Monday, December 20, 2010

11 in 11, Part 2

In November, I posted about a project that two of my friends and I would be working on throughout the next year -- 11 things we each want to accomplish in 2011. I loved this idea because instead of focusing on one ridiculous resolution, which I would inevitably break, this gives me the opportunity to try a bunch of different things that aren't necessarily life-changers. They're just goals to fulfill throughout the year.

As 2010 comes to a close, I have to say it has overall been a great year. Throughout the course of the year I moved to DC, found a full-time job, got accepted into grad school, went zip-lining, ran a marathon (and two half marathons), went to a huge family reunion, went to quite a few happy hours with my mom, and met a lot of really great people. Among those are some small daily items that have made me happy, and some really huge life-altering goals that I have met.

Last year around my birthday (which happens to be pretty close to the end of the year) I decided to make a goal and do something that I never thought I would do based on the fact that I didn't believe I could. I wanted to push myself outside of my comfort zone. I ended up choosing to run a marathon. This time last year, I had only run two 5Ks, and now it feels great to have two half marathons, a full marathon, and hundreds of training miles behind me. I also picked up a hobby that I happen to love. There will definitely be a lot of long distance runs in my future, that's for sure.

Given that I had a pretty big year, I did again want to choose one thing, as part of the 11 items, that I never thought I would do. However, I did find it a bit challenging to develop a list of 11 different things to do in 2011. But, I am pretty excited about my list. I think I have a good mix of serious things, fun things, and experiences that will stay with me forever.

Before I unveil my list, my friends and I put together some rules for completing our items throughout the year:

1. The honestly policy rules all. Some of these things are personal, and only we will know if we achieve them and when we achieve them.
2.We can substitute items up until January 1. Although, I highly doubt I will make any changes to my list.
3. For each item on our list that we do not accomplish by December 31, 2011, we must buy a drink of her choice for the other two. Obviously this could get pretty expensive pretty fast, so none of us want to get caught with two or three items we did not complete.
4. Each item must depend on us accomplishing it, not an external source.
5. We will check in with each other quarterly in order to be sure that we are still progressing with our list. Of course wine will always be involved.
6. Every accomplishment will be posted in our blog (so you also know we achieved it) and to track our progressing.

So without anymore delay, here are my 11 things that I will do in 2011. (These are in no particular order.)

1. Run Marine Corps Marathon. The Marine Corps Marathon is the big DC marathon, and it's supposed to be one of the best. Runner's World says that MCM has a reputation as the "People's Marathon" because of its goal to just have a good time. The race has over 30 bands playing throughout the course, and 100,000 spectators to cheer runners on. As the 4th largest marathon in the United States, MCM is going to be an amazing experience.
2. Travel through Europe. This is another item I cannot wait for. This summer, I plan to travel throughout Rome, Paris, Barcelona and possibly London. I went to Ireland once when I was 17, but this will surely be a different experience. I'm so lucky to have on of my college roommates, and one of the most fun and awesome people I know, joining me on this trip.
3. Maintain a minimum 3.7 GPA in graduate school. In five weeks I will be starting my Master's degree in history. I am so excited to finally be moving toward my career goal of becoming a college professor. This is going to be a ton of work, but I know I can do it.
4. Read the 100 greatest novels ever written. Ok, I know this is a multi-year project. This would mean I'd have to read a new book every three days, which is impossible when considering grad school and work. (I do have a head start -- I think I've read about 10 of them.) But I will be starting this goal, and only reading novels from this list published by TIME magazine. If you're interested in what is on the list, you can find it here.
5. Begin writing my own novel. I love to write, and I've always wanted to write a book. I plan to at least start writing, since again, this potentially could be a multi-year project.
6. Make a time capsule, hide it, and find it again in 25 years. In 2011, I will be turning 25-years-old, so naturally in 2036 I will be turning 50. I think when I'm 50 it will be interesting to revisit my 25-year-old self again. I guarantee this list will be in there. Hopefully it will give me some laughs.
7. Learn to play tennis and kick ass in a tournament. First, I want to thank one of my friends who agreed to give me lessons. I definitely have a competitive edge, and I think I'd be a pretty intense tennis player once I actually gain some skills. I played when I was younger, but it's been a long time since I've picked up a racquet.
8. Learn to paint. I always wanted to take art lessons and learn how to paint. I think oil paintings are so beautiful and so original. I plan to learn through lots of online studying and YouTube videos. And who knows, maybe if they're good enough I can start a side business!
9. Sit in a park in DC for an entire Saturday and just enjoy doing nothing. Every weekend since I moved here I've wanted to just sit and read in Georgetown, but it just never happened. So in 2011 I am determined to pick a day and just relax and enjoy my surroundings. Maybe I'll even do it twice.
10. Be more dedicated to my blog. Lucky you! I have a tendency to become lazy and slack on updating my blog. I promise to post at least once per week, and I will aim to post twice weekly. There will be a lot to read in 2011.
11. Go skydiving. Last, but certainly not least. I'm not afraid of very many things, but if there is one things that absolutely terrifies me it is heights. I hate roller coasters, high buildings, balconies, stadiums -- you name it. As I mentioned earlier, I started a tradition of doing one action every year I never thought I would do. This is certainly it. Now is as good of a time as ever to overcome my fears.
Honorable mention: Go to Panama. My brothers Sean and Brendan will both be living in Panama next year as they continue to work toward building the Solace Group. I want to visit my brothers so badly next year because I know it would be so much fun and so great to see them. The only reason this did not make the list is because I do not know if I can afford it next year. However, it is not out of the question, and I certainly would love to add it on.

