Bikini Body

There’s this thing that girls do when they put on a swimsuit – they evaluate. I don’t care who you are or how much you love yourself, it is incredibly rare not to check the mirror before you hit the beach/pool. There’s nothing wrong with a little pride in your appearance. Ensuring the girls are looking good and a little “dang, girl, lookin’ fine” to yourself is great attitude prep for walking around in what is essentially underwear. The problem is when that one second glance turns into several slow minutes of serious evaluation.

I didn’t do that a year ago.  Between you and me, I am the “fattest” I’ve ever been in my life today.  I am also the happiest.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: healthy is physical, mental, social, and spiritual.  Physically I’m not my best me, but I’m doing better on the other three than I have in past memory.  But more about that some other time…

I didn’t evaluate myself in the mirror a year ago because there was no part of my physical body I was unaware of.  I knew I was toned; I knew what I’d worked out the day before and that day and would work on the next.  Now, it’s highly likely I skipped a couple workouts to get drinks with friends or even just because.  So when I put on a bikini, it’s unknown what’s going to be jiggly or the exact state of bloat I might be in.

My roommates and I will rush back in forth to each others’ rooms before a trip to the pool trying to determine what swim suit doesn’t make us look “fat”… and this is a problem.  Because none of us are by any means “fat”.  We are all at a healthy BMI, perhaps higher than it once was, but by no means overweight.  And this would be a problem even if we actually were overweight.

Evaluating your body is essential to knowing its current state.  It helps you know what you need – for some of us that’s a large meal and for others it’s a trip to the gym.  There are times when it’s essential to look at your body and see what’s there and figure it out, but when you just put on a swimsuit for a day of fun, it’s not the right time.  It’s time to get tanned and boozy by a body of water!

So the next time you put on a swimsuit, regardless of your BMI and what may or may not need work, get your priorities straight.  You’re putting it on to have a good time, not to work on any changes, so don’t evaluate.  Instead, remind yourself that you love yourself and if that doesn’t work, live by the “if you can’t tone it, tan it!” mantra.  Now go show off that bikini body!

Why Hating Valentines Day Matters

There was a time in my life when I said I hated February 14th, but I absolutely loved to hate it.  Valentine’s Day was a celebration with my gal pals – we ate chocolate, threw gummy bears at couples in movie theaters, and in later years, popped bottles.  As much as we whined and complained about being single and forever alone, we were never actually alone.

Fast forward a few years… it turns out I wouldn’t be single forever.  You won’t be either if you don’t want to be.  I love him every day, but he gets extra attention today both for the Hallmark holiday and his birthday.

So what’s the point of this post?  I guess I just want to give a little bit of completely unsolicited advice to all my single friends.  And maybe even to the younger girls whose relationships with boys are so much less important than their friends (even if they don’t see that right now).

Hating Valentines Day is one of the best girlfriend activities in the world, and if you aren’t embracing it, you are seriously missing out.  By embracing it, I mean pouring your heart and soul out to your friends.  Laugh and cry and verbally abuse people who have done you wrong.  If you’re doing it with your best friends, it’s going to turn into a beautiful memory, and all the mushy outcries are going to make you closer.

Hate on couples and romance, but immerse yourself in the love of your friends.  Open your heart up and be vulnerable with the people who will stand by you at the altar one day, tears in their eyes because they know how much you prayed for the person standing across from you.  Don’t harden your heart on a holiday about love.  Just because you’re single now doesn’t mean you don’t or can’t love, it just means you have extra feels for your friends right now.

As thankful as I am that I have a man to do life with, when I hear my roommates talking about getting wine, cookie dough, and a chick-flick for tonight, my heart aches a little.  Because as happy as I am to be in love, some of my best memories with those girls include those very things and hating on everyone who had done wrong by us.  So my advice is simple: embrace the stage you’re at in life; you’re going to miss it tomorrow.  If that means wine night and Magic Mike, engage in every minute of it.  You might have all the romance your heart craves next year, but until then, be with people that matter today and love them with all you’ve got.

And to my beautiful roommates, thanks for having a second go round on Thursday so I can participate.  Knowing a night with my best friends is only a couple of days away heals the FOMO I have about going on a romantic date tonight.  Thanks for making it possible for me to have both.  I can’t wait for Galentines!

Miss Clemson University 2016

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil to bring you an expected end.
Jeremiah 29:11

That verse has been playing in my head ever since I was crowned Miss Clemson University in January of 2016.  From the moment I hit campus freshmen year, I was in love with this institution, but I never anticipated the opportunity to represent it in such a special way.  This was a part of my life planned by someone much wiser than me, and as they put the crown on my head, I couldn’t help but ask, “Why me, God?  What is your plan for me in this role?”

