You climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro? Was it hard?

I am forever thankful to Mt. Kilimanjaro for the fact that I finally have something to contribute to “what’s one fun fact about yourself” round-tables.  The above question always follows, and the answer is always a resounding: YUP.

Let’s rewind a few steps.  WHY did I climb Mt. Kilimanjaro?  Wow, great question.  I climbed in support of Flying Kites, an academy in rural Kenya where critically-poor students receive access to a competitive education, characterized by small classrooms, progressive course material, integrative care, and inspired teachers.  After connecting with Leila, FK founder and complete girl boss, my friends Eliza, Emily, Becky, & I knew this was something we had to do.  Just a few short months (and several “are we really doing this” text messages) later, we were on our way.

Prior to this trip, the only true poverty I had experienced was the cab rides from airports to resorts in various “tropical” locations.  I was never naive to the fact that that contrast wasn’t something to be ignored, but still I have never seen anything like the 2 hour drive from Nairobi (where we landed and spent our first night), to Njabini.  For the first time, the culture shock was REALLY REAL and only about to get more intense the more we were immersed in the culture itself.  I can’t put it into words, and it wouldn’t be fair to the people for me to try.  The landscape, though…it was the most beautiful place I’d ever been.

Despite the sadness of the drive, the second we arrived on the Flying Kites campus, I felt immediately welcome.  When I say immediate, I mean a group of the children were standing at the gate playing make-shift instruments and singing to us.  They handed us fresh towels and the most delicious lemonade I’ve ever tasted, then immediately took our hands for a tour around their home.  I’ll take this over the check-in lines at resorts any day.  After the tour we sat in a circle and got to chatting.  These children ranged in age from about 5-16 and each one of them was immensely interested in learning about us…as if we were the ones with a wealth of knowledge to share.  Their smiles and shy laughter are something I hope I never forget.  That night we had the first of many “family meetings”.  These nightly meetings discuss the happenings of the day in the form of “high, low, hope”.  Every child (and visitor) takes their turn saying what the high point of their day was, what the low point was, and what their hope for tomorrow is.  I could go on and on about the stories I heard about the circumstances Flying Kites took these children out of, and let’s just say the average American wouldn’t be citing “my friend Peter has a bad cough” as their low point if they were in the same shoes.  A lot of these children didn’t even have matching shoes, so that phrase feels a bit out of place there.  You get it, right?  Edwin, the FK social worker, told me that the Kenyan government classifies poverty as anything less than $1/day in income.  That fact still stuns me today.

The next few days with these children were magical.  We visited their classrooms, ate every meal with them, played soccer, jumprope, volleyball, had a Kick It class (which they LOVED) and just talked.  We toured their new dorm building which is now open, and I watched as one of the girls giving me the tour saw a shower for the first time in her life.  She jumped for joy and shrieked.  At the sight of a shower.  Imagine?  The biggest takeaway for me from my time with them is how genuinely happy they are despite their circumstances.  Their love for their classmates, teachers, and everyone else at Flying Kites who has become their family, is truly amazing.  Never once did I hear a complaint out of any of their mouths…even as us Americans struggled on the 45 minute walk to school while they sped ahead, some in one sandal/one sneaker combinations.  It was always gratitude, excitement, and eventually “we’ll miss you”‘s when it was time to go.  My tears in this moment were 75% sadness to leave them and 25% fear for what was to come…the mountain.

In the months leading up to the trip, I took sort of an “ignorance is bliss” approach to the whole thing.  I did not train.  I did not read tips.  I did not even break in my hiking boots which was EXTREMELY stupid.  Luckily those boots must have been made for my feet (shout-out to Ahnu) because I made it out of there with dry feet and not one blister.  Unheard of.  I picked up my cardio routine but other than that, I was extremely unprepared.  For 5 days we went up.  And up.  And down a little bit to adjust to altitude.  And up some more.  We averaged about 7 hours of hiking each day, and each day the views were a little different.  From rainforest on day 1, to desert like conditions that looked like Mars (btw I saw actual Mars at night…), to snow and ice – we saw it all on our sloooow climb.

