Friday, December 22, 2006


Jenna, Corinne and I left for Chiapas on Monday night after everyone else left for the DF. We got back from Chiapas last Sunday, early in the morning. Our trip went fabulously; we didn't run into a single hitch. We first went to San Cristobal de las Casas were we stayed in the backpacker's hostel some friends recommended. We met some cool people, enjoyed the campfire the hostel had each night, and sauntered around the town for two days. We got to see the last, and most important, I think, day of the fiestas for the Virgin of Guadalupe. San Cristobal has a church in the virgin’s honor so people do pilgrimages there from all over the region.

Masses of people visiting the Temple of Guadalupe.

Men in traditional dress walking to the temple.

We saw lots of tired, dirty people trekking into town, some jogging, some walking, some barefoot, some with shoes, and of all ages. They were shouting and chanting cheers for the Virgin. It was quite a sight.

Pilgrims arriving by foot.

The truck that accompanied the running pilgrims.

San Cristobal was quite the eclectic city, with lots of foreigners from around the world who have settled there. Many also seem to have opened alternative restaurants (i.e. not traditional Mexican fare). We ate a couple delicious vegetarian meals in cool restaurant or cafe environments. Our basic approach to the time in San Cristobal was relaxed. We spent lots of time sitting in restaurants chatting after meals and then heading out to meander around. We spent a good bit of time in the market looking for the perfect gifts at the perfect prices. We also visited the Mayan medicine museum, which was super cool. It was really interesting to learn about various treatments and rituals, especially about the process for delivering a baby.

We also visited San Juan Chamula, a little town outside San Cristobal. The church was as amazing as our friends had said it would be. It was cool to see the people walking around in their traditional sheep fur coats and skirts. They kind of looked like gorilla costumes, to be honest.

A family in traditional dress. The man's vest and the woman's skirt are of the sheep skin I mentioned above.

The police force in San Juan Chamula appointed specifically to to keep the peace during the fiestas of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

After San Cristobal, we headed to Palenque. Having been warned about the twisty road, we all took Dramamine and proceeded to spend the day totally drugged. We slept like rocks and could hardly open our eyes for the entire 5-hour trip. We arrived in Palenque and found the tourist cabin haven we were looking for. We paid a completely unfriendly woman to stay in a grass-roofed cabin, had lunch, and then zonked out again for the entire afternoon and night.

The next day we got up early and headed to the Mayan ruins. We spent four hours wandering around resisting the temptation to pay a guide to tell us what we were seeing and consequently making our own *very scientific* interpretations/speculations of what we were observing. The ruins were absolutely amazing. They were HUGE and there were TONS of them. It was right up there with Teotihuacán and the fact that it was also in the jungle probably tipped it over and made it the number one ruins site for me.

Various temples at the ruins.

A carving of a mayan figure.

Jenna, I, Corinne on top of one of the temples with more ruins behind us. To the left are the temples in the first picture and to the right is the palace.

After the ruins we went to two waterfalls, one really tall one with a huge swimming hole in front called Misol-ha (which apparently means waterfall in chol, the main indigenous language), and another wider one called Agua Azul. In both, the water was a beautiful sea foam green color. We got wet going behind Misol-ha and then at Agua Azul we wandered upstream, passing tons of little waterfalls, until we found a nice place to swim.


Corinne, Jenna and I in front of Agua Azul.

Looking downstream at Agua Azul.

We returned to Palenque for the evening, dropping Corinne off at the bus stop, and then Jenna and I spent time at our cabin site. We ate in the lively restaurant, listened to the band play, and watched the "fire show," people swinging ropes with burning charcoal-type things on the end in pretty patterns, before going to bed.

