Make Stress Work For You

The first martial arts class swords class I’ve ever went to I ended up being the slowest one in the class.

I thought this was just because I was new, but after a few classes went by I found that my speed was still an issue. Then one day, while we practiced defenses, my instructor came up to me, grabbed my shoulder and told me:

“You gotta relax. You will be a lot smoother if you weren’t so tense. “

To my surprise, I was tensing up my body every time I grabbed my sword. Once I became aware of this I took a deep breath and relaxed. Immediately after relaxing I found that my strikes and blocks occurred much faster and with a lot more ease.

When I realized I was unknowingly feeling tense I started to wonder where else this was happening in my life. I ended up finding that I was tense when doing a lot of other activities, including the very basic day-to-day tasks in my life.

The problem was, I was so use to feeling tense I just considered it normal. Once I started to recognize these feelings of stress I was able to combat it and increase my work flow. This ended up leading me to researching and learning a lot about how about I can use stress to make myself get work done more efficiently.

Recognizing Stress

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There are two kinds of stress(Actually three, but the third is less common than the other two): Acute Stress and Chronic Stress.

Acute Stress is that short term stress you have when reacting  to an immediate threat or an event that heightens a strong emotional response.  While Chronic stress is the long term stress that occurs when responding to emotional pressure(s) for a long period of time.

While acute stress can help stimulate that exhilarating feeling you get from riding a roller coaster or skiing down a slope, chronic stress is the far less fun one that can cause severe physical and mental strain. Along with anxiety, irritability, and depression, chronic stress has also been known to weaken the immune system and cause permanent brain damage.

Despite the dangers of chronic stress, a lot of people tend to not recognize they are suffering from it. There are very notable symptoms to help identify the feelings of chronic stress, but the one I found to be most effective is body scanning.

Body scanning is not only a very effective way to identify if you’re feeling stressed, but also a great way to help relax the areas of the body that are tense. The process can even take as little as 10-15 minutes to do.

To start off, find a comfortable position and take a few deep breathes. Once you’re feeling comfortable and cleared your mind, it’s time to start the body scanning process. Start by focusing on your feet, noting the sensations felt in this position. Identify if there is any tenseness present. If so, take a few deep breaths and relax them. Then, slowly work your way up, doing this same process one body part at a time, until you have fulled relaxed all parts of your body.

Once you finished relaxing your body, take a few deep breaths and open your eyes. Take a couple more deep breaths and slowly come out of your seated position before resuming normal activities.

Control Your Stress

Body scanning isn’t the only way to combat chronic stress. Studies have found that the most effective ways to overcome chronic stress is through regular exercise and meditation.

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What these two solutions have in common is that they practice mindfulness. One of the biggest causes for chronic stress is worrying too much about problems out of your control. Instead of constantly thinking about the tasks in the future it’s important to be mindful about the tasks currently in front of you. By letting your mind wander away from the present activity you are allowing yourself to be distracted.

This causes, what Cal Newport describes in his book, Deep Work, as attention residue:

“People experiencing attention resident after switching tasks are likely to demonstrate poor performance on that task, and the more intense the reside the worse the performance.”

One of the best way to practice mindfulness is to take up hobbies that require you to be in this state of mind. This can include getting involved activities such as martial arts, yoga, or creative arts. Just doing some sort of activity that brings you in that meditative state and focus on the the task at hand. By being more mindful with our tasks we reduce that feeling of anxiety for any future tasks.

Finally, another extremely effective way to combat stress is by organizing and planning. Scheduling when you allow yourself to work, take breaks, and practice mindfulness helps organize your thoughts and give you a much less cluttered mind. This not only gives you a better feeling of control in your life, but it also provides a way to effectively track your tasks and stick your your To-Dos.

Make Stress Work For You

Stress can definitely be a helpful way to keep you on task, but it can also be a hindrance for getting the most work done. What really helps make stress beneficial is to not perceive stress as negative. In fact, by perceiving stress as a challenge for getting things done you can gain very positive health benefits from it.

When dealing with stress it’s important not to let it get out of control. By keeping your tasks organized and balancing your work and leisure you can keep stress in check. Doing so will help prevent you from worrying about stressing overwhelm you and instead use it as a strategy to be more productive.

