Archive for the ‘Articles’ Category

Turtles to the Sea

Thursday, July 20th, 2017

A Loggerhead Marinelife Center staff member holds a baby loggerhead. Guests are not permitted to hold hatchlings.
Photo courtesy of Loggerhead Marinelife Center

August is a busy month for turtles in Florida. It’s a time when hatchling loggerhead, green and leatherback sea turtles continue to make their way to the ocean and begin their lives of adventure.

Organizations such as the free-admission, nonprofit Loggerhead Marinelife Center ( in Palm Beach County are dedicated to educating the public about sea turtles, protecting and rehabilitating them, and furthering sea turtle and ocean conservation.

As part of its mission, Loggerhead Marinelife Center’s staff monitors 9.5 miles of beach along the Atlantic, offers behind-the-scenes programs for the public, and operates a hospital for injured or sick sea turtles, nursing them to health until they can be released back into the wild.

Florida’s beaches are natural habitats for sea turtles. During nesting season, they are protected by federal law from human interference except by permitted professionals in centers across the country.

You can learn about sea turtles by visiting other state-permitted facilities.

Options include The Turtle Hospital in Marathon (, the Sea Turtle Preservation Society in Indialantic ( and Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratories in Panacea (

For additional listings of permitted facilities, see

“Loggerhead Marinelife Center is adjacent to one of the most densely populated sea turtle nesting beaches on our planet,” says Hannah Deadman, the center’s public relations and communications coordinator. “We encourage people to visit the center to learn about sea turtle and ocean conservation, and learn how simple steps—such as opting for reusable bags or water bottles—have the power to make a difference for our world ocean.”


Out of this World lists the latest launch information from Florida’s Space Coast.

On August 3, a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket will deploy a communications and data-relay satellite for NASA. On August 31, the alliance is sending up another Atlas V with a classified spacecraft payload.

United Launch Alliance is a 50/50 joint venture between Lockheed Martin and The Boeing Company. offers mobile apps for iPhone and Android that show the best locations to view launches.

The app is part of the Space Coast’s program to promote space-related tourists—also known as Vacationauts.


Be An Airport Insider
Hungry in the airport? Want to know real-time security waits? Check out these free mobile apps.

Florida native Pamela A. Keene is a freelance journalist who specializes in travel, gardening, personality and feature writing. The avid traveler also is a photographer and accomplished sailor. Her website is

A Promise to Never Forget

Thursday, July 20th, 2017

Two Pensacola firefighters climb some of the 110 flights of stairs during a past Panama City Beach Memorial Stair Climb.
Photo courtesy of the Panama City Beach News Herald

Firefighter pays tribute to those who died on September 11 with annual stair climb

For Panama City Beach Fire Captain Terry Parris, the events of September 11, 2001, were a defining moment.

A fireman since 1991, Terry watched the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center along with millions of other Americans, and promised himself the lives of the 343 firemen who died that day would not be forgotten.

In 2011, he fulfilled that promise.

“A few years after 9/11, I read an article about firefighters in Denver who climbed 110 stories to honor the first responders who died at Ground Zero,” says Terry. “That climb helped to support the mission of the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation, and I felt that a similar event here in Panama City Beach would be well-received. It took a lot of time and effort from a lot of caring people, and on September 11, 2011, the first Panama City Beach Memorial Stair Climb took place.”

Initially held at the 22-story Laketown Wharf Condos in Panama City Beach, participants climbed up and down the height of the condos five times—the equivalent of the 110 stories of the World Trade Center. This year’s event is at the Edgewater Beach and Golf Resort, with activities beginning Thursday, September 7. The climb is Saturday, September 9. The event is open to anyone who wants to climb. More than half the participants come from out of state. Last year, 545 people climbed.

Firefighter Cody Cothran of Hoover, Alabama, is one of them.
“I was a senior in high school on 9/1l and saw the attacks on the World Trade Center from a classroom,” says Cody. “For the next few months, I volunteered at the local fire department, and after graduation, I passed the firefighter exam.”

He has worked in fire service for 14 years, the past five in Hoover. Cody has participated in the Panama City Beach Stair Climb since its inception. He drives 250-plus miles south to climb in honor of fallen 9/11 firefighter Lt. Michael Quilty, who was in Tower 2 when the first plane hit.

A member of Ladder 11 of Brooklyn’s Borough Park firehouse, Quilty had been a firefighter for 20 years. He earned two unit citations, including the Fire Marshals’ Benevolent Association Medal in 1997. In an odd twist of fate, Quilty once visited Panama City Beach.

“In the late ’90s, Michael Quilty and his son were taking scuba diving lessons during a family vacation in Panama City Beach when a woman on her first dive panicked and began to ascend too rapidly,” says Cody. “Despite having known this woman for less than 10 minutes, he didn’t hesitate to risk his life and bring her to the surface. It was the same type of selfless act that would be repeated over and over again at Ground Zero.”

Hundreds of courageous acts were performed on 9/11 by first responders and civilians alike. Many of their stories will never be told. They were silenced forever when the twin towers fell.

