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The world right now is buzzing with Michael Phelps mania. And why shouldn’t we be? The man has just tied Mark Spitz’s standing record of 7 gold medals in one Olympics for largest gold medal haul by ANY Olympian EVER. And better yet, tomorrow he has a shot at marking his name at the top of the record books as the most winningest Olympian of all time if he can accomplish the unthinkable. Win one more race for an 8th straight gold medal. NBC interviewed both Phelps and Spitz this evening after Michael’s seventh title, and it occurred to me just how much I appreciate when the Olympics rolls around this time every two years (if you include the Winter Olympics as well). So without further ado, I’d like to present today’s Simplest Pleasures, Olympic style…

GOLD MEDAL: It is a pleasure to watch and support athletes who win with grace and humility.

Michael Phelps has won 7 gold medals, and during his interview on NBC this evening, he repeatedly spoke of feeling “honored” and “blessed” to be given “such an opportunity” to build and use his swimming talents. He thanked Mark Spitz for setting such high standards which gave him the personal motivation to reach higher to go after a record 8 medals. He often said he was “speechless,” and resorted back to portraying himself as a regular guy who “dreamed big.” After every race he retained his emotions and did not cause a scene, though he certainly deserved to, and looked up to the stands to his mother, siblings, and coaches as though each win was for them. He always congratulates his competitors and respects their talents as much as his own. This is the type of athlete who makes sports worth watching and is worthy of being looked up to as a role model by the younger generation.

SILVER MEDAL: The Olympic athletes teach us that no matter what, a positive, focused mind can always push the body just a little bit farther and harder than it was ever expected to go.

After their assistant coach’s father-in-law was killed in a freak accident outside of the Olympic village, the U.S. men’s volleyball team have every reason to waiver. However, they have held strong so far in the face of adversity; going undefeated into their last game of tournament play before starting the final rounds that could lead them to the gold medal.

The U.S. gymnasts finished second behind a perfect Chinese women’s team in the team competition a few nights ago with several girls pushing through injury to help the team capture a silver medal. Media called it a “disappointing” second place finish while the team saw it as a victory and celebrated their strong accomplishment. A night later, two of their top competitors went 1-2 to capture a gold and silver medal in the all-around competition proving to the world that the Chinese could be beat.

It is unheard of for a country to sweep the medal stand in any event. Yet, the U.S. women early on in these Olympic games proved that it can be done after capturing all three medals in the Women’s Fencing competition.

BRONZE MEDAL: The Olympics is a time when we can all reminisce of the best career highlights in our own lives.

Remember back to the time when you won a medal or ribbon in track and field day at school, at a local art competition, or for a recipe you sent into a local newspaper contest. Think about when you crossed the line first in your age class at a local road race, bench pressed more than you ever have at the gym, read a series of books in record time, or outperformed your coworkers on a project at work. We each have our own talents and have let them shine at some time or another in our lives. By watching the Olympians at their best, it helps the rest of us to remember that we’re each a winner in our own way.

It is a perfect evening for fishing. The water is calm and clear with only the occasional ripple brought on by the late afternoon breeze. The air crisp and cool; temperatures hovering just below 70 without an ounce of humidity in the air. We glide swiftly over the glass-like water until we round the bend and decelerate rapidly. We maneuver the boat into a quiet little cover where sunlight is blocked by the shadows of large birch trees with leaves overhanging the coastline. Taking our positions on the boat, we grab our poles and cast the lines holding rubbery, fake worms into the waters below.

We are always on a mission when we go out on our boat; to catch and release the biggest bass possible. But the scenery never ceases to amaze me. I end up spending a large amount of my time sightseeing our surroundings as I deftly cast over and over again. I notice how a large collection of weedy plants along the coastline resemble a larger version of green onions. They have white shoots at the bottom; held-fast with long roots into the mucky sand beneath them. They shoot large green stalks up into the air at least 3 or 4 feet high. As we troll around another bend, we stop in front of a large array of lily pads. The beauty and colors is nothing short of one of Monet’s famous paintings. There are roughly 100 green lily pads clustered together; some of their edges overlapping. Pinkish-white flowers top a few, swaying gently in the breeze. Behind the pads, lined rows of those tall green onion plants and brown cattails. Swimming in a line, weaving in out of the stalks, is a family of little brown ducks. They appear to be searching for food, or at the least, playing follow the leader.

