A promise is a promise

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Last fall, my friend Melanthia asked me when I might return to Seattle.

We’d been colleagues at the Associated Press, where I was a staff photographer and she was a military reporter. I left the job and the state and had returned only periodically. For her wedding. To meet each of her three children. Her youngest is now four and it’s been nearly four years since I’d been back in the Emerald City.

Why, I asked.

I’m going to run the Seattle Rock ‘N’ Roll Half Marathon for my 40th birthday. OK., I said. I’m in. I’ll be there.

I said this in the fall of 2016. I had plenty of time to train. I knew what it would take and I knew I was nowhere near prepared. I had two marathons under my belt; they were both in the distant past. I was lighter, younger and better trained the last time I’d run any distance.

I had gained weight and lost muscle and endurance since I’d returned from Afghanistan in 2011. All my attempts at a return to fitness had fizzled and fallen short of my goals. I’d pushed too hard. I wrestled with too much stress.

I chose a fresh start with a new job in a new state in the fall of 2016. Melanthia and I now live in states that border different oceans on separate coasts, three time zones and a continent apart.

When I set a lofty goal, I draw inspiration from a quote by William Hutchison Murray from his 1951 book entitled The Scottish Himalayan Expedition. (The original of the couplet at the end, which Murray attributes to Goethe, has been debated.)

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I have learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:
Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it!”

I had my share of setbacks and excuses to bail. I hung onto the quote and my promise to my friend.

It took me several months to find a place to live. It looks several 20-hour solo roundtrips by car to move my things. By the end of the year, I hadn’t started training. I hadn’t even unpacked.

I had started shedding pounds though. I knew I needed to be lighter if I were going to pound the pavement for 13.1 miles. I started walking and I watched Melanthia’s posted training runs. My trepidation increased with her increasing mileage. I was not matching her miles or dedication.

By April, I still hadn’t run much and I hadn’t bought my airplane ticket. I called Melanthia. I didn’t want to let my friend down and I didn’t want to hold her back.

And yet, a promise is a promise.

Are you doing this? I wanted to know before I booked the ticket. I also wanted her to know that I wouldn’t be a pace-setting partner. I explained that I hadn’t trained enough and I wasn’t as fit as I once was.

We set a simple goal: finish the race. The race rules warn runners that they will be yanked if they don’t finish in under four hours.

I’m going to run-walk, she said. I can can keep pace–and keep her company, I thought. I booked my ticket.

Yesterday we picked up our race bibs and packets.

See you at the finish line.

 

 

 

 

 

You gotta rock the nap

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Outside the Box, a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch, copyright 2015

At the start of each semester, I give an empty schedule to the students in our classes. I ask them to fill in their commitments during the week. Classes. Work. Athletic practices and games. Clubs. Service organizations. Allegheny students embrace the college’s mantra of unusual combinations and that can lead to packed schedules. As a professor, I like to have an idea of what the students are balancing as they take on a deadline-driven journalism class.

When I arrived at Allegheny, I plunged into my new job. It wasn’t long before I decided to track my time to determine where it was going. I took the same empty schedule that I give the students and I filled in one each day. I devised a color-coded system to discover how I spent my time.

I chose red for work and colored all the blocks of time I dedicated to work activities, including lectures, meetings, grading, class preparation and advising the student journalists at The Campus.

Green marked activities such as cleaning, shopping, swimming and yoga: things that I consider necessary to healthy living. I chose blue for moments of true relaxation: reading a book, going for a walk, getting a pedicure. I tracked my time for a semester.

Warning, warning. Danger Will Robinson. My daily colored charts felt like a fire alarm, screaming red. My cousin would call me. “Are you having a blue day?” Translation: Are you taking time for yourself? No. Blue was missing in action.

As an Associated Press photographer, I covered major league sports, murders, Microsoft, forest fires and trials. I would sometimes have competing deadlines in different time zones around the globe.

When I covered a New York Yankees v. Mariners home game, for example, I’d sit in a well on the third base line, by the visiting team’s dugout. I’d need a photo of the Yankees’ pitcher from the top of the first for clients in New York. I’d shoot it, pull the card, download the photos and edit, all while keeping an eye on the game, talking to editors in New York and watching for foul balls. I’d caption the photo and transmit. Then I’d photograph Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle’s leadoff batter and rookie sensation from Japan. The media in Japan were hungry for images of Ichiro. I enjoyed the challenge and I rocked the coverage.

As a journalist, I learned to maximize time. If I had a spare minute, I found a way to use it. I carried this skill with me from Afghanistan to Allegheny, hence the hemorrhaging schedule.

The students keep busy schedules, too; however, I discovered they also mark time in their schedules to eat, work out and sleep. No matter how much work they have, the students make time for themselves. They take care of themselves.

When I’m on a story or a deadline, I can forgo food and sleep to finish. On a major story, I can work round-the-clock for days. In the past, I considered my ability to power through, tough it out it, a point of pride. Over time, this deprivation becomes a habit, a destructive one.

