Swimming in Success

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For those of you who don’t know (and I can’t image there are very many out there), swimming was a very big part of the first 22 years of my life. And while the end of my swimming “career” was emotional and some what sad, I was looking forward to the end of morning practice, constantly smelling like chlorine and being able to shave my legs like a normal girl (if you are confused by that last one, don’t even ask).

My interest in swimming started at a young age, mostly (or entirely) because my older sister Abby had developed a love for the sport. Oh yeah, and she was extremely talented. Abby would win nearly every race she entered – I would be lucky to find the courage to actually dive off the block and participate in the race. I liked to practice but racing wasn’t my thing. However, with encouragement from my parents, my coaches, and my amazing older sister, I too became a pretty good swimmer. That being said, my sister’s love for the sport was always MILES ahead of mine. So, it is no surprise that after she graduated from college (after an AMAZING senior year of swimming) she decided to take that love for swimming and turn it into a career.

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After working as an assistance coach for two different collegiate teams, Abby was hired as the Head Coach for both the men’s and women’s teams at the University of Mary Washington in VA. Now in her 3rd season there, she has continued to develop a very strong program. Both teams competed in their conference meet last weekend,  both winning soundly.

A few stats from her meet for you swimming nerds (and some pictures for those of you who don’t care about the stats)!

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As Abby gears up for NCAAs, I thought I would share with you an article about one of her swimmers who has a pretty incredible story, and a pretty good chance to win an event at NCAAs. Pretty impressive.

Swimming Into Success
By 

When top Division I schools courted Alex Anderson ’15 for a swim scholarship in 2006, the high school senior wasn’t ready.

Recruiters for such schools as Alabama, Arizona and Indiana universities saw a record-setting competitor who took two state titles in the 500-yard freestyle. Anderson saw a commitment to academics he wasn’t ready to make. He turned his back on school, and for a few years he lost his way – and his sport.

Alex Anderson ’15 is headed to the NCAA Championships in March.

Seven years later he’s making a name for himself as a UMW student-athlete on the Eagles swim team. In February, the sophomore was named Capital Athletic Conference Swimmer of the Year at a meet in which he broke four individual school and conference records and swam in four record-breaking relays. He’ll represent the university at the March NCAA Championships in Texas.

Meanwhile, the water helped Anderson get his life on track.

“Swimming turned into a therapeutic sport for me,” said Anderson, who studies chemistry at Mary Washington. “By this I mean every time I jump in the pool I let all my troubles and worries float away. It seems like such a natural thing for me, like something I was born to do.”

After high school in Vienna, Va., Anderson enrolled at Northern Virginia Community College, NOVA, but he wasn’t interested in school. He often didn’t show up for classes, and his grades stayed low. His mother lost a battle with breast cancer in the summer of 2007, and soon after he moved out of his father’s house.

Over the next two years, Anderson shared an apartment with roommates and worked low-wage jobs to pay the bills. He was a waiter, a cashier, a cook and a carpenter’s apprentice. He managed a company that tended potted plants in offices and supermarkets.

Anderson earned All-American honors in 2012.

It wasn’t the life he wanted. He realized he was squandering his talent and an opportunity for something better.

He talked to his father, and they formed a plan. Anderson would get serious – go back to school, bring up his grades and get back in the pool. The son moved back in with his dad, joined a club team and trained to get back in shape for competition.

Back at NOVA in spring 2010, Anderson retook several courses and signed up for something new – biology. The science class was his favorite, and he aced it. After that, he earned only A’s – grades that could get him into a four-year college.

With new confidence in his academic ability, he no longer wanted only to swim. He decided on a Division III school that would allow him the flexibility to develop his sport and his brain. The science program at University of Mary Washington had a great reputation, and it was close to home. He went for it.

Anderson talked to Eagles swim coach Abby Brethauer, was admitted by the university, and enrolled for classes in August 2011.

When he is in the lane with rivals, he changes from the carefree swimmer in training.

