Ironman 70.3: a volunteer’s perspective

cropped-021.jpgHere on the island of Cozumel we have a lot of activities, but few are as exciting as the Ironman competitions.  Today we held the Ironman 70.3, which meant that thousands of spectators were able to watch the absolute best examples of athleticism.  There is, however, another side to Ironman, which includes some of the best examples of another kind, the volunteers who work behind the scenes.  This expat was given the privilege of joining that group today and I thought I’d give you a personal perspective and include a few pics.

But, before I get started with the inside scoop, let me give you a bit of information about this competition just in case030 you are not familiar with the details.  “An Ironman 70.3, also known as a Half Ironman, is one of a series of long distance triathlon races organized by the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC). The “70.3” refers to the total distance in miles (113.0 km) covered in the race, consisting of a 1.2-mile (1.9 km) swim, a 56-mile (90 km) bike ride, and a 13.1-mile (21.1 km) run. Each distance of the swim, bike, and run segments is half the distance of that segment in an Ironman triathlon.”  (Wikipedia)  As you can see from that definition, thanks to Wikipedia,  this is serious business and these athletes train for months (and, often, much, much longer)  to prepare.  And Cozumel, out of respect for their efforts, makes sure that each and every athlete is met at the finish line with whatever may be needed.  This is where the group of volunteers I was with came into play.

048The call for volunteers came out several weeks ago and then the assignments were determined.  I was put with the group that would work both at the finish line and in the medical tent.  So, at 9:00 a.m. I packed up my camera, tried to stuff everything I’d need otherwise into my pockets, and then walked down to the Palacio Municipal, 055which is where they were both located.  I wanted to get there early so I could take pictures.  For good reasons, there are no photos taken of athletes if they need medical assistance, so I focused on the other volunteers while everyone was setting up.  And, let me say here, thanks to all of you volunteers for taking the time to stop and let me snap your photos in the midst of all the chaos.

026Yes, there is a bit of chaos before the event.  Medical supplies of all kinds had to be brought into the tent and set up for049 later use.  In addition to that, we needed cots, blankets, coolers filled with ice, water, and Gatorade, t-shirts for the volunteers, chairs, name tags, clipboards, if you can think of it, we probably had it. In addition to those things, we had the people waiting to do their part, which included doctors, nurses, paramedics, massage therapists, security men, you name it, we had them too.  There was a lot of mulling around for brief periods of time while those with experience showed the rest of us what to do.   If you can picture several dozen folks with several dozen tasks you will understand.  But, there was a method to the madness and, somehow, it all came to make sense.

Once everything was setup, it was time for some further information and we stepped out of the tent to receive our instructions.  Now, to 085be quite honest, since I can only talk about my experience, I have to admit something.  An important question 031was asked early on during the briefing and that was  “okay, who can’t handle vomit?”  This expat had to hold up her hand (and with no embarrassment, I know my limits)  and I was immediately put into the group that would escort the athletes from the finish line to either the medical tent, or the recovery area.   Then, a bit later, the group I was placed with received further instructions.

As escorts, we were to greet the athletes as they finished, congratulate them, and then try to determine if they might need medical attention, or were able to just go on into the recovery area where they’d find refreshments and places to rest.  We were told to ask them their names, see if they were dizzy, or felt faint, check to see if they had an obvious injury etc.  If so, we would bring them to the doctor who stood outside the medical tent who would then take charge and 061evaluate the situation.  If they did need medical assistance they were then escorted into the medical tent.  If they were just exhausted (and who wouldn’t be?) we would point them in the direction of the recovery tent and then return for the next one.  However, often, if an athlete remained a bit wobbly, we’d personally escort them all the way into the recovery tent and then hand them off to the next group of volunteers who would keep a further eye on them.   Did it always work like a well-oiled machine?  Actually, most of the time it did just that.  Let me tell you, I was impressed.

