Wednesday, December 29, 2021

There's No Shame In DFL - My Adventures Of My 8th Half Marathon


DFL (dead fricken last) - 3 letters that used to bring me so much shame and a bit of anxiety. Every race I’d hope someone else was behind me.  Because what I thought was that finishing last meant you failed. But what I know it really means is that you were brave.  You were strong.  You showed up AND finished.  You likely were alone and had a different race experience than the first person.  You had to fight through a lot to get from the start to the finish.  Heck, you probably had to fight through a lot just to get to the start too.

I finished DFL of my 8th half marathon on November 7th.  I was DFL less than ¼ mile into the race.  But I didn’t actually turn around to check.  I turned to Mallory about ½ mile in and said “are there also people behind us too?” to which she responded “it doesn’t matter” - spoiler alert - there was no one else behind us when I asked…not even the sag wagon/official race vehicle.  But more on that later.

In 2019 when I crossed that same finish line I was not DFL but in the last 5 ish runners.  I felt so much shame.  For myself, for the race I had just finished, for what my finish time was, for how much training I didn’t do, for how awful everything felt.  I crossed that finish line and said “next year is all about redemption.  Next year I’m actually going to do better.  And I’m actually going to train.  Next year I’m going to really prove to myself I can do it.”  I remember also being glad I wasn’t DFL in 2019, as if it would have made my finish any less important or my race any less meaningful.

I said “never again” to so many things from my 2019 race, but especially to not training.  My training got worse and worse from my first half onward, until 2019 when I ran 6x total in 12 weeks, and used the elliptical like 5x in 12 weeks. 11/10 do not recommend.

The build up to my race on November 7, 2021 truly started on April 7, 2019, when I crossed the 2019 finish line. 2.5 years is a long time.  I was 2 weeks out from race day in 2020 when the race got canceled because of COVID.  I was CRUSHED.  I had actually trained semi-well for 2020.  Lot’s of cross training, probably not enough running, but I still trained.  I wanted that redemption to prove to myself I could actually do it.  But all that I focused on in 2020 was just doing the race and crossing the finish line.  Training was just a means to an end, often it was dreadful and I didn’t want to do it.  I wasn’t really enjoying it, any of it.  And so when the 2020 race was canceled, I didn’t feel proud or accomplished for what I had done up until then, I could only focus on not getting to cross that finish line.

And so, I spent 2020 running.  A LOT.  I kept hoping that 2020 would be my year to defeat all the monsters of Scranton Half past.  Instead the 2020 race went virtual for later in the year.  So I trained to run a solo and unsupported half. Virtually. And on a chilly October morning that turned into a very warm afternoon, I ran my 7th Scranton half. Alone physically.  Not in Scranton. And I was so dang proud of myself for getting myself through those 13.1 miles.  It’s hard doing it during a race, but even harder doing it alone.  But I never thought about just completely stopping.  I remember around mile 11.5/12 I felt just awful and wasn't sure how I was making it back to my car.  But I did.  There was no finish line.  No celebration. But I wasn’t alone that day.  I had so many friends virtually cheering me on (and saw a few in person that day too!) Those friends, both in person and virtually, my gang, truly got me through 2020 the year, not just the half marathon.

And when I finished that virtual half in 2020, I reminded myself that anything is truly possible and set my sights on 2021 to hopefully be racing in person again.

I ended 2020 and started 2021 with a bit of an overuse injury from running too much, not cross training and not doing my strength work. But I vowed to make myself physically stronger so I could run the half as strong as I could.  But what I didn’t realize was happening as I did the PT for my hips and leg, and even after I was discharged from PT, while my body was getting stronger, so did my mind.  I fought through and worked through so much in that time.  And I also learned how to truly find joy in my running too.

And so came summer - base building for the half.  I ran a lot.  I cross trained a lot.  I did strength work (but not as much as I should).  I worked a lot on what I was saying to myself as a runner and a human.

August brought the start of half training.  I was terrified.  I wasn’t sure I could do it, and so many people knew about me training for and planning to run the half, which made it even more scary.  While I was working toward that finish line, I took the advice of my coach Kelly and set process goals along the way (and then for race day too!) and not just focusing on the outcome goal of the race or a specific time.  I celebrated wins along the way.  I found joy in my runs, even on days that didn’t seem so grand at the start.

I was proud of every single day I got out to run or bike or walk or do yoga.  For every PT appointment I went to strengthen my body.  For every training call I made time for.  But most proud of those days when the voices in my head were loud and my anxiety high, but I fought through to do what I had to and shared those struggles with my gang of badass friends.  They were there cheering on the good days and walking with me through the bad.

After months of training and 2.5 years of anticipation, lots of fears and doubts, MANY pep talks and far too many epsom salt soaks to count…I was ready for race day.  The most ready I had ever been to run a half.  I paused before race weekend and celebrated all I had done to get to that point and knew I couldn’t have done anything more to prepare.

I was lucky enough to be running the race with Mallory, so I told her my goals in advance and she was going to make sure I did everything I could during the race for those goals.  

My 2021 Scranton Half Race Goals:

  • cross the start line and the finish line

  • have fun and name all the hills

  • not hold myself back

  • fuel well and often

  • hydrate well and often

  • finish under 4 hours, with my reach goal of a PR with 3:26 and a realistic goal of 3:45 finish

  • run the entire track, the last .15 to the finish

 Mallory, Julia and I at the start

At the start line I was nervous but excitedly nervous, which I hadn’t felt since my first half.  The race started and I noticed there were way less people racing than previous years, but not a big deal.  I was there to run my own race, not to worry about anyone else.  And off we went.  I kept reminding myself to run my own pace and not try to keep up with the crowd, because it would just burn me out super early on. 