Our last day we got up and talked to Paco, the friendly tourism man, about taking a tour through the jungle. Paco works in Mayan medicine so he had offered us a plant tour of the forest. We headed off on what was supposed to be a three-hour tour, but ended up being a 5-hour trip. We trampled through the jungle, usually off paths, and Paco showed us useful plants and told us about all the people he'd successfully cured. He also showed us ruins that aren't preserved by anyone. We saw lots of stone structures covered in trees and undergrowth. There were pieces of pottery just lying around on the ground, which was neat to see. We also got to see a temple that is still almost totally intact, an underground aqueduct and underground temple.

Jenna in the jungle temple.

As far as jungle life goes, we saw a huge, spider, apparently it was poisonous, and a bunch of monkeys. The monkeys were really cool. Paco made these weird monkey sounds and they started to come down the trees closer to us. We saw a macho, two females and a baby. We also almost got peed and pooped on by one of them, which was kind of an interesting experience.

Howling monkeys in the trees above us.

After emerging from the jungle quite tired and hungry, we had lunch and then headed back to the woods to swim in a waterfall we'd seen. It was a neat little one, easy to climb up and with lots of little pools to sit in.

We arrived home Sunday morning after our 11-hour bus ride. Getting out of the bus was quite the shock. We left Palenque on a warm, humid evening, and arrived in Puebla on a COLD, dark morning.

Jenna left about midday Sunday and I returned to my house with the hopes of sleep. However, my friend Gerardo called and invited me to go with him and his cousin, Julio, to some little town on the other side of the volcanoes and I felt like I couldn't turn down the chance to see more of Mexico. I went and spent the whole day trekking around with the two of them and his cousin's mom. We were officially looking for land for his cousin to buy, but we really spent most of the time doing other things. We went to a market for some special meat my host mom wanted, ate there (I didn't get sick afterwards, yea!), and went to a park to film something for the Julio's comedy show on TV. Julio went swimming in the sulfur baths, we ate at a restaurant run by some friends of their family, and then went back to Chipilo to eat a cake with Gerardo's family. At midnight I finally got home exhausted.

I slept all day Monday, through the banging and shouting of construction workers redoing my bathroom. I was exhausted and head a headache so I spent some of my hours awake trying to ignore my fear that I might have contracted dengue fever in the jungle. I took malaria medicine, but there isn’t much you can do for dengue fever except wear bug dope and hope for the best. Fortunately I woke up feeling much better on Tuesday (I guess there are a million explanations for being tired and having a headache, a perfect one being an overnight bus ride followed by a day that didn’t end until midnight), so my fear has passed.

Tuesday was the wedding anniversary of my host parents so the evening was full of surprises. Gerardo and I made an apple crumb pie for them, which turned out to be my best apple pie yet, and my host sister from Tijuana and her two kids came early for Christmas to surprise my parents. It was a fun evening.

I think my next blog entry will be dedicated to Christmas festivities, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

It's been a long time

Wow! So I’m way behind on blogging. That seems to happen easily. I just realized the last time I wrote was November 18. That was a bit over a month ago! I’ll try to give a quick run through of things that have happened since then:

1. We had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner at our director’s house. We made pumpkin, apple, and chocolate pecan pies; they all turned out deliciously. We also had homemade cranberry sauce (very tasty!) and Pillsbury crescent rolls. Each of these items required an ingredient from the states: the canned pumpkin, the canned cranberries, the cranberry relish, and the dough for the crescent rolls. We didn’t trust a Mexican chef to make the pies following an American recipe (they don’t really have many pies here) and since pies are one of the most important parts of the Thanksgiving meal, if not THE most important part, we decided we’d better do them ourselves. Plus, making pies is fun. I made an apple pie with a crumb topping and my mom’s crust recipe and it was a big hit. I think I’m finally getting the hang of making the crust right, even without all the exact ingredients and utensils!

A caterer provided the rest of the meal. It wasn’t the same, of course, as a Thanksgiving dinner in the states, but it was still tasty. Mostly it was just nice to spend a family-style evening all together.

2. We had our first dance performance. We danced with the Ballet Folklorico during Puebla's international arts festival. We only danced one dance, the wedding dance, but it was still fun. Performing is what inspired most of us to take the class, so it was nice to finally see our work pay off.

