Emotionally inducing memories

IMG_0248Right now I’m at the Women’s Coach Alliance conference in Denver, Colorado. There’s an incredible aura throughout this entire event. Amazing speakers, strong women from all walks of life and different backgrounds. Today, I lost it and I do get embarrassed about it. But what people view as vulnerable, in actuality it’s my strength. Vulnerability would be me hiding from the truth. The inability to accept what has brought me to this point in my life. Being widowed is my fabric, and it makes me strong. It is not my weakness.

We had a sports life coach come up this morning to give her presentation and she talked about living our lives as 10s. Always aiming to live in the 10 moments. At that point she asked the room what are some 10 out of 10 moments. People discussed winning a championship, impacting players lives, getting married, birth of a child, etc. And my brain flickers with a story board of moments. All of them landing on 1 specific moment and that was when I spoke in Time Square for the kick off of Cycle for Survival on 9/19/14. What would’ve been my first wedding anniversary.

My stomach clenched, my heart began racing, my palms were sweaty. I was back reliving that moment as I sat in the back of the classroom watching her ask if there’s any other moments. My hand ascended up and I began telling the story and then the tears dribbled down my cheeks and my voice became lost in my throat. I could only display the emotional effect of that day. The power, the value, the meaning and the importance of standing in Time Square talking about the greatest love story there ever was replayed behind my eyes.

I recently wrote an article for Hope For Widows Foundation, check it out:

http://hopeforwidows.org/triathlon-grief-fear-strength/

But I’m getting more and more of these memories returning back to me and evoking such a tremendous emotional response. Is it because of the returning loneliness due to the deployment? Am I beginning to process grief? Did I not process it well enough the first time? I don’t know what’s happening to me. It might be because I’m out of coaching and for once I’m taking time to myself. I have no clue. But it’s a weird mixture of sadness, excitement, power, and resolution. I feel invigorated, refreshed and prepared for the next grand adventure to see where it’ll lead me.IMG_0235

 

 

Cycle for Survival Alabama edition

So this past Saturday, January 28th, I organized the first Cycle for Survival in Alabama at the gym I teach spin at, Metro Fitness. It was successful and I was super pleased with the turn out of support!

I’m not going to go into detail about the event, but I want to discuss the importance of Cycle for Survival to me.

Cycle for Survival gives me so much hope, excitement, strength and focus. I truly believe in what they are doing for the developments in treating rare cancers, and I also like love the feeling it provides me leading up to the event and after. It gives me goosebumps knowing that in a day, so many people around the country are also supporting and raising awareness and funds for rare cancer research. It also gives me time to reflect and think about all the lessons, joys, and triumphs I shared with George. He too loved participating in Cycle for Survival. So when I’m on the bike, I feel connected with him, and on the days of Cycle for Survival, I feel like I am working for him. I am pedaling stronger than I ever had before, because I want to make him proud.

This year in Alabama, I didn’t have my closest friends around for support, I didn’t have my family nearby, but I did have a community there. I really appreciate the generosity of the people in Montgomery and beyond. Without their support this wouldn’t have been as successful as it was. We have neared the $3,000 mark and it’s a fantastic feeling to know that this money will go towards saving someone’s life and making a difference.

Each year around this time, I make new memories with George and it helps propel me forward. Allows me to feel stronger and I know the money raised is going toward something meaningful and will offer strength to others battling cancers.

I love Cycle for Survival.

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Another half marathon

On Saturday I ran in another half marathon. We don’t have Equinox gyms down in Montgomery so I used the Montgomery Marathon as my tool to raise money for Cycle for Survival. Obviously I wasn’t cycling, but I feel strongly about raising money for rare cancer research. And I love cycle for survival and how they use the money raised. Running 13 miles is not an easy task and whenever I’m running I think about all the people who no longer can run or be active because of cancer. And being active and controlling the effort level of what you put in while you still can is really a gift. So I do these races and when my legs are cramping and my sides are hurting and my mind wants me to stop, I keep pushing because I know if George was still alive he would keep fighting. And when he was alive he kept pushing and believing in everything his doctors were doing for him. So I do too. I want to push myself to the breaking point because he did.

