What Gives?!

Through my experiences with various organizations over the years, I’ve found myself asking: Why do people give? What motivates people to donate their money, time, resources, etc? Is it because they have a personal connection to the cause? Or because the difference they’ve made with their contribution makes them feel fulfilled?  Obviously there are alternative, less genuine reasons to give, but let's not focus on those.

I’ve found that people give for a myriad of reasons, and don’t get me wrong, I am thankful for their generosity no matter what their intent! However, when the drive behind their actions is genuine, it’s not only effective on the task at hand, but it’s scope reaches far beyond the original cause. It inspires those involved to take action themselves, growing the goodness like... like a champagne fountain. (I'll explain later)

How can I make such a claim? I’ve experienced the phenomenon myself. Time and time again and most recently during the past month I’ve found myself surrounded by some of the most passionate people I’ve ever met. And the passion was, undoubtedly, contagious.

I headed north mid-November for what was supposed to be a quick trip to MN, but thanks to the “champagne effect” mentioned above, “quick” turned into “not so quick” and three weeks later, I finally returned to Orlando. With no complaints, of course :) 

I was invited north by my friend and firefighting hero, Jake Lafferiere (if you haven’t heard of his story, Google it now) to attend The Red Tie Gala, his organization’s premier annual event, The event hosted by Firefighters For Healing raises money to benefit adolescent burn survivors. Besides two minor burns involving mindless fire pit accidents in my teens, Jake, a burn survivor himself, was my only connection to the cause. However, it didn’t take but stepping my foot into the door to become deeply captivated. After witnessing the fierce passion and genuine drive of everyone in attendance, I was all-in.

“Take my money!”

The Red Tie Gala was a huge success which paid tribute to past and present members of the Fire Department and raised over $150,000 to support burn survivors and their families. Never have I been to an event in which so many in attendance were there for the right reason – the cause! I encourage everyone to check out the pics from the event as well as their mission on the website here – you’ll get it. I left feeling humbled, inspired, and motivated.

Days later, I was introduced to leaders the U of MN’s Foundation which supports the Masonic Children’s Hospital by dear friend and the ultimate human connector, Al Baker. As a result, I was invited to “Rudy’s Thanksgiving Celebration” hosted by Kyle Rudolph and a crew of his Vikings cronies at the Hospital the following day. (See pics and video via Vikings.com here)

The Masonic hospital is truly somethin’ else. Not an element was overlooked. The dark, sterile, concrete shoebox that I was set to have my bone marrow transplant in holds no comparison to the comfortable, elegant, and state of the art accommodations at the Masonic Hospital. Vaulted ceilings with floor to ceiling views of downtown along with freakishly modern technology were among its endless features.

Aside from five-star accommodations, the U of M Foundation has also gathered a great group of supporters, including the Minnesota Vikings and, specifically, tight end, Kyle Rudolph and his wife Jordan, who host multiple events throughout the year for patients and their families. It was pretty neat to see Kyle and co. give back to their community. The grins on the kiddos faces could be seen from across the Mississippi, and each of the purple giants hovering above them were kind, supportive, and grateful for the opportunity to make a difference. They were not asked to be there – they were there because they wanted to be. Their humbleness was impressive.

Two days later, Tiff and I were invited to attend the U of M Foundation’s Fashion Fest benefitting patient programing and other resources at the Hospital. I highly suggest attending in 2017. Food, fashion, fun, dreamy celebrity waiters, and Goldy Gopher in a gold sequin tuxedo – need I say more? This event gathered a great group of Minnesota’s finest, and led to support for my own cause the following week.

But before that, I made the trek west to Willmar, MN to speak at the fall WeLead meeting. The group's mission is "to empower all women to discover and maximize their unique talents one leader at a time".  I spoke about my journey and what it means to me to be a "survivor", and was humbled by the people (women AND men!) of all ages and backgrounds who came together to support each other and hear my story. I've always strived to make my community proud, and their support inspires me to work even harder. 

After "missing" my flight (a phenomenon that happens more often than not), next up was Thanksgiving, and yet another reason to be grateful and to GIVE. It’s one of the best holidays; no frills - just turkey, pie, and gratitude.

