“The Inevitability of Aging”

Posted in Uncategorized on April 23, 2015 by busterpaul

My Grandmother (Mom’s side) recently passed on. In December of 2013 she died in her sleep at 103 years old. I turned 51 years old on the 20th of March and I’m still not half her age. My other Grandmother lived to be 98. Unfortunately, both of my Grandfathers’ died before any of us seven grandchildren were born. We as kids were never held, or cradled or amusingly chased by a “Papa” or “Granddad”. How odd and yet how accepting it has always been because that was simply the norm.
At 51 years old and a parent of a 5 year old only child, it’s a reality to think that I could actually be grandfather to my little girl. Prior to having met my wife in 2003, I had pretty much presumed that children were out of the picture for me. At the time, I was perfectly fine with it. In fact, I’m quite sure my wife was fine with it too. I did state very clearly to her though that if that little bell went off in her head and signaled to her a desire to carry a child, then she must speak up or I’ll likely consider that she’s ok not becoming a mother; especially given that she is a highly trained classical musician and that her field of choice was quite demanding, and could knowingly be prominent in such a serious decision. If there was one thing I wouldn’t do, it would be to deny my wife her instinctual and natural right to bear a child and become a mother. When she indicated that she wanted to have a baby, we took the leap both happily and lovingly.
There’s quite a difference in having a baby in your 20’s or 30’s to having one in your mid 40’s and up. Having a baby in your 40’s reminds you of the inevitable aging process. In your mid 40’s, it isn’t until the baby has arrived that you truly recognize how old you are. What a wake-up call! There are so many things to factor:
• You weren’t likely financially prepared (Are you ever?) at the time of decision to have a child and because you’re that much closer to the retirement age compared to your 20’s-30’s. You’ve got some catching up to do. Serious adjustments must be made.
• Your health and metabolism have altered themselves to the mid-life realm.
• Because of the above, you’d best get yourself in good shape to meet the demand.
• What you had been striving for as a childless adult has now been somewhat washed away. Your priorities have taken a new direction.
• While all of your friends have sent their kids off to college, you are just getting to diapers.
• You begin to think retirement is a forgone conclusion.
There is so much more, but the one thing the inevitability of aging cannot take away from you is the joy –the realization and wonderment of life. Regardless of aging, the process of parenting is quickly learned. The intuitive and natural guardian elements of feeding, protecting, teaching and nurturing are already there, but the physical practices of time management, dressing, bathing, gymnastics, car seats and cribs take some getting used to. We are fortunate my wife and I, in that we have no existing conditions or ailments that interfere with our ability to keep up with parental responsibility. We remain true to faith and good-naturedness to help guide us along and we remind ourselves that we will one day have to simply submit to the inevitability of aging.

“Daddy’s in School Now”

Posted in Uncategorized on April 23, 2015 by busterpaul

The pressure is on. I’ve taken advantage of one of the many benefits my employer offers and have decided to take the big educational leap into college. That’s right folks, Daddy’s in school now.
In an ever-competitive workforce, more than anything, big corporate has become increasingly adamant in wanting team players who possess a degree of some sort. I’ve enrolled in a four year program seeking a Bachelor’s in Methods of Shoe Lacing. What…? (You don’t think I’d let this blog post get by you without some frame of humor do you?) I’m just kidding peeps. My shoe lacing strategies are crackerjack. In fact, I was the original inventor of the quick-release tugboat bowline sneaker tie; a lacing method that was destined to become the most popular, go-to sneaker tie of choice. That is, until Velcro came along… (That was another attempt at stand-up comic humor. How am I doing?)
Ok, back to being serious. I need to finish this post because daddy has a first draft Persuasive Essay due in less than 36 hours. This old coot is on a sound path toward Communications with a concentration on Technical Writing. Why shouldn’t I focus on something that I enjoy? Hey, it only took me 35 years since graduating High School to figure it out. With a Technical Writing Degree, I’m on a mission to scribe the first ever instructional manual on – Inter-Galactic-Jetpack Travel (As contracted by Subaru). That’s big bucks right there folks.
Ok, I’m really getting off track here. This is supposed to be a blog focusing on healthy kids.
What I’m learning about online schooling is that, my sleeping habits are now completely out of spec. My propensity for keeping fit has nearly been cut off. My fuse of tolerance has dwindled, and I’m finding myself occasionally detached from parental responsibility. I’m only in my second term and I’ve realized that I need to refabricate my daddy and husband doings. It’s a balancing act that teeters on a very fine wire. But alas, I won’t forget what’s important. My wife, my daughter, they are first. It is they that I hold high upon my shoulders like Atlas supporting the globe. And if I should find myself beginning to sway, at risk of having them tumble down off the strength of my trapezius, it is then that I shall step away from the books to keep stable what I hold dearest. Higher education is not a race. At this stage in my life, it may not even be necessary. But I’m continuing on my own personal journey toward “finding myself” and loving every minute of it. Most importantly is the understanding that, without the never-ending loving support of my wife, and without the joyous observational watching of my growing young gal, I just don’t think I could do it. My compass is true. And now, it’s back to my Persuasive Essay.
Peace.