Athletes understand the power of rest. After a tough workout, the body needs time to repair and recover. If an athlete doesn’t allow for down time, the mind and body eventually pay for it. Concentration suffers. Injuries occur. An illness invades. The same applies to journalists.

In The Campus newsroom, the students take breaks. They extoll the virtues of a nap.

A nap? Sleeping in the middle of the day? Ridiculous.

Students have told me if they have a spare 15 to 20 minutes or an hour, they’ll take a nap. If I have any spare time, I’ll find something to fill it. I’ll grade papers, write a letter, answer emails.

This semester I’m following the students’ lead. I make sure I make time for lunch. When I have a bit of down time, I take a short nap. It’s not ridiculous. It’s remarkable. The short break and rest are restorative.

Last Thursday night, I met with The Campus student editors. They didn’t have a paper to publish before fall break, so we had scheduled time for an extensive critique of the latest issue. A number of students on staff are athletes who are usually coming from or going to a practice or workout on publication night. Meaghan Wilby, science/international editor, plays basketball. Chloe Kedziora, junior features editor, plays lacrosse. Joe Tingley, news editor, is a distance swimmer on the swimming and diving team.

After the meeting, I chatted with Joe, who also plays violin in the orchestra and writes regular blog posts for Allegheny Gator Blogs. I told him I had enjoyed reading his recent posts, which are thoughtful and personal. I mentioned that I’d started taking the occasional nap, something I’d learned from the students.

Even with his packed schedule, Joe finds time for nap each day—20 minutes is ideal.

“You gotta rock the nap,” he said.

Indeed. You gotta rock the nap.

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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I am strong

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Outside the Box, a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch, copyright 2015

Allegheny has a new peak performance coach, Randy Moore. As soon as I heard the news, I wrote him an email.

Coach Moore. Welcome to Allegheny. I feel like your new position and presence at Allegheny is an answer to a prayer—or at least to a fervent hope. I want to return to conditioning to improve my strength and endurance and I’m thrilled to learn you have classes available.

A bit about me by way of introduction: I am a career journalist and I teach journalism classes at Allegheny College. I’m also the adviser to the award-winning student newspaper, The Campus.

I came to Allegheny by way of Afghanistan and a life-threatening illness that had me hospitalized in Kuwait. The doctors advised me to do nothing but walk for a year to allow my lungs to recover. That was 2012-2013.

I am now carrying 40 pounds I don’t need and I’ve lost strength and endurance. I was a college athlete. I rowed crew at Oregon State and I’m a Pac-10 champion rower. I’ve run marathons. I haven’t been running with the extra weight.

I know my body remembers how to be fit and strong. My concern is that I don’t want to push too hard too soon. May I meet with you to discuss my options?

We exchanged emails and decided the intermediate conditioning class would be a good place for me to start. If it proved too much too soon, I could bump down to the beginning class. Coach advised me to start with light weights.

I rowed in a lightweight eight in college. That meant I was wicked lean and strong. Nine percent body fat. I could walk out my front door and run 12 miles for the fun of it. I could bench press well past my body weight. I remember my friend, an offensive lineman, standing behind me in the weight room and willing me to my record 13 pull ups.

That’s the Cheryl of Fitness Past.

Cheryl of Fitness Present can’t even do a push up, let alone a pull up. I learned this the hard way. I took a class at the local Y. The instructor told us to drop and do push ups. Modified, if we needed it. I could barely do one modified push up.

I knew I was out of shape. I had no idea I’d lost my strength.

It takes a whole different kind of strength to walk into the weight room at the Wise Center. I’m surrounded by wall-to-wall mirrors and young, fit athletes. When I look in the mirror, I don’t recognize myself. I expect to see the lean me that once frequented weight rooms.

Instead, I see me: out of shape and overweight. And I have a relentless voice in my head, reminding me of how far I’ve let myself go. Who are you kidding? You’re never going to get fit. You’ll never lose the weight. You look ridiculous.

While I do sets of repetitions with the weights, the unkind voice keeps repeating its debilitating messages.

The trainers are excellent. Several young women are on the lacrosse team. Another ran track. They offer me encouragement. High-fives. Compliments on my form. Their positive voices and support make me smile.

My competitiveness is still intact. Once I got over my initial internal laments about my shape, I got into the routine and my competitiveness kicked in. Three weeks into the workouts, I took a week off. My knee and once-shattered wrist were not happy. Too much too soon.

I ran into my trainer, Maria, the one who’d run track, on campus. I told her I would skip a few workouts. She smiled and told me that I was wise to rest. She complimented me on my commitment, offered a high-five with a smile and headed to the Wise Center. When I returned the following week, she watched me carefully and inquired about my knee.

The trainers and coach are teaching me more than just form. They’ve offered me an alternative to the nasty voice in my head. I’ve decided I need to balance my competitiveness with compassion.

