Summer Reading

Written by Ann Brennan

Summer ReadingI love books. I love the feel of them in my hands, even the Kindle version. I love the way a story builds from beginning to end. I love the characters who worm their way into my heart. I even love the books I hate, because they give me something to judge other books by. But there have only been two times in my life when I finished a book and turned right back to the beginning and started all over again. The first book was The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer. At the time I thought it was because it had taken me by surprise. I did not expect to like the book. Even after I started it, it took me a while to get into it. The format threw me off. Written completely in letters, during World War II, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is ultimately a love story. I am not a big fan of love stories. Surely this most be the only real love story I will ever love.

So imagine my surprise, when I picked up The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, another book that turns out to be a love story, and once again I fell head over heels in love. Unlike The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, I loved The Storied Life of AJ Fikry from the very first word. I spent the first 100 pages of the book making a list of everybody I wanted to share this book with. I spent the next 100 wondering why I had not started a list of all of the books mentioned in this book. As I mentioned before, The Storied Life of AJ Fikry is a love story. In some ways it is a love story in the conventional, boy meets girl way but, it is more than that. It is a story of father daughter love, of the love between friends, the love a community finds in its bookstore and ultimately the love of reading. By far, this is my favorite book this summer.

But the title to this post is not really misleading. I love books. I read constantly and I love recommendations for new books so I thought I would return the favor and tell you a little bit about some of the books I have read this so far this summer.

Summer Reading List

1. The Storied Life of AJ Fikry - In case you missed it, this is the one book I have read this summer that I want to share with everybody. If you have a love affair with reading, you will love this book, the construction, the characters, the love stories.
2. Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole – I read this one based on a recommendation of a friend. She knew I had loved the Potato Peel Pie Society and suggested this one because it follows the same format. It is also written in letters. I enjoyed the read. It is a great book to carry with you on vacation because it is light reading. Again it is like finding a box of old letters. I found myself forgetting to put the book down because I just had to read one more letter. But in some ways it is cliche. It is not a book that will take your breath away. It is certainly not one that makes you turn back to the beginning and start again, but it was light and fun and best of all a sweet story.
3. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce My children hate this book. They haven’t read it but they are so sick of me talking about it. Harold Fry may be one of my all time favorite fictional characters. The book follows Harold out his front door at the very bottom of England and through every step of his unlikely journey to the very top of England on a quest to save a friend he wronged twenty years before. The book is far less of a story than a journey through Harold’s growth as a human being. As a runner I loved this book because I could relate to the places our minds go when we truly let go on a run. Earlier I talked about wanting to go back and read two books from the very beginning. I will go back and read this one again but not right away. It is emotionally draining. It is difficult to watch Harold walk through the pain of his past in order to find contentment again. But it is definitely worth reading again.
4. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr I say that I love books but the truth is I am a hard sell. I read voraciously, which means I have read enough books to be wary of recommendations. This book was recommended to me by my Kindle. I seldom read a book that is recommended this way. I am not convinced that it is not just a sales ploy. But once in a while the recommendations will at least get me as far as the review page. For this book that was all it took. The reviews for this book were almost with without exception positive. This story follows two young people through the very end of WWII. A blind Parisian girl and a young orphaned German soldier. Only blocks apart throughout the book, facing bombings by the Allied Forces, both young people are in fear for their lives. The story is full of tension and excitement but, again, this is a story of characters. Obviously the two main characters but more importantly for me the supporting characters, the people who made these young people the people they are, make this story. It is a longer read than the other books on my summer list but well worth the time.
5. Remember Me Like This: A Novel by Bret Anthony Johnston I hate giving bad reviews but this book is an example of why I don’t usually take recommendations from my Kindle. Once again though this book received great reader reviews so I took the leap. Unfortunately, unless you really love books and can find something positive in almost any book, this is not the book for you. The premise is interesting. It is about what happens after a child who has gone missing comes home. The problem is the story was a good idea but somewhere along the way the author loses the plot and heads in a completely cliche direction. Still, if you love books for the development of characters this is a great book. If you can think of it less as a story and more of a study in people, it is interesting and worth the read. Can you tell I am iffy on this one? Would I call people out of the blue to recommend this book? No. But, if it were sitting on my table and a friend spotted it, would I warn them off? Probably not. The characters deserve to be introduced. They were created out of a great idea. The fact that the idea doesn’t get off the ground doesn’t make them any less intriguing. So, sure, if you have the time, and can get it at the library, give it a read. Let me know what you think.

