Category Archives: Spirit

Bad travel hobbies and Harper Lee

What you should be asking yourself right now is “What does the beloved author of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and travel hobbies have anything to do with each other?” – I am so glad you asked.

No matter how productive you are on the road, there is still significant downtime you have to fill somehow.  You are always going to run into the situation where you can’t make a call, not enough time to make powering up the laptop worthwhile or quite frankly, you are just done with it and need to do something else.  This is the time that most folks fall back on their hobbies.  Those time fillers that also help to sooth the soul and restore the mind.  For my son it is streaming game play on Twitch, for my wife – streaming TED talks and fitness advice, for my Mother-in-Law it is knitting.  I on the other hand have some bad travel hobbies.

When I really analyze it, I have four hobbies – and none of them are conducive to the travel lifestyle:

Bad Travel Hobby #1 – Martial Arts: 

I actively practice American Karate and have just started my study of Brazilian Jui Jitsu.   Now I will actively admit that there are times when I can get out and roll as I travel but for the most part, it is a hobby (lifestyle) that I  practice only when I am at home.  I watch videos and study the arts while I am on the road but the reality is the only way for me to get better is to get out and participate.  As I am writing this, it has been nearly 3 weeks since I stepped on a mat and I am Jonesing for my return.

Bad Travel Hobby #2 – Aquariums:

Way back in the day I wanted to be a Marine Biologist, so much so that I actually have degree in Aquatic Biology.  Well life happened along the way and I took an alternative direction but I have never lost my love for the water and aquariums. I have a reef tank in my house that about once a month looks great.  The reason it is only once a month?  You have to be present to take care of a tank the right way.  It takes time, attention, detailed monitoring and basically good old TLC to have a salt water reef tank really thrive.  That is really hard to do from 1000 miles away…even if you are staring at the ocean (osmosis is not that strong).

Bad Travel Hobby #3 – Gardening:

See everything above except think above the water line.  Every year I plant a garden on the side of the house.  Every year it starts off strong (before the TX heat really kicks in) and every year about this time, I watch it begin to wither away in 5 day increments when I get home.  I love getting my hands dirty and cooking with fruits of my labor but it really is a bad travel hobby.

Bad Travel Hobby #4 – Home Improvement:

I really do love working around the house and am pretty good with my hands but again, you actually have to be home to be able to work on the house. Watching DIY videos of the closet organization system you want to put in will not ever really get you any closer to actually putting in that closet organization system.

So how does Harper Lee fit in to your self-realization Mr. RoadWarriorFit?

Again – so glad you asked.  I recently saw that a publisher is releasing her little known manuscript that preceded To Kill A Mockingbird and it made me realize that I used to read.  A lot.

Before we had iPads that had every movie I have ever owned available and/or a Wikipedia page on anything I could ever want to know, I traveled with a book….or three.  I devoured Presidential biographies.  Read extensively on the Revolutionary War era and would consume business books like they were a part of the breakfast buffet at the hotel restaurant.

Somewhere a long the way my time filler shifted.

I am not even sure how or when it happened other than the introduction of the iPad.

I could now carry ALL of my books with me at once!!!

It was a wonderful theory but the application sucked.  I was distracted by games, email, movies and YouTube.  I lost my way and now time fillers are no longer productive they are actually destructive.

So here is my commitment, I am going to rekindle at least one good RoadWarrior habit – Reading.  The first book to put back on the list, the High School required reading list favorite, Harper Lee’s ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’.  I remember liking it well enough back then (unlike Catcher in the Rye) and maybe, just maybe, the southern tale of Atticus and Scout Finch will rekindle my friendship with my long lost friend, the book.

So what are your good RoadWarrior hobbies?  How do you fill time productively?

Can’t wait to hear and look forward to seeing you on the road.  I will be the one with the iPad actually reading.  If I’m not, you have full permission to call me out on it.

An introverts guide to driving social interaction – the conference edition

So I am just off the largest conference of the season for my industry.  Four days, 9,000 attendees, 3 keynotes, 5 hotels in Vegas and a whole lot of networking.  Basically my nightmare, so this post is all about keeping the spirit fit and healthy in an environment that may be a bit trying to you.

Simply put, I am not good with social interaction with folks I don’t know.

There, I said it.  I can present/lecture to the largest of groups without hesitation but put me in a room with 20 or so people I don’t know and say ‘go socialize’ and I want to crawl out of my skin….literally.  I am not socially awkward but all of the networking is taxing.

