The Scout Law Project

In my last article I wrote about procrastination. I promised to share my way of thinking about how I am going to get out of my current writing morass. Here it is:

I am going to revisit the first framework that ever meant anything to me; the Boy Scout Law.

neuschwanstien castle

The Boy Scout Law

In case you need a refresher, this is the Boy Scout Law

“A Scout is ”

  1. Trustworthy
  2. Loyal
  3. Helpful
  4. Friendly
  5. Courteous
  6. Kind
  7. Obedient
  8. Cheerful
  9. Thrifty
  10. Brave
  11. Clean
  12. Reverent

That’s it. A simple 12 points to help me get back on track. I realize this plan may not exactly be self-apparent. Allow me to explain.

As discussed last time, the reasons I stopped writing was my lack of belief that what I was doing – NaNoWriMo – would lead to anything of value. NaNoWriMo had a framework, write 50,000 words in some 30 days. The part of me that lets me write shut down not because I wasn’t producing. It shut down because I was producing crap. I was producing crap not because I didn’t have a framework – 50,000 words in a month is a framework. The issue was that I was building on a poor foundation. In the end it doesn’t matter if you are trying to build a house over a sinkhole, raise a child without a moral backing, or write. If you don’t have a good foundation, your project will fail.

Lucky for me, fixing foundation errors in writing is much easier than those in brick and mortar or flesh and blood. I want to take a little time over the next few weeks to explore each of those laws – memories of reciting them as a boy and the lessons of how they apply to me now. The writing practice will certainly help me but it is really the exploration of the total sum of ideas these words reflect that rather than the values ascribed to them by Boy Scouts that appeals to me.

Of course, as with many things I do there are a few other reasons why I am exploring these 12 notions – I’ll explain those along the way, too.

Can’t wait to get started! Hope you’ll join me!

My Great American Novel

It’s been too long. I think I’m ready for a new challenge. Swimming and travelling have been fun (and I don’t plan on getting married again!) Perhaps now it is time for a more academic endeavor. Enter NaNoWriMo.

ruta-de-don-quijote-toledo

What is NaNoWriMo?

I first heard of this crazy acronym reading Leo’s blog. NaNoWriMo stands for National November Write More Month. Basically, you sign up, you write your heart out every day in the month of November with the goal of dumping 50,000 words on paper to create a work of fiction. There is no editing and there is little consideration for anything other than raw content. It’s perfect for me!

Basic Rules

Here are the rules I got from the contest as soon as I signed up:

1) It’s okay to not know what you’re doing. Really. You’ve read a lot of novels, so you’re completely up to the challenge of writing one. If you feel more comfortable outlining your story ahead of time, do so. But it’s also fine to just wing it. Write every day, and a book-worthy story will appear, even if you’re not sure what that story might be right now.

2) Do not edit as you go. Editing is for December. Think of November as an experiment in pure output. Even if it’s hard at first, leave ugly prose and poorly written passages on the page to be cleaned up later. Your inner editor will be very grumpy about this, but your inner editor is a nitpicky jerk who foolishly believes that it is possible to write a brilliant first draft if you write it slowly enough. It isn’t. Every book you’ve ever loved started out as a beautifully flawed first draft. In November, embrace imperfection and see where it takes you.

3) Tell everyone you know that you’re writing a novel in November. This will pay big dividends in Week Two, when the only thing keeping you from quitting is the fear of looking pathetic in front of all the people who’ve had to hear about your novel for the past month. Seriously. Email them now about your awesome new book. The looming specter of personal humiliation is a very reliable muse.

3.5) There will be times you’ll want to quit during November. This is okay. Everyone who wins NaNoWriMo wanted to quit at some point in November. Stick it out. See it through. Week Two can be hard. Week Three is much better. Week Four will make you want to yodel.

Why it Rocks

Like many other dreamers you may know I harbor the secret hope of one day completing the Great American Novel. My friends know this all too well. I’ve been threatening to write a lengthy piece of fiction (or two) for years now. But I haven’t ever finished. Most would say that a couple hundred pages here on a dozen or so stories doesn’t even constitute a start. But that’s what this contest should fix. NaNoWriMo allows you, in fact encourages you to just get words on paper without worrying about how pretty they are. For me this will cure a multitude of woes.

