Summer Photo Fun

We hope you had a great summer. We’ve all enjoyed the many adventures that we encountered despite neuromyelitis optica (NMO). Here are our favourite photos of the summer:

From Lelainia

The Lloyds

My husband and I have been empty nesters for about 5 years now, so it’s challenging to come up with a photo with all of us in the same frame, especially when two of us (Carver and I) are avid photographers and prefer to be behind the lense. This group of photos was taken on Father’s Day this year, 4 days before my husband suffered a major heart attack, which makes them all the more special to me. We took a day trip to Whistler, which is our happy place and did some hiking, swimming, shopping & eating. My son spotted a selfie stick and bought it as a gift for me, so hopefully the next time we’re out having adventures together, we’ll all end up in the same frame.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         From Jenna:

soph  pug  run My happy place is up north in Muskoka country at my husband’s family cottage. In Ontario, Canada, most city dwellers jump at the chance to drive several hours to the great outdoors, every weekend. We’re not as extreme but instead take a couple of weeks off. From Erin: IMG_6288 IMG_6648 IMG_6772 IMG_6826 IMG_7451 IMG_7363 IMG_7282 IMG_7264 IMG_7127 IMG_7057 IMG_6996 IMG_6921   As our summer is coming to an end we sure did have a lot of fun! We did a lot of activities as a family. I really enjoyed watching Allen being at his favorite place, which is the track. Alana is growing up so fast she no longer has the look of a newborn . Eric has been working a lot since this is his busy time of the year. The best part was just doing a lot of things together as a family. From Christine: Processed with VSCOcam with s2 preset masterchef This summer John and I did some travelling together and did a UK and Ireland trip together. This is us in front of the Cliffs of Moher.  I’m finishing up the summer as the newest judge on MasterChef Vietnam.

31
Aug 2015
POSTED BY Jenna
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The dog days of summer

The dog days of summer are over…well, almost. With just a few weeks before our little girl starts pre-kindergarten, I start the busy hiring season at work and the husband will likely be swamped covering our Federal election, I wanted to make sure we spent some good quality time together.

We’ve had so much fun together as a family unit but vacation season can certainly take a toll when one lives with a challenging autoimmune disease like neuromyelitis optica (NMO). Eating all the bad foods (this year I dubbed it the “butter tart tour”), staying up late, neglecting to exercise and drinking a lot of wine can cause havoc on the immune system. And the heat…the endless hours outdoors makes my nerves scream in pain.

But I refuse to let this disease dictate how I live my life. We’ve kept ourselves so busy it’s tough to remember everything we did but here’s an excerpt of our adventures:

-We spent almost 2 full weeks and a few weekends at the family cottage, swimming in the lake and at the beach, hiking, touring a cranberry bog/winery, and enjoying the outdoors with fires and s’mores.
-My best friend Andrea and I took Sophie to the Art Gallery of Ontario where we participated in clay play.
-The PanAm Games were hosted by our home town of Toronto. We attended aquatic diving and a bunch of free music events.
-My husband’s distant relatives visited from Norway so we spent a weekend acting like tourists in our own city, visiting the CN Tower, the markets and sailing Lake Ontario.
-We visited The Toronto Zoo (we love the pandas) and African Lion Safari (a game reserve).
-We biked long trails, golfed and took up running again.
-We attended a few street festivals like the Night Asian Market.
-We enjoyed the outdoor pools, splash pads and Centre Island, which is home of Centreville Amusement Park.
-Our Toronto Blue Jays have done well this year so we attended a few games already.
-Remember drive-in theatres? We piled the trunk of our car with pillows and watched Minions.
-And we’ve had a lot of ice cream. We love peanut butter chocolate anything.

We hope you’ve enjoyed your summer to the fullest. Next week we’ll be posting our favourite summer pictures. Best of health to each of you.

25
Aug 2015
POSTED BY Jenna
POSTED IN

Just for fun, NMO

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Despite NMO I have a 3 year old now!

 

 

 

This past weekend we celebrated Sophie’s 3rd birthday and yes, it was elaborate. In truth, I know I can get, um, well, a little overboard but I can explain.

 

Sophie’s birthday is technically the end of this month but as a “long weekend baby”, we’ll probably always celebrate it a week early with our family and friends. On her actual birthday we reserve the day for just the three of us as a family unit.