Years ago, I had a supervisor that I highly respect and who was incredibly gregarious.  When he walked in a room, everyone knew it in all of the right ways.  I would observe him work a room of any size in absolute awe.  After a conference about ten years ago, I asked him how he worked the room with such ease.  I have never forgotten his response;

Andrew – two people can walk into a group of people with the same goals; total number of people to meet, conversations to have or leads to generate.  At the end of the evening, one leaves the event absolutely exhausted.  The other leaves so amped up they are ready to run a marathon.  Either way, both have accomplished the same result.”

Needless to say, he fell in to the group that walks away charged up.  I on the other hand, find the interactions beyond exhausting.  His analogy was completely true though, some people feed off of the energy, others are fed upon.  Throughout the years of working conferences/events/dinner parties, I have developed a strategy to feed rather than be fed on.

Let me put this out there, I suck at initiating small talk.

I innately believe that the vast majority of people would have no reason to actually want to talk to me as opposed to the business/product I represent.  If I were to step back from the situation, I would probably come to the conclusion that my logic is flawed but it is deeply rooted in who I am.  Therefore I feel the need to compensate and create opportunities for people to create conversations around me.  Most recently that came in the way of #snowleopardpants, but as much as I would like to wear them every day (not), I have to have other ways to drive conversation.

For me, it is socks and cuff links.

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I wear cuff links that mean something to me and socks that will drive conversation.  In the above picture, each pair of cuff links represents something that means something in my life (even the $$ cuff links as I represent a software system that maximizes revenue).  Eagle Scout, Star Wars fanatic, Disney fanatic, Black Belt, Angels Fan and husband to a Breast Cancer Survivor.  They all define me…..or at least explain me.

And each pair has driven numerous conversations.  Most recently, I had a Regional Manager comment on my ribbon cuff links (my favorite and least favorite in the same breath).  A Regional Manager who was a survivor herself, conquered breast cancer, inspired others and been an inspiration to hundreds (and who is now evidently Facebook BFFs with my wife).  It was a conversation I never would have had without a trigger point.  My cufflinks are often my trigger point.

My socks are a bit more frivolous.   I used to be a guy who only wore plain socks.  Black or brown, that was it.  You never had to worry about a match and to someone who is often up at 4 AM to head to the airport, not having an issue finding a match appealed to me, until recently.

I now own probably 20 pairs of sock that are not interchangeable.  US Flag socks, TX Flag socks, colorful socks, Star Wars socks, Ninja socks, Nerd socks (a personal favorite of mine), amongst others.  My socks have driven at least as many conversations as my cuff links.  The point?

If you have trouble starting a conversation, incorporate something with you that can.

So my tip for the day for all of you Road Warriors?  Use what you bring with you to drive the results you ultimately want.  Remember, the spirit is just as important (if not more so), than the body and if you are constantly doing something that taxes your spirit, eventually you will shut down.  So what is your road block?  What is it that you have to muscle through in your day to day interactions?  Identify it, strategize around it and implement a plan for conquering it.  For me it is cuff links and socks.  What is it for you?

So for all of my American readers out there, enjoy the holiday weekend and I hop to see you on the road.

My Top 5 Conference Survival Tips

As a part of my ‘real life’, I participate in the occasional conference.

Actually, I live in conference hotels from mid-June through the end of August.  

Over the course of the next 3 months I will attend, participate on the exhibitor floor, be a part of the host organization and/or speak at at least a half a dozen conferences.  In fact I will be packing tonight to join 9000 other people from the apartment industry for the annual National Apartment Association Education Conference in Las Vegas.  This season is a brutal but very necessary season for my industry and through experience over the last few years, I have developed a strategy to make the most of both the conference material and my health while I am on the conference circuit.  Here are my conference rules to live by:

Tip #1: Plan ahead:

I cannot over emphasize this one enough; Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail.  If your plan is showing up at the conference and getting a workout in ‘whenever there is time’……not going to happen.  How would that play out if your planned on getting together with your clients ‘whenever there is time’?  It wouldn’t.

Plan your day and block out your workout time.  How much time do you need?  Where is the gym?  Is the conference so far away from your room that you will be walking 20,000 steps each day anyways?  As I look at my calendar for this upcoming week, I know I have to get my workouts in in the morning or they are simply not going to happen, my afternoons are filled with appointments and evenings with industry events.  For me it means running the strip early (which I am huge fan of anyways so bonus) and hitting the weight room in the early evening before dinner to accomplish Tip #3.

