Head to a state park for Jan. 1 events

Pedernales Falls State Park will offer a First Day Fido Hike on Jan. 1. Photo by Chris LeBlanc for AAS

 

My husband and I always start off the new year by getting outdoors.

Over time, that’s meant a dip in the spring-fed pool at Balmorhea State Park, a hike on the South Rim trail at Big Bend National Park or a dash down a mountain on skis. Sometimes, we just head out from our Austin neighborhood on our bikes, or drop by a park for a walk.

The Texas State Parks system is offering a slew of hikes, bike rides and paddling adventures to help you ring in 2016 in a healthy way. Check out these options or see a complete schedule here.

  • First Day Fido Hike at Pedernales Falls State Park. Take your pup along on this 3-mile hike, which includes a workshop to demonstrate the latest dog gear, trail treats and canine etiquette for parks. Meet at 2 p.m. Jan. 1 at the Wolf Mountain trailhead. Dogs must be on leash. Bring water and bags for pet waste. For more information email wendi.laws@tpwd.texas.gov or go here. Normal park fees apply.
  • First Day Hike at Gorman Falls at Colorado Bend State Park. Ramble down a short but strenuous trail to this famous Hill Country waterfall. Meet at the Gorman Falls Area trailhead in your vehicle at 1:45 p.m. For more information email jason.hairston@tpwd.texas.gov or go here. Normal park fees apply.
  • Other walks are scheduled for Government Canyon State Park in San Antonio, Enchanted Rock State Park near Fredericksburg, LBJ State Park and Historic Site near Johnson City, Bastrop State Park, Lockhart State Park, Buescher State Park near Bastrop, Inks Lake State Park in Burnet, Blanco State Park in Blanco, Palmetto State Park, Pedernales Falls State Park near Dripping Springs and McKinney Falls State Park in Austin.

 

A First Day HIke is planned at McKinney Falls State Park. Photo by Pam LeBlanc
A First Day HIke is planned at McKinney Falls State Park. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

Whale-sized rowing shell to cruise Lady Bird Lake this weekend

The 24-seat rowing shell will launch from the Waller Creek Boathouse on Saturday and Sunday. Photo by Angie Houtz
The 24-seat rowing shell has arrived in Austin. Photo by Angie Houtz

 

The world’s longest rowing shell, a 144-foot whopper, will glide up and down Lady Bird Lake this weekend.

Even better? You can hitch a ride on the 24-seat behemoth.

The Austin Rowing Club is teaming with Pulling for Pink, an awareness and fund-raising campaign started by Austin rower Angie Houtz after she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2013, to offer rides on the boat.

The Stampfli Express is as long as a blue whale and its baby.
The Stampfli Express is as long as a blue whale and its baby.

The 926-pound rowing shell, dubbed the Stampfli Express, measures as long as a full-grown baby whale and its baby, arranged nose to tail. Hour-long rides are open to rowing crews, corporate teams or anyone interested in trying rowing.

Cost is $25 per seat; make reservations online here. Limited space is available between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. Saturday, but if you can assemble a group of 24, you can arrange a private rowing session on Sunday. Just email Angie Houtz at angiehoutz@gmail.com.

The boat travels in pieces and is assembled on site. Photo by Angie Houtz
The boat travels in pieces and is assembled on site. Photo by Angie Houtz

 

The boat will launch from the Waller Creek Boathouse on Lady Bird Lake, just south of The Four Seasons Hotel. Refreshments will be available.

All proceeds will be donated to the Breast Cancer Resource Centers of Texas, which support people who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.

Nerd Fitness leader Steve Kamb coming to BAM Academy

***UPDATE***

New address for BAM Academy is 113 Industrial Blvd, C-1, Austin.

Steve Kamb will make an appearance at BAM Academy. Photo courtesy Steve Kamb
Steve Kamb will make an appearance at BAM Academy. Photo courtesy Steve Kamb

Listen up, nerds.

Steve Kamb, creator of the Nerd Fitness movement, will make an appearance from 6-10 p.m. Jan. 15 at BAM Academy, 4401 Freidrich Lane in Austin.

Even better? After he talks about how to set your own personal Epic Quest goals (think holding a plank for a minute, mastering a new instrument or giving a talk in front of a small crowd), the group will get instruction in how to use a light saber.

