the Life Fitness treadmills and my booty shaking music, but to be outside and to run with friends is just more fun. I registered for the half marathon and so did a friend of mine who started this journey with me. Matt is also a Navy reservist and we went through Fort Jackson together and then flew out to Afghanistan. Matt is an Ironman and I’m hoping in a year I will be one as well.

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Matt is taking the picture…we were flying to Afghanistan here!

 

Unfortunately I don’t have one screen shot from my Garmin showing the full half marathon. For the first 0.6 miles my GPS would not connect. Then I connected it and ran the 21 laps we were told would equate to a half marathon. The 21 laps were about one mile too short and only added up to 12 miles. I stopped my watch then and proceeded to hold back vomit for a few minutes. I felt awful and not from overexertion, but from the air. I do not normally run outside here and when I have it was for less than 4 miles. There is a reason I’ve only run outside a few times. I need to take a minute to explain the air quality here in Kabul. Kabul is one of the most polluted cities in the World and as the weather gets colder the air quality gets worse. Due to the expense and availability of fuel the local nationals burn whatever they can get their hands on to stay warm.  What I’m learning is, tires burn hot for a long time. When I finished I was experiencing what we call the Kabul Lung. I even lost my voice for the morning. (I know that was tough for me!)

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Kabul is the third one from the bottom, GROSS!

 

Once I settled my stomach I waited at the finish for Matt to run by. I joined him for his last 5K. By joining him for the 5K I was able to finish my half marathon, since I was only at 12 miles (I did end at 15 something). I also had the opportunity to chat and enjoy a few more miles outside with friends. Matt improved his half marathon from his last one by over 45 minutes. It certainly wasn’t my day to race, but he showed up and proved he is capable of running much quicker than last time. Also let me remind you he did it in pollution at 6000 ft. I did forget earlier to mention the altitude.

Sarah is a Marine Officer out here on 9 month orders.  She left 3 boys in Michigan.  She ran as well, and you can see Matt photo bombing us!

 

So my half marathon, and I use those words loosely, was nothing to write home about or put in the records book. The big thick circle you see on my Garmin is me running over the same spot 21 times. Monotonous to be sure. I did break down and buy Pandora off-line so I could listen to my booty shaking music without WiFi. I enjoyed the run, I enjoyed the company, and I enjoyed the familiarity of the monotony of running in many, many circles.

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My collage from my monotonous circle “half-marathon,” and I enjoyed every circle! 

Don’t forget there can still be something awesome in the monotony of life.  There is nothing wrong with doing something over and over again as long as it is worth repeating.  Embrace your monotony and make it great!  I heard somewhere once that practice makes perfect and that means repeating the monotony!

Force Multiplier

On Friday, October 13th we celebrated the two hundred and forty second birthday of the United States Navy.  In Kabul, we maybe a small contingent of Navy personnel, but that didn’t keep us from showing up in force to celebrate. We started the day with a formation run. On our little base there are not a lot of places to run. Even if you run everywhere you can one lap around is less than a mile. Let’s just say there are not a lot of places to run outside unless you continue to repeat the same route over and over again. Despite the limited space and the small number of Sailors we united on Friday morning in our Navy PT (physical fitness) gear. We ran a few laps in formation showing our Navy pride. I am very proud and impressed to say we stayed together for just under a mile and maintained a sub-ten minute mile pace.

Navy Birthday RunOn Friday’s I don’t have to show up to work until after lunch, so I usually go for a long run. Then I enjoy a cup of coffee sitting outside chit chatting with people and browsing through Facebook and Instagram. On the Navy’s birthday I ran a few miles on the treadmill prior to our formation run, ran our formation run, and then ran a few more to round out my long run. I did another “sandwiched” run. I still had the opportunity to enjoy my coffee and a little sun shine. These Friday mornings rejuvenate me!

Navy PT Sandwiched Run
My Sandwiched Navy B-Day Run!

For the Navy’s birthday, prior to dinner, the Sailors reunited again to ceremoniously cut the Navy’s birthday cake. The youngest and oldest Sailor cut the cake together.  We are fortunate enough to have an Admiral stationed her in Kabul. Prior to the cake cutting she spoke to us about the history of the U.S. Navy. We’ve been around since 1775. The Navy was established prior to 1776 and the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The Continental Congress established a naval force in the hopes a small fleet of privateers could attack British commerce and offset British sea power. The Navy started as a force multiplier. The Navy brought a new capability to the early days of the United States of America. Today in Afghanistan surrounded by the Army, the Navy (The JANRs), are a powerful force of multipliers.  We bring something the Army can’t, and we extend their capability through our Navy and Civilian acumen.

The Birthday Cake

To say it’s easy to being away from home would be a lie.  I miss my babies and want to give them hugs and kisses everyday.  As many of you know, after a long and scary pregnancy, Taylyn was born healthy but remained sick most of the first year of her life.  Through every sleepless night, ear infection, and surgery (minor); I was there to hold her hand.  I held her hand while she slept most of the first two years of her life.  Since I left, she managed, until this week, to stay healthy.  Over the last week she had a fever, upset stomach and her tube in her right ear was bothering her because it was plugged and causing pressure.  She most certainly associates being sick with her mommy being there to hold her hand.  As corny as they are, she hugged her mommy doll and everyone at home made it through.  Today when I called, Taylyn took the phone from Grandma and hid to tell me I needed to come home.  When my mom tried to get her phone back she sat on the phone to make sure no one could get to me.  Trust me baby girl, I can’t wait to be home to hold your hand again.

