Do You Have a Nest?

Yeah, I get tired.

Sometimes, it feels like I am carrying the weight of the world.

Working to make a difference. Hoping to alter perspectives. Showing families that there is hope.

There IS Hope.

I’ve dealt with depression and anxiety in one form or another since I was 12. I’m 43.

When Leah was a toddler, there were days I got out of bed, just so she wouldn’t see me “setting the example” of staying in bed until 2 in the afternoon. (It didn’t save her from it.)

When the weather turns, we turn to bed. It’s one of the less awesome things I’ve passed on to my kids. We call it, “Becoming one with the mattress.”

“Hey, it’s mom. You okay? You getting out of bed before noon? I’m only asking because I’m struggling.”

Truth be told, it’s kind of nice to have a community of family members who get it. People who just check in when there’s a certain feeling in the air.

I’ve asked those around me to please not judge me when I spend a day in bed. You see, hearing, “Oh my God! You’re still in bed?” doesn’t really help. If you’ve never needed to stay in bed all day, just to get through a day, be grateful you don’t understand.

One day I sent this to Aaron:

Later that day, he had made me a nest.  <3

Special thanks to www.robot-hugs.com for nailing it, and also for giving me permission to use the above image. Special thanks to our friends at The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (Utah) who support human beings when they are feeling more than sad.

Baby-Wearing ~ Toddler-Wearing ~ Eleven-Year-Old-Wearing

When my daughter Leah was born in 1996 I knew that I would wear her. Baby wearing was new to Salt Lake City, Utah and people always stopped and stared as I passed by. Even more people stopped to look when my husband Aaron carried little Leah in the sling. We loved slinging her! I could nurse her privately in public. I could take her anywhere, keeping her close, and still having my hands free.

We didn’t own a stroller and we had no interest in getting one. Leah was comfortable living out of her “pouch” and experiencing the world closer to our eye-level rather than from the compartment-like stroller. We wore her through the streets of Boston, on a ferry to and from Martha’s Vineyard, and on the subway in New York City. She snuggled up against us in Los Angeles, at the beach, and most everywhere we went. Aaron and I marveled at how cumbersome those adventures would have been if her main mode of transportation had been a stroller.

Marthas Vineyard 1997

When Leah was fourteen months old we found out that she was deaf. In dealing with her diagnosis I felt all sorts of things, but one thing that I felt was a bit of satisfaction—satisfaction that my child had traveled that first year with the comfort of her mommy’s or daddy’s heartbeat nearby. Even if she couldn’t hear it, she was always close enough to feel it. She took in the world visually from her “perch” even though she was missing everything auditorily. She could see our smiles, feel our kisses and she had the confidence of feeling safe in our arms. We wore her that way until she was over three years old.

Our daughter Lucy was born prematurely at thirty-two weeks gestation and weighed 4 lbs 11 oz. She was born with spina bifida, and on top of that was diagnosed with cerebral palsy at nine months of age. The prospect of Lucy ever mastering walking was slim. I already knew that we could easily postpone the loading and unloading of a wheelchair simply by carrying Lucy in a sling, though I had no idea how far we would end up taking it…or her.

Lucy is now eleven years old and weighs fifty pounds. She is four feet, two inches tall and yes, we can still be seen wearing her. It’s not for the comfort or ease of it any more—quite the opposite. Carrying Lucy is a personal mission and always a personal triumph. We are an active family and I guess we just refused to live within the limitations imposed by a wheelchair. We travel. We camp. We hike. We go to the beach. Many of the places we go are out of the way, and the roads we travel are unpaved. Aaron and I knew that leaving Lucy at home wasn’t even an option that we would consider. Yet surrendering to a life where so much of the world’s natural beauty would be unavailable to us because an inconvenience like spina bifida wiped out our child’s ability to walk, seemed unfair to us all.

Aaron and I decided that we would become strong enough to carry Lucy. We would take her off-road, beyond the pavement where waterfalls and natural arches and hoodoos can be seen. We would be her legs. We take her up slot canyons, through coniferous forests and bring her almost face to face with moose. I have pointed out wildflowers and taught her their names as we‘ve hiked to lakes in Glacier National Park. She’s seen the mud pots and geysers of Yellowstone, and yes, she has seen the waterfalls too. In winter, when she was invited up the canyon for a snow day, I wore Lucy on my back as we tromped through snowdrifts that were thigh high!

Back in 1996 when I slipped little Leah into a sling and adjusted it so she was safely against me, I never imagined that I would be wearing my children for the next 15 years. I never imagined carrying a ten-year-old and having that child thank me for doing it as she takes in nature’s beauty. People still stop and stare, that hasn’t changed. Strangers and friends ask, “How long will you keep carrying her?” and I don’t have an answer. Honestly, I don’t know. I just know that I will carry her as long as I can.

