Zach of All Trades, Master of… Education?

As most of you know, one of my BIGGEST passions in life is MUT running, but I tend to dabble in just about everything. I love to play/write/sing music solo and with my band, I had a halfway decent baseball career, I’m a sub par mountain biker and tend to just dive in to whatever seems interesting. Typically I can skate my way through anything and at least be semi-good at it. If I pick something up fairly quickly and successfully, Kati will often times throw the “But can you float?” question at me to drop me down a few pegs and keep me humble. And yes for the record… I most certainly cannot float. I sink like the Titanic.

By no means am I a master when it comes to anything… especially trail running. You do anything over the course of a decade, you’re usually able to hone certain skills and get pretty good at whatever that thing is. I personally view trail running as an art form more so than a sport. There’s a certain elegance and beauty in moving seamlessly through rugged, mountainous terrain. I feel like those brief moments of being caught in the flow (if you know, you know) brings a certain level of clarity and freedom. For those few moments, I feel a connection to the higher power and everything goes serene.

To have my name associated with the word master, especially when it comes before the words of education, sounds preposterous (I have to use fancy words… because ya know… higher ed and such). When I graduated with my undergrad from Montevallo in 2009, I swore on everything sacred that I would never go back to school.

Even with a degree in Kinesiology, I had no clue what I actually wanted to do with my life. I bounced around from job to job, learning different skill sets from each, but really didn’t have a passion for a one single thing. Years later in 2017, I had a good job as a Warehouse/Parts Manager working for a company that sold/rented equipment for screening/crushing/drilling rock. I knew absolutely nothing of big equipment and was definitely not mechanically minded, but I learn quickly and am good with people. The work was good but it just wasn’t me. I didn’t feel like I was utilizing my own personal skills to make my community and world a better place. So I took some time to self examine and started compiling a list of all my strengths, weaknesses, what I enjoyed doing, what I didn’t enjoy doing and what I would want a career to look like if I didn’t have any limitations. I took note that people, often complete strangers, would reach out to me and pour out their most personal problems and issues without knowing why they were even talking to me. At the time, I had a really close friend who disclosed her own personal battles with mental health. Hearing her story and struggles made me want to become educated on how I could realistically and genuinely help people struggling with the unseen.

A year earlier, I had started volunteering with Make a Wish and helped launch the Trailblaze Challenge here in Alabama. I really enjoyed the process of getting people to push through their own personal struggles and doubts, to achieve something they thought was damn near impossible. Being able to witness the staff’s love for people was truly inspirational. They sacrifice so much of their time and energy into making dreams come true for kids in need. Seeing how it effected not only the kid, but just as much the family, really hit home as to what kind of good can be done if we could just simply love and show compassion to our fellow human.

All of these factors played into the “hey babe, I think I want to go back and get my master’s degree” statement I made to my wife back in 2018.

I’m not really one to half ass anything. If I’m gonna do something, it’s gonna be whole ass or no ass. After I got accepted into the program, I went hard. I decided to be a full time grad student while working full time. The first Fall semester I took a full load (3 classes) and continued through the summer and remainder of my schooling as a full time student.

It was non stop work. I’d find myself having to come home after a 3hr class, to do homework or a paper for another class. Running quickly took a back seat. My mileage sank but honestly, the busyness made me streamline and rethink my training. Instead of lackadaisical, carefree miles, I had to force myself to make more conscious decisions with my runs. Over time, my runs became ones of better quality. Despite my training looking different, I still found success in the structured process. Pinhoti 100 was the first race I structurally trained, and I ended up with one of my best 100 milers to date.

21:41 – Pinhoti 100 (2018)

I knew going into my 2nd semester that something was going to have to change. My commute for work was approximately 1-1.5hrs one way and with having class 2-3 nights a week, it just wasn’t working out. I hated to leave (cuz it was like a $10 an hour pay cut), but it was necessary in order to pursue this goal. So with a whiskey drink and cake, I said farewell to Crusher Works…

And hello to Impact Sports Rehab.

Impact was 3 minutes away from the house, 10 minutes away from school and allowed me to work part time w/ flexible hours as needed for school. Not only did I get to utilize my undergrad degree for the first time, but I also got to see the impact Physical Therapists and PTAs have on people’s lives and the community. I was immediately brought into the family, but it was a family I already knew since I had done my own rehab there in 2017 when I did PT for a 360° labrum tear in my shoulder.

