BJR and NVB in NZ

In August of 1997, I was done working for a morally bankrupt company (Trilogy) and planned to start Reactivity with John and Brian in January of the next year.

So I took two months off, and with my girlfriend at the time (who later graduated to ex-wife), we cycled for two months around New Zealand.

Wow, this is a really positive sounding start to a blog.

On October 28th, 2016, I returned to New Zealand for the first time – and had to relearn its magic all over again. With a great friend in tow (Nick, hereon referred to as NVB), the South Island of New Zealand once again submerged me in a dream I didn’t want to leave.

bjr-on-ridge-in-kepler

Welcome back

I often have major packing failures. As the plane descended, the JetStar (can’t believe I agreed to fly JetStar) pilot announced that it was 7 degrees C outside. At this point, I’m wearing a t-shirt, and realizing the one thing I did not pack was a jacket (this after reminding NVB that “it’s going to be cold, Singapore boy. Dress appropriately.”) Dropping $$$ at Kathmandu with 5 minutes left to spare before the store closed changed that (and helped me realize that Kathmandu has an h – who knew?) and I was outfitted for the trek.

I’ve packed Patrick White’s Tree of Man for this trip. It’s a beast to carry, and the first few pages are dense. This book might be more painful than the hike.

Hitchhiker

I haven’t hitchhiked since I was in my 20s, and I haven’t picked up a hitchhiker in a long, LONG time (maybe also in my 20s). As Nick and I left Queenstown, we passed a hitchhiker, and I mentioned that if there’s a place to pick one up, between Q-town and Te Anau is probably the safest place on earth. Around the next corner, we picked up a 20-something French girl with a Russian name who managed to talk almost non-stop for the next 3 hours, which helped the drive go faster. I am always a bit mystified by people who just travel – she had been on the road for a couple of years, stopping, working, traveling, stopping, working, traveling. I think I need to at least pretend there’s a higher purpose in life, or be very explicit that I have no illusions and I’ve just given up.

The highlight of the conversation was NVB asking her to tell us which nationalities were the best and which were the worst. Apparently Turkish people are stellar!

Kepler Track

Day 1 – Ascent into Luxmore!

We hit the trail after Noon, expecting it would be a late arriving into the Luxmore hut. Each day was about a 15-16k hike, with a little more than half of this day being ascending into the mountains. It has been a while since I carried a pack, but my legs felt great, and I like to move at a quick pace, the cool air helping keep the pace high. We made it into camp earlier than I expected. The huts of NZ tracks are seriously posh – mattresses! And gas stoves! And running water you can drink! While you are staying inside a bunk room with up to 20 other people, the huts make it a lot easier than tent camping.

The views from the hut are breathtaking – partially because the air was cold, but mostly because you don’t have to see another human being for ever looking 360 degrees from the hut. Just mountains, lakes, green. My mind wanders forward to a time when I can travel for months, to not see another human for days, or maybe even weeks.

Peter the Ranger gave us a safety talk with a few hijinks like pulling a dead stoat out of his pocket and pretending it bit him. Peter’s humor delivery doesn’t change tone for punch lines, and his white out-of-control beard masks any facial expressions.

NVB did incredibly well today, and he’s possibly the best travel companion I’ve ever had. Talkative, quiet at the right times, easy-going, and clear about what he wants. This trip was a good choice.

Day 2 – The best of days, the worst of days

The first half of this day was the best section of the entire trip.

The second half was the worst.

We left Luxmore hut to check out the limestone caves just a few minutes from the hut. Inside the cave, my headlamp wasn’t helping at all. Too dark, too slippery, too dangerous. Then I realized we were still wearing sunglasses. Taking those off helped.

The path climbed further, close to the peak of Mt. Luxmore, where we dropped packs and scrambled up to the summit. I decided to run to the top, which was a bad idea. I’d need that energy for later.

bjr-atop-kepler-track-in-snow

At our lunch stop we met a Dutch chick who was crushing a couple of Canucks – she was hardly breathing while they struggled to get up the last few feet to the “lunch table” outside an emergency shelter. The PB&honey sandwiches were golden.

nvb-on-ridge-day-2-kepler

We walked along ridges that dropped off sharply on either side, feeling like we were skirting the spine of the world. I couldn’t imagine a better day.

nvb-over-lake-on-day-2-of-kepler

And then the trail began to descend.

Within two hours, we had run out of food and water. NVB had broken his right kneecap, and I was losing a lot of blood. I fought off the dizziness and the desire to just lie down and sleep. We could hear the stoats around us, smelling death. Our compass and the terrain contradicted the map at every step, and we knew we were lost. We had no shelter, and the rain was turning into sleet. We were frozen one moment, and burning the next. The trail was jagged, and another misstep could end us. I knew everything depended on the next 15 minutes, and I didn’t think both of us could make it. It was then that I knew, I would have to kill NVB and eat him to survive. I’d start with the shoulder.

No, no, no. It wasn’t that bad. But the trail dropped sharply, and descending has always hurt me – the impact of the pack proved I haven’t kept in the shape I need to be, and my feet and ITBs were taking a beating. It went on forever, and I could tell NVB was hurting. The next three hours seemed like six.

By the time we reached the Iris Burn hut, NVB was near delirious, and was sick with a virus.

That night the Ranger (Robbie) explained to the hut that we could either pack our trash our or he could kill us in our sleep. Or maybe not come pack to the park, I forget which. But this Ranger should be made Warden, it’s more fitting. Rose, the other ranger smiled mutely. I’m betting she’s the one that will choke us out if Robbie says the word.

That night, the kiwi birds mating calls echoed on the lake. Get a room.

Day 3 – Turning the corner

We started the day with a walk to a nearby waterfall – a spectacular waterfall in every other country in the world, but simply par for the course for the South Island. Amazing.

Most people headed all the way out on day 3 – covering over 30K. I know in my heart I could have done it, but it would have been brutal (and we would have had to start a lot earlier). So our pace was fine with me.

The train followed a beautiful forecast rolling path along river, crossing wooden and metal bridges.

A couple hundred Stoat and rat traps flourish through the entire route, though all are empty. I knocked on each one to see if anyone was home. Since the traps have not been as effective as hoped , a “1080 campaign” (dropping poison pellets from the sky) to rid the wilderness of non-native predators brought over by the POMs – species which have extinguished 50+ species of flightless birds and are threatening more.

Along the path, NVB and told stories of relationships, of hitting bottom, in redemption. NVB’s cold worsened. At this point I didn’t realize how bad it is. NVB is a tough SOB. He kept moving, step after step, without complaint.

Near the end, a derelict boat along the shore of Lake Manupouri welcomed us in advance of the hut.

I jumped in the lake for a swim to clean up, and made it five strokes before I realized the water was so cold I could barely inhale.

Day 4 – Exit

Our final day had minimal rolling and was mostly flat. My ITB was bad from the start, but it was only one day left!

As we entered a clear, a wooden platform extended to a broad, expansive field. I felt I was at the podium, addressing a vast crowd rallied in the meadow. I pictured my armies of stouts, 100s of 1000s strong, ready to dine on the fowl of the land. “Stoats! Today is our day! Today we take revenge on our oppressors! They have trapped our brothers by the hundreds! They have rained poison from the sky upon us! Join me, and today we have our revenge. Tonight, we dine in hell! Or maybe around a nice fire.”

NVB and I were wondering if the US Presidential election was today (it was a week later). Seems like we should have known that. “First Tuesday” sounds right, but we’re not sure. World Series? (Nick is a big fan of The Tribe).

The path was beautiful – and as a bonus, there were 2 rats in traps!!

Hours later, I’d had enough walking. And we were done.

bjr-and-nvb

Milford and beyond

On the drive up to Milford from Te Anau, I started to feel a scratch in my throat. I thought positive thoughts, hoping I wouldn’t get ill.

