Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Bully Effect

Bullying seems to be a big topic of conversation in our house the past few weeks. Thankfully my children aren't being bullied, but it is definitely happening (especially with the increasing prevalence of social media contact among kids). It wasn't until a friend shared her experience with her daughter being bullied, and watching "The Bully Effect" on the Cartoon Network with my kids, that I realized how much being bullied affected me.

It didn't happen every day, or even every week. It wasn't a regular thing, but I have vivid memories of episodes from 6th through 8th grade that were isolating, upsetting, and obviously stuck with me. I wasn't a social outcast...I had friends...but no "good friends". I didn't have that one best friend who was there through thick and thin who would have stuck up for me. I was a rule-follower, which probably didn't help. I separated myself when people did something to break the rules, and that made me stand out. I had a huge gap in my teeth and I was a "late bloomer"..neither of which helped me when it came to getting teased by the boys at school.

 My parents didn't know about it..and let me just say that they are/were awesome parents. It wasn't talked about in schools like it is now, and I didn't show any signs of having problems. I was a well-adjusted kid. I got good grades, I wasn't depressed, I didn't show any signs. Since it didn't happen on a regular basis, I don't think it ever dawned on me to tell anyone. I'm sure I thought it would only make it worse.

I vividly remember the 6th or 7th grade picnic at Lake Needwood.  I can still see the hillside with the blanket on it, and all of the girls sitting on it. Somehow one particular girl started heckling me whenever I got close to them, not allowing me to join them. I don't remember what was said, but I remember that no one spoke up. No one left that blanket to come hang out with me so that I wasn't alone. I think I tried more than once to approach them with the same result. So I was left to kind of wander around, and end up hanging out with the teachers. So what would I have told my parents? That the girls weren't nice to me? I don't think that would have helped the situation....and it was in that moment that I was isolated. After the fact I don't think it would have had an impact.

Like I said this didn't happen all the time. So many people have/had it much worse, but it still impacted me. It makes it hard to watch it going on with 5th grade girls and not want to pull a girl aside and tell her to stop being such a butthead!

There was the Junior High trip to London. I paid for half of the trip with my own money. Probably only 8 or 10 of us went, with one teacher. We were allowed out on our own at some points (a thought which scares me now). There were specific instructions not to go to the part of town in which the Hard Rock Cafe was located. Everyone else decided to go ....wait for it.... to the Hard Rock Cafe. Being a rule-follower, there was no way I was going. Somehow I ended up very accidentally spilling the beans after they left. (I believe we were told what time to be back, and they were late. Someone said to the teacher "You never told us." and I said "Yes she did, before you went to the Hard Rock Cafe".). That right there was social suicide for the rest of the trip. We were staying at some two-star hotel, and I won't ever forget everyone else walking down the winding staircase, all looking up at me and giving me the middle finger. Yes...I inadvertently ratted them out...but it sucked. I ended up spending the rest of the trip by myself or hanging out with our teacher. The good news is I still have great memories of all the sites in London.

In 8th grade I remember being intimidated by one of the other girls and a high schooler. It only happened if the two of them happened to be alone around me. A few times they would be coming down the steps as I was going up. They would move side to side, not allowing me to pass. There were mean words on occasion,  but nothing with great regularity.

It faded off at some point. Joining the fire department was probably a pivotal point for me. I found a purpose, something I enjoyed, and the camaraderie and friendship I was looking for. Summers at camp were another amazing time. It was a place where I felt like I belonged.

I like to think that I turned out ok. I have more amazing friends than any one person deserves. I have "those" friends who I know have my back no matter what. I have an awesome family. I know many others aren't so lucky. It feels a little self-indulgent to share my story, but watching 10-year-old girls go through something similar brings it all back. The irony is that many of the girls involved in the stories above friended me on facebook at some point in time. I'm sure they don't even remember these events.

Tonight I watched "The Bully Effect" with the kids. It is a great show for kids in elementary school and older. I cried watching how badly the boy in the featured story was bullied. He was hit, kicked, stabbed with pencils. The vice principal did a horrendous job handling it. My kids talked about the fact that their school holds sessions on bullying, and S even mentioned that all the teachers are trained in dealing with bullying. That said, it often happens away from the watchful eyes of teachers, and kids are still afraid of the repercussions of telling an adult.

