Category Archives: Reflections

AFRICA

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We haven’t left Africa yet.  
The trees are swaying in the wind outside as I look out of the window, and the fan blows warm air on me as I lay in the twin size bed with the yellow mosquito net hanging above my head.  I hear the chatter of the other girls as they finish packing up their belongings, and the delicious smell of homemade lunch lingers in the house.  I wonder what we are having.
It’s hot here.  Like the sweltering kind of hot that sits on you and stays with you.  The showers are mostly cold, which you don’t end up minding later, and you can’t use the faucet water to brush your teeth with.  My feet have never been so dirty, caked with red clay dirt. The strength of the bug spray I brought took off every bit of toenail polish, leaving my toes naked and brown.  No matter if you wash or scrub your shoes – they are still brown. I really don’t mind.
I lay in the little bed. Mind drifting to what has already become memories tattooed in my mind.  
In the old land cruisers – it’s almost as if you can feel every rock you plow over.  Every nook and cranny of the red gravel road bounces you around as you make your way to the main road from where we are.  Once you get to the 2 lane paved “highway”, your eyes sprint from image to image.
There are people dressed in dusty clothes walking for miles. Some of the ladies are in clean, bright colored, patterned and tailored dresses also walking for miles un-phased.  People ride on bicycles on the shoulders as the buses and vans swerve around them and honk.  There are motorcyclists with usually 2 people on the saddle who rarely wear helmets buzzing past. There are Messai – Tanzania’s local tribe – cloaked in plaid blankets with shoes made of tires – standing or herding animals.  Cows graze in the median tied to a stake, and there are children walking  goats on leashes.  There are some women with a child on one hand a baby in a papoose and some carrying woven baskets of bananas or personal belongings.  Some children run free as my mind runs wandering where their parents are and if the kids are safe…  they are.  The buildings are mostly small and sometimes pushed together like a strip mall, and sometimes spread apart for what seems like miles.  They are made of concrete or plaster painted in bright yellows, reds and blues. You pass fruit stands and art markets where people barter for every shilling, and a lot of people wave at our bus as we pass by.  There are villages with hay roofs in the distance.  On Sundays they wear their Sunday best – suits and dresses – as they walk to church.  Some of the trees are crooked and beautiful, some of the colors are vivid, and there are bunches of aloe plants begging for you to cut them open if your skin has gotten pink from the African sun.
These images I will never forget.

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We are finally packed up.  So full.  In so many ways. 
After eating a feast for lunch with chicken, pork, rice, spinach, sautéed veggies, potatoes, okra, green beans, pineapple and watermelon, we all sit out in the front room as the ceiling fan buzzes and rotates side to side.  Every meal is a feast here.  They treat us like royalty and people willingly give you more than ever expected and more than they have.  They are the literal meaning of “I will give you the shirt off of my back.”
We take one last drive to the airport. 
I was tired, but I didn’t want to shut my eyes even for a minute so that I could soak up every last bit of this magnificent place.. I reflected as we drove very slowly for about an hour and a half.  We had already driven 4 hours that morning from the safari back to Mama Lucy’s house.
Mama Lucy.  She is the founder of First Chance Education Centre and oh so much more…  Mama Lucy is a large, beautiful African woman with eyes that smile. She is probably late 50s or early 60s.  She lives beside the school in a lovely house with an extra house in the back where we stayed.  No AC, no TVs, not much hot water. Mama Lucy is always dressed in a patterned dress or a couple of different patterns that are loud with different colors.  I can’t help but grin when I think of her and her husband holding hands. She always says “caribou” as we walk by, which means welcome.  We felt very, very welcome.
(Photo below by Anna Molenti)

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Our drive to the airport seems like forever.  I let my mind keep going…
Only yesterday we were breathing dirt, getting thrown around in a safari land cruiser, hanging out of the roof and the sides with wild eyes searching for animals begging to get a glimpse of a lion or cheetah.  We rushed to get a look at a rhino resting – only a 2% chance that you’ll see a rhino on this safari, and we did.  Our driver Toni had old country playing on repeat…Dolly, Kenny Rogers and a strange mix of a few other very random songs.  The whole day was perfect.  Seeing the animals in their natural habitat was breath-taking. It was a bucket-list day that will never be forgotten.
On the way to the animals, we stopped at a Messai village to witness a jumping ceremony and take a look at their houses.  We passed a boy begging for food, we passed giraffes and adolescents chanting with white face paint. We sang songs, watched the sunset, used up our camera batteries and marveled at the grace of the people and creatures that we got to see and experience.

