thank you matt

My close buddy Matt surprised me with a YouTube documentary last weekend of a recent trail race we did together.

Though he’s a father of two, a full-time firefighter / paramedic, and is juggling many other more important personal tasks, he still found time to create a documentary.  And this was the first video he’s ever edited.

There are friends and then there’s Matt.  He’s been by my side through many important life events (including two trips to Leadville, 1 failed attempt in 2017 and this year).  And even though I should be the one thanking him for taking time away from his family to help me with a selfish and personal goal, he spends 100 hours to learn how and then create a professional quality video that I can turn on and re-experience that day for the rest of my life.

Matt’s a special friend.  I’m lucky to know him and I’m a better human because of him.

a beautiful moment

On August 18, we accomplished a 3 year goal, crossing the finish line at the Leadville 100 trail run (see finish below) in 29 hours and 47 minutes (cut off was 30 hours).  To provide context, the Leadville 100 is a historic 100 mile footrace above 10K feet in the mountains of Leadville, Colorado (About Leadville).  We toed the line in August 2017 as well but missed the cut-off time at the 50 mile mark.

The race is technically an individual effort.  Only one buckle is awarded to each finisher.  So why use we?  Because during two attempts, I had my wife, mom, brother, some of my best friends, professional mentors, and other family there as my crew.  And in this sport, your crew does not spectate.  Each of them played critical roles on the team, staying up for days to help prep gear / food, crew aid stations, pace me, and provide whatever support is needed to help me find the finish by 10am Sunday.

At the 24 mile aid station, my mom refilled all my water (I carried 50oz), my wife fed me pb&js, and my brother replaced the gels in my kit.  It was like a nascar pit stop.  At mile 55, my close buddy Matt gave me a pair of dog tags he made for me to remember a fellow teammate and close buddies’ passing just days (who was also supposed to be out there with us that day).  At the time, I didn’t feel like I could take another step but thinking about what my teammate would say to me at that moment combined with the gratitude I felt for Matt and his support helped fuel another gear I never thought I had.  At mile 70, Jenny gave me a big hug with a warm smile.  And my mom rubbed my back and told me how much she loved me.  It was really late and they’ve both been up 24 hours but their love and genuine excitement (I’ve discussed how much this support means to me in a previous post) was contagious.  At mile 80, my former colleague / mentor reminded me of the proud nature of the unit we served in together.  Every so often he would calmly say, noticing a few athletes ahead of us, “fix bayonet scotty” which provided another boost of motivation.  I wanted to compete in a way that made my former community and teammates proud. And my brother, in addition to pacing me 10 miles up a mountain 8 hours earlier, pushed me the final half marathon as our crew nervously waited by the finish.  We were close to the cut-off and needed to move relatively fast to finish.  For a moment around mile 91, I had to take a seat because I wasn’t sure how I would walk another 300 ft, much less 9 miles.  I wasn’t done but I had to gather my thoughts and figure out how I was going to finish.  My bro and I decided to cut the remaining miles into 300 feet run / walk intervals  And this plan worked as it distracted me from what I had left and motivated me to run hard for short bursts so then I could walk.  My bro’s confidence, calm demeanor and ability to problem solve 29 hours into the race were invaluable.  I provide these anecdotes to highlight the value of my team.  There is no way I would not have been able to dig deep enough to travel that distance over that terrain without their support.

So I’m sure you can imagine how I felt when my bro and I crested the final hill just a few hundred yards from the finish and noticed our crew running to us with arms in the air.  After high fives and hugs we locked arms and, with celebratory tears in our eyes, slowly walked across the finish (see video of moment below).

It was a beautiful moment as it was a perfect blend of:

  • the execution of a challenging goal that required years of training and multiple attempts
  • the camaraderie of working in teams in adverse and stressful conditions
  • the rare but genuine support of loved ones that sacrificed to be there on my behalf

In fact, I can confidently say it was and will always be one of the best moments in my life.  One that will go in a box* that I can hopefully, every few years, pull off the shelf, and go back to cresting that final hill with my bro and then walking across the finish line again.  Arm in arm with my crew.