Now, for those of you who live on the island now, or just visited, you know we’ve had some rain.  And, by some rain, I mean that many of us have been looking for both Noah and his Ark.  Although today began with blue skies and sunshine, the skies did what we’ve come to 059expect lately, they opened up.  Now, for those of us who were overly optimistic and didn’t bring raincoats, garbage bags were provided with the holes cut out.  How fun!  I can only imagine what we looked like, but it had 087to be a sight.  At one point I was asked to look for a gentleman in the audience.  His son was in the medical tent and it was thought to be a good idea to find his dad. Sounds like a simple task, yes?  But, try and picture the reactions I received when I approached the different bandstands that held loads of people.  I’m dressed in a garbage bag, my hair was soaked, my pants were hanging (which caused me to need to yank them up every two seconds) my shoes squeaked, and I’m simply yelling a name into the crowds.  But, and here’s where it gets good, not only did people take me seriously, they began to help by continuing the yell of his name.  Lo and behold, he heard it and showed up.  We have some great people.

Well, the last of the athletes came in by 3:00, or so, and it was time for the escort volunteers to call it a day.  I said my goodbyes, packed my 079camera up in a plastic bag, and started the walk home.  The rain was still coming down, and the streets were a bit waterlogged, but I was just tired enough to not give a damn (I can’t even imagine how the athletes felt, wow). 068 But, by then all I wanted was to say hello to my pups, get a cup of hot coffee, put my feet up, and write this all down.  It was a great experience and one I won’t easily forget, which is a good thing since the full Ironman competition will be held December 1st, 2013 and, yes,  I plan to be at that one too.   If you’ve never seen one, let me suggest that you come on down.  It will be an experience of a lifetime for you as well.    Salud!

p.s. Hats off to all those volunteers who braved the weather to make sure the Ironman athletes received the best of care.   You did a good thing today, kudos to you all!

Learning About Personal Safety……………

photoSo, there I was, sitting on the wall along Melgar, (the main drag here on Cozumel), taking a few pictures of  boats.   Just having a nice day, sipping some coffee and minding my own business when along came some teens looking for some trouble.  First one demanded a cigarette, but I said, “no.”  Then another demanded money.  Again I said, “no.”  But, then the the third one leaned over from his bicycle and said, “f*#k you, puta.”  That was when I stood up and something about my face must have told them that I’d had enough.  They took off, and they took off fast.  But, still it bothered me, it bothered me a lot.  Were they career criminals?  Absolutely not.  Was it an earth shattering event?   Of course not, but I’ve had a couple of experiences over the past six years that weren’t pleasant, to say the least,  and I was done.  I got back home and posted what had happened on a local neighborhood watch site we have and the responses were immediate.  A few suggestions were made, some other comments followed, and, after one thing led to another, the topic turned to “what can we do to keep ourselves safe?”  Next thing I knew an expat, a retired police officer, stepped forward and offered to teach us some safety tips.  Then another expat stepped forward and began to organize the event.  Yep, we are a proactive bunch and we act quickly.  In fact, we just had that class today and I thought I’d take a few moments and share some of what was taught.

1The class was held at Woody’s, a popular local hangout located in el centro.  It is owned and run by Nelly, a great lady who, as she’s done before, immediately wanted to help and agreed to open 2up her backroom for the class.  I’d had a chance to talk with her a little while before everyone arrived and learned that her husband has been having some health issues.  But, she still managed to be bright and cheery, welcoming us in, making sure we all had what we needed before she headed back home to spend time with him.  And, yes, that’s her on the right.

Already in the room was our instructor for the class, Rick Schwend, and his sweet looking wife, Tracey; that’s them on the left.  Now, I say sweet looking because once the class started and we got to see how well she knows 3how to take care of herself, well, let’s just say I wouldn’t want to try and mug her.  In her case, looks can truly be deceiving.  Once the others arrived, and there were ten of us today, Rick introduced himself and gave us some of his history.  It turns out that not only was Rick a police officer in Texas for fourteen years, but he also has had much experience  teaching “Crime Prevention” classes within many environments and received training on the subject from both the CIA and the FBI.   In fact, he’s logged 3,500 hours of training both personally and within classrooms.  With that said, I think we all felt he was qualified for the task at hand.

