Haley Scott DeMaria

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ANNIVERSARIES

I have written about anniversaries before, but I have recently corresponded with a few families who have an upcoming anniversary that is unsettling for them, and I thought it was time to revisit the subject.

Most people think of anniversaries as celebrations, but many times they can be tough: the anniversary of a death, of an accident, of a surgery, or of a diagnosis. There are dates in our lives that we’ll never forget; dates that define our life as before and after. For me, of course, that date is January 24, 1992.

Milestone anniversaries are our own personal, unspoken, emotional line of demarcation. For me, there is life before the bus accident and life after the bus accident. And life before and after is very different; just as I am a much different person after than I was before. This too adds to the challenges of tragedy.

In the beginning, the anniversary was measured by weeks: it’s been one week since the accident; it’s been seven weeks since the accident. And then, around the sixth month, it was measured by months: with each month’s 24th being a milestone: July 24th, October 24th, etc… I still can’t see the date “24,” no matter what month, and not at least take note of it. And January 24, no matter the year, is a date that always catches my attention and emotion.

January 1993, the one-year anniversary of our bus accident, was very complex. There was media attention that was respectful and well-meaning, but it was still very hard. While the entire community (and country) watched, we didn’t want them watching this very private and emotional time. Added to the challenge was this same community had helped us through the past year; didn’t they deserve to know how we were doing? Perhaps. But it was still hard.
And while many on campus thought the January 1993 several-page Sports Illustrated article was “well done” (which is was) and “neat” (subjective), we – collectively as a team – didn’t like it at all. Even as athletes, none of us wanted to be Sports Illustrated for this reason.

Why? Because we were kind of a mess. The one year anniversary of our bus accident was a myriad of emotions; we were all over the place in our healing. And while this was completely normal, it was very, very hard.
Some of us cried in anger. Some of us cried in sadness. Some of us celebrated with joy the year being over. I probably did all three. While many of my teammates had not lived with injuries that reminded them of the bus accident every hour of every day, I had. And after five surgeries, months in the hospital, and 100s of hours of physical therapy, I was really glad that tough year was over. I celebrated that 1st anniversary. I mourned my deceased friends, but I was happy too.

The most interesting part of our January anniversary – both in 1993 and every year since – is that it’s not January 24th that’s the hard day. The actual date of the anniversary is not the most challenging time. It is the weeks and days leading up to the anniversary that are brutal. I am not sure why this is, and I didn’t recognize it right away, but I have found this to be consistently true. Maybe it is the uncertainty of the unknown; maybe it is the anxiety of knowing the anniversary is approaching. Maybe it is – especially on year one – knowing that “this time last year,” life was good. Life was normal. Life was still “before.” And there is a loss in being reminded of that line of demarcation.

To my friends in New Jersey, you have been in my thoughts these weeks and days leading up to your anniversary. Please know that whatever you are feeling: sadness, anger, relief, joy, guilt, gratitude, all of the above; you are feeling just what you should be feeling. You are healing.

 

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  • KILIMANJARO

    I have been home from Tanzania for almost two months and I am finally now circling back to my blog. I have been asked by several people, When are you going to write about your trip!?  I will. But I need to figure out how.

    ***

    It’s now a month later, and I still haven’t written about Kilimanjaro. Why? I wasn’t sure. But then I was re-reading my book to look for a section that I knew would help someone, and – as usual on the rare occasion I pick up my book – I found myself reading further. The following passage sounded familiar, not because I wrote it, but because it applied to my recent trip (although written about the end of my swimming career):
    The competitor in me that gave me the will and the drive to make it to this point, also caused me to feel defeated when I came to recognize my limitations. I had never felt limited in my life and it was humbling. Even when I was told I could not walk, I knew I would. But after two years of trying to improve my (swimming) times, I was faced with limitations my body could not overcome. And I had to be okay with that.

    The end of my swimming career at Notre Dame was really tough for me. Not physically, but emotionally. I felt defeated when I realized I would never get any faster; that I would never improve my times; and that I would never be the swimmer I was before the accident occurred. While hiking Kilimanjaro, the competitor in me that gave me the will and the drive to get as far as I did, felt defeated when I came to recognize my limitations. Just as I had 25 years ago, I was faced with limitations on the mountain that my body could not overcome.

