The following is an unedited, stream-of-consciousness personal journal used to experiment with different subjects outside of assignments and to practice free-writing. It shouldn't (at all) be viewed as a portfolio of polished work.

To see examples of my professional writing, please visit ginabegin.contently.com. For photography, please visit eyeem.com/u/ginabegin or my Instagram channel @ginabegin.

The Space Between


Living An Unconventional Life

There were intentions of taking daily pictures this year so I could maintain at least a weekly blog post. Yet here I am, over a month after making that sort-of resolution and finding that I have made one post and taken probably about the same number of daily photos. An exaggeration; there are at least two.

In protest, I'll put the blame somewhere else, like on the guy who skied out in front of me. Just a few days after I set my New Year's "Meh-solution," I suffered what skiers call the "Terrible Triad" — the tearing of three crucial knee ligaments — because of his oblivious maneuver. I realized, too late, that ski racing while uninsured was stupid. I stopped spinning, clutched my right knee and felt like cursing for one of the few times in my life.

My first thought was that I let my team mate, Katie Smith, down by not being able to finish the race. I then thought of my job (adventure journalism) for which being mobile seemed to be a necessity (not many adventures happen on the couch). That led to my next thought: How the heck I was going to pay for my knee to be fixed? The last sobering thought: my mom.


Living an unconventional life

I knew what was coming. After her questioning my well-being twenty times and how the accident happened and how I was going to take care of myself and if I had help and telling me she wished she could be there to assist (she lives 2500 miles away), it was going to come: The question about my lifestyle choice.

I live against the flow of the larger society, though I'm surrounded by like-minded people which means I don't notice my nonconformity until I talk to friends and family back home.

So, after talking to my mom back home, I noticed it.
. . .

The past few weeks on the couch have been rough. Insurance was applied for dutifully through healthcare.gov back in October, then November, then December, each time with some answer that my application was delayed or missing. It still hasn't gone through. That means I'm dealing with a debilitating injury sans insurance, and trying to figure out how the heck to get care. I also had to drop out of the classes I signed up for this semester at university, as I was now unable to drive anywhere. The consequences of dropping meant dealing with the hassle of tuition reimbursement, submitting withdrawal requests and appeals for delayed entrance, should I decide to stick around Utah long enough for another semester to approach.

Then there's been the pain. The pain of moving my leg, of not moving my body, of a restless mind, of unproductiveness. There's the pain that the world is spinning by without my seeing it. That a month of my life has been confined to four walls and no loved ones.

Under it all, my mom's question smolders: Why do you choose this lifestyle?

She wants the best for me. Skiing was where I poured nearly all my energy. I tried to capture it in photos and words. I crisscrossed the continent in search of it. I pushed myself to perfect technique — though I'm far from attaining it. Free moments were spent thinking about bigger travels and bigger lines. And this injury is what I now have to show for it. To my mom, that is not enough.

For the first time in my life, I wonder if it is enough for me.

Living An Unconventional Life

I look at Facebook updates from friends who "conformed": Families, dogs, houses, enough money to pay for health insurance. Enough money to not have to choose between food and gas. Little hands that are always getting into messes and bigger hands to hold. Sunday dinners.

Then I post my Facebook status: another photo from another stunning, wild place. Often solo.

What was so fulfilling at one time, what felt so empowering, is beginning to feel like a decoy leading me from where real happiness resides: Friends. Family. Washing the tiny hands of my nephews before they are too big to need my help. And for the first time in a long time, maybe even a bigger hand that holds my own. Not just for two years, or seven, but for good.

These are the thoughts that come more frequently into my mind this past half a year. The cross-road decision: I either give it up and settle down or pursue what might never be fulfilled.

I have to face it: There may never be a rewarding career in doing what I love. Relationships might always be squeezed into short conversations before cell phone reception cuts out. There might never be that other half who can handle, let alone be passionate about, traveling with someone addicted to new vistas and enthralled with an untethered existence — and open to taking that journey with me.