Now, let me back up a second.  Before class began, and when I’d first walked into the room, Rick told me to remember that I was an ‘A.’  Okay, not sure what that meant, but I noticed he told others as they were arriving that they were either an ‘A’ too, or that they were a ‘B.’  After his introduction he explained what he meant.  Those of us who were an ‘A’ were basically announcing to the world, “please, take my stuff.”  Whereas those with the ‘B’ were basically saying, “hell no.”  Let me mention that this was the first time I ever got an ‘A’ I wasn’t proud of, but it explained a lot.  Rick went on to talk about our lack of awareness of our surroundings and our easygoing mannerisms.  Apparently, he and his wife had intentionally arrived early to watch us come in and, unfortunately, most of us didn’t do too well.

Then he began to demonstrate better ways for us to hold our purses and our backpacks (I’ll get to those in a moment).  His strongest recommendation, however,  was to not carry purses etc.  at all, if possible.  He suggested we try and carry just a wallet with copies, not the originals, of all our important identification, a little money, local store cards, and only one credit card.  The class had officially begun.

Now, to get back to the purses and backpacks, if we must have them, that is.  And, this is where I want to mention two things.  He gave great demonstrations with the help of his wife, Tracey.  However, my camera has been causing me problems so pictures involving any movement will not be clear.  I’ll try and work around that.  The second thing I want to mention is that Rick’s voice could be heard in Cleveland, it’s just that loud.  How I know that I’ll also get to in a second.  So, before I digress any further, back to the purses.

It was explained that purses should always be held on the side away from the street, and kept close to our bodies.  They should never be hung on the hooks that restaurants provide, and not kept on the floor, or on the 4back of our chairs.   Backpacks should be worn in front, not in the back when both walking and riding a bike.  And purses should never dangle when riding a bike.  If one has a basket on the bike, have a lid, or let it be visible that your things are tied down.  But, then, when the question of whether or not a purse should be strung cross body came up, he and Tracey stood up and gave us a demonstration of how dangerous that can be.  Who knew?  Tracey put the purse on the shoulder so it went from the one side to the other and Rick immediately grabbed the top of the purse and made a restraint out of it.  A mugger could easily get more than the purse.  The point was made.

Next he talked about how we carry ourselves.  We should always walk upright, look people in the eyes, and let folks know that we see them.  This, of course, is contrary to anything I’d ever learned while living in New York City where looking someone in the eyes could be considered a challenge.  He also suggested that if we pass a group of folks, or a single person, who looks suspicious that we should go ahead and pass them, but then stop, turn around, and look behind us.  Also, it was made clear that if we feel we are being followed,  use evasive actions.  Go into a store, for example, and wait them out, if necessary.  Stop into a restaurant and get a cup of coffee.  Rick also took time to stress the importance of avoiding patterns of behavior.  Take different routes if you go to the same place daily.  Go different times, if possible.  In other words, since criminals will often watch their victims for a while, make it confusing enough that they won’t find you an easy target and will move on.

5Next, both Rick and Tracey gave some demonstrations of what to do if someone got too close.  And, again, I apologize for the fuzzy shots, but I still think you’ll get the point.  Rick stood behind Tracey and grabbed her from behind, but Tracey immediately “collapsed” to the floor to get away from his grip.   Next Rick grabbed her from behind again, but this time his wife threw herself backwards and, basically, slammed Rick into 6the wall.  And, then, Rick gave us a demonstration of a simple technique that was funny to watch, very loud on the ears, but highly effective.  I almost want someone to try something so I can do this, almost.  Here’s how it went.

Rick played the victim and Tracey played the mugger.  She went to grab his purse and Rick yelled “you want to take my purse?  I can’t believe you are trying to take my purse.  You really think you’re going to get my purse?”  While he was yelling he was standing with his legs a bit wide while facing her and his arms were stretched out with his hands open wide as well.  He showed us that, with the yelling,  the element of surprise might just be all that one would need, but, just in case, his hands were in the perfect position to smack the crap out of the criminal.  I liked that technique.  I liked that one a lot, but if I had the power of Rick’s voice, I’d never worry again.  Wow.

But, another wow was coming.   Remember when I said how sweet Tracey looks?  Well, I will reiterate when I say, I almost feel bad for the person who attempts to rob her.  When asked how far one should go when defending themselves Tracey made it clear that we should do what we can to not be victimized.   It turns out that they share the opinion that our personal safety should be our first concern and to react without hesitation.   Rick also emphasized that the old “kick in the groin” will often prove ineffective, but a wide hand slap will both startle and hurt.   And, they both made a point of emphasizing that one should never take a step backwards when confronted by a situation.  A step backwards is a form of admitting defeat whereas standing one’s ground might just cause the criminal to think twice about continuing his/her actions.  Lots to think about.

