The Educated Free Thinker

I usually reserve this blog for entries about swimming, cycling, and philosophical musings related to my motivation within the “athletic” (as I wouldn’t define myself as an “athlete” despite riding centuries and marathon swimming across channels in open ocean) endeavors. Too much has been circling around my head though in the last 10 days that has affected me greatly and brings a huge concern to me mentally and emotionally as I go through the next 4 – 8 (heaven forbid) years.

Like many, I cried a lot on Wednesday, 9th November. I woke up at 2:00 AM, looked at my phone, and saw the worst news I think our country could possibly ever receive. Now mind you that I do not think anyone in politics is an angel as a former director of mine taught me that no one is pure evil or pure good as we’re all somewhere in between. However at 2:00 AM that morning I saw the closest thing to the beginning of the Apocalypse that I’ve seen in my 39+ years on this planet. I cried no less than 4 times that day. It wasn’t because “my candidate” lost. It was because I knew that the country was going to change in the wrong direction. There is good change and bad change and there is no way that the outcome of the election said that bad changes were coming our direction.

The Facebook posts by my friends and those in Pantsuit Nation were absolutely heartbreaking and made my disappointment and sadness even worse. Yes I was upset when Gore loss to W (and I still remember my dad saying “That idiot didn’t even win his home state!”) but that was different. W came across as a simpleton and how much harm could he do really? This time though..oh my word…here was someone that the KKK supported openly and has made such insensitive and condescending remarks about almost everyone. Forget about undoing everything Obama did, this guy was about to do everything that Lincoln did even.

The argument of “We survived Obama. You’ll survive this.” is total BS. Why? Because Obama wasn’t seeking to take anyone’s rights away. He wasn’t looking to strike fear into anyone. He was charismatic and diplomatic. He wanted to work with everyone to come to a solution. He never viciously attacked anyone. He never came across as drunk with power. He thought carefully about the results of his actions. He never wanted to hurt any of the people he represented. He was selfless. He didn’t let anyone get the best of him, or at least he never dared show it publicly. He took the job seriously. I greatly admire him.

Spurred by a hair-pulling experience by a total stranger’s experience with her therapist on Pantsuit Nation, I also feel like I should clarify some things about myself:

  • I’m not a Democrat.
  • I’m not a feminist.
  • I’m not gay.
  • I’ve never had an abortion.
  • I’ve never been married or divorced.
  • I was raised Catholic.

It’s worse. Much worse. I’m an educated free thinker.

I don’t belong to any political party. In California I’m registered as “Decline to State”, which is our version of “Independent”. As I told my 7th Grade teacher when I was thinking of not considering myself Catholic anymore as I saw a lot of their contradictions, I don’t need anyone telling me how to think. I’ve never voted for a Republican and it wasn’t because the candidate is identified with that party. It’s because I don’t agree with them on the policies that they want to enact in office as individuals. I happily voted for Bernie in the primaries as I thought and still do think he was the best choice for our next President. I voted for Hillary in the general election because even though I agree more with Jill Stein’s views, I don’t agree with her action methods sometimes and feel like she can be a bit of a loose cannon. She’s the Green Party version in Trump in a lot of ways of just coming across as an angry person a lot of the time and I think to be a world leader, you need to be a lot calmer and more diplomatic than that. For the general election, Hillary was the only one on the ballot who I saw as having the grace, professionalism, level-headedness, and “down to earth” persona to carry out her plans without getting hot-headed and angry about it. Above all, I felt like she generally cared about the country and making it better across the board. I trusted her to do the job and be able to focus.

I support equal rights for everyone to be treated fairly and under the same laws. Why should anyone be treated differently? You don’t get to choose who you fall in love with, for better or worse. I’ve never understood how what someone is doing in their own personal life affects anyone else’s. I have friends with open marriages and I remember telling one that hey, as long as it’s all out in the open and no one is getting hurt, then what’s wrong with that? How is it that we live in a country where people having multiple partners is seen by some as acceptable but two people madly in love who happen to be the same sex is seen as unacceptable? How come straight people can get married for 55 hours and somehow that preserves the meaning of marriage but two people who have loved each other and been there for each other for decades somehow is an abomination? Whoever said that a gay couple wants to get married in your church?

My dad and I ended up a lot alike. He was born in 1943 and grew up in Southern Illinois. He remembers segregation and didn’t understand the point of it. I was raised pretty blind to differences between people. I didn’t realize until looking back that my grade school class only had two black children, a handful of Asians, and predominantly white. I never thought of it. When I was a sophomore or junior in high school, my history teacher brought in two gay men to speak to us. I think it was her way of introducing “sensitivity training.” I remember when they said that they were gay I thought “And your point is….??” I really didn’t care as it made no difference to me.

A longtime friend of mine used to play “the pronoun game” when telling me anything about his dating life. I remember when he finally told me that he was talking about a guy as he hesitated and finally said “him” and looked at me for a reaction. I had none so he continued talking. Since then he’s been very open to me when talking about his relationships and I even met one of his boyfriends when they were dating. My mom recently asked me why I had never dated him and I had to tell her why. I had a good laugh about it with my friend afterwards.

I dated a guy for 2.5 years who when I’d tell people that I was the first woman that he’d dated in 20 years, they were confused. “How could he not have dated anyone for 20 years if his libido is that high?” I would then have to point out the obvious that he had been dating men those 20 years. Some were horrified and asked how could I date him. I’d jokingly say that I’m sure he’s showered since then. I didn’t care and it was actually flattering in the beginning as it was obvious that we liked each other for who we were. Our relationship didn’t work out for other reasons. One of my closest cousins is married to a man who identifies as gay apart from the fact that he fell in love with my cousin, a woman. You really don’t choose who you fall in love with.


Mississippi? Actually this woman’s car was vandalized last week in Denver, Colorado.

