Last Tuesday night Pedro Martinez’ number was retired at Fenway Park and Vickie was there for it. A text flashed up on my phone reading “SPORTS!” and was accompanied by a photo of her and her boyfriend, Matt, at Fenway wearing their Pedro shirts and smiling brightly. They had decided to go to the game after they realized they couldn’t make it out to Cooperstown for Pedro’s Hall of Fame festivities the prior weekend…because Vickie had boxing training (I’m sure Matt had some stuff, too.)
One of the best parts about this project is discussing possible options before settling on the thing they want to ultimately discuss. The options are usually unrelated, but one of the things I realized during this particular interview is that sometimes a love for something can lead to a love of something else and that’s a pretty interesting road to go down.
It was hard to imagine that we would sit down and not talk exclusively of her love for the Boston Bruins. A table in her dining room is dedicated to autographed hockey gloves, pucks and other memorabilia. Her family have been Bruins season ticket holders for a few years now and she’s made a tradition of arriving to games early and taking photos during warm-ups. The idea for practicing her photography skills in this way came from her dad, a former Patriot’s season ticket holder, who used to take dozens of shots throughout the game and file them away in albums.
She’s managed to take some incredible action shots primarily using only two lenses. “If I have my camera with me I usually have two lens the fix 50 which is really good for being good at being able to get crisp shots. You can get really nice shots if the light’s not super great. It takes having dim lighting and turns it into an asset. I’ll have my standard 18-35mm that comes with most cameras that you can kind of adjust.” Recently she’s posted some amazing photos from her trips to Brazil and Eastern Europe proving she has an excellent eye for photography regardless of the subject.
Vickie is not your typical Red Sox fan. Shortly after moving to Boston from her home state of Vermont in 2007, she became a weekend tour guide at Fenway Park. How did she land that gig? Lots of follow up e-mails.
Having taken a few tours with her I can verify that her Sox knowledge was on point. “I could tell you the day that Ted Williams hit the home run 502 feet into right field. That’s where the red seat is up now. I knew at that point who the pitcher for the Detroit Tigers was and what the count was.”
She spent a few weeks studying and cramming Fenway facts prior to the start of her tour guide tenure, but it was impossible to learn everything. “The alpha dude would definitely want to come up with that questions and try to stump the perky blonde tour guide. If it was a little kid I would turn that into a thing where I would kind of celebrate the kid and be like ‘You know what I’ve been doing this for a really long time and this kid [is the] first kid ever to stump the tour guide’ and get everybody to give him a round of applause.” With parental permission, she would get the kid’s email address, do some research and get back to them. One question that stumped her was how many lights are in the light towers, so she just went and counted them.
Of course the job came with some incredible perks. She joined the organization just after the Sox won their second World Series and was able to take part in the dress rehearsal for Opening Day.
“They needed people to stand in for the people who were going to be getting the rings. So one of the days I was a guy who was like one of the trainers [the next day] I was Coco Crisp and my brother was JD Drew.”
Despite her involvement, she has yet to attend Opening Day and a World Series game, but she came so close to making it inside Fenway Park for their third championship win in 2013. Vickie and her brother were 20 people away from being able to get inside. Since it was a few weeks before her birthday, her brother really wanted to get her in for her present. Instead, she watched the game at home with her friends and boyfriend. Her brother continued to wait in line, but never made it in.
Prior to meeting her boyfriend, a huge Liverpool FC fan, she began to research what English Premiere League football team she wanted to follow. “I said to him ‘I want to learn about things and see what’s going on, but just because you like Liverpool doesn’t mean I like Liverpool. I’m going to try to find my own team.’ He said ‘Don’t let it be Chelsea. Otherwise we’re good.'”
In the end she ended up choosing Liverpool because of their similarity to the Bruins. “[They have] that storied tradition where you have guys that won before and are focused on playing hard and not necessarily being the flashiest and recognizing your price.” She’s a member of the Liverpool Club of Boston often watching games early on Saturday mornings with other local supporters.
She’s not always a spectator. For the past four years Vickie has played in a social dodgeball league. She’s completed a Spartan Race (at Fenway), runs on the Slumbrew team for the Cambridge run series and ran the Chicago Marathon in 2010. Every now and then she contemplates running the Boston Marathon, but the fundraising commitment and training are challenging. Right now she’s putting her time and energy into boxing training and raising money for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society through Lights Out 4 Leukemia.
