Thursday, May 23, 2013

When I say David, you say Warsen

Last weekend was one of the craziest weekends I’ve had in a long time.  My husband and I traveled to the Chicago area to watch my brother Brian compete in the 2013 Chicago Tough Mudder event.  If you’ve never heard of the Tough Mudder before, you have to check it out.  My brother and his best Air Force buddy Chad decided last year that they’d both begin training, grow Duck Dynasty-type beards, and plan to run this 11-mile military obstacle course.  But, it’s no ordinary course.  It’s dubbed as “probably the toughest event on the planet.”  There is fire involved.  There is ice involved.  There is electric shock involved.  And, of course, there is a lot of mud involved.  It’s not as much a race as it is a physical and mental challenge.  And believe it or not, the quirky event organizers turn it into a Philanthropic Frenzy! 

The concept of charitably helping others was evident in every aspect of this event that can only be described as organized chaos.  Tough Mudders all across the world raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project (WWP).  To date Tough Mudder has raised over $5.5M for WWP to enlist the public’s aid for the needs of injured service members.  BiC 4 Good was at the Mudder as well. The well-known razor company donated money to WWP for each and every Mohawk they cut that day.  Yes, my 40-year old brother and his each member of his team got one! (Their wives were thrilled! J)  But, hey, it was for a good cause, right? 

Then at the end of the race, participants donated their mud-covered tennis shoes to a group called GreenSneakers.  They de-mud-ify the shoes and provide them to those that have none in developing countries like Tanzania.  With more than 460,000 competitors in 2012…that’s a lot of shoes!  The giving just never stopped.  It was just one crazy philanthropic-filled day!

Brian’s flight launched at 9:20 with a drill sergeant giving them directions and motivating them to work as a team.  It was a people-watchers paradise as many wore outrageous costumes, super hero capes, cheetah bodysuits and one 3-piece suit, just to name a few.   The Tough Mudder commander walked the crowd billowing orders via a bullhorn (although I doubt that he really needed it).  Then he quietly stopped.  He came across an older gentleman with Team Warsen printed across his chest.  When asked what Team Warsen meant, we all learned that David Warsen was one of America’s Wounded Warriors that didn’t make it home from Afghanistan last August.  I researched this when I got home (see nerd blog from last week).  Warsen, 27, a Navy SEAL, was among 11 killed, including seven U.S. troops, in a Special Operations mission in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan.  Team Warsen was completing this challenge in David’s memory.  Upon hearing this heartbreaking news, the drill sergeant began a cadence (listen here) to bring them all back to the real reason they were there.  When I say Wounded, you say Warrior:  Wounded, tap-tap, Warrior, tap-tap.  When I say David, you say Warsen:  David, tap-tap, Warsen, tap-tap. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more American than at that very moment.  I didn’t know David Warsen, but I’ll never forget him.

Another highlight was sitting on the bleachers watching the Everest obstacle.  As you would expect from the name, there was tall wall that each participant had to climb over.  The problem was all of the mud and muck.  It made the surface so slippery that gaining traction after a running start was impossible.  So, we got to watch hundreds of people run as far as they could and then jump as high as they could in hopes that someone at the top of Everest would catch them by the hand and pull them up to the top.  They simply could not have made it to the top without others pulling them up and over.  It looked hard.  Many had to try multiple times.  Plus, after running 11 miles and completing 21 out of 22 challenges, they were exhausted.   That’s why the audience was in such awe to see one Wounded Warrior, with both his left arm and left leg amputated, attempt Everest.  As spectators, we sat there confused as to how this would even be possible.  Then one woman laid down at the bottom of Everest.  The Wounded Warrior stood on her shoulders.  Then another man stood on her shoulders as he pushed the Wounded Warrior up another body’s length.  They built a human chain up to the top of the mountain until someone could catch his hands and pull him up and over.  It obviously had not been planned, yet was orchestrated with such perfection that I had shiver bumps on my arms and tears filling my eyes.  Wounded Warrior made it to the top to roaring cheers and enormous applause and then…he began catching hands and pulling others up and over.  Amazing.  Heartwarming.  Incredible.  That’s what the day was all about.