 

Sophie, like all other children, is a miracle. But to me, her day is very symbolic and extra special. Living with NMO (neuromyelitis optica) I was told having children was not going to happen. They said it was dangerous to come off my meds, reckless, not enough medical evidence, etc. To Mike and I, that was just more heartbreaking news. But I worked hard to get back to an acceptable health. And I did my homework about IVF. Then I begged and pleaded my team of doctors until they agreed, with significant warning, to let us give it a try.

 

And then there was the entire IVF process…that’s a whole other post.

 

But in the end, we beat this disease just a little bit because we have her, our miracle baby. And every year on her birthday I’m reminded of how grateful I was and still am for all the love and support from our family and friends and doctors and medical advancements, and (I can go on and on – this is such a long list).

 

And my heart breaks just a little bit more when I think of how NMO might rob me of time with her. This month has been tough knowing we’ve lost one of our big advocates, Candace Coffee, and how her twins are just a year younger than my little girl.

 

So yes, I throw a party. I take months ahead of time to plan intricate details around her theme (this year it was “Princess”) and we celebrate. For this I won’t apologize, be judged or scolded.

 

And as I watched her have an amazing time with her new school friends, dance class friends and family friends, my heart is filled with more happiness than I could have ever imagined. We beat NMO a little bit yesterday, today and if I have anything to say about it, for a really long time tomorrow too.

The royal princess table setting for 12 kids.

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A special guest, Rapunzel, surprised the birthday girl with a visit.
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It wouldn’t be a party without a royal snack table.

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Hummus carriage (with zebras because we couldn’t find small horses).
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Glam station for when the royal guests arrived.
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And special cupcakes with ring toppers that each guest brought home. 11745600_10153490885309461_5620079337406472899_n

The bouncy “castle” was a real hit. cwvDm9asA3Lw9ZNWAbl5esWzZw-1

Her royal highness, Princess Sophie, is now 3 years old.11753743_10152960304720824_6670494545840344038_n DSC07119 DSC06976

Candace Coffee May you in RIP

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Our NMO family is grieving today,as we lost another family member Candace Coffee. I remember when I was first diagnosed Candace and Collin were the first videos I watched of other people having NMO. Sure was very active in spreading awareness for NMO and loved her twin boys so very much! Below is a video about Candace also a link to her Gofundme account that they have setup for a college fund. Please if you can please donate! RIP Candace.

http://www.gofundme.com/yzt34w

 

NMO TV

We hope you’re all enjoying the warmer weather and if not, do what you need to stay cool and keep symptoms away. If you’re staying indoors, now is the time to take a look at Guthy-Jackson’s new NMO TV here:

 

http://www.guthyjacksonfoundation.org/nmo-tv/

 

Happy summer!

23
Jun 2015
POSTED BY Jenna
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Rituxan vs. Breastfeeding

I wanted to talk about the difference between when I had Allen compared to when I had Alana. I have had a very different experience with my NMO with each kid after I gave birth. After I had Allen I had to make sure I did Rituxan within 8 hours after childbirth. So needless to say I did not get much time with him after he was delivered. I had to go to a completely different floor to get my Rituxan since it’s a chemotherapy drug I had to be moved to the cancer floor. It took over 12 hours for them to infuse the Rituxan the nurse ran it very slow since I just gave birth. That was very hard for me as being a first time mom being away from my son for over 12 hours. By doing the Rituxan so quickly after childbirth my doctors were hoping it would help really decrease my chance having a relapse. After the first infusion I would have to do another round of Rituxan 2 weeks later at my doctors office. About week after my second round of Rituxan my NMO symptoms came back very badly. I started back on my daily symptom pills and was hoping for the best. About 9 months later I had a relapse ended up in the hospital to do PLEX. Within a month I had another Relapse ended back in the hospital for another round of PLEX. I was good for about 4 months when another relapse occurred and was admitted to the hospital again for another round of PLEX. After having Allen I really battle with my NMO even though I did my Rituxan very quickly it didn’t seem like it worked very well.

