The first update in a long, long time. It’s not always been the easiest road, but over thousands of miles — it’s certainly not been boring.
Well, actually, it was more like a flat sea. For the most part. My two year journey in Charleston has been filled with a lot of day to day, with a few adventures thrown in. Gator hunting was a big one for sure, but the topper so far–going out on a shrimp boat.
I’ve seen these boats from the shore many times in my life. When I was an ocean lifeguard, I’d see them rolling out on the blue Atlantic as the sun rose higher into the sky while I set my guard stand up for the day. I’d always wanted to head out on one–because isn’t the sea filled with dreams and dreamers?
We set out at 4:30 in the morning. The air was damp and cool–it was so early, even the promise of the day hadn’t woken up yet. But the boat was bright–lighting up the dock as voices of men getting ready for the day echoed against the sound of the engines, warming up for the work ahead. As we left the dock, I could feel myself relax as I climbed up next to the captain, felt the breeze blow the thick salt air over my face, and listened to the sounds of Jimmy Buffet bounce off the deck. Surely this was a life I’d lived sometime before, because it felt like home.
As we headed out, the nets were lowered into the water. The boat rolled around a little as the power shifted from the engines to the settling nets. It was dark, but the stars were out, and before long–the first hint of daybreak appeared on the horizon. We trolled off the coast of Sullivan’s Island, Morris Island and Folly Beach as the sun made its appearance. I thought of people on land getting ready for work and traffic and noise–and was glad my feet were firmly planted on a boat at sea.
As the sun rose, the birds appeared, and I noticed the dolphins behind the boat for the first time. They were with us all day, swimming behind the nets, catching their breakfast. Meanwhile–a deck hand was cooking up shrimp and grits and biscuits for us in the galley–and the smells were incredible. From the food cooking to the salt air, combined with the birds calling out, country music on the radio, the water lapping against the boat all as the sun came up–I couldn’t remember a time I felt more at peace.
We ate as the sun cut through the sea mist and lit the side of the Morris Island lighthouse. Even the dolphins were reflecting the light of the sun as they surfaced again and again. Before long, we pulled in the first catch–and it was a pretty good one. The nets are pulled up to hang over the deck, and when they were released, the catch poured out. There were a ton of jellyfish, stingrays, a couple of sharks, various fish, and of course, shrimp. The deckhands start sorting through the pile, pulling out the shrimp, and pushing everything else back into the water. The shrimp are almost clear when they come out–and some are huge! As the sorting continued, the nets were put back in the water for another go.
The day was long, but I wouldn’t trade a minute of it. And I’d do it again in a second. There’s a clarity for me that can only be found when I’m off land. Working the boat that day gave me a chance to hear myself for once, instead of everyone else. We were blessed with calm seas and a good catch–and plenty of pictures that will remain frozen in my mind for years to come.
When I moved to Las Vegas, I was fighting a few battles. I had a lot of great friends–but spent way too much time in the bar. And like anything in life, when you do something enough, it becomes a habit. I couldn’t wait to get out with my friends–every night. They were my lifeline as I waded through some pretty tough times. And there’s no doubt–they were great friends.
But after some time, the weight started to come on. No exercise, drinking nearly every night, eating dinners out all the time…as my self respect grew smaller, my waistline grew bigger. I felt like my life was moving in a constant circle–down a toilet bowl. I knew the ending wouldn’t be good unless I got out. So I did.
I talked to my agent who helps me find jobs–and one day she called and said there was a position open at a TV station in Las Vegas. On the outside looking in, someone who’s struggling with too much food, too much drink and not enough self respect probably shouldn’t come to Las Vegas. But to me–it was a place where I could eliminate all distractions (oddly enough) and focus purely on myself. And–I could also gain the experience of living off the coast for a little while. When the final chapters of my life are written–I’ll never wonder what it would’ve been like to live in the West. I did it.
So with songs like “Breakaway” by Kelly Clarkson and “I’m Movin’ On” by Rascal Flatts playing on repeat in my head, I drove 2500 miles away from all of my friends and family, and arrived in Fabulous Las Vegas. Without knowing a soul.
