Staying in the NOW!

SO proud to know all of these famous people who were featured in the Keys Style January Edition!

Take a minute and read three awesome articles in this January Edition:

Teacher Spotlight  pg. 4 and 5

Ship Happens-Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUP) pg. 26-29 

Student Council Members Seek to Improve Their School for Every Student pg. 6-9

What great articles about our little island!

I love living here and experiencing the connection we all have, a connection that supports EVERYONE to reach their ULTIMATE Goals. Sometimes I get bogged down into the logistics of planning future events, writing lesson plans, scheduling practices, doing paperwork, watching from the sidelines, networking and facilitating opportunities for my students/athletes, that I neglect look at the results that are evident TODAY.

These articles cover a great teacher and our local Special Olympics Director at Horace O’Bryant Middle School, the lifestyle born from meetings at the Lazy Dog picnic table and the Key West High Student Council moved me tremendously.

Reading these made me look outside the “To Do” list and returned my feet to the NOW.

2014 is going to be EPIC!

2014-01-04_0741 Invitational Maria Teacher Spotlight



The Next Chapter

Working in Public Schools my entire career has given me security and unpredictability at the same time. A paycheck that is predictable every two weeks, insurance and knowing that I have a job until I choose to retire gives me security in an ever-changing world. Yet each year the new curriculum, staff changes, latest fads and the newly created systematic policies cause stress. As soon as I think I have it all figured out, know which piece of paper to turn into the proper administrative office to get something accomplished for my kids, it changes and I am required to redo my efforts. As I get closer to retirement, I am ready to let go of the security and release the frustrations that are brought on by the systematic yearly changes. The NEXT CHAPTER is in sight! I have earned it!

My students also receive security in the Public School System, receiving services they are entitled to by law. Yet as they get closer to age 22, the loss of security is scary for them and their families. As they reach the NEXT CHAPTER in the life of a young adult they want all the things a 20 something wants–college, independent living, to drive a car, to have friends without a paid person accompanying them and they have earned it!

The loss of my time in accomplishing administrative tasks in the never-ending changes of Public School,  is not one that my students can afford. My students, ages 18-22 with special needs are in the final chapter of their school career. The lines between IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) entitlements and ADA (Adults with Disabilities) rights are getting firmer and darker. In their younger years, my students have been entitled to every service imaginable and the law supported their requests. As they move into the adult world the rights that they have as adults are not guaranteed, their IDEA services do not transfer over to the adult world.

They may or may not qualify for funding to continue with speech therapy, occupational therapy, a job coach, unpaid work experience sessions or one to one instruction in the adult world. Most likely they will not qualify for those services under the adult providers on our island. Maybe in the “Real World” of the mainland or other states, but on our island the adult services are limited to what our local ARC  provides, which includes Adult Day Training (ADT)  program, Supported Living, Group Homes, Community Inclusion Activities and limited Employment Services. All the services are contracted via a provider that may or may not exist on our island. My young adults are limited by funding sources, if they want to be in an activity that provides independence and individuality, the funds may not support that desire.

Special Olympics has become a VERY important part of the lives of these young adults, giving them a FREE year round sports and social opportunity to be active in the community without a paid person controlling their time. Each athlete can be an individual and explore things that they would never have explored in the ARC or Adult Provider model of services. This is why I am so dedicated to giving Special Olympics countless hours of my unpaid time. Yet, this organization, as a non-profit has its systematic challenges and does not offer the security of the Public School System, I am finding that I am drawn to exploring the options Special Olympics volunteering can offer for my NEXT CHAPTER —— Retirement.

Recently I realized that I have spent my entire career giving others an opportunity to have a life, working to move systematic mountains to give them their dreams. Helping them open the doors to the NEXT CHAPTER of their lives. I am getting tired, yet I do not want to stop doing what I do for “my kids”. I am exploring my early retirement options and trying to figure out how to have a life of my own. This is scary for me. I am addicted to predictability, security and situations that offer me a sense of control.