So there you have it. The 11 things I am going to do in 2011. Please feel free to comment on my list and let me know what you think. Maybe you will consider making an 11 in '11 list of your own!

On a side note, DayOneAndAHalf is now on Twitter. Follow me for the latest updates on my blog and for links and other things related to my post. I'll love you forever if you do!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

I am in the middle of reading Nineteen Minutes, a novel by Jodi Picoult. I love her books (even though it borders on chick lit) because of their convergence of legal issues with complex societal problems. For example, Nineteen Minutes is about a school shooting from both the shooters point of view as an act of retaliation against bullies, and from victims' points of views who grapple with the realization of life's fragility. The shooter survives and ends up going to trial and pleading not guilty. His trial is based on battered woman's syndrome, which postulates that a wife will attack an abusive husband even when unnecessary because her view of reality become disillusioned. The argument is that bullying will generate this same idea within the mind of those being bullied.

Anyway, I love a book that forces me to think -- although I do read before going to sleep, and sometimes that can keep me up at night, and thus, be a problem. Regardless, it's made me think a lot about the small decisions we can make in life and the ripple effect that they can have, with or without our knowledge.

This isn't a novel idea. Movies, TV shows and books have all dealt with this idea, and I've thought about it quite a bit myself. What if my parents had never taken my brothers to tour the University of Delaware? Would I have ever considered going there? I never would have met my friends, or had the opportunities I was given as a result of my undergrad degree. I never would have written for The Review, which in turn, would have likely deterred me from interning at CBS for the news department, and which in turn, may have prevented me from getting a job or getting into grad school. And reaching farther back, if I had given up on graduating high school due to my health issues, I certainly would never be where I am now. It's weird to think that even the decisions you make when you're 13 or 14-years-old can really change the course of your life.

This book has made me think about all the recent bullying episodes and teenage suicides that have occurred throughout the country this past year. If these kids realized how far-reaching their actions were, would they have acted the same? I think particularly of the student at Rutgers, Tyler Clementi, who jumped from the George Washington Bridge a few months ago after his roommate and another girl streamed a video of him kissing another man. Now they face invasion of privacy charges and probable prison time. They caused the end of another life, and the devastation of his family -- not to mention their opportunity to receive an education, and then a decent job. Would they have acted the same if they knew their ripple effect?

With the invention of the Internet and social networking, it's easy to make a snap judgment and irrational decisions and broadcast them to the world. I think they will have a stronger and faster effect than they ever have in the past. It's a scary idea, and I think one that society will have to come to terms with over time.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Looking Back

I never felt a sense of accomplishment when I graduated college. I felt a lot of things, but never any sort of pride over completing my degree. To this day I still don’t, even though so many people don’t ever receive a college degree. I remember my mom telling me to appreciate how much work I put into school and to allow myself to feel proud. Part of me knows how much I have dealt with in my life, and I hold myself to very high standards in regards to successes and accomplishments.

