A Letter of Gratitude – To 2016 And All Those In It

Dear 2016,


First off, you sure filled my year with many great moments, new adventures, mental tests, and ambitious achievements.  For the past month I’ve been trying to digest everything about the last 12 months, the successes and the failures. Regardless of the latter, it was one that I can’t do anything but draw the positive from because I know it was all part of my growth.  Development doesn’t come without challenge and I respect that process.  So, I want to take it all in for the good it was because you really did let me bring out the renegade in myself and do so in many ways that I didn’t know possible or didn’t know how. I couldn’t be more thankful and for that I want to express my gratitude for the last 12 months.

When I think of a year it always seems like not that much time because it goes so fast, but really when I look back at the year I realize there was so much to it.  There are obviously all the big things that stand out over the course of the year but there are still all the little happenings and developments that bridge it all together into one big journey.  2016 has been exactly that for me.  While I may not have envisioned things happening at the beginning, they always seem to build on one another and produce a result at the end, one I feel I am a better person because of it.

I started the year off with one goal, a physical one.  Usually I’d put one word in my head that I wanted to work on conscientiously but something spurred me to change it up.  My goal was to go to Rio de Janiero for the 31st Olympiad.  I had not been out of the country since the 2012 Games in London.  Well 2016, you surprised me.  Not only was I able to get out of the country once but three times in one year!  I was a jet-setter this year (31 take-offs/touchdowns).  I am beyond thankful for those opportunities and even more thankful for all the in-betweens that come with it.  2016, you pushed my limits.  You forced me to go beyond the boundaries of my comfort zone, to be fearless like a kid again.

Though the year could be defined by my travels, I most importantly want to be thankful for everyone in it that made it what it was and for all the discoveries and teachings I gained.  There was spontaneously hopping a flight to Florida to see someone I grew up with but honestly really didn’t know.  Megan, thank you for showing me a world I had lost touch with since I was young.  I had progressed into the people world so much but you brought back a passion for the animal world.

Then there was booking an adventure in a country where English was not native.  Paul, thank you for setting out for such a fascinating and beautiful place like Thailand with me.  I am honored to have such a strong friendship with such a good buddy when we are separated by a big body of water called an ocean.  It reminds me that distance is only a barrier if you make it one.  That trip pushed me to go for my long time goal of scuba diving.  Being 60 feet underwater can be quite intimidating but wow!  That world below the surface is enchanting and mysterious.  No doubt putting trust in the knowledge gained was tough but becoming certified is an achievement I am proud of.  Thank you Colonel, Maka, and Marc for showing me the sea. Marc, ending up at your Spanish diving school and unknowingly joining a Spanish dive trip has to be one of my favorite ‘well this is awkward but turned out totally awesome’ moments.  There were so many new great friends met on that trip.  And how about the day feeding and bathing with the elephants?  The curious compassion by two strangers when the baby elephant, Milo, wrapped his trunk around the arm of the young woman, Soledad.  To see that was special.  Even better was being able to capture it on my camera. 2016, you encouraged me to pursue a passion for photography that was brewing inside and so I bought a camera.  Jenny, thank you for all your shared knowledge and confidence.  I know there is a ways to go but the leaps and bounds I have gained with it are so inspiring.  I took a lot of pictures this year, a lot! I love the challenge of testing what I am capable of capturing.

If you only have one set goal for a year and you achieve it then the year has to be a success, right?  Well, 2016 you were a success because I made it to Rio for the Games but you tested me first.  There was the challenge of shoving two weeks into a backpack for opposite climates.  There was then flight delays that literally drug me off an airplane with that backpack and and then having to hike nearly 10 up and down miles through the Andes Mountains, but man was Machu Pichu so mesmerizing and intriguing.  You showed that it was worth it.  Then there was traveling in tandem for two weeks with someone of the opposite sex, something I had never done before.  Thanks again Megan for putting up with me.  I’ll never forget us jumping into the frigid Pacific to swim with 10,000 sea lions.   I have to give huge thanks for all the tour guides throughout the year here too.  It leaves me in wonder how you can give the same tour day after day but still have the genuine enthusiasm.  You guys amaze me.  Thank you all for showing me pieces of your worlds.