“It’s the Holiday Season”

Posted in Uncategorized on December 16, 2014 by busterpaul

Well, well, well, if it isn’t time for the hustle and bustle of nightmarish traffic and scrambling for the over-commercialized, money-spending, economy-stimulating, credit-debt-gobbling-showboating, that has become the Christmas tradition here in the good ol’ US of A.
Now, don’t you take a Bah-Humbug cue from me, folks. I’ll be out there just as you will, doing my best to fulfill the wish list of stocking-stuffer packages and tree-surrounding presents. Just like you, I was also reminded of the pending Christmas season the minute Halloween ended. Like clockwork, the big corporate juggernauts purchased their TV ad time, and subliminally marketed their way into the subconscious minds of the unsuspecting millions of children across the countries’ households.
The anticipation will soon peak as the countdown to Santas arrival draws closer. My gal, along with the rest of the countless children nation and worldwide, will lay in their beds and dream of getting a peek at Santas boots traipsing through their decorated domain as he lines presents and packages under the family tree. They’ll wake in the morning and race to a heaping pile of treasures. Their eyes will widen with joy as they tear into gifts that had been so skillfully wrapped and tied with ribbon and bows.
And in the SNAP of a couple of fingers…, it will all be over.
Just like that, the weeks upon weeks of buildup will be gone. Oh sure, there’ll be a day of feasting on varieties of foods and fun. Family bonds will take place, and there may be those who traditionally watch their favorite Christmas movies and drink eggnog, spiked or otherwise. And as the day goes along, a nap may be in order to quench need of the sleepy. And before too long, night will fall again. We’ll look around to see scattered remnants of leftover treats and goodies, and ask ourselves if the cleanup can wait until morning. But we won’t wait. There will be those who faithfully jump in to begin tidying up if not to at least make a substantial dent in the reminder of had festivities.
Later on, we may have a cordial, and we’ll talk about what the favorite gift of the day was. There may be a moment of reflective silence as those with a fond memory will recall the days of old. We’ll chat about what it used to be like at Christmas, and how so much of the spiritual meaning has been lost, and only held dearest to a scant, existing few. We’ll think of the days of listening to the Nat King Cole version of Mel Tormes “The Christmas Song” as he crooned from a scratchy LP record. And we’ll sadly remember the lives of family members who are no longer with us.
But, will we remind our children of the meaning of Christmas? Will we hold each other responsible with the ardent need to explain the true meaning? When it is over, will we have allowed the big business overshadowing of Christmas to have been the victor?
I shall hope not.
If not for just 10 minutes on December 25, I would encourage you to gather your children together, and collect their attention for a moment, so that you may glare into their eyes with passion and emphasize the true spiritual meaning of this wonderful day. Perhaps you may share with them the meaning of Peace on Earth, and Good Will toward Men. And perhaps you can tell them to never be afraid to sing out loudly and in glory, – MERRY CHRISTMAS!

“Kidnapped” A Short Story

Posted in Uncategorized on July 30, 2014 by busterpaul

         The man crept into the worn out, dimly lit, decrepit parking garage. Concrete and cavernous, there was only s single vehicle that existed between drastically faded yellow zoning parking stripes. The vehicle was covered in dust. Its tires were empty of air and the passenger’s side rear quarter panel had shown the finger painted words “Wash Me” which were now developing their own new layer of dust with the passage of time.

          He stealthily soft-toed his way along the stretch of pitted wall. Posts of iron rebar dangled from chipped paths of cement from above. He was careful not to walk into them and lowered his head to avoid contact. He’d remembered that nasty feeling of getting gashed in his right calf some years ago when an exposed length of sharp edged rebar complimented his flesh. Now was not the time to take a rod to the head. He stopped his pace as he heard nearby rustling. Scanning the area, he saw it. It was just a mouse gathering sweet nutrients from a candy wrapper.

            A wisp of cobweb laced his face as he continued moving along the wall. He swiped it away with his backhand and accepted the dastardly, creepy feeling. For a moment he began to feel his heart race. He paused to take a deep breath and calm himself. He hugged the wall and continued on as he inched closer to the corner. He could hear the sounds of her captors as they mumbled in nonsensical, inaudible, gibberish and as he reached the end of the wall, he peeked around the corner and saw from a good distance that there were three of them. The view was shadowy but he could also make out the shape of a chair. It was positioned away from his direction and he was unable to see who was sitting in it. The figure seemed headless and flattened off, but rather angular in shape. Perhaps the lighting was playing tricks on his vision. Whoever it was, they were undoubtedly the leader of this company of thieves. They would pay a price for taking his daughter, and for luring her innocence, and preying on her social aptitude and her joyous desire for laughter and fun. Shameless beings they must be. A car from outside the rundown parking garage was heard and as it passed, its headlights faintly shone in the direction of the captors through aerating ports of the massive concrete structure.