My body has served me well for many years, even when I have sorely neglected her. She has weathered brutal diseases—typhoid, amoebic dysentery, diseases that don’t have names. She’s endured extended periods of sleep deprivation, bad food or no food, and relentless bursts of adrenaline. It’s a miracle and an act of sustained grace that I am still alive, let alone spiritually, emotionally and physically intact.

I am an athlete. I am strong.

Meet the Cheryl of Fitness Future.

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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Show Allegheny women’s basketball team some love on Valentine’s Day

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Outside the Box

by Cheryl Hatch, Copyright 2015

I was sitting in the stands for the Allegheny women’s basketball game against DePauw last Friday night. I sat in my usual spot, across the court from the Gators’ bench. I looked around. Something was off.

I was swimming in a sea of DePauw colors. Men’s players surrounded me. To my  right, a boisterous section of fans in black-and-gold were chanting before the game began.

The DePauw cheering section eclipsed the scant Gators in attendance.

And DePauw is in Indiana.

The women played against a top-notch team while their opponent’s fans screamed and clapped. The Gators took a beating and headed to the locker room as the stands filled for the men’s game.

Men from the Phi Gamma Delta fraternity stood in a row, each with a single letter painted on a bare chest: G-A-T-O-R-S. Throughout the game, the painted FIJIs and other students in the section stomped their feet, shouted organized chants and rallied the crowd and team.

There was more of everything at the men’s game. More fans. More noise. More energy. More support.

At halftime, a women basketball player escorted me to center court. I joined a number of my colleagues who received recognition from a student athlete on the team during Faculty Appreciation Night. I was giddy and proud to accept the certificate of appreciation and the student’s hand-written note tucked into the back of the frame.

The next day, I attended the women’s game against Wittenberg and the men’s against Wabash. There was better attendance for the women’s game; however, the fans at the men’s game packed the stands and rocked the house.

I’ll admit it. I was ticked when I left the Wise Center. Why doesn’t the women’s team get the same level of support as the men’s?

I asked a woman player about the DePauw game. Sure, she noticed the stands with the out-of-town fans.

It’s embarrassing, she said. To be the home team and have more fans for the opposing team.

I was a college athlete. I understand the power of cheering fans.

I rowed crew at Oregon State. Rowing is not exactly a spectator sport. Fans can line the dock or the riverbanks near the finish line. I remember once my boyfriend came to a home regatta. He joined the people shouting encouragement as they leaned over the bridge on the Willamette River.

Those raised voices—and knowing my boyfriend was among them—meant the world to me. When my will was flagging near the finish, the coxswain’s command and the shout of the crowd inspired me, pushed me. The cheers uplifted all of us and helped us move the boat.

Cheers and fans make a difference. And all Allegheny athletes deserve the support.

College athletes put in long hours, in and out of season. The women’s basketball team dedicates six days a week to the sport. Four practices a week for three to four and a half hours. Home games take at least three hours each. Traveling times for away games take anywhere from four to seven hours round-trip. Add time for lifting and training. Reviewing game films. Spending extra time with a coach or practicing shots. They can spend at least 30 hours—or more—each week on the game.

They also put in the time in the classroom and in study to meet the demands of their rigorous academic programs.

Allegheny athletic director Portia Hoeg played college ball at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. As an athlete and administrator, she understands the power of the crowd.

“I think it means everything to an athlete,” she said, of seeing peers and family in the stands. “It gives a boost of confidence and excitement to play your best.”

Hoeg didn’t have an explanation why the fan base is bigger at the men’s games.

I learned rumor has it that some students party during the women’s game and show up spirited for the men’s game.

This Saturday, the men and women’s teams play at home again. I’m on a mission. I want to see the crowds pack the house from both teams.

Men of FIJI, I invite you to show up and cheer for the women as loudly as you cheered for the men last Friday. To the rowdy crowd that chanted for the men on Saturday, bring your energy and enthusiasm early to the court and roar for the women’s team, too.

Like I said, I’m on mission.

The women tip-off against Ohio Wesleyan at 1 p.m.; the men’s start is 3 p.m.

For the women, it’s Senior Day, when they will recognize the players who are finishing their basketball careers at Allegheny.

It’s also Valentine’s Day on Saturday.

Bring a date to the game. For community members, it’s five dollars for an adult. Three dollars if you’re 55 or older. For a non-Allegheny student, it’s two dollars. Free for children six and under. The concession stand offers popcorn and snacks. It’s a bargain and a lot of fun.

Let’s all show the women’s basketball team some love on Valentine’s Day.

Note: this column ran in The Meadville Tribune on Saturday, Feb. 14, 2015.

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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Breathe well, as we have just this one life

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Outside the Box by Cheryl Hatch

copyright 2014

 

Breathe well.

Our yoga teacher repeats this often during our practice.

I came to Allegheny after working in Afghanistan by way of a hospital bed in Kuwait.