In college I had a housemate who asked me when we first met on how I felt about interracial marriages. We were living in Akwe:kon, the Native American Residential Program House at Cornell University. She was white as snow and from Michigan. I just blankly looked at her and said “Well as the product of one, I’d have to say that I’m okay with it!” She was weird. I’ve never been asked again.

I actually didn’t know what my ethnic background was for a long time until I was asked to put it down for some reason in 5th grade by my homeroom teacher. I knew my mom was from Peru and we had a lot of family there as we went to visit once or twice a year to stay with my grandparents. I didn’t know that that side of the family was ethnically Chinese. I didn’t know that most families I knew weren’t eating the same food at home as my mom cooked a lot of Peruvian food. We went to dim sum on the weekends. One of my sister and my favorite restaurants was Mifune in Burlingame. Mifune was a Japanese restaurant that was usually empty when we went and we didn’t know why (or care quite frankly as we just wanted to eat). We ate all sorts of different cuisines without realizing that it was all from different countries. I didn’t know that we were “different.” I didn’t know what my dad’s family’s background was (Answer: Slovenian and Croatian). All I knew was that “Grandparent’s Day” at my Catholic school sucked because it was an entire day dedicated to activities with your grandparents and the closest mine were was in Arkansas where my paternal grandparents had retired. Family friends used to attend as surrogate grandparents so I wouldn’t be one of the only kids in the entire school without a grandparent that day. It was usually around their annual Mexican vacation though so my mom started letting me stay at home that day on the years that Joe and Jackie couldn’t come with me. I was too embarrassed to go alone and am thankful that my mom accommodated me.


My mom when she was in grade school.

I was filling out a form this morning that asked me what my Ethnic background was. I hesitated as now I don’t know if that would really help or hurt me. Having seen the open racism towards others in the last 10 days gives me reason to pause. I’ve always been proud of where my family has come from and now I’m afraid of how other people are going to react. I’ve heard some people say that it’s good to have this racism out in the open. WTF? That didn’t come with a “so now we can resolve it.” It was common belief that racism and prejudice were wrong before and now there are those who think that it’s acceptable and almost (shudder) American to act like that. I can’t believe those who idly stand by and ignore it saying things like our fears of treating others as sub-human from a government level and/or having a government that will allow it to happen. It’s already happening. They’re not the ones affected by it. Unfortunately it reminds me of the starts of WWII with the Jews except now it’s everyone that is not Caucasian, not “straight”, and/or not male. There were a lot of Germans who didn’t think that anything was going to happen in their country either when Hitler came to power and look at what happened. When you’ve got the KKK throwing the winner a victory parade, red flags should go off that THIS IS NOT GOOD. The KKK wasn’t throwing a victory parade when Bush won in 2000. Ignoring what is going on is saying that you don’t care what happens to your friends who are already affected by it because you don’t really care about them. If your friend gets hauled off to an internment camp or the victim of a hate crime, are you going to sit there and say “Gee, I didn’t think that would happen” and then be sorry? How many Germans watched their friends get hauled off to concentration camps by the Nazis thinking that there was no way that Hitler’s government would really round up all the Jews and perform genocide. What about what happened in Cambodia with Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge back in the 1970s? How can our country be putting a government into place that has no real interest in protecting the very people that these civil servants are supposed to represent and work for? The American Dream where we were a melting pot where people could come from all over the world and be whatever they wanted to be has been killed 10 days ago. When Europeans immigrated here starting in the 15th Century, they were escaping religious persecution. Ironic now that a right wing nut job is now starting to put a cabinet together that seeks to either directly persecute others for nothing more than their sexual orientation, color of their skin, and/or religion and staging a war on immigrants ignoring the fact that ALL of us have immigrated from another country in our family tree.


Alabama? Why no…this is Adam Yauch Park in Brooklyn, New York and vandalized yesterday. Yauch was Jewish.

A good friend of mine is Muslim from Iran. One of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet. Muslim registry? Please. The federal government knows exactly where she is and who she is. She and her husband have to submit documentation (photos, statements, etc.) every single year to show that their marriage is not a sham, she has not had any access to weapons-grade Plutonium, etc. He converted to Islam when they got married. They are two of the most peaceful people. The husband is actually more of a hippie with long hair who is completely against violence of any nature than someone who has sinister plans to destroy the world as we know it. Besides, our world is going to be destroyed by ugh..I can’t even say it and refuse to say it ever but you know who.

I was talking to a friend the other day about divisions. I never look at my friends as “my gay friend” or “my black friend” or “my Muslim friend” or “my Jewish friend” or “my female friend.” They’re just my friends. I look at more of how they love and what’s in their heart and soul than anything else that can be defined on a form. Isn’t that what should matter when we look at each other?

I believe in a women’s right to choose even though I’ve never had an abortion. I can see where pro-lifers say “that’s a child and it has rights!” What about the woman though? That’s a lifetime commitment there. If she didn’t want to have it and still did, the options then are give it up for adoption or treat the kid like she didn’t want it. Whoever wants to grow up in an unloving household? There are enough kids that are up for adoption and need loving homes. It’s not so simple. I don’t think it should be used as a regular means of birth control but I understand that accidents happen. They’re not all teenagers going “hey, we’ll risk it and always abort in case she gets pregnant.” And if anything I think history teaches us that women will go out and get an abortion anyway. My view is that with abortion legal, at least the woman is safer having it done by medical professionals instead of in a dirty bathroom with a coat hanger or drugs obtained illegally by someone in an alley. Remember from “Dirty Dancing” when Penny had hers from a guy with a dirty knife and a folding table? That’s what happens when abortion is illegal. Most women getting abortions aren’t waiting until the last trimester to decide “oh hey, I don’t want this after all.” Again, how does her having an abortion affect your personal life? I used to say when W was President that that’s fine if he took away abortion as long as he was willing to adopt every single one of those kids himself. And really there are some people who should not be reproducing at all.