I never participate in anything without putting my best foot forward.  That’s how I was raised.  At the same time, I in no way anticipated beating some of the biggest names in the pageant world in order to win this title.  I was happy to be considered, so blessed my sorority sisters trusted me to represent them.  I had no idea what was coming, though.

With my reign ending this Saturday, I want to take a moment to reflect on the past year and what it has meant to me.

Being Miss Clemson University is special in that she has no ties to a larger pageant organization.  While this means no director or assistance with scheduling events, it also provides a special autonomy.  For the past year, it was on me to determine what I should be doing.  I chose to primarily integrate the title into my existing life, not necessarily seeking special circumstances, but just using it as an excuse to volunteer more.

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It’s not happy people who are thankful; it’s thankful people who are happy.

As usual, I did most of my volunteer work for the GHS Children’s Hospital, using the crown and being executive director of Clemson Miracle to get through the door.  I got to see a lot of smiling faces, kids who thought I was way cooler than I actually am.

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Giving our check to CCDC

Through the pageant itself, we fundraised for the Clemson Child Development Center.  I had the honor of delivering the check.  If you’ve never been, it’s often a little chaotic.  The kids have a lot of energy, and the adults have been there all day and will most likely take some work home.  However, when their director, Carol, found a moment to step out of the room and saw the check, her face said more than words could about her gratitude for Mortar Board and all they do for CCDC.

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First Friday Parade 2016

 

Then, there was the moment they let me ride in the First Friday Parade.  If you didn’t go to Clemson, this is the parade before our first home football game every fall, and to us, it’s kind of a big deal.  To have my own car in the parade was a huge honor, and I loved every minute of blowing kisses to little girls and screaming cadence count with our alumni band.

Of all the years to be crowned Miss Clemson, I got 2016 – the year we finished off our football season with a National Championship title by defeating Alabama.  The year Clemson Miracle raised over $71,000 for the children’s hospital.  The year I graduated from Clemson and was accepted into their MBA program.  The year my little brother started his freshmen year as a tiger.  It has been a year I will never forget.

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Trading the crown in for a mortar board. (Christine Scott Photography)

Five years ago, I decided to attend Clemson University.  As a Georgia native, people repeatedly asked me why, and I had little to say other than “it just felt right.”  I had no idea I had made the best decision of my life.  During my time at Clemson, I met my best friends and the love of my life.  I was challenged and changed by numerous mentors and opportunities.  I realized that above all it wasn’t the school I chose but the people I found.  The Clemson family – all the unique individuals who find common ground in a love of orange and purple – is the best to be surrounded by, and I am forever thankful I found each and every one of you.

To my parents, who agreed to send me to the only school I didn’t have a full scholarship to, thank you.  I cannot express either my love for you and your support, or my love for this place, because the words just don’t exist.  Just know, I could not have accomplished all I have without the unconditional love and support of you both.

To my little brother, Henry, I truly appreciate all of the pageants and dance recitals you have sat through.  I’m so excited to watch your love of Clemson grow and to see how you both change over the next 4 (or maybe 5 if you’re lucky!) years.

To all the people who made it possible for me to succeed in the world of pageants: thank you.  Mama K, you are truly my second mom, and I’m just so thankful for every hour I got to spend with you in the studio.  Christine (Smith), wow, you’re the most talented human, and your salon is going to be the talk of the town!  Thanks for making me the absolute best version of myself and drinking mimosas with me during makeup time.  Cathy Scott, it has been way too long since we crossed paths, but you were the first to recognize I had the potential for the stage.  Thank you for every gown you altered to perfection.  And of course, Gregory Ellenburg, thank you for the gown of my dreams.

Christine (Scott) – thank you a thousand times over again for the hundreds of shots it took to perfectly expose a white evening gown at midday on a football field.  You are such a talented photographer; I’m blessed to call you my friend.

girliesTo the women of Kappa Delta, thank you for letting me represent you on stage last year.  I’m thankful for the continual support of so many of you, especially my roommates.  Savannah, thank you for dressing me when clothes became overwhelming / taking me to wine night when life became overwhelming.  Littlest One, thank you for being the best sister I could have asked for.  My other Courtneys – all my love, I wouldn’t have made it if I hadn’t found you both 4.5 years ago.  And English, you were last to the roommate party, which is good because the amount of fun we have together is deadly.

 

To my amazing boyfriend, Lawrence I know you never thought you’d sit through a pageant (or 5), but you have been so great about supporting everything I pursue.  I’m thankful every day that Clemson brought me to you.  You’re also the best puppy dad, and I’m so proud of the little nugget we’re raising.