The horrific death toll that day—2,606 in the World Trade Center, 265 on the four planes and 125 at the Pentagon—continues to increase 16 years after the attack due to the toxic dust spread and inhaled as the towers fell to the ground.

Just days after the attacks, firefighters, EMTs and civilians began arriving at New York’s Mount Sinai Hospital with severe respiratory problems.

“The symptoms these patients had were terrifying,” says Dr. Michael Crane, director of the hospital’s World Trade Center Health Program. “They would suddenly wake up and find they couldn’t breathe. Although we will never know the exact composition of the cloud of dust they inhaled, what we do know is that it had all kinds of god-awful things in it including jet fuel, plastics, metal, fiberglass and asbestos.”

In addition to respiratory problems, those who inhaled the toxic dust have suffered a number of other debilitating illnesses, including cancer. In 2014, an FDNY study revealed that cancer incidence among New York City firefighters at Ground Zero had increased by nearly 20 percent compared to firefighters who were not exposed.

The World Trade Center Health Program was reauthorized for an additional 75 years December 18, 2015.

“We must remember that the events of 9/11 have continued to exact a toll on every firefighter and first responder who was at Ground Zero that day, as well as the families of the 343 firefighters who died when the twin towers collapsed,” says Terry. “That is why we are committed to continuing the Memorial Stair Climb. Last year, nearly $30,000 was raised and submitted to the National Firefighters Foundation and First Responder projects from donations and climb registration fees.

“The incredible courage of the New York Fire Department in the performance of their duties on 9/11 is the reason the Panama City Beach Memorial Stair Climb began and the reason it will continue. Our goal is to ensure that the sacrifices these individuals made on that day will never be forgotten.”

To register for the 2017 Panama City Beach Memorial Stair Climb, visit

A Visual Love Letter

Thursday, July 20th, 2017

I watch for small, quiet moments that speak to the goodness of man and individual character rather than loud, decorated “religious” acts often performed to be seen. This tender scene of a young man walking two elderly women to their cars from a restaurant is such a moment.
Photo by David LaBelle

For 50 years, I have dreamed about photographing God.

In the past, I even kidded that when I died, I wanted my family to place a Nikon F camera loaded with 100 ASA film in the casket with me.

I figure I won’t need a fast film with a high ISO because there will be plenty of light, and I’d sure like to be the first to photograph heaven.

Indirectly, from the first days I picked up a camera, I have tried to photograph God by photographing His creation—be it the natural wonders of the world or the wonders of human creations.

Just as we photograph stunning rock formations in Utah, Arizona, Colorado or South Dakota—whose majestic cliffs have been shaped by countless years of breathing winds—we photograph an invisible God by photographing the influence of His Spirit on His creation.

Each of us carries the genetics—the DNA of our father.

I realize I must walk softly and carefully with this subject, and do so with sensitivity, recognizing there are many who do not share my beliefs. Please accept that this column is not meant to be a sermon, but a personal observation and ambition.

I do not mind admitting that when I witness humbling acts of altruism and love, my throat tightens and my eyes fill. In these quiet acts of compassion, I see my God every bit as much as when I behold a beautiful sunrise or sunset.

I have always been drawn to these genuine, not performed, moments. In them I see the goodness of mankind and the loving influence of God. In these mini stories, I feel the greatest joy and hope for humanity.

While some are drawn to photographing action sports, portraits or nature, I am drawn to quiet relationship scenes of love and compassion—things I often lack in my own life, but continually aspire to own.

My wife and I try to make pictures that reinforce the beauty and love of God on His creation, and try to avoid promoting the opposite.

For me, life looks very different at 65 than it did at 25. I’m confident it is a natural thing as we age to grow more introspective and more deliberate with what time we have left. In my youth, life was a smorgasbord and, like most, I wanted to sample everything.

I have loved many types of photography—from sports to nature, breaking news, celebrities and even some fashion—but lately, more than ever, my heart seeks to capture and share positive pictures that reinforce love and goodness and encourage hope, while glorifying our Creator.

It isn’t that I have not always tried to do this from the time I picked up a camera, but now with the acute recognition of the limited time I have left on this earth, there is an urgency not present 25 years ago.

I am forever reminded and keep this passage from Psalm 90 on the sleeve of my heart: “Teach us to number our days, that we might apply our hearts to wisdom.”

I photograph God when I record the golden morning light raking across the red earth or prairie grass of Oklahoma, or when evening clouds turn from white to yellow to crimson. I photograph God when I see birds drink the dew of the leaves or eat the crumbs left by man.

Mostly, I photograph God when I see His Spirit working in the lives of His children.

I don’t always love as I should, but often what I see through my lens challenges me to love more purely.

I wish every photograph I make to be a visual love letter to my God.

David LaBelle is an internationally known photographer, teacher, author and lecturer. He has worked for newspapers and magazines across the United States and taught at three universities. He applies many of the lessons he learned during his magical boyhood years in rural California to photography. For more information, visit

Appreciating Their Experienced Guide to Change

Thursday, July 20th, 2017

Visiting Washington, D.C., is a new experience for many Youth Tour students. Thankfully, they are led by someone who has been there before and is dedicated to making the trip a life-changing experience for them.

