Thursday, August 6, 2015

Ironman Lake Placid - aka The Best Day Ever!

(Pre-race days here)

Race Day!
I slept pretty solidly from about 9:45 -1:30, and was wide awake and raring to go at 1:30, just as I expected might happen. I stayed in bed, reading and watching some TV on my iPad. I figured even if I wasn’t sleeping at least I was resting staying off my feet.  I read an article about the fire stating that there was a chance the swim would be cancelled due to the fire – like I said earlier, having watched the whole thing happen I was not about to get worked up about parts of the race I couldn’t control. They had put a boom in the lake to contain the debris and they would test the water quality at 5am. I decided that if we didn’t swim, that was ok and just meant I would need to do another Ironman. If the swim was a go, then I would look at it as we were fortunate to be swimming, and to be grateful! Finally at about 3 I couldn’t take it any longer and headed downstairs to make coffee and breakfast. I wasn’t super hungry but managed to choke down some coffee, a bagel and ½ of an avocado. (Side note: cutting that bagel was terrifying! It had gotten pretty stale overnight and I was sure I was going to slice my hand open trying to cut it! Luckily that didn’t happen :) The combo of coffee and nerves did its job pretty quickly and then I went upstairs to get ready for the day. Hair braided, SOAS kit on, HR monitor and fully charged 920xt, sunscreen and I was all set. I had been listening to the rain coming down steadily all morning but by 4:30 when we were getting ready to leave the house it seemed to finally be stopping.

Cid, Emily and I (along with some sherpas!) left the house around 4:30 and started the 1-mile walk to transition. It had stopped raining and we were pretty quiet on the way down to the oval. On the way we dropped out bags off at run/bike special needs, then headed to get body marked before going into transition. Once in transition I added all my bottles to my bike, set up the nutrition that went on the frame and double-checked every thing. I held Emily’s bike while she pumped her tires and greased her chain, then she did the same for me. A few pics and we were out of there! On our way out we ran into Kenny, our local 70.3 race director, who gave us the all clear – the swim was on!

I knew that I needed to spend some quiet time listening to music and ignoring the pre-race hubbub, so I found a spot to sit on the curb near the beach and put my headphones in. I was hoping some of the words to the song would stick well enough in my head to entertain me for the day!

I had asked my family to meet me near the tennis courts at 6, so a little before I headed there to meet up with them. I can’t say enough how awesome it was to have my whole family there. Mike and Sarah instantly started documenting everything I was doing, including trying to yank up the wetsuit and defogging my goggles with some baby shampoo. Before I knew it it was 6:15 and the race was starting at 6:30!

Swim - 1:08:19
Emily and I were pretty confident in our swim ability and wanted to start as close to the front as possible, so we took on last picture, hugged our families and quickly went to rinse out our goggles and get in line. As we were walking through the porta-potty area, I got a whiff and actually dry heaved a few times – I was terrified that I was actually going to throw up and figured that would be a terrible way to start my Ironman day! Luckily the feeling passed and Emily and I began to push our way to the front of the swim line. We wanted to start in the 1:00-1:10 group, but we got there later than most people and eventually got tired of pushing our way through the men. We ended up somewhere near the front of the 1:10-1:20 group. The new rolling start works great if everyone is honest...and that’s a big if. We had both swum a 1:06 in training and knew we were capable of that, if not faster, unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. Thinking back, I’m glad we didn’t stand at the start any earlier than we did, because standing with all those people waiting for the countdown was nerve racking!!

Finally, the national anthem played and after a short wait the cannon sounded! Emily and I had been standing arm in arm waiting for the start, with a quick hug we wished each other good luck and started to move forward. We actually ended up being stopped on our way into the water and made to wait about 30 seconds, allowing us a little bit of clear water to start since we were now at the front of our wave. If people had seeded themselves correctly this would have been awesome. We must have been being super cute with all of our hand holding because someone at the start definitely snapped our picture – if only we could find those shots! Anyways, our group was eventually allowed to start and we dove in and started swimming side-by-side, stroke for stroke. But by the first buoy, all hell broke loose (gross exaggeration alert!) as we came right up on to the people who had a 30 second head start on us. It got very crowded and a little physical as we started passing people left and right (these are all the dumb people who didn’t seed themselves correctly!). That’s where we lost each other, and I had to start focusing on myself and racing my race.

I tend to get very panicky in race swims, even though I’m a very strong swimmer. I have this pit in my stomach for the whole swim, that goes away as soon as I’m done! The rest of the swim was pretty uneventful, I tried to find open water and focused on counting my strokes and swimming long and strong. I was out of the water for the first loop in about 33 min. I took a second to readjust my cap and goggles (my caps always start to slide off, anyone know any good fixes? And my goggles were a little askew from a gentle heel to the face early in the swim).