And that’s when he caught a glimpse of Sophia.

            Brief that it was, he was sure that he heard and saw her lightly giggling in response to the dwarfish trio that surrounded the chair. He pulled his head back from around the corner and pasted himself to the wall to think. “Why was she giggling? Why wasn’t she afraid of what was happening? Did she not wish to herself for her daddy to save her? Was she not frightened of the situation? Had she not felt the need for her father to help diffuse and dismantle the elaborate plan orchestrated by these unknown perpetrators?” He was saddened, almost deflated having considered such thoughts, but he was here to get his daughter back at all costs and persisted with his plan.

            It was time for one last check of his shoulder slung haversack. He unfastened the closure to the flap of the pouch and looked in. All that he needed was there. In a smaller side pocket he retrieved a pen-sized telescopic mirror, the kind most commonly used to view the undercarriage of an automobile. He extended the mirror to its fullest and perched it beyond the corner to get another peek. He could only see two of the captors now and as he began to seek the third, he was quick to spot him in the mirror patrolling the garage area. The little being was edging along the ninety degree wall that met the corner where the man was. The man readied himself to overtake the dwarfish imp. Just as soon as he made the corner, he would lunge at his opponent and hold him ransom until he got answers.

            The imp reached the corner and the man snatched him up with one smooth, fluent motion. He was wise to cup the mouth of the little being with his hand to avoid any noise or risk of notice. The little yellow minion’s single eye popped open with trepidation and he was completely taken by surprise. He wriggled in the clutch of the man and tried to generate some noise but the man’s grasp was too strong.

“Calm down little fella, I’m not gonna hurt you, I just want my daughter.” The man quietly said in a whispering tone to the trembling minion.

“Blink your eye once if you understand me.”

The yellow being blinked his one eye unable to make any noise from his hand-cupped mouth.

The man raised the minion up a bit and hooked his blue denim overalls onto a protruding post of rebar.

“How would you like some banana my little friend? Blink twice.”

His eye closed and opened two times.

“I’m going to take my hand away from your mouth now and if you so much as make a noise -any noise at all, I’m going to pull down hard on your little minion legs and you’re going to have a denim overall wedgie the likes of which you have never experienced. Are we clear?”

The minion’s pupil dilated in fear. He blinked once and the man felt the muscular movement of an enormous gulp in his mouth covered hand.

“Good.”

The man reached into the haversack and pulled out a banana.

“Look at that…” He waved the banana back and forth in front of the minion. “It’s perfectly ripe.”

“Ripe.” The minion softly tweaked and followed the movement of the banana with his one eye.

“We’re gonna have a little Q & A now. For every answer I get, I’ll give you a piece. Sound fair?”

The minion blinked.

“Which one are you?”

“Tuart.” He said.

“Stuart? You’re Stuart?” The man asked.

The minion nodded and the man wedged a chunk of banana into his mouth.

“Mmm…” he smiled.

“Who else is over there?”

“Dabe and Jerry.”

“Good. Dave and Jerry.” More banana… “Who’s in the chair?”

The minion was reluctant to answer and the man began to pull down on his stubby little legs causing his overalls to ride up.

“Nob.” The minion pleaded.

“Nob?” The man asked quizzically. Stuart motioned his eye to the banana. The man gave him another piece.

“Pun Nob.”

“Pun Nob?” The man was unsure.

“Air Dance.”

“Air Dance..wha..?”

“Pun Nob Air Dance. Ba-Na-Na please.”

The man shoved another banana bite into his mouth and considered the encryption.

“Pun-Nob-Air-Dance.” He thought about it.

“Bi-nabble C” the minion babbled.

And then it dawned on him…

“Spongebob Squarepants? Pinapple under the sea?”

The minion smiled. “Ba-Na-Na.”

The man darted one more piece of banana into Stuart’s mouth and unhooked him from the rebar post. He grappled Stuart horizontally into his arm like a collegiate football star and raced around the corner toward the captors.

“Hold it right there!” He yelled in a deep Indiana Jones-like vocal blurt.

“Get away from my daughter and get up against the wall or this little guy becomes minion jam!”

“Daddy!” Sophia belted with joy and curiosity. “What are you doing here?” She asked.

“Sophia, step behind me closer to daddy, these guys are in a lot of trouble for what they’ve done.”

“But daddy, they haven’t done anything. Please don’t hurt Stuart.” Sophia claimed innocently.

“Stay out of this Sophia. This is between me and Spongebob, and these three little demonic minions.”