Woe 1: Procrastination

In the past, the times I’ve budgeted for writing by and large have been usurped by such worthy activities like tweeting, Facebook, laundry, mindless Internet surfing, and college football. Not the most productive of pursuits. The simple and necessary tasks of budgeting my time, eliminating distractions and marshaling my efforts into a creative productivity should work wonders.

Woe 2: Simplification

All great accomplishments can be broken down into small, essential tasks. NaNoWriMo does that. There’s no worrying about whether the prose is good enough – it won’t be. There is little worry about grammar, word choice, awkwardness of phrasings or anything else that my inner voice uses to derail me when I’ve sat down to write in the past.

Woe 3: Tangible Progress

I’m a sucker for physical, tangible proof of progress. I am a list maker and a list crosser-off-er. Watching my word count increase day by day will fuel me to continue the next day and the next after that until completion.

What NaNoWriMo Will Not Do

Completing NaNoWriMo will not guarantee me a novel. It will, however, guarantee me a lump of clay which I will be very inclined to shape into something worthwhile. At the end of the process I’ll have a 50,000 word lump of fiction and serious momentum. While that doesn’t constitute a novel, I think it will put me past the critical tipping point.

What’s Next?

Well, my criteria for setting a goal have been met. Let’s review. We have a clearly delineated measure of success: 50,000 new words towards a novel. We have a time box the achievement needs to be set in: between November 1st, 2010 and November 30th 2010. I have a plan – average 2,500 words a day (I like incorporating a buffer as it allows for life to be life in all it’s unpredictable madness.)

Only one component is missing; a support group. But we’ll get into that one next time.

For now, what about you? Do you have a novel banging around in your head? Ever see yourself putting it down on paper? Maybe writing a novel is not for you. I bet you’re working on something else completely awesome! Share with us below.

Alternately if you’ve already written your novel or competed in NaNoWriMo tell us below how you did it! Any advice for someone trying for the first time? Help a cubicle warrior out by leaving a comment below!

Operation Spare Tire

The other week I wrote about goals. Specifically, I wrote about how the goals I had listed for all the world to see on the right hand navigation bar just kinda sucked. I knew it was time for a change. Time for me to declare a real and viable mission. And that time is now.

Welcome to Operation Spare Tire

My new mission, and yes, I’ve chosen to accept it, is to lose exactly 10 lbs of body fat by the time of my brother’s bachelor party over July 4th weekend. And if you’re interested, you get to follow along. If you’re not, don’t worry. The cubicle warrior website will not be turning wholly over to become a fitness site. I will still be writing every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Just instead of, or perhaps in addition to, my regular Friday Clip humor videos I will be updating you on my progress of all of my goals (yes, there are more.) For more on why I am choosing this goal, keep reading. If you want to skip down to the bottom of the article, where I put the specifics down, I won’t blame you. After all, a goal is nothing without some kind of measurement system.

Why Operation Spare Tire

Well, first I believe that success in a physical goals follows the same pattern all other success in all other kinds of goals. What you learn by pursuing things like Kung Fu or distance swimming can be translated to every other goal you have. So, if you want to establish a culture of success in your life, completing a physical goal is a good way to start.

Secondly, it feels like the universe is conspiring to motivate me to do this. Everywhere I turn fitness and goals keep popping up!

For example:

My Small Business

A few people know that I run a small web design business. Well, I was recently contracted to build this local personal trainer site. Spend a bunch of nights and weekends building a personal trainer website and see if you don’t feel like you should be treating your body better!

Kung Fu

I started taking Kung Fu over the end of February and it’s been a lot of fun. I have made dramatic improvements in my technique and understanding of the art. However, martial arts is something that I used to be reasonably competent at. In my heart of hearts I know that in order to progress further in that study, I need to achieve a better level of conditioning.

Summer

It’s the and that means it’s time for lakes and pools and beaches. And, sadly, ubiquitous camera phones piloted by Facebook paparazzi willing to post every picture of every second of your life on every social media avenue. My brother’s wedding is also being held on a beach. Wunderbar.

Brother’s Bachelor Party

Like I mentioned in the goal description, my brother is having his bachelor party over 4th of July. It will be a great time to reunite with a bunch of old friends partying on the lake. Those same friends happen to be in great shape. After looking at my own bachelor party photos, I know I want to look better in these.

