Friday, September 26, 2014

Changing Faster Than a Chameleon Running Across a Rainbow Bridge


Every day this month something happened that made think either, 'I should try to get a waiver and stay in the Army.'  Or 'I would get out tomorrow if I could.'

What I will actually do is put on my uniform an hour before the sun comes up tomorrow and go to drill.  When I get there, we will have formation, then I will have two, two-hour classes: one on resiliency and one on how to get along with people of other races, sexes, sexual orientations, etc.  

Wednesday, when I found out about the classes, it was one of those I-can't-be-out-soon-enough days.  The resiliency classes are pop psychology which may work for people under normal, everyday, I-live-in-America levels of stress which includes three meals a day, shelter, smart phone, computer, TV and a thousand other things the majority of the world would LOVE to have.  But resiliency training is not going to work if you are face down on one side of the road with you lower leg still in the Humvee you were just blown out of.  Suffering builds courage, builds inner strength, builds the resiliency the Army really wants us to have.  But we get two hours of pop psychology instead.

Today, I wanted to stay in.  I was talking to one of the funniest soldiers in my unit, a Blackhawk pilot named Latifa Gaisi who posted a link on Facebook about a female F-16 pilot flying for the United Arab Emirates Air Force hitting ISIS targets.  Talking to Latifa made me want to stay in.  The 1st Infantry Division set up its headquarters in Iraq.  That's 500 pairs of boots on the ground that are set up to command 15,000.  Are they there just to enjoy Iraq in the Fall?  This time we are not trying to win hearts and minds.  Every soldier I know who was part of the ridiculous mission in the last war, would like to return with a mission to win, me included.

Tonight, my sons came home from school, one after cross country practice and the other after getting help with English from one of the tutors on his squash team at F&M College.  The boys are doing well--much better than last year.  In part it is because they are in a better school, but it is also because I am home a lot more.  I work just two days a week.  When they have trouble I am around.  I am not riding a train or off at a three-month Army school.  

So it also seems to be time to let Latifa and the other 20-year-olds go off and smash ISIS.  I even backed out of doing the 28-mile ruck march on October 11.  I am getting shoulder surgery soon and carrying a 35-pound pack for 9 hours could switch my torn ligaments from scheduled surgery to emergency.

I will try to enjoy the next several months till I am out.  But currently, the chameleon is stopped--far away from green.


Tuesday, September 23, 2014

What's Next Neil??



"What's next Neil?" My riding buddy Chris Peris asked me that question yesterday.  I have been hearing it a lot since the Ironman.  I did not answer quickly because we were riding fast and my jaw hurt from getting the first stage of a root canal yesterday morning.

I could give several answers to the question:

  • Since I am out of the Army next spring, I can actually race again without Army training eating up all the weekends at the peak of the race season in May and June.
  • Jim Dao and Ethan Demme both want to do Half Ironman events next year.  I could be interested in that.
  • Next month is the 28-mile March for the Fallen--in uniform with a 35-pound Rucksack.
But here's the definite answer:
  • Shoulder surgery, probably in January 2015.
  • Dental implant next month.
  • Tomorrow I will find out if I am getting a root canal or another dental implant.
  • Three crowns.
All of the above are things I put off because I did not want to interrupt Ironman training.

So the answer to "What's next Neil?" is getting various parts of my body repaired from Ironman training, previous crashes and the wear and tear of living more than 23,000 days.

Another dimension of "What's next?" is what I am doing now that I work two days a week and go to Philadelphia just once a week.  Ten years ago when I worked as a consultant, I took a course at F&M College each semester:  French, five courses in Ancient Greek, two each in Organic Chemistry and Physics.  

This semester I signed up for Russian 101. Hearing that I did this, one of my running buddies (who is multi-lingual) said, "Language is not like the Ironman.  There is always more to learn.  There is no finish line."   


Tough Mudder vs. Ironman, Part 3

Tough Mudder vs. Ironman, Part 2

Tough Mudder vs. Ironman is Here

Second Tough Mudder Report

First Tough Mudder Finish

First Tough Mudder Photos

First Tough Mudder Entry

Ironman Plans

Ironman Training

Ironman Bucket List

Ironman Idea

Ironman Danger

Ironman Friendship

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Tough Mudder vs. Ironman, Part 3

Six Minutes to Midnight I crossed the finish line.  Many times after bicycle races I felt good enough that I thought:   'I didn't try hard enough.'  That thought NEVER crossed my mind as I limped and to the car after the Ironman.  I looked for a fork sticking out of me, because I was DONE!

I wrote in previous post that time I spent training for the Ironman exceeded anything I did for the Tough Mudder.  In fact my second Tough Mudder was easier because of the Ironman training.

Now that I have actually finished the Ironman, the contrast between the two events is much sharper.

