Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Living, for time



If you've been a long time reader (truth I'm not sure those exist anymore after my long hiatus) you've probably noticed a little bit more of a serious tone on my blog for awhile. I'm not sure what happened exactly, but somewhere along the line, I think I may have grown up a bit. Is this what happens when you hit 30? Don't get me wrong, I still love glitter (ooh! Shiny things!), loud music, heavy weights over my head, and inventing my own words. But my desire to blog about shiny things every day has diminished, if that makes sense.  

As I've gotten older, I've changed. Most recently, I've changed careers. And if you ask me point blank why I've changed careers, the answer is not as cut and dry as you might think. Yes, it was ultimately because I wasn't happy, but it was a lot more than that. It's a complex tirade (which for now I'll spare you from) that would include the phrase "living, for time". As CrossFitters, everything is about AMRAP and FT! We're competitive little buggers, and sometimes that competitive tendency spills out into the rest of our lives. One of the reasons that I quit my job, and my career, is because I was tired of living life, for time. 

Everyday I had to have conversations with myself. "At what time do I need to be up if I'm going to get to the gym? I need 15 minutes drive time, and is my bag already packed? Ok, no, then I need 15 minutes to get mobile and pack. Ok, oh shit wait. Today I go to Dogfish after school. Ok, I need to pack that bag too. Let's back up the alarm another 15 minutes. " Later in the day, "Ok, at what time do I need to be out of school to make it to Dogfish on time? I need to be there by 5, so I need to leave no later than 4:15." "Oh, I have to work this weekend, where can I cram in running to the store and getting over to the dry cleaners to get my choir dress done." "Oh and crap, I said I would meet ____ (insert name here) for coffee this week. Where can I do that?"  

That was my life. It was for time. How much time do I need? What's my work load? I have to complete these tasks under my time cap because I've got to move onto the next task, and if there's not enough time in the time cap, we just need to move faster. I was constantly moving through my life at a break neck pace. Constantly doing everything quickly. Now, I know I live in DC and it seems that everyone is always moving fast, but life isn't meant to be lived "for time". I shouldn't be rushing through things on a daily basis. I should be able to take some time to slow down and smell the roses so to speak. And with my old job, I couldn't. I simply couldn't. I was tired, and I didn't want to live my life "for time" anymore.  

Yesterday's wod hit me pretty hard today (HELLO walking lunges with 130 on the bar.... ooops) and I thought, today would be a great day to not fall asleep on the couch after work and get in a recovery wod of sorts on the bike. So I put TT on the back off my car and away we went. Oh, how rude, I'm sorry. I don't think you've met TT. Here she is!


While I was on the bike tonight doing my "recovery" wod, I caught myself trying to pedal faster, and hurry up. Why? I have no flipping idea. The purpose was to ride slow, let my legs loosen up, get the lactic out. But no, next thing I knew, here we were. Going for a "for time" kind of bike ride. So you know what I did? I stopped. I stopped because I need to remind myself that this isn't how life is supposed to be. Life isn't a "for time" type of wod. I pulled off the trail, and looked around. And you know what I saw? Beauty. The sun was setting and filtering through the trees, which by the way did I mention that they were next to the Potomac? Rowers were out on the water, and a huge flock of Canadian Geese were busy eating and pooping on everything! (Ok, the pooping part isn't beautiful, but they totally were.) And of course, in the background were the monuments. With a small turn to my left or right, I was within plain sight of the Kennedy Center, the Lincoln Monument, the Jefferson Memorial, and also the Washington Monument. How can you not just stop and take pause when you realize the enormity of that? People travel thousands of miles to come see these historic landmarks, and here I am so worried about getting my bike ride in for time, that I miss it. I ignore it. Life is not a sprint. It's not a wod where you get a chance to hit it again another day. If you're like me, maybe you should join me in NOT living life "for time" and actively taking a moment to try to slow things down. In my opinion, which is of course ever so humble, there are many things in life that shouldn't be for time. I've made a small list, just in case you were curious ( :) ) about what I think is worth slowing down for. You may disagree, you may agree, or you may want to add on, so feel free to comment. The purpose of my blog, well there are many, but the main purpose is to share my experiences with others, in hopes that someone may learn from the path I've already taken. Take this list, and maybe revisit it from time to time, and try to find some time for you to slow down. Life is never "for time".  