Edie Beiner, director of statewide services for the Florida Electric Cooperatives Association, is the longest-serving Youth Tour director in the nation. She has coordinated the trip for 35 years.

“The main thing I’m concerned about is the kids are learning and having fun,” says Edie, who leads quietly, gently and compassionately.

While Edie downplays her contributions, students and chaperones know and appreciate the hard work she puts in year after year.

“As a 2015 alumnus, Youth Tour was a turning point, giving me the motivation to create change in my own life,” says Cale McCall.

“The sticker on my car says ‘Future president of the United States.’”

Youth Tour occurs at a time when students are still finding their true selves and their calling, and uncovering their passions, he says.

“At the center of any great program is a person developing, sharing and inspiring people with the message of change,” says Cale, who is studying public relations. “For the Florida Youth Tour program, that is Mrs. Edie.”

Kaitlynn Culpepper, community relations specialist for Tri-County Electric Cooperative, made her first Youth Tour trip in June. Candace Croft, communications and public relations coordinator for West Florida Electric Cooperative, has chaperoned many Youth Tour trips. Sabrina Owens, manager of marketing for Escambia River Electric Cooperative, also has chaperoned. All commend Edie for the countless hours she invests to make sure students will never forget their Youth Tour experience.

“Even in the midst of the chaos that is Youth Tour—the last-minute schedule changes, lost cellphones, hot, humid weather and more—Edie works through each challenge with grace and is extremely patient with the students,” adds occasional chaperone Mark Sellers, communications coordinator for Peace River Electric Cooperative.

“Thanks to Edie’s dedication, more than a thousand students have experienced the trip of a lifetime,” says Kristin Evans, vice president of marketing and communications for Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative.

A Patriotic Pilgrimage

Thursday, July 20th, 2017

Florida U.S. House Representatives Neal Dunn, left, and Matt Gaetz high-five Florida students on the steps of the U.S. Capitol. Photo by Kaitlynn Culpepper

The nation’s history comes alive for Florida high school students on Youth Tour

Andrew-Paul “AP” Griffis reaches down and grips the hand of the wheelchair-bound veteran.

“Thank you for your service,” the athletic 16-year-old says, locking eyes with the frail Honor Flight veteran from Philadelphia.

Both were visiting the World War II Memorial on a hot and humid Saturday afternoon in June.

AP and other Florida high school students greet veteran after veteran with genuine gratitude and sincerity—young thanking old with a few meaningful words and a handshake.

“I was reminded how much they gave and how much we have to be thankful for,” says AP, who was in the nation’s capital as a representative of Clay Electric Cooperative. “Military is more than putting on a uniform. It’s saying you will give up everything for your family and country.”

That was the tone-setting first day of a weeklong adventure in Washington, D.C., for Florida’s Rural Electric Youth Tour delegation, which joined a record-setting 1,800 students from around the country for sightseeing, immersion in history and a lesson in the cooperative business model.

The patriotic scene at the World War II Memorial lasted nearly an hour, as Florida students who were apprehensive about traveling with people they did not know immediately bonded with each other while talking with the veterans. Students even came together to learn and dance the Charleston. The veterans smiled with delight as their past came to life through the young people.

“Without them we would not be here today,” Coleman Tadrowski of Clay Electric Cooperative says. “I have a newfound appreciation for just how much a simple thank you can mean to a veteran.”


A Busy Week of Sightseeing
Started 53 years ago, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association’s Youth Tour program exposes teenagers from rural areas to a world they often have only read about in textbooks and challenges them to stretch outside their comfort zones.

Participating electric cooperatives select students who, typically, have just completed their junior year of high school for the all-expense-paid, awe-inspiring, life-changing trip of a lifetime.

Each state develops its own itinerary, but students come together for Youth Day and a Potomac River cruise, exchanging state pins and keepsakes with fellow delegates and making lifelong friends with people who were strangers the day before.

Students see the roots of American history in visits to Arlington National Cemetery, the U.S. Marine Corps Iwo Jima War Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial.

They visit the National Archives, Mount Vernon, the Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Washington National Cathedral and the Smithsonian museums.

They tour the U.S. Capitol and meet with representatives and senators, witness the U.S. Marine Corps Sunset Parade, and learn about electric cooperatives and grassroots advocacy.

While students cover a lot of ground, the trip is about more than sightseeing and patriotism. It is about building relationships, gaining historical perspective and opening students up to a future many had never before considered.

“Hands down, this has been the best week of my life,” says Melanie Clark of Talquin Electric. “I have experienced so many fun things and have met incredible people I am lucky to call my family now.”

“This trip surrounded me with individuals who are leaders in their communities and work hard to love others,” adds Abby Hamm of Peace River Electric Cooperative. “The people I was with pushed me to be a better version of myself.”


Experiencing the Holocaust Horror
At the Holocaust Memorial Museum, visitors receive identification cards of real people who experienced that gruesome period of history—men, women and children from all regions of the world.