For my first year on campus, I was under doctor’s orders to rest. No running. No swimming. No yoga. Only walking. My body and lungs needed time to rest, repair, restore.

Breathe well.

A respiratory illness tried to take my breath. Now I breathe beauty. Sunshine. Rain. Wind. Tears. Ocean. Light. Laughter.

When I left Afghanistan, I left the world of breaking news. For two decades, I’d been in crisis mode. Wildfires. Plane crashes. Murders. Executions: at a federal penitentiary, in urban neighborhoods, on dirt roads in Africa. Earthquake. Floods. Famine. Civil war. Political campaigns. Sports playoffs. Serial killers.

I had more stretches of 90-hour weeks than I want to admit. Yes, the news never sleeps; and, too often, neither did I. It was a fun and frenetic career—and it took its toll.

When I came to this small liberal arts college in this small town, I envisioned a slower pace of life. I would write letters. I’d read books. And I’d write a book, a memoir, the book people had been asking about for more than a decade.

To my horror and surprise, I discovered it’s possible to live at a crisis-mode pace without a breaking-news job.

I noticed a disturbing, familiar pattern.

How are you? I’d ask. Busy.

How about a walk? I’m busy.

Dinner? Busy. So busy. Too busy.

In Arabic class, the students already know the word for tired. When the professor asks how they are, one by one, they often respond taa’baan. Tired. I’ve heard the word “exhausted” escape from my lips too often

Breathe well.

I remember my childhood and the lives of my parents and grandparents. We gathered around a table for meals every evening. On weekends, we played, visited friends. On Sundays, we went to church and relaxed. Our “free” time was just that: ours. There was time for family, friends, community and service. The professional and the personal lived in separate places.

On Sunday, I drew two columns on a yellow legal pad. One column I labeled “for me;” the other I labeled “for others.” For me, I listed Arabic homework, cleaning, doing an annual report for my nonprofit and writing this column. I also wanted to do some things for my well-being: swim, read, walk.

In years past, I did a great job of crossing things off my list for others and sometimes I’d work on evenings and the weekends to get that work done. It’s not a tradition I want to continue.

Some Sundays, I go to church. This past Sunday, I went for a long walk. I consider both forms of worship and meditation.

As I walk, I listen to the wind, the rustle and rattle of leaves and unseen animals that scatter and plop as I pass. I hear the tickle of the creek as water slips over rocks.

I notice a brown snake, slender as a pencil, stretched across the path, sunning. I walk gently by it, careful to leave it undisturbed.

Wait. Go back, Cheryl. What’s your hurry?

I turn and return to the snake. I get down on my knees and lean on my elbows, chin in my hands. I study the snake, sun on my face, sun on its scales.

I watch it breathe. Sides puff out slightly. Sides collapse. I am alone on the trail for long moments with the snake, its breathing, the sun and the wind.

Slowly it moves, tasting the air with its flicking tongue, finding its way through curled, fallen leaves. It slithers into the grass and vanishes from my sight.

Breathe well.

Our yoga teacher reminds us to expand our breath, expand into our bellies.

When I’m afraid or fatigued, my breath grows shallow, sprints ahead, dares my heart to join it. When I’m stressed, straining, struggling, I hold my breath.

When we hold our breath, we tighten. Constrict.

As our yoga teacher reminds us, when we breathe well, our breath opens our chests. It exposes our hearts. Leaves us vulnerable. Nourished. Alive.

We have this one life.

One sacred life. One sacred moment. One sacred breath.

Breathe well.

http://www.meadvilletribune.com/opinion/breathe-well-as-we-have-just-this-one-life/article_dfa18a00-5fcc-11e4-84cd-8f6dbec5499b.html

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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How you play a golf course reveals how you live your life

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Outside the Box, a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch, copyright 2014

A member of the Allegheny men’s golf team invited me to watch the team play during the recent Guy Kuhn Invitational at the Country Club of Meadville. I accepted and walked a number of holes on Sunday afternoon and a couple more on Monday.

I watched a visiting player hurl his club after a missed putt on what must have been a bad hole for him. I heard another visiting player swear loudly after a shot he didn’t like. That would not fly in the Hatch family, I thought. At any sign of disrespect for others or the game, my father would discipline us.

I grew up in a golfing family and I’ve walked innumerable golf courses. My father has played golf for as long as I can remember. My brother played in high school and college and still carries a single-digit handicap.

I never played the game when I was younger. Never liked it much, actually. I rowed crew in college. Family vacations were often planned around the availability of golf courses and tennis courts. I wanted to scuba dive.

My mom is a natural, competitive athlete. She played volleyball, basketball and tennis most of her life, until her back had other plans. She picked up golf later in life.

Last month, my mom called, thrilled to share the news of her hole-in-one on the Tournament Player Course. Number Three. A water hole.

Giddy, Mom described her shot. She suspected immediately that she’d made a hole-in-one. Dad was playing ahead of her. He said he watched her shot but didn’t see the ball on the green. He said he figured it went in the water.