Katie's List of Things that are Totally and Eternally NOT for Time
1. Good cups of coffee
2. Good hugs
3. Breakamafast/Lunch/Dinner with good friends/company
4. Hikes
5. Bike rides (unless it's a race, then totally different)
6. Ice cream (in addition to getting a head rush, it's gone too fast!)
7. Slow dances whether in public, or your kitchen
8. Saturdays/Sundays/any day of the week where you don't have to work. Put the to-do list down. Target and Wal-Mart will still be there tomorrow!
9. Cuddling
10. S'mores (see #6)
11. Good books
12. A 1RM deadlift (DEFINITELY not for time)
13. Decorating for the holidays
14. A good date
15. A good kiss
16. Phone calls/Face Time with friends/loved ones
17. Puzzles
18. Good glasses of wine/whiskey/bourbon or your other beverage of choice
19. The day (once it's gone, it won't come back)
20. Baths (the door is locked, there is a book on the floor, and I lit the candles for a reason. Come back later.)

Friday, July 18, 2014

Making Amends

For a long time after I first found CrossFit, it was a focus of my world. I thought about it all the time, talked about it all the time, wrote about it all the time, and when I wasn't talking about it or blogging about it, I was reading other CrossFit blogs, reading things on the main site, and essentially saturating myself in CrossFit. In essence, CrossFit wasn't a part of my life, it was my life. I didn't skip days. I was in the box five days a week. I didn't cherry pick wods. I did them whether I liked them or not. Work wasn't an excuse, and I scoffed at people who talked about how tired they were and how they just needed a break.  

But somehow, as time wore on, things changed for me. I loved competing, and I loved CrossFit, but it somehow got to be too much. I couldn't spend hours blogging anymore. I couldn't spend endless hours reading about CrossFit or watching videos. Something shifted. I was feeling run down more often. I was sore all the time, and while I was making strength gains across the board, I wasn't happy with my progress. Somewhere along the line, CrossFit began feeling like a job. And since I already had two, adding one more on top of that felt like a heavy burden to bear. I was having my doubts last summer about whether or not to continue with CrossFit. I had discovered the beauty that was Shenandoah, the joy that was riding a bicycle, and the peace that comes with making decisions that just feel right. Despite my nagging feeling that maybe CrossFit and I needed to take a break, I made the decision to compete at the Superfit in Richmond. A week of unloading my classroom had left my back tight, and a lot of loading in the wods from snatches, cleans, burpees, toes to bar, and rowing left me nearly immobile. After that I had to face the reality. CrossFit for me just wasn't fun anymore. It wasn't what it used to be. And like it was a lover, I had a hard time letting it go. I wanted it to work. I wanted to have this sit down where somehow miraculously things work out. But it just couldn't happen. I already felt like I didn't belong at my box any longer, and the nagging injuries and exhaustion made the answer even more clear. It was time to go.  

It wasn't an easy decision to make. I was the girl who swore that she would always CrossFit, and yes, even for a time considered a CrossFit vanity plate. (What up VAXFTGL?) But the writing was on the wall so to speak. So, I left. I had a very open and honest dialogue with my coach, and let him know that I just felt it wasn't right for me any longer. And so after some time, I decided to go back to swimming. I got back into a rhythm of things and felt like some of my achy soreness was going away, when all of a sudden the hammer fell. The dreaded 'S' word. Surgery. One of those nagging injuries and sore spots, wasn't just nagging. A protruding bone spur in my foot was aggravating the tendons, causing pain when I jumped, ran, and even walked too much. To make me comfortable the only possible answer was to have it taken out. This of course meant no walking, no driving, and of course no swimming. I was completely off my foot for nearly two months. When I was finally cleared, I learned that doing things, like flip turns, was complicated. My tendons couldn't support all the pressure and the surrounding area was still so swollen that even kicking, especially in my specialty of breaststroke was impossible. If ever the term "sagging heart" were to be used, I think that would aptly describe the months of February and March. I was finally given the go ahead in April, but despite the clearance, I couldn't. I just couldn't get off the couch. I was afraid to run. I was afraid to get on the bike. I just could not move forward.  