Tip #2: Stay hydrated:

You know you should normally be drinking 8 glasses of water a day.  Well if you are going to be in a desert, walking more than you normally do and potentially imbibing on an alcoholic drink or two in the evening, I am going to recommend you up your water intake from the standard 8 glasses.  Trust me, you will thank me when you are waking up on days 2 & 3 of the conference.  Now this is where planning comes in again.  I find that it is a very rare thing to find a conference center that keeps the water pitchers/bottles full throughout the conference.

                SO BRING YOUR OWN!!

You may not always be able to find a nice chilled bottle of FIJI but you can usually find a water fountain to fill up your own bottle.  And if you are anything like me, you find an empty water bottle strangely motivational..

Tip #3: Recharge:

This will look different for each of us but I find I need a point in my day to recharge more than just my phone.  For me, it is time in the gym.   I can get my head on straight and work all the kinks out that I am feeling from standing all day.  For others it is a power nap in the room.  Others it is 15 minutes in the sun out by the pool or on the deck.  Whatever it is that recharges and helps your re-center your mindset, make sure you have time built in each day to accomplish it.

Tip #4: Eat well & Eat often:

Make sure you take the time to eat like you should.  Do not sacrifice the quality of your diet because you need to rush somewhere.  Stop by the store on the way to the hotel and grab some snacks for the room (don’t get me started on the mini-bar options for $10 bucks each).  Put a bar in your purse.  Throw an apple in your bag for later in the day.  Your body needs fuel to thrive vs. survive.  Give it what it needs.

                Bonus Tip:  Most hotels that host conferences have pretty good gyms, gyms where they actual stock fruit for the taking.   

Tip #5: Have fun:

I just added this one to the list this year.  I usually enjoy myself at these conferences but this year I am being intentional about it.  I am on a mission to create a hash tag for the event that helps a charity special to me by making a fool of myself.  You can learn all about that effort by clicking #snowleopardpants.  As a byproduct, I will get to meet a whole bunch of folks who I haven’t prior, reconnect with a lot who are friends as well as clients and spread the word about a great charity……all while laughing at myself.

So even if you are already on the ground in Sin City – these are little things you can do to set yourself up for a great time without feeling too much wear and tear.

Time for me to go pack and here is hoping to see you on the road.

The #SnowLeopardPants are coming to #NAAeduconf!!!

I am nothing if not willing to make a fool of myself for a cause and this cause is particularly close to me.

About 4 years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Kelly Thomas and her family.  Kelly is a phenomenal woman who has worked in the apartment industry for longer than she probably wants to admit but as capable as she is, this story is not about her abilities to deliver value through Real Estate.  This is a story about doing good amidst unfathomably difficult circumstances.  I won’t waste time giving you all the details but in the course of about 12 months, Kelly’s daughter was diagnosed with Leukemia and Kelly was diagnosed with Breast Cancer.  How did she react?

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BY STARTING A NON-PROFIT HELPING OTHERS FIGHT THE FIGHT!!!

You can read her whole story here (I highly recommend it).

This week Kelly goes in for her first reconstruction surgery.  While we are enjoying the sand between our toes and a cool drink in our hands, she will be recovering from major surgery – a memory I still have deeply embedded in my memory from my wife’s own process.  We need to do something to bring Kelly a little joy and laughter while she is recovering.

So here is your chance to help with the cause.  At the Thursday night industry party at Mandalay Bay Beach Resort, I will be sporting the Snow Leopard Pants, a Love Is Louder t-shirt and glasses worthy of Elvis himself.  I will be taking pictures with any and all willing to pony up any level of donation to Love is Louder Than Cancer (LILTC.org).  All I ask is 3 things:

  • You make a donation of any denomination
  • You share your good will and picture on social media
  • You tag the pic with you and me and share the link for LILTC.org (if you want to use the #snowleopardpants and #roadwarriorfit – that would be awesome too)

Of course the more buzz I can create around this effort, the better so remember, caring is sharing when it comes to this post!!

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Looking forward to seeing you all at NAA….I will be the one in the Snow Leopard Pants!!