    So just as it took me a while to process the limitations I experienced towards the end of my swimming career, it has taken me a while to process the limitations I experienced while hiking Kilimanjaro. Returning to my blog is a start. Stay tuned! More to come…

    Version 2

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  • GOD BLESS ND SWIM

    Today is summit day. We were up at midnight (after going to sleep – or trying to – at 5pm yesterday) to climb seven hours in the dark to summit at sunrise. Today we climb to 19,340 feet.

    Today, as I have every day since January 24, 1992, I honor my teammates: the Notre Dame Swimming and Diving team of 1991-92, and in particular, Colleen Hipp and Meghan Beeler. Today is dark, cold and hard. I am tired, I have a headache and my body aches to match. But I will carryon and persevere with the help of my teammates.

    At the site of our accident so many years ago (27 years this month), there was a sign woven into the nearby chainlink fence. It read: God Bless ND Swim. Today, this rock will be placed at the highest point in Africa to honor my team and my teammates.

    God Bless ND Swim.

    GBNDS

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  • THE BOYS

    Today I climb for my boys. All three of them. People often tell me that I have three children (Jamie, James and Edward). Ha ha. And sometimes I feel like I do. (Actually, I have five children – two furry ones.)

    Not only do I have stones from each of my boys, but I have other gifts too. For Christmas, James gave me a medal of St. Bernard of Montjoux, the patron saint of hikers. I wore it through my last two weeks of training and I am wearing it up the mountain. Edward also gave me a meaningful gift: a special t-shirt with a message that has meaning to the two of us. I wore it on the plane and will wear it when I summit. So both boys will – literally – be close to my heart on the climb.

    “Tonight” we are at 15,200 feet. We will go to bed at 5pm, wake up at midnight, and hike until 7am – in the dark (and cold) – to the summit at sunrise. If you find yourself saying a prayer today, send one to St. Bernard of Montjoux for us! And if you aren’t one to pray, just turn southeast towards Tanzania and send us your warm wishes. Because it’s gonna be cold!

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  • SMILE LIKE SULLY

    Today we climb from Shira Camp to Barranco Camp at almost 13,ooo feet (12,959 feet to be exact). Along the way, we will pass the lava tower (called “Shark’s Tooth”) and arrow glacier.

    Today’s stone is in honor of Sully, an almost-ten-year-old boy who has been fighting stage IV neuroblastoma for half his life. He has relapsed twice. No child with his stage of disease has survived one relapse. And yet, just last month he had his port removed.

    There aren’t enough words to express what a superhero Sully is, and his parents, and his two brothers. They are a super hero family that I am privileged to know. When I gave Sully a stone, I told him: If you can move mountains, I can climb one. And I asked him to decorate it. In true Sully fashion, he was thinking of others. His stone is a combination of two forces in his life: the fight (he is WINNING) against Childhood Cancer, and the United States Naval Academy, where he is a hero among heroes as an honorary member of some of their sports teams. I know Sully’s stone is also a tribute to his forever friends in heaven.

    Sully, I am taking you to the top of the mountain! And when it gets hard and I am tired and cold, I will continue because your spirit is with me.

    #SmileLikeSully

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  • PARAMUS STRONG

    Today’s stone honors those affected by the bus accident in Paramus, NJ, that killed a 5th grader and a teacher from East Brook Middle School.

    I visited East Brook in the Fall and have stayed in touch with some of the families. One family has a connection to my own: the mom, Claudia, was my husband’s high school prom date; and also a connection to my own accident: Claudia was an age-group teammate of Meghan Beeler’s. Claudia’s daughter, Lauren, was injured in the bus accident, and we have corresponded over the past several months.

    I sent Lauren a stone to decorate, so I could honor her and her classmates and her school. Paramus Strong gives me the strength today to hike from Machame Camp to Shira Camp at 11,400 feet.

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  • PEACE

    For the past two days we have been acclimating to the higher altitude of Tanzania. Especially for I, who lives at sea level, it has been nice to slowly adjust to the higher altitude. We have done a couple of day hikes, visited Fr. David’s home (a fellow ND Trail Pilgrim), and shared our hopes and fears for the climb that begins today.

    We are at around 7000 feet in Maua and will drive to Machame Gate to begin our climb. We will end our hike at Machame Camp at 9300 feet.

    Today I begin my climb praying for Peace. Peace on the mountain. Peace in the world and Peace in our hearts.

    This stone was given to me by a friend (who has a friend) who hopes to place one million peace rocks around the world. I have two; one for the summit and one for the safari. (Although I’m not sure how much peace the animals encounter in the wild…)

    Today, let’s pray for PEACE.