But the giving didn’t end there. After extending my trip, Tiff and I threw together a last-minute party to commemorate the 10-year anniversary of my cancer diagnosis. We gathered with about 100 guests with the intent to celebrate life and raise money and awareness for the BeTheMatch Organization* - a cause near and dear to me. Over 30 attendees enlisted themselves on the National Bone Marrow Donor Registry (sign up here!), and as a group we raised nearly $1,000 for the organization. As a result of attending Fashion Fest, Love Your Melon donated hats for purchase, and we received two fantastic silent auction items from our awesome friends including a limited-edition portrait of US Bank Stadium courtesy of Cory Merrifield and a 2016 team signed Vikings football from Kentrell Brothers. I'm so grateful for everyone's support! 

Unfortunately, the positive momentum took a turn for the worse the night of the celebration, when I learned the devastating news that close friend and fellow wakeboarder Ben Leclair had suffered a serious spinal cord injury while wakeboarding in Orlando. At the time, Ben had no sensation and was unable to move from he neck down. Having had another dear friend, Brad Smeele, paralyzed due to wakeboard injury just over a year ago, the news was a devastating blow to our sport and industry.

I returned back to Orlando just in time to attend a fundraiser for he and his family. Our small but powerful wakeboard community came together to raise a substantial amount of money to support his already compounding medical bills. Want to see a bunch of tough guy wakeboarders cry? FaceTime your injured comrade from the party and put it on the projector. You can’t put a price on friendship and the feeling we all felt hearing Ben’s voice for the first time since his accident.

Though his journey has just begun, I’m happy to announce Ben has made steady progress over the past two weeks moving his shoulders, feeling sensations below his neck, and was finally able to eat his first meal - banana crepes with chocolate sauce, of course. To donate to Ben and his family, please visit his Road2Recovery site

So what gives? Giving does. And in a world where many apparently “don’t give a ****”, it’s nice to know that some people do. And those that do, have likely found that when one gives, they’re not out anything. In fact, the more they give, the more they receive. It's like a giant, flowing champagne fountain - yeah that's right - continuously spilling out of one cup and filling another while never losing substance. Compassion is never ending and only increases when one is surrounded by others with good intent.

So it's time to pop bottles, people! Whether you can give time, money, or just your input, I encourage you to get involved - with ANY positive cause - and fill ‘er up for yourself. After all, who doesn't like champagne?

Thank you to all who add bubbles to my overflowing cup and allow me to do the same for others.  



PS. If anyone has additional questions about any of the causes listed above, please don't hesitate to reach out, as I would be more than happy to provide more info! 


If you’ve found yourself reading this, you likely either follow or have stumbled across one of my social media outlets and thus seen the word “skol” a time or two amongst my posts. In that case, it's also likely that you've asked yourself, “What the hell does 'skol' mean?” and even likelier, "Who cares?!"

In anticipation of my Ten Year Cancerversary fast approaching on December 1st as well as the publishing of my first memoir in early 2017 and also in honor of one of the the only exciting Vikings seasons to take place in my lifetime (or so we thought), I’d like to fill you in on the expression’s meaning, and why I choose to use it at any and every given opportunity. 

If you're one of those fortunate enough to hail from the North Star State or are a rare out of state Vikings fan, you are probably familiar with the word, as it has lingered around the franchise for decades and gained popularity in recent years. Though it can be heard echoing throughout the mystifying air within the brand new US Bank Stadium downtown Minneapolis on any given Sunday, even many who are familiar with skol don’t know it’s true meaning. 

For me, it’s significance sinks much deeper than football. But before we get into that jazz, let’s discuss it’s formal definition.

The Google search for “skol meaning” produces the term’s modern day translation, which reads as follows:

An exclamation used to express friendly feelings toward one’s companion before drinking.

However, this is hardly it's definition. This watered down definition only scratches the surface of the word’s essence, so let’s dive into the history books and get to skol's roots.

The term is, indeed, authentically Viking. Between the 8th and 11th century AD, warrior groups known as “Vikings” could be found navigating about the seas and rivers of Northern Europe, wreaking havoc along the way, raiding and pillaging just about every village they came across. Throughout their conquests, these fiercely determined warriors sought to capture and kill the leader of each opposing group, after which they would eagerly decapitate his (or her) head. During the celebratory feast after battle, the Viking leader would drink out of his fallen opponent’s skull, then spelled “skoll” as a sign of victory but also respect. 

From this tradition, the expression “SKOLL!” was born and regularly cried out by Viking warriors before and during battle. It was exclaimed in an effort to rally one’s fellow brothers and as a reminder of the goal: to fight ferociously as a tribe, take no prisoners, and, ultimately, win. To put simply, the definition of "skol" is to kick ass and take names. Hence, it’s adoption by the Minnesota Vikings as the football team’s official battle cry. 

