Trails & Trials: When Trails become Trials

(This post is a part of a regular series “Trails & Trials,” a monthly adventure series inspiring others to experience the physical, mental, and social benefits of cycling, running or swimming in Central Texas. For more posts in this series, click here: Trails and Trials.  – ALW)

By Natasha van der Merwe

The big day had come, July 15th. The day of the 10th Annual TriWaco triathlon which takes place in the heart of Waco. We get to swim in the Brazos river, ride on the roads surrounding the Baylor University campus and run through Cameron Park and its daunting hills. All in the middle of July, which brings sweltering temperatures typically topping out at around 100 degrees for the day.

Preparation is taken seriously as putting all of the above together is no easy task. Many that stood on the shores ready to jump in the water at 6:30am that morning were also undertaking their first triathlon. We all do our best to prepare for all three different sports – swimming, biking and running – but when it comes to putting it all together, race day can bring in a number of new unforeseen challenges.

I have been competing in this sport for just over 10 years, 9 of them as a professional triathlete. Each race is a new experience which turns this sport into a lifelong endeavor. With the ever changing courses, conditions, competition, ones own fitness, and race adversity, one can never be too prepared. Unfortunately, what happened at Tri Waco for me this year was a touch of misfortune. Everyone will encounter a bit of misfortune sometime in their sporting careers.

My original goal going into the race was to give it my all and end up one step ahead of my competitors. This was not to be. 8 miles into the bike leg, and in the lead of the race, I encountered my first flat tire in my 10 years of racing. There were little shards  of glass on the road in which I just happened to ride straight over, slicing my tire. I don’t race with a flat repair kit, so my only option at that point was to pull over to the side of the road. 30 minutes later Bicycle World’s Support vehicle carrying spare tubes, found me on the course, and assisted me to get back on the road.

Some might have called it a day, saving their legs to get back into their next training block.

In this case, I made the decision that instead of bemoaning my bad luck on the side of the road, I was going to figure out a way to still benefit from this experience.  One often learns more from our setbacks than our successes.

Here are five ways to turn what might have been a bad race into a good outcome:

Be Flexible With Your Goals

One reason many triathletes are disappointed with their races is that they have only one goal for the race, such as setting a personal best or placing in a certain position in their division. When they don’t achieve that goal, they think they have had a bad race. Often those negative thoughts will overwhelm them during the race.

A better approach is to start every race with a series of goals. Start with the absolute best outcome you can reasonably hope for. That will be your “A” goal. A “B” goal, will be to just do one’s best in face of fierce competition which will still be great, and a  “C” goal, is in the face of any adversity on the course one still finishes. This will still be an accomplishment for you on that day. That flexibility in your goals will help you to stay motivated and keep pushing during the race.

For example, on this day, my A goal was to win the race. As soon as I flatted, I turned to a new goal of turning my race into a training day. Not only did I benefit from some great fitness training finishing the race which was a 1500 meter swim, 25 mile bike and 10k hilly run, but I also got a fantastic preview of what I would experience at the end of October when I come back to race the much anticipated Waco 70.3 Ironman.         I now have those hills in Cameron park fresh in my memory as I prepare my running legs to stay strong through the half marathon that we will have to run that day.

Turn your thoughts away from yourself

I personally think that this is the number one strategy in overcoming any adversity in a race. Don’t throw yourself a pity party but instead immediately switch your thoughts to “what can I do for others”.  This will immediately lighten the mood, as you look around and realize there is always more to life than one race, and the attempt at supporting others always makes you feel better.

In the case of this race, I had flatted by riding over broken glass on the course. After pulling off to the side of the road, knowing I could not fix the flat, I laid my bike in the grass on the side of the road and proceeded to clear all the glass by picking it up with my hands piece by piece, which hopefully helped avoid future flats for my fellow competitors. While doing so, I also had the opportunity to see my fellow Bicycle World Racing Team mates come by along with other athletes I know in Waco and I excitedly cheered them on, telling them all how great they looked and how they were closing in and catching anyone in front of them. While doing so I was able to see the enjoyment they were having racing, which gave me that encouragement that I needed to finish the race once my tire was fixed by the support vehicle.