As they move through history from one floor to the next, visitors learn more about the person whose identity they have assumed. Some live. Others die.

“Not only did I hear about her death and the bad ways she was treated, I learned she was a teacher, a mother and a wife,” Whitney Hodge of Central Florida Electric Cooperative says of the woman on her card. “Although her story is different than everyone that suffered, knowing these personal facts moved me in a way a textbook never could have.”

Sofia Cooley of West Florida Electric Cooperative says in history class “it was just pictures and stories. When I went into the museum and saw the artifacts, and was able to connect faces to the stories I read, it took on a new meaning.”

Timmy Locklin of Escambia River Electric Cooperative read “The Diary of a Young Girl” in ninth grade, “but that single book cannot do justice to the thousands of victims of the genocide,” he says.

“In history class, they do not go in depth about the gruesome tragedies of the Holocaust, but in the museum nothing was sugar-coated,” explains Savanah Parker of Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative. “The museum reminds me of one of my favorite quotes: ‘If you do not learn from history, you’re doomed to repeat it.’ That is why it is important to have museums like this one.”

Savannah Gardner, also of Gulf Coast Electric, says she was emotional walking through the museum.

“I couldn’t deny that humans could ever be that evil anymore,” she says. “This museum is a statement to the world, to every human being. It will forever be impressed on my heart.”

AP says he will never forget the wall of pictures.

“It was men, women, boys and girls who didn’t survive,” he says. “They all looked happy, young and vibrant—their lives cut short by this tragedy. We can never allow them to be forgotten.”

Drew Willis of West Florida Electric saw parallels between the Holocaust and African-American museums in how they pay tribute to victims and offer insights into the harsh realities of life.

“Throughout our years in school, we are taught about the events of the Holocaust, slavery and segregation, and the challenges these groups of people faced, but I never really understood just how much pain and devastation the people who lived during these events went through until I toured the museums and saw up close and personal just what the lives of these individuals were like,” Drew says.


Memorials Inspire Gratitude
Seeing the names of soldiers on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall really hit home for Sofia, who has a brother serving in the military. Another brother was shot, but recovered, while deployed to Afghanistan.

“That awful loss could have happened to us,” she says. “Seeing all of the men and women who gave their lives for America gave me an even greater sense of appreciation.”

Two of Timmy’s great-grandparents served in the war. One piloted a plane in the Pacific. The other was a captain in the U.S. Army.

“Uncommon valor was a common virtue,” he says, reciting words on the Iwo Jima Memorial. “This quote really reflects all service branches during that war, including both my great-grandparents.”

AP was overwhelmed by graves as far as the eye could see at Arlington National Cemetery.

“It reminded me of our mortality,” he says, “but also of the immortality of the ideals these men fought to protect: life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Savannah says she tried to count the number of graves in a single row, but could not keep track because there were so many.

“It made me realize that the freedom we now enjoy and most often take for granted was not free of charge,” she says. “Hundreds of thousands of people made the ultimate sacrifice so that we may be free today. My freedom is priceless.”

Abby also was reminded that freedom is not free.

“Never in all of history has freedom been attained without sacrifice,” she says.

For Timmy, “knowing each one of those marble headstones is someone who paid the ultimate price for our freedom gives you a strong sense of gratitude.”

“It puts in perspective what it means to be an American, and how we should always stop and thank someone who served or is serving,” adds Jackson Flowers of Escambia River Electric.

Jacob Kitchen of Chelco says he has “a heightened respect for all those who have served and a reality of how much they truly sacrificed. I have a new realization of how real war is, and how much soldiers need our patriotic support.”

Zach Karpinski says seeing Arlington National Cemetery gave him a new respect for the country.

“My thoughts on pride and patriotism have been greatly reinforced as I’ve learned what our nation is all about,” says the Talquin Electric representative.

Savannah notes it is important to remember that the names of the soldiers engraved on the walls of the memorials and into headstones were not just names, but human beings who “faced the adversary so that every American can be free today.”

“It is a debt that can never be repaid,” she says. “I’ll never forget the men who died who granted me my freedom. They are my heroes.”


A Lasting Impression
Abby, Marcy Rubio of Glades Electric Cooperative and Macie Porter of Chelco were just getting to know each other when they timidly approached an Honor Flight veteran on day one, unsure of what to ask.

“Where did you serve?” Abby asked.

The veteran seized the opportunity, captivating the trio with stories about his service, thoughts about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall and an inspirational message that had a lasting effect.

“The conversation had me in tears,” says Marcy. “The veteran told my friends and me how a young Chinese woman designed the memorial. He went on to say we could be anything we wanted to be.

“When I witnessed the memorial for myself, I was left speechless. It is so simple, yet so chillingly beautiful. My favorite part of the memorial is how visitors, particularly veterans, can see their reflections.”

Seeing all of the names on the wall “gave me chills and took my breath away,” Macie says.

Abby says her love for her country grew as a result of all she saw and felt on the trip.

