Post-season!

This winter was all about patience for me, but it’s already over.  All that patience paid off, this was a much better experience than my first knee rehab/comeback.  I took an extra 3 months of recovery time and extra training.  In 2010-2011, I came back and skied the entire World Cup tour 9 months out of knee surgery.  It was a season filled with mediocre results and I finished the season ranked 17th in the World.  This season, I skipped 7 out of the 12 World Cup events.  In the 5 events I skied, I got 4th, 6th, 9th, 12th, and 20th.  Ironically, I finished 17th in the World but much happier with my skiing.  

To finish off the season, we have National Championships.  Lucky for me, it was held at my true home, Heavenly.  This was the mountain I grew up skiing on.  I’ve had a pass at this mountain every year since age 4.  Coming back here for a high level competition was amazing.  I haven’t competed here since I made the US Ski Team, and it was fun to be able to show the home crowd the improvements I’ve made in the past several years.  It was awesome to be able to ski in front of my family and friends again.  My knee surgeon and team of physical therapists from Barton Health were out in the crowd as well.  Can’t thank them enough for giving me the opportunity to ski at this level again!  It was an overall awesome weekend in Tahoe, and I walked away with podiums in both events.

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Cork 720 over Lake Tahoe

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Dual mogul podium with Joe Discoe and Dylan Walczyk

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Sharing the podium with the Wilson brothers

Now that the competition season is over, I’ve got some real life to look forward to.  This week, I’ll be replacing the Audi that I totaled in February.  I’ll also be signing a new lease in Park City.  It’ll be my base for this offseason.  I’m really looking forward to training this summer.  It will be nice to be able to work on my skills and get stronger rather than learn how to walk again.  When I’m healthy, I actually feel like I’m getting better and skiing and jumping.  During rehab offseasons, I do get stronger because so much time is dedicated to regaining strength and balance, but doing stuff like trampoline, water ramping, or skiing is still too dangerous at that stage in rehab.  

So I’ve been through one Olympic cycle with the Team, and I’ve realized that this is the year we finally get some recognition and media coverage.  What 95% of outsiders don’t realize is that we actually compete in these “off-years”, and we don’t just train for one competition every 4 years.  I’ve been asked this question so many times: “What are you going to do different now that it’s an Olympic year?”.  For some reason, that question is so disrespectful to me.  I know it may sound like a legit question, but I guess I don’t know how to answer it.  What should I say?  “Yeah, I’ve been half-assing the last 3 years and I’m really going to try to win this year.”  Nothing will change.  Every year, I’m trying to be the best skier on World Cup.  Every offseason is just as intense.  If anything, I probably worked harder last offseason than any other offseason.  I was on crutches for 12 weeks, had to learn how to walk again, and had 10 months to get ready for top-level skiing.  I don’t take any years, months, or days for granted.  Don’t expect anything less than full effort, any year from me.

I’m really excited to be able to spend the full offseason and next season with the team.  I only got 3 weeks of World Cup with my team this season, and I’ll be back with the program now that I’m at full strength.  I have so much fun and have so much respect for my teammates, we have such a great dynamic right now.  My body and mind are fresh and ready to get after it this offseason!  ’til next time…

-Sho

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Mid-Winter “pre-season”

I want to start this post off by saying I’m extremely excited to compete again.  I have just over 5 weeks until my first competition of the season.  My first stop is in Japan, which is one of my favorite countries to visit.  I am full blooded Japanese and I really enjoy the culture and even have some fans by default because of my heritage.  I also get to see a lot of my family members that I haven’t seen in years.  It’s special to be able to see my uncle, which is my dad’s twin brother.  He’s probably been the closest thing I’ve had to a father figure since my dad passed away in 1994.  Then, my next stop would be in Are, Sweden.  It’s one of my favorite courses to ski because the bottom jump can be enormous.  They treat us really well, and it’s a great ski town with lots of ski fans. 

What I’ve been doing to prepare for my comeback to competition is doing a lot of coaching.  I was coaching for Winter Park since Thanksgiving.  Originally, that job was only supposed to last until December 23rd, but I was given a few extensions and stayed until January 6th.  It was truly a pleasure to work with that program.  I made plenty of new friends and became fans of all of the kids I got to work with.  I have a lot of respect for the staff, athletes, and parents that made it all possible.  

