‘Nature provides us with surprise’

‘Nature provides us with surprise’

Alexandra Cousteau shares her story during Float for Life event

Published in Sanibel-Captiva Islander July 22, 2015 issue

Alexandra Cousteau captivated a few audiences with her stories about the ocean and how exploration of the waters was discovered more than 40 years ago.

The guest speaker, who is the granddaughter of Jacques Cousteau, traveled from Berlin, Germany to speak at the Sunday, July 12, Float for Life event on Fort Myers Beach and later at the Sanibel Sea School.

Once the 75 participants of the 2nd annual Float for Life completed the first portion of the event, they gathered under a large white tent near Pink Shell Resort and Marina to listen to Alexandra share her story.

She took the audience on a journey, which involved many memories with her grandfather.

Alexandra Cousteau

Alexandra Cousteau

The voyage started in the 1950s when no one knew what was under the surface of the ocean. Although Jacques had been like James Bond as the French intelligence for the Navy, he found his true passion while on leave from the service.

“He actually encountered his passion like many of us do totally by accident,” Alexandra said. “He originally wanted to be a fighter pilot. He dreamt of flying and not diving.”

While driving on windy roads to a wedding in South France while on leave, Jacques had a really bad car accident that broke his back and took the use of both of his arms. Although the doctors wanted to amputate his arms, he refused, replying “calm down, I’m going to fix it.”

Alexandra said her grandfather worked for several months just to move his tiny pinky finger. A suggestion from a good friend of swimming in the warm waters of the Mediterranean to build his strength, furthered his recovery.

“As he looked down, he saw things that no longer exist in the Mediterranean,” she said. “He saw three to 400 pound groupers and all sorts of extraordinary marine life. He said wait ‘I want to go deeper. I want to stay longer. I want to be able to really understand what is down there.'”

When Jacques’ passion for the ocean developed, tools of exploration had not yet been created, which encouraged him to invent the aqua lung.

“He tested it and tested it and almost lost his life several times. It was an incredible thing,” Alexandra said. “When you look at exploration over the course of the past thousand years, more than anything else, it is exploration that has shaped our civilization. It’s the 1500’s when the Europeans set out from Europe and sailed around the world and conquered a few people and spread some disease. But, they began the process of globalization and finding out what is beyond their own shore.”

She said her grandfather’s tool, the aqua lung, shifted how individuals understand the world.

“He pulled back the curtain on 70 percent of this planet and showed us what was there . . . the sharks, the sea otters, the fish, the whales, the dolphins and then he helped us understand the connections that those creatures and those places have on us,” Alexandra said. “He inspired people from around the world to want to explore and discover the ocean.”

As a very tall and skinny 7 year old, she had the opportunity to go scuba diving for the first time with her grandfather. Alexandra admitted that she learned how to swim before she could walk so she was very comfortable in the water.

However, when she stood on the side of the boat looking at the black water, those feelings changed to being sacred.

“I didn’t exactly want to tell him I was scared,” Alexandra said. “So I looked up at him, he winked at me and he pushed me.”

A tentative breath was taken and then another breath, which gave her courage to swim down 20 feet. When Alexandra stopped and looked at the ocean’s surface she witnessed a school of small silver fish. With the help of a light shining through the water, she noticed the fish were swimming towards her.

“When I reached out they would move away and when I pulled my hand back they would move back in,” she explained. “It was sort of this incredible thing that I experienced and it shifted something inside of me and made me more courageous and made me more curious and made me want to go deeper and stay longer.”

Passion of learning more about the ocean and environment was instilled in Alexandra as a young girl, often times through adventures had with her grandfather.

“I like to go find what is there because in a highly regulated environment that we have created with our civilization, nature provides us with surprise. It provides us with an opportunity to not be able to suspect what is going to happen next,” she said. “I think that more than anything else, it makes us feel truly alive when we are in nature. When we are encountering the unknown and feeling amazed by it, even if it’s just a few thousand small fish, they have the ability to amaze us and become something to remember for the rest of our life.”

