When I was 15, I had a bit of a chip on my shoulder. As a result, I was invited to join a summer program for teens that involved driving 15 of us up to Northern Ontario and dropping us off in the middle of a tiny town called, Lake Tamagami. From there we embarked upon a ~15-20 day excursion of canoeing and portaging over hundreds of miles of white water and lakes in the middle of Canadian Wilderness.
That first trip changed my life.
However, before it got to that point, there was one particular portage that just happened to be putting me in a really cruddy mood. It was raining, cold, I was soaking wet to the bone, and we had just paddled who-knows how many miles for hours and we had to carry the canoes and gear around a set of rapids. The portage was probably half a mile in either direction and the trail was steep with super slippery rocks.
Long story short. A friend of mine was returning from dropping off is canoe and I was just huffing and puffing up and over this slippery mess, cursing the gods for the crappy weather when he made some random joke (I don't even remember) that just tipped me over and edge...and I threw the 16.5 ft, 75 lbs canoe that I was carrying on my back, over my head, and directly at him.
Of course, he stepped to one side, but that first exclamations of "HOLY COW, SASQUATCH!" stuck, and thus the name was born.
Returning to the Outdoors
Those trips changed me for the better. Unfortunately, it did take a while, but the lessons I learned about nature, the strength of human character, and how to make the best of bad situations has stuck with me ever since. In short, there was a long period of my life where I didn't really get outside. I was very overweight, I ate very poorly, I smoked about a pack or so of cigarettes a day and had terrible habits with sleeping and drinking.
The more I learned about Human Physiology, the less I could ignore the facts about what the food we eat and activity we get have to do with our health. More than that though, our brain functioning and overall outlook on life are linked to these factors. It took a while before I quit smoking, but in college I did start to work out more and eat more healthfully. I also played club ice hockey for a couple years.
I had gone to Mount Holyoke College (class '05) and studied Biology and Psychology of Education with Licensure (MA) for Secondary Biological Sciences. I had spent 6 years working in the biotech/pharmaceutical industry doing R&D for drug delivery technologies. After college, I worked as a Vet Tech for a year and a half before finally hunting down a job in '06 as a Biological Sciences teacher in an all-girls Catholic High School.
After a divorce and becoming a single-mom at age 26 ('09), I had an amazing revelation. I had a golden chance to start fresh and reinvent in myself. At the time of the divorce, I was working as a Biology, Health, Environmental Science, and Anatomy & Physiology teacher (at one point or another) at an amazing high school in Hartsdale, NY.
Being single and with a 9 month old kiddo, I became stoked on the idea of getting back to what I loved. I missed the woods. I missed the outdoors, and canoeing, and getting out of the house. I wanted to be the best example I could for my students and teach them that no matter what life throws at them, they can handle it with grace. Even more than that, I needed to be the best role model and Mom I could be for my son...we became the dynamic duo!
Climbing and Obstacles
I took up rock climbing in early August, 2010. I'd always wanted to learn. Climbers seemed like very awesome people in general and many of my friends from middle and high school were climbers. (Hooray for PR rocks). I should specify though that by "Rock Climbing," I do indeed mean "Plastic Pulling." (It took a few years before I actually got out onto real rocks.) Around the same time, I met some very awesome people and decided that a Tough Mudder needed to happen soon, too. Why not?
Within a few years I began hiking, climbing, camping, backpacking, loving life, enjoying nature and sharing my love for it all with my students and kid. Every day was an adventure waiting to happen. I began competing in Bouldering Competitions and Obstacle course races, not just to test my merit, but to raise awareness for awesome causes. I have run in Tough Mudders, Spartan Sprints, Mudderellas, community races, and other Cause-related events because I believe in the organizations they support.
My goal as an athlete became to inspire others. To challenge themselves and learn that they are capable of more than they dream. Help them find new ways to be excited about the little things. To lead by example with balancing family time, values, healthy nutrition, and consistent workout programs specific to goals, and work.
In 2013, my at-the-time relationship took an unexpected nose-dive. As a result, I went on a 4 week road trip with my son across the US and did some life-reflecting. We went from NY to PA and stopped at the Crayola Factory before heading down to VA and spending a few nights in the Shenandoah mountains. We hiked and camped and saw 9 black bears (lots of cubs and moms) in 2 days. I was incredibly giddy and Lex was very "what's the big deal, they're just bears..." as if we saw them every day.
I had spent the better part of two months prepping for this excursion. I dehydrated weeks worth of camping meals from scratch, baked granola, reserved campsites in National parks, plotted the route and scouted the best Children's Museums in the country. (City Museum in St. Louis, MO is an absolute **MUST**...be sure to bring knee pads.)
We spent time in Roanoke, Chattanooga, camped in the Great Smokies at a lakeside tent site on an 11 mile out-and-back (my kid was 4 and he was a trooper...one slow 0.1 mile at a time, haha). On to Mississippi, then Texas where his dad lives. Lex spent the next 10 days with his Dad and I drove like a bat out of hell to get to Boulder, CO to see high school friends and to go solo-backpacking around the Maroon Bells. Those 10 days, changed my life again. Just like the canoe trips from high school. This was where I needed to be.