On the drive up to Milford, I passed the bus shelter where we had stored our bikes. It looked exactly as I remembered and pictured it. in 1998, we had to hide our bikes behind the shelter since it was snowing and our hands couldn’t hold on to the brakes anymore. Memories keep coming back.

I got rid of all the photos from my 1998 New Zealand trip long ago – in fact probably burned some at some point in a misguided attempt at catharsis. But despite two-decade-old memories that foretold betrayal and loss, New Zealand is a special place that can’t be tarnished.

New Zealand, I will be back!

view-from-luxmore-area

We are responsible for Trump

A friend who attended Landmark shared a view on life that I’ve tried to adopt – You are 100% responsible for every relationship you have been in. That doesn’t mean the other person has 0% responsibility, but your approach to relationships is much better if you don’t look to blame the other person, and always look for how you can improve and learn what you can do better.

I fail miserably at this. I try, but fail again. But I digress.

When we are flabbergasted that Trump made it through the Republican debates, then are shocked that he survived the nomination, then are panicked that he came through the convention, and are beyond our wits that he is still a legitimate contender for the US Presidency, they we’ve failed to understand our own part in the absolute tragedy that is the decline of our political system in the U.S.

I say “we”, that while despite being a Republican in high school, and from then on a registered libertarian, I include myself as equally guilty in this mess despite backing Gary Johnson for President in 2016.

A while back I wrote about my own journey from being homophobic to having my eyes and heart opened. And that I wanted to tell my story, because I feel like so many of my friends pretend as if they didn’t have the same views (or at least acted as if they did) when they were young. And in first understanding that there are plenty of good, well-meaning people who are simply ignorant –  and then in reaching out, and we change our approach to bridging the gap, we can help other people make the journey from ignorance to acceptance.

So what does this have to do with Trump, and the continued growth of what appears to be a more and more frightening part of American (and global) politics?

Enter the Daily Show. Now, I’ll admit I was a fan. In the year or so before Jon Stewart left the show, he appeared on CrossFire, accusing the hosts of being the problem with American politics, that they are polarizing the country. He was right – the polarization of our country that surfaced and was then accelerated with the Gore Vidal – William F. Buckley debates (though even the documentary around this over-polarizes the event) And yet Jon hid behind the shield of being a comedian, and held himself blameless – yet his reach and impact, among people I know, was far greater than CrossFire.

We have become numb to the polarization and expect it – and so know, when we hear, for the 10th presidential election in a row, that the candidate is dangerous, many people have stopped listening because the hand was over-played again and again by both sides.

From the Daily Show came its offspring, the Colbert Show. I did enjoy it, though maybe less than the early Daily Show.

And now 10-20 other “political comedy” shows exist, that pedal in ridicule. We even have a few here in Australia, where “news” comes across in light-hearted verbal slapstick – and dammit, these people are clever. Brilliant writers, comedians, talented folks.

Over the last 10 years, we began to laugh harder and louder at people who did not share our views.

This last weekend, I showed a “Triumph the Insult Comic” video to Aussie friends of mine. The video lets us inside a focus group of Trump supporters, who have been told they’ve been recruited to provide feedback to the Trump campaign on some potential Trump ads. These people were not selected from the most intelligent cross-section of our nation. Some of these people both lack basic intelligence and some have no moral compass whatsoever. The bits that follow are hysterical, and the first time I watched it, I found myself crying – I was laughing so hard.

But it’s actually not funny. It’s a tragedy, and by sitting back, and mocking the opposition, we give them no chance to learn, no change to hear rational, empathetic arguments. Would they all listen to our arguments? Certainly not. But would a few? Would it shift the conversation from mockery to potentially helping people see the truth? I’m willing to risk it.

The Daily Show interviewed Trump supporters at a rally. Queue the laugh track. The point of the segment was absolutely right – there is an absolute hypocrisy within the rhetoric and the beliefs of his supporters. But this section only served as an opiate for the converted – to laugh at the ignorance and enjoy dinner as we laugh as those we consider less intelligent, less rational or open-minded.

From someone who is open about being an elitist with little remorse, that last paragraph might come as a bit of a shock.

Our laughs may not last that long if we’re not careful.

While most people who know my political views (again, largely libertarian) know that I am not President Obama’s biggest fan, his response on gun control at a town hall meeting in Elkhart, Indiana is the example I want to follow. Despite an aggressive and inaccurate question, his answer showed absolute respect for the person asking the question – because this was his chance to make his point, to possibly change one opinion and the opinions of everyone else around. I wish him luck.

It’s time to take the high road and invite others to walk on it with us – which means being humble, listening patiently to attitudes that you do not agree with, and the firmly expressing your own opinion and why you believe it is so important. And often times, we will have to get much louder and even fight for what is right.

It is easier for me and all of us to hide inside of universities and the professional class. It is easy to only have people of like mind over for dinner. It is easy to treat the waitress as a human shopping card where your transaction is only about your credit card and splitting it several ways. It’s much harder to take a risk and try to connect to someone who might express an opinion that you loathe, and try to find a way to listen, understand, and then assert yourself.

Am I a good example? Absolutely not. I live in a WASPy beach neighborhood with ridiculous rents and surround myself with friends who support me. While I grew up in what might be described as “the top of the lower class,” and exited high school more in the middle class, I am now an adult of privilege.

Have I been a political activist who has done my part to change the world? Absolutely not. I am a libertarian philosophically who deep down inside simply never wants to be responsible for the disasters of American politics over the span of my life on both sides of the political fence.

But it’s time for me to be more vocal – even though I know a lot of my friends and family won’t like my ideas. But I promise to listen as much as I talk.

I understand the motivations of many people who support Trump and why those feelings exist: It’s hard to make a case that politicians have improved the lives of the majority of the people in the US (and around the world). People are willing to try anything. Sadly they are willing to throw a hand grenade into a classroom and hope that somehow in the aftermath, a better educational system will emerge. We need to help them understand that it’s a hand grenade and not a paper airplane that might miss it’s target. It’s a dangerous game where everyone is going to get hurt.

Time and time again, when we don’t find a way to build a bridge to the other side, the other side builds a guillotine, or a rocket, or something worse.

Note: I really wanted to end the last paragraph with “like Jeans Shorts”, but that would undermine the entire point of this article in not ridiculing others.

A decade of triathlon

A decade of triathlon

Heading to airport 2

A farewell to triathlon

1o years ago, my first triathlon was the Armadillo Triathon in Austin, TX. I was wide eyed and unaware of what the sport was all about, but it was yet another step in gaining confidence after my kidney transplant that I was no longer “sick,” and no longer needed to think of myself as a patient. I expected it would be both my first and my last triathlon (“triathletes are nut cases”), but during the run along a trail snaking through the woods, I ran side by side with another athlete, as we watched the sun track along the cliffs of Lake Travis. We didn’t talk much, but at one point, he stated the simple truth, “Not a bad way to spend a morning.”

On Sunday I finished my last triathlon, Ironman Cairns. While I will do the Sprint in the Australian transplant games in September in Sydney, I consider Cairns my final race as a triathlete. It’s been a great decade, and I’m fortunate every day for the gift that my cousin gave me that let me experience all the things I never would have experienced.

Ironman Cairns

Cairns has a reputation for being a randomly challenging course – the weather can make the course a straightforward affair, or it can great you with demonic waves, baking heat, pouring rain, and oppressive humidity. On Sunday, we leaned towards the demonic – high waves bad enough for them to cancel the swim leg shortly after I finished, high winds on the bike course (with 2/3rds of the course against the wind), and a humid run. But the rain in the morning and the cloud cover kept the race course mostly cool until mid-afternoon, so we avoided baking in the sweatbox of tropical Queensland.