Although many of Alexandra’s favorite places as a young girl are no longer around, she still has hope for the ocean and land.

“Here in the United States and around the world are communities that come together and protect what they love because those places define them and those places are part of their legacy,” she said. “They come together to reclaim, restore and protect these places that they love. When enough people protect what they love at home then we can shift the moment. We can reclaim these places and pass them onto our children.”

Alexandra’s meet and greet at the Sanibel Sea School began by sharing similar stories of her grandfather and how he created the aqua lung. She then took questions from the audience, so they could direct where the conversation lead.

‘Something magical happens’

‘Something magical happens’

Float for Life event attracts larger crowd for second annual event
Published in Sanibel-Captiva Islander July 22, 2015 issue

Seventy-five individuals reunited with the ocean on Fort Myers Beach while floating on their backs in an effort for them to fall in love with the water, which in turn will encourage them to become stewards of the ocean.

Seventy-five people participated in the second annual Float for Life event on Fort Myers Beach.

Seventy-five people participated in the second annual Float for Life event on Fort Myers Beach.

“Two years ago Roy and I moved to Palm City on the east coast of Florida,” Shelley Lynch said. “The devastation of the waters and the death of marine life were so painful for us. We felt so powerless, so we decided we wanted to be apart of the solution. One day we said, ‘you know we float people for a living, let’s float them for our oceans.'”

That thought ignited the inaugural Float for Life event last year on Fort Myers Beach.

A quote from Mother Theresa, “If you ask me to march against something I won’t join you. If you ask me to march for something I will be there,” made the thought into reality. The first event attracted 55 people within six months of promoting the event last year.

“We are here to float for our waters, marine life, for our eco system that supports us and gives so much to us,” Lynch told the 75 participants this year through tearful eyes. “This topic is so emotional and passionate for me that I want to cry because it is so important.”

Lynch grew up on the Florida coast in a little town when kids were able to roam freely. She spent countless hours on the beach, in the Gulf of Mexico and in the intercostal waters that were lined with massive mangroves that were used to play make believe house.

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“It was really where I fell in love with the ocean,” Lynch said. “I feel like it was my third parent. It was my solace.”

Her husband, Roy Desjarlais grew up on the canals of Cape Coral where he spent countless hours finding ways to be in or near the water.

“The love of the water became ingrained very early,” he said. “So that is really the heart and passion for me when it comes to Float for Life. We are both therapist wanting to help people.”

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The participants separated into groups of three and headed for the ocean near Pink Shell Resort and Marina Sunday, July 12. Each member of the group floated for 10 minutes while the other two group members provided assistance with their head and legs.

“We want things to be on a really positive note when you connect with the water. When you are positive, when you have that connection, you tend to love things and care for things,” Desjarlais said.

Fort Myers resident Paula Reiss attended the event for the first time this year because Jacques Cousteau has had a major impact on her life. She said she met him many years ago, which resulted in scuba diving and being actively involved with water quality issues.

“It was a very interesting experience,” she said of floating. “You don’t feel like anything is going on around you until you go vertical.”

Once Reiss went from the horizontal to vertical position she said it resembled the “feeling you get when you wake from a good sleep.”

Other participants described their experience as feeling safe, incredibly peaceful and it allowed them to tune into how their body was feeling. Another participant said “the rough waves out there weren’t ideal, but it’s kind of representative of life in a way.”

Alexandra Cousteau and Roy Desjarlais.

Alexandra Cousteau and Roy Desjarlais.

Guest speaker Alexandra Cousteau, Jacques Cousteau’s granddaughter, said it was really exciting for her to see everyone floating and enjoying the ocean.

“I hope that we will take something away from this day and that will be some renewed conviction that everything you do matters and every single choice you make has a consequence . . . that it doesn’t happen in a vacuum,” she said.

In addition to participants, the Float for Life event also attracted many volunteers that assisted before, during and after the festivities.