People lose their limbs or ability to walk because of cancer. Or they’re hooked up to a drip for days and fighting for their lives. For that moment to go outside and live life the way they dreamed. So I run for those people. I run, cycle and raise money yearly because I believe the doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering are the front line of battle to cure rare cancers. If I can help just one family, it’s worth it.

Ive been dating Mike now for 7 months and this was my second half marathon while we’ve been together. He’s very supportive of my excessive cardio habits, and reminds me he will never do a race with me and though I wish one day maybe, he makes me feel special about it. I do think being in the south, the focus on physical fitness isn’t like what it is in NYC, but he’s very complimentary of when I do distances over 5 miles. He’s also very athletic and I do like being with someone who takes care of themselves physically. I never realized how important that aspect is in my happiness in a relationship. But having it there I don’t want to be without it.

My legs are very sore today but for all it’s worth, the only thing I would change is I should’ve trained a bit better, but I’m proud I completed another half.

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Transformation of the Year

Warning: The hubris is real in this post. There is no competition, no election, no votes, because without rival I have won the Transformation of the Year Award. Challenge me for it, I dare you. I destroyed 2014.

Facebook had the audacity to try and compute the “best moments” of my 2014 year, but from where I began January 1 to now cannot be collected in a montage of pictures and post that received the most “likes.” WordPress tried to sway me by showing me my “Year end review” as today’s post, but I wanted to take control of deciding the highlights of this year rather than social media telling me what’s up.

This was my first full year without George. The thought of it on December 31, 2013 shook me so deep that I felt it in my bone marrow. And I’ll be completely honest, with 2015 just 26 hours away, heading into another full year without him sucks too. But this suckage is going to continue for a lifetime. And that’s just the way it goes. Life without George sucks, but I’m making the most of it.

Get ready for a plethora of pictures, because as I said, the hubris is real.

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I’m not sure where to really even begin. I honestly gave up on life November 25th, 2013. I thought with George gone, I would certainly wither away into oblivion. It was wishful thinking to vanish in those early weeks and months. I returned to work just a week after he died, but when winter break hit, I went back home to grieve with my family around. When it was time to return from winter break back to the office, I was only wearing George’s sweaters. It was the way I wanted to deal with the loss of my husband, and it also was a way for me to be hidden. Tucked away within oversized sweatshirts.

IMG_9078God I hated myself at that time. When looking for pictures for this post, I honestly have very few from November-February. I just veered away from cameras. Once Drew was back in session and lacrosse season commenced my life had purpose again. In a Jay-Z kind of way, every single day I had 99 excuses why I never wanted to leave my apartment, but there was 1 reason why I did: Drew women’s lacrosse team.

IMG_8043When I was splintered and cracking this team helped me stay together so I wouldn’t shatter. No matter how badly I wanted to just say to hell with all of this and just not show up, I would mosey into the field house at 6am with tear streaked cheeks from sobbing and massive bags under my eyes from lack of sleep, and these girls would be ready to go. Most the time. They would buy me a coffee in the morning, and my assistant would tell me something completely out there from what happened to her the night before. It was the best life support I could have asked for. Throughout the season we had amazing experiences which will forever warm my heart.

Like going to the Super Bowl Halftime show at the Meadowlands!1660297_10100343770538369_746299047_nIMG_5690

We participated in Cycle for Survival, where all the money raised goes directly to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center to help perpetuate cancer research and treatments. As a team we raised over $11,000 for rare cancer research, something that meant the WORLD to me because George believed so much in everything they were doing for him at MSKCC, and I wanted to continue his fight against cancer even though he was no longer with us.

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February 8, 2014 changed my life completely. Having the team surround me and support me on this cause, and seeing how much they believed in it, it set in motion my gradual physical transformation. I felt so damn good sitting on that bike and riding for George. I felt him in all my muscle fibers just telling me to be a little stronger and fight a little harder. If you wanna to learn more or donate to our team at http://mskcc.convio.net/goto/TeamKraynak

IMG_8522Right before our first game on February 27th, I made the move from the apartment George and I shared to where I am now. The stress of losing George and then moving was far from easy. It was a fast reality that life unfortunately goes on, and I needed to start figuring out how to live by myself. Cooking for 1 was something that took some getting used to, but finding ways to occupy my time and mind became a necessity for survival. And that’s where SoulCycle came in.

