Every Christmas I experience nostalgia when I hear Santa Clause is Comin to Town by Bruce Springsteen. It takes me back to a time and place (1998 at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania) that had such a profound impact on my life. I was 12 years old and at a college party.  This wasn’t a keg stand kind of party though, it was a cookie baking, gift exchanging kind of party.  

I was what they called a “Little” in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.  My mom was a single parent, working 40 hours per week and taking classes at a community college over an hour away from our house.  She sacrificed so much for my brother and me to have a roof over our heads, food on the table, and new clothes at the start of every school year.  But work and school demanded so much of her time, that she felt like we needed mentors to literally and figuratively guide us in the right direction.  So, she enrolled us in the Big Brothers Big Sisters program.  

I was assigned to a college senior named LeAnn.  She helped me with homework, taught me how to play tennis, took me swimming, treated me to the ice cream parlor, watched movies with me, and most importantly in my 12 year old mind, she let me hang out in her dorm room.  This experience inspired me to do well in school because I knew that I wanted to go to college! 

I kept in touch with LeAnn during my high school years, but once I left for college we lost connection.  A few years ago I tried searching for her, but to no avail.  So I decided that in lieu of being able to thank her for the profound impact she had on my life, I chose to pay it forward.  I applied to be a Big Sister.  

When I originally contacted the local Big Brothers Big Sisters program the demand for mentors was high but the supply was low.  There were hundreds of kids needing a role model, but so few adults volunteered.  Once I started the application process I quickly realized why there were so few; it was rigorous and time consuming. There was a lengthy paper application, background checks, a home visit, and an in-person interview, all of which I think are necessary when placing adults in a supervisory role over minors.  But, I think it deters many people from getting involved.  

In the spring of 2013 I was assigned to a “Little” named Ileana.  She was a petite 12 year old with a Latino and African American ethnicity.  Her father had been incarcerated for attempted murder and her mother was raising three children alone.  Ileana had two younger brothers: Angel, age 2, and Ali, age 6.  She was inadvertently the caretaker when their mother was out of the house, which caused a lot of undue stress for this pre-teen.  

The first time I met with Ileana I asked her to write down a list of things that she wanted to do that year.  She drew a picture of a sun and ocean waves on that piece of paper and wrote two words: THE BEACH.  And that was when I knew we would have a special relationship.  We made a schedule to meet every other week throughout the summer, including a few beach trips.  The first trip was on July 4th, 2013.  I picked her and her brother up early so that we could beat the holiday traffic.  As we walked down Rehoboth Avenue and approached the boardwalk, their excitement became visible and audible.  It was the first time either of them had ever seen the ocean.  They dropped their towels, shed their shirts and shoes, and headed straight for the water.  It was a moment I will never forget.  This picture speaks a thousand proverbial words.  

We made several more trips to the beach that summer.  In the fall I surprised her at school with a huge plastic pumpkin filled with candy to celebrate her birthday (which happens to fall on Halloween).  She later told me that her classmates were envious! During that winter we went to the movies, baked cookies, and shopped.  Over Christmas break I took her to New York City to see the big tree at Rockefeller Center.  We ate at a restaurant with cloth napkins and she was intrigued;  the only restaurant she had ever been to was McDonalds.  As we toured Time Square she was in awe of the lights, the skyscrapers, and the bustling crowds.  All she ever knew was a small town in central Delaware where she moved from one tiny apartment to another.  It was like she saw the world for the first time.  

We continued to meet at least once per month for the next few years.  I tried my best to be there for her when her mother took the two boys and moved away, leaving Ileana to fend for herself.  She spent those years moving back and forth from her grandmother’s house in northern Delaware to an aunt’s house in Maryland, and even spent a few years in Wisconsin with another distant relative.  Eventually, she moved back to the east coast, where she started the pursuit of a college degree.  However, she had to put those plans on hold when she found out she was pregnant.  

She currently has a one year old baby boy named Zeke.  She sends me pictures and calls once a month with updates.  She is taking online classes while working full time so that she can provide for her son.  I hope that someday she has the means to come to visit me in slower lower Delaware so that we can recreate that magical 4th of July weekend that happened almost a decade ago.  Just as that Bruce Springsteen song makes me nostalgic at Christmas time, so does hitting the waves and watching fireworks every 4th of July.  I think of my “Little” Ileana and hope that she valued our relationship as much as I did.  


This past weekend I did my first ever Half Ironman: 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and 13.1 mile run.

Afterwards, I learned that most triathletes write a race report, so here is mine: 

I saw a T-shirt that sums up my experience: 6 Stages of a Triathlon: 

Stage 1 – Let’s do this!

Stage 2 – Why am I doing this? 

Stage 3 – Am I dead?

Stage 4 – I wish I was dead. 

Stage 5 – I’m dead.

Stage 6 – I can’t wait to race again!

Stage 1 – Let’s do this!

I have run 6 full marathons, 1 olympic distance triathlon, and 3 sprint tris.  So, naturally the next thing on my bucket list was a half ironman.  But truthfully, I have always been terrified of the open water swim portion.  I was slowly working up the nerve to register for a half ironman, but then I got injured and swimming wasn’t the only thing holding me back.  I couldn’t fully extend my leg to get the pedal in a 360 degree motion and I certainly couldn’t put that kind of pounding on a torn ACL, MCL, medial & lateral meniscus.  

Fast forward a few years and now I can cycle and run without pain!  So with a little help from my hubby and two good friends (Michelle and Billy), I pulled the proverbial trigger and registered for my first Half Ironman! I was excited….I bought a book, printed the training plan, and we started a group chat to keep us motivated. Let’s do this!

Stage 2 – Why am I doing this? 

I enter the dirty Atlantic City back bay at 7:30am with high anxiety, but somehow manage to get to the halfway buoy by switching from freestyle, to breaststroke, to side stroke, to backstroke in a somewhat calm manner.  But then when I turned around and saw (through foggy goggles how far the swim exit was, I asked myself why the hell I signed up for this? 

Slowly but surely I made my way to the last 200 meters, but I needed a quick break.  So I grabbed onto the paddle board to catch my breath and the guy sitting on top yelled “you can’t stop now the finish line is right there, and you’re almost at the time cap!” — I thought, no shit Sherlock I can see it, but I just can’t freakin breathe.  But I am happy to say that I made it with 5 minutes to spare! 

Stage 3 – Am I dead?

The first loop on the bike route wasn’t too bad.  There were some rolling hills and 20 mph winds, but I was hopeful that the wind direction would change at some point. Well, I was wrong.  The second loop was just as windy, but I knew what to expect, so I just kept pedaling.  But then when I came around to that third loop and my quads were on fire from pedaling uphill and against the wind, I thought: Am I dead yet? I cannot feel my legs.  

Stage 4 – I wish I was dead. 

After 56 miles on the bike I could not fathom how I was possibly going to run a half marathon.  I took my time in the transition area and made sure I had plenty of fluids, fuel, sunscreen, and vaseline.  I started out at a slow pace but surprisingly felt pretty good.  Yeah, my legs were shaky, but I didn’t have any muscle cramping.  The entire run was on the boardwalk with spectacular views of the ocean and the weather was hot but not excruciating.  

And then as I approached mile 9 I saw the finish line…but I still had 4 miles to go.  I kept trekking right along the boardwalk thinking ok, there has to be a turn around soon so I can head back to that finish line and take these shoes off because my feet were starting to ache.  

But to no avail. I felt like Forrest Gump.  I just kept running….and running….and running.  And I thought lord Jesus kill me now! 

Stage 5 – I’m dead.

The boardwalk was never ending that day.  My mind AND body were dead. 

But I finally got to the turnaround point at mile 10.8.  I remember this number because the friendly fellow at the water station said “what’s 2.3 more when you’ve already done 68 MILES?”  ….and there it was.  The motivation I needed to get me to the finish line.  

I perked up a bit and then just like that my right calf started cramping.  This was coupled with blisters, numb toes, and two screaming quads.  So I walked a little ways, which was very disappointing so close to the end.  

But then my husband, who had been there every stroke, pedal, and step of the way that day  reminded me of my own mantra: Let the mind run the body.  So I did, and together we crossed the finish line in what was the hardest thing I have ever done.  

Stage 6 – I can’t wait to race again!

Our friends were waiting for us at the finish line and when they asked how it was, I replied “one and done.” But as the days pass, stories are shared, and pictures are published, I think to myself,…..when is the next one? 

First World Problems

  1. Place the toilet paper in the waste basket and a woman with a bucket of water will come by to “flush” for you…
  2. To check your email go to the hotel lobby and buy a one hour wifi card…enter the 16 digit username and 16 digit password…cross your fingers that there aren’t too many others doing the same thing at the same time….and perhaps you will have a few uninterrupted minutes to send a message, or post on social media…but be warned that you will undoubtedly be kicked off the unsecured network more than once and then have to repeat this process…
  3. If you want air conditioning in your hotel room, then you need to put your room card in the slot, but don’t leave it in there while you are gone because the maintenance staff will remove it to save energy…remember that the power will be cut off inadvertently every day for four hours, but you won’t know which four hours…

In June of 2018 I started packing for my next international trips.  I was in this beautiful 1st world, well developed country we call America, where I can freely flush the toilet, use my cell phone for a multitude of purposes, and enjoy central air conditioning in my home.  These are things I take for granted on a daily basis.

My itinerary included a trip to the developing second world country of Panama and then extended stays in two underdeveloped 3rd world countries: Costa Rica and Cuba.  I experienced culture shock in all three countries, but I learned valuable lessons and became more appreciative of all the luxuries I enjoy in America.

Panama is a small country in regards to geographic square mileage AND population.  Many of its four million citizens reside in lower socioeconomic areas that are very impoverished and lacking resources.  But, nearly one million of those people live in the country’s capital of Panama City, which has been prospering over the past two decades.  The first thing we noticed as we left the airport and drove into the city was that there are multi level buildings, albeit not sky-skrapers as we see in many large American cities, but a growing infrastructure nonetheless.  There is ongoing construction to build new (and fix) old roads, bridges, hotels, etc.


While tourism is a great contributor to the city’s economy, it is The Panama Canal that brings in the most revenue, as it makes this city a hub for international trade and shipping.  My students and I had the opportunity to watch a cargo ship enter and exit the locks.  These 12 locks are large concrete structures that hold the ship while the water drains (gravity takes over).  Each lock lifts the ship up about 85 feet while the 26 million gallons of water are drained and then replenished.  The entire process takes about 10-15 minutes.  This engineering marvel was free for us spectators, but the ships are subjected to fees that range from several thousand American dollars to several HUNDRED thousand dollars.



From Panama my students and I traveled to Costa Rica, which is not nearly as developed.  The plentiful, lush, green rain forests make the soil fertile for agricultural growth.  Manufacturing and industry have just recently begun to overtake agriculture, but it is tourism that helps the economy thrive. The country is bordered by two bodies of water that provide beautiful beaches, making it a popular tourist destination.


While there we zip lined, hiked, went white water rafting, participated in sustainability tours on local farms, and took bus tours through the country side.  All of these activities were led by local guides, who make their living off tourists like us (tips).  Along the way we met other Costa Ricans who were teachers, waitresses, and nurses. They enlightened us about their salaries and standard of living.  For example, the average annual teacher salary is equivalent to $4,000 American dollars.  Speaking for most of my fellow educators here,…  I don’t think any of us could survive off of that.

The third country I visited this summer was Cuba.  I was fortunate enough to have been invited by the Bucks County Choral Society to participate in an educational-cultural exchange.  There are strict regulations about Americans traveling to this government controlled country.  We toured the rural areas of Matanzas & Veradero and the urban areas of Havana.  It was during this trip that I truly realized how lucky I am to live in a country where I can vote for public officials, speak freely about my political views, and work harder to earn more money.

This is something that most Cubans cannot do because they have government jobs with fixed incomes.  The few people we encountered who are self employed (private restaurant owners, taxi drivers, and local tour guides) earn most of their money from tips.  Although capitalism is frowned upon by many in this country, for others it is a means of survival.  The driver of the 1953 Chevy Bel Air taxi my mom and I took from Old Havana to the hotel told us that he quit his job as a teacher (making $40.00 per MONTH) because he could double that income by driving people around.

In addition to being flabbergasted by the average incomes, I found myself getting frustrated over the lack of cellular service (Verizon does not have towers in Cuba).  I had to find other ways to communicate with friends and family back home.  So, I paid for one hour WiFi cards to be able to use social media sites.  But each time I would log in it was a time consuming process and shoddy connection.  #firstworldproblems

In the month I spent traversing these three countries I learned a lot about the history of each.  I learned a lot about the way people live and interact.  I learned that I don’t like beans for breakfast, lunch, AND dinner.  Actually, I learned that I don’t like beans at all.  I learned some Latin American dances.   I added a few more words to my Spanish lexicon.  And…most importantly, I learned how much I truly love my country!














18 Years

My favorite number is 18.

It has had sentimental meaning since I played Little League softball and wanted to be just like my two close friends: Brenda and Jimmy. We all wore this number on our backs for as long as we played ball.

As I close out my 18th year of teaching, in the year 2018, I thought I would write a reflection of my career that included my favorite number.  I decided to put the 8,000+ students I’ve taught into 18 categories.  They are not listed in any order of importance (except the last, which I think is the most current trend/issue in education).

1. Grade Levels & Ages 

I’ve taught many different grade levels over the years.  I spent a few years teaching pubescent middle school students (6th-8th grade) in summer school.  I have taught a freshman world history class, a sophomore government & economics class, and I’m currently teaching all electives, meaning my classes are predominantly filled with upperclassman (juniors and seniors).  I have also been an adjunct instructor at local colleges and universities, where I’ve taught a population as young as 18 and as old as 72!

2. Gender

I have taught males, females, homosexuals, heterosexuals, bisexuals, transgenders, and more recently I have had a gender fluid student (a person who identifies as a boy and a girl).  As a teacher I have to be very conscious of the pronouns I use now.

3. Racial & Ethnic Groups 

I have taught students of various racial backgrounds: Caucasian, African American, Latino, Asian, etc.  I am thankful to have such racially and ethnically diverse classes because of the nature of what I teach (the social sciences).  We often discuss controversial issues pertaining to current events in politics, economics, and other societal news, so it is nice to have various perspectives.

4. SES

I have taught students who live in trailers, foster homes, shelters, and luxury homes.  They come from such different socioeconomic backgrounds, and often times you can tell by the clothes they are wearing or the cars they are driving (or not driving).  I have had students whose parents write them a check for $4,000 to travel abroad, while others take on two part time jobs to pay for their own sneakers, prom tickets, and college applications.

