Retreat: Before

I am excited about my retreat, and I leave for it in about two and a half hours. I have been packing lackadaisically because in the last few months I have learned that I more than taken care of if I just have my blue under armor shorts, ExOfficio underwear, and one of my three favorite t-shirts (red Antonian basketball, baby-blue ACP S.A.Q., black Gravedigger). I have to pack for three, maybe four days, but my duffel is light and my conscience is clear!

I realized last night after hot-tubbing with Luke and Fitz, just exactly how excited I am for the retreat. I was telling them the kind of things we do, which is technically not allowed, but don’t worry–I didn’t divulge any critical Catholic information that could jeopardize our faith. As I told Luke and Fitz about what we did last year and how it changed me, I realized that A.C.T.S. retreats are engineered to work on retreatents on a raw emotion level. The way we schedule events to crescendo into a state of high emotion is no accident. The creators of the whole retreat know that in order to work metal, the metal has to be hot. When blacksmiths wanted to reshape a piece of metal, they first had to heat it in the furnace so that it could be worked with for reshaping. It is the same way with the retreatents. We have a lot of fun and do a lot of prayer, Bible reading, swimming, skits, Masses, and Big Booty during the day, but then at night we try and somber the attitude. At night there is an activity or ceremony that is designed to get the retreatents into a sober state of mind, and force them to focus on why they are at the retreat.

Then, after we have their minds in the right state, we begin to try and subtly reshape them. And please, do not give yourself the luxury of thinking that what we do is at all akin to brainwashing. I do not know of a single retreatent at last year’s A.C.T.S. retreat who was unhappy with the change he or she went through. The reason that they do not feel unhappy is because the change and the recognition that something important happened at the retreat, all comes from themselves. We tell them stories, and perform powerful skits, and give them alone time, but any and all change is self-initiated. You get what you want from the retreat. And everyone wants a lot.

You have to understand the tiers of volunteers in order to understand exactly what kind of experience we are trying to create for the retreatents. There are around thirty retreatents this year, which is actually a lot. I didn’t think it was because I am used to a different kind of church retreat. I am used to a retreat where kids from grades six to grades twelve show up, twenty at least to a grade, and the staff is mostly adults. The difference between that retreat and the A.C.T.S. retreat is that on an A.C.T.S. retreat, as a retreatent, the experience is undeniably centered around you. At a typical retreat, you are there with your friends going through scheduled events, but there are simply too many people to tailor the event to one group. You kind of have to create your own experience. In fact, if you didn’t bring your own friends, you would have a hard time meeting any because the whole retreat was pre-segregated by pre-existing friendships. Not so at A.C.T.S. Every clique is broken down. You do not request bunk-mates, you are randomly assigned them. At meals, every meal you sit where your nametag is, and it is always with a completely new group than it was last time. But in addition to the camaraderie with other retreatents, it is the team members who make the experience special.

As I said, there are about thirty retreatents. There are about fifty team-members. The team members are composed of anyone who has been on a retreat once, and wants to help the next year. You have to be in high school, and because you can only go on the retreat once, but you’re in high school for four years, often there are way more team members than retreatents. Which is great. It plays into the whole servant-leader experience. Team members carry the retreatents luggage, literally feed them during meals, walk them everywhere, answer all the questions they are allowed to answer, wake them up, put them to bed, write them letters, make them bracelets, arrange their nametags, lead their group discussions, and generally foster an environment of service. It is our aim to make the retreatents understand that this weekend is for them. It is their weekend to grow. They have a fleet of ready and willing volunteers who would go to the ends of the Earth to help the retreatents in any way they want.

But I’m not technically a team member. I am a YAM. YAMS are people who want to help with the retreat but are in college, but there is a very small allotment of people who are allowed to be YAMS. I do not know why I was selected, except for that I have friends who have been involved with SEAS A.C.T.S. and are YAMS, and because I was on the retreat last year and can provide insight no one else can. YAM stands for Young Adult Minister. What is peculiar about my situation is that like I said, most retreatents are young in high school, often freshmen. They then return and be team members for two to three years. Because I was not a member of SEAS Church last summer, I had never been invited on a retreat, plus I wasn’t Catholic. So, last year I went on retreat as a senior in high school, which is rare. Because I went as a senior, the following summer (this summer), the only position from which I could help was as a YAM. I never got to be on team! It is odd because most YAMS have more experience than anyone else on retreat, but several team members (people younger than me), have a much better clue of what is happening. But, I do provide feedback to YAMS that is not common, and that is because I was a retreatent last year. They never have that. As we plan, they now can ask me: what did you think of that last year? And can get helpful feedback from someone who has the experience fresh in his memory.