Here are some photos of places we’ve carried Lucy. Each caption has the year, and since Lucy was born in the year 2000, the math needed to figure out her age is pretty easy.

Aaron Lucy and a Moose 2005

Aaron and Lucy in Moab 2008

Mammoth Hot Springs Yellowstone 2009

Uncle Toms Trail Yellowstone 2009

Goblin Valley Utah 2009

Hiking through Albion Basin 2010

Big Cottonwood Canyon 2010

How We Carry Our Eleven-Year-Old
We use a number of different packs and we are continually making modifications. Originally we carried the girls in Over The Shoulder Baby Holders. Now we have a custom Baby Hawk, we call it a Lucy Hawk, a Deuter Kid Comfort III, an Organic Ergo Baby*, and an old framed Kelty pack. Any time we see a pack that looks useful we get it especially if it’s rated for a child weighing 50 pounds or more.

*The Ergo Baby Carrier was given to us for free by the good folks at ErgoBaby. All of the other carriers listed were purchased.

And THEN There Were Crocodiles

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away… (Actually it was just a few years ago and right here in Salt lake City) …I had received a “cocktail” of yellow fever, measles, mumps, rubella, meningitis, and Hep A, as well as B! That sounds worse that it was, especially out of context. It also sounds like I should have been admitted to the Center for Disease Control, but I wasn’t. I was just leaving our country and going third world.

Yes, just a few years ago- Alex, Leah, Aaron, Derek and I (plus a few more) were in Ghana, Africa working and playing with deaf children there.

Did you know I have another blog? Yep, I kept a journal of both of my 2008 trips to Ghana. So, in your spare time 🙂 hop on over there and have a looksy and take a box of tissue with you.

Those trips to Africa still impact my life. There was a part of Ghana that inspired me to stop being such a consumer. I became painfully aware of the bags of garbage versus the bags of materials to be recycled that we took to the curb each week. We began recycling more and started buying less packaged food and more real food.

In Ghana, all of the students were so lean and strong. (hungry?) They do chores early in the morning. They walk to school. They study and play soccer. They carry buckets of water on their head’s without using their hands. If you are “soft” it is because you are wealthy. Your soft because you can afford to be fat, where most cannot. Let’s just say I was tired of looking wealthy and knew that if that wasn’t enough to motivate me, I have a daily reminder that someone else was depending on me being physically strong… Lucy. I changed my eating habits, my physical exercise habits and health habits. I began my personal “1 pound per week challenge” which is how I ultimately lost over 30 pounds that year. Sometimes when I am on my treadmill, I try to imagine what the Ghanaians would think of it. I imagine they would be baffled at the idea of people running on treadmills or lifting weights in a gym. For some reason, that makes me smile. On the days I don’t want to run, I just think of my cutie in her wheelchair and I tell myself not to take anything for granted… On those days I say to myself, “Rachel, run because you CAN!”

Before I went to Ghana I often found myself looking around and feeling that there wasn’t enough _______. (fill in the blank) Or we didn’t have enough __________. Coming home, I was no longer complaining about what we didn’t have, quite the opposite! I was suddenly embarrassed by how MUCH we had, even though nothing had changed except my perspective. We cleared out excess clothes, shoes, coats and toys from our closets and we donated them.

I still receive emails from our friend Marco and I’m proud to say that last year The Signing Time Foundation helped pay for part of his college tuition in Ghana.

Going to Ghana also pushed my adventure limits. Nothing like eating unrecognizable food,

having nowhere to wash your hands and “showering” with gray well-water.

There were giant spiders that came out at night.

A chorus of goats and chickens and taxis honking throughout the night. There were tearful braids and men with machetes.

And of course… of course there were crocodiles and a broken paddleboat.

My performance schedule for 2011 is too full to go to Ghana this year, I really do not have a ten day window available. I am working with Signs of Hope International to confirm a date for 2012. Signs of Hope is always putting together groups of volunteers to work in the schools in Ghana, you can also help from home, by donating to help pay for a deaf child’s schooling.

Overall they are a cool group doing a good thing.

They Are Gonna Love You

Okay, so you all know that The Signing Time Family is growing… right? No… literally, our families are expanding with more children. (This is not about another DVD or board book)

Yes, my sister Emilie just had her third child, a baby girl, six weeks ago… still nameless… I know. Get over it. She almost has a name. But, I already blogged about that.

This… this… I haven’t ever blogged about.

You see… well, now I have an announcement to make…

Some of you may want to sit down for this one.

No. I mean it.

Sit down.

I have a third child as well… and it’s a girl!

But, before you start mailing pink baby outfits and headbands with big flowers on them… keep reading.