Thanks to all involved, I love you.  And to Buck Smith, always beside you brother.

Thanks so much for your time.

SL

*Trey Anastasio reference (Wading in The Velvet Sea)

toasts

Traditionally in the U.S., on the night before a wedding, the bride and groom will host all of their closest friends and family (and out of town guests) for a dinner which is usually followed by speeches / toasts.  The speeches are meant to give the people closest to the bride and groom a chance to talk to the soon-to-be weds’ best attributes in addition to toasting the prospects of a happy future together.

If you’ve been to a wedding, you know that while most of these speeches are given with the best intentions they are often only meaningful to the people getting married.  The remaining friends and family are either filled with angst about the speech they have to nail or bored because of the exhaustively long string of inside jokes that they don’t understand.

Admittedly, even though I was aware of the downsides of the traditional rehearsal dinner structure, I still wanted my friends to speak highly about me to my new father and mother-in-law.  And my wife was indifferent. So we carried on the somewhat insufferable tradition.

I attended a close buddy’s wedding a few years ago who took a completely different approach. My buddy was also aware of how painful wedding speeches can be to almost everybody involved (except himself and his soon to be wife).  So when planning his rehearsal dinner he kept the speeches in but flipped responsibilities.  Instead of friends and family talking about him, he and his wife took that time to speak about the qualities that made each of the guests special to them.

While I can’t remember most if not all of the takeaways from the speeches at my wedding, I remember everything my buddy said about each of his friends at his.  And I bet he does, too.  That simple but powerful and selfless gesture set the tone for the weekend as he turned one of the more self-involved human traditions into a warm and fulfilling celebration with loved ones.  Pretty cool.

Thanks so much for your time.

SL

projects

For most of my 20s and into my 30s (well, until I got married and had kids), I spent a significant portion of my weekends with friends and family at dive bars in Chicago (my favorite was and will always be The Lodge on State and Division).  I liked dives because they were quiet enough to talk without yelling and because they served coldbeer (one word, please).  Combine the coldbeer with the divey vibes and it was a perfect setting for what was then a weekly catch up that usually covered dating life, work aspirations, current events, entrepreneurial ideas etc.

As a dad of two under two, my time for beers with buddies has been constrained significantly (most of my buddies face similar issues making group hangouts nearly impossible).  Naturally emerging in it’s place are collaborative projects / events with one or more buddies and while different, these projects provide similar benefits as the dive bar did as it gives me the opportunity to connect with friend(s) on a regular basis.

Group projects to date have included:

  • 2 clothing brand projects (1 failed, 1 in process)
  • Reading same book 
  • Competing in same sports event (triathlon in 2008 & 2015, trail run in 2017 & 2018)
  • Improving nutrition (current)
  • Learning to grill (current)
  • Small dollar sports betting (on hiatus)
  • Exchanging music recs (current)
  • Sharing pics of 4Runners (current)

The quantity of friends has diminished since the dive bar days but the quality of the friendships I do have has increased materially.  And these projects have been a catalyst.

Note:  “splendids” is the name of the clothing brand my buddy and I are working on and this blog’s logo (of the salmon-colored stegosaurus) is the splendids’ logo.

authentic support

Last week, and after months of planning, I helped host an event for an organization and cause I’m passionate about.  In the hour leading up to the event (panel style interview live-streamed on social media), I reached out to my wife to let her know about event and remind her to tune in.  But she was already tuned in.  In a way only special people in your life tune in.  Or maybe just special person.  I checked my phone five minutes after I texted her to see if the live feed was up on social and to remind the internet to tune in (i have 72 twitter followers btw so my reach is somewhat limited but…) and not only was she tuned in but she:

  • forwarded the live stream link to all her friends with a sweet message overstating my role and demanding that her friends log on (she’s never on Facebook)
  • sent multiple text messages to my family and her family rallying the troops to check it out
  • texted to say how exciting the event looked and that she pulled off the highway on her commute home to watch
  • made a comment about a random part of the interview toward the end that she would only know if she listened

The event was fulfilling and amazing and all of that but I’m not writing to talk about the event.  The reason the event was extra meaningful was because of the authentic support I had from my wife.  She was 100% engaged in what I was doing in a way where I could feel the love and support the next day (and even a week later).  Pretty cool.