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  • TANZANIA

    Yesterday I boarded a flight to Tanzania, by way of Ethiopia. I was a bit nervous to travel alone, but my nerves led to excitement for the adventure ahead.

    But we are never really alone. There are so many who helped me get here.

    My husband, who always encourages me to live my adventures. I am so grateful for his love and acceptance of who I am, what I need to do, and his understanding that life with me isn’t routine.

    My friends and training partners. I have walked, hiked and talked for miles with a few different women whose friendship has entertained me through hours of training. We’ve also solved some parenting issues, laughed and shed tears, and I will carry their friendship with me (along with some of the gear they have lent me) to the summit.

    My ND Trail Pilgrims. During the summer of 2017, 32 Pilgrims walked 320 miles on the ND Trail. Some of these Pilgrims will climb with me this week; but the rest will cheer us on, and pray for us, from afar. I know my entire Notre Dame family is with me.

    My parents will hold down the fort while I am gone (and drive, cook and do laundry for my children). The boys are fairly independent, which makes this adventure easier to do; but I am grateful for my parents presence, which gives me peace of mind.

    And my intentions. My stones. I am not alone because of the stones I will carry. It is a tradition on some pilgrimages to carry intention stones. These can be prayers, these can be stones from home, these can be to honor someone. Mine will do all three. And each day as I climb, I will share my stone of the day. And with any luck (and a lot of prayers, and support, and training), I will leave these stones at the summit of Kilimanjaro.

    Please keep us in your prayers!

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  • HAPPY NEW YEARS EVE

    It’s New Years Eve. I am on my computer typing while my husband is watching a baking competition on the Food Network. Clearly we are not “New Years Eve people.” Not sure what that means, but this has never been a very rowdy holiday in our lives. (Except for the New Years Eve that my husband and I danced to Gangnam Style and sent my then-ten-year-old running out of the room embarrassed.)

    We have been away for the past five days; with friends in Miami and then with college friends: one of my teammates and her family. My teammate (who works in a hospital) told us that on New Years Eve (and the 4th of July), hospitals schedule extra transplant staff because they know there will be more organs available for donation on those nights. Tonight I pray for those families whose loved ones will give and receive the gift of life.

    I know that’s a sobering thought. But it was all I could think about as my now-sixteen-year-old-son drove to his friend’s house for the night. (They are staying in, thank goodness.)

    As we wrap-up 2018, I am grateful for pretty much everything. This year hasn’t been without its challenges, but those too are blessings. They are opportunities to grow and to learn. And when the real challenges set in, they are opportunities to be embraced by family and friends. I couldn’t do what I do, and I would be who I am, without my family and friends.

    As 2019 approaches, my hopes and dreams remain the same: the safely, good health and happiness of my loved ones. Those seem like simple asks, but they are everything. If we are happy, have good health and are safe, life is good.

    Happy New Year.

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  • HAPPY CHRISTMAS MERRY HOLIDAYS

    This month has, as it probably has for everyone, flown by. Even with the early Thanksgiving date – and therefore the longest possible Christmas season – all of a sudden we find ourselves at Christmas Eve.

    With Advent being a time of preparation, I have been preparing for two very different events: Christmas and Africa. And as excited as I am for my trip in January, I have to remind myself to slow down and enjoy the days leading up to my departure. While they will be filled with training and packing lists (and checking them twice), I find myself marveling at this magical time of year.

    I have always loved Advent as it was a special time in our home growing up. My mom created a Children’s Advent Program, that I now enjoy with my own children. We try to spend a little more time thinking about others less fortunate (a goal to remind ourselves of this all year). We purchase, wrap, bake and decorate. And sometimes the stress kicks in (like about 10 minutes ago, when I told my kids they had to stay outside until they could play nicely on the basketball court…it’s 35 degrees outside…)

    Ah yes, the stress. This is where my Africa trip folds nicely into this time of year. I have to train. I have to walk and hike and make sure I am in shape to make it to the summit of Kilimanjaro. So I take time each day to do this; and it’s as healthy physically as it is mentally. While a workout doesn’t sound much like “slowing down,” it’s a time to pause from the traffic, talk to a friend, breathe in the fresh (35 degree) air, and remind myself of my blessings.

    Hope. Love. Joy. Gifts. The blessings of Advent. Sprinkle in Family and Christmas is complete.

    Merry Christmas from our house (or if you’re my kids, outside our house) to yours.

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