Maybe it’s the sunsets, or the ice cream, or the tailgates that make Clemson so special; everyone has their own opinion.  To me, it’s the people that make up our Clemson family that make it such a special place to call home.  I am blessed every day to be a tiger, and I want to thank every member of my Clemson family for allowing me to represent you over the past year.  To the girl we crown on Saturday, what you do is up to you, so make it the best year of your life to date!  I am truly so excited for whoever gets to experience this incredible #ClemsonMoment next.

Forever your Miss Clemson University 2016,

Tracy McGee

Cheers T(w)o More Student Football Seasons!

Just when you thought I was really going to graduate, I found another way to stay in Clemson!  I like to think the administration regretted that I had reached the end of my time as a student tiger, but whatever the reason, a spot magically opened up in Clemson’s MBA program.  One week before accepting my diploma, I accepted a spot to begin my masters studies at Clemson starting in January 2017.

The day before I received the call about the opening, I made an important decision: I chose faith instead of fear.  I decided to fully let go of the worry over my uncertain future, to trust instead that God truly does have a plan.  I recognized worrying was doing nothing to help me.

This is an uphill battle for me – I’m from a family of ruminaters.  I have to actively choose faith over fear every single day, usually many times a day.  I have to remind myself constantly not to fear the future’s many unknowns or even the present’s uncertainties.  Anxiety is the root causes of the tension in so many peoples’ lives.  Fear has never solved a problem, and it certainly isn’t good for your health.

So here I am, trying to laugh without fear of the future as they say, and I get a call about an opening in Clemson’s MBA program.  It’s an opening that would allow me to start January 9th, less than a month after my graduation.  If I can get my application and references by the end of the week, they are willing to consider me for this spot.  Luckily for me, I had incredible mentors throughout my undergraduate experience.  One had her reference letter ready before I even asked, and another hustled to get hers done in time.  I turned it in and crossed my fingers, thinking this had to be meant to be if they were willing to make so many exceptions on my behalf.

I guess it was.  I got into the program and accepted my spot a week before I crossed the stage to receive my undergraduate diploma.

I’m standing on the doorstep of a grand new adventure, and I’m thrilled that this opportunity fell on me.  I no longer feel like I picked the “wrong” major in undergraduate school.  Though psychology was ultimately not what I wanted to do, my major opened doors for me through the people I met, the challenges I overcame, and the things I learned about myself along the way.  I think a business degree is a much better fit for the gifts and talents I’ve been given, but I don’t regret the path I’ve taken to get to where I am.

In summary, I have successfully put off becoming an adult for 2 more years, and I get the added bonus of 2 more tiger football seasons!  Although, this season might be unbeatable.  Clemson has a rematch with Bama on January 9, and it seems only fitting that my boys will be playing for the Natty on my first day of graduate school.  Go tigers!

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Hello Great Big World

Today, I walked out of my last class as an undergraduate student.  For a minute, I was elated, but all too quickly, I became panicked.  Then, as if out of nowhere, a soothing calm sank into my soul.  In 14 days, I will receive my diploma and graduate from Clemson University with a B.S. in Psychology and a minor in Communications.  Two weeks from today, I will turn the tassel and have to embrace “adulting” and its finery.  I have always been the girl with a plan.  For once in my life, I’m not.

I haven’t found a job, and I haven’t applied to a graduate program.  This is incredibly unlike the wide-eyed freshmen me that walked onto Clemson’s campus in 2012.  I came to Clemson prepared to graduate in 4 years with any major as long as my prerequisites for occupational therapy were in order.  Afterwards, I was going to receive my Doctorate in OT at Belmont University in Nashville, TN (class of 2019).  I was going to specialize in pediatrics and work at a children’s hospital, eventually running the therapy department.  It was a solid plan until I realized I hated OT.  It felt monotonous and dull, and I’d just been interning for a month.  I watched my plan spark and sputter and eventually burn out.  It wasn’t worth living the life I’d imaged if I was going to be living a life I hated.

So there I was, two and a half years into my master plan, with no idea what my next steps should be.  Thankfully, I have an amazing God, the best boyfriend, and a school with an impeccable career services center.  I became the first psychology major from Clemson to pursue a cooperative education program and landed an internship with BorgWarner, an automotive manufacturing plan in Seneca, SC.  I got to spend 9 months working in their Human Resources department, and they let me get my hands into everything.  I worked through the hiring process, coordinated wellness initiative, collaborated with our safety team, managed our KPI tracker, and so much more.  It turns out, I have a talent for people.