As I write this I am without a next book. I sit here wondering whether Gabrielle Zevin’s other novels are as lovingly written as The Storied Life as AJ Fikry or should I quit while I am ahead? But I am a reader so I cannot go without a book. What are you reading? What do you recommend? And have you ever finished a book and started all over again right away?

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Coach Jeff Says It Best – Prostate Cancer

Written by Ann Brennan

A couple of weeks ago I announced that I would be running the Marine Corps Marathon for the 7th time. This time though I will be running for a cause. I will be running for Zero Prostate Cancer Endurance. Over the past two weeks I have tried to explain why I am doing this. I have told you about Coach Jeff who was diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer. I have told you how this cause is important to me because I have a husband, a dad, a father-in-law and two sons who may some day face this same disease. I have tried to explain that men do not talk about prostate cancer in the same way women didn’t talk about breast cancer in the 1950s. But I do not think I have done the cause justice.

Today I found this video and realized that the best way to get the point across is to introduce you to Coach Jeff and let him explain what he is doing and why. This man, this friend and coach, this father and son waited too long. He did not have the proper screening even after he developed symptoms and now he knows there is nothing more that can be done. Still, he is fighting. He is fighting for every other man. He is fighting for my husband, sons, dad and father in law. He is bringing this cause out of the shadows and helping men to talk about it. Please watch.


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Please consider making a small donation in the name of a man you love. Donate for your husband, your son or your dad. Donate for someone you want to get the proper screening. Donate to help us raise our voices and make prostate cancer as prominent as breast cancer. Donate here.

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Runners Make a Difference

Written by Ann Brennan

I have been writing at Ann’s Running Commentary for five years. During most of that time I have made it a policy not to use the blog as a means to fundraise. Last year I changed that policy. Suddenly I had a very personal reason to raise money for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. Still, I did not think of this blog or my running life as an opportunity to give back. Then, unfortunately. I had a year of experiences that knocked me down over and over again and I could not find a way to get back up. Getting back up for myself was not enough. I needed something more.

I made a decision to give back. To make running about someone else and hope that that would pull me out of the hole I was in.

This year, with my daughter, Megan, I raised money once again for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention by walking for 24-hours. Last weekend, I volunteered for the Ocean City Games to raise awareness about Traumatic Brain Injuries and I recently announced that I am running the Marine Corps Marathon this year for Zero Prostate Cancer Endurance. But will it make a difference? Can runners really make a difference in the bigger world?

Yesterday, I spoke with David over at NordicTrack and it turns out they have done the research. They know just how much of a difference runners have made. Check out this great graphic showing just how much charity runners have raised and what that means to their lives. If it peaks your interest, check out the list at the bottom and join in the cause. Start running for a bigger purpose. Help runners make a difference.

Make a Difference

“Infographic courtesy of NordicTrack – Maker of the World’s Best Treadmills

One Good Thing

Written by Ann Brennan

One Good ThingYesterday I wrote about a lesson I learned in Jen Sincero’s book You Are a Badass. Today, as I ran I continued listening to this book and spent a good portion of the run shaking my head. The truth is I hate self-help books. I find them to be patronizing. I think they often aim for the lowest common denominator and I believe that most of the advice in these books is simple common sense. But, as I ran, still shaking my head, I realized I have gotten something from this book. I learned to remember even in the worst situations there is always something good. Does that mean all the time spent listening to this book is time well spent? Well, yes, yes it does.

This is a lesson I learned long ago. Whether it is a failed relationship, a book you did not enjoy or a run that did not go to plan, there is always at least one good thing to be taken from the experience. Maybe in that failed relationship you found your all time favorite restaurant or were introduced to a new set of friends or discovered that you really are too good to be wasting your time on a loser like that guy. In that book that you hated maybe you didn’t come away having learned a big life lesson but maybe you learned something about a time in history you hadn’t known about before. Maybe you are now able to rule out an entire genre of books for future visits to the library. Or maybe you discovered one new word you had never used before but know you will be adding to your vocabulary from now on.

