Thursday, March 28, 2013

My Sensational Weekend in Guam: Connecting with Friends

As many are aware, in August 1990, Guam became my overseas platform as I traveled on a solo journey across the Pacific with a suitcase, golf clubs and a mountain bike to my new job as a "Clubmate", otherwise known as a sports instructor at an all-inclusive resort, Pacific Islands Club (PIC). Since then, Guam and PIC provided the springboard to where my life has evolved.

This past weekend, I traveled 120 miles south to Guam, received a complimentary room at PIC (thanks Ben Ferguson & Vicki Daniel!) and dedicated my time to a kaleidoscope of friends, who have intersected my life at meaningful connection points of time and place.

There's a brilliant quote from Anais Nin, who poignantly said, "Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born." Throughout the weekend, a flood of worlds whirled into my path and I pleasantly seized the opportunity to align with each.

I believe in true, genuine, life-long friendships that fulfill that acute emotional need to belong and to be accepted. I can't think of many other things that rank higher than great friends. My husband, Russ, is my very best friend! Hence, I am gratefully and humbly blessed!

With Paula at the Powder Hound Lodge in Jan 2012.
Upon arrival on Friday evening, I called up Paula, who had just returned from Japan a few weeks prior, and she arranged it so that we could enjoy a dinner out to Proa, just the two of us. We've become close friends through our Niseko affiliation and she is such an amazing woman, who teams up with a fun, accomplished entrepreneurial husband to raise four active young boys. They expertly manage their businesses and household. Yes, she is a "superwoman" in my eyes; one who keeps it all together. Most of all, Paula's incredibly generous with her time and resources. I will never forget all the moments we shared talking about life two winters ago when I couldn't ski. She chauffeured me to Sprout, a Kutchan cafe serving hot white chocolate (yum!), to the Moiwa onsen and all around the village. On this recent occasion, we shared a wonderful meal at a nice restaurant and proceeded with filling each other in with details of our ever-changing lives. The relatively short time spent together indulged my wish to re-connect with this beautiful person.
A gorgeous race day!
On early Saturday morning, I drove south to Port Authority Beach in Piti, to the start of the XTERRA Guam Championships venue, where a couple hundred people were scrambling about, preparing for the big race. Racers, organizers, volunteers, timers, spectators, photographers, family and friends converged to the site on a bright, sunny morning for the best annual triathlon on island.

Trey capturing the shots
My self-imposed role was to assist Trey Garman with race reports via photos and facebook uploads while en route. He's the VP of Team Unlimited, the parent company of the XTERRA brand, whom I've known since the first XTERRA Saipan in 2002. It was an adventure navigating through to the picturesque spots to catch the pros in their element. The pros are incredibly fast and make the course look unbelievably easy as they seemlessly ride and run through the red clay bowl, sharp descents, bamboo forest and rocky waterfall. At one point, Trey was taking photos out the window while I was steering the car and trying to take my own shots with his iPhone. Even though we got ourselves momentarily disoriented on the course, we had lots of fun and managed to get back down to the finish line before Jacqui finished. 

After the initial pavement climb, Dan Hugo leads Ben Allen.
There were two principal mini races in the men's pro field. The first between Ben Allen and Dan Hugo jockeying back and forth for the title. They were clearly ahead of the pack and although Dan finished with the fastest bike split for the day, Ben outpaced his competitor with speed and stamina throughout the 8km run. Bravo to Ben for his outstanding effort! They finished in a time of 2:23:01 and 2:26:48, respectively. Interestingly in 2012, Ben won the race with a time of 2:29:42, a substantial 6 minute lag to this year's results. 
Brad Weiss & Sam Gardner race to T2
The second dual involved Brad Weiss and Sam Gardner, who fiercely raced for the coveted third spot on the podium. They, too, vacillated for position on the bike but by the run, Brad utilized his reserves to beat Sam with a time of 2:36:00. Sam finished in fourth with a 2:37:08. 

XTERRA Guam Championship: Brad 3rd, Ben 1st, Dan 2nd
I was delighted to be present to see our homestay pros, Dan and Brad repeat their podium stance in Guam. I'm sure they wished it could have been for 1st and 2nd, but they raced with intensity and passion, making minimal tactical errors. Throughout their two weeks in Saipan, our friendship bloomed and now, Russ and I remain their prominent supporters, hoping to see them both achieve their dreams. 

There's another quote from an Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore that holds true, "Depth of a friendship does not depend on length of acquaintance." I believe that through God, our lives intersected at a pivotal time, to definitely impact each other through mutual respect and friendship. In addition, I didn't realize that both men had not spent much time together previously in their hometown. This trip seemed to solidify their friendship as they traveled, trained and lived in the same house/hotel for nearly a month on this XTERRA Asian Triple Crown Tour.