To further complicate things, was the fact that during this time my stress levels and overall unhappiness were becoming more and more evident. I was waking up in cold sweats at night, stressing to the point where I would cry, and was genuinely not a happy person. It felt like the whole entire world was crashing at once. You know that feeling. That feeling of why can't just ONE thing go right? As luck would have it, I was offered a job with a new company. One completely unrelated to education. And you know what? I took it. I was tired of being tired, and I was tired of being stressed, and I was TIRED of being unable to move forward. And so, I did it. I took the leap of faith that we all talk about taking when our chips are down, and we feel like we're in the hole. I told my principal that I would be resigning at the end of the year, and from there, things, while still challenging, seemed to get a whole lot better. 

But even though things were getting better, I still hadn't quite made peace with it all. I felt like a failure. I was leaving teaching, I had left CrossFit, I had left swimming again. My Paleo diet, ha, that was non-existent and my weight was going up again. Even though I was making changes, I still had to come to grips with it. I still needed to find peace with it. I needed to forgive myself. I'm sure that sounds strange. Forgive yourself? For taking a better paying job with less stress and walking away from something that wasn't making you happy? You had to forgive yourself for THAT? I know. It sounds (to steal my sister's words) cray cray, but you see, I'm not a quitter. I see things through, and I don't give up. I am a stubborn freakin' mule. I finish the things I start. Even really bad books and movies.  

But, this, this was hard. I felt like I was giving up on CrossFit, and my job. I felt like I was quitting. And in a way, I was, but there is a greater lesson to be learned here. Sometimes, we have to do what is really best for us, and sometimes that may mean giving up on something we said we'd do, or we swore we'd never leave. I had to forgive myself for quitting, but remind myself that it's ok. I am on the only one who can make me happy. And if I don't do it, no one else can do it for me.  

After some time, I learned that one of my former trainers had made the decision to open her own box. After careful consideration, I decided to join. I'm not focusing on competitions right now, and honestly, I'm not sure I will again. I'm focused on losing the weight I've gained, getting back in shape, and learning to have fun again. Joining her gym was just as hard as leaving the old one. Not because I dislike her, God NO! She's a fantastic coach! But because I somehow felt bad about not rejoining my old box. But I remember those feelings. I remember how disconnected I felt, and how I didn't enjoy things anymore. And I keep telling myself that I am the only person who can make me happy. I think if I can somehow make that my new mantra, I will find the peace and happiness that I'm looking for.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Break-Up

Over the course of my years at CrossFit, I've always done things my own way.  I never jumped on the bandwagons of things right away, and I've always sort of marched to my own beat.  I didn't compete right away.... I held on to my sparkly chucks for a long time.... held out on Lulu.... and I resisted going Paleo when everyone swore it was the rage.  But as with most things in life, there comes a time.  A time when you sit and evaluate, then reevaluate how you feel, what you want, and what it's going to take to get there.  As a result, I have come to the conclusion that it's time.  It's time to start receiving some of the information that has been in my face for a very long time.  

For a very long time, the science and the success stories of being Paleo have been in front of me. Time after time, people shared how much better they felt. They shared recipes, they shared before and after pictures, and they urged me to come on board.  But if there is one thing that I have learned about myself through CrossFit, it's that I'll get there when I get there, and if I'm not ready to receive you or the information you have, it's never going to sink in.  I'm an analogy girl, so I'll put it like this.  We've all, at some point, probably dated someone who was not right for us.  And no matter how many times people sat you down to have "The Talk" where they tell you that he/she is "just so not right for you", you never listened.  Why? Because you weren't ready to.  You weren't ready to let go yet.  You were not ready to open yourself up to the information.  In your mind, he/she made you happy.  Yeah, they had their faults, but there was so much good about them, and yeah he/she cheated on you, but it was just that one time and they've really changed..... bullshit.  We've all been there.  We were living in a fantasy world where everything was roses, and we weren't ready to let go.  Letting go meant change, and let's face it, for a lot of us, CHANGE IS SCARY.  We weren't ready to receive the information.