Foot is healing

For those who didn’t know, I collapse a foot arch 4 years ago. I also broke a few bones that never healed and would never heal. That led me to stop doing things I enjoyed like playing pick up sports but also indirectly led to me tearing a rotator cuff and then, later, destroying my other foot enough so that last year I had to have major surgery. As you might guess, I haven’t really had a lot of movement these past few years that did not involve swimming or kayaking. All that said, I have been healing and training up as best as I can. I have a theory that progress on my feet healing would be sped up considerably if I weighed less. Especially if I have a possible future goal of running around again.

Everybody Else is Doing It!

I can’t go to any part of my Google Reader page without seeing that authors of other blogs that I subscribe to fulfill their own goals. (Shameless plug moment, wouldn’t you love to add this RSS feed to your reader or sign up to get the posts delivered via email?)

Here’s a brief recap of some of the authors I have been reading and what they have accomplished:

 

Friends & Family

Most of my friends have a fitness-oriented lifestyle but some are pushing the bounds. DevilDog is doing a bodybuilding show and progressing well. Even in my office colleagues are completing goals with one finishing a couch to 5k challenge while some of them just got done doing P90x and have moved on to Insanity.

There’s also the guy who lost 50lbs hiking and then there are Kim and Kyle who lost the equivalent of a first grade class between them when they moved to Korea. There’s also my friend’s dad who is having heart problems (motivating said friend to be a bit healthier) and a variety of my own family’s medical history.

Just Is

There truly is no end to the examples I could come up with. In the end it all boils down to me. And I am just happier living a healthier lifestyle. So why not make a game of it and publish it here for all the world to see (and to hold me accountable for)?

Operation Spare Tire’s (OST’s) definition of Success

Now that you’ve seen why, let’s see how.

All good goals have several qualities:

  1. A clear and defined end state (How will I know if OST was a success?)
  2. A time period. (What’s the deadline for OST?)
  3. A way to be measured. (How do you tell if I’m progressing on OST>?)
  4. Constraints / Rules.

So let me address these now.

End State

This one is simple; lose 10 lbs. That’s a little over 6 weeks to lose 10lbs in!

Time Period

Lose 10 lbs by 4th of July (actually, June 30th.)

Measurement

I will be using my personal trainer’s bodyfat test done with calipers to chart my progress. My first measurement on 5/6/2010: I weighed 196 lbs @ 18.6 % body fat. This amounts to 36.45 lbs of fat and only 159.55 lbs lean body mass! Certainly we all need some amount of fat but I certainly don’t need to be at 18.whatever percent!

My end state will be to lose 10lbs of fat without sacrificing any amount of muscle by the time of my brother’s bachelor party starting 6/30/2010.

That means that my desired measurements will be: 186 lbs @ 14.22% (Which equals 26.45 lbs body fat, 160lbs lean mass)

This would put me past 2 important psychological barriers: 1) Below the 190 level – I haven’t been there since a year before hurting my feet (2005). 2) Below the 15% bodyfat level. That won’t give me romance cover abs but it will put me in a much healthier situation. In terms of classification, it would move me from “acceptable” on the chart to the top end of “fitness.'”

So, now I have a viable and explicit goal with a deadline and a way to measure it.

Constraints

While these goals are written in specifics and with dates, I want to keep an eye to being able to sustain these levels for all time. My goal is not only to achieve a certain level of fitness – I’ve been there and done that in a natural bodybuilding competition. My true goal is to be able to develop habits that will keep me in line with these numbers so I can maintain them for the rest of my life. That means no trick diets, minimal impact on my current way of life, and sustainable development.

So there will be no special pills, no fad diets, no marathon workout sessions. I still have to go to work. I still have to run my side hustle, keep on my other goals, do the hundreds of mundane things I do every day and every week while being a good friend and husband. This will be summer and there are a thousand of little things pulling me all over the place like martial arts, invitations to party on the lake, poker nights, and after work happy hours. The Coca Cola 600 here in Charlotte. Summer is my busy travel season and I’ll be on the road quite a bit (New York, Maryland, the Bachelor party, New Hampshire, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Boston, Blacksburg… and I’m sure a few other places.)

Not only that but I have a epic trip to Korea later this fall in the planning stages. It’s tricky, but I’ll save that goal for another post. In short, we want to go visit Kim & Kyle and we don’t want to go into debt to do it!

Help!!!!!!!!!!

Well, I can’t do this alone. I mean, if I could, I wouldn’t be in this position anyway. And if you got this far through the article, you’re probably pretty interested in the outcome!