The man looked down at Stuart cradled underneath his arm.

“Ba-Na-Na.” Stuart said and blinked his eye one time. Dave and Jerry moved closer toward them.

“Ba-Na-Na! Ba-Na-Na! Ba-Na-Na!” The three minions chanted methodically together.

“Quiet!” the man yelled excitedly. “Get Back!” He intensified his grip on Stuart and Dave and Jerry moved away.

He looked to Spongebob who seemed to be enjoying all of the commotion.

“What do you have to say to all of this Spongebob?”

“Well sir, it’s like Sophia said, we’re just having a little fun together is all.” Spongebob said in his goofy, runty, Spongebob voice.

“This could probably all be best explained by your endearing little girl. She’s such a great kid.” Spongebob added.

“She’s six years old Spongebob!! How could she possibly explain any of this?” The man seethed.

Sophia interjected.

“Actually daddy, I’m certain I could explain all of this perfectly well if you’d permit me. She looked up a bit and cupped her hands in front of her mouth to project her voice. “Could we please dim the lights a bit more and bring up the spot?” She bellowed into the air as if conveying direction to a behind the scenes stage manager.

The already dim arena became darker in tandem with a Fresnel Spot rising to cascade upon Sophia.

The man stood jaw-dropped and befuddled.

“You see daddy…” Sophia went on. “You’re trapped in a dream right now and in your slumbering state, your subconscious has doctored up this extravagant story of me being kidnapped and held captive in this enormous, decaying cement edifice by my favorite animated characters. It’s your way of translating to your reading audience on the Busterpaul.com Blog that you feel threatened by the attention I give to Spongebob and Minions. Psychologically, you feel that you’ve had to take a back seat to my animated friends and that I share more love for them than I do for you.”

The man shook his head and blinked to clear his eyes as he was certain that for a flash his little girl was sporting a Freudian beard.

She continued in a relaxed pace as if conducting a seminar to a Harvard audience. The spot followed her.

“You’re probably wondering how your six-year-old daughter could possibly be displaying such words of   maturation. Well daddy, I want to make clear to you that because you are trapped in this nightmarish hell of a dream, the very words that I am vocally expressing to you right now are really your own. Think of it this way; it’s your voice in my tiny body delivered in my tiny voice.”

“But…” the man began.

“Don’t interrupt me daddy, I’m on a role here. Try to remember your own childhood hero’s like: “Billy Blastoff”, “Prince Planet”, and that- “Oh Mighty Isis” well she was a sexy one wasn’t she…” Sophia emphasized in toying fashion and winked at her daddy.

The man’s face turned red with embarrassment.

“It’s ok daddy if your reader’s are unfamiliar with the characters I just mentioned, I’m sure they’ll google them after reading this blog post. You see, I just like thousands of other children am filled with imagination and just because I am captivated by particular personalities, it doesn’t mean that I don’t love you. The fact is dad, that even though I’m only six, I am perfectly capable of differentiating the difference between fantasy and reality. I assure you that you’ve got nothing to worry about and that there is no reason for you to feel insecure. You are my hero daddy. You and you alone, and I wouldn’t trade that for any cartoon or digitally animated character in the world.

Well, now that I’ve explained all of this to you, why don’t you put Stuart down, shake hands with my friends, and we can all end this dream on a positive note. How about we sing Kumbaya…?”

And just as many dreams end abruptly, the man woke, enlightened and awakened…

The End

 

The Man With The Bag On His Head

Posted in Uncategorized on July 12, 2014 by busterpaul

For years now since living in Methuen, I’ve journeyed back and forth onto Rt. 28 into NH to go shopping, or dining or moseying into Home Depot or Market Basket. There’s an old man who wanders; seemingly aimlessly up and down 28. For perhaps as often as once a week or more, for as long as I’ve been in this region, I’ve seen him -Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall. My guess is he’s in his seventies.

                He’s about six feet tall with a bald crown and shoulder length white hair circling his cranial parameter- somewhat Peter Boyle-ish. He wears tattered clothing with a lightweight sports jacket and shoes. His hands are usually in his pockets as he strolls north or south along his famed route. The weather doesn’t matter. Bitter cold with sleet, snow and rain or scorching hot oppressing humidity he’s out there walking with a confused purpose. “Look daddy, that man has a bag on his head.” Sophia once pointed out from the back seat with a blend of excitement and laughter. It had been raining; not heavily, but steady. I looked to see and sure enough there he was. He had a clear plastic bag snuggly fit on his head as a makeshift rain hat to protect from the elements. Admittedly, I chuckled myself as this was not the first time I had seen him with a bag on his head. But as Sophia’s glee became increasingly shriller, I recognized the opportunity for a “life’s lesson.” Respect for people.