For me, the days weren’t the hard part – it was the mental toughness involved in the nights.  After a long day of walking we would arrive at our camp site, rest in our tents for a few minutes, and head to our group tent where we would sit and chat.  Two things were guaranteed: you have no appetite, and you NEED to eat. This was a constant battle through nausea and flat out exhaustion, we had to get something in our systems.  Sometimes the altitude would get to our heads and we would all break out in fits of uncontrollable laughter, followed by gasping for some thin air.  These nights were tough for me mentally because it allowed time to think about everything we had ahead, and to miss the comforts of home.  Then we’d head to our sleeping bags, stuffed with bottles of hot water and our clothes for the next day (if we weren’t already wearing them).  I shared a tent with my friend Emily, who I am sure I could not have done the trip without.  She is a yogi by nature and by practice, and her calming demeanor got me through some of the toughest moments – crying fits, panic attacks, need to pee in the middle of the night but it’s dark…you name it.  The best part about the night time?  The stars.  I wish I could begin to describe them to you.

As we went up, the symptoms of the altitude began to kick in and affect all of us in different ways.  It’s hard to explain how it felt for me…we were walking at a slow pace but I was breathing like I had just run miles.  You try to avoid any unnecessary movement besides one foot in front of the other.  The dinners in the group tent got a little quieter, but we needed each other more than ever.  We spent a lot of time just sitting in each other’s company, knowing that was enough.  We also got REAL sick of playing Uno!  There were 11 of us in total – my group of 4 Boston gals, two new friends from Minnesota, 2 BU students, 1 17 year old boy (I know – he’s amazing.), 1 Kenyan who I could write an entire post on, and Mike – lucky husband of Leila and a true mountaineer AKA our lifesaver on the mental toughness – thank the lord.  I’d do anything for any one of these humans.  The altitude symptoms came to a head for me on the final trek to the top, which we did through the night starting at midnight.  I’ve never had a headache like that one, and I wanted so badly to puke but knowing myself, forced myself not to because that would have been game over.  I was running on empty and cold beyond belief.  A few times I looked at Emily with tears in my eyes and she would grab my hand and say “don’t even think about it.”  End of discussion.

Here’s a piece of my journal entry once we made it to the bottom:

The whole way down I was trying to wrap my head around my mental state.  Physically, I was shot.  But mentally, I couldn’t figure it out.  I knew I didn’t regret it at all, but I was feeling so crappy.  It all finally came together for me the next day – yesterday.  The whole team, 11 people who were mostly strangers when we started the climb just 6 days ago, sat around the hotel pool, laughing, playing games, and reminiscing.  That’s what it was all about.  None of us, except Mike, are climbers, none of us had a passion for it, and none of us were really prepared.  But just 6 days later we are family, having gone through the hardest physical task of our lives.  Together.  Pamoja.  We did it.  I am so proud of myself and my team.  If I ever say I want to do it again – someone punch me!”

So was it hard?  Abso-freakin-lutely.  But I recommend it with my whole heart.

One last tip?  Go for a few hikes first like a grown-up.

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What are you doing with your life?

Hey, what’s up, hello!

I have been seriously neglecting you all for a while now.  I’m back and I’m thinking I’ll stay this time.  Life gets busy, ya feel me?  With that being said, this past year has been all about making time for the things I love, so here I am.  It has been almost exactly a year since I posted (a love letter to my favorite human, Barack Obama, which he responded to…no biggie) so I’m starting with a quick update.  What am I doing with my life?  GOOD QUESTION.  Shall we?