Oh Heavens… where to start? Ummm, ok, so you know how on my CD “Shine” there’s that song “Nobody Would Know”? and in the liner notes it talks about how that was the very first song that I ever wrote and that I wrote it when I was 17 years-old? And some of you had written to me wondering how it could be that I wrote a song like that BEFORE having Leah and Lucy. Some of you listened to a certain line in that song and thought… “Wait a minute!!! Could it be?” But then you know that I share a lot. I share the good, the bad, and the awkward and you convinced yourself that something THAT big, would’ve been shared by now.

So, here’s the thing. The truth is… I don’t share everything. Especially when it might impact someone else’s privacy, their life, and their choices. I don’t share it, even if it’s indescribably intertwined with my life, my experiences, and even if it has totally shaped who I am and why I care about the things I care about. Vague enough for you? Well, cut me some slack. This isn’t easy.

The day after Mother’s Day, I sat down to my desk after getting Lucy out the door and on the school bus. I opened my computer, opened Facebook and collapsed on my keyboard in helpless and happy sobs as I saw the message that I had waited more than eighteen years to receive.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Facebook Private Message

    Laura S. May 9 at 4:53pm
    Happy Mother’s Day 🙂 You’re always in my prayers and in my heart.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Aaron walked in and seeing my state asked, “Ray? What happened?”
“LOOK!!!” I could barely speak, the message may have been short but it was enough to level me emotionally and immediately, “IT’S… IT’S TODAY!” Aaron looked at my screen and started crying too. We hugged each other and sobbed and laughed and sobbed some more in happy disbelief.

Aaron had waited 15 years for this moment. I had told him on our very first date about the baby girl I had placed for adoption. He hadn’t even blinked when I told him. It wasn’t something he fought to deal with or accept. He just told me about his very close friends who had gone through the same thing and he told me how much respect he had for anyone who could give their child to someone else. Through the years Aaron has held me as I cried on my baby’s birthday, on Mother’s Day and the countless other times I found myself mourning the loss of my very first baby girl. I had only held her in my arms for three days, but my heart has never let her go.

I messaged her back as quickly as I could type.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Rachel de Azevedo-Coleman May 10 at 8:41am
    You just made the last 18 years of my life!
    I don’t think you can possibly fathom how much I adore you. How much I have missed you.
    How much I love you!
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I could hardly function that day as I waited for her response. I had a news interview about running the Salt Lake Half-Marathon and honestly I didn’t even shower before the news crew arrived. I was glued to my computer screen waiting to see what words she might grace me with next. Words I had waited almost 2 decades to read.

The previous day, Mother’s Day, I had started crying as we drove from the luncheon with my mom, to dinner with Aaron’s mom. We were in the car around 5:00pm. “What is she waiting for?” Tears streamed down my cheeks. “I mean… it’s not like I really thought she was going to show up on my front porch the day she turned 18, but I guess I didn’t realize how that date… how that was the date I was living for… I don’t know. I always imagined that I would be at her high school graduation… What is she waiting for?”

I can’t tell you how many times, since 1992, I had calculated how old I would be in 2010. Especially in the beginning, when I’d wake in the middle of the night hearing the echo of my baby’s cries in my head, I just needed a goal. I thought if I could hold on until then… it would be okay. February 2010 was my “finish line.” But, her 18th birthday had already come and gone. Leah, Lucy, Aaron and I had celebrated by going out to dinner and we had cupcakes. We’ve celebrated her birthday every year.

“Mommy,” four-year-old Leah signed to me enthusiastically, “I’m your first baby. Lucy is your second baby. I’m the oldest!”

      “Nope. Remember?” I pointed to the smiling baby pictured in the gold, sun-shaped frame on the mantel. “She’s my first baby. You are my second baby and Lucy is my third baby.”

“Oh! I forgot!” Which sounded like “Oh I-per-dot.”
Leah and Lucy grew up seeing the baby on the mantel smiling down on them.

“Mom, I hate this!” Twelve-year-old Leah threw herself down on my bed in tears. “I hate that I have a big sister, but I don’t have a big sister! I really need one right now! I don’t understand how you were ‘too young’ to keep her, but only four years later you were suddenly old enough to have and keep me!”

When I was seventeen I really did believe that nobody would know or really understand how much I hurt and how much I suffered. I guess I was too young to imagine that my future children would inherit the pain and that they would share my loss.

After Mother’s Day dinner with Aaron’s family, we came home, put the girls to bed and watched a movie. My phone had died at some point that day. I went to bed with no idea that while I was crying in the car, my oldest daughter had already reached out to me.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Laura S. May 10 at 2:11pm
    I think it’s been 18 years too long. I should have made contact sooner. I love and miss you and my little sisters. 🙂
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Each message started a new wave of tears. “She said ‘my little sisters'” Aaron cried, “she didn’t call them her half-sisters.”