Then, at 11 a.m. Jan. 16, the group will reconvene on the southwest lawn of the Capitol for more light saber training, compliments of head Nerd Fitness instructor Dakao Do.

Kamb, a self-described risk-averse, indoors guy who played video games and read to forgot about his real life, started channeling super heroes and created a blog called Nerd Fitness. That blog has since evolved into online community of 300,000 people who want to improve their lives.

Now Kamb has released a book called “Level Up Your Life: How to Unlock Adventure and Happiness by Becoming the Hero of Your Own Story” (Rodale Wellness, $19.99) that teaches readers to use his gaming philosophy to create superhero versions of themselves that are unafraid to live adventurously.

Kamb coaches readers to improve productivity, get fit and get happy. He also hosts annual Camp Nerd Fitness weekends, where campers go for strength training, kung fu, medieval combat, yoga and meditation, board games, karaoke, nutrition and cooking courses.

For more information about Kamb, go here. For more information about the Austin event, go here.

Both events are free. All fitness levels welcome.

Rip Esselstyn releases updated ‘Plant-Strong’ book

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Rip Esselstyn, the former Austin firefighter who promotes a “clean eating” lifestyle through his Engine 2 Diet, is releasing a slightly different version of his last book, complete with new recipes and a new title.

“Plant-Strong: Discover the World’s Healthiest Diet” (Grand Central Life & Style trade paperback; $15.99), a paperback version of “My Beef With Meat,” includes 150 “Engine 2” recipes, along with tips and anecdotes to encourage readers to eat a diet that’s more plant-based than processed.

The book hits store shelves Dec. 29. Esselstyn, a former professional triathlete who swims on the same swim team I do at Western Hills Athletic Club, will make appearances Jan. 4 and 5 at Austin Whole Foods.

If you’re not familiar with it, the Engine 2 program isn’t about quick weight loss. It’s about eating a plant-hearty, meat-free diet without added oil. Esselstyn says it helps protect against cancer, heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

I wrote about the diet years ago, taking blood tests before, during and afterward to see how it affected my cholesterol levels. The short answer? My cholesterol levels dropped significantly the first two weeks after I started following the program, then leveled off.

My problem, though, was sticking to the program 100 percent. I did take away some really good tips, like sauteeing in veggie broth instead of butter or oil and making my own hummus.

Esselstyn teamed with Whole Foods Market in 2009 and now travels the world promoting the Engine 2 lifestyle.

The book includes recipes for savory shiitake and cheese oats, Toby’s Thai spring rolls, kale bruschetta, butternut barley soup and apple-cardamom flapjack crumble.

Salado church plans 3 Kings race

 

Runners make their way along the course at last year's 3 Kings 3-miler. Photo courtesy St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church.
Runners make their way along the course at last year’s 3 Kings 3-miler. Photo courtesy St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church.

A church in Salado will celebrate Epiphany with a 3-mile race they hope will encourage people to start the year off in a healthy way.

The 3 Kings 3 Miler is set for 8 a.m. Jan. 2 at St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church in downtown Salado.

Epiphany, a feast day and holiday traditionally held on Jan. 6, commemorates the manifestation of God as Jesus Christ. According to bible stories, three wise men, or kings, presented gifts to Jesus to depict man’s realization of Jesus as God. In the modern Episcopal church, Epiphany is a season of enlightenment and wonder.

Winners of last year's race show off their crowns. Photo courtesy St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church.
Winners of last year’s race show off their crowns. Photo courtesy St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church.

The race will start and finish on Main Street, outside the church.

A pasta dinner for all participants will take place Jan. 1. Registrants can pick up their packets and load up on carbs.

Hand-made crowns will be awarded to overall male, overall female and top winners in the under 12 category. Trophies will go to first place winners in each age group.

Overall winners will receive hand-made crowns. Photo courtesy St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church.
Overall winners will receive hand-made crowns. Photo courtesy St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church.

One-fourth of proceeds from the race will be donated to the Salado Family Relief Fund, which provides food, housing and school supplies to needy families in the community. Other funds will support St. Joseph’s ministry work and summer camp for youth.

To register go here. For more information go here.

 

Austin Front Runners donate to the Trail Foundation

Dale Herron, left, and his partner Ted Yanecek, right, lead a campaign to donate to the Trail Foundation each year. Photo courtesy Dale Herron.
Dale Herron, left, and his partner Ted Yanecek, right, lead a campaign to donate to the Trail Foundation each year. Photo courtesy Dale Herron.