Of course you did, Dad.

I tried golf a few years ago. My instructor told me I had a natural ability so I decided to take lessons. I found a woman golf pro, whose approach to the game was the right fit for my style. She gave me a few tips on my swing and then told me to see the target and send the ball to the target. And I did. On my first drive, I hit the ball well.

How far is that? About 225 yards, she said.

Giddy, I called my dad that evening. Dad, I hit my driver 225 yards.Cheryl, you cannot hit the ball 225 yards.

Well, how far do you think I can hit it? About 150, maybe 180 yards, my dad said.

Huh. My instructor might have been mistaken, though I liked the idea that I could send the ball 225 yards.

The next time I visited my folks, I went with my father to the driving range at the country club. He sat right behind me as I teed up the ball. Tense, nervous and anxious to impress my father, I hit the first few balls poorly.Then I sent one flying. I looked back at my father. How far was that, Dad?

About 225 yards. I don’t believe it, he said. Then he dashed to clubhouse to find the golf pro.

As I played more golf, I discovered that I could learn a lot about a person’s character in a round of golf, sometimes after a few holes. It turns out, in my view, how you play a golf course reflects how you live your life.

People will offer unsolicited advice: there’s a bunker over that rise; there’s water on the left; the rough is brutal on this hole. They focus on the potential problems.

I don’t want to focus on the hazards or obstacles. I aim for the flag, the green, the goal. I know that where I send my mind, my ball will follow.

My father and brother often coach me on the reasonable shot or appropriate approach. Play it safe. Play it smart.

Once, my father told me I couldn’t reach the green on a water hole. The safe shot was to lay up short of the green. In other words, don’t go for it.

I insisted I could hit the green. My first shot went in the water.

Now you know the shot to play, Dad said. My second shot went in the water. I was headed for a “Tin Cup” moment; and, I still believed I could reach the green.

On my third attempt, I hit the ball so hard it flew over the water and the flag and landed behind the green.

I happily accepted the inflated score on that hole because I proved to myself what I knew to be true—that I could reach that green.

Golf has taught me to trust myself and have confidence in how I play. And how I live.

I play by feel, by intuition, and I don’t play it safe.

Some players focus on problems. I look at the target and go for it. Some players dwell on the negative. They swear and throw things when the going gets tough.

I usually choose to focus on the positive. On some rounds of golf, I simply remind myself how lucky I am to be alive, to have the sun on my face, to be healthy enough to swing a golf club and share the game with friends.

The day after the Gators finished fourth in the Guy Kuhn Invitational, the assistant golf coach emailed me, thanking me for showing up to support the team. The coach thanked me, too. The student who invited me sent a thoughtful, handwritten thank-you note.

You can learn a lot from how people play and their follow through.

Allegheny College’s golf team is a class act.

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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http://www.meadvilletribune.com/opinion/article_c638f20c-44e6-11e4-945b-7b2d00a84efe.html

Fear the Turtle

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Outside the Box, a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch

Copyright 2014

As the summer sun rose behind me, I stood ankle deep in the brisk water of Narragansett Bay at Naval Station Newport, Rhode Island. I watched the swimmers in the first wave of the Save the Bay swim strike out for the opposite shore, two miles away at Potter Cove in Jamestown.

My friend Elizabeth stood next to me. Last year, when we committed to swim the race together, we were both recovering from health setbacks. Months ago, there had been plenty of time to train. Time passed. We didn’t train.

We were certain we wouldn’t have been standing there if we hadn’t made the commitment to each other.

My kayak safety escort was a freshman at University of Maryland and a friend of my friends. He sported a T-shirt for his Maryland Terrapins.

“Fear the Turtle,” he said, citing the university’s slogan.

Fear the turtle. I laughed. Perfect.

I had three goals for the swim: finish the race; don’t be last; don’t get pulled from the water. Narragansett Bay is a shipping channel and the officials close it for only two hours. If you can’t make it in two hours, they’ll pull you.

Elizabeth was in the fourth wave. We high-fived, shivering slightly in now thigh-deep water. As we awaited the cannon-shot start, I felt a familiar flutter in my gut, a cocktail of fear and fierceness. My wave, the fifth, was the last group of 100 swimmers to head across the bay.

It was an ideal morning for my first open-water swim. The water was flat; the sky overcast. My fear-the-turtle kayaker, Sam, found me after a few hundred yards and paddled to my left.

I bumped into a kayak on the right. Oops. A bit later, I swam up to one of the safety boats in some kind of aquatic version of “Are you my mother?” I had debutante navigation skills. I asked Sam to paddle on my right. Problem solved.

I had no sense of distance. I did have the Newport Bridge to my left, so I judged my progress by the spans. Sam remained a calm, reassuring presence, paddling off my starboard.

