Monday, January 15, 2018

2017 - A summary

I'm sitting down to write a recap of 2017 - all that happened, all that I did, all that I accomplished, what the year meant to me, etc. There was running, triathlon, new friendships, travel, setting and reaching goals, setting new goals and thinking bigger than I have before. It was a full year with lots to be said.

However, it's hard to sit down and write a recap because as of a few weeks ago, all of those things seem in the shadow of the fact that 2017 was and always will be, the year that my grandmother passed away. It's something I'm still very much grieving and learning to live with.

That being said, I want to recap the first 11.5 months of the year and what that meant for me. I have written about this before but it was a year of distinct change for me. With more guidance, with more investment, and with more structure from start to finish, it was a year where I feel like I sort of went "all in" with my fitness goals.

2017 was the first full year I spent working towards my athletic goals with a coach. I dipped my toes into having a coach in 2016 when I worked with a remote triathlon coach as I trained for the Half Ironman in Australia, and then to some degree when I was training for the NYC Marathon. However, I made the decision in December 2016 that I enjoyed the process of having a coach and upgraded to a local coach and training group based in Atlanta - ITL.

Training with ITL was the first time that I was surrounded by and training with other "serious" athletes. And I put serious in quotation marks because it's not like we're all trying to compete in the Olympics or anything - but it is a group of athletes that all challenge themselves and push themselves outside of their comfort zones athletically. Everyone's personal goals are different and range the broadest spectrum, but to everyone, those goals are important and a serious part of their life. Being surrounded by this was a bit of finding "my people" and that changed the way that I approached training and my goals.

It surrounded me with many people who were (and are) faster and more experienced than me at swimming, biking and running. It gave me people to look up to. To ask questions of. To CHASE. I saw people I wanted to be like. I saw people working their butts off and hitting their goals. I saw people working their butts off and not reaching their goals, but not letting that stop them or get them down. This was inspiring to me. It made me want to work harder. It gave me the confidence to set even harder goals for myself. To dream bigger. And not set my sights low for fear of failure. This was big for me.

With all of this, I had a really strong year of racing, setting PRs in basically every distance I raced. My target race for the spring was the Chattanooga Half Ironman - my second time doing this race. I had it as a focus in my mind to see how much I could improve in one year from May 2016 to May 2017. I worked throughout the spring improving my bike and my run and ended up having an amazing race day, beyond my wildest expectations. I set a goal to break 6:00 hours and ended up finishing in 5:20 after the swim was slightly shortened. It was a dream come true race in Chattanooga in May.

I hit milestones throughout the spring and summer in triathlon, swimming and biking. I placed 3rd in my AG in the John Tanner sprint triathlon, and broke 50 minutes for the first time in a 10K and hit 20mph on the bike split of the Chattanooga Waterfront Olympic triathlon. I swim in my first two Master's swim meets in March and December, swam a lake 5K, biked over mountains, rode the Gaps for the first time, and biked 100 miles for my first century ride. I felt like I proved a lot to myself in swimming and biking, all while improving my run fitness to run stronger and faster than I ever have in my life.

My running peak for the year was at the Berlin Marathon, where I beat my goal time by 5 minutes and finished in 3:39:57 - a time that brought me to tears when I saw it. In 2017 I started track workouts, trail runs, tempo runs, and was more dedicated and focused than I have ever been. All of that hard work paid off and Berlin was everything I imagined it would be and more.

2017 was the first year in the past few years that I was not traveling regularly for work. I had one trip to Switzerland at the beginning of the year, and then that was it for work travel.

I was living in Atlanta and really LIVING in Atlanta for the FULL year. That was big for me and helped build upon my love for this city and the relationships I have established for myself here. As well as create new incredible friendships. Since I moved late in 2016 to a new neighborhood in Atlanta that I love, not traveling came at the perfect time. I loved exploring new parts of my neighborhood, new festivals, and being in one place also really impacted my ability to work towards my fitness goals. I was training in one place and with the same people consistently the entire year, which was really big for my physical improvements and making friends. It was the first year where I truly loved and felt happy with where I was living.

Hopefully that came across as I hosted many guests in Atlanta this year with visits from Jenna and Dave from Albany, Kristen from NYC, my mom from New Hampshire, and KO from NYC, as well as various others who came into town for work or events that I was able to connect with over meals.