The Swim

I had been swimming only twice in the previous two months. That’s 10 times less than what my usual training plan would required. I would be swimming entirely on technique, with very little muscle to back it up. The winds were high and the swell was big. With 450 Japanese competitors, who often have very little ocean swimming background, it was going to be a tough day for many.

At the half way point in the first lap, I cornered around the buoy and had to laugh. I felt like I was done physically, but still had 75% of the swim, or about 2.7 km, to go. I was cooking in my wetsuit (just too thick for 25 degree C water). But, you put your head down, and celebrate every buoy you pass. That’s one less buoy. Bye bye buoy.

Apparently, shortly after I exited the water, they told all swimmers to head straight for shore. They had already pulled 40 swimmers out of the water in distress, including one man who was unconscious, who sadly passed away several days later.

It makes you pause to appreciate your health, and know that nothing should be taken for granted.

The Bike of Discomfort

cairnsbike

The Cairns bike course on a sunny day. Our day was not sunny…

My bike performed beautifully. Aaron Dunsford from Fusion Peak studios had done a great job with a fit and some repairs, and I didn’t have a single issue with the bike.

My tri kit (the cycling knicks and tank top you wear in a triathlon) failed miserably. I like to wear the club kit, but in this race it simply couldn’t hold up. I was uncomfortable the last five hours of the race. I had tried to get a new kit, but that’s a frustrating story that isn’t worth retelling. The kit was so uncomfortable that I couldn’t stay in aero during the return to Cairns in the high winds.

On the bike course I was impressed by the lack of drafting – usually on a windy day, many triathletes begin to shrink the draft zone: from 7 bike lengths to 3 and then even zero.

The Walkathon

I didn’t walk in my first Ironman, and I only walked in Busselton when I starting weaving from dehydration. In Cairns, I probably walked a total of 3-4K of the 42.2K when you add up the aid stations (walked every one) and a handful of moments where I mentally gave into fatigue. The last lap, which I thought would be the hardest, I just told myself that walking wasn’t on the program.

The Finish

The finishing chute appeared, and soon I was done. Pete Jacobs (winner of Ironman World Championships in Kona in 2012) who is from the Northern Beaches in Sydney and loosely associated with the Warringah triathlon club, was there at the finish line and gave me my finisher’s medal, which was a cool way to finish. Pete had just placed third among the pros that day. Here’s to Pete having another win this year in Kona!

90 minutes slower

There are no excuses for my performance in Ironman Cairns. I’m proud of the fundraising I’ve done for Room to Read Cambodia. But there are simple facts: I am not in “Ironman shape”, and I knew it coming into the race. Work, travel, illness, work, life, and work have all wiped out the free hours that I used to squeeze training into a two dimensional life. I saw the rewards of training in my 2nd Ironman (in Busselton in 2014), and I saw the rewards of minimal training in Cairns!

Yes, the course that Sunday was tough. The conditions might have added 15 minutes to my time, but the 90 minute difference between Sunday and my last Ironman was simply a lack of training.

I have trained – I’ve done weekend rides and runs. Swimming, not so much. A consistent training schedule? Nope. Even Strava’s fitness calculator (based on your heart rate and power output) concluded that I’m not fit. Thanks, Strava.

This could sound like an excuse or even complaining or disappointment – it’s none of those things. I had an amazing day in Cairns, and will remember that day as one of the best of my life. This is is simply what I learned in my first Ironman: if you put in the work, you get the results. If you don’t put in the work, and aren’t genetically gifted, then don’t expect miracles.

10 great years

And of course, without my cousin Diane, who gave me the gift of life through a kidney transplant on December 21, 2004, not a single step of this would have been possible. Thanks, cousin.

 

$109,000 raised for Room to Read Cambodia

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Thank you!!

I couldn’t start any other way than to say thanks to everyone who donated. Your generosity and support of Room to Read Cambodia means an incredible amount to me, and I appreciate not only the donations but those of you who checked in and asked how fundraising was going, how training was going, and who showed real interest in this cause.

Thanks to Room to Read Australia, especially Chantal Lewis, who once again helped get the donation site set up, and encouraging me along the way!

Thanks to Kall Kann, the Director of Room to Read Cambodia, for continually helping me connect to the reasons behind the fundraising – the chance to make a life changing difference not just for a set of kids, but for communities, and the change to affect an entire country.

The Impact

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  • 781 million people in the world today are still illiterate.
  • With $109,000 dollars, Room to Read Cambodia could do any of the following:
    • create 22 libraries from existing structures
    • send almost 400 girls to school for an entire year
    • buy tens of thousands of books written in Khmer specifically for Cambodian kids and published by Room to Read

The Donations

If you look on the donation website, you’ll see a total of around $53,000 raised, which is missing a lot of the matching donations.  The real breakdown is:

  • Individual donations of $34,732
  • I matched the first $25,000 of that
  • With Room to Read matching all donations in December and June, it added another $49,885
  • For a total of $109,617

The Donors

chez chez

Chek-Chek is really impressed with every one of the donors

  • There were 66 donations from 62 unique donors, with 4 donors who donated more than once!
  • The median donation was $126 – an amazingly generous bunch!
  • 23 donations came from people who I met through Atlassian, 10 donations came from my triathlon club, 9 came from my family, 6 from friends from university, and 5 from my co-workers who I worked with at MessageOne back in 2005-8.
  • The top 10 donors contributed over $26,000 of the total donated. I am lucky to have friends whose generosity seems to know few limits.

And, of course, this…

Each month or so of the campaign, I gave away a prize – one month I created a video singing the praises of the lucky winner. Another month I let the winner pick my hair color, and well, the family who won, picked blue. So I’ll be hearing Smurf cat-calls for the next two months…

BJR with blue hair

Soon I’ll give away the round trip from the US to Australia for one lucky donor, and a silver bangle from Nic Marshall Jewelers in Sydney.

And a prize is still to be fulfilled – I still have to busk (think “street performance” or selling something) in Martin Place, the plaza just outside of my work, for 15 minutes.

Ironman Cairns

I’ll cover the race in another blog post – I was incredibly undertrained for the event, but with what everyone had donated, there was no way I would even consider skipping out on the race!

Thanks again to every single one of you who donated.

Overwhelmed and Humbled in Cambodia

Overwhelmed and Humbled in Cambodia

Two weeks ago, I arrived in Phnom Penh, Cambodia – the fulfillment of a promise I made in 2013. Two days later I had one of the most incredible experiences of my life.

I arrived in the country tired, but excited about what lay ahead. The previous two weeks had been draining and had actually poisoned my mind against the world around me. The wonderful weekend with my nephew in Seoul was so fantastic that it restored a bit of energy. I was still arriving half-empty, hoping Cambodia could help me find more to care about in the world.

Room to Read Cambodia Headquarters

We quickly met the amazing team from Room to Read at the local office. They presented me with a framed picture of artwork from the book “The Snake Who Wants to Buy a Shoe”, which won Best Illustration by the International Board of Books for Young People in 2011. (Within minutes of arriving home in Sydney a week later it was up on my wall).

snake shoe

The snake who wants to buy a shoe

Soon we were in a car with Kall Kann and Socheata from Room to Read on our way to Kampong Thom (literal translation would be “Port Thom.” After a dinner with Racha (the manager of the province for Room to Read) and the architect who is responsible for the Room to Read libraries, we were off to bed, only to wake up to head out to the Andaung Trom Primary School.

An incredible surprise

Originally, our plan was to drop by and see the library, and just meet the librarian, since school is not in session. Then the plan changed – Kall Kann, the director of Room to Read Cambodia, would join us. Then, a few kids were going to turn up and we’d paint one of the walls of the library.