I look at the hate towards them from others and during my lifetime I’ve become convinced that hate is taught. My parents never taught me that. It wasn’t the “San Francisco Bubble” that is why I turned out the way I did about this or any other issues. It’s because my parents overall never taught me to hate someone based on the color of their skin or sexual orientation. They’ve never even talked to me about it so I grew up never thinking that it mattered. People were just people.


Me at 6 years old in 1983.

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The Pains of Marathon Swimming

“It is going to hurt. It is going to burn. It is going to be hard. If it isn’t hard, you aren’t trying hard enough.” — Mike Thornton, my friend Steve Walker’s 8th grade math teacher and LMYA swim coach.

Four hours into my Catalina Channel swim, my right shoulder started feeling a little sore. The pain increased over the next 4 hours until it became a serious problem. I knew that the best thing to do when a body part is hurting during a marathon swim is to switch to another stroke. I snuggled up close to Neil’s Hobie so I could sight off of it and switched to backstroke during the 8th hour. Backstroke was my preferred stroke in high school. After three hours of backstroke, my crew chief Peter jumped in and convinced me to switch back to crawl “for awhile.” I’d end up swimming crawl for the rest of my swim (6.5 more hours). My shoulders were so flared up by the end of my swim that I needed help to take my swimsuit off. I needed help changing clothes for the next couple of days as I couldn’t rotate my right shoulder to lift my arm. My best friend Susie had Diclofenac that I took for the next few days. My shoulder felt like it was on fire so I iced it as much as possible.

Backstroking across the Catalina Channel

My sinuses also got severely inflammed around my 13th hour and I was begging for more ibuprofen. My crew said that they’d already maxed out the 8 that they could give me within a 24 hour period. I really didn’t care what happened to my liver tomorrow as I was in so much pain today. (Note: I later learned from Gracie van der Byl that she has antihistamines in her swim pack for moments like this).

I still do not know how I was able to swim with that much pain for so many hours.

Neil van der Byl watching over me on kayak while crew Howard Burns and Cathy Harrington swap out buddy swimming with me (legal in 2015).

I was having dinner with my friend Romy and her husband one evening several days later. Romy is a fellow swimmer and a physical therapist. She had me lie down and was able to fit her entire hand under my shoulder blade. She said “I’m not supposed to be able to do this.” She taped up my shoulder and gave me some physical therapy exercises to do to help stretch my right shoulder back into position. I did the exercises for several days and as most people do when they don’t have a medical professional watching them like a hawk, I stopped doing them when my shoulder started feeling okay.

My friend Romy taped my shoulder to help support the impingement.

I finally saw my sports physician, Dr. Van Pelt, at the Center for Sports Medicine at St. Francis Hospital about my shoulder last Wednesday (better late than never?). I could still feel that it was pitched forward and tight over a year after my Catalina swim. There are certain upper body exercises that I do that cause discomfort and wanted his input. Dr. Van Pelt said that I have “shoulder impingement syndrome” and luckily there is no rotator cuff tear. His best guess given the situation is that the coracoacromial ligament thickened which narrowed the subacromial space in my shoulder, which impinges the supraspinatus tendon right there. Of course the first thing I asked him was how long would it take to snap my shoulder back into place and he said 3 to 6 months (ugh). He gave me a couple of exercises to do to help stretch it back out again and told me what to avoid (bench presses, butterfly stroke which I can’t do anyway, and anything else that involves pressing away/down with your arms out). He told me to do his recommended exercises as often as I can. One involves leaning into a corner and he said I can stop doing them when I can touch that corner with my nose. I have my work cut out for me!

I plan on putting traditional Pilates back into my exercise routine regularly since one of its focuses is strengthening posture and opening up the chest and shoulders. Pilates also works on strengthening the core muscles which will help with both my swimming and cycling.

Recently I started reading my friend Steve’s book Where the Crazy People Swim. Why do a sport that is so demanding of the body with the additional factors of sharks, boats, currents, hypothermia, hyperthermia, salinity, wind, jellyfish, etc.? Can’t we do something safer like rugby? Artists suffer for their art and marathon swimmers suffer for the love of being in the water. If any of us die during it, at least we died doing what made us happy (as painful as it may look or be). It’s a calling though which is also why one may gravitate towards one path and not others. I have no interest in doing the English Channel. There are others that call me though that I want to try which are of the same caliber or harder (longer and/or colder) than EC. I don’t know how my shoulders or the rest of my body will hold up and I won’t know unless I try. I learn something from each swim though and take it into the training and attempt of the next swim. I’d rather be doing physical therapy exercises as a result of a marathon swim than 100% healthy for not even trying. It’s just not staying true to my spirit.

I understand now what exactly I did to my shoulder on 15 August 2015 and how long of a recovery is really involved. I’m not going to stop marathon swimming and need to take care of my body more. I could have done more damage to my shoulder if I had decided to just jump into doing another marathon swim this year. I’m lucky that I didn’t damage my rotator cuff. I know that I need to focus on the health and strength of my shoulders during my training. I can use the next several months to finally fully recovery from my Catalina swim, just in time to start training for the next one.πŸ™‚

Neil van der Byl watching over me and my buddy swimmer Cathy Harrington.

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Stronger

I was lying on my side with my feet in the TRX strap cradles when Kevin, the instructor, told us to get into a side plank. I just laid there as I felt my lower half paralyzed for the first time in 4 years. I couldn’t remember how to lift my hips into the air. I struggled slowly like a seal to get into a side plank position. I realized that I still had a long way to go as my hip muscles are still weak 4 years later.

Five have passed since my life was changed forever. Four years since I was in a wheelchair for hopefully the last time for the rest of my life. A lot has changed since then and there have been some real highs and some real lows. There is one real important outcome though.