After I crossed the finish line, a smiling woman grabbed my arm and steered me toward my finisher's medal and asked me if I need anything.  She was looking at an old guy she was worried would collapse.  She guided me to the end of the finishing chute.  I told her I could walk to the car a half-mile away.  She let me go.  It took nearly a half hour for me to walk, limp, shuffle, stop, lean on walls and railings and finally get my very sore self back to the car.  I was as completely exhausted as I have ever been.

After the last Tough Mudder I jumped on a single-speed bike and rode 18 miles including several mile-long hills back to my car.  I was bruised, cut, and smelled like a barnyard, but the next day, I was fine.

Although I shared 16 miles of the marathon with a great guy I met on the Ironman course, hanging with friends is not the point of the Ironman.  I only did the second Tough Mudder because I had a friend who would do it with me.  If I ever do another Tough Mudder it will be with a group from my Army unit or my Church or some other group of people I would like to share a tough experience with.

If you are thinking "Which should I do?" my advice would be form a team and do a Tough Mudder.  But if you want to see how much you can suffer in one day, train for the Ironman.  You will feel awesome when you finish--but not so good the next morning.

Tough Mudder and Ironman Posts:

Tough Mudder vs. Ironman, Part 2

Tough Mudder vs. Ironman is Here

Second Tough Mudder Report

First Tough Mudder Finish

First Tough Mudder Photos

First Tough Mudder Entry

Ironman Friendship

Ironman Plans

Ironman Training

Ironman Bucket List

Ironman Idea

Ironman Danger

Monday, September 1, 2014

NOT a Bucket List!

I understand.  You could get the idea I am acting on a Bucket List.  Somewhere in my iPhone is a list of life ambitions that I methodically check off.

Ironman--Check
Iraq--Check
Ride around Beijing--Check
Alpe d'Huez--Check

But it is not true.  Like my ADD sons, then next thing I do is guided by the last idea to enter my head.

Sorry if you gave me more credit than that.  Wait!!  Squirrel!!!  I'll be back.

Really, let's start with the Ironman.  Surely, a life ambition. . .surely NOT.

My wife's main running buddy Terilyn reminded me a few nights ago of a conversation we had after a half marathon we ran in 2010 with a half dozen members of our Church.  After the race Terilyn asked me if I was going to do a triathlon.  "No way," I answered in a millisecond.  "I never learned to swim.  I have no interest in triathlons."

So how did I end up spending 16 hours and 34 minutes in Louisville swimming, biking and running 140.6 miles?  In November 2012 the pastor of our Church preached a sermon comparing the Ironman triathlon to the Christian life.  I was playing Army at the time.  My wife decided after the sermon she was going to do an Ironman.  She told me so that night.  I knew she meant it.  She made the same kind of calm announcement when she decided to donate a kidney to a stranger.  I knew she would do it.  Projected date 2015.  She needed time to train for the bike.

She HATES the bike.  But she bought a bike in January of 2013.  She named it SPDM (Sudden Painful Death Machine) and started to ride.

OK then.  I told her I would do it too.  Which meant I would have to learn to swim at 59 years old.  I never learned and I could not swim at all.  Not close to one length of the pool.  I got lessons.  I learned.

Life plan?  Bucket list?  Nope.  Squirrel ran past.  I chased it.

Did I always want to re-enlist in the Army and just happen to choose 2007?  Nope.  In 2006 I read August 1914 by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.  The hero of the novel is an old (mid 40s) soldier who re-enlists for World War 1.  He loved it, even as the Russian armies were badly beaten by the Germans. Around the time I read the novel, Congress raised the enlistment age by seven years.  I could get back in.  So I tried.  I got in.

At the end of the 90s and the beginning of this century I made more than 35 trips overseas to five continents in four years.  I have ridden in almost 30 countries.  Bucket list?

I did not even have a passport in 1998 when I got the job that would send me overseas almost every month.  I never had a passport.  The only time I went overseas before that was with the Army.

Suddenly I was Mr. Bike--Around-the-World.  No plan.  I just decided to take my bike on these trips.  No one else at my company did.  The opportunity was there.  I took it.

My next big activity will be marching 28 miles with a 40-pound pack.  Why am I doing this?  Well, I was planning to do the march without the pack, but then I thought, 'I am getting out of the Army in May of 2015, might as well see if I can carry the pack for 28 miles.'

So no, there is not a Bucket List.  I don't have a big or small list of things I want to do.  But if someone asks me to do something I have never done before and it sounds good at the time, I might do it.

Tough Mudder vs. Ironman, Part 3

Tough Mudder vs. Ironman, Part 2

Tough Mudder vs. Ironman is Here

Second Tough Mudder Report

First Tough Mudder Finish

First Tough Mudder Photos

First Tough Mudder Entry

Ironman Plans

Ironman Training

Ironman Bucket List

Ironman Idea

Ironman Danger

Ironman Friendship

Family Black Sheep Flies a MEDEVAC Blackhawk

Brooklyn-born Amira Talifi, (not her real name) is a helicopter pilot I served with in the Army National Guard. She is one of seven ch...