“I bring a different attitude to my racing and competitive swimming,” Anderson said. “I love to race. I can get competitive. I just want to win.”

Anderson and Eagles swimming were a great fit from the start. His first season, he was one of the fastest swimmers, leading the men’s team to its 12th consecutive CAC title.

He qualified for the NCAA Championships in the 50-yard freestyle, the 200-yard breaststroke and the 400-yard individual medley. In his first NCAA Championship, he gained All-America status in the 400-yard individual medley with a ninth-place finish, easily winning the consolation final.

As he heads to the NCAA Championships again this year, he’s even faster, having just broken individual school and conference records in the 100- and 200-yard butterfly and the 50- and 200-yard freestyle. His relay teams – the 200-, 400- and 800-yard freestyle and the 400-yard medley – also set school and conference records en route to the NCAAs.

“Alex has the potential not only to be the most successful swimmer in the history of UMW swimming, but also to turn what have until this point only been program goals into realities,” Brethauer said. “Not only is he a talented swimmer, he is also one of our top students – and he’s a great teammate. He is a wonderful example of what it means to be a Mary Washington student-athlete. He represents both our team and the entire department with aplomb.”

When Anderson started back to swimming, he scrutinized how he had trained, his stroke, his performance and found new ways to better old race times. He fell in love with chemistry for the challenge, too, he said. And his first quiz back with a low score, he used the same skills he uses in the pool.

“I look at what I’ve done and how I can do better. I change it. Since [that quiz], I’ve tried 10 different types of study skills,” he said. “The biggest tool for success is to be willing to try new things and be able to change. You have to look back at what you’ve done to do that. Otherwise you might change for the worse.”

 

Friday Afternoon Round Up

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So proud of my sister and her swimmers.

They are a little late to the party, but can you blame them?

Don’t drink and drive.

Two of my favorites together!

This is the band from our wedding – they are big small town rock stars!

This is why Matt and I aren’t having kids.

I think I just found myself a new dentist.

Who’s excited for the Oscars?

Best tip ever.

Not a good way to get  later bedtime.

A new twist on Rice Krispy treats

Fish Out of Water

This weekend, Matt and I decided to take a day trip out of the city. Living in New York can be particularly challenging in the winter. Unless you are a committed skier, you find yourself never leaving the city. And even though New York is a big city, let’s be serious, never leaving a 23 square mile island, filled with 1.6 million people, can make you a little stir crazy.

We tried to plan a weekend getaway to somewhere like the Catskills, the Berkshires or Lake Placid but our timing wasn’t great – with the combination of President’s Day Weekend and MA/NY school vacations, everything was booked. So instead, we rented a car for the day and drove out to NJ.

We drove out to High Point State Park for a little cross-country skiing. Although the north-east received a big storm only a week ago, a lot of the snow had melted so the coverage on the trails wasn’t great. However, it was well worth it – just to get out of the city. Oh yeah, and to see Matt on cross-country skis for the first time. That was fun too!

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Friday Afternoon Round Up

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Could this be the next Call Me Maybe in college sports? Nope, looks like this is.

Two of my favorites, JT and JF breaking it down.

Man’s Little Boy’s Best Friend

A day in the life of this New Yorker

The story of J

Bipartisan exploding fist bump? Yes, I will support that.

Best teen Jeopardy contestant

Such a cute Valentine

Nothing get’s me like crazy goats.

THIS is Boston. And this is what it sounds like.

Incredible pictures of the London Games.

Valentine’s Day Cake

I will pretty much celebrate any holiday if it means I get to bake. Pair that with access to a photographer and I will bake a million things! So, in continuation with the blog post from the past couple days, I am going to continue with another Valentine’s Day treat.

I turned to my trusty cook book, BakeWise by the wonderful Shirley O. Corriher. I love this book because, not only does it have incredible recipes, but the explanations on why you want to do something a certain way and tips on how to actually do them, are  unmatched. So, I wouldn’t be doing the cookbook justice if I didn’t strong encourage you to get a copy for yourselves. The recipe that I used for the cake was the magnificent moist golden cake – it is a moist and sweet cake that was easily sliced into three layers.