 

The Photo Journal

Today I’ve been siting at home feeling sick. Since I’ve not been able to do work on some of my To-Do’s, I decided to take this opportunity to look on the bright side.

Being home bed-ridden opens me up to doing something I’ve been wanting to do for a long while. Since I created my second blog, 1k Photo Challenge it has been seeing a steady rise in growth.

It wasn’t not really my intention to separate this blog from my Photo Journal blog, but I felt that the two blogs had vastly inconsistent formats that would not work as one. Fortunately, today has given me the opportunity to keep these blogs separate but still merge them under one unity.

So now, under both sites you will find each one of them linking to the other blog. For the Challenge List you can go under:

Challenge Lists >> 1K Photo Challenge

If you are unaware of what the 1k Photo Journal is about, check over here for why it was started. You can also check out some of the top posts from the site:

Top Posts:

DSC00604Devil Lake State Park

As we begun our descent the sun started to blare down. We built up more of a sweat on our decline trip from the West Bluff Trail then we did during our incline. […]Read more

 

 

20160610_120055Minneapolis Diagonal Trail

It was a hot and sunny day today making the run especially sweaty […] Read More

 

 

20160624_105337Off On Holiday

Tomorrow I will be traveling north to run the Spartan Sprint then heading west to explore the area of Wisconsin.[…]Read More

Lessons Learned After Becoming A Spartan

Back in September of 2015 I ran a 5k Obstacle Course Race called a Rugged Maniac. Prior to this race I had felt a slump in my workout that made it really difficult to find the motivation I needed to train.

Running this Obstacle Course Race(OCR) ended up being just the rejuvenation I needed to push myself back into Parkour and Endurance Sports. Immediately after I ran my Rugged Maniac I thought to myself, “This felt pretty easy, I bet a Spartan Race wouldn’t be so hard”.

This led me to signing up for a Spartan Sprint, which ended up being a whole another ball game than a Rugged Maniac. At the end of my Spartan Run I was bleeding, dirty, sweaty, and bruised. But more than anything, I felt a sense of accomplishment that is unparalleled to anything I’ve done before.

You see, running a Spartan Sprint not only gave me a much better idea of my physical self, it also taught me 5 very important lessons I will be taking with me for both future races and towards my own self-growth.

Lesson 1: Be Positive

When you are putting yourself in a situation that demands you to go beyond your limits, it doesn’t matter how much you’ve trained beforehand or how much energy your body has. All of this can be useless if you do not face the obstacle with a positive mindset.

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During my race I was faced with a seemingly easy obstacle known as The Z-Wall. I’ve done much more difficult rock climbing routes a thousand times before so I thought this would be a piece of cake. Halfway through the Z-Wall I found I had to really stretch out my leg to get my foot placement onto the next block. My leg ended up cramping up on me, shocking the pain through the rest of my body. I lost my grip on the wall and went down like a ton of bricks.

Despite the pain I gave myself a moment of rest before limping to the Peanlty Zone to do my 30 Burpees. This was a set-back but by no means was this going to send me down a Downward Spiral. Instead I looked at this optimistically, “I can still stand on my feet, and it’s only 30 burpees”. I knocked out the burpees then continued the race with a smile on my face.

This positive attitude is just not something you should do for yourself, but for others. My start time had many of the racers run in 90% humidity and 90 degree weather. It was miserably sunny out and many people weren’t running at their ideal performance.

At mile 2 I saw a team of two trying to hoff it up the hill. At one point one of the runners sat down in the shade and told his buddy, “I just can’t do it”.

His friend knelt down next to him looked him dead in the eyes and said, “Yes you can. You’ve already made it farther than you thought you could. You can keep going”.

Meanwhile, a passing runner past by the two, flashed a big smile to the first guy and told him “You’re doing great!”. I didn’t see these two guys again until mile 4, both of them running downhill with smiles across their faces. Seeing these two inspired me to give positive energy to my fellow racers as well.

Some of us are going to hit our limits and something as simple as a “Good job”can be all we need to keep pushing.

Lesson 2: Don’t Underestimate The Course

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Initially when I signed up for the course I didn’t think of it as a big deal. I thought, “It’s only 5 miles, that’s just another light run but with a few obstacles in between”.