                There are bound to be dozens of opportunities in the years to come to emphasize to our children the meaning of having respect for others. I don’t know this man’s story.  His life is of no less value than my own. There is something about him that teaches me this with each drive-by passing. Is he a war veteran? Maybe he’s survived a horrible accident. He is unfortunately not at all in control of his faculties. It’s quite evident. For all I know he’s strolling to pay a visit to his own mom or dad. Whatever the case, he’s had my attention more and more each time I see him. I don’t feel bad for him. I rather admire him. There have been times when I’ve been tempted to offer him a ride, but I don’t know how he’d respond. And so on he walks unshaken by the often dangerous flow of traffic.

                We each have our own stories, our own bouts of turmoil, our own hidden pockets of despair and our own instabilities which one day may be the target of ridicule by those less weakened as a result of having never been taught respect. Teach your children early on. It is a fine example of responsible parenting. And if they don’t catch on over time, remind them that they like you and I, like it or not, may at some point be The Man with the Bag on his Head.

“Nagging Nits”

Posted in Uncategorized on January 31, 2014 by busterpaul

So, you’ve discovered your one and only child furiously scratching their head. “Hmm, what’s that all about?” You know they just had a bath last night. You know they were shampooed with that ultra name brand and not some useless generic cheapo lathering sludge. So, why the itching frenzy? Better take a look. AHHHHH! You gasp in disbelief. Without considering facts, you immediately think: “That’s it; I’m pulling my daughter out of that school.” You’ve got nits. And with nits, you’ve got lice.

Fret not though my friends, for this subject matter is nothing to drastically panic over. Not yet at least. Sure, nobody wants to believe that their child could have possibly been plagued by these creepy critters. Sure, nobody wants to go through the painstaking task of washing and scaling and picking through their child’s head quite literally with a fine toothed comb. Sure, nobody wants to initiate the laundering of nearly everything in their entire household. And above all, nobody wants to be the potential subject of neighborhood gossip. “Did you hear about so and so…?”

Back in October, we’d noticed Sophia begin with the scratching. As first time parents with a now kindergartener child, we were about to learn firsthand of yet another of life’s parental lessons. My veteran parent sister Mary was visiting and when we indicated to her that our daughter was scratching, she asked the dreaded question. “Have you checked for lice?” The mere word triggers you to begin scratching yourself like a flea infested aging Basset Hound.

We hadn’t even entertained the thought. It didn’t occur to us. We ushered our daughter over to our desk where we have a clamp-on-multi-adjustable-magnifying light fastened to the corner. (I sure do love my gadgets.) We put Sophia’s head under the glass and after a moment of weaving through strands of hair, we saw them. Nits. It wasn’t all too alarming or majorly overt, but nonetheless indicative. When we asked Sophia where it itched most, closer examination revealed sporadic tiny, pin-point red bites.” Damn…, better get the blow torch”. (I sure do love my gadgets.)

We were off to the local pharmacy for a treatment plan and in addition, we scoped the internet for some home remedies. Preferring not to engulf our daughters head entirely with chemicals, we half-rationed the treatment and put her to bed with an overnight saturated dose of apple cider vinegar and mayonnaise under a snug shower cap. We followed the recommendation of being diligent with combing and searches and soon reached a comfort level of nit free peace-of-mind.

Hmm, the things we don’t always consider as parents…

“In disguise to protect her identity”