 I dove back in to start the second loop. The two loops were pretty similar, passing people constantly and just looking for open water. On the second loop I was even able to spend some time right on the cable with no one around me – that was nice! It got super crowded after I rounded the last turn buoy, but I just kept swimming until my hands were in the sand and I couldn’t swim anymore. I was up and running and all my nerves just disappeared! I found a pair of wetsuit strippers and they were just amazing – I hadn’t even gotten in fully unzipped and they each helped me with a sleeve, one of them pulled it down over my waist, I sat down and they whipped it off – so easy! I threw it over my shoulder with a quick thanks and was on my way to transition.

So excited to see my bro (and be out of the water)!
T1 - 5:30
The transition at Lake Placid is a solid ¼ mile run from the beach, but it’s packed with people cheering and I had to try really hard to slow down. It was also very wet and the road was only lined with the skimpiest rug. Falling would have been super embarrassing! Into transition and through the bags (ran by my bag but it only took an extra second to realize), grabbed my swim-to-bike bag and into the women’s change tent. A volunteer near the exit put her arm up and yelled for me to come over. She dumped out my bag, and offered to help anyway she could. She was awesome! All my nutrition went into one pocket, inhaler into the other, shoes, helmet and sunglasses went on and I was out of there. As I ran towards my bike there was a woman with a megaphone calling out numbers so the volunteers could grab your bike off the rack. I shouted my number at her and heard her call it out, but when I got to my rack there were 3 volunteers standing there with no bike! Oh well. Luckily my bike is very visible, so I quickly grabbed it and started running towards Bike Out.

Bike - 6:27:10
The bike course starts with a couple of sharp turns and a downhill so steep that they put haybales at the bottom, so I got clipped in quickly and just focused on getting through this section safely. It was somewhere after the hill that I realized my Garmin said run, not bike, and realized I had somehow clicked it a few too many times. I stopped it, hit save (couldn’t lose the swim data!) and started a new multisport event, quickly toggling through the swim and T1. I wasn’t worried about the watch for time or pace, but I had specific HR ranges Kelly wanted me to be in. Once the watch was set I could see that I had some work to do to bring the HR down into the right zone, but the bike course is also steadily uphill for the first 5 or so miles.

Anyway, after I got out of town and was heading out to the Horse Show area, I realized I already needed to pee! Good sign that I was well hydrated that morning? So less than 2 miles into the bike I just let it go! As I was peeing I saw Abby and Annie running up from River Road – sorry guys, that’s why I had such a big smile on my face! Feeling much lighter and better, I tried to get settled in for the long haul. Having seen Emily’s transition bag on the rack near mine, I knew she was somewhere behind me, but figured she would be coming up and passing me any second! Every time someone in pink passed me, I was checking if it was her! I was really hoping for a riding buddy, and knowing she climbs faster than I do I was expecting her any second.

But back to my ride. I sucked down a gel to replenish what I had used up in the swim, and focused on drinking a lot (water with my nutrition and nuun between). Before I knew it I was at the top of the Keene descent and I was flying! Garmin shows my max speed here at 49mph! Luckily there weren’t too many people around me here and those that were I passed easily. The bottom is still pretty rough (rougher than I remembered from training camp, actually), and I sat up and feathered the breaks a little to stay in control. The goal for this ride was to survive to run a marathon, not break any records. I made the turn at the bottom of the descent and started trying to eat my Larabars. Thank G-d this section is pretty desolate and there were no photographers to witness my attempt at chewing – it was pretty ugly. Speaking of desolate, this is about where I thought to myself, “This is so boring! What am I going to do with myself for the next 4ish hours?” Well, I remembered Kelly’s advice to sing to myself, so that’s what I did. Basically repeating the chorus to any song that would pop into my head.

Thankfully I was flying through this section and pretty soon I was starting the out and back section to Ausable Forks. At this point I saw some of the lead men and they were only 12 miles in front of me. Too bad that number was just going to keep growing. I reached the turnaround at mile 30 and was averaging over 20mph. Unfortunately I knew that the next 26 were pretty much straight uphill, so I was glad to have some time in the bank.  I snuck a glance at my watch at the turn around and started looking for both Emily and Cid. Emily was about 3 minutes behind and Cid about 15. It was so fun and exciting to see them!

By then I had just about finished the out and back and made the right and turn which signals the start of the climbing! I rode with a guy named Frank who had a Shiv like mine, before sending him off ahead so we wouldn’t get a blocking penalty. At the top of the hill at the aid station I grabbed a bottle of water and then heard my name screamed super loud by John (the AD at the school where I coach) and his wife. Their cheers gave me such a huge boost – I think I heard them all the way up the next hill! Thanks to some solid advice from Tim I kept it in the little chain ring through the rolling hills towards town and tried to conserve some energy for the second loop. Before I knew it I was heading up the bears where the screaming crowds made me feel like I was on the Tour! I guess there hadn’t been too many girls through at that point because I got a lot of “go girl!” cheers. The ride back into town put a gigantic smile on my face. I saw lots of friends and the crowd just past special needs included my friends Erin and Maria and what sounded like a huge group their friends – they went nuts when I went through and I just could not stop smiling. Coolest feeling ever. I hadn’t had a flat and was doing great with nutrition so I didn’t stop at Special Needs, but looking back I wish I had one more Nuun tab. Oh well. I was off on my second loop with a grin that lasted for at least the next 15 miles.