5. Athletes, Artists, & Scholars

I have had athletic students, artistic students, and academic scholars in my classes.  They play multiple sports and sing in the school musicals. They participate in extra curricular activities, such as the Latin Club, Chess Club, and Gaming Club.  They spend hours after school preparing for Model Congress and volunteering with the non-profit organization called Paws for a Cause.  They focus on maintaining a certain GPA so they can be a part of the National Honor Society.  More of my students are involved than are not involved!

6. Religious Affiliations

The only reason I have knowledge about what religious affiliation most of my students are is because I teach a World Religions class.  At the beginning of the semester I ask them to answer two questions (and share with the class):

What do you believe in? And………..Why?

Some of them simply say that they are Christians and they believe in God because that’s what their parents have instilled in them.  I usually have a few agnostics and atheists in each class who share stories about events in their life that led them to have those beliefs.  I have heard students refute the existence of God because they literally watched a parent die, while others say that they found God while praying for a loved one to overcome an illness.  One student said she had a priest (in Catholic School) tell her that she would go to hell if she didn’t go to church.  This comment pushed her away from Christianity altogether…and she replied with “well, can you UN-baptize me then?”

I have taught Muslim students who wore a hijab in class, and Hindu students who wore a bindi.  I have had students who were Buddhist, Jewish, Greek Orthodox, and a multitude of other affiliations.  I love learning about the ideologies, customs, and practices of each one of them.

7. Intrinsically Motivated

As a teacher we can do our best to make lessons fun and engaging.  However, not every lesson can be an interactive simulation or a review game.  Sometimes we have to lecture, give notes, or assign research.  Students are intrinsically motivated by different things.  Some students love to open a book and answer questions, while others want to move around the room or use technology to enhance their learning.  This is a challenge that all teachers face: how to differentiate instruction for all levels and learning styles.

8. Political Ideologies

At the beginning of most of my classes I have my students take a political spectrum quiz.  Teaching in a liberal state I am never surprised when an overwhelming majority of my students find themselves on the left side of that spectrum.   While this sometimes makes it difficult to have debates on topics such as immigration, civil unions, and gun control, it is good for me to know as a teacher where they stand on certain issues.  I try my best to play devil’s advocate so that they can be well informed about both sides of any controversial topic.

9. Can’t Read/Ivy League Bound

Since my school does not have a tracking system, I have taught classes where a student who is reading on an elementary school level is sitting next to a student who is Ivy League bound.  It is a struggle to differentiate instruction, but there are definitely effective ways to do so.

10. Elective Courses/Core Courses

I have taught core/required classes that include U.S. History, World History, Government, and Economics.  I have also taught semester elective courses, such as World Religions and Media in Society.  I tend to enjoy teaching the electives more because students usually opt to enroll, therefore making them figuratively invested.

11. Physical Disabilities

I have had students with physical disabilities that include, but are not limited to, being blind, deaf, and/or mute.   I currently have a student who is in a wheel chair with cerebral palsy and has trouble verbally communicating, but with the help of his one-on-one para, he can fully participate in class!

12. Learning Disabilities

I have had a severely autistic student with a one-on-one para in my classroom.  I have had numerous students with 504 plans and IEPs (individual education plans) that legally require teachers to provide accommodations to help the student succeed.  While I have never taught in a fully special education classroom nor been in a TAM (team approach to mastery) environment, I have had to learn how to teach students with various learning disabilities over the years.

13. Apathetic/Interested

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.  Some students come to my class because they are generally interested in the topic.  However, I realize that most students are enrolled in my classes because they either need the credits for graduation, it’s the only class that fits their schedule, or they were arbitrarily placed there. I do my best to make my class as interesting and engaging as possible, but if a student doesn’t want to be there in the first place, then sometimes that is a difficult task.

14. Bullies/Bullied

In my Media in Society class I have students take a cyber bullying self assessment. Many of them are surprised to find that their results place them in a category that recommend they change their online behavior.

I also have students who willingly talk about how they have been bullied (face-to-face and/or online).  Some of them have been harassed because of their race,  sexual orientation, language barrier, and more often than not because of a boyfriend/girlfriend issue (jealousy and cheating).  Bullying is a problem that has existed for a long time, but has been exacerbated more recently with the popularity of social media.

15. Introverts/Extroverts

I’ve taught shy and reserved students, and it can be a challenge to encourage them to work collaboratively with others.  I have also taught extroverts, and sometimes this can make the class more engaging.  However, as the teacher I have to facilitate class discussions so that these extroverts don’t monopolize the conversations.  The use of technology in my class has really helped to give the quiet student a voice.

16. ELL/Native English Speakers

Every year I have a few students whose native language is not English.  These students receive support from teachers who can help them transition into our classrooms.  Four years ago I had a student from Haiti who only spoke Creole.  She often looked at me funny in class because she did not understand what I was saying.  Just last week this same student wrote me a note (in English) saying how much she enjoyed taking my World Religions class, despite the language barrier.  I could not even imagine what it must be like to sit in class full of foreigners and not understand a single word.

17. Respectful/Insubordinate

An overwhelming majority of my students are polite, respectful, and caring. Many of them say good morning when they enter the classroom, follow the school rules, and are good Samaritans.  Some students even leave me cards, candy, and/or gifts during the holidays and when they graduate.  However, all teachers come across students who are insubordinate at some point.  Students who don’t follow the rules, also don’t like to be reprimanded for those behaviors.  I have had students say that they hate me or hate my class.  I had one student write profanities about me on a desk (in pen).  But my favorite story occurred when I was on crutches and a student told a colleague of mine that she “should have pushed Ms. Briel’s crippled ass down.” I take all of these insults with a grain of salt.  I know that it is not easy to please everyone, and so that will never be my goal.

18. Mental Health Issues

I saved this category for last because it is the most current issue in education, in light of the recent school shootings.  Many of these active shooters have been labeled as mentally unstable because they were dealing with anxiety, depression, or bipolar disorder at the time of the shooting. The question is: are we doing enough as teachers, parents, and peers to recognize these signs, report the concerns, and take action to get students help?

Some advocates of the 2nd Amendment propose that teachers should carry guns in school.  No way in hell would I ever have a gun in my classroom.

Others are advocating for stricter gun control laws.  I am not sure that will solve the problem either, although it could make it a little more difficult for these criminals to access a gun.

While I have never had a student with a firearm in my classroom, I have had students who have suffered from anxiety and severe depression.  I certainly don’t know all of their stories, but when they do feel comfortable enough to share, the insight helps me to be a little more understanding and flexible.

I often have students who struggle with a parent being deployed, which can cause a lot of emotional stress and have huge impact on their performance in school.

I have had students who were verbally, emotionally, and physically abused.  In even more extreme cases I once had a student who was being held in the basement, sexually abused by his father, and starved.  I have had students who were victims of incest and other horrific acts that most of us cannot even fathom.

Every year I have several students who are on the McKinney-Vento List (they fall into the homeless category).  This could mean that they are temporarily staying in a local shelter, living with a relative, or even living out of a car.   These living situations can cause a lot of mental distress on a student.


This is not an exhaustive list of categories, nor can these be applied to all students everywhere.  This is merely a reflection of the types of students I have encountered in my 18 year career.  I know that as I continue to teach that I will create new categories for the next 8,000+ students who will walk through my classroom door!






I attended Elon University, where I played softball for the small division 1 school. At the time (1999) athletes were not allowed to study abroad because it would take them away from their sport for too long (even during the off seasons).  I begged and pleaded with my coach to let me go for the winter term, but she was very reluctant because that was our prime pre-season training. After much persuasion she finally agreed under the following conditions: she could not guarantee me a starting position, which I had earned as a freshman four years earlier.  I weighed the pros and cons and decided that this might be a once in a lifetime opportunity.

In January of 1999 I studied the military aspects of WWII and the effects of the Holocaust across western Europe.  I traveled to France, England, Germany, Belgium, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands. Seven countries in thirty days was a whirlwind of an experience that left me with wanderlust.  However, traveling the world is an expensive hobby.  So, I had to figure out a way to make it cost-effective.

I began my teaching career the following year earning enough income to eat ramen noodles and share an apartment with several roommates.  My dreams of international trips had to be put on hold.  But in 2004 I became involved in a professional development cluster called BRIDGE (Building Respect through Internet Dialogue and Global Education).  After the year long online course the Delaware Center for Educational Technology offered five full scholarships to travel to Amman, Jordan.  However, I was the only person to apply.  I think people were scared because there had recently been several beheadings in Iraq, which borders Jordan. Needless to say I was awarded the scholarship and therefore was able to travel internationally for FREE!  I rode a camel in Petra, tried my hand at some Arabic, and saw first hand how a polygamous community functions.

During this same summer I was invited to present my findings on educational technology implementation at the annual iEARN (International Education and Resource Network) conference in Kosice, Slovakia. One of my students had been given a full scholarship to meet me at this conference so that she could present at the Youth Summit. We spent ten days networking with students and educators from around the world.

In 2005 I became involved in a project based learning group through iEARN . I organized an online forum where my students collaborated with other students from around the world.  As a culminating activity several of my students presented their research at a local conference.  The president of iEARN happened to be in attendance and loved their work.  He offered both of them and me vouchers to travel to Dakar, Senegal to attend the annual international conference and Youth Summit. It was here that I found a simple appreciation for sanitation systems, electricity, and technology.

In 2008 I had a desire to travel again and I did some research to find a company that offered teacher incentives and rewards for traveling with students.  Unfortunately I chose a company called World of Knowledge, which is now out of business.  Our tour guide greeted us in Italy with his shirt half unbuttoned and a cigarette hanging from his lips. He made decisions on tour that were not part of the itinerary and many people (students and parents) became disgruntled.  He lost checks and didn’t communicate well.  for example, he promised a nice ferry ride to Greece with bunks so that we could sleep on the overnight trek.  When we arrived at the port we discovered that this ferry was nothing like it looked in the brochure.  He booked us tickets on a Greek TRUCKER ferry.

I was skeptical to travel with students again, but in 2009 I found a company with a more reputable history: EF (Education First).  The tour consultants were very friendly and knowledgeable and the 24 hour tour guide assigned to our group was amazing.  I felt informed, safe, and secure throughout the entire planning process and ten days in Costa Rica! Plus, I was able to travel for free with the recruitment of six people.  This company also trains their teachers prior to leading a group by sending them to an orientation weekend.  In the fall of 2008 I chose Paris, France as my location to really learn how EF operates.

In 2015 I applied for a grant to travel to Peru with a cohort of 11 Economics teachers from across the country.  I climbed Machu Piccu, ate alpaca, and learned a little Spanish along the way!

In 2016 I chaperoned a trip to Germany, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic with one of my colleagues.  We touched the Berlin Wall, ate pierogies in Krakow, and took a river boat cruise down the Danube.  Once again I traveled for free because we had the required number of students per EF’s teacher reward policy.

Wanderlust had really settled in again when I returned from Europe in the summer of 2016, so I began planning for the ensuing summer.  I chose CHINA as our destination, but in the end I was not able to recruit enough participants.

So, here I am again, dreaming of some new far off lands to explore.  I have two excursions on the calendar for next summer:

In the summer of 2018 I am headed to:

Trio #1 – Panama & Costa Rica (with 3 students)!
Trip #2 – Cuba (with my mom)!

Costa Rica 2009 238Costa Rica 2009 132Costa Rica 2009 044Costa Rica 2009 -WWR 017



The CrossFit Open – A Gamut of Emotions

I started doing CrossFit in 2006 at Gold’s Globo Gym on an old dilapidated basketball court, where we had to improvise movements with the equipment available.  Eventually the managers of this franchise made us relocate and so over the years I followed George Dobbins, the founder of CrossFit Dover, to numerous boxes throughout the city, moving several times to accommodate the increase in members.

In 2007, after many small, local competitions had occurred across the country, a guy named Dave Castro introduced the sport of fitness to thousands of others by hosting the inaugural CrossFit Games at the site of his ranch home in Aromas, California.  It was such a hit that CF Headquarters decided to host qualifying competitions to determine who could earn the right to compete at the top level.  In 2010 they implemented a more localized competition called Sectionals, which I attended at CrossFit King of Prussia.  Approximately 40 athletes in both male and female categories (no exceptions for age or scaling) competed for the top 20 spots to move on to the next step: Regionals.

I had just learned how to do kipping pull ups, so when they announced that the wod had weighted pull ups with a vest, the anxiety kicked in.  I managed to do them (one by one) and this became what is still today the hardest workout I’ve ever done.  I ended up coming in 23rd place (out of 45 women) and only the top 20 were invited to Regionals.  However, a few days later I received an email stating that several women declined their invitation to Regionals, and that the invite was being extended to ME!  I excitedly accepted and made the eight hour road trip to Ohio.

The first Regional workout had muscle ups, but only a few women could actually do them.  Headquarters made a game time decision to allow athletes to do chest-to-bar pull ups instead (at higher rep count).  This is something you would never see at a competition in 2018.  Today if you can’t perform a movement as prescribed, then you can modify it and enter as a scaled athlete.  This has given so many more people the opportunity to compete.

The fourth wod that day was one I will never forget: a long chipper with very heavy dumb bell push presses.  As I was lined up next to Julie Foucher and Christy Phillips (now popular CrossFit Games athletes), the nerves ate away at my stomach.  They passed me with blazing speed and I was left there to struggle with those damn dumbbells.  Jud Dean was on the sidelines a few feet away from me and I remember the calm manner in which he coached me through those ten physically and mentally demanding reps. I did it and all of the girls who had finished were there cheering me on. This is one of the things I love most about the sport: the last person done gets the most cheers! I DNF’d (did not finish) the workout, but someone told me that it was much better than a DNS (did not start).

In 2011 CrossFit became so big that they started hosting Sectionals (now called The Open) in an online format.  During this year CrossFit Dover qualified for Regionals and I was asked to compete with this 6 person team. I was very fortunate to have gotten involved in this sport long before so many other hundreds of thousands of athletes did.  I was just in the right place at the right time.

