Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Balancing Act

In just three days I'll officially be a freelance writer. Again. In preparation for yet another round of life changes (do they ever really end?), I've been trying to remember all the mistakes I made the last time I tried my hand at the independent life.

A good friend who knows me all too well suggested not long ago that I reserve February to be a "Lady of Leisure." She threw down an ultimate challenge: Don't take any new work, don't schedule any meetings, don't set an agenda. Just be. For four weeks. See how it goes when your mind actually has a chance to find some peace.

So, next week I'm meeting with an editor to go over assignments I've already accepted, I'm helping to throw a Race with Purpose fund-raising party in New York, which will double as a time to kick-start our marketing plan on Saturday and meet with our Team Grant Advisory Committee after a 20K race in Connecticut on Sunday. Somehow in the course of scheduling time with friends in Pennsylvania mid-month, I was persuaded to be a guest speaker at a Penn State journalism class.

Have I mentioned what my triathlon training schedule looks like yet?

All of this is not to say that I'm not going to enjoy most--if not all--of it. But it is to say that I have learned that I am just no "Lady of Leisure." I'd love to be that lady. But I don't know how. I think I'm scared of not having any plans or something.

What exactly causes somebody to be such a complete spaz? If you have any theories, please, let me know.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Honoring Mandy

There's a certain sibling-like love that I'll always share with the kids I grew up with on my swim team. We all started swimming together as toddlers, practically, and although we're now all spread out across the country and around the world, they are as important to me today as they were in every other stage of my life. We may not be in touch with each other nearly enough, but most of us think of each other often, I know, and remember fondly the 14-plus years that we shared nearly every part of our lives -- in and out of the pool.

Amanda Kundrat -- who we always affectionately called Mandy -- was at the center, always, of the group, from the time she was old enough to swim from one end of the pool the other. Her older sister Carrie and I were the same age and the best of friends. Mandy was the perennial little sister. She had a gregarious giggle, infectious smile, wide-open spirit, and what seemed like natural ability to succeed at whatever she chose to do. She was wise, as well as a decorated, powerful, and strong athlete, not only in swimming, but tennis, too -- as dedicated to her training and health as she was to having a lot of fun. It was easy to be around Mandy, but harder to be around her and not find yourself laughing, or getting into some kind of mischief.

Five years ago -- January 21, 2003 -- Mandy died of complications while waiting for a heart transplant. She was 25 and was in the middle of earning her doctorate in communications at Penn State University. Her focus and passion were healthcare, with special emphasis on organ and blood donation. To honor her young, accomplished life, her friends have organized a blood drive in State College, PA each year since Mandy died.

This year the hope is that more people will donate blood in Mandy's honor, no matter where they live. Because I'm unable give blood myself, I'm hoping that I'm doing a small part to help the cause by asking anybody reading this to donate sometime this week if you can. I know that Carrie and her mom Joanne, as well as the rest of Mandy's friends and family would love to know that her hard work and her spirit lives on as more people stop to think about the importance of organ and blood donation this week.

For more details about the blood drive, a Web site has been created to spread the word -- if you donate this week, please post a note there to let the Kundrat family know. Also, if you're not in a position to give blood, monetary donations are being accepted at Redcross.org and checks can be sent to: Graduate Forum (attention Mary Haman), 234 Sparks Building, University Park, PA 16802. If you're in State College and wish to volunteer at the drive, which is on Friday, January 25, contact Hillary Jones at hillaryannjones@gmail.com.

Rest in peace, Mandy.


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Well-Fed, Cozy, Sleepy

It snowed, sleeted, and rained all day in Washington, DC. It was cold and nasty -- actually the perfect conditions for snuggling up at home in flannel pajamas and a favorite old sweatshirt, while eating hot soup.

That's exactly the scenario I fantasized about all day. I woke up early to get a frigid 5-mile run in, before I had to rush into the office to close a story, update the blog multiple times (not this one, obviously...the one I write at work), and report another article for the daily report. By 3 p.m., when I finally had time to get some lunch in between all the editing, the white, fluffy flakes had morphed into an icy, torrential downpour. Brrr.

By 4 p.m. I started audibly whining about going to swim practice. The mere thought of jumping into the water had me shivering in my cubicle. I made three phone calls to the YMCA to make sure they weren't closing early -- it was the one time in the past four years that there was remotely bad weather and it actually stayed open. I felt like a kid who went to bed expecting a snow day and awoke to no white stuff at all.

Thanks to the tough love of my good friend, coworker, and fellow triathlete Kelly, we made it to practice. And, as usual, once I got myself in the pool, it wasn't so bad. My thoughts had turned pretty quickly to the leftover chicken enchilada waiting for me at home. Getting through the last half...a somewhat tedious set of 300s that included a lot of backstroke...I began visualizing myself eating the enchilada, in my flannel pajamas and my favorite old sweatshirt.