Every picture of me on the bike is from the back....I guess they didn't expect me so soon!
The second loop was pretty uneventful. I kept an eye on my heart rate and keeping the averages right where Kelly said. It started to warm up and I was starting to wish I had stopped for sunscreen on my way out of T1. I peed again (3rd or 4th time!) on the descent and briefly worried I had peed on my gels (ew!). Luckily they were dry and I just focused on fighting the headwind on the way to Jay. I rode with one of Emily’s Migonis teammates for a short while on the out and back section, who said she was not far back and doing well. It was nice to get an update! I got a big boost and some cold water to dump on my head from John and Kareen when I passed their aid station, then turned my focus to making it to the next one, where I knew my whole family would be volunteering! I shouted to my sister on my way passed them at the start of the little out and back so they would know I was coming. Successfully made it to the turnaround, got a water bottle from my sister and made sure to smile for my family! At this point I also saw Emily, and told her to hurry up and come run with me. I kept thinking about how nice it would be if we could hang together on the run, and how cool it would be if we could actually finish together.

Sarah got a 1 mile warning I was coming to get this one :)
Papa bear was just as fun the second time around, and I started to spin out my legs to get ready for the marathon. I was shocked at how consistently great I had felt throughout the whole bike, even with the increasing winds on the back half of the course, but it was really starting to get hot. Riding through town was slightly less exciting the second time, but I was about to get off the bike so I didn’t care. I got my feet out of my shoes and successfully dismounted, where I was able to just hand my bike off to a volunteer. 

T2 - 3:01
I grabbed my run bag and headed back into the changing tent. Another awesome volunteer dumped out my run bag, put my socks on my feet, helped me into my sneakers and even buckled my race belt! I can’t say enough about how awesome the volunteers were – they never even flinched about touching my nasty feet! The one thing I was really looking forward to in my T2 bag was the little bottle of mouthwash. It was so nice and refreshing to feel clean after eating all that sugary stuff on the bike. I swished it around while I got covered with sunscreen, then realized there was no good place to spit it out! My brother was waiting right by run out and said he would have gotten a great pic, except that I leaned over and spit the mouthwash out right on the side of the road. Sorry, Mike!

Run - 4:40:36
The run is also two loops, and you get to go through town 4 times, which means awesome crowd support. I probably started out running a little too fast, especially on the downhill, and I would pay for that dearly later. My plan for nutrition was to eat a shot blok at every aid station (so about every mile). The first aid station is right at the bottom of the hill on the way out of town, so I popped a gel even though it seemed really early. It turns out I’d only been running for about 6 minutes, not even close to a mile. Oh well! I decided to just stick with the aid station plan and not worry about the miles. I was running pretty well, taking ice and water and each aid station, dumping the ice down my bra and taking it out to suck on it between aid stations. The crowds on the way out of town were awesome – they cheered for every runner by name and I even met some kids from Canisius.

The one thing I remember being really conscious of for the whole run was how hot it was. All week the weather had been calling for about a 60% chance of storms, though it kept changing as to when those storms were supposed to hit. I had really been trying not to let the weather bother me, because I knew I was racing regardless and had trained in all kinds of weather. But I really wanted some rain or at least some clouds on the run. In the end, it was not to be. The run started out mostly sunny and just got sunnier and sunnier as time went on. I remember having several conversations with runners around me about how it was supposed to be raining. Oh well. That’s upstate NY for you. I had run the course before but I definitely didn’t remember how out in the open and unshaded it was!

River Road was really mental and lonely, and I tried to focus on just following the plan. Finally made it out to the turnaround and found Emily at the aid station. Seeing her along the course always made me smile! Soon enough I was heading back into town and the crowd support was amazing. Just at the top of the hill were Kris and Kurt, and Kris asked me how I was feeling – I told her I felt great and she said to me “You’re going to be an Ironman today!” Cue the tears. Shortly after I saw Matt (Emily’s coach who was so awesome in taking me in as a “free agent” for training camp back in June) and he told me to remember to pump my arms. I tried, and immediately felt that effort in my stomach! I slowed back down and made my way to special needs. I gave a thumbs up to signal that I wanted my bag (awesome idea, btw) and a fantastic volunteer actually put my dry socks on my feet for me! I took the little tube of aquafor just in case and extra salt since it was so hot and I was off. It was somewhere around mile 12-13 on Mirror Lake drive when I started to notice some really low level nausea. I had heard that the coating on the salt capsules could be hard to digest and I was taking twice as many as normal to deal with the heat and the amount I was drinking. I made a decision to buck the “nothing new on race day” adage and switch to the Base Salts they were offering on the course because I figured I knew I could digest salt ok and thought getting rid of the capsule might help. Luckily I was right!