IMG_6120The energy, community, friendships and strength I gained during the classes at SoulCycle changed my personal outlook. During the time from when I found out George was dying to February 8th, I stopped caring for myself. I had put on a tremendous amount of weight because I just was so depressed, and so empty inside. The moment I sat in on my first SoulCycle class I knew it was going to impact my year. I loved the sensation of my legs screaming at me as I tried to keep pace with the instructor. Dropping my elbows on the downbeat of the music, and closing my eyes just so I could feel the love swell inside me. I hung on to those feelings from the classes for days. I returned weekly to SoulCycle until I was making daily visits and sometimes twice a day visits. I felt safe within the community, and they encouraged me to better myself. They wanted me to be the best person I could be that day. And even when there were days when all I wanted to do is curl up into a ball and cry my eyes out, I would throw on the yoga pants and a t-shirt and head to Short Hill to ride.

IMG_7139Eventually, there started to be some noticeable changes. I was happier and had more energy. The tireless nights and the tears started to subside, and my life was starting to come together a little bit. But unfortunately I still was very unstable. But through the instability, I made sure to keep my off days consistent, and I made sure to go to Coney Island to go swimming with the Polar Bear Club. Again, many of George’s friends do polar bear swims and it was another way for me to feel him. But running into ice cold water was another way for me to control my grief. I wanted to feel the discomfort of the water, and I also loved the support the community offered me. Encouraging me to go a little deeper, stay in a second longer, to embrace the excitement of rushing down the gritty beach, and kicking the sand up as you step into the lapping ocean water. The shock of the water awakens every neuron and cell in your body.

1498782_10152560235034377_1267205832_oOnce the lacrosse season ended, my daily routines were shook up and I ran off to Europe. Throughout the first 6 months of 2014, I felt a lot of my time was spent to holding it together and to working, and I needed to take the time for myself to fall apart. So I packed my bags, and headed to Germany and Switzerland, where I got to visit the Alps and touch the sky and see the beauty of everything that surrounds us. And once again, as I looked out at the snow caps, and the green plains below I realized that this life is so massive, that these moments we have together are suspended in time. Just dangling there like a puppet in our memories, just waiting to be revisited and played with. Regardless of how painful. Our time together is unique to only us and we define them any which way we want. And as much as I would get angry that George was gone, I wouldn’t trade our moments and memories at all. So much so, that if I had to go back in time and do it all over again, I would because it led me to him.

imageUpon returning from Europe, I returned to NJ and made a vow to take care of myself over the summer. It was time for me to figure out how to maneuver through this journey and life. The weapon I chose was exercise. I became spin certified. I started lifting with my good friend and neighbor, who also work at Drew. Finally a work colleague/friend asked if I wanted to do a triathlon and that’s when my brain lit up like a halogen lamp. I loved biking, I had been doing SoulCycle and had just been hired at a gym to teach spin. I had started running again a bit more in late June, so it made sense to incorporate swimming into the regiment. Training for the triathlon gave me direction and purpose which I had been lacking since lacrosse season ended. Plus it forced me to be more militant and disciplined with my exercising. My body transformed quickly and as my body was transforming my mood and grief became more manageable.IMG_7170IMG_6463IMG_6956In the middle of my workouts I traveled back to Connecticut where I became an aunt and met my niece for the first time. During this time in my home state turned out I had mono… Anyway, when I saw her beautiful face and the cutest smile, she melted my heart. I felt that unconditional love again, and I started to feel alive as I was heading into August. I cannot even describe to you how callous I was prior to meeting her. It was instantaneous, I saw her face and my heart just filled up. She’s my best little buddy.

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Then in August I got the most amazing opportunity. To ride in the Cycle for Survival Times Square Takeover and tell my story on why Cycle for Survival is so important to me. Never in this lifetime did I think I would speak in the middle of Time Square! And as Fall approached, many of the first anniversaries were going to hit hard. But with the Time Square Takeover, I got to spend my wedding anniversary on a bike while raising funds and awareness for rare cancer research. The one thing that first gave my life purpose back in February. It was the most poetic way I could imagine spending George and my wedding anniversary.

10690080_685294978228734_1519184977747720339_nIMG_7729IMG_7751A week later I competed in my first triathlon with my good friend and work colleague. I finished second in my age group. But most importantly, I set a goal to finish under 3 hours, and I did. As I crossed the finish line, never did I think I would do a triathlon in less than a year after George passed, and I most certainly never thought I would actually enjoy every second of it!