I'm stuck between two worlds, wanting the stability of my own family but wanting the freedom of the wild. I was once positive that the two could mesh — and would if I stayed true to myself. I'm not so sure anymore. The longer I travel down the unconventional road, the further it divides from what my mother wants for me and what I ultimately want as well.

There's no pretty way to wrap up this post since I haven't got life figured all out, so I'll let the words end where my answers do.

Living An Unconventional Life


27 comments:

  1. While it may not seem like it our lives are much alike. I too struggle with conformity and going with the flow. It's not that I set out to be different....I just am. And when my choices/lifestyle are questioned either by people/experiences/setbacks it's a bit discomforting. Honestly, I have no words of advice (not that you want any) because I'm in that in-between...constantly. For so long I've struggled with this. "Which way do I go?" Some decisions have been hard and fast (Getting married young and not having children) while others not so easy (Trying to figure out my dream job. Where are we going to live? Constant search of adventure. Doing what's expected of me but not necessarily what I want...you get the idea). That struggle is tiresome. And since I don't see that going away anytime soon instead of focusing on the struggle I'm learning to embrace the in-between. There's no right 'answer' for everyone. Heck, I'm not even sure if there's a right answer for me.

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    1. I see the deeper sense of where our lives are similar, Heidi, and that's why I can relate with you and why, the few times we have had to talk in person, we always seem to dive into the subject of life and find consensus, even if approaching it from different perspectives. Thank you for your insight, once again. :)

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  2. Wow.

    This wonderful little post of yours emotes such strong feelings.

    Stuck between two worlds is nothing new or unique. I can guarantee everyone has been where you are many, many times in their lives. I have certainly been there. I actually cherish the valleys. It's in the valleys that I learn the most about myself. My true self, not some imposed image from others. So, my only advice here would be to walk the space between, and believe that it's ok.

    I suppose I am one of the few in your life that is part of the "conformed" as you put it. "Conformed" is a rubbish of a word. It evokes negativity in my mind. I would prefer to be one of the people in your life who has an "extraordinary, ordinary life". Someone once told me to not chase happiness, let it chase you. I've tried to follow this in my ordinary life and it's worked out pretty well so far.

    Never forget that we are traveling through this time together, every day of our lives. I suppose all we can do, is do our best to relish this remarkable ride, regardless of our lifestyle choices. Let me finish with a quote from one of my favorite authors:

    "The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning."

    ― Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie

    Love you.

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    1. The quotes you send me always manage to hit home. God gave you a great gift of being perceptive, my friend. Love you, too. :)

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  3. Rough. Very rough. At least you have the guts to pursue it full-throttle... I'm over here wishing I could be you but too chicken to pull the trigger/walk away from my crappy job. Bombarded on facebook by friends and acquaintances settling down, having kids, buying a home... having them condescendingly ask when I'll do the same. We get to experience solitude in ways they will never imagine, and have the vast epic beauty of the outdoors as consolation. So there is that. I too lack insurance, and have a lot of fear when outdoors doing things where I can get hurt... fear I never used to have. Anyway, know that you have readers who appreciate your work/passion/vision. The beauty of humanity is that we are allowed to constantly re-invent our lives.

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    1. Angela, thanks for chiming in. I don't know where my lack of chicken-ness comes from :) but I think I kinda eased into it. I went on a six month trip, subletting my apartment and thinking I'd live there upon the return. Then, over the course of being on the road, I stopped being attached to those things. It made it so much easier when I returned to box them up and leave for good — well, until now because of my knee. ;)

      Thank you for the kind words.

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  4. I love your honesty and openness, Gina. I wish nothing more for you than a solution to the injury and associated issues, as well as general life happiness :)

    I'd venture to guess regardless of the path we choose, it's not all rainbows and unicorns; wouldn't it be nice if we could all chose the paths we want and they'd all be clear, well-defined, obvious choices for us? I struggle with my path too; I think we all do, at least a little. I get questions from family about my dedication to CrossFit, how much time and mental energy I spend on that, but we have to do what we love, right?

