Ragnar Relay Reduction: Melbourne to South Beach, Florida


Pardon me as this is another one of my philosophical reflections after completing a Ragnar Relay Race—technically the third I’ve participated in and the second one I completed with a majority of my University of Florida track and cross-country teammates and friends.

The Muscle Hangover

 A few days have passed since I participated in the 2017 Ragnar Relay South Beach Race. For those not familiar with this racing series, it involves teams of 6 or 12 people splitting the mileage of a major distance like the 200+ miles my team known as “In It To Win It Dos” just finished by starting in Melbourne, Florida and finishing in Miami’s South Beach.

Although it’s a relay with the mileage broken up, it still means that each individual runner has a substantial amount of mileage in three different parts. Post-Ragnar racers usually have the same hobble-waddle-like walk in the days shortly afterwards.

Our team took over 26 hours to finish this running challenge and those hours are spent in close quarters with folks in a van and involve trying to refresh and refuel one’s body several times without the luxury of space or time. In short, it’s a bit grueling and perhaps masochistic—but for someone with an athletic background, it’s familiar and in a weird way comforting to be able to still participate in something like this with others.


Another Sort of Family

 We’ve heard of family by blood and family by Spirit (especially in religious traditions). I now propose that there is definitely another sort of sister-brotherhood to be found in having been on an athletic team with others through high school and/or college. Like anything where you spend an extended amount of time with others in close quarters and under physically stressful circumstances you’re bound to be bonded for life.

For our 2017 team “In It To Win It Dos”, we were a mixture of University of Florida teammates and high school competitors as well as an additional respectable athlete in her own right who had agreed to join us for this crazy ride of a race. Seeing each other again was a balm to the spirit and even if there was awkwardness it was only because it had been so long since we’d been in each other’s presence.

If you think about it for a moment, after you’ve known a certain set of folks for twenty years or more, there are many life moments that are traversed: Marriages, births, miscarriages, divorces, deaths of loved ones, military service, regret over not serving in the military, Olympic aspirations strived for and perhaps not reached, disappointments, victories and unexpected surprises both positive and negative.  Catching up in during the  in-between moments of the competition allowed us to share what we’ve experienced and learned thus far in our respective lives.

The Actual Race


 In our particular team with twelve participants, it meant that we split into two vans each of six people to tackle the 200 plus miles of this Ragnar Relay South Beach. Thankfully we had planned ahead and had matching tank tops that exploited our team’s name and gator logo. We had fun with our name monikers and also numbered respectively our tops in the order we would run the legs.  Other teams would “tag” other vans with magnetic names or mottos for fun–the racing atmosphere joined all racers in a funny if not friendly camaraderie.

For a race set in mostly south Florida, it was impressive how many different weather patterns we encountered as each of the twelve team members were responsible for running three legs respectively: with various running legs going over intercoastal bridges, we had a number of runners dealing with gale force winds and rain, roads during the night with little light and lots of animal noises or whiffs of swamp gas.

Personally, my second leg involved a post-midnight 8+ mile run through my own familiar city ground but was quickly humbled when I took a fall so hard that I felt my neck and spine rattle as my left shoulder thankfully took the brunt (my face was about to take it all, thank God I was able to twist in time). Was blessed with the presence of an Army soldier as a running mate during this particular leg and he was standing over me asking “Are you okay, that was quite the face plant fall!” All I asked was that he “please pick me up”. He did and we were on our way toward the exchange point.

We had runners who encountered confusing road signs, muscle fatigue and unforeseen events. For a moment in time, we took a break from our respective work, our children, our spouses, our co-parents, and our general life routines just to participate with each other in a fabricated competition against nothing but ourselves really—and in some ways it can seem absurd, but it also was an awesome exercise to have with each other in how life can unfold.

Logistical Nightmares

Some of us on this team had run in these Ragnar Relay races before and so had a pre-conceived notion of how these things should go from a logistics standpoint. This specific race course was on its inaugural run so we were unknowingly the guinea pigs as it unfolded.