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 At the Kili airport.  Hot.  Have to pee.  Everyone’s nerves are running thin.  We are tired and have a lot of travel ahead.
As “Islands in the Stream” re-plays back in my mind, I sit with the girls at the terminal and use a little bit of very hard to find wifi before we board to post a picture of us from yesterday.
We board a bus that takes us to the plane – about 100 feet away.  Everyone chuckles at how we probably could have walked faster.  We board the plane.
I sit next to a lovely couple from the States and we start chatting as we take off.  We exchange Africa stories and I tell her the main reason we came to Africa, and Tanzania specifically.  The kids.
As we taxied, I showed her pictures of the kids and of Kilimanjaro.  She ooooed and ahhhs at the picture of the mountain peaking out from behind the clouds, snow sitting at the very top as if it were just dropped on just for this picture op.  I explain how we only did a day hike and show her a few more of the lush pictures of our 13 mile trek up and down the base of the magnificent mountain.  Our guides – Paul, Eric and “Usher” truly made the day one to remember cracking jokes and feeding us information and Swahili words along the way.  We were tired, dirty, and some of us already had the desire to come back to hike the whole thing.  What a beautiful way to start the trip!

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On the plane.  20,000 feet.  Mind racing and ready to write some more.  
The kids.  How can your heart break and be full of so much joy at the same time?  I think we know now.  You don’t have to speak the same language to communicate clearly.  Laughing, singing, and love come through loud and clear no matter the language barrier.
I don’t think one of us can put into words what we learned about human connection last week.  Their eyes and their smiles spoke a million words.  Some of the kids… you could see right into their souls.  They wear uniforms – probably washed once a week at best, but they don’t mind.  Their classrooms don’t have overhead lights, and their playground consists of 2 swings and a barely functional see-saw, but they don’t mind.
One boy in my class was having a hard time getting the heel of his shoe right, so I bent down to help. I pulled it off to fix his shoe and the entire heel of his sock was a hole. I choked back tears. He didn’t mind.   (Photo below by Elise Zimmerman)

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They just turned the lights out.  My light goes on.  Get it all out while you can still remember it, Megan.
Back to the kids.  Every morning – breakfast at 7am, class starts at 8am and we meet in the playground to do yoga and wake up as a big group.  “1-2 make a circle, 3-4, a biiiiig circle” they would scream with an accent as we tried to wrangle them into a large circle.  They would run up to you and cling on to your leg fighting to hold one of your hands if it was free – or fighting with another kid if it wasn’t free. They would look up with their big, wide, brown eyes full of hope and excitement for the day.  We would say “shine, shine, shine” to each other and feather our fingers around the circle when they were being good.  Shine.  Shine.  Shine.
That they did.
8:45-10am we had time in the classroom working with them on a specific lesson that day with flash cards, songs and games.  Some days they paid attention, and some days they didn’t.  You could always expect one of the troublemakers to do something bad – eat a crayon, steal another kid’s chair, or just be loud. 10am they went to porridge and we had a tea break.  Amos – our amazing cook for the week – would bring over hot water, African tea and a snack – sometimes homemade chipati or fried bread balls, fruit and toasted peanuts.  11-11:45am we had arts and crafts where we face painted, colored, cut and glued until we ran out of supplies.  They would run up to us and yell “teachaaaa teachaaaa look!!!”  We would gaze back with pride and awe at their creation.  11:45-12:30/1pm – they had outside time on the playground.  We brought blow-up beach balls, jump ropes and bubbles, and it seemed like they could have played out there until the wee hours of the morning.  We would say goodbye and head to lunch around 1pm where we would sit around the table laughing and telling our stories about our favorite kids.  Something about them…
So much happiness and so little worldly belongings.  We have a lot to learn from their culture. You can’t miss what you never had.  Some of the kids had never had a nice notebook or played with a beach ball.  Some had never seen fingernail polish and they would rub our fingers and stare at them with amazement.  Some would braid your hair or just rub your hair because their heads are shaved. They were so appreciative of what we brought.  They were appreciative of our time and love.  Maybe they didn’t fully understand – hell, we didn’t even know why we were going (we knew our purpose, but didn’t have an agenda and set schedule until we arrived).  We didn’t know what our days would look like, but in the end, I hope we spread some joy.  Sometimes you have hopes of going to do some good, maybe change some lives, but really you are the one that is changed.

