Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Day 871: A GORUCK Tough Wife

What goes best with diamond point chocolate bow ties? 
How about thoughts of Lily!
This past weekend was an incredibly special weekend for team Vasquez, and I appreciate the opportunity to share a little bit of it from my perspective.

After 13.5 hours over the course of approximately 12+ miles of rucking around NYC with nearly 30lbs in her ruck, my wife earned her first GORUCK Tough patch. 

The sense of pride and inspiration I have to be called her teammate, her BFF and her spouse exceeds anything I've come close to feeling after anything I've accomplished on my own - not because of the simplicity with which she completed another endurance challenge (she's already completed three GORUCK Lights) but the grace, the composure, the intestinal fortitude that was on display throughout the event. 

Lily and I at the endex. Patch in one hand, she grabs my shirt with the other to wipe away tears of exhaustion.
No amount of rain (did I mention it rained for 8+ hours), physical pain or emotional distress was going to keep her from finishing what she started. She smiled constantly, looked out for others and embraced every opportunity to motivate, to crack a joke, and to ... slap my backside. Aside from the fact that our buddy kept yelling out her name (thank you, Johnny Grapes), you would probably not even be able to tell it was her first Challenge. 

What made it even more special was the fact that there were so many other new faces to GORUCK, friends we had made at a previous Light and two very familiar cadre who methodically planned how we would memorialize the fallen (considering this event happened to be on Memorial Day weekend and was the first week after the tragic passing of a member of the GORUCK community). 

After an active rest day that included church services and softball, Lily and I also had the opportunity to complete a hero wod together (a workout specifically written to memorialize a fallen serviceman) on Memorial Day. Not only was it a sobering reminder to remember those who've made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom in America, but it was an inspiring reminder of why I'm fortunate to have Lily in my life. She could have easily chosen to rest and enjoy the holiday in any other fashion, but instead  actively motivated me to do something in honor of someone else, something greater than us. 

Lily joined me for this wod, which took me about
30 minutes to finish. Her time? Closer to 25 min.
Lily, my dear, you're awesome. I look forward to another week together. Just make sure you clean out your ruck, please. The apartment is starting to smell.  

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Day 859: The Tattooed Teacher

Here's a bow created by one of my students. Thank you, Lesly!
 Before I begin, I’d like to preface this post by explaining what this set of words in front of you is not.

This is not a commercial for tattoos, it is far from an attempt to inspire you to ink up and I’m not trying to convince anyone that what I have done (or paid others to do) to my body is right or wrong.

The post (and the thread of conversation to follow) related to the permanent (as relative a term as that is for anything earthly) markings found on my body that I’m beginning today is meant more as a personal reflection, containing my own rationale so as a few friends have recently asked me about them. Each of my 20+ pieces took months – sometimes years to think through – and so I’ve taken some time to think through my responses to the general inquiries, the casual remarks, and the critical looks/jeers I often encounter. This post is not meant to address any of these sorts of comments. It is meant for the sincere listener, the curious companion who doesn’t have the time to spare to listen to my story, but may have time to read it at their convenience.

Sometime between my third and fourth year of teaching I picked up the habit of reading biographies of Christian missionaries. I stumbled upon the diaries of Jim Elliot, a man who was killed by the people he believed he was supposed to serve. One reoccurring theme in his journaling was the premise that, as Christians, it is our duty to study the scriptures for ourselves and cement our own convictions based on our personal relationship to God and His word. One Bible reference that stuck with me was “Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not be ashamed rightly dividing the word of truth.” - II Timothy 2:15. Too often, sadly, we live based on borrowed convictions, belief systems and practices that hinge on traditions, rituals, or practices that someone else has lived and instead of “dividing the word,” our opinions end up creating division among friends and family members alike. Instead of being ourselves a “workman” and studying a matter for ourselves, we rely on someone else to do the labor for us and if we like what we hear, we’ll hitch our wagon to their opinions. Worse yet, sometimes, we’ll even rely on someone else’s convictions regardless of whether or not they actually did the work of studying a matter.

I don’t know what it is about tattooing itself that fascinates me. Maybe it’s the idea that out of a series of painful moments something creative and beautifully artistic can be born. Perhaps it’s the use of imagery to define parts of who I am in ways that words cannot. Maybe it was the anchor I saw on Shipwreck when I was a kid.