Isn’t that life though? Don’t we encounter systems in place that are supposed to take care of us but we’re disillusioned by at times?

Being with my teammates and navigating the snags along the way with the different challenges that presented themselves was also a great exercise on how to pool resources between our skill sets and know-how on the fly. It reminded me of the sort of government or corporate retreats where they organize workshops to help teams or groups of people tackle problems in a cohesive and effective manner.

That being said, Ragnar Relays may have to take note that they’ll receive a large amount of feedback concerning the South Beach race in weeks to come.

Crossing the Line


There is an anti-climax to the end of things–like after you receive a diploma, finish a certificate program, give birth and so forth.  It’s the same after a long race like this where for hours we’ve been using our mental and physical energies in a heightened mode to achieve a great completion.

“In It To Win It Dos” didn’t win like we had hoped, there was even raw frustration about losing to a team we’ve faced before by only seconds.  We still gathered to run through the finish line for our photo shoot (I apologize publicly for being absent during that particular “finish line run” as the race had taken its toll on me and I was appreciating a non-porto-potty bathroom situation nearby).

Nevertheless, we were all reunited for our final photo together afterwards in the finish area on South Beach and deserve to feel proud that despite our places in life that we could pull together and achieve a great physical and mental accomplishment!

Until next time…






Reflections, Projections and Reality: Memoir for a Moment

Note: Started writing this shortly after 2014 began and find that my birthday this week is a more appropriate time for a reflective and somewhat autobiographical piece.

Welcome 2014!

The beginning of a new year can produce the feeling of renewed hope for some as we’ve shed the tired coat of the waning year–at best no looking back, only forward.  Although I normally reserve the right to keep my resolutions to the safety of my personal correspondence and journals, I feel comfortable sharing the following reflections, projections and reality of what I expect of 2014 and beyond.

Last Year’s Ending On the Road 


Just over a month ago I ran competitively in a local road race after training for nearly 6 months straight.  My goals for the race continued to change as the race start date came closer to pass.  First I kept focusing on placing in the top three females overall.  As I kept getting up around 4:50 am a few days every week to get the training done, my body and spirit awakened to the sacrifice I was purposely subjecting myself to–its effects were lacing my conversations with family and friends as a bitter brag.  The daily routine with my children and immediate family were labored because I had already taxed myself before the day had begun.

As the exhaustion compounded I realized that my heart wasn’t into it so when I came across the story of an eastern European woman who once was a competitive runner and now represented the Race to Respond program with the International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) I wanted to know more.  After I contacted the IOCC and found out that this program was open to any and all athletes who wanted to participate and raise funds while running in a race.  By chance that same week I got into a conversation with a colleague at my church and found out she was training for the same race–when I shared the info about this program she was very excited and we teamed up.

IOCC has been doing a lot of work in Syria with those displaced in the warfare ravaging the population there and most recently with relief efforts in the Philippines following that tragic super-typhoon in the fall.  Running for this cause breathed new life into my discipline for what I needed to accomplish each time I practiced.  The painfully early mornings were more manageable because the cause was much greater than my own ego or assumed goals.

At race start time, my colleague and I had raised over 1100K in just a few weeks and I felt part of a team again as I wore IOCC’s logo on my racing top.  However, while running the race I was overwhelmed by the unexpected: I felt completely drained and light-headed.  By mile 4 I had become dizzy and labored in my running form.  When I passed through mile 8 and saw my family cheering me on there was a part of me that just wanted to stop right there and walk with them back to the cars and speed home.  The other part of me was very frustrated and had resolved that I was finishing this race without collapsing because of the donations from others to IOCC on behalf our running in this race.

In short, I finished in the top 10 women, 2nd in my age-group and was simply devastated by one of my slowest times in the half-marathon.

New Year’s Fears and Frustrations

If you know me well personally, the last couple of paragraphs make sense to you–if you don’t know me, I don’t blame you for being impatient with my tone.