Knits

OCR’s for Babyboomers

Posted in Running, Racing, OCR's on February 26, 2013 by busterpaul

It’s never too late to be a kid.
I grew up in a household of 7 kids. Organized sports was not a thing in my family for several reasons. Cost, fear of injury by mom, divorce… In addition, it was music and the arts that seemed to be the predominant category in one capacity or another. By no means would I say I was an inactive child. I remember the Bruce Lee craze of the 70’s and taking it upon myself to quietly exercise alone in a corner during gym class practicing my “Handstand” pushups (Often times being looked at like- “What the hell are you doing”?) During the days of Bobby Orr and The Big Bad Boston Bruins, I was the neighborhood street hockey net minder. When teams were being created, I was always the first pick and as a result of that pick was almost always on the winning team. (Toot!)
Fast forward through many years of partying, working, partying some more career changes, relationships, partying etc…
Hey! Look at that, I’m in my late forties and married with a 4 year old! I’m still intact too!
At the tale end of 2011 I tipped the scale at 191 lbs. This was not good for a man his age who was only 5’4″ tall. Someone at work formed a team for a “Biggest Loser” campaign held at a local training facility to kick off the 2012 New Years resolution. Who doesn’t need to shed poundage right? The bootcamp sessions began to pay off. As some of the folks slowly faded out, I continued. It wasn’t long before I was introduced to the world of Obstacle Course Racing. Watching a promo video of The Warrior Dash as introduced by a friend at work, I was immediately sucked into the muddy looking, barbed-wire infested obstacle challenged course! SIGN ME UP!!! This was a dream come true. (When I was your age, we had to make our own obstacles which usually included bicycles and trash barrels. Ah yes, the great Evil Knievel…) Mud and obstacles! I repeat: “It’s never too late to be a kid!” I have a theory that because I was never a part of organized sports, I was never faced with injury. Unlike some of my ice hockey skating friends and footballers who suffered compound fractures and torn tendons, lacerations and twisted ankles, I preserved my joints, my bones, my ligaments thus allowing me to now participate succesfuly in OCRS’s. I’ve found my sport of choice. The beauty of these races is that I can work at my own pace. I can stay within my age range and rank among the rest in my group. I am my own team, my own coach, my own captain. As long as I cross that finish, I’ll recieve the coveted medal as my reward. I have yet to be battle-tested though as I am quite new to this adventurism. This year I’ve got nearly the whole season mapped out, and costly that it can be to register and travel, I’m quite sure I’ll sign up for more. (barring no unforseen injuries of course.) What makes it even more enjoyable are the plethora of fellow OCR enthusiasts I’ve met along the way. Most particularly the “NE Spahtens” a group I found on the web who tutor, mentor and organize team events and training for all involved to enjoy at their pace and leisure. And so, for all of you boomer-somethings who may feel that it’s too late to jumpstart or reactivate the kid in you think again. OCR’s may not be for everyone, but they are the very reason for my physiological joy today.

Heart and Humanity: The Other Side of Fuego Y Agua

Posted in Running, Racing, OCR's on February 24, 2013 by busterpaul
"One Heart." The little miracle.

“One Heart.” The little miracle.

Being last has its privileges. Being last provides you with even more drive to do better next time. Being last enables you to witness your surroundings just a wee bit more. Being last allows you to capture that memorable footage of your journey on camera and then introduce that action as the very reason for why you were last. Pretty clever wouldn’t you say? No shame here. I was last.
I practice Buddhism. Not devoutly like my wife. Not always consistently, but I try. For whatever reason, I find myself on the fence with any organized religion. But I try. I do see the benefits usually when least expected.
Before I left for Nicaragua, my wife asked me to be sure to keep prayer in my heart during my run. She reminded me to thank the Guardians of the Law for my protection on the volcano.
Our theme for this year’s Buddhist practice is”One Heart”. (As in one heart for the entire world.) Imagine my surprise when I checked into The Charco Verde Hotel on Ometepe and walked to my room to find on the floor right in front of my door, a beam of light cast by the sun through a parade of bushes in the shape of a heart. (Image) Just smaller than my fist, there it was in plain sight waiting for me. I stood silently dumbfounded but not the least bit surprised. I acted fast to take a picture of it because if I didn’t, it would disappear with the movement of the sun. How wonderfully odd, the timing of this was. A minute longer at the reception desk, or a stop in the restroom, or a slight traffic slowdown and I would have missed it. That is how delicate the timing was.
It’s a remarkable thing that Josue and Paula Stephens do on behalf of the people of Ometepe and Nicaragua in general. When we think of Fuego Y Agua our first thought is the race. We think of the worldly talent of runners and athletes who have gathered on this cryptic island to compete. We think of the warm sun and the tropical breezes, the cool water and an ice cold Toña, swaying peacefully on a hammock and the stunning presence of Concepcion and Maderas.
But the real beauty of this experience was the people; many of whom were the poorest, most destitute that I’d ever been in the presence of. What an endearing thing it is to reach out for humanity.
Shame on me for anything I might complain about. Shame on me for often thinking how tough I believe things are. Who am I kidding? I shall now more so count my blessings. I shall always try to bite my tongue should I catch myself boohooing about irrelevance. I shall always have the aspect of “One Heart”.
There is more though to the perceived sadness of the surrounding poverty – happiness. With each shanty was a happy home. With each home was a mom outdoors making what little she had presentable by sweeping with a homemade makeshift broom. A boy kicked a cup (not a ball). A trio of little-un’s took turns filling an empty soda bottle with dirt (not holding a Gameboy) as a piglet sauntered by. A couple stood in Lake Nicaragua laboring with what little clothing they had to wash. (No Maytag here.) And all of it somehow protected by a shield of happiness. A life as simple as the word simple could possibly be. These folks are survivors. To feel bad for them would be an insult to their culture but to assist with a used pair of footwear would be treasured. This is humanity and this is the other side of Fuego Y Agua. I can’t wait to go back.