Edie Gleason, a Sanibel resident, said she wanted to volunteer because she loves the ocean and believes in the importance and connection between the health of the water, environment and everyone’s actions.

“I encourage people to think and support government issues,” she said.

The event’s beneficiary this year was the Sanibel Sea School, which resulted in a presentation from Cofounder and Executive Director Bruce Neill. He shared with the crowd that the Sanibel Sea School’s mission is to improve the ocean’s future one person at a time through marine conservation and education.

Sanibel Sea School Cofounder and Executive Director Bruce Neill

Sanibel Sea School Cofounder and Executive Director Bruce Neill

“Very quickly we are all going to realize that conservation is the true economic way to do things. It is the most cost effective way to do things in the future,” Neill said. “Humans don’t change our behavior based on data. We don’t read numbers and say ‘oh geez, I shouldn’t be doing that.’ We change our behavior based on emotions. At the very root of conservation is an emotional attachment to that thing.”

He classified the work between Lynch, Desjarlais, guest speaker Alexandra Cousteau and the Sanibel Sea Schools as a perfect union.

“It is conservation that is hooked to an emotional content of how we feel about the environment that sustains us,” Neill said.

Float for Life is similar to the Sanibel Sea School’s soul floats, which also connects individuals with the ocean.

“We like to cover our chests and we tend to not open our chest because it tends to leave us vulnerable,” Neill said. “So when we lie on the ocean and open our arms to allow us to float . . . when we open our arms and we open our chest something magical happens. We become reunited with the ocean and not only do we heal ourselves, we reinvigorate the love for the ocean.”

One of the main messages participants took away from the event was how to become better stewards of the water.

“To me what that means is take personal responsibility for our immediate environment,” Desjarlais said. “Embrace personal stewardship and create a new habit or embrace the old one and let that ripple out.”

Surpassed running goal

Saturday turned into another crummy day with barely any sun, which caused really cool temperatures, so our run was canceled yet again.

I have to admit it kind of put me in a funk. I wanted to be outdoors soaking up the sun, but we were stuck inside.

As the day went on, I still couldn’t kick the mood, so I began writing. Yes, writing, not writing articles or a blog, but beginning that story that I have been wanting to write for a few years now. The ideas just flowed out of me yesterday . . . probably because I am writing about my experience. It was fun picking the lead characters name. I’m excited to see where this story takes me.

Oct. 18, 2014

Oct. 18, 2014

Lucy of course was right by my side giving me the inspiration I needed. Hint . . . the story includes this puppy of mine.

As Lucy and I woke today, the sky was definitely overcast and it was rather cool, so we came back inside.

Lucy took a nap and I began reading before a conversation sparked between my mother and I. What started out as exchanges through text messages turned into a phone conversation of well over an hour.  A conversation with my mom always cheers me up. Best part was by the time we hung up, the sky turned crystal blue. No more clouds in the sky.

As I laced up my running shoes a new kind of excitement took hold. Lucy and I were going to a new portion of the Greenbelt today, one that is closer to where we live now. Although I absolutely love where we have been going, it was nice to change-up the scenery.

IMG_20141019_151037We headed to the area around the Boatyard Riverfront Park. A sign that read Kingsport Greenbelt directed me to a parking area off of Neatherland Inn Road.

Although this is not the first time I have been to this portion of the Greenbelt, it’s the first time I have run this path. It’s also the first time Lucy has gone that way. Jason and I went for a walk along this section of the path sometime last year.

We ran until we reached the end of the path. This was our resting spot for the day, around 1.43 miles.

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It was beautiful looking into the distance and seeing Bays Mountain in a slew of different fall colors.

IMG_20141019_144154Our run would not be complete on the Greenbelt if we did not spot at least one duck in the water or along the path.

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20141019_132858After we took a good break, we were off again heading in the direction we came. I’m so proud of Lucy, she’s such an awesome running partner. The few people and dogs we passed did not faze her at all. Her attention was straight ahead.

