“Strea-Dog.”

April 29th 2022, Pittsburgh Marathon Running Expo

I’d like to tell you a story. It’s a true story, which is exactly what makes it so great.

Strealy and I met nearly two years ago, as she was hired to be the Office Manager for the chiropractic clinic where I work. I knew absolutely nothing about her, but I liked her energy. We “clicked” almost instantly.

I’m a cautious person when it comes to relationships, patient when it comes to friendships, and I do not chase love when it comes to anybody. In my opinion, what’s meant to be will always find a way – and, when it comes to Strealy & I, it most certainly did!

It definitely helps that we see each other 4 days a week at work – and text (in Gifs) on the “in-between”.

It helps that she is the extrovert to my introverted personality. It helps that we both have similar personal and professional background experiences and can read each other’s minds just from the looks in our eyes.

It helps that we can talk about anything, and the other will never be seeking to judge. It helps that we can be silent, and the other will sit in comfort and solidarity there.

It helps that we are responsible adults – but love to laugh, joke, prank, and look at things through the eyes of an immature child.

Where I am weak, she is strong – and where she may falter, I hold strength for us both.

Several months ago, we decided that we would run this year’s Pittsburgh Half Marathon together. Both of us are recovering from significant spinal injuries, so the goal has always been to simply have fun and finish this epic hometown race together.

Recently, however, Strealy mentioned that she would love to complete at least one full marathon in her lifetime, just to know that she can. I assured her that she could, and stressed that the biggest factor in completing any long distance event truly is your mental capacity to simply believe in yourself.

As race weekend approached and bib numbers were assigned, I logged on and looked ours up. Imagine my surprise when I found Strealy’s bib registered for the full marathon! I immediately called her phone.

“I think the Universe is giving you a sign.”, I said. “Is it now or never for that full marathon you want to run? Because you registered for the FULL.”

“The f*ck I did!”, she replied.

“Yeah, you f*ck*ng did!”, I laughed back. “If you really wanna do this, I need to know right now so I can transfer up, because there’s no way in hell I’m letting you go alone!”

“No…”, her voice trailed off, “I’m not ready to do this now. I need to transfer down.”

A part of me (aka: my spine!) was relieved, but my heart still yearned for more. “Okay. Text me when it’s done.”, I replied, and we both hung up our phones.

This morning we drove to the Expo. We picked up our packets and explored the vendors. When we looked at our bibs, we realized that, by transferring to the half marathon she no longer had the option to personalize her bib – so there’s just a blank space above her number.

“Whatchu’ wanna call yourself?”, I asked. “What’s your street name gonna be?”

“I don’t know. You think of something.”

By the time we arrived back in Cranberry, I knew exactly what it was going to be.

“Strea-Dog”
– because, just like any stray dog I’ve ever met, she has very quickly become the best friend a girl like me could ever have!

And now we are ready! If you happen to see us out there on Sunday morning, running the streets of Pittsburgh, feel free to say “Hello!”, offer a high-five, or cheer! We should be easy enough to spot – we’ll be the ones having all the fun, running just half the miles, and drinking all the beer!

#BeyondTheBoylstonLine

“Ghost Stories: HE TOLD ME NOT TO TELL.”

“You’re not that little girl anymore.

You’re the strong woman you are today, and you’re holding her small hand through a great fire.

And this season, you’re going to leave that place together.

Forever.

The End.”

Tanya Markul

He came to live with us in the mid-1980’s. His entire lifetime consumed by the use and abuse at the hands of his mother and her plethora of boyfriends. His entire life was riddled with bullet holes, shot from the gun of their addictions.

He filled the hole left in my mother’s heart, following the death of her son. She could relate to him and his life of abuse, as she was still suffering the after effects from years of her own.

She combed his hair and kissed his wounds. She gave him all the things he deserved, but so desperately lacked – like food, clothing, and shelter. Love, hugs, and the freedom to simply be a child.