    By ¼ mile there was no one around us.  I didn’t know if there were people behind us, but Mallory reminded me it didn’t matter.  We started up that first hill and my calves cramped up BAD.  But it was ok.  We were discussing what to name that first hill and the ambulance that was supposed to be following the last runners passed us and we watched it pass at least 10 other runners ahead of us.  I said aloud “are you kidding me?!?! This shit already?!?!”, because this is not the first time during a race the roads have been reopened around me.  Then cars started flying up the road next to us, nearly hitting us.  I started struggling to breathe and not from running.  I could tell the panic and rage were brewing in me and the start of a panic attack was starting.  We got to the top of the hill and moved to the sidewalk.  I stretched my calves and kept going (on the sidewalk).  We got a little further and I stopped and started to cry.  I told Mallory I wanted to quit and I just couldn’t do it.  She told me she wasn’t letting me quit because she knew how mad I’d be if I did.  I told her I wanted to quit but wasn’t going to.  

We weren’t even at mile 1 and were forced onto the sidewalks with no one blocking streets for us to cross safely.  Just before mile 1 we got to a busy intersection, crossed with the light and still almost got hit. The sidewalks were utterly terrible - think chunks missing and completely uneven. I noticed as we got to mile 1 the official race photographer was gone - so no mile 1 pictures for us.  Around mile 1.25 two of the race medics on bikes rode up next to us.  Asked us if we both had cell phones and when we responded, they said “ok” and rode off.  So at that moment I very much knew that the race was going to be unsupported, even though I was well within the paces needed for the race limit of 4 hours. I was already full of rage and sadness and frustration.  And we weren’t even 1.5 miles into the race.  We were fully responsible for our own safety, our own street crossings and my personal favorite - knowing every single street and turn of the race, as things were not well marked.

I was not having fun.  I was miserable.  This was not even remotely ok, but there we were doing it.  My hill naming attempts were half hearted, but we still named each hill.

We took a wrong turn just before mile 3 and one of the medics was waiting for us, and he rode alongside us for a bit too.  He was not one of the medics from mile 1.25.

Mile 3.5 thankfully some neighborhood volunteers were still out blocking roads/directing traffic and pointed us in the right direction as we headed up one of the worst hills of the course, Electric Street aka “The Dragon”.  After turning off that hill, we took another wrong turn (a few streets too soon).  2 medics told us we turned too soon and should’ve gone up a few more streets…nice to know after we had already done it.  They sped on ahead and our medic friend from mile 3 was riding alongside us at this point.  When we got to mile 4 the 2 medics were waiting for the medic that was with us.  We kept going.  The 2 medics sped on past us again.  Our friend joined us again.

As we approached the Cooper’s Hill, the 3 of us, Mallory, myself and our medic friend, questioned who designed the race course and why they put so many large hills in the race.

After the Cooper’s Hill, mile 5, I thanked our medic friend and asked his name, in case we didn’t get to thank him later.  His name is Devon.  We told him we’d name a hill for him and explained how we were naming all the hills.  He requested a downhill be named for him.  So the next downhill became Devon’s Downhill.

Around mile 5 I started to feel a little bit better about the race.  Still feeling so many things, but finally enjoying it a little bit. I was laughing a little.  And then, in Downtown Scranton, “I wanna dance with somebody” came on my playlist.  I danced.  I sang. Mallory and I sang at each other.  I danced some more.  I felt a little joy.  And in that moment I was reminded of the entire BALG cheering us on virtually and the NEPA gang waiting for us at mile 7!!  After the song finished, as cheesy as it sounds, I felt the whole gang behind me.  Every message of support before the race, everyone who said they’d be sending me good race day vibes, everyone who was rooting for me to give my personal best.  In that moment I felt all of that and felt everyone with me.  And I felt a little bit lighter because of it.

And so we continued on our journey through downtown, our tour of Scranton.  Nothing too crazy happened in the next few miles besides AWFUL sidewalks and of course Patti with her epic race signs that truly made me laugh and smile!

 Patti with one of her signs!

Me with all of Patti's signs

We hit mile 7 and I could see the trailhead in front of us.  The trailhead where the gang would be!!! The trailhead when we’d finally be safe for the first time in 7.5 miles and be safe from cars!

Seeing the gang there cheering truly hit me hard.  The trail is an isolating stretch for the back of the pack.  There’s normally a small crowd at the trailhead cheering for the front and mid-pack coming back through, but is gone long before the back of the pack comes back through.  You also pass/see some other runners on their way back through but then when you turn around, you’re seeing no one. The gang was so energizing there and so exciting as this is the first race I had a bunch of friends there cheering for me.

We got to around mile 8, after passing the gang at mile 7.5, and I told Mallory I had to walk.  My heart rate felt weird and I felt anxious.  What I realized was that I was completely overcome with emotion from the support of the gang, I actually started to cry, and also that for the first time in 8 miles my body knew I was safe.  I wasn’t having to look all around at the sidewalk/road to check for safety or for hazards.I was safe on that trail and I could finally just run.  And I knew the gang would be waiting at mile 11 for us.

Around mile 9/9.5 my whole body felt awful.  And what I realized after the fact was that the caffeine gel I had taken earlier was affecting my body differently because of the anxiety I was already dealing with.  So I focused on drinking more tailwind and water, and eating more gummies.  When that feeling came over me, I messaged some of my “virtual” BALG friends and just asked for good vibes to me through and that I was struggling.  I then put my phone away.  When I read the messages later that they sent after that, I cried.  Lucky to have so many friends truly rooting for me.  And one of the messages, from my friend’s 5-year old, reminded me just how strong I was. I bawled.  What I also found out later was that same group of friends were trying to track me the whole race, even though there was no official race tracking.  Let’s just say if you ever share your phone location with these friends, they will track you during your race and figure out where you are by comparing it to the race map.