 

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Taylyn saying, “That’s my mom and you can’t have her!”

This last week while I was here multiplying the force, TJ and my mom were back home multiplying the force as well.  My mom gave Taylyn the extra cuddles she was missing from mom.  TJ  was there to take her to see the ear, nose, and throat specialist (we have him on speed dial) and after a few ear drops she’s back to normal.  I may not be there, but the kids are happy and there are many people who are multiplying themselves to make up for the gap I’ve left.

Tay at ENT
That face, too cute!  Waiting for the doctor!

Life stretches us and challenges us.  We are asked to multiple to fill in where others can’t.  Remember there will come a time when you will need someone to multiple for you.  As long as we stretch when you are able and accept the multiplier when we can’t the balance of give and take will remain steady.  We should all be able to multiple when needed, yet accept the help of a multiplier when we can’t.

Tj at ENT with Tay
Daddy multiplying himself at the doctor with Taylyn!

For You, For Me, For Each Other!

This last week was a very humbling week for me. I watched some amazing people do some really amazing things. I was very humbled by everyone’s thoughts, prayers, well wishes, and dedications. I touched on this topic in another blog post in June called Personally Strong. I just need you all to know that everything you think I’m giving to you and the inspiration you receive from me is received here over 100 fold. I would not be able to do this if I didn’t have such great people at home supporting me! I do for you, you do for me, and we are simply doing for each other. It is beautiful!

First of all it is October, another month has started which means I am one month closer to coming home. I still haven’t started counting anything, either up or down, but every once and awhile I acknowledge time is passing and eventually I will be able to come home. Timothy turned 5 on the 6th. Thank you to everyone who came and made his bowling birthday really special. I know he had a great time! You gave him something I couldn’t!

Buddy's birthday friends
Thank you everyone!  He had a great time!  He loved being fancy in his “Bruno Mars” outfit!
He even got a strike
Buddy, aka Bruno Mars scored a strike!

 

Big Boys and Buddies Birthday
The big boys even had fun!

On October 8th was the 40th running of the Chicago Marathon. I ran last year and ran my best marathon in over 10 years. For me that marathon meant a lot. It was a comeback and a turning point for me. I had been struggling with a torn calf muscle and for 6 years I was running on and off and always in pain. I even went into Brett Farve retirement a few times (you know the kind you come back from).  I missed just being able to run. The winter of 2015 I was told by two different orthopedic physicians and three physical therapist I would never run again, at least not pain-free. I was ready to give up.  I was tired of limping through all my runs or just walking home. I would still race and count down the miles until my calf would seize.  I would end up limping to the finish. I did just that in the Seattle Rock and Roll marathon in 2014, I limped through 17 miles and I was just tired of it every race. I wanted my running legs back.

Seattle Rock and Roll Marathon
This was the end of the marathon in Seattle, I finished under 4 hours…but I could not walk!

Through the Life Fitness running club I met Miki Tosic who said please give one more physical therapist a chance. I was willing to do anything. I called Robin from Grayslake Rehabilitation and she was able to give me back something I had lost for over 6 years. I can’t thank her enough for working her magic on me when many others had given up. She gave me back something I love and there is no way to thank someone enough for giving me this gift. Robin is a miracle worker, I will NEVER see another physical therapist. If it wasn’t for her expertise and amazing ability I would be telling a very different story today!

In the spring of 2016, after I got my running legs back, Miki mentioned his wife Jenny Spangler coached track workouts twice a week.  The Wednesday workouts happened to be less than a mile from my house. I decided, why not give it a try. I had not stepped on the track since high school cross-country in 2000, and it felt like it was time to return. I was registered for the Chicago marathon and the track workouts started in April and ran until the marathon in October. I ended up enjoying every Wednesday on the track. Not only did I get faster, I learned so much about running. I’ve been running and racing since I was 12 years old, and I learned more that summer about getting faster and training smarter than I had since high school. I learned what I am capable of.  My group on the track pushed me every week to run a little harder and each time I got a little faster. I gained confidence again in my ability to run. Remember I had not run pain-free in over 6 years. I stopped being scared to run, and most importantly I stopped being scared to race. Miki and Jenny changed that for me. When I told Miki I was leaving for Afghanistan, he was genuinely touched. Not only that, but Jenny helped me prepare for a marathon this last spring (I wanted to get one in before I left). That marathon wasn’t my best and the course surprised me some (trails), but she was there for me. I returned to the track for a month before I left in June and she welcomed me. Their daughter Kelly made me a beautiful bracelet and they honored me with a Jenny Spangler running shirt.  Jenny continues to send workouts and coach me throughout my time away. Every week  here I look forward to my Wednesday “treadmill track workouts.” I can’t wait to be back with them again. I do encourage you to check out what Jenny does, especially if you live near me. She also does winter programs and she works with people of all ages and abilities. As long as my legs let me, I’ll be running with her group!

