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Rocky Kees

First (and Last) Trail Race

Last weekend, I did my first – and last – trail race.

This is my friend Kolby doing the same race I didn't finish. - still smiling at Mile 11.

This is my friend Kolby doing the same race I didn’t finish – still smiling at Mile 11.

To date, I’ve completed five half marathons (road races), and I was looking for something different to change it up a bit. Plus, one of my personal goals is to get more dirty, so the idea of running along dirt trails and through streams seemed like something I’d enjoy. Years ago, I did the Phoenix Summit Challenge – seven mountains in one day – so I have some experience doing speed work on trails. I figured this would be more of the same, just a little bit faster.

I was wrong.

I signed up for the Xterra Black Canyon trail race – a half marathon just north of Phoenix. The finish line is right next to the Rock Springs Café, one of the most popular pie shops in Arizona. We parked at the finish line and buses drove us into the desert to the starting line. I was excited to tackle this new challenge, but that excitement vanished in the first mile when I rolled my ankle.

I knew it the moment it happened. There weren’t any pops or snaps; I felt the ligaments in my right ankle stretch like a rubber band pulled to its limits. I kept running, hoping the pain would dissipate in a few minutes. That hope turned into anger with every step as the pain persisted. There were only four aid stations in this race. Thankfully the first one was at Mile 2. As I rested for a few minutes, I told the volunteer I was injured. He told me they could get me out and that there was another jeep at the next aid station.

I didn’t want to end my race at Mile 2. I got up before dawn and drove an hour to do a trail race, damn it!

Knowing that the next aid station was only 2 miles away, I pushed on – sometimes walking, sometimes jogging. I was so pissed – angry that I wouldn’t be able to finish the race and angry that I was injured. I warned the runners around me, “I’m going to scream. I promise it’s not about you.” And I proceeded to scream and curse for the next 2 miles whenever my frustration bubbled over.

My ankle hurt with each step. Despite the pain, I considered finishing the race. Then, I remembered something Rocky told me years ago. He reminded me not to kill myself while I was training when the goal was a bigger event. This was supposed to be a fun race, and I had other things on the horizon where I needed my foot to work. So, at the next aid station, I dropped out of the race and hitched a ride back to the finish line with the volunteers. By the way, riding on a bumpy road with a swollen ankle is not fun either.

I have no intention of doing another trail race. It’s too bad I don’t like trail races – everyone I know who does them, loves them. I’ll stick to running on the road and hiking in the mountains – once my ankle heals.

It’s been a week since the injury, and I can walk again, but my ankle still hurts. I hope I’ll be pain-free and running again in another week.

Top 10 Bonus Skills from being a Gymnast

Although I was a gymnast for seventeen years, I haven’t done anything harder than a handstand without the assistance of a trampoline for at least the last five. Nevertheless, there are certain skills you develop as a gymnast that stay with you for life. Here are the top ten:

Beautiful Erika with a Sunset, used with permission

Beautiful Erika with a Sunset, used with permission

Beach Handstand 2008

I Try to do a Handstand every Place I Visit

  1. How to wash your hair with one hand because it hurts like hell to get shampoo in a rip.
  2. How to change leotards in a parking lot without committing indecent exposure because the line for the bathroom at the meet was too long, also how to pee without taking off your leotard.
  3. How to turn your hair into cement with the right combination of hair products where you can take the rubber band out of your hair and still have a ponytail, also how to cut tiny rubber bands out of your hair without cutting your hair along with it.
  4. How to shave your legs, arm pits, and bikini line in thirty seconds in a shower of any size
  5. How to pick up clothing, pencils, etc. with your toes.
  6. How to flush toilets and open doors with your feet – yay for flexibility!
  7. How to do read and write in the car without getting carsick – because the car ride to/from practice was your only time to get homework done.
  8. How to sleep and do homework while in the splits or otherwise bent in half.
  9. How to ride public transportation without having to hold on anything without losing your balance.
  10. How to eat a full meal before working out and not have any issues.

By far, the best skill that comes from being a gymnast is the ability to focus, compartmentalize, and stay determined. I’ve heard from several former gymnasts that being in this sport gave them the ability to work through physical and emotional pain and “go on with the show” when they’d rather curl up and cry. As my coach, Rocky, used to say, “It’s only hard.”

Once a gymnast, always a gymnast. It’s been over a decade since my last competition and I love that some people can tell I was gymnast by the way I walk and carry myself. Gymnastics is more than a sport; it’s a way of life.

Undeniable Recap of 2013

It’s been an incredible year. I’ve had so many things happen that I had to start keeping notes months ago to keep up with all the awesome things that were happening – personally and professionally.  It’s really hard to pare the list of top events from the year down to the top five but here goes.

1. Seeing my Gymnastics Family at Rocky’s Memorial.  I had a lot of achievements this year, but by far the best day was hanging out with my teammates and coaches from my gymnastics days. I hadn’t seen some of these people in 20 years and it was like no time had passed. It’s unfortunate that it took the death of my coach and mentor, Rocky Kees, to bring us together again.