My sightseeing comes to a quick end when I feel a pull on the end of my line. I reel the line in just a little, and sure enough meet resistance. Pulling back hard on the line, I set the hook and begin a mad dash to reel the line in as quickly as possible. The fish on the other end is having nothing of this; he is fighting for dear life and making my life hard by trying to make a run down to the bottom of the lake. I turn the crank with all my might and manage to get the fish up near the surface. My husband drops his pole and comes running to the back of the boat. We both stare in awe as the fish comes into view; it is a large four pound bass with a giant white gleaming belly; his green scales shimmer like sequins under the setting sun. I manage to pull him in close to the boat; my husband ready to pull him out of the water with his bare hands when “snap!” The line breaks. Just as quickly as I had him, my beautiful bass is gone, free to resume his life of roaming the depths for food. I can’t get his image out of my mind; the colors and strength in such a small creature become a sharp reminder: always give respect to your competitor no matter what the competition.

Today’s simplest pleasures:

1.) Boating can be a relaxing way to observe and enjoy an aquatic environment.

2.) Fishing is a sport that can be enjoyed by young, old, novice, and advanced. It is a great way to share summer experiences with families and friends alike.

3.) The excitement and adrenaline rush produced by catching a big fish on the end of your line is equivalent to almost any other sport out there.

4.) When fishing, give respect to your competitor on the other end of the line. Always catch and release to help prevent the body of water from being depleted of its natural level of habitants.

Saturday morning I awoke to a hot and humid day and decided to head out on my usual “long” run. I was shooting for close to an hour of running, and I knew it was going to be tough thanks to the recent demise of my Ipod. It met it’s untimely, watery death in a toilet bowl up at my in-laws’ cottage during vacation about a month ago. I tried Ipod CPR and every remedy I knew on it. I quickly dried it off with a towel and set it out to dry. When that didn’t work, I tried wrapping it in newspaper hoping the paper would absorb the excess water. Then, I stuffed it into a box of rice for 3 days as a last resort. When it STILL wouldn’t turn on, I knew I was doomed. I would have to continue my workouts, for now, music-less until the next Ipod sale came around.

My husband first bought me the Ipod as a gift about 2 years ago on my birthday. As a high school and collegiate runner, I always used to train with a teammate or more, so I never needed the motivation or music to keep my mind occupied. Once I left school and resorted to a lifetime of training alone, he thought it would be nice to have some music to help me get through my workouts. The Ipod became an instant hit; I couldn’t remember how I’d ever lived without it! Every run seemed to fly by, and I was no longer interrupted during my gym sessions by random talkers in the weight room thanks to the earphones crammed in my ears. I guess people decide to leave you alone once they realize you can’t hear what they’re gabbing about.

When the Ipod hit the toilet water, you can imagine how upset I was. How was I going to make it through those long runs alone ? How was I going to face the gym with all of those people who wanted to distract me from my workout with their constant stories about proper lifting technique and protein powders? It was a dark day indeed. Until last Saturday when I headed out for my first hour run without my Ipod.

As I headed down the street, instead of starting my run like I was a horse being shot out of gate at the Kentucky Derby, I actually started somewhat slowly and eased into the run. Without the adrenaline flowing through my body from Linkin Park yelling in my ears, I actually listened and gave it the proper warm up it desired. Feeling the pavement beneath my feet, each muscle and tendon below my waist stretched and awakened. Breathing deeply, I filled my lungs to capacity with the fresh air. As my run progressed, I realized I was paying more attention to my surroundings than I had in awhile. All of my senses became re-awakened. I could hear birds chirping songs in the tree branches above me. I could hear the perfect rhythm of my breathing as I took each step. I could see the beautiful, perfect rows of tall, green cornstalks as I ran past a farmer’s fields. I could smell the earthy scents of dirt and freshly mowed grass. I could taste the saltiness of my own sweat as it beaded down my face and collected on my lip.

Once I neared the last mile of my run, the feeling of lactic acid and fatigue started to settle into my well worn muscles. Instead of forcing every last ounce of energy out of my body, as I often did when I was attached to the Ipod, I listened to my body. Slowly, I eased off the accelerator and allowed my legs to relax and enjoy the last five minutes on the road. The last few steps home, I finished feeling strong rather than completely worn and beaten. The run had a story; a beginning, a middle, and an end. All the runs I had with my Ipod were rushed and fast. My mood was upbeat after realizing not only had I completed the run without the Ipod, I had actually enjoyed it! Dare I say I may have even enjoyed it more?

It has been a month since I accidentally killed my Ipod. I always thought I’d go right out and purchase another one as soon as I had the money to do so. Now that I’ve seen what my body and mind can do without the music though, I am hesitant to return to technology as a motivator. There are definitely days when I wish I had it there to help me through a tough run or as a distraction to keep my mind off of the physical fatigue. Yet, I realize without the Ipod there to distract me, I am enjoying the journey of my workouts more than just the end.

Today’s simplest pleasures:

1.) Never look at a workout as something to “just get through.” Feel blessed and proud that you have a strong body; enjoy every step that it takes you.