Heading out for loop 2.
The best part of friends and family all over LP? Not having to buy the FinisherPix!
So my stomach stopped bothering me, but by the time I got to the bottom of the hill leaving town my quads were on fire! The second loop was a lot more painful than the first. I was prepared to have to walk, I guess I just thought I might make it a little further than 14 miles before having to walk more than just the aid stations! However, I had said to Kelly before the race, that if I needed to walk, I was going to walk with purpose, and I did that. Even when I was in pain, I kept my head held high and walked as fast as I could! Somewhere out on River Road I started to walk, and a woman came up behind me and said “no way you’re walking, you made me run when you passed me earlier, let’s do this together!” Girl in the black kit – thank you! I wish I knew her name. We ran together and off and on for the next several miles and she definitely kept me going while my quads got tighter and tighter. I started making promises to myself that if I just ran to x marker, I could walk, or have a cup of coke at the aid station. I had never been so happy to see a hill as I was to see the hill leading back to town. I was 2 miles from becoming an Ironman! There was a group of kids with SuperSoakers near the top of the hill and they went at it when I told them they could spray me! That felt amazing!!

On the way back out Mirror Lake drive for the last time I saw John (my AD) and his wife, plenty of friends and of course my whole family. I was hurting but I was so close. I started running and chatting with a guy who was only on his first loop, but it was nice to have company. I did feel bad when a spectator asked us if we were on our way to meet Mike Reilly and I yelled, “Yes, we are!” and then “Oops, I AM!” Thankfully he just laughed. At the turn around I knew I was less than a mile away and all the pain just went away. I tried not to rush it and just take it all in. Following the arrows to the “finish” instead of the “2nd loop” felt so good, and the crowd was going nuts. When I entered the oval, I got super emotional, I couldn’t believe I had really done it, and felt so amazing all day.

Entering the Oval
But I didn’t want to be crying in my finish line pictures, so after checking to make sure there was no one too close behind me, I tried to slow down and take it all in. The finish chute was nothing short of amazing – my whole family was in the stands to hear Mike Reilly called me an Ironman, even if he did pronounce my name wrong!
So excited for me or glad to be done spectating?

Actual finish time: 12:24:36!
Eric was there to “catch” me.

It was nice to have a friend to steer me through all the post race crap – chip return, tshirt and hat, food, etc, before he took me right to my family who was waiting at the edge of the stands. I can’t express how awesome it felt to have all my hard work over the last 6 months come together so closely according to plan.

I waited in the finisher chute for Emily to come through, and even though I got yelled at a few times it was totally worth it. The first thing she said to me was "never again!" Followed by "I fell off my bike" (read her blog), which prompted this picture:

We got some food and I went to get a massage (the first time I'd been off my feet since 6am!), thinking I had plenty of time before Cid finished, but she crushed it and I was wrong...sorry Cid!

Back at the house, showered and feeling slightly more human (except for the wicked chaffing and screaming quads) we got a ride back to town to watch the final finishers. Lake Placid has a reputation for being one of the best finish line parties and this year did not disappoint!

Watching the final finishers was so much more meaningful having been through it myself and not being able to imagine being out there for one minute longer than I had been. Enjoying it with a well deserved bowl of ice cream didn't hurt either!

It's been 10 days now and I still can't wrap my head around so many aspects of this day/week/year. I keep getting stuck at "I ran my first marathon!" since I didn't even notice those running miles ticking by and it was the only distance I didn't do in training. There are so many people for whom "Thanks" will never be enough. My family for coming from Detroit, New Jersey, NYC, Syracuse and Saratoga to support me on this crazy endeavor. Kelly for making sure that I was happy, healthy and well trained for this awesome day. Emily for signing up first and always giving me someone to swim with at 6 am or vent about the crazy training to. Steve, Eric, Annie and anyone else who accompanied me on a long ride. Matt for letting me crash his training camp. Karyn for peer pressuring me into doing this thing in the first place! Plus, everyone who was out there cheering at LP and all the volunteers. You made this day what it was for me and I wouldn't change a thing.

Now what's next?

Ironman Lake Placid - Pre-Race Days

Pre-Race Wednesday and Thursday
By race week I had gotten over my nerves and was starting to feel better after a week of being sick. I was at this point strangely calm leading up to IMLP. All the work was done and I knew I was well prepared. There was nothing left to do but race my race. Picked up Cid from the airport, grabbed some last minute goodies from the store and had lunch with Kelly. It was so nice to sit and get some last minute tips from her – although the only question I could think to ask was what does it feel like after you finish?!? For some reason that, and not the race itself, was my biggest fear.

