Thursday, February 28, 2013


Phileas Fogg
With sixty-five countries under my belt since I married Phileas Fogg,  there is good reason why people question my taking another vacation, especially so soon after my last one.   Initially,  I was apologetic and felt the need to defend myself for leaving town so often, but after a few years of circling the globe, I realized that Bruce and I were travelers, not tourists, and we weren't going on vacation.  We were exploring a foreign land.    Before I retired,  vacation was a time to vacate from the chaos of work and the stress of everyday  life.  I counted the days until I could take time off,  drop out and get away.  But now that I'm no longer working,  there's a lot less stress, so I don't need those beach vacations anymore.  

Celebrating with the villagers of Tambanum, Middle Sepik  Region,
Papua New Guinea
Travel for me is to discover,  observe,  interact,   learn,  educate, and  broaden my mind.   Despite our ages,  Bruce and I still actively explore offbeat places around the world that I used to call third world countries.   But now that I understand  their situations and conditions better, the term developing countries seems more suitable.   

Competing for a prize
Deep in the heart of Papua New Guinea,  we attended what I would call a tribal beauty contest named The Sing Sing, where thousands of tribesmen gather annually from around the country to win prizes for the best elaborate face paint and the most exotic dress.  Some of the wild costumes are made from rare bird of paradise feathers, shells, colorful beads, palm branches, and animal skins. Even though the trip was almost ten years ago, we still rave about it as if it happened last year.     

Mursi women with straw huts in background
One of the most fascinating places in the world I've been to is the South Omo region of Ethiopia, where we spent several days interacting with a number of exotic African tribes.  Most astounding were the unusual Mursi people, who wear clay plates in their lips and live in straw huts that a five foot tall person couldn't stand up in.   

My glasses changed his life

In the high mountains of Ethiopia I met a man who had extremely poor vision until I gave him a spare pair of my strong prescription bi-focal glasses that changed his life.  

Fish Monger in a Malaysian market
Gaining historical perspective to understand the culture of the country is essential, but my passion is talking with the local people and making some kind of personal connection to help me understand how they live their lives.  Since Americans are unpopular in some of the countries I visit, sharing positive reactions with them about my experience in their country is important.  If language doesn't hold me back, asking questions like how did you learn to speak such good English can open the door to more questions and answers, and often a more personal conversation with depth will occur.  

In Varanasi, India, a lovely merchant, who served me tea, shared a story about how his arranged marriage came about,  and what it was like to bring a new wife to live in his family's home.   "She waits until I eat my evening meal before she sits down and eats hers," he said.  "Although it's a custom in our family, it makes me feel uncomfortable and sad for her."

 If I simply say Namaste and bow to someone,  we might only hold each other's gaze for a few seconds, but sometimes it's enough to feel a connection.    Wherever I travel,  I always come home having made at least one new friend.  In 2006 while crossing the Denmark Strait on a Russian icebreaker, I met a British man, with an American passport, who was, and still is, living in Saudia Arabia.  We occasionally stay in touch and share  tips on travel and photography with one another, but I never thought I'd see him again.    As luck would have it, he will be in Dubai the same time Bruce and I are there,  so we have set a date to get together.    One of the beauties of travel is to recognize and appreciate how small the world truly is.  


Travel also satisfies my curiosity about things I've only read about or heard people say.   Yes, the glaciers are really melting in the Arctic,  and yes, the Borneo rain forests are being destroyed and replanted with oil palm by greedy foreign investors.   Bravely,  and with Pepto Bismol close at hand,  we've experimented with many oddball foods, and I can't say that I enjoyed eating the grilled guinea pig in Peru or loved the warthog stew we had in Zimbabwe.

Driving an ATV in the desert of Namibia
Nonetheless, I continue to step out of my comfort zone and experience the thrill of soft adventure travel,  and I will try and continue to do so until the day comes when I need to be wheeled up the ramp of a cruise ship.    If anyone told me fifteen years ago that I would rock climb inside a pitch-black ancient Mayan cave in Belize,  dodge a sea of motor bikes while crossing a busy street  in Hanoi, or drive an ATV solo down a tall, steep Namibian sand dune,  I would check to see what they were smoking or accuse them of being out of their minds.