“The broken world we live in is filled with such turmoil and hatred that it is occasionally difficult for me to truly love the country I live in,” Abby admits. “I have always been patriotic, but on this trip, it was a relief to see justice in action and the unity that came after the tragic events in Alexandria.

“As I solemnly walked the streets of D.C., I found a re-energized sense of loyalty. This grew from the thankfulness I have toward those who have laid down their lives on my behalf. Some of their bodies are buried in Arlington and the memorials bear the names of those that paid the ultimate sacrifice.

“Our country is broken, but I love my country in spite of it. As I passed protesters demanding jobs and posters demanding equal rights, I was reassured that those who died did not pass in vain. I did not have to agree with the protestors to be thankful that I, too, have freedom of speech.”

Enjoy One of Nature’s Best Light Shows

Thursday, July 20th, 2017

The Perseid meteor shower is produced by Comet Swift-Tuttle. It is visible when bits of dust and debris created by the comet heat up as they enter Earth’s atmosphere. Most burn up completely. A few make it to Earth as small meteorites. Photo courtesy of NASA/JPL

Sky watching is a favorite pastime, even while participating in other outdoor activities. That’s especially true this time of year, when there is more than just stars to observe.

Mid-July to late August is the perfect time to marvel at one of the most spectacular astronomical events: the Perseid meteor shower.

The Perseid meteor shower displays more and brighter meteors than other showers. It typically features 60 to 80 meteors an hour, but it has been known to display more than twice that many in a prolific year, such as 2016.

This year’s optimal viewing time is the night of August 11
and early morning August 12.
However, it can be seen at non-peak times, too, which are the other nights between July 17 and August 24.

Here are four tips for enjoying this year’s Perseid meteor shower:

  • Watch between midnight and 4 a.m. Generally, those are the best viewing hours.
  • Avoid light pollution. Artificial light from houses, businesses and traffic can diminish sky-watching activities.
  • Watch from the shadows. The moon will reflect a lot of light August 11-12, obscuring many of the dimmer meteors. Find an observation spot where terrain or vegetation blocks the moon from view. That way, you will be able to see more of the meteor trails without the moon’s interference.
  • Enjoy the shower lying down. Sky watching is always more enjoyable on your back. Looking up for long periods of time while sitting or standing can be a pain in the neck—literally. Bring along a blanket. A cushion adds an extra level of comfort on rocky or uneven ground.


Sometimes It Pays to Buck Conventional Wisdom
Case in point: Most anglers fish deep when it’s hot because that’s where many of the fish have gone. Yet some of the biggest fish can still be found in the shallows. Plus, if you fish the shallows, there are no crowds to fight, and you have your pick of the best spots.

This is only one example of how it sometimes pays to think outside the box. Don’t be afraid to experiment with others.


Outdoor App of the Month: Sky Map
Sky Map is a popular app for identifying planets, stars, constellations, and other astronomical bodies and events. It rates high among users—50 million of them.

Sky Map is only available for Android devices, but iOS users have similar options. One of them is Night Sky 4.

Both apps are available in free versions.

What’s So Special About August?
August is Family Fun Month and National Catfish Month.
August 4: U.S. Coast Guard Day.
August 10: National S’mores Day.
August 31: National Trail Mix Day.


Show-and-Tell Time
Send us your favorite outdoor tip, photo or story. If selected for publication, we will send you $25 for one-time use of the item. When sending a photo, identify people and pets, and tell us the story behind the picture. Email your submission to

Chasing the Thrill

Tuesday, June 20th, 2017

Joe Connelly, 20, grinds along the edge of a bowl at a skate park in Florida. Joe, who lives in Gainesville and attends Santa Fe College, has been skateboarding, surfing and snowboarding for most of his life.
Photo by Mari Tamaccio

Despite their risks, extreme sports offer a rush that keeps enthusiasts coming back for more

Last spring, after breaking a rib and fracturing one of her vertebrae, wakeboarder Heather Bouchard considered, for the first time, a grim worst-case scenario: What if she could never return to the sport she had spent years falling in love with?

The mere thought crushed her.

Luckily, a few months later, Heather was able to get on a wakeboard again. Despite all the practice time she lost during recovering, and all the fear and worry about her future on the water, just five months later she managed to walk away from the 2016 USA Wakeboard Collegiate Nationals a winner.

The 21-year-old took home first place in the Women’s A division of the competition, which brings together the best athletes from the 16 best U.S. colleges, making her the top female collegiate wakeboarder in the country.

“Being with my team, riding, learning from them, trying new tricks—all of that—I know is when I’m at my happiest,” says Heather, who just finished her junior year at the University of Florida in Gainesville. “If that was just suddenly stripped away from me from an injury, which was definitely what crossed my mind, I don’t know what I would do.”

Such is the high-stakes risk a person must accept in a sport where the likelihood is high for bad injuries.

It is a risk Joe Connelly takes every day.

Joe, 20, has surfed, skateboarded and snowboarded for most of his life. In that time, he has fractured most of the bones in both wrists, suffered a concussion, nearly torn the muscles in his back, had fluid drained from his elbows after taking hard slams and almost drowned.