And now here I am. Home at last. Flannel pajamas? Check. Favorite old sweatshirt? Check. Chicken enchilada? It's in my belly.

Well-fed, cozy, sleepy. Finally.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Maybe There's a Pot of Gold, Too...

A rainbow this morning over Penn State's Beaver Stadium (from the Centre Daily Times)

I saw this on the Web site of State College's hometown newspaper and couldn't resist. Is there a voucher for a National Championship at the end of this rainbow?


Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Um, Has Anybody Seen My Goggles?

I'm trying to get my triathlon groove back. Let me just say that I always find it far easier to get back into marathon-training mode, but the thought of the next few months of tri-training has me a little flustered. Maybe it's all the gear involved. It all takes a lot of thought and preparation and planning, unlike running, which only requires some key pieces of clothing, a road, and a good pair of shoes.

This morning I woke up late, but was still determined to get a 50-minute run in before work. If I don't establish a routine now, before the requirement of showing up at an office everyday is over, it will be degrees more difficult to motivate when that big part of my schedule is dropped from the equation.

So, off I went, running up Massachusetts Avenue. Let me just say that I realize I'm not fat, but for those of you who understand the difference between "racing weight" and, uh, your "other weight," you'll appreciate how I felt this morning. It was like hauling another me up the hill. And that wasn't very encouraging.

But I soldiered on and made it to the National Cathedral before heading back down good-old Mass. Ave. to get ready for work.

As I rushed to get dressed, now pushing the acceptable limit of lateness at our office--which, truth be told, is already quite generous--I remembered that swim practice begins again tonight.

Now, it's been so long since I last went to swim practice that I couldn't remember where I had thrown my swim suit, cap, and goggles so that I could pack them up for tonight. I mean, really? It's been so long that I can't find my gear...in a ONE BEDROOM APARTMENT!? Yeah, this is going to be fun tonight, I can already tell.

So, after discovering my swim suit in the bottom of a drawer and a cap in what I call my "bag of triathlon crap," I still couldn't find my favorite pair of goggles. They are missing. So I tossed a back-up pair that I found in the "bag of triathlon crap" into my backpack and scurried out the door.

I made it to work with negative minutes to spare.

If practice tonight requires even a fraction of the effort that it took to prepare for it, I realize that I'm in big trouble.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Moving On

Did you ever have one of those moments when you felt like you were taking a leap off of a tall building and not quite sure if anybody was going to be there to catch you in the end?

On Friday I quit my job. I'm feeling an interesting combination of adrenaline, relief, and fear. And yesterday it was all compounded with a nice headache, compliments of a celebration of my career decision the night before.

The truth is, I've been restless for a while, but not courageous enough to do much about it except complain a lot to the people around me. I'm the first to admit that talking about a difficult situation is only helpful for about a minute. You can talk about anything forever (and I almost did), but until you're ready to take action, it's a waste of time. Yours and everybody else's, too.

I battled with this decision. There's something ingrained in my personality that makes it excruciating to quit or walk away from anything, especially a challenge (see my Chicago Marathon experience for a vivid example). And perhaps that's why I've lasted four years as a reporter here. I love writing. I love being a journalist. I think that the topics I covered will always be important. But there was something missing in the environment I put myself in--it was never inspiring to me, it rarely brought out the best in me, and perhaps that's why it didn't work.

Wasn't it Mark Twain who said something like: "Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great."

I never felt like I could be great here, as much as I tried. And believe me when I say, I tried.

But we'll leave at that. I'll look ahead, instead of dwelling on what is now my past and take some valuable lessons learned in this experience with me.

If nothing else, I'm acutely aware of what has made me happy in the midst of the madness. It was the ridiculous amount of time I put into the first year of Race with Purpose. The chance to combine my passion for health, fitness, and philanthropy has proven to be the perfect recipe for happiness. Perhaps now that I hope to have the time to focus more heavily on it, the exhaustion will be less. Or at least of a different kind--the kind that leaves you feeling contently tired, knowing you've worked hard with people who share your passion and values, to do some kind of good in the world, however small it might be.

I have vowed that 2008 will be a better year. Certainly there were many highlights in 2007, but the majority of those 365 days were a struggle. That's a lot of energy, to struggle so much. No more. It's just not my style.

So, I look ahead knowing that I have a pretty blank canvas to do with whatever I want. I will build a freelance writing career, I will do my part to help Race with Purpose grow and flourish, and, eventually, I'll move back to New York.

I feel better already.