Power in pedals

This story was originally featured on November 18, 2012 in The Essay Magazine. The Photos were taken by Jasmine Beaubien.

Stephanie Dankelson cannot imagine her life without fitness. She’s participated in a 4000-mile bicycle trek across the United States, races on a triathlon team, recently completed her first full marathon and teaches weekly fitness classes. The Ohio University senior doesn’t stop there. She is constantly finding new ways to challenge herself and to teach others the joy that she’s found in staying active and living healthy.

Her proudest fitness accomplishment was participating in a summer-long bike event called Bike & Build, a non-profit organization that raises money and awareness for affordable housing funds. Through 2-3 month long trips, and eight different cycling routes all over the United States, groups of about 30 people ride each route every summer.

Stephanie heard about Bike & Build in the fall of her sophomore year from a freshman on the triathlon team while they were peeling potatoes. She instantly felt what she describes as a “fire to go,” something she just had to do.

Stephanie applied and found out she was accepted right before a French final in November of 2010. The initial barrier was getting her parents on board—letting your daughter ride her bike across the country is a big deal. After convincing, they were her biggest supporters.

Her course, the Northern route, stretched from Maine to Vancouver—through Niagara Falls on the 4th of July, down Chicago streets and through beautiful Western Montana—averaging 75 miles a day. This was an incredible journey for her, having to push herself mentally and physically, and learning so much about the world, about others and about herself.

“Pre-Bike & Build and Post-Bike & Build Stephanie are two different people, and it’s for the better,” Stephanie said.

Through this trip, she learned about the generosity of people, the necessity of flexibility in life and saw the vision for the things she could accomplish.

“This trip forever changed my life,” Stephanie said, “[It helped me] realize the strength in myself and in others. I met so many amazing people, realized there is so much good in the world and I learned how to accept things as the way they are. Life is so good and anyone can make a difference.”

Back at school, training is just as important as studies.

“Those who know me can tell which days I don’t get a good workout in,” Stephanie said, “If fitness were not a part of my day something would be wrong! Whether it be my morning workouts, taking the stairs or through working, I manage to fit it in one way or another.”

She believes that it is possible to make time for fitness, and that it allows her to get focused for the rest of the day. Stephanie does all kinds of things for fitness—lifts weights, rides her bike, runs and more.

“After getting my training done for the day I am focused and have a much clearer head on my shoulders. If that means getting up at 5:30 to be at the pool or on the road by 6 then so be it!” she said.

Above all, Stephanie’s favorite incorporation of fitness in her life is being a group fitness instructor. She currently teaches a cycling class at Ohio University’s Charles J. Ping Recreation Center.

“I find so much joy in sharing my love of fitness with others and helping them find their love as well.”

But Stephanie was not always the fit fan you see today. It was until her junior year of high school that she was the person her friends considered “the lazy one.”

“I tried to find every and any excuse to get out of track practice,” she said.

Her coach suggested she try cross-country, which she didn’t think she could ever do, but when peers started to joke about the unlikelihood of her success, Stephanie was motivated to prove them wrong.

“I discovered a new love in the process. I gave everything I had and by my senior year, I was successful on both the cross country and track teams, as well as my new found hobby, swimming.”

Now, Stephanie loves to share her love of fitness with others, and strives to motivate them to get active because of the value it has had on her life.

“Healthy starts in the soul,” she says, and pushes everyone to believe they have the power to get going with a little determination. Stephanie encourages everyone to get active— start with group fitness classes or with a workout buddy, to get excited about it and to not beat yourself up if you have a bad workout day.

“Healthy is being happy. Healthy is feeling good about yourself. It’s accepting the body you have and it’s about sharing fitness with other people, making healthy choices. It’s not about getting to a perfect image, or to what society defines as that— it’s accepting who you are and loving that person.”

Stephanie’s most recent accomplishment was completing her first full marathon in Columbus, Ohio on October 21 of this year. Next up, she is focusing on challenging others to make positive fitness changes in their lives. She cannot see herself in any other career path besides one inspiring and promoting healthy living or at least making it an important part of her life, but she is still trying to figure out what that looks like, where she wants to go and if she wants to swim there, bike there, or run. Most likely all three.

Ohio University College of Arts & Sciences

I worked with Electronic Vision, an independent firm in Athens, Ohio on html content conversion, page creation, image and graphic work, editing and organization of Ohio University’s College of Arts & Sciences new website. I worked with our client to best find the college’s needs and wants, and to use a little creativity to make their site stand out. The new page is very much updated from its original page. Now it uses a responsive formatting, which means it works with all devices. Check out the new website at ohio.edu/cas

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EV

I worked with Electronic Vision in editing and copywriting the content for its new site. While I came to EV when this site was almost complete, it was fun to get started on its own transformation and be a part of the team that edited and looked over all of its own awesome stuff.