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After the completion of the triathlon, my buddy and I decided to start training for a half marathon. I talked about wanting to do a half marathon when George was alive but never had the discipline or drive to train for one. But during the triathlon training, I realized the long runs, the biking helped me sort through my woes, grief, and strengthened me more than physically. I was becoming an entirely different person. Something I hoped for during my darkest days. I remember thinking I would love to be someone other than me in those first few weeks of widowhood. But now I had become someone that wasn’t me. I was a better version of myself. I was a person I know George would be so proud of, and when he catches glimpses of my accomplishments he knows that I’m a survivor. That I am strong and that I will flourish and thrive.

I did my first half marathon 2 days before George’s death anniversary, and then I did my second half marathon the day before George’s funeral anniversary. I’m still in disbelief that all this has been accomplished in just a year!

I talked about running a half marathon when he was alive, but never did. So doing the Philly Half Marathon was one of the most satisfying and euphoric days.

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You want to know what the greatest transformation is out of all of this? Yes, the physical transformation is apparent, but the emotional and mental one is what I reflect on the most. I remember so vividly how miserable I was a year ago at this time. I remember the hurt and the unforgiving jaws of grief. And today, I look back and holy shit, I cannot believe how far I’ve come. I have changed my ENTIRE life in a year. I did not allow his death to define who I am, instead I allowed his death to reshape me and push me forward to be better. To be the best person I can be. And I wish he was here to see this, but I’m also aware that if he were here, these changes would not exist. 2014, you started off as the most miserable year of my life, but ended as one of the most fulfilling. I’m going to obliterate 2015.

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Thanksgiving 2012

December 2013

December 2013

December 2014

December 2014

Best Anniversary Imaginable

I was dreading my one year anniversary. There was so many emotions that were swirling inside of me in the weeks leading up to it, but there was one event that I had my eye on; Times Square Takeover with Cycle For Survival. It was the second annual Times Square Takeover and it was such a coincidence that it fell on George and my one year anniversary. I love Cycle for Survival because I know where all the money raised goes, and it’s for a wonderful cause. All the money raised goes to further rare cancer research and clinical trials at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. It’s the hospital where George was being treated, and well, I want to raise money so hopefully they can find a way to cure George’s disease and another family doesn’t have to go through this miserable grief that cancer has given me.

I don’t want this post to sound like an advertisement but it’s just so important to me. Having an event like that suspends grief and the hurt for days, even weeks. There’s no bandage big enough to cover up my pain, but there is movements like Cycle for Survival that kills the pain for a bit. I went to NYC on Friday and two days later I’m still in awe of what happened, and how many strong and amazing people I got to meet. When I rode with my team in February I was so raw from George’s passing, but now I’m almost at the 10 months widowed, and it was an entirely different experience. In February I was just so broken, but now I’m kind of figuring out this new life and I know what works for my grief and what doesn’t. Exercise is the best remedy for me.

I got to meet the co-founder of Cycle For Survival, David Linn, and he gave me a bag of wild berry skittles which he read from my last post. I was so moved by the gesture, and if it was months ago I would have started crying, but then I just shined a big grin. It’s amazing the support that’s offered there. So many people who can relate to your situation in a way. I just love it.

I came away from my wedding anniversary with hope. I know I can go on, I know things will progressively get better, and I know there’s so much support out there. Most importantly, I feel like I have been given a purpose. Through George’s death there’s been horrible days, but there’s also been a balance of extraordinary days. I feel he’s watching over me and wants to see me succeed until we’re reunited. Because then I’ll have good stories to tell him about.

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Accomplishments

So 6 months ago, my life became very lonely and uncertain. Arguably it still is. The uncertainty of what my emotions and reactions still increasingly concerns me. Hence crippling anxiety, although it’s been better in the recent days. Last night I started thinking back about the past several months and was reading another widows cries for how she hasn’t been able to get her life back on track since her husband died in 2012. Sigh… I think my life is on some kind of track, but reading her grievances has me concerned that the worst has yet to come.

I do think a large part of the grieving process is to occupy your mind. To keep busy, so the claws don’t drag you back into a hole to leave you mangled and gasping for air. Here’s some of the things I’ve been able to do through the cloud of grief over the last 6 months.