Instead of hearing the water and birds, today our music was a train running along the track adjacent to the path we were running on the other side of the street.

I’m not sure if it was the cooler temperatures, my car said it was in the mid 50s before we got out, or running a new path . . . but we ran our longest distance yet. The longest since I began tracking our exercise on a running app on my phone. Previously our longest run was 2.89 miles.

Last night before going to bed I gave myself a goal for our run today if the weather behaved. That goal was  to run at least 3 miles. I am happy to say we surpassed that goal. There is not a greater feeling than going beyond a goal. No better feeling.

We ran 3.13 miles!!!

Now that’s an awesome way to kick off another week. Best therapy in the world, putting on those shoes and heading out for a run.

Last week because of all the rain, we only ran three days for a total of 7.28 miles.

I’m hoping for a sunny week that will allow Lucy and I to run more!!

 

“That event itself was life changing”

The life of one medically retired United States Marine changed forever after coming into contact with the nonprofit organization Wounded Warrior Anglers of America, Inc.

“I believe it’s an outstanding organization that is perfect right now for the pulse of America and the veteran community,” Peter Paskewicz, a Cape Coral, Florida resident, said. “It’s a little niche not found out there.”

Approximately six months ago, Paskewicz paid a visit to his local bait store, which resulted in an invitation to talk to the organization after asking about other veterans in the area that enjoyed fishing. He said he happened to be in the store when Dave Souders, co-founder of the organization, was also there.

“That is basically how I really got connected,” Paskewicz said.

He joined the Marines and served for three years during the first Gulf Wars from 1990 to 1993.

“I was with some very outstanding people and I know that the Marines made a positive influence on my life,” he said. “I wish I could go back. I love it.”

Paskewicz sustained lower extremity injuries, some of which include a lower back injury from a fall and a shattered hip.

He said since he has some physical problems, he wanted to get to know other veterans who liked to fish, a passion he found when he was a youngster.

“I enjoy the environment,” Paskewicz said of why he loves fishing. “I believe we are connected to the water in one way. If the water is healthy, I believe the rest of the environment is healthy.”

Before medically retiring from the service, he said fishing had always been his most private and personal time where he could reflect back on the good in his life, as well as allow all the negative things to fade away.

As a wounded warrior who loves fishing, Wounded Warrior Anglers was a perfect match for this gentleman.

battle of matlachaThe organization helps its warriors by taking them out on the water for a day of fishing, an outing that promotes a friendly and peaceful environment to help warriors heal.

“I think the Wounded Warrior Anglers provides a platform that is easy for people to meet and greet one another,” Paskewicz said.

He said the commonality and disability portion of the organization really brings everything together, making Wounded Warrior Anglers what it is today.

He said after leaving the service, fishing provided a new kind of therapy.

“It made me feel like I am still capable of doing things, still capable of accomplishing goals,” Paskewicz said. “It gives me a sense of achievement.”

Wounded Warrior Anglers holds a few retreats throughout the year that invites wounded warriors and their caregivers to Matlacha, Florida, for a day of relaxation on the water fishing, or at Spa 33, with others who have gone through similar experiences.

“That was a very important day for me and my family,” Paskewicz said of the retreat he attended about two months ago. “I had been struggling with medications and pain for about six and a half years and not feeling very good about fishing or anything.”

Once this wounded warrior received an invitation to his first retreat, it provided him with the freedom to go out fishing, while knowing he was not alone, knowing he was going to be with other wounded warriors.

“That event itself was life changing for me,” he said. “I have a whole new attitude. It was absolutely what I needed.”

That single day of camaraderie, that one day of sharing a love of fishing with others, has kept positive thoughts flowing through Paskewicz.

“I’m very grateful for the Wounded Warriors and I feel strongly that it is something really needed in our communities today for our veterans and community members as well,” he said. “It brings veterans closer to the community and the community closer to the veterans. I think it is an outstanding platform.”