“It’s dangerous, and there’s that risk,” says Joe, who currently lives in Gainesville. “Team sports don’t have that aspect. Yeah, you can get hurt, but that’s not a huge factor of team sports.”

Joe cannot claim the same accolades in his sports as Heather. Nonetheless, he takes the risks.

In the extreme sports world, it is often less about status and more about the rush one gets.

From casual hobbyists to dedicated professionals, participants share a common belief: The risk is worth the adrenaline and excitement that come with testing physical boundaries.


Origins Rooted in Necessity
Activities that set the stage for today’s extreme sports world date back as far as 20,000 years, according to Ohio-based author Kelly Boyer Sagert.

In her book, “The Encyclopedia of Extreme Sports,” published in 2009, Kelly features a timeline of extreme sports precursors and milestones across the world that begins at 18,000 B.C., when people began crafting boomerangs.

Among more than 100 major events and markers in her timeline are the first known use of a parachute by one of ancient China’s legendary leaders, Emperor Shun, who died in 2185 B.C.; the acts of lava sledding in Hawaii and sandboarding in Egypt, both around 2000 B.C.; the popularization of dragon boat racing in China more than 2,000 years ago; and the first uses of kite-powered canoes by Indonesian and Polynesian fishermen in the 12th century.

Many of the early-origin practices that launched what the world recognizes today as extreme sports emerged to fulfill basic survival needs, Kelly says.

Boomerangs were most likely used for hunting, while kite-powered canoes—and ice skating and cross-country skiing—allowed people to travel faster from one place to another, Kelly explains.

Eventually, activities such as throwing boomerangs and paddling kite-powered canoes either lost their necessity or became obsolete with new technology and advancements.

Then, the old way of doing things became fun.

She cites mountain climbing as an example.

For all of humanity, people who lived in mountainous regions or who needed to pass through such places climbed because they had to.

Fast forward to 1953, when Sir Edmund Hillary—a New Zealand mountaineer, explorer and philanthropist—became the first climber to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

Around the same time, flying by plane had become rather commonplace.

“All of a sudden now, it’s not like something everybody did, and he didn’t have to do it,” Kelly says. “And it’s a little crazy to do it when you don’t have to. But that adds that kind of thrill.

“Most of us don’t want to do things we have to do. We want to do things we want to do.”


The Mind of a Risk Taker
What is different about those who seek thrill and enjoyment in doing what many consider terrifying and life-threatening? It is a question best answered by the field of psychology.

A moment trapped alone with a powerful and angry monster of an animal does not match anyone’s idea of a good time—unless you are Derek Kolbaba.

Derek’s description of riding a bull sounds like the stuff of most people’s worst nightmares.

But it is what he lives for.

“You’re kind of dancing with an 1,800-pound animal,” says the 21-year-old professional bull rider from Walla Walla, Washington. “There are no timeouts, and there is no stopping the bull.”

In professional bull riding, injury is not a matter of if, but when. Derek has broken his jaw—which has a couple of plates and screws in it—and his leg, which was put back together with four or five surgeries. He also has suffered multiple pulled groins.

Derek is still quick to call himself lucky.

But not once has he let an injury—or the fear of one—faze him.

He says it is “part of loving what you do.”

The intense rush of each ride atop a bull’s back is a large part of that.

“Your adrenaline’s going through the roof, your heart’s pumping,” Derek says. “There’s no other feeling like it in the world.”

Anita Cservenka, assistant professor with the School of Psychological Science at Oregon State University, has a bit of experience with the type of feeling Derek describes.

She has researched risk-taking and reward-seeking behaviors—particularly in adolescents—and says there are not only stark differences between extreme sports enthusiasts and other people, but differences clearly evident from a young age.

Anita proposes that people drawn to extreme sports likely have a different underlying neural structure, function or neurochemical transmission related to their motivation for rewarding feelings, resulting in a greater attraction to new or thrilling experiences.

These types of people also may have underactive neural responses to fearful situations, perhaps resulting from the part of the brain responsible for processing fear: the amygdala.

“Differences in the development of this brain region over the course of childhood or adolescence could be related to reduced fear response in individuals who become interested in extreme sports,” Anita says.

This means adults who take part in an extreme sport likely have a history with risky behavior.

The claim holds true for Heather, Joe and Derek. Heather’s parents had to tie a rope to her during family skiing trips when she was young because she wanted nothing more than to barrel straight down the mountain at full speed. Joe grew up on board sports. And Derek has been riding bulls, dirt bikes and snowmobiles since he was a kid.

The three are what some would call adrenaline junkies.

While these theories offer insight, they alone do not paint a complete picture. Anita says thrill-seeking ultimately takes shape in much the same way as other behavioral characteristics, starting with a genetic basis and changing along with hormones, environment, peer pressure and any number of other social factors.

It is the result of a combination of many influences from all aspects of a person’s life.

But strip away the intricate principles of psychology and a simple, shared truth emerges among the many extreme sports communities that is common in most people everywhere: It feels good to reach new achievements—to accomplish new feats that are hard-earned.