By mile 10 I was still moving, but had lost a lot of my energy and couldn’t handle as much running.   So it turned into a lot more walking at this point.  And we also had a paramedic van following us on the trail since we were the last runners.

Mallory and I stopped along the way for pictures.  There was also dancing. And ridiculous singing from me.  And then mile 11! The gang was there waiting for us! Cheering for us. Making sure we had our gatorade and whatever else we needed.  Truly so special to have them cheering for us.

Mile 11 with the gang!!

By mile 11.5 I am DRAGGING.  I start to count fence posts and pavement markers to get my mind distracted from the pain from my blisters and general exhaustion.  I counted to a certain # while walking and then would run ½ the amount of that number.  And that keeps me going.  Counting. Walking. Running. Dancing. Singing. With the paramedic van behind us.

And as we got to mile 12.5, to the little hill that we affectionately call little asshole, I tried to thank Mallory for everything during the race and instead got choked up on my words and couldn’t say anything.  And so we ran that last hill (THANK GOD!).  The paramedic van behind us moved ahead to further up the road to help us cross safely to the stadium. We were almost there!  We talked about the finish line plans while continuing to walk, and I turned on “I wanna dance with somebody”, because I wanted to finish with the whole gang “with me”. And we said the second our feet hit the track, we’d run.  In that moment I had never wanted to be more stubborn and not run because I truly didn’t think I could manage to run that track to the finish.

Feet hit the track and off we ran.  That first straight felt absurdly long and Mallory reminded me to just get to the curve and then focus on going around the curve. We get to that curve and we’re still running, but it’s feeling harder.  But we rounded that corner and I took off for that finish line.  Mallory only had half the words out of her mouth when I started sprinting.  I sprinted to that finish line with a smile on my face and tears in my eyes with one of the best friends beside me and the gang cheering just beyond the finish line.  I crossed that finish line in 4:11 and DFL.  And so very proud of myself.  I fought through so many things to get to that start line and even more to get to that finish line.  That medal may be the one I’m most proud of because I know how hard I worked to get that medal.  To get that redemption.

So stinking proud of myself because although so much was stacked against me, I hit every race goal except for my time goals.  And I know if the conditions of the race were safer, both with roads closed and not running on the sidewalks, I would have had a very different race. But the goal I was most proud of was that run of the whole track, including the sprint to the finish.  Each of the 6 previous in person Scranton Halfs I had run I always had wanted to run the whole track, but always gave up part way around.  So on one of the half training calls before the race, Kelly had suggested I make it one of my race goals to run that last .1 strong and sprint, I cried.  I never told anyone prior to that night on the call that that was my goal to do that.  So to be able to finally do that, after 4+ hours on my feet and 4+ hours of fighting to get there, I was even more amazed and proud of myself for it.

About a week after the race I shared some concerns with the race about the safety.  I won’t share exactly what was said, but I will share how I felt after that call.  I felt like because I was a slower runner I didn’t deserve to be running that race (or possibly other races too).  I felt like my safety wasn’t truly important.  I felt that although there are course limits, they mean absolutely nothing.  I was made to feel like I don’t deserve to be a runner and should just walk instead.  But I belong running races, regardless of my pace.  My safety matters.  Course limits are supposed to be followed for safety.  I am a runner and should never believe that I am not because of my pace or because I run/walk.  I still feel a lot of anger about the race and the concerns I brought up.  But I’m proud of myself for speaking up and for also advocating not just for myself but for all of the back of the pack runners.

I am so so so so proud of myself for everything I did to train for and run my 8th half marathon.


Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020: a year of growth, strength, and taking up space

 2020 took me on a journey I never expected to go on....

So much happened this year and I don’t know if I’ll ever have all the words for this year.

Warning - VERY long post ahead

I think back to January 1, 2020 and how many hopes I had for the year.  While the year was not what I had been hoping or planning on, 2020 ended up being such a huge year for me.  A year of growth, strength and taking up space.

I started the year off running, literally.  I ran 5 miles on New Year’s Day, just because it seemed like a challenge.  It did not disappoint.  I wanted to go into half marathon training with some decent base mileage.  Because this was going to be the year.  I wanted to prove to myself that I could actually train for and crush the Scranton Half, but I didn’t believe I could do it!

I also started off the year unemployed.  Ending 2019 and starting 2020 unemployed was super hard.  Thankfully I started my new job mid-January.  But the time I spent unemployed really took its toll on me.  But I filled my time with running at any time of the day and it was great!

January also brought with it the decision to do an indoor tri in February and also the start of Scranton Half Training.  What I didn’t know was that I would end up training for the Scranton Half twice this year....ohhh 2020.

The beginning of February brought with it my first official 10K, which by default is obviously a PR haha.  During that 10k I also got to run the last couple of miles of the Scranton Half course, where I always struggle on Half day. During the 10k I made peace with those miles on the Heritage Trail and fought some mental demons that would tell me I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t wait to be back in less than a month and a half to crush the whole course, and especially those last few miles.  Again, what I didn’t know was that I wouldn’t get to run the Heritage Trail, or any part of the Scranton Half course on March 29 as planned.  I wouldn’t run the Heritage Trail again for almost 3 months, and only for a very short run.

Toward the end of February was my first indoor tri!! Badass Lady Gang NEPA tri’d and didn’t die!!  That whole day was so hard for me.  To go from swimming to biking to running.  By the time I got to the run, I thought my legs were just going to stop working.  But they didn’t, I kept going, and I finished.  I started to really see that I was WAY stronger than I thought.

What I thought was going to be the first 2 of MANY races in 2020, most with the gang, turned out to be my only 2 in person races this year.

March brought with it the cancellation of so many things.  But the biggest blow was the Scranton Half being postponed. I was crushed!  I spent many months running all the miles and facing some mental running demons to finally have my best and strongest half and to finally not give up on myself.  What I didn’t realize at the time was that I was so prepared, but would get to show myself just how strong my half could be, solo, later in the year.