At the end of the hour drive, as we turned down smaller and smaller dirt roads, I could finally see the school. My heart stopped, as I looked out and saw around 100 people from the community waiting for our arrival. Over 100 people from the community were there to greet us, include well over 50 school kids: all in uniform, on their holiday, when school would not be in session for another couple of weeks.

When I visited Cambodia two years ago, I was representing Atlassian, which has given millions of dollars to Room to Read Cambodia. So our welcome two years ago made sense – there were 10 of us.

This time it was just me, and my contributions felt so small in comparison.

1 - Entering the school

Entering Andaung Trom primary school

As usual, I went immediately into emotional overload. These people should not be here. I don’t deserve this kind of welcome. These kids should be enjoying their school holiday, and not in uniform for my arrival. I am not worthy of any of this attention. 

21 - Bryan welcome sign

Khanh vanishes into the crowd

There were welcome signs with my name and Khanh’s name on it. Khanh of course quickly ducked into the crowd to help hold the sign up, while I was pulled up on to the platform to talk to the community. Kall translated, since I know only 10 phrases in Khmer (one of them is “I am hungry” and another 5 are numbers).

12 - Talking to the school 3

Talking to the community members and kids who had come out to welcome me

I introduced myself, and talked about why I am so passionate about Room to Read, about why I believe world change starts with educated children – that the only long term solution to the challenges we face as a planet is to invest in education, in the kids of developing countries.  15 - Bryan talking to the school

Kids having to listen to me on a day off from school. No good deed goes unpunished.

I spoke about my kidney transplant, and how it taught me to give back to the world since I had been given a second chance at life. I talked about how important education was in my life.

18 - Bryan and Kall

It felt strange being on stage in front of the kids, explaining my story. Their daily lives are harder than any Ironman. Their families struggle to make ends meet, and yet they are optimistic about the future despite the brutality of their nation’s bloody past.

And then, we had some fun! Socheata had organized an awesome icebreaker, “Dancing Telephone,” played just like the game of telephone, except instead of whispering a phrase in the next person’s ear, you perform a dance move, and then it gets revealed to the next person. I think it helped loosen me up more than the kids, because I was still feeling completely overwhelmed by everything.
28 - Bryan showing off dance moves

The kids were treated to some serious dance moves

The Library

Inside the entry of the library, there is a plaque. Chantal from Room to Read had contacted me about what I would like the inscription to say. I knew exactly what belonged on the plaque.

Plaque DL_KH-CRR-14-0011 Andaung Trom

The librarian walked me through the system of reading levels, how kids indicate that they have visited the library, and how they teach kids to take care of the books. How they could check out a maximum of three books at a time, how they handled new arrivals to generate excitement about new stories. How much the kids loved to read to their siblings and their parents.

The walls, the books, everything was awe and wonder for me, even though I’d seem similar libraries two years ago. But this one did not exist then, and was specifically developed using part of the funds I had raised for my last Ironman.

Thank you to everyone who donated to my campaign. We raised enough money to fund not one library, but five libraries, some built from the ground up, and others from existing structures that needed a refresh. We changed the lives of 100s of kids, and made it possible for kids to learn to read outside of the classroom.

28 - Librarian explaining books

The librarian checking to see if I have any overdue books

A Moose, a Seal, a Kangaroo, a Koala

After the library tour, we walked back to the side of the library, where we were going to paint. But it wasn’t just painting the wall – it was painting a picture, of four animals on a tandem bicycle. Four animals – two from my childhood, and two from where I live now, Australia. Once again, I couldn’t quite believe it. The funds for this library were around $12,000 – and the difference it was making for this community were enough to bring them out to celebrate with me.

45 - Girl painting moose

The Moose (or probably Deer or Caribou) is steering the bike

47 - Bryan painting koala ears BJR paints the Koala’s ears

Tea with the community

The final hour, we spend with members of the community, asking about how they had raised the funds for their 20% of the building. Room to Read requires the community to co-invest, so there’s commitment and dedicated on the part of the community, and a strong signal that they want the library and will work to maintain it in the future.

They asked me questions, ranging from whether American and Australia do better financially because we’re not involved in wars, to how much a plane ticket to Cambodia costs, to how old I was.

61 - Tea with elders IMG_7319

I aksed them about the difference the library had made in the last year, the difference in their children, their appetite and aptitude for reading. The kids loved to read – and loved to show their parents how well they could read and how they were progressing.

Goodbye

Eventually, it was time to leave. I was exhausted but happier thanI could imagine.

54 - whole school togetherA final photo to remember the trip 

Where do I go from here?

The next five days, Khanh and I would be riding mountain bikes through rural Cambodia along the Mekong river, then returning to San Francisco and Sydney.  will be blogging about the rest of the trip – the adventure had just begun.

But this is just the first step in the journey.

  • I will be kicking off a new fundraising campaign for Room to Read in the next two months – there’s so much more we can do, and Cambodia has the potential to truly change, and we can make an incredibly impact.
  • I’m setting a higher goal than anything I’ve ever considered before – I honestly don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I learned form Ted Whatley who I served with on the Breakthrough Austin board of directors, “You give until it hurts.”
  • I am planning on racing my third Ironman. My body has paid a permanent penalty from previous races, but I’m not done yet. There’s still plenty of suffering left in me.

In the end, I realized that this visit was not about me – it was about the community, and the amazing evidence of how they want a better future for their community and their children. They want their kids to grow up to be teachers. They want a better life for the next generation.


63 - Boy in library IMG_7346The reason for all of this

Swimming in Vietnam

Being a Pool Boy

I never thought swimming in a pool would be a new experience. But my trip to Vietnam held new things around every corner, in every alleyway. The unusual hidden just behind the usual.

Thursday morning of my first week in Saigon, I swam in the pool in the office complex where our office is.  I arrived, paid my 70,000 Dong, received my towel and locker key, changed into my swimsuit and then headed out to the pool. The following series of events ensued….
1. I noticed that everyone in the pool was Vietnamese. This was not a shock.
2. Calling what they were doing “swimming” would be a compliment. i would not really say there was a “swimmer” in the entire pool, though they were moving back and forth in the water doing laps.
3. There were no lane lines, but some painted lines on the bottom of the pool. Those lines appeared to be ignored as well.
4. People were mostly just “swimming” back and forth, each person having their straight line, from what i could tell.  i couldn’t make out any of the traditional “circle swim” or other patterns you see in lap pools.
5. i hopped in about 2/3rds of the way down the pool, where there was less drowning and more swimming-like movements, and some freestyle (the rest of the pool was sort-of-breaststroking).
6. As i swam, i was slowly being “herded” to the far end of the pool: A space would open up because the person next to me had moved over to the other side of me.
7. Eventually, i was swimming next to the wall, which is great because i don’t have to worry about clocking anyone as I swam and they thrashed around.
8. I was swimming somewhere around 2-3 times faster than anyone else in the pool. While this was in some ways an awesome feeling, it also felt quite bizarre.
9. After about 10 minutes, I noticed most people in the pool had stopped swimming and were just leaning up against the far wall.
10. I finished the set i was on and also leaned against the wall.
11. A few lanes down, a woman said hello.  Her name was Anna.
“What is your name?”
“Where are you from?”
“We are all very interested in you.”
“You are a very strong swimmer.”
“And very handsome” (my response was: you must be blind)
Meanwhile the other four women next to her are giggling.
12. Throughout my workout I noticed people ducking underwater to watch how I swam.
13. I eventually finished and left the pool.  As I left, Anna said “have a great rest of your day, mate.” I think I might have been hit on.

Rehearsal for Ironman Vietnam?

A couple of days before I went to Da Nang for holiday, I looked up Ironman Vietnam, and discovered it is in Da Nang! This year is the first year they will run the half-Ironman, in May. Even before arriving, I had decided to seriously consider the event for next May, as a potential warm-up to a full in Cairns next June.