Every day I get a little bit stronger.

I’d been battling with getting my health back on track by my standards all year. I struggled with losing the pre-Catalina and post-Catalina weight last Fall/Winter. Nothing was really working too well for me and it was downright depressing. In December I met someone who radically changed my outlook on my health.

Her name is Ryen.

Ryen and me riding in Riverside, California

Ryen is a fellow cyclist who I knew of through mutual friends but hadn’t met her in person. I met her late last year on a bike ride. She was really cool and we chatted a lot. She exercises WAY more than me. I could never figure out why she posted on Facebook about multiple surgeries as she seemed perfectly healthy to me. I also noticed that she used a handcycle sometimes and wasn’t sure what that was about. I mentioned Ryen to our mutual friend Erika one day over lunch and Erika went off about how awesome Ryen was. I asked about the surgery posts and handcycle and Erika gave a simple explanation.

Ryen has Cerebal Palsy.

Holy f***. I had no idea. You couldn’t tell by looking at her or how she behaved. She is one of the most positive people I’ve ever met and she works every day to get closer to her goal of qualifying for the paralympics in triathalon. She’s also vegan.

Ryen told me that she was lucky that her parents never conditioned her to be defined by CP. They treated her as a normal girl. She does not carry an ounce of negativity of what many may see as a weakness or resent. I think she looked at it as more of an additional challenge to overcome. She does some combination of swimming, cycling, handcycle, and strength training every day with a smile on her face the entire time.

Her dedication to her goal has caused me to being smarter about how I use my time working out. I started switching up my routine to not be exercising as frequently and balancing cardio and strength training. I started working out with weights at the gym again and incorporating TRX classes after work into my schedule along with swimming, cycling, and spinning when I can. I spent most of my lunch breaks at the gym 1.5 blocks from my work just to get some stationary bike cardio in to keep my legs moving.

Ryen’s veganism hasn’t influenced me to become vegan just like her triathalon goals haven’t convinced me to ever start running (exceptions for being chased and hearing “Last Boarding Call” for my flight). I read the Whole 30 book recently and while I never did the 30 days “reboot”, I did start thinking about what I eat differently again. I have been eating a lot less dairy. I switched my usual breakfast from plain Greek yogurt to being rolled oats, unsweetened coconut milk, cinnamon, and whatever fruit I have around. I find it more satisfying and with the fruit changes, there is some variety. I don’t really keep cheese at home and if given a choice, I go with a vegan cheese option. I also figured out that I can’t eat sweets after mid-afternoon because I’ll wake up bloated the next morning. I’ve started paying attention to how certain foods make me feel and how well I digest them. I can make changes to my diet based on the feedback my body gives me. All I needed to do was start listening to it.

I was never a “I NEED MEAT!” person and have switched back to smaller amounts of animal protein in general. I’ve been eating more seafood and chicken if I do eat meat. I can’t remember the last time I ate bacon. I haven’t gotten any cravings for any kind of meat actually in months. I do still eat it though.

I don’t have any snacks, even healthy ones, at work as it was too tempting before to eat when I really wasn’t hungry because of the “it’s healthy though!” excuse.

Did I give up cookies? No. I eat truly healthy ones though that are 4 ingredients only: rolled oats, bananas, sunflower butter, dark chocolate chips (although the ones I made this morning have raisins instead of chocolate). I find that eating a few of these half-dollar sized cookies leave me feeling satisfied for a cookie craving. I made some of my oatmeal-raisin-dark chocolate chip cookies for the first time in months a few weeks ago for a kayaking clinic that I was running and they tasted weird to me. I hadn’t made them in so long that I wasn’t even sure if I had the flour or two kinds of sugar or any of the other ingredients at home. I definitely prefer the 4-ingredient vegan ones though!

The combination has had an outstanding and surprising effect that I lost 10 pounds in the last few months without counting calories or jumping on a scale on a regular basis. I didn’t give up alcohol either. I made a lifestyle change that had a greater effect than exercising for hours on end or severely restricting my diet. I have gone back to wearing my belt that I gave up wearing last year as I didn’t like how I’d gone up a notch. Now I’m back to my “regular” notch and feel a lot better about myself. I recognize myself more now in the mirror. I’m slowly becoming the person that I recognize.

Last weekend I had an even bigger surprise last weekend when I went on two bike rides. The first up was with my friends Linda and Jaime (and a bunch of Linda’s other friends). Linda knew that this was my only weekend before Levi’s Gran Fondo that I was available to ride so we went up to the Oakland Hills for some climbing. I hadn’t been there in months and had little trouble on any of them. Afterwards Linda asked me if that was enough climbing for me. My legs weren’t sore at all. We had done just under 1000 feet / 10 miles which is actually a pretty decent amount of climbing.

Death Ride Course Map.

The week before she had told me that there are a lot of people who ask about doing the Death Ride and that I was the only one that she’d really recommend doing it next year. I thought she was kidding at the time as I didn’t think I could handle that much climbing. After this past weekend though, I think I may be up for the challenge. 129 miles and 15,000′ of climbing over 5 Passes. 08 July 2017. Holy crap.

The next day I was out riding in the North Bay with my friend Len in the North Bay. He proposed Alpine Dam which has been on my bucket list for several months. I had heard from others that it was a beast of a climb and when we got to the dam, I asked him where was this big climb that I’d been hearing about and he said that we just did it. Oh. Oops. We continued on to the top of the ridge and Patollah Road (aka the road that leads to the top of Mount Tam) and started making our way back down. I saw on Strava later that we’d done some 31 miles and 3200′ of climbing. My legs still weren’t sore and like the Oakland Hills ride, I could have easily kept going.

I also hit a new PR for my fastest ascent of Camino Alto.

New PR for Camino Alto at the end of a lot of climbing.

