Must be Present to Win: Mountain Lakes 100

We have another guest post to share, from one of Matt’s runners, Daisy, who recently completed her first 100 mile race. We’ve also shared her White River 50 mile race report before and wanted to share yet another inspirational story, this time from her first 100 mile race. Daisy, we are so proud of your accomplishment, especially given everything that transpired over those 100 miles, and are so happy to call you a friend and to have you in our lives.

For the past two years I’ve been focused on finishing a one hundred mile trail race. September 25th was the day I let that happen. It was hard. Not the kind of hard I’ve grown accustomed to as a functioning adult with a job, a mortgage, too many chores to keep up, etc. It is the kind of hard that strips you down to your bare existence. It is the kind of hard that opens you up to a level of vulnerability that is not only beautiful, but treacherously close to what I found to be an emotional breakthrough of sorts. But stick with me here. It wasn’t all New Age BS, either. It was hard.

Ken and I set out for Oregon on Thursday. Months of planning my fueling and gear strategies resulted in numerous “kits” of food, hydration, shoes, first aid, clothing options, headlamps, elevation profile maps and a car filled to the brim with enough supplies to get us through a near apocalypse. Once you leave Estacada, you head out onto Highway 224 towards the Mt. Hood National Forest. It is at this point that you lose contact with the outside world. No cell service. No roaming. Nada. Roads become more narrow, then turn to gravel and dirt with tiny, numbered wooden signs directing us to Olallie Lake. It is remote out there. And it is gorgeous. Fall colors bursting at the seams in all directions.

ml100-1We rented a small one room cabin at Olallie Lake Resort, race HQ. This is where you start and finish the race. The course consists of a 26 mile loop, then a point to point up to the Clackamas Ranger Station on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and a 15 mile loop around Timothy Lake before heading back. I studied my maps over and over again, not because I was afraid of getting lost, but because I still needed to convince myself I was actually going to do this crazy thing.

Luckily, we had Thursday evening and all day Friday to settle in and forget about all the little things that can creep into your head and mess with your running mojo.  Ken had fully embraced his crew captain duties. He helped me organize my thoughts and went through every detail in order to brief my crew and pacers. My job was to go out and run the mileage. I have never felt this prepared for anything in my life. I was nervous, but calm and ready to head out on what became a giant adventure utilizing all of my capabilities. Every single one! My remaining crew and pacer arrived Friday and it was then I knew I was not only in good hands, but I had amazing folks ready to go the distance with me.

ml100-2The alarm went off at 5:00 am. Time to get some coffee, use the magical pit toilet and gear up. The little cabin housed Ken and I, plus Rebecca and Stephanie. Arya was car camping down the road. We spent the next couple of hours laughing, shuffling about and waiting for the sun to rise. Before I knew it we were trotting down to the start, all bundled up. I felt spring loaded, ready to pounce. The weather was perfect. Brisk, sunny. Runners were gathered near the start, the usual hum of pre-race jitters, high fives and last minute pep talks. 7:50 am. I pushed the “unlock” button on my Garmin to fire up the GPS. It locked in immediately. I always see this as a good omen. Four green bars pulsing means I’m going to have a good race. I checked my heart rate. 68 bpm. Not bad for a cardiovascular system primed to race amongst a cloud of adrenaline and last minute bowel evacuations on cold plastic porto potty seats. With the call to the startline imminent, I felt someone grabbing me from behind and when I turned around it was my sister Dawn and her husband, Ben. My jaw dropped and I had to choke back tears. They had driven up the day before from CA to surprise me. Dawn ran Western States in 2014 and I crewed her there. We had originally planned for her to pace me, but a knee injury complicated things and I wasn’t expecting them to come all this way. I was feeling pretty damn certain this day was shaping up to be a good one. I gave last minute hugs and kisses and shared “I love you’s.” I looked at Ken and thought to myself, this day is dedicated to him. He was smiling so big. The kind of smile you know comes from down deep, where all that wonderful stuff lives inside of us. I wanted to show him through my dedication to this race how much he meant to me. Because he tolerates a whole bunch of nonsense in regards to training, travel and balancing our lives together. He takes it all in.