2.) Every so often, detach yourself from the headphones. By working out sans music, I guarantee your senses will be heightened; giving you more awareness of both your body and your surroundings.

3.) Every workout should have a beginning (warm up), a middle (steady to hard), and an end (cool down). It helps to break up the monotony of working out at one speed every day and prevents injury in the long run.

It’s been said that baseball is America’s pastime. I did not always understand this phrase, because I didn’t grow up watching it even though I did play little league softball for a number of years. Then my husband stepped into the picture a few years ago and changed all of that. He is a HUGE baseball fan and especially loves watching the Detroit Tigers. My world was turned upside down. I found myself in love with a man who loved a sport like it was his own brother. Of course I knew the basic rules, but I just didn’t get it. What is the infatuation with this sport? WHY is it America’s pastime? I soon learned the answer to these questions.

On our first date, we attended a minor league baseball game. We mostly talked during the game, and I was so interested in this man, I remember very little of the game or my surroundings. A year later, the Tigers were making a comeback out of the basement of their division, and my husband (still boyfriend at that time) proposed we get tickets and head to Detroit for a game. We made the journey across state, and the day turned into one I shall not soon forget.

After parking our car, we had to walk roughly a mile to the ballpark. We were surrounded by opposing fans; some wearing Tigers hats and jerseys, and some wearing Red Sox attire. We rounded a corner and I had my first glimpses of the stadium. It was huge! Two concrete carved Tigers greeted us at the entrance. Once through the gates, there were people streaming in various directions. I could vaguely hear an announcer overhead on the PA system. We walked the concourse and passed a variety of vendors selling souvenirs, cold beverages, peanuts, popcorn, and the famous ballpark hotdogs. I don’t even LIKE hotdogs, and these dogs smelled unbelievable!

We found our seats just before the game began, and I couldn’t help but take in my surroundings. There were people filling the stands as far as the eye could see. The sun was shining overhead making the green grass in the outfield shimmer in the heat. The infield dirt was finely raked; the chalk lines perfect. Watching these athletes up close and personal was completely different than anything I had ever seen on TV. You could hear them talking, calling for the ball before they caught it. You could see their sweat and pain. Most importantly; you could feel the excitement in the air being surrounded by this crowd of fans. Every play caused a reaction. A good pitch lead to clapping. A quick double play meant more clapping plus whistling. A home-run brought the crowd to its feet. It was truly an awe-inspiring sight, and I loved being a part of it all.

Being at the park that day, I realized why baseball is the American pastime. It brings people together to cheer for their team. Baseball is more than just a sport; it is a tradition that has brought friends and families together for years. Ever since I stepped into the stadium of my first Major League Baseball game, I feel changed. I can never look at it as I once did, just a sport. To me, it’s a beautiful display of sights, sounds, tastes; and feelings that touch all the senses. I can remember different images from every game I’ve been to, and they will flood my mind every time I sit down to watch a game with the ones I love.

Today’s simplest pleasures:

1.) There is so much more to baseball than just the game.

2.) Baseball (or any sport) can be a good opportunity to share time with loved ones.

The alarm went off at 6:00am. There were two choices of course; sleep in for another hour since it was going to be a long 12 hour day of work and computer training or get up and go for a run. I knew if I slept in, I’d be full throttle all day taking care of others with no time for myself, so I decided to go pound the pavement and spend the only 1/2 hour of my day alone with myself.

I live in a city, so all of my runs consist of sidewalks, crosswalks, and dodging traffic. I did manage to find a nearby park only a mile from home and it has become one of my most favorite escapes from the city noise. As soon as I enter the gate to the park, the sounds disappear, and I am surrounded by nothing but trees and wildlife.

I wasn’t even a half-mile into my first loop of the mile course when I spotted a breathtaking site. Standing on the trail mere yards ahead of me were two baby fawn, not any bigger than Golden Retrievers. They quickly bounded, white tails flashing, into the woods off to my right. I hadn’t stopped running, and my gaze followed them. There standing in the brush just barely hidden by the tree-line was their mom, a big beautiful Doe. I couldn’t help but smile; here I am in the city yet I felt so far away at that very moment.

I finished up my run and went home to stretch. It wasn’t my fastest run by any means; I didn’t set any records or keep track of my pace. But the serenity and sense of accomplishment I felt lasted with me through my day. Seeing the deer wasn’t a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but the sights and sounds I encounter every time I enter that park make it worth lacing up my shoes on a regular basis.

Today’s simplest pleasures:

1.) There is nothing else like the endorphin rush and sense of accomplishment you feel after completing a run or hard workout.

2.) Get away from the city; visit a local park or nature preserve whenever you can. It will make you appreciate nature and this world we live in so much more.

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