Although I did not travel much for work, I did have my own personal travel this year. After Switzerland, there was of course Berlin, which included a vacation I built around it, and once more for Brick and G's wedding in Mexico. On my Europe vacation, in addition to returning to Germany, I also returned to Austria and the Czech Republic, as well hitting one new country - Poland. Much of that trip was with friends that I didn't even know at the beginning of the year, or frankly, know well at the beginning of the trip! My European adventures were exciting and fun, as well as the new bonds that were formed there. I returned to some of my favorite cities in the world, experiencing them in a new light, and hit a bucket list item of attending Oktoberfest.

Brick's wedding was an amazing experience in Cancun, Mexico, who I was honored to be a bridesmaid for. I attended two other weddings, one right here in Atlanta and one in my old hometown of Albany, NY. I traveled to Chicago to celebrate and and welcome the first baby into my lifelong group of friends.

And although not anything I had to get on an airplane for, I visited the state of Alabama for the first few times this year - once for the Mercedes Benz Marathon relay in Birmingham and once to attend my first ever big college football game seeing National Champs the Crimson Tide play at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. It was part of my year of really living in Atlanta that I explored new parts of the south and really expanding on this place being my home.

Strengthening and deepening some of my core friendships here in Atlanta, has been such a blessing. ITL introduced great new people, but I also have the same core support and strong friendships in Atlanta through an incredible network of ladies that have been so fundamental to my life here. I continued to build upon many of my long distance friendships with friends-become-family as well.

It was also a year of growing relationships with my family family. I went home for a weekend in February to babysit my niece and nephews, as well as seeing them on my trips home in July and December (as well as my sister and brother-in-law of course!) They are growing into little people with distinct personalities and preferences. It amazes me that I can talk to them on the phone now, really engage them in play and conversation, and I love seeing their little minds and cuteness grow.

My mom came to Atlanta for my race in May, which was the first time she was at one of my major races. Having her there meant so much, as well as introducing her more to my life and friends in Atlanta as I am so much more settled than the first time she came. My brother came to Atlanta at the end of April this year as well and we did our third Tough Mudder together. I love having these events that we do together and continue to strengthen our relationship.

I got to spend time with my dad and half brothers while home in July, going for a short run with one of my brothers and getting my butt whooped in Monopoly. I am looking forward to seeing their interest in sports, running and other activities grow and it is on my bucket list to complete a race together with them.

The events with my grandmother in December shaped how the year ended and of course, how I will remember the year, but all in all, 2017 was a year that was complete. It was full of the highest of highs and the lowest of lows.  It was filled with meaningful new friends and growing lifelong childhood friendships. It was full of smiles, tears, heartache, new relationships, familiar places, and new adventures. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times (if you will.) If nothing else, I really feel that the weeks in the hospital waiting room and crying tears or laughing over happy memories with my family at the end of the year brought us closer together. I feel closer with my family through it. It gave me much to reflect on, to think about, and to work on for the years to come.

2018 started with a bang, quite literally, as fireworks went off outside my window just after midnight. I am looking forward to what this year has in store and I have renewed perspective on life, what's important, what to focus on, and what kind of person I want to be. I hope to keep making my Grammy proud in the new year and I am proud and thankful for my family more than ever, and the personal growth I had in 2017. Happy New Year.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

I love you Gram.

This past Christmas Eve, December 24, 2017, my grandmother, Paula Ballerini, Grammy to me, passed away after suffering from a stroke 10 days earlier. The stroke occurred on Thursday, December 14th and on the 15th, I jumped on a plane to head home. It was a difficult 10 days for my family but I hope more than anything that my grandmother was at peace and not in pain during that time. She was surrounded by love, positivity, family, music, and support throughout the time in the hospital. And we as a family, were able to comfort, cry, laugh, and be together in those uncertain and difficult moments. She had loved ones surrounding her around the clock in her last days and she passed away peacefully in the early evening. We all loved her so much and she was the very heart of our family.

It's hard to accept that this is a thing that really happened. It is hard to believe she is really gone, despite everything that has happened since that confirms it to be true. It feels like there is a large hole inside of me that is missing. It feels like there is a large hole in the world where she used to be. And it doesn't make sense that we're all supposed to just go on living with those holes just out there, as if things are normal. We miss you Gram.

