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This is a Joke, Right??

Happy September?

I woke up this morning when the alarm went off and turned over to stare out the window but I couldn’t see outside because it was too dark out. Is that right? Somehow it seems way too early. We still have months to go until the dark days of Winter (doesn’t that sound like a gripping novel title?). We’re also settling into another week of ridiculous temps. Yesterday was the “cool” day at 84 and the humidity made my sunglasses fog up the second I walked outside. I thought it was clever to take my lunch early and get in a short walk before it got too hot, so I left at 10am and only made it half-way before needing to stop and turn around. I didn’t want to look completely sweaty and withered for the afternoon at work. September feels like a cruel trick – getting dark but keeping the stifling hot temps of July.

One of my co-workers talked me into getting some pineapple blueberry tea from Teavana. Have any of you bought tea from them before? I’m weird about tea because most flavors I don’t like but this was really, really wonderful. It’s also probably the most expensive food item in my kitchen right now! It’s too pricey as an every day beverage but I love an ice cold cup here and there on these really hot days.

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I bought a little tea brewer and can whip up a few cups in no time. I think I’ll always be a coffee girl but I know a lot of teas have great health properties (plus many are easier on your teeth enamel than coffee) so it would be nice to mix it up. Are any of you iced tea drinkers? Any brands/flavors you recommend?

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We’re still hauling in the garden veggies. I need to figure out how to stagger my crops so everything doesn’t ripen at exactly the same time! We’re on the tail end of our green beans now…

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My original plan was to blanche them and freeze for the Winter but… I ran out of time. Oops. We ended up giving a lot away to the family instead. But we’ve still been enjoying them for dinners and they are a welcome break from all the zucchini / yellow squash we are SWIMMING in.

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Ben’s been having nagging back pain for several months now and we tried chiropractic, 5-day oral steroids, and on Friday went in for the steroid shot. Ben had an MRI that found a bulging disk that kept rubbing against his spine. The constant irritation wouldn’t allow the inflammation to come down enough to heal. While I don’t think he was thrilled with having a huge needle shoved so close to his spine, he was a calm and cool trooper through it all.

We had four different women come in while we were in our prep room and ask for Ben’s name and date of birth. I appreciate being thorough but talk about inefficient. They wheeled him out and into the surgery room and he was back 5 minutes later (and alive, ha). The whole process went really well – my only wish was that they had told us his back would be slathered in iodine so we could have either brought an old shirt or gotten a wet towel to wipe it off. Maybe they could cut that staff from 4 useless people to 3 and used the extra $$ for washcloths?

Ben’s recovery is doing really well. He had to keep the area cool (no hot showers for 2 days). The first night he didn’t sleep well and was in a bit of pain but the next day he was already feeling better – good enough for a short walk around the neighborhood!

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The more we tell people about his shot the more we hear how common this is. It seems like everyone either has had shots or knows someone who has. They said this type of injury may need more than one shot, may need yearly maintenance shots indefinitely, or may never fully go away but we’re hoping that because he’s relatively young that if we can get it healed now he won’t be stuck battling this for the rest of his life.

Meanwhile I feel like someone ran over my leg with a car. I’m super sore and nothing is helping – I definitely have some tight muscles and maybe my hips are off. Goal #1 today: schedule appointment with my massage therapist for help!!

In fact, I’m going to do that right now. Might as well get Sept off to a good start!

Lambeau Leaping

I’m not sure what it’s been about this Summer but every time we’ve had some fun event to go to, it’s been miserably hot and humid. I’m starting to wonder… If that translates into a Winter hovering in the 30s – then we’re OK though. ;)

One of the big fundraising events that started a few years ago for Special Olympics WI was rappelling  – off the sides of Miller Park and Lambeau Field. In 2013 Alex got the opportunity to rappel down as part of Team WI in partnership with his old employer, Festival Foods grocery store.

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Fast-forward to this year and Alex was asked to form a rappelling team once more. This time he was able to get a team of four and went down as part of TeamAlex. :-)

Alex rappelled down with his new boss – but I was most nervous about his other two team members going down right after…

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Yup – that’s my brother Matt on the left and Ben on the right! If you had to ask me the two LEAST likely people to do something like this… Ben’s not afraid of heights but isn’t very adventurous. Matt, however, is afraid of heights (like his sister) and also is pretty fragile. He has several bulging discs and a host of medical issues stemming from chronic renal disease so he almost never has any energy and has to take things really, really carefully.