 

When I decided to have another baby this time I really wanted not to do Rituxan right after childbirth and try to breastfeed. Hoping that would maybe help prevent having a relapse. I had Alana 3 months ago and I am doing fairly well! Breastfeeding has been a challenge but I am hanging in there! My NMO symptoms are mild right now about a week ago they started coming back. The one symptom I am battling is horrible headaches, I went in for a nerve block and I hope it will work. I will honestly say I feel so much better breastfeeding vs doing Rituxan. My doctor is giving me till September to breastfeed then I will have to do Rituxan. I am hoping I will make it that long! I am being closely monitored by the doctors to make sure I do not flare. I go in every couple weeks to get my blood work checked, to make sure my levels are absolute. My whole family can’t believe so far how well I am doing with my NMO since having Alana. I am truly hoping this time I stay relapse free for awhile.

I have NMO. Now what am I supposed to eat?

If you’re like me you probably enjoy the occasional over-indulgence of food and usually the bad stuff. Growing up Dutch-Indonesian our meals often revolved around rice dishes, cooking oils and spices. I’ll admit that food, especially the quality of food, is usually the last thing on my mind. I’m not a poor eater but I am guilty of sporadic meal times, missing meals and binge eating. Having a child corrects some of my poor habits but as long as she’s eaten well and regularly I’m ok.

Since my NMO diagnosis several years ago I’ve really battled with food. Prednisone made me over-eat and the weight gain pulled me into a dark depression. I lost most of the weight only to pack it all back on when I was pregnant and then lose it all again. Over time I’ve read a lot of studies, testimonials and books on how diet can resist or improve neurological symptoms.

But I was overwhelmed.

It seemed like the more I read the more confused I became. Some argue a vegan diet while others argue gluten-free or soy-free. Scared of falling into a trap of another fad diet, I spoke with my doctors who all said the same thing – “everything in moderation.” A couple of summers ago I challenged myself to go vegetarian for 2 months, really just to force myself how to cook differently. What I found was that my body felt better, cleaner and more capable of handling the NMO symptoms. But I love steak too much…

So here we are at present. After more research and coaching from family members who also struggle with disease I’ve now spent the last month on the Paleo autoimmune protocol (AIP) diet. It’s restrictive, tough and unforgiving. The goal is to rid your body of all possible inflammatory foods then slowly introduce them back into your diet one at a time to identify which ones cause havoc on your body. My cousin best describes the feeling of Paleo AIP – “it is so powerful to use food and find control again of your body after so long”. Now, I’m not saying that I will ever be able to stop my regular meds and that my symptoms all magically went away BUT after the first week I already felt better.

I’ve just started introducing rice into my diet and so far there is a limit before I feel bloated and sick. I’m playing around with portions and I’m hoping that will make rice more tolerable. I don’t know if full on Paleo is my solution or even feasible but I know I’ve made a huge mindset change that will stay with me forever.

My gallery of Pinterest fails:

This is supposed to be the meat patties that provide my protein in the morning. They never turn out looking like perfect circle hamburger patties.

 

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Instead they turned out looking like burnt hockey pucks (but they still tasted really good).

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Desperate for sugar (I went into complete withdrawal after 2 days) I attempted to make beautiful coconut flour pancakes. They tasted horrible, like dry flour and no amount of maple syrup was making these better.

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This wasn’t a fail per se but I did miss potatoes. My family really enjoyed this roast.

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NMO and Pregnancy – A Patient’s Perspective

Both Erin and I have had successful pregnancies so we’re often asked how exactly we’ve done it. Truth is, no one really knows how we got so lucky (as we all know NMO is so unpredictable) but we did work with a great team of doctors, understood what we were getting into and built a plan that we think helped us stay on track.

Here’s our disclaimer: we are not doctors or ever think our opinion is superior. Pregnancy and NMO is not for everyone. This documentation is meant to provide insight into our journey and what we learned along the way. It’s meant as an external resource for those with Neuromyelitis Optica (NMO) who are considering pregnancy.

Q: I have NMO. Can I get pregnant?
A: Maybe. The reality is that there just aren’t enough documented cases of patients with NMO and pregnancy. There have been some successful cases, like ours and there have been some unsuccessful cases that have resulted in miscarriages and major NMO attacks.

Q: When is the best time for us to try getting pregnant?
A: Ideally you want as much time between your last attack and when you become pregnant. The longer time you provide your body with stability, the better. Our doctors recommended we wait several years before we even started the conversation about pregnancy. This is a conversation that should include your entire team of health care providers.