Armed with this knowledge, I came back to school this Fall to complete my degree.  It turns out I should have been a business major.  However, in their own way, psychology and communications have prepared me to pursue a career in this direction.  I’ve studied people for four (and a half #blessed) years.  I’m ready.

But for what?  That’s a question I can’t answer yet.  I’m still waiting on God to show me the rest of His plan for my future.  See the thing that’s changed about me during my undergraduate experience is not losing my sense of direction and purpose, but rather finding it from a much better source.  I guess in a way this is my testimony.  What I would like to share with you is something pretty simple that it seems to have taken me 22 years to learn: I am not in control, and thank God for that.

Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6-7

So to those of you asking what’s next in my life, I no longer dread your question.  I have lots of thoughts and ideas about the future, but right now, I’m waiting for everything to unfold.  Your prayers and kind thoughts are appreciated as I embark on this exciting new phase!  And if you haven’t today, take a deep breath and rest easy knowing the best is yet to come.

Perfectly Imperfect 365 Days of the Year

An open letter to anyone who has ever felt like they were “not enough”:

My friend Courtney recently left for Swaziland to serve in the Peace Corps for 28 months.  It was a place I couldn’t locate on a map before April, but now I think of it often.  In the weeks before she left, we spoke about what would be different about this country from ours.  While we both believe that at the core people are people with similar desires and motives, an ability to be good and do good, we knew there would be cultural differences.  It was during one of these conversations that she asked if I’d ever heard of Perfect365.  I hadn’t, but I became immediately disgusted.

For those of you who don’t know, Perfect365 is an app that allows its user to enhance selfies to be, well, “perfect.”  You can slim your face, raise your cheek bones, and widen your eyes.  You can apply makeup – from foundation to eyeliner to mascara.  You can change your eye color.  You can create a new photo with startlingly white teeth and inappropriately smooth features that in no way resembles a human.

[Side note: I have done pageants, and I have professionally edited photographs of myself.  However, I love the face that looks back at me at 7am with bed head.  It’s ok to have professional photos and to look great in them.  It’s not ok to feel like every single photo you have ever posted needs to look like it was taken in a studio.]

This is what society has done to American adolescents, and even adults.  We have created such a desire for unachievable “beauty” that we need apps to photoshop our filtered Instagram selfies.  If that doesn’t make your heart ache for the 13 year old who sees her face in the mirror and can’t see her natural skin as beautiful, you might be part of the problem.

Just to put that in perspective, we are taking selfies with our smartphones, editing them into a stranger, and posting them on social media to be validated by our acquaintances double-tapping on the screen.  We are doing this while other people in our communities, our nations, our world are going hungry or cold or sick tonight without respite in their sights.

I am begging you to love yourself.  You should not rely on the likes you receive or the followers you have for validation.  You should not rely on makeup or photoshop to create a face you like.  You should not rely on the label of your clothes, the numbers on the scale, or even the grade on an exam to create a definition of you.  These things are superficial and fleeting, here today but maybe gone tomorrow.  They are part of the material world we live in, not part of what defines you.

God created you in His image, and He loves you for precisely who you are.  Physical faults you find looking at a mirror are irrelevant when you leave this world.  Your inner beauty is what God’s eyes see, and no mistake you have made is surprising or unforgivable to Him.  You are beautiful for the person that you are, so be a person you are proud of.

If nobody has every told you, let me be the first: you are beautiful.  There is nothing you need to do or say to be beautiful if you can find love for yourself that is not based on something material.  Do not let your hair, your weight, or your house be what makes you feel good.  Hair can fall out, pounds can add on, and that house can burn down.  If you define yourself in things of this world, your definition of self is fragile and so easily lost by a breeze of bad fate.

I have a sticky note that a (different) friend named Courtney placed on my bathroom mirror a year ago, and I read it every day to make sure I haven’t forgotten.

Sometimes people are beautiful not in looks, not in what they say, just in what they are.

If you are truly blessed, you will find someone on this earth who can celebrate you for exactly who you are, but more often than not, other people are going to tear you down.  They are going to find reasons you are not enough.  Some days you might even find reasons you are not enough.  For God, you will always be enough.

If Christianity is not your faith, this message should still resonate with you.  Build the foundations of your self-image and worth on solid ground.  For me, my faith is that rock, and it is what I turn to when I start to forget my worth.  For you, it can be something different, and that’s okay, too.  Just make sure it isn’t something you will lose when the tides in your life wax and wane.  I don’t think anybody gets to go through life without at least one high tide, and it’s hard to keep your head above water if you can’t love yourself.