Since then The Open has grown to over 400,000 athletes from all over the world, all of whom have had different experiences.  I asked some of my CrossFit comrades to describe their most memorable moments from The Open….or to define what The Open means to them.  While a few stated that this online competition is just a big money making scam by CF Headquarters or that it brings them too much anxiety, most of the people I talked to had nothing but positive things to say.  Here are some of their quotes:

  • “I look forward to getting Castro’s Clues every week.” Anonymous
  • “I love the camaraderie that occurs at this time of year in our box.” George Dobbins
  • “I love seeing the increased number of people signing up every year.”  Michael Scharmach
  • “7:00 of  BURPEES was my very first Open Wod.  I was so scared I wouldn’t be able to do it.” Michael Scharmach
  • “Got my first muscle up!” Leslie Pleasanton
  • “I think the best part of The Open is that it forces people to get a little uncomfortable, and be vulnerable, and grow from it.” Jeri Sheats
  • Watching Holly come back to do Open wods after her injury.” Leslie Pleasanton
  • “I love watching people come together and doing things for the first time.” Anonymous
  • “Having teams compete with themes each week has made this year’s open so much more fun.” #iCUOTE   Jeff Peet
  • P”R-ing my Squat Snatch in 2017 after many failed attempts and time expiring on the clock was one of the things I will remember most.” Jason Langley
  • “I love The Open because it takes me out of my comfort zone…some of the hardest times I have ever pushed myself.  Workout 14.5 (thrusters & burpees) took me 47 minutes, where most people finished between 13-18 minutes.  I had to have 3 judges because it took so long.  I was crying  on the floor in the middle of the wod and swore I was quitting CrossFit.  But everyone was there cheering me on…and that’swhy I love The Open.” Big Ticket
  • “I was doing 14.4 and Ali Peet was judging me. I am chipping away at all of the movements and everyone is cheering me on, including Ali, but I can feel myself slowing down and feeling exhausted.  For some reason I get flustered because I am not doing as well as I had hoped and I snapped…and yelled at her (in the middle of the workout).  That moment forever changed me because I felt terrible and never wanted to disrespect someone like that again.  I was so embarrassed and humiliated.  It really helped me see the meaning of CrossFit and the great community that it can build.  Ali was just cheering me on, believing in me and I reacted poorly. ” Trace De Leon
  • “The best moment for me was to watch my wife do The Open while she was pregnant with our daughter Charlotte.  She made no excuses, treated every workout like she would any other day, and pushed her own boundaries.” Jeri Sheats
  • “When I was young my dad never came to any of my athletic endeavors.  But during one of The Open wods he decided to come watch me re-do one of the workouts.  I remember he was watching and a little worried when he saw me rolling around on the floor after.  But, that became one of the most memorable moments for me.” George Dobbins
  • “Getting to experience my first Open with Holly Briel…it was like our Friday night date for 5 straight weeks to compete against each other, PR together, root each other on, and just share the experience together.  It was my favorite Open yet!” Jason Langley

For ME….The Open has run the gamut of emotions.  I am always anxious about the movement(s), wondering if it is a strength or a weakness.  But in retrospect I am always glad I did it.  For the 2018 Open I am simply focused on one thing: the fact that I am physically CAPABLE of competing, when for so long I could not.

After 18.2 Coach George Dobbins addressed his box with this statement and it hit home for me: “Find the positive in each one of The Open wods and stop asking what you could’ve done or should’ve done differently. It is all a growing process and a single workout is not the end all be all; it is simply part of the process.  It does not define who you are as an athlete. And if this doesn’t resonate with you and you are still telling yourself that you fell short of your expectations, then I ask you to reflect on this: Are you putting the necessary steps in to hone in on your diet? Are you putting in extra time at the gym to work on skills? If the answer is no…then do you really deserve to be disappointed?”

This hit home for me as I watched the Live Announcement for 18.3 last night and saw that Ring Muscle Ups come before Bar Muscle Ups. Last year at this time I had just gotten my first Bar Muscle Up, and now after practicing over and over and over I am finally able to string them together.  However, I won’t be able to show that my hard work is paying off because the workout requires that you complete 12 Ring Muscle Ups before you can even go to the bar.  At this point, I cannot do this movement.  So, I will admit that there was a little disappointment.  While I HAVE been practicing this skill with numerous drills, perhaps I have not made it a priority.  Here’s to hoping that 2018 will be the year to finally get the elusive Muscle Up!

What does The Open mean to YOU?





Silver Linings

The webster definition of AGE is: the length of time that a person has lived or a thing has existed.

I recently turned 41 years old.

Some of the experiences I have had in my life over the past 4 decades have, both positively and negatively, defined who I am.  Some of these things were not easily seen as learning experiences, but in retrospect, each one of them played a role in shaping my mind, body, and soul.  What I have learned the most….is that for every cloud there is ALWAYS a silver lining.

41 experiences that define who I am:

  1. Didn’t qualify for a travel ball team
  2. Named All-American as a shortstop
  3. Failed a Writing Assignment in Mr. Eckley’s English class
  4. Published a Book
  5. Was physically unable to finish a race
  6. Ran 6 full marathons
  7. Applied for a job and didn’t get an interview
  8. Earned a highly effective rating for my teaching job
  9. Played on a coed soccer team when I was 9, the boys wouldn’t pass me the ball
  10. That led me to softball, which eventually landed me scholarship money for college
  11. Had to give up a trip to Spain because I was injured
  12. Hiked Machu Picchu
  13. Applied for a Teaching Award in Social Studies and got rejected
  14. Named Technology Teacher of the Year for my district
  15. Denied permission from my superintendent to travel to China  
  16. Have traveled to 21 countries
  17. Took a job at a gym to lose weight and ended up working so much I gained weight
  18. Found CrossFit and lost said weight
  19. Had my wallet stolen from my car
  20. Had good insurance…Thank god for insurance  
  21. Got reprimanded for a bad attitude by my softball coach, was benched for a while
  22. Improved attitude, earned starting position back, made the winning play in the first televised World Series game
  23. My brother wound up in trouble for a long period of time
  24. He wrote me letters and I learned a lot about him through those words
  25. Went for a bike ride with a friend, got a flat tire and had to hitchhike to nearest bike shop  
  26. Met a super friendly redneck guy with a big truck who didn’t kidnap me   
  27. Was interrogated (by armed Israeli soldiers) at the border crossing between Jordan and Israel
  28. Made a really good friend in our bus driver who averted the crisis 
  29. Lost my dad to a heart attack
  30. Mom has recently shared many stories about him that I never knew…nostalgia is awesome
  31. Tore my ACL, MCL, and both Meniscus doing a power clean, thought I’d NEVER clean again
  32. Last week power cleaned 140 pounds multiple times
  33. Couldn’t drive or walk for 4 months
  34. Found out who my real friends were when they created a google calendar to car pool my ass around 
  35. Had to do over a year of PT, which was painful, costly, and annoying 
  36. Made some really great friends at that PT clinic 
  37. Couldn’t participate in CrossFit comps in 2015 
  38. So then Brian asked me to judge one at CF Unlocked…and that’s where I met Jason 
  39. Was told I should limit my exercise to yoga and swimming ONLY 
  40. Took up yoga and swimming….and hated both 
  41. Became a yoga instructor….. 

And so here I am…..enjoying all the silver linings of my life.

What is YOUR silver lining?

2018 Goals

Every year, for as long as I can remember, I have created a list of short term and long term goals.  In 2017 I accomplished almost everything I set out to do:

Goals 2017

Putting my goals on paper and posting them to the fridge where I see them every day helps to hold me accountable.  For this upcoming year I have created 7 short term and 2 long term goals that span my personal and professional life.  This is my list and the story behind each one:

Goal #1 – Cooking

When I was growing up there were lots of women in my family who loved to cook and were very good at it (my mom, grandmothers, aunts, cousins, etc.).  I was always the one girl who avoided the kitchen at all costs.  I hated the fact that cooking is so time consuming, yet meals can be devoured in minutes.  I hated the hustle and bustle of trying to maneuver through a busy kitchen with multiple chefs.  But, quite honestly, I just preferred to be outside playing ball!

As I grew into adulthood I thought I would develop an interest in cooking, but here I am as a 40 year old and I still dread it.  So this year I have vowed to learn how to cook, so that maybe I won’t dread it.  I have a cook book and lots of friends and family who have offered to help.  I will start with a few simple crock-pot meals and appetizers for some upcoming parties.  I even watched Rachel Ray a few times over Christmas break! I hope to find a new found love for cooking!

Goal #2 – National Boards

In 2005 I started the process to obtain the National Board Certification for Professional Teaching Standards.  I took the test and completed 3 of the 4 written portfolio assignments.  I have always regretted not finishing that last component because 1.) I lost out on a 12% pay increase, and 2.) it is the highest credential on a teacher’s resume.   But, soon after that school year a moratorium was placed on the stipend.  So, I never thought about it again…..until now.  I recently learned that legislation was passed to reinstate the stipend.  Albeit, not 12%, but a monetary incentive that will pay itself off over the next year and a stipend that will last for ten years.  With only 12 years left in my career, I figure now is the perfect time.

Goal #3 – New Blogs

While I don’t blog often, I have enjoyed being able to share so many aspects of my life including teaching, CrossFit, yoga, travel, relationships, etc.  I love being able to go back months or even years later to read these stories.  I can only hope that somewhere along the thousands of words I have written that someone out there found some motivation, inspiration, or even a little love!

Goal #4 – Travel

I got the travel bug when I studied abroad in college, and since then I have been to 21 countries (some multiple times).  This year I am taking several students to Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and Panama for 10 days.  I have put a lot of time into recruiting and planning and now I look forward to submersing myself in three Latin American cultures.

One week after I return from the above trip I am traveling to CUBA with my mom.  Since her retirement nine years ago she has become quite the travel guru, surpassing my total number of countries visited.  She has asked me to join her on several of those trips, but they always seem to happen during the school year, when I can’t take days off.  However, this year she is taking her international trip in the summer, so now I can join her!  ***This will be the first time in my 18 year career that I don’t teach summer school!

Goal #5 – Learn Spanish

I took three years of Spanish in high school and have always enjoyed learning a new language.  I have been able to use those very basic skills in a few of the countries I visited over the years to help me get by.  But, since I am traveling to four Spanish speaking countries this summer, I decided that now would be a good time to really hone in on my Spanish.  I have been practicing daily with an app called Duo Lingo, which is very user friendly and even kind of fun.  I don’t have hopes of being fluent in only a few months, but I hope that I can put together sentences rather than just a few words here and there.

Goal #6 – CrossFit

Two days before my injury I was in the best shape of my life (honed in on my diet, having completed a 12 week Olympic Lifting cycle, and training really hard).  I had spent many nights doing progressions for the elusive movement in CrossFit: the muscle up.  I finally did ONE on Thursday, May 13th, 2015.  I was on such an athletic high from finally achieving that goal.  But then eight hours I had a major injury that kept me from the gym for well over a year.  While I am now back to training and have gotten back most of the things I lost….the muscle up is still hanging over my head (literally and figuratively).  I plan to focus more on the progressions and transition drills so that some time in 2018 I can finally mark it off of my list.  —  I also have a goal of hitting a 300# dead-lift (my favorite barbell movement).  My pre-injury PR was 285# and right now I can pull 265#.  I am following my gym’s strength program for the next six weeks and hopefully I can come closer to that 300 Club!

Goal #7 – Yoga

I became a certified yoga instructor in April of 2016.  Since then I have been teaching three times per week: twice at CrossFit Unlocked and once at Mispillion Fitness.  I also try to practice a little on my own or drop into a local class every once in a while.  There are so many poses I can do now that I could not do when I started teaching (Crow, Firefly, Bird in Paradise, etc.), but there are also a few that I would like to add to my practice this year (Peacock, Handstand, and Side Crow.)




Project CIVICS

I have been teaching in the Caesar Rodney High School social studies department since 2002.  For the past 16 years this group of 18 teachers has worked together on so many things in AND out of the classroom.  We have shared lesson plans, collaborated on best practices, raised money to offer scholarships, chaperoned international trips, and organized fun social gatherings to celebrate these accomplishments.

As a department we work hard to provide our students with more than just an education.  While we are all passionate about the content we teach every day, it is the rapport we establish with the students that creates a class climate conducive to learning.  Every single one of us makes a valiant effort to attend school sporting events, concerts, and other extracurricular activities to show our support.  We volunteer our time to coach and sponsor school teams and clubs.  We write numerous letters of recommendation every year.  We spend money out of our own pockets to provide snacks and other classroom goodies as incentive.

We are not afraid to put ourselves out there to make the students laugh and show them that we are human too.  Many of the males in our department participate in the No Shave November competition and allow their students to choose the design of their facial hair.  Many of us participate in spirit weeks by wearing silly outfits.  But, my favorite example of how we put ourselves in vulnerable positions to win them over is by performing at CR Idol (our annual fundraiser where students can showcase their talents).  In 2016 many members of the department spent countless hours practicing a choreographed dance that we then performed in front of 1,000 students, parents, teachers, and administrators.

CR IDOL           CR IDOL 2

The funds raised from this talent show are partially used to afford two seniors scholarship money and as a charitable donation to Project CIVICS (CR Integrates Volunteerism in Community Service).  The idea for this started when Carla Lawson became department chair in 2005 and wanted to organize an effort to help a few kids in need over the holidays.  Each teacher was assigned one child in the school who was identified as homeless (living in a shelter, group home, or on the streets).  We created donation boxes and encouraged students to drop in extra change when they could.  This money was then used to buy gifts.  The students would spend one day wrapping and labeling and then the teacher would drop off the presents.

Project CIVICS donation boxes

Over the years we have expanded this program to all of the schools in the district.  So now each teacher adopts 2-5 students and we hold class competitions to see who can raise the most money.  In the past 12 years our students have raised over $100,000 and helped more than 1,000 children in need! They take pride in knowing they donated money, shopped, and/or wrapped gifts for students who would otherwise go without on Christmas morning.  This project has become a tradition at Caesar Rodney High School and I am proud to be a part of it!

If you would like to contribute to Project CIVICS, you can donate by mailing a check (made payable to Project CIVICS) to:

Caesar Rodney High School; Attention Carla Lawson

239 Old North Road, Camden, DE, 19934





Books impart knowledge. Knowledge is power.

Through books you can find sanctuary, thrill, suspense, understanding, pleasure, fun, adventure, humor, peace, love, consolation, inspiration, motivation, and many more elements of life.

As a kid I loved to read. Phonics, spelling, writing, and reading were my favorite subjects from elementary school to high school. In addition to the required texts for school, I signed books out from the library to read for pleasure. This was pre cell phone/computer/social media distractions, so I had lots of free time.

When I think back to some of the books I read in elementary school I notice an animal theme (Charlotte’s Web, Black Beauty, the Velveteen Rabbit), which is ironic because I am not a fan of furry creatures today. As I matured into a young adult reader I started choosing books that were filled with mystery and suspense, such as the Nancy Drew series.  I also explored some of Stephen King’s thrillers, including Pet Cemetery and Cujo. However, this simply deepened my fear of dogs and cats.

Later in middle school I found myself wanting to read happier more realistic stories, so I made my way through all  nine autobiographical books (Little House on the Prairie) by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  But when I needed a break from the non-fiction anecdotes I would move on to books like Flowers in the Attic, Petals in the Wind, If There Be Thorns, Seeds of Yesterday, or Garden of Shadows (the Dollanganger Series).

