Walking the Gasparilla Lime Cactus Challenge 2015

In 2014 I had originally registered to do this event. However, the week before I injured my foot during the Spartan Race. That injury caused me to defer, and honestly, I'm still struggling with that foot injury. 

So..fast forward to 2015.

My 8yo son, Ronin has been a running fool. All he's been doing is eating, sleeping, and running.

He asked me in early November if he could run a marathon. I had to tell him NO, but I thought he could handle a 15K and he began training. Once I saw that he was serious, I registered him for the Gasparilla 15K. Our plan was for us to drive down to the race together, and then he'd run and do his thing, and then wait for me at the finish line. 

He had been training so hard, was doing so well. He was consistently running 3-6 miles at a 7-8 minute mile pace. He had his little heart set on WINNING his age group (10 and under) and then 3 weeks before Gasparilla his world came crashing down around him.

He broke his tibia. A very bad break. You can see that it broke in several places. He broke it roller skating on a school field trip. When I met him at the hospital after the accident he looked up at me through tear filled eyes, and his first words to me were "Mama, can I still run Gasparilla."

That would be No. Sorry, son. Your 2015 running season is over. Cry

He took the news like a trooper.

And much to my surprise, I did not use this as an excuse to again defer my own registration. Instead I reached out to a friend, Tara from Everyday Ramblings of my Life and asked if I could do the race with her. We had originally planned to do it together last year, but again, I deferred. 

She was kind enough to say "YES OF COURSE" so we made plans to meet-up and do the race together. She's been doing a lot more races than me recently, though I have still been "wogging" on the elliptical so I was nervous that I might slow her down, and my foot is still really bothering me. But I made sure to wear my Feetures Plantar Fasciitis Sleeve and extra cushion socks, and my new Saucony Triumph.

I drove down race morning with Denise from RunDMT, we parked, went to the expo hall, met up with some of her running buds, snapped a few pics, and before I knew it, it was time to head to the start line!

Tara and I met at the back of the pack and we were soon on our way. She had a time from last year that she wanted to beat, me I just wanted to finish. We ran a little bit, we walked most of it. I told her she could go on without me if she felt I was slowing her down, but she just looked at me and said "we started this race together, we will finish this race together." And finish we did!

I LOVED this race!! The out and back along Bayshore Blvd was PERFECT! It started off cold, but we warmed up quickly. I had carried my own water bottle, but I would not have needed it. There was a plethora of water and gatorade available. There were porta-potties E.V.E.R.Y.W.H.E.R.E. and if you read my Holiday Halfathon recap, you know that the lack of bathrooms was a huge issue for me. 

But not with Gasparilla. Everything was perfect. The company, especially. Tara was an awesome 15K partner. She never made me feel like I was too slow, or holding her back. And I was super excited to hear at the end of the race that she had PR'd by over 10 minutes from 2014!! 

After the race Tara and I walked. And walked. And walked some more to find the post-race food and drink. It was quite a distance. In previous years they have always had the food right in the tunnel, but not this year. I felt like we walked another mile to get our recovery fuel. The walk just never ended.

But it was worth it.

Many of my Tampa Bay Blogger friends were invited to try out Ulele a few weeks ago. I was unable to attend because of work, but they all RAVED about it. And many commented about the wonderful beer.

I was so happy to see Ulele at the post-race party with 3 types of beer to sample. That's Tim in the tan shirt, and he's the head brewmaster.

It was very good beer, and just further cemented that I need to get to Ulele's for a proper meal.

After the beer and the fun, we went to the expo.

At the expo I found my fellow Polar ambassador and friend, Mary.

We chatted about my race, about our other Polar friend, speedy Chris who ran the 15K in 50:17 (that's 9.3 miles....) and I asked her about her thoughts on the battery charge of my M400. 

And soon I was home, enjoying more beer, and resting my feet.

I went to bed by 10pm, and I was feeling good! I woke up at 6:30am, and left my house by 7am. The 8K wasn't set to start until 9am, and I had several friends in the half-marathon that I was hoping to see!

My feet were feeling a little sore, so I decided that a shoe change was in order. So for the 8K I wore my Hoka One One.

I'm not sure that was the best choice. I did size down in these shoes as recommended, but I felt my feet slipping in them as I walked and sure enough, I developed blisters in places that I hadn't even been sore the day before.

But Tara was sore too. Together we kept each other motivated, and pumped to finish the race. And finish we did!

And I'm pretty sure she told me that she even PR'd both races from her time last year!!

