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Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Altitude Attitude

Two weeks ago I travelled to Albuquerque, New Mexico for the USA Indoor Track Championships. I was thrilled to compete since a month or two ago this meet was not even on my schedule. Indoor track, after all, is usually just a tune-up for the outdoor season. Not only that, but Albuquerque's altitude is a mile high, so racing a mile is a lot tougher with less oxygen!
But after my season was going so well, Coach Gags and I figured why not give USA's a shot, after all, the top 2 finishers make the world team and anything is possible.
Once I decided to compete I was really excited and full of confidence that I actually had a shot at making a team. But just a few days before I was scheduled to fly I started feeling ill and suddenly the whole trip was in jeopardy. It was frustrating, because these big races only come every year or two, and getting sick between the two biggest races of my season (Millrose and USAs) seemed to be the worst possible timing. Luckily, after sleeping 11+ hours for a few days I started feeling better and hopped on the plane to New Mexico.

During the long flight my stomach churned, but I just kept telling myself to think positive, that it was probably just turbulence and not to worry how I felt since the race was still a few days away. As we prepared for landing and I looked out the window I couldn't help but smile as breathtaking mountains peaked into view. This was my third trip to Albuquerque,  since my Aunt and Uncle live there, but the first time I went there to race. I've always loved the area. People complain that its a boring city of desert and cactus, but its probably one of the coolest places I've been. With the mountains, cliffs, mesas and desert there are actually a lot of awesome things to do and see. This trip, however, was mostly business. Short and sweet, I was here to COMPETE.

My first few runs I definitely felt the altitude, but kept telling myself it didn't matter. Even though I don't train at altitude or sleep in an altitude tent I figured there was nothing I could do. I reminded myself that you can't change the conditions, only your attitude.

You're attitude can have such a profound effect on how you live your life. Just like I talked about the importance of confidence in my last blog, a good attitude is also essential to happiness and success. There are a lot of people in the world who appear to be smart, athletic, or gifted in many ways, but deep down they are lacking one thing: a positive attitude. Without a positive attitude, all of your skills, talents and hard work are going to waste. Imagine an iceberg. The tiny tip of the iceberg that floats above the water represents these talents and skills, but the gigantic chunk of ice that is hidden below sea level represents your attitude. Your attitude is like a secret weapon, unknown and hidden to others, it is actually more powerful than all of the talent or skills you possess.

Going into my race at USA's I decided to focus on my attitude rather than the conditions. By the time race-day came I was feeling good physically and mentally. I was ready to just go out there and have fun on the track. Then as I was headed to the track I became aware that there was a lot more on the line than just a simple race.The day before Gabe Grunewald had won the women's 3000m but after a protest she was disqualified for contact with another runner. In championship races, pushing, shoving, banging elbows and clipping other runners' heels is a normal part of the race. Obviously intentional and overly aggressive behavior can result in a DQ, but it rarely happens. In Gabe's case, nearly everyone who had seen the race or watched video footage agreed that there was no basis for a valid DQ. Instead, there were rumors that corporate pressure caused the USATF to change their initial decision (which was that there was no foul contact) and suddenly she was DQ'd. Its sad, because a sport as simple as running should never be tarnished by the overwhelming power of a certain sponsor, coach or governing body. I can't imagine what it feels like to win a USA Championship only to have it taken away when 90% of the public disagree. Although it must have hurt, and Gabe could have easily given up on the matter, instead she took something positive away tweeting that...

This quote is such a wonderful example of what it means to have positive faith. Instead of asking "Why would you allow this, God?" when something goes wrong, we need to be able to accept challenges knowing that God doesn't give us anything we cannot handle. If he puts us in a difficult place we can be sure that he thinks of us as a strong enough soldier to get through the fight.

As my race, the women's 1500m approached, there was a lot of talk about how we could "fight" this corruption. There was talk about a protest, but Gabe met with those of us racing the 1500m and told us she didn't want any of us jeopardizing our own races for hers. Instead, we all agreed to just go out there and race hard, and that's what we did.