In high school I had an English teacher named Mr. MacDonald who gave us some autonomy in his class. He allowed us to choose books from a suggested list and then form small reading groups to discuss them. He had a profound way of making connections to all of the novels we read and how to make some of those lessons applicable to our own lives.  He enhanced my love for reading.

I took a four year hiatus from pleasure reading while in college because I had so much academic reading to do for my classes.  Although there is one book I remember reading a few weeks before I started my student teaching assignment: My Posse Don’t Do Homework.  It was about the trials and tribulations of a first year teacher in an inner city school. While some of the stories scared me then, in retrospect the book instilled some important lessons about how to establish a rapport with students. Sometimes caring about what goes on in their lives outside of the classroom walls is just as important, if not more, than the academic content I’m teaching.

After my first year of teaching I read Lies My Teacher Told Me, which really opened my eyes to some of the historical information that our antiquated text books had wrongly published.  When I interviewed for my second teaching job I happened to have a copy of this book in my bag when the interviewer asked what book I was currently reading.  I was able to use examples from this book as a connection to some lessons I had taught in World History.

I have read hundreds of books in my life and am currently participating in two books clubs.

The following is a list of some of my favorite books (in no particular order):

  • 1,000 Splendid Suns
  • Wild
  • Tiny Beautiful Things
  • 19 Minutes
  • The Autobiogrpahy of Steve Jobs
  • Eat, Pray, Love
  • Shattered
  • Savage Inequalities
  • How to Yoga
  • The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
  • The Last Lecture
  • The Help
  • Shit My Dad Said
  • My Sister’s Keeper
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
  • Unbroken
  • American Sniper
  • Firefly Lane
  • Gone Girl
  • Girls on the Train
  • I am Malala
  • The Miseducation of Cameron Post
  • The Glass Castle
  • The Fault in Our Stars
  • The Open Adoption
  • The Smartest Kids in the World
  • Orange is the New Black
  • The Husbands Secret
  • Room
  • The Good Girl
  • Running for My Life
  • They Poured Fire on Us
  • Magic Strings of Frankie Presto
  • The Things They Carried

I am not one of those people who has to finish a book that I started. If a book doesn’t capture me right away, I tend to put it down. This is a list of books I started and never finished:

  • Harry Potter
  • The Hunger Games
  • Boys on the Boat
  • 11/22/63
  • Columbine
  • And the Mountains Echoed
  • The Shack

What is your favorite book?!?!

Yoga Teacher Training

In 2015 I suffered a traumatic knee injury that led to 5 surgeries, an infection, and hours upon hours of physical therapy.  One of the only exercises I was permitted to do outside of the PT clinic was swimming, which I hated.  After a few months of forcing myself to go to the YMCA pool, where old ladies are not afraid to walk around naked, I decided that I needed to add some other form of physical exercise to my regiment…so I dropped into a local yoga studio and took a one hour hot power flow vinyasa class. While I could not get into many of the poses, I left there sweating and wanting more.

What I wanted to gain from doing yoga several times per week was the physical benefits, such as strength, flexibility, and stamina.  But what I got instead was so much more.  I had no idea that yoga would change my mental fortitude in such a positive way.  I was able to literally change my perspective by being upside down, right side up, side ways,…by grounding down, and by rising up.  But changing the way I thought about my injury was a huge paradigm shift for me.  I began to focus on the proverbial silver lining: the reassurance of who my true friends really were, meeting Jason, my significant other, and welcoming new friends into my life that I would otherwise not have met.  I developed a new mantra: work smarter not harder, and I began forcing myself to be patient with exercise.  Yoga was the perfect outlet for this.

I had practiced yoga on and off for several years (mostly as a form of mobility for my CrossFit training).  But, in February of 2016 I joined a studio called Higher Power Yoga and began practicing 3-4 times per week.  I purposely chose classes taught by Alexsis Gatti and Ruby Zulkowski because they inspired me with their teaching abilities. Alexsis kicked my butt and left me in a pool of sweat, and Ruby had a way with words. I remember one time during savasana Ruby shared some profound thoughts that brought me to tears.  This is when I KNEW I wanted to become a yoga instructor.

I signed up for a week long Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) at Higher Power, but due to the lack of participants, it was cancelled.  This forced me to look elsewhere. I did some research and found several studios within close proximity that offered training sessions, but all with different schedules.  I liked the idea of completing the training over the course of 7 weekends in a 7 month period, so I dropped in to Dimitra Yoga in Lewes.  The owner, Dimitra Kotanides, greeted me with a hug and I instantly knew that this was where I wanted to be.  She gave me a tour, let me try out a class that day, and then provided me with the details about YTT.

Each weekend consisted of the following schedule: Fridays (6-9 p.m.), Saturdays 8 a.m.-8 p.m), and Sundays 8 a.m. – 6 p.m.).  I knew it was going to be a huge time commitment and a monetary sacrifice, but I had no idea how mentally and physically exhausting it would be.  Before each weekend session we had a homework load that included a lot of reading, writing, and researching.  We then spent numerous hours learning about the anatomy of the body, analyzing the asanas (poses),  and how to cue these movements.  In addition to the analysis of the physical aspect of yoga, we also learned about the benefits of essential oils, different methods of meditation, how to administer a massage and provide assists, and how to collaborate as a team.

While most of the sessions required us to be students, there were a few times when we had to switch roles.  During the first weekend of training Dimitra explained, demonstrated, modeled, and taught Sun Salutation A.  We practiced doing the movements over and over and over. Little did we know that she was going to make us teach each other this sequence.  She lined us up in the studio and then chose one person to step outside and enter with a teacher presence, instructing the group through several Sun A’s.  I admit I was a little nervous, but I didn’t think it would be that bad.  I have been a teacher for 17 years, so I figured this would come naturally. But, I could not have been more wrong.

I entered the room and tried to be different than the 7 seven other students who had just practice taught.  I added some of my own cues and instructions and apparently that was not the right thing to do.  So, she sent me back out in the hall to regroup and try again.  This time I kept it simple, just cuing the movements in this Sun Salutation. But, I gave a few wrong cues with the breath. I couldn’t remember when to tell them to inhale and exhale.  Dear God….just breath when you need to breath! Wrong again…back out to the hall way.  Ok, so maybe the third time would be a charm.  I managed to make my way through this dreadful drill, albeit not flawless.  I took my place in line while the remaining students practiced and I wondered if I had made a huge mistake by doing this training.  I was terrible at this.

During the second session of training we were again required to teach Sun A’s to our class.  But this time, Dimitra cranked up the music and made us face the opposite direction of our peers, forcing us to project our voices and teach the movements by memorization.  This was nerve wracking at first, but after dozens of attempts, I know we all gained confidence in our abilities.

Throughout other training weekends we had to cue each other on the spot, but it wasn’t until weekend #6 that we had to program and teach an entire class.  On Friday night of this session we got to ease our way into it by co-teaching a one hour power flow that we had designed the month prior.  We held a fund raising event that included a free yoga class, and numerous yoga instructors were in attendance.  This made the task even more daunting.  While we all made some minor mistakes, I think overall we did a great job!

The following day we had to teach each other the one hour sequence that we had been designing with a peak pose in mind.  I chose to go first to get it over with, and I was glad I did because then I could relax the rest of the weekend and not have to worry about the anxiety.  After I taught we debriefed as a group and Dimitra made my peers give me constructive criticism.  I appreciated this tough love because sugar coating the feedback would not have made me a better instructor.  I learned some little things like not to play a song with lyrics if I am going to guide them through savasana, as this is distracting.  I learned how important the lighting and the playlists are in regards to timing in a sequence. I learned that I need to signal the breath more and provide more cues.  I know that I have a lot more to learn and only with practice will I improve.

While we have one weekend left to complete community service (building a house through Habitat for Humanity), I am glad to know this training is coming to an end. Throughout this journey I have learned a tremendous amount not only about yoga, but about myself.  As I embark on my new endeavor as a yoga instructor at CrossFit Unlocked and with Milford Parks & Rec, I can only hope that one day I will have half of the knowledge and skills that Dimitra has as an instructor.

I’d like to thank the 6 people in my cohort for all of the support in the past 7 months:

Devin MacLaughlin, Nate Metz, Lisa Wentling,

Lucy Monigle, Kelsey Foochs, &Moll y Allen







Can Macro-maticians Make Mac & Cheese Fit?

PB & J, macaroni & cheese, and cinnamon toast were staples in my house when  I was growing up. The pantry was always stocked with Honeynut Cheerios, spaghettios, Middlesworth BBQ chips, and tasty-cakes.  The refrigerator was never void of soda. Needless to say nutrition was not a priority when I was a child, and since I was uber-active I was able to maintain a fast metabolism.

But then I went to college, and despite playing a division I sport, where we conditioned and played ball every single day, I managed to tack on that dreaded freshman 15.  The meal card allowed me to eat at any cafeteria on campus, most of which offered all-you-can-eat menus and limitless soda.  In addition to poor eating habits, I participated in the typical late night college activities that included liquid calories.

After college I continued the same dietary routines, but began running excessive miles thinking it would negate the extra calories.  I joined the gym, where I took spin classes, body pump classes, and spent hours on the elliptical.  I was a calorie burning machine, but I was still eating like crap.  I used to live by the mantra: calories in/calories out.  But, here is an analogy that helps clarify why this is NOT a good idea:

Let’s say I was on a 1,200 calorie diet. Well, a King Size Reese’s is 400 calories.  So, if I eat 3 of them each day, will I lose weight?! NO! Why? Because I would not be getting the right kind of calories.  In each pack I would have consumed 24 grams of fat, 34 grams of carbs, and 8 grams of protein.  This is NOT a good balance for someone who wants to lose weight and gain muscle.



After my experience at a few globo-gyms and logging hundreds and hundreds of miles running on the road, I started to train at a CrossFit box.  Most of the people there practiced a zone diet, in which they counted blocks (units of food) per their body weight, gender, and activity level.  I did this for several months and did not see any results.  I found it very cumbersome to have to calculate all of those blocks for every single meal and snack each day.

A few years later I participated in my first Paleo Challenge.  For 30 days we had to follow a prescribed list of what foods to eat and what foods NOT to eat.  If you could hunt it, pick it, or grow it, then you could eat it.  I found this a little easier to follow than the Zone diet, so I did well in my first month.  The problem was that there was an end date to the challenge and apparently that was the end to my motivation.

Every January our gym did this Paleo challenge, eventually expanding it to a 60 day competition. The more I did it, the more results I saw, and that was incentive to stick with it.  For years I followed an 80/20 plan (80% of the time I ate Paleo, while 20% of the time I enjoyed treats).  I was able to maintain a healthy weight and continue to perform well in the gym with this combination.

In 2015 my coach persuaded me to try a new type of challenge called the Whole 30.  For 30 days we had to “cut out all the psychologically unhealthy, hormone-unbalancing, gut-disrupting, inflammatory food groups.”  This was a very drastic change for me as I was used to having a balance of healthy and yummy foods! I decided to commit to this strict diet and it was a good reset for my nutritional imbalance.  However, this was not sustainable for me because of the deprivation.

Most recently I did some research about a program called Flexible Eating, which involves macro accountability.  I had heard of maco-nutrients before, but I never really understood the importance of them, nor how to calculate them.  I consulted some friends who had seen tremendous results, and then decided to give it a try.  I watched a few videos by Jason Ackerman, to find the formula to calculate MY numbers, which are based off of MY goal weight and MY activity level.


The numbers have changed as I have increased my activity level:

*1550 calories; P = 136 g; C = 155 g; F = 43g

This might seem a little complicated, but once I had the numbers for the total amount of protein, carbs, and fat that I should consume daily, then it was only a matter of plugging them into the My Fitness Pal App.  I entered these numbers into the goals section of the App and then started tracking my foods.  The App allows you to manually enter the foods, scan the bar code of the item, and/or search restaurants with a menu list.  I have found that this method holds me accountable.  I have learned to become a macro-matician (to use the term coined by my friend Stacey Evano), by planning ahead.  If I plug in the foods I want to eat for certain meals, then I know exactly what is left for the day and can have some fun figuring out what foods fit the left over macros! Sometimes I end up with an interesting evening snack combo! I love this way of eating because it does not leave me deprived, yet holds me accountable!

#iifym (if it fits your macros)

I also love that one of my favorite CrossFit athletes (Lauren Fisher) follows this plan.

Check out her blog post about her nutrition!


The point to all of this is: Do what works for YOU!  Maybe you eat a high protein diet, with some veggies and fruits for carbs like my friend Michael Scharmach did while following a body-building regiment.  Check out her transformation:

Michael Scharmach.png

This certainly worked for HER!

Or…maybe you enjoy counting points on Weight Watchers or eating Jenny Craig meals. Maybe you occasionally use Isagenix shakes to do a cleanse.  Maybe you follow the Advocare lines to supplement what you are missing in your diet. Maybe it took a lap-band surgery to get you headed down the right nutritional path. Maybe you don’t count anything, but just make conscious efforts to know the difference between processed and non-processed foods. There is no protocol for all human beings because we have different body types and activity levels.  Just be healthy so you can live a long life! 🙂

He Had Me at Hello

A love story…for all of you hopeless romantics!

In the fall of 2015 I was at the lowest point in my life. I had undergone several surgeries, endless PT, and I seemed to be regressing rather than progressing. I had lost touch with some of my best friends simply because my daily routine had changed; I no longer spent hours at the gym training because I was still recovering. I started to become angry that I couldn’t workout anymore because being an athlete was what truly defined me.

I desperately wanted to stay involved in the CrossFit community, so I began volunteering at local competitions. On October 17th, 2015 I spent the day at CrossFit Unlocked because Brian DeLeon had asked me to be a judge. Little did I know that that day would change my life drastically. Before I even got home that evening I had a Facebook friend request from Jason Langley, an athlete who competed in a heat that I judged.  I scrolled through his timeline, but he obviously had some privacy settings, as I was only able to see a few pictures. I screenshotted the request and sent it to a mutual friend, asking him what he thought about this Jason guy. His response was “he’s a great guy; I have nothing bad to say about him!”

I accepted his friend request and we communicated via FB messenger. Eventually we exchanged phone numbers and began texting more frequently. Every day started with a text that said good morning and ended with a text that said good night. I found myself anxiously awaiting these messages and wanting to know more and more about this guy. I made it very clear that I was interested in meeting him face to face because you don’t truly know someone until you meet in person.