Q: I’m on a lot of medications. Are they safe for a pregnancy?
A: All immune suppressant medication, including Cellcept, Rituximab, and Imuran are classified as unsafe for pregnancy. Logically speaking, these drugs are meant to slow down an immune system, which doesn’t make sense for an unborn child who is developing an immune system inside you. There are several programs often affiliated with your local hospital that will help you determine which drugs are safer than others for use during a pregnancy, but remember, no drug is 100% safe during a pregnancy.

Q: But if I come off my medication won’t I suffer from another major attack?
A: Possibly. Ideally you want to wean off all unsafe medication (like immune suppressant drugs) and ramp up a suitable substitute (like prednisone) to provide you with some protection while you are pregnant. Only you can determine if you’re willing to take this risk with your body.

Q: Can I still try to get pregnant the good old fashion way?
A: You could but ideally you want to minimize the amount of time you are without the best treatment to protect you from another NMO attack. That’s why both of us decided to pursue in-vitro fertilization (IVF). That way we were able to time exactly when the unacceptable drugs were out of our system with a close date to when we would ideally be pregnant. Talk to your doctors to see if IVF is an option for you.

Q: What happens if I have an attack during my pregnancy?
A: This is something you’ll need to discuss as part of your plan and is very personal to you and your family. You’ll want to discuss your wishes with your team of doctors beforehand so everyone knows what you want should you experience an NMO attack during your pregnancy.

Q: Who should follow me medically while I am pregnant?
A: You’ll want to continue working with your existing medical team as they’ll be familiar with your history but you’ll also want to consider a high-risk obstetrician as some medication, like prednisone, can create additional problems like gestational diabetes, during your pregnancy.

Q: I’m worried about the delivery. Are there special considerations for patients with NMO?
A: It will depend on your wishes and what recommendations your team of doctors will make. Typically, if you’ve had a transverse myelitis (TM) attack you may want to consider a c-section to eliminate any extra pressure on your spine during delivery. Make sure you meet with your anesthesiologist beforehand to identify where the problem areas exist on your spine should you need or choose to get an epidural.

Q: My doctor wants me on my medication right after delivery but I really want to breastfeed. Can it be done?
A: It will depend how your pregnancy goes. If things go well you might have the option to delay your previous course of medication long enough to breastfeed for a period of time. Voice this desire with your doctors to build it into your plan. If you suffer from extreme symptoms or worse, an attack, during your pregnancy you’ll likely want to pursue the best treatment plan available as soon as possible so you can make sure you’re there for your new addition to your family. From our perspective we both chose to breastfeed for as long as it was safely recommended by our doctors – aside from all the regular benefits of breastfeeding, it also helped prolong the feeling of pregnancy for our bodies and allowed for a slower transition from pregnant to not pregnant, providing the opportunity to adjust.

Q: I’m worried I’ll gain a lot of weight during my pregnancy and will struggle to lose it once I start my treatment plan post-pregnancy. 
A: Like all new moms weight loss post pregnancy is a challenge. Build it into your plan to work with a nutritionist and set realistic goals knowing that movement isn’t always the easiest for NMO patients.

Q: Having NMO is already an emotional roller coaster. Can I handle a pregnancy?
A: Only you can answer that. Don’t get pressured into a pregnancy if you aren’t sure you can emotionally handle the unknowns and/or if you do not think your body can handle such physical changes. Be sure to have a positive support system available during the planning process, your pregnancy and available to assist post pregnancy. Be sure you talk through and agree on a plan for worse case scenarios.

An intimate interview with Nancy Reimer, NMO Advocate

This week we’d like to showcase another “Mom on a Mission” Nancy Reimer, who is the mastermind behind the very first dedicated NMO (neuromyelitis optica) Walk/Run. It’s difficult not to cry reading her candid response to our very intimate questions. Always honest, sincere and tough, Nancy took time to respond to our questions from her home in British Columbia, Canada.

nancy

1. What motivated you to start the first NMO dedicated walk/run?

I think if I am being completely honest, my motivation for starting the first NMO dedicated Walk/Run was anger and grief. We all have our own ways of dealing with the tough stuff in life and for me I felt like if I did not find a positive outlet for my feelings of anger and grief surrounding Riley’s diagnosis, that I would likely go under and not resurface. It was excruciating as a Mom to go through that first year and to not have a diagnosis really until his fourth relapse. To hear the words “no cure” almost did me in, however, it was around that time that the idea to have an event specific to NMO entered my mind. Organizing this event gave me a positive focus…something that I could do in my own community to raise awareness and funding specifically for Neuromyelitis Optica. When I started planning the event, I was surprised that there were others with the diagnosis who immediately reached out to me. It then became something that extended out much further than Riley’s diagnosis.