It was another hot and humid day and we spectators tried to stick out of the sun while we waited for the team to have their turn. They bring you inside and hook you up to all the equipment, give a short lesson, and then you get to do a practice run down a 15 foot ledge inside to get a feel for how the pulleys work. I was still a bit nervous that once they were in position way up on top that one (or both) of them might decide not to do it after all.

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But they got off to a great start with lots and lots of cheering (I may have gone hoarse). Matt really got a good tempo going and was absolutely cruising down like a pro. Where did that come from!?

ll4As the people are rappelling down the announcer has a sheet about each person and gives the crowd little tidbits about the people: “what’s the craziest thing they’ve ever done before”, “what’s their last words before going over the edge”, etc… It’s fun and gives the audience a chance to connect with and cheer for each person. Ben’s last words: “its HOT up here”. Ha

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Both guys made it down without an issue and my heart was bursting with pride. While I was really proud of Ben for doing something outside his norm, I really was proud of Matt. I know it wasn’t the easiest thing for him but he made it look easy. I was stunned.

Sweaty but victorious!!

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Like a boss…

ll3It was blazingly hot so we actually brought along our camping mosquito tent to help provide a little bit of shade. Mom and Dad had two full coolers loaded with water, soda, and lemonade which were liberally consumed.

Here we are cooling down afterwards. Not a lot of shade at this point but it really helped earlier in the day.

ll2I get shaky just looking at high-up pictures so I am amazed by people who can scoot on down without an issue. I’d likely be the person all revved up and ready to rock until I got to the edge and had to sit back into nothing but air. No way, Jose! I still get a bit nervous before even a small roller coaster ride! No heights for this lady. :-)

Way to go Ben and Matt!!

Good-bye LA

It’s taking me a long time to get through all my LA recaps but they’ve really been the meat and potatoes of life around here lately. Plus, I don’t want to forget anything about our trip.

Our two full days there were super active and I racked up 16,000 and 21,000 steps. After all the excitement on Saturday, we were exhausted and completely crashed. Out hotel shuttle pick-up was scheduled for noon on Sunday which didn’t give us enough time to do anything in terms of sight-seeing. Instead, we scoped out the hotel outdoor pool and spent all morning relaxing by the water.

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It was a really pretty pool area – with a sitting area filled with tropical looking plants. It felt like Mexico. ;)

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We sat and sipped morning coffees and then Ben decided to go for a swim. They had music piped in all around the pool so I whipped open my tablet and caught up on some reading and Candy Crush while Ben floated.

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It probably doesn’t sound all that fun but it was wonderfully relaxing! They had a large water dispenser filled with lemon slices and the music was tranquil. We had the whole pool area to ourselves and I was a happy camper!

143Plus I really really loved looking at all the plants. With the drought I wasn’t sure we’d see much in the way of green grass but we weren’t in neighborhoods enough to see the extent. Everything around the pool was vibrant and beautiful. I’d love to grow some of these pink vine flowers back home. If only the WI climate would allow it!

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You would think the fun stopped once we got home – but there was a flurry of activity the week after everyone returned. Alex was interviewed LIVE on Good Morning Wisconsin:

(Matt, Dad, Mom and then Alex with the GMW crew!)

fraluz7Seriously, check out the size difference between Alex’s calves and the lady next to him who interviewed him. It’s kind of funny because you know Alex isn’t exactly chunky – but he’s got mega muscular calves!

But maybe the coolest thing was Alex’s “Welcome Home” party. Alex used to work next to a local ice cream parlor and knows the owner really well so they offered up their store as host for a welcome home bash. They also donated a portion of all sales that day to the Special Olympics!