Dale Herron says running on the Butler Trail around Lady Bird Lake transformed his life, and three years ago he decided to do something to give back.

Herron and his partner Ted Yanecek, both members of the Front Runners, Austin’s lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender running group, challenged their running buddies to contribute to The Trail Foundation, either through a donation, purchasing or renewing a membership, or volunteering time. For every dollar other Front Runners gave, the couple would match it up to $1,500.

So far, that’s meant a $6,000 infusion into the Trail Foundation, a non-profit organization that works to maintain and enhance the Butler Trail.

Herron, left, says the Butler Trail around Lady Bird Lake, has transformed his life. Photo courtesy Dale Herron.
Herron, left, says the Butler Trail around Lady Bird Lake, has transformed his life. Photo courtesy Dale Herron.

Herron, 52, says neither he nor Yanecek were runners when they were younger, but Herron saw the health issues his parents faced and decided to do something to avoid similar problems.

“I wanted to take care of myself,” Herron says. “I started running in 1999 and ran my first marathon 22 months later.”

Now he runs regularly on the Butler Trail with the Front Runners, many of whom use the crushed granite pathway as a training ground for 5K, 10K or long-distance races or triathlons. It’s where they spend time with friends, share stories, welcome new club members and push their bodies.

Herron also serves as a board member for the Trail Foundation.

“(The trail) is tied into our hearts and minds, and it helps us achieve our health goals, our performance goals and stress reduction,” he says. “It’s changing our lives, and our ability to give back in this small but meaningful way is very powerful.”

Want to donate too? Go here.

Paralyzed triathlete Laurie Allen heads to surgery, prepares for first Christmas since accident

Katie Duke, right, massages Laurie Allen's fingers. Allen was paralyzed in a fall in February. Photo by Pam LeBlanc
Katie Duke, right, massages Laurie Allen’s fingers. Allen was paralyzed in a fall in February. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

 

Austin triathlete Laurie Allen spent a few hours with her girlfriends last weekend, getting her toenails painted sparkly blue at a nail salon near her home.

Allen, who was paralyzed in a fall last February, heads into surgery today for a procedure that will allow her to catheterize herself, instead of relying on her friends or family. She hopes to be home from the hospital by Christmas, where a few friends plan to cook her a holiday dinner.

The pedicure is a regular deal for Allen, who drops by the salon with her friends every three weeks for a little pampering. On Saturday, she and her friends reminisced about racing in Maine and their hunt for pumpkin whoopies (a type of cookie) as they got new polish.

They brought along a bottle of wine, and Allen’s friend’s periodically tipped a glass to her mouth so she could drink. “It’s a two person operation,” she joked.

Laurie Allen, right, gets a pedicure at Peace Love Nails. Her friend Jenn Sanders, left, also gets her nails painted. Photo by Pam LeBlanc
Laurie Allen, right, gets a pedicure at Peace Love Nails. Her friend Jenn Sanders, left, also gets her nails painted. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

 

So what’s new with Allen?

A few months ago she underwent what became a difficult surgery to put in a port that automatically injects anti-spasm medications into her body. Despite problems recovering, the end result has been good – not nearly as many spasms.

She also tried out a hand cycle, although the frame was too big to fit her comfortably. She and her husband Matt took a spin down some neighborhood streets, and Allen says it made her feel almost normal.

“It felt so good to be back on the road,” she says. “It was like freedom again.”

In the meantime, a local fund-raiser headed by Jack Murray of High Five Events has raised money to eventually buy Allen her own hand cycle (one that fits!) and a racing wheelchair.

She’s volunteered at a few triathlons, too, handing out packets to athletes and directing them through transition areas. It allows her to keep in touch with the triathlon community she loves.

“Until I’m ready to race, I’ll keep volunteering,” she says.

The holiday season has delivered plenty of new challenges to Allen, who is still adjusting to her post-accident life.

The Thundercloud Subs Turkey Trot has long been a tradition, so she and Matt headed down for the race, hoping he could push her along the course. They had to turn back after one block because of wet and slippery streets.

And she’s missing her usual holiday routine. “It’s been tough. It’s things like decorating the tree and I can’t go Christmas shopping, I can’t wrap presents, I can’t travel,” she says.