In the world of adoption, I think we all just want to be wanted.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    Rachel de Azevedo-Coleman May 10 at 5:21pm
    We are ready when you are. I haven’t told Leah and Lucy yet because they would both be sitting in the car waiting to drive down to meet you.
    Lucy has said if she ever got a wish from “Make A Wish” she would only wish to meet you.
    I have a million things I want to tell you and there are a million things I want to know. I want to hear all of your stories. I want to hear you sing. I want to see you perform. I’m nervous and thrilled and I don’t want to mess anything up. I’m afraid of disappointing you. I’m afraid of overwhelming you. AND I’m supposed to be a grown up here!
    Mostly I’m afraid I’ll wake up just like all the other times I’ve been this close… I’ll wake up and find it’s just another dream.
    ~R
    PS- you are just so beautiful!
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

My heart is healed.

The happiest day of my life”

So, are you going to tell your Signing Time fans?”

      “Of course I am… I’m just trying to figure out how. I mean… people’s heads are gonna spin!”
          “Yeah, I bet you probably don’t want them to know that you had a baby when you were 17.”
      “WHAT? That is not it at all. Laura, look at me. I am not embarrassed or ashamed. You are not a secret! I don’t care what anyone thinks! I’ve been waiting for you for… for your whole life! I am so happy I want to shout it from the rooftops! I love you! We love you! And you know what?
      They are gonna love you too!”

Here’s to 18 Years of Laughter

Set Your Feet Free

Ok, a lot of you asked about my “weird” “strange” “ugly” “funky” shoes when I blogged about running the half-marathon with Leah, Lucy, Aaron and friends back in April. Here’s the inside scoop on running “barefoot.” You can also see this article posted on Athleta.com

Set Your Feet Free

I started running “barefoot” last October after reading the book “Born To Run” by journalist and ultra-marathon runner Christopher McDougall. The book is a great read and I was a fan after reading it but THEN I sent Chris some questions and he actually wrote me back, so now I’m a fan for life! As I was saying… in the book he talks about, among many interesting things, a study that showed the correlation between the price of your running shoes and injuries is this— the more expensive the shoe the higher rate of injury. This concerned me because I have been running in high-end shoes for years now. My shoes have a price tag of $174.00. I have survived… but my last few races I did say, “Hello” to my left knee and noticed my achilles was acting up. I wondered if my racing days were coming to a quick close. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to leave the pricey shoes in my closet and pick up a pair of $80 Vibram FiveFingers.

I was thrilled to see Suzie Cooney’s Athleta Chi article, “Born Free: Barefoot Running” because Suzie did a great job of explaining the mechanics behind running barefoot and she shared credible references. I am more of the grab a pair, put them on and go kind of girl. I did just that.

I put on my Vibram FiveFingers in October. I knew I wasn’t supposed to just take off running vast mileage so I wore the shoes around town and to the gym, at the airport and the grocery store.

In December I was corralled waiting for the start of the Las Vegas Rock & Roll Half-Marathon and I noticed a man wearing FiveFingers! I wanted to ask him about them and how he got up to training for his half marathon in them, but I didn’t say anything to him. (Silly me) I was running in my high-end shoes because I knew that I hadn’t built up enough “barefoot” miles.

In April I ran the 2010 Salt Lake City Half-Marathon “barefoot.” I was running the race with my husband, Aaron, my thirteen-year-old daughter Leah, while pushing my ten-year-old daughter Lucy in a jog stroller and that combination took most of my attention.

It was only around mile 10 that I even remembered that I was running the race “barefoot” and smiled that something that had seemed like such a big deal only four months back had almost gone unnoticed.

Here is how I conditioned my feet for the race.

Like I said, I wore my Five Fingers around town and to the gym for my workouts. I was doing 20 minutes of cardio three days a week. My feet held up great.

When you start wearing them, you will notice changes in your gait. You just can’t comfortably run heel-to-toe in a shoe that was not created to force that movement. Think about a child, they don’t run heel-to-toe. Take off your shoes and sprint on the grass. You probably won’t run heel-to-toe either. Your feet will stretch and feel the ground beneath them. Your toes will spread out and actively participate in your run.

Get comfortable with your new gait and then start adding time and miles. One of the first things I noticed was that my calves hit a new burn level. Living in Utah, I waited until enough snow had melted before I transitioned my training from the treadmill to the streets, my calves were on fire again. I run “barefoot” in the rain, but the snow is just too cold. Running in the rain is great especially when you circle back around to look at your cute footprints.

Listen to your body and listen to your feet. If your feet are slapping the ground and making a lot of noise, you might be tired. Slow down or walk. I love running in the grass and on trails and I think it’s kinder and easier on your feet. If you think about it concrete and pavement weren’t created with barefoot running in mind… at all.

