Reunion goods.

This weekend, I took a little break from training and attended my 20-year high school reunion in Exeter, New Hampshire. I missed the 15-year reunion, so when this one was announced, I put it on my calendar. I don’t often get to the northeast and desperately wanted to set foot on my old campus.

Growing up in Corpus Christi, Texas, I was at the top of three different high school classes with little effort. At Phillips Exeter Academy, I did quite well, but it took a great deal of effort. I learned to study there. I learned how to learn. I read, wrote and studied every day and always felt a few paces behind but not in a discouraging way. The place inspired and challenged me.

Leading up to the reunion, I thought about the faculty I hoped to see. My priority list consisted of Ms. MacMullen (my dorm head), Ms. Keeble (my dorm faculty and math teacher), Mr. Parris (my math teacher and cross country coach), Ms. Robinson (my Art of Protest teacher who delivered my favorite mediation my senior year), Coach Farnum (my tennis coach), Reverend Thompson (a religion teacher and minister at Phillips Church on campus), and Mr. Schubart (the former head of admissions for whom I babysat in high school). I learned that Ms. Robinson is spending the year in Jordan, and I didn’t manage to track down Ms. MacMullen or Mr. Parris, but I did connect with the others, either through planning or chance.

With Coach Farnum.
With the Rev.

With Ms. Keeble.

These were people I know cared for me when I was a student living a couple thousand miles from home. Twenty years later, they still care for me.

I also made a point of visiting my dorm, Moulton House. On Sunday morning, I knocked on the front door. Twenty years ago, you could walk in the dorm during the day, but security is tighter now. A student let me in and went back to her studies. Feeling like I had intruded, I walked through the front hall into the common area, intending only to take a quick peak before leaving. There I ran into another student who was coming upstairs from the basement where she was doing laundry in machines that we didn’t have when I was a student. This girl reminded me of my roommate Karyn when we first met. She had long blond hair and was athletic and had a smile that drew me in. She seemed thrilled to have someone visiting the dorm and immediately pulled out a yearbook from 1991 (my upper or junior year at Exeter). I showed her the Moulton House photo from 1991, and she showed me the Moulton House photo from 2011.  Another student decided to join us, and we talked for about half an hour about the school then and now and where I was and where they were headed. I sat on the common room floor laughing with these girls and felt at home once again.

I have never let go of that experience of sharing space with strangers who became friends and, ultimately, family. Twenty years later, I still wear my class ring at times, particularly on days when I need to feel smart. I carry it with me everywhere because moments of insecurity pop up. That little ring is a reminder of times I worked hard and managed to succeed, academically and personally. Like Ironman, to me that ring is a symbol of anything being possible.

That’s not to say that the experience was perfect. I struggled at times with friendships and relationships there. I remember jogging down the pathway between Elm Street dining hall and my dorm, trying to catch up with friends so I wouldn’t have to walk by the mean dorm by myself, and tripping and falling face-first and being ridiculed in exactly the way I’d hoped to avoid. Even this trip, I managed to face-plant running the trails behind the school on Saturday morning. Thankfully, my fall wasn’t witnessed by classmates, and I bruised only my leg and not my face, so no one had to know except my doubles partner, Sarah, whom I still felt I could trust with anything. I also felt overwhelmed socially, much like I did at times in high school. I preferred the one-on-one conversations over anything in a large group.

Even with the challenges and insecurities, Phillips Exeter Academy became a home for me. It remains a home for me. I think it always will be.

A Ride to Remember.

For years, I have wanted to ride the MS150 from Houston to Austin. I have done the MS150 from San Antonio to Corpus on two different occasions, but the Houston to Austin ride was a different deal in my brain. It is enormous. Something like thirteen thousand people descend on the roads on bikes. I am, at times, a clumsy cyclist, and my clumsiness and those numbers just seemed like a really bad idea.

My friend Matt rides the Houston to Austin ride with Team MRE, and each year for the past few years, he has invited me to ride with him. Citing a busy schedule, I have repeatedly declined. This year I had no excuse. My calendar was open. I am in Ironman training mode. And Matt asked again. 
Matt’s sales pitch?
Here are a couple of things you need to know about our team before committing to join us.
  1. If you are not fun, we don’t want you.
  2. If you like to make commitments and then bail on them, see rule #1.
That, my friends, is a call to action that tugs on my heartstrings. I considered saying no, but Catherine, who rode San Antonio to Corpus with me, decided to give it a try, and I eventually did the same. We became a part of Team MRE.
The Austin part of Team MRE pre-road trip.
Once we were in, we were in for good, so I got on my bike to train, did my best to meet the team’s fundraising requirements, caravanned to Houston with some folks, most of whom I didn’t know, and for two days, worked hard pedaling my way back to Austin, determined not to be the last member of my team to finish. 
There is nothing wrong with being the last member of a team to finish an effort like this one, but I am trying my darnedest to relinquish my space at the rear of any race. I don’t want to finish my third Ironman with minutes to spare.  I want hours. So this year, my hopes are high, and my efforts are higher. The MS150 was no exception.  
On day 1, I rode 100 miles and pushed harder the last 40 than I did the first 40. When I arrived in LaGrange at the end of day 1, I had energy to spare, and that felt like a victory. I wasn’t so energetic that I could join in the evening hot tub/party fun, but I did feel strong. I got myself to bed early, hoping for a strong morning. But on day 2, I started the day exhausted. I wasn’t sure how my legs would manage 83 more miles or the monster Bastrop hills I had been told to expect, but when I realized that the anticipated 83 miles were actually closer to 64 and the hills were nowhere to be seen thanks to a park detour, my energy skyrocketed. I hit the “lunch stop” at 9:30 that morning and then pushed to Austin, skipping all the remaining stops along the way. I pushed and pushed, wanting to hit Austin as fast as I could.  And I was doing so well, until I heard air escaping from my front tire. A flat! A flat at mile 59! With only 5 miles to go!
So I stopped. I know how to fix a flat, so I started that process and then I realized that it had been so long since I had tried to fix a flat that my hands just weren’t doing what they were supposed to do. I waived down help. A nice guy named Gary from Houston stopped and fixed it for me.  He even donated a tube to my cause because, in my brilliance, I had packed the wrong sized tube. (My road bike and triathlon bike have differently sized wheels.) What a nice man.
Patched up – thank you, Gary – I hit the road again. With only a few miles to go and masses of people swarming around me, I decided to enjoy the remainder of the ride, more mindful of safety than speed. I connected back with my team at Mi Madre, a Mexican restaurant on Manor Road, just a mile or so from the finish. We ate, drank, and chatted with each other and our supporters, which included my mom and my friend Cynthia. (I love my supporters.)
The team ride to the finish was a bit bumpy. It involved a collision (thankfully not due to my clumsiness) and some tension. But all in all, I have to say that the ride exceeded all of my expectations.  
I worked hard and enjoyed every minute of it.  Thank you, Team MRE. What an experience.