After many years of living in this really awful and horrible relationship, I'm finally ready to receive the information.  I'm letting go of a very bad boyfriend that I've held on to for far too long.  

Diet I'm sorry.  It's not me, it really is you.

I have felt lethargic and sick and been just a few pounds overweight for far too long.  It is high time I did something to improve how I look and feel about myself.  It is high time that I stop hurting myself with copious amounts of sugar, and stop dealing with my issues through indulging in food.  Cortisol and sugar do not mix.  It is high time that I stop being a slave to either of them.  
Diet, it's OVER.

I have a nutritionist, who I respect highly.  While sometimes I want to hit her for the things she tells me I need to do, I understand that she has my best interests and health at heart.  And believe me when I tell you, that for me, having someone that I have to be accountable to during these early stages is key.  I know that eventually I will move into that maintenance stage where it is up to me to maintain my healthy choices, but for now, knowing that I have to admit to her every gram of sugar or gluten or alcohol that I eat, helps me to make better choices.  I'm not 100% Paleo right now.  I'm trying, but I know there are still habits to break, and let's face it.  I'm human.  I forgot to say no cheese on the omelette the other day, I ate half a piece of toast.  But slowly, and surely, I'm working on eliminating these things from my diet.  

My point in writing this whole piece though, is to hopefully encourage other people who may be like me.  Do things in your own time.  Be ready to receive the information.  Don't feel like you have to do things because people tell you to.  Do them for the RIGHT reasons.  But when you're ready, be prepared.  It's hard work, but guess what?  You're a CrossFitter.  Do work, son.  

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Fighting the war on multiple fronts...

If you know anything about war, or even if you don't you can probably figure out, that fighting a war is hard.  It's not pretty, there's a lot of pain, loss, suffering, and a lot of things that make you open your eyes and look at yourself and the world around you in a different light.  Miltary strategy will tell you that it is best to fight a war while on the high ground, with good protection, lots of ammo, and only in one general area.  It's also really helpful if that area has good exfil route just in case things start to go sideways.


Fighting a war in more than one area, however, will lessen your supplies and split your defenses.  I'm a girl who loves analogies, so let me just say that this is what my life has been like for several months.  I'm not fighting a war on a hill, with a bunch of hescos and anti-tank guns.  Nope.  I've been fighting on so many fronts, that my reserves are all but depleted, my ammo is all but gone, and I'm about to make the call to fix bayonets.  If you get that military analogy, then you totally get it.  If you're sitting here saying, what the ef is she talking about.... allow me to explain.  When you run out of ammo, and you're about to be overrun, the last thing you can do is fight your enemy hand to hand.  Fix bayonets was always the last call when the enemy was within fighting space.  Granted, that is an antiquated analogy, but still, you get the point.  The enemy has been in my face for the last few months, and he is coming from all sides.


When I first started this blog, I was so excited.  I loved CrossFit, I wanted to spread the word, and I wanted to get out there and be all the CrossFit I could be.  I was determined to be, as someone once said, "the poster child" for CrossFit.  I zoned (yeah for those of you who have been around long enough, remember when CrossFit preached the Zone? Yeah, I do too.) hardcore and lost 20 pounds.  I ran marathons, I began to compete in CrossFit, and then life smacked me in the face.  My job got demanding, I worked more at my second job, I've gone further into debt instead of further out, and the happy CrossFit feelings just weren't there anymore.  Those fun blogs that I loved writing just weren't coming.  And truth is, they're still not.  But.... the good news is, I'm getting there.


I'm a perfectionist.  I am, and it's been one of my biggest downfalls of my adult life.  I'm so driven and so determined to do everything and to do it really well that it causes problems.  As life has put me through the paces, I've never allowed myself any slack.  I've expected the same out of myself at CrossFit and everywhere else.  And this year, more than any other year, as I approach my six year anniversary with CrossFit, I feel it.  I feel as if my nutrition has been so terrible, I don't even want to admit what I've been eating.  My sleep cycle has been atrocious.  I've been working upwards of 10-15 hours everyday, and I have completely lost sight of the important things.