But things change.  

Now,  instead of being accused of taking so many vacations,   curiosity gets the better of our friends, and they politely ask me where's your next trip.

And you pack your bag with 24 hours notice, right? 

Sure, that would be nice, but let's face it,  packing properly takes planning and time.  If I didn't do my research,  I might not pack a bathing suit for Greenland, but they had a sauna and jacuzzi on the ship.   There are many things to think about when packing for a trip --  the culture of the country,  the activities we will be doing, and what the weather is going to be.  

I always make a packing list for every trip and keep them in a notebook,  so I can go back and see what worked and what didn't, or whether I brought too many clothes or not enough.   For my upcoming trip to Dubai and Oman,  I consulted my packing list for past trips to Africa because of the similar climate, culture, and activities.  Like most of the trips we take, this one will be casual except for two days in Dubai, where one evening we'll be having drinks at the luxurious Burj Al Arab Hotel.  Not a place to wear  hiking clothes.  

Planning begins about ten days before we leave, mostly in my head, but I also look for my money belt, travel pillow,  special laundry soap and clothes line.   I also research what type of electricity adapter is required, or whether ATMs are available and how much cash I will need.   Maybe I should replenish my supply of mosquito repellant or purchase special items, like the leech socks I bought to hike in the rain forest of Borneo.   

Making decisions about clothes involves more time, but that's where my past packing lists come in handy.    I  like to shop for at least one or two new items before I leave,  although for some reason I tend to wear my old favorites first.  

I  always consider solid colors that mix and match and avoid patterns that might be limiting.   Lightweight fabrics that can be rolled and won't wrinkle much are my favorite.  Or the kind that dries quickly and doesn't take much room in a suitcase.   For  Oman I think I've brought the right clothes for touring villages,  ancient forts and castles, and walking in the dunes of Wahiba Sands.   In keeping with the Muslim tradition,  I will cover my head, shoulders and legs when visiting the mosques.  My goes-with-everything jacket will be perfect for riding in the air conditioned van, dining in restaurants,  and keeping me warm at night when staying at the nomadic desert camp.   On the plane I will wear my sturdy Keen shoes with rubber toes, and pack some lightweight sandals to help me shed the hiker image when necessary.  My flip flops are always handy in the shower, on the beach, or to wear to breakfast in the morning.   
Will all this fit in a carry on? 

At home our guest room serves as a staging area for packing.   Each day the pile on the twin bed grows larger and larger, and then I try and remove things that I believe are excessive.   It's best if I don't  put things inside the suitcase until one or two days before I leave, so I'm sure everything on the packing list has been checked off.   When roughing it,  like staying in a bedouin camp in the Arabian Desert,  or sleeping in a beach tent while snorkeling in the Philippines,  I roll my clothes and store them in two gallon plastic bags that I buy at Orchard Supply Hardware.   This way they stay clean and free of sand, and are relatively easy to access.  Plastic bags of various sizes come in handy for many uses along the way.   

I've always been happy to have a thin terry cloth hand towel tucked away in my bag,  but when asked what is the most valuable item I take on a trip,  I always say a headlamp, the kind you wear on your forehead and find at an outdoor-activities store, like REI.   Power outages are frequent in many of the developing countries we travel to and even occasionally in Europe.  Because there was no electricity in the Akha villages we trekked to in Laos,  holding a flashlight in one hand and brushing my teeth with the other in the dark was annoying.   

Hiking on the Greek Island of Amorgos
Another useful item is duct tape.  While hiking in the Greek Islands, someone showed me how to wrap duct tape around my toes to prevent blisters.  Guess what?  No blisters.     I break a pencil in half and wrap a small amount of tape on the end of the half with the eraser.  I also bring a lightweight laundry bag, so I can separate my dirty clothes from my clean ones.