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(BW photo above by Elise Zimmerman)
A fourth of a glass of white wine and my mind is still replaying all of memories of the week.  I keep rewinding them like an old tape player.  
On our first night after working with the kids, we had a parents night.  The parents of some of the children gathered in white fold out chairs on the school grounds.  Brittany – our fearless leader – explained why we were there and announced that we had fundraised to provide the teacher’s salaries for a year as well as a new van for the school.  They clapped.  A few stood up one by one and voiced their thanks to us as well as discussed school matters in Swahili.  Then came the eating – always the eating with the East Africans.  We insisted the parents, teachers and heads of the school go through the line first.  At the beginning of the food line, there was a yellow water cooler filled with tap water where each person rinsed their hands before the meal.  They took a paper plate and piled their plates high with rice and meat (probably goat) and everything else that was offered.  After all of the teachers and parents had been served, we – the marengos (white people) – formed a line, washed our hands and tried as best as we could to fill our plates too.  Much to our surprise, they had no silverware so we used our hands.  We lined one of the stoops of the school directly in front of the parents and ate while they finished their plates.  We felt strange.  They served us on glassware and Amos – the humble and amazing cook – brought out napkins for “his guests.”  Afterwards we laid out the kid’s artwork as the parents proudly came to find their child’s work.  We tried to mingle with some of them, take pictures and talk in broken English. We waved goodbye as many of them left and we headed back to the house for yet another meal.
This snapshot has real significance. As we sat in front of the parents – we felt awkward and on display… But today as we pulled our luggage into the front room with sweat dripping down our backs – Mama Lucy came out to say goodbye.  She cried.   We cried.  She had to step out she got so emotional.  There were a lot of thank you’s and please come backs and we wills.  She told us that never before had white people served and cleaned up after them.  Never.  There were more tears and some of us tried hard to choke back the emotions we had knowing that once we started crying – we probably wouldn’t stop.
Mama Lucy then explained to us that she had a gift for us – that it wasn’t much, but to an African – it was everything.  It was a kanga.  A kanga is used to wrap a newborn baby in… a man presents his fiancé a kanga when he asks for her hand and presents one to the mother as well.  They are used to shroud a bride on her wedding day and many people bring kanga to the mother of the bride.  They are also used to celebrate a funeral and death. It stands for a celebration of life and love.  Each African came over to one of us and wrapped us in kanga.  The significance of these beautiful cloths is that you are always wrapped in love even if you are apart from those you love.

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 Only 2 hours in to the first flight.  A long way to go. Down to half a glass of wine.  Still a long way to go. 
The secondary school.  This was day 2, and probably the hardest.  We arrived and the headmaster showed us around the school and specifically wanted us to tour the dormitory that burned down earlier this year.  I could almost hear the hearts break as we walked through the room of soot and belongings that had been destroyed.  The headmaster explained how 50 of them live in one room and some are sleeping in a classroom now because of the fire.  These children are boarded here because they have to travel too far.  Africa is a very, very big continent.
We came back to where they had chairs set up for us.  They had a fine-tuned schedule that quickly went out the window.  African time is very loose to say the least.  10 minutes could mean 45.  3pm sometimes means 5pm.
They performed a song, dance and play for us, but by the end we felt like privileged white people being solicited for money.  It was a rough day.
We didn’t know this would happen – no one did. We wanted to come, share food and community. They do need money, but this wasn’t our specific purpose.  We did get to feed the boarders a meal with meat – something they usually only get once a year…  They usually eat a diet of maize, stiff porridge, rice and the occasional vegetables.  In the end – the takeaway was more positive than negative because of human connection.  They freaked out over mechanical pencils, and we ended up laughing, dancing, sweating and working out together.
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There’s a movie playing on the airplane.  It’s old and there are subtitles.  I can’t see it at all.  I make a note to go to the eye doctor when I’m back. I pull out my phone to look at some pictures.  
I have so many moments burned into my mind of this last week both in my mind and on film, but being able to communicate the human connection – both with the kids and people here and the people I’ve traveled with – is next to impossible.  Hopefully some of these images will help…