How You Can Help

Several people have probably been in this situation before. Maybe you’re in a similar situation now. Perhaps you have a new goal (fitness or otherwise) you committed to? Maybe something I said in the long, rambling, semi-coherent discourse listed above resonated with you even a little bit. Please share your experiences below. Tell the world. Teach the rest of us. It’s ok if you don’t know the answers, we’ll figure them out along the way together. Maybe you’d prefer to be anonymous and just read along– that’s cool, too.

For my part, I’ll keep on writing as per normal. Goal updates will come on Fridays, everything else on Mondays and Wednesdays.

The Map Project

Welcome to my Map Project. Sometimes when I’m bored I update the map with my travels. Places I’ve been for an appreciable amount of time (as defined by enough to have a real and *remembered memory) go on the board.

It serves many purposes:

  • A reminder of how fortunate I am.
  • A condensed Notebook Project.
  • Visual reinforcement. Working hard = me playing hard. And vice versa.
  • Offers suggestions of where to go next.
  • Reminds me how big the world really is.
  • Helps me remember Why I Travel

Some places I get to chose to go to. Other places get chosen for me. Where have you been? Where do you want to go? How do you keep track?


View My Travels in a larger map
*Note: There are such things as unreal memories and forgotten memories. Trust me.

Notes from the Wedding

The wedding was absolutely spectacular. Everything we could have hoped for and more. After all, how often is it that you get to transform a 5 star resort into a freshman dorm reunion? The wedding itself has already been rehashed to no end and everyone who we would share photos with should have already got them via Facebook. (If not, let me know.) I don’t know that I’m entirely comfortable posting those pics here on this space but I’ll post a few. Since people have been wondering how it went, here’s a recap.

Grown Up Spring Break

We left before sunrise Sunday after a blizzard paralyzed Charlotte and much of the rest of the East Coast Friday night and Saturday morning. The schedule was intentionally set so we could spend as much time with our friends and family as possible. (Don’t you hate those weddings where you only see the bride and groom for 5 minutes in a welcoming line?) Jen and I arrived nearly week before the ceremony in order to try to spend as much time partying and adventuring with our friends as possible. It really worked out! It was like grown up spring break!

The week started out rainy but still found a lot to do – namely a side trip to Cozumel and Playa del Carmen!

Reality of Wedding Planning

I know I’ve written before that sometimes you don’t get exactly what you expect in an all-inclusive resort. That is certainly true at Aventura. You get different answers on different days from different people. While the overall experience is excellent its the little perks, extras, and bonuses that you were counting on that are subject to interpretation. Your mileage may vary.

The wedding planning was entirely different because…

  • Very little to worry about – all inclusive really came through.
  • Gorgeous resort – we were happy we convinced 45 guests to come.
  • Room: huge bed, jacuzzi in the room, bottle of v!no, full bar and stocked fridge – for everyone, not just the wedding couple!
  • Affordable – we received a ton of credits due to how many nights our collective group booked. That went towards other wedding items.
  • Tons of activities.
    Couples played tennis, group water volleyball, water aerobics, video games, or just lounged and drank. There were side trips to Playa del Carmen, Cozumel, ceynotes, Tulum, and more. Some people even got to go ziplining in the jungle! Others made use of the work out facilities and / or the spas. Snorkeling, ping pong, and card games.
  • Wedding prep – you get to sample every dessert!
  • Awesome wedding coordinator!! The whole process was so easy and affordable! Highly recommend it!!

Random Entertaining Events

Every wedding has its stories, and these are only a part but they paint the picture:

Jen and I only knew what day it was by who is there. (aka – Leo & Amber are here so it must be Tuesday!)

Power failure! We lost power to the resort (and a large part of Mexico, it seems) the day before the wedding. Turns out the state had planned this outage well in advance. Good thing the generators turned on! Water purifiers made the cut on ‘essential systems’ but blenders did not. Only ‘on the rocks’ margaritas for 24 hours! Glad our wedding wasn’t that day!

Jen’s parents sat through the timeshare info session. We wanted no part of losing the pool time but they were able to trade in their timeshares for 4 X’s the time, less costs, and other benefits. Go parents-in-laws!

Karaoke! So many disparate parts of the group sang solo and some of the girls created a kick line while a gentleman sang “New York, NY.”

Rain on Friday? Not a problem! What would a return to Spring Break be without drinking card games. With free beer. In a lobby of a 5 star resort. With an audience.