For snowy days I have picked up a pair of Nike Free 5.0. These shoes are Nike’s answer to the minimalist’s shoe.

The following is the three-day per week half-marathon training I followed while also conditioning my feet for the “barefoot” run. This is a great beginner half-marathon training program modified by our trainer Kasey Payzant. This is the schedule she uses to train children and teens and the rest of us who don’t have the time to get four runs in each week. If you are not yet up to running 3 miles you can add 2-3 weeks to the top of this training. You may want to start with 1 mile, 1 mile, 2 miles the first week. Followed by 1.5 miles, 1.5 miles, 2 miles the next week and continue with 2 miles, 2 miles, 3 miles the following week, then follow the program below. If you are training for your first half-marathon, barefoot or soled, choose your race and get your calendar out. Work backwards from the race day week by week. You do not want to finish your training without a race to run. Similarly, you probably wont finish your training if you haven’t actually registered for your half-marathon. Don’t give yourself an out.

Barefoot Running: running with nothing on your feet.
“Barefoot” Running: running with minimal foot protection.

Strong Enough for Nina

Last December I received an email with the subject, “I was her legs today. You had a part of it.” Ellen was writing to me from the Ukraine where she was in the process of adopting a little girl. Her email shared how my “Strong Enough” post had arrived in her inbox with perfect timing, timing that changed her family and changed their world. I was so touched, I asked her to please join me here as my first Guest Blogger. Here is their story:

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
STRONG ENOUGH FOR NINA

After our youngest daughter was born with Down syndrome, we embarked in the most life altering journey of our lives. She had enriched our lives in meaningful and powerful ways. For this reason, I had spent almost two years looking at the faces of children on Reece’s Rainbow, an International Adoption Ministry for children with Down syndrome. I had fallen in love with many of them, praying that they would find forever families and wondering if any of them were meant to be ours. My husband Andy and I knew that adoption was in our future, but unlike me, he had not felt inclined to inquire about any of the children, so I waited. Occasionally, I would visit Reece’s Rainbow “Other Angels” page. These are the children with other special needs.

It was a late night in July, as I scrolled down the faces, I heard him say while he looked over my shoulder,

“Wait! Scroll back up a little”

I did.

“Right there” he said pointing to a beautiful smiling face, “That little girl looks just like a Stumbo.”

I stared intently at her face.

“Look at her eyes” he added, “She looks just like my sister.”

I got up to find our baby book. A small scrapbook I had made with our baby pictures before our oldest daughter was born. I returned to find him still studying the little face. I opened it up to the first picture and held it up next to the computer screen.

“Honey” I said, “She doesn’t look like your sister, she looks just like you.”

We stared at the photographs, blown away by the strong resemblance.

“You should ask what country she is from and if they have any more information on her.”

“Are you serious?” I asked excited.

“We have been talking about having another child, maybe our next child will come to us through adoption.”

“Does it say what her diagnosis is?” I asked

“Yes” he responded, “Cerebral Palsy”

Cerebral Palsy. The words were heavy, they fell on my heart and threatened to crush it. Cerebral Palsy? I could do Down syndrome, but Cerebral Palsy?

We decided to give ourselves some time to think and pray. We researched Cerebral Palsy and invited our close friends and family to help us sort through our thoughts and feelings. The fact that we wanted to adopt another child with special needs, did not mean that the time was now. I was scared about her disability and my ability to parent her. Could we do it? Could I do it?

As it is in many European countries, children with special needs are transferred from orphanages to institutions by the age of four. Once children arrive in these institutions, many die within the first year. We knew that time was of the essence, and if we were going to be serious about this, we needed to make a commitment to her soon.

It was during this time of “reflection,” that Rachel Coleman wrote her post, “Strong Enough to Be Her Mom.” It was a story about Lucy. Lucy, her beautiful daughter with Cerebral Palsy, her inspiration to be “strong enough.” Was she “strong enough to show her a word beyond sidewalks and ramps?” Would she be Lucy’s yes in a world of no’s?

Rachel didn’t know that the message she had shared in her story, was about to change the life of a little girl half way across the world. She didn’t know that she was asking me, “Ellen, will you be strong enough to be Nina’s mother? Will you show her a world beyond the walls of an orphanage? Will you be her yes?”

Tears started to trickle down my cheeks, they soon became a steady stream, and eventually the flood gates opened up and I was sobbing. I remembered what Andy had said earlier in the day, “She might have Cerebral Palsy but she still deserves a mommy and a daddy that will love her and believe in her potential.”