And on that run?

Well that is what this is all about, isn’t it. Today I have a thousand items on my to do list. I did not have the time to get a run in but I also know that I don’t have the time in the calendar to skip runs leading up to my two fall marathons. So…I went out and got it in. It was hot and humid. It was miserable and I spent a good portion of the time bitching in my head about the book I was listening to and dreading all of the chores that would follow the run. But, I got it in. I covered the miles and better yet, I completed ten hill repeats. I have not done hill repeats in years. I had forgotten how hard they were but I had also forgotten how much fun they were and how even with the first one I am always aware of how strong they will make me. Today I took away a sense of purpose. I did not love my run but I love having completed it.

Although my rule is that there should always be one good thing. I have found that looking for that one thing almost always leads to others. So, Jen Sincero and her life lessons might make me crazy for a good portion of the book, but she also hits the nail on the head several times throughout the book. I might dread my run but once I have done it I walk away knowing I have completed yet another step on the way to the marathon. I have begun to get stronger through my training. I learned that I can do something even when I am dreading it.

Life is not always fun. Running is not always fun. But, if we can take one good thing from the experience, isn’t it worth continuing down this path?

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    This Is Good Because…

    Written by Ann Brennan

    This was good becauseOn Friday morning before I left for the Ocean City Games, I went for my eight-mile run. As I ran I listened to You Are A Badass by Jennifer Sincero. I seldom listen to self-help books but something compelled me to pick it up and in the vein of everything happens for a reason, I think I know why. The lesson that really stuck out for me Friday was to always think, “This is good because,” even when everything is going wrong. The next day this lesson would really come in handy.

    Saturday morning, my son, Blaise and I took our kayak to the beach, checked on the kayak he would be borrowing for the day and became a little anxious about the sea. But. even as we stood there watching the waves pound the shore, we worried about getting our kayaks over the surf, not about what would happen in the next five hours. We have kayaked for years in all sorts of conditions so we had no reason to worry.

    Unfortunately, that changed pretty early in the event. We split up as our swimmers began their 9-mile event, each paddling right beside our swimmer trying to row a straight line and guide them through the course. Almost immediately I began feeling the effects of seasickness. By the first mile I knew I was sick, by the third I was strategically planning how to puke and not break my swimmer’s concentration. Finally, because another swimmer dropped out there was an extra kayaker who could sub in for me and help my swimmer to the finish. This gave me the opportunity to re-assess my situation.

    Unfortunately, having not kept anything down since the beginning of the race, I was not in a good position to make a decision and I continued paddling for another 2 miles. Luckily before we made it to the five-mile mark, Blaise, whose swimmer had also had to drop out, caught up with me and guided me in. With no strength left and still puking, I did not make it out of the water as gracefully as that might sound. I spent the rest of that day and the next trying to make the ground stop moving and fighting extreme nausea. In a nutshell, Saturday was a miserable day for me.

    But, it was good because…

    1. My swimmer finished – Thanks to another kayaker who immediately saw my need and stepped up, my swimmer was guided into the finish safely.
    2. Blaise took initiative – Once Blaise realized how miserable I was, he took the initiative, made contact with the lifeguard on shore, cleared the beach and helped get my boat and me safely to shore.
    3. Strangers stepped up – As I was sitting on the shore, still in my swimsuit, unable to get my legs underneath me to stand up and violently shivering, a mom and her daughter made their way over with towels and food. They wrapped me in the towels, helped me open a granola bar and try a couple of bites and encouraged me to drink more fluid even though it was the last thing I wanted to do.
    4. Volunteers rock – Not long after we made it to shore, two volunteers made it to the beach, grabbed our kayaks, loaded them on a truck and took us back to the finish line, where more volunteers made sure that Blaise had food, I had Powerade and a blanket and helped us find out about my swimmer. My daughter Meg was one of the volunteers and did a great job the rest of the day encouraging me to eat, drink and rest.
    5. Our bus driver was the best – In the morning, Blaise and I had dropped our kayaks at one end of the beach, driven back off the island and dropped our car at the Park ‘n Ride. This meant we would have to repeat the steps when we left the beach. In the morning this seemed like a great plan, but as I sat on the side of the road trying not to puke and just wanting to go to sleep, it seemed like a bigger feat than completing the race. Then suddenly, our bus driver saved the day. Instead of making us take the bus back to the Park ‘n Ride, getting our car, going back through traffic to collect our kayaks and once again leaving the island, he suggested we put the kayak on the bus. I could have kissed him.
    6. Everyone was safe – Though the water was cold and rough and several swimmers and kayakers had to leave the event early, everybody, swimmers and kayakers, made it safely to shore.