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The best thing I ever did in all of my entire college.

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It was something like 4 o’clock on a Thursday morning. I walked to the kitchen and pounded my head on the counter until coffee magically came out of the machine. I looked at the assortment of bags packed on the floor by the front door—my cute Vera Bradley duffel looked funny hanging out with my fins and snorkel. I headed out the door towards the Aquatic Center with bright eyes. Athens, Ohio had been kissed by one of its first frosts of the year, all the more reason to get the heck down to Florida. As we packed up the trailer and everybody put themselves back to bed, I reviewed what had engulfed my stress for the nine weeks prior: OU SCUBA.

“Did you know SCUBA is actually an acronym?”: the only thing I actually knew about it going into the class.

Our first day was like an episode of “1000 Ways to Die”—SCUBA edition. The instructors sat us down and told us anything and everything that could go wrong while we’re diving. Like how your skin could fall off, or how you could get bubbles in your blood and your skin would fall off, or how the bends would make your skin gross right before you died, or how a shark could come up behind you and tear all of your skin off.

Then we signed a release form.

I immediately called my expert diver boyfriend crying. We had planned a big dive trip to the Dutch Caribbean with his family for Christmas break, but I wasn’t about to go near any water after this first class.

Somehow, I managed to make it to the swim test.

And to the next class.

And to the next pool lab.

And I kept going back, learning something new every time, going out of my comfort zone every time.

The next nine weeks of class gave us more information and practice in the pool than any other introductory SCUBA training I’ve ever heard of. We learned a lot of badass techniques that most divers don’t know—like different kinds of dives, swimming to the bottom of the pool and clearing our mask (getting the water out) all in one breath. We learned how to dive down, gear in hand, and put it all on underwater.

The instructors were total characters, but they also helped you keep calm, while pushing you to push yourself. I have never had a professor genuinely care so much about my success in a class.

At the beginning of pool labs, I was struggling getting my ears to clear on my way to the bottom of the pool—if you don’t clear your ears, the pressure builds up, and the pain is unbearable. My instructor brought me solution for swimmer’s ear the next day.

One instructor had me pushing myself harder than I ever had before. He couldn’t believe how horrible I was at holding my breath. (which, was actually quite horrible.)

“Are you an athlete?” he asked.

“Yes, I’m a runner.”

“Then why do you have no lung capacity to hold your breath?”

“Because when you’re running, you’re allowed to keep breathing.”

We figured out my incapacity to hold any air in my lungs was directly correlated to my incapacity to relax longer than a half second. (Picture me underwater: I’m the guy from Accepted who they finally get to meditate when they put him in a straight jacket.)

“Relax,” he’d tell me. Until I practiced just sitting at the bottom of the pool and letting myself forget that I couldn’t breathe, I was very horrible at relaxing.

It’s funny to me how often many people, upon finding out I was taking SCUBA diving, responded so very cynically. “Oh, I would never take that class. I’m too scared.”

The irony of their responses is that my reason for taking SCUBA diving is exactly that. I was scared. I wanted to challenge myself. I wanted to push myself well beyond my comfort zone. I wanted to poop my wetsuit.

I wanted to let myself relax.

And I’ll admit, I had to go into the aqua center a couple times outside of class to practice sitting at the bottom of the pool.

It sounds ridiculous, but I got so good, in fact, that the lifeguards were on the edges of their seats, praying they wouldn’t have to come in after me.

The final consisted of a written test and a pool test. And then we had the option to head to Florida for a check out dive to get our certification. (Well, hell yeah I’m going to take an opportunity to be excused from my classes and go to Florida in November.)

If you had told me in August that I would be SCUBA diving through pitch-black caves in just a couple months, I’d have called you a liar.

But there I was, kickin’ it with the manatees.

Taking SCUBA diving at OU isn’t for everyone. But everyone should take a course that scares the skin off of them. Whether you are a macho dude who’s taking Women’s Gender Studies or you’re an arachnophobe taking Spider History (that’s not actually a course), everybody should be pushing themselves beyond that box called comfortable that we like to live in.

My trip to the Caribbean was the greatest of my life. I dove 100 feet underwater to see the remnants of a shipwreck. I swam through beautiful reefs. I got to ask rainbow fish what it was like to star in every child’s favorite book.

I learned more about myself in SCUBA diving than any other class I’ve ever taken in college. And I couldn’t have done it if I hadn’t let myself get a little scared.

*This story was published in the opinion section of The Essay Magazine.