Hitting the club on Friday night after the rehearsal dinner by way of party bus. Yes, we took a free intra hotel diesel bus to shuttle ourselves 1/12th of a mile. But it was great. When we ascended the stairs to the 2nd floor to find the club, we encountered a donkey. One girl screamed. Others took pictures in full bandito gear. Thus was born the legend of Senor Mustachio!

The Wedding Day

Of course we were here for a reason. Beyond the above mentioned parties, that is.

We started our wedding morning with a Spa treatment. That was good. I think I’m normally pretty calm but very early that morning I snapped awake. Returning to sleep was impossible. So was the thought of eating anything. A full spa complete with free hour massage goes a long way in soothing wedding nerves.

After that it was back to hard work of drinking, volleyball, and toying with the emotions of the staff:

Staff: “Sirs, would you like to come join us in the other pool for water aerobics?”
Ted: ‘What time does that start?” (I knew the time it started and the time it was now.)
Staff: “At 1pm.” (It was already 1:15pm)
Ted: “No can do. I have to be at a wedding at 1.”
Staff: “Sir, that is not possible! You’ll be late!!”
Ted: “Not at all. They can’t possibly start without me. I’m the groom.”
Staff: “Sir! You must go!!”
Ted: “You’re right. I am thirsty! Who else wants to swim up to the bar?”

Ceremony:

The ceremony started with the entire entourage at a private gazebo on the northern most part of the property. Guests were seated and nuclear family relatives walked down the aisle before Jen arrived. I stood at the altar waiting while a 7 man Mariachi band played. We had elected to have a few slight alterations to a ceremony that fit our style. The first was a family-orientation by the processional and we asked our siblings and their significant others to stand by us at the altar eschewing the normal best man / maid of honor, bridesmaids and groomsmen things.

“And the Horse You Rode in On”

A horse drawn carriage arrived dropping Jen off and her father off. He walked her to me and gave her away. The civil ceremony in lieu of a religious one fit our personalities (and my beliefs) and we stood facing our guests. I never understood why you wouldn’t face your guests.

The mariachis played, we were married, and fireworks shot off in the background. How many wedding do you know that had fireworks? Exactly. The entire party left and formed a circle that we were introduced to complete with champagne toasts and, at the insistence of our mariachi friends, my impression of a Mexican hat dance. (In the video I look like a wounded chicken.)

After-Pre–Party
Before we took the traditional wedding photos we tried to take photos with everyone. I can’t imagine why you would invite people to a wedding and then not be in pictures with them. It’s a group celebration, right? Well, put the group in the photos! And we did. Once that was over everyone went over to our post ceremony / pre-reception cocktail hour (yeah, we like to party!) while Jen and I took a few more photos just the two of us alone by a Mexican sunset by the cerulean seas of the Caribbean.

Golf carts took us from the cocktail party to the reception. Did I say wedding reception? It was actually a roast. Of me. Luckily the DJs surprised me with a gift – a CD burned with everyone’s best tidings, well-wishes, and orchestrated Ted-slams. I’ll treasure it forever.

The End

The next day we had a group breakfast but people had already started going home and the realization that we would soon return to a life filled not with volleyball, poolside drinks, and snorkeling. The Snowpocalyspe in the US made this something to take seriously. We filled our day with lounging, thanking those who had come and preparing to watch the Superbowl sans commercials on a 2 story projection screen in the lobby. Note: all inclusive drinks and 5 star food is the way all football affairs should be organized.

We killed the night by taking our remaining friends, the leftovers of the wedding cake, and complementary bottles of champagne and wine to our favorite lobby and reminisced. We would travel to Rio the next day for a honeymoon. But that’s a story for another time. This was one fantastic wedding. Thanks to all whom made it possible!

The Notebook Project

Wondering why I persist in posting notes about vacations long past? Me too, sorta. It’s because of The Notebook Project. The notebook project is my way of making memories last by making blog posts about recent vacation trips. Perhaps it is more artfully put this way:

Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.
The Sunscreen song

OK, so there Mary Schmich is talking about advice. The part I am interested in is concerning nostalgia. Reminiscing about those past trips provides a way for me to share my experiences, give advice to those seeking similar adventures, and trying to see what I can learn about the whole deal. In short I am “fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth.”