Throughout the next two months we had sporadic communication. Finally, he asked if I wanted to grab dinner and on December 8th, 2015 we went on our first date. He had asked me to choose the restaurant and I suggested one of my favorite places: Stingray. He said that he had never had sushi, but that he was willing to try (he was more nervous about eating sushi than going on the actual date…and now he loves it!).

He was on time to pick me up and when he stepped out of his large white truck I got butterflies. As cliche as this might sound he was tall, dark, and handsome. We embraced in a hug and then he opened the door for me (something he still does for me a year later). We had non stop conversation to the restaurant, a romantic dinner, and then an amazing first kiss that left me wanting a second date!

He followed up with a text saying that he had a good time and would like to go out again that weekend. But, I had a wedding to attend in Pennsylvania, so I said I wouldn’t really have time. He suggested an early morning date that would allow me to be back home in time to pack for the trip, so I agreed. He picked me up at 5am and we drove to the beach to watch the sunrise. It was one of the most amazing days of my life! This was when I knew…Jason was the one!

We continued to get to know each other by spending quite a bit of time together. We tried to see each other every day, even if just for dinner, or to chat for a few minutes. We rang in the New Year together, jammed out at concerts, met each other’s friends, danced at a wedding, drove on the beach, went to the movies, worked out together, kayaked Rehoboth Bay, hiked Ricketts Glen to see the waterfalls, and experienced many more adventurous things together that have become great memories.  It never seemed like we were moving too fast; it always seemed just right! After a few months he moved in with me and we meshed well in domesticity.

Once we both knew we wanted to pursue this relationship we decided to meet each other’s families. We drove 11 hours to Illinois to spend the Easter holiday with the Langley’s. Jason’s parents welcomed me from the moment I walked into their house. I also met his siblings, three nieces, and some other family and friends. On our way home from Illinois we stopped in Williamsport so that Jason could meet my mom.  A few months later he would get to meet some of my other relatives at the annual Briel family reunion.

Being in a new found relationship after being single for three years and a life changing injury was exactly what I needed. Sometimes people come into your life at just the right time. I was nervous that Jason would get annoyed at having to put up with my limitations.  However, he has never once complained about my slower pace or even having to sleep in a hospital bed with me on his own birthday.

Jason is the most selfless person I have ever met. He does thoughtful things for me every single day, whether it’s making me a cup of coffee in the morning, folding my laundry, or  leaving me a card just to say he loves me!  I enjoy and appreciate every single day I get to spend with him. Today, December 8th, marks exactly one year that we have been together and I look forward to many more years!

ESAC (I am in the white vest, Jason is in the red shirt)



First date:


2nd date:


boardwalk            easter

movies   race2

river   il  hospital

fish     fishing  wedding

Yoga: My Church

ypga       yoga

I walked to St. Boniface elementary school in the same plaid pleated skirt, leg warmers, and loafers every day.  Not only did I dread the uniforms, but I feared the head principal, because the school mantra was right: She’s Mean, She’s Green, She’s Sister Charlene.  This old burly woman carried a long handled wooden paddle (with holes) through the hallways to usurp her authority. The other nuns who taught classes and assisted with masses, were just as mean.  When we were disobedient, they would make us put our knuckles over the edge of the desk and then whack them with a ruler. I quickly learned how to shut my mouth and do my work.

In addition to attending Wednesday morning mass, I was forced to go on Sundays too with the family.  I spent 11 years trying to understand Catholicism.  But, the services were so mundane and routine that I never truly found a place for religion in my heart. I didn’t believe many of the Biblical stories I was being taught.  I also didn’t like the fact that their conservative ideologies did not align with my own socially liberal beliefs.

I pleaded with my mom to let me try public school once I was old enough to attend middle school and she agreed under one condition: I had to start going to HER church. My mom was a devout Christian who chose Eagle United Methodist Church as her place of worship. This denomination was a lot less orthodox than Catholicism, so I thought I would enjoy it more.  However, the average member of the congregation had grey hair and drove an Oldsmobile.  I clearly did not fit in with their old school traditions. I went quietly for the first few years and then I started begging not to go. Eventually I think she got tired of fighting that battle.

I became a cafeteria Christian (or as some say a C & E Christian: I attended on holidays).  In college I tried out a southern Baptist Church with my roommate and found the one Catholic Church in all of the Piedmont Triad thinking maybe I should give it another shot, that I had matured in my religious thinking.  After a few Sundays I realized that I was even more adamant about my opposition to Catholicism than I had been early on in my life.

After college I continued to explore various religious services.  I attended a Jewish synagogue, participated in a traditional Hindu holiday of Holi, and experienced a meditation session with a practicing Buddhist.  I read some scriptures from the Vedas, perused the “Quran for Dummies,” and explored the Torah (the first five books of the Bible).  Despite all of this research I still found myself questioning the existence of an omnipotent power and disbelieving any and all religious doctrines.

I believe this moderate ideology of agnosticism has led me to be a good candidate to teach an elective at Caesar Rodney High school called World Religions.  For the past decade I have been facilitating discussions in diverse classroom environments that evolved around the 5 Majors (Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism). I give my students an overview of the beliefs, rituals, and traditions of each of these affiliations. We watch video clips, analyze religious songs, and host guest speakers.

While I refrain from imposing any of my own ideologies on my students, I DO encourage them to share their beliefs with the class and to explore other elements of religiosity that might fit their lives. For instance, one of my favorite lessons to teach is the practice of meditation. I teach them how to relax, sit in lotus position, and control their breathing.  We sit in silence, flex the muscles in our faces to simulate a form of tiger face meditation, and practice various yoga asanas (poses).  While they enjoy these methods of mediation there is usually an overwhelming majority who prefer drawing on the mandalas.

In addition to teaching a religion class at the high school level I also wrote curriculum for a new elective at Wilmington University: SOC 411 (the Sociology of Religion).  This seven week class includes topics such as phenomenology and the cultural impacts of religion on society.  Students are required to research the five most predominant religions practiced around the world and to explore other affiliations of their choice.

Having spent the past two decades exploring numerous religions from an individual perspective and a teacher perspective has not changed my ideologies. I cannot rule out the existence of any higher being because some things cannot be described by science. But what has caused this stalemate in making a conclusion is that I don’t understand why good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people.

I would categorize myself in that “good”  category.  I am certainly not perfect, but I don’t lie, steal, or cheat.  I have never bullied anyone nor taken advantage of a friend. I have volunteered at homeless shelters, “adopted” a teenage girl as part of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, and built houses for Habitat for Humanity.  Other than a speeding ticket I have never broken the law.

Despite all of these positive contributions to society, I have had some really tragic things happen in my life in the past few years.  The first occurred in January of 2011 when I lost my dad to a massive heart attack. I will never be able to enjoy his repetitive stories over Thanksgiving dinner again or watch him interact with my nieces and nephews, whom he loved so much. It also breaks my heart that he will never get to walk me down the aisle.

In August of 2014 I lost my aunt Sue, who had baby-sat me for years before I entered school.  She  always cooked Sunday family dinners and enjoyed having all of the Briel’s sit around one table. She was a devout Catholic who lived for the church most of her life.  She was the epitome of a compassionate person.  But in the end a plethora of health issues took her life.

In addition to two deaths in my family in three years, I suffered a traumatic injury to my right knee. In May of 2015 I was at a CrossFit competition attempting a power clean (Olympic Lift) pr of 165#.  I had hit 160# and then got greedy and wanted five more pounds in order to check it off my goal list.  I looked at the clock and panicked;  I had 40 seconds to make a good lift.  I was not properly set and therefore not in a good position to catch the clean in a squat.  My right knee landed wide in order to compensate and then it buckled.  At that moment I had no idea how much my life would change.

In the past 17 months (through 5 surgeries and a life threatening infection) I have had a paradigm shift.  I see things through new lenses (perspectives).  Don’t get me wrong, there have been some major low points where I have felt resentful and angry about not being able to do what I used to do.  My every day activities were altered because I couldn’t drive for several months and I had to learn to depend on others for so many things.  As a type A personality this was not an easy task.

I really learned a lot about myself and discovered who my true friends were during this time period.  I lost a few friends along the way because they were tired  of hearing me talk about the injury.  But, I have come to terms with this and have actually made some new friends, including my significant other: Jason.  If I hadn’t been injured, then I would not have been volunteering at an event where he was competing.  I don’t usually believe in predestination, but I definitely think that it was meant to be.

Jason met me at a time when I was not in great physical (I could barely walk without crutches) nor mental shape.  The injury had taken a toll on my psyche.  He was patient, sympathetic, and exuded characteristics of selflessness. It did not take long for me to fall in love with this guy.  He has been my rock.

In addition to realizing how special my good friends are, meeting Jason, and discovering other small things about myself, I have also found a passion for something new: Yoga.  I had practiced yoga on and off for years while training at CrossFit (simply for the mobility benefits), but I never truly liked it.  Actually, I HATED being in downward dog and having all of that blood rush to my head while my arms were shaking. This was me:


During the last ten minutes of the hour long session, we would typically lie on the ground in corpse position (flat on our backs with arms and legs spread at 45 degree angles). We were supposed to enjoy a quiet, relaxing savasana, where you set your mind free and find a state of zen.  However, I would find myself thinking about my growling stomach, the number of papers I had to grade, or the all of the other things that are constantly being added to my to-do list.  I struggled letting all of these things go for that one hour period.

After a year long hiatus from Yoga (due to my injury), I decided to give it another try simply because it was one of the two things the doctor permitted as low impact physical therapy.  The other was swimming and I HATE being in the pool.  I have given both a valiant effort and ended up ditching the pool and discovering that I LOVE spending time on my mat! It was a way for me to finally get a physical workout (HOT yoga really makes you sweat) and to work on controlling my mind.

I started practicing 3-4 times per week at a studio called Higher Power Yoga. I found that I was learning more and more about myself each time I stretched out on my mat. Burning calories, building muscle, and accomplishing poses I didn’t think were possible  were incentive to keep going.  But, what I liked the most was that I was healing mentally more than I was physically.

I started to focus on the things I COULD do, rather than the things I could NOT do.  I walked with a limp and couldn’t do normal exercise as I knew it before the injury.  But other than that, I was still living…and breathing…and happy with my career, friends, and Jason.  I started to put my life into perspective by looking at the struggles of others.  I wasn’t diagnosed with cancer and given a six month life sentence like a local girl in our community.  I wasn’t pregnant and then suddenly facing a miscarriage like a very good friend of mine.  I wasn’t homeless and wondering where my next meal would come from like one of my students.  I simply had some setbacks and proverbial obstacles to hurdle, but it was nothing I couldn’t handle.  In the end, the struggle has made me a better person.

My desire to continue practicing yoga has grown over the past few months, so much that I even registered for the 200 hour Teacher Training at Dimitra Yoga Studio in Lewes, Delaware.  This intensive training will require me to attend weekend sessions once per month for seven months.  I have already read the required materials and could not be more excited to embark on this new journey.  I not only hope to learn about my own yoga practice, but I also want to be confident and competent enough to teach classes one day!

The Yoga studio is my church. Perhaps something will happen in my life to change my religious views one day, but for now I am content with my spirituality.



The Dichotomy

When one works out he or she risks injury.

When one leads a sedentary life he or she risks obesity and heart disease.


I will start with a quote from Kevin Ogar, an athlete who suffered a serious injury.  “Saying that I got hurt because of CrossFit or weightlifting is like saying that somebody was out running and got hit by a drunk driver and that it was the runner’s fault.”

While I have had a lot of support in the past five months, I have encountered just as much opposition. I have received emails telling me that I should “stop working out with such intensity,” and Facebook messages advising me not to CrossFit anymore.  A colleague sent me a message saying “I think you need to find a pool instead of trying to maneuver around the gym,…isn’t that how you got hurt in the first place?  You might have to scale it down a bit Holly,…isn’t surgery once or twice,…enough?”  In one Face-to Face conversation a friend told me that I “got what I deserved,” while smoking a cigarette in my face (and fifty pounds overweight).

One day at physical therapy a former athletic trainer inquired about my injury, shaking his head in disappointment when I told him it occurred during a CrossFit competition. He told me that CrossFit was too dangerous and that he would never allow his athletes to do such a rigorous workout program.  He then sent me an article with a list of reasons why athletes shouldn’t CrossFit.


The irony in this is that every time I am at physical therapy I see other athletes who are working on skills and movements to get them back to their sport.  There is a 6’5″ basketball player who plays for a semi-professional team overseas.  I’m pretty sure no one tells him to hang up the Jordan’s.

There is a division 1 soccer player who tore her ACL.  She works hard to strengthen her leg, so that she can use that scholarship to help pay for school.  I am pretty sure no one tells her to hang up the cleats.

There is a baseball player who injured his shoulder.  He has support from his dad and the physical therapists so that he can be back on the  mound.  I’m pretty sure no one tells him to hang up the glove.

There is a mother of two who injured her knee while simply walking through a door step.  I’m pretty sure no one tells her to avoid door ways at all costs.

I have spent the past five months wondering if I would ever CrossFit again.  I contemplated just incorporating yoga and cycling into my new daily exercise routine. The thought became depressing.  But, on Wednesday, September 23, I walked back into the Box without my crutches and joined a group wod.  Michael Scharmach and Leslie Pleasanton modified the movements for me.  I had a partner who agreed to catch the medicine ball, so that I could do wall ball shots and not get smacked in the face.  After that 15 minute workout, people posted pictures and videos to Instagram and Facebook with statuses about how inspiring it was to see me back.  When I read these comments I instantly knew that this was where I was meant to be…and what I was meant to do.

I don’t CrossFit because I think I have a chance to make it to an elite level.

I CrossFit because it empowers me.

…..because it gives me confidence.

…..because it gives me strength, both mentally and physically.

…..because I enjoy being around like-minded people.

…..because I love the sense of community.

I appreciate the concern my non-CrossFit friends and family members have for me. However, I have made a decision to continue with my passion.  I understand the risk I am taking, but I would be a fool to give up something I love because I am scared.  I could get injured doing any simple daily task.  I vow to be patient and smart in my training.  I truly believe I will come back faster and stronger than before my injury.  I don’t know if I will ever compete again, so when people ask what I am training for, I will simply say LIFE!

And there’s nothing better than training with these people!!!

ms  jeri

team wbscfd

Don’t Drop the Soap

I have had 2 surgeries (one to repair the meniscus and cartilage damage and another to reconstruct the ACL and MCL).

I have 2 metal screws in my knee holding the ligaments together.

I have spent 79 days on crutches, and have only been able to drive for 16 of those.

I have spent 19 days doing physical therapy (PT=pain and torture).

I’ve dropped the soap at least a dozen times.  Just as inmates are advised not to drop the soap, I would give this sage advice to anyone using a shower seat and unable to bend their knee.  I had to roll up the washcloth and swat at it until it was within reach.  It is quite nerve wracking and frustrating trying to get that little sucker back.