Before the show: Jenna, Me, Christina, Maribel, Cassandra, Lauren, Naihomy. Maribel is one of our student helpers. She is also in the dance group and is an amazing dancer. She's dressed for a different dance. The rest of us are ready for the wedding dance. Jenna and I, in the multicolored shals, dance as part of the grooms's family. The three in the red and white are in the bride's family. Cassandra, in the white blouse with the colored embroidery, is playing the part of the bride.

The wedding. The priest is marrying the couple in this part.

Here, the groom's family is dancing in a circle around the bride. This happens after the two are married.

3. After having such a wonderful time at our Halloween costume party, we convinced Patricia to let us host another party in her house. We had an Alice and Wonderland un-birthday party for all of the students who don’t have birthdays while we’re here. We made the decorations and food and invited all our friends.

Some of the decorations.

The party was a big hit! Almost all of us and some of the guests dressed up as Alice and Wonderland characters. We had some pretty good costumes!

My host brother, Moises, as the nine of spades, and I, as the Cheshire cat.

Lauren, Queen of Hearts, me, Cheshire cate, Sarah, white rabbit, Cassandra, Mad Hatter, Naihomy, Queen of Hearts.

We had good dance music and danced all night long. I also made a few new friends; people others in the group invited.

Two of them showed up in full donkey costumes (they said, “We know there are no donkeys in the movie, but it’s all we had”) and were quite the hit, dancing with everyone all night long.

Julio and Gerardo, the two goofy cousins in donkey costumes.

They were super goofy, so I got their phone numbers and have been spending quite a bit of time with the two of them since then. They’re cousins; Julio lives in the DF and Gerardo in Chipilo, a little cow farming town about 30 minutes from Puebla that was started by three Italian immigrants I don’t know how many generations ago (not too terribly many). The town still maintains a lot of Italian culture and many of the families who still live there just recently started marrying Mexicans from outside the town. For example, Gerardo’s dad is the first in his direct line to marry a Mexican woman. I’ve found that the two cousins are good people to know because they have lots of family events in various places around the region and they’ve invited me to go to several of them. For example, I went to a baptism, though actually we missed the baptism and just got to go to the big lunch afterwards. I was kind of disappointed because it was going to be my first baptism.

The end of the baptism, the part for which we arrived: Gerardo's sister, the happy couple and their baby, Gerardo and Julio.

The dinner was still fun though and I tried some weird foods made of various parts of cows: stomach again, blood, intestines; I don’t really know what all there was. It’s neat to see other parts of Mexico and to learn about various traditions through them. They’re also both super goofy and are always laughing and joking. They’re great friends to have.

4. I finished classes on December 8. The last week was a bit of a push, as always, though really nothing compared to the last weeks at Smith. I had a couple final papers, one of which my friend, Sarah, and I spent pretty much the whole weekend organizing and editing, a presentation, and some problems to do in lue of an exam. Our grades had to be turned in before the actual last day of classes, so I couldn’t take the scheduled calculus test. I had to get the problems done ahead of time as a substitute. It was a bit stressful to get everything done in time and I was finishing my dance paper up until the exact hour it was due, but in the end it all got done, as it always does. I also enjoyed myself at the physics end-of-the-year party. There was a piñata contest and a salsa dance contest. Both were neat to observe.

The salsa contest and piñatas.

Two of my friends from Math Methods, Carlos and Claudia, and I at the end-of-the-semester fiesta.

5. We had our end of the year party on the 8th. I played guitar with the two others in my class and danced with the others in the folkloric dance class. The guitar performance actually went pretty horribly for me, but the other two were amazing in covering for me. I had the melody and at one point just totally freaked and lost where I was. I stopped playing and they kept going. I came in later at a change in the song, but apparently came in with the wrong part. They however, were able to switch immediately to where I was and I don’t think anyone in the audience, except our teacher noticed. All the audience noticed was the part where I dropped out. I couldn’t thank my classmates enough!