Thursday morning came and I could not wait to pack up the car and hit the road for my favorite vacation spot in NY. Lake Placid has always been a special place but over the last few years it has definitely occupied a bigger space in my heart as we watched friends become Ironmen there and made some really special memories in a house full of like minded people. After an uneventful drive (except for nearly running into Mark and Emily and then missing them completely!) we finally arrived at the place we would call home for the next 7 days. It was no Taj Mahal (our LP house from the years prior) but the price was right and it had plenty of bathrooms!

Cid and I getting ready to hit the road
We quickly unpacked the car and walked into town to officially check-in and get our race swag! The process was pretty quick and easy, signed our lives away to the WTC, got weighed, race bands on (the guy who did mine said it mace us engaged and meant I had to race!) and picked up our gear bags. We then headed down to the merch tent to get our backpacks (nice work, WTC) where of course I had to buy the name t-shirt. Unfortunately by then it had started to rain so we grabbed some food for Cid and headed back to the house. Back at the house we unpacked some more and made a quick dinner. I went for a quick shakeout run around the lake and spent some time at the beach with Emily. It was just a small core group of us for the first night and it was so nice!

Friday morning we relaxed before heading out for a quick ride to make sure the bikes were working.  With everything in order (after having Mark double check it for me!), we headed down to check out the expo. I got to meet Mike Reilly and tell him it was all his fault that I was racing and get a quick picture with him.
With the voice of Ironman!
After that the expo quickly went downhill for me. Too much nervous energy and people selling things I didn’t want to think I needed for the race! I grabbed a bagel and headed down to the beach to sit in the shade and relax by looking out over beautiful Mirror Lake. Eventually Emily met me down there and we donned our wetsuits for a final swim. We swam stroke for stroke for a loop of the swim course. Then it was time to relax and pack all the bags! Our house had started to fill up and my parents were on their way to town, so after a dinner of lasagna, I joined my parents and sister for a walk into town to get a breather from the craziness. Friday night it was early to bed after my dad and sister played a quick game of flip cup with my friends!

Post swim with Emily
Saturday – T-1 Day!
Saturday morning I was up without an alarm a little earlier than I would have liked, but oh well. At this point Rachel and Michael had arrived so I met my mom and sisters in town for a big breakfast at the Creperie of eggs, toast and a crepe (plus the pancake that Eric had made me in the am!).

Biting the head off of the M-dot pancake! 
I quickly made my way to the Oval and dropped my bags and bike off, and was able to get a tour of transition from an awesome volunteer. After everything was set, I sat in on an athlete meeting before heading back to the house to get out of the sun and away from all the nervous energy down at the oval. I spent the rest of the day parked on the couch in the living room with my feet up reading a book!
Heading to bike check in!
Before I knew it it was time to get ready for dinner. I figured I would want to eat at home but when I realized my whole family was finally going to be together for the first time since Thanksgiving I threw pre-race superstition to the wind and decided a nice family dinner was the best way to spend the night before the race. Plus, I figured that since I’d eaten out the night before plenty of successful races that this one would be no different. We managed to get a table at the Boathouse, and had the whole bottom deck to ourselves! We felt like we were sitting right on top of the water, and had a perfect view of the swim start!

Unfortunately, while we were waiting for our food, my brother noticed a small fire starting in one of the apartments above main street across the lake. We couldn’t take out eyes off of it as the fire quickly spread to the entire top floor and started to threaten the building next door. At that point, I was no longer thinking about my race at all, and pretty much lost my appetite thinking about someone losing their home/business and all of their possessions. It was terrible, but it also served as a really good reminder to put things into perspective.

Our view of the fire from dinner
After we finished up dinner and snapped a few family pics, we met up with my aunt and cousin who had also come up to LP to volunteer and cheer. (Did I mention my family is the best?). We headed back to the house and I quickly said goodnight to everyone and was in bed by 9, with my alarm set for 3:30! 

Race Day...Continue reading here!


Monday, June 24, 2013

The Longest Goodbye in the World

OTZMA is over.

It's hard to think about, let alone type that and see it there in black and white.

It's also really, really hard to believe. For more than a year now, June 23rd was a fictional date in the future when OTZMA would end and I would go home to my friends and family in Syracuse. Today is June 24th. That fictional date in the future is now in the past. "Don't cry because it's over, smile because it happened" has been my mantra the last few days. But there have still been quite a few tears. I compared it to leaving CSL at the end of the summer....except longer and you know everyone won't be back next June. And then I cried again. I never could have imagined I make the kind of friends that I made this year.