The beach in Da Nang is beautiful. I was definitely going for a swim. But I decided to go for a run first, then cool off with a swim. The week before my diet and training regime was well, almost non-existent, but I thought a 10K would certainly be manageable. Even at 8 AM, it was warm, though I’ve run in worse. The humidity was incredibly high. I ran along the sidewalks from my hotel to the Hyatt, which is the host location for the Ironman in May.

Along the run, there were work teams of women in head to toe covering, with traditional Vietnamese hats (nón lá), cutting grass with scissors, pulling weeds by hand. They smiled as I smiled at them. Along the run, almost everyone waved or smiled as I ran, dripping more and more with sweat. Just 5K I could feel the dehydration set it, a slight headache and gradually growing dizziness.

I used a statue factory as a turnaround point. I jogged over and asked a sales woman if they just had water to buy. She immediately began to try to sell me a statue. I asked how much the 2 meter wide and 3 meter tall marble Buddha cost. “$35,000 US.” I explained that I loved it but I could not carry it since I was running, and she turned to several colleagues who were vulturing on the balcony above, making running motions and saying something that all made them laugh. I’m sure it was complimenting me on my physique. She turned back to me and said, “We can ship it to you.” I asked again about water, chugged the bottle, and set back to running. I soon regretted the chug.

5K later I staggered back into the hotel, soaked in sweat, changed into the swimsuit I had, and jumped into the ocean. I swam for about 20 minutes in the ocean. Shallow and beautiful, and no jellyfish, sharks, crocs.

Da Nang Street Food

Justus and I hit up a street food tour of Da Nang, which included the best Ba Minh I had on the trip, and the following menu across five different stops:

  • Bánh mì que – toasty breadstick sandwich with pork floss
  • Cánh gá hai còi – best BBQ chicken in Da Nang
  • Bánh xèo + Nem lụi – crispy pancakes and BBQ pork sticks
  • Vả trộn tôm thịt – unripe fig salad with prawns and pork
  • Ếch xào lá chanh – stir-fried frog with herbs
  • Mực chiên mắm – squid fried in fish sauce
  • Dừa bến tre – coconut dessert

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Our next-to-final stop, at a local place which translates as “Fat Now”

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At the end of the evening we went to the dragon bridge, which at 9 PM breathes fire and shoots out water

Hoi An… Not going back there

In Hoi An, we rented bicycles with baskets and bells, and rode each morning down to the beach. The first day, we ended up at a public beach, with massive sandbags holding the beach together, and animal shaped trash cans.

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One of the trash cans at the public beach on Hoi An

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The beach parking for bicycles. Bikes were $1 a day to rent. Parking it here was $2.

The next day, we rode to hidden beach, which isn’t actually hidden. Instead of swimming, I body surfed again and again. The waves were perfect, enough for me to almost look like I’ve been doing it all my life.

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Hidden beach. Really not that hidden

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Otherwise Hoi An is really touristy and not my bowl of pho, even though it can be pretty

Saigon

Overall, I am amazed with the palpable energy that Saigon throws off in every direction. Sunday night the clubs are filled with young professionals, but not drinking themselves to death the way Aussies attempt to do every weekend.

The city is becoming increasingly Western, but still has so much great to offer. The air quality is horrendous, thanks to the tens of thousands of scooters (that they call motorbikes – sorry, they’re scooters). A top the rooftop of our corporate apartment, a friend and I lamented that 20 years ago the traffic would have been all bicycles and very few cars or scooters.

I’ll back in Saigon in September – can’t wait. Here are a few more pics:

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A “beer club” on a Sunday night

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Rooftop view form the AB Tower in district 1

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A bowl of pho. Breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

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Cousin Nhung instructing me on the right way to eat everything

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Thuc Anh, who runs the JIRA team in Saigon with me at a rooftop deck. Also pictured: half of Liam

2015-03-21 09.42.36

Nick brings it at the JIRA Landing Event in Saigon. Massive turnout, over 400 energetic young technologists.

Ironman Busselton Race Report: “Ouch”

Ironman Busselton Race Report: “Ouch”

2014-IMWA-Header

Over the last two years, my free time has largely been filled with a singular (maniacal?) goal, and that was finishing my second Ironman. I’m happy with my race and I’m leaving Busselton feeling content about what I did on Sunday, but even happier with what it represents about my life.

Given the fact that I was on crutches in March, unable to run without pain until the last two months, and sick about half of the year, I can’t quite believe it. My finishing time of 11:12 is more than 90 minutes faster than the 12:45 I posted four years ago. I knew I was in better shape, and despite the lies I told myself and others, I would have been disappointed if I didn’t go under 12 hours. Still, there was a nagging concern about how my body would hold together after the last year of trauma.

Now, you’re lucky I’m not feeling prolific – after my first Ironman I wrote an entire post for every leg of the race….5 posts in total. But we’ll try to get it done in two posts.

Pre-race: All systems go

Justus and I arrived in Busselton on Thursday afternoon, and I spent Friday and Saturday doing the usual prep of assembling my bike, driving the bike course, getting something fixed at the bike shop, getting in a practice swim and going for a practice ride. The night before the race, I slept incredibly well. It helps going West for a race, because your body wants to sleep earlier and get up earlier, which it what you need when the race starts at 5:45 AM.

I had a few goals: beat my previous time by at least 45 minutes (i.e. go under 12 hours), not need a “pit stop” so many times (first IM was 6 total stops!!), and not walk on the run.

The Swim: Aquatic Combat in Paradise

Swim Start

I managed to get a decent warm-up in the ocean, and peed while warming up. Check and check!

Despite it being a wide open course, it was more of a melee than I had expected. I ran into a handful of pods of chaos, with swimmers who were opting to stay near others rather than just swim without being pummeled. At one point I was kicked in the goggle, and my calves were actually sore coming in from having so many people slap them. I’ll admit while I am pretty good about not slapping people’s feet and just forging my own way, I do retaliate when someone is just being ridiculous. And there was plenty of retaliation Sunday.

Overall I was swimming well “within myself” and could have gone a lot harder, but I had a game plan and I needed to save everything for the run given how little running I had been able to do over the past six months.

My one major mistake was heading toward the Busselton Jetty instead of the swim exit, and including that I probably tacked on an extra 50-150m over the entire course of the swim with poor navigation.

Overall, Busselton has to be one of the best swim courses in the world, if not the best (I have very limited experience but it’s hard to imagine something better, and a lot of my teammates who have done multiple races confirm it). The water is clear, the perfect temperature, and you have a massive landmark in the Jetty that you can follow. Luckily I breathe on the left side so I could always see the Jetty if I was veering off course.

The Bike: One position, five and 2/3rds hours

Bike TurnaroundMy game plan was based on a specific power level, but the one challenge with my Garmin power-sensing pedals I have is calibration. I don’t think the power readout was correct – it definitely felt low given my level of effort. I wasn’t pushing anything that hard, but the wattage was too low given my speed. Luckily I know what my legs should feel like and kept the effort level where it should be. I felt great after lap 1, and knew that I had enough in the tank to exit the bike ride with something for the run.

The wind came up a bit during the second lap, and my pace dropped a little in the face of a slight wind. The course is beautiful, and the surface is great. It’s just dead flat so you’re in the same position for 5-6 hours. And my man-parts were feeling it much worse than my legs. Time to look at some new saddles…

The course officials seemed to do a decent job of catching people drafting, though one friend got two penalties when in both cases he had been illegally passed.

Near the end of the race, seeing ~5:40 as my bike time, quick maths told me I had a shot at an 11 hour Ironman. I pushed that aside and told myself to follow the plan and not get cocky.

The Run: Suffering and wait… even more suffering

Run through the crowd

My first two ks were supposed to be the slowest of the marathon, but I started off too fast: my body was happy to be off the bike, wanted to move, and I was fighting to hold it back to the correct pace.