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I got caught up in editing photos.  Inching closer to 4 hours on this flight.  2 more to go.
I almost forgot about the market.  We went to the market on Sunday to check out the local produce, and I was seriously impressed with the array of fresh picks.  It wasn’t as busy as I had imagined, but bursting with colors.  There were fruits, vegetables and pastas in rainbows shaped like X’s and O’s and the alphabet.  There were beautiful people with wide smiles trying to sell you whatever they had at their particular stand.  There was everything from dried fish and knick knacks to cleaning supplies and every fruit imaginable.  It was lovely.
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It’s been a whirlwind.  I had to leave writing for awhile.  We’ve been traveling for over 30 hours and still aren’t home yet.  Perspective.  Little problem compared to some.
Does this culture think they have problems?  They seem pretty happy to me.  These people don’t have much when it comes to material possessions, and they are some of the happiest people alive.  Some can only afford to buy 1 avocado a week at the market if that, and foods like meat and peanut butter are expensive treats.  The kids beg to have their pictures taken because they don’t have smart phones and cameras readily available.  There aren’t washers and dryers – you wash your clothes by hand and hang them to dry.  A family rarely has a refrigerator so any kind of dairy or keeping fruits and veggies fresh is out of the question.
On the other side of this – their clothes smell like the sun, their food is always homemade and fresh from the market the day of.  They don’t get caught up in social media, politics or anything of that nature.  Maybe they have it figured out.

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Flight canceled to Nashville.  Nightmare.  Re-routed through Miami and finally get back home around midnight.  Exhausted beyond belief.  Again, perspective.  
I couldn’t have taken this trip without the support of so many.  If you’re reading this right now – THANK YOU.  This trip forever changed me.  You have helped provide a new van for the kids to get to school, and now the ones that live too far away to walk will have a way to commute.  You also have helped provide the teacher’s salaries for the next year so that these sweet ones can continue to have an education.
12 strangers forever stitched together by a couple of common threads – 1. Our friend Brittany and 2.  The want to make a difference.  Now we are rafiki – friends – who share an unbelievable and indescribable week of connection, love, heartache, belly laughs, chewed up crayons, ruined shoes, long skirts, braided hair, new words, too many carbs, lots of sweat and even more tears.  Together we CAN.
Shine, shine, shine, my friends.  Shine on.

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Inspotats – #ForJimmy

I created Inspotats to help inspire people…  to help them remember their WHY…  to help them wear their inspiration on their sleeves… to help them stay motivated doing whatever they are doing.  I want people to look down at their arm or wrist and physically SEE that reminder to KEEP GOING.  That was my vision, that has been my goal.  The stories that have started coming in are incredible, and I wanted to share this one in particular.  

A month or so ago I got an email from Becky who shared her story, and her brother’s story with me and how they wanted to use Inspotats to help honor him.  I’m going to let Becky tell you in her words about her brother Jimmy, about his life, his sacrifice, and her dedication run…

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Earlier this year, we honored our brother, son, friend, teammate Army Staff Sergeant James Moriarty, better known as “Jimmy,” by running Ragnar Luckenbach. This past November, Jimmy, alongside Sergeant First Class Matthew Lewellen and Staff Sergeant Kevin McEnroe, was tragically killed while on active duty in Jordan.

Last year, Jimmy recruited half a Ragnar team, all connected through him in a unique way: a friend from childhood, one from high school, one from college, another from the Army, and one from his family. With Jimmy as the anchor, the entire team meshed seamlessly, despite not knowing each other before. At his memorial service, the team vowed to run Ragnar again #forJimmy. We pulled together a full team of 12 runners and 2 van drivers in record time. Friends and family were more than eager to participate.