Doing all of that coaching really opened up a new way of thinking about my own skiing.  There are a plethora of kids in Winter Park that are skiing/jumping at a very advanced level.  Now, every run or jump I do, I can look back at how I would coach it as an outsider and come up with some quick fixes for the next attempt.  It truly has helped, as I’m skiing “competition runs” already.  I have about 5 weeks to get repetition, and keep improving technique so I can be at mid-season performance when I show up in Japan.

Here is a quick video of some of my recent training:

So as I was driving from Colorado to get home to Tahoe, I ran into some car troubles in the middle of Utah.  I stopped the car immediately once we saw smoke coming out from under the hood.  Luckily, it happened in the biggest town in our route.  Even luckier, we accidentally pulled into someone’s driveway.  He didn’t hesitate to help us out.  We only know our good samaritan as “Thomas”.  He hooked up his trailer to his truck, and brought my car to the nearest shop in Vernal, UT.  On the way, he told us that he had engine troubles on the way to Albuquerque and a good samaritan had helped him out by paying for his tow and his room for the night.  The only thing that guy wanted in return was for Thomas to help out someone in need.  So I guess it’s my turn to pass the favor along!  I still can’t believe our luck, and I’d like to thank the Wilson family for giving us a ride back from Vernal to Park City.

Currently, I’m just hanging out in Park City making the most out of the situation I’m in.  I have a flight to Tahoe in a few days and I’ve spent much of my time in the gym or skiing around.  I will be skiing around at Heavenly continuing my training for 10 days or so.  I will be reunited with my teammates for the Deer Valley World Cup at the end of this month, where I will be able to train while they compete.  It feels great to get back into the mental and physical aspect of skiing.  It feels like my attitude is refreshed and I can’t wait to get back in the gate!  Talk to you all again soon, don’t sleep.

-Sho

 

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Two extra months of 2012

The past few months have been awesome as I’ve progressed through my 2nd knee rehab.  The strength and functionality are back and the knee feels great.  The rest of my body feels great as well.  Focusing more on cardio this offseason is paying off.  My body fat is at the lowest it’s ever been, and I’ve gained strength without putting on weight.  Hopefully that will be nicer on the joints in the future.

Training hard in Switzerland

I got to go to Zermatt, Switzerland with my teammates in October to get my first on-snow training since surgery.  We had some tough weather days to start the camp, and the lifts were closed for most of our first week there.  After we got going, we had awesome weather and my teammates had some of the best training we’ve ever had there.  I didn’t ski any moguls or hit any jumps, but I was able to ski for a couple of hours per day and focus on my skiing technique that I’ve wanted to fix.  Unfortunately, I have the advantage of being through a knee surgery and recovery so I wasn’t hesitant nor defensive when getting back on the snow.

My group of XX chromosomes

Since then, I’ve packed up and moved my stuff into storage, had a birthday, and moved out to Colorado for the next month.  I drove from Park City to Winter Park, CO last week and started coaching for the Winter Park Freestyle Team.  They run an awesome program and have great kids, it’s been really easy and I’m lucky I get to call this my job for the next month!

For most of my team, they are approaching December and are hitting the road for the first World Cup in Finland in a week or so.  I really wish I could be with them to start the season.  This is the first time in my career that I won’t compete at the beginning of the season.  I’ll miss traveling with them for a while, but I do plan on competing later this year.

My coaches, doctors, strength trainers, physical therapists, and I have come up with a pretty solid plan for my return to competition. (Big thanks to them for getting me where I am now so quickly!) Originally, I was supposed to come back in early February, and my first competition back would be in Sochi.  We had a World Cup in January cancelled, (which throws off the schedule a bit and to follow a complicated rule which allows me to save my funding for next season) and my return will be pushed back past Sochi.  The next event is in Japan, the most challenging course on tour, so there is a slim chance I’ll attend that one.  The only way would be if my training to that point is going amazing.  Also, Japan would be my last chance to make our World Championship team so there is a little more incentive to be ready to go for that event.  The most likely scenario would be returning after Japan and World Champs, and skiing in  Sweden, possibly Spain, and National Championships at my home mountain, Heavenly.