Talk about quiet time. I settled into work and then got into the business of fixing me. I had to find something that motivated me–and I found boxing. Ever since I was a child, I’ve loved the Rocky series. And here I was in Las Vegas, the king town of boxing, and with a chance to be my own Rocky. And there was one more realization that I was finally able to grasp. The fear of NOT taking control of my life became greater than the fear of change. Again…the fear of NOT taking control of my life became greater than the fear of change. So I got to the business of changing.
Many, many days saw me in the gym. Sweating. Learning a new sport. And falling in love with boxing. I actually turned out to be pretty decent at it–let’s just say my parents are relieved I didn’t discover this 10 years ago. I literally sweat–punched–and beat down 70 pounds. No diet. No starving myself. A diet is about denying yourself to achieve an intended goal. A lifestyle change is a gift to yourself–when you give yourself more than you ever thought possible. A lifestyle change–is saving your life. There’s no denying involved. I get so upset when people who need to lose weight (and I’m not talking 10 pounds people) turn to “diets.” Think about this. When it comes to your body and soul, nothing long term comes out of short term options. There are no shortcuts.
That kind of sucks in this day of instant gratification. But you’ve got to be selfish with yourself and truly love yourself to make the change. And it takes a long time. Two years later, I’m down 70 pounds. And when I look in the mirror–I see the real me, or at least the real person I’m becoming. A diet is short. A life change is the rest of your life. And trust me–you won’t feel like a champion every single day. There were days I couldn’t get to the gym because of thoughts in my own head. And I beat myself up for it. But I’ve also learned that if you make the wrong decision once, back up and make the right one the next day. Don’t let bad decisions and bad choices become a habit.
Two years down this road, my apartment once again is filled with boxes and smells like cardboard. Things are out of whack all around me–a lot of goodbyes are in the very near future. But one thing that’s not out of whack–me. I’m going home back to my ocean. My family and other “lifers” in my life. I still struggle with this ending to Las Vegas–I honestly couldn’t have scripted it any better–and I keep waiting for the other shoe to fall. But when I look back over the endless days in the desert, I realize that good things really do come to those who’ve put in the work. And I’ve put in the work. There are more changes ahead–primarily a switch back from boxing to my beloved triathlon, and getting used to having family and “lifers” around again. But when I drive out of town in two weeks–I’ll be leaving a shell behind, a lot of sweat on a gym floor, and will be full speed ahead with motivation and determination to continue on this path. I gambled in Las Vegas and won. I won–me.
I never imagined I’d live in Las Vegas. Ever. Honestly, it wasn’t even a place I had on my bucket list to visit. I had this image of Las Vegas as nothing more than a row of smoke filled casinos where people came to revel in excess of all kinds–and I just assumed keep my feet in the beach sand, thank you very much. And–my image was spot on. And then some.
The Strip is quite a sight. Bright lights. People of all kinds walking up and down sidewalks turned neon by the lights above. In the summer, an intense heat magnifies everything. The sights, sounds and smells of the Strip are something to behold. There’s an undercurrent of energy that pulses through everything you do. It’s exciting for sure–and I can’t write enough about that energy. The heartbeat of Las Vegas. Everyone who visits here is on equal footing–whether you’re a millionaire cozying up to a table game or a slot machine, or the paycheck to paycheck person sitting next to them–the cards and the dice and the pull don’t discriminate. Everyone has a chance in Las Vegas.
But the images of the city that are out there are designed to make everyone believe they can be THAT person. That big winner. And while yes, you do have a chance to rub shoulders with the famous out here, you have to pay to do it. A lot. Drinks in clubs run anywhere from $10-$20. And unless you know someone who knows someone, you’re going to stand in line a long time to get in–and probably not see anyone who’s on TV. I see it all the time–people who come in town with that special black dress packed or that slick shirt, and they get here and realize they’re just like everyone else. I wonder if they leave disappointed–because except for a very select few, Las Vegas is a bright light, big attitude town–that only delivers in a big way if you have big bucks. But–it’s the potential of the “what if” that brings people in with what they’ve got, and often sends them home empty handed. It sure is fun, though.
However–Las Vegas is also a working man’s town, and this is the town I fell in love with. There are beautiful neighborhoods, and some not so beautiful ones. There are schools and high school football games and UNLV and basketball games and baseball games. There are swim teams and gyms and soccer fields and soccer moms with their minivans and honor child bumper stickers. Turn off the lights, and Las Vegas is no different than any other American city–trying to make it through.