http://www.jennyspangler.com/

Jenny
Jenny winning the 1996 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials! (and she coaches me, I am honored)

Through Robin’s therapy and Jenny’s workouts, I ran my fastest marathon, PAIN FREE, in over 10 years. To top it all off I finally caught Miki in the last few 100 meters of the race on Roosevelt hill and we were able to finish together. The moment I finished the Chicago Marathon in 2016 was one of my highest highs ever as a racer and I’ve won cross-country races, but there is something magical about coming back and being surrounded by such amazing people that made this extra special. I had hardly crossed the finish line when I had texts and phone calls from TJ, my Dad, Sister, and Vickie Walker congratulating me. I had no idea, but they were all tracking me to the finish. My boss Mike Grigsby was there as well running his first marathon.  He rocked it that day.  I’m hoping to talk him into another someday.  He even put up with me and my chatting for a 20 mile training run.  All of these people were there for me and watched me do something a year earlier I never could have done.

Darchelle Chicago 2016
The finish!  This is what I wrote on my Facebook that day “3:34.55….I haven’t ran that fast in 10 years! Marathon number 14 complete. I’m ready for Ironman Louisville 2017.”  Now it’s Ironman Louisville 2018~

Last summer as I ran my track workouts I met some really amazing athletes who pushed me to my limits and made me run much harder than I thought I could. I made friends through a shared passion and some pain. Jeff Klein is one of those amazing athletes. He runs the Chicago marathon every year. He ran last year, and we even saw each other at the start and were able to give each other a high-five.  We keep in touch while I’m over here and are sharing training highs and lows. Jeff ran the marathon again this year and did an awesome job! He dedicated the race to me, and I get teary every time I think about it. (Like right now as I write this.) He told me I carried him those last few miles. The thing is he has no idea what is means to me to know he’s thinking of me. He has no idea what that does for me. Knowing there are people at home waiting for me and pulling for me gets me through each day. I am doing this for you!  You are doing this for me! I watched Jeff finish and was cheering for him the entire way!

Jeff at the end of marathon 2
This was Jeff’s post race Facebook post!  So beautiful!  Thank you Jeff!

Another friend of mine, Liz Calomino, ran her second marathon in Chicago. Her last message to me before she started was, thank you for wishing her luck and she said my strength will be motivation when needed.  Again she has no idea how motivating it is for me to have people at home who think I’m that strong. Knowing that makes it a lot easier to be strong. She ran an amazing race and enjoyed every minute. Not only did she have a great time, but she finished this race less than a year after having her daughter.  Now I’m hoping to convince her to do the triathlon with us next summer!

Liz Marathon at 16 miles
She looks amazing and so tough even at mile 16!  Be proud Liz!

I do for you, you do for me, and we are simply doing for each other. It is beautiful!  I can’t say enough that for every time you use me for motivation and insperation I’m also using your energy!  You give me the energy to keep going!  The energy that carries me through each day. You are an insperation and are pushing yourselves to greatness.  I mean this with every ounce of my being.  I am truly humbled and honored to have all of you in my life.  Continue to bring greatness to everyone around you!  What a sweet moment it will be when we will all be together again.  Until then I know you all are doing for me, so I can do for you, and we are there for each other!

“Stop Pausing, Start Moving” – this one is for the girls!

 

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As I’m sure you’re starting to learn, everything goes back to a song for me, and this song kept going through my head this week!  This song reminds me of summers going to country music concerts with my sister in the late 90’s early 2000’s.

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Charlsie and I on our first and last backpacking trip together the summer of 2002!  Love you!

This post really is for the girls and I am challenging all my girlfriends to Stop Pausing and Start Moving with me on August 12, 2018 for an all-women’s sprint triathlon. A sprint triathlon’s distances are a ½ mile swim, 12 mile bike, and 3.1 mile run. If you just can’t swim there is a duathlon option. For the duathlon you run 1.57 miles, 12 mile bike, and 3.1 mile run. The event is called Iron Girl, and we all are Iron Girls and wouldn’t it be awesome to have a medal that says Iron Girl on it! The event takes place in Pleasant Prairie, WI which is only about 15 minutes north of my house. I’m registered and want all of you to join me. Here is the link to register: https://endurancecui.active.com/event-reg/select-race?e=48253453

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My first blog post was The Year of the Pause and I’ve decided to make a team for this triathlon. I’m calling it “Stop Pausing, Start Moving.” When you register click on team other and then type in “Stop Pausing, Start Moving.” I will be back by then and I’m done pausing and I want all of you to move with me!!!

To continue the motivation, I created a Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/1476535579082527/?source=create_flow .  If I haven’t already added you, please join and post your successes, near successes, and failures in training and in everyday life. We are here for each other and all your smiling faces will make by days better.  To know you are all out there and we’re training together, makes me so happy.  I can’t even put to words how awesome it is to know all you amazing athletes. My cousin Katie Vervoren is already training and working on lowering her 5K time. We’re in this together “all around the World.”