50K for 50 Years: My experience in Nicaragua as a first time ultra-runner

Posted in Running, Racing, OCR's on February 21, 2013 by busterpaul
My view from Maderas

My view from Maderas

Made it Ma... Top of the world! -Cody Jarret

Made it Ma… Top of the world! -Cody Jarret

Boston Reps

Boston Reps

4AM came quickly. Several hundred runners gathered at the starting point. 100ker’s, 50ker’s and a select few chosen to participate in the first ever “Survival Run.” Water?-check.., Nutrition?-check.., Headlamp?-check…

Everybody was ready including the Survival Runners (SR’s) who now each held a chicken. That’s right a chicken, a live chicken; with feathers and everything. Their mission; carry the chicken for the first 5 miles or so. Drop and lose the chicken and you’re out of the race.

Welcome to Isla De Ometepe, Nicaragua, home of the 4th hosting of Fuego Y Agua, a race series of ultra-marathons including a 25K, 50K, 100K and the all extreme Survival Run- a 70K with maddening obstacles. “Toto, I’ve got a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore…”

Orchestrated and designed by ultra-runner and Philanthropist Josue Stephens, Fuego Y Agua captures the heart and challenges the spirit with not one, but two enormous volcanos; the active Concepcion` – dry, arid and perfectly conical, and the dormant Maderas – dank, misty and spectacularly riddled by lush jungle.

At first I had registered for the 25K as I cannot state with conviction that I am a well versed runner. But that soon changed when I reminded myself that I would turn 50 years old in March. And so why not step it up? I’ll do a 50K for 50 years. What a fantastic theme!

Hmm…, yeah…, about that…

I did the best I could to train. Trail runs, the gym, jogs to my sister’s house 11 miles away. All in the snowy cold weather of greater Boston. Did I ever question whether I could handle a 50K? That’s 31+ miles after all and the most I had ever gone was the Boston Half Marathon in 2007. I did question it. But I looked at it in the sense that; I’m not going to compete, I’m going to complete. My finish time wouldn’t matter, only that I finished would matter. This is the stuff that determination and hard work are made of.

10 seconds were counted off in unison by most of the runners and we were off. Headlamps bobbed in the darkness with each stride as the congested group moved onward. Whistles of enthusiasm and cheers of inspiration sounded off until all you heard was the patter of sneaker to pavement. Less than a 1/4 mile later we all veered left onto a dusty volcanic ash and sand laden trail canopied by brush and growth on both sides as if in a natural tunnel. It was pitch black and as the group spread out each finding their stride, we would need to pay keen attention to the blue blazes that marked the route. I soon found myself ponied alongside Survival Runner Hector Puente. Hector held his chicken aptly named Suzy (after his daughter) close to his heart to keep the bird calm. You see, if you run too fast with a live chicken, they get spooked and you risk losing it. Slow and steady was the proven solution for the SR’s for now. As for myself, it didn’t make sense for me to burst along. I had to maintain a comfortable and modest pace if I were to complete this challenge and it would be 18 miles before I reached the base of Volcan` Madera’s.

Perhaps 2 miles along the ashy trail, Hector and I reached an intersection. The headlamps had shone on the flying dust that had been churned up into the air by runners ahead of us. The sooty taste was evident. We both stopped to realize there was no indicator to go straight or turn left. These were the only options. The wrong way would no doubt spell trouble. We each scanned the area in search of a blue ribbon and there up high, dangling from a branch, was a marker. We would turn left. Behind us were lights shining in the distance. We moved on thinking that we are not responsible if anybody missed the trail. This was a race after all. A bit over 3 miles more and we were on pavement. Hector had to stop to return his chicken and I pressed on to what would be the first of 4 aid stations along the way.

I refueled, stretched and went on my way as the sun was now beginning to rise- so far, so good.

It was about 8.3 miles between the first and second aid stations and along the way I journeyed briefly with Hector who was now bound at the wrists with military style zip-tie handcuffs. I was also soon next to handcuffed Margaret Schlachter of “Dirt in Your Skirt” popularity. “Keep up the good dirt.” I chuckled to her.

A long stretch of beach would provide an overwhelming view of my destination. Volcan` Madera’s, colossal and majestic stood waiting for me -her peak masqueraded by cloud cover. What a moment of breathtaking glory. I stayed along the shore negotiating the firmer sand beneath my feet and ventured on. Ahead, I could see what initially appeared to be swimmers. But as I gained ground, I saw that it was an assemblage of SR’s, each in the water to at least above their knees; each with a 70lb chunk of log in tow. This could not have been fun. As I passed, I did a double take to notice the elite Junyong Pak –premiere athlete and 2 time World’s Toughest Mudder Champion. Imagine that, lil’ old me was passing Pak!

I briefly fantasized about creating a website: www.ipassedpak.com . Maybe I could sell shirts…

Volcanoes are a bitch. My plan was to reach the 18 mile mark by 6 hours. I ran through sand, stone trails, banana plantations, peaks and slopes, paved roads and grass and made my goal in 5.5 hours! Great! That gives me 6 hours to ascend and descend Madera’s! I just may finish within the allotted 12 hour cutoff after all!