The one thing my mother refused to see, however, was how none of these things could change the damage that had already been done. His mind was already too far gone. I could see it… but I didn’t have the heart to tell her. Would she even believe me if I did?

He told me not to tell… when he tricked the lunch lady into comping him free meals – and then stole the money from her tray when her head was turned.

He told me not to tell… when he stole candy from the corner store, placing a few pieces into my own coat pockets before pushing me out the door, as a way of making me an “accomplice”.

He told me not to tell… when I found him in the alleyway behind our house, with a knife in his hand, pulling the internal organs out of some fleshy mess of what used to be a cat.

He told me not to tell… about the time I walked into the closet to pick out my dress for church and he stepped in behind me, closing the door.

He told me not to tell… about the time he crawled into my bed in the middle of the night, saying he’d had a bad dream and, as I awoke in the morning, his hands were beneath my pajamas.

He told me not to tell… about the time we were exploring the woods and came upon his friend, who was drinking a beer and hunting squirrels.

He told me not to tell… about that one October evening, as we were playing in the clubhouse that our Pap had built for us, when his friend showed up and wanted to “play” too.

He told me not to tell… as I stood there, in that room full of our family, covered in dirt and hay from the floor inside that clubhouse.

He told me not to tell… as my grandmother screamed about how dirty I was and the mess that I was making in her house by coming inside.

He told me not to tell… as I awoke from my nap, on the top bunk of our bunk beds, to find him climbing up on top of me.

He told me not to tell… as I kicked and screamed and fought back against him for the first time in our very young lives.

He told me not to tell… as my body was hurled from that top bunk, my skull crashing against the corner of our desk, on its way down to the floor.

He told me not to tell… as I locked my dizzy and disoriented self inside the bathroom of our Beaver Falls home, screaming at the top of my lungs for my mom to come and save me.

He told me not to tell… and so I never did.

Until now.

#BeyondTheBoylstonLine

“Today, I Ran A Mile.”

Today, I ran a mile. I ran one mile today.

It took me 10 minutes and 21 seconds to complete. It’s what I could do, after yesterday’s fast 5K. This is what running looks like for me now. Some days are good, some days are bad. Most days are a blended mixture of both, coming in waves, mile after mile. Some miles feel easy, some miles feel hard. I’ve learned to balance what I used to call “the survival shuffle” into more of an interval run.

I ran a mile today and, even though it wasn’t my best mile, I still ran that mile today. Even on my “bad” days, it’s always worth remembering how much worse this actually could be.

Shep continues to remind me, time and time again, that not racing is better than not running – and walking through a few miles is better than not being able to run at all.

Today, I ran a mile. Just one mile. It wasn’t far, compared to my history of runs. It wasn’t fast, in comparison to my previous paces. But I ran a mile today – and that means more to me right now than anything else.

Today, I ran a mile… and then I walked 5 more. It’s what I could do, so I did it.

I ran a mile today… and I am so grateful that I could.

Today, I ran a mile. Perhaps tomorrow I can run more?

#BeyondTheBoylstonLine

“Forward Moving Progress.”

You don’t need to be extreme – just CONSISTENT.

I can not even begin to count how many times Shep has told me this – just know that it is a lot! But today’s run is proof of this truth.

Since sustaining multiple spinal fractures in a skydiving accident last summer, running has not been easy for me. Some days I feel good and can run fast. Some days I feel bad and walking is the best that I can do. Most days are a minute-by-minute, ever-changing mixture of both.

It is what it is though and, when it comes right down to it, I am just happy that I am still able to run at all… but a part of me will always be hoping for more.

Today was an exceptionally good day. I started off walking, then eased into an easy run. As I shuffled along, the cramping in my back eased up and, as I picked up the pace, the aching in my right hip subsided. In anticipation of this upcoming weekend’s Pittsburgh Half Marathon, I decided to strap on my watch and time myself with a 5K test run. I listened to my body and found the most comfortable pace but, halfway through, I began to realize that I could potentially run it in under 25 minutes – something that I have not been able to do since sustaining these injuries. This is when I began to push – and, therefore, succeeded.