A few years back she purchased a Groupon for The Ring boxing gym – primarily because Shawn Thornton trained there. It was not the idea of running into Shawn Thornton that was so appealing, but being trained by the guy that trains him. (I also want to see she ran the stairs at Harvard as part of the November Project for the same reason…) As most people can attest, walking into a boxing gym is intimidating. “I remember walking up to the club and seeing people walking out the door and I was like ‘Okay’ and promptly walked past the place and walked around the corner to the little football stadium area for BU and hung out there until I could actually gather the courage to go back and walk in,” she recalls.
If you’re considering trying out boxing, remember that no one is going to punch you directly in the face the minute you walk in the door. You do not have to spar if you do not want to (a question The Ring’s paperwork asked her TWICE) and you can concentrate on conditioning. There’s so much to learn and be aware of and there isn’t a trainer that would force you into the ring to spar if they didn’t think you were prepared and could execute a safe fight.
Since she started training with Lights Out back in May, she has earned three black eyes and a bruised sternum proving herself to be incredible tough. Despite those injuries, she has continued to push herself as much as she possibly can. She knows she can learn something from visiting the basics while she recovers and learn from watching others.
Despite her previous experience at The Ring, she didn’t arrive into training feeling ahead of everyone else that had never had a fight before. “Going from ‘I kinda have a sense of maybe what I’m going to be doing’ to ‘I know absolutely nothing’ and really having to be okay with that and recognize the fact that it’s a process. Over the course of time I’ll learn enough to be able to get into the ring and hold my own and learning how to take punches, which I am growing very good at being able to do as my face will attest.” She’s going to rock it on September 19th.
Now all she needs is a basketball team.
You can hear our entire conversation over here! We briefly mentioned the Derek Jeter story, but never went in to detail. Feel free to ask either of us to tell you the story next time you see one of us. We also talked about U2’s Beautiful Day and how it ruins fun things, favorite (and least favorite) karaoke songs, attending private Catholic universities and choosing an entrance song for boxing (tell her to use Natasha Beddingfield’s Pocket Full of Sunshine.)
“I’m never doing anything you suggest ever again,” Vincent yelled at me as he ran ahead to avoid Zombies.
“Why?” I asked as I ran to catch up.
“Are you serious? What do you mean ‘why?”
BUT WE DID IT!
The days leading up the race my friends, Vickie, Joe, and Vincent all expressed how nervous they were. They’re all athletic people. Vickie is an accomplished long distance runner, Joe completed the Spartan Race last year, and Vincent boxes at least twice a week. I am an accomplished twice a week Zumba attender. If they were nervous, I should’ve been terrified. But for some reason I wasn’t. I set myself a fairly easy goal: Just complete the damn thing.
For those who don’t know me all that well or noticed, I’ve lost 34lbs in the last five months. It’s been a combination of working out and Weight Watchers. I’d set up goals along the way to keep me motivated and training. This 5K was the first goal I set up for myself. Using the Couch25K program, I was able to get to the point where I could run a mile. Throughout the process I became frustrated with my bad feet, knees, and shin splints; but not doing the race was never an option. So I trained as best I could. I knew that the harder I worked and more weight that I lost, the easier this would be. Since this race also included obstacles, gaining upper body strength was important, because I didn’t have any of that.
This isn’t just any regular 5K. This a 5K in the woods, with obstacles, hills, and zombies. Yes, these zombies want your brains and they achieve that by taking all three of the flags that you wear velcroed around your waist. If you lose all three flags, you can finish the race. You just finish “dead.”
On May 5th race day happened. Joe, Vickie, Nicole, Vincent, and I made our way up to Amesbury Sports Park at 10am to get through registration, check our bags, and crap our pants. (For having over 6000 participants, this whole extravaganza was extremely well organized and registration was a cinch).
As we made our way to the start line for our 12pm wave, we found a few people we play Dodgeball with that had done the 10am wave. Out of the three that had finished, one person made it out alive. The phrase “there’s a lot of mud” was thrown around a little too much for my liking. These three people are also super atheletes and they were talking about how hard the race was. The best advice we were given, by the person that made it out alive, was to jog most of it and then sprint to get away from zombies. Very well.