Of the many things I learned in 2013, it became clear to me that I really thrive on helping others and if I’m to push my body physically then I definitely need a cause to support beyond myself.  Within weeks of the switch I made to run for charity I had also received a call that I was nominated to be part of the induction class for the 2014 Palm Beach Sports Commission Hall of Fame banquet in March.  Cliche as it may seem, I felt like everything in my athletic life had come full circle.

There’s also my squirming emotion that revolts against the idea of being inducted into an athletic hall of fame:  My will screams that I’m not done yet with my competitive days, the Olympic torch continuously burns in my heart for a chance to make the Games and I still dream of races both past and future like a soldier might be haunted by battles on the field.

What is more important to learn?  Is it to rise up always and conquer?  Or is it more complicated; can success also be found in being content to accept and forgive one’s self for not accomplishing the stereotypical dream story of a child growing up from a poor and abused background to achieve star athlete status on the worldwide stage?

Peace and Gratitude

Running in that race last month also helped me truly dissect what my running career was for me in my younger years:  It was an escape from the daily burdens of personal life.  It provided opportunities to have wonderful father figures and mentors like my coaches Harry Howell and JJ Clark.  It was my prayer and my dance for my Creator.  I loved running and meeting others who were like me–connecting with them even if we were so different in other aspects of our respective personalities.  It provided me educational opportunities and the honor of wearing my University of Florida’s orange and blue colors in our uniforms in competition.

By accepting the honor to be included in the Hall of Fame for Palm Beach County’s Sports Commission I’m affirming that my running accolades are a testament to what discipline and dedication of others can yield.  Looking back I also realize that there are countless people I wish to thank for their inspiration, support, prayers, unconditional love and overall belief that I was capable of setting and achieving various goals in my sport.

Being Here, Looking Ahead But Present Still

I’m a runner and always will be but it’s not the only thing I am and associate with in this life.  For nearly 15 years in my childhood and early adulthood years it was second only to my academic career and so I suppressed other aspects of myself until I could expand in those areas later.  What I strive for the most now is to truly live in the here and now–to engage in whatever moment I’m living whether as a mother, a wife, a lover, a sibling, a friend, a teacher, an artist, a gardener, a writer, a dancer and the list goes on ad nauseam.

What I hope you can take from this personal babble is that my philosophy is shaping to understand that it’s possible to peacefully dissuade regret and the “what-ifs” from the psyche.  The truth is there is ‘what has been’ and may be ‘that which comes’ but the best we can all do is be here and thrive in the ‘now’.  Then there isn’t a question as to whether you did all you could because you did–for the better or the worse doesn’t even matter because you respected the present by exercising your will to live.


“Let it Be” The Beatles: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y4zaofnVhps

Recipes to Share: Florida Orange Rice

florida orange rice May 2013

Florida Orange Rice

Note: A special thanks to  “Florida Citrus Treasure Cookbook-A Collection of Heritage Treasures”, a great University of Florida IFAS Extension book that contains a collection of recipes handed down by UF Extension employees and their friends.

3 tablespoons butter, margarine or olive oil

1 cup uncooked rice

2/3 diced celery with leaves

1/8 thyme (dried is fine)

2 tablespoons chopped onion

2 tablespoons slivered orange rind

1  1/2 cups water

1  1/4 teaspoons salt

1 cup orange juice

Melt butter (margarine or heat oil) in heavy saucepan. Add celery and onion; cook until onion is tender, but not brown. Add water, orange juice, rind, salt and thyme.  Bring to a boil; add rice slowly. Cover; reduce heat and cook at a low heat for 25 minutes.

My notes: I found this to be a delicious side dish to accompany citrus broiled lamb with brown sugar glaze and steamed artichokes.  Wonderful summer rice and it has room for experimentation, garnish with fresh parsley, cilantro and orange slices!



florida orange rice with meal May 2013

Reflection: Gator Teammates Always


Gator Reflection

This past week I had the honor of attending  the 2012 University of Florida Athletic Hall of Fame Induction ceremony and banquet in Gainesville, Florida.  I was in my Alma Mater town for a mere 5 hours and yet the experience was so impressive that I wanted to share in a short post with my fellow Gators and even non-Gator others as what I experienced can be parallelled in other people/circumstances.