I took some time after the cancellation of the half to just run only when I wanted and with no set distance.

And then came late April.  I was furloughed from my job.  Initially for 5 weeks, which then turned into another 5 weeks after that.  What do you do when you have all the time in the world but can’t go anywhere or do much?!?!  You run.  A lot.

So run I did.  Short runs. Long runs.  And everything in between.  And then one day in mid-May I decided I wanted to see how far I could go non stop running, shooting for a mile nonstop.  I didn’t get my mile that day, but I did get a renewed sense of passion for seeing just what my body can do and was excited to try!  I didn’t run my nonstop mile until September, but I kept pushing myself for it.  For something I had wanted to do for years.

On that same day in May I also ended up winning a free training plan for the Badass Lady Gang Summer Series.  Which truly came at a time when I was frustrated with my furlough being extended and was just truly feeling the effects of being isolated from all of my friends and family.  That training series, and all the ladies who were part of the Summer and Fall series, truly changed my life.  Looking back now, winning the training plan was probably the best thing that could have happened to me.

Through the Summer and Fall training series, I was truly able to see myself growing stronger and believing in myself and my running.  I finally wasn’t saying “one day, maybe I can do that”.  I was saying “I don’t know if I can do this, but I’m sure going to try”.

I was really seeing myself and my body as strong and not something to be fixed or changed.  And honestly, game changing.  I surprised myself so many times with what I could do.  Things I thought were previously out of reach for me.  Running fast was one of those.  The amount of SPICY speedwork over the summer that I did, with paces I had never hit before, despite it being the middle of summer and hot and humid.

Which brings me to another life changing thing of summer - running in my sports bra!  I ran in my sports bra for the first time in May and there was no going back.  Running sports bra squad lit a fire in me that I still can’t explain.  It also felt rebellious and like something I “shouldn’t be doing as a plus size runner”. But I felt free and in awe of my body.  My body was not any less worth of being seen just because of my size, and honestly it felt amazing!!  I ran in my sports bra on like 90% of my runs this summer and even into the fall (including sports bra squad on Thanksgiving Day!). (

With summer also came Scranton Half training 2.0 of 2020.  I trained even harder than I did for March.  I actually did ALL of my long runs.  I had a strong base of mileage and kept building on it.  I ran in 90 degrees and humidity and ran in 40/50 degrees and rain. And I ran in everything in between. And I felt so strong.  I honestly didn’t know what it felt like to have a non-struggle run.  They were all I knew.  But I started having really good runs, really strong runs. And even had runs that were “bad” but still felt strong!

And so, on October 10, I ran my virtual Scranton Half. Alone. No crowds to cheer me on.  No other runners.  Just me and 13.1 miles.  I had my strongest and best half, physically and mentally.  I was no longer telling myself that I couldn’t do it.  I was telling myself I was strong and capable and badass.  When it got tough, I sent some texts to friends, but otherwise I had to dig real deep to find more in me.  I have never been more proud of finishing a run or a race.  The last few miles were BRUTAL, but I kept going and finished my “victory lap”

My victory lap.  I had spent 10 weeks training for this race at the start of the year and then spent another 20 weeks training leading up to the October race day.  That 13.1 miles was just the culmination of all of those cold, dark, snowy runs.  Of the post work long runs, just to fit them in. The hot AF summer runs where I thought I might just melt into a puddle.  The long Saturday mornings.  All the weeknights.  And everything in between.  All of those miles changed me.  And those 13.1 miles allowed me to see just what had changed and how much stronger I had gotten.  For all the times I wasn’t sure I could do it, I proved to myself that there were no limits!!

Scranton Half #7 will forever hold a special place for me.  For all the struggles it took to get there in the midst of a year that was beyond hard and overwhelming, I proved to myself that I can do really hard things!

And what a way to think about 2020...I am strong and I can do hard things.

And while I ended 2020 with some hip and leg issues, it still ended really strong and with the knowledge to stop running when it hurts.

So wow, 2020 was A LOT.  And there was so much going on in the world.  But damn, this was an amazingly transformative year for me.

I can’t wait to hit the ground running and see what running adventures 2021 has in store.  I’m hoping 2021 will see my first 5k nonstop, a mile, 5k and 10k PR, and even more strength and badassery.  And hopefully the ability to run with my gang in person again. <3

Friday, March 8, 2013

2012...what a year

So, while sitting here tonight, on this 23rd day of January of this new year of 2013, I realized something.  I realized I never properly gave 2012 the reflection it deserved.  The reflection it was asking for.  The reflection that needs to happen to remind me of what a whirlwind year it was.  The reflection on the wonderful, the good, and the definitely not so good that made 2012 what it was.

So I started this reflection on January 23rd, then didn’t touch it again until a month later on February 25th, and now March 5th I sit here hoping to finish what I started, but I also realize that allowing myself to really reflect on all that 2012 was is very important, no matter how long it takes.

2012 was a year full of new friends and old, happiness and much sadness, good moments and horrible moments, ending of things and start of others, etc. etc.


Where to even begin with 2012?

If you had asked me at the end of 2012 how my year was, my first thought and response was “horrible, I’m so glad it’s over. I’m so done. I hope 2013 is much better. This is by far the worst year ever.”  And yes, my year was pretty darn horrible…or at least the last 5 months of it was.  But even in the midst of those horrible 5 months there were still wonderful things that happened and were overshadowed; just as every other month of 2012 had wonderful things happen as well.  So was 2012 the worst year ever, yeah probably, but it was also full of many blessings.

