A Proportionate Challenge

Over the past two years I had a string of odd injuries (a dog bite amongst them) and started grad school. Suffice to say, I gained a noticeable amount of weight, which is an accomplishment considering I am 6’6”. I lose or gain twenty pounds and people ask me if I got a haircut.

So this year I decided I needed to get my act together. In trying to figure out weight loss, I realized most of the conversations about the topic usually boil down to sustaining motivation. My friends and family have started weight loss programs, lost a few pounds over a few weeks, and then fallen off, gained all the weight back plus a few pounds of shame-induced Oreos to boot. How, then, is it possible that some humans out there have lost substantial amounts of weight if everyone we all know seems to lose the thread after a few weeks?

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Smash it: A hole new experience

cave 3

Right, the first thing you need to understand, is I’m not an outdoor enthusiast. I have all sorts of respect for the Bear Grylls types out there. Those dudes are ballsy. I’m going to have to sack up and do experiences like the following recant as it was one I’ll never forget and it gave me a sort of schooling you can’t get from books.

(I’ll be the guy in Blue for your viewing pleasure)

I’m en route to the first caving experience of my life. With a few adventure enthusiasts (William I., William S., Zac and Josh aka the Lyon Twins), I trekked out to some farmland in rural NZ in the hopes of finding a vague entrance to a waterfall that leads into the earth that from satellite mapping looks like a dark spot, nothing more.

Sweet, just pull up to it and there’s the hole in the ground right? Yea, nah. Too easy. I find myself on what feels like the run made by the characters from the Lord of the Rings. I’m really feeling the weight that I put on for rugby here. Of note, on a caving and hiking endeavor wear proper shoes, not casual worn out flat sneakers like I did. You’ll regret it for hours.

After a bit of a search the hole or, “tomo,” was located. Hence the search for a fix point for the abseiling (or repelling) line to be tied, such that we can begin our descent to the cave. Of note, this is my first attempt at abseiling; I’m thinking this is a beginner abseil otherwise I wouldn’t have been invited along.

It may very well have been a beginners abseil route, but I never would’ve guessed a beginners route to consist of slick surfaces, cold rushing water, and rope intended for rock climbing.

“Smash it.” The recurring utterance from Will Ireland’s mouth. Whether this is a place holder used by him the way most use, “um,” I’ll never be too sure. I’m finding myself on the ledge of a waterfall; about 25m off the ground, nothing the travel channel would feature, but it’ll kill you dead none the same. Regardless, this, “tomo,” needed smashing and smash it we did.

As I look around at the ground around me, I can’t help but notice a bone left amongst the rocks. From what source it originated, I’ll never know, but what a weird way to start the trip. On the floor of the tomo, it’s discussed that this surely is the entrance to the cave. No one’s really sure. But in typical Kiwi fashion, no one gripes, the only one with concerns is the Yank, who is doing his best to keep his mouth shut because these guys are geared up to go.

It’s decided that we’d leave the rope up, in case we need to climb out. I got stuck on the way down, up might not be an option. Luckily, it was indeed the entrance to the cave sequence that they had expected.

Once you’re in a hole, there isn’t much to do but keep going. Get ahead one foot, hand, neck in front of the other and keep on moving until you get out. Again, I’ll preach, footwear. Slick rocks and 3m drops aren’t exactly a good combination, especially when trying to keep up with guys that do adventure activities on the regular.

Climb, walk, slide, crawl do whatever is needed in front of you. I found there to be a good lesson in all of this. Yes, I had guys with me that were beyond helpful in tight spots, but there were some instances where you just had to do things yourself.

There was also a situation where teamwork (and guts) were needed in heaps. Freakin’ Kiwis, they’re cut from a different cloth and bless them for it. We came to a point in the cave where we’d, well, run out of cave. The only way out was a clay/rock wall about 25ft high, pitched about 75-80%, almost right angle worthy at some spots. Turn back? Ha. Yeah right.

Right away, assessments are made by the others. If this, then that conversation. I figure, let them sort the path, and don’t contribute so you don’t have anyone’s broken bones on your conscience. One of the Lyons wedges, scrapes and pushes his way to the top with some tactful spotting by Mr. Ireland, and a few quibs about his lackluster pace in ascent. He and William find themselves at the midpoint, hacking away at clay in attempts to make footholds and handholds for the remainder of the party.

About midway up, I slip and fall from my post. Uncensored, I let the word fuck escape my mouth (it wasn’t the only time I said it on this adventure) and expect to come up with a broken bone. This was after seeing William S. fall from the same height and some how stick the landing, laughing.