There were three possible tunnel starting points. “Appetizer” for the serious contenders, “Lunch” for those seeking a bit of a challenge, and “Dessert” which we all opted for. Our first obstacle was running up the biggest fucking hill I have ever seen – complete with scaling over rocks. I should’ve stopped at the top and considered it a victory, but I kept going. Our pact to stay together was impeded by that goddamn hill. Thankfully, Vincent hung back with me.
The first mile, for me, was a comedy of errors complete with losing my sneaker in the mud and falling flat on my face in front of a rather compassionate zombie who helped me up and whispered “Just go…” without taking any of my flags. There was the house with the electric wires and the fog; the small maze with “Stay in the house, Carl!” painted on one side and “Free cookies!” painted on the other; a muddy hill you needed to climb on your hands and knees; and a small man made pond you had to wade through that was much deeper, grosser, and colder than you expected. All this plus zombies equaled the demise of two of my flags during mile one. Vincent was able to hold on to all three flags during the first mile despite me saying “Good job, buddy! Three flags!” and drawing attention to him like the unintentional idiot I can be sometimes.
Mile two: Mud. Just mud. Lost my shoe. Mud. Vincent took down a sappling avoiding a zombie in the mud. Mud. Watery mud. Slippery mud. Sticky mud. Mud. This was the longest mile ever. I can only relate the difficult of this to Daniel Stern’s Marv walking up the tar covered steps of the booby trapped basement in “Home Alone.” I lost my last flag. Vincent held on to his. I kept my mouth shut about it. There were times that I told him to just run ahead and do what he needed to do to survive – which is what I would actually do in a zombie apocolypse. I would not survive if my only route to survival was mud. But, like a good friend, he would wait for me to catch up. My favorite part of this was when I fell in a little river, put my hands down to help myself up and came up with mud gloves. MUD.
Mile three flew by! After we rounded the corner from the water station there was a gaggle of zombies just waiting. One of them grabbed Vincent’s last flag. At first, he was upset because he had made it so far, but the last mile was a narrow path of (surprise!) mud that had zombies jumping out of every bush at every turn and he realized that he probably would’ve lost it anyway.
The second to last obstacle I am going to have a difficult time describing. I climbed up this wooden structure where the steps were equal in length to my body and covered in (say it with me…MUD). I was terrified. I don’t like being more than three feet off the ground ever, but somehow I climbed this thing and pulled myself up at the top without any assistance or death even surprising the dude that offered to help pull me up at the top. Then, I slid down a slide into a giant pool of muddy water forcing a giant wave of water over Vincent, who was already trying to climb out.
Together, we ran over to the next giant tarp slide which was about 3/4 of the height of the original hill. I flew down that thing, screaming and laughing the entire time, and created another epic splash in to…wait for it…muddy water. We climbed out, carefully walked down the side of the hill, avoiding the mud, crawled under the electric fence. At this moment we saw Vickie, Joe, and Nicole waiting for us and cheering us on. We Daniel Bryan”Yes!” chanted our way across the finish line and clocked in at just under 1 hour and 29 minutes.
Out of the 6000 something people that completed the race, we were around 4300 – which was much better than I had expected for myself. Joe finished in the 400s and Corey, who we play dodgeball with, finished 9th. I’m not sure where Vickie and Nicole placed, but they finished around a respectable 1 hour 10 minutes. I’m super proud of everyone.
After we were handed our medal and took a group photo, we toweled off, changed, and ate. Vincent housed a 2lbs turkey leg which may have been a bigger feat than actually completing the race. But the real fun didn’t start until after we got home, washed off all the mud, and discovered all the awesome cuts and bruises that we had.
This was one of the most amazing experiences that I have ever had for a number of reasons. I earned my first medal. I wasn’t afraid to get dirty or hurt myself to be successful. I never stopped training for this even when my body told me it needed to rest. But most importantly, I had an awesome day with a great group of people and it’s nice to know that I can hang with them race style going forward. I’ve accomplished a lot with this weight loss so far, but completing this race and those obstacles while friends were cheering me on was the most awesome feeling. Crossing the finish line with Vincent was so cool. And that pulled pork sandwich was delicious.