  • Raised over $11,000 for Cycle for Survival to honor and ride for my beloved George
  • Attended a wedding
  • Travelled to California
  • Coached in a lacrosse recruiting showcase
  • Participated and attended the Super Bowl halftime show
  • Taught Circuit Training
  • Coached my lacrosse program to a 11-7 record
  • Discovered and continue to do SoulCycle
  • Lost over 5% body fat
  • Started Dating
  • Did 8 Polar Bear Swims
  • Attended a Broadway Musical
  • Attended a Basketball Game at Madison Square Garden
  • Attended two Big East Baseball Games
  • Watched one of my players be honored as NJ Female Athlete of the Year
  • Attended events at the National Arts Club
  • Moved to a new apartment
  • Started playing tennis regularly
  • Made new friends

These are just some of the thing I could think of right now. I know so much of it seems mundane, but grief is brutal. I’m in a good sense of mind right now, but by 2p I could be sitting in my office crying, that’s just the way it works. In December I would go into the office and just close my door, do work and cry. Now I’m outside playing basketball and tennis regularly with other coaches. I loved my old life. I wanted to spend a lifetime with George. But now I have a lifetime I HAVE TO LIVE without him. And I want to make sure that I’m actually living. I know that’s what he would want. He would want me to enjoy every day, even when I make bad decisions. Which does happen and I’ve omitted them off my list… Maybe they’re for another post.

I can’t believe it’s been 6 months. It really does feel like years ago was the last time I saw him.Image

Cycle for Survival

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Today, preparing for Cycle for Survival was very emotionally taxing. I kept thinking this is my time to finally honor George, but I couldn’t help but think this is my final goodbye to him. I’ve been pushing Cycle for Survival since a week after he died, and with the event finally here, what am I going to do? What else am I going to look forward to? It made me crazy this morning. I couldn’t stop crying because I didn’t want it to end, but I had been looking forward to it for so long. Luckily 2 of my close friends from home came out to breakfast with me and my worries floated away.

ImageWhen I got my bike assignment at the Equinox gym, I didn’t really think that much about it until I started really looking at the number. The picture I decided to put up on the dedication board was from one of our first dates and at the time I was 23 years old. The bike I was assigned was #23. Weird right? I loved every minute of today. From when I first arrived at Equinox to when it was time to leave. Being surrounded by those who are affected by cancer and understand the hardships that come with either battling it, conquering it, or losing someone to it, was possibly the most empowering experience I’ve ever had. I met a woman who lost her daughter to cancer and when she asked what I was riding for, I told her. She looked me square in the eyes and said, “it’s so unfair.” And you know what? It IS unfair! She then continued to tell me that I remind her of her son-in-law because he became a widower at such a young age too. But because I was there honoring George, it gives George the “ability to keep fighting even though he’s not around.” And when she told me that, it was a perspective I’ve never heard before. But that’s what Cycle for Survival is all about. Getting different results by doing unorthodox approaches. I hope the money raised goes to further treatments on liver cancers.Image

I rode along side with my team, and they once again left me in awe. I had 2 pictures I wanted to post on the dedication board, but they came out with dozens! I was so happy I grabbed a pair of sunglasses because when I finally had time to start reading what they wrote, I did start crying. It was so moving and lovely. I feel so unlucky lots of times, but when I’m with my team I cannot help but think luck was on my side when these 21 girls came into my life. I love their support and enthusiasm and I couldn’t imagine where I would be without it. I love my lacrosse team and all the strength they provide me with.

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Support leads to strength

Handsome and strong, still makes my heart flutter

Handsome and strong, still makes my heart flutter

I had a rough day at work but some things did bring a big smile to my face. Like finding the most awkward profile for one of my favorite admissions counselors, which he quickly had the school take down. I still find it hilarious and I’m so happy I saved it as a pdf. I’m going to talk about what I’m most appreciative about today.