Elizabeth had told me to remember to enjoy the swim. She said swimming across the bay offers a rare perspective. Several times I raised my head and swam breaststroke, admiring the sky, the bridge, the view. And yes, I would steady my breath before resuming my freestyle.

I passed swimmers along the way. Red caps were the first wave. Highlighter yellow, the fourth. Neon green, my wave. As we veered away from the bridge and toward the finish, we could see a congestion of caps of swimmers from earlier waves.

“What do you want to do,” Sam asked. “Do you want to pass them?”

Bless your heart, Sam. I had a secret, internal smile. Heck, yeah, I want to pass them. Once a competitor, always a competitor, it seems.

With the finish line in sight, I dug in and moved ahead, passing swimmers as Sam veered right and kayaked to shore. Cheering volunteers and red balloons greeted me when I crossed. A woman handed me a Popsicle stick with a number on it.

Elated, I accepted the participation medal and the big souvenir towel that volunteers offered me when my feet touched the shore. I posed with Elizabeth, her kayaker husband, Eliot, and fear-the-turtle Sam for celebration portraits. We lingered on shore, watching other participants finish.

More than an hour after I finished, one swimmer, surrounded by a small flotilla of boats, was making for the shore. I waded back into the water to cheer for the lone, last swimmer.

Congratulations. Is this your first race?

Yes, he said. My legs feel wobbly.

I offered my fist for a victory bump. It’s my first race, too. I’m Cheryl. David, he said.

He told me the Save the Bay swim was on his bucket list.

In January, he didn’t know how to swim.

His friend, who kayaked beside him, is a triathlete. He trained David to swim breaststroke for three hours. He swam breaststroke two miles across the bay in 2 hours and 15 minutes.

Next year, David had a new goal. “Freestyle,” he shouted.

Mountaineer W. H. Murray has a quote about commitment in his 1951 book “The Scottish Himalayan Expedition.”

“But when I said that nothing had been done I erred in one important matter. We had definitely committed ourselves and were halfway out of our ruts. We had put down our passage money—booked a sailing to Bombay. This may sound too simple, but is great in consequence. Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:  Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.”

Commitment. It’s the difference between setting a goal and achieving it. When David committed to the event, he couldn’t swim. When I started, I didn’t believe I could swim two miles in open water. I still told everyone I would.

Set a goal. Say it out loud and often. Follow through.

And fear the turtle.

link: http://www.meadvilletribune.com/opinion/article_97969516-3ecf-11e4-9967-c7d8c1cbe597.html

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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Welcome back, Mom. Happy Mother’s Day

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Outside the Box

a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch

copyright 2014

On Mother’s Day last year, my mom was missing.

In January 2013, I’d gone home before the start of spring semester. My dad met me at the airport. Mom wasn’t with him. Odd.

Dad told me that I’d have to stay at a hotel. He would take me by the house first. On the ride, Dad tried to explain what had happened.

I got to the house. Dad opened the door and my mother shrieked and ran into the farthest corner.

“Don’t come in, Cheryl.”

Her face was gaunt and pale—a dull gray really. She had her arms pulled in tight. In her tiny, T-Rex hands, she clutched a disinfectant wipe and a white tissue. She literally wrung her hands, pleading with me to leave.

Mom was afraid. She thought she was carrying an infection, that she was toxic, a health hazard. She was trying to protect those she loved, as she had done for as long as I’d known her.

No one had an explanation for her altered state.

One night, I went to bed with my wife and I woke up with a different woman, Dad said. My wife was gone.

Around Christmas, Mom had been ill and an emergency room doctor prescribed a combination of antibiotics. Days into the medication, my mom said that she felt like she was going nuts.

No one listened. She followed the doctor’s orders and stayed on the meds.

My father is an engineer. He searched for answers on the Web and from a variety of doctors and specialists. He wanted to rule out physical causes.

I am a photographer. I took a visual, storytelling approach to my mom’s disappearance. Holistic. Metaphoric. Less literal. And a less practical or realistic approach, according to some.

Mom had a voice. She wasn’t being heard. In spinning “out of control,” my mom was actually in control.

She was losing weight, vanishing physically as well as mentally, before our eyes

My mother and father grew up on an island, a mile apart from one another. She followed my father throughout his military service, shelving her own career as a teacher to be an officer’s wife and mother of four.

It’s been years since either has traveled anywhere without the other. My dad was not going to leave my mother. He just wasn’t sure how to bring her back.

I told my dad that my mom was still in there. Her intellect. Her humor. Her powerful will. I told him that she was trying to find her way back. He wasn’t convinced. He was frustrated and frightened.

I thought of the ocean my mother loves so dearly.

It’s like we’re in the ocean, I told my mom on a subsequent visit. We’re treading water. I’m right here with you. I’m not going anywhere. I’ll tread water with you as long as it takes. And when you get tired, reach out your arm and I’ll hold onto you.

I looked into my mom’s eyes and made a promise. I will never leave you and I will not lie to you. Call me any time, Mom.