My first Thanksgiving here, I fed the homeless. In the middle of Catholic Charities, I was surrounded by faces of people who for whatever reason–came up a little short on the success meter. But away from the lights, these people were the same faces you see on your street corner, wherever you are… just looking for a break–or dinner.
So, when you ask what’s living in Las Vegas like, away from that one strip of bright lights, it’s Anytown USA. And it’s absolutely beautiful around here–I’ll have more on that in another post. But it wasn’t a bad place to swap beach sand for desert sand for a bit. And I’ll never forget it.
—This is the first installment of looking back at my Las Vegas journey.–
The first moving company representative arrived at my apartment this morning to do an estimate. Two years ago, the scene was much the same–a few boxes laying around, moving supplies filling up a room, and a lot of wondering about what the future holds. There’s an addictive quality to moving for some… knowing when you land in one spot, it’s not forever, and that horizons and destinations and plans change. Kind of like living on the beach–if you don’t like the weather, give it five minutes, it will change. But I am a very different person than the girl who was packing boxes two years ago. I have survived–and thrived–in Las Vegas, on my own. And I wouldn’t trade a minute of it.
Over the span of the next couple of weeks, I’m going to look back at my journey in Las Vegas. Mainly so I can always have a record for myself, but hopefully in an effort to inspire some of you to make that change you so desperately want. Whether its losing weight, changing jobs, moving across the country–you can do it. And now, I can say those are more than empty words–the words come from experience from having done it myself.
So, what was it like, and what did it take to live two years away from my best friends, to go to baseball games by myself, to go to the gym alone, to never have had one visitor from Las Vegas walk in my apartment? It was lonely. But I’m convinced being alone builds character–because it forces you to eliminate all distractions, and listen to that voice. The one inside yourself that can be drowned out by so much as a bird tweet or a passing car. I’m talking REAL one on one time.
I think this point was made clear to me when my friend Bill came to town for a wedding. He’s one of my best friends, and I love his family, and they were all in town at the Wynn. We had a great time, but before I knew it, the night was over. And when your closest friends come to town–while they’re lost in the doing, you’re enjoying the “being.” Being comfortable with someone, even for a couple of hours. Seeing a familiar face. Hugging someone and feeling that connection of home all wrapped up in one moment that passes quickly to them, but gives you ammunition to move forward for another week, month or year.
As I said my goodbyes to Bill and his family, it was like walking out of the family room at Christmas. That one time really stuck with me, because as I was walking out to my car alone, I saw this sign:
And that really hit home. Self park. My entire Las Vegas experience can be summed up in those two words. Self Park. It was time to park my mind and body alone for two years–to see who I really was, to learn all I could, and to achieve goals with no distractions. I wouldn’t change a minute of it, and I’m sure I’ll miss it during certain times ahead.
Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll write several entries telling you what I learned–and what I was taught while I “self-parked.” I hope you enjoy.
Here I am–just about at the halfway point of my two year stint out here in the Wild Wild West. So I figured it was time for an update–and maybe one day, I’ll be able to update this blog on a more regular basis.
All is well out here–despite the fact that I miss the ocean and my family back east every single day. But I’m doing what I set out to do–take care of myself. I’m losing weight, getting into the best shape of my life, and taking it all in with the enthusiasim of a 5 year old at her own birthday party.
There have been two really cool things that I’ve done that I haven’t blogged about yet–and they couldn’t be any more different. And they both embody one of the reasons I moved out west on my own–to embrace adventure and challenge myself. So let’s start with the first cool adventure update of this post.
The girl who loves the water more than anything–actually did pretty good climbing a mountain. Well–it was more of a cliff. And to my flippered feet–it was a razor thin gigantic rock growing out of the earth. And one wrong step in parts–and I wouldn’t be here writing this. And that’s not an exaggeration. But it sure was beautiful. I climbed Angel’s Landing in Zion National Park, Utah. Here it is from the ground.
I went with my best friend Christal, who flew in from Florida for the trip. We were accompanied by my work buddy Travis, who grew up in the mountains and climbs like a monkey. I’m so glad the good Lord blessed him with a sense of patience–because we were…well, slow. Or just “careful” as I like to call it. We were both a little nervous and a lot out of our environment at the start of the day–Travis took things a little lighter.