When my friend shared that her daughter is experiencing bullying, I told her she needs to involve a few of her good friends. This is a girl who has friends. She needs to know that if she is bullied, she can go to those girls and ask for support. Obviously she needs to tell an adult, but in the moment she needs "go to" friends who keep her from feeling isolated.

My story is not unique, and it is mild in comparison to so many. I'm thankful that in the span of one generation, we are talking about it more. We are also more accepting of people who are "different". We are making it more acceptable to report a bully or call them out on their behavior. My greatest hope now is that Tommy and I can empower our children to stand up for others. As I have told my daughter more than once, mean girls only have power because people give them power.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Key to Keys: The "Finish"

The start of our last day...Homestead, Fla to Key West.
(Matt Brown, our awesome photographer, is missing from the pic because he was taking it)

When you compete in a running race or a triathlon, it is often a solitary event. There are other competitors and spectators giving you encouragement, but ultimately it is about your best effort on that day. Sometimes there are stories of people sacrificing a faster time in the name of helping someone else get through the race. In the case of the Key to Keys ride, every day was about the sum of your team. What did we bring to the ride as a team? I learned an immense amount about cycling on this to ride in a pace line (thank you Jimmy), some more in-depth bike mechanics (Jimmy again), and wasn't about the time finishing most days, but about the journey. The biggest physical challenge was the amount of time in the saddle. The muscle fatigue wasn't as much of a problem as the saddle soreness that set in after hours of riding. Even when it hurt, it was easy to remind yourself that this was a lot easier than battling cancer, and that cancer doesn't always have a defined finish line.

In any big race I have done, be it a triathlon, marathon, or half marathon, I have cried at the finish line. I'm never quite sure what triggers this reaction...sometimes it is more overt than others. It is joy at finishing the race, a sense of elation at the accomplishment, and thankfulness that I was able to complete something I considered to be a major goal.

The finish of Key to Keys was different...I think we all would have added extra miles at the end if it meant holding on to the feeling of the ride for a little longer. There were lots of jokes in the last few blocks about pedaling backward to make the day last longer. All day, I had thoughts of hugging Tommy at the finish in my head, and I couldn't wait to see him. At the same time, I didn't want for this amazing journey to be over. As we rode through Key West, people on scooters joined in behind us, cheering us on. It made me think of little kids on their bikes, only they were adults. We rolled into the Southernmost Point, and there was Tommy with some of the other spouses. The Ulman Staff were waving our Team Fight flag and cheering, as were the tourists lined up for photos at the Southernmost Point. It was a neat experience to have never visited Key West Before and be seeing it for the first time on my bicycle.

Riding the "Seven Mile Bridge" (which REALLY is 7 miles)

We Made It!!!!!!!!!
Paul Lemle got some awesome shots of our viewpoint.

Paul getting us as we rolled into Key West.

Matt Brown, our elusive and awesome photographer.

The evening ended with a dinner on the beach at "Fort Zach", and a lovely celebration of our accomplishment. One last dedication circle as the sun set reminded us of our accomplishment and gave us an opportunity to say thank you. Despite tired legs and worn bodies, many of us danced into the night, celebrating our accomplishment. (It was funny watching people after a few frosty beverages completely doubt that we had ridden our bikes to Key West).

Patti took this one....a beautiful tribute to our ride.

This truly was an amazing journey, and while we crossed the finish line in Key West, I know that many of us feel our contributions to the Ulman Cancer Fund do not end here...through time, stewardship, sport, and fundraising we will continue to support UCF. A huge thank you to Brian Satola and the Ulman staff for the vision and hard work that made this amazing journey happen...and to Tommy who never says "you can't do that", just "tell me what I need to do". Not to mention all the family, friends, and coworkers who supported in so many ways. My cup is overflowing, and thank you doesn't seem to be enough, but thank you for helping me along on this journey.

Key to Keys: The Journey

Starting Our Journey

Our journey to Key West began on Saturday. It started with a send-off party in Baltimore City, which was an opportunity to get the group together and for our families and friends to say goodbye. It is an Ulman tradition to start events with a “Dedication Circle”. This circle gives everyone an opportunity to share thoughts on who they are riding for each day. It reminds me a little of a Quaker Meeting…someone starts off the dedication and everyone adds theirs as they are moved to do so. I started the journey for the Davis family. Ryan, Harmony, and their children are in the midst of their fight against cancer. Harmony led off the Run Across America last year.