The guitar class: Katy, Max and I.

The dance performance fortunately went a million times better. We performed three dances, two of them for the first time.

Naihomy, Christina, Jenna and I dancing picotas, a dance full of hopping.

The wedding dance. I'm on the far right.

The last and longest one was the one we were worried about, as we’d never done it with all the parts: our partners, our skirts, our high heels, the stone floor, light, and music. Amazingly, it went really well. I think everyone actually enjoyed themselves and there were no obvious flubs.

Dancing Sinaloa with all the components.

More Sinaloa.

My partner and I.

The rest of the dinner was a lot of fun. We broke open a huge piñata, though I don’t think anyone in the group got much candy because the professors stormed the goods and took everything. That was kind of strange.

Me trying to break the piñata.

The people I spent the most time with throughout the semester: Sarah, Lauren, Cassandra, me, Naihomy.

We also danced a bit and just generally had a good time together. Afterwards some of us finished the evening by watching “When Harry Met Sally,” one of my all time favorite movies, at Max’s house.

Raul, Max's host brother, Gerardo, me, Cassandra, and Jenna at Max's house.

6. Saturday night and Sunday I think we were all spending as much time as possible with the others in the group because almost everyone left on Monday the 10th. We made S’mores at Courtney’s house Saturday night; I had my last coffee date with Cassandra Sunday morning; we danced our last performance at midday; I spent the afternoon shopping and buying bus tickets to Chiapas with Jenna; we all got together in a café for a few hours in the afternoon; and then I was at Naihomy’s house until 2:30 in the morning, hanging out and sharing music.

Monday morning we all went to the bus stop to say goodbye. Everyone except Corinne, who was in the program two years ago and now works in the program office, Jenna, and I boarded the bus to Mexico City on the road home. It was really sad to see everyone go. I have had such a wonderful time with them and built some strong friendships I hope to maintain.

I spent the rest of the day getting ready for my much-awaited trip to Chiapas with Jenna and Corinne. We left that night at 7:00 to spend 12 hours on the bus. See the next post for details. :)

Saturday, November 18, 2006

A HUGE new telescope in Mexico

I originally learned about Smith’s program here in Puebla through my astronomy major advisor, James. We were discussing Junior Year Abroad and summer astronomy research possibilities. He told me that UMass was working with an astrophysics institute in Mexico to build a telescope about 2.5 hours away from Puebla and that he thought Smith had a study abroad program in Puebla. This got me looking and I found my program. I decided that since the program seemed to be a good match as far as what I wanted in a program and it just happened to be near a strong astrophysics institute, it was the right program for me. I hoped that being close to astronomy action would at least give me a chance to go to talks or see the new telescope, even though I probably wouldn’t be able to study astronomy, because the BUAP doesn’t have astronomy for undergraduates.

This past week, my astronomy hopes were filled. The engineering and main building stage of the new telescope, the Large Millimeter Telescope, is now finished and this week was the inauguration. All week there were astronomy talks at the INAOE (Instituto Nacional de Astrofísica, Óptica y Electrónica) and visits to the telescope, which is located on a dormant volcano in the Sierra Negra, about 2.5 hours away from the city of Puebla. I couldn’t go to the talks everyday because I still had class, but I did manage to go to one day of talks and to visit the telescope (thanks to arrangements made by my advisor).

On Tuesday, I went to the INAOE for the first day of talks. I caught the INAOE bus from the center of Puebla to Tonantzintla, where the institute is located. The bus arrived about halfway through the first talk, so I unfortunately didn't really understand what it was about. I did however, have a pleasant bus ride with two astronomers, a Cuban and an Italian. After the first talk, I met a representative from the Washington DC center of NASA as well as two UMass professors, one of which is the scientific director of the telescope for UMass. The other remembered that my professors had mentioned I am here and was very friendly. When he discovered I didn't have an invitation to the inauguration dinner Wednesday night (a formal, invitation-only event hosted by the govenor of Puebla), he made it his business to get one for me!