 As we relayed our way through 200 miles of the Texas Hill Country, Jimmy continued to be our anchor and inspiration. Despite lost runners, major blisters, sore legs and little sleep, we managed to power through and placed 2nd in the co-ed division and 6th overall! Thanks to Inspotats for the inspiring tattoos, a gentle reminder to us and those around us of what we were running for.

​Born and raised in Houston, Jimmy attended the University of Texas where he majored in economics and was a member of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in 2011, where he successfully made it through Qualification Course to become a Green Beret and member of the elite 5th Special Forces Group, based in Fort Campbell, Kentucky. An avid runner and Ragnar alum, proud Longhorn and even prouder Army soldier, he is survived by his sisters Rebecca Moriarty and Melissa Moriarty, and his parents, Cindy Moriarty and James R. Moriarty.

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Becky – God bless you and your family.  May Jimmy’s memory continue to live on and inspire many out there.   I am so sorry for your loss, and with deepest sympathy – I thank you, Jimmy, along with many others – for giving the ultimate sacrifice for our country.  

To learn more about Inspotats or order your custom inspirational tats – you can visit our website here – INSPOTATS.  

The Boston Marathon 2017

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26.2 miles.  Sometimes that distance can feel easy and accomplishable, and sometimes that distance can feel like 1,000 miles.  A marathon all comes down to a perfect storm of everything going your way on that particular day.  Even if you’ve trained, put the hours and mileage in – everything can unravel by just one thread. The weather has to be suited for you, you have to have something that settled on your stomach the night before, you have to have enough sleep, the right gear, hydrated, no injuries or flare-ups, your mind has to be in the right place…the list goes on and on.

26.2 miles.  You can learn a lot about yourself in that distance.  You have 3+ hours (give or take an hour or 2) to bargain with yourself, hurt, feel great, want to cry, wonder why you’re doing this, think happy thoughts, soak it in, get a little lost…among a lot of other feels.  It’s amazing what the mind will do in only a few hours.  The power of positive thinking is a real thing, and if you don’t believe that – go run a marathon and then we’ll talk.

26.2 miles  People ask me why I run…. and why do I run marathons? (Answer to follow.) Do marathons hurt?  Yes.  Do you really have to train?  Yes, if you want to somewhat enjoy it.  Do I think YOU could do it?  YES.  So, going back to the first question…why do I run and do marathons in particular. I run because it’s my zen, it’s my “me” time, it’s where I figure things out or catch up with a friend or come up with song ideas.  I run because I feel free.  I run for others.  I run because it’s a privilege.  I run marathons because only 1% of the world’s population will ever run a marathon.  While I’m on this earth – I may not make huge waves, but I want to live an extraordinary life and be an example that you really can accomplish anything if you 1. Want it badly enough and 2. Do it the right way.  That is why I run.

26.2 miles.  Humbles me… Every. Single. Time.  If every race were easy and a good race – then PR’s wouldn’t mean so much…  BQ ing wouldn’t mean so much… You have good days and you have bad days.  Even on the bad days…especially on the bad days – I have to think about how I’ve always been a runner.  If you run – you’re a runner.  I didn’t become serious about trying to improve my time until last year.  I had never even step foot on a track until last year.  So, I went from a track virgin to a Boston qualifier in less than a year. If you’re reading this – let me be living proof that if you want something – really want something – no matter your age – you can do it.  ANYTHING.

26.2 miles.  BOSTON.  This marathon was a tough one for me.  I started out trying to run the 7:30 pace that my coach wanted me to and couldn’t maneuver around people…so for the first 4-5 miles I was mad and used up a lot of energy that I really needed later.  I felt behind before I could even get ahead. I felt defeated before the race even really started.  By mile 10 I knew I was too far behind to PR or to qualify again.  It was HOT.  It was HILLY.  The medical tents were packed, and I didn’t want to be one that had to stop by one.  At some point, I decided to try to enjoy it.  I texted people, called a couple of people, took pictures, took Instagram stories and videos, and tried my hardest to soak it in.  I knew I’d finish – not with a good time – but I’d finish.  And that’s exactly what I did.