2012 was a year full of new beginnings.  One thing that was very new about 2012 was I started running.  Yes friends, you read it, running.  I have never, ever been a runner.  Ever!  I played sports from age like 5-16 and absolutely hated running, with a burning passion!  But in January or February of last year I just kept feeling like I wanted to go out for a run, which was totally weird for me.  But my theory is if your body is telling you something, listen.  So listen I did.  I started “running”.  It really wasn’t much of a run for a while.  There was lots of walking and a smidge of running.  When I first started running I couldn’t even run down my whole street, which isn’t very long.  My house is number 16 and it is three-quarters of the way down the street.  When I first started running, getting to my house was a struggle, let alone the final fourth of the way down the street.  But I kept at it.  Running and walking, walking and running.  Lots more walking than running.  I would sometimes go out by myself and other times I would go out with Kristen, but I was getting frustrated with myself for not being able to run more than I was.  Then one day I said to Kristen, “I think I can do it, I think I can finally run one side of Elm Park.  I think I can do a quarter mile!”  And run a quarter mile I did!  You’re probably reading this going “ok, wow, you ran a quarter mile; it’s not that big of a deal.”  But a quarter mile is a HUGE deal, first big milestone, when you are trying to run a distance. 
         I set my mind to it that night, told myself “you just have to keep going”.  I thought I was going to die running that quarter of a mile; I wanted to stop half way so bad!  But Kristen was running next to me and just kept reminding me that I could do it and that it wasn’t too far to the end now, just keep going and I’ll be at the end soon.  But I did it!  I made it to the end and Kristen and I celebrated like I had just finished something huge.  To me, at that moment, it was huge.  And I think that first ¼ of a mile continues to be the reminder to me, I need to set a goal and keep going, even if I don’t think I can make it.  Because I will probably psych myself out and say it’s too much.  But I’ve learned to just keep going, not matter how hard it may seem.  It may seem hard now, but it will get easier, no matter what it is.   What I also learned while trying to run that first ¼ of a mile, is that having someone standing by you and supporting you in your journey in running and in life is very very important.
I am really starting to enjoy running; going out, turning my music on and just letting my body run.  It’s still a challenge to run more, but I know it’s a gradual process.  But each new milestone I hit, I know that I am getting closer and closer to my goal.  And what is my goal you may ask?  Well, I made the decision in September that by the time September 2013 rolled around I would have run a 5k.  A 5k. 3.1 miles.  Me.  The girl who couldn’t even run down the street would run a 5k.  But I knew I needed something to work toward.  Right now 3.1 miles is still daunting, but slowly and surely I am increasing how much I am able to run.  Just 2 weeks ago I ran for 20 minutes non-stop, which ended up being a little more than 1.5 miles! About half-way to my 5k. I am actually hoping that by May of this year I will be running my 5k! And that will be a major milestone in my 2013 I’m sure.

And speaking of milestones, I had another great personal milestone in 2012.  I started my 2012, back in January, a size 24 jeans.  By December of 2012 I was wearing a size 18 jeans!  This was another wonderful step for me, to lose so much weight and to start feeling healthier and better in my own body.  My weight has always been a struggle for me, but something clicked last year that allowed me to be able to stick to losing weight.  And not just losing the weight for a little while, but hopefully for good.  I don’t ever want to find that weight again.  It was sad but also wonderful to get rid of most of my clothes.  Sad because I was getting rid of so much, but wonderful because I lost that much weight that nothing fit anymore.  I think when I was getting rid of my clothes is when I realized just how much my body had changed that everything was hanging on me or falling off.  My body was no longer the same!  Getting rid of the clothes also allowed me a fresh start, with new clothes that fit me and were smaller sizes.

 In 2012 I also started taking dance again! In September I started taking jazz and ballet.  I had forgotten how much I loved dance and how much I really had been missing it.  I was never, nor will I ever be, the best dancer.  But it just feels right when I dance. I get lost in the dance and the feeling of moving in a certain way across the floor.  It is truly wonderful. So for September and October I was taking ballet and jazz, but then in November started taking tap instead.   I’ve always loved watching tap, and even though I’ve tapped since I was like 5, it has never been a strength of mine.  But I trucked along in class, getting my feet to do somewhat what they’re supposed to do.  And in the beginning of December, for the first time in like 4 years, I performed in a recital…doing tap!  So that was a “new” experience.  I was in a recital with people I had only just met in September, doing a dance I had learned in 3 weeks.  I was so used to performing with girls I had danced with for years, doing a dance that I had months to learn.  But truly, even though I was the “new girl” it didn’t feel like it and the winter show was wonderful.  The people in my class are great and performing the dance just felt right.  So chalk that up as another new beginning in 2012!

Another new beginning of 2012 was starting my job (and buying a car…but we won’t talk about that, it’s an epic tale of crazy since day 1)!  In August of 2012 I started my job at Assumption Center as program coordinator.  Assumption Center was where I did my volunteer year that ended in July 2012…more to come about that later.  I get to work with the same wonderful people that I did last year and a few new ones.  Every Wednesday and Thursday afternoon I am in charge of 26 kids between ages 6-15 for our afterschool program.  I love it!  The kids bring so much love every day.  Getting a hug from one of those kids is a wonderful feeling.  I also get to work with so many wonderful adults on Tuesday and Thursday mornings in our ESL program.  I love watching the students’ progress during the semester.  Some walk in at the beginning of the semester and know no English and leave being able to speak to others in English, confident in their abilities.  It really is wonderful to be able to witness.
During the last few months of 2012 I forgot for a little while why I was so passionate about my job and why I was doing what I’m doing.  I lost the spark I had during my AMA year for these wonderful people I get to work with and the programs I get to be a part of.  But every so often, one of the mentoring kids would do or say something that would bring me back, at least for that moment, to why I am here.  They reminded me of the passion I have for all that I am doing, the passion I forgot many times as I just went about my days not really pausing to think about what I was doing.  I was so caught up in my own issues in my head that I forgot to be present to what I was doing in the here and now.  Every day that I went to mentoring and ESL and interacted with all of the people in the programs in my new capacity of program coordinator was another day closer to finding myself again, finding my passion again, finding that missing spark again.  And I am so happy that life calmed down a little bit and that I am finally able to really see just how wonderful the people are and how passionate I am about working with them, because this new job was something very exciting to me and my 2012 and my excitement for it has returned after a brief hiatus.  So 2013 is so far filled with passion and excitement for what I’m doing and especially for being with the wonderful kids at mentoring; they fill me with such love every time I see them.