    It seems like it's all one big continuum. We don't have to "conform" completely; we can do a little of a lot of things while having a house and a white picket fence, if we want, and it's taken me a while to realize that. It sounds like you've done a lot of exploring in that realm and I really hope there's a way to find the perfect balance between stability and "freedom." If you find it, let me know :)

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    1. Katie, sounds really similar — the dedication and energy spent on something you're passionate about. I get questioned about that all the time. But I always wonder, "Why not?" People spend 40 hours a week working towards someone else's life dream (their boss) and often feel unfulfilled. How does that make it better than spending time doing something that brings you a sense of accomplishment? At least, that's what how I like to look at it. :)

      If I find that house with a garden and white picket fence that can adventure with me, I'll let you know. Oh wait! Tiny Houses... :) There's our answer.

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  5. Great thought provoking post Gina! It always comes down to what makes you happy though. I always wanted to live both of the lives you've talked about. One is always going to be dominant over the other and maybe even squash the other one out completely. But then again, 'they' say life is all about balance. I'm still trying to figure out that balance for years now! Good luck in your pursuits and continue writing about them!

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    1. Thanks Mike. It's interesting, because the outdoor crowd said the two can go hand-in-hand. The "normal" crowd ;) doesn't see a way to make it happen. I guess I like the optimism of the outdoor crowd, so I've kinda stuck in the mindset that you can have your cake and eat it too. There's not really too much of a reason to leave that thinking, is there?

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  6. As a person who has done a bit of both the wandering and the conforming, I can say with surety that I spent every single day at my conformist job kicking myself for the sacrifices I made to take it. I'm now almost free of it (20 years later), and heading back out into the wild as fast as I can go.
    Don't give up on yourself or your dreams. You will only regret it.

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  7. Gina, beautiful post detailing a difficult time in your life. I've learned happiness is a state of mind (not a lifestyle). Choose to be happy whether you conform or not. The grass isn't greener on any side. There are good and bad to both lifestyles, ups and downs with both, and rewards with both. Just be willing to make the changes you need to and know that you don't need to choose one or the other completely. Life itself is an adventure overall. good luck to you!

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    1. So true! I definitely don't see things as a "Grass is greener;" I think we all need to learn that most of us have a lot to be grateful no matter which side of the fence we are on. However, I also know that there are certain things I'd like to have; things that are normal to have and to want for most people and that's where it gets rough. Having kids one day would be awesome. I mean, I'm not ready right now, but I want to still be young and ski with them. That's where I start remembering that even though I'm still young now, I won't always be. Just pondering...

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  8. Gina, you are an amazing person and I am glad that our paths have crossed. Hopefully, they continue to. I have been in your shoes and I reluctantly conformed (at tad). Ended up with the kiddos and the guy and yes, I have insurance:) No, I can not just disappear all by myself anymore but the new adventures are worth it. Trust me, if you work the system enough, there is always a way to play. And girl, you know I play! Pulling my kids out of public school this year so, we can fill our days with adventures and learning together! I am SO excited! You got to figure out how the two lives can coexist. I promise, it can be done.

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    1. Homeschooling! Totally what I would do with my own munchkins if I had some. Go get 'em girl!

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  9. I had to sit here for a few minutes, sipping on my tea at my new desk in my new home, reflecting over the giant map of my yearlong road trip that I just finished highlighting - and let what I just read sink in.

    Because dang lady, this one hit home.

    (And now, two hours later because I literally could not find words here:) You CAN have your cake and eat it too. You just have be patient while baking it, and take time to make sure you concoct the perfect recipe that will balance all your ingredients (freedom, travel, love, a career, etc). If I know anyone that can bake that kind of cake, it's you. Take it slow, take it easy, take time. You'll figure it all out.