26.2 miles.  Almost there.  I rounded the corner on to Boylston and thought about all of the runners before me and those to come after me… I thought about the moment I qualified for this race… I thought about 2013 and the moment I heard and felt the boom in my chest from the bombs…. I soaked in all of the people on the sidelines yelling for me…. I looked at the man beside me who was injured and hobbling to the finish…  I thought about my WHY.  Did I have a good time?  NO.  Did I have a good run?  YES.  Would I want it any other way?  Of course I’d prefer a better time, but all in all – I soaked it in.  I am honored, I am grateful, I learned something with every mile, and I was reminded that I am STRONG.  I am Boston Strong.

26.2 miles.  BOSTON.  I’ll be back for you again one day…

2015 Client Collage!

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Wow. Goals crushed. Half marathons run. Miles hiked. Babies had. Weddings happened. PRs. Lbs lost. Muscle gained. Bodies rehabbed. Cancer GONE. Sweat dripped. Strength found. Friendships forged. I HAVE THE BEST CLIENTS.

I had SO much fun putting this together and looking back on this amazing year and seeing what YOU accomplished. Thank you to everyone who has walked into my studio or let me be a part of you reaching a goal – it is MY blessing to watch you SHINE. As we wrap up this year – we look towards new goals to reach for… I can’t wait to see what each of your’s is. Here’s to the BEST YEAR YET where we will all GROW and BE BETTER! 

If you’re interested in joining as one of my personal training clients – shoot me an email at meganconner@gmail.com – I have a few slots available as of now.  Happy Almost 2016!!

Gone Gold

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I have been here for almost 10 years and have been in the music business off and on. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done by far in my life. As I have gotten older, I’ve also realized just how hard it is to be a female and try to succeed in this business… But I know that If I died tomorrow I could die knowing that my dreams have come true. I’ve had some songs cut by some really big artists, written with some amazing people, poured my heart into songs, and made some incredible friends along the way.  

I got a call yesterday that I had “something” mailed to me at my old publisher’s office. Today I went to go pick it up, and found that Chris Young‘s album Neon went gold, and I happened to co-write a song with Jon Nite and Ross Copperman called Save Water, Drink Beer that landed on this record.

To some, this is really cool, to some in the biz – it’s not much, but to me – it’s everything. It represents success in my eyes, accomplishment, belief and faith. I don’t have much to show for my musical endeavors, and at times I wonder if all of the work I’ve done for so many years, and so many songs I’ve written – if they have worth – if I have worth as a writer any more. At least I can hang this gold record up knowing that I did and hopefully that I still do.

Thank you Dan Galen Hodges Jr.Eric Beall and The Harters J Michael HarterScott Harter for taking a chance on me and believing in me! (Also my name is totally spelled wrong, but who cares – hahahahahaa!!!)  Also, I had not planned to take a picture and came from a 6 mile run…oh, if only I had taken a shower.  At least I put a fresh shirt on.  You’re welcome.  🙂

From Open Heart Surgery to a Half Marathon – Elyssa Goldstein a True Inspiration!

photo 5-48My friend Elyssa had open heart surgery a little over a year ago, and this weekend I’m going to run the Nashville Country Music Half Marathon with her.  Wow.

I will never forget going to see her in the hospital…and as I walked in, she was in rehab on the treadmill walking about 1mph.  To see her go from being able to sprint 12.5mph at Barry’s Bootcamp to hardly being able to walk on the treadmill – was heartbreaking.  But I told her right then that she would be back to a 12.5 in no time, and believe me – she was.

Elyssa has been a pillar of strength over this last year enduring surgery, rehab, numerous medical visits and a 9 month deployment of her boyfriend Brian.  I have seen her heart sick, her heart broken, and her heart STRONG.  Her strength outweighs all of the others.  To see her in class these days – she is determined. focused and one of THE strongest to finish – Every. Single. Time.  I’m in awe of her strength watching her and seeing how far she’s come!