So even though I couldn’t make it on the bike every day and go on long rides, I was now riding faster and having an easy time on the climbs than when I was doing 1 – 2 long rides a week with my beloved Turkey Tuesday rides. Wow.

I’d lost 10 pounds and become a stronger and faster rider by making little changes. Most importantly is that I’m feeling better about myself. I feel healthier and getting confidence in my physical abilities back. Sold.

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Today is Sandi’s Birthday

Today is Sandi’s birthday. She would have been 42 today. I woke up at 12:07 AM and my first thought after the usual “What time is it?” was the fact that it was her birthday today. We’d been friends since out college days in the late 1990s after meeting in the online fan community for the Wallflowers, one of our favorite bands at the time.

I can’t think of her anymore without thinking of Thanksgiving 2016 when I found out the news from her sister that Sandi had died, leaving behind two small children who she had wanted her entire life. I knew that she’d been having a very difficult time as the man she was deeply in love with had broken up with her a few weeks earlier. I hadn’t talked to her since the previous Wednesday and had emailed her that Friday, but she hadn’t responded. I remember sitting at the airport in San Francisco on my way to Peru and wanting to check in with how she was doing, but stopped myself since it was late in North Carolina, where she lived. I never would have guessed that Sandi would be dead less than 48 hours later.

I regret that when I saw her in 2011, she had offered to let me stay the night with her, her then-husband, and the kids. If I had known that was the last time I’d ever see her, I’d have stayed. She was also in SoCal about a year ago and asked me about possibly meeting up with her there. It was a last minute trip for her and I look at flight prices, but at $400+ for a day, I thought it was too expensive at the time and we agreed that we’d meet up the next time she was on the West Coast.

That day will never happen.

I’d gladly pay that $400 now just to see her for an hour.


Sandi with her children, Andy and Annie, in August 2015.

I’ve thought of her every day since Jenni told me that Sandi was dead. Angry for what she did to her own children who needed her more than anything in the world and able to forgive as I know she was not in the right frame of mind during the last moments of her life. She wasn’t the Sandi that I’d gotten to know and love for the last 17 or so years. I’ve had some pretty low moments in the last 7 months and Sandi has helped me through that as I know it’s not worth it to go through the path she ultimately chose.

It’s not completely unfamiliar either. My grandmother was a severe schizophrenic and took her own life on 23 February 1993. I’ve thought of that day too every day for the last 23+ years. It’s been worse when I’ve heard my mother lie to people on how my grandma died. She sees it at shameful whereas I’ll fully admit it because it’s a scar that I don’t want to hide from the world. Like the 6 inch scars that run across my hip joints, the emotional scars show what I’ve survived. Life hasn’t always been easy for me and I’d be a lot weaker if it had been.


My grandma and me in November 1977.

I grew up thinking that my grandma was just my grandma. I loved her. I was always excited to see her and spend time with her and treasured the couple of weeks a year that I’d get with her since she lived back in Peru, where my mom is from. I couldn’t understand why she killed herself. I didn’t know that she was severe schizophrenic until after she died and my cousins told me some weird stuff she’d say or do. I happened to be reading a book about mental illnesses and saw her symptoms under the “severe schizophrenic” description. It turned out too that my relatives knew about my grandma, but it was kept from the grandchildren. I’m thankful for that in a way because I saw her nothing more than just my grandma. I only regret that it may have softened the blow when my uncle called my mom to tell him that their mother was gone.

During my time at Panda Restaurant Group’s headquarters in SoCal, I grew a lot as a person. I learned the importance of personal relationships. I learned the importance of telling people how you feel about them because tomorrow isn’t guaranteed. Combined with my surgeries, I learned to live today like it’s your last day. Live today like it’s their last day. I’m glad that I told Sandi that I loved her when she was alive. I just wish I’d spent more time with her when I had the chance. Don’t waste time and chances to be with people you love.

At Sandi’s funeral, her father told me “Thank you for being her friend.” I replied “That was easy.”

Happy birthday sweet girl. I miss you.


Sandi in August 2015. Sent to me by her mother Karen after the funeral.
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Let Them Feel Your Heartbeat

“When it’s closing time and the night is young, do you need a friend to help you on?
You can lean on me and I’ll carry our bones home
As the stars explode in the sky above and the pieces fall back down to earth
If you lean on me then I’ll let you feel my heartbeat beat, let you feel my heartbeat”
— “Let Them Feel Your Heartbeat” by A Silent Film

A friend who is a life coach has started me on a new way of thinking. We originally were talking about external relationships as we’ve both made the past mistakes of falling for guys who were emotionally unavailable and/or narcissistic. She saw what I was going through lately and knew exactly what I was going through, down to the same exact bull**** moves that I hadn’t even told her about. It was like something out of Groundhog Day except what she experienced yesterday is what I experienced today. And going through our dating pasts, she’s put me on the path to be able to break the cycle and finally get what I want: a lifelong meaningful relationship with a true 50/50 partner. Don’t expect results if you don’t do the work though. As she said, I just need a bit of polishing.

So this is going to take a little bit of work in order to get myself ready to be in that kind of relationship. I’ve started doing some reading on relationships that has expanded my mind in how to think about them. Looking around at how we go about trying to find a partner, most people have it all wrong. I’ve had it wrong all this time. Online dating sites try to match people based on profiles and statistics and in person most people try to find someone based on personality fits. The rates of break-ups and divorce are extremely high though. Why is finding the right one so hard? Well, you can’t find the right one if you’re looking in the wrong direction. One of my favorite quotes is “Our soulmates seldom appeal to our personality — our ego. That’s why they are called soulmates rather than egomates.” by Carolyn G. Miller. The most successful relationships I’ve seen are the ones where couples love each other not because of their partner’s talent, creativity, athleticism, success, artistry, determination, goals, etc. but because of their partner’s heart. The heart is the base of everything that we do. Loving someone’s heart is loving why they do what they do, not what they actually do. Two people can volunteer to help make dinner. One does it because s/he wants recognition and people to like him/her while the other does it because s/he wants to help out others and contribute thanks or no thanks. Both look the same on the outside (helping to make dinner) yet the reasons behind why they are doing it are completely different. The former is for selfish reasons while the latter is coming from love for others.