The UMass head of the project gave the next talk about the scientific capabilities of the telescope. I really enjoyed it and it was exciting to hear about what it's going to be able to do!! After the talk, I spoke again with the Cuban astronomer. Earlier in the bus, we had been talking about how much I like Puebla, my hope to stay in Mexico this summer to do astronomy research, and plans to network during the events. With all this in mind, he introduced me to the director of the INAOE and the Mexican director of the telescope project. The director of the INAOE was really excited about the idea of me working on research there this summer and introduced me to the director of astrophysics. Apparently they have some sort of undergraduate program with a specific school so at least they are used to the idea of having undergrads work there. The director of astrophysics said he would talk to some of the researchers to see what he can recommend and then will get back to me with their names. I'll then have to set up appointments with them to see if I like any of the projects and if I can be incorporated. I hope something works out!

After lunch, I went on a tour of the INAOE labs with quite the eclectic group: two Russians, one of whom spoke English and the other I'm not sure about, the Cuban, who spoke Spanish and Russian, the NASA representative, who only spoke English, and me. The first stop on the tour was at the observatory there at INAOE. The technician there only spoke Spanish. I was translating to English for the NASA rep. I thought the Cuban was also translating to English for the Russians, but then I realized I didn't understand what he was saying: he was speaking Russian! It was quite the trip! Fortunately, at the other stops on the tour, the guides spoke English so there weren't so many languages going on at once.

Our touring group, two Americans on the left, two Russians in the center, and a Cuban, all getting along perfectly, of course, despite our governments' policies.

We also got to see the semi-conducting and circuit lab and two projects the INAOE is working on for the Mexican Navy. We couldn't believe they just let us in and explained the navy projects to us! I don't think that would ever happen in the US. One of the projects is an observation and tracking instrument to mount on boats. It was pretty neat to see the actual instrument swiveling all around and then to see the control board and see what the instrument was seeing, track an object, zoom in and out, and measure the distance to the pyramid in Cholula from there. It's sad to think what the project will be used for, but the science was neat to see. The other project was a system for guided missiles. Both projects will be the first of their type to be produced here in Mexico. Apparently the projects themselves are not secret, only the software behind them.

The spy device for the Navy boats.

Our final stop was to see the huge measuring device they have for measuring the plates for the main mirror of the telescope, a machine for polishing the mirrors, a mold for the secondary mirror, and one of the sheets for the main mirror. Unfortunately we were pressed for time so we didn't get much of an explanation on how the measuring device works or details of the other things.

The measuring device

A sheet for the main mirror. The knobs below it are for hand tuning of its position, which I think means its curvature. The guide said they first position it with the knobs and then they use the measuring machine to do the final tuning.

Wednesday night I went to the official inauguration dinner for the LMT. It was quite the elegant affair. It was in the covered patio of a museum in Puebla and there were tons of people. The attire varied from men in black suits and women in gala dresses to men in simple button down shirts and women in suit pants and blouses. The Mexican director of the project, the Chancellor of UMass, the director of the INAOE, and the governor of Puebla all spoke. I thought the chancellor’s speech was the most interesting. He spoke in Spanish, which impressed all the Mexicans at my table. Since, as he said, he's not a scientist, his speech focused on the more human aspects of the project. The speech was very well written and was more of a literary work than a "pat on the back, let's all cheer and recognize how great Mexico is" type of speech, which is what the rest of them (appropriately) were. The chancellor's speech was delightful to the ear, full of description and emotion, and rather poetic. I really enjoyed it.

In addition to the speeches, we watched some videos about the project, some more informational than others. The least informational and most patriotic of the videos was one fireworks being shot off all around the telescope. It was a bit strange, but quite festive. The dinner was elegant and I sat at a table with a man from the Mexican Marines and several scientists who work at the INAOE.