Snow Leopard Pants – a must have for the fashion forward Road Warrior

By  now I am sure you are wondering “Has Andrew lost his mind?”

No, I am not switching my focus from fitness on the road to fashion (Dear God how bad would I be at that!?!?) but I do have to tell you about the saga that has become ‘The Snow Leopard Pants’.

A few weeks ago while in Reagan International Airport, I saw pretty much the most hideous pants I have ever seen.  They were so bad that I was among SEVERAL travelers who felt it necessary to take a picture of said pants.  All I could comment about them was:

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Little did I know how true that statement was.  You see, as soon as I posted them to my Instagram (road_warrior_fit) my wife went on a crusade to find a pair.  She canvassed social media looking anyone who knew where you could acquire these pants.  It took one of her friends a whopping 5 minutes to find them, and in my size too.  Evidently there is an app for that.  So I am now the proud owner of my very own snow leopard pants!!

Well since this all played out on social media, what followed the acquisition of these pants was a public outcry for the debut of the pants.  People did not want to just see them, they wanted to see them on me and in public.  Well there was only one way I was going to let that happen

DATE NIGHT!!!!!

If I was going to be seen in public with these pants on, it was going to be right by her side.  So a date was set for the debut of the Snow Leopard Pants, sushi and Pitch Perfect 2 was on the agenda.

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Now as I mentioned, it takes a special kind of confidence to wear pants like these.  The kind of confidence that only comes by becoming part of the joke.  So I went into costume planning mode.  Please notice the choice of the word costume.  This was not an outfit, this was a costume.  So I grabbed my Star Wars shoes (yes, I actually do own a pair), the Jersey Shore sunglasses and the one size too small Chewbacca t-shirt from my son.  If was going out in those pants, it was going to be epic.

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I thought I would be the laughing stock of my town but it turned out that if you laugh first, others tend to laugh with you instead of at you.

And my wife and I had a blast…….. because of the pants.

We were actively scanning for those who were noticing us (Ok, me.  Ok, my pants) AND THERE WERE PLENTY!!

The #SnowLeopardPants hash tag was born.

People were actively looking to join us out and about to see the pants in person.

I was getting stopped by folks to talk about the pants.  The local high schoolers actually liked them, took pictures with them and tweeted them out.  The legend of the #SnowLeopardPants was born.

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The best part was my wife and I did not stop laughing the entire night.  It was the most fun we have had in a very long time……and we have fun together.  For that reason alone, I highly recommend snow leopard pants for all Road Warriors.  I keep myself in shape for nights like this.  I wasn’t conscious of any body issue (and I have a few) or anything else except the ridiculous outfit and the attention it was getting.  It was a therapeutic night for us both.

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It was a great reminder to slow down and notice what is around you.  I work hard when I am on the road so I can ease up a bit when I am home but if I hadn’t of slowed down and pulled my head out of my iPhone that evening at DCA, we would not have had such a wonderful evening and the legend of the #SnowLeopardPants would have never been born.

Since that night, as I run into people around town, the topic of the #SnowLeopardPants continues to come up.  People loved seeing the saga unfold on social media.  Evidently we were a trending topic among the 40-something parental set of North Texas.  The other bonus was that anyone who actually clicked on the link to see the pants from Neiman Marcus have continued to see them come up in their Google and Facebook ads because evidently Neiman Marcus pays a lot for Facebook ads.  If you would like to experience the gift that keeps on giving or to purchase your own Snow Leopard Pants, just click below and watch fun start.

So work hard but slow down and enjoy the world around you and maybe you will see me on the road.  I’ll be the one in the Snow Leopard Pants.

How being fit nearly killed me – but ultimately saved my life

I know it is hard to imagine but I literally almost died because of my fitness – not because I was morbidly obese or a couch potato but because I was too fit for one part of my body’s own good.  It’s true and 3 years ago my body showed me exactly how much I could take before it gave out, literally.

To tell the story adequately, we need to jump in the time machine and head all the way back to 2009.  I was an overweight dad who had decided to take up karate with my kids.  Now if you know me at all, I am not big on doing things half way.  I am either going to do it or not.  There is very little room for ‘in between’ in my psyche.  I was going to earn my Black Belt in American Karate, period.  I am sure if I am being honest my desire was in no small way spurred on by the fact that my eldest son was in training for his Junior Black Belt at the time and there was no way I was letting him earn it without me being on his heels.