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You go girl!  Can’t wait to be together again!
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I had to add this picture too….I can’t wait to recreate this picture post race!

I don’t want any excuses. So I’ve created an FUE (frequently used excuses), and you are welcome to reach out to me at any time and we’ll talk.  I’m here to motivate. I want to bring the biggest crowd of amazing women there.

  1. I live too far away: If you need a place to stay before and after the race, you will stay at my house.
  2. I’ve never done a triathlon before: You can do this and what a better way to start than with all your closest girlfriends cheering you on!
  3. I really can’t swim: Register for the duathlon!
  4. I don’t have a bike: You can find one to borrow (like your kids), or I heard they have cheap ones at police auctions, Craig’s List, or Ebay!  First come first serve to TJ’s.  I’m sure he’ll give it up for one day when I ask him nicely!
  5. I’m slow: We’re all slow relative to someone! There are no rules against walking.  All I’m asking is you smile while doing it!
  6. I’m not sure I can: You have 10 months to train and this is for fun, so goal number one is FUN. Goal number 2 is simply finishing!
  7. I can only do one of the events: There is a relay, I’ll connect you with 2 other amazing women who can do the other 2!

I an effort to help motivate you, let me give you my triathlon history. See it is so brief this won’t take very long. My first triathlon was in 2000, I did a sprint distance triathlon with a few of my cross country friends in Steven’s Point. I probably placed in my age group, but there were probably only 3 of us in the 17 and under age group. I didn’t even wear goggles for the swim, people were questioning my sanity at the start.  I rode an urban bike and probably took FOREVER in transition. What I did do was have fun so the following year I wanted to push a little harder so I did the Olympic distance triathlon as well in Steven’s Point. I think the shirt I’m wearing in the photo above with my sister is from the race.  I did it less than 3 weeks after my first marathon, and I was so wiped afterwards. This time I think I wore goggles and I had a proper road bike. It was a used Cannondale, but it worked. After those first two triathlons, I went back to focusing on marathons and kept dreaming about the Ironman.

I didn’t do another triathlon until 2016, so just a short 16 year break. I did have 3 kids, ran 13 marathons (I’m at 15 now), and too many half marathons to count. Now I do have a proper road bike, but it had been collecting dust in my garage or in storage for about 10 years. I received the road bike as a Christmas gift from my parents in anticipation of an Ironman I still haven’t done. I did register for the 2010 Ironman in Madison, but Timyra put a stop to that.

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She is pretty cute, so totally worth putting the Ironman on pause!

In anticipation of finally completing an Ironman, which has been nagging me for at least the last 16 years, I decided to do my first sprint triathlon since 2000. I register for the Big Foot Triathlon in Lake Geneva in late June 2016. We spend the night before at my Uncle Kevin and Aunt Ann’s house, they watched the kids and I drove myself over to the park. Now let me back up, I literally had not ridden my bike since before Timyra was born, and she was 6, so at least 7 years. I did take it to a bike shop and have it tuned up prior to the race, but the first time I’d been on my bike in 7 years was in transition. Unfortunately the swim was canceled due to lightning and now I have to run my bike out of transition and ride 12 miles in the rain on a bike I haven’t sat on in, yes, 7 years. To say the least, I was a little nervous about falling, but the bike wasn’t that bad and I didn’t get passed too often (I’m not the best biker, as you can imagine). As you can see in the picture below, I never untied my running shoes and had to take the time in transition to do that after the bike.  An extremely amateur move.  The run was a 5k on trails and it was very hot and extremely humid. I passed people the entire run and said good job to everyone as I passed them, it was a tough run, but that is really all I can do well, so I needed to take advantage.

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All my not-so-professional gear waiting with me while I sat in the car waiting for the lightning to pass so we could start the race.

Well I didn’t want to finish the summer without finishing a triathlon, so I decided to register for an Olympic distance triathlon, I mean why not? So the last weekend of July 2016 I did one in Wauconda. The race was great, but the temperature was not. The course had a time limit and everyone had to be off the course by 11 because of the heat. I didn’t have a problem finishing in time, but I did have flash backs to my first, and only other, Olympic distance triathlon. The Olympic distance is a long hard distance. You are out there for 3 hours racing, which is not all that much shorter than when I’m racing a marathon. I did fine on the swim.  I was passed the entire bike, and passed people the entire run. It was so hot and the run course was extremely hilly, if you were not a runner you were walking. I did take 3rd in my age group, but I’m still very much an amateur. I don’t have a tri-suit. I wore a 2 piece race suit to swim, put bike shorts and a tank top over for the bike and run. At least I knew to wear goggles. I did forget to bring my Clif Shot with me on the run and I did get hungry despite the heat.

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My gear in transition.  At least this time I untied my shoes!

Last fall I once again registered for the Ironman. A friend of mine from Life Fitness, James, finished the Louisville Ironman last fall and he told me if you want to do an Ironman you need to do it now, you never know what is going to happen.  You should do it while you can. TJ and I planned our summer around my training and I was planning on racing in the Louisville Ironman this October 15th 2017.  All that, and everything else, changed on November 16th, 2017 when I found out I had to come over here. So once again I registered and paid for an Ironman and I couldn’t be there. This time Ironman is letting me defer a year. So 2018 turned into the year of the Ironman instead. I decided to stop pausing, and start moving towards an Ironman finish.