At 31, I have had to have some long hard looks at what is going on with me.  In the past nine months, I have had a shoulder injury that prevented me from going overhead for two months, I had a relatively invasive mouth surgery that left me out of the box for nearly 2 weeks, I had another health situation which sidelined me for another almost 2 full weeks, one of my best friends stopped speaking to me for reasons still unknown to me, and I gained nearly 15 pounds.  All of that has taken a toll.  It has felt like I'm out of ammo, and I've been fighting an enemy that is EVERYWHERE.


That's a lot.  I didn't want to write about that.  I didn't want to share that.  That's not happy.  It's not upbeat.  And it certainly isn't something that I'm proud of.  But I've really had to sit and talk with myself and say that this has to change.  I've got to do something about what I'm doing to myself or I'm not going to be able to keep CrossFitting or being a normal, sane human being.  (normal for ME anyway.... :P) So, at 31, I finally have admitted that it's ok to ask for help.  I've been regularly seeing a chriopractor to help keep my stuff in line.  I've begun seeing a nutritionist who is helping me to (once and for all) beat the addiction I have to sugar.  I've had to cut back (sometimes) at the restaurant in order to keep my sanity, and I have really had to give a hard look at my interactions with other people.  Somewhere along the line, I stopped being a good friend.  I forgot that in order to have a friend, you must be a friend.  And truthfully, while I may feel as if I am ready to find someone, and not necessarily get married, but start spending some QT with them, I have to acknowledge that my schedule and where I have been mentally, makes that a challenge.  I met someone who I do really enjoy.... the only problem is.... he doesn't feel the same.... and even if he did, Hawaii is a long way from DC. But, I'm still hopeful that someday that ship is going to come in for me.  I know that somewhere in me, there is a fun, outgoing, and very caring person.  She's gotten lost.  And I feel as if for the past 2 years, I've really been trying to find her.  It feels like right now, after bottoming out so to speak, this is the closest I have been to finding her in a long time.  I have had to cut myself some slack. I've had to admit that I need help juggling everything.  I've had to admit that I may not be able to compete at CrossFit.  I have had to admit that sometimes, three days a week is all I can give.  And the most important part of all of that is realizing that it really is OK.


CrossFit teaches us to be hard on ourselves.  To always push for more, and always work harder to get to that next level, but  recently Jon Gilson wrote this fabulous article about setting realistic goals and not piling things onto ourselves too quickly.  In my life, I have never agreed with something more.  I'm getting the help that I need from my fantabulous team of people who are working to help put me back together again.... and once I'm there.... the sky really is the limit.  I just need to keep fighting.  


Sunday, April 7, 2013

And the Open is done....

After a crazy week full of 10-17 hour days, 13.5 came and went.  The Open is done.  I repeated 13.5 Saturday morning in an attempt to get more than the 61 reps I managed to eek out on Thursday.  I felt like if I could move through the second set of pull-ups faster, I should be able to manage more reps.  But, even though I moved faster, I just couldn't do it.  I couldn't get the big improvement I was hoping for.  I eeked out +1 more rep and wound up with 62.  And it ended.  Just like that.  With one final collapse on the floor, I finished the 2013 Open.  There were no streamers, no banners, no balloons falling from the sky.... In the blink of an eye, it was over.  I took a shower, I changed my clothes, and then I went to work a double.  It was completely and totally..... anticlimatic....

I can't say I'm pleased with the Open.  I never am.  I don't do well over a long period of time like this.  For someone like me who routinely works long days, trying to stay up and competitive over a period of five weeks is hard.  I don't want to make excuses, but it is.  I am someone who is convinced that I CAN do it all.  I can teach, serve, compete at CrossFit, volunteer with my group, and sing in my choir.  I'm hard.  I'm not easy.  I'm complex and complicated but I still want to be able to do everything at 100%.  Is that feasible? Some would say no.  I say yes.  But it makes me a challenging athlete to coach.  It makes it hard to help me help myself.  But regardless of my circumstances over the past several months leading up to the Open, it is what it is and the scores are final.  A final look at the standings shows that out of 2365 women who completed all of the wods, I am 479.  Last year there were only 1300 women who competed in the Mid Atlantic region.  This year, that number nearly doubled, and I'm still well within the top half of that number.  I guess I should be happy with that.... but a perfectionist like me is not ever satisfied..... Now it's on to the next one.... we'll see what that will be. 

