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!

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Day 638: My DNF story

On Friday, October 4th I set out to complete what would be the toughest, most grueling, most frustrating test of my physical and mental limit to date - the Goruck Heavy. It is described as 24+ hours of special forces training and although I had completed two 12 hour Goruck Challenges I knew that no mater how well-trained I was, there was only so much you could do to prepare for the unknown. Saturday morning, October 5th, 15 hours into the event I decided to call it a day - being the fifth and final person on a team of 16 to earn the three letters "DNF" that will be attached to this moment in my memory. 

I've read a variety of "Did Not Finish" stories over the past year and always believed that it would not be me. There's no way I'm going to start something and not finish it - no excuse too heavy to crush my motivation. Well, kids - this is my attempt to articulate the goings on in my life that led to that moment, what I learned in those 15 hours, and why I stand with head held high in my decision.

I knew this was going to be an interesting week after my first (I don't know how many of these I will have) Chalazion Removal surgery on Wednesday morning. The doc confirmed that I have a chronic skin disorder in my eyelids that produce debris that take on a form of dandruff appearance that causes styes and may develop into chalazions, or a small bump in the eyelid caused by a blockage of a tiny oil gland. She cleared me immediately  after the procedure for normal activities, but the seed of doubt, the speck in my eye was already developing into a log that I would not want to carry. Big metaphor in the making. 

The small distraction in my eye led me to be a lot careless about my planning for the heavy. I am normally meticulous about what I wear and how I pack for these sort of events. Although I took some time off to rest up leading into the 8PM start time, I wore a pair of shoes I hadn't trained with in some time, paired them with the wrong socks, and neglected to wear some trusty compression gear that would have provided some comfort to battle the little distractions that would only add to my misery. I also forgot a belt.

The wrong shoe choice led to a barrage of pebbles and rocks being stuck inside my socks and around my toes, making it very difficult to ruck around NYC, let alone sprint when the team needed me to. The wrong clothing led to some serious chafing in my thighs and ankles that would also impede my ability to move the way I know how to. The top button on my pants (I never wear pants to these things) popped and I had to hold them up with my back brace. Silly little decisions would cause me to alter the way I move, change my gait up and down the streets as we rucked, and aggravate an ankle injury that I sustained in January of this year.

The ankle injury was a tendon tear along the outside part of my right ankle, one that I fought through and dealt with throughout the year. I neglected to rest the way the doc told me to, logging over 300 miles of running since the accident that caused the tear. I chose to lay off of running much over the last month of training leading into the Heavy because I wanted it to be strong enough to last the entire event. 15 hours in, I knew I was causing more harm to myself than good - and no patch was worth being on the shelf for who knows how long. 

Despite knowing that my team would have carried my ruck, carried me for the next 10 hours - despite knowing that I could have completed the event without really perceiving that I was earning it (that's lettuce for another salad) I had a lot of time to think about the benefits of my experience and why leaving the group was the right thing to do for me. 

Like some of my teammates, I have a wife and kids - three boys who I thought of often while we rucked. In fact, I had nothing much to do but think and pray, think and pray. Cadre didn't let us communicate with each other for approximately 8 hours. I prayed I wouldn't get injured because next week my wife and were doing a silly 5k obstacle course with some friends and I really wanted to be able to enjoy it, not be hobbling around like an old man. I prayed I wouldn't let my pride in accomplishing something on my own hinder me from seeing my wife complete her first Goruck Light in a couple of weeks. Being injured would most certainly affect my ability to ruck with her. The more I prayed for my family, the more I realized that I had neglected to make my team, the guys I had been toiling with for 15 hours, my new family. It may seem like an obvious thought to have, but I was more motivated to be with my family than I was to be with the 11 other guys I barely knew. The only thing I could sense was frustration in their eyes when I didn't move as fast as they wanted me to or carry what they could carry. I could tell we were never going to make the time hacks that were designed to make us fail and I saw no sense in giving 100% of myself to a losing effort only to exasperate my injury. And so, after pushing myself harder than I had for the first 15 hours and helping the team sprint across the 59th street bridge into Queens with one of my shoelaces undone I decided to end my tour of NYC. The team was enjoying it's first 10 minute meal break (with the stipulation being that you could only enjoy one food idem you brought) during the event when I decided to make the speech I had already scripted hours prior. I stand by the words I first spoke to Cadre Jason and then to the team.

"I sign up for these events not for the patches, but for the experience. I value the time we spent together more than you know. I'm grateful to have seen some guys I've rucked with in the past, and I'm grateful to have made some new friends."

I said something like that to the team that I know would work smarter and faster without me, but I stand proud of what I helped to contribute within the 15 hours I was there. I had never been called to be a team leader for any of these events. I helped lead twice, and both times my team succeeded in the missions we were was assigned. I completed 75 manmakers (with proper form) in the East River at 3AM. I got to visit four different boros (Manhattan, Staten Island, Brooklyn (I even got spotted by a colleague of mine who was riding his bike early on Saturday morning), and Queens, took the Staten Island Ferry, crossed two bridges. Ironically, I got to be one of the guys who encouraged two guys not to quit - two gents who ended up finishing. By far, my proudest moment was seeing the development and maturity in a young man I've trained with for over a year now. I initially signed up for the heavy first, and convinced him to join me for the ride. He helped push the team, literally pushed and pulled me across the 59th street bridge, and was a constant motivator for me. His will carried him to the finish line, where mine carried me home. 