Appreciate the amazing crowd support

When I am typically racing all out, I am usually so focused on the task at hand that I sometimes fail to really appreciate all the spectators and volunteer support that is out on the course. Having the flat tire and taking a step back to just finish the course at a more leisurely pace allowed me to take in all the funny signs and bobble heads of their friends that they are supporting. I also took the opportunity to thank all the volunteers that were standing in the day’s 90-100 degree heat. Volunteers handing us water, Gatorade and ice towels all why throwing in a few encouraging words as you run by them. Without all that support, there would be no race. The level of gratitude that I carried that day rose to a new level resulting in a ton of joy for the experience that I was having.

Reflect on What You Accomplished

After every race, don’t forget to pick out all the positives of your race as you reflect on your accomplishment. In this race, I was extremely excited with how I felt in the swim, being less than a minute behind the leaders. This has given me more confidence in my training which is building excitement for my upcoming races. I was also proud that I never gave up, and there is nothing that can beat that feeling of accomplishment of finishing something you start, especially when you maintain a positive mindset throughout.

Start Thinking About Your Next Race

There are no failures, just feedback for future training sessions and lessons learnt for future races. All race experiences, good or bad, are always building blocks for a better future. I walked away from my TriWaco experience extremely excited to tackle the Waco 70.3 in October. From the downtown course with a homely feel with the camaraderie that is always had between fellow athletes on the course, and the sidelines filled with family and friends. You cannot walk away from a race like this and not feel rejuvenated and motivated to tackle yet another one. There is nothing quite like this experience to make you feel like you are living your best life.

Come out and watch us on October 28th in Waco for the 70.3 Ironman. You might just get the motivation you need to be on the start list next year.

Natasha van der Merwe is originally from South Africa. She is mom to a 19-month old girl, former professional tennis player and tennis instructor, and a professional triathlete representing Bicycle World and Waco Running Company.  She has multiple top 10 finishes in Ironman and 70.3 events around the world. She is Director of Team Programs for Bicycle World, Texas

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.


A Pencil

By Ashley Bean Thornton

Is there anything in this world more hopeful and full of promise than brand new school supplies?  The smell of a new box of colors.   A brand new sharp pencil full of letters and words and pictures and numbers waiting to be set free.  A bright, clean spiral notebook ready to be filled with ideas, and dreams, and problems, and scribbles about who “hearts” who “4-evah,” and drawings of houses and families and fast cars and rockets and dinosaurs.   To all the grown-ups out there…if you have forgotten the joy and power of school supplies, you have forgotten a precious thing.

A few months ago, the Act Locally Waco book group decided to read and discuss the book “Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom” by Lisa Delpit. We had heard through the grapevine that our (then new) WISD school superintendent, Dr. Marcus Nelson, had recommended it to principals in the district, so we put it on our list.  On a whim, I decided to invite him to our book discussion, and lo and behold, he came!  We had a thought-provoking conversation about heavy issues affecting our schools…and more to the point…our children.  I will confess I left the discussion feeling overwhelmed with the complexity and magnitude of the challenges before us.

In the course of the conversation, Dr. Nelson mentioned a poem about a child and a pencil that he thought made an important point…

‘Cause I Ain’t got a Pencil

By Joshua T. Dickerson (reprinted with permission from the author)*

I woke myself up
Because we ain’t got an alarm clock
Dug in the dirty clothes basket,
Cause ain’t nobody washed my uniform
Brushed my hair and teeth in the dark,
Cause the lights ain’t on
Even got my baby sister ready,
Cause my mama wasn’t home.
Got us both to school on time,
To eat us a good breakfast.
Then when I got to class the teacher fussed
Cause I ain’t got a pencil.

This poem is a prism.  When you look into it one way all you see is poverty.  It can leave you feeling sad and overwhelmed. When you look at it another way you see a bright, capable kid solving problems and figuring out what it takes to keep on keeping on.  She (or he) is exasperated with the rest of us because we can’t see that if we would just help her out a tiny bit with a pencil she could get on with the business of getting an education.

Ramona Curtis who works in the Department of External Affairs at Baylor starts each school year by joining the NAACP to welcome and cheer on the young scholars at J. H. Hines Elementary on the first day of school.   For a few years now, she has noticed that even with the many, many wonderful school supply drives throughout our community there were still too many kids coming to school without supplies.  Several conversations with the principal and outreach coordinator at Hines confirmed that school supplies are a big issue.  Even when kids have enough in August, they often run out long before the school year is over.  I’m sure teachers do fuss at kids who don’t have pencils – I know I did when I was a teacher! – but teachers also routinely dig into their own pockets to provide supplies for their kids.  There never seems to be enough to make it to the end of the school year.