I got out hard and put myself in position to be within reach of the top two spots. I felt surprisingly good given the altitude, and with a lap to go I was in third place trying hard to gain just one more spot. Unfortunately, I didn't have it in me that day, and ended up finishing 4th overall and collapsing after the finish. Normally I never run to the point of lying down and refusing to get up...I guess that's what altitude feels like! I couldn't lay for long, however, because several of us women decided to hold hands as we walked off the track as a sort of silent protest in honor of Gabe and her unfair treatment.

Sometimes the best way to keep sport pure is to just go out there and be a good example. Even when cheating or scandal tarnishes sport there are always athletes out there doing things the right way. It's a shame to see our sport get some negative light lately between this incident, along with recent episodes of athletes getting caught using performance enhancing drugs. However, I think the best way to bring out the positive aspect of our sport is to keep encouraging athletes to compete fair and eventually the good shines through.

After my race, I felt sick to my stomach, but I knew that feeling couldn't have been as bad as the feeling of finding out you're disqualified. Still, it was the first time I've felt so sick I literally couldn't finish my cool down. Although I wish I'd run a second faster (which, now that Mary Cain dropped out of the World Championships, a second was all it would have taken for me to make the World team!) I was still happy with my first pro indoor track season, especially after I puked my guts out on the cooldown. I figured that was a sign I ran "all-out."

The next day I was supposed to leave Albuquerque early in the morning, however when I got to the airport I was informed my flight had been mis-scheduled for the wrong month! Luckily, I'm not the kind of person to freak out in these situations. Instead, I kept a positive attitude and said, "You know what, I have no reason to rush back to New Jersey so why not stay a few more days and get in some more warm weather and altitude training?" It seemed crazy, but I have family in the area, and I was able to visit my college friend Violah, so it worked out perfectly. Getting to run in shorts and a tank top and run on some of the most beautiful, scenic mountain trails made me so glad I decided to take this unplanned "mini vacation." Sometimes things happen for a reason, after all.

Later that day we found out that the protest against Gabe had been dropped and she was restated as the 3000m champion. Although the experience of being crowned champion, having it taken away and then being re-crowned the winner must have been emotionally exhausting, like all things I believe it happened for a reason. Maybe it was to shed light on an issue that needs to be resolved. It's amazing how many people stepped up and decided to take action. Hopefully something positive will come out of this whole event.
Sometimes in life you can't change your conditions (racing at altitude you just have to deal with it). Sometimes you have to fight for change (fighting an unfair disqualification). Sometimes you just have to laugh at poor conditions, considering them unforeseen opportunities (mis-scheduled flights can mean awesome unplanned vacations!) In all of these situations, one thing is for sure, you have to stay positive! Just like the cactus (or cacti?) that fill the desert plains of Albuquerque, there are two parts: the thorns and the flowers. Instead of focusing on the thorns in life, take in the flowers, and think positive :)

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."   -Philippians 4:8

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Confidence is Key

Benjamin Franklin once said, “You can do anything you set your mind to.” Napoleon Bonaparte said the word “impossible” wasn’t in his dictionary. Philippians 4:13 says, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”

Inspiring words, aren’t they? But how many people really think they can do anything? I’m going to take a stab at it and guess zero. So are these words nothing but a false promise? And if not, then what are we all missing?

Confidence; if you don’t have it, you can’t do it.

Reflecting on the past few weeks I realize I have a lot of catching up to do, and so many things to write about. But if there’s one thing that sums up the lessons I’ve been learning lately, it’s that confidence is key.

At the beginning of the month I made my indoor track debut with a 3000m in Seattle: home of Oiselle HQ. I was a little nervous, as usual before any "first race," but thankfully Oiselle had some fun activities for us which kept our minds preoccupied.

My first lesson in confidence came from the team photoshoot we participated in along with the other Oiselle runners from “Project Little Wing.” I’d never done one before, and couldn’t even remember posing in front of a white screen since I was a toddler (Even my Prom and Senior pictures were taken in my front yard!). Naturally, I was a little anxious about it, and as I watched the other girls go before me I wondered how I would ever know if I was making the right face or pose without being able to see myself. Once I accepted that this wasn’t a posed “selfie,” I realized there was only one thing I could do: act confident.

