Burke Mtn. Academy

In 1995 I was a sophomore at Gateway Regional High School in Huntington, MA.  I had been XC skiing competitively for 4 years, immersed in a Western Mass training group led my one of my first mentors and coaches, Ed Hamel.  This group of dedicated teenagers deserves its own chapter in my story, but for now just serves as a precursor to a relatively dramatic change in my life that was about to occur.  Matt and Matt (M2S) were both part of Ed’s training group, gradually making names for themselves on the New England junior XC Ski circuit.  Around this time, with the big picture in mind (preparing for skiing at the Division 1 level in college), they both took the leap from Worthington to attend one of the most distinguished XC Ski academy’s at the time, Stratton Mountain School, located in Stratton Vermont.  Looking up to those two, and wanting the same thing, to ski competitively in college, I  followed their lead to try to become a faster skier; however, my path would lead me in a very different direction…enter BMA.

Burke Mountain Academy (BMA) is located 3 hours north of Northampton, MA, of off the Lyndonville exit of Interstate 91, in the Northeast Kingdom of East Burke, VT.  When my parents and I were looking at options as to how to further my development as a skier we came across BMA as an underdog of sorts in the world of New England’s ski academy’s, as far as XC programs go.  With a student body of roughly 100 at the time, only 5 were XC skiers, the rest were Alpine skiers.  I enrolled at BMA in the fall of 1995 and moved into a host home to save money on boarding costs.  On the drive with my mother to Burke that fall I became absolutely terrified with what was about to happen.  Not having Matt and Matt to identify with and rely on for support, I was  forced into a situation where I didn’t know anyone.  My personality as a scared and lonely introvert was about to rear its ugly head.

At BMA I was introduced to a new socio-economic class.  Money.  To my parents credit they leveraged themselves pretty heavily so that I could make this jump, taking out loans and asking for help from my grandparents.  Looking back I am beginning to appreciate the financial strain that was put on our family so that I could take the opportunity to attend an expensive ski academy.  Because I was thrust into a new “crowd” I immediately perceived myself as an outcast, incapable of relating to my peers because of this difference in financial class.  Again, this was my perception, not reality, but as a 15-year-old I didn’t know any better at the time.

Over the last several years I have had a recurring nightmare, and lately this dream has been extremely prominent.  In the dream I am back at Burke.  It’s an uneasy feeling of solitude, nervousness, and loneliness.  Just the other night I woke up in the middle of the night sweating, my sheets soaked, having just had another dream of being stuck in the Woods House dorm at BMA.  It was one of those types of dreams when you wake up and you’re relieved that it was just a dream.  To me at that time, BMA was stocked with “cool” kids, and I felt nothing like that, uncool as they say.  To add to all of this mental tripping I was in the midst of, physically I had not yet hit puberty, in fact I was the last kid to actually grow hair on my legs (which is ironic considering I have been shaving my legs for athletic reasons for the last 13 years).  Everyone else my age at BMA had gone through this developmental process, which only added to my insecurities.  It was absolutely terrifying.

As I write this I am listening to Oasis’ What’s the Story Morning Glory.  This album was the soundtrack of those years. Wonderwall and Champagne Supernova are the two songs that stand for something more than just classics, but reminders of my issues during that time.  I am quickly reminded of one of my classmates at the time Ryan Heinz, who was from England.  In my eyes he was one of the cool kids, up to date in music, a fast as hell skier, and someone who I held on a bit of a pedestal for some reason.  Later on in my BMA career I had the opportunity to room with Ryan, who was deeply influenced by the British Rock scene, and in the midst of writing his own music.  I latched on to his infectious enthusiasm for music, and emulated the style that he was developing for himself.  Years later I reached out to him and asked that if he ever needed a rhythm guitarist to join his band to let me know.  Unfortunately rhythm guitar was all I was good for at the time.  The other band that stuck out that takes me back to those years was the Dave Matthews Band.  Under the Table and Dreaming had just come out and everyone was listening.  Being a fan of both Oasis and DMB was the main way I tried to relate to my peers, to have something to talk about.  The last, and probably most influential impact that was made on me was when Robb Gushiken lent me a copy of the Trainspotting soundtrack (I think it may have even been Ryan’s copy).  Rob’s comment to me was “check out track 13, it’s the best.”  The first time I heard Underworld’s Born Slippy changed my love of music, going from rock ‘n’ roll to the world of EDM (sorry Kieran, but it all started here for me, you know I love ya 😉 ).