Yo, Joe! Shipwreck was one of my favorite characters on G.I.Joe

When I first realized that I did want to go through with the process of being tattooed I started to become very sensitive to the tattoos on others, and what others said about tattoos. Ever notice that when you get a craving for something to drink you can’t help but see everyone around you guzzling on their own glass, cup, bottle or can? I had this insatiable thirst for figuring out as much as I could about the art, where it originated, how it evolved into what it is today and I became very familiar with passages in Scripture related to tattoos.

Almost immediately into my research I came across the one verse that concerns many people with regard to tattooing found in the Old Testament book of Leviticus. "You shall not make any cuts in your body for the dead nor make any tattoo marks on yourselves: I am the LORD." Leviticus 19:28 NASV Following the conviction to study out the matter on my own, I looked for answers for the following questions: Why is this mentioned as part of Old Testament law? Who was this scripture originally intended for? Does this prohibition apply to me? I came across some interesting things. Here was one of the more compelling arguments:

In this passage God is speaking to his covenant people Israel. He is specifically telling them to stay far from the religious practices of the surrounding people groups. The prohibited religious practices in these verses include eating bloody meat, fortune telling, certain haircuts related to the priests of false cults, cutting or marking the body for dead relatives, cultic prostitution and consulting psychics. All these practices would lead God's beloved people away from Him and toward false gods that were not Gods at all. In the midst of this context we find the word translated “tattoo marks” in verse 28. It is important to note here that the context of this passage is not one of body d├ęcor but one of marking one's self in connection with cultic religious worship. Again, the prohibition against tattooing was to keep the Israelites from being involved or affiliated with cultic worship practices.

The tattoo of today is much different that it was for those who originally received the Pentateuch. Today, tattooing is a decorative means of self expression and personal ornamentation. In our current culture people modify their appearance for beauty in many ways. Clothing, makeup, plastic surgery, hair-cutting and coloring, weight loss, body-building, and ear-piercing are some examples of these modifications that are widely found acceptable and common. Some of these practices have a history in ancient ritual and false religion, but in the present day do not denote any connection to evil or false faith.

I see tattooing as a way to document my personal journey. I didn't intend on ending up with a particular number of tattoos. For me, each piece has served as a way of closing a chapter of my life while presenting the world with a different characteristic of my life. Ironically, one piece that many will never get to see in person, conveys the strongest conviction I have - my personal relationship with God.

Thank you for taking the time to read this far. I won't take any more of your time elaborating on all of my pieces here, but I do want to share something about my back piece because of what it illustrates and I invite you to continue the conversation with me privately whenever you wish. Pictured below, Matthew 10:24 in american traditional form. It's a sword (God's Word) piercing through our heart that also has the power to destroy the enemy (the Serpent). The message here is being delivered by the Prince of Peace (the Dove) who wants to reconcile us to God. The text came from Christ words in the Gospel of Matthew: "Think not that I come to send peace on earth. I came not to send peace, but a sword."


Monday, April 7, 2014

Day 821: Reflections on Redemption // Goruck Heavy 030

Cadre John aka Big Daddy introducing us to what would be "different than any other event you could ever do."
Photo credit: Jen R.

I have waited over six months to share my perspective on Goruck Heavy class 030. Although I hope these thoughts shed light on the event itself, I know there are already many words being strung together to more adequately detail the experience that 42 of us shared over 26.5 hours and 45+ miles in NYC this past weekend. The report I will offer you came at the cost of Heavy 019 back on October 4, 2013 and I will purposely leave out many details that you can only appreciate by experiencing them firsthand. I can honestly say that I could not have made it through Heavy 030 without the lessons I learned by my voluntary withdrawal at Heavy 019.

If you got a chance to read my thoughts on Heavy 019 you know that I was both physically and mentally unprepared for the event. I didn't dress appropriately, didn't pack right and was not the best teammate I could be. I remembered everything about that class and began training for Heavy 030 almost as soon as I could walk again, making sure that along with heavier rucks I was reading up and constantly trying to cultivate more mental toughness and a team-first attitude. I devoured every AAR related to Heavy before and after the new SOP was formalized and told myself that the desire to quit would never be entertained. On December 31,2013 I even  made the conscious decision to sign up for Selection to give me something greater to train for, knowing in the back of my mind that Selection was probably not something I really wanted to do. I just needed to put Heavy in the right perspective. It's not the hardest challenge I could be facing, so why place the event on some form of pedestal that seemed out of reach? 