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My parents did a masterful job putting together a display table loaded with pictures, souvenirs, medals, and various fun facts about the Games.

fraluz5I didn’t realize just how popular Alex was until the store became PACKED with people funneling in and out trying to get pictures and autographs. Tons of people brought newspaper articles for Alex to sign.

fraluz3And ANOTHER TV station was on hand for more interviewing. Sheesh!

fraluz4But the cutest thing was when two little kids came in that had been following Alex and watching him on ESPN while he was at the games. They made him all kinds of cards as well as a huge banner.

fraluz6Aren’t they adorable? Alex let them try on his medals. How great is it to be a role model for a younger generation? What a sweet family too. We really have a great community here and Alex has a large fan base.

Back in real-time, today’s high is only 60 degrees! I’m not sure where this blast of coldness is coming from but it definitely is better for sleeping at night than the HUMID weather we’ve been having. It had finally cooled down from the 90s into the 70s but was sticky and nasty so we had to keep things closed up.

I hope you all had a wonderful weekend. Happy Monday!

The 4x400m Relay

After Alex crossed the finish line for the Half Marathon, it was complete and wonderful chaos. The adoring public were snapping shots, news anchors and ESPN were weaving in and out collecting pictures, grabbing sound bites, and getting interview segments. My brother was a superstar – how does that happen!?099

It took a good 45 min for the cameras to stop clicking and for us to pull Alex away for a family shot:

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It was over 90 degrees during the event. PLEASE tell me why Alex’s hair still looks amazing after a half marathon? Strange things like this keep me up at night. (Not that he wasn’t a little smelly/sweaty) :)

There was some confusion at the awards staging area – apparently the Bolivian runner left the area and they needed him before starting the awards…

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We were getting pretty antsy because Alex was due back at USC to run in the 4x400m relay in just a couple hours. No rest for the weary!! We tried to get him to stretch and relax a bit but I think that’s difficult when you just won an Olympic GOLD medal and your adoring public (and annoying sister) keeps coming up requesting photos.

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He must have posed at least 200 times. Insanity.

As we watched the minutes tick by we got more and more anxious. The coaches kept discussing how long they could wait before they would have to leave – we couldn’t have Alex missing the relay. Finally everything was sorted out, Alex was awarded his medal, and we made a bee-line to his waiting transportation for final hugs.

The rest of us scurried back to the Metro and began the agonizingly long ride to USC. We knew it would be close but hoped the start would be delayed just a little bit – in true Special Olympics fashion.

Ben somehow had the energy to dash all the way across the campus while the rest of us trudged behind… and told us we had just missed the relay! Noooooo! We were tired, sweaty, and really disappointed. In retrospect, we should have called a taxi or used uber. Lesson learned, folks!

(Alex running the relay – photo from USA team member)    relay 3

There was a scurry of texts and phone calls trying to learn how the team had done. Alex’s team had worked very hard practicing the relay – specifically the “mark” where you can cut into the inner lane after a certain amount of time. This was confusing for a lot of the athletes since each team had their own mark and Alex was the only person who could consistently cut in – and was put on the 2nd leg of the relay specifically for that purpose.

Finally, we got the official word. They came in second. Not bad!

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We waited out in the sweltering heat yet again for the medal ceremony and clapped loudly when Alex’s relay started walking through. The team was in full, radiant smiles. Suddenly Matt leaned over to me and said “wait, they are the second team walking in – which puts them at the top spot on the podium – what!?”

Sure enough… in the preliminary round USA had beaten Latvia but in the final they lost by 2 seconds. However, the person on the Latvia team saw Alex make his cut and immediately cut in too which shortened their course considerably and they were disqualified. No one likes to win that way and Alex felt bad about winning even though they weren’t the fastest team. It took a bit of explaining that had the other team cut in correctly, there was no way they could make up the 2 seconds in time – it was super close.

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So the relay team stood at the top, got their medals and shared hugs and gracious congrats with the other teams.

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We couldn’t be more proud of Alex. Knowing all that he’s overcome and how he’s blossomed as an athlete and all-around really nice guy, it’s incredible. He’s so positive about everything and a great role model to others.

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Two golds in one day – how can you top that?!

Alex Medals

Since then he’s been on ESPN, featured in Runner’s World magazine, was interviewed live on the GB news, had a Green Bay article on TV, was in two regional TV stations, a Long Beach newspaper, had articles twice in the Green Bay newspaper, and has been asked to come in as a motivational speaker to two classrooms this Fall. He’s a busy, busy man.