Still, she’s made progress.

“Things are so much better than they were at first,” Allen says. “I can do more things for myself. Matt can leave me alone and not panic that I’m going to fall out of my chair.”

After weeks of struggling, she can finally brush her teeth by herself. She can put on makeup and blow dry her hair, too. She’s learned how to roll her wheelchair over the bump at the threshold between her home and the garage, something that once seemed like an insurmountable task.

She’s working full-time, and has been cleared to take driving school when she’s recovered from today’s surgery. She also has plans to join her friend Andrea Fisher, another triathlete, at the YMCA to learn to swim again. And two and a half weeks ago, she transferred herself, unassisted, from the bed to her wheelchair for the first time.

Onward!

Rally to highlight dangers of cycling, walking East Riverside Drive

Heavy traffic congestion starts to build during rush hour eastbound on E. Riverside Drive near Pleasant Valley Drive in this file photo. RALPH BARRERA / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
Heavy traffic congestion starts to build during rush hour eastbound on E. Riverside Drive near Pleasant Valley Drive in this file photo. RALPH BARRERA / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Bicyclists who have pedaled along East Riverside Drive know the experience can leave you quaking in your bike shoes.

But it’s an important east-west transportation route for many folks, and that’s why Bike Austin wants to draw attention to the need for protected bike lanes and pedestrian safety improvements there.

To do that, they’ve organized the Survive Riverside Ride.

Surivive Riverside Poster

Cyclists and pedestrians will gather at 1 p.m. Saturday at Midway Fieldhouse, 2015 E. Riverside Drive. They’ll pedal or walk from Midway Field House to Grove Street and back, and negotiate a Tough Mudder-style obstacle course highlighting the difficulties facing daily commuters who use it.

A cyclist makes his way across Riverside Drive. RALPH BARRERA / AMERICAN-STATESMAN
A cyclist makes his way across Riverside Drive. RALPH BARRERA / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

The road, at its widest, spans four lanes in each direction. Between 2010 and 2014, more than 30 people suffered serious injuries in crashes on the street. At least three pedestrians and bicyclists died.

Bike Austin staff, Riverside Drive residents and City Council Member Pio Renteria will speak at the event.

Spark Fitness Club offers free self-defense class

Students practice self-self defense techniques during a free class at Spark Fitness. Photo courtesy Spark Fitness
Students practice self-self defense techniques during a free class at Spark Fitness. Photo courtesy Spark Fitness

Worried about staying safe when you go for a run?

Spark Fitness Club, located at the north end of the Pfluger Pedestrian Bridge, will offer a self-defense class at 9 a.m. Saturday.

Ben Himes will teach the free class. Photo courtesy Spark Fitness
Ben Himes will teach the free class. Photo courtesy Spark Fitness

Brazilian Jiujitsu instructor Ben Himes will teach the session, which is designed to help women prevent and escape from physical assaults.

The seminar is free to all Spark members and guests. To reserve a spot, call (512) 432-5800.

The gym is located at 111 Sandra Muraida Way, Suite 100. That’s across the street from Luke’s Locker, and close to the Butler Hike and Bike Trail around Lady Bird Lake.

More classes are planned in the future.

Proceeds from sale of Luke’s Locker shirt benefit The Trail Foundation

Pam LeBlanc models her new Luke's Locker trail shirt. Proceeds from sales of the shirt benefit The Trail Foundation. Photo by Pam LeBlanc
Pam LeBlanc models her new Luke’s Locker trail shirt. Proceeds from sales of the shirt benefit The Trail Foundation. Photo by Pam LeBlanc

 

Check out my new T-shirt. Pretty snazzy, right?

Even better, proceeds from the sale of this shirt, the 2016 Luke’s Locker Trail Shirt, raise money for The Trail Foundation, the non-profit organization that protects and maintains the Butler Trail around Lady Bird Lake.

They’re made of technical fabric that wicks, which makes them the perfect gift choice for runners on your holiday list. You’ll need one for yourself, too. Who wouldn’t want to sweat in one?

The shirts sell for $30. Last year’s shirt raised $13,000 for the foundation. The 2014 shirt raised $20,000 and the 2013 also raised $15,000.

Luke’s is located at 115 Sandra Muraida Way. For more information go here.