We live in a world where, from a young age, we are competing to have followers.  We are counting the “likes” on our photos.  Thanks to Facebook, we can now count the “loves” “hahas” “wows” “sads” and “angrys” – as if we didn’t have enough to think about.  People clicking a button (approximately 0.05 seconds of their time) has become such an important source of validation that our own faces are no longer “enough” for our social media accounts.

It started with Photoshop.  I was probably in about 4th grade when I begged my parents for this software.  To what end did I need it?  Well, my friends had it, and they were able to crop themselves into photos with Hilary Duff.  This was important to me.  What I (and the many parents who relented to adding this software to the home computer) did not realize was that my friends were in training to slim their waist line, enhance their breast size, and spray tan themselves later in life.

Photoshop isn’t user-friendly, though.  At least, I have never been able to master it.  Know what’s super easy?  Perfect365 and other apps like it.  It identifies the face in any image uploaded to it and gives simple options for the user to pick from.  Having issues with your mouth?  There’s a mouth button.  Want to widen your smile?  Slide the bar to the right.  Want to whiten your teeth?  Slide that bar.

On the left, my face; on the right, Perfect365. Of course, you can use the app in less obvious ways, but for full effect, I used every enhancement option there was.

This is the reality of life in 2016, and it is nothing like the smiling faces of the Jetson family.  Society is pressuring us in so many ways and through so many outlets.  If you are struggling to feel good about yourself, there are a million places you can point fingers.  Peers, TV, magazine, Facebook, Instagram… Every advertisement wants you to buy a product so you can be more like the perfect actor in their ad.

Stop blaming others when you feel bad about yourself and look inward.  You are the only person responsible for making sure you know that you are enough just the way you are.  We can try to create more positivity for and about each other, but at the end of the day, you are in charge of how you feel.  If you can love yourself, you can take on anything this world can throw.  Just remember, the best is yet to come.

#APerfectFit

I challenged some friends to skip their makeup for a selfie and see their real skin’s beauty. Your turn!

Be Bold

Holding the title of Miss Greater Easley last year was great, but explaining to countless people that I will not be returning to compete in the MAO has been a headache.  I hold nothing against the girls who are gearing up for competition this summer.  In fact, I think back fondly to the spray tans, fake nails, and fake lashes, and I remember being happy underneath all the makeup.  The thing is, I am so incredibly much more than a title, and I have so incredibly much more to offer to the world than being a queen.

While competing for Miss South Carolina, I ceased to be Tracy.  The entire week of the state pageant, I was called by my title and never by my name.  There are many girls, and using titles is simply easier.  I get that.  What I did not understand is the number of people who knew I was Miss Greater Easley and desired no other information.  The number of people who felt they knew me simply because they knew my title.  The title did not define me.

Long before I held a title, I was a volunteer at GHS Children’s Hospital.  I loved volunteering with my local CMN hospital.  I did not love it because it was MAO’s platform; I love it because those kids show what can be accomplished with a little strength of character.  I love it because that hospital is an opportunity for more kids to have birthdays.  I love it because every child deserves a childhood.  It wasn’t about the pictures I could take at events; it was about the relationships I could build.

Long before I held a title, I was a personal trainer advocating for my platform, A Perfect Fit; I just wasn’t calling it that.  Mental, physical, and spiritual wellness has always been a passion for me.  It was never something I did to promote myself.  My intention was always to help others.  Being a contestant ruined that for me.  It started to become about how many appearances I’d made instead of about what good I’d done.

Now, I hold the title of Miss Clemson University, and I am not taking it to compete for a higher title.  I am completely satisfied with having this title to potentially make a difference in the place that has given me so much.

To the girls competing this summer, I wish you nothing but the best.  Please remember who you are, though.  Don’t let anyone tell you that you need a nose job to be beautiful enough to win.  Don’t let them encourage unhealthy weight loss when your body is your own.  Don’t let them tell you that you should sell more advertisements to be considered for the title.  Make a difference by spending time in your community, not just by fundraising for it.  (A little birdie told me that $0.40 of every dollar raised for CMN through MAO goes right back into the pageant system.  It could be a rumor, but for a rumor to start, I find there’s usually a little truth.). Do not lose yourself to their system; let this be part of the journey that helps you find yourself, not the part of your journey that defines you.

As for me, I’m content to serve in a different way.  Not winning the title of Miss South Carolina will always be one of the biggest blessings in my life, but I’m grateful for the experience.  I became more confident in the woman I am having faced a million voices trying to change me.  I’m forever thanking God for taking my life in a new direction and instilling new dreams to chase in my heart.