I tuck in an extra pair of reading glasses because they can be lost or damaged.  Of course,  one can always buy new ones if  in Paris or Hong Kong, but not so easily in a safari camp in Botswana or on a three masted schooner in the Caribbean.    

My favorite luggage is a lightweight durable hard case that lies flat when open, and all of the contents are visible.    My husband loves his rolling duffel because of its large capacity,  but he also grumbles when he has to pull everything out to find his pajamas or  underwear because he can't see what's inside.   Polycarbonate is a lightweight material that is almost indestructible.   I say almost because mine was recently destroyed on a flight from Florida to the Caribbean.  It looked like it was run over by a tarmac tractor.  There are many good deals out there on luggage.   Paying full price is not my style, so I check online or go to discount stores like Marshalls and TJ Maxx.    My friends who own high end Eagle Creek and Tumi brands feel sick when their expensive bags come off the carousel ripped, dented, or filthy dirty.  

It won't be long before I'll be on that long overnight flight to Dubai, so I'd better get back to my packing.   Depending on the status of free wi-fi,  I hope to stay in touch with everyone.  

Monday, February 18, 2013


When Senator Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia recently announced that he will not run for re-election in 2014, I was reminded of my brush with the rich and famous many years ago, an amusing story I've longed to tell. 

Jay is the great grandson of John D. Rockefeller Sr., the oil baron and the world's first billionaire who created the much feared corporate monopoly, Standard Oil.  A credit in the great grandson's favor, as far as I'm concerned,  is that Senator Jay is the first Democrat in a Republican family dynasty, and that he also served as West Virginia's Governor from 1977-1985.   Politics aside, when one hears the Rockefeller name, images of big money, American society, philanthropy, and a privileged class always come to mind.

When I worked in a public relations type job at a university medical center some years back,  I was asked by a work colleague if I would plan and organize a visit by Senator Jay Rockefeller and his family.    The reason the Rockefeller family requested this visit was because the Senator's teenage son was thinking about becoming a doctor, and our medical school was one of the places he had an interest in applying.  Despite being six years away from matriculating, the precocious young man wanted as much information as possible to to think about the direction his future might take.

To plan the visit,  I first drew up a list of important and relevant faculty I thought the distinguished family might want to meet.  I also made sure the medical school dean was available for at least a welcoming handshake, since people of this stature require that one pulls out all the stops.

Arranging the faculty meetings didn't take too much effort, even on short notice.   All I had to say was,  "Does the professor have time on his/her calendar to meet with Senator Jay Rockefeller and his family next week?"  While most of the faculty were honored, some were also suspicious and questioned my request.  One professor with a sense of humor answered,  "Yes, and I'll be happy to meet with the Pope the week after, if he is so inclined."  Another doctor told me, in a very stern voice, that he didn't have time for practical jokes.   The grumpy head of admissions said he wasn't used to interviewing youngsters, but since he wanted a look-see at a real Rockefeller,  he was willing to have a meeting.   Once I reassured the faculty that my request was on the up and up,  and I was not pulling anyone's leg,  the appointment slots filled pretty quickly.   Because of the nature of my job, I met many well connected and famous people over the years, but never a Senator and never a Rockefeller,  so I was looking forward to spending the afternoon with this notable family myself.   

Given our school's colors, the stylish red dress I was wearing seemed very appropriate.  I wanted the Senator to spot me easily when he and his family arrived at the appointed hour of one o'clock in the afternoon.  
I inspected every car that drove through the porte-cochere at the hospital's entrance,  but none were transporting the famous people I was looking for.    Finally,  a shiny black limousine,  the kind dignitaries ride in,  pulled up to the main entrance and stopped at the front door.  This must be them,  I thought,  as I walked toward the fancy car.   I wasn't sure if the goose bumps on my arms were due to the chill in the air or some last minute jitters about meeting a VIP.  Regardless,  I tried to appear relaxed.   A chauffeur, wearing the characteristic driver's cap,  hopped out,  skipped around the car,  held open the back door and stood tall at attention like he was about to salute.  Yet no one emerged from the car.   Not wanting to waste a precious minute because we were already running late,  I put one foot forward, smiled at the chauffeur,  and in my most professional voice queried,  "The Rockefellers,  I presume?"