Overall, the trials and tribulations that I experienced at Burke as an insecure teenager helped make me into the person that I am today, however it wasn’t necessarily all for the best.  In 1998 I was recruited and accepted to St. Lawrence University in upstate New York, to join their developing XC ski program.  When I got to SLU I used the feeling of insecurity as motivation to make sure that my social experience at BMA was not repeated.  I was hellbent on making friends and being socially accepted.  Enter alcohol, most notably Labatt Blue and Beast Ice.  In alcohol I found a way to get out of my own head and the introvert closet I had been hiding in, to relate to my peers, putting my inhibitions aside.  And guess what?  It worked, the minute I began drinking and meeting people I started kicking ass, making friends, forging relationships that I so deeply sought, ones that I felt I could never achieve at BMA.  SLU, which will ultimately get its own chapter in the this story, was one of the best times of my life.  However, it was also the place that I learned to drink hard, and often.

In a twist of irony, Matt Whitcomb would eventually become the head XC ski coach at Burke.  Later on he would then go on to buy land and build his own cabin in East Burke.  It took me several years to grow the courage to finally visit his cabin.  I had not been to BMA in 14 years, I was scared shitless to visit and have feelings of insecurity resurface.  I remember sneaking a ton of whiskey during that trip just to make sure I was numbed out a bit. After visiting however I saw the town of Burke, and BMA, in a new light.  All I could think about was what it would be like to move to Burke and build the area and community into an east coast trail running/ultra mecca.  I still think about that possibility today.

I left BMA in 1998, 16 years ago.  I find it amazing that just now, as I am sober, I am able to process the reality of those years, leaving my insecurities at bay.  Ultimately my tenure there was an amazing time of personal growth. I am so thankful that my parents went above and beyond their means to allow me to leave home at 15 and go through the hardships and vulnerabilities of adolescence in a foreign environment.  Today, I have nothing but fond memories for the most part, less the uneasy dreams that I wake up in the middle of the night from.  Burke Mountain Academy has a very special place in my heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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M2S

my brothers, Matt and Matt.  When we are together we kick ass, period

my brothers, Matt and Matt. When we are together we kick ass, period

 

My first Tattoo.  The umlaut above the 2 is a tribute to Motley Crue, the band that was the soundtrack for our adventures

My first Tattoo. The umlaut above the 2 is a tribute to Motley Crue, the band that was the soundtrack for our adventures

I grew up as an only child in a sleepy hill town in western Massachusetts right of off Route 112 in between Northampton and Pittsfield.  That town, Worthington, where my mom still resides, will always have a special place in my heart for countless reasons; Hickory Hill ski area, Corners Grocery, Russell H Conwell Elementary, the Town Pool, the Whitcomb’s house, the Molyneux’s house,  and the Seal Team Sixx House are among the places that I spent my youth, learning about life as a kid.  These formative years set the tone for many things in my life.  Most notably however, Worthington is the place where I formed a brotherhood with my two lifelong best friends, Matt and Matt, or as I now refer to them, M2S.