Be bold, be confident, and be at peace because you are beautiful and you are loved.

Job 5:9

He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed, miracles that cannot be counted.
Job 5:9

So many amazing things have happened in my life since I decided to neglect my blog, and it strikes me as odd because I had so many posts to write when very little was happening to me.  Thanks to the kind encouragement from friends and even from some strangers who have become friends, I have decided to write again.  While you will soon hear my Miss Clemson University story, I want to start with my most meaningful endeavor – Clemson Miracle.

My journey with Clemson Miracle started as a freshmen.  I signed up for Clemson University Dance Marathon (as it was then called) with some sorority sisters; I wanted to see what it was all about.  To my surprise, it was about so much more than dancing, and I fell in love.  Clemson Miracle (as we are now called) is part of the national Dance Marathon (DM) movement.  Each year, we fundraise for our local CMN hospital, which happens to be GHS Children’s Hospital in Greenville, SC.

We raised $17,152.63 for the kids (FTK) at my first DM, and I knew I wouldn’t want to rest until we reached even higher goals.  You see, the Dance Marathon is a celebration of our efforts.  Yes, we teach a morale dance, but we do so much more.  We have families share their stories, we play games, and we provide a variety of entertainment to everyone who stands with us for 12 hours.  We stand and dance and celebrate for the thousands of kids across America who are confined to a hospital bed today because we hope and pray they will leave that bed tomorrow.

One of our miracle children, Manning Grace, at the first DM I attended (2013) and the last (2016).
One of our miracle children, Manning Grace, at the first DM I attended (2013) and the last (2016).

My sophomore year, I applied for the executive board, and I had the chance to serve as corporate chair.  In other words, I was suppose to be bringing in the money.  I guess you could say we did okay bringing in money, and that year we raised $30,262.57 FTK.  There is beauty in the way college kids can come together and create change in their local community.  Of course, we were not stopping there.  We were going to get bigger.

Our miracle child, James Mason, at DM 2014.
Our miracle child, James Mason, at DM 2014.

My junior year, we set our highest goal yet.  This year we dreamed of raising $50,000, and we wanted it.  We were at a distinct disadvantage, though.  Nobody knew what DM was, and once most students heard “dance” and “12 hours” and “Saturday”, they backed away.  I had the pleasure of serving as Donor Relations chair, which means I had to convince college kids to give up their Saturday.  We changed our name to Clemson Miracle, because we felt creating miracles was our true purpose.  We were going to light the campus on fire with passion, and we were going to create change for our kids.  We raised $41,914.64, which was shy of our goal, but we would not be deterred.

Our miracle child, James Mason, at DM 2015.
Our miracle child, James Mason, at DM 2015.

(An important aside for you:  This is an undergraduate student organization.  Everyone involved has full-time commitments outside of Clemson Miracle, and Clemson Miracle is in itself a full-time commitment.  Being on our executive board is time consuming.  We are active every day of the year, and we push – never settling is why we have gotten where we are today.  There is no shame in not reaching lofty goals.  Dance Marathons across the nation are taking aim and achieving unbelievably more than even large corporations, like Wal-mart.  It is only possible through faith, vision, and passion.)

Our miracle child, Brinkley, playing with the tiger at CM 2016!
Our miracle child, Brinkley, playing with the tiger at DM 2016!

This brings us to 2015, the year my life changed entirely.  I ran for Executive Director, which is the same thing as saying I ran for president, of Clemson Miracle.  I knew I had a lot of growing to do if I received the title, but somehow, I knew I was up for it.  It was divine intervention; I just woke up one morning and felt called to apply.  Miracle of miracles happened, and I received the position.

Being Director of an organization is hard.  I knew coming in that my job was to take the 20 very different personalities of my (amazing) executive board and unite them in one cause.  We all had very different jobs, but we all needed to keep driving in the same direction.  I was the voice behind the scenes reminding everyone that they could do more.  I was the mediator when two positions crashed into each other and needed to get back on our track.  Yet, at the end of the day, I was unnecessary, and that’s a strange feeling.  It was especially weird after holding very active positions the two years prior.

One of our advisors gave me a piece of advise at the beginning of the year.  “It is the sign of a great leader if you can get the flu the day of Dance Marathon, but everything runs fine without you.”  I took that to heart.  I put aside the piece of me that prefers to do it on her own, and I grew the piece of me that delegates.  I helped assign the essential tasks, and I helped provide deadlines.  Then, I stood back, and I watched the most incredible executive board step into their roles.  They amazed me; I just had to trust.