The first lap of ~12kfelt good (for all my friends back in the U.S., a marathon is 42k), and I took my first pit stop mid-way through. The second lap also felt great – I was holding pace just fine, but needed a second pit stop, but felt that it would be my last.  It was! 1 goal accomplished.

The third lap, the wheels didn’t just come off, they fell off, caught fire, and disintegrated. All of a sudden, I was dizzy – I couldn’t run straight. My legs got wobbly and I couldn’t concentrate. I began to walk. Confusion dominated the next two minutes trying to decide if I had too much salt, not enough salt, not enough calories, or not enough water. My race hung in the balance of the next two minutes. I had seen enough videos and first hand evidence of people collapsing during races that I knew what could happen. My mind drifted into the negative: I hate walking. I had now failed one of my main three goals, but I put that aside. I tried running again but my legs were jelly and could barely catch each stride I was making, and my balance had completely left me.

Finally I threw back a gel, a salt tablet, and three cups of water, and began to feel a little better. My legs were still wobbly, but my mind was clear. During that time, Scott Miller, a fellow kidney transplant recipient, passed me and said hello. Then Natalie, from my tri-club, came by and said “you can do this, Bryan.” And that’s what got me started.

I began to run again, and ran side by side with Natalie while I felt my system recover, then as I got stronger I picked up the pace. I was back on race pace (and actually way too fast during one section as I went through the crowd, knowing I had just one lap to go). Kyle and Justus were there cheering, and Scott and Sarah were yelling a bit further down the course. At that point, I knew I’d finish, and go under 11:30. 

Looking back, there’s no question it was simple dehydration that caused my near collapse. My nutrition was fine, I just wasn’t feeling thirsty even though I desperately needed the water.

The final 4K were tough, but much easier than my fight with dehydration. I asked my legs for more, and they grudgingly gave me a slightly faster pace, but there were no adrenaline reserves to speak of. I crossed the finish line with scores of muscles in pain, but more happy to be finished. The finish line comes so quickly in the last moments.

After the finish line I found my teammates, I found Scott Miller, and I found Kyle, Justus, Scott, and Sarah. Having them there made the celebration so much sweeter.

What it all means

So, I spent almost a full day in the ocean and racing around roads in Western Australia. What’s the point? Just to prove that I’m as daft as everyone thinks? (Please don’t answer that.) I’ve been training for two years for this – why have I spent ever spare minute pursuing this? Well, several reasons:

Four years ago in Austin, my training partner used his Ironman quest as a way to focus his energy and come back to life after a difficult end to his marriage. I suppose I started my journey the same way, two years ago, using the suffering and focus of training to cleanse my heart and mind of the anger and the hurt from my partner’s callous disregard for our relationship.

Along the way, I found Room to Read; I found a cause I cared about – where I could actually see the difference my donations could make. I met girls who could attend school for a year for the price of a nice dinner in Sydney. I met Kall Khan, who taught me about giving more and more every day.

I came back from injury and illness – a stress reaction in the femoral neck of my left leg a year ago. After seven weeks on crutches I still had months of rehab to undo the damage to the surrounding tendons. Winter brought a three-month intestinal infection. September, October, and November were near perfect, though I managed to contract a nasty lung infection two weeks before the race.

About 25% of the people in my age group did not finish the race – the run was hot and difficult. There’s some extra pride there. Four years ago, one of my coaches, Christie, told me that the journey is much more memorable than the race. And despite the difficulty of the last two years, the journey has been incredible, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Finally, and most important: In two weeks, I will celebrate the 10th anniversary of my kidney transplant. I don’t ever cross the finish line alone: my cousin Diane is always with me. I can’t wait to see her in January! She’s both the reason why I’m physically able to run even 5K, and the motivation behind why I love this sport. She was at the finish line at Ironman Arizona four years ago, and the one upside of not having here there is that I didn’t spend 15 minutes after the racing crying and holding on to her.

Coming soon….  The Gratitude Honor Roll.

A second interview with Bryan J. Rollins by Bryan J. Rollins

BJR watching ShipIT 27 CroppedOur journalist: Bryan J. Rollins

Bryan J. Rollins is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and hero to many. In this interview he takes on his most challenging subject again: himself.  

While the editors of this Blog warned him about attempting a second interview with himself, he “found the results to miraculously be even more annoying than the first interview.” 

BJR in Conference Room - CroppedOur subject: Bryan J. Rollins

Our subject is Bryan J. Rollins, a belligerent cynic who hates kittens and prefers to judge first and ask questions later. 

He enjoys the “spite of life,” and his hobbies all revolve around himself first and foremost.

His dream is a world in which he’s a blend of emperor and old man balcony muppet. 

He did not shave for this interview.


Bryan J. Rollins:  Bryan, it’s been almost four years since our last interview. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us.

Bryan J. Rollins: Bite me. Actually, rip out my ears – no, no, wait! Rip out your tongue, so we can avoid this impending disaster.

Bryan J. Rollins:  I see we’re starting where we left off. This time I’d like to try and dig deeper into your hostility issues. But first, I’d like to start by asking why you’re doing a second Ironman?

Bryan J. Rollins: I’m still waiting for you to rip your tongue out of your mouth.

Bryan J. Rollins:  Can we dispense with the unpleasantries?

Bryan J. Rollins: By all means feel free to leave the room. 

Bryan J. Rollins:  If you don’t cooperate, I can go back to wearing flared jeans if you’d like. Or sweatshirts. I’m sure someone still sells them.

Bryan J. Rollins: Proceed.

Bryan J. Rollins:  So, why a second Ironman?

Bryan J. Rollins: I tried skipping straight to my third Ironman but apparently there are some complex maths involved in doing that.

Bryan J. Rollins:  Let me be more specific: After your first Ironman you said you wouldn’t do another. And yet, you’re training for one, after bone damage to the femoral neck in your left leg, after discovering you have a torn labrum, and after being told that you’re basically going to be in a decent amount of pain during most of your training, and there’s a huge question around even getting to the starting line of the event, much less the finish. The race is likely to be 12 hours or more for you, and 10 of those hours are going to hurt. Why take this on when from all aspects it appears to be a bad idea mentally and physically?

Bryan J. Rollins: I share my body with an idiot. I think you’re familiar with him. 

Bryan J. Rollins:  I was hoping for your answer to talk about Room to Read, and your fundraising there: That you’re doing the race because you had raised $45,000 for literacy in Cambodia, and that since you had to cancel Ironman Melbourne due to your injury, that this was your way of thanking the people who donated by completing what you had started.  

Bryan J. Rollins: Objection. Leading the witness. And being a goody-two-shoes self-promoting boy scout.

Bryan J. Rollins: We’re not in court. And that second objection isn’t a real one.

Bryan J. Rollins: Probably is a real one in Queensland.

Bryan J. Rollins: Back to the subject at hand. You’re seven weeks away from Ironman Busselton, and the next four weeks are the most crucial to your training. How is it all going?

Bryan J. Rollins: The last four weeks have been only work and training, and pretty much nothing else. I think blind cave fish have more interesting social lives. But, physically and mentally, I’m in a much better place than this Winter in Australia. I believe you publicly aired our dirty laundry and kept your reputation as a narcissistic whinger in place by telling everyone in the world about it with this blog.

Bryan J. Rollins: Oh, you love cave fish references, don’t you? Let’s talk about the injury. What’s the current state of your hip / leg?

Bryan J. Rollins: New South Wales.

Bryan J. Rollins: (Long, annoyed pause) What’s the current condition of your hip / leg, from a medical / physical angle?