Our bond as friends began on a spring day in 1992, I was 13.  That day I was at at another friends house, Wayne, playing and imitating WWF wrestling superstars as we did on a weekly basis. I remember Wayne’s mom calling he and I to come inside that day because my mom had called their house saying that she was coming to pick me up prematurely for some reason.  I was a little confused by her request at the time, but followed her lead regardless.  And I’m glad she did.  On the drive back to our house she told me that Matt and Matt had stopped by on their bikes earlier in the day to come pick me up.  I was a bit surprised by their gesture as I had not had contact with them for several years.  She had told the boys that I was at Wayne’s house and that she would go pick me up so I could hang out with them.  It didn’t make much sense at the time.  However, her incredible foresight was a life changer.  When I arrived back home Matt and Matt were hanging out in our front yard, patiently waiting for me to join them on their bikes for an afternoon of adventure.  With that, I quickly changed clothes, grabbed my bike, and headed off with them down Harvey Road.  That afternoon marked a very significant life change that became the starting point for the next 22 years.  I didn’t know it at the time but I, as an only child, had just adopted two big brothers.

Matt and Matt are both older than I by one and two years, respectively.  In being older I automatically looked up to them and sought their guidance as their naive little wing-man.  For years I felt as though I tagged along, as the little annoying brother, when we’d do such activities together like train for XC Skiing, go on seal team missions around Worthington, and frequent the Berkshire Mall to strive for a sense of living like normal teenagers.  It wasn’t until much later in life that I found out that I wasn’t, in fact, that seeming tag-along, but rather a student of their dedication, passion, persistence, desire, and commitment to do in life what they are made to do.  Matt Whitcomb is currently the heads women’s coach for the US Ski Team and Matt Molyneux is currently a teacher at a private school outside of Boston.  The lesson I have taken from watching their career paths take shape, because of a passion, is one that I’ve just recently came to respect unconditionally.  So for now, being the student is not such a bad thing.

When I look at our relationship one thing in particular, which is relevant at the moment, sticks out to me.  Alcohol, partying, drugs, and addiction were never the precursor to getting together as teenagers, college kids, and as adults.  In fact, those things were so far down the totem pole of our priorities that they don’t even register in my mind when I think about them.  When time allows the three of us convene in what we have come to call “summit meetings.”  These meetings are spent talking about everything in life that we are dealing with from money, to athletics, to jobs, to relationships, to family, to mental and physical health, and most importantly the adventures that we have yet to embark upon, our future as friends.  And yet, very rarely during these discussions does alcohol come up.  I find it important to point this out to myself to realize and remember that the  truly important things in my life have nothing to do with my struggle with alcohol, which is all the more reason for me to try and maintain my sobriety.  Yes, the three of us have had some pretty damn fun times while drinking, that’s a fact.  However, if I think of the top 10 experiences and memories of M2S none of them have anything to do with it.  That’s something for me to hold on to.

Just the other day I got the chance to catch up with Matt Whitcomb on the phone, which happens less often because of his busy work and travel schedule (I try to call Matt Molyneux every day if I can as our schedules line up better to do so).  He quoted a passage that someone had sent to him the week prior:

“The goal in life is to live young, have fun, and arrive at your final destination- as late as possible-with a smile on your face because this would mean that you truly enjoyed the ride.”

This has stuck with me, especially when it comes to the brotherhood that the three of us share.  I hope to have countless more M2S adventures.  The way I see it is that even though we’re all in our mid 30’s we have plenty of time to keep kicking ass, together.  Now if they would sack up and get a tattoo then I wouldn’t have to burn off the M2…mine would look pretty funny with just an umlaut and an S 😉

Cheers boys.

 

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Renovatio…and tattoo’s

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my journals…there’s some messed up shit in here

In latin, the word Renovatio means “re-birth” or “re-generation.” I saw it in a movie back in 2008 and thought it was a good theme for where my life was at that moment during a substantial rebuilding phase.  I also have a tattoo of the word…I made the mistake of getting someone’s initials inked to my body so I had to do a little cover-up.  Hence, Renovatio became a fixture, literally, on me.

My first journal entry on 12/29/08 at 4:30 in the morning reads:
“Squirming in bed, drunk from a binge on CamoXXX 10.5 Malt liquor tall boys, can’t sleep, this is the lowest I’ve been.  Call Dad, Call Mom, call Amanda, call M2S, I’m heading back to the ER and back to Sageview (psychiatric hospital in Bend, OR).  I cannot do this on my own.