The race started as they always do. I do a little inner dialogue of “steady yourself.” I head out slow, measured, doing a full on head-to-toe check in with myself. Don’t worry about all these people flying off ahead, keep your pace conversational, smile and remember, you have a long ass time ahead of you. The first few miles are a gravel access road before you turn out onto single track. Mt. Jefferson was out in full force, so I acknowledged the volcano and got down to business. The first loop section is the most technical. The trail leads you around to a rocky ridge with incredible views. I love to run on this type of trail, because it gives me an opportunity to get fast turnover and focus sharply on careful foot placement. I was climbing the ups at a good clip, but holding back. The downs were good. I wasn’t in my groove yet. It often takes me several miles to relax into a run when I know I have loads of miles to accomplish. I started to feel apprehensive about not locking into my run groove as I approached mile 11 where I would see my crew for the first time. I had met a lovely young woman named Margaret from St. Louis. We steadily ran together on the downhill from Breitenbush. On a flat section around mile ten I caught a toe and fell hard onto my right knee and left hand. Like all of my falls, it came out of nowhere and suddenly I’m feeling the crunch of gravel claw into my skin. I pop up, see that my hand and knee are bleeding. I shake it off and keep running. “No more falls,” I say to myself out loud. I take a few minutes with my crew to refill my hydration, grab some gels and get my knee washed off. I’m right on 24-hour pace. The next section is 3000+ feet of climbing, so I take a deep breath and do what I do best. I climb. I keep climbing. When the incline is doable I run up for short sections. I pass a few people and check my heart rate. 144 bpm. A little higher than I want right now. Breathe deeper, slow down, be patient, keep moving. We loop back to Breitenbush and it’s an out and back before returning to Olallie Lake. I loved this section, because you see all the runners ahead of you and behind you at different times. Everyone is happy, it’s early and no one is suffering. Yet. The front of the packers tell you, “good work,” “you’re looking strong.” And you return the favor by encouraging those behind you.

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I kept it easy heading into mile 26. You run back to Olallie Lake on the same access road. I was feeling good. I started to get my familiar run high. I was drinking well, I was eating every 30 minutes without fail and my body was warm, my mind content. There was a group of about 12 of us strung out along the road. Marie and I had struck up a bond heading back that lasted the whole damn race. That’s her with me in the photo. She’s one tough cookie!

There is nothing quite like the sound of your name as you head into an aid station. It means you’re about to get showered with love. Dawn grabbed my pack and I met with Arya briefly. He checked in with a simple, “how’s it going so far?” He was the only one I allowed to ask me this. I had been strict with my crew to not ask me how I was feeling. I hate being babied at races. I’m there to work. I like to keep things all business to a point and laugh about the ridiculousness. But no pampering. This is not a spa day. This is not the time or place to acknowledge weakness or doubt. Rebecca and Stephanie cleaned my knee and taped up two hot spots on my feet. Then I was off again. It was now onto the PCT for the next 30 miles. I remember Ken asking me to check my pack, which I forgot to do. They loaded my headlamp into my pack, gloves and hat. I would see them again briefly at Olallie Meadows in 4 miles.

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The PCT trail is a real gift on ultra legs. It is soft, open and begs you to run with abandon. My inner groove was locked and loaded. My legs and feet felt strong and this was the first time that I started having the conversation in my head about what was actually happening. Be here, right now. In that moment I am running on the most beautiful, inviting trails. My heart beating, my mind abuzz with emotions and this overwhelming confidence. I was proud of my training and the hours and miles I covered prior to this day. Behind my eyes was a Rolodex of all the people in my life who got me to this point. I was thinking about my job as an ICU nurse, about all of the patients I couldn’t save, and the ones who made it out alive.

I gave a heavy sigh. This is something my coach taught me to do to settle my brain. It works. But as soon as I had relaxed into a rhythm I was jolted back to reality. I crashed hard. The shock of pain that surged up my leg and into my gut nearly made me pass out. That strange, swirling, dark blankness that clouds your sense of vision for just a quick second. I had turned down a switchback heading right on a dirt and rock section at about mile 29, almost to my crew. Two women behind me watched me fall. I could hear them gasp. They asked if I was OK. I sternly remarked I was fine and for them to keep going. I couldn’t stand up, so I stayed bent on all fours for another minute to get my shit together. I took a sip on my spigot, swished my mouth and hoisted myself up. My right knee was gashed open across the previous abrasion in a v-shape, embedded with dirt. My shin was throbbing and the outside of my knee felt like it had been slammed in a door. Repeatedly. I muttered some curse words and started walking down. The trail flattened out and I tried running. Nope. Not happening damn it. I walked faster stumbling into a jog and winced with every step until I rolled into the aid station.