So my offseason will be extended by two months.  I have two extra months to get saucy in the gym.  I’m glad to be doing it this way after what happened in 2010-2011 with my other knee injury.  This will give me the time I need to get back to where I need to be, and clean some things up in my skiing/jumping.  In the meantime, I’ll be coaching/training in Winter Park until Christmas time.  I’ll drive to Tahoe shortly after that, and I’ll be going back to my roots and help coach the Heavenly Freestyle Team and train with them as well.  I’m looking forward to spending the most time at home since I moved out.  I don’t get to spend much time with my family, so it should be great!

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Summer update

I apologize for my lack of updates!  I just checked, and my last update was before my surgery.  I’m now 6 months post-op, and a lot happier.  I’ve started sprinting, single leg jumping, and getting back into a full strength lifting routine.  I’m feeling pretty good, but we’re keeping the impact low.  The ligaments feel strong, but we’re being extra cautious because of the microfracture surgery.  

The summer kept me extremely busy.  I took my usual coaching job up on the glacier of Whistler/Blackhomb mountain.  I was there for 3 weeks.  Every day was packed with things to do, and I could barely squeeze in my workouts and physical therapy.  Immediately after that camp ended, Dave and I took a red-eye flight to Sugarloaf, Maine to coach the trampoline and skate camp.  Those days were packed with activities as well, but I had a 3-5pm block that I had to work out.  A lot more time for myself in comparison to Whistler.  

Looking forward, I will continue to go hard in the gym.  The past 3 months have been pretty tough in the gym because “I don’t need to be fresh for anything”.  No breaks and no brakes.  I’m assuming the next 4-5 months will be tough in the gym too.  We usually go pretty hard through September-October and then start to reel it back a month or so before competition.  I’m not eligible to return to competition until mid-February, so I’ll have a few extra months of gym time.  I’ve been taking my cardio a lot more serious than past years. I’m trying to stay strong, but not get any heavier to keep the load off my knees.  Tests after I got home from Maine showed that It’s paying off.  I want to be cut up before my ski season!

Because I can’t compete in December and January, I decided to continue what I do in the summer and coach for a freestyle program.  I’m still in the process of finalizing where I will be coaching, but it looks like I will be getting a storage unit in Park City again and living out a bag to wherever I will be coaching.  I hope to coach and train at the same time, and be more than ready to return to competition in February.  Our National Championships are at Heavenly, my home resort in Tahoe, at the end of March. I’m looking forward to being on top of my game for such a big event in my backyard!

The next few weeks will have more gym time, a little bit of golf (I just got cleared to golf!), and getting ready for football season.  I do have a trip to Tahoe planned to check up with my surgeon.  I’ll probably spend most of my time with family, hanging out with friends, and maybe some beach time if the weather is still good.  Maybe a broadcast is in the near future… Dave and I have been talking about how long it has been since the last one!  If there is enough response to this (tweet at me @shokashima) we’ll go ahead and set one up soon.  

Thanks for reading, I’ll do a better job at updating now that the season is approaching!

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Calgary World Cup/Knee update

Good news and bad news today.  I did get 3rd place, shared the podium with fellow American Jeremy Cota (told you so), and helped my cause in the race for top 3 in the World for the Grand Prix.  I also skied one of the better competition runs I’ve had in a while.

Bad news is that this may be the end of my season.  In the super final (where the top 4 skiers from the 2nd round battle for podium spots) I felt my knee shift and pop right before the bottom jump.  I crashed right before the bottom jump, and I was in sharp pain.  I remembered that my coach told me the skier before me crashed while I was in the gate.  I also didn’t want to get up because I knew I did something to my knee and there was no way I could make any turns.  After a few seconds (which felt like about 2 minutes), I got up on my left leg and finished the course.   I immediately waved for help, and got helped out of the finish area.  They put me in a chair, notified that I couldn’t do worse than 3rd.  I didn’t care.. I was so pissed off that this happened again.  I was overwhelmed by anger and sadness.  Coming off knee surgery just two years ago, and I’m having the season of my life.. and I possibly blew my knee out again.  I couldn’t hold back tears as I thought about the road to get from my last knee surgery.  I spent 9 months of rehab, one really shitty World Cup season, and this offseason preparing to get back to where I am now.  Having a  great season up to this point, and going all the way back to knee surgery just sucks.. bad.