By the time roll call started on the Friday evening of April 4th, the winds were howling and the rain was coming down on the pier at Coney Island and 59 people were locked in arms, listening to the cadre introduce themselves. I looked around and tried to gauge as many faces as I could see and find people who were already shivering and could use a smile or a fist pump. 

After a quick inspection of our rucks we were off and running to the surf to begin our push-ups and sit-ups. How many did I knock out in two minutes? It doesn't matter. We were each told to perform to the best of our individual ability for two minutes. Someone in our facebook training page suggested we complete 100 push-ups and 100 sit-ups every day leading up to Heavy and I'm content with how close I came to what I did throughout my training, but no one took record of our results. It was just a taste of what would happen at Selection. The 12-mile ruck at pace is what followed. Initially I stayed close to the flags and tried to keep pace until I realized some of my friends were not moving as quickly so I slowed down and tried to start conversations, embrace the new pain of rucking on sand, and nurture relationships that were founded through overcoming similar obstacles. I set my eyes on at least five individuals who I would invest the most time talking to throughout those lonely 12 miles. I checked in on them, stopped when they needed to, and asked them to listen to me talk on and on about my family. Unfortunately we were informed that we did not meet the time hack for the 12 miles and were disciplined for it and then instructed to complete another 12 miles. It was then that I realized that although the first part of Heavy was a taste of Selection, it was also the ticket to being part of the team element of Heavy. Registration fees did not entitle me to a roster spot on Heavy 030. 

Redemption always comes at a cost. 

The cost included many early morning or late night training sessions on an empty stomach without any stimulant. The cost included testing gear during warm days, cold nights, rain storms and snow. The cost included reading a variety of books that ranged from mental toughness to sermons. The cost included changing up my diet, experimenting with my eating habits and developing an appreciation for being hydrated. The cost included asking colleagues how I could be a better teammate at work. The cost included time away from loved ones who I could not return to empty-handed. 

Heavy 030 would continue for at least another 17 hours and I was finally ready to redeem myself.

Buddy carries near the end point. Photo credit: Deanna T.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Day 810: A Miltant Classroom


Throughout the last seven years at my current charter school a consistent criticism of charters has been that we seem to have a militant approach toward behavior.

Let me take a moment to assure the reader that today's entry, nearly 100 days since my last post, will not be a platform for my political views on the status of public education in New York City. A bow tie blog is hardly the forum for such matters. As a 14-year veteran of the NYC public school system (7 years in the traditional public school setting prior to being a founding charter school teacher), however, I do feel it's my responsibility to share some of my insights - not as a form of judgement against either type of public school, but to offer a deeper look into my classroom.

I would be honored if someone were to describe my classroom as militant.

Let's take a moment to step back and address how our friends at Google define militant.

"Combative and aggressive in support of a political or social cause"

One of the primary reasons I signed up to work in a charter school (and ultimately why I think I became a teacher) is because I personally view education - especially the education of children in urban and low  income households - as a social cause worth doing something about. The achievement gap exists. It's a real thing and unless we take an aggressive approach toward closing the gap, we will condemn our children of color to a future without the hope of realizing what EDUCATION = FREEDOM really means. Unfortunately, it seems that we live in a culture where any action outside of updating your Facebook status seems extreme. It's easier to post a clever meme than to actually step outside of our comfort zone and do something that will leave our society better than we found it. I will not apologize if my practices seem combative. I will do whatever I think is necessary to engage your child's attention, fight off any form of distraction with a strategic focus on what each child needs to be successful as a student of math and as a member of society. My lessons will never be limited to applying a formula to solve for the volume of a rectangular prism, but will be peppered with moments where determination, grit, risk-taking and team work is celebrated.