When you act confident, you can have more fun! Modeling beside Lauren Fleshman, (who I formerly only knew as the girl on a poster on my wall) was a lot less nerve-racking when I decided to just act confident and have fun with it all. It ended up being an awesome experience, and I loved how we were able to just be ourselves, dance around, and have fun with it. On top of that, I was pleased to learn that Oiselle uses all un-touched photos for their website. Nowadays the media’s portrayal of beauty is all a fake, photo-shopped world. To be confident also means being comfortable with your body and not trying to be someone you’re not. Lauren Fleshman actually wrote a great article (Read it here) on the impact social media has had on how we view beauty. She even challenges you to post an unflattering, un-edited photo to twitter with #keeping it real

Lesson two came when I went with the whole Oiselle HQ crew to do yoga at Jasyoga. Erin, our instructor, led us through a series of relaxing poses while telling us to focus our thoughts on one of our goals. When you think about that goal, she said to focus on the feeling you will have when you achieve that goal. For me, that feeling is confidence. I came out of yoga feeling refreshed and ready for my race, and the next day I carried that confidence with me right onto the starting line.

From the moment the gun went off to when I crossed the finish line in a 10+ second PR, I just kept focused on that calm, confident feeling. It was such an awesome experience getting to race in front of so many Oiselle super-fans. They made me feel as if they were a special part of my own team. That showed me something else about confidence: it often comes from those around you. I can’t emphasize how important it is to surround yourself with caring and supporting people in your life. No matter what your goals or dreams are, find the people who believe in you and pay no attention to the ones who say you “can’t.”

My dad always used to tell me that can’t isn’t a word. It might be the best advice I’ve ever heard, yet I hated when he would say that. As I said in the beginning, no one actually believes they can always do everything, right? The week following Seattle I certainly didn’t.

I returned to New Jersey expecting to go back to work and get caught up on real life. Instead, “real life” hit me in the face like a cold-hard snowball. After being gone a month-and-a-half my car battery was dead, not to mention it was snowed in and the roads weren’t plowed. I was unable to get any hours in at work, let alone get anywhere. There I was, without a running car, running out of money, running on the dreaded treadmill and surviving on canned foods. I broke down. I called my dad. I cried. But worst of all, I used the dreaded word that apparently isn’t a word; can't. Until now I’d been so fortunate and my past few weeks in Texas were a worry free runner's heaven. But suddenly everything seemed to be going wrong, and I told my dad, “I can’t deal with all of this.” He didn’t take that well, and kept the conversation very “matter-of-fact.” I was angry, unhappy, and especially concerned since that was minutes before I had to leave for my next race in Boston.

Luckily, I'm not the kind of person to dwell on an emotion. After the four-hour drive to Boston I put my complaints behind me and regained confidence and focus for my race. I wasn't expecting it to be a huge race. Having Kate Grace as our pacer, and teammates Lauren Penney, Nichole Schappert and Ashley Higginson beside me on the starting line made it feel just like a practice. The gun went off and I positioned myself comfortably behind Kate and before I knew it we were over halfway done and she stepped off the track as I took the lead. Those last few laps, all I was thinking was, "just don't slow down!" Then when I saw there were only 2 laps to go I almost didn't believe my eyes. It wasn't that I actually miscounted, I just felt so comfortable I couldn't believe there were only 400m left. As I crossed the line in 4:26 I once again didn't believe my eyes. I knew I was fit, but there's nothing like the gratification of seeing all of your hard work pay off big time. All of the sudden things went from "falling apart" to "falling into place," in just under 4-and-a-half minutes.

It's funny how quickly your perspective can change in a matter of minutes or days. Just after my big PR in Boston I received the news that one of my high school cross country teammates had died after being hit by a car while simply walking across the street. I couldn't believe it. Such a tragic reminder that life is short so you have to make the most of everyday. (James 4:14 "Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.") As I returned to N.J. filled with confidence from my race, I was also stressed about issues that a few days ago seemed, "too big to tackle." But as I thought about life and how short it really can be, I felt foolish for ever complaining, for ever telling myself, "I can't" in the first place. 