The chauffeur turned to me and with a quizzical look on his face and eyes that squinted in disbelief  responded   "Rockefellers?  Rockefellers?  No, I'm picking up someone here."  Then he shook his head as he turned away, and muttered in a mocking voice,  "Yea, right, sure, I'm driving the Rockefellers."   He obviously took me for a nut.

I was terribly embarrassed when I realized that there were no Rockefellers in the back seat of his limo.  The limo was, in fact,  empty because the chauffeur was picking up a patient who was being discharged from the hospital and not delivering the Rockefellers as I expected.   Eventually, the patient, who was transported out to the main entrance in a wheelchair,  rolled herself into the backseat of the limo,  and they quickly drove away.   As I wiped the egg off my face and took in a deep breath,  I desperately tried to recover from my  faux pas.    So, where were the Rockefellers?   

A couple of official looking cars drove up, but none were unloading my people.   At 1:30 I could see a dark gray Lincoln Town Car making its way slowly up to the main entrance.   Although I didn't want to make a fool of myself twice,  I was sure this was the Rockefeller's car.    I pulled myself together, pasted that smile back on my face, and waited for someone to appear.  The driver walked around to the back and opened the door,  and there they were, the Senator, his wife and their teenage son.   The Senator emerged from the car by unfolding himself like a puppet in a jack in the box.    Since he's a six foot six and a half inch giant,  there was very little headroom, even in a Lincoln Town Car, and he probably felt like he'd been stuffed in a suitcase.    After each of them politely shook my hand, we were off to our first meeting,  chatting as though we'd known each other for years.   I had the privilege and honor of escorting the Rockefeller family to all of their afternoon appointments and having interesting conversations with them of my own.   And for a change,  I didn't get flack from any of the faculty who had to wait.   Everyone was impressed with the Rockefellers.  They seemed like down-to-earth folks,  gracious and grateful for their visit and very impressed by the people they met.  

So this is pretty much the end of my story except to say that a week after their visit,  I received a lovely thank you note on official Rockefeller stationery from their teenage son.  This really meant a lot to me at the time, but I now kick myself for not having the good sense to save the hand written letter.    It sure would have been fun to show to my family and friends.  

Friday, February 1, 2013


Easily intimidated are not the first words that people think of to describe me.  And yet that's how I felt when I saw all the expensive bikes and riders who were dressed like they were competing in the Tour de France.  Was I crazy to have signed up for a 100 mile fundraising bike ride?   I considered backing out, but quitter is also not a word people use to describe me,  so I unloaded my bike from the car and tried to blend in.  

That's when I saw this big fat guy.  I figured if this fellow can ride a bike 100 miles, then I can too.     He was heavy set like a wrestler, not lean and sinewy like a cyclist.   He wore a pair of loose fitting mountain bike pants over his tight spandex shorts, and his jersey fit snugly around his pudgy midsection.   When he said howdy, you could hear a slight Texas drawl in his voice.  He was sitting on the back of his big black truck with a decal that said "Team Marie!".   Even though he looked like a couch potato, it was obvious to me that he was no stranger to this cycling scene.  He called a few of the coaches by their first name and hugged several women riders, whom he endearingly referred to as his cyclin' sistas.     He introduced himself as John Garza.

 We were training for a bike ride that was one of the many nation-wide benefit events organized by Leukemia and Lymphoma Society (LLS) to raise money for blood cancer research.  In order to participate in the 100 mile Team in Training ride, as it is called, I had to raise a minimum of $3000, and we were encouraged to raise more.   People sign up to do this endurance ride for many reasons.   For some it's the camaraderie and the challenge.  For others it's because they want to honor someone they know, who either had leukemia or lymphoma, or memorialize someone who died.   I was impressed with the riders who were survivors themselves,  either cured or in remission,  but the honorees, people who didn't ride but were an important part of the collective effort, were the most touching.   After you hear someone describe what it's like to have blood cancer,  you know why you are out there busting your butt and asking people for money.   It is definitely for a worthy cause.   I had two reasons for signing up.  First, I knew someone who had lymphoma, and second,  I had paid good money to do a 1500 mile bike trip,  and thought that Team in Training would be a good way to prepare for that epic ride.