Because I didn’t go at it with the same mindset I normally do with my races I ended up committing several runner’s sins:

  • No Carb Loading
  • Improper Warm-Up
  • Didn’t Tapper Prior To Race

All of this resulted in me performing at my worst throughout the race. By mile 3 I was already half an hour into the race and I already drained the energy in my body. I was hungry, weak, and all I thought about was how good pancakes would be right now. If I just spent the time to properly carb load I know I would’ve been at a much better physical state throughout the race.

For my warm-ups I did essentially the same routine I do before I do my regular runs. I did no research on the average time it takes to finish a Sparta race so I shot for 10 minutes slower than my usual 5-mile runs. My expected finish time and my actual finish time ended up being vastly different:

Expected Finish Time: 50 min
Actual Finish Time: 2 hours, 28 minutes

If I planned my race a bit smarter and did more research on how long it takes to complete a Spartan Race, I would have definitely spent more time warming up. I also wouldn’t have put in 15 hours of working out the week of the race.

I’m not sure what would’ve happened if I took this race more seriously and treated it like my other races, but I guarantee I would’ve ran that race far less fatigued, sore, and hungry. It may have also avoided some cramping the occurred throughout some of the obstacles.

Lesson 3: Remember To Pace

Along with the 3 runner sins mentioned in Lesson 2, there’s another big mistake I ended up committing during my Spartan race: Being impatient.

Taking away from my experience running my Marathon last year, I made sure not to push myself to run faster when I’m already doing well. Although, one mistake I did end up repeating was trying to compete in a race I wasn’t initially planning on being competitive in.

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When I started my Spartan Race all I cared about was finishing. All I wanted to do was see if I could complete a Spartan Race and learn just what my body can do. If I didn’t reach my expected finish time, that was perfectly okay.

With that being said, I experienced Deja Vu during my race. Much like my marathon I got to the race a bit late. At this point, many of the runners who started earlier than me are well off into the course. Remembering to keep it slow, I ran at my normal pace.

After mile 1 I started passing racers who started a little earlier than me. Eventually I started passing racers who started a good 1-2 hours before I did. At this point, I grew a big head that nearly ruined me for the rest of the race.

Instead of just finishing it I was thinking of ways I can finish it faster. If there was an obstacle that had too many people ahead of me, I would just skip it and take the penalty burpees. Even if I was drenched in sweat from the blaring hot sun I would not stop to rest by the water station but instead drink 1 cup and move on.

Then by mile 3 my body hit that point where I struggled to do obstacles I know I could do easily. I was exhausted, sore, and was losing stride. At this point I realized I needed to just slow down, a decision I was grateful to have made. While I took my time going through the obstacles there were some people who seemed to have the same idea as I did and rush through the course.

These same guys trying to rush through were soon found either collapsed on the ground or slowly limping along. Meanwhile, other racers taking a slower pace were briskly passing by them.

Lesson 4: Adapt to Anything

One of the things that makes a Spartan Race so challenging is that it has you use your body in ways you aren’t normally use to doing at a gym. Sure carrying a 50lb object may be easy enough for most athletes out there. Heck, some of you are probably hitting higher weights for your regular workouts. However, 50lbs becomes a whole different story when that object is in the form of a 5 gallon bucket, filled with rocks, and needs to be carried up and down a steep hill.

When I looked into some of the obstacles typical in a Spartan Race it seemed like I would be working my body in some unusual ways. At first I was fine with this. Being from a Parkour background, adaptability is what I strive for. Although, while I was able to make it up the walls and across the monkey bars with ease, I was not prepared for some of the more awkward obstacles out there like the atlas ball.

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The atlas ball has been estimated to be 100lb for the guys, and about 60lb for the women. At first, this didn’t seem like a problem. When I went to the gym with my friend I spent some time lifting and carry 100lb weights until I was confident enough for the course. Then when race day came, I bent over and reached for the ball and… I couldn’t lift it. The ball was too smooth and slippery from the mud making it difficult to get the grip I needed to lift it.

Other racers around me seemed to be in the same boat. When we couldn’t lift the ball we asked some of those around us if they can help us grip it just so we can lift the damn thing.

Then there is the infamous Spear Throw obstacle. This obstacle is known as the Burpee Maker. Not only is it difficult to stick a spear 20 feet away, but you only get one shot to do it. Most racers aren’t going in it with a degree in spear throwing so you can imagine the number of people in the Penalty Zone.