I never knew David Warsen and never got to meet the Wounded Warrior that they pushed and pulled to the top of Everest.  But, I’m thankful to both of them, as well as my brother Brian and friend Chad, for their service to our country so we can enjoy the freedoms we have in America today.  We often take them for granted.  We shouldn’t.  The Warsen family doesn’t and never will.  Neither will the families of the thousands of Wounded Warriors that do make it back home. 

Want to say thank you?  Click here to make a donation to The Howard L. and Maribel P. Crouse Fund held here at the Community Foundation.  This endowment specifically benefits the Wounded Warrior Project and the terrific work they do.  Or you could always get grow a Duck Dynasty-type beard, get a Mohawk, and run 11 miles through 22 obstacles in an upcoming Tough Mudder.  But, online donations are much easier and a lot less muddy.

P.S.  Want to see more of these crazy pics from my Tough Mudder weekend?  Check them out on our Facebook page at

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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Got Your Six

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.  Flashback 1974:  Phyllis Leckron’s 1st Grade classroom; home of the renowned production of Three Billy Goats Gruff.  I hated that play.  Seriously hated it.  It wasn’t Mrs. Leckron.  It wasn’t that I didn’t get the lead.  It wasn’t even that I was too shy to perform.  It was because I was a poor reader.  Reading was a struggle for me.  I felt frustrated.  I felt almost hopeless.  Almost.  Then Mrs. Leckron pulled out her secret weapon...Amber Mitchell.  Amber was so smart.  Everyone knew it.  And she was a great reader.  And, as it turned out, she was a great teacher, too.  Amber and I spent countless hours sitting in the hall of Westview Elementary School reading “Rainbows”, the kindergarten textbook.  (FYI:  There’s nothing more humiliating that reading a kindergarten textbook out in the hall when you’re a first grader.)  I wanted to graduate to “Signposts” desperately; that’s what all the cool kids were reading.  And, Amber had my six.  In the military, “Got your six” means “I’ve got your back”.  Get it, as if you were in the middle of a clock with 12 directly in front of you and, well, 6 at your back.  Amber had mine.  While I didn’t finish “Signposts” by the end of first grade, I had started it.  By 3rd grade I finally caught up and was reading on grade level with everyone else.  I hate to brag, but I even made it to “brown” in SRA’s.  Only a true nerd would be proud of that.

Flash forward 2013:  This week I spoke at the Leadership Grant County Graduation at the Thompson-Ray House in Gas City.  It was there that I, once again, pridefully and publicly admitted my penchant for nerdery.  I love data and spreadsheets and words.  I use the Internet to research ideas all the time.  As in…Every. Single. Day.  I even have a dictionary app on my iPhone because I have a quirky obsession with words that only Merriam-Webster can quell.  Maybe one day I’ll end up being trendy; if being a nerd ever starts trending.  #nerds  

I told this graduating class of future Grant County leaders about how the Community Foundation has approximately $500,000 in scholarship money to dole to college-bound lifelong learners this year.  It told them how it’s the best of times and the worst of times.  I explained how we are able to help so many with the college financial hurdle, yet not help everyone.  I bet if I looked up the definition of bittersweet in Merriam-Webster, this would be an example.  Well, at least it could be.  Maybe I’ll submit it.

Then I reflected back on my college days.  I got a few scholarships, certainly not enough to pay for school entirely.  I had several jobs:  dog sitter, baby sitter, housekeeper, waitress, secretary.  I even used to sell my own plasma just to afford to pay a few bills.  And, I took out my fair share of student loans to cover the rest.  Albeit it took me the full allotted ten years to pay them all off, but I did it…at the age of 32. That very year, I started all over again with my Master’s Degree.  Thankfully, I didn’t have to resort to selling my plasma that time.  Now, I have two diplomas hanging on my wall.  And both were totally worth it.