My crew was ready to just say a quick hello and see me off, but they immediately realized things were not good. I sat down and asked one of the aid station folks for some ice. Time for damage control. The girls got busy nursing me up proper. Lidocaine gel into the deep cut. Kerlex wrapped and get me back out there. By now the endorphins are on full blast. So much so that I again forgot to remind them to make sure I had Tailwind sticks in my pack (I didn’t) for the next sections, because there were no drop bags, and I wouldn’t be seeing them until mile 55 in the dark. When I got to Pinheads I sucked down some Coke. This is not something I ever partake in normally, but for some reason during races this is pure nectar! Since I didn’t have any TW, I simply stuck with water in my hydration bladder and took 2 Endurolyte capsules every two hours (I had these in my pack as Plan B in the event I had gut issues). I continued to eat every 20-30 minutes without a problem and I started chewing large chunks of candied ginger every hour as a preventative measure. The paramedic at Pinheads noticed that my knee had some serious swelling. He recommended I let him change the dressing, to which I refused. It was tight and angry and I didn’t want to waste any more time, since I had already slowed way down. I left Pinheads focused on getting to my crew. I had a headache, my leg was throbbing and all I could think about was moving forward. Keep moving forward. No time to worry about anything else.

By mile 40, evening began to fall and a nice chill took hold. I was smiling, back in my groove and thankful that I had a solid mental strategy going on that was working well. I constantly smiled. I was soothed by the smell of the forest and dirt. I would focus on running for as long as I could, then walk for short periods while I ate solid food. The burrito I started before Warm Springs would be what sustained me for hours. I had grown weary of gels at this point and focused on snacking on peanut butter, Probars, dried mango and coconut. I felt strong. I was intermittently giddy with the thought of seeing my crew and pacers in a few hours. I passed some PCT hikers who were banging pots and pans as me and about 6 other runners were starting another climb up to Warm Springs. I would see them again on my way back before the sunrise.

image6Marie and I met up again at the Warm Springs aid station. We stopped briefly, adjusted our headlamps and got out of there. Other runners were starting to look weary, broken down. I felt a sense of pride that despite my crash, I was having a damn good time. Everything was working. I was ignoring the pain and moving with purpose. I could run, albeit slow as crap, but I could keep going and I knew I was going to finish this thing! Marie and I leap frogged each other into the next aid at Red Wolf. This is when I started to feel cold, shivering started. I ate two cups of hot broth with rice, did some stretching and headed out again. Running at night on trails is great fun, in company. This section I was alone for most it, except for the lead runners who were now barreling back home towards the finish. I started to feel lonely.

The trail streamers were glowing, there was shimmering dew on red leaves and mossy logs. I was now outside of my longest mileage. Clackamas was coming up. It was a long 6 miles. It never seemed to end, despite my constant push forward. I came down a dark section and noticed someone standing by a tree, “is that my girl?” a voice called out. “Who is that?” I responded. I really had no idea who the hell would be out here in the middle of freaking no where asking me that! “Daisy! It’s Dawn!” I started laughing and asked, “where is the fucking aid station?, I’ve been running for so long!” Dawn was using her iPhone as a flashlight and we trotted along together another 3+ miles into Clackamas. She grabbed my pack and I asked her to get something hot going for me to eat. Ken called out, “there’s my babe, looking good Daisy!” I ran up to the aid station to check in and do a drive by of the food. I had a weird interaction with a volunteer who snarled at me when I said no thanks to a perogi and asked if instead if they had any veggie broth. Her eye roll was enough to make me want to cry, but just in that moment Stephanie walked up and said, “Hi.” The embrace was like a shot of pure love that shook me back to reality about what was really happening. I was doing this! I was more than halfway done! The crew set up was so welcoming. A soft blanket and chair, my food options all spread out, new shoes and socks. Ben made me coffee and hot miso broth. I ate salty crackers and cashews and chocolate and managed to shimmy out of my shorts into some compression gear and warmer clothes so I could finish off the night run. Arya was ready to start pacing. We all laughed and I told them my hallucination story. I was wired and exhausted. I managed to pull a knee support up over my newly bandaged wound despite the gnawing swelling. I took some tylenol and packed two more doses for later. Every four hours, Dawn reminded me.