We were divided into teams based on our riding pace, so we could bond  and ride single file in peloton style.  I was put on the same team with John Garza, and together we rode every Saturday for months,  building up our mileage week after week until we were physically and psychologically strong enough to ride 100 miles.    The commitment to train and complete the ride takes a lot of self discipline, and asking people for money is scary. Some people raise money by having garage sales, wine tastings, and car washes.   One rider reached her goal by selling expensive chocolate milk, a great recovery drink, after every training ride.  As a retired professional fundraiser, my technique was simple  -- develop a long list of potential donors, write a compelling letter, and keep your fingers crossed.

Riding in a peloton is something you have to learn.  Basically, you ride single file, at roughly the same rpm as your teammates.  After a half mile or so of riding in the front, where you take the brunt of the headwind,  you shift positions and go to the back of the line, and eventually you are up front again, setting the pace, and blocking the wind.  It takes some getting used to.  You don't want to ride so close that you clip the tire of the bike in front of you and crash, but you want to ride close enough to take advantage of drafting the person who is resisting the wind. 

Claudia, John and Elizabeth

While riding peloton style, John and I followed each other often, some times making small talk, other times encouraging each other to keep the pace, or just remaining silent while listening to each other's heavy breathing sounds.  During that time he told me a few things about himself.  He and his second wife Claudia had a blended family of eight,  and if that wasn't enough, they adopted a baby girl when she was a year old and named her Elizabeth.   Both of them worked in Silicon Valley's high tech, John in a busy day job, and Claudia doing the grave yard shift.  They loved their family life together, despite the long hours apart.  They liked to work hard.    

I noticed that attached to the back of John's bike seat was a large round pin with a picture of a pretty girl with long dark hair and wearing glasses.  The words  "Team Marie!" were printed on the bottom of the pin, just like the decal on John's truck.    I wondered who she was. 

Finally, one Saturday while eating our lunch, I asked John,  "Who is Team Marie?"   I had a feeling that his answer would not have a happy ending.  "Marie was my daughter who died of leukemia in May, 2008.  She was 29 years old," he said.  "It broke my heart,  and Team Marie is named for her.  So we call ourselves "Team Marie!".

Not holding anything back, John continued with his story.   

"It was a Saturday.  My wife Claudia and I were at a wedding when we received a call to say that my daughter Marie had collapsed and had been rushed to a nearby hospital.   When we saw her, she seemed fine.  She looked normal and appeared in good spirits.  The next day was Sunday, and her hospital room was filled with her friends and our family.  She was very popular.  Had a lot of friends.  With optimism and hope in her voice,  she told us not to worry, that she was going to be okay.   The doctors, on the other hand, were not so sure.    Her platelet count was drastically low, so they did a bone marrow biopsy in the afternoon.   The next morning,  Monday,  I received a call at work and was told that Marie had leukemia.   I stayed in the meeting for another hour or so to let the disturbing news sink in.   I guess I was in shock.  Marie had always been so important to us.   I just couldn't quite grasp that she had a terrible disease, and we might lose her.  When I got to her bedside, my emotions took over.  I tried so hard to be in control.  I didn't want her to see my tears.  One of the things I will never forget are Marie's words,   Remember, Dad, there's no crying in baseball.    I put my forehead next to hers,  but just couldn't hold the tears back.   I cried so hard while she held me close.   I don't know exactly when it happened, but not long after I got there, Marie started  screaming in severe pain.  Doctors and nurses came rushing into the room, a crash cart was brought in,  everyone was in hysterics.  I remember the nurses wheeling Marie out of the room on a gurney.  A short time later we were informed that although they tried to restart her heart,  she didn't make it.  Her spleen had ruptured,  and the doctors couldn't save her.   Only two days after she collapsed, and on the same day she was diagnosed with leukemia,  our daughter Marie died.  We were devastated."