After one particularly ‘hard’ session back when I was an intermediate belt, I found myself completely drained and every joint from my lower back down was in pain.  It was then that I took a long hard look in the mirror – they are everywhere in our Dojo – and realized that I had become only a reflection of the physical man I used to be.  To top it off, I was watching my son train harder than he ever had as he prepared for his black belt test and was quickly coming to realize, there was no way I was going to make it through a Black Belt test if I stayed in the shape I was….and that shape was soft and round.  I knew I had to make some major changes if I was going to ‘survive’ my black belt test and I was determined to do so.    Cue the Rocky Theme music now!!

I set myself on a path to not let my traveling lifestyle be an excuse for being out of shape.  I started watching what I ate for the first time ever (God I miss Fish & Chips).  I became disciplined about working out.  I incorporated weightlifting, running, HIIT cardio and kickboxing all back into my routine.  Eventually the weight started to come off and I started to feel good again.  When all was said and done, I dropped about 30 lbs.  Three years later I felt good, I felt strong, I felt ready.

I felt like I was ready for the next big hurdle, my black belt test.

In order for you to get a feel for what I was facing, let me describe to you the way a Black Belt test works.  It is a two day affair where Day One is the ‘easy’ day physically.  You are required to do all of your Katas (think choreographed shadow boxing fights) at least 3 times, including at least one Black Belt level kata.  Along with that you have to break 5 boards in under 2 minutes using a variety of techniques and finish it all off with a verbal presentation on why you are deserving of the rank of Black Belt.  No problem.  Easy peasy – we got this day.

Day two is ‘slightly more intense’ to put it mildly.  It was by far the hardest day of my life physically.  It starts with self-defense techniques of your own design.  Now these are not demonstrations, they are self-defenses.  It is the closest you will ever come to being attacked without actually being attacked.  You job is to prove the techniques work in most dire of circumstances….and it is your attackers job to simulate the most dire of circumstances.  Once those are done, you do them again….over and over and over again.  Follow that up by a ‘quick round’ of grappling (mine lasted nearly 5 minutes) and then we get to the actual sparring portion of the test, fifteen 2-minute rounds with a black belt or black belt candidate with 30-seconds of rest between rounds.  Oh yeah, and if your round is not considered to be at a Black Belt level, you get another until you have amassed 15 Black Belt level rounds.  But wait!!  There’s more!!  Not only are you sparring a fresh opponent every round, but at the end you get to do multiples (meaning you are sparring more than one opponent at the same time)!!

Now do you know why they don’t let Beginner and Intermediate Belt ranks watch Black Belt tests!?!?

So on a hot July night in 2012 I bowed on the mat for the second half of my test and everyone was in a jovial mood.  I think we all thought it was more of a formality than a physical test at this point.  If you have done the work to that point, you have already earned the belt, you just needed to show it and I was prepared to do so.  Up first were the self-defenses.  I picked my attacker (where this sadistic tradition came from I do not know) and of course picked the biggest guy in the room.  Go big or go home.  Bring on the 6’ 4” – 230 lbs-er!!

The first attack was a Rear Bear Grab from behind (think big hug from behind that traps your arms by your sides).  My body moved just like it should, muscle memory kicking in and taking over for the brain, I escaped and countered in a flash.  I helped my attacker back up from the ground, fixed my Gi and then I felt it.  Something was not right and I knew it immediately.

My heart was racing and I could not bring it back down.

“That was normal right?”  After all, adrenaline had just flushed through my system as a 6’ 4” – 230 lbs man had just attacked me from behind and was continuing to do so from all kinds of angles with all kinds of weapons.  “It’s normal to have your heart racing.  It’s what your body needs.  Blood to activate muscles.  This is normal.”  – the mantra kept running through my head.

After about 20 minutes of continuous attacks, it was time for grappling.  Evidently since this is one of my passions, they decided to add it to my test….all I had to do was to get out of one person’s guard and submit him.  However the ‘one person’ was the one person in the dojo that was the most superior grappler.  Easy enough.  The key to grappling is to relax and slow things down so when you need to explode, you can.  For the entire 5 minute session, I was trying to concentrate on bringing my heart rate down and just couldn’t do it.

“It’s just the adrenaline.  It has to be.”