This was a GREAT race challenge and I plan to repeat it again next year...with Ronin!!

A HUGE thank you goes to Tara for walking with me, to #TeamPolar for the gear to monitor my heart rate throughout the event, and to Enell Sports Bras for providing me with the most comfortable, most awesome sports bra ever, the Enell Lite got me through over 14 miles in comfort!

 

The Sun Will Come out Tomorrow

 I was 11 years old when the movie Annie directed by John Huston was released. I LOVED that movie. LOVED it.  I knew all of the songs, character lines, all of it. I knew it all.  Annie was 11 years old, just like me. And while I certainly wasn't living the life of an orphan, I felt like I could identify with her on many levels.

So how did I not ever know that before Annie was a movie, Annie was a Broadway play? I must have been living a hard knock life, that's for sure because up until recently, I had no idea that a play even existed. Thanks to my association with the Tampa Bay Bloggers I was giving the opportunity to come out and see the award winning musical and I was lucky enough to bring along three special little ladies.

The girls and I were all so excited!! With the exception of the previews for the 2014 release of the film version of Annie, my daughter's had no clue who Annie was. And they hadn't even seen the 2014 version. I am seriously slacking in the Annie department.

I attempted to brief them on the drive over, but all I could do was sing one song...over and over...and over. And to make matters worse, my girls thought that I made the song up.

Which song?

Just thinkin' about tomorrow
Clears away the cobwebs and the sorrow 'til there's none

When I'm stuck with a day that's grey and lonely
I just stick up my chin and grin and say, oh

The sun will come out tomorrow
So you gotta hang on
'til tomorrow, come what may!
Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love ya, tomorrow
You're always a day away!

When I'm stuck with a day that's grey and lonely
I just stick up my chin and grin and say oh

The sun will come out tomorrow
So you got to hang on 'til tomorrow, come what may!
Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you tomorrow
You're always a day away

Tomorrow, tomorrow I love ya tomorrow
You're always a day away ...

And with the girls and I fixed on the performers, when Annie began singing that song, I began to cry. Cry It has been such a challenging year so far. With Ronin's broken leg, my elbow and back injury, and just L.I.F.E. being challenging, this song really hit home for me.

But throughout the play, I kept seeing signs that even though I thought I was living a hard knock life right now, it's not nearly as bad as it could be.

It's sometimes hard to believe, but there are children in the Tampa Bay area that can not afford clothes, shoes and even food. At all Tampa performances of Annie, through Sunday, Feb. 22, donations of primary school uniforms and other children’s clothing will be accepted at the Straz Center. The drive benefits Metropolitan Ministries who serve families in need in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Polk counties. 

It was a FANTASTIC show. My little girls L.O.V.E.D. it and when I got home last night I was pleasantly surprised to see an Instagram post from Annie herself, Issie Wickle.

My daughter's now happen to think that Issie and I are friends.  And Leapin' lizards, if Instagram says we are, WE ARE!

Annie is in Tampa through Sunday, February 22nd.Performances of Annie are now - Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and 8pm and Sunday at 1pm and 6pm. Regularly priced tickets are $46-$105 and may be purchased by calling813.229.STAR (7827) or 800.955.1045 outside Tampa Bay, in person at the Straz Center Ticket Office or online at www.strazcenter.org.

 

 

Push Away the Screen: Top 5 Reasons why Universal Studios Florida is Autism Friendly

My family are Busch Gardens Tampa snobs. We love Busch Gardens and go as often as we can. Busch Gardens treats us well, and offers a "special needs" pass that allows us to quickly move through the park without the threat of meltdowns from my Ronin. 

When Ronin was 3 years old we attempted our first Disney trip. IT WAS AWFUL. We spent over $600 for tickets to Disney MGM Studios during Star Wars weekend. We left the park in tears less than 2 hours later. It was simply awful.

Needless to say, that experience left us feeling a little jaded on Orlando theme parks, so we have been sticking close to home with Busch Gardens.

Over the summer we ventured out to Legoland Florida and it went VERY well. Like Busch Gardens they offered a special needs pass and it made our experience one that I would repeat.

This past year the #TampaTrio has become ENTHRALLED with all things Harry Potter, so I made them a promise. As soon as one of them read at least one of the Harry Potter books I would take them to Universal Studios.

I honestly wasn't sure if they'd go for it. Haley has tried the books in the past (when she was in 3rd grade), but just couldn't get into them. We tried to do it as an audio book in the car, but the narrator had such a thick British accent that he was difficult to understand. 