My biggest concern is that if surgery is needed, doing my rehab in Park City would almost be a requirement.  I moved all my belongings into a storage unit this fall.  I would have to find a place to stay for a few months in Park City.  If anyone reading this has room for me in Park City, and would let me stay, that would be wonderful.  Of course, the MRI on Monday could come back and show minor stuff, but I’m in a lot of pain and not too optimistic.  Also, I’m really worried about my potential medical bills.  Last time, it totaled to about $1,700.  I know it’s not much for the work that’s being done, but it just doesn’t seem fair that I’m stuck with the medical bills.  Maybe it makes sense for me to pay it, but it’s my honest opinion.  Maybe they’ll give me a 2 for 1 deal ;)

I did already have an idea in mind to help with the bills.  Not sure how much I want to give away now, but a friend has offered to help me get into something I’ve wanted to do for a while.  In return, I hope I can bring some exposure to his company.  There are not many elite athletes that are in this industry, so we’re hoping that this collaboration can benefit both sides.  I will keep you posted as we move along on this project, because everyone can help us with very little time and effort.

Anyway, times like these really show me that my teammates genuinely care about me.  It’s an individual sport, but they all went out of their way to see how I was doing or say some kind words.  We’ve all been through similar setbacks, and know exactly what we need to be picked back up.  Also, we have the best PTs and doctors on tour.  Big thanks to Doug Flint, Phil Arnold, and Jess Tidswell.  Big thanks to my family, friends, and fans.  I wouldn’t have had the courage or drive to make the first comeback.  I know I’ll have plenty to drive me though my second, if needed.  We’ll find out Monday!

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Update #1

You know it’s bad when it’s 29 degrees and snowing outside and you feel like that’s warm.

morning of January 21, 2012

The last couple weeks have been brutal in the East coast.  We’ve been in negative temperatures for the majority of those days, and it’s nice being back in Tahoe.  I have about 3 days here, then we’re all off to Calgary for the next stop.  The rest of the tour has us going to Deer Valley, China, Japan, (10 day break), Sweden, France, then Vermont for National Championships.  10 more events in 7 venues before April.

One thing to get off my chest before I get into the past competitions.  I am leaning towards not doing any interviews BEFORE the competition.  I had an absolutely terrible interview the night before Lake Placid.  If it airs on TV, and it sounds totally fabricated, it’s because it is!  I don’t want to go into too much detail, but I was becoming frustrated and wasn’t thinking straight.  The first thing they wanted me to do was whore out for the event sponsors.  None of my answers were “good enough”.  I was told do to multiple takes over the same answer, sometimes told what to say.

In a usual World Cup, all I have to do is arrive, train, and compete.  If I get a podium, then I’ll get a chance to do an interview about my skiing and the competition.  When we do a World Cup in the US, it is different with media wanting to do these interviews.  I don’t want to treat it any differently than any other World Cup.  If I do my job, and end up on the podium, then I’ll do my interview.  With that said, I am supposed to do an “athlete profile” in a week or so.  Those are okay, because they just follow you around for a few hours and watch what you do.  It will most likely be in the gym, I am not going to stray from my usual routine.

Back to skiing, I spent more time on the road in January than normal.  I took off for Quebec on December 29, my team arrived on January 11th.  Most of it was to spend New Year’s with Audrey, but we departed to Val St-Come to train for the next World Cup.  The plan was to ski January 4-9.  What I didn’t know was that they were going to double charge me to train on their mountain.  A $45 ticket with a $55 training fee on top of that.  I didn’t want to pay $100 to train for 2-3 hours per day.  So I ended up just using the gym from the 4th-7th.  The problem with the gym is that it’s at the bottom of the course, and there are big windows facing the course.  During my workouts, I would see the Canadians training the course.  I felt like the trouble maker kid in elementary school that was in timeout and had to look out the window to watch all the other kids playing in recess.  Those four days were not so fun for me, but I did get to train the 8th and 9th.  My jumps came back quickly and I felt ready for the Mont Gabriel World Cup.