The thing is, this year was really special. I could go on and on about our tiyul, our staff, the group, whatever, but I won't. I think what happened at Havdallah on Saturday night was the most perfect closing moment, and no one could have planned it if they tried. It's just the most perfect example of the cohesiveness this of this group of people. As the sun went down on Saturday and gave way to a full moon shining on the Kinneret, I tried to light the Havdallah candle. But it was windy. Too windy to light by myself. Aurel came over to help. Aimee stepped in to block the wind. We worked together to light multiple matches at the same time while blocking the wind. No go. A few more people came over to help. We struck the last match. Nothing. We could have given up. We could have done Havdallah without a candle. But it was definitely worth one last try. A perfect analogy to this year, we literally bonded together against the wind, tightening our circle enough to block the wind. As the 9 wicks on the candle caught fire, everyone's voices got louder and joined together. If we started to separate, the candle would flicker. Standing in the middle of that circle with the candle held high, I felt so incredibly loved. Maybe you had to be there, but it just felt so amazing to have so many people around you that truly care about you, celebrating the change from Shabbat to the rest of the week, from a year on OTZMA to whatever comes next. OTZMA 27, it was a heck of a way to go out. So much love for every single one of you.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


As I sit in my office in Jerusalem (I just like typing that), I can’t help but think about how to make the absolute most of this last month on OTZMA. About how to soak it in and take every opportunity make memories with this incredible group of people. I meant to write about the future – about next year, about the things I want to share with my participants  and the things I want to take advantage of before I really start working. But then I realized that in order to accurately look ahead, I needed to reflect on the memories first.

Merc Roomies - we barely knew each other!
I’ve learned a lot this year. I learned about myself, my friends and my family. I learned about Israel – its people, its places, its cultures and its quirks. I felt its troubles and I rejoiced in its happiness. I learned some Hebrew (and now I’m learning more), tried new foods and pushed myself to do things I never thought I would. But the biggest lesson I might have learned is that 10 months in Israel can be at the same time the longest and shortest 10 months of your life.

Turning 25 on the beach!
Today marks 9 months to the day since I said goodbye to my family and walked through security at Newark Airport into the unknown with a group of strangers. From my vantage point in Jerusalem, I can look back over the past 9 months and say, “Damn, where did the time go?” And I look forward with a slight sense of dread because I know how fast this last month will go. (Also because I don’t even know where I’m going to be sleeping the night of June 23.) But I can also appreciate the incredible wealth of experiences that this year has given me and when I look back on events from the beginning of the year or even my parents’ visit in March I can say, “That feels like so long ago!”
I’ve been a part of a lot of groups in my life. Countless sports teams, school clubs, the trips I’ve staffed, etc. But nothing, and I mean NOTHING can come close to touching my OTZMA experience. Not with a 10-foot pole. It’s not even a little bit of a stretch to say that it changed my life. Just a few short months ago I thought I would head back to the States and get a Masters in Physical Education. But now, as my friends begin to pack up and look for jobs back home, here I am, employed (well, hired), about to become an Israeli citizen and playing on Israel’s National Lacrosse team. This year has been a series of amazing gifts, and now I’ve been given one more – the chance to pass this gift on to another group of OTZMAnikim.

Literally obsessed with each other - and OTZMA
But while the job is nice (and I can’t wait to start working for this incredible organization), I think the biggest thing I will take away from this experience are the people and the relationships.  Day in and day out I’m surrounded by people who love me, care about me and are constantly inflating my ego (thanks Aimee and Sara). There’s always someone to eat dinner with (hi #JeruCrew) and the sense of community is just incredible. Second to none. Sha-pot lucks for life. I can’t wait to share these traditions with others and incorporate my OTZMA traditions into what ever community I may join next (or in 10 years). It is absolutely what inspired me to change careers and find a job in the Jewish community. 
Good roomies make everything better

We joke about how we all drank the OTZMA Kool-aid from day one. That’s not an exaggeration.  Whether we expected it, were taken completely by surprise, tried to avoid it or embraced it with open arms, OTZMA has gotten under our skin. They call it the ultimate real life experience. But doesn't that imply that it's not actually real life? Because if this isn't real, then I must be dreaming. And if I'm dreaming, please let me sleep a little longer. But actually don’t. Because I don’t want to miss a minute. I can't wait to see what the next month, and the next year, will bring.

Friday, January 11, 2013


Shabbat Shalom :) In the spirit of trying to blog more, I thought I'd fill out this fun little quiz I saw on one of the fitness blogs I read.
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Current Book: "The Alchemist" by Paul Coelho

My sister recommended this to me a few weeks ago and as soon as I finished my last book (Again to Carthage, John L. Parker) I picked it up and have been flying through it. It has a lot to do with chasing your dreams. I read a passage today about how you have your whole life to accomplish your personal mission (I'm paraphrasing) but as you get older it becomes less and less likely that you are going to follow your dreams. It really resonated with me since that's precisely what I'm doing right now - quit my job and followed my dream (living in Israel). It's also exactly what I spent time convincing a bunch of unsuspecting Birthrighters to do last Monday :)

Current Music: It's not music, but I've had my headphones in constantly - every chance I get I'm listening to the Pimsleur Language Program....trying to get in as much Hebrew practice as possible. I highly recommend this for anyone who wants to learn a language. I would have been the first to tell you I'm not an auditory learner, but this is working!

