Wednesday, October 19, 2016

My Newest and Grandest Challenge

I am taking on cancer one mile biking at a time. You should follow along and support!
"Cancer changes lives... and so do we!" - Ulman Cancer Fund for Young Adult's Motto
#key2keys2017 #1500miles

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Amazing Photojournal Idea: Leading Around the World on Imgur

Documenting trips around the world is one of my biggest passions. Combining writing and photography can make a big difference. One constant that I like to have in all of my photography is people. I enjoy capturing what makes all of the places around the world so special. And that is mostly the people. Yes, landscape, skyscapes, and all other -scapes are incredible and I love photographing them, but the ones that resonate just a bit more emotion to me are photos with people within the frame. This imgur album titled "leading around the world" is something I stumbled upon and I love it.

The theme is not people -- but rather a person. This is a loved one that's wanderlust, nomadic, adventurous, fun and wanting to share the experience -- quite literally, hand and hand. Having someone to share the magnificent wonders of travel, test your limits and patience in unfamiliar territories, and challenge you daily as you expand your comfort zones is not only a treasure to a globetrotter, but it is a rarity. I connected closely to this user, makemisteaks', album. I brings back incredible memories of traveling with a companion and forever having those experiences together, like a tattoo seared into your memory. We tried to do a running photo series while traveling, but instead of hands holding, we used our loving little stuffed panda bear as our featured motif through the China landscapes.

This "leading" album is beautifully made (unlike the half-hearted attempt we made in China), and although the HDR quality can be a bit distracting, it is necessary to see all of the subtle features and details of every single photograph. Look closely at every photo and see recurring themes and what things change (fingernail polish, braclets, hairstyle, background and colors). All of these things go "hand-and-hand" with the feeling of each photo, almost as if you could tell what the expression on the woman's face is in every photo.
Truly a fascinating album and genuine idea to do a point-of-view album that encompasses travel photography and nostalgic memories for those within the photo and those just viewing it.
Love this one... reminds me of a tree near the temple I lived at in Bangkok.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Sri Lanka Deserves Travel Recognition

Here's a quick piece I just submitted to Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2013 about one of my all-time favorite places in the world, Sri Lanka:

"The often forgotten country at the heart of the Indian Ocean has undeniable character and culture. The well-known tsunami that was the caused due to a massive earthquake off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia in 2004 struck the coastlines of dozens of countries, causing massive damage and killing up to a quarter million people. Though not as well publicized around the world as other countries and their disaster response, one of the hardest hit countries from the tsunami was Sri Lanka, sitting directly in the path of the waves’ destruction. The small island with much of its civilization directly on its beautiful coastline was completely destroyed. In one moment, nearly 2,000 people were killed by the first onslaught of waves crashing in-land and killing almost every passenger on the busy train line Queen of the Sea. The destruction resulted in the greatest loss of life in railroad history.

Five years after the tsunami took over 35,000 Sinhalese lives, I had the fortune to visit this incredibly breath-taking country. With its rich history hailing from Portuguese, Dutch and British heritage combined with their strongly independent culture, it's easy to see what makes Sri Lanka so attractive to a history buff. But it has so much more than century-old history and ancient roots. Just months before I arrived to the capitol of Colombo, Sri Lanka's modern-day history was continuing to be dramatically shaped as the civil war between the government in power and the Tamil Tigers finally ended after 26 years. Faced with years of struggle and violence, topped with unfathomable natural destruction to an already poor economy, Sri Lanka looked to be doomed with the cards it was dealt. But the tear-drop shaped nation just off the southern Indian coast persevered. The country's strong values in family and community rebuilt the nation from the ground up. With a healthy government and growing economy, the once overlooked country is getting standing on its own again.