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Since I’m stuck in Afghanistan I can’t race against others, but I can race against myself. I completed one sprint and one Olympic distance triathlon since I’ve been here. I’m swimming in a 17 meter pool, biking on an in door bike, and running on treadmills. I don’t mind and I enjoy the challenge. I just need to keep moving towards my Ironman.  I decided it’s my time to complete this challenge which has been in my head for over 16 years.

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By myself Sprint Tri Results!
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By myself Olympic Tri Results!

 

 

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After my Olympic Bike!

I really hope every girl I know over the age of 12 will join me on August 13th 2018. Stop Pausing, and Start Moving! Even if you can’t race, put it on your calendar and cheer us on. We can support each other in many ways. I plan to host Mimosas afterwards!  So if you can’t be there to race or cheer us on, come over for orange juice and champagne, we could use a good bartender.  If you are reading this and you are not a girl. Don’t feel left out. You can stop pausing and move too. I also bet you know a women who wants to be there and you should encourage her to come.  We also want you there to cheer us on, and watch the kids of course! I can’t wait to see all of you, and it’ll be sooner than you think!  STOP PAUSING, START MOVING!

 

Something Old, New, Borrowed, and Blue!

As I started this week’s blog the saying something old, something new, something borrowed, and something blue continued to run through my head. While I was considering how to put my thoughts to words I decided to research the history of the saying. This started as a British custom, and since I am working with many Brits here in Afghanistan I thought, even better. All four of these quick sayings meant something to me over the last few weeks. All of them found a way to make the time seem to pass a little quicker and brought me much-needed joy!

Something old represents continuity. A week or so ago I was finishing up my work day perusing around Facebook while my co-workers from Life Fitness were starting their work day (I initially wrote workout, I think there is something funny to that). I spent a half hour or so Facebook messaging with Tina, Jamie, and Joe. It felt like we were all still standing on the third floor in Franklin Park working together. I just felt normal. I just felt better. I felt like me again even for a few minutes. The feeling stayed with me throughout the evening. I even had a hard time falling asleep that night. I was just high on the energy of my old job. I was happy for the continuity and I am excited for the day when I can go back and be with my co-workers again.

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Jamie, Joe, and Tina!

As I mentioned many times before, I lead a high intensity interval workout on Wednesday’s during lunch at Life Fitness. The group is still intact and going strong. Talk about awesome continuity, and a lot of dedication. It means so much to me to see something I started still going even after having been gone for almost 5 months, only about 12 more to go! This goes for all my “old” friends back home who are praying for me and my family daily. The ones who miss me, know I miss you too and look forward every day to the continuity of the familiarity of home and all of you!

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Evil workout, still going strong!  Miss all of you!

Something new offers optimism for the future. First I want to say I am optimistic for the future. I think about it and plan for it every day. I am creating a list of things I want to do when I return. Just having the list makes me hopeful and again gives me the joy I need.   Also as you probably remember I traveled about a month ago and spent the week in West Afghanistan with the Italian Army. I really enjoyed my time there. On Sunday my friend from out West, Gianluca flew over to Kabul for a few days. I was fortunate enough to spend time with my new friend and many other great new friends. Gianluca actually allowed me to buy one round of espresso, probably only because I managed to get in the café, order, and pay before he made it in.

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A little joy with some great new friends having our after lunch espresso!

One of the evenings after dinner, instead of having the Italian espresso we went with one of the Turkish Officers to their National Support Element, which is a lounge for the Turkish who reside here. Instead of espresso they had Turkish coffee, I settled for mango juice. In the interest of sleep I stop my caffeine intake around 4 pm. If you are not familiar with Turkish coffee, the coffee comes in a small espresso type glass and they do not filter the coffee so when you are done drinking there is a layer of finely ground coffee grounds at the bottom of your cup.   The Turkish say if you turn the cup over when you are done the pattern of the coffee grounds will tell your future. I can’t say for sure what our grounds said, but I am optimistic for the future so I know it is predicting only joy!

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Can you tell me what my fortune is?

Something borrowed symbolizes borrowed happiness. Borrowed happiness is every day for me. I am finding my way of borrowing happiness from everyone and everything.  At breakfast I eat the peanut butter my mom sent and I chat with various new friends while sipping ok coffee. I look forward to that moment every day. I borrow happiness from all the small moments amongst Afghanistan and the Army. I find joy when I call home and Timothy wants to talk to me for over a half an hour while changing the filters on Facebook messenger. He really enjoyed “burning the monster” and opening our mouths as the same time. Taylyn just likes having a cat on her head.

I borrow happiness from my Navy friends and just the Navy in general. We just understand each other. The last Saturday of every month is the official Navy night, but a smaller group of us get together for dinner every Saturday. We use each other to reconnect with what we believe is normal in the military and be JANRs together (if you don’t know what a JANR is read my blog post from August 4th). When I’m feeling down I look to whatever I can to borrow happiness. Although when it comes to borrowing, I believe you need to give something back. I am hoping every time I borrow a little happiness I am able to give it back 10 fold to those around me.