When I reflect on my collegiate years it was a mini-career in academics and athletics that provided me a framework to work off of as I barrelled through the rest of my twenties and onward in life.  Moreover, the friendships and colleagues I accumulated in those years also influenced my social trajectory.

Being back on campus this past Friday, I was immediately slammed with the shadow of the life that was when I was there as it was paled by the stark reality of the present moment.  I remembered the spring alumni weekend as it was when I was a student-athlete there and was seeing folks dressed in black tie formal entering the Ben Hill Griffith football stadium for some event (Hall of Fame banquet) that on this particular evening I was attending in my long dress with baby in tow.

Meeting up with my lady Gator teammates was a refreshing familiarity that made it seem as if no time had passed by except for the funny details like marriages, children, careers, break-ups and the countless other things we’ve respectively thrived in and endured in the decade or more since we all went our separate ways.

Upon entering the Touchdown Terrace in the football stadium, a surreal buzz came on while greeting my former coach and teammates and seeing so many faces I recognized from those Gator days and now here we were all dressed and grown-up!  I came for my Gator sister track and cross-country teammate Hazel Clark Riley as she was being inducted into our Hall of Fame.  It was an added treat to witness other Gator greats like Alex Brown, Udonis Haslem, Jeff Morrison,  Stephanie Nickitas and Abby Wambach also get inducted–these were fellow student-athletes whom I crossed paths with during the same years at UF by way of our weight room, Gator dining, sharing the same athletic facilities and split moments like exchanging words of congrats in the hallways where we all passed through during our time together.

Everyone’s acceptance speech had a similar thread of common truth–we all had gone on after our Gator days to compete in our sports professionally or to other professions like corporate work, military, government, education, raising families, coaching et cetera but our hearts had always stayed true to what we forged in our collegiate days.  Certainly there is an obvious Gator alumni pride but for many of us there is also brother/sisterhood that we still foster and cherish no matter where our respective lives take us.

Hazel’s acceptance speech hit the tone right on: part of us is ready to suit up again in our Gator uniform and jump back into the race/game and at the same time we are grateful as we continue to grow and navigate our newest adventures in life to embrace what those years together gave us.  We’ll always be teammates from that time together and whether or not we stay in touch I feel that we are able to pick up from where we left off.

Perhaps I’m a little over-optimistic in this topic but I can’t deny that I was so overwhelmed with joy to see Gator teammates that evening and even to link up over the social media tools to celebrate a Gator sister.  Life in general can be like this for us when we bond with others over a common goal and regardless of our differences achieve greatness and endure failures as well.  For instance, our track and cross-country team during the late 1990s and early aughts saw some amazing victories and some painful disappointments—but it made our time together solid and real which we will always have as a memory and a foundation for future rendezvous.

In closing of this personal reflection I’d like to post a poem I wrote as a fledgling college sophomore during one of our UF cross-country seasons.  Congratulations again to Hazel (Peachy) Clark Riley and our other Gators for their 2012 induction into UF Athletic Hall of Fame!

Ramona V. Saridakis Bean

“Workout”    10.1.1997

Heat is beating down on me,

through my sweat I can hardly see.

Blood is rushing in my legs,

heart is pumping way too quick.

My muscles are screaming for relief,

have to stand more of this heat?

The air is thickened with fatigue-

I look at my teammates and believe

they are tired, just like me

in this humid, hilly feat.

Coach gives the signal…

…and we’re off!

One more repeat…

…this is rough!

Once we’ve finished

we soak up water

like the driest desert sand

and congratulate each other

with a clasp of the hand.

The workout is finished,

there’s no more to run.

Yes, no more to run

’till tomorrow’s one.