I’ve read 11 books, written 7 blogs, and watched 39 episodes of Orange is the New Black.

Over the past few months I have had to rely on friends and family to taxi me, shop for me, cook for me, and clean for me.  I’ve tried to repay them by buying dinner, offering cash, or paying for their gas, but there really is no amount of money that can recompense their services. What they have all made very clear to me is: “that’s what friends are for,” reminding me of the Dionne Warwick lyrics:

Keep smiling, keep shining
Knowing you can always count on me, for sure
‘Cause I tell you, that’s what friends are for
For good times and the bad times
I’ll be on your side forever more
That’s what friends are for

Music is such a powerful medium.  It runs the gamut of emotions; it can make you happy, sad, depressed, angry, and motivated.  Music sets the mood for events such as weddings, funerals, and workouts.  I have always believed that a good DJ/ band could make or break a wedding reception.  I have witnessed DJ’s botch names and play music that did not draw a crowd to the dance floor.  But, my friend Gina had a DJ who was easy to understand and had the dance floor crowded the entire night.  He made that wedding the best one I’ve ever attended!

While I am not musically inclined, I have always enjoyed listening to all genres. I used to carry my walk-man to and from school always making sure I had a back up tape in case the ribbon got stuck. In high school I graduated to a hand-held CD player, and then eventually an iPod, and a cell phone.  Today there are so many ways to listen to music that it’s often difficult to choose one. I have been using Pandora for years, but have recently been introduced to Spotify.

Music often makes me nostalgic.  I love when I’m driving and a song comes on that takes me back to a particular time and place.  For instance, the one that hits home the most (no pun intended here) is Bruce Springsteen’s Hometown, which has always been a favorite that reminds me of growing up in Williamsport, PA.  The line: I’d sit on his lap in that big old Buick and steer as we drove through town…makes me think of my dad and sitting on his lap while he was driving that 1980 Monte Carlo.


I also think of my dad when I hear songs like American Pie by Don McClean, Ain’t No Sunshine by Bill Withers, and Please, Please, Please by James Brown.  But, Tupelo Honey, by Van Morrison is the song that brings automatic tears.  If I ever got married, it would be the song I would play at my reception, dancing with whomever walked me down the aisle and took my dad’s place.

The one song that reminds me of my mom is Oh Holy Night. I only went to Catholic school and Sunday mass by parental mandate and grand-parental obligation.  I do not consider myself very religious at this point in my life, and so Christmas doesn’t have that “let’s celebrate the birth of Jesus” feeling for me.  I celebrate it because it is a tradition.  However, whenever I hear this song around the holidays I picture myself in the pews at a church called Heshbon.  It was the one and only time each year when I actually enjoyed being there.  My mom always sang in the choir’s cantata, and each year she had a solo: Oh Holy Night.  She sang it impeccably.

When Janet Jackson and Jodeci play I think of my good friend Erica Miller (Mil).  We shared hundreds of rides to (Williamsport Area) high school and softball practice listening to these artists. We know every word to every song!

I often have visions of roller skating when I hear songs by Ace of Base, Bobby Brown, C&C Music Factory, the Digital Underground, MC Hammer, and of course the oh so popular song Jam On It, during which you could do the best shuffle!

Any song by Eric Clapton reminds me of the only softball game I ever missed in high school.  My mom offered to take me to his concert in Connecticut, and it was a difficult decision for me.  I hated missing practice, let alone a game.  But, I am glad that I decided to go to the concert because I would go on to play many more games and only had one chance to see this legendary artist/guitarist.

Whitney Houston’s One Moment in Time takes me back to Kalamazoo, Michigan, standing on the infield during opening ceremonies of the 1994 Big League Softball World Series. This undoubtedly was and will be the best athletic event of my life.  I think of the nervous excitement we had playing in front of ESPN cameras for the first time.  And, I think of the bond I had with my teammates, especially Cheryl Godfrey, who took her own life just two years later.

Anytime I hear a song by Bob Marley (off of the Legend album) and Yellow Ledbetter by Pearl Jam I think of my good friend and amazing prom date Mike Arrington.  Those songs will always make me think of the time we skipped school to drive from Williamsport to Philly just to go rollerblading around the city!

Toni Braxton songs make me think of my high school sweetheart, Jason.

When OAR’s Crazy Game of Poker plays I immediately think of my college roommates and how we got to see the band in a small venue.  We used to blast the music in 706 Cool, aka, my occasional grounds for sleeping. We would echo extra lines to the song and sing as loudly as we could.  If you have ever heard this song, it lasts 8 minutes and 50 seconds and I have never cut it off before the end.

My college days were also filled with Wednesday Wing Nights, during which we would watch 90210, Party of Five, and play Spades until the wee hours of the morning. During these intense games, each of which ended in a trophy parade around the living room, we were only allowed to listen to one artist: Jewel.  This was MY rule, simply because I had a slight obsession with her and her music.  I always made sure I sang her songs loud and proud with one hand on the make-shift mic and the other on my chest.  I was passionate.

Most of the music that reminds me of my college days make me smile.  However, when I think about my years playing softball there, I often have nightmares about two songs: All My Exes Live in Texas and Who Let the Dogs Out.  During the fall of my freshman year I remember walking to the plate to the tune of that first song.  That’s when I first realized that I was in the dirty south. Who gets motivated to hit a ball when the song in the background is a slow, twangy country song about ex-girlfriends? The second song was played later in my softball career, when my teammates found out that I hated dogs.  Appropriate, I suppose!

Since college there are other time periods in my life when music has had an impact.  I fell in love with country music when I moved to North Carolina and still listen to it every day! My favorite band has always been Sugarland and I have seen them in concert three times.  Recently Jennifer Nettles left Kristian Bush to tour on her own, and I was lucky enough to experience that concert too! The song Stay reminds me of the girls who lived in Hearthstone Manor with me.  We shared Sunday dinners and jeep rides on warm summer nights blasting this song! Also, my very good friend Allison Houdek sent me a link to the song Little Miss one day when I was feeling rough (mentally and physically) from this injury.  This is the chorus:

It’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright
Yeah, sometimes you gotta lose ’til you win
It’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright
It’ll be alright again
It’ll be alright again, I’m okay
It’ll be alright again, I’m okay
It’ll be alright again, I’m okay

Everyone knows I am an avid CrossFitter, so when I am in the gym I prefer to workout to Eminem. My coach and friend George Dobbins knows this about me all too well.  He always manages to find that playlist when I am about to PR a lift or hit a hard wod!

In the fall of 2012 I attended the wedding of my good friends Jeri and Pam.  The music kept us moving the entire night, but there was one song in particular that now has new meaning.  When Meatloaf’s Paradise on the Dashboard Lights came on my girls and I turned into an instant rock band.  It’s now an inside joke between Jamie Nabb and me anytime we are together!

My favorite thing about music is that it can lead to dancing.  Have you ever seen someone dance without a smile on their face? No! Because it is impossible to have a bad time when you are moving to the music.  These are some of my favorite singing/dancing pics:


wedding             jeri



heather 2







osika   piano




Holly   HR



My love for music has led me to 57 concerts.  I have been to small venues such as the Freeman Stage in Delaware, large venues like Lincoln Financial Field, and several music festivals where I have been able to see more than one big name in one weekend!

The first concert I ever attended was on 2/21/1988: Debbie Gibson: Electric Youth! I loved everything about it and couldn’t wait to attend another one!

The best concert I ever attended was Pink.  She isn’t my favorite artist, but she puts on a hell of a show.  She hangs upside down, spinning wildly while having water poured on her, and yet she still sounds flawless.

The following is a list of all the singers/bands I’ve seen that are not in the aforementioned paragraphs:

Billy Joel

Sister Hazel


Boyz II Men


Smash Mouth

Third Eye Blind

Soul Asylum

Cheap Trick

Pat Benetar

REO Speedwagon


3 Doors Down

Kool & the Gang

Melissa Etheridge

Melissa Ferrick

Billy Idol

Billy Joel



Bel Biv Devoe

Lynryd Skynrd

Kid Rock


Jennifer Nettles

Jason Aldean

Rascal Flatts

Keith Urban

Bryan Adams

John Fogerty

Eric Church

Zac Brown

Dave Matthews Band

Kenny Chesney

Lady Antebellum

Sarah Evans



Sheryl Crow

The Wailers


Robert Earl Keen

Eddie Money

Edwin McCain

Counting Crows

Steve Miller Band

Miranda Lambert

Barenaked Ladies


Vertical Horizon

Hootie and the Blowfish

Blues Traveler

Guns & Roses

Moral of the story: Music Saves the Soul. MUSIC

The Most Dangerous Game

In high school most of my friends took Honors and AP classes, but I chose to stay on the “regular” education track because grades were not that important to me.  I just wanted to do enough to be eligible to play softball. However, there was one class that I enjoyed and for which I was willing to put forth effort: 9th grade Honors English.

Mr. Eckley was a burly man with a loud voice that intimidated all of the incoming freshman.  But there was something about his passion for the subject that intrigued me.  He gave us a reading list and I was anxious to read every suggested book, although we only had to choose one.  The first required reading assignment, Of Mice and Men, took me a short time to finish.  I enjoyed the class discussions we had about this book and couldn’t wait for the next assignment.

During the next lesson he wanted us to focus on our writing skills.  He assigned a short piece of fiction called The Most Dangerous Game, by Richard Connell.  Our assignment was to write a 10 sentence summary of this story.  I thought this would be an easy task, and when I submitted my first draft I felt confident that it was worthy of an “A.”  But when he returned my paper there were more red marks than my original words and the top was labeled with an “F.” He let me revise this draft and the final paper was returned with a grade of “C-.” I was devastated.  My dream of becoming a writer was crushed.

I started writing when I was 11 years old.  I documented every day of my life, including things I ate, places I visited, and feelings I had.  Since I was grounded most of my middle and high school life (and this was pre-21st century technology luxuries), I had nothing to do BUT read and write.

In addition to writing about my daily life, I also began writing short stories.  I wrote about things and people who meant the most to me.  For instance, I was very close with my pap-pap Briel.  I spent hours listening to his stories and eating pop-cycles with him on the back porch swing.  But in the winter of 1989 he became so sick he was bed ridden and I watched him rapidly deteriorate until he had a massive heart attack on December 10th and died.

This was my first experience with death and I was heart broken.  I decided to write a story about him, called Gone, But Not Forgotten, and this proved to be therapeutic.  I then continued to write stories about my friends, softball, places I traveled, etc.  When I ran out of non-fiction ideas, I started to make up stories.  I would spend countless hours in my bedroom writing.  It was my sanctuary.  I never shared any of these stories or journals, but I have them all securely stored. When I die I hope someone will take the time to read them!

In addition to this blog, I still write in my journal every so often and continue to write short stories. I still have a dream to become a published writer (my dissertation was published, but who the hell wants to read about educational technology?).  I have submitted samples to Sports Illustrated, the CrossFit Box magazine, and the CrossFit Journal.  I don’t expect any replies, but at least I know I tried!

As I mentioned above, writing is therapeutic for me.  I don’t write to please a particular audience. I am writing these blogs to help pass the time during my knee recovery.  It is definitely helping!

QUESTION for you (post a response in the comment box on here or FB):

For my next writing project, which of the following would you most enjoy reading?

1. Driving in the Left Lane (things that annoy you)

2. Mental aspect of being an athlete

3. My dating sagas

4. Teaching stories

5. My travel experiences

Positive Polly

I am still riding the proverbial injury roller coaster. I have good days and bad days. I feel physical pain in my knee one minute and then fine the next. I have sporadic tingling from the nerve damage, but it only lasts for a few seconds. As soon as I miss my friends someone surprises me at the door. When I miss CrossFit I pick up the baby dumb bells and create my own mini wod. And when I start to go to a dark place, I remind myself that it could be much worse, like the patient who was at the doctor’s office yesterday with two broken wrists.


The week after my surgery was very tough as I was not physically able to do anything.  I could not put any weight on my right leg, which made it difficult to get around. But, I have gotten better on the crutches, used to the shower seat, and a little more self sufficient. Thankfully I had my mom here for those two weeks to be my taxi, cook me meals, and carry things for me. While she was here, and undoubtedly bored, she noticed a fire alarm hanging from the wall, carpets that hadn’t been vacuumed in a while, and a sink that had copious amounts of lime deposits. She kept herself busy and I benefited from her hard work!

Throughout this week I have experienced a lot of positive things.  Every night a friend (or two) came down to take me to dinner, or cook burgers on the grill, or play cards, and one even helped me plan some workout movements. These people have kept me busy and assured me that they are there to help with anything I need.  I never even realized the amount of great friends I actually have!


Brooke, a close friend from home, sent me a message with a picture of her in a boot, using crutches, and on a motorized cart at the grocery store. She said that she has been immobile for the past couple of months and can empathize with me.  She works (no summers off like me) and has two kids. I will remember this when I start to feel sorry for myself again.


In addition to the aforementioned things I deemed my latest doctors appointment a success too. When I first arrived he wanted me to have my left foot (opposite leg) X-rayed.  He had watched the video of my injury in slow motion (thanks to Dave Burris) and realized that the 165# weight landed on my foot.  I initially said no, but then he encouraged me by warning that if there is damage and I don’t address it now, then it could haunt me later in life.  So, I agreed and while lying on the X-ray table my heart rate doubled and my stomached turned.  The results: no damage!

Back in the exam room, while I waited for the X-ray results, the doctor came to show me pictures of the arthroscopic surgery he had performed last week.  I passed on the details and graphics (I have a weak stomach).  He then scheduled my next surgery for July 23rd and discussed the in-hospital procedures and post operation process.  He suggested an immobilizer and no weight bearing for 4-6 weeks.  But my physical therapist thinks that I might be able to put weight on it sooner than that. They also both manually examined my MCL and agree that it is healing pretty well. I was informed that there is a slight chance it could heal on its own, in which case I would not need surgery on that ligament.

Physical therapy is going well.  Everyone at Core PT is caring and passionate about what they do. They use heat, ice, laser treatment for the nerve damage, and numerous exercises to help me bend. I was given homework to help strengthen my quad and gain flexion in my knee.  While it is very painful, I know I want to recover quickly and so I am willing to tough it out. I also want to drive very badly, but only being able to bend my knee to about 60 degrees is not conducive to that. This motivates me to do the exercises every couple of hours!

heat kneecreative

My good friend Jaime (from high school) is here this week to serve as my taxi and cook!  She has been a huge help!

jaime   And yes, that is a dog in my house. emoji-teeth

I am also thankful to be teaching summer school because it gets me out of the house and around other human beings!