The Excitement of Progression
Ask Joe to describe the proudest achievement in his years as a surfer, and he talks about one 20-second ride like it was yesterday.

He was at a popular, well-known Hawaii hotspot when his first wave of the day turned into something spectacular. The wave closed fully around Joe as he rode it, encasing him in a tube of sea—an ultimate zenith experience surfers call “getting barreled.”

Some even talk about the thrill in a spiritual sense.

“At that moment, there was nothing else,” he recalls. “It’s kind of cheesy and kooky to say, but it was easily one of the best moments of my life.”

For Joe, each wave is a different expression of himself that no one else can replicate—his own personal, unique experience.

He says it is the same with tricks on a skateboard. There are always new tricks to attempt, and with each one, he has an opportunity to do something better and different.

In the end, it is about personal accomplishment.

“It’s that feeling you get when you do something that either you didn’t think was super obtainable or that others told you you couldn’t do,” he explains.

The power of achievement resonates in the world of extreme and adventure sports. It is what Joe says has kept him coming back, in spite of pain or failures.

“For me, at least, it’s not how much better I am than other people,” says Joe. “It’s how much better I am than I was yesterday, or the day before that.

“It’s the idea of progression. There’s never a set limit you can reach.”

Take the Bite Out of Summer

Tuesday, June 20th, 2017

Biting black flies are an especially persistent nuisance outdoors, particularly near bodies of water. Fortunately, many of the things that repel or protect against mosquitoes are also effective deterrents for black flies: light-colored clothes, long sleeves, citronella oil, lemon eucalyptus oil and minty scents.
© iStock/walterbilotta

Local fishing guru, Pop, taught kids more than how to fish. He taught them a lot about bugs, too.

“Keep your mouth shut,” he told a girl complaining about mosquitoes one day. The other kids shut up immediately; they thought Pop was mad. It wasn’t until later they found out he was really teaching a lesson.

Mosquitoes find human targets by zeroing in on the carbon dioxide they expel. By minimizing talking, you make it harder for them to find you.

Pop’s broader lesson was to learn more about pests and use the knowledge to fight back against them.

Start by reducing the area of skin exposed to mosquitoes and other biting bugs. Wear long sleeves and long pants in heavily infested areas. Select light-colored clothing. Dark clothes actually attract bugs.

Go on offense with bug repellent. Products with DEET are the most effective. Use them sparingly and always follow instructions on the container.

However, many people prefer natural repellents. Citronella oil and lemon eucalyptus oil are top choices. They repel mosquitoes, black flies and ticks. But they are only two of the many scents that bug bugs.

I remember Pop used to chew peppermint gum and shower beforehand using lavender-smelling soap. He claimed both scents repelled mosquitoes. I don’t know about that, but one thing’s for sure: Pop was the sweetest-smelling old gent on the river.

Three Quick and Easy Fishing Tackle Hacks

  • Get hooked on neat. Keep hooks organized by threading them onto large safety pins.
  • Prune your line. The last several feet of line on your reel takes a lot of abuse. Cut it off after each outing to eliminate nicks and potential weak spots caused by wear and tear.
  • Dry up. Keep a small packet or two of silica gel or some other dessicant in your tacklebox. It will eliminate moisture that can wreak havoc on your gear over time.

Outdoor App of the Month—Leafsnap
Ever come across a tree and wonder what species it is?

Leafsnap knows. The beauty of the Leafsnap tree identification app is its ability to identify trees by visual recognition. Users photograph tree leaves and Leafsnap matches the image to thou-sands of high-resolution images in its vast database.

This free app is currently available only for Apple devices, but an Android version is scheduled to be released soon.

What Makes July Special?
July is National Picnic Month.
July 3: Stay Out of the Sun Day.
July 20: Ugly Truck Day.
July 22: Hammock Day.

Show-and-Tell Time
Send us your favorite outdoor tip, photo or story. If selected for publication, we will send you $25 for one-time use of the item. When sending a photo, identify people and pets, and tell us the story behind the picture. Email your submission to

Many of Curtis Condon’s fondest memories involve outdoor adventures with friends and family, whether fishing with old school buddies, backpacking in the mountains of the Northwest with his sons, or bird watching along the Gulf Coast with his wife. He feels fortunate having the opportunity to write about the outdoors and other subjects for more than 30 years.

Florida Beaches No. 1

Tuesday, June 20th, 2017

Its soft sand was a key to landing Siesta Beach the top spot on a list of the 10 Beach Beaches in the United States.
Photo courtesy of

Florida’s beaches topped the list of the 10 Best Beaches in the United States, as compiled by Dr. Beach, also known as Stephen P. Leatherman.

Based on nearly 50 criteria—including water and sand quality, safety, green management and access to local activities—Florida had the largest number on the list with three.

Hawaii claimed two spots. Five states were represented by one beach each.

Leatherman is director of the Laboratory for Coastal Research at Florida International University in Miami.

Perhaps surprisingly, his list recognizes beaches not in that area, but in other parts of the Sunshine State.