That's when I started thinking about the verse Philippians 4:13: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." When you study this verse in context, you'll find that Paul was teaching us that we can have confidence in Christ no matter what the situation. Confidence, not in our own power, or that we can do anything we want, but rather, confidence in Christ that we can always be content. Philippians 4:12 reads, "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want."

Confidence doesn't come from always winning, having the most wealth or being perfect. No one is perfect, only God is perfect. When we put our confidence in him, then we (God+us) can do anything. This kind of confidence is faith.

A week after Boston I ran the Mile at the Millrose Games. Unfortunately, it didn't go at all as planned. If there's one place where the word "can't" should be allowed, it's in the age-old saying, "You can't change the past." That being said, life is short, and you CAN change your future. Now I'm looking ahead to this weekend's USA Indoor Championships. I know where my confidence lies and I'm so thankful for another big racing opportunity. As always, I run for Christ #irun4Christ 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Is Slow the New Fast?

Which is better, being fast or slow? The answer is obvious, right? Even the little kids on the AT&T commercials will tell you, "FAST!" Why?... 

...they have a point, being fast has many benefits, especially when it comes to running races. As a professional runner, I train hard every day to get faster but even when I’m not running I try to live a lifestyle that will help me stay on top of my game. The ironic thing is, that lifestyle ends up consisting of quite the opposite: slowing down.
These last few weeks I've spent training in San Antonio, TX have made me realize the value of being able to slow down and relax. For some, living the "eat-sleep-run" lifestyle would seem boring, and after three weeks of it they'd be dying for something else such as normal job, or a booming social life, but not me. I realize I'm a very relaxed person by nature and I've finally accepted that it can be a good thing.

People have always told me that I am slow at everything but running. I hated to admit it, but they’re right. I need a good hour every morning to make coffee, eat breakfast and read. Back in school I was always last to finish an exam, or get ready for practice, and when it comes to driving, people honk at me and are probably surprised to find I'm not a 90-year-old-woman despite how slow I drive!
I know its not the greatest trait to publicly announce, but its a simple fact that being slow is a part of who I am, ahem, WinSLOW is my name, after all. 

I used to feel embarrassed for being such a slow-poke. I've tried to change, to be that person who can juggle a million tasks at once, or arrive 15 minutes early every time, but its just not me. Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I like being lazy, or that I deserve to never work a day in my life. I've just begun to realize after spending a few weeks away from the "busy life," that there's something of value in learning how to slow down now and then.

The problem is that we don’t live in a world where “slow” is acceptable.  Fast food, 4G, Instagram and Instant Lottery are just a few things that prove that no one can seem to wait for anything these days. Not only are we impatient, we try to cram more and more into our over-booked schedules thinking this will lead to more success.

However, that’s not always the case. As I’ve learned over my years as a runner, rest is almost as important as the workout itself. When you run a killer workout you’re actually breaking down your muscles, but when you rest is when they recover and grow stronger. You cannot train hard every day or you’ll crash. Well, the truth is life works very much the same. Too much work, a fast paced life, and no break means eventually you’ll crash, and that’s why learning to “slow down” can be a good thing.

 Recently I read a sermon about the negative effects of living this fast-paced lifestyle.  We fail to notice the little everyday blessings when we rush through life. Always being in a rush also leads to the loss of creativity. Think about any great movie that has been quickly followed by its sequel. The sequel is never as good as the original partially because its rushed into production without as much creative planning. Also, when we live a contsant fast-paced lifestyle its harder to hear God speaking to us. When God created the world he did it in 6 days, and purposely devoted the 7th day to rest. Somewhere along the way this entire day has dwindled down to maybe an hour or less for most people.

For me, I've realized the last of these couldn't be more true. When life gets busy often the first thing I cut back on is my time spent in prayer, at church, or even simple silence and meditation. These things are so important, and yet week after week it’s easy to keep putting other things in my schedule instead.
And so, if there's one thing I'd like to take away from my "spring training" trip in Texas, its to remember to make time for rest, relaxation and most importantly time for God.

Warm and snuggly pre-photoshoot
This weekend I travelled to Seattle to race a 3k at the University of Washington Indoor Invite. I'm super psyched for my first pro Indoor race, and also so excited because Seattle is home base for Oiselle Headquarters

Since we arrived we've already done so many fun things with the all the folks at Oiselle, including a photoshoot, and time at HQ (More details later). We also had a relaxing restoration session of yoga with Jasyoga where I was yet again reminded how important it is to refocus the mind and #HITRESET. 