Gabriel was another good result for me.  I finished in 4th place, but I was frustrated.  My focus was impaired and affected my ability to finish my job.  I was thinking about how cool it would be if two male Americans were on the podium (which WILL happen at some point this year).  It’s been over a year since that happened.  My teammate Jeremy Cota was guaranteed a podium because he was in the championship round for 1st and 2nd.  All I had to do was beat a Russian to grab 3rd place and join Cota on the podium.  I didn’t even make it 5 seconds without making a critical mistake.  I almost crashed my back-full on the top air.  I was even more frustrated when I watched the video.  The Russian only threw a 360 (a much easier jump).  I blew a shot at my 3rd podium in a row.

We’re now completed with one-third of the season.  So far, most of it has felt great, but my last result was as bad as the Nintendo Gamecube.  Just when I felt like I was hitting my groove with consistency, I made another big mistake in my qualifications run in Lake Placid.  Training had gone so well, and I had to blow it in the only run that mattered.  My goal was to make the cut for finals in every event and not finish outside the top 10.  After the run, I was so frustrated and the feelings I had last year when I had a bad event came back.  It didn’t matter that I had 3 good results prior to this, it hurt just as bad.  In the 90 minutes between my awful run to going back outside to spectate the finals, I thought about the big picture of this sport.  There is no room for error, ever.  I played in an adult baseball league this fall, just for fun.  I hadn’t played baseball since my high school days, and it was a nice change of pace.  Hitting safely in 3/10 at bats is considered successful.  In mogul skiing, one mistake in a run can mean the difference between a top 5 and 30th place.

I mentioned that there will be multiple male Americans on the podium soon, we’ve had three close calls already.  In those events, we’ve gone 3rd/4th, 2nd/4th, and 2nd/4th.  We’re so close!  Also, we have a few skiers on the male side that haven’t had the results they are capable of because of small mistakes mentioned above.  I have faith that they will be where they deserve to be.  It’s a long season and we will have the best year that American men have had in a long time.

All of us invest so much into this sport, especially for how little it is recognized and it only seems to matter to the world once every 4 years.  Many of my teammates are living financially tight, me included.  We’re all capable of winning one of these World Cup events.  It’s crazy to think you have to be perfect on any given day to do so, and one quick lapse in focus can take away your chance to win.  We all travel to the venue 2 to 3 days prior to the event, do about 5 hours of total official training, and then take a 22 second competition run.  One shot to get it all right.  Otherwise, you go home disappointed.  It’s common to spend about $3,000 on each of these trips, just to have twenty-something seconds to prove why you’re the best in the world.

After I got back to my room from the Lake Placid event, we got news that Sarah Burke had passed away from her accident.  She had invested so much of her life into the sport of skiing and become an icon for Women’s skiing, even Women’s athletics.  It was easy to see how much this shook the skiing world with all the support from the entire community.  Condolences to her husband, family, friends, and many, many fans.

It’s tough to hear about these accidents.  Especially as a fellow athlete knowing what these other great athletes go through to get to the level they are at.  Jake Hickman, a young mogul skier from the Tahoe area, had a great week at US Selections.  Selections are one of the most important events in the season if you are not already on World Cup.  It gives an opportunity to the best 60+ skiers that are not already on World Cup, to earn starts on World Cup and prove their case to be one of the best in the world.  Jake just missed getting these starts.  The next day, he fractured his T8 and T9 vertebrae.  He was on top of the world one day, and was almost paralyzed the next.  I am glad to say that he has been getting after it in rehab, and is now home after a month hospital stays and rehab.  Sad seeing and hearing about events like this.

I hate to end this blog entry on a sad note.  No matter how much this sport can bring me down, I will never take it for granted.  I never want to be questioned over how much heart, passion, and focus that I ski with.  ‘Til next time…

-Sho

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New Year/First post!

I wanted to start something new for the new year and try out blogging.  I’ve always had more on my mind than what I say publicly on Twitter, and hopefully it’s entertaining for you to read as well.  Without a 140 character limit, hopefully I can be a little more honest and say exactly what I want to.  I’ve been on this kick lately of dishing out the truth in a lot of situations, and I’ve definitely said some controversial things.  Controversy is good, right?  It gets you to think critically, and I feel like everyone could use more of that.  