With emotion in his voice,  John told me more of his story, about how his faith and trust in God had been instrumental in supporting his grief, but also how his faith developed and grew as a result of Marie's death.   A few months after she died,  and with Marie's Bible in hand,  John and his 11-year-old daughter Elizabeth set out on a 10,500 mile road trip in his big black truck.  As they traveled, John faithfully read Marie's Bible every day and studied the passages she had highlighted, knowing that these words had been important to her.    This was the impetus behind John's transformation.  "The Holy Spirit awakened in me," he said.  "Her notes helped me to seek out God."   Upon his return home, he and Claudia moved from the Episcopal church they had been going to, and found solace and comfort in The Neighborhood Bible Church nearby.  

Until someone asked him to donate to their bike ride for a good cause,  John had never heard of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.   He felt this was a message from God,  that he was to get involved in LLS,  ride a bike, and share the experience of losing his first born so suddenly.  When he was younger and weighed 205 pounds,  John was a long-distance runner  and softball player on a team at work.   At 265,  running was not in the cards anymore, but he figured he could always ride a bike.  So in 2008 John signed up for a 100 mile fundraising bike ride in Palm Springs with LLS and Team in Training, although he had no idea what he was getting himself into.  

This blue collar newbie showed up at his first training meeting with an old heavy mountain bike he'd found in his garage and a cracked skateboard helmet one of his kids used to use.   While everyone else at the meeting was dressed in flashy spandex, John looked out of his element in his baggy basketball shorts, an oversized sweatshirt, and well-worn sneakers.  Coach Don told him his bike was okay,  but he definitely needed a new helmet.  He didn't say a word about John's clothes, although a couple of women cyclists who saw him said that his 70s look just wasn't gonna cut it.   Comments like that would have sent most people running, but John was undeterred.

For over a month he trained on the heavy bike and wore the same  baggy clothes, but he knew that he'd have trouble keeping up if he stayed with the mountain bike much longer.   The clothes were less of an issue.  On November 27, 2008,  his wife's birthday,  John got up his courage and asked Claudia if she would be willing to give him her birthday money so he could buy himself a decent bike.  Being the generous and loving wife that she is, Claudia didn't hesitate for a minute,  and within a few days John was riding a  Jamis aluminum bike with much better gears and proper geometry for a big guy his size.   Even with a lighter bike, the training was really, really tough.   His body had never worked so hard, even when he was a runner.   Despite epsom salt baths and his wife's daily massages,  John's legs ached and burned after ever ride.   The first week he rode 20 miles in one day and thought he was going to die, but he hung in there and stayed focused.  Within six weeks he was riding 50 miles.   Inspired by his Dad's commitment, John's younger son, Marie's brother Joseph, decided to ride with him, and together they trained and raised enough money to qualify for the Palm Springs event.    John credits Coach Don who was the senior coach, and Coach Ron,  John's individual team coach, for believing in him and helping him successfully complete the ride.  And even better, after hearing the heart-wrenching story about Marie,  Don and Ron agreed to call the cycling group,  Team Marie.  

Riding TNT in Moab
Completing a flat century ride in Palm Springs buoyed John's spirits and gave him the confidence to consider doing another event.  Since he wasn't sure he'd be able to raise the money again,  he signed up to be a non-fundraising mentor,  as well as a rider, and do a very hilly century ride in Moab Utah.    By the time he and I finished our training for Moab, John left me in the dust and moved up to a faster group.  He proudly finished the ride despite some serious knee issues, but after knee replacement surgery, those problems disappeared, and six weeks later he was riding his bike.   

With lots of high fives from all of his friends, John did two back-to-back centuries with a 200 mile bike ride from Seattle to Portland (STP) over two days and raised $3525 for LLS.   His new titanium knee held up like a champ.  