Monday, April 1, 2013

Is it time for a change?

It doesn't take much beyond a quick look down the side of my blog to know and understand that CrossFit is something that I have been doing for awhile. I have always loved CrossFit and I have been ever so thankful of the friends, nay, family I have made by suffering through brutal workout after brutal workout. For the past several months, my life has been in a bit of a flux. Since going back into the classroom in January '11, life has thrown me a lot of curve balls. I love teaching, but I'm beginning to wonder if it takes 13 hours a day to be good at what I do, if I have that in me to give. Working like that leaves NO time for anything else, including CrossFit. Especially not when you have to maintain a second job on the weekends to work off debt you've largely acquired because you work in a profession where it is not only commonplace, but expected, that you will put your own meager salary back into your classroom.

I have yearned, no ached, for what most would consider "normal". Weekends where I am not being required to complete work that cannot be completed in a normal day. Weekends that do not involve working a second job. Weekends that involve spending time with someone I care about, and spending time enjoying the company of good friends. Weekends that involve LIVING. I've made a large effort in the past few months to start putting myself back out there again. Not just meaning dating wise, but also making the time for friends and other people who have been important to me. I've also started singing again, something that I thought went onto a shelf 12 years ago never to resurface. All these things I've done in an attempt to put myself more firmly in a place where I want to be.

But yet, the one thing, aside from my dating life (oi vey!) that I just can't seem to get right is CrossFit. I am a competitive person. I love competing in CrossFit. But being competitive in CrossFit takes a lot of solid training, and a lot of hard work. It takes discipline and solid nutrition, not to mention, plenty of good rest, and a consistent schedule. All of which seem to be things that I am lacking in at the moment. I want to compete, but at the same time, I also don't want to let my team down. And if there is one thing I can say about this year's open (I'm limiting myself to ONE thing) it's that I feel like in every regard I have disappointed my coaches, and let my team down. In the two wods where I should have been able to just blow those numbers out of the water, I couldn't. I tried. It wasn't like I laid down and played dead, but I know I didn't perform to the level of where I otherwise should have. I know I did not perform where they wanted me to. I am, on many levels, embarassed.

So, here I sit. Holding the pieces of what seems like a very broken situation. If I can't live up to the expectations of my team, is it time for me to go? Is it time for a change of pace and a change of scenery? If I can't live up to my own expectations, is it time to change the expectations? Or accept the fact that I will never be at the level I want to be? I have goals, things I want to be able to do. But I'm finding it harder and harder to meet them. The Open has given me a lot to think about. Is it time for a change? I need to sort it out.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Growing Up State: I am Penn State



 

















Imagine if you will, a place where a small lazy river, winds endlessly through rounded mountain ridges.  Imagine that this place is miles away from the nearest city, and speckled with small towns.  There are farms and fields forming much of the landscape with major highways ocassionally criss-crossing through the land.  Imagine if you will the people who live here.  Mostly blue-collar, hard-working, and religious folks.  You will find these people working hard Monday-Friday, coaching soccer and Little League on Saturday, and going to church on Sunday.  

In many ways, it's like taking a step back in time.  The nearest malls are miles away.  There are many places where the nearest neighbor is too.  Large storms still knock out power, and blizzards can, and do strand people in their homes for more than a mere 12 hours.  There is no Starbucks on every corner.  In many towns, everyone still knows everyone's name.  And here, four wheel drives are driven for a purpose other than showing off how much money you have.  In short, welcome home.  Welcome to my home.  I was born here. I was raised here.  And for 22 years, I lived in one house.  Central Pennsylvania, is an hour and a half from the nearest "bustling" city of Harrisburg.  Philly and Pittsburgh take 3-4.  In short, there's really not all that much to do.  

This is a place where your neighbor knows you and will still give you the shirt off your back if you need it.  It's a place where kids still play outside.  They still climb trees, ride bikes, and occassionally wander too far from the house while they play in the creek. Towns still have parades, and driving with a gun in your car is perfectly normal.  It's a place that has given birth to the Little League World Series, the Bloomsburg Fair, Middleswarth Potato Chips, and Mike Mussina.  This is Central Pennsylvania.  This is also Nittany Lion country.