As I prep for my race, I'm trying to stay relaxed until it's time to line up and unleash my energy. Learning the art of relaxation is key to training, but now its time to get back into "fast-mode." After all, the kids on the AT&T commercials also have said that, "If you're fast...they put your face on a cereal box, but if you're slow...they put your face on a can of corn." --I don't know about you but I'd much prefer cereal ;)

Monday, January 13, 2014

Sunny San Antonio

This past month I haven't spend more than a week in one city or state until now. After a busy, but blessed Christmas break, I've finally enjoyed a week of relaxation and warm weather in San Antonio, Texas where I am spending a month to train with several of my teammates. At first our trip was off to a rough start when Lauren Penney and I were delayed four hours in Newark only to find out our flight was cancelled and we had no bags for three days! The earliest flight to reschedule was Monday evening, but that flight was also delayed, so I missed FSU’s entire BCS Championship victory. At first I was pretty annoyed at all of this, but then I remembered my New Year's resolution is to be more positive, so I kept reminding myself how lucky I am to be on this trip.

We (Lauren, Kate, Ashley, Liam, and I) have ourselves a house in what the locals call “hill country” and after a few days of running here I completely understand the name. They say everything is bigger in Texas, and the hills are no exception. Thursday's easy run turned into more of a hike than run because of how steep and rocky it was, but so far its been fun exploring. The landscape is so different, but beautiful, and its made me realize how important it is to switch up your routine now and then so that you don't start feeling stale. Although the beginning of the week was below 40 degrees, its finally warming up to the kind of winter weather I'd been spoiled with over the years in Florida. I went from wearing gloves on my first run here to swimming in an outdoor pool a few days later!

The one thing I'm not used to (besides the plethora of pickup trucks and cowboy boots) is the idea of being on a trip with a group of runners but not having a race this weekend. Its kind of nice not being nervous all of the time and being able to enjoy TexMex instead of pre-race pasta every night. Its also motivating to be able to finally train all-out with no other obligations. At first it seemed like I was going to have too much down time, but I'm quickly realizing that its not as much as I thought. Since the whole reason I'm here is to get in good training, I've been spending my time outside of running on massage, physical therapy, crosstraining, weight training, core, stretching, and last but not least, resting.
Yep, surprising as it seems, half of the key to being a successful runner is learning how to let yourself recover and have patience. You can't go all-out everyday and train 24/7, so in our downtime we've all enjoyed plenty of Netflix, reading, napping, trips to the coffee shop, coffee naps, and finally watching the Golden Globes which made me realize I have seen hardly any TV shows or movies which brings me right back to Netflix! 

Since we came all the way to Texas, we also don't want to spend all of our time in front of the TV, and are hoping to soak up some sun and get to do a few "touristy things" (like check out the Alamo). This past weekend we took a fun trip into Austin where we met up with some of the FloTrack guys who showed us around and led us to the best Mexican food I've had yet (fish fajitas!) Lauren, Kate and I walked down South Congress and went to Jo's coffee where we met up with Sara Stevens, a Oiselle rep, and her daughter. I had my first "Frito Pie" or at least I thought it was a first until I realized it was a bowl of Frito corn chips with taco toppings, which was actually a common Winslow-Family dinner on camping trips all through my childhood. Brought back good memories! 
Afterwards we took pics by the famous "i love you so much" mural, then headed down to the river for a few running action shots for Oiselle.
The next day I got to see the river path which was literally flooded with people. It was nice to get a bit of "flat" running, but too many people for me!
Now we're back in San Antonio, ready for another week of HARD WORK. I'm excited to see what this month of intense, uninterrupted training will do for my upcoming races. I'm also glad I have this time to relax, reflect, refocus and rejuvenate. Like I said in my last post, I want to make sure I keep running fun (keep "funning") and being here with my teammates is definitely helping me find that balance. Especially since we started a little light-hearted competition with another group of Oiselle professional runners (Project Little Wing) which you can follow along with on Twitter (#springtraining, #SanAntraining).
My other resolution is to continue to use my running journey as a way to share my faith and glorify the Lord. That being said, I think the words that are most encouraging to me right now come from Colossians 3:23, "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ." 
To me, this verse is a good reminder to always work hard in life. Not just at running, and not just when you're on a training trip. Not just when others are watching, or when it is to your own benefit. Right now, things are going pretty good here in Texas, but I know a lot of people out there aren't able to take a month off of work to train, or escape the winter snow. I've been there, and I know this time of year can be tough; for the serious runners, those who resolved to hit the gym more often but are hitting their first slump, or the millions of people who are back to their 9-5 office jobs already looking forward to their next vacation--this verse is for you. It's not always easy finding the motivation to keep up the hard work, but when you're living your life for God and have the perspective of eternity in mind, there's always a reason to stay motivated and keep working hard.
So that's my little lesson for the week: It's time to WORK HARD, but have FUN, remember to have PATIENCE, which will lead to PERSEVERANCE! 