She called often—sometimes a dozen times in a row—and I listened to her frantic, fragmented sentences and thoughts. Sometimes I’d call and hear her former voice on the answering machine, chirping, light, happy. Have a good day. I missed that voice.

It was a long, terrifying journey for our family and for mom. It was staggering how quickly she’d left and how far she’d gone from us.

I flew home for a long weekend nearly every month. With each visit, mom and I would make a goal for the next visit. Next time I’d get to stay at the house.

Dad admitted he wasn’t a patient man and Mom’s relentless and often completely contradictory barrage of worries and pleas were wearing on him. Her deteriorating health weighed on him. His helplessness in the face of her suffering crushed him. His nerves were shredded, his emotions raw.

We didn’t always agree on what was happening or what was best for mom. I’d argue. Shout. He’d growl. Shout.

When Dad took me to the airport after one visit, he hugged me tightly. Never stop defending your mother, Cheryl. Count on it, Dad.

As the months passed, Mom made slow progress. We celebrated small events like the epic accomplishments they were. Mom started eating more. She left the house for short walks if Dad would follow in the car.

She fought her fears each day and through her sleepless nights.

I took her for a pedicure, a favorite ritual before she’d gone M.I.A. She wanted to bolt that day, but she stayed the course and left with painted toes. She deserved an Olympic medal for the strength she showed.

She tried on the new clothes we’d bought her. That July, she made it to their favorite restaurant for dinner. She nearly turned back several times. The owners had prepared a private table in a corner, far from other patrons. Not for romance but to assuage Mom’s fears of contaminating others. When they raised a glass that night, they had more than Dad’s birthday to celebrate.

One fall day in October 2013, my mom walked out of her bedroom.

I’m back, she announced. And she was. The cause of her departure remains a mystery.

In November 2013, I was walking the beach on the island where my parents grew up. Mom called. She was walking, too. In Texas. A time zone away from where I was and light years away from where she’d been.

“I love the sound of the leaves under my feet.”

Welcome back, Mom. My strong, brave, Mom. Happy Mother’s Day

http://www.meadvilletribune.com/opinion/x360422339/Outside-the-box-Mom-s-back-from-her-mysterious-departure-to-hear-the-leaves-crackle-under-her-feet

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

 

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Go on guts

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Outside the Box

a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch

copyright 2014

Years ago, I was working in my father’s home office. I grabbed a gold Cross pen to sign a letter. Hours later, my dad wanted to know where the pen was. He was insistent. What’s the big deal, I wondered.

This is the guy who tossed his medals in the trash (mom rescued them.) He long ago jettisoned the reel-to-reel tapes he’d sent with messages from Vietnam. In the more than two dozen moves of my childhood, I’d watched my dad toss plenty of our possessions.

This pen was one of two treasured gold Cross pens. One was a gift from my mother. The other was from a solider that had served with him. The soldier had “go on guts” inscribed on the pen. The soldier admired my father and his approach to leadership.

As the daughter of a soldier, I wasn’t always fond of my dad’s leadership style. I often conjured the image of Yul Brynner in “The Ten Commandments” portraying the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II: so let it be written, so let it be done. Once, following my father up the stairs in a building at Fort Leavenworth, we passed a soldier who was descending.

“Take off your hat, son,” my father said. The soldier didn’t break stride or say a word. He yanked off his hat and kept moving. It made an impression on me.

Grown men followed his orders. I didn’t stand a chance.

At another military base in my youth, I was home in the early afternoon when the phone rang. I thought I’d be reckless and answer it the way civilian kids do. Just for fun. Just one time.

“Hello.”

“Who’s house is this?” my father barked.

“Col. Hatch’s quarters Cheryl speaking sir.”

I couldn’t spit the words out fast enough.

My father is a man of few words and a man of his word. He raised us to be accountable for our actions, to tell the truth and to respect our elders, especially my mother. He promised if we told the truth, he’d have our backs. No matter what.

When I was 16, my dad and mom got that terrible middle-of-the-night call that parents dread.

Driving home from work, I took a tight turn on a winding country road, skidded and wrecked the family’s second car, the beater Bug my dad used to commute to work.

“You were driving too damn fast,” he said, as he drove us to the hospital. The swear word and the silence that followed made his point. He never said another word about it.

Days later, he took me to purchase my first car. I’d saved my money. I’d agreed to make the car payments and cover the cost of the insurance, gas and repairs. I assumed responsibility for the car and my actions. My dad trusted that I’d learned my lesson.

When I was a teen, I asked my dad if I could stand in line all night to buy tickets to a Led Zeppelin concert. It would mean missing school the next day, too. He said yes. And when I asked to take my younger brother, a budding drummer, to the concert, my dad said yes. He trusted me to look out for brother and myself.

In January, Dad told us the doctor had found a shadow on his pancreas. Shadow and pancreas are not two words I want to hear in the same sentence, particularly not after cancer has stalked several people I love, claiming two, in the past couple years.