As Carrie Bradshaw once said “I pick the wrong men.” There is some truth to that. We focus on the wrong aspects of looking for a partner. We have all these ideals of what our partner should look like. I had to write a list of partner’s qualities years ago that I thought would make me happy. I’ve realized since then that all of that was complete and utter crap. I’ve dated men who fit some of those and realized that those qualities weren’t really that important and learned there were other deeper qualities that I needed more that weren’t as tangible. Personalities are what you see on the surface of someone when you meet them. What makes them tick though? That’s the heart and requires knowing someone much more intimately. While some still commend an ex-boyfriend for taking care of me after my surgeries, what many don’t know is that it wasn’t genuine love. He held that against me in every way imaginable and tried to make me feel guilty for not meeting HIS needs during my recovery process. He was abusive saying that if I really loved him then I’d have figured out a way to meet his needs also while I laid in bed with a broken pelvis. This horrified several of my closest male friends who said that if their partner was recovering from surgery, their own needs were last on the list of things to attend to no matter how long the recovery process was. So even though in the surface we looked like a good match, our hearts and souls were completely different. When we broke up, I felt a huge weight lifted off of my shoulders and knew that I wasn’t 100% of the problem in our relationship like he claimed. I was 100% responsible for staying in that relationship longer than I should have though.

One fellow cyclist I dated (after of course saying “never again”) and I appeared on paper like we were a good match and had similar interests. The heart behind our activities were extremely different. With cycling, he was happy with 90 minutes of cycling per day as it was just exercise to him. Me? Completely different. It was very social for me as I did it with friends and we downright enjoyed cycling for hours on end and sincerely loved being on the bike. Like the time that my friend Liz and I said “f*** it” and turned a 50-ish mile ride into a 95 mile ride when we got close to Livermore (after starting in Oakland). We’re looking at doing a double century in March. The guy I had dated asked once why would anyone ever want to do a double century. It wasn’t a personality mismatch, it was a heart mismatch and what drove us to do a on-the-surface activity like “cycling” was completely different.

When people talk about my Catalina swim or my swimming general, very few ask why I do it. Why do I swim? Why do I swim open water? Why did I swim Anacapa Island to Oxnard? Why did I swim from Catalina Island to San Pedro? All swimmers swim for different reasons. Many assume it’s for exercise and/or we’re nuts. It’s not exercise to me. I never think afterwards “damn that was a great workout!” For me it’s about the journey and the experience and what I’m going to learn about myself by going through it. When people told me after my Catalina swim that they don’t think they could swim 17+ hours, I always respond with “I didn’t either!” Why do I swim in the bay? Because I feel connected to the Bay and the city I love when I swim in it. It’s another connection to “home” for me. I don’t feel a connection to a pool therefore have little to no drive to swim in one. My heart isn’t into it. That’s not who I am.

So while I am working on reprogramming my brain on how to look and feel about relationships that I have with people I’m choosing to start with the most important one: myself. I’ve flailed a lot in things I promised to myself in terms of my own health and household. I’ve said that I’m going to lose X pounds (or fat), eat better/healthier, exercise more, get my finances back on track, remodel my place, etc. over the years. I don’t feel like much has changed though. Like the typical midnight snack scenario, I get weak moments and say “ah screw it” and let myself go. Bad idea and why I’m not getting anywhere. So I’ve decided to recommit to myself for everything I promised myself that I’d do for me in the past. My friend Brandon has recommitted to his own nutritional health which inspired me to do the same of preplanning my meals and deciding to stick to them. I’ve decided this past weekend after a week in the lovely Midwest with the “omg..people eat like this??” Midwestern diet to go to a total whole foods diet for the next 2 months. So far I’ve survived 7 days on it and haven’t been regretting it, aside from when I eat celery. It’ll help me get through the holidays also with avoiding all the cookies and cakes and pies that’ll start parading and congregating around town. In the process, I’ll be rebooting my physical body.

Rebooting my mental and emotional bodies will take some work also. I had a very long talk with my friend Erika a couple of weeks ago while we were out riding. I was having a hard time as I was slower than usual since I haven’t been riding on a regular basis and couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me as my heart wasn’t into it. I had an easier time dragging myself up Mounts Tam and Diablo last winter when I was first learning how to ride because I didn’t have any expectations. It was just one pedal stroke at a time and who cares how long it took me to get up that mountain as long as I made it up there. Now after almost a year of riding I had expectations on how I was going to perform on the bike. Expectations were attacking my soul. I had to step back and reboot how I approached this in my head. I’ve started hitting the gym and spinning classes more with the mentality that I’m going to get myself back in cycling shape no matter what. My quads, glutes, hamstrings, and lungs will burn and hate me in the process yet thank me later. I need to accept the fact that I’m a slower cyclist now and the important thing is that I’m still a cyclist. I am not going to get any faster again by not being on the bike. The girls will wait for me and it’ll be one ride at a time to get myself back up to speed (pun intended). Drop the expectations as that’s setting oneself up for disappointment.

Here’s to rebuilding a bigger and better heart and soul. No way back from here (cue Dave Grohl).

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It’s Gran Fondo Time Baby!!

There are some very important differences between me as a swimmer and cyclist. Swimming isn’t a very social sport while you’re actually swimming as you have to stop to talk. One thing I really love about cycling is that you can talk the entire time if you’re riding with someone and well, they’re within earshot of you. I’m not as serious while cycling unless I’m dragging my sorry butt up some climb and trying to keep my heart from exploding and my lungs inside my rib cage. Otherwise the girls and I tend to talk about all sorts of crap..some serious and some not so serious. It’s like we’re just hanging out while our legs are moving.