This was my second stint in Sageview in a little over a year.  The first stint all went for naught, as I quickly disregarded everything I learned due to the relationship that I was in at the time.  This time was different however because I was determined to start peeling away the onion of who I was, once and for all, without the distractions of shitty Malt liquor tall boys, which was all I could really afford at the time.

12/30/08:
“I’m an adrenaline junky, can’t be mindful and enjoy the present.  Evidence for this is cycling, skiing, adderal, Ritalin, speed, coffee, red bull, alcohol, money, trance/EDM, work.  I always feel anxious and think about what is next, I can’t be in the moment, enjoying the moment.  What am I using these forms of constant stimulation to run from?”

Realizations like these were aplenty with the help of Docs, therapists,  and nurses at Sageview.  I stayed there for one week, and left with a plan.  The next 5 months I dedicated myself to digging in to do some work on myself, which was a long time coming.  During that time I kicked ass, stayed sober, got in good cycling shape, wrote down everything, and took control of my life, or so I thought.  Looking back at that time I’m actually pretty impressed for not drinking for that long.  Then once May came around that year I started to get cocky.

It doesn’t get better than summer in Bend, OR with cycling, tan lines,  bike racing, beers, warm weather, and friends. My journal would think otherwise.  I didn’t write anything down for nearly four months.

11/9/09:
“Got absolutely plastered this weekend and made a fool out of myself, to myself.  Not in front of anyone, but I felt like an asshole because I was so plastered.  Got drunk watching college football then went to a comedy show and continued the party and said a bunch of dumb shit to people I respect in Bend.  Dumbass, I’m not sure I’m worried that it was alcoholic behavior, I was just having fun I think? Maybe I’m just hung over.”

Right.  Alcoholic behavior?  Fast forward to October 2011 during my last days in Bend and I had countless more experiences such as this, closet drinking with the only difference being able to upgrade to Crown Royal. Throw some other stimulants in the mix and I was having a pretty damn fun party.  Then I ran…to Corvallis.  I figured that if I get out of the town that was prevalent in my drinking tendencies then everything would be fixed, right?  Wrong again.

And so began my time in Corvallis.  I’ve almost been here three years and I can finally admit that I actually really enjoy it here.  What I’m coming to find is that this may be the perfect town for me to learn how to be sober, and learn what the hell I’m supposed to with myself.

1/22/14:
“I’m in Corvallis to do two things.  1.  save $.  2. to get fit as fuck.  Focus on these two things and everything else will fall into place.”

The previous entry was 3 weeks before my sober date, 2/11/14.  During that 3 weeks I fell into a downward spiral which ultimately led to my last 3 day binge.  It’s crazy what can happen in so short of a time.

10/8/14:
“Well, my blog is up and live as of four days ago, I guess this means I’m all in.  My thought tonight is to use my athleticism as a platform to support something I believe in.  Being sober is something I believe in, it’s given me new chances and if I stay the course it’ll keep giving me chances.”

Maybe I have been looking at Renovatio in the wrong light.  Rather than being present as a single moment perhaps it is a daily occurrence.  I’ll take that for now.

 

 

 

 

 

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Racing…A Change in Perspective

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The Vertebrata Ultra crew, my teammates, my friends. They have been nothing but supportive in this transition

Just after passing Adam and Taryn at mile 8...it does not get better than running on a sunny fall day in the Mac

Just after passing Adam and Taryn at mile 8…it does not get better than running on a sunny fall day in the Mac

I’m almost 8 months in to this whole sobriety thing.  It has been lonely, confusing, agonizing, revealing, and sometimes, when I’m lucky and I allow it to be, very insightful.  I have been thinking about the notion of my addiction being transferred from alcohol to athletics.  My answer, today, is hell yes it is.  An addictive personality is an addictive personality, so rather than fight it I’ve been accepting and redirecting it, to running long distances in the woods.  I think it is safe to say that I am a better person to my friends and family, and more importantly to myself, when I do this.

