Monthly Archives: June 2013

Run Like Hell(sinki)

The bad thing about Finland’s eternal summertime sunshine is that sleep becomes a mere myth to an already troubled snoozer.
Midnight snapshot from this weekend

The good thing is that it makes for a bright and buzzing finale to this explosion of a year!

Upon leaving Turku last week, I spent the first five days in almost as many different towns and beds. Bear with me as I attempt to tame my scattered thoughts and bring you up to date to this past weekend. And then etch summery Finland into your mind for the next time you wish for more hours in a day. Your slumber might take a hit, but the sunshine will do wonders for your spirit, productivity, and attachment to this country of 188,000 lakes (and almost as many saunas, it seems).

Last Monday, I caught a train from Turku to Siuntio, a quiet rural town within an hour of Helsinki. Although Siuntio historically boasts one of Finland’s strongest track clubs, the running scene I traveled there to explore was not so much a culture as an individual.20130626-152150.jpgIn addition to being a very accomplished runner in the 80’s, participating in a number of World Championships and running a 2:14 marathon, Henrik Sandstrom and I share a special connection that I couldn’t leave out of my Finnish tour. During his competitive career, he spent time training in the Alamosa, Colorado altitude, home of the iconic Adams State running program and alma mater of my coach, Jim. There he forged a lasting friendship with one of Jim’s buds, Pablo Vigil, who was an extraordinary runner (4-time consecutive Sierre-Zinal Champion and Colorado Running Hall of Famer) and has perhaps the most zeal for life and running of anyone I’ve met. In addition to some other key connections and ideas, Pablo put me in touch with Hendrik and initiated one of the most interesting and unusual stays of this trip.

After a quick scoot through the area in the car, on a run, and through a club track session, Hendrik and I arrived at a beautiful old schoolhouse.20130626-152159.jpg20130626-152334.jpg20130626-152413.jpg
Not part of our tour, the building that functioned as a school from 1900-1969 has since been renovated into the Sandstrom family home. I slept in a room that used to house the unmarried female teachers (only the male headmaster was allowed to be married), next door to a cook’s room that is still equipped with a stove, and above the main classroom with some sweet old-school exercise equipment.20130626-152421.jpg20130626-152426.jpg

After a delicious home-cooked dinner, I had the privilege of poring over Henrik’s 30+ year-old training logs and hearing all about the rich running tradition in which he grew up.20130626-152609.jpgI couldn’t decipher most of his comments, but I could appreciate the times and distances and guess the nature of the words following especially good or bad workouts. I found it neat that some sessions and techniques span cultures and decades (8x1k with 90 seconds rest, Sunday long run, ~8 mile tempo run) and was delighted to encounter some familiar names like Joe Vigil, Pablo Vigil, and Pat Porter. What a privilege this was for me to learn about the revered Finnish running school from a big contributor and to add one more link to the American-Finnish running chain.

The following day began with a 1 hour-turned-1 hour 40 minute run on the windy, hilly roads surrounding Henrik’s house. Sometimes you’ve got to capitalize on especially brilliant terrain, weather, or feelings, and that run hit all three. After that, with no time to spare in my less-than-48-hour visit, Henrik and his co-worker Pia whisked me around Siuntio and beyond to show me some of their favorite spots. 20130626-152616.jpg20130626-152622.jpg

For the second half of my week, I headed to the 1952 Olympic host city and former training grounds of most Finnish greats: Helsinki.20130626-152752.jpgBefore passing me off to my next host, Henrik treated me to a sightseeing run through the city, lunch in the trackside Olympic Stadium Cafe, and a peek down on Helsinki from the Stadium Tower (which is precisely 72.71 meters tall to match Matti Järvinen’s gold medal javelin throw in the 1932 Olympics).20130626-152757.jpgIn addition to the ’52 Olympics, the stadium hosted the first World Athletics Championship in 1983 and the 2005 World Championships as well. I got a kick out of the track’s notorious “curves” that cause all sorts of fury and DNFs, loved the unobstructed view of the city, and tried to envision the electricity that filled the stands when Emil Zatopek of Czechoslovakia won the unheralded 5k, 10k, and marathon Olympic triple.