Our miracle child, Mia, and her sister, Mailey - 2016 marks 10 years in remission for Mia!
Our miracle child, Mia, and her sister, Mailey – 2016 marks 10 years in remission for Mia!

Every minute, 62 children enter a CMN hospital, and on February 13, 2016, we would find out if we reached our goal of $62,000.  We flipped a total of $70,027.82 that day, but the donations did not end with the event.  The grand total going to the hospital is $71,252.96.

Pause and really think about that number.

Total reveal 2016
Total reveal 2016

That’s 29 sleeping chairs so parents do not have to leave their children.  That’s 26 specialized cribs for children with special needs.  That’s 16 vein viewing machines to ensure less times sticking kids for blood work.  That’s 222 conscious sedations, a procedure used to prevent the pain of spinal taps that insurance will not cover.  That’s 42 special breast pumps for mothers with babies in the NICU to ensure their babies are getting all the nutrients they need.  That’s 158 infant CPR mannequins to teach parents the proper technique to resuscitate a child with heart of breathing difficulties.  That money is a means to make miracles for families.

(Another aside: We report net profit, not gross.)

So why do we do it?

We dance for more birthdays.  We dance for kids to have a childhood.  We dance for parents to have support.  We dance for miracles to happen.

Because every child deserves a childhood.
Because every child deserves a childhood.

I have learned so much in this past year.  It has been one for personal growth, and I found out I am capable of so much more than I imagined possible.  I learned that God truly does immeasurably more when you let Him lead, and I know His plan was for us to reach these incredible heights.

After 4 years, walking away from Clemson Miracle feels like ripping a part of my soul out, but I know I’ll find other ways to contribute.  I’m going to be okay.  Last weekend, I selected the next Executive Director, and she is going to lead us to even grander heights.  I feel certain of that, even though that decision easily ranks in the top 5 hardest life choices I have made to date.

So a huge thank you to Clemson Miracle for molding me for the past 4 years into a much better version of myself!  And a huge thank you to all the parties who helped make it happen…

To our Families:
You guys are the reason we keep going.  You guys are the reason we will not stop.  Thank you for sharing your stories and keeping us motivated.  You are truly the bravest and kindest of people, and I am so blessed to know each and every one of you.

Forever proud of the way Ali celebrates Haley's life. Haley would be so proud of this queen, and I am so thankful to celebrate her legacy with you.
Forever proud of the way Ali celebrates Haley’s life. Haley would be so proud of this queen, and I am so thankful to celebrate her legacy with you.

And to my Family:
A huge thank you to for instilling the need to challenge society’s norms and the strength of character to do something about it.  You have never lost faith in me, no matter what my latest project is.  I am so grateful to have your love.

To our Miracle Makers:
Your generosity made these achievements possible.  Do not doubt the impact your donation had here in the upstate.  Even a dollar can create change, and by donating to this cause, you had a direct impact on a family.  You’re amazing.  Please never stop partnering with us; you can be a part of this journey.

To our Dancers:
I cry each year at DM because it blows me away how incredibly gracious the student body at Clemson University is.  Thank you for giving up your Saturday.  Thank you for demanding donations.  Thank you for hugging our sweet miracle kids and making them feel special.  Just thank you.

Thankful our student athletes are willing to give up their time to high-five our miracle kids.
Thankful our student athletes are willing to give up their time to high-five our miracle kids.

To the 2015-2016 Executive Board:
You ladies and our one gentlemen were phenomenal.  I do not trust others easily, so know it is a true sign of your capability that I gave you your position.  You are each capable of even more, and I challenge you to never stop pushing in life.  I love each of you and hope you know you can come to me if ever you need a friend.

Clemson Miracle 2016 Executive Board

To our advisors:
This year, you each stepped up by scheduling meetings with chairs, and that opened my schedule to do so much more than other executive directors had time for.  I knew I could count on you ladies at any time, and your love and support was so heavily relied on.  Thanks for being the mentors I did not even know I needed.

(left to right): me, Erin Helbling, Jenn Parker, Julie Fleishman, & Kelsey Rock
(left to right): me, Erin Helbling, Jenn Parker, Julie Fleishman, & Kelsey Rock

To Jenn:
You have believed in Clemson Miracle from the beginning, and your reaction when we blew our goal away this year still brings tears to my eyes.  You have been the best friend, mentor, and shoulder I could have asked for.  I love you so much, and I am so grateful that this amazing organization brought you into my life.  You might not realize how much change you have made in the world, but it is truly incredible the impact you have had as just one person.  You embody being the change you wish to see in the world, and I cannot wait to watch you continue to create new normals in the upstate.