Bryan J. Rollins: New South Wales. (Long pause).  Oh, sorry, I stopped listening to your questions a while ago. That answer doesn’t fit? Alright, alright – the bone is healed, so there’s no concern about that, except recurrence, but the aclasta injection was supposed to increase my bone density, but we won’t really know until June about that. The torn labrum may have been there for years – it’s a small tear. The pain I feel now may be related to a third and non-training related issue in the pelvis. Fun times. So the approach you seem to be taking is “Hey, let’s do something really stupid like an Ironman to see if we can cause some permanent damage.”

Bryan J. Rollins: You didn’t mention that the Ironman Busselton course is flat so there is a lower risk of injury.

Bryan J. Rollins: You didn’t mention that your IQ is lower so there’s a higher risk of you doing something incredibly idiotic. Moronic achievement unlocked.

Bryan J. Rollins: We haven’t talked about the transplant.  You’re going to be racing just two weeks before the 10th anniversary of your kidney transplant. How does that affect your race?

Bryan J. Rollins: I hate to state the obvious but it seems necessary with you.  I wouldn’t be able to run 5k, much less tack on a marathon after a six plus hour bike ride if I wasn’t carrying my cousin Diane’s kidney with me. She’s given me ten more years of life than I deserved. I’m living on the beach in an amazing country, working in best company imaginable, doing my dream job – instead of being tied to a dialysis machine or dead. The sun rises while I’m working out in the pool in the morning. I swim in the ocean anytime I want. I cycle along roads that make you believe you could always be happy and healthy. My runs are stunning and the stuff of dreams. The race is just a single day, but it’s a symbol of how my life is better every single day because of Diane’s gift.

Bryan J. Rollins: (Several seconds of silence) Thank you. That’s a legitimate, real answer. Amazing. Anything else you’d like to add?

Bryan J. Rollins: Salt to your wounds?

Bryan J. Rollins: Thanks to everyone who tolerated this interview, and thanks again to everyone who sponsored my campaign for Room to Read last year, and has supported me though the last two years of training madness.

8 Things I Learned At The Borrowed Organ Olympics

Australian Transplant Games 2014

relay podiumThey come from many nations… Okay, three nations as far as I could tell (Aussies, Kiwis, Poms). They come from many states! (Well, Australia has only five states and a handful of territories). They come in all shapes and sizes (true). And they are all alive because someone gave them a gift that extended their life (that includes me).

I had considered going to the Transplant Games in the U.S., but never really had the time.

So, given that ‘top N’ lists (“17 things you never knew that your carrot peeler does while you sleep!”, “12.5 celebrity secrets to shaving an aardvark”, and so on), here are the top 8 things I learned at the Australian Transplant Games.

1. Know whether it’s a fun run or a competiton

Conor finishThe games kick off with a 5k Run open to everyone, so people from the local community can come out and show their support for organ donation. We do not require actually donations at the event.

The wind was so high that it blew down some of the race flag and event decorations, and was visibly moving runners as gusts hit the course around the lake.

About 500m from the finish, the guy in front of me looks over his shoulder, sees me, and takes off. He crossed about 5 seconds in front of me, and turns out he (Dave) was a kidney transplant recipient as well! In Newcastle most of the fast runners were not recipients. Here, it seemed like a lot of the competitors were recipients. So, so much better! And at that point I learned that a medal was at stake – now, I don’t know if I had anything in the tank to actually catch Dave, but I’m happy with the silver medal.

2. If you invite politicians to anything, they will want to read a prepared statement

After the run, the opening ceremonies began. A parade of all the recipients, who then formed an honor guard to salute the living donors at the games, and the donor families. These are the real VIPs of the games: the people who have made all of our lives possible. I thought about my cousin Diane and what she did for me in 2004 that gave me another decade of life. I still don’t completely understand the gift or how she decided to do it, but I know first hand the effect it’s had on my life.

Then, about 30 minutes of speeches, 90% of which were from politicians reading prepared statements that they didn’t write.

3. There are some serious cyclists who have organ transplants

cycling podium 30-39Monday was cycling, held at a V8 supercar track called Sandown Raceway. The first thing I noticed when I arrived at the cycling venue was “There are legit cyclists here!” It was awesome – meeting other transplant recipients who have carbon framed bikes, with race wheels, and who are clearly kick-ass riders. Pictured here are the 3 guns from the 30-39 age group.

4. I am a triathlete, not an actual cyclist

The cycling time trial course was 5K, basically a lap and 2/3rds of the race course. There was a slight hill and a slight headwind at the same point in the track. I had done some warmup laps and knew I could get above 45 kph on the straightaway, but it was going to be about maintaining speed (or at least not getting destroyed) in the rough spots. I felt great throughout the first lap, and fought through the final 2K, for a time of 9 minutes, 3 seconds, for a speed of 33 kph over the 5 k. Not exactly blinding speed, but the course did go through the windy/uphill section twice.

And I ended up with the Silver medal! At this point I was still unsure if I had medal’d in the 5K run so it was a little exciting to get a medal, though medals really aren’t the point of these games.

In the midst of the fun, the reality of why we’re doing this is all around us. Anthony, from Sydney, is on dialysis and won the 50-59 age group, in a time faster than mine. A couple of the guys have had two transplants, which reminds you that your transplant won’t last forever.

5. Breakaways look cool on TV

 

I’ve never been in a cycling road race in my life. My coach, knowing my general ignorance of cycling except in time trials, had clued me in: “Wait until the last 400 meters and then sprint.” Amongst the 40-49, 50-59, and 60-69 are groups, there were seven strong riders among that group, and that was the line that quickly formed. I was at the back, looking like a meerkat, realizing I had no idea what I was supposed to do. John, the largest rider in the group, was at the front, with everyone drafting behind him. At times he would surge and the rest of us would catch him.

At the end of the second lap, I realized that this could be the only road race that I ever do in my life, and that I should try a breakaway, just to be able to say I have done one. Well, now, I can say I have done one. From last place. On a flat straightaway. And that my breakaway lasted for maybe 15 seconds before the other six attached right back on to me. Yes, my first breakaway was from the worst strategic position possible, on the least desirable part of the course. Sorry, coach?

I then drug the group around the course for another lap and a half, before becoming cycling legend. Normally, the stronger riders at the front will surge, and the weaker riders get “spat out the back.” I then was “spat out the front,” where the entire group surged to the side and around me, and I missed hopping on the back… I rode the next 4+ laps solo, but crossed the line with a smile on my face. I hope someone got some footage of my amazing breakaway… Soon I think riders in Le Tour will be copying my patented move.

After I crossed the finish line, I looked around me and I didn’t want to stop. I rode three more laps before finally coming off the course. When am I going to get to race on a V8 supercar track again?

6. Getting beat by someone can be more exciting than winning

bryan and bryan swimmingI still didn’t quite understand the power of the games until the swimming events. Spending eight hours together at the aquatic center in Albert Park, I had the chance to meet and get to know so many more athletes – and the competition brings you closer together. Here, there are no rivals, just mates having a go at their best efforts.

I wasn’t sure how I’d stack up against the field, since my age group had the most athletes, and I had picked the 200m and 400m free, which I figured would feature the most fit of the lot. In the 200m, I swam a 2:56, which was about 20 seconds better than I had predicted. Bryan Williams, a heart transplant recipient, finished 6 seconds ahead of me. In the 400, I figured I would try something extreme

Bryan lives in Perth and does long distance ocean swims, like the 10k swim from Rotness island! Being an athlete with a kidney transplant is one thing – a heart transplant is another universe. I could have talked to Bryan for the next 10 hours; it’s humbling to meet someone like him, and I’m hoping I’ll get to see him when I head to Western Australia for Ironman Busselton.

All in all, I did six events and came home with five silver medals. But that’s not what I’ll remember about the games.