I flew home when the first procedure was scheduled. I arrived and learned that it had been postponed; the doctors required additional tests.

In early March, Dad underwent the initial procedure and I wasn’t there. I was at Allegheny hosting our second annual photojournalism conference. The family waited for the results: cancer or not cancer.

Dad called one day while I was meeting with a student. I excused myself and took the call. It’s not cancer. Good news. It could become cancer. Not the best news.

I’m an optimist. My dad’s a pragmatist, a soldier, a combat engineer. He gathers information. Weighs options. Then he goes on guts.

I like the expression and its double entendre. Go on guts implies following your intuition. To me, it also means to act with resolute bravery in the face of a daunting challenge.

These past few months have been tough for my father, a family man. Though he’s a man of faith, Dad’s facing his mortality. I sense that he doesn’t want to leave my mom. I believe that alone gives him a huge tactical advantage.

Dad did his research. He discussed his options. He chose surgery.

Go on guts, Pop. Go on guts.

http://www.meadvilletribune.com/opinion/x1984807366/Outside-the-Box-Gather-information-and-weigh-your-options-but-always-go-on-your-guts

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

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Women: Celebrate your bodies and revel in your strength

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Outside the Box

a weekly column by Cheryl Hatch

copyright 2014

When I was a college student, I would often leave my apartment and go for a 12-mile run for fun, to unwind after a tough class or a long week. I would swim two hours nearly every evening, conjugating French verbs or writing a story in my head as ticked off laps like a metronome.

When I was younger, I would see middle-age women in loose T-shirts and running shoes, laboring under extra weight and shuffling along the sidewalk at a barely-more-than walking pace. In my youthful ignorance, I’d think ‘how did she let herself get like that?’

Now, I am that woman.

My first semester at Allegheny, a student mentioned my pregnancy. I wasn’t pregnant. It was a wonderful teaching moment in our journalism class. Get facts. Don’t make assumptions. And never ask a woman if she’s pregnant. As a professor, I handled the moment gracefully. As a human being, I was devastated.

Two years ago, I was preparing for my second embed with the 1st Battalion 5th Infantry Regiment 1/25 Stryker Brigade Combat Team in southern Kandahar Province. I’d returned to do a story on the women soldiers of the Female Engagement Team for The Christian Science Monitor. I walked on daily patrols with 19-year-old soldiers. It was a point of pride to hold my spacing and keep pace with the young men and women, even though I felt my age and extra weight on those long marches.

By late March 2012, I was in a hospital bed in Kuwait, struck by some “fever of unknown origin” and a wicked infection that set up camp in my lungs so fast it was like a flood of refugees fleeing a war zone. The disease threatened to take my life. It didn’t win though it left me weak. The doctors warned my recovery would be slow and I needed take it easy.

I asked about yoga, running and swimming. Swimming? The doctor looked at me. No, he said. Walking. Only walking.

Surviving Afghanistan and its aftermath, I have a newfound appreciation for my lungs, my life and my body—the very body I disparaged as a young woman.

In college, I was lean with a mere 9 percent body fat. I was on the crew team and we usually worked out when the guys on the football team lifted. My friends on the offensive line would spot me when I bench pressed more than my body weight. They pushed me to make a record 13 pull-ups.

I was an accomplished college athlete and a Pac-10 champion. And I never felt strong enough, fast enough, pretty enough or good enough.

It hurts me to think about it now.

I have become the woman I mocked in my youth. I want to believe I’m also a wiser and more compassionate woman. I’ve learned that things happen that change our bodies and challenge our health: bearing children, bearing witness to suffering and death, battling diseases, exhausting ourselves banging on some glass ceiling or mirror.

This past year, four women dear to me were diagnosed with breast cancer. They’ve taken different paths to healing: surgeries, chemotherapy or a combination of interventions. Each one is finding her way back to health, into her body and into her life.

I want to find my way back to health and fitness, back to my body.

I called one of my friends who is recovering well. Let’s swim the Save the Bay this summer, I proposed. (It’s a two-mile swim in open water.) She accepted and she’s already started training for the July 16 event.

I may not have much muscle at the moment. I do have muscle memory. The athlete I’ve always been is still there; she’s simply out of practice—and yes, a bit overweight.

I know I have plenty going for me on my road to recovery. I still have the mental toughness that kept me upright on those Afghan patrols. I have the will that kept me rowing when I wanted to bail. I come from a long line of athletes, including my mother. She played college basketball and volleyball long before Title IX changed the rules and opportunities for women.

I hope young women—and all women who read this column—will not judge, as I once did, any woman who is doggedly pursuing her personal path to wellness. Especially, if that woman is you.

I encourage you to celebrate your bodies. Be grateful for your health.

Revel in your strength.

Cheryl Hatch is a writer, photojournalist and visiting assistant professor of journalism in the public interest at Allegheny College.

 

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