Regardless–it was about a 5,000 foot rock. The trail at the bottom started of with a gentle upgrade, harmless, running alongside the Virgin River.
It was beautiful–and we eventually worked our way up to a spot called Walter’s wiggles. 21 VERY STEEP switch backs at about 15 yards a pop. From there, we climbed up to Scout’s Landing–a nice spot somewhere near the top of the tree line where you could turn back before the really cool part started.
There, the trail turned into a mountain of rocks, with chains bolted in for people to hold onto. On either side in many cases, there was nothing but a sheer drop down the cliff face. The Virgin River–a good size river with rapids at eye level, turned into a little line thousands of feet down. The tour busses running through the park looked like matchbox toys. But the air–it was so clean, and the sky was so blue–not a cloud in sight.
We all made it to the very top, and the view was something I’ll never forget. Christal did a phenomenal job–despite her fear of heights. I was so proud. And up on that mountain, looking around at all of this beauty that I’d only seen in tv shows. It was so real–beauty everywhere we turned. The trip down the mountain–down the rocks, holding onto the chains, down the wiggles and the curves–led to a very surreal moment for me. Christal took my pack, and I ran the last mile off the mountain. It was mostly downhill, but there were a few uphill spots–and it was wild. The sun had dropped low enough that the canyon bottoms were in the shade, but the huge tops of the rock formations were bathed in golden sunlight. The river was back beside me, and all I could here were my footsteps, the sound of my breathing, and the rapids. We all met up at the bottom, played by the river, then enjoyed a beautiful outside dinner under the shadow of Zion. I’ll never forget the day.
The second big trip took me back home–well, sort of. Back to the ocean. Christal flew out and we took a short trip over to Huntington Beach, California. The drive took us through Death Valley, and some incredible mountainous terrain–probably the biggest mountains I’ve ever been in.
Finally–we got to the ocean. We stayed at the Hyatt Resort in Huntington for for two nights–and it was EXACTLY what the doctor ordered. I’d been to San Diego, but I’ve never been in the (cold) Pacific until that day. I got to get back out on my Custom X body board and ride the waves in the (cold) Pacific. My first trip out–I saw a dolphin surface about 10 feet in front of me. You can’t make this stuff up, people. We rented a cabana and two chairs, and had private beach butler service for the day–which meant we could stay hydrated and even eat lunch–without ever having to leave the ocean. They were the best fish tacos I’ve ever had–by far. A little sand and salt can only serve to make things better.
We spent the rest of the time watching beautiful sunsets.
And getting cookie turndown service in our room.
And living the surfer lifestyle.
And unfortunatley–I don’t have a picture of the small child’s sandcastle Christal destroyed. Walking on the beach while trying to take pictures–when you’re coordinated challenged in the first place–can always make for a humours end. Fortunately, when she did fall in the sandcastle, the child didn’t cry–and even asked her if she was ok. Grace upon grace, I tell ya.
The weather was cold by Vegas standards–in the 80’s and 60’s, which meant I froze after living through the summer that has been 1000 degrees at least (or 112, but I never exaggerate.) And I cried when we left–but my time to return to the shore is coming. I just wonder who I’ll be and what I’ll be doing when that day comes. For now, I’m focusing on one day at a time–looking forward to the next wave caught or mountain climbed, and am so thankful I am getting a chance to live in the American West.
Hello everyone! First, let me apologize–it’s been a long time since I’ve updated on here.
Second, thanks to facebook, let me welcome new readers–feel free to scroll to the beginning to see how the ocean swimmer wound up in the desert. It’s a pretty cool story filled with pretty cool people.
It’s been so long, I’m not sure where to start. It’s been a great six months out here, although a bit lonely at times. However, I’ve definitely learned that when you get all the “noise” out of your life and you’re free to listen to the Lord’s voice, there’s no telling what amazing things will happen. And if you know me, it’s no surprise that I wound up 2500 miles away from my closest friends and family. Let’s just say that me and God–we’re in a good place right now, but still learning.
So–what have I been up to? I figure I’ll do a quick list to bring everyone up to speed without boring you with my tales of adventure.
Drove 2500 miles across the country.
Got back in the gym for serious training.
Started eating right. Very right.
Had a great visit from my parents and my friend Christal, and discovered low and behold that I’m not the only water being in the desert!
Saw lots of cool Christmas things at the casinos, even though the only time I head to the Strip is when friends come to visit.