A year ago today, I was 1 year into my time as a Kick It By Eliza instructor.  Kick It was my first love in the group fitness world, and will always be the closest to my heart.  As a 20-something it can be hard to find a community and message that you so whole-heartedly believe in, and I found that in Kick It many years ago.  Today, I am a lead Kick It instructor on a mission to certify as many amazing instructors as we can, a Bags & Beats instructor at EverybodyFights by George Forman III, and a devoted indoor cycling instructor at The Handle Bar – a place that has quickly become such a huge part of my heart and soul.  I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro (highly recommend) with no experience (do not recommend).  I’m engaged to the best, sweetest man I’ve ever met.  Oh, I also still work as the Operations Manager at ALKU, the best company on planet earth to work for.  Lots of changes, so how did we get here?

In my post-college mission of stalking Eliza Shirazi until she became my best friend (success), I was spending a lot of time at EverybodyFights.  Those pieces sort of fell into place very naturally.  I love what the club stands for which is finding your why.  Why do you fight?  What or who do you fight for?  It wasn’t long before I started fighting for a spot on that mic.  Before long, I was teaching about 60-80 badass fighters a week.  But I still couldn’t shake the feeling of wanting more.  I became so (self-proclaimed) involved in the Boston fitness community, and I just wanted M O R E.  I wanted to challenge myself again.  This past Summer I took a chance and auditioned at The Handle Bar.  It’s something I’ve dreamed of for a long time, but did I ever think I could really make it out of such a large group of talented candidates?  Of course not.  But I did.

So once alllll of that kicked into gear, I was working at the office 45 hours/week, plus about 8 hours/week commuting, teaching for 10 hours/week, playlisting & music discovery for another 12 hours/week, fitting in my own workouts for 5 hours/week…you do the math.  It was too much.  I was cranky and rundown and not allowing any time for self-care.  I’m still working on the self-care piece, to be totally honest with you.

I cut down to 3 days/week at the office, a choice that was very complicated and NOT easy to make, and have completely devoted myself to teaching as many classes as I can, and LEARNING as much as I can.  I have truly found my passion.  But finding my passion wasn’t the hard part, committing to making time for it was.  I know what you’re thinking – your passion doesn’t pay the bills.  Wrong.  Let’s talk.

And here we are!  I’m sitting in my amazing apartment (find one of those that you love, too), after a long day of teaching and I’m feelin’ pretty lucky.  If you’ve read this far, thanks!  I’m ramping this baby back up for myself, but for you, too.  Let me know what you wanna read, I’m all ears.  All eyes?  I feel like all ears is a little outdated.

More to come on Mt. Kilimanjaro & the engagement!  I would promise that there will be no future posts about how much I hate Donald Trump, but that would be a lie.

Stay tuned.

XO,
E

An Open Letter to Mr. Barack Obama

Dear Mr. President,

My name is Emily and I am a 24-year-old “adult” in the beautiful city of Boston.  It feels a little silly to be writing to a man who is so busy, but hopefully by the time this reaches you things will have slowed down a bit…or maybe, just maybe, we will get to have this conversation in person someday.  I just couldn’t let you get too far from the White House without thanking you.

I was 16 when you were elected.  I remember watching with my dad – unable to understand the political intricacies, but fully understanding that history was being made in a big, big way.  As a mixed-race high school student in a predominantly white town, I remember how incredible it felt.  I mean, it felt SO cool to see someone who looked like me earn the most powerful position in the world.  Of course, I had role models like our girl Beyoncé, but you…you were different.  I’ll never forget that feeling of pride.  Thank you for making me proud of who I am.

I was 20 when you ran for reelection.  At this age, I still wasn’t very into politics but being able to vote for the first time ever, I was so excited to vote for you.  By this time, I knew what you stood for and could really appreciate your progressive campaign.  You encouraged hope and optimism and it made me so eager to exercise my right to vote for the first time, and to exercise it for you.  Thank you for being my first, and most sincere vote.

One day after my 21st birthday, terror struck Boston.  I was away at college, but I remember the details of that day and the days that followed in vivid, slow motion.  First came the shock, then the crying, then the fear.  It is absolutely terrifying for this to happen anywhere, but for the first time in my lifetime it was close to home, and it hurt.  I didn’t know how to feel.  Then came you.  I remember watching you speak with such calm empathy and compassion and all of my fears disappeared.  You said we would rebuild.  You said we would come back stronger than ever…and I believed you.  At that moment, your compassion was exactly what I needed.  It wasn’t the first, and wouldn’t be the last time I would look to you for how to react to a situation.  Thank you for easing my fears, and for teaching me to react with love, with hope, and with confidence to keep moving forward.