When I first learned of this obstacle I decided I was not going to be one of the many who fall victim to this obstacle. So, a month before the race, I crafted a spear using a stick, some rope, and a pocket knife. I then spent a good 3 hours throwing it at a wooden board in my backyard. It took quite a while until I was able to stick the spear consistently, but when race day came I successfully stuck that spear on my first try.

The point I want to drive home is that if you are going to run a Spartan Race, look at the obstacles you’ll likely be doing, then train for them in a simulated environment. If you can do pull-ups, work on different grip strengths by changing your hand position or using a towel hanging from the bar. If you’ve never carried 50lb bag over long distances before, make your own then spend some time walking with it.

Keep in mind that your body is going to be doing things it may have never done before.

Lesson 5: No Such Thing As Quitting

Unless you are one of the Elite Spartan Runners, you’ll probably not running a Spartan Race for competitive reasons. You are doing it to see if you can do it.

"The hardest part is showing up. 40% don’t. Don’t be part of that 40%" 
-Tony Matesi, Spartan Race Director

By being at that starting line you have already past the first and most difficult obstacle, just being there. Remember that the human body has always been capable of doing the impossible. Before Roger Bannister broke the 4-minute mile, researchers were convinced it was not physically possible for humans to do.

Marathons are often thought as the most ultimate feats of endurance, but then we learn there are Indigenous tribes out there who can run 200 miles non-stop.

 

Runners don’t cross that finish line because they ran until they started feeling tired. At some point it no longer becomes a test of the body, but a test of the mind. If you want to complete this race you need to remove the word quit from your vocabulary and think that the only stopping point is at that end.

Remember that once you are out there is just you against you.

Conclusion

If there’s anything you should take away from this it is that you should plan smart, train smart, and keep your will strong. There is no telling what you are going to be able to do until you do it.

"Only those who endure the hardships of training can attain glory" 
-Hiroshi Yamanka, Gash Bell

 

At the end of my race I was well past my exhaustion point. My fingers were cut up, my shoes were torn to shreds, and I had bruises throughout my body. My girlfriend asked me, Was it worth it?

To which I responded:

Not only was it worth it, I am already waiting for registration to open up for next year.

 

Zombies Run! Spring 2016 Virtural Race

This week I had the pleasure of running Six to Start’s 2nd Zombies Run! Virtual Race. As a new found lover of races, I thought this race would be the perfect chance to challenge myself and run my first race competitively. It also seemed excitingly to participate in a race that immerses you into a Post-Apocalyptic story throughout the run.For those of who may not be familiar with this app, I would highly recommend trying it out. I’ve done a review of the application which can be found here.

The best thing about doing a virtual race was that it meant I had more flexibility on when I can race.The Spring 2016 virtual race could be run any time between March 30th – April 11th. This time range helped lessen the work of revising my running schedule to work 20160401_170438around a specific date. Another positive side to this was that, since I could plan my own route, I was able to pick a running path that was as little uphill as possible. When March 30th rolled around I got a pack containing a shirt and an envelope saying “Open After Completing Mission”. The T-shirt was one of the most comfortable, breathable articles of clothing I’ve ever had for running gear. I was so excited to wear it I chose to push my Run’s date to occur several days earlier.

Race Day arrived so it was time to gear up and race. While this may not be my first race I’ve done, this was going to be my first competitive race. Being an avid long distance runner, I felt the best way to challenge myself was to attempt the 10k as fast as possible. So, I followed my race day with as much consideration as I did with my marathon. I made sure I was well-hydrated, filled with carbs, and wearing the right amount of clothing so I can go at an optimal pace. I clicked start on my mission and off I went.

Not repeating the same mistake as my marathon run, I made sure that my first half of the race was maintaining a constant pace throughout. During my run I was deep focused on breathing, “Inhale through the nose, exhale through the mouth”. Since I was not running a full 26.2 miler, I made a few changes to how I approached this run. When running downhill I did not slow myself down to maintain my pace, but kept my stride so my pace was slightly faster. When going uphill I pushed myself to go slightly faster so I did not lose pace during my run.