Speaking of fresh memory, I also realized last night that I can’t recall what happened last year as well as I’d like. It was a year ago, in my defense. Still, I look forward to telling my friends all about it and telling you guys all about it when I come back Sunday. Until then, if you can, please pray that God’s will happens on the retreat, whatever that is. Pray that the retreatents have an experience that will change them for the better permanently, and pray that everyone involved with running the retreat is blessed from it and takes something good away from it.

Retreat: Before

Dean Karnazes

Have you heard of him?











Dean Karnazes is arguably the most famous athlete of his sport, and his sport is ultra-marathoning. Ultra-marathoning is what is sounds like: a super long marathon. Ultra-marathoners race long distance races, anywhere from fifty miles to three-hundred miles. Often the runs will award special prizes to runners who can finish under a certain time-frame, which makes these endurance runs feel similar to races. In distances like centuries, which are one hundred miles, racing strategy dictates a combination of non-stop running, with small breaks to eat, drink, cool down, and go to the bathroom.

I guess technically, anything longer than 26.2 miles would be considered an ultra-marathon, but there are certainly prestigious ultras. The Badlands Ultra-Marathon is one of the most famous, because the runners run through Death Valley. In June. For 108 miles. Contestants are injured every single race, and only pros are allowed to compete in it.

The Badlands is a magnification of the mindset that these runners have. They have run half and full marathons, and they want the next big thing. But after fifty miles, sixty isn’t too different. After seventy-five, why not try 100? After 100, what’s 150?

Dean’s first book is “Ultra Marathon Man,” and it is responsible for a lot of his fame. His book inspired a lot of people to take to ultra-marathoning, and has fueled his ascent into stardom. He was recently on Time Magazine’s “100 Most Influential People,” right after George Clooney and before Oprah. He has partnered with Michelle Obama to help advocate a healthy lifestyle with plenty of exercise

However, while he advocates plenty of exercise, Dean cannot advocate healthy eating shamelessly. One thing Karnazes is most famous for is what he eats during his runs. Because he (and other ultra-marathoners) burn so many calories during their runs, they eat a smorgasbord of calorie-intense food; and not only are they downing whole pizzas, burritos, milk shakes, hamburgers, and pure butter, but they’re eating them on the run! I didn’t think anything in the world would make a milk shake sound unappetizing to me, but drinking it from a camel-back while running through the desert?

The reason I am writing about him is because Hayleigh bought me his second book, “RUN!” She gave it to me as a gift yesterday, and I am on page 160 as I type. The book is written in a very engaging manner, and it really makes the reader want to go and run sixty miles at two in the morning. Karnazes says in the prologue that he dictated the entire book to his IPhone as he ran, because he doesn’t believe in inaction, or sitting around. I don’t think the man could do anything more to legitimize his ethos than to write a book while running.

The book is very interesting and is proving to be a quick read, so you can ask to borrow it from me if you would like to read it. I am probably going to read his first book after this one, because I’m mildly interested in ultra-marathoning, and no one makes it seem as easy or inviting as Dean does.

The beautiful irony behind all of this is that my knee is still very hurt. I am seeing a doctor on Tuesday, well not any doctor, my knee doctor. I have a history of knee problems and have had two knee surgeries already in my left knee. I have a congenital disease called Osteochondritis dissecans. It means that the cartilage in my knee joint is deteriorating, and so occasionally if my knee is jarred enough, parts of bone will flake off from my knee joint. When that happens, those particles are either absorbed and unproblematic, or they need to be removed surgically. I went for a long walk this morning and my knee felt pretty good, and the swelling is down. I’m trying not to be optimistic though, because my pain does fit all the criteria for a bone splinter. Regardless, hopefully I will know more on Tuesday. In the meantime, I run through Dean!

Dean Karnazes


As a University of Texas student, I realize that I am spoiled.

I am spoiled because I get an education at a “premier public university.”

I am spoiled because I am in the ‘prestigious Plan II Program.”

But mostly I am spoiled because I get to live in Austin. I guess that means St. Edward’s students and Austin high school students are spoiled too, but that’s not the point.

I think any college would be better if it were based in Austin. Take A&M, put it in Austin–it’s better. Take Michigan, put it in Austin–it’s better. Take Harvard, put it in Austin–it’s better. Yes, UT is good, but a large part of the reason it is so good is because it’s in Austin. Austin is the most amazing city I have ever been to. Ok no, that’s not true, but it’s my favorite one to live in, at least so far. It has such an amazing collective mentality. Austin is a posterchild of the seamless dovetail of environmentalism, pragmatism, capitalism, and creativity. People here “do well by doing good.”