2012 also brought with it some endings.  I’m thinking about 2 very specific endings.  Both of which happened in July and happened a little more than a week apart.  One ending I knew was coming…since August of 2011, but the other ending I never could have foreseen coming.

So, back in August of 2011 I embarked on a journey to Worcester, MA to be an AMA.  An Associate Missionary of the Assumption.  A full time, year long, volunteer.  A “year” commitment; August until July.  That year that this blog was meant for.  The time I spent devoted to serving others in the spirit of the Assumption.  A journey I knew nothing, absolutely nothing, about.  But this year as an AMA was probably the most rewarding time of my life.  I had been on service trips before and knew how much that they had impacted me.  But I never could have fully understood how giving of myself for one year would change me, would help me grow, would allow me to see so much, would allow me to experience so much all in one short year.  I was blessed to be able to spend my year in such a welcoming community.  We were accepted right away because we were AMAs.  People knew the former AMAs and knew the work they did and the work we would be doing and because of that we were accepted.  It was such a wonderful feeling to be part of such a wonderful community, especially at St. Peter’s where our programs take place.  St. Peter’s is interesting to say the least.  It brings together so many different people from all walks of life.  There are rich and poor, young and old, Hispanic and African and Caucasian and Vietnamese, recent immigrants and people who may have never left the country, etc.  St. Peter’s provides a good cross sample of the residents of Worcester, such diversity in its parishioners.  And I was (and still am!) able and blessed to be part of such a wonderfully diverse place.  I am able to work with some wonderful kids and adults from all parts of the world, all with different backgrounds and each person brings something different to the table.  This is absolutely one of the biggest blessings of my volunteer year, the people.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the people are what made my volunteer year what it was.
We had a goodbye liturgy on July 13th to end mine and Liz’s AMA year.  It was a beautiful celebration of our year, with many of the wonderful people we got to work with and know during our short time together as AMAs in Worcester.  I think one of the most amazing sights at the end of the mass, when Liz and I were saying goodbye to everyone, was one of our ESL students, who is also the mother of some of our mentoring kids and is one of our wonderful gardeners in the community garden.  Liz and I were saying goodbye to all of the kids, Liz for an unknown time, me until the end of August, and this woman, was crying.  We were standing there and she was crying.  We aren’t 100% sure why she was crying, but it was a beautiful thing to see, because obviously something that had been exchanged between us (Liz and I and herself) was very important and powerful.  Liz and I both later talked about how beautiful and sad it was to see her standing there crying.  That is one of those moments you won’t forget.  Those moments are the ones that will forever define my year.  The “little moments”.  Things that could have gone unnoticed, but didn’t.  For years to come I will be thinking about my AMA year, and these moments will come back to me and will seem like yesterday.  Some moments caught on “film” other moments only caught as an image in my mind. 

The mass in July, the end of all of the programs, etc, I knew they all were coming but it didn’t make it easier to end the year. Liz and I had built our own little community. With each other, with Kristen, with St. Peter’s, with the sisters, with the kids, with the ESL students, etc etc. We made Worcester home and we built relationships that will last forever. That is what makes saying goodbye so hard, the relationships you share with people.

But, goodbyes are never easy, are they? We are never fully prepared for any goodbye, are we? We are always asking for more time, for time to go more slowly, to go back in time for just one moment. But we can’t change time, at all, as much as we would like to. And that is a part of life, knowing that we can never go back, that we must keep living life as it is now, not as it was yesterday. We have no control over the time we have been given or the time that has been given to those we love. We have no idea how many “tomorrows” we will have. No idea when a fairly normal day will turn into a day you will remember forever.

July 5, 2012. A day I will never forget as long as I am alive. It started as an ok day, was going to go look at a car to buy, but it had already been sold. Disappointing, but not a big deal at all. At lunch time my dad texts me saying that his cousin Stacy wasn’t doing too good. She had been admitted to the hospital 2 days prior, but really wasn’t doing well that day. He said they were doing tests on her to try to figure out what was wrong, but weren’t 100% sure what was wrong. I told him I would pray for Stacy and ask the sisters to pray for her as well. I sent Stacy a text just saying that I hoped they would be able to figure out what was wrong with her and that I loved her. I went about the rest of my day, getting ready to head out to dinner with Liz and a Worcester friend to celebrate the end of our AMA year. As I was finishing getting ready, my mom called, though I missed the call. I called her back and what she told me was the most unexpected thing I ever expected to hear. I didn’t want to believe it. Stacy had died. I was shocked. Stacy, who I had talked to a week prior about getting together for lunch when I got home from my AMA year was gone. Stacy who was only 30 years old was gone. How was it possible that she could so suddenly be gone? Earlier in the day she was really sick, but people get sick all the time and are fine in a few days. I didn’t know what to do or what to think. Stacy was gone.
The next day passed in a blur of being 5 hours away from my family and friends, waiting to hear about the arrangements and trying to figure out a way for me to get home. There were many texts and messages from friends and former co-workers who knew Stacy, who knew just how wonderful she was.
Then the following day I got up early and got on the long road headed for home. I would say it was the longest of my drives between MA and PA or PA and MA, but I think the drive back to MA from the funeral was the longest. I got home mid afternoon to the relief of myself and my parents. I was finally home with my family and friends, to grieve the loss of Stacy from our lives. I went to Stacy’s parents’ house that night to see everyone and all her parents and her siblings kept saying to me was “do you know how much she loved you? She loved you like a little sisters. She loved you so much.” And I did know. I was lucky enough to know how much she really cared about me and loved me. Stacy wasn’t one to hide her feelings. She told you what she was feeling; good, bad or indifferent.