This worked out for me during the majority of my run, but by mile 5 I was starting to fe20160401_170758el the effects of my energy expenditure. However, what kept me going at my pace was the Zombies Run! Application reminding me just how much distance I had left. By the time I hit the 6 mile marker I thought, “Just .2 miles left to go, time to pick up the pace”. At this point I booked it into full sprint mode to reach the end of my run. I heard the wonderful words, “Race Over, you can stop running”, before I slowed down to a cool-down jog. The 90-second sound post-race sound clip playing at the end of the run was exactly what I needed to catch my breath without my blood pressure going out of control. When the words “Mission Completed” were announced I stopped running altogether and stretched out.

Normally after a run I stay away from drinks that contain calories, but today I felt like this 6-miler was different. I gave the run my all and managed to even achieve a PR (39:42] by the end of it. I had a Gatorade saved for the race which was drunk with pride. Six to Start put on one entertaining Virtual Race completed with some pretty sweet rewards. I am taking what I learned from this race to plan out my races in the future. To all my fellow racers out there, I hope you had fun and gave it your all.

Goal 45 Accomplished: Take a Yoga Class

If you had been following my blog back in November you may have noticed that I participated in this 16-month challenge called “Buff Buddies”. This challenge ended up being the push I needed to get back into serious training by working out every single day. Out of the seven days of working out I had dedicated one of these days to be a “rest day” to stretch out and do light exercises for muscle recovery.

One of the most influential workouts I took up since putting in rest days has been Yoga. I’ll be the first to admit that, while I have done Yoga following Youtube videos, I am still a total newbie at the practice. I felt that the only way to truly understand the power of Yoga would to at least be to consult an expert in the field. Since Buff Buddies was coincidentally occurring before 2016, I thought what better way to get into the sport than to put it in as a Challenge item.

When I went into the Spirit of the Lake Yoga I thought it was like stepping into a different world. The office was filled with a lots of herbal tea bags, natural oils, and prayer beads. I was greeted by a very eccentric, tan-skinned, instructor who had very little body fat.I signed up for the drop-in Beginner’s class then took my place on a mat in a room filled with two very fit twenty year-old dudes and about five middle-aged women. The atmosphere definitely felt slow and calming, a complete opposite from my usual environment training at the Parkour academy where you’ll find muscle-bound guys doing flips to the sound of Dubstep.

When I initially thought Yoga I thought of it as just doing a lot of stretching. To my surprise, there was a lot of meditative techniques that mixed into the class. We started the class by reviewing the seven chakras in yoga. We were going over the Fire Chakra, which basically came down to a lot of heavy breathing and a lot of positions meant to raise our body’s temperature. I found that a lot of the different sort of poses we had to hold wasn’t so difficult to do, but when it came to maintaining a rapid breath while being in a one legged plank, it ended being quite the feat.

After one hour of being put in different positions and doing rapid breathing we ended our session lying on the floor working on slow breathing techniques. Now that I was able to gather my thoughts I came to the realization that my body was stretched, hot, and dehydrated. I didn’t feel like Yoga was as excessive as the workouts I usually do, but my entire mind felt exhausted while my body felt awake. My sore muscles also felt a lot more relaxed by the end of class..

I felt very renewed afterwards. During the entire workout I was able to release my mind and decompress. The workout ended up being a calming experience that benefited me more mentally than it did physically. I personally am not a spiritual kind of guy, but I did feel like doing Yoga allowed me to be more grounded to the earth.

Spirit of the Lake Yoga felt like an extremely welcoming place that gave me a pleasurable experience different than what I’m use to in my workouts. If you are ever in the Minnetonka-Excelsior area I would highly recommend signing up for one of their classes. I am looking forward to coming back for one of their later workshops, Yoga for the Runner.

2016 Challenge List:
45 Take a Yoga Class

50 Points in 50 States(Highpointers)

A little while ago I posted an entry explaining this idea called “The Impossible List” where I define the differences between an impossible list and a bucket list. I also provided my own Impossible List as an example. In my Impossible list I have an item where I would climb the highest point in each state.  Since I cannot post all 50 states in the Impossible List without making the post super large, I decided it’ll be more ideal to make one post that will link each state I climbed to its own individual post.