Austin fosters local music, local food, local business, attracts foreign business and foreign people, promotes education, encourages fraternity, and pushes the boundaries of what a city government is supposed to do for its constituents. I have never loved living in a city so much. There are numerous blogs that exist solely to keep Austinites informed about what exactly is going on in Austin on that day!

Stubb’s Barbeque, Waterloo Records, Kerbey Lane, Juan in a Million, Book People, 24 Diner, Zilker Park, and the UT Campus are just a few of the amazing, locally grown hotspots Austin has to offer. But, I have just heard of another one that really intrigued me.

in.gredients is not open yet, and their website does not clarify exactly where they plan on opening, but I can assure you, I will be there on its premier. It is a grocery store, in the same vein as Whole Foods, but with a Co-op spin to it. In their words, in.gredients will be will be “the first package-free and zero waste grocery store in the United States.”

I can try and explain it more, but I will butcher the idea of it; so, instead, I urge you to check out the website and donate if you have money to give to a good cause. The ethos of the store is a sentiment that they share with me and many others: grocery stores have too much waste. Excluding plastic bags and obvious packaging for boxes and lettuce bags, there is so much more refuse than you could imagine. I actually have a pretty good idea of how much waste a grocery store uses, because I have spent a lot of time in the storage and shipping areas of H.E.B. I promise you that if customers saw much energy it takes –in the form of plastic, gas, and cooling– to bring them their food, they would support lower waste grocers too.


That is a picture I took inside the dairy freezer at H.E.B. yesterday. I didn’t know I would have such a good use for it, but I thought an opportunity would come along at some point. We use so much! Without even thinking about it or worse, without even knowing it.

So all I’m trying to do now is to get the word out a little, spread the news of something new. Check out the website tonight, and continue to monitor in.gredients if you have a facebook or twitter. And I hope to see you when they cut the ribbons!


State of the Union

I realize it’s been a while since my last post, but I have plenty of excuses, and I’m sure one of them/ a combination of them will get me off the hook.

My list of excuses:

1. Vacation Bible School wiped me out

2. I had (and still have) an injured finger that is critical to typing

3. A.C.T.S. preparation has been picking up

4. I have been house-sitting so I have not had much access to computers during the period of day in which I blog most prolifically (night)

5. I have been active at night for the last week

6. As days go by without me blogging, I think about the size of the blog post that I will need to write to explain what I have been doing. As more days pass, the hypothetical blog post gets bigger, and I grow more and more scared to ever sit down and type.

7. I have been working like a DOG (pronounced doag [like hoag-ie])

8. Did I mention my finger looks like ground hamburger?

I hope at least one of those excuses is good enough for you; if not, please contact me and I can custom tailor an excuse to fit your needs.

Here is the bad news/good news: The A.C.T.S. Retreat for which I have been preparing for so many weeks starts this Thursday! It goes from Thursday at two in the afternoon til Sunday at eleven in the morning. I won’t be able to post anything in the time during, but I will have a monster post Sunday evening.

I guess the notable events of last week were Vacation Bible School, Hayleigh leaving Saturday morning, seeing my Antonian friends on Thursday night, working and getting closer to being cashier, severely hurting my knee after starting Insanity, HAVING MY BROTHER COME HOME ON SATURDAY, going to a wedding that will be on a reality tv show on CMT, making final preparations for the retreat, watching my mustache grow unkempt, preparing to crew-cut my hair, and getting a prayer journal made for me by one of my best friends, Daphnee.

It was an amazing week, but VBS definitely was the focal point of it. It took so much energy away from me every morning, but I was so happy to give it away to those hilarious kids. I have been house-sitting for almost two weeks, until last night when my brother took over so he could get a cut of the money. I should get a sizeable paycheck from the thing, but it really was not worth it. I don’t like the culpability involved in house-sitting, and it drained me to sleep away from home for so long and to constantly be taking things over to the house. I always brought clothes over, toiletries, random food items, and just various things that were annoying because they were constantly nagging on my mind. For such a little time involvement (twice a day) it was always on my mind and I always worried that if they came back to a house that was anything less than impeccable, their entire vacation would have been ruined.

Anyway, I can’t really recount everything that happened in the last week, but from now on I will post at least once a day unless I can’t get to a computer (retreat). It will be part of my summer mission to keep this blog rolling and interesting!

State of the Union