I was now way off a 26-hour finishing pace, but at this point I just didn’t care about that anymore. Arya and I had a date to log 15 or so miles together, and I started to get amped up about finishing the race with Dave, hoping they could both add some fire to my game and keep me focused and purposeful. The lake loop was a big boost to my spirits. I was putting on a good front, but inside my flame was low. Arya and I made small talk and the miles went by faster than any section. The moon was positioned just above the lake, a perfect orange crescent casting a long glow across the water. We crossed over to the dam. It was getting colder, but I forgot about it quickly when we saw the bright lights of the aid station ahead.

ml100-4At some point we realized I had passed the 100k distance, and Arya said he was happy to share that milestone with me. I made a mental note about how it felt to get this far. I was ticking off items in my head to make sure I had the fight to keep going. What would it take to finish? I wasn’t tired, but weary. I had short bursts of energy. My legs were heavy, fatigued, but on autopilot. We started to hear voices and the hum of the aid station signaling the return to Clackamas. I was ready to make a quick stop, change headlamps and head out with Dave. Stephanie and Rebecca welcomed us in. I needed a moment to myself to gather my thoughts. I was overwhelmed with the generosity of my friends. I had just run a pivotal point of the race with Arya, a man who willingly stayed up all night to join me. He had taken time to run with me in training as well, always gracious and generous with his experiences. His banter and mentoring lifted me up. I was coming to terms with how far I had progressed in the past year to get to this point. I was beside myself with gratitude for my coach, Matt. He was in Europe with his wife Julie and son Paavo. I knew he was thinking of me in this moment. He has guided me through so many miles, tough track sessions and injuries that sidelined me. Matt has given me permission to believe in myself. He keeps me on point to do the work, to own my runner identity. I pictured his warm smile. I pictured how it felt to run next to him at Green Lake making plans for this very moment. Every sigh, every doubt, every negative feeling melted away.

ml100-5I sat down briefly to drink more miso broth. Crew was milling around me. Ken bent over near my left side and said in a matter of fact tone, “babe, there’s no sign of Dave.” When he wasn’t there as Arya and I came in, I assumed he was maybe using the bathroom or checking in with race staff. It was the last possible thing I could think of going wrong at this point. Wait, what? You mean I have to run the next 30+ miles alone? In the dark? Alone. By myself? My mind went completely blank for a second and I blurted out, “I need a moment to process this.” Arya was still recovering from a summer of foot issues and I could tell by the look on his face that he wished this wasn’t the case. He would take over if it wouldn’t risk damaging his hard earned recovery. And I wouldn’t let him do that. Dawn was also saying she could go, but I was adamant that she could not put herself in harm’s way either. “You’re just going to finish this alone,” they all said. “You got this!” Like well meaning parents they all repeated it again. “It’s just 4 hours until sunrise.” I was worried about Dave. What happened to him? Did he drive off the road? He was driving in from Portland, so I started imagining all sorts of scenarios that would prevent him from coming. Catastrophes, accidents, family emergencies. I had crewed Dave at Fat Dog 120 in August and I knew something big had to have happened to prevent his presence. I knew he was excited to share my race. I continued to be preoccupied with Dave’s whereabouts as I headed away from my crew.

Ken and I ran hand in hand down the road, a hundred yards or so to the trailhead. He was full of energy and excitement. He was beaming with pride. I could feel the force of his love and dedication to seeing me finish. He reminded me I only had a few hours until sunrise. Don’t worry. They will be ready for me at Olallie Meadows when I arrive. “Stay focused,” he said. We parted and my shoes hit dirt again. Away from the road lights I focused my headlamp on the trail.