I have done nothing spectacular as far as training goes. I simply show up, day after day, and see what I can do. Long or short, fast or slow – the distance and speed no longer matter to me. What matters is that, every day, I keep moving forward.

I may not be running full marathons anymore or even any new PR’s, but I can still kick out a respectable 5K finish and this gives me great hope for my running future!

#BeyondTheBoylstonLine

“Ghost Stories: We Don’t Talk About David.”

I was 4 years old when I found out that I had a brother. I found his birth certificate as I was flipping through a photo album that my mom had made. There was no photo of him – just an envelope containing a small lock of hair and, on the very next page, a death certificate.

David Alan Hudson was born on March 16th, 1977 – nearly a year and half before I came into this world. But on March 19th, 1977 – just three days later, he died.

I often wondered what he would have been like? I imagined him being tall and athletic, with brown hair and light eyes, much like our father. I imagined that he’d like basketball and football, riding bikes with me and playing “run-down”. I imagined us talking and laughing, becoming the best of friends and, as my big brother, I just knew he’d be fiercely protective of me.

I often wondered why my mom didn’t talk about him? And anytime I brought it up, my Dad or my sister would “shush” me.

“We don’t talk about David.”, they’d say.

Then Dad would add, “It will only make your mother sad.”

No one wanted Mom to be sad – so we never really talked about David.

Until one day, when we were visiting my Pap at his farm, I overheard my dad and him talking about David. I had been playing in the haystacks inside the barn but, when I overheard this conversation containing my brother’s name, I wandered out by the horses and put my arms around my Pap’s legs. He smiled at me, like he always did, and I asked him what happened to David? Why isn’t he here?

In that moment, my Pap and my Dad did not treat me like the child that I was. They did not “shush” me or shrug me off. They did not push me away or tell me to “Go play”. They spoke to me like I had seen them speak to other adults – like an equal, understanding, human being.

They told me that, in the beginning, mom’s labor with David had gone very slowly. So, after several hours, my Dad left the hospital to take his mother and my sister (who was just 14 months old at the time) home. While he was gone, mom’s contractions increased in frequency and severity. The Staff at the hospital were not very attentive and brushed off mom’s reports of pain, stating that she had several more hours before it was time to push. Unbeknownst to all, the umbilical cord was wrapped around David’s neck several times and he had become distressed. He had a bowel movement during the delivery and had aspirated meconium into his lungs. Mom ended up delivering David in a hospital room all by herself. He was blue and not breathing. She screamed for help and chaos ensued.

“We revived him! He’s alive!”

“We’ve lost him. He has died.”

“We revived him! He’s alive!”

“We’ve lost him. He has died.”

This went on for at least 4 hours, my Pap had said, before he lost his temper and screamed at the hospital workers to stop.

At this point, my Dad looked at me with the deepest sadness in his eyes. He told me that David was “alive”, but only because his heart was still beating. Further tests revealed no functional brain activity. The prognosis was poor. If he were even to survive, he would require a ventilator to continue breathing for him, his entire life. His body would grow, but his brain would never mature. He would never speak, interact, or understand. He would never taste, talk, or touch. He would need a feeding tube to eat, a catheter to pee, and diaper changes his entire life. He would never sit, stand, walk, or play. He would never even get to come home.

My Dad shook his head and rubbed his eyes, “That’s no way to live. That’s not LIFE.”

“So we told ‘em to pull the plug.”, Pap said.

“If he breathes on his own, we keep him.” Dad finished.

As I stood there, looking and back and forth between their solemn faces, I came to realize that these were two of the greatest men I had ever known. To put an end to the suffering of another human being, at the expense of breaking your own heart – if ever there is greater love than this, I simply do not know it.

“Does mom know?”, I asked.