REG-Reunion

2. Speaking at SXSW.  I was shocked when I saw that I made the list of people who were invited to speak at South by Southwest this year. Over 4400 applications were submitted for 450 slots. I had a blast in Austin at the conference and just taking in the city. Doing my talk on copyright in digital media was an incredible but so was meeting Improv Everywhere’s founder Charlie Todd (and doing the MP3 Experiment with his crew) and running into/inviting myself to coffee with three of the captains from Deadliest Catch.

3. Book Contracts with the American Bar Association.  It was a very busy year of writing. I signed contracts to write two books for the ABA – Flash Mob Law and The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers – so I basically was brainstorming and writing from mid-February until mid-August. And then my publisher asked for a rewrite one of my manuscripts in October so that was another two weeks of whirlwind writing. Flash Mob Law was released in July and The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers is due out in February 2014. I’m really pleased with these books.

4. Minimalism Project.  I was inspired to clean out my life this year – to go through everything I own and get rid of the things I don’t use and don’t add value to my life. Since I started this project, I got rid of at least a quarter of my wardrobe, cleaned out my files and memory boxes, and I’m in the process of downsizing my Star Trek collection. I feel much more clear-headed when my surroundings are simple and uncluttered. I plan to maintain my minimalistic perspective when it comes to bringing new things into my life and continue to regularly examine my life to make sure I’m only keeping useful things around me.

5. Carter Law Firm went Brick and Mortar.  One of the last significant things I did this year was sign the lease for my law firm’s first brick and mortar office. It’s an office space with seven offices – all attorneys – who share a receptionist. Almost everyone is a solo practitioner. I’ve only been there about a month but it’s been great so far. I love that Rosie gets to come to work with me.

International Go Topless Day by Sheila Dee from Flickr (used with permission)

International Go Topless Day by Sheila Dee from Flickr (used with permission)

Firsts in 2013
First trip to Austin
First mission with Improv Everywhere
First time running with a headlamp
First bike ride with my iPod
First Go Topless Day Protest
First road trip with Rosie
First trip to the Google ‘Plex
First bad bike accident – flipped over my bike’s handlebars
First ASU tailgate party
First Arizona State Fair, including a first ride on the Zipper
First trip to Ford Theater
First ASU football game in Sun Devil Stadium
First night parade
First Phoestivus – with airing of grievances
First office space
First ASTYM
First dry needling
Food Firsts: bacon maple bar, hush puppy, brownie in a mug, fish tacos, scrapple, hot pot

Ruth & CharlieCelebrity Sightings in 2013
Best-selling author Gary Vaynerchuk
Captain Keith Colburn from Deadliest Catch
Captain Jonathan Hillstrand from Deadliest Catch
Captain Sig Hansen from Deadliest Catch
Improv Everywhere founder Charlie Todd
Bully Director Lee Hirsch
Dr. Drew Pinsky

In Memoriam
Rev. Charlie Coppinger
Jerry Grucky
Rocky Kees

Memorial Tattoo for Rocky

Rocky Kees (December 20, 1949 - August 14, 2013)

Rocky Kees (December 20, 1949 – August 14, 2013)

As you know, my gymnastics coach and mentor of 24 years – Rocky – died earlier this year. Shortly after he passed away, I started thinking about whether I wanted to get a memorial tattoo in his honor. Surprisingly, I’m still leaning towards “no,” but I’m entertaining the thought process.

I had a conversation with Rocky’s daughter and my teammates about some of the imagery that we associate with Rocky. This list we came up with definitely showed what a unique and special guy he was:

  • Leg warmers (that he would wear over his sweatpants)
  • Coffee in his left hand, cigarette in his right
  • Baby duck (his nickname for a lot of us)
  • Altoids (that he would eat 6 at a time)
  • Dancing – he was always dancing

And there are the great lines he gave us:

  • “Get a helmet.”
  • “Turn the page.”
  • “It’s only hard.”
  • “Do what you know how to do.”

The hard thing about picking a tattoo is it’s challenging to capture a feeling in an image. What I loved most about Rocky wasn’t the way he looked like or what he said, but how I felt when I was around him. He knew how to make everyone feel special. When you were talking with him, you knew that he genuinely cared about how the topic affected you. We talked for hours and I always felt that unconditional positive regard from him. How do I put that into a tattoo?

I recently saw a video from best-selling sci-fi author Scott Sigler. He’s an incredible guy with a loyal fan base (called Junkies). These guys love his work so much they get tattoos of images from his book. (If you get a Sigler tattoo, he’ll write you into one of his books.) Two of his fans have had Scott sign their skin with a Sharpie and they immediately got it tattooed into their bodies. It’s pretty cool actually.