As I move forward into the Early Retirement plan, I am learning that there are some secure things I will need to let go of. The idea that I will receive a cushy pension and that my insurance will be fully paid for was something that hooked me into this career in the 1970’s. That promise is changing for all of us. How we deal with it is an individual choice. I choose to take action and responsibility for my NEXT CHAPTER of life, not sit and complain or try to make the union take care of me. I am not sure where this will go or how it will look, all I know is that I am ready. Since the start of this school year, I have heard these words during my early morning coffee/meditation time:

“You have spent enough time giving others a life, it is time to get your own. Actively pursue Early Retirement”

I am going to honor that inner voice. There is more to be revealed as I take the actions needed to find out how I can exit this profession prior to age 62.

The Tipping Point

Special Olympics Florida-Monroe County SUP Team and Coaches

Special Olympics Florida-Monroe County SUP Team

After many months of ignoring a stirring in my soul, doing everything I can to keep the longings for change in check, yesterday it was brought to my attention by someone I admire and respect deeply, that I am overlooking an opportunity that can answer the calls of my heart AND make huge differenced in peoples lives.  Tears came to my eyes as her words were felt by my heart—the inside core of me that had been longing to be heard. I realized how selfish I have been in not asking for help.

The catalyst to the TIPPING POINT—-

This article was published in my hometown newspaper, The Jupiter Courier, causing attention to be brought to the SUP in Special Olympics movement that is sweeping across Florida and beyond. There have been other articles, social media and press about all of this—-but this one hit me hard. I left Jupiter as a young girl, not well-known, a young girl who was always in the background in high school and who was known for not making very good choices socially.  The contacts that came from this article were a bit overwhelming–personally and professionally.

Yes,  I am from Jupiter originally and my childhood is on the Loxahatchee, but my home and heart reside on this  island  of the most giving people I have ever met!  On our island, when someone is in need, there is an uprising of help, there is always an awareness of each other and even when we do not agree, we work to make a difference, we strive to accept each other.

This article represents how a dream I had a few years ago has gotten much bigger! Each time highlights and success stories like these are published I am so proud, yet it is getting overwhelming for me—a simple teacher who does not know how to manage all of this and does not seek public recognition.

This dream has grown beyond its intention of providing access to the water via a paddleboard to my Special Olympic athletes here on our island of Key West.  It is a good thing that it has grown, but it also has distracted me from my island, myself and my peeps! Yesterday’s conversation reminded me to bring it all back home to our island–where the magic happens.

When people and Special Olympic Coaches from around the State of Florida, along with people in other states, email and call me, wanting to get programs going in their areas, I feel pulled. My day job as a teacher and the program I run has its responsibilities and now more keeps piling on. The inner conflict of trying to handle something I know nothing about–business, press and the next steps for this dream — have caused me to neglect my own health and wellbeing.  Until yesterday, I truly thought that this conflict had to be fought alone.

The TIPPING POINT–brings me to the realization that I MUST ask for help in figuring out how to change my life so I can stop adding more to the plate–some decisions need to be made and I need help in figuring out how to do that.

In overlooking and undervaluing myself, I have also undervalued the people and organizations who have joined in the dream, to make a difference in the lives of people on our island. Realizing that, makes my resolve to implement changes even stronger.

The TIPPING POINT —-the realization that the dream is now a reality and there must be some definition to it all.

It is time to refocus–time to bring the mission back to where the dream started, refine the mission and act on it:

at a picnic table in front of a  paddleshack at Hurricane Hole Marina on Stock Island

in the currents of the Cow Key Channel

on a paddleboard in shavasana

in Shark Key Channel and Gieger Key

One of my greatest defects is dreaming and have a passionate vision, starting a project, getting it off the ground and soaring, rejoicing in it and forgetting to define where we are going!   and then there is a crash—–Yesterday’s conversation helped me see that there does not have to be a crash–that this island has a magic ability to help this dream sustain itself

Today I feel some hope that it is possible to create some space in my life–I really want to be the best Ruth I can be so I can continue to make a difference for my peeps!