The country’s culture and community make up its remarkable character. It's traditional food of fishes, chutneys, curries and an array of rich flavors paired with its relaxed atmosphere brings a speed of smoothness similar to its coconut sambol. With its deep roots to Buddhist, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam, the country begs for a faith-driven traveler to see its many sides and tranquility around each corner from Kandy to Colombo. The Sri Lankan people are some of the kindest, most generous, and prideful individuals. Even though faced through centuries of adversity, the culture and customs of such a small country remains strong and true, even though often lost in the mix of the more popular travel destinations like India, Thailand and Indonesia. Sri Lanka is a travelers' ultimate trip for great activities such as hiking or beach going, as well as catching a cricket match on any street corner. It has tremendous value to foreign travelers looking for something a bit off the beaten path and with a cultural background unlike any of its neighboring countries.
Of all my travels, I have still to this day found a country that comes remotely close to Sri Lanka’s beauty, endurance, spirituality, and overall charm."

Friday, July 27, 2012

Why I Run: Olympic Torches and Motivation

With the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremonies kicking off today, I felt it would be best to give a little insight into my connection with the Olympics but also on what I have done in my ten years following that special moment on that cold winter morning of 2001.
The best way for me to describe how everything connects in my life is to provide you with the back-story to this letter, which I originally wrote to the Philadelphia Enquirer on "Why I Am Running The Broad Street Run" for their potential publication following the race back in May. (My story did not get selected, but another beautiful story of struggle and accomplishment did.) But I have many friends, family and strangers ask me the same question about running organized races like 5ks, 10 milers and half-marathons (not onto full marathons yet): "Why do you do it?," "Why pay to run long distances?," "Is there some sort of special acknowledgement for completely these runs or simply bragging rights on Facebook?" These are real questions people have asked me and so I feel there is no better way to explain than through my story.
So in honor of the beautiful Olympic Games underway, the spirit of competition, athletic endurance and fitness, and lifelong struggle, I ask for you to read my letter on Why I Run. Afterwards, if you feel motivated enough to make a small donation to the Team Fight organization, the information about the foundation I run for is linked below!