At that point class was about over, but I think we were all feeling a bit more empowered.  It managed to be both 7fun and enlightening and I’m glad I attended.  We spent a few more minutes asking a few questions and then we all applauded both Rick and Tracey for the class.  Kudos to them for taking the time to help the rest of us to feel safer.  And, did I learn anything?  Well,  I noticed that I was a lot more aware of folks I passed while coming home.  I made sure I looked them in the eyes, nodded, and kept going.  I also made sure to glance around before I unlocked my gate, and I’d worn my backpack with all the pockets on the inside.   Now, I’m not going to stroll back alleys at midnight, but I think I’ll feel better about myself when I do go out.  And, that’s the whole point, isn’t it?    Salud!

p.s. Thank you Rick and Tracey for an excellent class.  Thank you Nelly for opening up a room for us at Woody’s. (And I hope your husband feels better soon).  Thank you, Paula, for your organizational skills.  And, thank you to the other attendees for making it such a good class.  We have some good folks here!

It was time to get pampered……..

10the dayThe last few months here on the island of Cozumel have been everything one should expect from a tropical island in the summer, hell-fire hot and sweaty-faced humid.   However, being that we’re on an island, there is also an easy solution; head to the ocean.  So, that’s what I’ve done.  In fact, I’ve learned to love the sport of snorkeling so much that I just might need an intervention.  But, it’s a healthy habit, one of the few I have, so no need to gather the folks together just yet.  Still, now that the long days are about over I noticed that I was looking a little, shall we say, frazzled and fried.  It was time to try and replenish so I started to keep an eye out for ideas on our local forums and FB pages.  Since I’m not one to spend money too often on the extras  (this expat is living on a teacher’s pension)  I wanted to make sure I went where folks came out happy.  It didn’t take long before I saw some great recommendations and I made a couple of appointments to help bring back, well, me.

The first place I headed to was Salon Cielo.   It’s a lovely little salon located on calle 7 between Melgar and 5th ave., and it is owned and run by a very nice woman,DSCF6599 Teresa Williams.  That’s her posing bravely for me and my camera in the pic on your left  (with backlighting, yikes).  Teresa is originally from Texas, but she has lived on the island for 7 years now and, as is often the case with many of the expats, has DSCF6596not looked back.  The salon has now been open for a year now and I am thinking it is going to continue to do well.  She has quite the selection of services including all manners of hair care, manicures, and pedicures.  But, since I’d decided that it was time to start embracing the island fashion of flip-flops, it was a pedicure I was after.  I was nervous, however, because I’d not had one in a very long time.   Nothing to worry about though, Teresa was a champ.  She managed to do the job quickly and painlessly and my feet haven’t looked this good in a long time.  And, she did it for a great price, which always makes me even happier.  You can check out her Facebook page Salon Cielo (Cozumel) to see what else she offers.

DSCF6594After she was finished I did my thing and asked if I could take some pics and get some information for my blog.  She graciously said, “okay,”DSCF6600 and I started to snap a few pictures of the little things she has that makes her salon special.  An art nouveau lamp over here, a scale model of a cutter ship over there.  I am always impressed with those little things that we find in our local businesses.  Those extra touches that make them seem so special.  Folks like Teresa really take pride in their ambiance and we also seem to attract an artistic and creative bunch here on Cozumel.  It’s just one of the things that makes this island special!

Next I was off to get a facial to try and undo at least a little of the damage I’d inflicted on my skin over the past DSCF7141few months.  Again I relied upon a glowing recommendation I saw on a local FB page (I’ll list local forums where I go for information at the bottom of this piece).  According to Laura, the place to go for a facial was Cozumel Relaxing Skin Care (check out her Facebook page), which is owned and run by Erika Armas.  It is located at the corner of 11 sur and 65, and it is inside the same offices as MediDental offices, which is the sign you see from the street.  But, as soon as you walk inside you will see a short hallway and Erika’s skin care and massage business is down on your left.  And, yes, she also does massages, something I now can highly recommend.