“No.”, and their jaws tightened. “She thinks he died on his own.”

“Then we must never tell her.”, I said as I held on to each of their hands, feeling bonded by this secret between us. And we never did.

We also never talked about David, because it would “make mom sad”. Little did we know, that our “not talking about David” made her even sadder.

It wasn’t until many years later, after she and dad had died, that I came upon this entry in her journal.

*A page from my mom’s journal.

Hindsight is always 20/20.

If we only knew then, what we know right now, we’d say and do everything just a little bit different. It wouldn’t change the outcome, but it could have helped her heal.

#BeyondTheBoylstonLine

“LESS = MORE.”

“This is what it’s all about. It’s about knowing that everything you ever have, every moment, every material thing, will pass and you will lose it, and there’s nothing you can do about it. All you can do is close your eyes and live it, feel it, smell it, taste it as much as you can while you have it, and then never look back. And not even forward because all you will ever have is here and now, and that’s where you have to be.”

Charlotte Eriksson, “The Glass Child”

Hindsight is always 20/20.

If I think too long about it, it makes me sick to realize all of the time and money I have lost throughout the years, chasing all the wrong things. Sure, I was a single mom and had to earn a paycheck in order to care for myself and my daughter. And, of course, there were things that she wanted throughout the years that I worked overtime in order to give her. There were dance classes and uniforms, books and toys, ipods and music. Then came her interest in Nintendo games and Wii, brand name clothes and shoes. Then I started running – so I also took on race registrations, running shoes, moisture wicking clothing, and travel expenses to and from events.

It wasn’t until we lost our parents, when my sister and I were faced with clearing out their houseful of STUFF, that I realized how pointless everything really is – and how I’d do anything to give it all back in exchange for the time that could have been spent experiencing, rather than acquiring.

In the years since, my vision has cleared greatly. I’ve simplified my life and am beginning to experience greater peace and happiness because of it. I used to work 50-60 hour weeks. I now work 23. I used to carry balances, drowning myself in debt, with a credit score in the mid-600’s. I now pay off all of my expenses monthly and maintain a credit score in the mid-800’s. Sure, the amount of my monthly paycheck has greatly decreased – but the experience of living my life on my own terms, according to what make me happy, has greatly increased.

In a world where everybody seems to want for everything, it’s such a relief to realize how very little I actually need.

Some might take a look at the material things in my life and say that I “have nothing”… but I know that, in reality, when it comes to the quality of my life – which is full of love, joy, happiness, peace, and gratitude – the undeniable truth is that I lack nothing!

#BeyondTheBoylstonLine

“April 15th, 2019.”

“Traumatic events, by definition, overwhelm our ability to cope. When the mind becomes flooded with emotion, a circuit breaker is thrown that allows us to survive the experience fairly intact, that is, without becoming psychotic or frying out one of the brain centers. The cost of this blown circuit is emotion frozen within the body. In other words, we often unconsciously stop feeling our trauma partway into it, like a Movie that is still going after the sound has been turned off. We cannot heal until we move fully through that trauma, including all the feelings of the event.”


– Susan Pease Baritt, “The Trauma Tool Kit: Healing PTSD from the Inside Out.”
“What’s a nice girl like me doing in a place like this?”
PA Paramedic #203543, (est. 2002 – exp. 2021)

There is a kind of cold you’re overcome with when you see your first dead body, and it has nothing to do with the temperature outside. You keep that cold with you for the rest of your life.

It was the summer of 2002 when I began my journey working in emergency services and, while I’ll never forget the things I’ve seen, I’m finally starting to feel far removed from it all now. It’s crazy how much your life can change when you really put your mind to it. It’s been three years since that pivotal moment when I realized that I could no longer continue down the path that I was on. It was a rude awakening and a harsh reality to face – which is probably why I’d put it off for so long, choosing to lie and deny the ever obvious truth to myself. Like a fish not knowing it’s in water, you simply learn to breathe… until you can’t.