Competing in endurance sports has always been something that has been fun for me.  It’s created everlasting friendships with some of the best, and most influential, people I have ever met.  Lately, however, competing has taken on a different meaning, one that helps dig up the elusive insight that I crave, into finding out who the hell I am and what the hell I stand for.  I’m not going to sit here and try and turn every life experience into a spiritual experience, and try to be overly poetic about it, but I am going to divulge something that struck me if I can honestly say that it meant something to my core, my heart.  I’ve only raced twice running this year, TransRockiesRun and last Sunday’s Condor 25k.  I won’t race again until The North Face 50 Mile Championships in December.  However, I have found myself at several races over the last few months not to compete, but to be there spectating and cheering on friends and teammates as they race.  This has helped me stay sober, especially on the weekends.  Fall in Corvallis has usually been dedicated to two things in the past:  Drinking and College Football.  It’s October and I haven’t been to a Beavs game yet…I can’t yet, it is very difficult.  This weekend I learned, and accepted the fact, that spending time with quality and supportive people in a safe environment, who understand my challenges, is one way to keep me away from sinking into the rabbit hole of alcohol.

I suppose there was a race to mention as well.  Condor was the first race to test out some of the fitness I gained at August’s TransRockiesRun.  I didn’t expect too much heading into it, in fact I would have been happy with just feeling good and racing smart.  Goal accomplished.  Although it took me about 5 miles to get warmed up and into a groove, I was able to nail down a 7th place overall finish.  I had a few friends racing as well so to cheer them on and help pace them in as they finished, topped off an amazing, sunny, fall day in Corvallis.  Thanks VURT-crew, Gum’s, Ripley, Corvallis Trail Runners crew, and everyone else who made Sunday happen.

 

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Sobriety: My Story

Top of Dimple Hill

Top of Dimple Hill – the morning after my 3 day solo binge, mentioned below…I dragged the girls up Dimple on snow run.  Smile was genuine, my mind was shot to hell

Sobriety: My story

Need to come clean about something. Earlier this year, in February, a rare snowstorm hit Corvallis and pretty much shut the city down.  That weekend I had planned a 3 day training block on my bike, but because of snow, I was unable to get out and the last thing I was going to do is spend 3 hours on a trainer.  Instead of training I hunkered down for 3 days and drank, a lot, by myself.  It turned out to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.  That Monday morning I woke up, hungover, depressed, emotionally depleted, and decided that it was finally time to address my issues with addiction, 100%…no more half-assing it.  Attempting sobriety had been a long time coming.

I began ramping up my alcoholic/addictive tendencies in 2006 when my life was firmly out of control financially, emotionally, and professionally.  My addiction then, among other things, was Ninkasi Tricerahops Double IPA and Crown Royal.  I snuck it, most evenings, and sometimes mornings, for two years, unbeknownst to most even in my inner circle.  Fast forward 9 years later and I had become a professional closet drinker.  Add in the fact that I was training my ass off for various running and road bike races, I actually took pride knowing that I could spend an entire Friday evening partying, to wake up on Saturday and bust out a 4 hour run.  I remember telling myself that I’m unique, I can party this hard and train at a high level, look at me look at me.  Well, this turned out to be complete bullshit and was ultimately part of the behavior that led to my sober date, 2/11/14.

Why am I coming out about this now?  Because I hate keeping secrets.  It eats me alive, and partly because of obsessive thinking I just need to get it out there.  One of the reasons I have spent most of my free time training is that it has helped me keep my sanity.   Now, more than ever, this is true.  Am I transferring my addiction from alcohol to  running and cycling?  Damn straight.  Why? Because after a long run or long ride I get to know myself in the purest form, much more than I would after a long binge on alcohol.  I’ll take it for now.

I’m still very new to sobriety and in no way am I an expert on the subject…and I will never pretend to be.  So far it’s been a very humbling experience, and very scary at times.  I’ve got a tremendous support system of friends and family and I am very thankful for this.  Rather than obsessing on the future and what will happen 5 years from now I think I’m just going to try and enjoy the fact that today, it’s sunny in Corvallis, and there are some trails calling my name.

Thanks for listening

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