I was 22 when my grandfather, one of my best friends, passed away.  Mr. Obama, you would have loved him.  In his 86 years of life, you and I can only imagine the things he went through as a black man.  He prevailed, though, in the most glorious of ways.  He was an activist in the community and accomplished so much.  It hurts me to think about how he would feel about our next leader, so instead I try to think about how proud he was of you.  Thank you for being his final president, a true symbol of everything he worked so hard for.

Here I am at age 24, and I am so blessed that for 1/3 of my life I have had such confidence in and admiration for the leader of my country.  I can’t say the same for what is to come, but you told us not to be afraid.  “Be vigilant”, you said, “but do not be afraid”.  You told us to show up and stand up for what is right.  I will do that for you because that is what you did for us.

When I think of you, I think of class.  I think of unwavering grace in the toughest of situations.  When I think of you, I think of hope.

Thank you, Mr. Obama.  You will always have my vote.

 

We Go High.

For as long as I can remember, one of the challenges I’ve faced on a day to day basis is walking by an American flag t-shirt, decoration, etc. without having the urge to buy it.  I have always been proud to be an American and I have always believed that this country is the greatest in the world.  Today, my world has been rocked.  For the first time in my entire life, I am not proud to be an American.  For the first time in my entire life, I feel as though my country is not proud of me.

For as long as I can remember, America has been moving forward.  I have been very fortunate to live in a time of social progress, and while we have not gotten anywhere near perfect, it seems to me that we have always been moving forward.  Yesterday, we pressed pause.  We have voted as a country to come to a screeching halt on making our home a better place for women, for minorities, for immigrants, and for the LGBTQ community.

For as long as I can remember, I have looked at the president of the United States with utmost respect.  I was too young to vote for Bush, and too young to understand much of went on during his presidency, but I always, always respected him as a person.  In the first election in which I was able to participate, I voted for Barack Obama.  I was both proud & thrilled to watch him become president, and I have admired his poise every day since.  His grace has helped me to find my own, and for that, I am forever grateful.  I have never even considered thinking about  our President from a position of  contempt because I have always recognized and  appreciated how difficult the job must be.

Today, that has changed.  I do not respect a man who stands for all the terrible things about America. I do not respect a man who’s victory prompts my 13 year old sister to ask if she will have to leave the country.  I do not respect a man that leaves people asking themselves what they will tell their children.  On January 20th, for the first time in my life, I will not respect the President of the United States.

For as long as I can remember, I have been taught & believed with all of my heart that love is stronger than hate.  I have always clung to hope to extinguish fear.  I’ve written about it countless times, and I have always truly believed it.  I’ve told so many people that there are more good people in the world, in this country, than bad.

Today…well, today, that’s not changing.  This democracy & the fact that a horrible person has been given this title are pushing me to let go of hope. But I refuse.  My heart is broken, and my faith is being tested, but while I can’t believe we are in this position, I know that this is not the best we can do.  This is not the best our country can be.  The best part of the next 4 years will have nothing to do with our “leader”.  The best part will be the love and effort within all of the communities he targets and beyond as we work to stand our ground.  The best part will be  those who object.  It has to be.  It’s all we have.  We cannot stop.  We will again make this country one we are  proud of, that is inclusive and accepting of everyone, regardless of how they identify or who they love or what color their skin is. And for that to happen, I ask all of us to  keep loving, teaching, and believing.  Keep moving.

Forward.  Forward.  Forward.

Do All Lives Matter?