Something blue stands for purity, love, and fidelity.  My blue has to be the support I get from TJ back home.  He is stronger than he should have to be and is excelling at it.  I love this picture of us.  I have no idea what we are looking at, but whatever it is they better watch out.  We are a team and always stand strong together.  I could not ask for a better partner in crime.  I can’t wait until we are standing next to each other again causing trouble and conquering the world hand in hand!

TJ and I wedding

The last part of the saying we never say is, a sixpence in your shoe is a wish for good fortune and prosperity.  I think after having read this post myself, I have good fortune and prosperity.  I am surrounded by an amazing group of people here in Afghanistan and back home.  No matter where I am there is joy, whether I’m borrowing it or not.  I hope I can give as much joy to others as all of you and many  others have given to me!

Also to note, I posted this on my parent’s 39th Wedding Anniversary.  Thank you for everything you do for me, TJ, and the kids.  We would never make it without both of you.  You truly are an inspiration to us and all couples!  Here’s to many, many more years of joy for you!

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After 39 years, still so in love and dressing a like!  Love you guys!

 

 

The Great Treasure Chest!

Yesterday I missed racing in a 5K I haven’t missed in four years.  I’ve missed a lot of races this year and I will miss many more, but this one holds a very special place in my heart.  I run in all kinds of charity runs throughout the year, but none of them mean as much as this one.  I am truly sad I am not able to be there with my family.

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Grant at his last soccer tournament, doing what he loved!

Four years ago in October our family was hit by a terrible tragedy.  My ten-year old cousin Grant Schoen passed away from sudden cardiac arrest.  His passing was the single worst moment in my life.  I will never forget those moments in the emergency room with my Uncle Jeff, Aunt Tammy and Cousin Katrina.  I will never forget the days following and the pain we all felt.  There continues to be a hole in all our hearts that will never be filled.  The most memorable for me was Timyra asking why Grant was in a Treasure Chest.  She was right, Grant is in a Treasure Chest.  We are all sad, and I’m having a hard time writing this, but we all do have comfort knowing he is protected in his Treasure Chest in Heaven!  There is no way to truly understand why, but what my family has done is pull together and try to make the best of everyday.

mel's run 2For the last four years we participated in Mel’s Fun Run and Walk to raise money for a charity my Uncle Jeff and my Aunt Tammy created in my cousin’s man, Heart Safe Wisconsin.  This is their cause: Every year in the US, Sudden Cardiac Arrest claims 8,800 children(under 18 years old) and 401,500 adults according to the American Heart Association. That’s more than 26 children and over 1000 adults every single day. Currently survival rates are 10 percent for adults and only 5 percent of children. Together we can make a difference and reduce the number of deaths from Sudden Cardiac Arrest by increasing public awareness, increasing the number of CPR trained people, strategically place more AEDs in our communities and increasing EKG heart screenings of our youth.  Please visit the website at http://www.heartsafewisconsin.org/.

Heart Safe Logo

The first year I ran I finished second.  About a month prior to the run I found out I was pregnant with Taylyn, but we had not made the announcement to our families.  As I crossed the finish line in second my aunts asked why I didn’t win, joking of course, and I blurt out I’m pregnant.  The second year I walked the 5K with my family.  I was recovering from a torn left calf muscle and I enjoyed the walk.  That was also the year my mom announced to everyone my sister was having a baby.  Last year the third year I had no excuse not to win.  I typically race really well at the beginning, that is where I gain all my ground.  I can decently maintain through the middle, but when it comes to finishing, I’m terrible.  There is only one race in the history of all my races where I felt like I really kicked it to the finish and raced hard all the way to the end.  That was last year.  The 5K finishes right next to the cemetery where my cousin is buried.  As I was nearing the cemetary, on the side where my cousin, is a women passed me and in my head I said there is no way I’m going to let you pass me right in front of Grant.  At that point I gave everything I had and never looked back until I crossed the finish line.  I know this is a fun run / walk for charity, but I needed to finish the race strong.

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My award from last year! This was for you Grant, I never would have run so hard if you had not been there with me!

This year I can’t be there, but I raced remotely.  I added the 5k into the long run I normally do on Friday mornings.  I did a nice 5 mile warm-up, followed by the 5k, and then an 8 mile cool down.

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After my 5k, I did this for you Grant!
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The results of my “sandwiched” 5k!
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My number and shirt!

The girls went to the run on Saturday and had a great time.  My mom pushed Taylyn and Timyra walked with her.  They enjoyed a pancake breakfast afterwards!

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The girls are ready to walk!
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The pancake breakfast afterwards, the best part!

Grant will never be forgotten.  In his short life he touched so many people and his impact is lasting.  The loss of a child is something no parent should ever have to face.  It is so terrible, there are not even words to describe the loss.  With the loss of a parent you are an orphan, with the loss of a spouse you are a widow or a widower, but there are no words for the loss of a child.  It is just tragic.  As a family we try everyday to make the most of the treasure we’re given  knowing we have a perfect angle watching over us.  We love you Grant and we think of you always!  We miss you everyday and will never forget the amazing life you lived and the impact you made on many.  Keep watching over us from your Treasure Chest!  Know we are making the most of the Treasure You Gave Use, we’ll always BE GREAT!