The rest of the weekend: the viewing and the funeral went by in a blur of tears, hugs, sobs, condolences, shock, disbelief, tissues and laughter. Yes, laughter. It always feels inappropriate to laugh at a viewing or a funeral when everything is supposed to be somber, but Stacy was the kind of person that could bring humor to just about any situation, including her own viewing and funeral.

The morning of the funeral, on the way to the funeral home, I stared out the car window in disbelief of what we were about to do; to go to the funeral for Stacy. But as I was looking out the window, I caught sight of the sky. The sun’s rays were shining through the clouds, in a way that is always so beautiful to me. I remember in elementary school being told that when the sun shines through the clouds like that it means that someone is in heaven looking down on their loved ones. I told myself that Stacy was looking down on all of us, trying to give us all a little bit of her sunshine. The sunshine that she brought into so many lives, especially my own. I knew she would always be watching over me, guiding me and sharing just a bit of sunshine with me when I needed it most.
After the funeral, at the cemetery, there was the graveside service. We all were standing there as the priest was giving final blessings on Stacy before she was lowered into the ground. As the priest is talking I noticed a dragonfly flying around, which I guess isn’t uncommon. But this dragonfly kept circling the casket, circling, circling. Going nowhere else in this expansive cemetery except just circling around the casket. Then it flew over in front of her parents, her siblings and her husband, and then resumed its circling of the casket until the priest gave his final blessing. The dragonfly then flew away. I am positive Stacy was sending us a sign, telling us she was ok. Making sure we knew she was around. Trying to give us some comfort that would seem to elude us for days and weeks and months after her death. Thinking it was weird, later that day I looked up what dragonflies symbolize and found this website: One thing I knew, was that Stacy had many characteristics of a dragonfly, especially living in the moment and the ability to open someone’s eyes. I also then found a poem that is often used at funerals about a dragonfly, which really resonated with me. So, dragonflies became a very important thing for me. I saw quite a few for weeks to come. Sometimes by myself, sometimes with other people, but each time I was just as surprised to see a dragonfly wherever I was, because it never quite seemed like the place to find a dragonfly.

After Stacy’s funeral I had to return to Worcester the next day to finish off the last week of my AMA year. So before I returned to Worcester that day after Stacy’s funeral, I stopped at Marywood in admissions to see everyone one more time and to see Stacy’s office one last time. Her office had been one of the places I spent a lot of time during college…
I was lucky enough to spend my four years of college at Marywood working in admissions as a work study and tour guide. When I was applying to schools, Stacy was my admissions counselor and was absolutely thrilled that I was thinking about coming to Marywood. She actually jumped up and down on the steps at an open house saying “I have family here”, because she was so excited. Throughout the process of trying to figure out which school I wanted to go to, she was a constant support as a family member and admissions counselor. She toed the line between the two carefully, not trying to overstep in one way or the other. Ultimately I decided on Marywood, because it “felt like home”, but she knew it would be perfect for me long before I did.
During my 4 years at Marywood and in admissions, Stacy was a constant for me. She was constantly there, acting as my big sister, making sure I was ok and that I wasn’t getting into too much “trouble”. There were many, many lunch dates. There were innumerable texts making sure I was doing my work for class, making sure I had what I needed if I was sick, seeing if I would come in to work in admissions to do something for her or to give a tour when no one else was available. And plenty of texts of Stacy just being herself; goofy and most often inappropriate to get me to laugh, loosen up or cheer up if I was having a bad day. There were also many texts, especially the summer after my senior year of college (while working in admissions for the summer), asking me to come to her office. Most of the time she needed to vent or blow off steam about work or classes or her dissertation. She would say “you have to listen to me complain, you’re family.” Sometimes all it was was that she needed an errand run around campus or other times it was just to say “hi” and ask how my day was going. I spent so many hours in her office during my time at Marywood, laughing and crying, talking and sometimes yelling. Talking about the good, the bad and the ugly in both of our lives. We would talk about our crazy family, whom we would love no matter what, even though they were crazy. We both talked about the classes we were in. We talked about the future, where we both saw ourselves going (and where we saw each other going as well!). We talked about stupid things and serious things. She listened patiently to me babble about unimportant things that seemed important at the time. Stacy was there every step of my college journey always cheering me on and proud of me, even when I didn’t think I could do it or when there really wasn’t much to be proud of. She loved me unconditionally and helped me to see all of the potential that I had. Stacy was the one who actually encouraged me to apply for a volunteer year, long before I ever thought of applying, because she knew it was something I would“be good at” and it would absolutely be perfect for me.
Her office saw every side of me during college and also saw me grow up quite a bit as well. Her office held so many memories for me, I knew I needed to be able to see it one more time, as it was left, with every little detail that I had memorized while staring off into space while talking or working in her office. To see all of the quotes on her wall just one more time, to remember what her office felt like and to remind myself of all of the memories that had happened there.
So after my stop in admissions, I was faced with the long, lonely 5 hour drive back to Worcester to finish what was left of my last week as an AMA.