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    1. You know I like that baking analogy, sista. From one traveler to another — thanks. <3

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  10. This post struck a chord with me. Other peoples' lives always seem to contain elements missing from our own, but then when we really get to know these people and hear them describe their own realities we often realize they idealize US and what we are doing. This has been true time and time again in my own life. I don't know you that well, but from what I see you and the way you live your life inspires a lot of people to follow their own dreams.

    Freedom OR Stability. The Endless Road Trip OR The White Picket Fence. There are so many variations to these extremes, and I think when you are injured, broke and scared (and I have been - I was so sick with mono when I was 21 I couldn't work and had to go home to my parents back east to have surgery - believe me, my lifestyle choice to drop out of college and live in Jackson was VERY questioned during this time) it is easy to turn to the comfort of those who tell you to stop fighting Reality (as they define it), give up, give in, and conform. I will tell you now: don't lose your independent, wild spirit. Don't be cruel to yourself, beat yourself up, for loving what you love, pursuing it, and coming to a hard spell. Embrace that the freedom you seek will always be something you need. It is part of you, like your hands and feet. Like a lung. Take it away and you are not you - you could live without it, but you would be reduced.

    Accept this hard time. Use it as a departure point. This might be a time to re-think the pattern by which you live your life. The need to pay for necessities and the need to create a safety net in the event of the kind of situation you find yourself in is a reality you have to face and embrace. I did this first by commercial fishing and then by working in the oil patch. Though this work is not for everyone (not for most) there are many I meet who have created a life of adventure while 'covering their bases' with medical work (nurses, PA's), website building (or whatever people earn money with online), commercial fishing (I believe one of the top offwidth climbers, a woman, works on a boat in Alaska half of each year to climb the other half), etc. The possibilities are limited only by your creativity. Sometimes, you have to make short-term sacrifices to make the long-term plan work, and sometimes you have to face up to tough realities that the job you are doing and love might not make the lifestyle you want to live work in the long run. I backed off from guiding full-time because I never want to have to conform and leave mountain towns or give up all the freedoms of climbing life. This means I am working this demanding job right now, but the long-term payoff will, I am sure, be worth it. I feel more hope for the future than I have in a long time. This is because I took a hard look at my finances, made some spreadsheets, and started making plans instead of hoping a better circumstance would come my way.

    To conclude this I will say this: I did try to conform, and I found myself renting a very expensive house and engaged to the WRONG man. I got did all this because I thought this was the 'next step' and it was what all my friends were doing. I let the voices from without guide me, while silencing the voice from within which was giving me clear signs that the whole deal was wrong. Eventually, I found my way back to my own path, but not before a lot of expense and heartbreak. Stay true to yourself and the people who you want to walk through this life with will find you and stick with you. You will find someone to love and make a family with that will support your freedom, and you his. Listen to your voice and you will not stray from your path very long. Stay strong!

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    1. You and I, Aili. We need to be side by side more often in the wild.

      "I will tell you now: don't lose your independent, wild spirit. Don't be cruel to yourself, beat yourself up, for loving what you love, pursuing it, and coming to a hard spell. Embrace that the freedom you seek will always be something you need. It is part of you, like your hands and feet. Like a lung. Take it away and you are not you - you could live without it, but you would be reduced."

      I needed to hear that. And all of it.

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  11. Never regret anything that once made you smile and choose the path that keeps you smiling... That other half does exist. Trust me. And how about you move to Canada already, eh?

    Xoxo miss you!

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  12. Thanks for writing this post, Gina. I think you'd left us with a lot to think about, and I have my suspicions that perhaps it was a bit therapeutic for you to put it out there. I'm sorry to hear about your knee. That really stinks, especially for someone who wants to be out there exploring. Your couch time has obviously given you lots of time to reflect on your life choices and where to go from here.