2. Were you always planning to make it an annual event?

I remember the final weeks leading up to the first ever event thinking, “what if nobody comes”. Silly really, because so many had registered…we ended up with around 400 that first year. I think my thought process was to just see how year one went…then year two…and now we are leading up to year three! Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that it would ever go beyond year one. It has become this incredible place of support for those who live with NMO and their families. This event has given us all something that we “CAN” do to make a difference. We cannot change the diagnosis, but we can rally together with our supporters and be there for each other while we educate our communities about NMO.

3. What improvements to the event are you planning for this year?

Each year I look at what worked and what did not. I have to say that both years so far have been pretty darn amazing. Last year we added a few more sponsors, a KidZone and onsite yoga classes. We were also delighted to have a local dance school come and do a flash mob at our event. The onsite Sponsors are incredible and most have been with us since year one. When looking for Sponsors, you are asking people/businesses in the community to believe in both the cause and that your event will succeed. You never know what kind of support exists unless you are willing to ask. So for this year, we have all of our amazing Sponsors coming back, some fantastic post-race entertainment and snacks…don’t forget the snacks!!!!

4. Fundraising certainly has its challenges. What advice would you give to those who do so yearly? How do you keep it relevant and fresh?

Fundraising has been a challenge. I struggled a lot with this aspect of the event last year. Our registration fees are part of our fundraising efforts and that is the easy part, but asking for donations above and beyond has, in the past, been a challenge. When you are asking people or businesses to donate, I have found that most need to have that personal connection to the cause for them to fully be able to identify with it. Unfortunately, many do not identify with Neuromyelitis Optica. Some are willing to listen, while others are not. I have learned to give a brief synopsis of the disease and leave a letter with more details and unfortunately, unless they take the time to read the letter or our personal story, I rarely hear back. That was tough for a few of us last year but then as we started to really look at the event, it occurred to us that maybe that’s not what this event is about. Yes, it is so amazing to be able to contribute financially to the cause and ultimately the cure, but maybe our event serves a different purpose. There is nothing that has been so healing to me as standing before that “sea of green” and seeing that visual support all at once. It is several communities standing together, unified in their support of a cause…our cause. There is not a price tag for that…the support onsite on event day is priceless!!!! To me, if I can provide that for the people who have this diagnosis, then I have done my job well.

5. Riley is another year older so he’s another year wiser. How do you feel this event impacts him on a personal level?

This is a tough one. Riley does not often verbalize what he feels about his diagnosis or about the event. He was only 7 when NMO entered his world and I think for him the event has just become a part of that. Perhaps as he gets older, he will realize more, like I have, the magnitude of the support that stands before him and that this event came to be because he was diagnosed with Neuromyelitis Optica. It was created based on his personal diagnosis. For Riley, life has really normalized in the past couple years. The beginning of May marks 3 years of stability for him. That is huge. I remember the panic of that first year and I wondered if this disease would ever give him a break or if it would be a lifetime of relapses, hospitals and rehab centres. I remember the severity of some of his relapses and wondered if he would live, if he would move, if he would walk again, if he would be able to see…we’ve come a long way baby!!! I am beyond grateful for his stability and he is very blessed to have an amazing team of Doctors that have made it their priority to keep him that way.

