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Olympic Hopeful-Melinda Owen

Melinda Owen, from my hometown of Polson, Montana will be competing in the Olympic Trials for pole vaulting today at 5:30 PM and on Sunday at 2:30 PM (Pacific Time). Please send her good vibes and cheer her on.

“I have always been pulled toward sports. I think it was because of my family dynamics. My father used to wake my siblings and me up in the morning after he got back from his run, and we all did sit-ups and push-ups together. When we all finished, we got to sit on his back while he did his. He made it very fun for us. We were in clubs depending on the number of sit-ups and push-ups we could do, and we always were trying to get in the next club! Because of this, we all loved being both active and competitive! And both of my parents were very supportive with any and every sport we wanted to try. I did pretty much everything that Polson had to offer, so when it came time in high school to make a decision on just three, it was very tough. Track, and specifically pole vault, was difficult to spend much time on due to the fact that it typically snows off and on until June in Montana. This is why I felt it was so important I participated in both basketball and volleyball as well. With the combination of the three sports, I believed that helped make me a more well rounded athlete.

The journey that I have taken to get me where I am today has been nothing less than amazing. The people around me were willing to make sacrifices for me, because of the work ethic my parents had instilled in me. My high school coach stuck around even after all his kids had graduated to see me to my own state championship title! In college I was fortunate enough to have a coach that selflessly worked harder than any other person I have yet met in my 25 years. The time he dedicated to my training was a large part in what helped me become the best collegiate vaulter by my senior year. Because of that mark, I was then asked by the Olympic coach, Ty Sevin, to join his small group of athletes at the Arco Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California. So as you can see, there really isn’t one person or situation that got me where I am, but instead it was a combination of very dedicated people and some rare opportunities. My most stable help has and always will come from my faith and family. Their combination keeps me humble, honest, passionate and loved. Without all of it I would have never became the person I am today.”

GOOD LUCK, MELINDA!!!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from Feis America!

“In life, as in dance, grace glides on blistered feet.”

One of my favorite jobs at Feis America is getting to spend time with the three generations who often accompany competitive Irish dancers to events. There are not many athletic pursuits or pastimes that draw extended families together and it’s worth celebrating!

It follows, of course, that the month of March-with dance-outs, parades and performances all across North America-is also a celebration which extends to several generations and friends, too. Reunions take place, lost souls are honored, stories are exchanged, babies are introduced and photos are shared almost instantly.

The connection we Irish Americans have with one another is not unique; other cultures are known for their family gatherings too. What continues to astound me, however, is the connection we Irish Americans have with Ireland herself. The desire of North American dance families to get to the All Ireland Championships or Oireachtas Rince na Cruinne (World Championships) means a journey back ‘home,’ even if the family is two or three generations removed from an Irish birthplace!

The opportunity to study, travel and explore Irish culture is a goal of nearly every dancer and their non-dancing siblings I meet. I encourage families to make the most of any trip to Ireland to include a roadtrip ‘off the beaten path.’

The Irish Life Experience is a tremendous opportunity to reinforce that connection with Ireland, while promoting our American ties there on the Emerald Isle.

For all of our great grandparents or grandparents who emigrated and could never look back, your experience in Ireland honors the sentiment and beauty of what they left behind to make a better life.

Your only obligation is to bring back stories to inspire a new generation to make the journey themselves!

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day from North America’s favorite Irish dancing magazine, Feis America!

***Thank you so much Kathleen for your wonderful article! Kathleen O’Reilly-Wild is the founding publisher and editor in chief of the consumer niche magazine, Feis America, published in Connecticut. Feis America is a bi-monthly full color celebration of everything related to Irish dance in North America and beyond and serves a market of more than 150,000 Irish dance students and their teachers, parents, families and fans with articles, competition followups, results, health, adult Irish dancing, first feis, sights, sounds, feis music, feis world, and directory of trusted events and resources for Irish dance enthusiasts around the world. If you would like more information or would like to subscribe to Feis America, visit their website: www.feisamerica.com, become a fan on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter.***

Kiss Me, I’m Irish!

Irish Life Experience Friend and Blogger, Jennifer Holloway from Portland, Oregon, shares how she will celebrate the St. Patrick’s Day spirit next week.