I met the love of my life, Eric, on Nov. 25 2013 via a Facebook friend request. On our first date I informed him I intended on moving to CO the following summer and if I like him, he can come. What else do you do as a single mom on a random date? You kind of need to put all the cards on the table upfront. It took a very short time to realize that this man is my other half and my heart has always beat only for him, it just didn't know it until I met him.
We moved to Colorado in July of '14. I was hired as a biology teacher in a prestigious high school. It only took 3 months for me to realize that being a teacher in Colorado is a very different job than the one I had been doing in NY for eight years. I love teaching and connecting with teenagers with all my heart. Being a teacher is in my blood and I miss it every day. The classroom becomes a second home and the kids become your family. Unfortunately, the job was not right for me and I resigned due to stress-related health issues.
After a few weeks, I was yet again presented with a drastic life change. It was finally time to take on the next chapter.
Sasquatch Training/Full Time Athlete
I've been a licensed trainer since 2012, yet I worked mostly for free or next to nothing with my friends at the climbing gym and a few local clients. As a part time gig it worked pretty well after teaching all day. I also ran the Women's Night at The Cliffs at Valhalla for a couple years. I became licensed as a PT while I was finishing my MS in Physiology at New York Medical College mostly so I could work on injury prevention for myself while I trained for comps and races, but also so I could help others prevent sports-related injuries too.
Creating Sasquatch Training and becoming a full-time athlete has always been a dream of mine and I have found myself in an incredibly fortunate position where I can work hard at this while still being a truly present mom for my son and wife to Eric. I passionately love my job and even though I am not in a classroom any more, I am so thankful that I still get to teach and share knowledge about health and exercise with my clients and kids.
As an athlete, I could still be the role model and inspiration that I want to be for the next generation. I do lots of outreach and community-related events in addition to fundraising for causes through competitions and races. Life has so much to offer!
Retirement from Sports
In a freak accident during a Terrain Race in May of 2016, my left shoulder fully dislocated while I was hanging from "monkey balls." I did my best to heal up based on what I had learned in medical school and through years of training others, however, it became clear that a significant amount of damage had been sustained. It turned out that I had completely ripped apart all of my anterior ligaments, half of the posterior ligaments and torn my labrum. Dr. Peter Millett, the best shoulder surgeon in the world (I'm not exaggerating, he actually is and he writes the procedures that all the other shoulder surgeons use in practice) said that it was the worst injury of it's type that he's ever fixed. It took 5 permanent anchors and extensive work to fully repair my shoulder during surgery. This was followed by almost 5 months of physical therapy. I was cleared to race again at that point but I still couldn't hang on my arm without pain. The pain didn't completely go away until about 10 months after the surgery and it involved consistent physical therapy on my behalf to get it there. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to work out at a capacity any where near what my body was accustomed to and the heart disease I have suffered from for years took a turn for the worse. I wasn't able to stand up without fainting most of the time, I couldn't exercise without feeling like my heart would explode or my lungs would burst, and I felt constantly sick and as if my muscles were suffocating. The heart medication I was on helped, for sure, but it wasn't enough.
We determined that all of my joint, muscle and heart problems are likely being caused by a genetic condition called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome. There is only ONE doctor in all of Colorado who is able to diagnose this disease and I have been waiting to see him for over a year and a half. On February 22, 2018, I will finally see this doctor to have the diagnosis confirmed.
As much as I live to compete and I love sports, it is not worth it to me to continue to compete with the constant threat of a freak injury occurring. I have broken, dislocated, or ripped almost every single joint in my body including my spine, neck, shoulders, hips, knees, ankles, wrists, toes, and fingers. I want to be able to backpack, climb, hike, and simply walk when I am in my 70s and beyond, and therefore I have retired from professional sports. This does NOT mean I have retired from life!!! It took over a year to slowly get back on track and get my health to a place where I am able to function mostly normally. I am still out skiing for hours, hiking for miles and miles, backpacking with a weeks worth of food and water for 2 (usually I still Super-Mom the pack weight when I take my son out on trips), and climbing every chance I get. I have found that in order to keep the pain at a minimum, I have to continue to work on my physical therapy for my entire body religiously, get my cardiovascular exercise in every day, and eat as healthful and clean a diet as possible.
My biggest focus is the same that it always has been. I strive to be the best role-model I can be for my son and the next generation of athletes. I want people to see that it is possible to overcome any obstacles life throws at you whether they are emotion, physical or both. That there is never a reason to give up, ever. There is always a way to do the things you love and share your passion with others. Even though sometimes we have to make adjustments, and be kind to ourselves by decreasing our workload and listening to our bodies, we can still work with the lemons we've been given and make extraordinary tasting lemonade.