Yesterday (Friday) was the most exciting day of inauguration events for me because I went to see the telescope! When we arrived in the little town at the base of the mountain, the top of the mountain was totally covered in clouds. Before we started our ascent we stopped at a school and got to look at a drawing contest the elementary school had had of pictures of the telescope. It was neat to see the children's drawings. The school apparently took them up to the site to see it up close.

One of my favorite drawings; it shows two concepts of astronomy in Mexican history.

After charging up on coffee, we got into the 4-wheel drive vans and started up the switchbacks, rising from about 10,000 feet to the top at a little over 15,000 feet. We quickly entered into the clouds. Upon our arrival at the summit, we could hardly make out the telescope the clouds were so thick. The workers distributed hard hats to everyone and we waited to get the "ok" to enter the telescope.

The telescope, barely visible through the clouds when we arrived.

Once we received the “ok”, we entered into the base of the LMT, into the subterranean level. Inside we saw the tertiary mirror, all wrapped up in protective materials, the secondary mirror, not so protected and the dormitory rooms.

The convex, secondary mirror. This mirror, once mounted, will be able to move to allow astronomers to point at different parts of the sky without having to move the entire telescope.

The dorm rooms can be closed off from the rest of the rooms and they will eventually be oxygen-controlled. The idea isn't that scientists will be up there long enough to need the rooms, a 10 hour shift is the maximum people are allowed because of the altitude, but in case there is a storm and it's not safe to come down or if someone isn't doing well because of the lack of oxygen, the rooms are there where they can sleep, make food, etc. The dormitory consisted of two bedrooms, each with several beds and bathrooms, a nice large kitchen, and a couple conference or multipurpose rooms.

I asked the guide about how the workers manage now with the lack of oxygen. I was happy to hear that many of the construction workers come from the towns around the mountain, where the people are already adapted to high altitudes. They received training to be able to do the specialized construction work at that altitude. It was nice to hear how the project has benefited the communities in the area, providing jobs and skills that will hopefully help the people find better jobs in the future.

After looking at the living spaces, we got to go up the second floor, which is even with the ground outside.

Me inside the telescope with the stairs behind me.

There we saw the motors and track to move the telescope in 360 degrees azimuth.

Motors and track.

Our guide told us that the whole structure is so well engineered that a single person can move the entire telescope around, just by attaching a rope and pulling. The UMass project director was there and informed us that earlier that morning they had successfully moved the scope around 360 degrees in both directions for the first time. They were doing the final preparations to test the altitude movement after we left. Exciting!

Because the astronomers were working in the control room, we didn't get to go up any higher inside the telescope. We went back outside and we saw one of the model panels they were installing in the primary mirror so they could test the movement without actually having the real panels in place. From what I understood, the interior two rows of panels for the primary mirror are the real ones. Outside of that, they are installing model panels of similar weight so they can do tests of motion. They were also pouring, or had already poured, I wasn't sure which, a special, super heavy concrete, into the area directly below the primary mirror to act as a counterweight to the huge disk. President Fox is going to the telescope next Wednesday and they are hoping to be able to make an observation for him. They have a camera rigged up where the secondary mirror will eventually be.

Just before we left, the clouds cleared just enough around the telescope that we could actually see the whole thing, clearly for a couple minutes, though we still couldn't see anything around the mountain except clouds.

Part of the telescope. You can see a person on the balcony on the right side, which gives a nice size comparison.

Me in front of the telescope.

Workers going up to work on installing the plates to the primary mirror in the “elevator,” ie the crane.

A sketch of my understanding of the inside of the telescope. If you "click" on this image you should be able to see a larger version in which you can actually see and read it.

We drove back down the mountain, through the clouds, feeling the air get thicker with ever turn.

The switchbacks as we headed down the mountain in the clouds.

I had a wonderful time at each event and it was such an honor to be present during the celebration of such a huge scientific project taken on by Mexico. It was great to meet so many scientists from around the world and to talk astronomy with them. And, to top it all off, I didn't even get altitude sickness (I think living and running at over 7,000 feet probably helped with that)!