"Why I Run"
I've never been one to accept rejection lightly. I don't like to be told what I can and cannot do. And when I was 13 years old, I was told I wasn't allowed to do much with my future (whether it be long-term or near-future). I was told I had Hodgkin's disease Lymphoma , a common form of cancer among teenagers affecting the Lymphatic system. Likelihood of surviving the disease was high. I received chemotherapy and radiation as I finished up elementary school and entered into high school. I was declared "cured" after six months of treatment. Just after a few months of my regular check ups, the cancer had come back with much more severity, spreading throughout my body.
An overhaul of treatment ideas came forth and extensive amounts of chemotherapy did not do its job once again. A last resort treatment was to receive a stem-cell transplant. I harvested (froze) my own stem-cells for three months before undergoing the highest dosage of chemotherapy possible, with the hopes to wipe out the spreading cancerous cells. As a result of such powerful chemotherapy that was meant to kill any fast growing cells in my body, the treatment would completely wipe out my immune system. Without white blood cells to protect my body from harmful diseases or the common cold, I had to remain in isolation within the hospital in Boston, MA for 6 weeks to allow for my immune system to recover and grow, similiar to an infant's. I didn't eat for 17 days, I was getting sick every hour, I lost a frightening amount of weight, all while being two hours from my family and friends back home in NH. With the limited amount of people allowed to visit me due to harmful germs (even the simpliest infection or cold could have killed me if I contracted it), I had allowed my mind to dream of breaking free from the hospital and wandering the world, free of tubes, IVs, nausea, and desperately concerned looks from my family as I was on the brink. Finally, my immune system begin to recover. I left the hospital only to be confined to my house for 4 months in strict isolation. I had no physical interaction with family members. I couldn't go to school, I just had a tutor who visited and worked with me (from a distance). Being locked down in a house is not something a person like myself can handle. It was incredibly challenging physically, mentally, and emotionally, but was just a drop in the bucket compared to what I had lived through to get there.
A break happened around Christmas time of nearly my third year of fighting the disease. I was selected to run one-tenth of a mile, carrying the Olympic torch on its way to Salt Lake City. The honor was huge and my chance to get out of the house to get a little exercise had finally come.
At 4:30am, in 10 degree weather, an hour from my house in New Hampshire, my personal torch received the famous flame that has been passed from carrier to carrier for centuries. The moment will forever live in my memory as my short stretch to carry the flame began. For the first time in my life I got the thrill of running for a crowd. My one-tenth of a mile was filled on both sides of the road with my closest family and friends bearing the brutally cold weather and cheering me on. This was my first real exercise in more than 8 months, as my health was far too weak and my restrictions were overly-precautious when it came to any exercise. But while carrying that flame, it wasn't apparent that my body was recovering from its most devastating battle yet. I was so filled with adrenaline and happiness holding the glowing torch in my hand that I began sprinting and high stepping my way up the road before being told to slow down and embrace the moment.
I passed the flame to the next carrier, my parents greated me at the end with hugs and my dad said, "You looked like you could run a marathon with how excited and how much energy you had!" And it felt like I could have.
That was my first taste of organized running. It was quite a grandiose stage to enter in on. But sadly, after finally regaining a healthy, strong immune system and being completely cleared of any cancerous cells in my body, I still had obstacles to face in the future. My doctors gave me warnings of all the things I should not -- and could not -- do with my second lease on life. Of the laundry list of things my body -- specifically my heart -- could not handle, three stuck out in my mind the most; no scuba-diving, no high altitude climbing, no long endurance training/running.
Challenge accepted. Nine years after being diagnosed, while living in Thailand, I climbed to the top of Mount Kinabalu in Borneo, one of the tallest mountains in Southeast Asia. The two day trek stretched my lungs and heart to the limit with its 4,095 meters (13,435 feet) above sea level elevation. After surviving that climb, I got the hunger.
To honor my ten year anniversary of my diagnosis, I climbed for four days to the base camp of the tenth tallest mountain in the world, Nepal's Mount Annapurna in the Himalayas, at 4,130 meters (13,549 ft) above sea level. I reached the peak April 8th, 2010, just three days before my decade anniversary of challenge and celebration.
Just eight months after that, I began training for my first half marathon. On October 12, 2011 I checked off another "cannot do" on my doctor's list, by finishing the Baltimore Half Marathon in just over two hours.
This year's Baltimore Half Marathon (10/12/13) will be my fourth half marathon completed since then. But with each measurement of distance, I always think of my proudest 1/10 of a mile back in 2001 with torch in my hand.
I plan to continue running longer distanced runs in the future, with hopes to complete that marathon my father told me I looked so prepared for during my sickest days.
Checking off these challenges on my list has been something I've prided myself on and have built my life post-cancer around. So when I think about why I'm running any race, I just think back to all of the times I wasn't able to jump out of my hospital bed and just run. That image encourages me everyday and every mile.

To donate towards my cause for Team Fight, please go to my personal page here and help me reach my fundraising goal for this year's Baltimore Half Marathon.
Thank you to everyone's donations, encouragement, help, and support!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Positive Thinking and "Mai Pen Rai" are Paying Off