Pool training

Still committed to LLS and raising money under the banner of Team Marie,  John got bolder and signed up to do an Olympic length triathlon in Hawaii.   Swimming was not his strength, but after many hours of training in the pool, he successfully completed a .9 mile swim, a 25 mile bike ride,  a 6.2 mile run and raised $5430 for LLS.  After that event, he was on a roll, so he joined with Team in Training again and in 2010 ran the San Jose Rock 'N Roll Half Marathon.    Running 13 miles was so empowering that John signed up for other athletic events and raised funds for cystic fibrosis, breast cancer and diabetes.  He did the Sea Otter Classic fundraising bike ride in Monterey.  

In 2012 John reached for the moon and did the LLS Aqua- Bike event -- a 2.4 mile swim and a 112 mile bike ride, two of the three events in an Iron Man triathlon.    All of his friends were blown away by his dedication and determination.   Nothing was going to stop John now.   Teammates called him Diesel because he would climb hills like a diesel truck and cut through water like a diesel tugboat, both slow, steady and with power.    Team Marie was becoming well known and people were happy to donate to his cause.     


One day cycling Coach Jeff said to him, "John, I think you have what it takes to do all three events of a full Iron Man triathlon distance and not just two."  Jeff,  a burly guy like John, had successfully completed several Iron Man events, and Jeff  encouraged John by explaining how he could physically transform his body and lose 35 pounds.   John was flabbergasted when Jeff tossed out the full Iron Man idea, but quickly ruled out the possibility, saying that this was crazy and something he could never do.    He couldn't imagine swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles and then running a 26.2 mile marathon   His response?  "No way, Jose."   John was happy riding centuries and running half marathons while raising money for LLS through Team Marie.  Even these endurance events were more than he ever imagined doing.   At the first cycling class to train for the Aqua-Bike event,  John noticed Jeff changing from his street shoes into his biking shoes and was absolutely stunned when he saw that Jeff was wearing a prosthetic device below his knee.  This meant that he swam, biked, and ran the Iron Man distance with a prosthetic leg.   "I had no idea," John said.  "The good Lord humbled me,  and the next day I decided to do all three events of the Napa Valley Iron Man for a total of 140.6 miles and not just swim and bike.   Next to burying Marie, this was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life."  

Since he was working full time, he had to give up everything to train for the Iron Man.   Softball was pretty easy to quit.  Church was much harder, but he did it.   He and Claudia were like two ships passing in the night, but she and their daughter Elizabeth supported him fully.   It took him seven months of training every single day, and even on his one scheduled day of rest, he did something to keep his body moving.  At 52 years of age and weighing 250 pounds,  John swam 2.4 miles in two hours, biked 112 miles in eight and a half hours, and because his legs were close to giving out,  walked 26.2 miles in 9 hours.  "I started the event at 6:45 AM and came in DFL (dead f***ing last) at 2:15 AM, 19.5 hours later," John explained.   To this day he proudly shows off his 140.6 mile Total Iron Man decal which John stores in his Bible for safe keeping.

2013 Team Marie training on Mission Peak

This is not the end of John Garza's amazing story.   Just recently he  formed a new Team Marie involving  his wife Claudia, his 32 year-old daughter Sonia, his 16-year -old daughter Elizabeth, his sister-in-law Juanita and her daughter Rosana, who are all training to hike into and out of the Grand Canyon in one day.  The fundraising stakes are high.  Their goal is to raise $24,300 by May 18 of this year.    

No one in this family group has ever done anything athletic like this before, so they are a little nervous about what's ahead.   But having watched John tackle challenge after challenge and succeed,  they are also really excited.   They want their lives to change like his has.    Please click on the Team Marie Grand Canyon website for more information .

John's gung-ho enthusiasm and steadfast commitment have never wavered.  His goal is to complete all six LLS events with only one remaining,  which is cross country skiing.  Although John has never cross country skied in his life, he has learned never to say never.   

He admits he's far from perfect, but John says he's always striving to help make this a better world through helping others grow personally, spiritually, and gain strength physically.   With a strong passion for cycling, he hopes to be a cycling coach for LLS and Team in Training someday. 

And as we say at Team in Training  --