Current Guilty Pleasure: Hmm. Not sure on this one, but I just bought some ingredients to make Oatmeal Raisin once those are baked that will be it for sure!

Current Nail Color: The most ahh-mazing shade of slightly sparkly pale gold. I'm obsessed. Snagged the color at the store on Sunday night, painted my nails as soon as I got home, and the color has yet to chip...a miracle! This 9 shekel nail polish has lasted longer than any manicure I've ever gotten. (People in Israel: it's the Careline brand from Superpharm!)

Current Drink: Water! I've been trying to be better about drinking enough.

Current Food: Mom - this one is going to shock you. COTTAGE CHEESE. Only in Israel though. Please no one try to make me eat it in the States. It should be called something else there.

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Current Favorite Show: Still Grey's and Private Practice, but I've started to watch old episodes of Homeland and I might be getting hooked.

Current Wish List: To go skiing in the Golan Heights or to see the snow in Jerusalem (though I might already be too late for the second one).

Current Need: Warmer clothes! Though I just got three sweaters, and I hear it's supposed to warm up a little next week, there's at least a solid month and a half of winter left.

Current Triumph: The Roasted Butternut Squash, Pumpkin and Carrot soup I made yesterday (without a recipe). It came out divine!

Current Bane of My Existence: Hmm. Toss up between the ses pool smell coming from my street and the temperature of the house (always freezing).

Current Celebrity Crush: Meh. Don't have one. I'm just not that into that sorta thing.

Current Indulgence: ? Same as the guilty pleasure above? Or maybe endless cups of tea with sugar to keep me warm.

Current Blessing: My sweet, sweet host family that's coming to take me to Shabbos dinner in a few minutes.

Current Slang: Anything in Hebrew. Mah? Lama? Ain li Koach are all sneaking into my English conversations lately.

Current Outfit: A cute one! Leggings, new turquoise sweater dress, scarf and boots!

Current Excitement: Being reunited with the ladies of 1410 next weekend. Can't wait!

Current Mood: Happy :)

Now it's your turn. What are you up to achshav (now)?

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Halfway There...

Halfway there…

I’ve been yelling and screaming and waving my arms at anyone who dares suggest to me that we’re nearly halfway done with Otzma, yet here I am making it the title of my blog post. Ok. I get it. I promise to stop being dramatic. But while I’ve been busy living it up in Rehovot, celebrating Hanukkah (with too many sufganiyot), touring all of Israel with one of my closest friends and attending the wedding of another close friend, a lot of time has gone by. The world was supposed to end and didn’t, it’s 2013(!), we had a fantastic seminar about our options for future engagement in the Jewish Community and I’ve started looking for internships for Part 3 of Otzma.

Congrats Kaela and Maor!
But anyway, the reality that my time here in Israel (and particularly here in Rehovot) is slowly dwindling and I don’t want to let it get away without at least jotting down what’s been going on so I don’t forget what how amazing this experience has been. And you know, for all of the 3 people who might read this (Hi, Grandma!).

Like every Otzma participant with a fear of change (yes, we all see the irony in this fact of life), I was nervous at the beginning of my time in Rehovot. It didn’t help that it started off on a rough foot with Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza and being evacuated from our new home. (Huge shout out to my phenomenal host family in Karmiel, who took me in for a wonderful, quiet Shabbat.) But before I knew it a month had passed and it was Hanukkah and now yet another month has passed and we’re halfway through our time in Rehovot. I’ve been teaching English in a high school here and we’re helping the kids prepare for their Bagrout exams (required for them to graduate and eventually get into college). It’s a 180° difference from my experience in the elementary school in Karmiel, but the Israeli school system is always interesting.

Some of the kids I work with, playing a Hanukkah game
In the afternoons, I trek over to Kiryat Moshe, where I help out in a “Moadonit,” an after school program for kids whose families receive social services. Many of them also have some type of learning disability. I (and the rest of the staff and volunteers) sit down to a hot lunch with them, play quiet games, help with homework and watch them play soccer. The kids can be difficult, but I honestly look forward to going there each day. It’s also been the single best thing to happen to my Hebrew since I got to Israel. Helping kids with math homework (I suck at math) in Hebrew is the surest way to stretch your comfort zone in a new language! There’s a lot of pointing, “zeh, ploos zeh, ploos zeh….oto d’var zeh caful zeh.” (This plus this plus this is the same as this times this, or 3+3+3 is the same as 3x3). Most of the kids are patient with my Hebrew and are willing to speak slowly to me when explaining the rules of a new game – another great way to learn a new language! The best was yesterday, when one of the staff members came over while I was playing a game of Israel Monopoly (think Tel Aviv’s Rehov Allenby instead of New York’s Park Place) with 3 of the boys and commented on how amazing I was doing with the boys and that she felt like my Hebrew was all of the sudden just flowing out! That really made me happy. I kept hearing how eventually you just get it, and so I was waiting and waiting and waiting for it to happen – apparently it did while I wasn’t paying attention!