In a recent article published by Wealth Wire, titled "The Secret to Living a Longer, Fuller Life" it was shown that maintaining a happy disposition can be more beneficial to your longevity than many believe.
Until recently, researchers have largely focused on the genetic components that allow centenarians to reach the age 100.  But researchers at Albert Einstein College of Medicine as part of their Longevity Genes Project, with the Ferkauf Graduate School of Psychology of Yeshiva University have found that personality traits like being outgoing and optimistic may also contribute to longer lives.
It has been probably my biggest argument in life. Anyone person that I have ever spoken with on the quality of life, the struggles we face, and the ultimate way to find peace all stem from one thing: positive thinking.
Throughout the years I've written a lot about life and what it means to live life in a complete and healthy manner. I'm no expert. I don't have the answers, but I have my beliefs and what I feel truly makes for a happier, more peaceful life and it all boils down to the idea of keeping a positive mentality.
To get through life's hardest times, it takes the power of positive thinking to get you through it. No matter the circumstances, there is always a silver lining in life, there is always a positive to come from it, it just takes someone who's accustom to thinking that way to see it. Any situation life presents you is an opportunity for a positive outcome, whether it be losing a job, failing an exam, being stricken with disease, having your heart broken, or being insulted by someone else. No matter how horrid those scenarios are, there is always a positive way of embracing them all. The quicker you see it, the quicker it will happen. Positive thinking leads to positive actions. This is true even for things you feel are out of your power.
I've spoken at schools, written articles for various publications, and simply been a friend to those in need and have discussed this topic at length. No matter the occasion, there is absolutely no reason to think poorly on situations.
Negative mentality equals negative energy which in turn leads to negative results. It's a simple philosophy that I firmly stand by. I live by it. So much so it's ingrained permanently in my soul and on my skin.
Back in 2006, after six months of truly discovering the unbelievable things life has to offer through travel, spirituality, and open-mindedness, I decided to get a tattoo.
It seemed cliche, getting a tattoo after studying abroad. But I didn't care. I knew it was deeper, more meaningful than that. I had been living with positive mentality philosophy for many years before that day I stepped into the tattoo parlor directly off the beach in Au Nang, Thailand. And I knew I was going to express my appreciation to living a happy, healthy, peaceful, and carefree life with a tattoo.
My chance to connect with the Thai culture was a success while studying abroad. I saw what life was like in a country where the value of a life was much more than in western cultures. Not in terms of money or benefit to society, but the respect of the body, mind and soul was something you saw more frequently in Asia. I never wanted to forget that.
Specifically in Thailand, people's way of living is slower. Life didn't move too fast, even in Bangkok's vast and hectic metropolis. That is something I connected with. And much of that stemmed from the phrase that you heard very frequently within the language, "mai pen rai" which means "do not worry/it's ok/everything is fine." When I explain that to some western friends, they say, "oh yea, 'Hakuna Matata!'"
Essentially they have the same meanings but it was philosophy ingrained in the culture and lexicon. I can recall hundreds of times I spoke the phrase in Thai to someone -- stranger or friend-- it always resulted in the biggest smile to their face. The phrase 'mai pen rai' is a way of living that you dealt with everyday in Thailand.. Mai pen rai is a way to treat your mind, body, and soul and not get caught up in the superficial, unnecessary and less beneficial way of life. It teaches me to breathe, appreciate and be happy. This is why I got my tattoo on the top of my foot, a place that you only look at when you are looking down. One look at the ink upon my skin and I know that whatever it is that is getting me down, it's not worth sulking about. As they say, "Everything will be OK in the end. If it's not OK, it's not the end."
I guess there are many ways to say it; "Don't sweat the small stuff", "Life's too short...", "Live life to the fullest", etc. All of these a representation of the main idea of living life to it's greatest extent and with a positive mentality and you too will reach old age with happiness in your heart.
As the article explained,

"When I started working with centenarians, I thought we'd find that they survived so long in part because they were mean and ornery," said Dr. Nir Barzila, study co-author, director of Einstein's Institute for Aging Research and chair of its division of Aging, in a press release.
However according to Dr. Barzila, the study found qualities that clearly reflected a positive attitude towards life. Most were outgoing, optimistic, easygoing and considered laughter an important part of life. Many had a large social network and expressed emotions openly rather than bottling them up.

This is what we all must strive for, a more outgoing, optimistic, and easygoing life full of laughter and love. It may sound like rainbows and cupcakes to some. But those who believe that appreciating the smaller, more positive things in life is just a narrow-minded, hopeless-romantic way of covering up the harsher, crueler, and more rigid world clearly hasn't stopped to appreciate the beauty of a rainbow and the deliciousness of a cupcake. And to me, it's sad to know that happiness cannot be as easily accessed to them. Because ultimately it is all about training your mind to believe it.