Cautiously Approaching the Vortex

The Welcome Back from the principal email has been received with the attached schedule for the teachers Pre Planning week. Time to ease back towards the edge of the Vortex. I am determined not to be sucked in. It is inevitable that the crises problem solving methods that seem to arise in this profession will touch me—BUT I do not have to let it inside me. I cannot control the decisions outside of my classroom or the school building—I can set the stage within my sphere of influence. As I sit back and watch the flurry of preparation that happens prior to the opening act of the The 2012-1013 School Year, I keep the summer in my heart, and embrace the changes that are looming in front our island school district.

This has been a good summer, quiet, lazy and slow. Days of doing absolutely nothing have been accomplished. My body is programmed to go to sleep at sundown and awake at sunup. I have paddled countless miles with Turtles, Dolphins, Rays, Lobster, Seastars, Manatees and good friends in this Paradise of my island home. I am rested and ready for the curtain to go up o this show!

Calm at the edge the Vortex

One of my summer friends

As a seasoned teacher, I am grateful I do not feel the apprehension of moving onto the stage of  a new school year as much as some of my younger colleagues. The passion for teaching is bubbling in my heart, but not I am in any hurry to move out of the wings, I savor the preparation time it takes to get the stage set, costumes ready and lighting just right. My years have taught me to treasure the peace of these Pre School days—the quiet of a classroom that has dust on the desks speaks to me.

In those quiet moments, before the computer is hooked up again, the phone is reconnected and contact is made with the district office, parents and staff, my purpose is determined. Each year, I determine a personal goal that I want to see accomplished, a legacy of sorts. This is not a professional development goal that is measured by administration, rather a strong determination that comes from reflection on the needs of our island youth. This year I am going to focus on including Special Olympic Sports into the school district Sports Programs.

Most educators in our district do not know that Special Olympics has FREE resources to help educate ALL youth, special needs and non special needs—– not only in the sport specific skills, but in life skills—working as team, tolerance for others, physical self care—-By June of 2013, my goal is to have brought awareness of Special Olympics school based programs to our district level administration, enlist them in developing a district wide Special Olympics Program that will allow our island youth to come together on an equal playing field!

Many times I hear “I am not in sports–I do not fit in” or  “I wish I could play with the team”—- I am so sad when I see my students sitting on the sidelines watching their peers compete in a sport, when they know they CAN– swim, run, bike too–but are excluded due to slower performance and processing skills.

Our education system tends to spin on an access, sweeping everyone involved into a crises thinking. Each year I determine to dodge the spin cycle and emerge with an accomplished goal—a legacy that will remain on this island.

Monday at 8 am I will meet you in the High School Auditorium for the Superintendents opening speech to all staff.

Let the games begin!

Summer Olympics—-My Heroes

This has been the Summer of Special Olympics here on the island.

As I watch the Summer Olympics 2012 Opening Ceremonies in London and the parade of athletes from each country, I cannot help but reflect on the victories we have witnessed for our Special Olympic Athletes on this tiny speck of land.

Our local Special Olympics programs included Bocce, Bowling and Biking for many years.

In May of 2011 an awesome young man moved to our island and enrolled in the Transition Program that I work in, his story moved me. His father chose to move to the end of the road in order for his son to have the opportunity to swim every day in warm tropical water.

Rye—an inspiration to us all!

This young man, diagnosed with Down’s Syndrome, has a passion for swimming– a sport that saved his life and helped him recover from a fatal infection in his leg muscles—inspired me to join the ranks of our local Special Olympic Coaches and commit my summer to helping build the aquatics program. Not much travel or vacation time, but oh so worth it!

What an awesome team!

In Jan. of 2012, the State of Florida allowed SUP to become an Exhibition Sport—the development of this sport has gone hand in hand with the expansion of our local Aquatics program. We have been able to give these island athletes the freedom to enjoy the tropical paradise they live in!

With the introduction of Paddling and Swimming our  athletes have been challenged to overcome many fears. Some have been scared of swimming in the ocean, some had a fear of deep water that kept them from swimming laps in a pool.

When Special Olympics Florida developed the sport of SUP, the one requirement for qualification as a paddler is that an athlete must swim 25 meters unassisted and without a float device. All of our Aquatics athletes conquered the fears they had to accomplish this goal and MORE!

Today we held our FIRST local Aquatics Competition—the same day the Olympics Swim Competitions open! It was an awesome day! These athletes swam their hearts out! Staying on the island this summer was worth it—– every stroke those athletes took was priceless! I am so blessed to have been a part of this.