We look forward to following Dan and Brad's race reports this season as they compete around the world. Their next challenge is XTERRA Malaysia in late April. They both possess that raw, intense talent and drive to propel them further in their careers. Perhaps we'll see Dan emerge as the next XTERRA World Champion in October?
1st Place - Jacqui Slack

In the women's race, Jacqui Slack, the 2013 XTERRA Saipan and Tagaman Champion, dominated with sheer agility with a time of 2:52:44. She is a superb athlete who possesses a natural gift to challenge herself and stay focused. She's a lovely, soft-spoken woman who is both confident and humble. Congratulations on three, impressive consecutive wins! As we say in Saipan, "Strong work!!"
Renata finishing in 2nd!

After reading my previous blog post about Dan and Brad, Renata sent me an encouraging email applauding my faith that profoundly touched my heart. In fact, when I was writing my reply to her, tears welled in my eyes as I rejoiced in yet another relevant connection through faith. We've been friends for several years as she's raced in the XTERRA Saipan eight times and we visited her in Davos a couple years back, but we had never broached the subject of God. Even though we see each other only on an annual basis, it doesn't matter. We simply connect and support each other. Renata Bucher is a veritable champion. Aside from her athletic prowess, she's bright, beautiful, skillful, playful and compassionate. She's also a school teacher, positively influencing those sharp, young minds and athletes back in Luzern, when she's not racing. We pray that you have a successful race season and look forward to welcoming you back to Saipan again next year!

Jamie at the start of the run.
Faith binds great friends.
One of the most accomplished professional athletes ever is my friend, Jamie Whitmore. In the XTERRA world, Jamie Whitmore is a living legend who embraces life with immeasurable vigor, faith and passion. Shockingly, cancer struck her in 2008 at the young age of 31, coinciding with the pinnacle of her pro career. Faithfully, she bravely battled the disease and won. Irrespective of her doctors prognoses of never being able to bike or race again, Jamie defied them all and today competes in XTERRA's and bike races, this time in the challenged athletes division. Jamie lost her left glute muscle and has minimal nerve sensation in her leg and as such, she wears a brace to keep her upright and mobile. Her motto, "Powered by God" which is emblazoned on her bike, aptly displays her fearless attitude to battle anything and everything.  With an elevated pain threshold, she shines as a true warrior through her races. She never gives up! Jamie's a perfect role model who unabashedly vocalizes God's goodness and strength in her life. Jamie was recently inducted into XTERRA's Hall of Fame for her remarkable achievements. 

Aside from racing and training to compete in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil, Jamie has her own athletic coaching business, travels as a motivational speaker and organizes her church's "Mom's program". See the video in the link below as well as her bio. 

At a recent speaking engagement in Hawaii for Mitsubishi, Jamie confessed that she rarely remembers the words that flow through her mouth as she speaks to a crowd of hundreds. She says that she sincerely allows the holy spirit to provide her the right words to captivate her audience. At that same conference, the other guest speaker was Captain Sullenberger, the pilot who in 2009, heroically flew the US Airways Airbus 320 to crash land on the Hudson River, leading all 155 passengers to a safe evacuation. The Mitsubishi execs later acknowledged that their employees preferred Jamie's life story of trials and triumphs over to that of Captain Sullenberger's life-saving feat.  Why? Well, all of us can relate to a close family member or friend afflicted with cancer or another life-threatening disease. Jamie's story affects each of us personally as we inherently realize that it can happen to us. How we are able to perceive ourselves in a particular situation greatly registers in our empathetic hearts.

The Cardenas Family
Jamie's other half is Courtney Cardenas, a gregarious, talented and fun-loving man who's also her partner in life. Together, they raise two active and adorable twin boys (3 yrs), Christian and Ryder.  Courtney and Jamie have been married well over a decade and as a team, they train, race and live their lives as one. Courtney is also an accomplished mountain biker and a skilled mechanic. He has been Jamie's tenacious pillar, who continues to provide the love and support for her and the kids.
Chatting with Courtney at the BBQ

C.S. Lewis once quoted, “Is any pleasure on earth as great as a circle of Christian friends by a good fire?” Courtney and I were able to catch up at the Horton's post- race BBQ. I really wished that Russ was there, especially that night so that the four of us could talk, share and fellowship. Courtney and Jamie are a remarkable couple, who've weathered through life's tumultuous storms. Among other things, I was cheerfully surprised to learn that they had participated in a Marriage Encounter weekend as well.  As a side note, one film that is excellent which I highly recommend to all couples is "Fireproof". Yes, it will make you laugh, cry and hopefully help you realize that marriage is worth the fight. To Jamie & Courtney, I pray that our lives cross paths more frequently in the future. At the very least, we hope to invite you both to race in the 2014 XTERRA Saipan and Tagaman. 
Race Director extraordinaire, Eric Tydingco with Jamie
The individual who not only organized THE race but artfully coordinated Jamie and Courtney's visits to XTERRA Guam is Eric Tydingco, who continues to pour his energy, enthusiasm and patience to make this race a spectacular one. With a small crew of five, Eric managed to do it all with utmost professionalism and perseverance. Kudos to you and your team!  I spent a few moments with Eric talking about how to better market the race to attract more participants for future years to come. The areas of concern surround the 1) the selection of dates to fit cohesively into the 2014 XTERRA global tour calendar, 2) the ways to increase sponsorship and gain greater awareness through our islands and 3) finding a plausible solution to the exorbitant bike fees imposed by United and Delta. It would also help our local racers to find affordable hotel/race packages for Saipan and Guam to generate at least 20 more participants.