From there, I linked up with another Alamosa/Pablo connection and the orchestrator of my next few days in Helsinki, Ari Paunonen. As the editor-in-chief of Juoksiva (the Finnish equivalent of Runner’s World), one of Finland’s best runners in the 70s and 80s, the husband of a former 2:04 800 runner, and a current coach to his two middle-distance daughters, I couldn’t design a more ideal or gracious ambassador of Finland’s running scene than Ari.

While answering my blast of questions about his roles as athlete, coach and editor, Ari took me to some must-see spots and events for a running visitor. First up was the Olympic Museum, which I walked around for an hour with a propped jaw and protruding eyeballs.20130626-152801.jpgOn display was some awesome memorabilia from the 1952 Olympics as well as from Finland’s participation in other Olympic Games. I was impressed by it all, but my favorite parts were the Paavo Nurmi showcase, featuring his uniform, travel bag, golden bust, and gilded spike, some dramatic action shots of the Flying Finns, and a little movie theater featuring short films on Finnish heroes like Lasse Viren and Ville Ritola.

That evening, Ari and I went to an area track and field championship at the Olympic Stadium warm-up track with quite a resume of its own, having endured plenty of pounding from the likes of Paavo and his successors. I always like watching meets, especially when steeples are being chased, but this one was extra enjoyable due to some stellar and swift Finnish company…20130626-153349.jpgJoonas “Badger” Harjamaki (one of Finland’s top steeplechasers today and a former Lamar University runner!), Arto Bryggare (bronze medalist in the 1984 Olympic 110m hurdles and silver medalist in the 1983 World Championships), Tommy Ekblom (2-time Olympian in the steeplechase and “The Head Coach of Everything”), and Ari Paunonen (current Finnish record holder in the mile (3:55.65) and indoor 5k (13:55.76) and co-record holder, with Lasse Viren, in the outdoor 3000m (7:43.20)). Talk about a past and present Finnish dream team!

The Helsinki fun continued that night with Ari’s driving tour past the city’s celebrated landmarks, the entire next day with a Badger-led sight-seeing extravaganza, and a really nice run with each of them through their favorite stomping grounds.20130626-155529.jpg20130626-155535.jpg

I haven’t had much brain space to process everything I’m doing and seeing– my body and mind feel like they hopped on a hamster wheel a few weeks ago and are still cruisin at max speed– but suffice it to say that Finland is providing an awesome, electric ending to this global tour. I’ll do my best to organize my thoughts to an acceptable degree so I can do justice to this wonderful country and these last couple weeks of my trip. Stay tuned for an update on a glorious, outrageous reunion with two of my closest Dallas friends, the cottage we rented in the Finnish backwoods, and our attempt to assume full Finn status in less than a week.

To end, I’d like to wish everyone a Happy Midsummer (the topic of my next post), a Merry Half Christmas (from Santa Claus’ home country), and a Happy 21st Anniversary to my home, sweet home in Dallas.

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Posted by on June 26, 2013 in Uncategorized


Tales from Turku


With less than three weeks until I touch down on Texas soil, I’m officially on the homestretch of my Watson journey. If this were a marathon, I’d be in the 40th and penultimate kilometer; a steeplechase, the final of 35 barriers. Like those races, I’m mustering up as much energy as I can to finish this year off with a powerful kick and walk away without any regrets or missed opportunities.

My second week in Turku was full of running-related activities that I was fortunate to share with my fabulous host family and now close friends, the Hellstens. If he were still alive, Paavo Nurmi would have turned 116 years old on June 13th and his hometown paid tribute to him all week long. Here Helena and I are at his statue in the middle of town, jazzed up for the occasion with some wreaths:20130620-055703.jpg

The house he grew up in, now a museum, is only open to the public once a year and my 14 days in Turku conveniently coincided with this year’s open house.20130620-060546.jpgAlong with Juha, my host and stand-in coach, I hung out in the tiny one-room home that Paavo shared with his mom, sister, and brothers, and the even smaller kitchen that they rented out to another family until Paavo earned enough money in the 1920 Olympics to buy the whole place. We heard a few interesting stories about him, my favorite being the time he showed up for a meet and was only paid part of his promised appearance fee. In response, he only ran part of the distance he was entered in. Sounds fair to me, but the Finnish athletic association didn’t think so and subsequently left him off of the next Olympic team. Hefty price to pay for a little joke, I’d say!20130620-061636.jpg