$20 or Say a Prayer?

This last week in Church we were asked to say one decade of the Rosary or pray ten minutes for the Sisters of Kabul.  These Sisters run a school for disabled orphans in Kabul who would otherwise be cast out and left to die.  In a few weeks we are going to present the Sisters with a certificate letting them know we are praying for them.  There is a very kind-hearted civilian here who manages our interactions with the Sisters and when he was done speaking the Priest spoke up.  He said, “It is easier for you to give your money than it is for you to pray for someone.”  The Catholic Community here on the base in Kabul has generously given the Sisters what they need to keep the school running including a lap top, phone cards, books, clothes, monetary contributions and much more.  The one thing we don’t do well is pray for them.  That really stuck with me.  He is right.  I thought why is it easier for me to hand them a twenty-dollar bill than it is to take ten minutes to say a prayer?

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The Sisters outside of their school!

TJ and I used to say the Rosary once a week and I think the last time we said one together was before Taylyn was born.  It’s easier for me to have my Church take money automatically out of my account every Sunday than it is to say a prayer or even sometimes go to Church.  I don’t miss here, but I’m only taking care of me.  When I’m at home we are every other week Church goers.

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This was from Taylyn’s Baptism…Buddy still likes to be fancy, Lou still hates dresses, and Taylyn Rose (as she likes to be called) is still sassy!

Before I left to come here my mom gave me a very special gift.  She gave me the Rosary her Father, my late Grandfather Gerald VandenLangenberg, took with him to fight the Korean War.  When I travel off the base I bring the Rosary with me.  Last night I pulled out the small prayer book inside the Rosary and I read the evening prayer.  I’m hoping to make a habit of this.  After every mass here in Kabul the Priest gives a Rosary to every new parishioner.  He gives us a Rosary, or in Latin a garland or roses to protect us from evil.  Given the challenge from the priest I have decided to say at least a decade of the Rosary once a week for the Sisters.

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My Kabul Rosary
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Grandpa’s Rosary

I know not everyone prays and not everyone is spiritual and I’m not here to push any of this on anyone.  But think!  What are you giving $20 to instead of giving yourself?  Is there an organization or activity that you donate your money, but not your time?  Do they need you?  Maybe it’s time to stop giving and start contributing!

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This is me with my grandparents at my commissioning!

I also want to ask if you are one who prays, please say a few extra for my mother-in-law.  I know it’s hard because we are so far away, but one thing we can do no matter where we are is pray!

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The Caces Women!

Also I wanted to give a quick update on what is going on at home.  Timyra started second grade.  She is continuing her guitar lessons, karate, Church class, and is back in swimming lessons.  She is staying busy and hanging in there.  She was sick a few days last week, but on the mends.  Timothy had a rough couple weeks, he really wanted me home for his birthday, but we fixed that by planning a big party which will be sure to cheer him up.  He’s also back in school at Goddard and started piano lessons.  He is continuing karate and playing soccer.  He is so happy to be back on the soccer field.  Taylyn is just as sassy as ever and is also back at school at Goddard.  I’m afraid she will drive everyone crazy until I get back.  Tay baby (or Taylyn Rose and she told everyone) just wants her mom and is giving everyone her full attitude, I guess that’s what I get for holding her hand for two years while she slept!

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Look as those kids defying mommy!  Buddy knows he’s wearing the wrong jersey!

Hotel Kabul!

“Last thing I remember, I was running for the door. I had to find the passage back to the place I was before. “Relax,” said the night man, “We are programmed to receive. You can checkout any time you like, but you can never leave!”….WELCOME TO THE HOTEL KABUL!

The other day one of my girlfriends asked about my room. I thought, well others maybe curious too, so I decided to make that my topic for this week. Relative to other places in Afghanistan we have it pretty good. Our accommodations are nice, again relative to where we are. I share a room with another officer. There is enough space for each of us to have a bed, two lockers, a night stand, and a desk. That is it. Most of the equipment I was issued is under my bed. I keep my shoes and a bag of my civilian clothes under there as well. I only have a few shirts and two pairs of jeans that I haven’t even looked at since mid-June. My uniforms hang in my tall locker along with my body armor and my M4. In the other locker I have my workout clothes, lounging clothes (PJ’s), toiletries, and a few snacks.

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The buildings we sleep in!

I am in a NATO billet (job) so we get free internet in our rooms, up to a certain amount each week. Although I have no idea what the limit is. I haven’t ever run out. I only use the internet to call home in the evenings. For TV I download what I want to watch to my phone via the Amazon Prime App while I’m in the gym (there is free WiFi in there). Although I watch little to no TV in my room. When I get back in the evenings I call home, take a quick rinse off shower, and read for about 30 minutes before I fall asleep. I mostly watch TV while I’m biking or for a few minutes here and there while I’m getting ready.