    Maybe I would have seen these positives in the day without Jennifer Sincero’s book, maybe I wouldn’t have. Whatever the case, I am glad the lesson was on my mind. I am glad I can look back on a day in which I was absolutely miserable and see the good in it. The Ocean Games have been around for just over a year. The event was created by my friend Corey Davis to raise money for John Hopkin’s Traumatic Brain Injury Program. It is a well organized event, with amazing volunteers, for a great cause. I am glad to have been a part of it and to have found so many positives even in the condition I ended up in.

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    Right Now!

    Written by Ann Brennan

    I missed my run this morning. After a tough night of tossing and turning and, to be completely honest, worrying, I just could not pull myself out of bed. Even as I brushed my teeth I began beating myself up about missing this run, telling myself I am never going to lose the weight if I let this happen, telling myself that I will never qualify for Boston this way. At breakfast I received a message about a meeting I knew was coming but had been trying to ignore. Apparently, it has been scheduled for this afternoon. I immediately went further into worry mode. I have said it before, worrying is what I do. But I think the universe is an interesting place because it always seems to knock me upside the head just when I need it. Today it came in the form of this video.

    Motivation: Right Now

    If you cannot see the video, please try refreshing your screen.

    Boy did I need this. I never live in the right now. I seldom stress over what happened yesterday but I totally stress over what will happen next. Of course I say this just moments after writing about not doing my morning run. Not doing that run will bother me for the rest of the day. I will beat myself up about it until tomorrow morning comes and I can finally get the run in. Wait, here I go again talking about what I will be doing this afternoon, worrying. The truth is that this afternoon is not set in stone. I do not know what God or the Universe has planned for me. I do not know where or if I will be this afternoon. Nothing is guaranteed.

    So right now, in this moment, I am going to practice “right now.” Right now I am going to enjoy Zane’s sweet little voice as he tells me about his latest invention. I am going to enjoy watching Rocky sleeping and the knowledge that Meg is still sleeping peacefully in her bed. I am going to enjoy the smell of my coffee, the pain in my muscles from yesterday’s weight lifting workout and the knowledge that this post will be read by someone who will need this same reminder.

    Right now is not easy for me but nothing worth having is. Today I will practice “right now” and I will leave the rest until it becomes the right now.

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    What We Learned – The 24-Hour Walk

    Written by Ann Brennan

    There is still time to donate. Meg and I are $402 short of our goal. Please donate to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

    What we learnedFor days before our 24-hour walk for suicide prevention I watched Meg get more and more excited about the walk. As she grew more excited I grew more nervous. What if something goes wrong? What if a ranger stops us as we get into the late hours of the walk and tells us we can’t be on the trail at night? What if one of us gets injured and cannot continue? What if we encounter a bear, a snake or even scarier a person with bad intent?

    I have completed a lot of different distances over the years but it occurred to me as we were making the final preparations for this walk that it was not just the distance that scared me. It was the fact that I was organizing it. There was no race director. There was no club sponsoring our event. There were no volunteers (except of course my wonderful husband). This was all on me.

    The night before we started I didn’t sleep a wink. Instead I worried. I tossed and turned and tossed some more before finally getting up and going through our supplies on more time before the sun came up.

    Luckily none of my worries came to fruition. We made it through the night, we were not kicked off the trail and though we ran into four men in the middle of the night, they went out of their way to give us space and prove that they were safe. All in all it was a great experience.