Undergraduate research: Greg Bernero

Photo by Max Brown
Photo by Max Brown

There are two positions in ultimate frisbee: the handler and the cutter. A handler’s job is to remain in the backfield while the offense runs around them. Handlers dump throws to cutters. If nothing is happening, the frisbee gets passed back to handlers to reset the offense. The frisbee is passed from person to person until someone catches it in the end zone. Carnegie Mellon senior Greg Bernero is a handler for his school’s team. He is also involved in the school’s physics research department— when he’s not on the field, he’s in the lab.

Carnegie Mellon is known for its involvement in scientific and technical research, and Bernero has taken advantage of this ever since his sophomore year. Like in ultimate, his current research position involves a lot of observations and research that can be passed on to the next researcher. And if it doesn’t work, he’s remaining in the backfield to reset and try again.

From an early age, Bernero knew science was what he wanted to do, messing with mini chemistry-lab kits and attending science camps every summer. In high school, he found a sense of freedom through Physics that was unlike any other science. “In biology and chemistry, there was pretty much always one approach to a problem and one answer. In physics, we learned to do things like orient your coordinate system however you wanted, or define variables to your liking. This is what really hooked me,” he said.

College Physics started off as a somewhat different story. It had been easy in high school, so Bernero thought he’d be able to breeze through his freshman courses. It wasn’t so simple. “College was harder than I had ever imagined it,” he recalled, “I got a 30% on my first physics exam.” This made him do some serious thinking. Had he made a giant mistake in investing all of this time in a field he might actually hate? “I had to remind myself of why I loved the subject in the first place. I knew that while it was going to be hard, it would all be worth it to get to all the juicy stuff later on.” He kept focused and read a lot of articles and papers on what was going on in the world of physics. Knowing what was going on outside the classroom kept him motivated to push through so he could get there too. After four years, it still keeps getting harder, but also more interesting.

The thought of something cooler in the world of higher-level physics is what kept him motivated to push through the tedious lower-level stuff, but Bernero then realized he didn’t have to wait until he graduated to get involved in the research he was reading about. All he had to do was, as he put it, “knock on some doors,” to get a position. “The fact that CMU as a whole is largely a research university and that most of the physics department is involved in awesome research was very influential,” Bernero said. He knew research was an excellent way to get your foot in the door on his track to a Ph.D., and found it wasn’t hard to help in research even as an undergrad. Since, he has dabbled with many areas of the field of physics— Astrophysics, Nuclear and Particle Physics to name a few.

His current position is looking at the clumpiness (yes, that’s the technical term), of hydrogen in space. He uses this clumpiness to write a program that analyzes simulation data of hydrogen, so that he and future physicists can take the simulations and apply them to actual observed data. What could the ability to estimate hydrogen levels through simulation and observations mean? It’s mostly to help others with data for their research. It could also mean a way to show how matter is actually formed in space, and take us all the way back to early expansion of the universe. Studying the current expansion of the universe could be telling in where it is headed, and what mass objects may or may not hold—all from mere hydrogen levels.

Bernero and his research partners calculate hydrogen levels by first looking at what are possibly the most distant objects in the universe, called quasi-stellar radio sources, or quasars. His work so far has been writing the software that calculates these hydrogen levels through simulations. Data from the Sloan Foundation telescope has provided them with absorption lines from these quasars, where neutral hydrogen can be detected in the appearance of protons each quasar emits.

One of Bernero’s nuisances has been getting enough access time to the supercomputer in his school research center, as his program requires greater power to run it properly. But his biggest challenge has been getting simulation data to match the actual observed data. Bernero has to get it to match so well through his software, that simulations will be much more accurate, even when a person using his software has fewer statistics on observed hydrogen levels. “This means that when we eventually analyze our preliminary results, there will be lots of refining and optimizing to be done,” he said, “Our hopes are for somebody else to be able to use our work on his or her own project, as is the case with many physics projects.”

Bernero initially had no interest in Astrophysics until he took up this particular project. His largest interest is High Energy Particle Physics, which he plans to do his thesis work on. The irony is that it’s all circling back around. “I am currently taking Intro to Nuclear and Particle Physics, which is my first real exposure to the subject. So far it has been quite challenging, but also incredibly interesting. I am excited to go into more depth in graduate school.”