Why the Notebook Project

When I was a kid all I wanted to do was go camping. I was crazy for exploring and camping with the Boy Scouts was an outlet for it. I would go camping every month with the troop. Some summers I would attend one, two, or even three week-long trips in the woods learning, adventuring, and getting away from it all. Early on my Dad told me to keep a journal of my activities. “You’ll appreciate it later on” he told me.

He was right. I didn’t keep a journal (for very long.) And now I wish I did.

What is the Notebook Project?

Well, it has nothing to do with notebooks. Well, except for the fact that my first ill-fated camping journal was in one of those black and white speckled deals. Today the interwebs give me a much better way of stapling my notes, links to other sites, photos, etc than a notebook ever could so that’s what I’m doing. This explains why I keep writing about my Israel trip, or crossbay swim, or anything else even though it’s long since done.

Incremental Improvement

True to my cubicle roots I am using the Six Sigma technique of incremental improvement to get my blogging project done. There is no end to the amount of photos, links, thoughts, etc that I want to include in these posts. The trouble is, accumulating all of that plus a after-the-fact write up is really difficult. In the end, I decided that the first step on my critical path of building the Notebook Project was to get ‘something’ written. Sometimes the writing will be good. Sometimes it will be bad. Rarely will it be complete the first time or include photos. Photo editing and uploading is the bane of my blogging experience. But eventually photos will be added, summaries will be left, and questions will be answered.

How to help!

Just leave comments on the posts as they come out. Questions, comments, requests. Ex. I’m a lot more likely to finish a series more quickly if there is a comment similar to ‘Can’t wait to read what’s next!’ or ‘Would love to see the photos!’, etc.

What’s in the Pipeline?

I just got back from a non-honeymoon honeymoon in Rio de Janeiro after vacationing / getting married in Mexico so I should write about that soon. There is a ton left to write about in the my Mt Zion biblical archaeology trip playing Indiana Jones in Jerusalem and Palestine. I haven’t even touched my week trip in Germany’s Rhineland or the week of bachelor parties in Munich for Oktoberfest including side trips to Andechs, Zugspitze, Fusen and more. Spain, London, Italy… Man I have work to do!

Peaceful Dragon

Everyone has their coping strategies for cubicle life. I like to travel and chase goals. I also enjoy pursuing various physical challenges to keep me sane. The last 2 years it was the 5.25 mile Cross Bay Swim. Previously it was bodybuilding, flag football, kickball, soccer, kayaking, hiking, or any number of other things. This year I decided to return to studying Martial Arts.
China wuhan mountains tai chi

Previous Study

One of my first memories is of a karate class. When I was very young my parents brought me to a karate class I believe taught by my godfather. Mostly, I remember playing with other kids on a mat in a gymnasium and having a great time.

Failure to Prepare is Preparing to Fail

I’m not certain if my parents ever took another class but later on they enrolled my brother and I in karate in a hole-in-the-wall North Babylon studio that had mirrors on the wall and pictures of students in full 80s greasy curled hair. Despite a love of 80’s-riffic fighting movies with training montages (Karate Kid, Rocky, etc) and the dot matrix print outs of workouts and belt-testing requirements they sent us home with, we never practiced. Our instructors covered and re-covered the same material so often I’m sure they thought we were “special.” No matter how much we learned, we earned a few belts for attendance. I think the most use our uniforms received were as stand-in Halloween costumes. After maybe a year either my parents got tired of paying for this glorified day care or the instructors got tired of taking their money and our lessons ended. I think that was when I started my education.

Self Study

There’s something about having knowledge (or more accurately, access to knowledge) taken away from you to make you want to learn something. At least that was how it was for me. The end of those (lack of) lessons led to me getting every book in the library on karate, kung fu, and related disciplines. I even think I bought a few from the elementary school book sale. I’d arrange my GI Joes in the stances, forms, and strikes I saw in those pages and practice them as best I could. Those 80’s movies came in handy as I did my best to imitate Daniel LaRusso, the Best of the Best fighters, and the likes of American Ninja. This probably went on for longer that I would care to admit. At least until I was able to take formal lessons.

A Good School

Serious study came when I entered to win free lessons at a nearby school – Fred Vilari’s karate. Surprise! I won. (It’s a marketing technique, everybody won!) I was in about 8th grade and I really took to it. I loved going. Many birthdays, Christmas’s and other gift-giving occasions led to me taking private lessons, learning weapons, getting more books, etc. Some friends joined and soon I was going with them, competing with (and against) them, and having a good time. We all marched lock-step in belt advancement. That irritated me. I really thought I was putting in a lot more effort (and was a lot more effective) than several of my peers.Eventually my peers petered off one by one. We had other concerns. Soccer, cross country, track, girls, boy scouts, church, etc all got in the way. I am not sure when I stopped my longest run of instruction but it was after a few years. I would re-join time and time again through out and even into college. I would do tournaments, try out other schools, practice with other friends but never for more than a couple of months.