    As the walk came to an end, Meg and I lowered our poor abused little bodies to the packed dirt trail and waited for Blaise to bring the car our way. Our feet hurt, our legs were tired, our heads were muddled and we were shivering because we were so cold. If you had asked us in those first hours after the walk whether we would do it again, we would have told you in no uncertain terms, NO!

    But, a little over a week later and we have started planning next year’s walk.

    What’s the first step in planning a comeback event? That’s easy. Learning from the one you have just completed.

    So, what did we learn?

    1. The moon matters – We had not thought ahead of time how dark it can get in the middle of the woods in the middle of the night. We had headlamps and handheld flashlights. But we also had a new moon. That made for a very dark and daunting overnight walk. Next year we will plan the walk for a full moon.
    2. Chafing can be hell – Yes, I have learned this over the years but never quite so much as on this walk. We will definitely be changing our clothes halfway through next year’s walk.
    3. We are seriously dependent on constant communication – On the Allegheny Passage Trail there is very little cell service and the trail is often miles away from a road so even walkie-talkies are useless. Next year we will be more prepared for being completely alone on the walk.
    4. Remember why you are out thereDavid Murphy offered me this advice before we started the walk and it was so true. Remembering that we were out there to raise money and awareness about the stigma surrounding depression kept us going. Throughout the day as we walked through one tunnel after the other we were reminded of how important that light at the end of the tunnel truly is. In the evening as we struggled to get through each mile we were reminded that even in the darkest part of the night, the knowledge that there will soon be light was all it took to push on. This cause matters so much to our family. There was no way we were going to quit easily.
    5. Keep the Garmin going – it seemed like such a small thing. When my hands started swelling and I became too uncomfortable to wear the Garmin I took it off. There were mile markers. Why did I need more? In the end, knowledge is power and having the Garmin and all of the information it provided had acted as a cheerleader of sorts for us. Next year, we will find a way to have a continuous running of our time, pace and mileage to get us through.
    6. Schedule food – This year we decided we would eat when we were hungry. We didn’t count on the fact that after 8 hours of walking neither of us was hungry at all. We needed the fuel and both felt like we suffered in the late hours of the walk from poor nutrition.
    7. We will begin fundraising earlier – This year we hoped to raise $2500. We raised $2098. We are very happy to have been able to contribute to the cause in this way but next year we will start earlier and aim higher.

    This walk was meant to be a once in a lifetime event for Meg and I. But after having completed it, after seeing just how much we can do while raising awareness about suicide prevention and the stigma of depression, we want it to be more. We want it to be a yearly event. Something we will look forward to each year. Eventually we want it to be a reminder of what our family went through and overcame.

    We are still accepting donations, so please take a minute and donate if possible. Depression is a life threatening disease and too often it is hidden behind a stigma of weakness and failure. Let’s help put an end to that.

    Lions and Tigers and Bears

    Written by Ann Brennan

    Lions and Tigers and BearsI was awoken at 2am by a Great Dane puppy jumping on my chest. It was time to go outside. Luckily for Rocky going back to sleep is never too difficult. For me on the other hand… For the next 2 hours I lay in the dark, wide awake thinking of lions and tigers and bears. In other words, I worried about everything that might possibly go wrong on our 24-hour walk for suicide prevention.

    For the first time in the weeks of planning, my mind wandered to those hours between sunset and sunrise. For the first time, instead of worrying about blisters, dehydration or creepy people lurking behind trees ready to pounce, it occurred to me that there are wild animals in those woods. For the first time I thought about the possibility of an encounter with bears and the thought terrified me.

    As I lay there thinking about these hypothetical bears I began to doubt the walk. Should we be doing this? Should we risk it? Had I had to make a decision right then, there is a good chance I would have erred on the side of caution. There is a good chance I would have called it quits.

    But this morning, thinking back on my fears, still feeling the butterflies in my stomach, having researched what to do in the case of a bear encounter, I know we will still be walking. We will walk throughout the day, whether that is means walking through thunderstorms or the beating sun. And we will walk through the night whether it means being carried away by mosquitos or encountering a bear.

    We will walk because suicide prevention is so very important to us. But we will also walk because the path that we have walked this past year has been so much scarier.