From my earliest days, the seasons all had specific activities associated with them, and we looked forward to them all.  Winter in Central PA means that you are guaranteed snow, and that it can be rest assured that you will watch a lot of movies when the plow doesn't come by your rural address for a few days.  Spring means the return of the Crocusses, trout season, and AYSO spring soccer.  Summer of course meant outdoor swim team and lots of sleepovers at the 'river lots' and campgrounds, maybe mixed in with a trip to Knoebels Amusement Resort, and of course, carnival season. And Fall.  Fall was glorious.  Not only for the gorgeous coloring of the leaves up Route 15 on the ridge lines, but for many other reasons. Fall was Fall AYSO soccer (and eventually high school soccer), hunting season, and football.  Glorious, glorious football.  

Central Pennsylvania, nestled into the valleys of the Susquehanna river, lies just over an hour due west from State College, or Happy Valley as it has been nicknamed.  As far back as I can remember, our proximity to the University always meant that Saturdays in the fall were for Penn State Football.  I can remember my dad at my soccer games with his radio headset on, trying to catch the broadcast while he watched us play.  And honestly, you couldn't expect to get in the car during a Penn State game and hear a song on the radio.  Every station would broadcast the Penn State game.  I can still hear in my head the VERY particular way the announcer would always say, "I formation in the back field."  Route 80 would be packed on Friday and Saturdays with people headed west then east, flying their PSU flags and sporting their stickers en route to the games.  Route 15 and 322 brought people from the South up into Happy Valley.  It was guaranteed that restaurants and stores along these routes would be packed every weekend, and you couldn't expect to drive through the area and not see a variety of flags, license plates, car magnets, and bumper stickers that all supported our Lions.  

As a kid, I used to love to go visit my grandparents in Shamokin.  A little out of Central PA it lies a little farther to the east, in coal country.  Long time Penn State supporters, Pop Pop and Grandma went so far as to keep their Penn State blanket and a stuffed Nittany Lion in the back of their car.  For a long time they had a van that traveled west for EVERY home game of the season.  Once the stadium became too much for my grandfather's knees, they had to stop going.  But even though they stopped going, they never stopped supporting.  In the kitchen of their house for 20+ years, hung the Nittany Lion head with the saying "Love Ya' Lions" right over the kitchen sink.  Being a Penn Stater was ingrained in me from an early age, and to that university I attach some very fond memories.  

Some people though, don't understand why.  Why has this program become so big?  Why is it such a huge thing?  Why is the "Nittany Nation" so strong?  Growing up as a part of the Nittany Nation, but now living away from it, I have my own thoughts as to why that happened.  State College, where Beaver Stadium is located, sits essentially nestled into the mountains as well.  Although an hour closer to Pittsburgh, it still essentially sits in the middle of nowhere.  The people of State College, and the students who attend University Park, are essentially an island.  There's nothing there besides the town and the University.  In part, I think that this is one of the reasons why the Nittany Nation is as strong as it is.  There are few outsiders in the Penn State world because quite frankly, you really have to WANT to be there to be there.  It is my belief, that as with CrossFit where people who suffer together form a community, the same type of thing happens in Happy Valley.  Suffering together through freak snow storms and bleak winters away from much of the outside world, the people there band together in a way that many people do not understand.  Some have used the word cult.  I think that that is a bit extreme.  I think the area simply doesn't appeal itself to everyone, so to the people who don't want to be there, it is easier simply to label the people that do.   People who go there, or live there, are there for a reason.  I strongly believe that that strong sense of commuity is one of the attractions.  And I think that the football program is a continuation of it.  There is NOTHING, NOTHING, I tell you, like sitting in a stadium with 108,000 (the average home game attendance) people who all want the same thing you do.

In addition to being a great weekend activity, everyone who was a Penn State fan, felt good about being a Penn State fan because of who led that team.  To have a strong community was great.  But to have a strong community that was led by what we felt was a strong leader, was fantastic.  We had a man who talked about success with honor and had some of the highest graduation rates in college sports.  He also spent his years as a coach giving back to the community in which he lived.  Joe Paterno, despite having multi-million dollar paychecks, continued to live in the community of State College.  Joe never bought a mansion, never moved into a gated house.  He continued to live as a member of a community.  He was just like us.  He was a normal, everyday guy.  He gave to the University Library, the Special Olympics, and gave his time to different University functions, like THON, throughout the year.  He was the embodiment of good in a world that is not often so.  Penn State fans felt a connection with that type of leadership, because it represented many of us.  Many of us are small town folks who believe in community and in doing the right thing.  