Our society is broken.  We are broken and torn up and losing our minds over an issue that has been prevalent for all of America’s history.  Many of us have no choice but to think about race every single day, while others only think about it when issues like this arise.  Amongst all of the ignorance and outright hatred I’ve seen from people I consider friends or peers, there has also been a great deal of understanding that has been touching to see.  Unfortunately the latter type comments are fewer and far between…I guess I’m a little unique in the sense that not only can I see both sides, but I live both sides every day as a biracial adult in urban America.

I’ve been silent about the Black Lives Matter vs. All Lives Matter issue for reasons ranging from being speechless (shocking, I know) to just not wanting to stir the already overflowing and nauseating pot.  But to be silent is to essentially be part of the problem, right?

Dear All Lives Matter “Activist”,

I envy you.  I envy your ability to turn a blind eye on the shitstorm that is modern day racism.  I, like you, think that all lives matter.  OF COURSE a black life is no more important than a white, hispanic, asian, green, purple, or blue life.  What you are failing to recognize is that 99.99% of people who are saying Black Lives Matter are not insinuating that black lives matter more than other lives.  The point is not that all lives don’t matter.  The point is that right now, in this moment, black lives need attention.  They deserve attention.  Action.  Progress.  This is something that you might not understand which to some extent, isn’t your fault.  If you have never experienced racism, how could you be expected to know that there are entire populations that live their day to day lives being treated as less than others?  Well, I guess you could read a book, but I digress…

All sarcasm aside, how can you genuinely justify saying All Lives Matter when a white man who carried out a massacre in a black church is taken out alive by police, but a black man who MIGHT have been reaching for a gun is killed in cold blood?  How can you say All Lives Matter if when a white man rapes a woman, all we hear about are the records he’s set in swimming, but when a black man MIGHT be reaching for a gun, all we hear about is his distant criminal record?  How can you say All Lives Matter when gun owners jump to the defense of white shooters’ right to bear arms but say nothing when a black man with a license to carry is murdered for this very same right?  This. is. real. life.  I do not understand what can be ambiguous about this concept when the evidence is so clearly there.

I think what’s most mind blowing to me is the fact that those who are not marginalized only come to their population’s defense when another population is striving for equality.  No one was asking for Heterosexual Pride parades before gay people were joyfully celebrating their own pride.  I never see people making jokes about White History Month until it is Black History Month.  Guess what – every day is a heterosexual pride parade and every month is White History Month.  It’s okay, I’m half white…I’m allowed to say that.

Maybe a lot of this comes down to fear or ignorance toward what we don’t understand.  I don’t think any of us can sit here and say we’ve never judged something we couldn’t understand.  I myself have gone back and forth on this topic because I am someone who is (clearly) all for equality.  OF COURSE ALL LIVES MATTER, EMILY, COME ON.  But that’s really not the point right now.  I heard this comparison the other day that really made it clear to me and maybe it will help you, too.  It went something like this…

“Saying All Lives Matter is kind of like going to the doctor with a broken arm and having them say “all bones matter.”  This is true, but right now let’s take care of this broken one.”

I don’t have any answers and I don’t sit here and claim to be helping the cause.  I just think it’s important for everyone to be able to take a step back and realize what the real conversation should be.  Killing police is the FURTHEST thing from a solution, but demonizing black people asking for equal treatment isn’t going to do it either.  What kind of humans are we if we are fighting over who has the right to be angry?

All lives should matter…but right now, they just don’t.

 

Give Up On Giving Up

A couple of weeks ago, I walked into Target with my boyfriend on what was just one of our standard near-daily trips to this promised land. Upon walking in, you are immediately face to face with the women’s clothing section (well played, Target consumer analysts…). Evidently I am no exception to consumer behavior, as I quickly spotted a tank on the rack that read “Give Up on Giving Up”. Seeing as there was only one left and it was my size, I had picked it up and had begun walking away before I could even finish getting the words “I love this!” out of my mouth. My boyfriend was shocked (maybe horrified) at how quickly I had made up my mind without even a second glance at the thing but honestly, who can resist a good, cheap graphic tank? Not I…

Once I actually had the time to process this $12.99 piece of fabric, I started to think more about the message. This came at a time where I was trying to think of something to give up for Lent, and I had already given up on coming up with a new years resolution that I could even begin to stick to seeing as the word “diet” is not in my vocabulary. Could I give up on giving up? What would this mean? I have to do it now since I got the shirt, right?