I knew from an early age that my grandmother was special. That she was different from my other friends grandmothers. In a good way. She was fun and funny, warm, loving, patient, nurturing, and adored her family. Grammy was the most accepting and loving person I had ever known and I always felt so lucky to have grown up in a family that welcomes everyone - without prejudice or judgment. This part of her personality was passed down to her children, my mother, and aunts and uncles, and those very traits have made me who I am all today. That curiosity, openness, and acceptance of what is different from your preference - that all came from Grammy.

She was as kooky as they come and passed on her warm sense of humor to the rest of the family as well. She was known to wrap gag Christmas gifts, like a funny pair of thong underwear, and leave them under the tree for an unsuspecting relative from "Santa." She was the instigator of many a marshmallow fights where she'd randomly walk into a room with a bag of Jet Puffed marshmallows and start throwing them. Paula Ballerini pro tip: bite them in half before throwing them so they'd stick. She was never afraid to be silly, crack a joke, or throw some side eye from across room the room. She kept us laughing and on our toes.

Working until the age of 73, Grammy was an RN, and was loved by patients and colleagues alike. Nurturing and caring for others was a calling for her. I remember my grandmother as working as a nurse in at an OBGYN. All through when I was in high school, she would collect and save for me these little plastic zippered cases and bags that the birth control samples came in. She would call them purses and give them to me and I would give them to my friends. I used them for years and years to put makeup and change in, always just having to shield the logo of the birth control brand when I was around other people. I also used to love her stories of being a nurse to Steven Tyler's wife through her pregnancies of their children (he was a local in area she worked in outside of Boston!) She said that they got along great and he was a great guy, and although his ripped jeans and clothing choices weren't exactly her style - to each their own!

Known to the gang of 13 grandkids "officially" as Grammy, but was also a lover of giving nicknames to others and earned quite a few herself over the years. Grammy, Grambo, Grambolina, Gramsterdam, G-Ma, and "the other Grammy." The latter was earned when she one day introduced herself to a friend of one of my cousins as "the other Grammy" when she was in fact, the only Grammy around. And if you asked any of us, we'd have let you know that she, to all of us, would always be THE Grammy. I will never forget the way she'd respond back on the phone with "Katie!" or was the only person to write out my name as "Katy" and how when I was younger she would sing to me the old World War I era song that went "K-k-k-Katy, beautiful Katy, you're the only g-g-g-girl that I adore!"

Grammy was well known to her grandchildren for her back scratches, for never forgetting or missing a birthday card, and always letting us know when we looked particularly nice with her most notorious and highly regarded compliment, complete with Boston accent, "You look shahp!!" She had her own unique style, of course, and I could learn a thing or two from her in how put together she always was, in the softest fabrics and the warmest colors. I remember talking to her on the phone after one of my marathons where in addition to commenting on how I did in the race, she told me how much she loved the bright pink top I had chosen to wear - remarking that so many young people nowadays wore so much black. Not Gram. I will always remember her in light purples, soft blues, and cream. Warm, welcoming colors that matched her personality.

She never sad a bad word about anyone. You could tell her anything without fear of judgment. I got my first tattoo when I was in college. It was small, conservative, and in a location on my body that was not clearly visible - yet I was nervous to tell my mom, unsure of how she would react. I actually told Grammy about my tattoo before I told my mom, knowing that if I had her on my side (which, of course, I would) - then my mom couldn't say anything. Grammy was always so excited to hear from you and talk about whatever was going on in your life. And you had better believe that she was beaming proud and impressed with any accomplishment that you shared with her, which made her so amazing to share good news with. I loved telling her (and my grandfather!) about my races and training and what travels I had been up to. They've been my biggest fans for as long as I have been writing, which was one of the reasons I wanted to even write this. It seems only fitting.

Grammy was a dear wife to my grandfather, mother of five, grandmother to thirteen, and great grandmother to three. Words can't really express how much she meant to all of us and how much she will be missed. I love you, Gram.

** To my cousins: thank you for inspiring me with your stories, memories and words, to combine much of what we all shared at the services into this post. **