Had a few friends come to visit!
Took Kyle to doggie school. He was a star!
Went horseback riding in the desert.
Hung backwards over Hoover Dam.
And am constantly amazed everyday at the beauty that is around me. Not a day goes by that I don’t get in my car to drive to work that I am nearly moved to tears by this country out here. Even though it’s so much different from what I’m used to, and given the fact that the closest thing I get to a salt-water fix is by filling up my sink and dumping a bunch of Morton’s in–I’m ok out here. I really feel I have a solid understanding of why I’m here, and what I’m supposed to be doing. Seriously–whoever thought moving to LAS VEGAS of all places would be designed by God to make me stronger, more centered and more open to His plan? Take a look….
Ok, now that the quick recap is done, I just got back from a CRAZY trip back to Florida to compete in my 8th consecutive St. Anthony’s Triathlon. And what a story. So sit back, fasten your seat belts (You’re going to need them) and get ready for a wild ride.
We went through a thunderstorm somewhere over Oklahoma that left me a little white in the face, but we landed safely around 6:30 am CST. We were supposed to take off around 8:30am for Tampa, but alas–it was not meant to be. I had been up for nearly 24 hours at this point–so after a “minor” meltdown I got it together and grabbed a turkey sub and grabbed a quick nap after it became apparent we weren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Sometime around 2:00pm, I met a couple in the terminal who will most likely be lifelong friends of mine. Ginny and Claude. Wow. I think they were hand-placed by God just for me. They were headed to Tampa for a conference. And man did we share some good laughs at a relationship that formed near us, and a crazy lady who got her self-proclaimed “oral gratification” by eating mini pecan pies. HILARIOUS. After sitting around for a few hours, we finally learned the delay was for a broken flight attendant call button.
A call button. They flew in a part to fix it from Atlanta. It didn’t work. They flew in a part from Denver. It didn’t work. Around this time, Claude and I went up to the ticket agent and got rebooked on the last flight out to Tampa that night at 8:30 or so. And thank God for Claude who led me through that process–because after several more hours of laughs in the Memphis airport, we got on that plane.
And what a ride that was–we flew through the same storm system that dumped the deadly tornado in Mississippi. I’ve never been on a more rough flight–lightning flashing all around, and the sound of thunder banging outside. I made my peace with the Lord, but we safely touched down in Tampa–minus clean underwear–sometime after 11pm.
Christal and another awesome friend Amy picked me up at the airport, and took me to my hotel. Christal had called ahead, gotten permission to go in the room, and had my refrigerator stocked with everything I would need for the race. Did I mention I have amazing friends?
Jonathan showed up the next morning–he’s been to 7 out of 8 races, and we counted down to the start.
But–the delays weren’t done yet. THE SAME STORM SYSTEM that had followed me from Vegas to Oklahoma to Memphis and to Tampa was stirring up waves in Tampa Bay, so I had to wait while they changed the swim course around a bit. Finally–it was off the beach for the triathlon. The swim was fantastic, but the bike…. the winds… wow. It was all I could do at times to stay ON THE BIKE. I started making up songs and singing them out loud to the tune of the wind whistling through my spokes.
By the time I hit the run, I was pretty beat. But despite a slow pace and some cramping issues, I finished. Thank you Jesus! Another St. Anthony’s in the books.
After visiting with friends, eating some nice meals with great people, and running around town–I had to catch a 5:30am flight out of Tampa on Tuesday, which I promptly missed because of a long security line. Delta rebooked me, and I was headed for Atlanta at 11:10am–more turbulence that turned me a nice shade of pasty white, and finally at 3:30 PST, I touched down in Vegas, went to work, and was home by midnight.
It was a whirlwind adventure filled with a lot of trials–but I have to tell you, it was all worth it.
To my parents–thank you for your love and support that helps me chase these wild adventures wherever they may be.
And to two of my best friends–I couldn’t have done it without you guys. I love you both so much for supporting me, my dreams, and believing in my potential.
So now–I’m back home, I start boxing again in the morning, and I’m excited about the next chapter of this Western Journey. I miss the water, my family and my friends, but I know that God has me here for a reason–I know what that reason is, and I’m trusting Him to guide me every step of the way.
Turns out being a Dolphin in the Desert isn’t so bad after all.