Half Way Point

The half way point of summer has been reached. This year I choose to stay close to home and enjoy the paradise of the island. I have accomplished the art of living with the sun. Going to bed when it is dark and rising with the sun.

The biggest joy of the summer is being part of the development of our Monroe County Special Olympic SUP (Stand Up Paddle) Team. It is becoming apparent this is not just about learning to paddle and standing on a large board in the middle of the ocean! I am watching youth, who have unique learning abilities conquer fears, put aside behavioral issues, make changes in nutrition and lifestyles.

Amanda was afraid of the deep canal water. Casey from Lazy Dog helped her overcome the fear!

As these young adults experience the freedom of being on the water, without parents, teachers, therapists of others who control their lives— they are becoming confident to make choices, to speak up and to find out how to live more independent lives. They are becoming part of our island community and developing individual identities as athletes.

I too am learning more about myself and how to ask for help. I am not an athlete, I am a teacher, planner and visionary. AND A VERY PASSIONATE WATER WOMAN! But in order to give these athletes what I have so freely received from the ocean, I need help from skilled paddlers. A BIG THANK YOU TO THE LAZY DOG PADDLE TEAM! Without these ladies, the history that is being made in Monroe County Special Olympics could not be happening.

When I opened the current issue of the Standup Paddle Magazine, I cried, seeing the photo of our athletes. These young people are sharing the pages with legends, along with becoming legends in themselves! I realized that this has become bigger then Special Olympics—this SUP program has now become proof that this sport is for EVERYONE!

I personally have had my life change due to the empowerment that paddling has given me. When I go out on the water, paddle along the edge of the ancient mangroves of the Keys, finding places to dock the board and walk onto the old road, I am connected to those that lived on these limestone islands long before my time. My spirit is fed.

Walking from Old Road back to my board. Years ago, someone lived in this cove!

We are beginning the planning sessions for our First Annual SUP Invitational  on Oct. 14, 2012. There is so much for me to learn about putting on an event. More will be revealed!

It is humbling to have so many folks jumping in to help.

Ultimate Athletics–Race promoter Bill Elkins is teaching me how to stay focused, work as a team in order and plan with the big goal in mind in order to have something that will become established annually.

Lazy Dog-Race Trainers, Coaches and Board Suppliers—these ladies are teaching me to watch and listen, to slow down and not worry so much.

YOLO— Donations and Raffle Items–Jeff and Mitzi Archer teach me to enjoy each moment and to live life to it’s fullest!

Key Largo Bicycle Tours,–Donations and Raffle items –My new friend Mark Terrell is teaching me to keep it simple and explore this paradise I live in.

SUP Key West–Donations and Raffle Items—Megan is teaching me to slow down, that the journey IS the destination!

Paddle The Florida Keys–Donations and Volunteers—My new friend Scott is teaching me that a leap of faith is all it takes.

Let us know if you would like to join these awesome folks in helping us put on this upcoming event by emailing

The focus of this event is providing competition opportunities  for Special Olympics Athletes in the State of Florida at no charge, along with providing fun races for women, men and kids for a $25.00 registration fee to fund this First Annual SUP Invitational.

Save the date –Oct. 14, 2012—we will have hotels offering discounted rates for that weekend–come hang out with some awesome people!

Journey into the Vision

The journey into the vision of SUP racing with Special Olympic Athletes is providing me with multiple lessons and notes to self for the future. First one is that no matter how well you plan—traveling up the road to participate in a one day event is much harder then it looks!