Leatherman has ranked beaches in the United States for more than 26 years. His list attracts national attention.

Siesta Beach near Sarasota on Siesta Key ( earned the top spot for its soft sand, which is 99 percent pure crushed quartz.

Grayton Beach State Park (, in the Panhandle between Panama City Beach and Destin, ranked No. 4 because of its turquoise waters and smooth white sand. People can camp and hike in the park, and visit the tidal lakes and freshwater ponds.

You have to take a ferry, private boat or long walk from Clearwater Beach to visit Caladesi Island State Park in Dunedin/Clearwater ( It came in at No. 7 for its super-soft crystalline quartz sandy beaches that are caressed by emerald waters.

Swimming Holes
Florida’s many springs offer some great—and very cool, temperature-wise—opportunities for swimming, tubing and snorkeling this summer.

Among those offering water-based adventures are Ginnie Springs in Northwest Florida’s High Springs (, Ichetucknee Springs in Fort White ( and Silver Glen Springs in the Ocala National Forest (

Recently, MSN listed its best hidden swimming holes in the nation. Florida’s Devil’s Den (—a privately owned facility billed as a scuba diving training center—does not allow general swimming. However, it is open to snorkelers and certified scuba divers. The spring’s pool, which is 120 feet in diameter, is located below ground in an open cavern.

Travel Insurance?
If you are planning a trip that costs more than $5,000—especially if it involves international travel—consider buying trip and travel insurance. Unfortunately, that is not straightforward.

Are you looking for flight coverage, other trip costs or medical coverage while away?

Some tour companies and cruise lines offer their own insurance, but check out insurance websites to compare coverages offered and costs.

A couple of options are InsureMyTrip ( and Squaremouth (

Read the fine print to make sure the items you are interested in are included.

Tell Us About Your Florida Staycation

Have you played tourist in your hometown lately? If so, we want to hear about it.

What surprises have you discovered in your backyard? What’s your favorite getaway?

Send your story and photo to

Florida native Pamela A. Keene is a freelance journalist who specializes in travel, gardening, personality and feature writing. The avid traveler also is a photographer and accomplished sailor. Her website is

The Living and the Dead

Tuesday, June 20th, 2017

Angelo Battaglia pulls weeds around his parents’ grave on Mother’s Day, 2013. “After they died, I came every day, but now I don’t come as often as I should,” he said. Most people appreciate talking about loved ones that are gone.
Photo by David LaBelle

I have always been drawn to cemeteries, especially old ones containing grave markers from the Civil War era.

There is something primitive—something I cannot completely explain—that draws me there.

Whether or not we admit it, many people are drawn to cemeteries. We enjoy walking slowly among the gravestones and monuments, reading the names, inscriptions and epitaphs and wondering what the lives were like, the living souls of those represented in stone.

For me, a slow walk in a cemetery is a quiet sermon— a reminder of my own mortality. It draws to my mind Moses’ prayer in the Psalms: “Teach us to number our days that we might apply our hearts to wisdom.”

I can walk among the lives of those past, realizing I, too, must take my turn. For the moment, however, being able to walk away and enjoy what precious, unknown time I have left makes life richer.

Visiting a cemetery is also a way of honoring the dead.

It gives the living something to do, and is a place to focus their grief or talk with loved ones. They find comfort and purpose in the routine.

Perhaps we visit cemeteries because we recognize, maybe even hope, somebody will care enough when we have left this life to visit and remember us.

There are a few places in our world—public places—where exhibitions of semi-private grief are shared for any who care to stop and watch.

I realize my view may be unpopular with some people.

People have asked how I can make pictures from afar of people grieving or visiting graves of loved ones. I believe I am paying both the dead and the living the ultimate compliment. I am saying they mattered, they lived and their memory is still affecting those walking this earth.

From a distance, I am not interrupting, which is my greatest concern. From afar, the figure is universal, a shape in the poetic landscape, a figure and an object without name or story. It is when I approach them—when they are finished with their quiet communion—that I explain that I made their picture and why I did so. It is then I learn of their affection for those now invisible. I learn of their relationship, their story. Both of us are enriched with the memory.

Usually, the person I have photographed finds comfort in sharing, and truly appreciates the opportunity to tell me about the one whose face I have never seen.

We often foolishly assume we are disrespecting, interrupting or stealing if we make a photograph of someone in a cemetery. Legally, I believe if someone performs an act in the public eye, they can be photographed. Morally, I try to ask for their support or even permission to share the photograph.

Each of us is different when it comes to sharing, and some do choose to suffer alone in silence. I respect and honor a person’s right to grieve alone.

But in all the times I have photographed from a distance and then approached the person at the graveside afterward, seldom has that person been offended or not wanted to share. Usually they are hungry to talk about loved ones.

David LaBelle is an internationally known photographer, teacher, author and lecturer. He has worked for newspapers and magazines across the United States and taught at three universities. He grew up on a frog farm in rural California, roaming the creeks and hills with his coon dogs. Many of the lessons he learned during those magical boyhood years have been applied to photography and teaching the essence of this art form. For more information, visit