We sandwiched the Nurmi home visit with some standard Turku sight-seeing, first checking out Aboa Vetus, a fascinating museum and archaeological site built around real 14th century ruins from Finland’s oldest city and former capital.20130620-060249.jpg20130620-060255.jpg

We also strolled through the clean, quaint town, along the water, in an old indoor market, and by the majestic Turku Cathedral.20130620-061651.jpg

The Nurmi celebrations continued the following weekend with the annual Paavo Nurmi Games, one of the most competitive track meets for Finnish athletes. After a really pretty, rainy forest run with my friend and Juha’s athlete Annti-Pekka, I enjoyed an afternoon full of races and field events in Nurmi’s honor and cheered on some friends I met the week prior.20130620-062253.jpg20130620-062259.jpg

I also tried two new running activities during my stay with the Hellstens, one of which I think I have some potential in and the other, sadly, which I do not. The promising one was a half marathon, which I was invited to run about two weeks beforehand. I had just decided that I didn’t want to race duing the last bit of my trip due to chronic sleep deprivation, all of the moving around, and the difficulty of getting in really high quality workouts, but the idea of getting in a tempo run with hundreds of new friends and a few water stations in a new area of Finland was too good to pass up. So away to Forssa I went, along with Juha, Annti-Pekka, and A.P.’s friend.20130620-062349.jpg

The event was really well organized and the course was beautiful (though a little more breezy than ideal), and I latched onto a group of guys for most of the race. It was a nice, comfortable introduction to 21 kilometers of road-racing and I’m pumped to make an honest half marathon debut when I’m rested and specifically trained.20130620-062357.jpg

The second new event for me was orienteering, though my future in that discipline is much less promising. Anna, Juha’s sister, was an excellent (and way too patient) coach, politely correcting me every time I misinterpreted all those squiggles, circles, lines, and doodles that some people call a map. You’d think that all of the running and exploring I do daily would make me an ideal candidate for the sport, but sadly it isn’t so. 20130620-062447.jpg

In addition to dashed dreams, my little trial run in the forest behind the Hellsten’s house infused me with a fascination with Jukola, a famous event and national affair that took place the following weekend. Juha and Helena gave me the full run-down on the 7-person, all-night orienteering relay that brings many of the world’s best orienteers to Finland each summer (over 16,000 participants this year!).20130620-065204.jpg(picture from

After learning about the complex logistics, rules, and tactics that are involved, I decided that I should either stick to pure running or weasel my way into children’s orienteering competitions where all I have to do is chase a string around a forest path. That, I think I could handle… especially when I’ve got nearly two decades on my competitors.

In between all that action, I was treated to some delicious Finnish and Helena-ish food, and snagged quite a few recipes from her repertoire during my visit.20130620-062528.jpgI reciprocated with a TexMex feast on my last night, which teased my tastebuds in anticipation of the real deal just around the corner.

I got yet another taste of Finnish food during an afternoon of running and Texas reminiscing with Johanna, who is freshly home from a year of studying and running at Sam Houston State University (one of Rice’s nearest neighbor schools). Her meatballs and blueberry pie were divine and it was so nice to chat with her about some familiar places and Texas memories.20130620-063036.jpg

My Finnish segment is only halfway over, but my marvelous stay with the Hellstens came to an end on Monday when I transitioned to the Helsinki area. Juha and Helena treated me so well during my two week stay, showing me all around the area, taking me on awesome runs, and giving me my fill of summertime saunas (if that’s even possible). I especially appreciate their elongated effort to speak in English during my whole visit, even to each other, which I know can be effortful for non-native speakers but which kept me connected and involved. I miss that sweet family already, and must admit that mealtimes are a bit lackluster without Matilda’s theatrics and Melissa’s My Little Pony chatter. So thanks, Hellstens, for making my last substantial home-stay a memorable and excellent one, and for providing me with the ultimate display of Finnish culture and running.20130620-063043.jpg20130620-063048.jpg


Posted by on June 19, 2013 in Uncategorized


The Top Pop

After one of my dad’s many 8-hour round trips to watch me race a few laps around a track, a friend joked that he would swim across the ocean for his kids. I had to chuckle– not because it was such a preposterous statement– but because I could honestly picture him in his deer-skin moccasins, green hunting vest, and trusty headlamp, researching late into the night about the best wetsuits and shark-avoidance tactics, brooding over the best route through the water, and training in the pool until it was time to go.