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Before leaving Clackamas I turned on the playlist of music I had spent a couple of weeks compiling. No earbuds, but blasting directly out of my iPhone speaker as it perched in a pocket on the front of my pack. The music became my pacer. It cheered me up and kept my mind focused on moving. It distracted me from the pain that was resurfacing in my knee. I sang out loud, out of tune, forgetting lyrics and using the beat to forge ahead. My Garmin had stopped working sometime after Timothy Lake, so I no longer had a visual of timing or the ability to mindlessly calculate my pace. I kept sipping on my hydration, eating relentlessly like a robot. I popped into Red Wolf again and enjoyed broth and rice. There were a few motionless bodies in chairs sleeping, the aid crew were chatting about when to wake them up and writing down times on a white board. I was cold, so this meant it was time to leave. Two more aid stations until Olallie Meadows. I had to keep moving. Each time I stopped my knee would freeze up, making it difficult to move again. I found myself starting to feel panicked about time. I made up a story in my head that I was keeping a much faster pace. I started to believe it. The sun started to rise after I left Warm Springs.

ml100-7I was so happy to remove my headlamp! With sun comes warmth and I was now overdressed. I started peeling away layers. I began to cry when I heard the welcome sound of birds chirping and felt the harsh beams of sunlight filtering through big trees. The start of a new day. My eyes were stinging and blurry. I literally staggered into Pinheads and asked if someone could help me get my tights off. A kind young woman sat me down, gently removed my shoes and pulled off my tights. I felt a huge sense of relief, because I was at mile 89. They made me two peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and told me I had plenty of time. I purposely didn’t ask what time it was when I trotted away with my fists full of sandwiches. I wanted to keep believing that I was cruising along. I wasn’t. Every inch of my body was throbbing. I felt maniacal. Crazed. I wondered if my crew was awake yet. I was jealous of the cabin comforts, the smell of fire smoke and the crispy sound of my sleeping bag. The next seven miles was nothing but pain and climbing. Each hill seemed monumental. When I would finish one, another would slap me back to suffering. It hurt to even lift my feet or swing my arms. My eyes were swollen from crying, and I laughed at how completely awesome I felt despite the pain and miles I faced ahead. I remember having a very complex conversation with my mouth that seemed to tell me every time I ate, “OK, when you put that food in here, I am going to make you chew it for a long time before I let you swallow it.” A single cashew required a massive effort. I finally sucked down a gel and ten minutes later I was running again, giggling and cursing and aching for sleep. Despite my fatigue, I still felt focused and content.

Dawn appeared somewhere before the Meadows, I think at mile 92. I forced a smile and lifted my arms in surrender. I told her to lie to me about how close we were. “About 4.5 miles.” “Fuck, are you kidding me?!” “Sorry, I can’t lie to you.” “We’re close, hang on. You can do it!” I’m sure I was complaining, making no sense whatsoever. She reassured me I looked great and was moving well. I winced with each step forward. Every joint felt white hot. I could not move without pain and yet I couldn’t stop. My mind was so utterly focused on getting to the next aid station that I found myself nearly blind with anger that it wasn’t right around each turn in the trail. It felt as though I had a rope attached to my chest that was pulling me forward. I kept looking up hoping to see a sign for Olallie Meadows. A bee started flying around me. It was persistent. I swatted lamely begging it to leave me alone. It must have followed me along for at least 15 minutes to the point that I became despondent. Dawn grabbed a branch and began swishing it away. I’m convinced now it was just reminding me to stay the course and finish with purpose and passion. I fumbled in my pack and took more tylenol. I could hear cowbells in the distance. Finally! I was going to see Ken and my crew. Dawn ran ahead to get me Coke and watermelon. Like Pinheads, I entered the aid station in tears. But these were not simply tears of pain, but tears of accomplishment and tears of I can’t believe I’m going to finish this race soon. I was sobbing. My crew kept me focused. I drank two cups of Coke, ate several handfuls of watermelon. Ken fetched my hiking poles from the car, which I needed desperately to stay upright if I was planning to run this thing in. Dawn asked if I wanted her to go with me. I said no. I needed to do this alone. I headed out of the aid station. The poles were a lifesaver! I could move more efficiently without fear of falling if I took a misstep. My pace quickened. I passed four other runners. The tylenol started to kick in and I ran every flat section and forged up the hills. It was hot and the ice in my bandana and bra felt amazing. I forgot about the pain.