Talking about Rachel Coleman or Signing Time is common in our house. Our daughter walks around the house holding Rachel’s picture (sometimes she even needs to look at her while sitting at the dinner table) and constantly asks for a video or the music. We know all the songs, and almost all the signs. So when I told my husband I had just read Rachel’s last blog post and began to cry as soon as I said her name, he was sure I had had enough “singing time, and dancing time, and laughing time, and playing time.” But through tears I told him about Lucy and Rachel “I will be Nina’s yes, I will be strong enough for her” I said.

Four months later I held a sweet little girl with Cerebral Palsy in my arms. My daughter Nina.

For almost 4 years she had lived in one room. A room where she slept, ate, and played. Her life consisted of four walls. Even within the walls she had limitations due to her mobility. And while other children might have been taken outside to play once in a while, she stayed behind.

The first day that I was allowed to see her room my heart broke to a million pieces. It broke for the orphans, it broke for those children with special needs nearing their 4th birthday, and it especially broke for Nina.

I asked if I could take her outside to play, I could see other children on the orphanage grounds through the window. They said I couldn’t take her out because she couldn’t walk. I said I would carry her. They said it would be too hard, she couldn’t be carried like a “normal” child. I said I didn’t care. They said I didn’t understand. I said she was my daughter. They rolled their eyes, got her dressed, and put her in a wobbly, metal stroller.

After only a few minutes, I took Nina out of the stroller, it was impossible to maneuver on the uneven ground. I decided she could point and tell me where she wanted to go. As we walked around she would look at me and smile. The reality of her life continuing to sink in my heart. Her world was so limited not only because of being an orphan, but because of her CP. Her world limited to a room. Nobody was there to open her world. Nobody was there to be her “yes.”

I thought about Rachel and Lucy. When Rachel does not feel like running she still runs because she can and because Lucy needs her to be strong enough.

Nina had never had someone stand before a road, willing to explore, to walk, to be her legs. Nobody ever had, and in this place, nobody ever would. Would I be her “yes”? And when necessary, would I be her legs? Emotion welled up inside me, it needed to come out, to be released. So what did I do? I took off running. With Nina sitting awkwardly on my hip, we ran as fast as I could and for as long as I could. We ran, and we ran, and we ran.

Joy, there was pure joy in my daughter’s face! Because in that moment she had legs and in that moment she could run! It was pure bliss!

A worker shook her head at us. She wore a disapproving frown. But on that day disapproval was tossed away, and a child felt the cold wind on her face and ran! Ran with her mama!

That moment birthed determination in me. I will be her yes. I will be strong enough. And when necessary, I will also be her legs.

There are many children with special needs in Eastern Europe and other parts of the world. Reece’s Rainbow seeks to find families for these children. So just like Rachel challenged me, I will challenge you. Will you be a “yes” for one of these children?
Will you be strong enough?

Ellen and Nina

Ellen and Nina

You can visit Ellen’s Blog here: www.elliestumbo.blogspot.com

Your Bike Is Calling Your Name

Your Bike Is Calling Your Name…
(and it wants you to ride 100 miles)
Originally posted on Athleta’s Chi Blog

You know the bike that’s in your garage? Yeah, you know the one. It’s the one that’s hanging upside down and taunting you every time you park your vehicle. Well, it’s summer and it’s time to dust that bike off. It’s time to sit down and RIDE!

I know the concerns you have because I have them too. I got my very first road bike for my birthday last October and it promptly snowed. Was I secretly thankful? Maybe. All winter my bike was there reminding me that when it finally did warm up I was likely to be flat on my back at the first stop if I forgot about those clipless pedals. It was reminding me that either the right brake or the left brake was the better one to use on a steep downhill grade. Which one was it though? How about those gears… all of them! Would I ever really figure them out? Let’s not forget traffic! Yikes! Vehicles zooming by and I don’t know the hand signals and what if drivers are texting and never even see me until…

Yes. There are a lot of “what ifs.”

There are also just as many “so whats!”

I would never figure it out if I never got on my bike. The same goes for you.

So here it is… an invitation from your two-wheeled friend.

Find A Buddy
I started talking about wanting to ride my new bike and suddenly I found a lot of people who were also putting off riding. My neighbor Krista hadn’t been on her bike in two years. She was happy to get back on and show me the ropes and I wasn’t too concerned about my complete rookie-ness holding her back. She mapped out a 13-mile ride, which seemed reasonable.

Ride Your Bike
Guess what? Riding 13 miles was much easier than running 13 miles. Even my heart rate monitor agreed. I was impressed by the amazing efficiency of this machine!

Register for an Event
The following week Krista and I scheduled a 26-mile ride, a good distance since I have a triathlon coming up in July with a 26-mile cycling portion. Yes, I registered for a triathlon when I had not yet been on my road bike. Talk about motivation to get cycling. Registering for an event will get you on your bike.