Embracing the GHS Children's Hospital's annual giving coordinator after our total was revealed.
Embracing the GHS Children’s Hospital’s annual giving coordinator after our total was revealed.

To the 2016-2017 Executive Board, whomever you may be:
I already know you are going to obliterate our achievements this year with bigger achievements of your own, and I can’t wait!  I speak for my entire exec when I say do better than us.  We want you to recognize our mistakes and grow Clemson Miracle from them, and then, we want you to encourage the same from the next group.  Do not let us stagnate and never be satisfied.

Questions I have about becoming an adult…

As graduation fast approaches, it has left me in deep contemplation about some of the things I consider to be truths in college that just might not work in the real world.

  1.  Are Febreezed clothes still clean clothes?
    One of the Clemson orientation ambassadors told that to every incoming Clemson freshmen, and I have found it to be a universal law amongst my collegiate peers.
  2. Is “Netflix and chill” still an acceptable use of my evening?
    College students know that the only alternative to a night of frantic studying or irresponsible partying is a night of Netflix binging.
  3. Do you still pre-game parties?
    Everything is college is cause for a pre-game, but my mother did not even understand the term.  To “pre-game” is to have a pre-party to get pre-drunk for the real party.  In fact, you can pre-game the pre-game if you want to get really crazy.  Somehow, I cannot imagine pre-gaming an office party, and yet, to tolerate co-workers, I might bring this tradition with me.
  4. Speaking of alcohol, when exactly is it appropriate to have a drink?
    No matter the day of the week or even the time of the day, there is always someone drinking in a college town.  In fact, it isn’t even frowned upon to have a beer alone in the bar at 1pm in a college town.  Where do the lines of decency lie in the real world?
  5. Can I still wear XL t-shirts over my athletic bottoms?
    Obviously, I will have to stop this trend during the day when I’m at work, but I am hoping it is still acceptable attire to the grocery store.
  6. Will other adults judge me if I blow my budget and am subsisting off of rice and easy mac?
    Sometimes, you just really need the latest function t-shirt.  Or a bottle of wine.  Or tickets to the concert.  Is it okay to pick one of these things over buying groceries for the rest of the month anymore?
  7. Can I continue to sleep on my friend’s couch or will I have to start buying hotel rooms when I visit?
    In college, it is perfectly acceptable to go to visit a friend at another university and bring along your 8 best friends to sleep on all of the available space in the apartment.  In the real world, adults seem to buy hotels when they visit other adults.  This seems like an expense I want to avoid.
  8. When am I too old for my parents’ insurance?
    Really, I don’t even know how to begin figuring insurance out.
  9. Also, when am I too old to be on my parents’ cell phone plan?
    Although I have been insisting I need unlimited texting, calling, and data plans, I will have to learn to make do with the bare minimum when this bill falls into my lap.
  10. Can I continue to sorority “craft” my wall art?
    All of my friends have walls decked in homemade canvases, but these do not seem to be found on adult walls.  Their replacements look expensive.

As concerning as I find all of these questions, I have just accepted a cooperative education opportunity, which means I’ve successfully given myself another semester (and football season) here in God’s country!  Here’s to continually trying to find ways to avoid graduation.  May we stay forever young!

Health Gains (not weight loss)

Today, I want to clear up a common misconception.  Weight loss is not the same thing as health gain.  By that, I mean that the number on the scale is not an indicator of health.  Weight does not equal health.  Got it?

I realize that sounds contrary to many of the public health messages you face every day.  Everyone wants to lose a pound, and we want a diet or workout plan to make us lose pounds quickly.  That simply isn’t the reality of becoming healthy.

One of the biggest difficulties I face with clients is having them stop focusing on weight loss as the index of how well they are doing.  In fact, nearly all of my clients start going up on the scale before they start going down, but if they stick to working out with me, they will find they are looking better in their clothes.  Why is that?

Muscle weighs more than fat.  It is a simple fact of life.  While my clients think they are after weight loss, they are actually after fat loss, and the two are entirely different.  To lose fat and to gain muscle is often to go up on the scale but down a pants size.

So laugh at the health slogans advertising for weight loss.  Eat well (something I’ll work on defining in other posts) and stay active.  Build muscle and burn fat.  Recognize that there are plenty of indicators of health like your BMI or even just the amount of energy you feel like you have throughout the day.

Weight is simply gravity holding you onto this planet.  It is pulling on your bones, muscles, and organs, too, not just your fat.  Re-focus your energy on what really matters: feeling great!  Your diet and exercise habits are important, but the number resulting from gravity’s force on you is not.

#APerfectFit