5-3-12 Thursday

We arrive at Enterprise Rental company in Key West to be informed that NAS Key West has taken all their vans and we can only have a 15 passenger van. Ok, so in theory this sounds good, we can all fit in together and not have to caravan, all boards can fit on top and we should be good. But on inspection of the van we find that there is no storage  for our stuff, only lots of seats. Ok so we ask them to take the back seat out, “It is too heavy for me” says the guy preparing the van, and off he goes to get a buddy…….30 minutes later they take the seat out of the van, and off we go. The thing is a mini bus, but ok, we are looking at the bright side and rejoicing that we are going to load up and take off in the a.m. Off we go to load up the athletes boards…… but forgetting that Coach Ruth and Coach Susan are short people and lifting boards onto a mini bus can prove difficult…… so we resign ourselves to taking two boards and fitting them into the van, giving athletes the experience of SUPer travel! One more revelation……this mini bus is not handicap accessible! One of the athletes who used a walker cannot climb into it! It is at least a 3 feet step up! I have to get on my knees to climb into the back to load up the multiple bags of stuff we seem to require! How can 4 athletes need so much stuff??? How did we accumulate so much equipment and why are these paddles in the way? Oh well, still looking on the bright side, we now have room for three athletes to lay on the seats under the boards, because the athlete with the walker will ride in her mom’s car. We all head home to rest and be ready in the a.m. Heading out at O Dark thirty to make the 5 hour drive to Naples!

Note to self—-organize a fund raiser for a Board Trailer and a Handicap Accessible Mini Bus!

5-4-12  Friday

TRAVEL DAY! Our first SO SUP road trip! I am up and out of bed like a kid on Christmas Day- 4:30 a.m.! Brush my teeth and check my phone for last minute text or calls, sure enough there is a call and a text that came through at 11 p.m. One of our athletes is sick and cannot make it! Frantic phone call to mom and realization of how much this young ladies anxiety affects her. She is the dearest young lady, and I am really sad she will not be with us. Breathe and move on………now to reassess the the mini bus situation….we have two coaches and two athletes in a MONSTER Vehicle….I text Coach Susan and await the call in order to confer……so it is off into the monster van we go.

Arrived in Naples at our friend and fellow SUP coach MJ’s house in record time! An afternoon at her pool, grilled hamburgers and lots of visiting with Collier County SUP coaches and SUPortive friends was fun. Checking into the hotel we find cute little rooms facing the pool, a quick dip in the pool and all athletes into bed with visions for blue ribbons dancing in their heads!

Saturday 5-12-12   RACE DAY!

As I awake, I am in awe of the events of the past year that got us here, the people who have supported these awesome athletes. Each athlete has grown, matured and found parts of themselves in the sport of SUP, they have come into them selves as young adults and I am privileged to be part of it. As we prepare for this epic first time competition with other Special Olympic Athletes, I pray that each person involved today receives the joy these athletes carry in their souls.

Inspiration from Athletes

In the past year I have had the blessing of being involved with the development of Stand Up Paddle as a sport in the Florida Special Olympics.

The athletes have always inspired me, yet there has been something missing in the Monroe County program. We were offering the sports of Bowling, Biking and Bocce only up until September of 2011. We live on an island and I always wondered why we did not offer swimming. I was a sporadic volunteer and could not raise the passion needed for the commitment it required to give up weekends and countless hours to be fully involved in our Monroe County Special Olympic Program.

As always, my personal growth seems to overflow into my “job”, things I get passionate about seem to become part of the “lesson plan”. There is a lot of truth in the saying, “We teach what we need to learn.” In this case for me it is SUP (Stand Up Paddle) and all the stoke, ohona, spirit and love that goes with it.

It started in Oct. of 2010 when I took a Paddleboard Yoga class from Lazy Dog at Hurricane Hole on Stock Island. From the moment I paddled out into Cow Key Channel I knew that I had found my way back to the surfer girl who grew up on the beach in Jupiter Florida. I reconnected with the Florida water ecosystem, I felt the water rushing under the board, welcoming me home. The water that flows through Cow Key Channel, into the Gulf and Atlantic on it’s ancient pathway through the Everglades, past the Reef, into Hawks Channel, into Lake Okeechobee, through the Kissimmee River, into the Panhandle waterways……the water is what brings life to all of Florida, and in turn brings life to me!

As I stood on that board for the first time, the instinctual knowledge of the Florida Waterway system that I traveled as a young girl with my father, from Jupiter Inlet, to the Bahamas, throughout the locks of the Lake Okeechobee, through the Sea of Grass via airboat….flooded through me! I knew that I could access any of those places again from that board with a paddle in my hand. Never again would I have to depend on a boat, or spend money on maintaining and engine I know nothing about to access the water.