The best part of my room is my bed. Sleep is important and I want to make sure I’m as comfortable as possible. Before I even arrived here I ordered a memory foam mattress cover to have waiting for me when I got here. The person who slept there before me also left a foam mattress cover, so I kept that one as well and I have a double layer of comfort. I wanted to replicate what I really enjoy at home in my room. When I was in the Navy and living on a ship I had a bright pink queen sized mink blanket I purchased in Korea. Since I was limited on space I didn’t pack that amazing blanket, but I did order a similar one from Amazon. Although I still have the Korean blanket and it’s used often by anyone who wants to cuddle up in my basement at home. To complete my college dorm room motif I have two sets of very comfortable sheets, one set is purple the other is bright green. At home every night before I go to sleep I read my book laying on a heating pad, so of course I have a heating pad I use while reading. Then to finish the necessities for sleep I have a small fan, I went with purple again to keep the college dorm feel. I also have a defuser that I put essentials oils in a to enjoy while I’m reading and getting ready for bed.  So to sum up my sleeping arrangements, think college dorm. There is a room with 7 individual showers and another room for a bathroom. There is a local Afghan woman who cleans that area for us.

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From when we knew I was leaving until I left Timyra slept with a bear and gave it lots of hugs and kisses. They sent me the bear in the first package I received from home. I sleep with that bear every night and it protects my room while I’m gone. The bear is missing an eye, and I remember when his eye came off, Timyra was so upset. I told her I still love the bear and it is the best cuddle buddy while I’m gone.

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Today was a particularly tough day for so many reasons I can’t even begin to get into any of them and certainly not all of them. What I do know is that I have a little piece of home in my room waiting for me every night. I call home and see everyone’s face. Then I rinse off, at least the water is nice and warm and then I cuddle into my bed. What I’m learning is that this place can’t take what is really important from me away. I maybe far away and it maybe a really long time (or what feels like a long time) before I get to see them again. But in the mean time I have a bear, a pink mink blanket, a heating pad, a small purple fan, and a really great group of people praying for me every day and with that I’ll make it!

WELCOME TO THE HOTEL KABUL!….“Last thing I remember, I was running for the door. I had to find the passage back to the place I was before. “Relax,” said the night man, “We are programmed to receive. You can checkout any time you like, but I know sooner than I know it they will let me leave!”
Continue reading “Hotel Kabul!”

Afghan Injured and Martyred

I started this blog post two other times and finally I decided on a topic for this week.  The other two will come in due time and one will probably be much later when the timing is more appropriate.

This last week we were given the opportunity to register for and participate in an incredible challenge for an amazing charity.  Unlike American Service Members who when wounded in battle come home and there are many organizations who support them and they are given the resources to recover and continue to live a life of dignity.  Afghan Soldiers who are wounded in action are afforded little to nothing from the government they are defending.  They are cast away to fend for themselves.  In many cases they have families they need to support and now unable to work, they rely on what little the Afghan Government gives them which is hardly enough to eat and their access to medical care is limited.  Afterwards they are looked down upon, and there is no honor.  I have heard many times sadly that Afghan Soldiers benefit more from dying in battle rather than being wounded.  In September the 3rd Invictus Games are being held in Canada.  This will be the first time Afghan Wounded Warriors will compete.  At least there they will be shown some dignity.

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Wounded Afghan Soldiers getting ready for the games.

A British Warrant Officer with a large heart here in Kabul decided its time to do something for these honorable men.  He created a challenge for us to virtually travel as the bird flies from Kandahar to Kabul.  This is a total of 290.56 miles.  You sign up, give a small donation, and you begin moving.  We are asked to log our running, swimming, or biking miles and once we reach 290.56 miles we receive a t-shirt.  The Warrant Officer’s large heart has already raised over $11,000 for a charity no one else knows or even cares about.

AIM poster

My heart hurts for these Afghans and I’m running, swimming, and biking anyway.  I might as well make a difference while I am doing it.    Everyone who committed to the distance met on September 1st to kick off the miles.  We all have jerseys to wear while we put in the work.  Once we met and ran the first few steps together I went off to the gym for my Friday morning long run.  I decided I needed to make this first run significant, so I decided to “race” a half marathon.  Mile 9 was a little slow, I kept having to pull up my shorts (that is a side effect of this training and the fact that I digest nothing), so I kept reaching to pull them up and I lost about 30 seconds that mile.  I ended up stopping and tying up my shorts, that made the last 4.1 miles much more enjoyable.   I didn’t think anyone wanted to see my plumber’s crack.

https://youtu.be/rOYdC_nMyJc  (link to the morning ceremony)

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The results!
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After the half-marathon wearing my jersey!

I want to spread the word about this charity!  The war here is real and unfortunately Afghanistan does not honor or care for their warriors as they should.  These men have left part of themselves behind as part of their sacrifice for a country they love.  I challenge you to complete the 290.56 miles, find a few pennies between your couch cushions to help, or support me as I make the journey.  Here is the website and the Facebook page to follow along!

https://www.facebook.com/AIM-Afghanistan-1540567239322839/

https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/aim-afghanistan