Recently I looked up the school – a lot of those friends that I made inside the studio are now masters in their own right. They stayed with it. They became instructors and now they own their own shops. That made me kind of wonder ‘what might have been.’ I guess if you get old enough a lot of things make you do that.

Why Return Now?

The last few years have seen me in a cast of some kind or other. Mostly on my feet. Broken foot bones, collapsed arch, torn rotator cuff, dislocated toe, torn cartilage, surgery… the list goes on. Someone recently asked me why I thought that was. The easy answer would be Flag Football – after all that’s what I was doing when I had all of those injuries. The real reason I believe is that I let myself go.

As freshman ectomorph I stopped doing any kind of cardio in college all in an attempt to put as much muscle as possible on a very thin frame. After competing in a natural bodybuilding show to close out my college career I played after work sports for about a year before falling off that wagon. Lifting (and dieting) would go in spurts from that time but I have fallen short of my goal of discovering a way to keep in good shape for an extended period of time. After (relatively) mastering a subject (competing in a bodybuilding show, swimming 5.25 miles, etc) I think I get bored in further pursuing it. Martial Arts is something that I don’t think can be mastered. Plus, the stretching, movement, balance, coordination and mind-body balance all appeal to me as skills I sorely need work on. Doing martial arts will be fun for me in a way that lifting and swimming have ceased to be!

More than Physical

There are a number of other things that I like about this particular studio. For one, it is an unbroken line from THE Shaolin monastery to this school so it certainly has the romance and prestige of history going for it. Secondly it is as much a cultural institution as anything else. They have travelled to China before to that Shaolin monastery. (can you imagine this group as a tour guide???) They do travel to other places, celebrate holidays I don’t know of. They teach languages I don’t know and they hold study sessions on philosophies I grew up studying.

When I was looking for a martial arts schools I had thought I had wanted to find a new way to exercise. What I have realized is that I was looking for many things. A way to work out was just one of them. A way to heal up and continue physical therapy is another. Cultural pursuits a third. The list goes on.

Of course, after you make a decision to follow one course of action one tends to find corroborating data to back it up. The Peaceful Dragon may not end up being what I’m making it out to be. But like that old Chinese proverb, ‘a journey of 1000 miles starts with a single step.’ My journey starts tonight.

How I Swam 5.25 Miles in the Open Ocean

On Friday, July 24th, I successfully swam 5.25 miles in the ocean non-stop as part of the Maggie Fischer Memorial Cross Bay swim. It was the culmination of 20 months of hard work and it was incredibly satisfying. I have been writing somewhat random posts talking about the events and training leading up to the swim and my reflections afterward. This article is a bit of a summation and aggregation of articles I wrote about how I did it and what I learned. Enjoy!

Introduction to the Cross Bay Swim

If you’re new here, you might be wondering ‘What is the Cross Bay Swim?’ Here’s a brief article I wrote just before leaving for the swim. An assembly of photos of the swim course can help you visualize the race and the scale.

I wasn’t alone in my efforts. I had a team backing me up.

Step 1: Get the Motivation

First off, you might like an introduction and overview of the Maggie Fischer Memorial Cross Bay swim found in Who’s the Guy in the Wetsuit. The swim website has a great article here on getting the motivation to do an event like this. My motivations were a little bit different.

I answer the question, ‘Why enter a 5.25 mile swim’ in this earlier article. While it seems like I was born knowing how to swim, not everyone is. Chris Gulliebeau writes about living with the regret from not learning how to swim. Even though I was comfortable with swimming in most situations, 5 miles in the ocean is a long, long way. But once I found out about the race and I learned that someone I knew did it, I couldn’t – not – try (double negative intended there!) Chris uses learning to swim in a metaphor for living a life without regrets. I echo his sentiment; “If there’s anything I don’t want, it’s a life of regrets.”

Step 2: Do the Training

Hey, 5.25 miles is along way, but it’s not as difficult as swimming the Amazon River.

