Irish gal living the American dream in Austin, Texas y'all!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Napa to Sonoma: Inspiration for Life

Bit of a dramatic title, but once I explain to you all the goings on from this past weekend, you'll understand why it really was so inspirational.

Team Challenge South Texas, A.K.A. The Austinites, set off for Napa via San Francisco bright and early Friday morning. I'd never been to San Francisco before and I hadn't slept a wink since 1.30 AM so wouldn't ya know it, I scheduled my nap for our drive over the Golden Gate bridge, dang it! Not as bad as the time I napped while flying over Kilimanjaro, but still.

Friday and Saturday were travel and rest days, apart from an easy two mile team run on Saturday morning and a gruelling amount of bicep curls that consisted of lifting wine glass to lips, swallow, repeat. Tough work, but we managed it! Four of us set off to visit Healdburg on Saturday morning, a really pretty local town, just 10 minutes from the town we were staying in, Windsor.

You know when you visit Napa Valley.. what's your first stop gonna be.. a winery perhaps? Not in our case! A dog accessory store!

appropriate for our crowd!
America certainly love pooches more than any other country and Mr Esteban is no exception.. although we still had to give him a hard time for brooding over what to get his little fella :)

In case you were getting worried about where our priorities lay, our second stop. at 10.30 AM, was a tasting room, hurrah! The trick to pre-race drinking.. start early! Don't judge me, I'm going home in two days and have to prepare some little bit.The weather was fab, there was a cute farmer's market to wander and we had ourselves a mighty fine day of rest and relaxation.

On Saturday evening, Team Challenge hosted a party for all of us across the country that had fundraised. This, for me, was the highlight of the weekend. We all arrived in buses to the event field and all our coaches and support teams were lined up as we got out, cheering us on as we walked through. Cue cheesy grin .

The atmosphere was amazing. We sat in our teams, stuffed our faces and then the speeches started. This is where the bigger picture of what I was working so hard for finally started to dawn on me. We were informed that there were 632 of us running for the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation, making up at huge number of the ~4,000 total for the Napa to Sonoma Half Marathon. Best fact of all.. together we raised a whopping $2.4 million!! Some serious buckaroos to fund research and provide hope for sufferers. New biomarkers for the condition have been identified with money raised by the charity, so this should speed up the current lengthy diagnosis process.

Next came two very moving speeches from a well known ex-American football player, Sam Madison and his wife. His wife, 40 years old, has both Crohn's and Colitis and was diagnosed 15 years ago. (FYI: Crohn's and Colitis are most easily differentiated by the areas of the intestines that they affect. For her, both areas are affected.) Her talk conveyed the mental and physical toughness of sufferers. To most of the world, she appeared normal and always looked great. In fact, many of her friends didn't event know about her condition until she decided to become part of Team Challenge.

It's embarrassing to tell someone you have to go poo all the time, so making excuses and hiding it becomes part of life. Extra toughness is required for coping with a flare-up that seemingly has no trigger. Sufferers can have the condition under control for years and all of a sudden, no drugs work and they are back to pooping 20-40 times a day (no exaggeration). I cannot imagine how hard that must be and the anxiety that it generates.

I was getting teary at this point.. as was many other people... and then to our surprise, our Austin Teammate Mickey G took to the stage. There was hardly a dry eye in the house after this. I knew his story but not the graphic details.. and boy was it graphic!!

Mikey, now 30, was 24 when he was diagnosed with cancer, Hodgkins's lymphoma. He had a very tough battle with it and eventually was given the all-clear. About a year later, he started to experience Crohn's symptoms and feared the worst, that his cancer was back. Tired of fighting, he vowed not to face cancer treatment again and put up with Crohn's for much too long before seeking treatment. He had to have an ileostomy (link) and now has a bag for waste.

What I loved most about his speech was that Mickey put all his humility aside and detailed the everyday life of a Crohn's sufferer going through a flare. He spend most of his days on the toilet, going 35-40 times a day. He had to bring his entire life into the bathroom with him; he took work calls, worked on his laptop and he even had to eat in there! Straddling the tank and using the cistern as a table, Mikey ate his cereal while on the toilet.

Pause for a second and imagine if this was your life.. your reality... your version of normality. Puts our problems in perspective, that's for sure.

My heart breaks for all the suffering this guy has gone through and.. ladies and gentlemen Mikey G ran his second half marathon with Team Challenge on Sunday! This was despite two rough nights in Napa on the john. I think his speech inspired others to be more honest (about whatever personal suffering they are going through), made people feel less alone in their suffering with Crohn's and Colitis and gave family and friends a little more insight into what their loved ones put up with.. because sure as hell, not everyone is as honest as our Mikey! What a guy. Doing everything he can to find a cure.

After that, we were early to bed, since we had a 3.45 wake up call and a 7AM race! Julia and I woke up to these our door.


Our coaches Megan and Paul and manager Meredith knew exactly how to motivate us gals at 4 in the morning.. imagining Mr Gosling at the finish line!

Then I got my tattoos on! Remember when I said I would dedicate miles to my top donors.. well it didn't turn out so well but here's my attempt!