If you read this far, then you’re probably also someone who sends me texts to check up…..and so I THANK YOU!

The Lesser of Two Evils

Have you ever watched a commercial for Lyrica?  It is advertised as a drug that can help with fybromyalgia, diabetic nerve pain, and spinal cord injury nerve pain.  However, it comes with copious amounts of side effects.

“LYRICA is not for everyone. LYRICA may cause serious, even life threatening, allergic reactions. Some signs are swelling of your face, mouth, lips, gums, tongue, throat or neck or if you have any trouble breathing or have a rash, hives or blisters.

LYRICA may cause suicidal thoughts or actions. Other symptons may include new or worsening depression, anxiety, restlessness, trouble sleeping, panic attacks, anger, irritability, agitation, aggression, dangerous impulses or violence, or extreme increases in activity or talking.

LYRICA may cause swelling of your hands, legs, and feet, which can be serious for people with heart problems. LYRICA may cause dizziness and sleepiness. You should not drive or work with machines until you know how LYRICA affects you. Also, tell your doctor right away about muscle pain or problems along with feeling sick and feverish, or any changes in your eyesight including blurry vision or if you have any kidney problems or get dialysis” (

After one reads this disclaimer, he/she must weigh the pros and cons of taking the medication. Although sometimes the pain is so intense that you are willing to ignore the warning signs.  I have experienced this over the past week.  During my surgery on Tuesday the orthopedic surgeon drilled a hole in my knee (micro fracture surgery).  While he was doing the arthroscopic surgery he realized that more than just the meniscus needed repaired.  Apparently there was cartilage damage from years of wear and tear.  It is the ultimate dichotomy: exercise and risk damage to your ligaments and cartilage, or don’t exercise and become obese, which leads to a myriad of other health issues.

The first few days after surgery I was taking the prescribed dosage of oxycotone (percoset) and while it did alleviate the pain, it made me drowsy and nauseous.  Every day I tried going a longer period of time between each dose.  By day six I had experienced every side effect (light headed, loss of appetite, sweating, dizziness, vomiting, and gastrointestinal issues) associated with this drug and decided that I couldn’t handle it anymore.

In addition to the medications, I have experienced other side effects.  The crutches help me with mobility (since I can’t put any weight on my right leg), yet they leave bruises under my arms and pinch the nerves.

I have a special compression sock to help prevent blood clots, but it leaves indentations in my leg and when removed leads to a tingling sensation you get when a body part “falls asleep.”

I have decreased the amount of water I drink because it is a lot of effort to make it to the bathroom.  However, this dehydration has given me muscle cramps on my calves, quads, and hamstrings.

The first immobilizer I was given was made out of neoprene.  I don’t think I am allergic to it, as I have worn a wet-suit before, but I broke out in a terrible itchy rash.

When it rains, it pours. But having experienced all of these negative side effects, I have come to the conclusion that it cannot get any worse.  Here is to hoping the next blog post is all about the progress I have made!

Have Surgery – Find Out Who Your Friends Are

On Monday, June 8th my girls picked me up for dinner.  They came bearing balloons, a pack of red bull, an Alex & Ani bracelet, yellow flowers (my favorite color), and a card with thoughtful notes.  We had great conversations, avoiding the knee issue, until it was time to order.  When I was finished asking my server for a beer, chips and salsa (as an appetizer), fish tacos, and a side salad with ranch dressing, they all looked at me like I was crazy.  I am a creature of habit and would normally have gotten the Cobb salad with a glass of water.  But I reminded them that I was “going under” tomorrow and that this was my last meal for the next 12-24 hours! I knew I could count on Arod to share the chips with me! 🙂

happy   balloon

My mom drove down from Doylestown, PA bright and early Tuesday morning to take me to the hospital.  The nurses took me back right away and prepped me for surgery.  I thought I would be extremely nervous by this point, but I was actually eager to get this proverbial ball rolling, so that I could begin the recovery process.  The nurse gave me a change of clothes, a fashionable hairnet, and then injected the IV into what she called “fabulous veins.”  confused

Once I was all prepped and had waited a while, I was informed that the doctor was backed up and that it would be a few hours.  I read a little and watched Orange is the New Black, but it was hard to focus with the annoying beeping from the heart rate monitor and my growling stomach. Three hours later……

hair net  orange

After the anesthesiologist spoke to me about the procedure, four other nurses and doctors came in to see if I had any questions about the medical jargon.  Then they wheeled me into the operating room and that’s the last thing I remember.  When I woke up I was very groggy and had a massive brace that kept my knee locked in place and a device on the good leg that helped with circulation.

knee   locked

Thank god for my mom who was able to listen to the discharge directions, drive me home, make me food, and help me move from one room to the next. She has been diligent about keeping a log of my meds, icing, and other steps in this recovery process.  Since she has been through a double knee replacement she can empathize with being immobile. I don’t know what I would do without her.


When I arrived home there was a care package at my door, from my amazing friend Allison! She sent me books, DVD’s, balloons with Sugarland lyrics, a spoon tied to a string (funny, if you remember the oatmeal story), and personalized notes with each gift!


I am also very thankful for Carla Lawson who graded and entered all of my final exams.  I owe her a LOT!

I cannot do this on my own, and am so appreciative of all of the people in my life who have stepped up to the plate.  I had no idea that the recovery would be this intensive, and that I would be so helpless.  I only hope I can pay it forward and be there for any of you have gone out of your way for me.  This whole experience has made me realize who my true friends are!

Let the Mind Run the Body

When I was 8 years old I wanted to try soccer. But in 1985 there were no teams for females, so I had to play with the boys.  Athleticism ran in my family, so I was fast, agile, and had fleet feet, but the boys would never pass me the ball. My soccer career ended the following year and I decided to try softball.  At try-outs the locally renown Mr. Ciofi hit me ground balls I couldn’t catch.  I stepped and threw with the same hand and foot.  My hand-eye coordination was a little lacking, but for some reason I fell in love with this sport.  I was determined to practice the skills that would make me a better ball player.  In my MIND, I knew I could do it!

The first season I was drafted to a team who wore all brown uniforms and went 0-16. I tried all of the positions on the field and quickly realized that a team could only be as good as its pitcher.  I met with a pitching coach who helped me learn the all new wind-mill style and I spent hours every day throwing to a wall or to a volunteer coach who would sit on a bucket.  In my MIND I knew I could learn how to throw strikes, and I pitched many games after that.

I continued playing softball in the Little League program until I was 18, and whenever I wanted to learn a new position, I put my MIND to it and spent morning, noon, and night trying to become the best I could be.  I showed up to practice early and was the last one to leave.  Although my skill was just average, my work ethic was impeccable.  My hard work and dedication earned me a starting position on a team that was World Series bound.  However, when I began struggling at the plate, I was replaced by a better (younger) player.  In my MIND I knew it was in my team’s best interest for me to be on the bench, but my ego got the best of me.  The bench was the last place I ever wanted to be during a playoff game.  I did not handle the situation in a mature manner.  Instead I portrayed a bad attitude that was clear to all of my teammates, coaches, and fans.

When I started to become a proverbial cancer to this tight knit team, one of my coaches decided to intervene.  Bob Loudenslager was one of the best coaches I ever had.  I respected his knowledge, skills, and ability to motivate a team.  But one day he had had enough of my non-sense.  He pulled me aside and said 10 words I will never forget: “I’m not asking you to leave, I’m just suggesting it.”   I was appalled, angry, and hurt that he wanted me off the team.  But in my MIND I knew I didn’t deserve to be on the field.  I went home that night and cried, knowing I had to make a decision. Would I stay on the team and risk having to sit on the bench while my teammates played in the World Series or would I quit the team?

I went to practice the next day with a smile on my face and ready to work hard.  I sat on the bench the next few games (knowing it was a test), but I stayed positive in the dugout.  I cheered my teammates on and did not show any signs of resentment for the girl who had taken my spot.  My coaches noticed this change in attitude and I soon found myself in the starting lineup.  That year we went to the World Series and WON.  It was the best sports moment of my life!

I also played softball for the competitive Williamsport Area High School Millionaires. I played mostly on the JV team when I was a freshman, but was pulled up to Varsity when they made the playoffs.  As a sophomore I split time between JV and Varsity as well.  While I was honored to be called up to the big leagues, I also found myself resenting my best friend Andi, who got some playing time on Varsity.  I felt like I always lived in her shadow: in softball, academics, and popularity.  In my MIND I knew she was a better ball player, smarter, and had more friends. This was a mental struggle I know she noticed, but we never really discussed it until we were much older.

I didn’t miss many games in high school.  One time was for an Eric Clapton concert (well worth it), but I also had to sit out for a few games when I had a ruptured bursa sap and had fluid in my knee.  I thought it was the end of the world because I couldn’t stand watching my teammates practice and play while I sat on the bench.  I had to force my MIND to be smart about coming back slowly and being able to play again.

I decided I wanted to pursue a softball career at the collegiate level.  When I pulled up to the campus of Elon University in January of my junior year I realized that this was where I wanted to spend the next four years of my life.  I met with the head coach and she made it very clear that she had a full roster and that all scholarship money had been allocated.  I was extremely disappointed, but in my MIND I knew I would have the opportunity to try out as a walk-on.  I decided that if I didn’t make the team, or made the team and didn’t get any playing time, then I would transfer.

In the fall of 1995 I tried out and made the team.  Coach Leonard made it clear again that she did not have any money to offer and that I most likely wouldn’t see a lot of playing time.  I understood the monetary conundrum.  Why would a coach put a player on the bench if she was paying her to play?  However, I was willing to do whatever I had to do to earn that starting spot. I spent countless hours in the batting cage, taking fly balls, catching pitchers, and proving to coach I was the utility player she could put anywhere on the field.  In our first fall ball game I had not made the starting lineup.  I didn’t give up though.  As a freshman, non-scholarship player, I knew I would have to persevere.  But instead, I got lucky.  The right fielder had to be taken out of the second game of our fall ball tournament.  I got my chance, and I proved that I deserved to be in between the lines.  I played in every game, except TWO, during my collegiate career.

The first time I sat the bench during my stint at Elon was when I had to go to the emergency room for stitches.  I was warming up pitcher Gina Kruger and decided I didn’t need to put on all the gear.  This was a  bad decision as the first pitch took a bad hop off the corner of the raised plate, and my chin took the brunt of it.  I was very reluctant to go to the hospital because we were playing a big time team: Georgia Tech.  I begged and pleaded with the doctors to get me out of there ASAP so that I could get back to my team.  My MIND was telling me that I was fine to play, but the doctor disagreed.

The second time I sat the bench for Elon was when we were playing at East Carolina University (my senior year).  We had a new, inexperienced, coach whom no one respected.  She made a lot of poor coaching decisions, many of which cost us wins. In the 4th inning of a 0-0 game we had a runner on first and no outs.  I came to the plate and looked to her for the bunt sign, but she didn’t give me ANY signs.  I took it upon myself to bunt and advance the runner.  I successfully did both of those and came hustling back into the dugout with a smile on my face.  Coach gave me a disgruntled look and said “have a seat.”  She replaced me with another player.  I was irate and began to handle the situation with a really bad attitude.  Some of my teammates even told me that I should just suck it up and be quiet because I was just making it worse.  While it pained me that we lost the game, I was secretly happy because I wanted to blame it all on her coaching.  In retrospect this was a terrible attitude to have and I had to convince my MIND that I was in the wrong for behaving this way.


After college I continued being active by playing Co-Ed softball, women’s modified softball, and women’s fast-pitch softball.  I ran 5Ks and 10Ks and took a job at the YMCA so that I could stay fit for free.  While working there I met the head trainer, George Dobbins.  When he decided to train at a bigger, better gym, I followed him, taking a front desk and sales position at Gold’s Gym.  The irony of me working at a gym for the free membership was that I worked so many hours I couldn’t find the time to actually work out.  I slowly gained 30 pounds.

One day in the fall of 2006 I was monitoring the front desk at Gold’s Gym and I noticed that the body builder/head trainer George was sprinting on the treadmill. No one at globo gyms SPRINTS on a treadmill!  He would do a short interval, jump off and do some pushups and squats in the middle of the aisle, and then jump back on the treadmill for another sprint.  After he did this a few times he was laid out on the ground.  Everyone at the gym was watching and wondering what the hell he was doing.  When he recovered he said he was trying out this thing called “CrossFit.”  We googled it, tried it the next day, and became hooked!

The owner of Gold’s Gym did not think CrossFit was conducive with what he was trying to do at his facility.  George made a risky decision to open his own box, and it has surely paid off.  We started with a handful of people working out at Silver Lake park, moved to a small building shared with karate students, and then to an industrial center in Camden.  As our community grew, George realized we needed more space and we moved into a larger building in the same industrial center.  Two years later we continued to grow and had to move yet again, to the current location of CrossFit Dover (155 Commerce Drive).

CrossFit has become my passion and the people there have become my family. For the past few years I have trained about 5-6 days per week at the box, but never really focused on serious strength training and skill work.  I relied on my engine to get me through most wods, but there were many times when I was completely humbled by a workout.

In 2010 I went to a team competition where the movements and the weights were pulled out of a hopper.  One of the movements was a team 5k row that could be shared however we wanted. Christen Osika and I were not the most efficient rowers, but we had to contribute.  Every time we would get below TWO, the guys would scream for us to get off!  We knew their strategies were in the best interest of the TEAM, but it was a mental road block because we literally rowed as hard as we possibly could!  Then, in the final wod the first movement was a squat clean at 135 pounds (more than our body weight) for five reps.  My teammate, Christen, and I attempted the lift numerous times, while other teams passed us. Eventually, we had to take weight off the bar in order to complete the workout, albeit scaled with no chance to podium.  We were humiliated and frustrated that we had left our male teammates (George Dobbins and Mike Georgules) down. My MIND was completely humbled.  But I only let it keep me down until I walked into the gym the next day ready to work on those weaknesses.