Then finally making it to Brazil and seeing my favorite spectacle in the world, one that I’ve had a lifelong passion for.  Seeing the world come together for a couple weeks through sport is a privilege I knew I had to experience again, at least to some degree.  A big thanks to Mitra and Colvin for putting up with all my travel uncertainty and making it happen.  One of my favorite parts is arriving at the airport and coming through the doors almost like an athlete and being greeted by my homie Mike.  Mike, you are always so hospitable to me and one of the true best.  Thank you for letting me use your abode as a landing pad on my Colorado visit.  The Games had so many great moments from chatting with Janet Evans (my 8 year old self would have been just as excited as I was now) to walking by my Olympic idol Michael Johnson (Ok, not saying something to him there disappoints me a little) to playing a random pick-up volleyball game with strangers from 5 countries to experiencing the Games with so many of my Olympic community friends.  You know how much it means for me to reconnect with friends and to do so there is special.  To also be able to spend some of it running around the city again like 2012 with Ryan and his girlfriend Tash was a blast.  Thanks Ryan.  Rio also offered me new perspective on the tour of the favellas.  It was a poverty unknown to me but showed such a unique and banding community.  It was such a true pleasure to learn the Copoeira dance from the young men at the school and see their enthusiasm.

While I was able to see much joy in all the athlete there, I have to recognize the many I am thankful to work with and for everyday with Special Olympics.  So many of you push yourselves to new heights year after year and that having a disability is not a limit.  I am honored to have witnessed some of those triumphs this year.  There is John who has become one of my dearest friends and showed me there are different ways of friendship.   John, thank you most of all for putting up with my pranks and providing me with your facts and fun ideas.  Thank you to all the coaches and volunteers I have worked with over the last year and those that have shared your stories with me.  Thank you Barb and Chana for giving your extra time to spread the word the past few months, especially you Chana for showing courage and telling your story with me in front of a bunch of college students.  I’m thankful for that because you were the ones there on day 1 of my SO career.  Ok, I suppose I have to give thanks to my team too.  You guys have been so accepting of my pursuits this year.  The flexibility and understanding you have showed for my here-and-there lifestyle means so much to me.  You are a true pleasure to work with and I also appreciate the freedom you have given me to evolve as an employee and showcase my skills and talents.  I know many would love to be in my position and I don’t take it for granted.  Thank you all for another wonderful year.

Thank you also to my Children’s Home family.  When I came into the year I didn’t quite feel connected but then something clicked.  My relationships with staff turned into friendships and my compassion with the kids turned into trusting and respecting relationships.  To be able to be a part of making their lives better sure does mean a lot.

2016, one of the things you gave me this year is the satisfaction in the growth of my relationships.  I was able to see my niece for the first time and witnessing her bubbly personality.  I also was able to create better relationships with my siblings.  Jared and Devin, witnessing the first Monday Night game in the Vikings’ new stadium with you meant a lot.  All siblings know how to press each others buttons but 2016 showed me acceptance in understanding that we are all wired differently and have different experiences.  Jared, Kara, and Kyle thank you for putting up with me.  My relationship with my dad grew, maybe not in the typical father-son dynamic but all-in-all in positive ways.  Then there was the relationship with my mom.  In a year filled with airplanes I was able to take a good old fashioned road trip to Duluth with my mom for her birthday.  She even let me make her the star of one of my Snapchat documentaries and she embraced it and was a star.  It was a great memory for us and brought great strength.  We are different in many but she accepts me no matter what.   The unconditional love is the lesson there and another thing I’m thankful to understand better through this year.  It’s about time I picked up on that one after hearing it at all these weddings throughout the year, right? I’m thankful to have family from around the country who can come together like we did at CJ and Jessie’s wedding in Utah and have so much joy and many laughs together.

While I do not have a girlfriend or spouse like many friends and family, 2016 you have showed me how to continue as the individual that I am in making my own story.  Sure there were many dates but the understanding of my own path and trusting my heart has brought me optimism and helped me understand myself even more.

Then there are all the friendships that hold every year together for me, each one with their own differences.  Benson, you have been a great friend throughout the course of the year.  You always ask the right questions and seek to get to know what’s on my mind.  I appreciate that.  Ben, I can always count on you to join me for lunch or catch a late night movie after I’m done with work on a work night even when your wife is sleeping and doesn’t know.   There are all the friends that ground me when I’m flying because you all know I always have the biggest ideas flying in my head.  Thank you.  Shandon, I can’t find enough to say about the friendship/brotherhood that we rebuilt in the last year.  Cait, how do I thank you for how encouraging you are.  You always have the warmest compliments that are that small reminder that I’m doing something right.  I’m thankful for the growing strength in our relationship.  Tyrel, I’m shaking my head in disbelief at how great it is we have friendship of best friends going back to four years old.  I could go on and on for what you all have all taught me over the course of the year or how you have been simply a steady force.  I wish I could thank everyone one of you who has been part of my year.  Big or small, new friends or old ones, thank you all for your friendship and love.  Most of all, thank you for all putting up with my on-the-go lifestyle, especially you, Sam and Doug.  You guys rock!