Anyway, I daydream and think to myself during long-ish car rides.. especially because my girlfriend, Audrey, was sleeping.  I was wondering if 2011 was a success or failure for me.  My first reaction was that it was a definite failure.  I had the worst ski season of my career, hopefully that was my rock bottom.  The poor season created a domino effect with my financial security taking the biggest hit.  I lost my funding through the US Ski Team.  I was dropped from the Elite Athlete Health Insurance.  I moved 4 different times from June-November.  I currently have no “home” because I couldn’t afford rent.  All my belongings are in a storage space in Park City, UT.  For the first time in 2 years, I was back in the work force work a part-time job during my training periods.  I was too poor to attend any of our team’s summer/fall on-snow camps.  I was truly living like a bum.  Living week-to-week was a struggle.  

On the other hand, 2011 was a great learning experience for me.  I’ve never been so stressed out in my life, but I held it together.  I had been slapped with real life, right in the dick.  I look back and I’m glad I didn’t cave in.  I had plenty of help to keep persisting.

First off, my family was incredible.  Even though it’s a small family, there’s lots of love.  They never expect me to quit for any reason.  Their generosity and support kept me up right when I was ready to give up.  One example is my mom had my brother drive out to Utah in October just so she could buy my LoveSac from me.  They are always there when I need them most.  Me being homeless this winter may be a blessing in disguise.  I will be treating Tahoe as my home base when we don’t have training or competitions.  I will be able to see them more than usual, and I’m excited about that.

My girlfriend, Audrey deserves a lot of credit.  She helps me even when she has no idea she is.  She keeps me level headed, always has the right things to say, and reminds me what is really important in the world.  Our relationship has blossomed, even though my financial situation hasn’t.  I’m grateful that she is not impressed by material things and she likes me for who I am.   

Also, my teammates were very inspiring.  One in particular, Dave DiGravio.  He was in the exact same situation I was in.  We both had to move around quite a bit during the late summer-fall to save as much as we could for the season.  He is incredibly selfless, helping me find a place to stay in November.  He also came up with a brilliant idea of selling our junk on eBay (which helped both of us survive in November).  In addition, Dave’s work ethic is impeccable.  He is a great workout partner and I credit him for helping me be in the shape I’m in right now.  Also, another great gym partner is Joe Discoe, one of the strongest guys on the team.  I mention these guys because they were there everyday that I was there and we were on the same program.  I am not taking shots at anyone else on the team.  They either do not live full-time in Park City, or they are not on the same program.  

Also, I received a lot of support from employers.  I’ve worked a number of years with two programs in the summer:  Mogul Logic Ski Camp in Whistler, BC; and CVA Trampoline and Skate Camp in Maine.  They employ me every year and I get to teach people how to do what I love to do.  It’s a great opportunity for me and I can’t thank them enough.  I’d also like to thank PowerAde for employing me part-time during the summer.  

Sponsors are big help, all of them are listed under the “sponsors” tab on this page.  One sponsor in particular, Heavenly, has been an incredible supporter.  They invested in my heavily up to the 2010 season in hopes that I would have a good result in Vancouver.  I disappointed them by getting injured a month prior to the games, and I am very lucky they stuck with me.  Sponsors aren’t too happy when you have a shitty season and get them no media coverage.  I just hope to vindicate them for sticking with me.

If you’re reading this, you deserve a big thank you.  I have an amazing fanbase.  You have come together to help me countless times, and you don’t realize most of them.  There were plenty of times in the offseason I wanted to throw the athletic career away and get back into college or the workforce.  You have all kept me in this game and I can’t thank you enough.  I love when you guys congratulate me on a good result and I hate breaking bad news to you like I did almost every week last season.  I am extremely fortunate to have such great fans, probably the best in freestyle.

2011 wasn’t a complete failure when I account for everything.  I learned how to scramble and survive.  The most important lesson I learned is that when you focus and believe in the right things, it can be an incredible weapon for you.  During the summer and fall when I couldn’t attend our important pre-season snow camps, my focus and work ethic was right where it needed to be.  This has made me into a stronger person and competitor.  

I can’t forget that my 2011 ended with some successes.  I got my first podium of my career with a 2nd place in Ruka.  A week later, I got the second podium of my career finishing 3rd in Meribel.  I’m currently ranked 2nd in the World in my sport.  I got to spend Christmas with my family in Tahoe and New Year’s with Audrey and her family.  I’m hoping that all of the lessons I’ve learned from my failures will avenge the (mostly) awful 2011 I had.  

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