Saturday, November 11, 2006

First Track Meet

This week I had my first track meet. October was the month of the Universiada, sports competitions between facultades at the university. I’m officially in the facultad of mathematical and physical sciences. I don’t think we had a team in any sport except in track. Four of us, three girls and a guy, competed for math and physics in track. The competition was two days; the first day I ran the 100-meter dash and the second day I ran the 200-meter dash and the 4x400-meter relay. I have never run the 100-meter dash in a race before. I don’t think I’m probably capable of running fast enough to ever be one of the best 100-meter racers. There were 6 runners in the race and I came in 4th. I didn’t have a chance at first, second, or third, but I think I was well placed in 4th. I didn’t come in last, which meant I accomplished my goal in that race.

The 100-meter dash.

In the 200-meter race, I was up against three runners I knew were very fast, I’d seen them run in the 400-meter dash, and another girl who I’d never seen run. I figured I’d come in way behind the top three and just hoped to come in before the other girl. The race started and one, then two girls flew past me. The third one passed me at the end of the curve, but I managed to stay with her and almost pass her before we crossed the line. She got third, but I think had we had another 10 feet in the race, I would have caught her. I was disappointed, but felt good to have come so close when I thought I didn’t have a chance.

A teammate and I watching the races.

After finishing this race, the other two physics girls approached me to see if I’d be willing to stay and run the 4x400 relay if we could find a fourth person to complete our physics team. I agreed (the 4x400 relay has always been my favorite race). I was skeptical that I’d be able to run well, since I expected the altitude would affect me more in this race than the 100 or 200 (the 100 and 200 are short enough that my body didn’t really have time to realize it didn’t have oxygen). The time for the race came and we decided I would run first. They wanted me to run last because they thought I’d be the fastest (which I was positive I wouldn’t be, even though the rest of them run 800 meters and above), but I convinced them to let me go first. I was also the only one who knew (sort of) how to start with blocks, so that made sense.

Me starting the 4x400 meter dash.

I was running against a high school girl who was running for the other relay (the rest of the girls were in college, but they needed a fourth and the high school girl is fast; she ran her 400 meter dash in 1:03 minutes!). There were only two teams running, so we were guaranteed at least second place. That was nice because I didn’t feel like there was any pressure. One of my quads hurt a little, so I figured I would just run as hard as I wanted without worrying too much about whether or not I stayed with the other girl, something I thought I had no chance of since she ran a 1:03 400 the day before.

The gun went off and I started running at a nice pace. The girl passed me and I thought, “oh well, there she goes.” Then I realized she wasn’t actually running that much faster than me. I actually had a chance of staying with her! I picked it up a bit and managed to stay with her pretty much the whole time. She handed off the baton a second before me: she ran a 1:04 and I a 1:05!! I was so surprised when my teammate told me my split. I practically started jumping up and down. Running a 400 in 1:05 was what I ran in high school (my best time was a 1:04) and it’s what I ran at the one meet I ran at Smith. I couldn’t believe that I managed to run that time here. I’ve been feeling totally out of shape and unable to run in practice because of the altitude. It was amazing to run that despite the lack of oxygen! I think I’m probably dying in practice because I’m running for a lot longer. I must have reached a point where a single 400 is now within my abilities while running three or four of them in practice is still out of my range. I guess there’s hope for me after all!

After my leg of the race, the next girl came in neck to neck with the other team’s runner. In the hand off of the baton, my team dropped the baton, so we lost about 100 meters on the other team. Needless to say, after that we got second place (which probably would have happened anyway because the last two runners on the other team won first and second in the college 400 meter dash). Still, we got medals and got to climb up onto the podium to receive them in the name of math and physics. It was pretty exciting! I now have a silver track medal from Mexico hanging on my wall. ☺

The first and second place teams on the podium.