With rubber legs, I climb back up and with some spirited criticism from William I., I make it past his check point. I get fortunate that two feet from the top of the ledge is Will S.’s outstretched hand, who secures the rest of my climb up. As we wait for the two behind to amble up, I feel lucky enough to get to experience this cave and do so with guys who refuse to take failure as an option.

cave 1

We see some great stalactite and stalagmite formations throughout the rest of the trip. It flowed pretty easily from there. The successful ascent of the clay wall had given me a bit of a lift for the remainder of the climbs and found myself navigating with a bit more confidence.

I found out after the trip that only a handful of people had probably only ever been into that cave in that fashion and through the passage we had taken (est. fewer than ten!). I had solace in that. Upon our exit from the cave a Lyon had taken off to fetch our rope. Lucky for the torches on our heads otherwise it would’ve been a dark search. Every piece of equipment accounted for, everyone with all necessary body parts. We picked up a general sense of accomplishment too, and that seemed to lighten the fatigue. It was felt on days to follow.

cave 2

This whole trip, in essence, has been about saying yes to whatever presents itself that day. I wanted a Kiwi experience, be it rugby, outdoors, new foods, whatever it may be that day. Kiwis and Aussies have this saying, “We’re not here to fuck spiders;” while the saying doesn’t really make a hell of a lot of sense in it’s syntax, it really hits the root that if you want to get something done…then just get it done.

Caving, check.

And here’s the link to the Lyon’s site; give ‘em a look. These fellas take it to a whole other level.

http://lyontwins.blogspot.co.nz

Blessed

Hi, I’m Pete and if I ever again complain about a first world problem other than an empty glass I give you permission to slap me. I’d also like to preface this with the notion that it’s just my recollecting and observing what this experience has meant to me. I’m not trying to pose as an expert in any way shape or form and hopefully don’t offend anyone. And if I do, toughen up a bit, it’s just a casual recount.

I’m less than a month from home and I’ve just begun to learn things about myself here. Well, maybe I have before this, but at present the realizations are so profound, it is unreal.

So, like all ad hoc travelers, I thought with my work visa I’d get a job right away. It didn’t happen. As the ensuing panic of, “Oh shit, how will I pay for things?” set in, I landed this job at Hamilton North School, a specialist learning center for children with disabilities.

Before you think I’m going all high and mighty let me tell you, I was hesitant to go into the job. Like all cynical assholes, I thought the job would be glorified babysitting, monitoring the kids when the went to the bathroom, making sure they didn’t do any harm to themselves, etc. Looking back on it, I realize I was a prick, so don’t hang me up from the rafters for my previous thinking or place me on a pedestal for having worked with an underserved population.

There are some things that I’ve learned here working with these kids that have taught me a fair amount about myself. It has helped me identify some major flaws and work to correct them. It also has enlightened me in regards to the treatment and perception of children/individuals with special needs. Finally, it made a real declarative statement into how I’m living my life and what’s really important.

I arrived here in NZ by no means a patient person; I’d resided in a city that is go go go, no one gives a shit about anyone (in public, anyway) kind of lifestyle, where you stand inches away from someone in an elevator, just the two of you and neither says hello. I was edgy when I have to wait more than five minutes for a subway car or one minute to hail a taxi. I shook my leg through the whole flight in a manner of, “Are we there yet?” I was calloused, arrogant and masked by the niceties that society mandates we have by the minimalist amounts.

And here I was working with kids.

Admittedly, I’ve always had a soft spot for kids. I think being at the mercy of another persons reasoning while still trying to formulate thoughts and opinions all your own is a difficult enough spot as it is. Maybe it’s easy to live in Manhattan because you rarely see kids, just the same personification of insolence you see in yourself in another formulated adult.

Ok bring it back; here I am the first day at this school, meeting kids who love to ask questions, love to ask why, love to hug, high five, and sometimes don’t know the meaning of personal boundaries. I’m aloof.

As I got the flow of the day to day operations, working with kids who were high functioning was easy and low functioning was taxing. The range of disorders amongst the children is highly diverse, and the quality of care given to these kids is immaculate.

So, having no backing in education (sports medicine doesn’t really apply to a learning center such as this, not in my area of expertise anyways), I do what I do best, small talk.

I’m an immediate hit with the kids, which throws me for a loop. Usually, small talk is a pleasantry for passers by, not the doorway to full blown conversation. It takes me a while to get used to. It was my first realization that these kids get treated differently 24/7, and the opportunity to talk just like everyone else does is (seemingly, at least) a luxury.

One little fella speaks with me everyday about Lebron James. Being American here, it’s a bit of a step outside the norm for a lot of these kids. So, being social and courteous kids, they choose topics I might know something about.  We do have the same conversation every time, which is a bit funny, but I appreciate the effort and enjoy watching him get excited.