    I like to think there is a compromise between the two worlds you describe. I think that because my life seems to be heading in that direction, though the balance is really tough on us sometimes. I'm incredibly lucky to be with a man who has the same zest for adventure. This allows us to also raise a little girl while still pursuing our outdoor passions and desires to really see the world. It doesn't come without sacrifice, though. Of course the grass is always greener on the other side. We live in a tourist town where we can't afford a home. We live far away from family because neither of us wants to live in suburbia or the big city. Raising a kid without help (and the kind you don't have to ask for) is really hard. So much so that sometimes I'm tempted to just throw in the towel and move back to where my parents live. But I know that's not the answer.

    I often meet really adventurous people who feel a bit like solo ships. The move around so much that they have a hard time staying connected to others. Perhaps there is a happy medium - having a home base and a community while still fulfilling that wanderlust. I don't have any answers, either. Just want to say "I'm with you." And wish you all the best on your journey. :)

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  13. You've already gotten some really good advice on this thread, but I'll chime in, too.

    Know that what you're going through isn't just happening to you - it happens to all of us, far more often than we'd like it to. One of the toughest (and hardest to escape) parts about the western world is that we're always supposed to be measuring ourselves and trying to better our position, when in reality if we all just took the time to appreciate what's happening in our lives at the moment we'd all be a lot happier.

    The 'American Dream' ideal has it's benefits - bi-weekly paychecks, a 401k, maybe a house - ... but it also has drawbacks. A stable job only has the illusion of stability. That house comes with a mortgage payment. A bad year on the stock market and that 401k isn't as nice of a nest egg as it used to be.

    Whatever path you chose, it's just important to remember a). no direction is permanent and b). check in with yourself every once in a while to see how you're feeling about things. You're craving those "regular life" things now because you're in a low spot, but I bet when you were exploring the east coast ski runs you were really happy you didn't have to squeeze the entire trip into your five company-allotted days of Paid Time Off :)

    Have you read "New American Road Trip Mixtape" yet? I just finished it and I think it might be relevant to your current interests ...

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  14. Your post gave me cause for sadness. Not sure I can put this in words - but, all I ever want is your happiness, safety, and some security for you. I believe I've always tried to impress upon you that I admire your love of adventure and independence. From your childhood, I tried to take you wherever my whim directed; it's my gypsy blood. I couldn't help it. Like a migratory bird, I had to head to the mountains in the Spring, then the Autumn. Christmas always drew me to the northern climes. If I lived it for a few weeks, and gathered my friends and family in those locations, I could manage to make it through the rest of the months in Florida quite content and happy. It was always wonderful to return home and know that I could then expound upon my other gifts - cooking, working on community and environmental issues, educating myself further in some field, and enjoying my children whole-heartedly. And your independence? Very early on - by 3 years of age, you and your twin brother were dusting, cleaning up after yourselves, learning to cook, and separating your laundry, as well as selecting your clothing for the next day. You studied and created. You played hard and worked hard - and still you do. I never underestimated your abilities because of age; I was sure you were capable early on and just in case I wasn't around - as my mother died when I was 16, I wanted you to be able to continue on with confidence that you had the skills. Gina, I never want you to give up the part of you that solicits that excitement in your life. But, as you say, there are many other deeply-seated desires you have. As your mother, I knew them since you were a little girl. I watched you run outside and play as long as you could, enjoying the sunshine and fresh air. I also saw you design and decorate your bedrooms incredibly through your creative processes. Children have always enjoyed talking and playing with you because you could reach them in ways that stimulated their imagination; you remember childhood and innocence and curiosity. And anyone who has tasted your cooking and baking - will attest to those gifts that you so incredibly create in the kitchen. You are a positive "Martha Stewart" in so many ways- even with developing your gardening: heirloom veggies and organic fruits and herbs... all these attributes you investigated, studied, improved and built on your own. Yet, you've always shared your talents with others. All these attributes and more are also a huge part of Gina, beyond her love of the wild. Herein was my concern - you have a multitude of gifts and a social joy that can light up anyone's life; some of them have been put on a backburner for several years or neglected in your pursuit of another adventure of learning. You are amazing and you help others, no matter what you do, to share in that light.