One of the interviewers asked Alex how it felt to be a celebrity. Alex looked at the guy in confusion and said, “Well, I’m no Aaron Rodgers.” Ha! Alex, don’t ever lose your humility. I love that about you. :)

The Half Marathon

The morning of the half marathon arrived a teensy bit too early and we were thankful for not totally being adjusted yet to the two hour time difference in LA. The previous day we walked over 15K steps and my feet were already feeling it. We got up at 5am, snarfed down some banana nut muffins, globbed sun screen all over, and scurried out the door to meet my family at the metro station.

Green Bay has a small bus route that I’ve never used and certainly nothing fancy like a metro so this was an experience.

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Ok, an experience for maybe 15 minutes ;) because clunking along for over an hour wasn’t all that great. Plus, I was jostling with a full cup of Starbucks iced coffee in my tummy and really, really needed to pee. lol We got off the metro and looked around and there was literally NO place with a public bathroom. Ben and I darted ahead of the family to find some port-a-potties or restrooms along Long Beach. We found the port-a-potties and 4 out of the 5 had no toilet paper (and this is at 7am folks). Bad news for the rest of the day!!

So after a little more excitement than I needed, we were all settled and able to walk around and check out Long Beach prior to the race start. There was a hustle and bustle of pre-race excitement in the air but also a sereneness that only comes from the early morning.

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It was slightly humid but wonderfully overcast which was exciting after the previous day’s unrelenting sun.

Alex was the only guy on the USA team – which was pretty exciting. We also learned that they opened the race up to the public so people could “run with the Olympians” 15 minutes after the official start for the athletes. There were a ton of spectators and even a “dream team” cheering squad.

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Now, I usually get slightly nervous and emotional anytime Alex runs a big race and seeing him in the starting corral at the WORLD GAMES – I was a blubbering mess. It’s nothing you can put into words but there is such pride in knowing where he was as a little kid who couldn’t talk and couldn’t feel his feet to being on the Olympic stage representing his country.

I couldn’t handle being right at the start, so I walked a little ways down the road to see him as he passed the first turn.

And they’re off…

HM Start

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The runners turned down the road and then would loop back on the first mile so we were able to get a very early sense of where people were settling in.

half 6At that point we were fairly limited due to a lack of transportation, so we scoured the course map and found a spot where the runners would loop by at 5 and 6.5 miles in. So we slowly walked and enjoyed the sights.

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Dad split up from us and tried another spot on the course where he was able to get an Alex sighting and report back on how he was looking…

half 7Meanwhile we ran into the public restrooms at Long Beach! I was excited for a non port-a-potty… until I walked in. OMG! The bathrooms at Long Beach are wide open. My jaw hit the floor. You have a stainless steel toilet without a lid and only a half-wall without a door so if you’re sitting on the toilet and looking forward, you won’t see the person next to you, but anyone walking in would. Wow – port-a-potties with no TP are looking better and better all the time! I think I’ll have nightmares about those restrooms for years. :)

We settled into our spot along the course and suddenly the clouds seemed to disappear and the hot, hot heat was back! It was a quick scramble for shade.

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I’m not joking; it was HOT. I was dying under the shade and that was just standing. I have no idea how the runners plugged along… but they did. Mile after mile we got reports and pictures of Alex’s progress.

half 8 19593697323_7aa9617d7c_o 084 After he passed us and was screamed, yelled, and cheered at – we walked back to the finish line to wait out the other half of the race. Ben and I found the family tent (which was thankfully out of the sun and had more cold water!) but I got more antsy and worried. Alex never runs in this heat and we weren’t sure how he’d hold up in the final miles.

Unable to sit anymore, I dragged Ben and we slogged along Long Beach away from the finish line so we could position ourselves to cheer Alex one final time and hopefully give him a needed push at the very end. It was picturesque but brutal. Long Beach is LONG and unforgiving without trees to break up the hot sun. The course had a long stretch out and then a loop back in and across the finish. We walked about a mile out, decided that was as far as we could go, and tried standing in the shadows of the walking signs for what tiny bit of shade they could give. As we waited for Alex to loop back, we could see all the other racers running out and they looked beat. They were sluggish, grimacing and HOT. So Ben and I started wildly cheering for every single person trying to eek smiles and give encouragement where we could.