As the son of a veteran of the Vietnam war I grew up with a sense of pride for serving our country. Old Glory even hangs from the wall in our living room. The idea that my classroom would be deemed militant is a humbling thought because of what I perceive the military to be. The military, by definition, is a place where soldiers (who often volunteer) are trained to serve their country. Think about that for a moment and let the idea of their service sink in. Now allow me to note some parallels. Our students often come to us, having volunteered to join our school's community. It is a school of choice. Students had to win a lottery to get in, but their families can choose another school as they see fit. As soldiers in the front lines of this social cause (some have called this a modern civil rights movement) teachers have the responsibility to train, or discipline, students to value their education. Training does not equal comfort. Training does not equal entertainment. Training equals hard work and I often joke with my students, er scholars, that if they ever find themselves smiling in class it's an added bonus because I never intend on them enjoying the hard work that I will have prepared for them everyday. Extreme? Maybe compared to what's going on down the hall. Radical? I hope so.

One of my favorite passages in Scripture openly states that "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him." Proverbs 22:15 Am I saying that you're child's a fool? Absolutely not. I do hold to a conviction rooted in that passage that motivates me daily to rid your child of any foolishness with my metaphorical rod - and replace that foolishness with the knowledge and wisdom that will turn that will, hopefully, contribute to growing that child into a productive member of our society.

Militant? Sounds like I'm doing something right. Now back to bow ties.






Thursday, December 19, 2013

Day 712: Our Ruck for Ryan

A few months ago I found out that a former student of mine, Ryan, was diagnosed with and currently fighting Lymphoma. A coworker set up a donation site and challenged our staff to drum up some financial support. I was bummed out, obviously because Ryan and his family are awesome people, but also because I'm no where near financially capable of contributing a bunch of money toward anyone. As a public charter school teacher (and sole financial provider) it's a blessing to be able to get by on a little over what's needed on a check to check basis, but after completing a few of the endurance challenges and obstacle course races over the course of this year I realized that the African proverb "If I want to run fast, I run by myself. If I want to run far, I run with my team." can apply to the simple task of asking others to help. And so, little by little, I began the task of setting up a custom Goruck event. All of the participants would contribute toward a fund for Ryan and we would get him his very own Goruck bag, fill it with some swag and enclose a few checks to make this Christmas a bit more merrier. I was humbled by the overwhelming response that followed. In just under two months we raised over $3,500 in cash and goodies for Ryan and his family. Stay tuned for a video recap, but for now please enjoy the pictures below. Thank you again to everyone who donated, bought a patch, a t-shirt or entered in the raffles we set up to benefit Ryan. I look forward to seeing him wearing his gear in the coming days. Special shout out to Daria and Michael for the images below. 


Thirty-four participants came out early on windy, snowy Saturday morning for what is called a Goruck Light. Cadre Matt made sure we understood that Light =/= Easy. 

Throughout the event we participated in a variety of physical training exercises including, but not limited to push ups, squats, bear crawls, crab walks, inchworm push ups, and lots of rucking (marching, shuffling and jogging) all while wearing 2 to 11 bricks in our rucksacks. 

In addition to carrying our weighted rucksacks, we were also tasked with various team weights - coupons that could be exchanged for what we call "Good Livin'." Pictured above are hose, a 20lb sandbag and a 25lb kettlebell.   

Among the most daunting of tasks included bear crawling across a portion of the Brooklyn Bridge. Quite a few people faced some demons on this bridge - limitations were kicked in the face and we carried on stronger, united and with a renewed perspective on our personal struggles and how they compared to Ryan's fight and the sacrifices made by the brave men and women who serve our country daily.

After traveling 8.67 miles on foot from Battery Park to Bushwick in just under 8 hours, we each received the official Goruck Light patch and took a moment to reflect on what we had accomplished in Ryan's honor. Twelve of Ryan's teachers were among the participants and 17 of the 34 who completed the event had never participated in a Goruck event. 

Among the various fundraising efforts, we produced a patch bearing Ryan's name and the Lymphoma ribbon. These are still available and you can contact me personally if you're interested.

By now I have said this about at least five of Laura's ties, but this is far and away my most recent favorite. It's handmade from 1000D CORDURA, the same material used to produce the Goruck rucksacks. She reconstructed it from the Man Tie, the only military-grade necktie I know of. 

update: 12/21/13 Check out Ryan smiling with his new gear! 


Update: 12/24/13 Check out the Ruck for Ryan Video!

http://vimeo.com/82623653