That’s the kind of dad I’ve got, and I couldn’t be more thankful for him or pumped for a parental reunion in two short weeks.image

Happy Father’s Day to you, Pops, and to all you other dads. I love you very, very much and am endlessly grateful for everything that you do.

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Posted by on June 16, 2013 in Uncategorized




And a special birthday shout-out to two of track and field’s greatest gifts: the late Paavo Nurmi and James “Jungle Gym” Bevan, my coach, mentor, and inspiration of six years and counting. I’m not sure what the inverse of “coachable” is, but you’re it to the maximum. May your day be filled with as many stranger fist pumps, bumpin Pandora jams, steering wheel drum beats, and outrageous conspiracy theories as you can handle. I’m looking forward to that first North and South session back, you pumping alongside on the Elliptigo and your “Goooood”s and “Beautiful!”s firing me up, more than I can say.

20130613-104037.jpgHappy Birthday, Gem!


Posted by on June 13, 2013 in Uncategorized


The Land of the Flying Finns

Oops, wrong ones

There we go! Ville Ritola, Paavo Nurmi, and Edvin Wide (born in Finland but later competed for Sweden) in the 1928 Olympic 10K race

“Why Turku?”

It’s a question I got when I first proposed my Watson year, and one that I now preemptively pause to answer every time I explain my itinerary. And fair enough– even though it’s the former capital and oldest city in Finland, this small city on the southwest coast doesn’t have too many chances to creep into an ordinary conversation.

Unless that conversation centers on track and field; then it’s another story.

Not quite a century ago, Finland was the nest of middle- and long-distance running. The East Africa of the early twentiety century, you could say. Between the resurgence of the modern Olympic Games and the start of World War II, the nation of less than 4 million people took home every Olympic 10,000 meter title except one and won a slew of other middle- and long-distance medals on the world’s biggest stage as well. By the 1936 Berlin Olympics, when three Finnish runners swept the 10k, the distance contingent from that country had appropriately been dubbed “The Flying Finns.”

No one was more pivotal in establishing Finland’s global running dominance than Paavo Nurmi, perhaps the most famous Flyer. Born right here in Turku, Nurmi’s resume boasts 9 Olympic gold medals, 3 silvers, and 22 official world records at distances ranging from the 1,500 meters to 20 kilometers. He’s the only person to win the Olympic 1500 meters (1924), 5,000 meters (1924) and 10,000 meters (1920 and 1928), and two of those were won with only 55 minutes between them (the 1500m and 5k in 1924). In his prime, Nurmi accumulated a 121-race winning streak at distances from the 800 meters and up, and he died in 1973 with an undefeated record in cross-country races and the 10,000 meters. It’s unlikely that any of those feats will be reproduced by a single person, much less the whole lot of them.

While amassing those accolades, Nurmi also played a major role in the advancement of long-distance training. Recognized as one of the first runners to take a systematic and analytic approach to the sport, he demonstrated the value of even-paced racing as well as interval and speed work. He also popularized the use of a stopwatch in training and advocated for a cross-training regimen of walking, running, and calisthenics. Those elements, which seem obvious and natural today, have not always been so.

So here I am in Turku, familiarizing myself with the breeding grounds of the legendary Flying Finns while getting to know the Hellstens, my sweet host family. In between some stunning running around their home, the Paavo Nurmi Stadium, and a nearby national park, Juha and Helena have been showing me a Finnish summer done right:

Outdoor grilling…20130610-151244.jpg20130610-151249.jpg

A visit to their summer cottage…20130610-151011.jpg

An evening in old town, Naantali…20130610-151025.jpg

A stroll through the woods…20130610-151020.jpg

And my personal favorite, the sauna (branch-beating included of course).20130610-151030.jpg

My two-week stay in Turku will culminate with Paavo Nurmi’s birthday, celebrated annually with an open-house and track meet in his honor, before I move onto Helsinki for the second half of my Finland stint and the essential conclusion of my Watson year.