Register for Another Event That Makes A Difference
Later that week, while feeling especially optimistic, I registered for the MS 150, a two-day ride that benefits the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Only after registering did I learn that my team was not planning on riding 150 miles over two days, they were planning on 175 miles over two days (just breathe). Later that week our MS 150 team “Saddle Soar” knocked out a 36-mile ride. I was feeling pretty good, even though I still didn’t have the confidence to drink from my water bottle while actually in motion. When I forgot to start my heart rate monitor I didn’t dare attempt to push that tiny watch button while still cycling. I didn’t know how to change a flat. I was definitely the “weakest link” and I was pleasantly surprised at how supportive everyone was.

Participate in a Supported Ride
Having only three rides under my belt and the MS 150 coming up in a few weeks, I wanted to experience a supported ride and I didn’t have much time. Little Red Riding Hood, an all women ride, had come highly recommended and had been on my calendar, but registration had quickly closed at 3000 participants. Luckily, two days prior to the ride a registration ticket fell into my lap! This ticket was for 58 miles and that felt just about right for my fourth ride.

Ride With People Who Inspire/Push You
The night before Little Red Riding Hood my friend Stephanie said, “You know Rachel, if you can ride 36 miles you can ride 80.” I questioned this philosophy, but Stephanie, who has tackled a number of century rides (that’s 100 miles) and even took on LOTOJA (206 miles in one day), was adamant. “No really, if you can ride 36 miles you can ride 80.” Stephanie and her friend Judy were both planning on riding 80 miles and they were considering 100 miles.

“Ok, I’ll try for 80.” Mostly I didn’t want to commit because… well… what if something hurt… like REALLY hurt. My muscles might cramp up. I might crash. If everything went smoothly I would do 80 miles, and by “smoothly” I meant that I didn’t want to suffer through it and I wasn’t willing to hurt myself.

The weather was perfect. The ride was beautiful! Farmlands, rolling hills, snowcapped mountains, bright blue skies and white fluffy clouds were awe-inspiring. “Wow, this is beautiful! Wow!”

Around mile 56 I got a flat tire. There were plenty of volunteers in SAG wagons watching for this very thing. Within two minutes a red pick-up truck was by my side and a friendly volunteer changed my flat.

By the time I arrived at the place where the 80-mile and the 100-mile routes split some interesting logic had been going through my mind. Trust me, four hours on a bike allows for a lot of thinking time. 100 miles suddenly seemed reasonable! Why stop at 80 when I was only 20 miles away from completing my first century?

Somehow it seemed easier to just ride 100 today… and that’s what I did.

My fourth ride.
My first century!

I did not wake up on Saturday morning thinking that I was going to ride 100 miles that day. I can honestly say I couldn’t have done it… and sure wouldn’t have done it without Steph and Judy.

And guess what? I can now start my heart rate monitor while riding, though I still haven’t dared to drink from my water bottle without stopping first.

Can’t you just hear your bike calling your name?

For a list of Women-Only rides check out this article on Cycle & Style– an online cycling magazine for women.

Aaron and I are riding the MS150 in memory of his sweet cousin Kolleen.
To make a donation and sponsor me in the upcoming MS150 click here!
To make a donation and sponsor my cute husband Aaron in the MS150 click here!

Run With Your Life: Part 2 – No Exceptions

Once upon a time~
Someone sent me a link to a video about Team Hoyt. This was a long, long time ago. As I watched this father push his son, I was floored. I was inspired. It gave new meaning to “strong enough.” At the time I didn’t think that it had much to do with me, but I never forgot those images. I never forgot the love.

Last year when I registered for both half-marathons, I admit, I checked the rules. I looked to see if a stroller or a wheelchair would be allowed. The rules clearly stated that wheelchairs and strollers were NOT allowed. Did I secretly give a sigh of relief? Maybe. I’ll never tell.

This year I checked the rules again as I registered for the Salt Lake City Half-Marathon. Nothing had changed. In fact it stated “No wheelchairs. No strollers. No exceptions.” I was checking the rules for myself… sort of, I mean Lucy hadn’t even asked about it. I just wondered how it was that Team Hoyt seemed to find so many races that would allow them to participate when so far I was ZERO for Three.

And then one day not too long ago she said it…
I was in the kitchen. Lucy was on the sofa reading. She looked up and said, “I really want to run a half-marathon.” My heart sank just a little because… I had already looked. I already knew the answer was “no.” I smiled at my daughter and said, “That would be fun wouldn’t it?” But, I could still see the words “No Exceptions” clearly in my mind.

When Leah registered to run the half-marathon with us there was a part of me that felt even worse! What was I going to say now? “Sorry Lucy, see Leah’s just deaf and you… well, you got a bummer deal on the ol’ legs. You can’t walk and you can’t run so you get to stay home with a babysitter. Chalk one up for spina bifida and cerebral palsy.”