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Before we knew it Alex was whizzing past and we whooped, screamed, and yelled until I was hoarse and completely in tears as he raced off to the finish. We didn’t know how everything ended until we walked back to the finish but everyone else captured the final moments.

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That final picture above was one of ESPN’s “top ten sports photos of the week”

In temperatures over 90 degrees, Alex trimmed 4 minutes off his personal best, broke the USA national World Games half marathon record by more than 8 minutes… and got the medal we’ve been waiting for.

half 11 Alex Podium

No words, even now… Just so much pride and happiness.

The Grammy Museum

Happy Monday!

I left off recapping our recent visit to LA the night Alex was awarded the bronze medal for the 10,000m race. That had been our only planned day for sight-seeing and after we left the Olympic village and got back to our hotel to shower and rest our weary feet – it was past dinner time.

Modern technology is really helpful in cases like this because a couple of quick Internet searches and we had a plan. We had wanted to see something interesting in LA but because of where we were located, everything was a long drive away. Luckily, we found the Grammy Museum just a few blocks away and because it was late in the day, we were able to snatch up discounted tickets!

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It was pretty empty when we walked through, which was really nice. I’m not necessarily one to stop and read every single exhibit but I did find a few things that were interesting. Right up front you get to see the different versions of the Grammy awards…

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How about the original lyric sheet to “This Land is Your Land”

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But the “highlight” (ha ha) was the temporary exhibit called the Taylor Swift experience. I wouldn’t say either of us are fans but I do know a bunch of her songs because they are played all. the. time. on the radio here.

056Ben’s such a good sport, lol

Museums are a little boring for me but what I did find interesting was all the clothing worn by the artists. They had an exhibit of Michael Jackson with some of his trademark clothes and gloves, a big display of stage dresses worn by the Supremes, several outfits won at the 2015 Grammys, and several sections of Taylor Swift clothing…

057Up close, some of the material seemed really cheap and costume-y. It’s really strange how something that looked gorgeous on the red carpet looks like something you could find in a crumpled up corner of Goodwill. Another interesting thing: all the outfits of everyone are SO SMALL. Everyone is teeny-tiny and a lot shorter (except Taylor) then you probably think. It’s crazy. I guess that’s Hollywood for you??

We left the museum and wandered to a little café restaurant. We placed orders at the door, grabbed seats, and in short order got delicious sandwiches:

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Despite all the crazy walking around LA that day, we weren’t really hungry so small sandwich plates were just what we needed! This was also the only meal we had in LA that was served relatively quickly (read: less than a 60 min wait).

Alex was scheduled to run the half marathon at Long Beach at 8am the following morning and with metro times, we knew we’d need to be up super early so we walked to a nearby grocery store and picked up a few quick breakfast items before heading back.

A pretty walk back to our hotel…

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So I have two events left to recap and a zillion pictures so I’ll get those done early this week. It’s been such a whirlwind trying to get back into the usual swing since we’ve been home!

The Olympic Village

After the unfortunate first event results, the family was able to take Alex and enjoy some sight-seeing. They saw the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit, saw the space shuttle Endeavor, and viewed an Imax show. I think everyone was happy when Ben and I arrived so we could also lend support and soothe frayed nerves.

I’m not much for flying and it was a long flight from Detroit to Los Angeles. We had booked transportation to and from the airport via Shuttle Service and I would use it again. We scheduled pick up and drop off times, entered our flight information, and got text confirmations as well as maps that showed where our shuttle bus was and how soon it would be coming to pick us up.

But immediately upon exiting the terminal at LAX, we could tell we were in the right place. :-)

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Oh yeah!!

We witnessed a bit of rush hour traffic (no thank you!!) and after our hotel drop off we met up with the family to catch up on news and find some dinner. There were lots of places within easy walking distance of our hotel and although we never chose to eat outside (it was so hot the entire time we were there), I loved all the open dining options. We definitely would have done that had it been a bit cooler.