K: “That Lebron James, pretty good basketball player, aye?”

P: “Sure is.”

K: “He plays for the Miami Heat, he didn’t always used to but he does now.”

P: “Sure does.”

K: “I play EA Sports against Lebron James. I beat him too.”

P: “That’s awesome.”

I told you, I’m a small talk wizard.

There’s countless of these stories and I’ve been making little notes of them aside to myself so I can remember all of them as I go forward from here, but there are two that really resonate with me.

One of the boys here has Dyspraxia. You have google, you can look it up. This boy has difficulties with learning, some motor coordination issues, and speech. We talk regularly, and the teachers are shocked that I understand him better than they do sometimes. My only thought is that his condition has left him without much of an accent, so he sounds more like me than them.

I digress, one day he comes up to me and says something that I can’t totally make out. I ask him to repeat it. I ask him to repeat it again, trying best to make it seem like it’s not his speech, but my understanding that’s faulty. He produced a handheld device that he uses when communication breaks down like it has. Roughly, he formulated “You. Me. Friends.” When I realized he was asking if I considered himself to be my friend I said, “Jeremy*, absolutely, mate” (yeah, I picked up mated) and he went off beaming like he’d won on the Price is Right. It made me realize that if you can do something small to impact an individuals day on a grand scale, it is worth the effort to listen and actively try to make a difference.

The other realization I had is that we’re all just looking to have a bit of common ground. Ultimately, we search for some form of bond to let us know that we aren’t alone. The kid that made me realize this was Tino. I call him Tino, because his real name I trip over, Maori is not my strong suit at all. Anyways, Tino has Cerebral Palsy and Autism. His communication skills are immaculate and he routinely likes to tell jokes of the Knock Knock variety. Anyway, Tino suffers from seizures, at a rate of about three per week. When I first met him he asked me,

T: ”Pete, do you have seizures?”

P: “Nope, Tino I don’t. Why?”

T: “Don’t ask me! …Have a seizure, Pete”

P: “What?”

T: “…Have. A. Seizure…Pete”

After doing this on a few different days with him, I asked a teacher what he meant by it. His teacher went on to explain that Tino feels embarrassed about the fact that he has seizures and uses that phrase as a bit of a crutch, most likely to establish a common ground with the person with whom he is speaking.

These experiences have leveled me. Not only have I learned that children with special needs aren’t as fragile as I had grown up believing, I’ve learned that we’re basically all the same at a root level. We all want people to associate with, we all want friends, and at the end of the day it’s just nice to have someone to talk to.

All in all, I’ve learned that if you’re getting your base needs met. You really don’t have much to complain about. I like it more that way.

Until next time…have a seizure guys.

The top 20 things I miss about NYC

ESB

Now, New Zealand is incredible. My hosts are phenomenal, the friends I’ve made are fantastic, the rugby is a blast (still recovering from a court session weeks ago…woof). But, I do miss the bright lights of the big city, the sound of cabs lulling me to sleep and feeling like you’re in the most exciting place on earth. Seeing a photo of the ESB decked out in Red White and Blue gave me a pang of homesickness. So, here, in no particular order, are the things I’ve found myself missing from home.

1. Having vendor food available whenever I want
Nothing like the LES Taco cart at 3AM
2. Transport to anywhere I need to go requiring little to no effort
The subway makes my life so easy. …but I have biked on average 20km a day
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A Continued Gratitude

Here I am, on the cusp of a night I had hoped for since my discovery of this game in 2007. My first All Blacks match, on their home soil. It doesn’t get any better than this, as they are playing the French; Les Bleus being their, “wild card,” team.

Already up 2-0 in the series, the ABs are going for the clean sweep. In any other sport, a softer lineup full of new faces will be present for the contest. Not tonight. The starting XV for the ABs boasts 620 caps between them and the return of their prodigal kicker Dan Carter. Prediction: New Zealand 31 – France 7.

As I sit here, I cannot fathom just how fortunate I have been to discover this sport. I wasn’t anywhere near good enough to play collegiate lacrosse, and, frankly, didn’t/continue to not care about football in the slightest, and thought my contact sport days were over. With the suggestion of rugby made to me by my friend, a mellow bear of an individual with fresh bruising and cuts on his face, I thought, “Sure, why not?”

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Brothers

“Brothers, on three…”

DSCN1869
That’s the way practices are ended here. It’s the final word said in the shed before you take the field. No mention of club, crest, etc., exists. The one word encapsulates that for the next eighty minutes, you are expected to play as one unit.
You hear the other team yell it from elsewhere, beckoning the challenge of our family versus yours. The simple question is: will you answer?