Yes, college is expensive…and hard!  But, it’s worth it.  It will be the best of times and the worst of times.  These students will make lifelong college friends that will stand up for them at their wedding.  They’ll also have excruciatingly exhausting nights drinking Red Bull while studying for seemingly impossible final exams.  They’ll make memories to last a lifetime and, in the end, they’ll have a diploma to hang on the wall of their first home.

This is why we wish we had more money to provide via scholarships at the Community Foundation.  The diploma.  There is nothing that will help improve the quality of life in Grant County more than to raise the educational attainment level of our citizens.  While the half million we can award sounds like a lot, with the average state college cost hovering around $20,000, it doesn’t go far.  Perhaps by this time next year, a few more donors will step up to the plate and establish an endowed scholarship fund to help a few more kids.  Some might not open a fund, but donate to a fund instead.  Either way, we hope to help more students each year reach their dream of a college education. 

In the meantime, all of our applicants should know this for sure…college is an opportunity that will change your life.  Take advantage of it regardless of how many scholarships you get…or don’t get.  You can work, apply for federal and state financial aid each, ask your college of choice what funds they might have, live at home and commute for a while, and of course, submit a scholarship application to the Foundation again next year. 

Future graduates, we admire your hard work and dedication thus far.  We encourage you to take the leap and get that diploma.  Grant County loves you and hopes one day you’ll come back home and start a business or take on a leadership role.  Opportunity awaits.  We support you.  We’ve got your six.     

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Thursday, May 2, 2013

Want More

I got up early today.  Made some pancakes for breakfast because my youngest son has ISTEP testing at school.  He came up with an acrostic last night that I can’t exactly remember, but I know the “P” in ISTEP stood for pancakes.  So, I had to make them, right?  Then I ironed his golf shirt for a match tonight and my dress for work today.  Got the kids to school, went to the doctor to get some blood drawn and still made it to work by 8:00.   As I was driving in I thought to myself, ‘Why is it that when you have money, you have little time; but when you have time, you have little money?’  At least it seems that way.

It reminded me of that new AT&T commercial that I just cannot stop laughing at where the spokesman asks a small group of kids, “Who thinks more is better than less?”  You can watch it here, but my favorite line, beautifully delivered by girl around 6ish is, “We want more, we want more.  Like…you really like it, you want more.”  Out of the mouths of babes.

We all want more and there’s nothing wrong with that.  The problem lies in what we want more of.  I’ve seen that show Hoarders on the A&E channel and no one wants that!  And as good as chocolate can be, too much of it can have an adverse effect.  What’s on your ‘Want More’ bucket list?  Here are some from my list…I want more:

1.       College graduates.  Knowledge is power, people!  Plus, it changes people, families, neighborhoods, communities, and the world.
2.       Laughter.  My friends bring me so much joy and laughter each day.  Everyone deserves friends like that.  (More "Friends" would be awesome for a few laughs, too, even in reruns.) But, the all-time best is the spontaneous laughter of children.  Uh-maze-ing!
3.       Sunny days, come on Indiana, you can do it!
4.       Jobs, so everyone can experience the satisfaction of a hard day’s work.
5.       Birthdays to celebrate…life is a gift, let’s open it.
6.       People to discover the multiplied power of generosity.  It’s math I simply cannot explain.
7.       Political incorrectness.  As I learned in Texas in the Aaron Tippin days, ‘You’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything’.
8.       World Peace, but not in the Miss America speech kind of way.  Honestly people, there’s just way too much hate in the world.  I’m not asking you to start singing Kumbaya arm-in-arm with your neighbor…unless you really want to!  But, our children deserve more, don’t you think?
9.       Music!  Nothing can bring back memories, help create new ones, or bring people of vast backgrounds together quite like music. 
10.   Appreciation. My friend Jack used to say that he’d never met anyone that had been over-appreciated.  Me either!  I need to work hard to tell them…More.

What do you want more of?  Can the Community Foundation help?  Because we want more, too.

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