    This past year Megan and I have both faced battles for our lives. We have fought depression. We have both pushed through moments that we thought we might not survive. We have fought our own demons.

    On Thursday morning we start our 24-hour walk. We may face lions and tigers and bears. We may face blisters and mosquitos and spiders. Those are possibilities. But in the end, looking back at the miles covered. Looking back at the prayers said for those who are fighting this battle every day. Looking back at what we have accomplished, those worries will pale in comparison.

    We are walking for ourselves but more importantly we are walking for those still in the abyss. We are walking for those fighting the battle and we are walking for those who have lost loved ones to the battle.

    If you would like to join in the cause, please donate at the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

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    Why The American Foundation For Suicide Prevention?

    Written by Ann Brennan

    American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

    Press the photo to donate

    In three days my daughter, Meg and I will begin a self-supported 24-hour walk. For the past several weeks we have raised funds for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

    There are so many great causes out there. I for one am a big advocate for breast cancer because my mother is a survivor. I support the American Diabetes Association because I have several close friends and relatives who struggle daily with diabetes. I support the Children’s Hospital in DC because who doesn’t want to see children receive the care they need. And this fall I will be raising funds for Prostate Cancer because my coach is currently in the fight for his life with this disease.

    So, how can I pick just one? Here’s five reasons:

    1. Approximately 40,000 Americans lose their lives to suicide each year. In the past year we have lost five people in our community to suicide.
    2. Suicide is preventable. With the right treatment and education we can see these numbers decrease.
    3. We have all watched in horror as the number of school shootings has increased in the past several years. Almost all of these shootings were executed by people who struggled with a mental illness. Something has to be done. More help needs to be provided to the mentally ill. More support needs to be there for the families of the mentally ill.
    4. This is personal. Last year after struggling for months with my own depression I saw two choices – jump from the Bay Bridge or ask for help. I received help. I was one of the lucky ones.
    5. And finally, the most important reason I am raising funds and awareness about depression and suicide – my beautiful daughter, the light of my life, the reason I wake up every morning, struggles with depression every day. She fights to see the light that most of us take for granted. I am doing this walk for her. I am doing this walk to show her that there is no length I would not go to in order to support her.

    So, how can you help? Meg and I have set a goal of $2500. So far we have raised just over $1250. By making a donation and helping us to meet our goal you can make a difference. Please take a minute and donate or take a couple of minutes and share this with your friends and family on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Reddit, or anywhere else you can think of. Help us to make a difference. Help me to support Megan.

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    Overcoming My Fear of Heights

    Written by Ann Brennan

    For Megan’s 10th birthday she requested a rock climbing party. Little did I know this would result in one of the most embarrassing moments of my life. I am truly not afraid of heights. I can climb like a monkey. The problem is in coming down. Over the years I have been rescued from ladders, tree houses and even a ropes course, but the most embarrassing rescue ever came at Megan’s party.

    Having reached the ripe old age of 38 I assumed that I had outgrown my childhood fear of coming down from high places. Clearly I was wrong. After beating one of the children to the top of the wall, I realized I would have to repel down the wall and I froze. I could not move. Even with the children teasing and prodding from below, even as parents began to join in the fun, I clung to that wall with all my might.

    Finally, the guide realized he had no choice and he came up to talk me down. Nope. I still clung to the wall. Eventually, he understood that I was not going down on my own and he rescued me.

    I vowed that day that I would never, ever, ever put myself in that situation again.

    So, when Megan saw the Extreme Flyer ride at King’s Dominion, I promptly paid for her ticket and told her I would wait for her at the bottom. But then I stood there, watching them put her in the flying harness and I knew there was no way I was going to allow her to do this on her own.

    Swallowing my own fear I let myself be put into a harness, hoisted 150 feet into the air and dropped.


    If you cannot see the video, please try refreshing your screen.

    Was it terrifying? The scream says it all. But was it fun? Yes. Was it exhilarating? Most definitely. Did it free a part of my brain that had been stuck for years? I believe it did. Knowing that for Megan I can face something as strongly ingrained as a fear of heights, I feel lighter, more capable and much, much more free.

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