    Then I read the responses from so many of your caring friends. I, too, believe you can have balance, although it may be like a see-saw much of the time, out-of-balance. But you are so much more than any one of your gifts/activities. You have gone to the full fruition of learning each skill to the neglect of all other former passions. Perhaps now - having fulfilled many of these "callings" in your life, you can bring them all together to enjoy, treasure, balance and also have the next round of success embracing them all and finding another level of adventure doing so. It is good that you are aware of the time-continuum. It doesn't turn back and opportunities may only appear for brief moments to be captured. You choose whether they are embraced or wonder if you will live with regret for not having experienced the fullness of who you are and who you are meant to be. Like focusing/obsessing about learning a new skill, you may also need to focus on making the change in your life to accommodate everything. You can have it all. xxxooo Forever and ever and always...

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  15. Just found this and read it, along with all the comments. First, sorry about your knee. Sending you wishes for a full recovery.

    Second, while I don't know you at all (hi! Nice to meet you. :)), I have to say you were speaking my language and some of my own history in this post, with only somewhat different details. This got me: "I live against the flow of the larger society, though I'm surrounded by like-minded people which means I don't notice my nonconformity until I talk to friends and family back home." Oh, yes. I know that feeling.

    I've bucked the "system" for a long time as well. I've done the 9-to-5 thing (mostly meh), and I've *always* been rather suspicious of the seemingly universal acceptance of the need to "conform" in our society. Picket fences, babies, two-car garages, and a "stable" life sounded boring as hell to me! At the same time, though, I craved those very things in some ways and instances. And I've always questioned whether I wanted those things because *I* wanted them, or because like any American kid I was indoctrinated with subtle messages throughout my life that that was what I wanted.

    Ultimately, I've chosen a life far from the madding crowd, one mostly filled with outdoor adventures and people and experiences. Also mostly, I love it. Has it been hard seeing many of my friends marry and have families and "settle down," whatever that means, while I still seem to be drifting in a sea of still playing around outdoors? Oh, definitely at times. I still really crave that relationship with the guy who is right for me, and maybe still possibly kids. Sometimes it's pretty damn lonely, to be honest. Yet I also realize I would not have had many of my life experiences, the ones I treasure, had I chosen NOT to leap without a net and take a chance on this wildly-lived life I that really is the definition of who I am. Might have I had other, equally fulfilling experiences? I'm sure the answer is yes. And, I'm also pretty sure my soul would have died a long time ago if I'd kept following the so-called conformity track. There's nothing whatsoever wrong with love, family, a home one owns, the stability that comes from knowing you can indeed pay all your bills and have health insurance--if that's what floats your boat and you've carved it out in a way that makes your heart sing. Right?

    Something that has also struck me in recent months is how many of my female friends in their 30s and 40s and 50s who are outdoorsy, successful in their passions (skiing, SUP, adventure travel, long-distance running, etc.), and living not-quite-within the parameters our society still sometimes seems to expect, are still (or again) single, no kids, yet still determined to live life on their own terms. I don't always know how happy or unhappy or simply accepting many of them are of those facts...but it's an interesting observation I've had for many years. Not really sure what it means. But it makes me feel just slightly less out of step with the rest of the world. :)

    Anyway, this post just really resonated with me. Loved it. May much goodness come your way while you have this unplanned downtime, and I'm pretty sure you'll get things figured out again as you go along. I look forward to reading about your journey from here on.

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  16. A great blogger can take something personal, passionate and emotional and make it accessible to a wide audience. I spend my somewhat conventional life plotting to ski like an addict. And I dream about a life like yours. Learning about your challenge and injury won't change that either. Best of luck to you Gina and thanks for publishing.

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