More than two weeks had passed since I made the call. YES, I made the call. I set the girls up with their homework and I went outside on the front porch. I shut the front door and I called the Race Director. I got his voicemail and I left the most compelling message I could muster up. In the face of No Exceptions, I was just committed (or crazy) enough to ask for one anyhow. I actually said, “I am calling to ask you to make an exception.” (Bwahahaha!)

Weeks went by and no one called me back, so I posted “Run With Your Life” and I only talked about Leah joining us in the race which was exciting and amazing and… I knew something was missing. You knew it too. You asked about Lucy in your comments.

Then… two days later I got word.
THEY WOULD MAKE AN EXCEPTION!
Lucy was in!!!

I might have jumped up and down in my front yard and whooped and hollered a bit. I just might have.

I couldn’t wait to tell Lucy. As soon as she was off the school bus and the bus engine had faded enough for us to talk I told her, “Lucy, I have really exciting news! You can do the half-marathon with us! We can all run as a family!” Lucy’s eyes were wide with disbelief. She put out her arms to hug me. Her eyes welled with tears. “Can you believe it Lucy?” I asked.

Still slightly shocked she looked up at me with a huge smile and said in a half whisper, “I am going to get a medal!”

We hadn’t been training with her and now the race was only a month away. We didn’t even own a jog-stroller. I called my friend Mike at Baby Bling Design Co. I knew that even though he doesn’t make the kind of stroller that I needed, he could tell me what I needed and point me in the right direction to find it. Like I said Mike doesn’t make that kind of stroller but as luck would have it he just happened to have one that he had used as a prototype for sheepskin stroller inserts. He had been trying to figure out what to do with this brand new jog-stroller in his warehouse. (Are you kidding me?) Within two hours of our “exception” Mike had donated the stroller and it was on its way to us!

And that’s how it happened that THIS Saturday Aaron, Rachel, Leah and Lucy Coleman will ALL be participating in the Salt Lake City Half-Marathon!!!
You can jump up and down a bit and even whoop and holler. I wont tell. Or better yet, if you are in town we would love to have you cheer us on. I think we’ll be pretty easy to spot… see, we’ll be the ones with the stroller.

Run With Your Life - No Exceptions

~With special thanks to Team Hoyt for paving the way and special thanks to The Salt Lake City Marathon Race Director, Scott Kerr for being a “Yes” in a world full of “No”

Run With Your Life

At the beginning of 2010 I set a goal to complete my first triathlon and to run two half-marathons. (I like to do my marathons one half at a time.) And while I was setting goals, I decided to go for breaking my personal record of running 13.1 miles in 2:05:02. This year I will break the 2-hour mark.

Do I really think life is going to simply unfold just the way I plan it? You would think by now that I would know better than that.

Here’s what happened…

My 11-year-old nephew Alex (yep, that’s the Alex you all know and love) joined a Run Club. He began running three days a week after school with trainer Kasey Payzant and her club, which includes about twenty-five kids, ages six to eighteen. Then… my 13-year-old daughter Leah joined. Most of the parents drop their kids off to run for an hour, and pick their kids up later. That’s fine for most parents, especially since the Run Club is geared toward kids, but my husband Aaron and I like to do things a little different so we asked if “big kids” like us, could join too.

By the time we joined, many of the kids in Run Club had already committed to running the Salt Lake City Half-Marathon in April. Aaron and I were already registered. Last year, Aaron and I ran two half-marathons and we crossed the finish line before our two daughters, sleeping soundly at home, had even woken up. Come to think of it, we go to the gym when our kids are at school. Aaron and I often hit the ski slopes right after the bus picks up Lucy for school in the morning. My kids haven’t seen and may not even know about most of the physical activity and training that goes on in their parents’ lives!

And then… Kasey, our trainer, did something I had never thought to do.   Continue reading

Finding My Inspiration

For me there was one thing… one thing I really wanted to accomplish just to prove to myself that I was still alive. Sure I was married, I had kids, and I had a company, but I wanted to work toward something for me. Just for me.

It was 2003 and the conversation with my husband went like this, “Hey, Aaron. If you buy me an iPod, I’ll run a marathon.” (Silence)
“Are you serious?” he asked.
“Yeah. Why not?” I answered.

Within a matter of days I came home and found a brand new iPod on our bed. He took the bait… and I had something to shoot for, plus I had a promise to fulfill.

I need motivation. I do. I need deadlines, and registration fees, and pressure. I need accountability. I ran a 10K once, but other than that, when I started training for that marathon I had never participated in any other sporting or racing event, by choice, in my entire life. I don’t even have one of those soccer trophies that seem to come with a good American childhood.

As a kid, I hated physical education. I thought it was torturous. Really? Can’t we just skip my turn at bat, or do I have to go through striking out and total humiliation in front of my peers?

Continue reading