Paskewicz recently volunteered at the organization’s 2nd annual Redfish Poker Fishing Championship, in memory of Sgt. John R. Pestel, last month. He said he provided a helping hand in the morning to set things up and whatever else was needed to show support.

“I was approached by at least 100 people that day, all thanking me for my service,” he said.

Those words touched this Marine.

“It was an honor,” Paskewicz said. “It made me feel proud and glad I served for people like them. That was a very special day in itself also. The civilians got to interact with the veterans and I think it was great

Lucy’s first hike

Yesterday we decided to take Lucy on her first hike at a park not too far from where we live.

Ever since we brought her home at the beginning of April, I have been thinking about places we could take her. Let’s just say I’ve been pretty excited about including this little puppy in our outdoor adventures.

With the warm temperatures and blue skies yesterday, Jason and I both had the itch to be outdoors. So, we got everything we needed and headed to the car with Lucy close at our heels. As soon as we neared the car, Lucy became a little hesitant. This has become a little bit of an obstacle at the moment for Lucy. She’s not a fan of the car yet, which we hope to change because Jason and I like to be on the go . . . We like to explore new places when the time affords us the opportunity.

So, Jason scooped her up and we were on our way. I have found that she enjoys laying down between the two seats on the little center console. With that said, she typically gravitates towards Jason’s lap where she snuggles and lays down.

We went to Laurel Run Park in Church Hill, Tenn. again. We wanted to take Lucy somewhere we had already been, so we knew the trails and how difficult they may be for her. Since she is only three months old, we didn’t want to completely wear her out to where we had to carry her.

As soon as we parked, Lucy was greeted by two youngsters. She of course loved the attention and licked happily as the little boy said puppy over and over again. After the mom came over and got her kids, we started towards the trail.

The last time we hiked this trail everything was starting to bloom. This time the trails were lined with white, yellow and light and dark purple flowers. It was really pretty.

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The butterflies were back!

Last year when we first started making our ways to the different trails we would see butterflies every where, of every color. Although not the best picture, here is one of the one’s we saw on the trail yesterday.

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The vegetation alongside the trails are once again a beautiful hue of greens with the occasional beautiful color of flowers.

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IMG_1659The better part of our hike, I carried the leash as Jason led the way. I found that if someone was ahead of her she was in a hurry to follow. But, of course, I had to hand the leash to Jason a time or two, so I could take a picture of our little peanut walking the trails.

IMG_1622Usually when I take her for a walk outside our place, she stops every few seconds to sniff and find something to eat. That was not the case when we went hiking yesterday, which of course surprised me. I figured with all the smells she would stop every few seconds. But Lucy was happy jogging along keeping up with the both of us.

Since yesterday was such a beautiful day, there were a ton of people at the park. For the majority of the hike, I did not have Lucy on a short leash, but rather allowed her to roam as far as the leash would take her. But, when we saw people approaching us, I would shorten the leash.

It was adorable, as everyone passed by, I heard so many “ahhh, she is so cute.” More times than not, they stopped to give her a little pat as Lucy soaked up all the attention. It’s true, you make a ton of friends when you have a dog, especially a puppy.

IMG_1624Lucy seemed to have a great time. She became a little braver the farther we hiked the trail, often times jumping across puddles in the path and climbing rocks. Jason commented at the end of our hike that she always stayed on the trail.

IMG_1636Until, of course we went off the beaten path.

We walked past the waterfall since there were so many people enjoying the sight and playing in the water at the foot of the falls. When we came back around, there was no one there, so Lucy led us down the rocks.

IMG_1640She stood in the dry area by the falls, but would not get her paws wet. Lucy was not too sure about the water. We will definitely have to get her used to the water.

IMG_1643Lucy really did well on her first hiking adventure. She really surprised me. On the way back to the car, she was trotting along at a faster pace than when we first started. I figured by this point she would be tired, but nope she was on a mission. Instead of missing all the muddy areas, she went right through them, which made me smile . . . she wasn’t afraid anymore.