We won’t be out to break any records on Saturday. Sorry Fleet Feet – I won’t be racing this one… but I will be right beside a gal who has the strongest heart I know!  It will be an honor to cross the finish line with her!!

I wanted Elyssa to tell us a little more about her story, surgery, recovery and how fitness has played a role in how far she has come. She is now a Beachbody coach, and is continually inspiring others out there.  I know she’s inspired ME in a huge way.  Elyssa, I can’t wait to cross that finish line with you!  Seeing you come this far has been an incredible blessing!

I sent her some questions and here is what she had to say…

-Tell me about your sickness – how you felt, how you were diagnosed, and your surgery

 Its kind of crazy because I had felt a little sick for a few days before things drastically changed…I had been yawning a lot, not because I was tired, but more because I need more oxygen. It was bizarre and I didn’t think anything of it. I had also had a cough for about two weeks. I went to Barry’s on wednesday and noticed I had a harder time running than usual. I just chalked that up to my kind of cold symptoms. On Thursday morning when I went in to work I had the occupational health nurse take a look at my because I was having right sided chest/side pain. She said my lungs sounded clear, and that I might have pulled a muscle in my chest/side (which made sense after some of the moves we had done for chest day at Barry’s the day before) and she told me if my cough continued to come back and see her on MondayOn Thursday evening when I went to bed everything hit me like a ton of bricks. I couldn’t lay flat. It literally felt like I had a ton of bricks on my chest. I couldn’t breath. So I propped myself up to sleep semi upright. When I woke up Friday morning it was worse. I couldn’t even take 3 steps without getting short of breath. I was breathing so heavy. I didn’t really want to go to the doctor but my friend insisted that we go. All that was done was a chest x-ray and I was diagnosed with pneumonia and sent home with antibiotics. Saturday I did not feel any better and was so upset because if you know me, you know I LOVE Keith Urban! He was playing at the Bridgestone Arena and I had had tickets for months (floor seats too!). I really just wanted to find a wheel chair and go (haha) but I knew I would be miserable and not able to enjoy it anyway. That night I coughed up blood as well. That scared me. I did some research and saw that it could be a symptom of pneumonia. So then I didn’t really think much else of it. Sunday morning…after two days of antibiotics, I woke up feeling worse, not better. I knew that something was wrong and that the antibiotics should have been working by now. I called my parents and talked to them for a bit about what to do…we decided I would go to the Vanderbilt ER. As soon as I got in the door and they did an EKG, saw how low my oxygen level was (it was in the low 80s for all of your medical people), and my heart rate was high. The EKG confirmed their suspisions for a pulmonary embolism (or PE) but they wanted to do a Cat Scan to be sure and see the size of it. Now I am a Cat Scan tech and we scan a bunch of these tests a day…usually about 3% are positive…As soon as I was back in the room from my scan the doctor was waiting for me to confirm the CT showed a massive PE. I asked him to show me and sure enough I saw it with my own eyes. I have been doing Cat Scans for 4 years and I had never seen a PE that big!! They began their workup and prepped me for the OR. I didn’t even know that going in and physically removing the clots was even an option when a PE was this bad. They informed me I would have to have open heart surgery (yes my heart was stopped and it is scary to even think about) and I was put on a by-pass machine. Within the hour I was up in the OR and undergoing the surgery. I remember the doctor calling my parents to let them know what was going on. I vaguely remember the disbelief as the doctor had to repeat to them over and over what was about to happen and what they had to do to save my life. My parents hopped in their car and left Pennsylvania that night and headed down to Nashville.  The surgery took about 4 hours. I am so thankful my sister was there with me every step of the way. I remember waking up after surgery, still intubated (had a breathing tube down my throat)…and the Super Bowl was on. I was trying to spell/sign to her “score” with my fingers…I wanted to know who was winning! Haha! Shortly after I woke up they pulled the breathing tube out. I do not remember much of the next 12-24 hours because of the heavy drugs they had me on, but I was transferred out of the ICU and to a step down room for the rest of my recovery in the hospital.

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-How did you feel after your surgery?