Like I said, the saying holds more weight than a simple “cheers”. 

My affinity for the term began years ago and as my love affair with the word has progressed, it's become something very personal to me. But as aforementioned, for me the significance of the word goes far beyond sport. 

Keep in mind: I take myself and “life” only partially seriously at all times, including those topics which are inherently serious in nature, however, there are some things that you just feel in your bones. 

For the past ten years I have been living with a potentially deadly form of cancer, known as Chronic Myeloid Leukemia, cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Though many are unaware, there was a period of time shortly after diagnosis when I was ill….very ill (chronicled in my soon-to-be published memoir). There were multiple occasions on which I was forced to consider the potential of defeat...the potential of "failure" (aka death), but even during the darkest of times such as those, there was a power inside of me, an indescribably force, that refused to give up. Perhaps its best described as the “will to live”.

Throughout my writing endeavors, I have spent countless hours trying to justly describe this phenomenon; the intangible force that drives one to “hang on” when they’ve gone lower than they ever knew possible. It is like a fire living in an unidentifiable place deep inside of us that burns and refuses to go out, even when life’s challenges have dwindled it down to the smallest flame.

But as the Vikings knew best, it only takes one spark to burn down an entire village. 

I continue to find myself revisiting the word “skol" as a way to describe the the blazing fire within. For me, it is, indeed, a battle cry and a verbal symbol of the drive to fight, and, thus, the drive to live. It's a reminder to kick ass, to never give up, and to battle 'til the bloody end. 

December 1st, 2016 will signify ten years since my cancer diagnosis. This day holds great importance to me for obvious reasons, as living for ten years with a deadly form of cancer is a significant feat, but the ten year mark, specifically, holds additional value in my situation.

At age 16 I was much younger than the average diagnosee of CML (like 50 years younger), which is why at my first appointment following diagnosis, my doctor looked my sixteen year old self and said, 

“The average CML patient is 65. Our goal is to keep them alive for 10 years. We’d like you to live longer than that.” 

I agreed. 

I am beyond grateful and so proud to report that as of December 1st, we will have met our goal. Though making it here hasn't been easy. 

Although I have been able to accomplish many great things in the past ten years, including graduating high school early with highest honors, being an all-state high school gymnast, getting a bachelor's degree in Finance, becoming a sponsored wakeboarder and competing on the pro wakeboard tour, representing brands across the globe, including LifeProof, Liquid Force, and Hard Rock Cafe, appearing on TV, in magazines, and in movies, raising over $50,000 dollars for various charity organizations, having a successful career in commercial real estate, and as of October, finishing writing my first book, I have done so all the while fighting an endless battle. 

Unbeknownst to many (mainly because I prefer not to display it) is the war that I continue to fight every single day with my disease. In addition to life’s daily struggles, I battle the affects of my disease and the oral chemotherapy which I ingest every day at noon. Three hundred and sixty five days a year, I wake up tired and suffer from increased fatigue throughout the day. I deal with bone pain, stomach issues, bloating, and nausea from my medication, and every time I look in the mirror am reminded of my disease at the sight of my swollen, puffy eyes. But in addition to these struggles, each day, I’m also presented with two options: give in or fight. I can either give up or I can skol. 

I prefer the latter. 

So perhaps it’s due to my Scandinavian origins and the closeness I feel with Leif Ericsson or simply because I take pride in adorning myself in purple on Sundays, but either way, SKOL has and will always have a special meaning in my heart. Though it can be yelled, chanted, or screamed, skol must ultimately be felt. It’s an inner strength and the will to not only proceed, but to excel (and to have a little fun in the process). To not just put one foot in front of the other but to kick ass and win. 

Because in the battle of life, there is no room for prevent defense. You don’t fight because you’re scared to lose. You fight you fight because you want to win. 

If I had it my way, for my Ten Year Cancerversary on December 1st I would be blowing that Vikings horn at US Bank Stadium, rallying the troops for battle, and instigating all things skol. However, wherever I end up, I will most definitely be amongst friends and family - the reasons I fight in the first place - living, loving, and, undoubtedly, skol-ing.    

No matter what unfolds this football season or the next, I will always have a Viking heart, and no matter what happens with my health, I will continue to battle. I will continue to fight to live and continue to drink from the proverbial skull of life. I will always skol. 



North! To Alaska!