Eric's competence as Race Director for XTERRA Guam radiated on race day. His race is fun, tough and well organized ~ an optimal XTERRA profile, plus the sounds of his band, Mojo, at the Awards Party extended the lively party atmosphere. A unique coincidence is that Russ and Eric graduated together from Patrick Henry High School in San Diego so they go way back!

Aside from the XTERRA race, the weekend centered around Vicki's business trip to Guam.  We've been best friends through our PIC connection for seventeen years and I was so excited to see her again. I picked her up Saturday evening and we went for drinks at the Sheraton's poolside bar prior to attending the XTERRA awards dinner. 

Time with Vicki
Laughing hysterically after much coffee
Although she lives in Hawaii, we keep in regular contact through, facebook, this blog, emails and phone calls. Whenever Vicki and I are together, we have the freedom to be silly and act juvenile.  We find ourselves laughing hysterically over trivial things. Our sisterly friendship is based on love, understanding and complete acceptance of one another. Honestly, Vicki has been there for me during my darkest days and hopefully, I for her. We've also shared exciting, memorable trips to Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Australia with countless stories emanating from our follies.

Trey, Jamie, Vicki & me
On Sunday morning, we awoke late but ran 6 miles in the pouring rain as part of her Boston marathon training program. Her goal is to finish within 3 hour 40 minutes next month and I'm confident that she will. I thank her for slowing down her pace to match mine. Vicki is highly disciplined, intelligent and motivated as well as generous, friendly and comical. When we're together, we're free to be our authentic selves, relishing each moment through truth and laughter. We enjoyed breakfast at Tu Re, checking our emails and overdosed on caffeine as we waited for Angie's delayed United flight to arrive. With more time to spare, we ventured to KMart to pick up some items. As I was busy choosing vitamins, Vicki comfortably positioned herself in the greeting card aisle, laughing heartily in amusement, reading card after card until she found the perfect one for Angie. Every time we scan greeting cards, we automatically think of Angie. Years ago she remarked that reading greeting cards in a store spawns the urge to go to the bathroom. I wonder how many others encounter that same affliction?
Angie and me at a recent dinner

Victor Hugo, the celebrated Les Miserables author once quoted, "Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face." Adding Angie to our girls' weekend tipped our laughter scale off the charts. For lunch, we went to GPO's ramen place and our conversation diverted to our sleeping arrangements for that night. Angie asked, "Are we all going to spoon on one bed tonight?" To which Vicki answered, "No, we have two double beds, but you need to choose who you want to sleep with." Vicki then divulged that I sounded like a feral cat coughing up fur balls as she obviously heard me coughing, gagging and clearing my throat for most of the night. I then mimicked my "fur ball ingested" sound and that's when we simultaneously broke out into unsuppressible laughter that must have resonated throughout the restaurant. Angie was laughing so hard that tears were streaming down her face as she crouched over her food and held her arms close to her stomach, trying to contain herself.

The three of us are fortunate to have a long history of great memories. It was maybe fifteen years ago when we took our first girls' trip to Cairns with another girlfriend, Rena. The four of us danced, partied, shopped, went river rafting down the Tully, learned how to throw boomerangs, blow on the didgeridoo and constantly drove on the "wrong side" of the road. We still laugh at the one river rafting snapshot which captured all of us grudgingly paddling down the rough rapids, except for Angie. She's perched upright, smiling straight at the camera and waving her hand like Miss America.  

Since last September, Angie has been my faithful spin partner at Gold's. We started out attending class three mornings a week at 5:45am but since the Wednesday sessions started filling, we now go on Mondays and Fridays. In December, we teamed up for the Hell of the Marianas, each riding 50km and won the Women's Team division. We've also encouraged each other to eat less sweets, become more fit and healthy for the new year. We've even connected with our husbands as part of the Marriage Encounter community and I feel so blessed to have Angie as a dear, close friend.

Great friends are like bountiful treasures; they continually enrich our lives with pearls of wisdom, strength of diamonds and malleability of gold, offering grace and forgiveness when due. I graciously thank all of you whom I cherish as you've lavishly shared your lives with me. This last weekend absolutely overwhelmed my senses as all of our worlds simultaneously collided into one that I will never forget.
Final breakfast at Tu Re with Brad, Renata & Dan

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