Airport Assault: Road Racing at WCU

Airport Assault Road Course
Airport Assault Road Course

In a college town that consists of little more than an expanding campus and a run-of-the-mill athletic department, it’s easy to overlook the absolutely excellent events that take place.

Outside of the Valley of the Lilies Half-Marathon and 5k, and when Western alum Manteo Mitchell pulled in Olympic Silver at the London Games, there hasn’t been a ton to be proud of in terms of athletic achievement. Luckily, and thanks to a dedicated group of collegiate cyclists, Western is now set to host a three-part race weekend on Saturday and Sunday March 22 and 23.

Though I wasn’t a part of the riding community, to see this group put together a complete race experience is nothing short of exciting. It’s easy to get lost in the valley that houses Cullowhee, to forget that there are people that want to come and experience the mountains. The nine percent grade of the time trial route may not be the way most people expect to experience Cullowhee, but then again active communities like cyclists don’t always fit into the “most people” category anyway.

The races are open to collegiate riders, with registration online at USA Cycling. These races include the one mile time trial mentioned before, an 18-63 mile road race, and a 20-50 minute criterium. Distances and times will be determined by rider category, which include Collegiate M-A,B,C,D and W-A,B. Each race costs $15 to pre-register, and $18 for day-of registration.

An awards ceremony will take place on Sunday after the criterium, which should not only highlight the weekend’s top racers, but also the little-known hospitality that so many people in the WCU community are full of. With the introduction of the Airport Assault race weekend, I’m proud to say I graduated from Western, and can’t wait to see what this does for the cycling team, the university and the community as a whole.

For more information take a look at the official WCU Cycling Team page and learn more about the excellent people that are making this event happen.

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Connected Runners: Basno Digital Medals

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“Why do you run?”

That question alone is a pet peeve that nearly every runner faces on a constant basis. There are runners all over the world, from occasional joggers to elite runners that can run five minute miles for incredible distances, but the one thing they all have in common is the simple fact that they get out and do it; regardless of reason.

For many though, whether running is therapeutic or just another step toward a healthier lifestyle, there is little more that is as satisfying as a finisher’s medal at the end of the race that you trained months for. Despite blisters and lost toenails, heatstroke and hypothermia, the feeling you get as the medal is placed around your neck is unmatched.

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Unfortunately, the moment is typically short lived when it comes to sharing with friends and family. Newsfeeds fill with pictures of lunches and vacations, and within a day or two the moment disappears and the evidence of accomplishment is tucked away in a forgotten album labeled “Big Race ’13” or simply “Running.”

Luckily for the connected runners out there, Basno has developed race badges to harness the spirit of running and to share the passion for the sport that every runner has.

With digital personalization, times and names can be added to the finishing badge that every runner receives, offering a new way to connect the community and invite others in. Being in the midst of an emphasis on social engagement, the badges make it easier for runners to share their experiences and curate an online showcase of their accomplishments.

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Personally, I’m excited about the ability to store my accomplishments digitally in one place, especially considering that now just two months into 2014, I’ve already got seven finisher medals and no good way to display them online.

Ultimately, the running community is a strong one; a massive group of people that love being active and inviting outsiders to join them. In the digital world, I’m not sure what more could be done to bring such an offline community online than a way to join peers in accomplishments that nobody outside the community could ever understand.

So to answer the question of why we run, it’s because we’re runners. It’s what we do.

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The Business of Edcuation

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My general disdain for the money made from higher education has been pretty evident, if it hasn’t, just browse through the education category over on the left. Typically my focus is on student loans, the impact that students are left to deal with in the pursuit of a decent education, but today I’m taking a slightly different route.

Thanks to the Western Carolinian, the student newspaper at Western Carolina University, today I’m focused on how the money is being spent by the institution. Before I get started though, I will clarify: the issue I’m addressing in this post is not that money is being spent, but how it is being spent.

Having established that, the inspiration for this post comes from a recent article published by the Western Carolinian in regard to the 2020 Vision Plan for WCU, and the impact that a potential parking garage would have on students, staff and faculty.

Parking garages are expensive, they must be managed and maintained, just like any other facility. I get that. Considering the growth that WCU has experienced over the last few years, I’m not one to disagree with the notion that a parking garage is probably a smart idea for the preservation of the campus and the community. In this case, I’d personally much rather see one structure a short distance from campus that could provide solid parking options for students without paving over the whole landscape.

There is one thing however that sticks out to me though, and an issue that I believe should be a more intricate part of the planning well beyond 2020, and should be considered as we head into 2014.

The faculty and staff of WCU have not received a raise in their salary since 2008, and some of them are upset that their parking fees will go up in order to compensate for the garage. Renee Corbin, director of assessment, even talked about parking further away from campus or making a deal with local business, for a fee. If the faculty and staff are to pay more per year for parking or other fees in order to accomplish the 2020 Vision plan, without a pay raise, they have every right to be frustrated.

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I can’t imagine that Western is the only school with this problem, not necessarily directly related to a parking garage, but the idea that faculty aren’t seeing pay raises for the work and dedication given to the institutions they serve, as money continues to be spent on expansion projects and useless campus “beautification”.