Here's a bit of advice: Anytime you get the chance to go to Alaska, you take it! And that’s exactly what happened two weeks ago when I was sitting on the dock fishing for sunnies in Spicer, MN, and got a call from a friend saying there may be an opportunity for me to go to Alaska….in eight days. Despite the short notice, I didn’t hesitate to rearrange my schedule to make it work, including driving 600 miles roundtrip to Lincoln, Nebraska the next day to film with Mike Smith Live for The Harbor (which I was scheduled to shoot during the days I would be in Alaska). You just plain make it work when offered to go to "The Last Frontier". Having been there previously, I can whole heartedly say it is a place of indescribably beauty, but as you've probably gathered, I’m going to attempt describing it anyhow.

Mike n I filming for The Harbor

After Lincoln, I flew back to Orlando for three days to shoot a feature with Fluid Magazine and to gather my warmest wetsuits, clothes, and winter gear. Then just a week after the initial call, I made the 16 hour trek across the continent to Alaska (Orlando -> Houston -> Anchorage -> Homer).


When I arrived in Homer and catching a rare glimpse of a bull moose near town, I still wasn’t exactly sure just what the heck I was doing there - the project was and is still relatively secret, and I can't disclose the details, but I knew that I had to be in the harbor at 4pm on Tuesday to get on a boat which would journey into the Alaskan wilderness and not return for five days.

Since I got in on Sunday night and had nearly 48 hours before I had to be to the boat, I took it upon myself to make the most of it and my friends, Steph and Forrest Greer, graciously let me stay at their home, which conveniently sits upon the chill overlooking the Kachemak bay and the Growing glacier - one helluva coffee drinking view! On Monday, Steph and I built and installed a sign for her new business, Beryl Air, which we were and are still very proud of, and consequently rewarded ourselves with a little joyride at 10,000 feet. Steph piloted us out of the Homer Seaplane Base and we journeyed over the Kachemac bay, the Kenai peninsula, the Harding Ice Field, admiring all sorts of wildlife, terrain, and multiple glaciers from the air.



Beryl Air's offerings include: flight tours, walrus viewing, and float plane pizza delivery...need I say more? Oh, and the most badass pilot on the planet!

That night we played a little league softball, with a glacier view, of course, and then celebrated the Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, which is REALLY long in Alaska, with a good ‘ol fashioned bonfire. There is never a dull moment with the locals.


Any excuse to party...

The next day, I found myself aboard the Milo, a fishing boat turned Alaskan surf exploration vessel, and met the captain, two deckhands, and the rest of the crew. I unloaded my gear into the lower deck and scoped out my new temporary digs - I had the pleasure of staying in “Igloo #1”, a bunk in a very small hole, and found the boat’s single toilet to be pleasantly tolerable. We spent some time in the harbor getting things arranged before heading out of Kachemak Bay and off to sea, spotting a few rambunctious whales along the way.

Here’s where I need to make a long story short (because I could easily get carried away, but also because I can’t divulge specifics about the project). We spent the entire first days aboard the Milo venturing deep into the wilderness. The seas were relatively calm and we (the captain, two deckhands, and I) made it a point to conveniently make stops every time we ran across a hot fishing spot. I applied my bass fishing skills to the Gulf of Alaska and caught a few rockfish, filleted them on a surf board, and killed the never ending evening sunlight cooking and enjoying fresh fish tacos while getting to know the seven others onboard.

After twenty hours and a couple of “hang ups” (sorry...vague again), we finally made it to our destination where we anchored and stayed for three nights. What transpired in the following days was certainly nothing that I had ever imaged experiencing, and I along with the other two "deckhands" were lucky enough to be a part of something that no one had ever really captured before.

Glacier #1

Glacier #2

Spirits were high on the journey home, and all aboard got a good chuckle when I out-fished the captain and two deckhands (three experienced Alaskans) when we stopped at a halibut hotspot. The long journey came to an end late Saturday evening, and we ended the night with a good old fashioned bluegrass ho-down at one of Homer’s local establishments, a true gem as one might suspect. It seemed as if the entire town came out to celebrate our return, even though they didn’t know it.

The Crew!

The trip was extraordinary to say the least, and for me the entire project really captured the the spirit of Alaska. When we set out, we knew what we were trying to accomplish had fairly low odds of success, but despite the uncertainty and unlikelihood of it coming together, we went anyways and decided to make the most of the adventure. We were pioneers, who set out to do something that had really never been done - something we weren't sure was really even possible, but we were going to do everything in our power to make it work despite the countless variables that could have gone wrong; that is the Alaskan way, after all - exploring the unknown and making the best of it no matter what happens.