This little peanut is going to be a great companion on our hikes. I’m so glad she did well. Now instead of leaving her at home, she can accompany us on our adventures.

On the car ride home she did fantastic. We really wore her out. We even stopped at the store and she was too tired to care that Jason got out.

IMG_1666Our adventure yesterday really was special for me. It’s a lot of fun to watch an animal enjoy the outdoors. When we got home, she ate and then took a bath. She instantly fell asleep in my lap when I finished drying her off. She slept for a couple more hours after that in her little bed.

I’m so glad she got all of that exercise!

A walk under the bluest of skies

After tornado watches and warnings were made for our area and surrounding areas early this morning, it turned out to be a beautiful day.

I hoped to take the entire day off today, but had a few interviews I had to complete. I also had to turn in a few articles. So, I took the second half of the day off to spend with Jason. The warmer half of the day.

We went for a walk down a portion of the Kingsport Greenbelt that we haven’t been to yet. It was pretty with a good amount of history. There was a lot of people out walking around, many with their four-legged pets.

Although the wind wasn’t all that nice, the temperatures were in the 50’s during our walk. The skies were blue with few clouds.

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It was nice being outside again today. There is no better release than smelling fresh air, listening to the birds chirping, ducks quacking and the wind swaying through the branches of trees. The best part is having Jason walk alongside me enjoying the outdoors. By the time we were done, we probably walked close to four miles again.

The best part of the walk was the wildlife we saw throughout.

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Jason spotted this little guy first. He was too cute, I had to take a picture.

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It was nice walking along the water, looking at the houses on the other side.

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It wouldn’t be a walk along the Greenbelt without seeing the ducks.

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IMG_1153It was another great day outdoors for a few hours.

Frozen

This morning Jason woke me up as the sun was rising, so we could see more of Kingsport covered in snow. He’s so good to me, on his day off he woke up much earlier than on the days he works, just so I could see the sunrise.

It was beautiful, oranges filled the sky as the sun slowly made its way up. I don’t know if it was the sunrise that made me smile, or that the sun was actually making an appearance today.

IMG_1025After driving downtown, Jason took me to one of my favorite spots, the Kingsport Greenbelt.

One of the ducks was laying in the snow, which instantly made me cold. IMG_1033

Every time I see and hear the ducks it takes me back to when I lived on the farm in Illinois. Mom had a duck, pure white, named Matilda. It used to lay on the pool cover in the winter and talk to Mom all the time. So Mom, you consumed my thoughts this  morning, you were with me as I watched the ducks do their thing.

Shortly after I spotted the first duck on the bank, I heard quite a few more chatting as the swam. A cluster slowly made its way down to where I was standing, sinking in the snow.

IMG_1034Part of Reedy Creek was frozen on the Greenbelt this morning, which only reminded me just how cold it was outside. It was really pretty to see snow around the creek and on the trees. Another beautiful moment created by this Winter Storm Leon.

IMG_1026  IMG_1027  IMG_1030  IMG_1031 IMG_1028Since we don’t have boots and I was only wearing my running shoes, my toes started to get really cold. I took a few more pictures before heading back to Jason’s warm car.

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I’m glad Jason woke us up early so we could see more of the snow that swept through the area yesterday. That same quietness that I heard last night, surrounded me again as I stood by the creek this morning. As the sun made its way through the trees, the white glistened, promising a beautiful day. A spray of snow started to sweep off the trees as the sun began to melt what accumulated on the branch, creating another beautiful sight to see.

I’m glad Jason and I moved to the mountains and got to experience the seasons this year. The fall was absolutely breathtaking with the change of colors and the winter, well I still don’t know how to put into words the beauty that it holds, that white coverage.

When we arrived back home, Jason’s car said -2 . . . yep this Florida girl had enough of the cold for a couple of hours. I think I might just admire the view from the windows of our warm home for a little bit.