I’ll leave y’all with one of my favorite running quotes, spoken by Nurmi and introduced to me on one of Maureen’s legendary Ursuline banana runs:
Mind is everything. Muscle– pieces of rubber. All that I am, I am because of my mind.

Sources: “Finding Sisu” by Adam Chase, “Paavo Johannes Nurmi” by TimTim Sharma, “An Illustrated History of Distance Running” by Mike Rosenbaum,, and


Posted by on June 8, 2013 in Uncategorized


The Cumulative Wade Family Age Increases by Two

It didn’t matter what it was– if my older sister Rachel did it or had it, it was cool.

Self-cut tapered hair? Sweet.
Physical therapy for her broken arm? Hottest spot on the black.
Paper clip retainers that made your gums bleed? Nothin but the coolest!

Unfortunately I didn’t pick up all her cues. Hellooooo, chilibowl.

Despite the impression I’m giving, my older sister really does have it goin on (although I think we’re all glad her Avril/punk phase is over). Lucky for me, because it saved me from ever having to pick out a prom or homecoming dress, trying to figure out the hippest dance moves on my own, and even breaking up with my freshman year boyfriend. (In all fairness, I did help write the script).

While Rach spent her college years at UT and I went to Rice, I suffered some major withdrawal from my older sister, personal stylist, and best friend. Fortunately, Teach for America plopped her right back by my side for my final two years at Rice and reminded me of how insanely wonderful it is to live close to my sister. We took total advantage of our city-mate status, going to to Hungry’s approximately twice a week, cooking dinner for each other regularly, having sleepovers in her cloud of a bed, watching Intervention and depressing documentaries until Leslie made us stop, and bringing D.E.A.R. time back in style. I also got to witness the sweetest, cutest, most inspiring teaching on the planet as Rachel gained a huge fan base among her students at the Rusk School, who are undoubtedly on different life paths becauase of her.

Today that girl, who I’ve tried my hardest to be like and be around since the day I was born, gets to add one more candle to her cake and sponge up the love from her family and countless friends. Unfortunately I can’t be in Dallas with her right now, but I’m thrilled to spend a few solid weeks with her in Texas this summer, starting in just about a month. Our time together is never enough but after a year apart, I’ll take what I can get… until we make good on our promise to move next door to each other, share a backyard, coordinate our kids’ ages, and take turns cooking dinner for each other’s families every night.20130604-094545.jpgHappy Birthday, Sis! I love you!!!

Now Matt. (I thought Rach deserved to go first since I know you’ll steal her candle-blowing thunder tonight). Where do I even begin?

Probably here:
Real men wear jeggings.

I can’t really rave about my older brother’s knack for fashion or break-ups, but what he lacks in those areas, he more than makes up for in backpacks (26 last time I inventoried), brains, and a big ole grin. His teacher once used the f-word to describe how delightful he was to teach, and heck, I would too if one of my former students played such sophisticated words in a casual Bananagrams game.

What impresses me even more than Matt’s brilliance, however, is his ability to disguise it. It might be his humility– I’ve never heard him mention that he’s a Harvard law student– or maybe it’s his tendency to do some pretty not smart things for such a smart guy, which I love. Eating a big hairball from an elevator floor, for example. Locking his keys in his car with the engine running… about four times. And chewing a piece of moldy gum from the bottom of a shoe 10 times before swallowing it just so he could wear Luke’s watch for two weeks.

On top of that genuis/goofy mixture, my big brother is a talented guitarist, harmonica dabbler, distance runner, lacrosse player, and snowboarder– about as killer of a combo that I know of. I got a healthy dose of all that and more during the two summers we lived together in Colorado and at most of my important meets as far away as Indianapolis, Des Moines and Eugene. I don’t think a more supportive, proud, or kind older brother exists in this world, nor another person whose opinions and perspective I value more.

Today, we get to celebrate our buddy Possum Jones and the start of another year of law-learning, music-playing, challenge-accepting, and big bro-rocking. I’ll try to do something outrageous to make you proud today, and I definitely owe you a Town Lake run and Austin Java feast the first weekend I visit you in Austin.20130604-094709.jpgHappy Birthday, Matt! So much love!!!