Later in 2010 I went to the first CrossFit Sectionals (before they had THE OPEN).  I came in 23rd out of 45 women and only the top 20 were invited to Regionals.  I wasn’t upset about this because I knew that I still lacked a lot of strength to be able to hang with these ladies.  However, a few days later I received an email stating that several women declined their invitation to Regionals, and that the invite was being extended to ME!  I excitedly accepted and made the eight hour road trip to Ohio.  The first wod started with muscle ups.  Fortunately, for me, I was not the only one who couldn’t do that movement, so they decided to allow pull ups as a modification.  The second wod was a strength of mine: 5k run with an 800 meter sandbag carry.  This gave me a lot of confidence, but only lasted until the next workout, which was a strength effort (a one rep max deadlift).  I loaded up my bar and was able to PR the lift.  But, it was extremely humbling, as the girls next to me were warming up with my 1rm!  The fourth wod that day was one I will never forget.  It was a long chipper that included ten 40# dumbbell push presses.  I hadn’t really thought anything of it when the workout was released, as I assumed the total weight was 40 pounds.  But my judge, the popular Zach Miller, informed me that it was 40# for EACH dumb bell. My MIND had a mini war going on. I’ve never done this movement with this weight even once. How was I supposed to do it TEN times?  As I was lined up next to Julie Foucher and Christy Phillips (now popular CrossFit Games athletes), the nerves ate away at my stomach.  They passed me with blazing speed and I was left there to struggle with those damn dumbbells.  Jud Dean was on the sidelines a few feet away from me and I remember the calm manner in which he coached me through those ten physically and mentally demanding reps. I did it and all of the girls who had finished were there cheering me on. This is one of the things I love most about the sport: the last person done gets the most cheers! I DNF’d (did not finish) the workout, but someone told me that it was much better than a DNS (did not start).

regionals2 regionalsregionals 3

In 2011 I was partners with George again for the Delaware Affiliate Challenge held at CrossFit Middletown.  The first workout required partner 1 to change the weights on the bar while partner 2 did burpees over said bar.  My sweaty shaking hands tried to remove the clip but to no avail.  I squeezed it as hard as I could, but it wouldn’t budge.  George finished his reps and I was still struggling to get the damn clip off.  I could see the frustration in his competitive eyes.  I had disappointed the person I admired most; the person with whom I was honored to be partnered.  I hated this feeling and spent the time between wods sulking in my lawn chair.  Unfortunately, I wear my emotions on my sleeve, and everyone knew how upset I was.  I didn’t know how I was going to do another wod with George, worrying that I would let him down yet again.  I removed myself from the crowds and found a quiet place to clear my MIND.  After I was able to get it together I met George on the floor for the second wod.  He assured me that we were going to kick ass…and we did!


Later in 2011 CrossFit Dover had a team qualify for Regionals.  I was so excited to compete with Christen Osika, Wendy Flannery, Matt Knight, Phil Vickery, and Alleem Humber (George and Mike had decided to go individual).  My team wanted me to do the 21, 15, 9 wod with 185# deadlifts and box jumps.  At that time, 185# was a pretty heavy weight for me to do high reps.  I questioned my ability to even be on this team and had conversations with numerous people who assured me that I could handle it. Once I put it in my MIND that I could do it…I did it!  Overall we came in 29th out of 30 teams there, but it sure was an experience of a lifetime.

Alleem Reg

Over the next few years I tried to balance running with CrossFit, as I loved both equally.  I ran six full marathons, dozens of half marathons, and numerous obstacle course races.  In the summer of 2014 I began training for the Richmond Marathon.  I spent four months working on speed, distance, and mobility.  I continued to CrossFit, but only a few times per week and it definitely showed when I tried to do anything heavy.  I had lost a lot of strength by logging hundreds of miles, a dichotomy I had struggled with for years.  I didn’t understand why I couldn’t be good at both? Something always had to give.

On November 15, 2014 I set out on a gorgeous sunny day in Richmond to complete the 26.2 miles.  My MIND and body were 100% ready to conquer this feat.  I started slow and steady, as I always do when I run, conserving energy for the latter half of the race.  I cruised through the first 13.1 miles with no music, enjoying the scenic views, and feeling really good.  When I hit the 20 mile marker I looked at my Garmin and knew I was on pace to PR this race!  However, I started to feel a slight pain in my IT Band.  I stopped and stretched it out and was able to muster through it for the next mile.  I stopped again at every mile marker after that, as the pain became excruciating.  I all but hobbled through mile 25, as the tears ran down my face. When I crossed the finish line there was no elation, just pure disappointment that I had not met my goal.  I sat in the medical tent for a while before meeting up with my friends, all of whom had either just completed their first full marathon, or had beat their previous times.  I tried to put on a smiling face to congratulate them, but deep down inside I felt a huge sense of resentment.  I had trained just as hard as all of these people.  Why did this happen to ME? I swore from that moment on that I would never run another marathon.  But, as I sit here typing, I realize that would mean I was defeated, that I gave up.  I am not a quitter.  I WILL run 26.2 miles again! MIND over matter.


After the marathon I had resolved to focus on a strength training program, and put running on the proverbial back burner.  But, one evening I was helping some members of CrossFit Dover move equipment for an event we were hosting the following day.  I slipped and fell into a large rack, injuring my right shoulder.  It would take four months of mobility, chiropractor visits, Grastin treatments, deep tissue massages, and modifying workouts until I felt 100%.  It was tough mentally because there were so many wods I could not complete as prescribed.  I hated asking a coach to program a different movement because I couldn’t do a snatch or an overhead squat.  I tried to do as much as I could on my own, but my MIND is not as competent as some of our coaches.

As I recovered from this injury and began doing movements I hadn’t done in months, I pulled my left lat.  When it rains, it pours.  I could not catch a break.  I was keeping chiropractor Dr. Maday, and massage therapist, Margie Dirlam, in business. While I was extremely frustrated with this injury, I knew it was minor in comparison to what I just went through with my shoulder.  I was patient and smart about this, knowing I would be 100% soon.

Over the next few months I trained for two competitions.  I decided to start an Olympic Lifting program because I often struggle with these movements.  I saw improvements in ALL of my lifts and this gave me a tremendous sense of confidence. I also started working on some gymnastic skills.  As of the first week of May 2015 I had PRd all of my lifts and gotten strict handstand push ups.  I had been working on the rings every day to get a feel for the false grip, work on hollow rocks, and pulling my body up in order to prepare for the elusive muscle up.  On Wednesday, May 13th, I got my first muscle up.  I was finally progressing in the CrossFit world, and feeling like I could officially call myself an RX athlete.


But then at 10am on Saturday, May 16th, it all came to an end.  I was at CrossFit Equity competing in the Spring Fling.  I was on a team with Karla Alexander and Leslie Pleasanton.  We had 13 minutes to all find a one rep max on the clean, jerk, and snatch.  I warmed up and the clean felt good, but when I squatted 135#, I had a hard time coming out of it.  I decided then that I would power clean it.  My MIND told me that I was fast enough to get under the bar, but not strong enough to stand out of it, so it told me to just skip the squat.  When I got out on the floor I successfully power cleaned 145#, 155#, and then PRd at 160#.  I was stoked, but not satisfied.  I had 165# on my goal list for the past year and I wanted it badly.  I had one minute left and with adrenaline my MIND said: Just do it.


I got under the bar, but landed so wide that my right leg could not take the weight and it caved in, the weight dropping on my left foot.  I fell to the ground screaming and holding my knee in what was the worst athletic moment of my career and the worst pain I had ever known.  George carried me out to a table while they called an ambulance.  He offered to go to the hospital with me, but I begged him not to go.  I knew how hard he had trained for this event and their team was up in five minutes. After I convinced him to stay, Michael Scharmach, my best friend, offered to ride with me in the ambulance.  She stood by my hospital bed the entire time calming me down.  Without her there I don’t know how I would have survived.  Alejandra Rodriguez (Arod), one of my closest friends, followed the ambulance to the hospital and stayed with me for a while, giving up her spot on the team.

I went back to the gym to watch the last few events, not knowing exactly what was wrong with my knee, but in an immobilizer and on pain meds.  We drove back to the gym that night and George had planned for Michael to pick up pizza and beer, in an attempt to make me feel better.  It worked!  That night Michael drove me home and helped me get situated.  She stayed the night with me and then Arod and Brandon joined me on Sunday.  It was not until Monday morning that I was alone and this was a really low point for me.

As soon as I woke up from a night of tossing and turning I called my primary care doctor to get an MRI scheduled. They said the earliest they could get me in would be SEPTEMBER.  Plan B: I called my insurance company to see which orthopedic doctors were in my network.  I then called Dr. Stephen Tooze’s office and they said they could get me in that day with one of his PA’s.  I was relieved to have an appointment, despite having to figure out the logistics of actually getting there.

I made my way to the kitchen to get some breakfast and coffee. I leaned on the counter with one arm and tried stirring my oatmeal with the other.  I laid out all of the things I would need: bowl, spoon, drink, paper towel, etc.  I knew it would require some effort to get everything from the kitchen to the living room table.  After several slow trips I settled on the couch, elevating and icing my knee.  I picked up my bowl of oatmeal, only to realize that the spoon was still sitting on the kitchen counter.  I lost it.  And then I decided to just lick the oatmeal out of the bowl.  That was when I knew I was going to need a lot of help.

I called my friend Kristin Trout to drive me to the doctor’s office.  On the drive she told me how she can empathize because when she tore her rotator’s cuff she felt completely helpless too.  She made me a yogi goodie bag and I was more than grateful!  Seh dropped me off and my appointment with Dr. Tooze’s PA went well.  She drained my knee and said that the fact that there was no blood in the fluid, meant it was most likely NOT an ACL tear.  After a manual exam, she seemed to think  it was a meniscus tear and a sprained MCL.  This would not be a long recovery. I left with an appointment scheduled for the following week, simply to let the swelling go down before the MRI.

When I returned for the second visit the PA scheduled me for an MRI the following week.  Now the waiting was starting to get to me.  I took it upon myself to call MDI (Mid Delaware Imaging) to get the appointment pushed up to an earlier date, and I was successful.  While I waited for that day, I also referred myself to Core Physical Therapy because I was getting worried that my mobility was not improving.  Glen Brown, the head PT, took one look at my knee and said I tore my ACL.  The tears flowed once again. My MIND had been set on a minor injury with a couple months of physical therapy.  Now I was looking at 6-9 months.

I went to the gym that night to be surrounded by my CrossFit family.  Michael listened to my rant as I hyper ventilated like a 5 year old kid who had just lost her teddy bear. George also knew how upset I was and assured me that he was would be here for me through the entire journey.  He asked if I trusted him…and then more waterworks.

I didn’t eat dinner that night, couldn’t sleep for even a minute, and didn’t eat breakfast the next morning.  I went to school, which only made matters worse because I was a physical and emotional mess.  The severity of this injury was setting in.  I was told it would be a year…one full year until I would be back to normal, and even then there could be long term effects that might prevent me from doing what I love.

Later that day, after experiencing anxiety about having my first MRI, I finally had the imaging done.  The entire process only took 20 minutes and was nothing compared to what I had gone through on May 16th.  I was a little relieved to have some official results, although I had to wait the entire weekend before a radiologist could read it and then send it to Dr. Lewullis, an orthopedic surgeon who was recommended to me.

My friends kept me busy throughout the weekend.  I got to talk with my close friend Corinne Hoffmann about her experience with a torn ACL and meniscus.  She eased my mind, while keeping it honest.  I spent some time with Wendy at the CrossFit FrontLine competition.  I loved seeing so many people I knew there, especially Shiret Singh, who can empathize because she recently dislocated her shoulder.  However, it was hard for me to watch that first workout, because it involved power cleans.  It gave me shivers down my spine and I actually had to turn away.  I will never be able to do that movement again.

I also got to see some friends at a BBQ, and then on Sunday Michael came down to help me take out the garbage, put away the hoodies I had knocked over, and take me grocery shopping.  I drove the motorized cart that usually sports morbidly obese humans who can’t walk around the store for a long period of time.  It was demoralizing.  But, we tried to make the best of the situation and we laughed about it while sharing a bloody-mary later.


My first appointment with Dr. Lewullis was both good and bad.  He is very knowledgeable and able to articulate the medical jargon in layman’s terms so that I could understand.  He gave me some options to consider and I left the office realizing that this was not a simple menisectomy, or an ACL reconstruction.  This was a multi ligament injury that was going to require two surgeries, would prevent me from traveling to Spain and Portugal, and would lead me to be on crutches for the entire summer.  Once again, I cried.

On Tuesday, June 2nd, my good friend Allison Houdek came to visit me.  She has had an ACL reconstruction on BOTH knees and she is having a third surgery at the end of the summer.  If anyone can empathize, she certainly can.  She gave me some sage advice about surgery, physical therapy, and life.  This made me feel better!

My mom came down the same day to help cook food.  She started asking if I had chives, relish, mayo, garlic powder, etc., and the answer was no to every ingredient.  I make simple meals, so my kitchen was not conducive to her cooking style. She went to the grocery store only to come back with a ton of food and now I am set for the week!  While my mom has been here she has been my taxi driver, chef, cleaner, and shopper.  This has helped a tremendous amount.  But I am still struggling with the fact that I have lost my independence.  I am trying to wrap my MIND around the fact that I NEED help.


On Wednesday, June 3rd, I met with Dr. Lewullis and made a decision to have a Scope done on 6/9.  He will perform surgery to repair both meniscus and to see how severely sprained (or torn) the MCL is.  He has tried to get a manual exam, but my entire body starts shaking when he attempts to move my knee.  I have been traumatized.

Putting things into perspective…

These past few weeks have been an emotional roller coaster.  I have felt like this is the end of the world, that this is the end of my CrossFit career, and that I will never be able to repay the people who have helped me.  I have felt sorry for myself…sad, angry, helpless, and depressed.

But then I get messages from my close friends asking what they can do for me.  In addition to all of the aforementioned people who have gone out of their way for me, there is a list of others who have lent a hand.  Heather Nemcic has gone grocery shopping for me.  Dave Burris has driven me around and sent me uplifting messages.  Wendy sent me flowers and checks in on me every day.  Matt Parker and Tony Espinal picked me up so I could attend a Memorial Day BBQ.  Carla Lawson has printed my lesson plans on days I missed school and brought me lunch on the days I was there.  Brendan Butler picked me up for school several times.  Laini Bernard and Melissa Rapp have made copies for me.  I am sure I am missing someone…

When I start to think this is the worst thing in the world, I get messages like this:


I also think about people who have life threatening, incurable diseases, like a good friend of our family.  I think about my college best friend, Shaunda Legg, who was diagnosed with breast cancer six years ago.  I think about my friend Nikki Dudley who lost her son in a child abuse case while she was deployed.  These people are mentally strong and I need to be reminded that what I am going through pales in comparison.


I have a year long recovery ahead of me and I need to get my MIND in the right place or I am going to not only drive all of you crazy, but I will drive myself crazy.   I am going to focus on the positive, such as the fact that 1.) I have a job that has great health care benefits and does not require working over the summer. 2.) This is an injury that is reparable.  3.) I have a huge support system.  I love you all.


I decided to start this blog because writing is therapeutic for me.  I will continue to post weekly, or maybe monthly, as I embark on this year long recovery.  If you made it this far,…THANK YOU!