With all this in mind, this year Ms. Curtis is working through the Solid Gold Neighbor Initiative at Baylor along with numerous organizations throughout the community to organize a school supply “power” drive.  The goal of this project is to make sure that the five Transformation Zone schools (Brook Avenue Elementary, J. H. Hines Elementary, Alta Vista Elementary, Indian Spring Middle School and G. W. Carver Middle School) who already have so much on their plates this year, do not have to worry about school supplies.

Ms. Curtis and her team visited with the principals at each of the five schools to make a list of the supplies needed for the whole school for the whole year. They got back numbers like 996 boxes of crayons, 2500 glue sticks, 12000 pencils, etc.

Now they are working through churches, sororities and fraternities, non-profits, local businesses and every other kind of organization they can think of to gather those supplies and deliver them directly to the schools to be divvied up among the teachers and distributed as needed with discretion and discernment throughout the school year.

The Solid Gold Neighbor program has made it easy for you to participate.  You can donate money directly by clicking on or by texting BUSGN to 41444.  Follow the Solid Gold Neighbor Facebook page for updates about how to donate school supplies and what supplies are still needed. Or contact Ramona Curtis at  to see how your business or organization can join in!

Not all problems can be solved with a pencil. But sometimes a pencil – or a box of markers, or some paper, or a glue stick — makes a big difference. We have bright, capable kids in Waco ISD. Many of them face tough situations every day and yet resiliently get to school anyway and go about the work of learning the best they know how to do.  We have some significant challenges in our schools, and it will not doubt take time to chip away at most of them, but one thing we can do right now is to make sure there’s a pencil available when a kid needs one.  Let’s do that!

* You can follow Joshua T. Dickerson on his Facebook page, “Joshua T. Dickerson Speaks,” or on Twitter: @joshtdickerson

This Act Locally Waco blog post is by Ashley Bean Thornton, she has lived in Waco almost 20 years now. Far longer than she ever lived anywhere else. She likes to walk. If you see her out walking, honk and wave and say, “Hi!”

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.



Sustainable Waco: 10 Steps to Renew Your Commitment to Recycling

By Anna Dunbar

  1. Half is better than none.

You may be new to Waco curbside recycling. Start with paper and plastic water, soda, and juice bottles!  Once you establish a habit, start adding other recyclables such as shampoo and detergent bottles, flattened cardboard, magazines, and aluminum and tin cans.

  1. You can recycle glass in Waco.

Glass bottles and jars (as well as other recyclables) can be taken to the Cobbs Citizen Convenience Center (Recycling Center) by anyone, regardless of residency. The center is open on Tuesday – Saturday from 8 AM until 5 PM.

  1. Look beyond the daily paper.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, paper and cardboard are America’s most recycled materials by weight. The Waco curbside recycling program and Cobbs Recycling Center accept newspaper, corrugated cardboard, cereal and tissue boxes, mail, catalogues, and phone books. The Cobbs Recycling Center accepts those items from anyone, no matter their place of residency.

  1. Close the Loop

The recycling process doesn’t stop at the Waco blue curbside cart! After materials are processed and back on the shelf as new items, it is up to you to buy recycled products. Look for products and packaging with recycled content to do your part as a recycling-conscious consumer.

  1. Recycling: it’s not just in the kitchen.

Don’t trash your detergent and shampoo bottles!  Take a few extra steps to put your empty bottles in your blue Waco curbside recycling cart pr take them to the Cobbs Recycling Center.

  1. Know your limits.

Putting materials in your blue recycling cart that aren’t collected from curbside contaminates the recycling process. Items that are common mistakes in curbside recycling carts include Styrofoam, food contaminated cardboard, such as a pizza boxes, chip bags, ziplock bags, juice boxes, and straws. All of those items go into the grey trash cart.

  1. Answer the call to recycle your wireless phone!

More than 100 million cell phones retire each year to sit in our drawers or closets, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Do you have out-of-use mobile phones in your home? Consider donating them to a local charity or retail outlet that collects cell phones. Before you drop off your old cell phone, make sure that you have terminated your service contract for the phone and erased any data in the phone. Target Greatland has a drop-off box at the door closest to the pharmacy. The Waco Family Abuse Center accepts cell phones at its thrift store, Second Chance. And finally, the Cobbs Recycling Center accepts cell phones from Waco residents only.