But low and behold...once Haley had finished all 16 of the SSYRA books, I caught her with Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone, her face buried in the book. 

And before I knew it, she had read the first 5 books. I mentioned to my mom that I was planning on taking them, but was complaining about the cost of tickets, and how we'd need the 2 park ticket, blah blah blah. Imagine my surprise when our Christmas card arrived from Grandma with enough money for us to go to Universal Studios! She's so awesome!

So off we went, just me and kids! And we had a GREAT TIME!!!! 

So...what did I do to make Universal Studios more manageable for my autistic kid?

1) I DID MY HOMEWORK, and I planned, planned, planned. I found out online when their least busy time of the year was (just happened to be the weekend BEFORE the Superbowl) and made plans to go then. My little dude does not do well in huge crowds of people, so knowing that the park would be at a low capacity was pivotal to my plan!

2) I printed out copies of the park maps beforehand. This gave my kid the opportunity to see the park laid out before him. Ronin is very spatial and LOVES maps (check out this study, it's pretty cool) so giving him some knowledge beforehand of where we'd be going and what we'd be seeing could only work in my favor.

 

3) During my planning stage I also learned that Universal Studios also offered at Attraction Assistance Pass. I researched how the pass works, and prepared my dude. So how does it work?

First, you bring your child with you to guest services. Since we arrived at the park BEFORE it opened (again part of my planning) we went to guest services OUTSIDE the park and there was NO LINE. I had brought a doctor's note with us explaining Ronin's condition, but it was not needed. Anyone who speaks with him for a few minutes can figure out that he's a special little dude.  With the pass we were able to gain entrance to all the rides using the Express Pass entrance WITHOUT having to pay for an express pass.

Now, the pass works like this: if a ride has less than a 30 minute wait period and you present your Attraction Assistant Pass, you and your family are allowed to enter the ride immediately without wait through the Express Pass entrance. If, however, the wait time is longer than 30 minutes, the staff member will give you a time to return to the ride. In other words, if the wait time is 45 minutes, the staff member will write the time (45 minutes from then) when you may return and then enter the ride without any wait.

Although the kids are waiting the same amount of time as everyone to ride, they are not required to wait in the line with other people. (Very beneficial to anyone else in line if you ask me.) There were only two times that we had to return: Spiderman, and for the Aerosmith Rip Rockin' Rollercoaster. While we waited for Spiderman we ate lunch and while we waited for Rip Rockin' we took a rest break on the lawn area in front of the coaster. It was a beautiful sunny day and it felt good to snuggle together and get off our feet for a few minutes. If Ronin would have had to wait in line with everyone else, our trip would have been disastrous. 

4) Interactive experience. Ronin is a high functioning autistic child. He can be very much "upinyourfaceandnotgiveyouanyspaceofyourown" or he can be quiet and withdrawn. He was both on this trip.

During our wand experience in Diagon Alley, Ronin was selected as the "special child" to receive 1:1 time with the wand maker. The rest of our group (including Haley & Ella) were ushered out and only Ronin and I remained in the room. The wand maker spoke very calmly, very delicately to Ronin. Told Ronin to "place your hands" up on the counter and not move them. Ronin did as he was told.

He listened so carefully to what the wand maker was telling him, kept his eyes on his the entire time. It was magical. 

And then later in the day Ronin was very hyper, very excited, very "inyourfaceandnotgivingyouanyspace" and he was chosen as one of the kids to squirt water on the contestants at Fear Factor Live.

He loved both of those experiences and each one was very different. 

5) DINOSAURS. A lot of autistic kids have things that they fixate on. Ronin's current fixation over the past couple of months has been JURRASIC PARK. He's watched the movies over and over, and he saw the Jurrasic Park land on the map, but he wasn't expecting to actually SEE a T-REX.

 

For him, this was the coolest thing EVER! He loved it. It was too cold for us to go on the Jurrasic River Rapids ride because you get soaking wet, and it was just above freezing, but we'll go back in a few years and if he's still interested he can go on it again.

Our family had a FANTASTIC day. From Diagon Alley and Hogwarts Express, to the Incredible Hulk and Fear Factor LIVE, our experience at Universal Studios was

AU-SOME!

We went on EVERY ride we wanted. Missed NOTHING. In our 10 hours at the park we accomplished every goal Ronin had set out for us! 

 

 

Have you ever been to Universal Studios Florida? What was your favorite part??