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Where my problem with the situation goes deeper, is the fact that all of this money is spent, but programs continue to be cut, class sizes increase as classes are cut from programs, and the blame is placed on money and budgeting despite expansion and beautification projects.

Yes, growth is good. I’m not saying that it isn’t, but should the quality of education, and the quality of programs offered be driven into the ground just so the students can have a new fountain or new campus directional signs?

The simple answer is no. At institutions of higher education, something inside me says that we should be focusing on maintaining a competitive level of education, not making things pretty. There are programs at WCU that have scaled back so much, that they hardly resemble the programs that students initially came to the school for.

On a larger scale, the problem with education across the country, high schools and colleges alike, is coming from how money is being spent. At some point, the focus needs to be on advancing what is best for students, or these institutions need to quit pretending to be focused on education.

Yes, I included high schools because North Carolina can’t seem to get anything right in terms of budgeting for education, which may or may not come from the fact that all the people making real decision have no idea what it’s like to work in the actual education system.

Teachers, professors, faculty and staff, they all deserve respect from the students they serve, but they deserve even more from the systems that they are working for.

If education were actually the focus of higher education, I’d be willing to bet money that many of the problems we’re facing would seemingly fix themselves. But when you’re more concerned with the way something looks than how it operates, then no, none of these problems are ever going to be solved.

Education is a business. It’s time the employees were shown that they are appreciated, not just being used to bring in more money under the facade of helping develop the future.

As always, that’s just my two cents and I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, but where I do think we can come together is in the idea that a change needs to be made to the system as a whole; something is broke, it’s time we fixed it.

The Art of Alienation: Photo Series

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What makes something beautiful is always left to the individual, but what makes a photo great is entirely different.

The strongest pieces don’t inspire happy feelings, but rather force you to question what is happening. To go a step further the question must be based on your own self reflection, and not the piece in front of you.

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To me, that is what makes a strong piece, and there is nothing that brings out those feelings better than photographed alienation. Provocative loneliness speaks to everyone, because it’s what we all fear.

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As the cultural shift toward emphasized storytelling continues, explore your own alienated self, because you could be surprised by what you find.

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United Glitch is Huge Win

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You may or may not have heard, but United Airlines has stepped up in one of the classiest moves I’ve seen in response to a website glitch.

The glitch? Last Thursday, United’s website offered flights for $0. For the price of a security fee, you could travel the country for little more than pocket change. That’s right, $5 flights.

The best part of the story though, came with the company’s announcement that it would actually honor the tickets sold during the glitch. You may think that it’s a no brainer, but when there are potentially thousands of dollars being lost, the decision to honor the tickets is huge.

So why would United agree to lose all that money? Not only because the glitch was their fault, but now United has elevated themselves in the role of the good guy as traveling seems to get more expensive. What could be a better way to boost your brand’s customer service than by acknowledging a mistake and allowing effected customers to reap the benefits?

Ultimately, the United ticketing glitch is a win for everyone. Those lucky customers that frantically bought cheap tickets will get travel experiences they otherwise wouldn’t have had, and United got press from every news outlet in the country while soaring to the top in customer experience.

Glitches like this obviously don’t happen everyday, but if you aren’t traveling then you’ll never see an opportunity like it. If nothing else, use this as the sign that your life needs a little more travel in it, and go on an adventure.

Don’t Do It: Juice Cleanse

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I like juice. I like being clean. A juice cleanse can’t be that bad, right?

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

This isn’t our first bout with juice cleanses, Paige has done one before, but with the amount of ginger and vegetables that I wouldn’t eat even if they were in a salad with a whole bottle of ranch on them, I couldn’t do it.

Why change my mind? New product meant a new taste, I thought that was a pretty safe assumption. So with the wedding three weeks away, and wanting to look our best, I agreed that I would try the juice cleanse too, that it couldn’t be that bad, and we would pursue our best bodies together.

On the menu: Juice Press raw/organic juices. The Pink Punk, from the picture above, was my introduction to the newest option. It has pineapple, strawberry, and beet juice, a strange combination, but a good one.

Only problem with the Pink Punk… The way it punches you in the throat when the ginger kicks in.

Ginger is supposed to help quell hunger, to manage how hungry you feel and trick you into thinking that you’re full. Despite how much I hate it, I have to admit that I think it works, since the Pink Punk and a handful of chips is basically all I ate yesterday, and felt full.

Other than the ginger, I haven’t figured out how to stomach the green juices, from any company, without feeling like I want to vomit. It’s as if I want to like it, but after the third drink I’m looking for the steak and potatoes to offset the sudden influx of veggies sloshing their way through my stomach.

Luckily, I picked up a new box of Clif Bars, just in case, so there is something other than the juices for me to find some type of sustenance. In the end, the juice cleanse isn’t an awful option for halfway healthy, quick weight loss and weight management. I, however, will remain firm in my belief that really you can eat whatever you want as long as you burn the calories.

If you put in the food, you have to put in the work, and if you’re willing to do that, you get to enjoy food and life.