  1. Recycling: don’t exclude your leaves and grass clippings!

Waco residents can request a green (yard waste) cart at no extra charge. The yard waste cart is collected every other week on your trash day. To request a cart go to or call (254) 299-2612.

  1. Recycling: don’t exclude your food.

Start composting your food waste at home. If you aren’t quite ready for a compost bin or pile, consider tossing a few biodegradable items into your garden or window boxes instead of the trash. Egg shells and coffee grounds enrich soil and break down easily. Or you can join the “blue bucket brigade” associated with  Mission Waco’s Urban Renewable Energy & Agriculture Project.  If you would like to donate food waste, mainly plant material, for compost, you can pick up a blue bucket at Mission Waco’s Urban R.E.A.P at 1505 N. 15th Street.

  1. Spread the word.

Now that you’re an expert recycler, consider hosting an educational recycling event in your neighborhood. Keep Waco Beautiful (KWB) or Waco Solid Waste can help with educational materials and assistance. Contact KWB at (254) 723-5714 or Waco Solid Waste Services at (254) 299-2496.

Still have questions? Contact me at or call Waco Solid Waste at (254) 299-2612.

Para informacion en Español: (254) 299-2612

Anna Dunbar is the Environmental Program Manager for the City of Waco Public Works. She is responsible for informing Waco residents and businesses about recycling and waste reduction opportunities as well as solid waste services in Waco. Her husband is a Baylor professor and her daughter is a Baylor University alum who works at Horizon Environmental Services, Inc. Anna is an active member of Keep Waco Beautiful and The Central Texas Audubon Society.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.


Deshaun is his name…

By Meg Wallace

Deshaun is his name.

He was running in the grass alongside Highway 6 west of College Station. Alone. Looked to be about five years old.

I said, “That can’t be right,” and I pulled onto the shoulder with traffic whizzing by at 75 miles an hour. Robin and I got out of the car, and I slowly walked toward the running boy, holding my arms wide. He ran toward me, and I squatted down, put my hands on his shoulders, and asked his name.

“Deshaun,” he said.

“My name is Meg. This is Robin. Where’s your mama, Deshaun?”

He fidgeted, then pointed. “Car.”

“Was your mama in a car? Where were you before you were running?”

“Car.” He started to walk toward the highway. I moved to block him. He was pointing at my car.

“Do you want to get in the car?”

“Yes. Car.”

Of course. It was over 100 degrees. No telling how long he had been running.

We walked to the car, buckled him in, and gave him water. He was dressed in a spotless white T-shirt and shorts, his hair in two neat braids joined on the top of his head. He was wearing no shoes. We said we would see if we could find his mama. We drove to the next exit, a mile or two away, and pulled into the first gas station. We bought him a corn dog, then called 911. We could tell the dispatcher very little. Deshaun wasn’t able to help us understand. We suspected he was autistic.

After the police arrived (and Deshaun leaned into me and made anxious sounds when one of the police officers spoke to him), we found a quiet corner of the store. He pressed the lever on the Coke machine and was sprayed with sticky soda; tried to grab a couple of toy guns, which I moved out of reach; then carefully set down his corn dog and water and pulled a plastic dinosaur from the toy display. I noticed that the dinosaur was packaged with bubbles. Good choice, Deshaun. We blew bubbles while the police sorted things out. When I was distracted talking to the police, he solved the problem of a too-large bubble wand by pouring some bubble soap into a larger plastic cap so he could dip the wand in.

Not long after, his mother came around the corner with the police officers. She was overcome, beside herself with relief, but she gathered herself to explain to the officers that she had only fallen asleep for a moment, then woke up and he was gone. The police took her back around the corner to speak with her while we continued to play with bubbles, then another woman came, his mother’s roommate, and thanked us. She said that Deshaun is autistic.

His mother came back, thanked us, and gave each of us a long, emotional hug. Then she and her friend and Deshaun left with the police to go back to the house, where they could exchange information in case Deshaun goes on another adventure in the future.

Deshaun never looked at or greeted his mother. He expressed no recognition that she had returned.

I am thankful for police officers who understood. One of them was named Goodheart.

And I am overwhelmed by the vulnerability of little Deshaun and his mother.

Longtime freelance writer and editor Meg Wallace began her career shift by completing her Master’s in Social Work at Baylor in May, then launched the Amberley Collaborative to cultivate caring communities in Waco and beyond. Learn more about the Collaborative at

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.