I finally submit “Thor” – (seriously, when The Avengers came out he did an appearance at the Dallas premier as the Norse God) and get a reprieve long enough to gear up for sparring.  Now I don’t tell anyone but I know I am off my game and even used the restroom as an excuse to buy an extra 3-minutes to get it back together.   Below is a picture of me and my “corner man” in the break.  Nothing is wrong is it?  Heck, I am even smiling knowing what is about to come.

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“Let’s get ready to rumble!!!!!!!”

It is finally the time we have all been waiting for, the sparring section of the test, the part where everyone fades and struggles.  The part I was determined to shine through and not fall off like so many have before me.  I think my wife described it best.  I started off sparring at about a 7 out of 10 for me.  I did not have a lot of the flash I normally did but I was effective.  By round 7 I had degraded to a 5 out of 10.  By round 10 I was about a 3 out of 10 and by round 15 I was “drunk boxing”.  In fact, in my last round my sparring partner (same guy who was attacking me earlier ironically) did not punch or kick me once and I still fell down 3 times.  I was literally dying at that point and did not know it.

After that round, things got real bad, real fast.

This is where my body started to give out.  I had been training hard for this so it was used to being abused so it took a long time to break.  I would routinely push my heart rate to the 180 – 200 BPM range in order to train anaerobically.  It was ready for a lot but it was not ready for what I had just done.  After my sixteenth round, I passed out on the mat.  Immediately the group knew something was wrong and 911 was called.  I was taken to the local hospital where for a short time I came to and was responsive but not quite entirely there.  The cognitive tests they were conducting were not going like they would hope and then it happened.

 I crashed, literally.

My body literally shut down in just about every way you could imagine. To top it off, my eldest son was there witnessing the whole thing.  I was in trouble and thank God the medical professionals who were present brought me back.

If you want to find an upside, at least my wife and I got to experience what it is like to fly in LifeFlite Helicopter.  She will have to tell you about that experience because I do not remember it (I do have the picture to remind me though – so there’s that).

When we got to hospital #2, they immediately were concerned about aneurisms and/or stroke.  After all, I had just been repeatedly kicked in the head by some top level black belts and was slurring all of my words before I lost consciousness.  Because of that, they decided to keep me in a medically induced coma and on a ventilator until they could learn more.  I spent 36 hours that way and my corner man snapped the picture below to document the process.

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I was dying and because there was not an obvious cause (like obesity, heart disease, etc.), the doctors were struggling to come up with a diagnosis.  After nearly 2-days of doctors, neurologists, internists and other specialists, they had determined only that I did not have an aneurism.  Fortunately, that was enough to bring me out of the coma and pull the tube (Dear God that sucked).  This is also when friends stopped planning on how to support Joy once I was gone.  I only wish I was kidding about that last statement.

At this point, the medical focus turned from my brain to my heart.  I was blessed to have an amazing medical team including the head of cardiology at Baylor Medical Center on my team.  Eventually they identified the issue as Atrial Flutter.  Now granted, it took 3 days and at least 5 doctors to get to this diagnosis but at least we got there.  It all stemmed back to the first attack in my self-defenses and the elevated heart rate.  My heart stopped beating like it should and never actually allowed for the lungs to oxygenate my blood.  I basically suffocated myself through excursion.  Think about that for a second….because I was fit, my body could handle the lack of oxygen in the short term but not for the 90 minutes plus I put it through.  And because I was fit, my medical team had a hard time identifying why I was there to begin with.  Because I was fit, I nearly died and the medical profession had no clue why.  It is easy to diagnose someone who is obviously morbidly obese – someone who is physically capable, not so much.

Fortunately for me, they were able to surgically repair the defect and I no longer have any restrictions on training.  However the fact that my fitness got in the way of a diagnosis has never left me.  I cannot tell you how many times Doctors and Nurses commented on the fact that they do not get many “healthy” people in the ICU unless it is a function of acute trauma.  The fact that I could take punishment and push my body to the brink got me through that mess but the fact that it also confused the heck out of my medical staff was incredibly frustrating.

More relevantly, I travel for a living and train for fun.  I was routinely getting my heart rate up above 200 bpm in hotel gyms, conference rooms, lobbies and anywhere else I could manage a training session while I traveled.  Being fit meant I could make it through short term sessions (truth being told, I had felt the experience of an elevated heart rate before and had stopped my workouts before any serious damage was done.  Not very often but it had happened).  God blessed me by keeping me safe in those remote training sessions and putting the right people around me when I did crash out.