The list: 1. Biddy (my momma), 2. Amanda Sue (Coffey), 3. Alessandra (Rossi), 4. Dominic Taylor, 5. Tricia (Sheehan), 6. Rajashree, 7. Eimear (Plow Plow), 8. Tab & Manboy (my brothers Fergal and Colm), 9. Mary Coffey (my aunt), 10. Popsicle (a.k.a Popalooch or my sister Steph), 11. Baba Aaron (my baby nephew Aaron), 12. Douggie Pooh (Mr Man Douggie Pooh), 13. Flinty (Dad), 13.1 Mikey Mac (me!)I'm revealing a lot of nicknames here, hope ye don't mind! at least I'm outing myself too.. Mikey Mac :)

We took some team photos

Love these guys. Coach Megan (beside me) went all-out 80's!
ready to roll.. I ditched my fetching pants shortly after this

All 4,000 of us set off at 7AM to run through beautiful countryside, surrounded by vineyards. Esteban and I had planned on running together, but after 3 miles, my right foot started hurting and I honestly thought I'd have to quit. I knew our endurance manager Meredith was waiting at mile 6.5 so I vowed to keep going until then at least.

not looking too happy :(

I had to take a few breaks and Esteban was nowhere to be seen by now and I started to get really negative and upset about not being able to race. I knew I could push through and run, but not race and give my very best. I tried not to beat myself up over it and kept reminding myself that I put as much work into fundraising as I did training and just because the race was falling apart didn't mean I shouldn't be proud of myself. I finished the race in 1:45:11, 8.01 min/mile.

I believe I can fly!!

I was upset and in pain (foot hurts bad now though) but my ego got over it and I enjoyed the rest of the day by the pool, sipping wine with my teammates. What a great bunch of people, many of them with Crohns/ Colitis.

So I think you'll agree it was indeed inspirational and I hope my blog over the past few months has served to educate people a little bit more on Crohn's and Colitis.. I certainly didn't know much before I started this! Maybe it will allow you to spot symptoms in yourself, your child, your future child and encourage poop talk at home! Luckily embarrassment about poop talk has never been a problem in the O'Connor household!

I hope you have been entertained in some capacity too... kisses for donations anyone?! How about dress like a dude for money? Most of all I want to thank all of you that donated.. it's hard to raise money for a cause you are not personally affected by. Clearly, plenty of you can empathise with a condition that doesn't personally affect you.

My fundraising page will remain active until August 21st so if want to donate do it here! Have you guys heard of Charity Miles? Well if you are a runner, walker, cyclist, install this app on your phone and select CCFA as your preferred charity and for every mile you run/walk 25 cents goes to charity, 10 cents for biking. pretty easy way to be charitable if you haven't much cash to spare!

Well that's all from me for now folks.. I leave for Ireland on Saturday, Mr Man in tow and I couldn't be more excited! Meeting my nephew for the first time, my brother is getting married, one of my best friends gettting married... and Mr Man meeting the family!! (not enough exclamation marks to convey my excitement!)

For those of you I promised earrings to I will be bringing them with me and it'll be a good excuse to meet up! The international and American peoples should have got them already and fingers crossed they arrived intact?! If not, let me know! For the guys I'm still working on the bbq rub I promised..a real-life Texan is helping me make his bbq rub recipe tomorrow evening.. and of course we'll have to test it out and get the grill going after.. yum yum, can't wait!

So for now my friends, chat to ye soon and hopefully you'll be seeing some of your faces on here with photos from the trip.

Long-time love,

Hazel x

P.S. if you think this post would serve to educate others or support them (or you know someone who sufferers from Crohn's and Colitis) please share and like this post. They might even be encouraged to sign up for Team Challenge! They are running in Vegas in December!

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Friday, July 12, 2013


Fundraising target reached!

In the past week, I have had donations from the O'Connor's of Toorcladane, my brother Colm, the Ryan's of Direen and a little girl by the name of Amanda Sue raised $500 in NYC!
Amanda & Dad having the craic in Dallas

Amanda is my dearest cousin who's almost like a sister to me.. I changed a few nappies (diapers) in my day (sorry Sue!). She took it upon herself to start her own little fundraising campaign on my behalf and raised all that money. Once again, my family have gone above and beyond to help me reach what seemed like a lofty goal. I really can't believe we actually have raised this much money.. thank you all!

I really believe this is a great cause (I'm sure you've gathered at this stage!) and this money will do great things for those who currently face no cure for Crohn's and Colitis.

So I guess all I have to do now is run the race!! Oh and make 24 pairs of earrings but I'll focus on the running for now. One week today I leave for Napa.. yipeeeeee! I'm more excited than nervous.. I've been training hard for a long time so I'm as ready as I'm gonna be. 

Here's what my training has looked like over the past few weeks:

getting fancy making pictures.. just pretend I didn't crop off the end of last week please :)

(Oh if you're wondering what the injury was it was so bum trouble.. I'll leave it at that!). 

Rugby legs: intervals on the elliptical
Sexy arse: really steep walking intervals on the treadmill
Tempo run: 10 min easy warm-up, 2.5 miles at ''easy end of hard'' pace, 0.5 miles easy, 1.5 miles at ''hard end of hard'' pace, 1 mile. cool down.

Tempo runs are supposed to be great for getting faster and I've increased my speed every week. Fingers crossed all this has got me ready to run a 7:30 minute mile.

I mostly can't wait to run in cooler weather.. on my last long run my two main thoughts were ''It would be a really good idea to get stick-on super-hairy eyebrows so sweat wasn't pouring in my eyes'' and ''IF I manage to finish this run I'm getting a Snickers Ice Cream''. No idea why I was craving that, I haven't had one in years. I finished the run, bought the ice-cream and I'm letting my eyebrows grow ;)

Since I started writing this at 4AM when I couldn't sleep, I will love ye and leave ye for now. But not before I share this ridiculous photo from our drive in the Texas countryside on 4th of July. Nick forwarded it on to me saying: ''conundrum: to show off the monstrosity of this truck, but face the ridicule regarding the hair? The decision is yours''. Lucky for you guys I made the right decision.

bam-bam hair due to scalp burning susceptibility.. that's my excuse & sticking to it ;)

Happy friday y'all!!!

P.S don't forget it's not too late to donate, right here. I still have 2 miles left to dedicate for people who donate over $100 and there's plenty room on my arm.. I've been growing my biceps especially :)

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