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The trail was smiling with me and much to my surprise, I saw Ken running towards me ahead in the sunlight. He was cheering and said, “Damn, I wasn’t expecting to see you so soon. You look great! Only about half of a mile or so to go.” I started running faster, letting the poles click along the rocks. I told Ken he wasn’t going to be able to keep up. We laughed. I could hear voices and cheering in the distance. I took a deep breath and the trail opened up to the gravel road. I put both poles in my right hand and started sprinting down the road. People were yelling at me, cheering. I passed Dawn and Ben as they stood by their van. I just kept pumping my arms and driving my legs forward. I felt so good as I floated down towards the finish in a state of complete euphoria. “Yes.” “Yes.” I kept repeating. I rounded the corner to more cheers, and under the finish arch. I dropped my poles and yelled. 100 miles. 29:30. It was such a strange sensation of satisfaction to be finished. Exhilaration and relief flooded my body.

I was enveloped by my crew. They were thankfully still on duty making sure I had everything I needed. My pack came off, Ken stood close by knowing I’d want food. Words of congratulations were exchanged and Renee (co-race director) gave me a warm embrace. I felt every emotion at once. Is that even possible?

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I noticed Adam, the paramedic out of the corner of my eye and knew it was time to deal with my angry knee. Having two ICU nurses and an ER MD sister on my crew had proven to be a good strategy! In minutes my shoes were off, feet being washed and soaked in ice water and my knee debrided with surgical scrub. It was painful beyond belief, but cathartic and spectacularly comforting. I was surprisingly without cramps, swollen feet or bad blisters. Just hungry, elated and exhausted. I spooned avocado into my mouth and it tasted better than anything I had eaten in days. Ken joked with me that I’d lost our bet about me having a recovery drink at the finish versus a cold beer. Somehow hops won.

After our obligatory finish line antics we all started packing up and readying to part ways. Stephanie and Rebecca needed to head back to Seattle, Arya too. Dawn and Ben were traveling back to Bend before home in CA. And Ken and I had reservations at a hotel in Portland where I couldn’t wait to get horizontal in a comfy bed and put on the Norma-Tec boots!

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We traded loving words and bear hugs and tears. And just like that the high of my accomplishment faded, and my body begged me for rest. Ken packed the car, helping me make the back seat into a bed so I could lie down on the trek back to civilization. We had reserved the cabin through Monday (just in case), but offered it up and someone from the race was happy to have a bed and heat.

It was strange driving away. I had left a part of myself at Olallie Lake. A part of myself that was forever gone, like an offering. In it’s place was a new space brimming with memories and lessons learned, with new equations and skills to apply in the future when things go haywire. I now know that I can face any challenge, as long as I stay present in every moment. I only hope I remember this and don’t abandon my new sense of self. I do know that “my people” will never let that happen. Thank you Ken, Stephanie, Rebecca, Arya, Dave, Dawn and Ben. Thank you for your selflessness, your steadfast dedication to my race and sanity. Thank you for laughing with me, crying with me and your unwavering support. My success is your’s too.

Special thanks to Matt Urbanski, my coach and friend. All of this became reality, because you gave me the tools to carve my way into ultra running. I am an ultra runner due to your teaching and your love of the sport. Cheers for that!

I would also like to thank everyone at Seven Hills Running in Seattle, WA. Your support and encouragement have been instrumental in my growth as a trail runner. I am proud to be a part of such an amazing family of runners.

And to Oiselle. Many thanks for giving women a voice and place in running. From the elites to little warriors like me who dream of being great, of living life with passion and without apologies.

To you reading this. Thank you for taking the time to read my words. Thank you to everyone who knows me and thinks I’m crazy for being a runner, my TU crew who are part of the process and know the work is hard, and all of my friends who take time to run with me and are facing their own challenges, injuries and amazing milestones. My work colleagues who cheered me from afar and decorated my locker in congratulatory words–no words can express my gratitude for your support and love.  

But most importantly, my biggest thanks to my Mom, Joan. Without her love and constant guidance none of this would be my truth. She is the most beautiful, strongest person I know. She is always on my side, through it all to keep my head on straight, to laugh and love and live my best life no matter what.

Cheers,

Daisy

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