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!

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?