Surprisingly, while I was in the hospital it was not that bad, but they kept me pretty comfortable with medication. The day after surgery they try to get you up and moving to start inpatient cardiac rehab which consists of walking slowly on a treadmill with my chest tube still attached. Getting on that treadmill was harder on me emotionally than physically. 4 days because this surgery I was running a 6 and a half min mile and sprinting at a 12.5 on an incline (I was in the best running shape of my life)…now I was walking at a 0.8!! As I was stepping on the treadmill though with my back to the door I heard someone say that I had a visitor…I turn around and there stands Megan Conner…go figure my trainer would perfectly time her visit as I am getting on the treadmill!!! What are the odds?!

Starting outpatient rehab after I was discharged was difficult for me too. I cried the first time I stepped foot in that gym and had to discuss everything with the therapist. But I had faith that with time I could get back to where I was before  my surgery. Thankfully I met an amazing man, Brian Rulison, who helped me to push through rehab every day and was my biggest supporter! He came to rehab and doctors appointments with me. He met me in probably the worst time of my list and could have easily walked away because I just had so much going on and was not healthy to be able to go on “normal dates” and so on. But he stuck by me, supported me, and helped me through it every step of the way. Having him come into my lift when I needed him most was the biggest blessing I have ever experienced!photo 4-75

The physical pain I had after the surgery consisted of not being able to lay flat for a good two months after. And even once I started to lay flat it uncomfortable for while. I also lost all range of motion in my arms. For 8 weeks after surgery I could not lift more than 10lb. Every week after that I could add another 10lbs. But I could hardly raise my arms past my shoulders for the longest time.

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-What were your goals after surgery?

My goals after surgery were to get back into the shape I was in before surgery. I was in the best shape of my life before surgery and I wanted to get back there again! I also had a goal of running a half marathon in the fall. That ended up not happening. It took me longer than I had imagined or would have liked to fully recover, but I am doing a half marathon a little over a year later to celebrate how far I have come!

-How has fitness played a part in your life and through all of this?

Honestly, if I was not in good shape physically when I got sick I probably would have died. All of the doctors and nurses told me over and over again how lucky I am to have survived this. PE’s, especially of this magnitude are usually fatal. Had I been overweight, out of shape, and my heart not strong enough to handle the amount of physical strain that is endured for so long I probably would have had a different outcome.

-What are the most positive things that you’ve learned through all you’ve been through? 

So along with getting back in shape physically, I also knew that I was going to have to be really mindful of my diet and eating. I wasn’t going to be able to eat like I use to since my workouts were not as hard and I really needed to focus on portion control. I found a great program called the 21 day fix from Beachbody. It uses portion control containers that you use to mix and match and create meals. I fell in love with this program. After discovering this program and going through everything that I had I wanted to pay it forward and help other people. I did not want someone else to have a different outcome or be unable to undergo a life saving surgery because of their poor health. So I signed up to be a BeachBody coach. It has been the most positive and best decision of my life! I am surrounded my positive, like-minded people and I get to help people every day live happier and healthier lives. Nothing makes me happier than having a challenger message me their before and after pictures and results. Or telling me they are down X about of pounds or have lost X amount of inches! Seeing these peoples lives change for the better and they become more happy and confident in themselves in the most rewarding thing! I love that I have found a way to turn what happened to me in to something positive to help others! Being a coach as also helped me to hold myself accountable for getting back into the shape I was before surgery. It took about 12 months but by February/March 2015 I finally felt that I had gotten back in to that shape again! If anything I feel that I am actually stronger and faster now!

This is Megan again… 🙂  I just wanted to finish by saying –

I’m so grateful for this girl and her inspiration, her support while my boyfriend is overseas as well, her love and support that are just continuous and selfless.  Elyssa – here’s to many more years of 12.5’s, half marathons and more!!  

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My One Year Anniversary

One year ago today I opened my little personal training studio. It’s hard to believe it’s been a year! Thank you to everyone who has stepped foot into this little magical place, and to everyone who has trusted me to help them.  Every person that has been here has changed my life and for that I am eternally grateful.  Thank you for making this little dream become a reality! Here’s to many more dreams, sweaty towels, laughs, tears, more adventures, goals met, pounds lost, muscles built, great workouts and lives changed.