HighPoint List || Progress: 3/50

State Highpoint Elevation(ft.) Completed
Alabama Cheaha Mountain 2,407
Alaska Mount McKinley 20,320
Arizona Humphreys Peak 12,633
Arkansas Mt. Magazine 2,753
California Mount Whitney 14,494
Colorado Mount Elbert 14,433
Connecticut Mt. Frissell 2,380
Delaware Ebright Azimuth 448
Florida Britton Hill 345
Georgia Brasstown Bald 4,784
Hawaii Mauna Kea 13,796
Idaho Borah Peak 12,662
Illinois Charles Mound 1,235
Indiana Hoosier High Point 1,257
Iowa Hawkeye Point 1,670
Kansas Mount Sunflower 4,039
Kentucky Black Mountain 4,139
Louisiana Driskill Mountain 535
Maine Katahdin 5,268
Maryland Backbone Mountain 535
Massachusetts Mount Greylock 3491
Michigan Mount Arvon 1979
Minnesota Eagle Mountain 2301 8.15.2015
Mississippi Woodall Mountain 806
Missouri Taum Sauk 1772
Montana Granite Peak 12799
Nebraska Panorama Point 5424
Nevada Boundary Peak 13140
New Hampshire Mount Washington 6288
New Jersey High Point 1803
New Mexico Wheeler Peak 13161
New York Mount Marcy 5344
North Carolina Mount Mitchell 6684
North Dakota White Butte 3506
Ohio Campbell Hill 1550
Oklahoma Black Mesa 4973
Oregon Mount Hood 11239
Pennsylvania Mount Davis 3213
Rhode Island Jerimoth Hill 812
South Carolina Sassafras Mountain 3560
South Dakota Black Elk Peak 7242  7.19.2017
Tennessee Clingmans Dome 6643
Texas Guadalupe Peak 8749
Utah Kings Peak 13528
Vermont Mounts Mansfield 4393
Virginia Mount Rogers 5729
Washington Mount Rainier 14411
West Virginia Spruce Knob 4863
Wisconsin Timms Hill 1951  6.29.2016
Wyoming Gannett Peak 13804

Goal 47 Accomplished: Go Snowboarding

Back in middle school I took a field trip to a ski resort where I learned to ski for the first time in my life. After a few hours of lessons I took onto the bunny slope to begin my Olympic Skiing career. In one hour, my short dream of being a professional skier was shattered when I found myself repeatedly falling face first into snow. I chose to hang up my skis for the rest of that day and spent my remaining lunch money trying to get the high score in Pac-Man.

Every once in awhile I like to reflect back to these sort of moments and compare them to where I am now. While I may have never fulfilled my short-term dream of being an Olympic Skier I did manage to become insanely good at Pac-Man. As I got into college I made friends with a lot of people who love to hit the slopes every winter. I was invited every so often to join them, but I told them I wasn’t too much of a fan of skiing. One of them suggested that instead of going to the slopes to Ski, I give snowboarding a shot. Being a lover of physical activities and new challenges, I thought I’ll give it a go.

I saved up my paychecks to book a hotel room with a couple of mates over in St. Cloud for a weekend. After we got settled in our hotel, my friends and I packed in the car and headed to Powder Ridge Lodge.I booked a private 1 hour lesson with a snowboarding instructor to learn everything from ground up. Since my snowboarding lesson wasn’t for a few hours I took the time to go snow tubing with a couple of friends.It felt like quite the adrenaline rush to start off my Slope experience by going 20MPH in an inflatable tube.

After a few hours of tubing I went to my snowboarding lesson to meet my instructor. My instructor took things slow by drilling a few basic techniques down. When I got comfortable with that it was off to the Bunny Hill. Being the impulsive “dare devil” that I am I went to the very top of the slope and found myself frequently falling on my arse. Eventually my hour was up but I was still falling down the slopes every so often. However, rather than hang the board up to play Pac-Man, I told myself to keep going for it. After a few more hours I was finally able to go down the slope without once falling on my butt. I kept at it well after dusk just to make myself consistent. I then rewarded myself with a sore bottom and a cup of hot cocoa.

The entire experience was definitely rewarding. I may not go professional in the future, but I now know a new skill which I can continue to improve on. When I reflect on this moment, I feel proud that I didn’t stray away from this skill because I wasn’t good at it. It made me realize that the only way to ever be good at something new is to work it out while taking in the bumps and bruises along the way .It’s best for me to keep in mind that the road to success will always be a rough one and I just need to learn how to drive on it.

2016 Challenge List
47 Go Snowboarding ACCOMPLISHED