Not so fast dummy…

It took me nearly 4.5 hours to climb Madera’s. Scouring over volcanic boulders in temperatures now well into the 90’s took me to a clearing at the foothills. I was wearing thin and by the time I made it into the gateway of the jungle, I was feeling a bit nauseous and began to question if I could make it. I reached a viewing point complete with benches. I removed my pack, gobbled a Stinger gel, munched down a Cliff Bar and drank some water. I rested, marveling at the view of Concepcion` on the opposite side of the island. I thought of my wife and daughter, my family and friends, co-workers and my team of New England Spahtens back home wishing that any one of them were with me now. I was dizzy and achy. Could I do this? I took a moment to chant, thanking the Guardians of the Law for taking me this far safely. The scaling had only begun. The nutrition kicked in and I chugged forward. Steep narrow paths of stone and mud, laced with monstrous tree roots seemed never ending. Out of nowhere I heard a voice in broken English: “Escuse me Amigo.”  Johnson Cruz, the island native and would be winner of the Survival Run, passed me like a Mountain Ibex  -his long legs catapulting him up the steep slope as if he were on an escalator. “How far to the top?” I asked, as he began to disappear. “For you?” he smiled warmly, “one hour and a half…” and he was gone. I paused. Deflated, but not defeated. I didn’t come this far to be beaten by King Kong’s lair. Up and up I pushed when soon another voice spoke from behind; “Has anybody passed you?” it was Pak barreling up past me clutching two makeshift tree branch trekking poles. “Yes” I said, “The native, about a half hour ago.” “Are you kidding me?” Pak asked. “No, I’m not. Go get’em.” And Pak was gone.

I briefly fantasized about creating a website: www.pakpassedme.com . Maybe I could sell shirts…

The cutoff for the aid station atop Madera’s was 2pm. I had been out of water now for the better part of an hour. Parched, hoarse and a bit wobbly, I needed to reach the top. But with each plateau I was faced with yet another steep and dangerous slope. Soon I felt close. I began to yell ahead hoping I’d get a response from an aid volunteer. Nothing. My watch showed 1:48pm. Damn! I have to get water or I’m screwed. Closer, 1:54pm “Hello…!” Nothing.  At 1:57pm, I yelled once more as I could now see the lagoon that made up the crater through the trees. “Yeah, we’re here.” I heard. I shifted into high gear. I reached the aid station and showed my watch to one of the attendant’s 1:59pm on the nose! I had new life! I felt invincible! I was at the top of this beautiful, beautiful mother-chunk of earth! “Am I last?” I asked. “According to the manifest there are 6 more behind you.” I was told. I filled my Coleman water pack bladder to the max and filled myself up with cool, quenching water. I munched on Oreo’s, Ritz Crackers and a swath of creamy peanut butter on bread. This was Sunday Brunch at the Copley Plaza Hotel! Aching all over, I took a couple of Advil. A brief moment made me consider camping out for the night and going down in the morning. Nothing doing! It was almost 2:30pm now and I wanted to finish. I surrendered the thought of completing by 4pm that was simply not going to happen and hoped that regardless, as long as I finished I would be draped with a medal.

The descent began with an ascent as I had to climb out of the crater to cascade over the top and down. Welcome to the “Jungle Gym” as it’s known. Thick, sopping, shin-high soft mucking paths of mud while weaving through dense, giant curly-Q’s of tree roots and vines. I squeezed my toes tightly and pointed my feet upward with every step from the mud so that I wouldn’t have my Merrill Moab trail shoes pulled off from vacuum suction. (You all know what I’m talking about don’t you…) Alive again, I felt just as I did at the start of the race. With a newly found youth and a much needed second wind I pressed on. The vines, the roots, the climbing over and under fallen trees went on and on. It became tricky to spot the blue blazes, but with every inch I peered ahead to spot the next. To the left was a long, sloping embankment and to the right the same. One wrong move could certainly be fateful. By 4:30pm I told myself I’d shoot for 5:30. It soon leveled off and through the trees I could see sunlight begin to fade. Would I need my headlamp again? I stopped at a comfort spot, kicked off my Merrill’s, slipped new socks onto my now pruned feet, strapped on my Princeton headlamp (kept off) and darted on. I was close to the end now! I broke through brush and onto soft, lush, grassy terrain and I was out! “The hills were alive with the sound of music!”  It was about 5:40pm. I turned to face Madera’s and silently honored her with a quick prayer. Would I make it to the Monkey Island Hotel finish by 6pm? No, but as I entered the foyer of the finish and painfully trotted my way down to the finish line, I was greeted with enormous hollers of cheer and bravado. I made it! It was 6:07pm and I never had to use the headlamp. Hugs and high-fives were followed by a tap on the shoulder from behind. Gabi Stephens, sister of Josue draped a medal around my neck and congratulated me.