Flash forward to November of this past year.  Jerry Sandusky and the scandal that errupted tarnished our university and our football team.  It tore to pieces the image of a man that we had thought we knew, and had come to feel represented a lot of good in this world.  As alumni, as fans, we were disappointed in our leadership.  We were disgusted with what they allowed to occur.  We were torn between continuing to think that Joe Paterno had done the right thing, and acknowledging that maybe someone we thought we knew, was not infallible.  It was heartwrenching to watch.  It was heartwrenching to hear the truth.  It was hard to hear that someone we all loved and admired, was maybe not quite as worthy of that admiration as we thought.  We wanted to believe that we couldn't be wrong.  It was hard to hear that they had allowed children to be put through what they went through. For those of us who had been fans for decades, it was painful.  I'm not comparing our pain to that of the victims, so please don't jump to conclusions, but if you have ever loved something very much, and watched it go down in a ball of flames, then you may understand what I mean.  Penn State represented a lot of memories for us, and it was hard to watch something you love go through something like this.  It wasn't long after the scandal errupted that the media began to paint everyone associated with Penn State with the same brush.  

According to ESPN, EVERYONE knew.  And according to the media, EVERYONE was to blame.  Because we loved our community, and because we loved football and how it felt to be part of the Nittany Nation, and because we took PRIDE in being a part of the Penn State family, it was our fault.  WE did this.  Not Jerry Sandusky, not any of the administration, but US.  That sort of thinking has been very hard to swallow.  The blind hatred and the accusatory remarks that have been hurled at Penn Staters for simply being Penn Staters over the past few months has been horrific.  The ESPN message boards are a flood of hate filled posts.  As a Penn Stater, it's hard not to be upset by that.  It's hard sometimes to keep quiet when all you hear are people attacking something that you love.  It's a natural reaction to be defensive and to attack back.  Penn State fans and alumni have been attacked relentlessly by the media for months.  Is it not understandable why they are starting to get angry? Why they are starting to attack back?  The media has accused anyone associated with Penn State of essentially being a bad person.  It's hard NOT to come out swinging when someone says something like that.  Although this is not the same, since I know most of you reading this are CrossFitters, I will use a CrossFit analogy here.  How does it feel, when people who don't CrossFit, and don't understand it begin talking trash about CrossFit? About how wrong our methods are, about how wrong we are to eat and train like we do. About how CrossFit is a cult?  What is your first initial reaction? To tell them that they are wrong, and to essentially fly off the handle at them for coming up to you and having this conversation without fulling even understanding what CrossFit is, right?

That's how many Penn Staters feel.  We're tired of people who don't even know anything about the University talking a whole lot of trash.  I can't tell you how many times I have heard people say that the University should be shut down.  Do you realize that Penn State has over 20 branch campuses in addition to University Park in State College?  Do people realize that Penn State has a partnership with Hershey Medical Center and that it is a top research school? Do people realize that Penn State engineering schools are ranked among some of the best?  Do these people know that THON is the LARGEST student-run philanthropic organization in the COUNTRY and that last year ALONE they raised $10 million for children's cancer via the 4 Diamonds Fund?  Penn State is genuinely a quality university.  There are a handful of people who seriously messed up, and yes, they do need some form of punishment.  But shutting down the university and belittling the students, faculty, and fans of Penn State is NOT the answer.  It doesn't erase any of the past.  It just makes it harder to move into the future. As a former, and now again current, Penn Stater through World Campus, I am proud to be a part of the Penn State family.  I am proud of what this family can accomplish when they put their minds to it.  I only hope that people who are not part of the Nittany Nation will read this and begin to have a clearer understanding of Penn State and what it means to many people just like me.  Perhaps they will then be able to join with the students and alumni who are working for RAINN and begin to do some good as we move into the next chapter of Penn State's history.