My fitness allowed me to push through the pain.  Push through the shortness of breath.  Push through the brink of death.  I am quite sure it ultimately saved my life.

What Harlem taught me about diversity

This past spring break we put together a tour of two cities that ended up being what I call the “Freedom is not Free” vacation.  We started in DC, touring the monuments, government buildings and museums.  If you have not been to the Holocaust Museum, you must!!  Unbelievably humbling, sad, infuriating and empowering all in the same breath.  The room of shoes literally takes your breath away.

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In NYC, we had the unique opportunity to stay with a dear friend of ours in her brownstone in New York City, specifically, in Harlem.   Harlem is a vibrant part of the City with enough character to go around the whole island but we all know the reputation that precedes it; poverty, drugs, crime and racial inequality.  .  I took the picture below on the last morning of our stay in NYC.

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Those buildings you see across the way?  Those are the projects, literally.  I was expecting it to be a culture clash for my kids and one that I worried they would be afraid of.  The fact that it wasn’t was beyond surprising.

It was rewarding.

We arrived in New York via train on Thursday evening.  Harlen was our conductor on the train and a New York native.  He had taken an interest in my boys and was determined to show them everything they could see from the train itself including Freedom Tower, the Empire State and of course, Lady Liberty herself.  As a Harlem native, Harlen set the bar of expectation high in my boys heads (imagine how rough that had to have been, being Harlen from Harlem.  And you thought YOU were teased for your name in grade school!!).  Once we pulled in to Penn Station we immediately pinged out for UBER.  The driver’s response to our destination was a hesitant “That’s interesting” and not nearly with the same enthusiasm as Harlen.

My boys really did not have any clue as to what to expect from Harlem.

My boys really did not have any clue as to what to expect, no real preconceived notions of what ‘Harlem’ was supposed to be about.  On the drive from Penn Station to North Harlem, we passed the USS Intrepid, saw the multiple Trump buildings along Riverside Drive and passed right in front of the iconic Apollo Theatre.  We were in the heart of Harlem, A Train and all.

Our home back in Texas is on a very ethnically diverse street.  If you walk four houses in either direction of our quiet suburban home you can find families that originally called Columbia, Pakistan, Germany, Korea, Ecuador, Japan, Turkey and Chechnya their home.   However the diversity and more importantly, the community, my boys were able to witness in Harlem was something on a different level.  We were able to meet the home owner who with his partner hosts aid workers from around the globe in ‘The People’s Brownstone’.  We heard tales of Dotty, the Mayor of W 131st Street who is up in everyone’s business– my greatest regret of the trip was we were not able to make her acquaintance.  There were families, kids, mothers, neighbors and mailmen all in the neighborhood and yes, everyone was in everyone’s business.  It was neighborhood, a real neighborhood.

My favorite encounter was on our first full day in the city.  We left ‘The People’s Brownstone’ early in the morning and headed over to the subway.  We were no more than 10 steps away from the front door when 2 gentlemen and a woman from the neighborhood questioned where we came from.  Repeatedly.

Neighbor #1: “Did you just come from that door?”

Me: “Yep”

Neighbor #1: “The one with the plants on the stoop?”

Me: “Yep”

Neighbor #2: “That one right there with the red door?”

Me: “Yes, sir.”

Neighbor #3: “That’s where that One Lady lives!”

Neighbor #1: “Oh, OK then.”

We were in a neighborhood where the white family stuck out like a sore thumb but ‘That Lady’ was our friend and host and everyone in the neighborhood knew ‘That Lady’.  They knew that she was in the business of helping the most downtrodden across the globe.  They knew that she and the owners of the house hosted visitors of all nationalities, ethnicities and communities regularly.  You see, even though Harlem is incredibly ‘diverse’ it is also monochromatic for the most part.  We definitely stood out and neighbors were watching out for neighbors.  It was refreshingly awesome.

As someone who travels the country regularly, I have the benefit of literally seeing all types and sizes.  I see diversity if for no other reason than the number of time zones I touch in a week but too many of us do not.  We live with those ‘like us’.  We work with those ‘like us’.  We church with those’ like us’.  We need to take time to be with those who are not ‘like us’.   A special shout goes out to all those in Harlem who welcomed us with open arms so that my family and I could introduce ourselves the NYC and did not shun those not like them but reached out to meet and learn about those ‘not like them’.  I cannot wait to go back and visit again.