DSCF7120Before I get to my facial and massage, however, let me introduce Erika.  That’s her on the left.  She and her husband, Carlos Cocom (a local fiberglass artist), are long time residents of the island.  Although she is originally from Mexico City, she decided to make Cozumel her home over a dozen years ago.  A licensed masseuse she is now licensed in skin care as well and decided to combine her areas of interest.  And, she is quite proud that she uses only natural, and organic, products for both practices.  Once she’d had me fill out a bit of paperwork, talked with me about what I was looking for, we got started.  I was taken into one of her rooms where she gave me a robe, turned on some creative lamps for ambiance, and told me to just lay down and relax.

Within a few minutes I could smell something really nice (turned out to be lavender oil) and she started to workDSCF7129 DSCF7123on my face.  We were going for the deep cleansing and moisturizing mask, but I wasn’t prepared for the nicest facial massage I think I’ve ever had.  After a while of that she got down to the business of a mask.  it seemed to take layers of creams, cloths, and mud, but I just focused on the soft music that was playing.  Oh, and, yep, that’s me on the right.  I’d asked Erika if she could take a picture of me while under the stuff and she happily obliged.

All in all it took about an hour and a half for the facial.  But, since Erika doesn’t believe in wasting time, I also got a great arm, hand, leg, and foot massage.  Then, after we were finished, we began to chat a bit and she told me a little bit about her husband, Carlos Cocom.  He’s a local artist who specializes in fiberglass and has exhibited his worksDSCF7139 in the Cozumel Museum located on Melgar.  The conch shell lamp you see on the right is one of his pieces, but she also showed me some things from his FB page Fiberglass Fantasies and I’d like to pass along the information to you.  If you like creative artwork, you might want to take a peek.  He’s good.

So, I have pretty toes, glowing skin, and am about as relaxed as I can be.  Not a bad way to end the summer, yes?   And I got to meet even more great people along the way.  I’m not sure what I did, but it must have been something good.  Salud!

p.s. I don’t intend to promote, and I never receive compensation, but I do like sharing good experiences………..

and, don’t forget, I have the last in my “Gettin’ Cozy in Cozumel” series coming up and will be focusing on a great villa just around the corner from me………..

Finally, we have some great places to get info about Cozumel.  I’d like to recommend the Facebook page Cozumel 4 You and a local online forum called Cozumel My Cozumel………..both are chock full of information and helpful people ready to answer your questions………………….

The Chrysalis Experience


Well, the long, hot summer is just about over on the island of Cozumel, which means that the kids here, like just about everywhere else, are heading back to school.  But, some of these kids have a distinct advantage in spite of some dire circumstances.  They are working with a great bunch of volunteers who want nothing more than to see them succeed.   I’m talking about the organization called the “Cozumel Chrysalis Group” and I thought I’d take a moment to introduce this worthy cause to you.  I will also include some photos, but you just might notice that there aren’t any pics of plaintive children posing for the camera.  That was a stipulation that the members of the organization felt was important to help protect their anonymity and I find that refreshing.  But, even without those kinds of pictures, I think you’ll  be able to get a glimpse into the workings of this great organization, and I did include a few fun shots of their volunteer activities that are necessary to help raise funding.

bI’d first heard about Chrysalis from a fellow “mermaid,” although I realize that might need an1a explanation.  Here on the island there is a group of women who get together three mornings a week to start their days by taking to the ocean.  You can see a few of the gals in the pic on your right.  We meet at the Blue Angel Resort, talk about the stuff going on in our lives, put on snorkeling gear, and then we swim our hearts out.  Not a bad start to the day, let me assure you.  One of these nice ladies is Sally Hurwitch (that’s her with the lovely white hair in the pic on your left) and it was through her that I first learned about the organization.  After talking with her a while I became curious and was wondering if they would allow me to write about them for this blog.   I asked, she answered, and then Sally was gracious enough to agree to meet with me for breakfast and give me a little history.

kChrysalis was founded in 1995.  Its ongoing mission is simple:  assist children from low income families with educationalj costs.  At that time (1995) they were working with just ten children in that first year, which is already quite noteworthy.    However, now this group assists over 300 students per year with school related needs such as:  shoes, uniforms, school supplies, and backpacks.   The students who participate often begin as early as the second grade and they can continue with the program (as long as they reapply each year) all the way through high school.