To be honest, I’ve done a lot of things in my life that should make me feel a sense of accomplishment. Ten years ago, I became sick with chronic Lyme disease. Up until that point, I never faced any problems with my health. From then on, my life became a day-to-day quest for survival, as doctors and specialists performed spinal taps, MRIs, CT scans, brain specs, blood tests, and a countless number of other tests to figure out “what was wrong.” My parents, thankfully, researched every degree of my illness and took me to a Lyme disease specialist in Boston to discuss how serious chronic Lyme disease can be if left untreated. We estimated that I had originally gotten sick when I was approximately eight or nine years old, and that the disease steadily built up in my body, showing sparse symptoms for years, until I crashed over the span of a week.

To make a very long story much shorter than I should, I endured approximately five years filled with chronic pain and debilitating cognitive effects until I finally felt alleviated from the illness. I was home schooled for about two and a half years through middle school and high school, and was a part-time student for another two years. I had difficulties just walking the distance down the hallway of my home to bathroom, and sitting up for a car ride through town. I hated waking up in the mornings, knowing all I could do was face another day of lying in bed in excruciating pain.

On Sunday, November 21, I ran the Philadelphia Marathon. I have to say, without a doubt, that it was the greatest accomplishment of my life thus far. Knowing that I could finish running 26.2 miles was such an exhilarating feeling. After 18 weeks of training, and obsessing over this run, crossing the finish line was truly a feeling I could never put into words.

I decided about a year ago that 2010 was going to be the year to run a marathon, just to say that I had done it, essentially. It was definitely on a whim that I decided this, since I hadn’t even run a 5K at that time. I had never been a runner. I didn’t even know if I would like it. I waited for a while to tell anyone that I wanted to run a marathon simply because I didn’t have the faith in myself that I could complete something so difficult. A few months, and two 5Ks later, I finally started telling my family and friends that 2010 would be the year. There was no turning back.

On Marathon Sunday, the day started at 3:30 a.m. for me, since I woke up naturally at this time. I had set my alarm for 4 a.m., so I didn’t miss out on much more sleep. I just lay in bed thinking of what I needed to do to have a great run, and tried not to get too nervous. Because of my training, I knew I could run 18-20 miles pretty comfortably. What’s another 6.2 miles at that point? It’s just two 5K’s, or one 10K — nothing. Finally, I got up at 4 to start my pre-run routine, and to just generally get mentally and physically prepared. It’s funny, because even after four and a half long months of training, it’s not the physical part that stops you from running. It’s mental. I still had my moments up to mile 12 where I wondered if I could really do this or not. The difference between those that finish and those who don’t is the ability to say “yes”, when your body and your mind are screaming “no.” It is inevitable that at some point you will hit a wall, but regardless, you have to push forward.

My brother, Brendan and my dad dropped me off at the starting line at around 5:45 a.m. It was still dark out, and the sun wouldn’t start to come up for at least another 45 minutes. I picked a spot on a curb and sat until about 6:30, just focusing on the run, and listening to my music. My priorities were just to clear my head, drink water, and stay warm.

At 7:00, I was lined up with the 23,000 other runners who were taking on either the full marathon or the half marathon that morning. Right before I started, my only thought was, “Oh my God. I am actually going to do this.” I couldn’t believe I was about to run a marathon.

Overall, I felt pretty good during my run, but not as well as I had hoped. The night before, I started coming down with a minor cold (of course) so I had a sore throat and I was congested. That’s always the gamble of racing — I had singed up in April, so there was really no way of knowing how I would feel, or what the weather would be like. I felt a little sick throughout the first 15 miles or so, but after that the cold didn’t bother me.

I was so lucky to have my entire family there on the day of the marathon. My brothers flew in from Panama and San Diego, while my parents, and my brother Kevin drove from Connecticut. I think they might have been more excited than I was at points, but it was great to feed off their energy. I saw them at miles 1, 5, and 13, and Brendan even ran miles 1-5 with me to help pace me.

My legs started to get sore during mile 23, but even then I was able to run the vast majority of the last few miles (and the race as a whole). I was glad that I had trained as hard as I did, and that I was only feeling pain when I was should have.

After I crossed the finish line, it didn’t take long for shock of it all to hit. I really did it. I never thought I would do anything like this is in my life, but I actually did it. For the first time, I felt like I had come full circle from a girl fighting to survive to one who came back to run a marathon. This wasn’t just an accomplishment of finishing the run, but of reclaiming my life when so many didn’t believe that I could. I had come so far in the last 10 years, doing so much that seemed impossible at one point. And that is an accomplishment that even I can appreciate.