7. Don’t Stop Looking for Heroes

Gemma medalYou might think you stop having heroes when you stop being a kid. Well, the reverse is true – as an adult, I find the heroic more and more often in children. Jemma is eights year old and a liver transplant recipient. She won gold in both the 25m backstroke and 25m breaststroke. Her dad, Jeff, swam in the 200m free with me, and just seeing their family tells you a story of what a gift Gemma has received, and the gift that she is to her family. Having the entire family get to compete and support the games shows you the real impact of these gifts.

8. Argentina in 2015 sounds like a great idea

The World Transplant Games are in Mar De Plata, Argentina, next August. If possible, I’d love to be there.

As a note to my future self, here are the 12 events I should do there:

  1. Running: 5K
  2. Cycling: 5K time trial, Road race
  3. Swimming: 100m, 200m, 400m free. 50m, 100m backstroke. And both relays.
  4. Table Tennis
  5. Athletics: 1500 m run

The World Games also has a “triathlon”, where they add your times for the 5K run, 5k time trial, and 400m swim and take the lowest overall time to award medals. (Note I would be the gold medalist for the Aussie games in this event if it was a part of the games, but who’s counting…)

The Reality

Despite this amazing event, the bright spark it gives the athletes, underneath it all is the need to raise awareness, of how important organ donation is.

If you haven’t registered to be an organ donor, please do:

Many of the participants have lost their first transplant and are now on their second. At some point in my life, the kidney I have will start to fail, and I’ll have a hard choice ahead of me about what to do then. Until then, I’ll be finding what else I can do with a borrowed kidney.

The Winter of My Discontent

If I’m honest about it, it’s been the year of my discontent in some aspects of life.

Warning: It’s been a long time since I’ve written.  Please return your tray tables to their upright positions, and buckle your safety belts.  But leave on electronic devices or you won’t be able to read the rest of this.

Snap, crackle, pop

femoralLast November, I injured my left leg. Unaware at the time that it was a stress reaction (partial fracture) of the femoral neck. Finally discovered in February, the need for seven weeks of crutches meant I had to scrap my plans for Ironman Melbourne  for March. Without much thought I signed up for Ironman Busselton.

After shedding crutches, pain still persisted in my leg, which led to additional MRIs, which confirmed a tear in the labrum in my left hip. After consults with an orthopedic surgeon, I was cleared to resume “being an idiot” and train for Busselton.

I’ve got bacteria in low places

yerseniaAbout the same time I received the green light (June), a trip to San Francisco left me with what I thought was simple food poisoning, which turned out to be bacterial infection that I then carried and fought with for the next three months. After the first 72 hours I seemed to get better, but just two days later the illness returned in force. Training wasn’t the same – I would be in severe pain after some workouts.  An aclasta injection designed to help improve my bone density resulted in three days of agony.  And each time I would push myself, my body would reject the training, and start the cycle of pain and digestive chaos.

All this during a time where I was juggling too many responsibilities at work – and I’ve never been able to be satisfied with “covering the bases” so I felt I was just half-assing everything and simply surviving, even while putting in more time than was healthy. Things were looking up in mid July but my immune system decided to make things interesting again and send me a sinus infection, accompanied by three days of agony and an unhappy digestive system.

Finally, my GP ordered blood and other tests (yep, the dreaded poop tests – though in Australia they just say “poo.”)  Side note: the doctors in Australia instruct you to deliver a deuce into ‘an ice cream bucket.’  I can’t think of any worse idea to ruin ice cream for the rest of your life. Regardless, the tests came back positive for yersenia, a bacterial infection that can linger in immune suppressed folks like myself.  The results and the tests he ordered confused the nephrologists so they ordered a whole other battery of tests, which came back with yet another type of bacterial infection.

Nothing heals like stress and frustration

This news arrived 24 hours before I was supposed to leave for the states, for my company’s annual customer conference.  I didn’t want to head to the states to restart the entire process of diagnosis, so my nephrologist gave me antibiotics for the two bacterial infections and the sinus infection.  I started two of the drugs within 24 hours of my flight, and when I landed in SF, I was so dopey I could hardly say my own name.  I’m sure dehydration and jet lag didn’t help, but I arrived in the office with three days to finish my presentation, and no ability to concentrate.

I’m a planner. I plan. I live to plan. The pre-chaos of our annual customer conference is easily my least favorite time at work, where things are changing at the last-minute, and I’m simultaneously trying to wrap things up while being generally disgruntled with the state of my presentation. I just want to disappear and become one with the content. Yet I am not finished with the content, and my time is being pulled in all directions.

One glimmer of hope

I began to feel more human for the first time on Friday afternoon, and even joined Audra, Joe, Tash, and Wendell for dinner.  Saturday I ventured down to Stanford to watch the Cardinal put on a clinic on how to dominate a game except when you cross the 35 yard line. While the contest on the field annoyed me, the USC alumni did a remarkable job proving every stereotype about their institution.

Sunday morning I had decided to ride.  The first real exercise in almost a week, after I had nearly coughed up a lung during my last run.  The first 30 minutes, I emptied what seemed to be a gallon of clear mucus from my head, with my heart rate skyrocketing. It did not bode well for my goal of a four-hour ride.  But once I hit the Golden Gate bridge, my head was clear, and I could breathe, and my legs had warmed up.  I attacked the bridge, managed to top Camino Alto without too much of a struggle, and then handled the downhills with my usual lack of skill, lack of balance, and surplus of fear.  The remainder of the ride felt great – I could push myself at times, and I could relax and cruise at a decent speed.

Conference

The rest of the week was a blur. Normally the pre-chaos of our conference is balanced by the magic of those two days.  And despite this year being an even more amazing event than last year, I was dead inside. Numb. I didn’t take any of the normal joy or happiness that I get from presenting, from meeting customers, from talking with partners. This wasn’t anyone’s fault by my own. Something inside of me was broken.

Torn

Even with simplifying my life quite a bit, I’m still conflicted.  Ironman Busselton will be the result of two years of hard work, sacrifice, battling injuries and infections, waking up at 4:30 AM, working out when I’m tired, swimming outdoors in cold rain, and having no free time except to train.  And everything else in my life was threatening my goal.  The week of our conference, I didn’t get in a single hour of training.  I couldn’t lower my standards for my presentation, but I lost a critical week of training.

Family

I spent the following week with my mom and sister’s family in Northern Virginia.  My family was amazing: letting me sleep, run, swim, ride, and just relax.  I’ve rode for 2 hours with my nephew Braden, swam and ran with my niece Bekah, and even played some tennis with Ben.  All three are superior to their Uncle in their respective strengths.  I took two naps a day when I needed it.  And I truly disconnected – from everything.  While disconnecting may be irresponsible to some, one of our execs, Tom, challenged me to truly escape and leave everything behind. And it gave me a ton of clarity.  This post would have been brain soup otherwise.

Happiness

While I’ve had a smile on my face, I’ve lost the happiness of the previous year.  I was in love with Australia, with work, with the ocean, with life.  Five weeks ago I was grinding my teeth, despite really having all the same if not better things around me.  There’s really only one person who can make you happy, and of course that’s Tracy Morgan. But if he’s not available, then you need to find your own happiness.

10 weeks to go

busso

I will not let the last two years go away in a whimper. I am still slightly injured, I am undercooked (“not in the shape I need to be”). I cannot accelerate my training any more or risk injury. From here on, I must be perfect. No missed workouts. No mistakes on nutrition. Nothing else can be more important. No more skipping core. Maniacal focus is what it’s going to require.

I feel healthy for the first time in a very, very, very long time.

Right now, I’m in Melbourne for the  Australian Transplant Games (I’m doing the 200m and 400m freestyle, as well as 2 cycling events). November 9th is Challenge Forester, a half-Iron distance race. And then December 7th, about an hour South of Perth, I’ll line up for my second Ironman. Despite having lofty time goals when I began this journey two years ago, the start line is my only goal for now.  Since I like how odd I am, I also like my odds.