The Healdsburg Century ride went past several wineries that I’ve been to so I was giving Diana the grand tour of which ones I like and don’t like. Doesn’t really matter since Diana doesn’t drink (may use her as a designated driver sometime!). I do “moo” at cows when riding past them or going across the cow grates in the middle of the road. I also will half-jokingly say something about stopping at any creamery or bakery while going past. We ride bikes long distances so we can eat, right? There’s just something oddly different about when I’m on a bike as I’m a lot looser and relaxed..maybe it’s because we’re playing in traffic? Organized rides all have alcohol served at the end of it? These aren’t events that you have to actually train for?

And really, when else can you do something like zip past a friend and smack him/her on the ass and totally get away with it? If they’re offended then well, they’ll have to speed up to catch you.πŸ˜‰

As I was in pretty sad cycling shape going into the Levi’s Gran Fondo, I decided that I could probably drag myself through the Gran Fort Ross (85 miles, 6850′ climbing) as I had survived the Princess Challenge the Sunday before. Arianna and Liz weren’t interested in pushing themselves and were also signed up for the Gran category. I decided to treat it like just another Saturday ride with Liz and Arianna that just happens to be supported and we’re less likely to have to resort to Google Maps to figure out where we are.


Liz, me, Arianna, and Erika before the Coleman Valley Road death march.

Some people take Levi’s Gran Fondo to be a serious race as it’s a timed ride and if you’re interested in doing the badass Panzer route (117 miles, 10,503′ climbing), you need to do the full Gran (102 miles, 8,943′ climbing) in 7.5 hours or less the year before. I will never be able to do the Gran in 7.5 hours and not even going to try it. I do these rides just to do them (similar to swimming) and am not competitive. There are rides that I really do sign up for just because the kit looks really cool. We kind of ride from snack stop to snack stop too along with breaks inbetween to catch our breaths and wait for each other. Arianna and Liz looked like squirrels stocking up for winter with how many eats they had stuffed into their pockets. And my nickname for Diana is “SNACKS” in all caps since she gets so excited when she sees them. Where was I again?

My group all started together but Terrie wanted a good time for the full Gran (101 miles) and Erika is even faster. Diana is still faster than me right now although her days are numbered on that front once I get my legs and lungs back in cycling shape (and she knows it). Liz, Arianna, Samar, and I rode together until we had to split off as Samar and her cold germs were doing the Medio. I still wanted to make a go for the Gran Fort Ross so we said we’d see her at the finish.

Fort Ross really isn’t *that* bad. It could be worse. It’s just a long continuous climb with little relief. At least we hit it at 10:30 AM and with the trees it was pretty shady and reasonably comfortable. It was a dream compared to the hell of Coleman Valley Road coming up from the coast that resembled a death march as Panzer and Gran (and some really taking-sweet-time Medio) riders made their way up the last (or only for Medio) major climb of the day. I stopped just before the steepest part to stuff my heart back into my chest and then came to the horrible realization that I couldn’t get back on my bike. It was too steep for me to get started again. I had no shame though on this ride and walked my bike up those last 20 or 30 feet and got back on once I was back to being more perpendicular than parallel to the road. That climb would be easier when I’m in shape and/or not 60+ miles into a ride already. Next year.


Calculated Target Heart Rates say that my max should be 182 bpm. My heart should have exploded 5 times on Sunday. My max was 196 bpm!

The SAG guys were AWESOME on coverage as they were everywhere like Big Brother. We got off route once and a SAG motorcyclist reeled us back in within a mile. There were EMTs and Fire Department teams waiting at major potential crash points and every so often so they could respond quickly to crashes. Bike crashes have a greater affect on me than car crashes for some reason. I went past 3 crashes during the ride and missed the fatal crash (Cyclist killed in Levi’s GranFondo) that was on the full Gran route. I always figure that if I make it to the finish in one piece then it’s all good. I’ve already had two crashes, one that could have easily been fatal if a car was coming from the other way as I slid across the incoming lane. I’m still conservative when I descend. I use my Garmin 810 actually to help me see what the road looks like up ahead so I know how tight a curve really is and can make adjustments for it (aka help ease my nerves).


Gran Fort Ross route

Next year I want to do the full Gran route. I also am thinking about the Death Ride along with a bunch of other century rides to do with my friends. Yeah some of them involve really cool kits.πŸ˜› I’ll still be doing long rides with them on the weekends anyway as after all, that helps burn off the baked goodies and wine that we drink when we’re not on our bikes. We’d have to do some training for the Death Ride but it wouldn’t be anything that we’d ever take seriously like what you see with guys out on the track. We’re really just there to have fun, ride, hang out, and load up on the snacks.

And still funny to think that I’ve only been riding for 10.5 months. Next month is finally my one year anniversary of being on the bike!


The finest cycling ladies

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The Lost Art of Personal Connection

With modern technology like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. it seems like there’s the lost art of asking how someone actually is. The Internet persona has overtaken reality when it comes to keeping up to date with our loved ones. Friends just hop onto someone’s Facebook posts to see what they’re up to instead of asking them how they’re doing. Why don’t people bother to ask “how are you?” anymore? Has that really become a lost art form of social manners? Technology has removed a lot of personal direct communication between people. The USPS complained when email started becoming popular because people were writing letters once and they wanted to somehow charge people for sending emails. At least an email could still be personal. A Facebook post? Hardly personal. It’s like a mass email all the time casting a big net and seeing whose attention and responses you catch in return.