Well, you two… You know I’d roll a red carpet from Dallas to Turku and parade you all the way here to celebrate with me if I could. But since I can’t, we’ll have to honor your big two-six about one month late. Enjoy yourselves and each other today and don’t forget that you have an adoring little sister who’s thinking about you all day long. I love you both so much and am counting down the days til I can say that in person. Happy birthday, Rach and Matt!

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Posted by on June 6, 2013 in Uncategorized


Runday, the Marathon and… Swedish Ugali?

June has arrived and there’s no better time to be a runner in Sweden. The eternal winter nights have given way to over 18 hours of daylight and the Swedes don’t let any of it go unused. It doesn’t take much prodding to get them outdoors at this time of year, but there are plenty of neat groups and events that make exercise, and running especially, sociable and fun.

20130602-085157.jpgOne of the most inspiring and inclusive running programs I’ve come across yet is Runday, an idea that three elite runners (Lisa, Charlotte, and Linn) hatched in 2011 to promote running in Stockholm. What began as a free weekly run (Runday Monday) has since developed into a popular business that offers corporate training, personal training, lectures, workshops, training camps, and other running events throughout the city.

Despite the group’s growth, the free Runday Monday sessions still constitute the heart of the organization. Lisa, one of the founders and a former NCAA runner who has shown me all over Stockholm, invited me to attend one of the sessions last week (after our own run in the beautiful area). I was so impressed with what I saw as the coaches introduced passionate but untrained runners to the fundamentals of the sport as well as more advanced concepts like drills and dynamic stretching.20130602-085404.jpg

After a proper warm-up, the coaches, all of whom are young, bubbly, elite female runners, split up and gave the attendees three workout options: 3×5 minute hard efforts (mainly for those gearing up for the marathon the following weekend); 4-6×800 meters around a dirt track, surging the 100m backstretch of each lap; and a 40-minute circuit of jogging, drills, and strength exercises. They offered tips and encouragement to each runner and made sure they were all pushing themselves to an appropriate level.20130602-084945.jpg

All 100 or so runners who show up each week clearly want to learn, improve, and belong to an athletic community, and Runday is the perfect setting to achieve all of those. I find it truly awesome what the Runday gals and their group are doing to make running fashionable, fun, and a worthwhile activity for even the busiest worker and most recreational plodder, and I know their clients agree. I think there is so much value in sharing knowledge and structure with the masses, and I’d love to see groups with similar philosophies take off in the U.S. and elsewhere.

The Stockholm Marathon
Yesterday, Lisa and I teamed up to cheer on a handful of Runday clients, her running friends (about every other person in the race, by my calculations), and my host Brian in the Stockholm Marathon.20130602-091442.jpg

The course was scenic and spectator friendly and the weather, though a little cool and drizzly for spectators, was ideal for those competing.20130602-164901.jpgI’m so thankful I had Lisa to dart around with because, in addition to great company all afternoon, I got the scoop on the field and to see the runners three times on the course as well as at the finish line in the historic 1912 Olympic Stadium. The runners that she works with did great, all finishing with pretty devastating kicks for the end of a marathon, and made her one very proud coach. While Brian didn’t have the race he was hoping for, he recognizes that his turnaround from the Manchester Marathon was a bit swift and is already fired up about laying a solid base for the fall racing season.

My Temporary Kenyan Brother
My final bit of this Swedish running update is actually less about Sweden than it is about Kenya! Last week, the Nielsen household increased by one and I gained a temporary brother when William, the Kenyan representative for Running Relations, arrived for his annual month in Sweden. If you have a few minutes, check out his inspiring story here:

William has an upbeat, personable demeanor, an impressive 63-minute half marathon to his name, and the typical Kenyan love of ugali (which I’m thrilled about since it’s been nine months since I ate it with my Kenyan flatmates in London!). I only get to overlap with him for a week, but that’s plenty of time to scoop up some running tips, motivation, and an even stronger desire to visit Kenya.20130602-091449.jpg

Between my brother’s visit, spectacular trails, neat running events, and the Nielsen family’s generosity, May has been a month to remember. I’m moving to Finland tomorrow with wonderful memories and a heart full of gratitude for everyone, the Nielsens and Lisa especially, who have shown me the best of Stockholm. I’m not quite ready to brave the brutal Swedish winter, but y’all can expect to see me back here in the (warm-weathered) future!

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Posted by on June 2, 2013 in Uncategorized