I enjoyed my time at Impact, but I knew that I couldn’t work there for the remainder of grad school. Financially I couldn’t keep digging our family into a hole and my internship requirements would place me working the same hours as the PT clinic was open. So after a year at Impact… it was back to retail…. another thing I swore off for good.

I hopped into a retail supervisory role at America’s Thrift Store and worked mainly nights and weekends. Since my internship required 600hrs, I was going to have to break it up into 2 semesters. It can be done in 1 semester, but that would a 40hr/week internship, and again, financially I couldn’t just not work for 5 months. So I slipped into a routine where I would go to my internship site rom 7a-12p and then close the store from 1p-930p. The days I had class, I’d either open the store from 7a-330p and do class from 5p-830p or do a full 8hrs of internship before class. It. Was. Exhausting. I found that running just couldn’t be a main focus and had to slide into the self-care slot. Some mornings I’d wake up and run early, some days I’d run after I got off work late at night and other days I just couldn’t pull myself out the door for a run. It took some time, but I eventually accepted this season of my life and allowed myself to run when I felt like it and not put too much stock into performance. Despite the lower mileage, I linked together a smooth 50 mile effort at Blood Rock 50. I think a lot of it had to do with the fact it was at the beginning of a 3 week period of no internship/school and it was a cause of celebration!

1st OA ~ 8:38 (Blood Rock 50 – 2020)

My time at the thrift store has been a lot of freakin fun and it’s mostly been the direct cause of the work family.

I’ve got the opportunity to work with some really fabulous people. Seeing the cool and crazy stuff that comes through the store is the highlight of every day, but there’s been some wicked good/bad stories that’s derived from thrift store. If you follow my Instagram you’ve probably seen some of the… unique items that get donated and have probably heard some of the crazy stories of customers and happenstances. I may eventually create a drop down section on my blog called Tales from the Thrift and share some of these stories!

I’m currently in the midst of working out a 2 week notice with the thrift store. My internship is complete, all classes are accounted for, and I passed my comp exam. All that’s left to do is graduate on Saturday. I’ve opted to pick up my degree instead of walking at the ceremony (sorry mom) so I can spend graduation day running on my favorite mountain. I’m extremely lucky to have been given a job opportunity in the field I’ve been studying for the past 2.5 years. I’ve accepted a job as a school based therapist for Shelby County and can’t wait to get started.

If I’m being transparent, I haven’t felt accomplished in a lot of things in life. That’s not to say I don’t recognize that I have accomplished or been successful at things, it’s just I’ve never felt that feeling of accomplishment that I feel like others feel. I can’t remember a single time crossing the finish line of an ultramarathon and feeling like I had accomplished something great. It was the same for baseball. Even after going to the College World Series or being inducted into the UM Hall of Fame, I just didn’t feel that elated feeling of accomplishment. Maybe it’s my own personal self suppressing the need to celebrate. Through team sports, I’ve been trained to show little emotion and to “act like I’ve been here before” after big accomplishments. Celebrating successes and showing excitement instead of internalizing it is something I’m actively working on.

I do feel accomplished for this degree though. Perhaps it was because of all the sacrifices I’ve had to make in order to make this goal happen and it was something that I chose to pursue without any outside influences. Regardless of my own personal pursuit towards this degree, I litrully could have NEVER accomplished it without the unconditional support of Kati.

She’s seen me at my lowest. She’s picked me up and has validated me when I’ve felt like I was an imposter. She’s sacrificed so much of her time and energy to help me pursue this goal. She’s taken 2nd jobs to help cover finances when I was having to cut back hours for my internship. I’m forever grateful to have her as the person I get to walk hand and hand through this experience we call life.

I’m looking forward to so many things post graduation but I think what I’m looking forward to the most is simply getting back to a simple routine. I’ll be back on a M-F schedule and won’t have to be constantly thinking through school and internship. I’ll no longer have plan around weekends, me and Kati will actually get to spend some quality time together, I’ll get to spend more time creating music and running big mountains with my friends. I can get back into a running routine and hell, I might even get to go all out and start dedicating myself to a more serious training regiment.

I’m so thankful to have such a wonderful support system. None of this would have ever been possible if I didn’t have some amazing friends and family in my life.

So cheers to the next stage of life!

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