Sunday, January 5, 2014


There's nothing quite like the beginning of a new year; feelings of excitement, rejuvenation, and anticipation. This year, when the clock struck midnight I was full of these emotions as I blasted off the starting line of the NYRR Midnight Run in NYC. As I stared ahead at a starry sky filled with a magnificent fireworks display, I thanked God as I thought back to 2013 and its many blessings. Here were some highlights and things God showed me:

March: I learned to take chances and that "Faith rules over superstition" (Runner up in the Indoor Mile)

April: I learned that "Every Teammate Counts" After going 1-2-3 in the 5k we still narrowly missed the team ACC title, but teammates mean more than trophies...

...once a teammate, forever teammates! So blessed to have these ladies around to laugh with one minute and push me to a new 1500 PR the next! (Payton Jordan Invite, 4:10 PR)

June: "I learned to "Cherish every moment!" even the simple things like running pain-free (Last NCAA Meet)
August: "Hard Work Pays Off..." (Graduated with my B.S. in Sport Management)
October: "...And when it does, remember to thank those who helped you get there" (NCAA Woman of the Year Awards with my biggest supporters!)
Finally, my dream from 10 years ago came true, I turned Pro in the sport I love to do!
So there I was, racing through the dark in Central Park, so happy to be there representing Oiselle and NJNYTC, and I was giddy just thinking about all of the new goals and dreams I have yet to chase! 2013 was full of blessings, but there were also many struggles I was only able to overcome by relying on my faith, family and friends.
Looking ahead, I know there will be more battles to face, but I know with a strong faith and a positive attitude I believe anything is possible!

It was an incredibly fun New Year's Eve race, running through flashing lights, large crazy crowds full of people in costumes such as Scooby Doo and the Flinstones, and of course the 20 minutes of booming fireworks. As I made the last sharp turn and sprinted through the tape I was happy to start the New Year off with my first pro racing win. But it wasnt the prize money and peanuts (thanks to Emerald Nuts I have several months supply!) that made the evening so special; it was being able to have so much fun doing what I love, make new friends, spend time with my fiancé and with several former teammates who were visiting and ran the race as well. It wasn't your typical way for a bunch of 20-something year-olds to celebrate the New Year, but we all agreed that despite frozen forearms it was the most fun New Years we've had.
Without running, I never would have ended up in NYC on NYE, in fact, I wouldn't be living in NJ, have seen all the cities I've travelled to race in, or done half the things I've done! I'm so thankful for this sport and what its brought me so far, and excited to see what another year brings.
But the truth is its not the running I'm thankful for, its the God who gave me the talent and told me to use it for his glory. And so, that's why "I'm not running for a win," I'm not running just for trophies or money or to do cool things like spend NYE in NYC, but to use running as a way to share my faith and use what running gives me to give back.
And so, to wrap it up, here are my 2014 New Years Resolutions:
1. To be more positive and keep running fun (or should I say funning?)
 2. To volunteer more
3. To procrastinate less (shoulda posted this Blog days ago...oops!)
4. To not worry, because #iLackNothing
5. To continually find ways I can become a better runner and not dwell on, or waste my time with anything that holds me back.

Happy New Year!