Twenty hours at sea both ways, learning to fillet rockfish, going eight hours out of our way to find out the location was a dud, spending nights in lush, unnamed coves surrounded by waterfalls, spending five days and nights in the same pair of sweatpants, rainboots, and beanie, going days without a shower, almost capsizing the skiff, freezing our asses off in 34 degree water, drinking endless cups of tea, beer, and glacier ice cocktails, seeing sea otters, whales, and seals, feeling like a helpless speck and completely at the mercy of a one billion year old glacier, going to bed with the sun at midnight and rising with it at 4am to do it all again each day, being disconnected from any sort of media and/or electronics and having to interact with each other, tell stories, and make up games to pass the time, and most importantly, enjoying, appreciating, and never underestimating the potential of our surroundings every nautical mile and moment of the journey.


In the end, whether the stars aligned or not didn't determine our success, as the trip itself was the real adventure, and what was most special to me was that being that far into the wilderness, completely disconnected from the modern world, at the mercy of mother nature, and stuck with seven strangers on a big hunk of metal floating in the ocean, there were no distractions to keep one from remembering what was important - makeup, social media, money, materials - none of it mattered. We were but microscopic creatures amidst the vastness of the sea, but the adventure was larger than life.

Like the unknown adventure that is my life, we were in the wild, adventuring into the unknown but filled with determination and life. We were pioneers in the Last Frontier. We were Alaskans.


Another trip around the sun and another year under my belt. I know this blog may have been a little quiet in the past months, but I have been spending my time and efforts on another exciting writing project...details coming soon. With that said, having just celebrated a birthday, I figured I’d throw some raw, unedited thoughts out there – I am older and wiser now, after all.

As it turns out, I’ve just crossed the quarter-life threshold and entered the terrifying territory known as my “late twenties”. It’s the time when many people stop wishing years would pass, eagerly anticipating “what’s to come” and start wishing father time would slam on the breaks and slow the heck down. People begin to resent getting older.  

That’s something I’ll never fully understand – why people allow themselves to hate the aging process. I understand why people feel like they should be embarrassed of their age – the pressure from society will always be there -  but I can’t believe they actually waste their time doing it. Getting older is something that happens to everyone - everyone. Every single one of us is getting older, all day everyday, and not only is it natural, but it’s one of the only things in life that NO ONE can escape – money, nor fame or fortune can stop the ticking of time. 

So why are we so scared to get older? 

There are many reasons, I suppose. One of them being the fear of death. Knowing there is a set limit on each of our clocks and having little no control over it can, indeed, be a scary thought. But even scarier than death for many, are the affects that age have on physical beauty – fine lines, wrinkles, grey hair, etc. No, NOT THAT! Regardless, both issues are inevitable, and as far as I’m concerned, worrying about them is a waste of time itself (and may add a few grey hairs, too).

I look at another year as an accomplishment; like a “Holy shit, I did it again!” type event. Each time April 28th rolls around it feels as though I’ve outsmarted the system and allowed myself to enjoy yet another 365 days of life, love, and adventure that could have easily not happened. To be honest, it feels a little like stealin’.

Of course, I too feel the pressures from pop culture, and that pressure isn't going anywhere. Our society does and will continue to encourage each one of us to feel unsure of ourselves and offer a constant reminder that we are, indeed, not perfect. I don’t care how many “love yourself” campaigns Dove runs, there’s no changing that. But like all things in life, we each have a choice: we can accept the abuse or simply disregard it.  

When you look into the mirror, you have a choice: you can either see the effects of time as a sign of lost beauty and missed opportunity, or, you can see it as a gift and an opportunity to spend time with loved ones, follow your dreams, and make memories. It's up to you; beauty is, after all, in the eye of the beholder.

So instead of being afraid of aging, be proud that you got here. Embrace your age, the knowledge you’ve gained, and the battles you’ve fought to get you into the now...not to mention all of the beautiful memories you’ve had the pleasure of gaining along the way. 

We all have limited time here on earth, it’s true, and though some may be able to escape the visual effects of aging, we’re all on our way out. Prince said it best: 

Life is just a party, and parties weren’t meant to last.” 

Like the Little Purple Man’s, someday each one of our parties will wind down and come to an end. But fortunately for me and those of you reading this, our's are still rocking and are hopefully far from over. 

So congratulations for making it this far! Give yourself a pat on the back and your scars a kiss. Don’t be afraid to smell the roses, love your wrinkles, and enjoy the party while you’re here. Instead of wasting time worrying about when it will end, focus on making sure your music will play on long after the party is over. 

Now get out there and party like it’s 1999!