I had much more success with this cake, as compared to my last; however, it was still far from seamless. After baking for 40 minutes, I open the over door so that I could insert a toothpick into the cake to see if it was done. Unfortunately, when I opened the door, the middle of the cake dropped. I saw it happening and quickly shut the door and continued cooking the cake for another 5 or so minutes. I seemed to limit the damage, but there was a slight sink hole in the middle of my cake and when I sliced it open, you could see that the middle was slightly undercooked. So while I’ve progressed and aren’t overflowing my cake pans anymore, it seems as though I still a bit of practicing left to do before I achieve perfection!

Up next was my favorite part – frosting and decorating. I decided to make Shirley’s Crusting Confectioners’ Sugar Buttercream because I was intrigued by the smoothing technique she described that called for using a Viva paper towel (I know, now you are probably intrigued too!)

Crusting Confectioner’s Sugar Buttercream

Make about 4 cups (*I made a half recipe and had plenty to frost a three layer cake)

1/2 cup unsalted butter
1 1/2 cups Crisco or other shortening with emulsifiers
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
2 tablespoons clean vanilla flavoring (if you can’t find this, regular works – just know your icing won’t be bright white)
8 cups confectioners’ sugar
2 tablespoons meringue powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 to 5 tablespoons water
plain white Viva paper towels

  1. With the paddle attachment of a mixer, whip the butter until soft, and then whip in the shortening. Beat in the extract and flavoring on low-speed.
  2. Sift the sugar through a large strainer with medium mesh just to remove any lumps. Beat the sugar and the meringue powder into the fat mixture on the lowest speed. Scrape down the sides as needed.
  3. Stir the salt into the water to dissolve and mix it into the icing thoroughly on low-speed only.
  4. Adjust consistency to a spreadable icing with a little more water or confectioners’ sugar. Do not over mix or mix on high-speed.
  5. For a very smooth cake, similar to a cake draped with rolled fondant, let the icing dry just until a dry Viva paper towel touched to the side does not stick, 10 to 15 minutes, depending on the humidity. To create an absolutely smooth surface, use a plain white Viva paper towel  and start with the sides. Place the towel against the side and smooth up and down gently with your fingers or palm. Do not allow the towel to pleat or fold. If desired, smooth a contour edge and smooth the top.

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I decided to add chocolate piping around the top and bottom (similar to the design that I did on my last cake). I then finished it off with some shaved milk chocolate on the top – with a hearth silhouette for Valentine’s Day.

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I was happy with the way it turned out but as I said earlier, I still have  a long ways to go before I can compete on Cupcake Wars or start can claim to be the next Cake Boss :) Unfortunately, for my co-workers, that means a lot more cake tasting!

Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope yours is filled with love and baked goods.

Valentine’s Day Cookies – Part 2

Yesterday I posted about the cookie part of the Valentine’s Day sugar cookies that I made. However, everyone knows the best part of any good sugar cookies is the frosting.

Some places will use royal icing for their frosting and pipe it onto the cookie. While this definitely allows for a clean and professional look, they don’t taste that great. For these cookies, we use a frosting that has a much better flavor, but has to be spread onto the cookie and has a more rustic feel.

Sugar Cookie Frosting

3 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup margarine (Imperial or Blue Bonnet) *cut up if cold
1/4 cup half-n-half

  1. Pull all of the ingredients in the mixer
  2. After blending, whip on high for 5 minutes
  3. Add food coloring if desired (*I prefer gel food coloring)

I would like the thank my friend Kristin Boyd for coming over to photograph this baking session. Kristin is a trader by day, amature photographer by night. She is currently taking a photography class that focuses on environmental photography. For her homework each week, she is asked to photograph people in their natural environments. So when I asked her to come over and take pictures of me in my kitchen for this blog, it was a win-win for both of us! I hope you enjoy the pictures.

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What do you think? Could I be the next Food Network Star? Or maybe just a really good Room Mom.