riley

6. To quote the Guthy-Jackson Foundation, you’re another “Mom on a mission”. How do you stay inspired and motivated?

My motivation wakes up in the room across the hall from me every morning. I walk in to see the mop of curls on his pillow. My heart still skips a beat when he does not respond right away. I have learned over the past few years, what it means to be a “Mom on a Mission”. Simply put, a Mom on a Mission is a woman driven by something that puts her child/children in danger, and will fight to the ends of the earth to change that for her child/children. I have had that feisty attitude my whole life and I am learning now to channel it into something good. Both of my children know, without a doubt, that I will always fight for them and will bulldoze anything, Neuromyelitis Optica included, that puts them in danger. The last couple of years have been hard for me. Once I got through that initial flurry of the first year full of attacks, diagnosis and then, finally, stability, I saw the damage…the backlash of the ordeal. The thing is, when you are fighting for a child, your child, you do not feel the plummet to the bottom of the totem pole. I was not a priority and have suffered more than most know, as I have become quite good at just carrying on with life. A car accident in the midst of all of this, just added to that by introducing chronic pain into my body. This year so far has been about healing me. I am, as best as I can, making myself and my own health and recovery, a priority. I still have moments where I plummet, but I never camp there for very long. I have a job to do and in order to do that; I need to be the strongest, healthiest version of me. My motivation now reaches around the globe. My fight is no longer just about my child anymore. It is about every person, anywhere, who has received diagnosis the of Neuromyelitis Optica. We are this amazing family and I honestly do not know how I have lived my life up to this point without these incredible people in my life. I am inspired and motivated daily by the people who were brought into my life through this diagnosis. I am so very proud to be a part of a rare disease family that together will find a cure for Neuromyelitis Optica…I truly believe that!!!!

7. Tell us how people can get involved and all the details of this year’s event.

7. You can get involved in our event by being there if you are able to do so. For those who cannot be physically there, we added a Virtual Participant option to our registration, last year, which allows anyone…anywhere in the world, to register for $10 and support our event and the cause. To symbolize that support, I write all of the virtual participant’s names on my shirt and wear it to the event so it is as if you are there. My goal this year would be to have a really full shirt of names. Our event supports two charities… The UBC NMO Clinic and Research Program and the Guthy-Jackson Charitable Foundation. Donation links to both are available on our family website along with the link to register for our event.
You can visit our website to register, make a donation or view our videos, photos and press from years 1 and 2 of our NMO Walk/Run. nomorenmo.com

Video

Snowboarding with NMO

A couple weeks ago my family took our annual trip to Whistler, British Columbia. Even though my husband was the one to fall in love with the city before me, I’ve come to really look forward to the fresh air and now, even the snowboarding. Let me take a few steps back…

When I first took up snowboarding it was on a whim, or rather a misinterpretation from my therapist. I was in my mid 20s, divorced, I moved to a whole new city leaving my friends and family and even declined a promotion to chase something I couldn’t quite explain to myself. I knew I needed help figuring out what I was going through so I found a therapist I really liked and we used talk therapy vs. medication. She recommended that I find something to commit to and stick with it. My husband (boyfriend at the time) wanted me to try snowboarding so on a whim I marched into a sports store, spent a ridiculous amount of money on all the gear and headed for the bunny hill thinking snowboarding would be the thing I could commit to. I like the outdoors, I’ve always been somewhat athletic and I’m a bit of a thrill seeker. What a mistake that was! Despite the beat up tailbone and bruises to my body and ego, I kept going. Then NMO happened.

When they tell you that you’ll likely never walk again or at least really struggle you either accept it or you make the decision to prove them wrong. I made the decision to walk in high heels again and still keep trying to snowboard no matter what. Even though I’d still qualify myself as a beginner because I just don’t have enough time to really practice, I’m still committed. Here I am, still toughing it out on the mountains.

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I’m scared of heights and it hurts like hell. I mean, it really hurts, but this matters to me. Truth be told after the first minute my spine feels like it’s being ripped out from my neck and the pain gets worse throughout the day. And my legs, those useless pieces of garbage…ugh. So I get nervous and pep talk myself on gondolas, chair lifts and when I’m strapping on my board. I’m sure I seem crazy to everyone around me and I usually don’t disagree. But the ability to face my fears – of heights, of commitment, and of one day never walking again – when I get to the bottom of that mountain, that’s euphoria.

They say with snowboarding that one day it just clicks. I felt like this year it kinda did for me and right from the get go I was able to put together turns and do my dreaded toe turns without panicking and choosing to bail out. I’m wondering if with life that one day it just clicks for me too.

Here’s a sample of my scared rambling (you’ve been warned) just before I head down a new run. And another video showcasing my (lack of) talent.

http://youtu.be/pnLBWV6rFF8

18
Mar 2015
POSTED BY Jenna
DISCUSSION No Comments
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