Rocky SignatureThis got me thinking – I have Rocky’s signature. My gym did a big annual show and I had my coaches and teammates sign my program each year. I could, if I wanted a memorial tattoo, get his signature inked into my skin. He had such a profound influence on my life that it would be an appropriate way to honor him. Like an artist gets to sign their paintings, it wouldn’t be weird to say Rocky get to claim his impact on me, and so many other people.

So where would I put it? Probably on the back of my left leg, just above my ankle. Rocky always had my back and usually stood just over my left shoulder so it would be sweet to put his name on my left side.

I would probably add “1949-2013” beneath it so anyone who saw it would know it’s a memorial tattoo, not a love interest. We’ll see if I get the sign that I’m supposed to get this.

In Memoriam: Rocky Kees (1949-2013)

I want my friends in my life. Because someday we’re gonna wake up, and we’re gonna find that someone is missing from this circle. And on that day, we’re gonna mourn. And we shouldn’t have to mourn alone.

-Chief Miles O’Brien from “The Sound of Her Voice,” Star Trek: Deep Space Nine

That day I’ve been dreading has come – Rocky Kees – my gymnastics coach, mentor, and friend of 24 years passed away last week. He was an absolutely incredible person who brought out the best in everyone around him. Rocky made your feel special and respected in every situation (which is an incredible gift when you work with teenage girls). He was the kind of guy you could hang out with for hours and just listen to him tell stories.

Rocky Kees (December 20, 1949 - August 14, 2013)

Rocky Kees
(December 20, 1949 – August 14, 2013)

Rocky scared me when I first met him. He was tall with long thin limbs but his bicep bulged out like a softball when he flexed. He had sunken eyes and thick glasses that made him pretty foreboding to 10 year-old me. And he pushed us to our limits – in a lovingly way. I never trained harder than when I was with Rocky. At first I hated it but I came to love it. He brought out the best in us and there was an incredible sense of security when it came to working with him. If he said you could do something, you knew you could do it. He had a wonderful calming effect on me.

For years, if you were looking for me, the best course of action was to scan the room for him, go over about two feet and look down. That’s where you’d usually find me. At the end of practice every night, Rocky was usually outside chatting with parents with his coffee in his left hand and a cigarette in his right. I liked to pad outside, velcro myself to his left side (so he wouldn’t ash on me), and wrap my arms around his middle. He would look down to make sure it was me but keep talking without breaking his cadence. When there was a natural break in the conversation he’d look down and say something like “How’s it going Baby Duck?”

He called lots of us “Baby Duck” (apparently it’s a movie reference) but it was fitting for me. I followed him around constantly, happy to share his company and glean whatever gems I could from him. Rocky shared so many lessons that applied to life as much as to gymnastics. Here are some of the ones that have been going through my mind for the last few days.

  • Life’s tough. Get a helmet.
  • Dump the cement bag and climb the ladder. (Translation: don’t make things harder than they need to be.)
  • Do what you know how to do.

There are so many Rocky lessons I use in my everyday life. They’ve gotten me through law school, training for half marathons, and challenges in my professional and personal life. In so many ways he’s become the voice in my head, always guiding me in the right direction. Even when he wasn’t physically with me, he was still there.

Since his passing, it’s been wonderful to connect with my gymnastics coaches and teammates to share pictures and memories. The world lost an amazing person and we were the lucky ones who got to know him.

Get A Helmet

I was a gymnast from age 4 to 23. I was a competitive gymnast for 8 of those years. Gymnastics was more than a sport for me – it was a lifestyle. Not doing it was never an option. When I struggled with injuries, I just had to find a way to work through or around the pain.

Rocky & His Girls, 1993

I had an amazing coach during my competitive career named Rocky Kees. He brought out the best in me and all my teammates. That man was gymnastics magic. I absolutely loved training with him.  It was one of the best times of my life. And Rocky taught me more than gymnastics. He taught me life skills that I carry with me to this day.

One of Rocky’s mantras was, “Get a helmet.” It was his way of saying, “Suck it up” but it had an added element of respect for how hard our work was. He respected that gymnastics was hard or scary, but he wouldn’t tell us to do anything that we couldn’t do. We all heard, “Get a helmet” on a regular basis. To this day, I can post “It’s a Get A Helmet kind of day” on Facebook and I’ll get lots of acknowledgements from my former teammates.

Post-It Above My Desk

“Get a Helmet” has become my mantra for building my law firm. I have it written on a little post-it note above my desk. Every day comes with its own set of challenges, whether it’s managing my calendar, balancing the books, doing client work, writing my book, or marketing the hell out of myself and my firm. There are a lot of things I’d rather not do, but that’s not really an option when you run a one-person shop.  Sometimes I get tired, frustrated, and unmotivated. That’s when I look up at that post-it note, take a deep breath, and soldier on.

Remembering to “Get a Helmet” keeps my eye on the prize. I’m not asking myself to do anything impossible. It’s just hard and scary. I can handle that.