The next few weeks after the funeral were filled with ending my AMA year, going on a service trip and spending lots of time baking and visiting admissions. There was one night that I was there in admissions to do something I never ever would have thought of doing before. I was there to help clean out Stacy’s office. Pack up everything that made her office “her”. For the 4 of us that cleaned it out, the office had so many different memories for all of us. So we spent the night laughing and crying and remembering so many wonderful moments with Stacy. And at the end of the night we had everything packed up and each of us had something to remember Stacy by; for our own offices. I have a sign that says “LIFE Live life to the fullest”, which is something Stacy absolutely taught me. By example she showed me how to live life and how everyone should be treated and how to treat yourself as well. That sign hangs in my office to remind me of all the various ways Stacy has shown me how to live a good life and how to live it to the fullest.
The months after I returned to Worcester were a whirlwind of emotion trying to “understand” death, but one never ever understands death and that’s just the way it is. I’ve learned to live with it, but not to try to understand it, because it is something far beyond our understanding. That’s one of the things I’ve learned in the last few months, we will never understand death and it’s not worth trying to understand because it makes it worse.

Friendship was a huge theme of my 2012, from beginning to end (literally and figuratively I guess…I spent New Year’s Day 2012 with a group of friends and New Year’s Eve 2012 with another friend). I’ve learned to value your friends and family, you never know how much time is left. But also to cherish the friends that are there for you not only when life is good, but more importantly, are there when life isn’t so good. They are true friends.
This year was all about realizing who would stand by me, no matter what. Who would be there for me is the best of times and the worst of times. Who would sit and listen to me babble about stupid things, but also give advice on more serious things. I also realized how important little cards, letters, texts, phone calls or visits really mean from your friends, especially when it’s just one of those days. Being 5 hours away from home and doing a volunteer year/starting a new job are always hard. I was worried my friends would forget about me or that our relationships would change. But if 2012 taught me anything, it taught me that your true friends will always be there for you and won’t leave you.
I was so blessed in my 2012 to gain new friends and strengthen old friendships and to realize I had more friends than I ever realized. I think this year more than ever I was more aware of my relationships with my friends. I also deeply appreciate the relationships that were strengthened into much greater friendships because of different circumstances. Each friend I have I share a very different, but special relationship with. What I am able to tell one friend I probably would never say to another friend. But I would say I have a “well rounded” group of friends who I can share so many different details of my life with, and some know almost more about me than I do about myself, but that’s what friends are for. I know more about some friends and less about others, but with each person I share something different but very special with, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I mentioned earlier how sometimes a little card, letter, text, phone call or visit can really mean so much from a friend. I can’t tell you how many times I got one of those and it instantly made my day better; just to know that they were thinking about me. There are a few instances that stand out in my mind of special moments of 2012. I remember getting a Valentine card from one friend just reminding me of how much I am loved, which was a nice gentle reminder of the type of relationship we share, reminding each other just how special we are and that we are loved just the way we are. Another occasion, on the night before my birthday, I spent the night celebrating with 3 of my dear friends, having a“Last Supper Party” (my birthday was on Good Friday) and just laughing the night away, being ourselves; this group of old and new friends meshing so nicely, that made it an even better night.
After Stacy died I had many friends texting, calling or messaging me, sending me love and prayers and just making sure I was ok. But one I remember the most was one friend, who had been out of the country, called me about a week after the funeral, while still out of the country; because she was able to make a call and wanted to make sure I was doing ok and holding together. I think that meant so much more to me than I ever can express, because at a time when I was probably my lowest, my friend cared enough to call from another country the first time she was able to just make sure I was alright. Something I will never forget.
I have many other cards and little notes stashed away in my office and in my room from friends; I tend to save them to look back on in the future. These notes and cards all mean something different because of who they were from and what the situation was for the card, but they all mean so much to me. Some days I will catch a card or note out of the corner of my eye and smile thinking about whatever card it is, remembering how I felt getting it. All of the notes and cards and fond memories with friends I just think how all of them are full of love.

So although my 2012 was a whirlwind year, I learned many things. Some things I wish I never had to learn (but really I knew I would have to learn at some point) and other things that I’m glad I learned now and not down the road.

I had a year full of ups and downs, highs and lows, happiness and sadness, love and much more.

I had 525,600 minutes full of daylights, sunsets, midnights, cups of coffee, inches, miles, laughter and strife. :D
A year full of family and friends and birthdays and weddings and celebrations as well.

I had a year I could measure in love, so much love!!! And what a year it was!  Measured in love…..

 A few pictures of my year...measured in love!!

New Year's Eve 2011 with Paige, Krystle, Meaghan, Laura and me!

New Year's Eve 2012 Justy and I!
Liz and I Easter 2012

End of mentoring picture at Assumption College (April 2012)
Kristen and I with two of the cutest kids we work with, Erika and Ryan! (April 2012)
Goodbye to our AMA year!  :(

Liz and I with our "end of AMA year" cake (June 2012)

Liz and I with Srs. Nuala, Mary Ann, Catherine, Jurgita and Therese (June 2012)

4th of July in Worcester (so really July 3rd, because Worcester celebrates a day early)

Me with some of the kids before the end of year AMA mass (July 14, 2012)

Liz and I in front of the Center prior to our end of AMA year mass
The group that gathered for our end of AMA year mass.  <3

Me with some of my loves, saying goodbye until September (July 14, 2012)


My family at my grandma's surprise 80th birthday party (May 2012)
My parents, my brother and I at my cousin's wedding (November 2012)


Friends!! <3
The wonderful group of girls I got to spend a week with in DE on a service trip (July 15-21 2012)

JoAnne and I (August 2012)
Antonia and I (August 2012)

Justine and I for her birthday! (August 2012)

Meaghan's wedding!  The gang of us Marywood girls all together. (September 2012)

Michelle, Liz and I at the Worcester Castle! (October 2012) One AMAzing time.
Akeneta and I with some of our garden kids playing in the leaves (October 2012)

A wonderful Halloween package from a friend and former co-worker (October 2012)

Michelle and I in front of the Christmas tree for her birthday! (December 2012)
Yay for being new housemates!


A picture of Stacy and I, from September 2011 in a frame that says
"Memories: Some moments we never forget because our lives are forever changed"    
<3   July 5, 2012   <3