fHere’s how it works, and, let me tell you, it is quite the process.   First, applications are filled out by the students in the Chrysalis Office in May.  The volunteers are there to help the kids, and, if the student gets stuck on a question, the parents can help as well, but only if they get stuck.   It is preferred that the student do the work to help encourage participation and a sense of independence.   The next step is when the children return in June to see if they made the list.  The volunteers will have already reviewed all applications and will have the results by the end of the first week in June.  If they did make it on the list, the students will return e again in July to pick up their “tickets” along with their school supplies.   Now, those “tickets” will enable them to pick up their shoes at Tres Hermanos,  the fabric for their uniforms at Central de Telas and, finally, a polo shirt embroidered with their school’s logo from Espacio Diseno;  three great stores that participate with this program.  It’s important to note that no money whatsoever changes  hands between Chrysalis and the student, or their family.  In fact, since Chrysalis also pays one semester’s tuition for high school students each year, that fee is paid directly to the schools, never to the family.

iNow, this is probably a good time to mention that the volunteers will have also gone to a couple of schools to get an idea of the needs for each grade level, guess work is not part of this process.  And the supplies needed can vary from school to school and, sometimes, from teacher to teacher, but Chrysalis does their best to cover the needs of each student.  Once they have that information those volunteers will collect the donated gbackpacks from the designated drop-off points, pick up the necessary school supplies, and then put together those packets (in an assembly line format)  for the kids based on their grade level.   At this point, once all that is completed, is when the kids come back to the center, meet with the volunteers, and pick up their packets.   But, even with all that I’ve included here, I have a feeling I may well have missed a few of the details.  Please check out their link for further information.  This really is quite the cooperative affair and it involves many hours put in by a dedicated, and seemingly tireless, group of good folks.

Now, I’d like to tell you that everyone is accepted since so many meet the requirements, but there is, at this time, a nfar greater need than there are resources.  But, as I’d mentioned, this year there are over 300 students who will be able to attend their schools with the supplies, and confidence, necessary to start off on the right track.   However, since the ongoing need is so great, theym rely on a combination of both private donations and public fund raising events.   Since they are a registered, and totally non-profit, charitable group, all donations are tax deductible in Mexico.  But, they also accept monies from both tourists and locals alike and they have come up with some fun ways to raise those monies.  Just one of those is through the art of face painting and  I was able to get a few shots of their booth at the 4th of July festivities held at Punta Langosta this year.  Here you can see Sally working her magic on a little girl in the pic on your right, and on another volunteer for Chrysalis, Myrna.  Oh, and Myrna also happens to be one of the founders of the mermaids I talked about.  We intermingle a lot, it’s an island thing.

oWell, I thought I’d bring this to a close by putting up a picture I took of some of the kids going through their packets outside the Chrysalis office.  Their enthusiasm was contagious, but it took some patience to get a shot of them without showing their faces, let me tell you.  They kept turning around and giving me big smiles.  It was heartwarming.

I’d also like to mention that you, too, can help, and it would be greatly appreciated by all the hard working members of the Chrysalis family and the many students that they assist.  All year long, Chrysalis accepts and stores donations of both backpacks and school supplies.   And, as far as funding, it is only through the generosity of donors that this program is possible.  This is a group dthat does such good work and it would be so nice to see even more kids be able to benefit.  I’ll include a link below where you can donate funds, or get further information, but I’d also like to mention that, when you visit Cozumel, you can help out quite a bit if you’d bring the kids some backpacks and/or school supplies.   And, if you’d like, you can contact Sally, or any of the other members of Chrysalis, to arrange a tour through one of the schools so you can see for yourself all the good work that is being done here on the island.

We really do live in paradise, but it’s often one that we help to create.  Salud!

p.s. here is a  link for further info and ways to help…………..

And, finally, let me include a note I received from Sally Hurwitch in response to this blog:

“We have a great team!  I’m not doing this by myself!

Patricia Molina Tavares
Lucila Tavares Ramos
Myrna Cleghorn

We also get help from Lucila’s group of scouts (both boys and girls) and from the volunteers who are available whenever I call.”