His first four years studying physics at the university level have come with a few surprises too. What surprised him most was how lazy physicists often are. “Our notation is sloppy, we hand-wave ourselves through rough patches in the math, and we sweep many issues under the rug,” he laughed, “Mathematicians would cringe at some of the operations we do on a regular basis. And yet, somehow it all works. We often ignore some clutter and semantics in order to understand the meat of a problem.” It’s a freedom he likes. Like Physicist Richard Feynman described it in one of his most famous lectures, mathematicians work in the very concrete, and the reasons behind their numbers and calculations aren’t necessarily relevant for them to know, but “the physicist is always interested in the special case.” Feynman explains that the greatest discoveries always turn out abstract from the model. They rely on each other, but it’s the physicist who gets to stray.

Bernero’s next steps: his Masters and then his Ph.D., where he plans to work on High Energy Particle Physics. Bernero plans to, one day, work in a lab or accelerator studying particle physics—the branch of physics that has brought more attention to things, like the search for the Higgs Boson, a theoretical particle that would explain a great deal about our universe. For now, he’s working hard in his research. Getting published as an undergraduate isn’t as easy as finding research positions at Carnegie Mellon. But he still has a few more years for his studies. And he’s loving the freedom.

January

January

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Cover Story: Preparing for a Packed Ping. This was an editorial I wrote directed at Ping Employees to stay positive when the fitness center is at it’s busiest time: Resolution Season.

EVERYBODY KNOWS THAT THE FIRST COUPLE WEEKS BACK
are a couple of tough ones for Pingers. We’re trying to fight the sickness of
winter blues, the sadness of leaving our adorable dogs back home and the
stressfulness of new schedules and profs. On top of that: The Resolutioners.

Every January, Ping is packed with the
kids who spent every fall night at the South
Green courts that don’t feel like hooping in
the winter wind anymore. Those who haven’t
put foot to elliptical pedal their entire tenure
at OU come crawling out of the woodwork.
Everybody’s made a January 1st commitment
to that beach bod by Spring Break
(which by the way is a gracing us a little early
this year…woo!) Ping is going to be packed.
My advice for dealing with this often
dreaded extra crowd? Stay Positive.
As a Pinger, you are not only swiping cards
and sanitizing sweat stains. Take this New
Year as an opportunity to make someone’s
resolution become his or her way of life.
It takes some guts to push oneself
into shape, and if a patron feels even a
little motivated by the Ping Staff, they
will be more likely to stick around.
New Year’s Resolutions have become
the bane of January— pretty much a joke
to a lot of people. “Another thing for me to
start and not finish” we say (subsequent eye
roll included). It’s a snapshot into the human
condition—the constant drive we have
to turn ourselves into better people, yet the
ironic constant laziness we welcome into
our homes with failed attempts at Resolution
Greatness. Ask someone in the middle
of July how their New Year’s Resolutions
are going and he or she will call you a name.
But for the last couple years, I’ve attempted
to make my resolutions count. I’ve thought
of things I want to do: spend less money,
eat fewer cakes, shower more, road rage
less. But what’s made me keep them is finding
a tangible way to really reach my goal.
For 2012, I decided I wasn’t going to
spend a single dollar at a fast food establishment;
my goal was to eat healthier and
spend less money, but I also found this to be
a way to not support an industry I didn’t really
like. I could have made my goal something
like this: “Don’t eat burgers and fries,
but chicken is okay and salads are okay and
if you haven’t had a Frosty in a while that’s
okay too and also if it’s McDonald’s Monopoly
then you can have one medium soda
a week in case it’s Boardwalk and if there’s
a full moon or you’re really stressed you can
have burgers and fries too.” That’s a lot of
gray area. So I just cut out any spending. If it
had a drive-thru, I wasn’t driving through it.
And here I am twelve months later and still
fast food free! (I probably won’t eat it this year
either, but now it’s really just out of fear that
my body isn’t used to it anymore and I will die.)
New Year’s Resolutions can be legit. They’re
just like goals. I’d encourage you Pingers to
not only set them yourselves, but to promote
them to patrons. If somebody checks out a
plyo box and starts banging their head against
it, maybe give ‘em a tip or two on exercises
they can do with it. If somebody’s in the corner
of the weight room crying in a ball because
they’re so lost and ‘JUST WANNA GET IN
SHAPE AGAIN’ maybe direct them to a machine
(One can only pray that this doesn’t
actually happen). Be supportive and positive!
It’s okay to complain to other Pingers
(in the privacy of the Sup’s office) about
the crowds, their cutoffs or the reek of your
new Ping sweatshirt (that you patiently
waited three months for) after an hour in
the weight room. Business can be stressful!
But I would encourage you to set a
little work goal yourself: Be encouraging
to the Resolutioners. Make a difference!
Chances are, as history tells us, Ping
won’t be as busy by the time February
rolls around, but that’s okay. If a few
people have felt encouraged and excited
about the awesome feeling from a great
Group Fitness class or an excellent workout,
I think we’re doing something right.