I started off slowly. The hardest part was getting myself into the pool. I had to rely on a trick I used to do a body building show in college; Tell everyone you know you are going to do something and then be too embarrassed not to make every attempt to do it.

The first year I trained at the YMCA triathlon and around my buddy’s wake boarding boat. The second year, I was able to get a little more serious. Kevin moved to Charlotte and that offered the opportunity for me to swim while he kayaked along side me during the summer months. Let me tell you, swimming in open lakes for miles is very, very different than swimming in the pool! No matter the medium or your challenge, you have to get started. While I was training, I wrote this article on How to swim 1 Mile. I think the advice is good for swimming in particular and goal setting in general. Remember “A journey of 1000 miles begins with the first step.”

“You don’t want to know what we see swimming next to you.”

Step 3: Overcome Hurdles

The 2008 Debacle

Nothing ever goes according to plan. Not even Big Rocks like the Cross Bay Swim. You get obstacles. There are hurdles that need to be overcome. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

I started training for the 2008 cross bay swim after returning from Israel in the Spring of 2008. The race I wanted to enter was never to be. I learned of the cancellation reading this post via my iPhone waiting for 8 hours on a plane that would never take off. Here’s a video of the race day conditions. I had trained and trained hard for 5 months for nothing. There was to be no race at all. I had to make a decision, would I give myself a mulligan for that goal or would I man up and decide to train even harder for the 2009 race? After about a month of feeling sorry for myself, I re-invented F-Club, and trained lights out for the 2009 Cross Bay Swim.

The 2009 Debacle

While I was training for the 2009 swim with renewed vigor I came to the harsh realization that the corrective foot surgery that I had been putting off had to get done. I had bent my big toe backwards 180 degrees the wrong way when a 250lb tight end fell on me while playing flag football (if anyone ever tells you flag football is non-contact, they lie!) This combined with a previous football injury collapsing the arch in my other foot had led to me wearing a foot cast and carryign crutches around for the better part of 3 years. That sucked. I had to end that cycle. The trouble was that the injury wasn’t interfering with my training (just all other aspects of my life.) Should I have the surgery? Would I be able to recover in time to train myself back into elite shape to do the swim? Was I just procrastinating because I was terrified of surgery? In the end, I had the surgery. It was awful, but I got through with it with tremendous help from my friends. And then we trained harder than ever to get in shape for the swim.

The week before the 2009 swim a giant shark washed up on shore. YOU DO NOT WANT TO MISS THE VIDEO HERE.. Sure, that kind of shark doesn’t eat people. But no one on those beaches thought they were bathing next to a prehistoric beast, either! Gut check time. Those shark images reminded me of the stories Long Island pilots would tell as they flew over area beaches. “You don’t want to know what we see swimming next to you” they would say. No, no sir I don’t. I pulled up my ‘big boy pants’ and decided to cowboy up.

Step 4: Get the Job Done!

In the end, there’s nothing left to do but swim. The event took me 3 hours. It felt like an eternity. If you’re interested, here’s an account in 3 acts of the swim day.

Conclusion

In the end this swim was more than about traversing 5+ miles in the ocean. Aside from the ego trip and validation of completing a long distance swim,I found there were many, many ancillary benefits, too. Sure, I picked up a bunch of practicle skills, but there were unintended, in tangible lessons learned as well. Some like weightloss were expected. Others like a change in psychology or help ending insomnia were not.

Abbreviated List of Benefits Derived from Long Distance Swimming

  • Learn how to swim in Open Water.
  • Learn how to cope with the unexpected.
  • Unforgettable experiences with good friends.
  • Weight loss.
  • Injury rehabilitation.
  • Drastically improved my insomnia.
  • Controlled my temper.
  • More productive at work.
  • See new places, and swim them!

I could continue rambling on about each item listed above, but that’s not my point. My motive in this article was to describe what it is like to set your sites on some foreign, larger-than-life goal, work yourself senseless to achieve it, and then enjoy the fruits of your labours. There were many times I wondered to myself if the efforts I was putting in were worth it. Many people thought I was crazy for attempting the swim. Others saw no point and no value in this kind of a goal. I hope that I’ve made a case here for setting your own hugely aggressive goal, and for following through.

At this time of year (January) there is no shortage of people wishing to make themselves over in a more ideal image. What separates the success stories from those people who will be making those same resolutions again next year is the ability to follow through. What’s your next life-changing goal? What will you do to get there?