On April 15th, 2019, the fragile facade of my perceived reality came crashing down. I remember it like it was yesterday. That was the day my life changed forever.

The events that occurred that day were unfortunate and tragic, but it is because of this experience (and the events that followed) that caused me to open my eyes to the reality of my situation. It made me realize that I could do so much better, that ignorance is not bliss, and I deserved so much more than the painful existence I had come to know as my life. I consider myself lucky that I had a few good friends to confide in and an incredible therapist, able to recognize the volatility of my state of mind. It is because of these few beautiful souls, and the open minds and hearts of the people I was about to meet, that I chose to step forward from that darkness.

There are some memories that never seem to fade, and I am not certain that they ever will? There is a kind of cold you’re overcome with when you see your first dead body – but it is not the dead ones that stick with you the most. It’s the mangled ones. The ones too ill or too injured to live, but who have yet to take their last breath and die. The ones you find who are still alive, yet unable to be saved. The ones who look like your mother, your brother, your sister, your friend. The ones whose time is running short, and who need more than what you can give. These are the faces that haunt your mind. These are the ones whose memory makes your blood run cold. You keep that cold with you for the rest of your life. It reminds you to live your life more cautiously, to cherish every beautiful sunrise and every smile from a friend, because no one really knows for sure what happens in that moment when our eyes go dark. You never know what you’ll be allowed to bring with you into the unknown… what if it’s nothing?

It’s crazy how much your life can change in just a few short years. April 15th, 2019 was, in fact, the day my life changed forever… because on April 15th, 2019, I made the conscious decision to change my life!

#BeyondTheBoylstonLine

“Extraordinary Mediocrity.”

“In Life, it’s not where you go, it’s who you travel with.”

– Charles Schulz
Cancun, Mexico – March 2022

I used to believe my worth as a human being was dependent upon doing extraordinary things, heroic things – like saving the world, one ill, injured, or otherwise needful person at a time.

I was the first in my family to pursue any amount of education after high school, and I was one of just 5 females to successfully establish herself as a fulltime Paramedic at the time, working for a local Ambulance service with a hundred or so employees. I felt pride when I put on that uniform. I felt important when I clocked in at work. I felt needed when I was called upon to perform according to my skill-set. I felt validated when we saved a person’s life. I felt like a rock when I held my patient’s hand, like a badass when I could make them laugh, and a fierce protector when I argued on behalf of those too weak to stand up for themselves. Through the years, I grew into my profession so much that I inherently came to associate it as my entire identity… and I lost touch with who I really am.

Three years ago, I decided to make a change. I stepped away from that ambulance, out of that uniform of steel toed boots and blues, and into unfamiliar territory.

It makes sense that, at first, I felt completely lost and totally unsure. I questioned everybody, everything, and had the most difficult time learning to let my guard down and trust the new people in my life – but, as with all things, time reveals all.

I now know that my worth as a human being has absolutely nothing to do with a job title, education, skill-set or pay grade – but rather, everything to do with simply being human!

I recently took a trip to Mexico with a good friend and co-worker of mine. While we were there, we met several other interesting people from all different countries, professions, and walks of life. As always, I was enamored by their names, faces, stories, and friendships… the way they interact with each other, as well as, others whom they were also meeting for the first time. As I was returning to the pool with another round of rum drinks, I overheard my friend talking about me: “She is the most incredible human being I have ever met. She’s literally one of my best friends! She’s taught me so much about life and what it really means to pay attention and live – right here, right now, in this very moment, and I am so grateful to have her in my life.”

I handed out the drinks and floated away… staring out at that beautiful, ombré Carribean Sea. If ever I thought I’d lost my purpose in Life, I knew, in this exact moment, that it had found me once again.

Charles Schulz was right – when it comes to Life, it’s not where you go that matters, it’s who you choose to travel with and the experiences you get to share all along the way.

Sandos Cancun, Mexico – April 3, 2022

#BeyondTheBoylstonLine