I hope I can be as selfless and as excited and as focused on something she’s into as she was for me last week.  I think we often don’t realize the profound positive impact that type of focused and genuine support can have on someone else.

Thank you JL!

you have to model it

“I think it is all about legacy. I trace it back to my father. I think about all the things that he has taught me about hard work, respecting other people, and about not taking yourself too seriously. Be yourself. Take the high road. It is my responsibility now to pass that on to my sons and daughters. This is the way we live our lives.

You can say it, but you have to model it. Your kids are keen enough to say I know that is what he said, but that is not what he did. You have to be consistent with that. If I boil it all down, one of the things that I try to have taught my kids is to add value. Add value to every situation that you are in. Was the classroom a better place because I was in it or was I a drain? Was I whining? Did I not do my work? What about my interaction with that person at the mall? Did I add value to that? Was it better because I was there or was it worse because I was there? I think you have to be constantly in that mode of making that world a better place because you were there for that moment. Did you diffuse a situation that was getting out of hand or did you put gasoline on it?

You have to add value. I try to model that for my kids.”

– Ernie Johnson, TNT Sports

Watching Ernie Johnson’s ESPN profile tonight at a hotel room in San Antonio, Texas made me think about the impact my dad had on me and a few qualities of his I’d like to pass on to my daughters.  Mom, I have a post for you as well (will share soon, promise)

While my dad hasn’t lived a perfect life, he was a near-perfect dad to me during the first decade and some of the most formative years of my childhood.  Below are a few of the qualities he instilled in me that I want to pass along to my girls.

  1. Reward kindness / empathy over everything:  When I was in the early grades of elementary school, my teacher randomly called my parents to tell them about how I helped a student that was having trouble with the task of the day.  That night and the following weeks to months after the call, my Dad treated me as if I found a cure for cancer.  I’m talking high fives, “I’m so proud of you” repeated over and over for weeks, maybe even a few frozen yogurts on random weeknights.  This response combined with watching him treat people in accordance with the golden rule was enough for me to know how big of a deal my display of kindness was to him.
  2. Reward effort and perseverance over performance:  Another story my dad likes to tell is the time I had diarrhea during a run we went on together when I was 7.  About halfway through the runs, I have an accident.  My dad offered to run home and grab the car and come pick me up but he says I insist on finishing the run.  While that story is embarrassing, I remember watching him tell it with so much pride that it erased the embarrassing elements.
  3. Be there often and without distraction:  My dad ensured he was home every  night at 6pm to eat dinner and read with us.  He did this for at least the first 10-12 years of my life.  He traveled to every soccer game and swim meet, took us to sunday school, and read fiction to us.  He didn’t just log time, he was always there, without distraction.

Thanks dad, and happy father’s day.

18 year email project

My buddy Steve told me shortly after my daughter was born about the email account he set up for his daughter and his routine of sending her letters once a month since birth.  I’ve taken that advice and have emailed my eldest daughter (now 22 months old) on average once per month.  I started sending notes to my youngest daughter (now 5 months) last week.  In order to maintain regularity, I try to write without a specific purpose, just sharing stories and first words and activities we’ve shared since last note.  I add pictures and links to youtube videos for songs I like.  I made a rule to never edit it after so it’s authentic to my feelings at that time.

Thanks Steve, I think this journal via email will be a memorable gift for my daughters, my wife, and me as it will be a tool we can use to tap into old memories and bring them back to life.