So I’m giving it a try. I have never been blessed with patience, so unfortunately when things don’t come easily to me I am tempted to get frustrated. I’ve started to pay attention to the number of times the words “I can’t” or “I don’t know” come out of my mouth in a day and I’ve quickly come to realize the positive effects that this slight change could make not only in my personal life, but also in my career, fitness, and anything else I may take on this year. I can. And I don’t always know but I can always find the answer. Imagine what we all can accomplish if we only stop doubting ourselves?

In a world so busy and competitive, it is so easy to stay within our comfort zones and simply fly under the radar. Over the past few months, I’ve quickly realized how detrimental this can be. Sure, anyone can live comfortably and be perfectly happy with their own little world and there is nothing wrong with that mindset. Unless, of course, you want to be heard. To make a difference. To get what you deserve and work to deserve things you may not yet be deserving of. I’ve learned that no one is going to hand you anything if there are people working harder for it. Get up and get it.

Who wants to try this with me? Just for one day, take note of how many times you doubt yourself. You are the only thing holding you back. Unless you are on a low-carb diet…then that is holding you back. Just kidding 🙂

I’ll leave you with some wise words from my girl Meredith Grey:

“DON’T LET FEAR KEEP YOU QUIET. YOU HAVE A VOICE, SO USE IT. SPEAK UP. RAISE YOUR HANDS. SHOUT YOUR ANSWERS. MAKE YOURSELF HEARD. WHATEVER IT TAKES, JUST FIND YOUR VOICE. AND WHEN YOU DO, FILL THE DAMN SILENCE.”

Go get ’em.

The Consequences of Your “Rights”

I am so lucky to live in a country where people are so proud of their rights.  This country was founded on freedom (well, not really but let’s not go there…) and us Americans are pretty darn proud of that freedom.  Our list of rights is pages longer than many countries’ list of clean water sources.  We are so lucky.

One of the rights that many Americans are most proud of is their God-given right to carry a weapon.  With the increasingly prevalent issue this country has with shootings, this right is one that seems to come up time and time again.  People get all up in arms (ha, no pun intended), saying “don’t let these outliers take away our God-given right” Well, guess what.

Your God-given right is killing people.

I was just reading a post that a friend of mine shared about the lack of mass shootings in Australia.  Australia hasn’t experienced one of these tragedies in 19 years.  19 YEARS!!  Meanwhile, America has experienced 355 mass shootings this year – which brings us to over one. per. day.

Chalk it up to the media – sure: the media has a way of glorifying criminals and thus inspiring copycats.  To an extent, I agree.  But is this to say that other countries don’t have as influential of a media outreach?  Surely we can’t be that naive.

Chalk it up to mental illness – fine: many of the people who carry out these acts are mentally ill in some say.  Does this mean there are not mentally ill people in other countries?  Hmm, no…that doesn’t make sense either.

I chalk it up to your precious God-given right.

Australia (just taking this as an example) modified this right just over 19 years ago.  In the 12 days following their most recent mass shooting, the Australian government processed, voted on, and passed lengthy new legislation which banned dozens of assault rifles (you know, the ones killing people in America every single day).  They actually bought the weapons back from their owners, trading a God-given right for peace.  What a concept.  When will we be able to see this rationally?  My god, it could be so simple.

I’m sitting in an airport terminal as I write this, and a 3 year-old girl just approached me and asked if I would teach her how I buttoned my coat, since she only knows how to zipper hers.  I hope the world becomes a better place for young Bella.  Such innocence, while the rest of us adults sit here subconsciously analyzing our fellow passengers, scanning the room for the next crazy person with a God-given right.

It took Australia 12 days.  It’s been two days since our last mass shooting.  What have we done?