I mentioned how the year has been built on the idea of “just go for it.”  That mentality has brought a ton of opportunity that I’m very grateful for but it has also allowed me push the envelope.  I tried Jiu Jitsu and have never done a martial art.  Combat sports are completely new to me and intimidating but man did I have fun with it.  I mean, I could make you pass out in a couple seconds!  2016, you pushed me up a tsunami evacuation route with bare feet, climbing jagged rocks and ledges to witness one of the most amazing views I’ve ever seen with my two eyes (Don’t tell my mom).  To be there alone with the pure serenity was amazing.  There was also the –26 degree Vikings game that was on impulse but worth every degree.  Thanks Jacob and Mel.

Thank you to my friends and mentors, Randy, Doug, Katie, and Susan.  You were all so encouraging in my efforts to pursue writing and believe in my talents.  You also gave me the critique to get better.  That is not always easy to consume but essential to get better.  Thank you also to all of the others who were so supportive.  I only look to continue to get better with it.  LisaAnn and Travis, how do I thank you for the guidance you have given me throughout the year.  Whether it be promoting my travels or reminding me of the meaning of being love and not pursuing love.  There is nothing more important than that.

I know we each have many different obstacles that prevent us from “just going for it” but I am grateful and blessed for the opportunities presented.  My favorite part of everything I have went for is how it has given me the chance to give back in some way or another.  I have to thank my 2nd grade teacher, Nancy, for asking me to speak to her class about my travels and career pursuits.  That was where my dream started and who knows, maybe me showing them could spark one of them.  I also have to thank Brad for bringing me on the Sioux Falls radio when I was in Brazil.   The Olympics have always magnified the power of sport and how it brings the world together. To share that with such a large audience was a true honor.  I love sharing my experiences and opening perspective for others.

Sometimes friendships are built randomly, like six years ago in a bar in Seattle.  Sometimes those friendships reconnect six years later in the form of a couch stay to the Virgin Islands.  2016, your surprises come in so many ways.  That trip was the final substance of this year.  It pushed me to go out on a limb of uncertainty.  It pushed me to completely disconnect in order to reconnect.  Thank you Heather for your continued friendship and inspiration with your zeal, especially witnessing yoursoul’s pure joy on the water.  I couldn’t appreciate seeing the Virgin islands community more.  It was so great seeing the outpouring compassion among everyone. Then there was Ben and Sarah.  You two are amazing hosts.  You push me to read more and expand my mind.  From the –9 degree hot tubbing in South Dakota to our December 1st river dip in the Appalachians, we always make an adventure wherever we are at.  Ben, you truly bring out the free spirit in me and best of all, force me to chuckle all day long with you.  I am grateful for our playful immaturity.

I spent many mornings and nights trying to appreciate a lot of unique sunrises and sunsets in many different places this year.  2016, you showed me how to see all the love and beauty of the world and not by opening the shutter wider, but by opening my eyes; to see the sunshine everywhere, even if it is just a rey.  By seeing it in everything, big or small, you showed me the world in a much brighter light despite all of the darkness the world tries to do define you by.  You helped me to discover myself in ways I didn’t know I could do like practicing patience and trusting the timing of my own path.  I grew a better grasp on things all the way from relativity to vulnerability.  You enlightened me to ask better questions and to be confident when the answer may not be what I wanted to hear.  You helped me recognize emotion and to harness it, to be comfortable with and to use it for greater purpose.  I now have a better comprehension of pride.  My conscientiousness is now stronger and my perspectives wider.  Every bit of what makes me so thankful in this year is built on love and you pushed me outside my comfort zone to love a little more and a little harder.  It was simply by being it.  Thank you for that most important reminder.

While I may have started my year with the one physical goal, my greatest success is not accomplishing that goal but in how you made me better as a person both mentally and spiritually.   I look forward to using this to push that wild heart of mine farther, to grow more, and to love even harder in my future.  2016, in my book you rocked and I am grateful beyond measure for you and everyone in it!

With Love,


Ps. If you could take away that buzzer beater by Villanova in the NCAA Championship game I’d be even more thankful.  Oh, and if you could please tell 2017 I look forward to meeting them and if you want to drop a good line I’d appreciate it 😉

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