I’ve also discovered old friends residing right here in Rehovot! It’s so fun to have a conversation with an Israeli friend I haven’t seen in ages, go something like this, “Where are you living?” “Rehovot” “OMG me too!!” Not to mention, Rehovot is also home to another MASA program, ITF Rehovot, so our two groups have become fast friends. It makes living a new city, a new country, without the safety net of being surround by 23 of your newest, closest friends a little less scary and a lot more fun.

Fun, that is, until the biggest rainstorm in Israel’s recent history decided to park itself right over our little plot of paradise in the Middle East. Yea. I came to Israel to get away from the cold, not to hang out at home in a sweatshirt, long sleeve shirt, leggings, sweatpants and UGG slippers while trying to stay warm in a house built to keep the cold in and the heat out. Not to mention the rain…it hasn’t stopped for nearly a week, there is snow in Jerusalem, the only ski resort in Israel is – get this – closed due to snowfall(!) and the Kinneret is just a few meters from being full again after years of being beneath the red line. I get it. Israel needs the rain, and apparently snow in Jerusalem is a blessing. But, it has rained so much here in the past week that no one knew what to do with it all. And Israel knows better than anyone about saving water. But when they built the water treatment plants and rainwater collection cisterns, they never even thought about what would happen if said cisterns filled. Well guess what? They filled! And flooded. And who would have ever known that Israel’s biggest highway was named after a river? Not this girl. At least not until said river overflowed, closing the road, the train stations built along it and effectively closing of Tel Aviv from the rest of the world. Also? Apparently Israel has lakes and rivers other than the 4 we learned about in elementary school. We heard about them one-by-one this week as they all flooded. Oy.

Major tree down on our street. 
Anyway, the good news is that Israel is looking incredibly green and beautiful (during the brief breaks of sunshine we've gotten this week), the Kinneret is (almost) full and if the weather app on my phone is to be trusted, it should warm up soon. 

I’d love to promise I’ll be back sooner this time with more updates and deets about my vacation, but I might be out celebrating the end of the rain. But until then, I’ve got Luke Bryan’s “Rain is a Good Thing” stuck in my head. (Thanks Liza!) I’m not sure which is better….that or Bon Jovi's, “Living on a Prayer” which is what I was singing when I started this post hours ago.


Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Conflict and Hope

Over the last week I and my fellow Otzma participants have been participating in a seminar called Conflict and Hope. Our amazing staff put together an incredible journey that while tough and exhausting, allowed us to really dig into the conflict and see it from many sides while attempting to form our own opinions. 

We heard from historians, tour guides, the Rabbis for Human Rights, soldiers from Breaking the Silence and the Communications Advisor for the PLO. We also spent Shabbat with residents of Jewish Settlements in the West Bank, toured the Southern Hebron Hills and processed it all through drama.

The following statements/thoughts are things that popped into my head while touring Area C in the West Bank, talking with my fellow Otzmaniks about their feelings on what we were seeing/hearing and my questions that I wish I could have raised when we heard the Communications Director of the PLO speak. Please take them at face value but remember that you haven't seen what I've seen and that this is raw emotion. Also, none of this is edited.

The words the middle eastern peace process, the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, have very weighty connotations. I haven't beliefs, but I also feel like who am I to have these beliefs.

Skeptical, conflicted, discombobulated, confused, positive, joyful...I've felt all of these things over the last 48 hours. But now I also feel lucky - to have had this experience, to have met the people I've met, the see the things I've seen.

It makes me want to learn more and do more research, and I feel like that means that all these feelings are worth it.

I believe that if the Palestinians put down their weapons, tomorrow we would have peace. However, if we put down our weapons, we would all be dead. And what does that say about me? What does that say about the people who feel that way? And more over, what does that say about the Palestinians?

The Nahkba??? You (the arab nations) attacked us! You could have accepted the UN partition plan. I have never been able to reconcile this in my has never made sense to me how the PLO could demand that we recognize them and give them rights and land and money and when they chose to start this conflict in 1948-they admit that they are choosing to continue the conflict - peace is in your hands buddy

300%? What are the actual numbers. Percentages don't tell me anything.

How can you promise that if we have a 2-state solution tomorrow, all the rockets and terror will stop?

How can you displace 500,000 people? What do you do with them? Isn't it better to focus on human rights instead if land?

Israel won all this land in wars where they were not the aggressors - so you took a risk and lost and now we should pay the price?

Feeling a little guilty that I hear him speak and this is what I think about - I don't want to be that person who con't see the other side or is totally selfish, but I don't see my opinions changing on this.

You made it up to israel when you refused to accept the partition plan. Don't say that Israel didn't consider your rights - you chose not to accept it.

It's all just semantics....

(The PLO provides Israel with a secure border) Israel insured its own borders!

(He said the rockets into the south were not that bad) It's not that bad???? No own in his right mind would chose to live thy way. You want to live in Rocket range????!