 The biggest thing is that our practice gear is starting to trickle in and I’m always very excited to see how it turns out. It looks amazing this year. But there was a surprise with the gear; One of my players came to the office today with two shirts in tow. She handed one to my assistant and then to me. I unfolded it and I couldn’t believe my eyes. The sincerity, thoughtfulness, and love that was put into this surprise was astonishing. I looked up at her and she smiled and asked if I liked it. Wide eyed, I said “do I like it? I LOVE it!”photo-11

You see, my team made Cycle for Survival shirts for Team Kraynak. I thanked her repeatedly and it probably became annoying after the 15th time. A few minutes afterwards, another player came in and handed me an envelope and said to open it later. When she left, I opened it and to my surprise it was a personalized note thanking me for showing true strength during such a difficult time. I was choking back the tears. It is so incredible the support and love that I’ve been receiving from my team. Our school isn’t even back in session and I had 4 players visit today. I am just blown away with their recent gestures.

Before George died, I always reminded them how much I care about them individually and of course as a whole, and that I love them. My assistant and I finish our emails on occasion to the team saying, “with love, Coach” Even when they drive me insane, I care about the girls a lot and how they develop into adults and prepare for life after college. And I’m so thankful that they are reciprocating and care about how I will transition into this new era of life without George. I love my team, and their encouragement is my light during this dark time. I’m so proud of them and they will make me a better person and a better coach. And what’s humbling is, I don’t even think they even realize it.

Regaining strength, all I needed was a push

Regaining strength, all I needed was a push

Waging War

My mother drove me to the physicians office where I needed a consultation for a chronic injury I have. I thought it was officially over in August when it was last treated, but turned out it wasn’t. I walked into a room that had a dull yellowish hue, and I sat in the tan chair in the middle. There was a rectangular light, which looked like a robot head with a long neck, hanging above. A nurse followed me in and clicked the light on. She was trying to make small talk, but my attention and mind vanished the moment she pressed the button that automatically tilted the chair backwards. I stared up at the square tiled ceiling and I felt the warm tears stream down from the corner of my eyes. “Are you all right?” she asked. I nodded and bit my lip. Minutes later the doctor came in. He was sad to see me again, and wondered if I wanted to take care of the problem today. I said yes, and he guaranteed me that this procedure won’t cost anything additional. He kept saying how he wished the first procedure took, but sometimes these things happen. He rubbed the numbing gel on my skin. It was cold. I closed my eyes in anticipation for the pinch that usually follows.

I pictured my George when I closed my eyes, and how badly I wish he was there with me in the room. How badly I wished he was out in the waiting room ready to take me home, rather than my mom. The pinch was swift, but the pressure was deep and uncomfortable, like a sinus headache. I winced, and the doctor tapped my arm and said, “we’re all done. Not too bad, just annoying, I know.”

I thanked him and asked how his newborn is doing. He smiled and said “I’ll go get my phone to show you some pictures.” The nurse bandaged me up and the low hum of the chair tilted upwards back to the seated position. He came back and handed me 2 prescriptions, and then showed me some pictures of his new son. His son was so happy and had a great smile. I thanked him again and said his son was cute.

I walked through the dormitory like hallway that lead into the main lobby. My mom stood up when she saw me and I glanced down at the floor. The moment we walked out, I started bawling, wishing that George was there. She held me and kept saying “I know, I know.”

The one positive of today was I saw that on the Cycle for Survival community page they posted my story about George. My team also received a donation by the Coca-Cola Company because we were selected from this competition I participated in. We’re over our goal amount of money, but I want to try to reach $10,000. I don’t want another family to go through what I am. I don’t want another wife to have to watch her husband die in her living room. I don’t want another loved one be held hostage in their own skin while something inside them steals their life. I hate what cancer did to George and I hate how it has hijacked my life. Fight and destroy cancer.

I am strong.

http://mskcc.convio.net/goto/Team_GeorgeKraynak

“I will continue to wage war against cancer for George”

On November 25th my husband lost his 7 year battle to Fibrolamellar Carcinoma. On that day, the world lost a husband, a son, a brother, a uncle, a friend, a musician, a writer, a foodie, a comedian, a biker and much more. But what you can’t see is what everyone else around him lost. I lost more than just a companion and a best friend that day, I also lost the part of myself that I loved the most.

And this is why I will continue to wage war against cancer for George. I am riding on February 8th in Summit, NJ with the Drew University Women’s Lacrosse. As the hollowness inside me seems endless, my team has been my strength and light, and has shown me as a single group we are strong. Support me, and my team as we ride take part in Cycle for Survival.

– Julia S.