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Every restaurant was packed and service was very slow. We all ordered burgers and fries and somehow they lost Ben’s burger… but ended up with a couple free desserts including this delicious macadamia nut cheesecake:

009Dinner took almost 3 hours (yes! slow!) and by then we were all very tired and moseyed back to our hotel – stopping to admire the sights along the way:

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Can you tell my family was already in full Olympic cheering mode? There was incredible signage everywhere and I loved seeing all the Special Olympics coverage. It really felt like a special community just for us!010My family had a hotel a few blocks away and Ben and I were a bit closer to the Downtown LA Live area. Our hotel:

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The view from the 7th floor:

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The whole LA experience made me feel a bit like a small town girl being swallowed up by the big city. LA is so different from Green Bay that it’s almost like being in a foreign country. We said goodbye to Mom, Dad, and Matt and walked back to our hotel that first night and maybe I wasn’t paying close enough attention but I JUMPED when a homeless person seemed to appear out of no where and reached out to me for spare money. I didn’t realize what was happening at first and it completely freaked me out. It really put me on edge every time we were walking at night after that.

Friday was our one free day to sightsee and view LA. We had planned to meet up after breakfast and do a self-guided bus tour of Beverly Hills, Rodeo Drive, Hollywood – all the big stuff. Just as we were getting ready to head out, we got a call from one of Alex’s coaches. Evidently the Olympic review committee had finally reviewed the footage from Sunday’s 10,000m run and determined that yes, Alex DID run an additional lap, and they would be awarding him the bronze medal that morning!

With all tourist plans on hold we hopped on the city bus and went back to USC to watch his medal ceremony. They were supposed to award him his medal at 10am but we sat and waited… and waited. The whole event was pretty disorganized (I could fill a week’s worth of blog posts just on those stories!) and it’s a lot of hurry-up-and-wait.

The sun was just baking down on us but we discovered they had special buildings and areas designated for families and honored guests. At USC, this provided us much needed air conditioning, fruit and energy bars and most importantly, ice cold FREE beverages!!

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It was the perfect place just inside from the podium stand and ideal for resting weary feet and meeting families from all over the world!! You wouldn’t believe the amazing and inspirational stories we heard. Every athlete has overcome so much to be at these Games and the families are incredible. Everyone was so wonderful and we were showered with hugs and smiles as if we’d known each other for years. I loved it!

We alternated with sitting in the cool and venturing out to a little patio area where we could people watch.

(Little seating area for families – you can see the podium stand in the back)

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There aren’t many places where you can hear conversations in 5+ languages going on within ten feet of you at any given time. What a cultural melting pot! But the best part was catching up with our athlete and hearing all his stories and experiences so far.

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Why are we melting to death but Alex looks perfectly coiffed and not at all sweaty?? lol

At long last, Alex was announced on stage and we cheered and hollered while he was awarded his bronze medal. It was five days after his event but he was thrilled beyond words.

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Ugh, he’s so adorable I can’t stand it. I’m just too proud of him!!

After taking a zillion pictures, shedding a few tears, and passing hugs all around, we grabbed lunch and surveyed that we wouldn’t have time for the bus tour anymore. Instead, we decided to slowly wander around the village and look at the various booths.

There was a Coca-Cola booth where you could sample Coke from around the world. It’s crazy how different the formulas are! Some are clear, some taste more like Sprite, and some are thick and so syrupy that you can barely swallow them. Really fun.

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Plenty of interesting sponsor booths. We collected a lot of pins for our lanyards along the way.

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We even stopped to get a demo of an electronic muscle stimulation gadget that was wonderful for Ben’s back.

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We were all pretty hot and sweaty after this and we had to be careful about Matt because he can’t walk very far, so we ended up walking back to the buses and decided to head over to the LA Convention Center and check out some of the indoor sports.

Interesting trees along the way:

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Special Olympics all over!!

046There weren’t any fun booths at the convention center and there was considerably less hustle and bustle than at USC – but we were indoors and cool which was all we needed.

047It was getting late (and we weren’t yet adjusted to the time difference) so we parted ways with the family and headed back to our hotel for a little down time before dinner. What a long day! My pedometer was over 15,000 steps – a new record for me. Plus I think I drank my weight in water. :)

No touring but we all felt huge relief that we’d be walking away from the Games with some Olympic hardware. Many smiles all around!

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