Riding at the BWI Airport Loop

A stop at the University of Maryland

Ride Logistics

Many people have asked what the structure for the ride is. Each day we are assigned to one of four groups. Group 1 begins riding, while group 2 drives to the end of Group 1’s route and then begins riding. The same goes with groups 3 and 4. I was part of group 1, and our task was to ride from the Inner Harbor in Baltimore to NE Washington DC. We are given cue sheets, but discovered that there were a few snags. Thanks to Google Maps and good teamwork, we got from point A to Point B, with a little backtracking. We rode through College Park, which gave me time to reflect on my dear friend Nicole who lost her husband Mike to cancer. He was a University of Maryland alum, so College Park was a great place for me to ride.

After we finished our ride, and joined up with Liz (our driver for the day and an awesome Ulman staffer), we drove to Charlottesville, Va. Each day would have a similar layout. As someone who is a control freak planner, it was refreshing to have 8 days where my job was just to pedal, listen, and share our story with the people we met. We woke up in the morning, and during breakfast the “lineup” for the day would be posted. This included your riding buddies and your “SAG” (Support and Gear”) driver. The drivers were all Ulman staffers, who absolutely rocked. They had a tailgate picnic ready for us every day on our ride, and always offered crazy awesome encouragement.

Each afternoon/evening, we would arrive at our hotel for the night. It wasn’t until arrival that we found out who our roommate would be. We got to room with most of our teammates of the same gender, which lent itself to lots of bonding and getting to know each other. Once again….I didn’t have to make any decisions…just lug my bag and bike into the hotel and set up camp for the night. Dinner every evening was about camaraderie…sharing stories of the day, laughter, and often tears. It was probably less than 48 hours before everyone stripped down the layers of unfamiliarity and began to share their stories in a very raw, very real way. The laughs were frequent and hearty, and the tears came just as often. The 8 days on this journey did so much to revitalize many of us.

My Riding Routes on Key to Keys:

Day 1: Baltimore to Northeast DC  (aka lots of starting and stopping); Overnight in Charlottesville, VA

Day 2: Virginia into NC (my group got to cross the border); Overnight in Durham, NC

Day 3: Durham, NC to Myrtle Beach, SC  (my group got to ride from NC into Myrtle Beach); Overnight in Myrtle with an awesome dinner at the firehouse there. Day 3-4 were also the days when there was the most complaining (myself included) about how painful it was to ride so many days in a get to know each other quite well on a ride like this...

Day 4: Myrtle Beach, SC to Hilton Head
My group got to ride through Charleston, which was beautiful. Hilton Head was where we met Edgar…a local who was certainly a little over the top and under the influence, but made us laugh harder than any of us have every laughed.

Laughter to the point of tears thanks to our friend Edgar

A rare moment when Jimmy wasn't busy texting on his "ATM"

Day 5: Hilton Head, SC to St. George, Georgia (My group got to ride Alligator Alley and cross the border into Georgia). We had an awesome homemade southern dinner here, hosted by Liz’s family and the local cycling club. This was also the location of “Key to Keys Idol”…some of the people on our team can really sing. In the midst of silliness, a local at the bar donated $400 because he heard what we were doing and wanted to help. Laughter turned to tears as he shared his story, but it epitomized our journey.

Pre-ride Caffeine

Post-ride recovery drinks

My buddy in the "way back" of the Suburban

Day 6: St. George, Georgia to Vero Beach, Fl with an awesome dinner hosted by Brian’s parents in Vero Beach. On this day we hit the headwind from the storms that hit Georgia. No rain but wind that made you feel like you were pedaling in place. It was mentally probably the most challenging day for all of us.

Day 7: Vero Beach, Fl to Homestead, Fl. On this day, my group rode through some really neat destinations, including South Palm Beach, Boca Raton, and Ft. Lauderdale. A lot of our riding was right along the coast, which means a gusting headwind at times but beautiful riding.

Photo collage credit: Chris Zahlis
This includes our awesome crew for the day Abby and Alex

Team "Boy Scout" helping Canadian tourists change a tire. 

Day 8: Homestead, Fl to Key West...more about this in my blog about finishing the race.

There aren't words to describe this journey. It was epic and emotional and fulfilling and invigorating. I am so thankful to all of those who supported me, by taking care of the kids, "liking" my Facebook updates, donating to my fundraising. There are too many people to thank by name, as I know I would leave someone out...know that each of you touched me beyond words. 

(Many thanks to Matt Brown who took many of these amazing photos along the way).