When I started riding motorcycles a good friend once told me ” When you ride in the car, you look at the scenery and when you are riding the motorcycle you ARE IN the scenery!”

And so it is on a board with a paddle. “When I am in a boat, I am looking at and skimming over the water, paddling a board I am PART OF THE WATER and all life in it!”

With this realization and utter freedom from all my self imposed ‘disabilities” and faulty thoughts that creep up to disable my dreams — “you are too fat” ” you are not good enough”

I realized that the people I have dedicated my life and career to CAN enjoy this too. So I started a google search of Special Olympics and Stand Up Paddle. I found a link to a fundraising paddle board race in Collier County, proving to me that this dream was possible!

Then I went to our Monroe County Coordinator and asked her if she thought this would fly here in the Keys…..for goodness sake we live on an island and why not!? was my thought. She was a bit apprehensive at first, and told me that our program had not ever tapped into the water sports areas because we do not have a swimming program….WHAT!??

So jumping in with both feet, I volunteered to start an Aquatics program for Monroe County. William Elkins from Ultimate Athletics has been a God Send! I find myself involved in not only the Special Olympic politics that comes with a huge non profit, but having to learn about competition swimming—- again the young high school girl who is on the swim team comes back to me, starting with the old faulty thinking and tries to derail me with her high school insecurities!

As we identified those athletes that can swim exceptionally well, we introduced paddling to them in a fun event. Michael Westenberg (Westy) a YOLO Board team racer brought boards out and we went for it. Our athletes, coaches, volunteers and families said that day was the most fun they ever had with Special Olympics! That was in August of 2010. We proceeded to have some training’s and SUP fun as part of our Aquatics Program, entering into discussions with the state office to entertain the introduction of SUP to the SO sports line up.

I started a conversation via Facebook with a fellow SUP enthusiast and she introduced me to MJ, the Aquatics coach in Collier County. I began finding out more about the fund raiser they hold each year, I entered a few YOLO sponsored races myself…..again having to deal with those faulty thoughts and personal insecurities that I consider to be my personal disability!

In April of 2011 myself and two other Monroe County Coaches took one of our Athletes to the Collier County SUP race/fundraiser. The vision I held was ignited in the two coaches and we returned to Monroe County ready to do whatever we needed to do to make SUP a reality for our athletes.

The SUP community in Florida started knocking on the state sports directors door asking to help, at first he was resistant, but the SUP community kept knocking and telling him that there is a place in the sport for ALL people. SUP is for everyone! Through Special Olympics these awesome athletes can safely learn the sport, meet mentors and enter races alongside world class competition athletes.

To date two of our Monroe County Athletes have paddled in WPA (World Paddle Association) point races! YOLO Board has stepped up and helped us with equipment, training coaches and mentoring me along the way. Yes, I have been teaching what I need to learn!

Let me win and if I cannot win, let me be brave in the attempt!

Our oath speaks to me in the fact that bravery is getting out there and doing it, making healthy choices, wearing a bathing suit in public, developing an exercise routine and training when I do not want to……silencing those faulty thoughts that tell me that I should do more, be more and am never good enough.

I am so blessed! Each day I pray that I can keep focused on the visions and dreams of others in order to conquer my disabled thinking!

Check out Florida Special Olympics Monroe County and keep an eye on this SUP group!

Locals Guide coverage of our preparations for the Key West Paddleboard Classic:

The Ultimate Athlete

My friend and our aquatics coach, Bill, is a triathlete coach. His business is named the Ultimate Athlete. Until today I thought it was a very catchy name that described the very fit people that he works with. These folks do boot camps, crazy training methods, like jumping off White Street Pier with a 10 pound medicine ball and swimming!

Today I met the Ultimate Athlete, the one that I work so hard to give a voice to. This little gal spent the entire time of the competition peddling around the high school track. She persevered and pushed her feet against those peddles as others were flying by her! Multiple heats and races took place as she peddled on to her finish line.

Upon arriving at the finish, all activity stopped and in true Special Olympic fashion we all cheered and she smiled so big as all the coaches cried. This is why we do what we do!