My Irish descendants set sail for America in 1811.  If I had known that more than just a few years ago, I might own a “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” T-Shirt along with the rest of the proud Irish Americans. Unfortunately, the celebration of my Irish heritage goes about as far as the Lucky Charms I had for breakfast this morning-true story. I honestly forgot to wear green on St. Patrick’s Day last year! This year, however, I’ll celebrate St. Patrick’s Day the way it should be done. My book club happens to be meeting on March 17th.  Our hostess is making corned beef, Irish soda bread, potatoes, and veggies. I’ve signed up for dessert and although I’m undecided on what to make, the list of ingredients will likely include Bailey’s. We even read Frank McCourt’s “Angela’s Ashes” to keep with the Irish theme. No, we didn’t, but the rest of it is true! The only thing Irish about our book is that you can buy it in Ireland-along with anywhere else in the world. Ah well…, it will still be an excellent celebration.

Out of curiosity, I did some research to learn more about Saint Patrick. As it turns out, facts about his life vary depending upon the source. There are some pieces most scholars accept to be true, though. According to Coilin Owens, Irish literature expert at George Mason University, Saint Patrick lived between 432-461 A.D. At 16, he was kidnapped from the Roman British Isles and sold into slavery in Ireland. Saint Patrick turned to religion for solace and after six years he escaped. While back in his homeland, Patrick decided to become a priest and then decided to return to Ireland after dreaming that the Irish people were calling him to convert them to Christianity. He traveled back to Ireland as a Christian missionary and his mission in Ireland is said to have lasted for thirty years. Patrick died in the 5th century on March 17th–The day we continue to celebrate this patron saint of Ireland with jovial parades, Irish festivals, and all things green-even the beer… An American addition, of course.

Why not extend the celebration? March 5th–14th is Seachtain na Gaeilge, an international celebration of the Irish language. I’ll celebrate by attempting to use a few new phrases: Tá tinneas cinn orm (I have a headache) and An bhfuil spúnóg agat? (Do you have a spoon?) I didn’t say they were necessarily useful phrases. Perhaps I’ll watch a movie or two with some of the worst fake Irish accents out there-think Julia Roberts in “Mary Reilly” or Tom Cruise in “Far and Away”. Sadly, they’re much better than any attempt I could make! Whatever the celebration includes, I’ll put more effort into St. Patrick’s Day than in years past.  I may even have to buy a new T-Shirt for the occasion… “Kiss me, I’m Irish!”

***Thank you Jennifer. The Irish Life Experience appreciates you and looks forward to more of your posts.***

Trip of a Lifetime

Irish Life Experience Friend, Jennifer Holloway from Portland, Oregon, shares her experience studying abroad in London. While it wasn’t the Emerald Isle she studied in, we won’t discriminate against the important message she sends to all students. Ha! Thank you Jenny for giving us a special glimpse into your adventure abroad.

Spring semester of my Junior year I decided to study abroad. I went for all of the reasons you’re supposed to study abroad… I wanted to broaden my perspective, see the world, and (let’s be honest) I knew it would look fantastic on any graduate school and employment application down the road. Our coursework immersed us in British theater, art, architecture, government and literature. Instead of just reading about it, though, we visited castles, attended plays, and toured museums for truly experiential learning. I’d never been so excited about learning in all my life!

I knew I would learn about British history, current events, and important people and places. What I didn’t expect was that they would forever be associated with great memories of the friendships I made and the experiences I had there. I’ll never see a picture of former Prime Minister Tony Blair without being reminded of the friend who had a raging crush on him! Dame Judi Dench will always be one of my favorite actresses ever since I saw her in a play called “Amy’s View.” The British Museum houses an enormous collection of art and artifacts. It’s also the place where my friends and I took pictures alongside famous statues (imitating their poses, of course) and I stared utterly fascinated at Lindow Man, the 1st century AD bog body. To this day, I can’t have a cup of loose leaf tea without remembering how good it tasted when my host family made it and how terrible it was when I did! I was lucky enough to be able to travel to other places in Europe as well. I ate mystery food in Munich (sadly, none of us spoke German), sunbathed in Nice, and learned to Salsa in Barcelona. Everything about my study abroad experience was unforgettable and remains the highlight of my college years.

There are a thousand reasons why young people should study abroad. For me, the most important one is that it will never again be the experience it can be at that age. There’s just something about the immediate acceptance into the constant culture of young travelers and the excitement of experiencing it all for the first time together that sets it apart from travel later in life. There’s this hunger to see it all (on a dime, of course) and there are lifelong friendships to be formed along the way with people from all over the world. It’s been 12 years and I’m still in touch with the friends I made in England and the Americans I traveled with. I’m also still terrible at making loose leaf tea! It will never taste as good as it does in London.

Steinbeck had it right when he said “we do not take a trip; a trip takes us.” I’m so thankful that one took me when it did.