It took all but ten minutes after I left the team to start wondering what would have happened if I let them carry my ruck for a few hours, how much longer I could have sustained my minor ailments and then it hit me. I was standing by myself in Queensboro Plaza on a Saturday morning and I could barely walk from the counter to the seating area in Dunkin Donuts - without my ruck on. There was no way I could have made it out of that thing without causing myself to miss a day of work on Monday and possibly some great moments with my family later this month. I needed to lick my wounds, learn from my mistakes and move forward more complete and more satisfied with myself for doing something I never would have dreamed of doing when I started training for obstacle courses in May of 2012. 

Thank you to everyone who wished me well and for the 11 guys who took care of each other to make it through to the end. I owe you a big hug, Chris Summa. Thank you to Cadre Jason, who thoughtfully prepared every movement to break us down and build us up as a team. Apologies, again, for breaking one of your rules and sitting down to fix my ruck. We had to inch-worm low crawl over five or six sprinklers across the lawn at 3AM in Brooklyn Bridge park because of my selfishness. Enough of that.

Now I get to make sure our 4 year old finishes his breakfast and be thankful I have the strength to discipline him if he hasn't. 

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Day 621: Goruck Class 758 - NYC

I don't always eat the cafeteria food, but when I do, I post in on Instagram

Hello kids, it's Mr. Vasquez.

The bald, bow tie wearing blogger from Bushwick is still rockin that symmetrical neck gear pretty hard. I just decided to not post on a consistent basis anymore. By now, you've had a chance to see my entire collection. More than twice, I think. 

I'll be posting a lot less frequently on here recapping some adventures with obstacles course races/ endurance challenges and dropping a line here and there about how it's going with our first year of home schooling. 

Come again? Yup - we're home schooling the boys this year - and we're having a blast so far. That's lettuce for another salad.

This post will feature some thoughts on the GORUCK Challenge I had the honor of completing a few weeks ago. If you're a little late to the party and want to catch up, here's my recap of my first challenge back in May of this year.

Near the end of the challenge we knelt for a moment of silence.

 This goruck challenge is not unlike other challenges. It's a team event. It requires participants to carry bricks or sand in a rucksack. It's an endurance event that lasts anywhere from 10 or more hours. What set this challenge apart from others was that it was dedicated to the memory of those lost as a result of the terror attacks on 9/11. As a result, this challenge had a custom goruck patch that participants earned.

As with all other goruck patches - this one cannot be sold. It is only earned. We each have our own 9/11 story, and mine is not something I would consider altogether worthy of being mentioned, but the 9/11 goruck challenge itself was actually one of the events that helped to form a new perspective on fitness, on challenges/obstacle races, and on appreciating life in a more active way.

It was just over a year ago that I saw our friend and trainer complete his first goruck challenge. I remember telling Lily that my goal would be to complete a Spartan race and maybe another obstacle course race, but that goruck seemed like too daunting a rigorous task to overcome. I never once imagined that I would have completed over 20 events, including four goruck events since then. Aside from being such a somber moment to reflect and honor those who have passed, the event itself represented a milestone for me. 

Unlike the first goruck challenge I completed, this event wasn't about me. It wasn't about my limits. I knew what they were. I trained for this. This challenge was about my team - about the 53 other people who signed up and were by my side throughout the 13-hour ruckathon. It was about our two oldest sons, who are both interested in public service work and who have already expressed a desire to be a first responder one day. This challenge was about the students I teach, and the lessons about teamwork that I would get to impart on them afterward.

Before I synthesize two overarching themes found in this event, let me pause and encourage anyone who has already completed an event like this one - consider doing another one. Moreover, consider making the second (and I could argue every event after that) about your team. It's not about you. It's about the person next to you. How awesome would the world be if people lived with a perspective that put others before them, even in the midst of an incredibly daunting challenge? I'd guess the world would be pretty awesome.

Lesson 1: In light of seeing a challenge from the perspective of a teammate, it would behoove you to prepare yourself for the next one. You've got the first challenge under your belt. You know what bear crawls feel like on your shoulders. You know what an improper low crawl will do to your elbows on concrete. You know what holding a plank for more than 2 minutes with a ruck full of bricks because your team was acting like a bunch of individuals feels like. With a well-trained mind and body you would find yourself with a lot of free space in your mind to consider how many ways you can encourage your neighbor, how you can help carry someone's load, how you can smile through the pain - even if you're in the midst of being a casualty for more than three hours. You will find that your mind won't be clogged with thoughts of frustration with your body, thoughts of quitting with your mind, thoughts of food because you're hungry. You will expect these things, will have dealt with them during training, and will now have time to find more lessons evolving around you.

Lesson 2: There is beauty in obstacles. At some point after 7AM - six hours into this challenge - we found ourselves somewhere in Riverside Park just off 68th St in Manhattan, near the East River at a place called Linda's Lawn.

As much as I fancy myself a true New Yorker, I had never been to this part of Riverside Park. It was as though I had stepped into an alternate universe where the only humans I knew carried bricks and ran exercises in groups of 50 or more. In the midst of a march I looked over and there it was - this train engine from another time. I was convinced we were now not only in a different world, but in a different time - a time where bricks represented causes, logs represented coupons that we could exchange for good livin. And I could appreciate the value of life because I was challenged to think about how worse it could be. 

For the record, I hated being a casualty.