Lately I haven’t done much since my Catalina swim in terms of exercise. There’s a false perception that I spend all my time swimming and cycling. Reality? Thanks for asking. I got my arm twisted into swimming during our club’s tri on Saturday which was the first time I’d swam in 10 days and the longest swim I’d done since my Catalina swim 6 weeks ago. I’ve been doing 1 or 2 “social swims” (with friends at the club that last less than an hour, nothing serious, and you can spend a lot of it talking) a week and that’s it. I’ve been in the saddle maybe once every other week if I’m lucky and not for a long ride either.

On Sunday I did the Princess Challenge bike ride up in Folsom. A 70-miler would have been no problem for me back in May. Given the lack of my time in the saddle though, this one was HARD. I seriously almost cried during the first third of it as I felt so out of shape and couldn’t keep up with my friends (one who I’m normally faster than). I’d never felt so lonely on the bike. The climb I was on wasn’t that steep or challenging had I been in normal cycling shape. I wasn’t though and knew it. I wasn’t even in gym-3-times-a-week shape. IMO I had no business being out there. The 95+ F temperature didn’t help either. I was miserable. I texted my friend Diana to hang back with me and keep me company. She obliged and I think I must have thanked her for that half a dozen times afterwards and meant every single one of them. There weren’t many people on this ride so without her, I’d have been by myself for almost the entire thing. I was in a foreign mental and emotional place that wasn’t comfortable.

I had time to think about how many people tell me that based on my Facebook posts that that must be how my life really is all the time. Your online persona is whoever you want to make it out to be though. You pick and choose what you share and what your personality is like. That doesn’t mean that’s how you are in real life and definitely not all the time. I can’t stand it when people post every single little thing they’re doing all day every day. I post some positive highlights and what I don’t mind sharing with a lot of people at once. It’s not personal to me. I have a line in my brain on what I want to publicly share and what to keep private. In my mind, Facebook is public (despite my privacy settings). Similar to how there is a fine difference between “tasks completed” and “accomplishments” (mechanical vs achievement), Facebook posts shouldn’t be confused with how one’s life actually is going.

Best scenario I had once was when someone said that I looked like I couldn’t be doing better and was doing all this wonderful stuff and being active all the time and enjoying life to its fullest and must be so happy. My response? “I got dumped yesterday. How are you?”

In general I’m not going to post negative stuff or even mediocre stuff for the whole world to see. There are a lot of things that I like to keep private and don’t really enjoy airing dirty laundry or anything that I’m having to work through and struggle with. I never posted anything on Facebook about my sister’s divorce, my relationship breakups/falling outs, bad days, etc. I found out recently that a loved one’s leukemia has returned and it ripped a hole right through me. Posting it on social media never crossed my mind. Ask me though how I’m doing and I’ll tell you though. Otherwise posting the negative side of my life in a rather public forum seems whiny and/or begging for sympathy/attention. I’m no whiner, beggar or attention whore.

A cousin was very surprised when she found out that I was moving back to SF from Pasadena last year. She cited my Facebook posts of me smiling with my friends down in SoCal and whatnot taking that it meant that I was completely happy being down there. While I love my friends there…what she and all except for a very select few didn’t know was that I was crying myself to sleep almost every night as I was so homesick. Others weren’t surprised when I moved back given how often I was flying between SF and LA to the point where my friend Shawn swore I was cloned because no one could be in that many places at once. Since moving back home I’ve traveled a lot less aside from going to SoCal for my own swims and to help others with theirs.

Have I recovered from my Catalina swim? Physically yes over a month ago. I’ve just needed a break and it’s awesome to be able to not have to do anything in regards to training anymore. I couldn’t keep up with my actual training schedule at the time anyway as I was getting kind of burned out with it before the swim ever happened. I missed having a social life and not having to be somewhere all the freakin’ time. I missed my friends. I missed not feeling guilty if I skipped a swim/spin/gym workout. Training isn’t really a lot of fun. And I had decided back in February that I’d take next year off from anything that required training and was looking forward to it even back then.

I mentally kind of checked out after my Catalina swim despite having the Princess Challenge last weekend and the Levi’s Gran Fondo this Saturday. I really don’t know what I’m going to do about Levi’s. I’m in no shape to do the Gran + Willow Creek that I’d signed up for and was looking forward to earlier this year. It’s painful for me to admit that I’m in no shape to do it right now. Other things have happened though lately that have convinced me that I need to start taking care of myself again which is what I’ve decided is more important. I’m not physically, mentally, or emotionally prepared to go through that ride. My friends Liz and Arianna are up for doing a shorter one which there’s the Gran + Fort Ross + Willow Creek which is shorter and a lot less strenuous while giving the highlights of the Gran route still. I’m thankful that I have them for support during the ride and to stay with me for its duration.

Where would I go after that? Back to my schedule from last winter where I may swim and ride with friends but it’s not a serious every day occurrence. I’ll have those glorious mornings where I get to wake up, make my tea and breakfast, and watch Netflix or read the paper all morning. I’ll get to see my non-swimming/cycling friends again. I’ll get to do a favorite pastime of getting together with a friend to drink beer and bitch about..I mean discuss.. politics and other current events. My normal life is actually a lot more settled than people have come to know over the last several months. Some people only know me as this crazy swimmer/cyclist and don’t know any of the other sides of me as I’m a fairly complex person who has never fit into a mold (nor would I want to). I can actually start to relax now. I feel like I’ve been sheltered the last 6 months while the rest of life has passed me by and I don’t really like it. In a way, it kind of feels like a bit of a detox right now. I’ll have more time for everything else in my life, some that I haven’t gotten to do in several months or years now. You know, like normal people…who happen to swim in the Bay and ocean without a wetsuit and ride 50 – 60 miles at a time.

So do you know the real me? Or are you just guessing based on perceptions from Facebook or elsewhere the last handful of months? How well do you really know me and what my life is like? Have you bothered asking and listening to the response?

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