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Not Your Average Holiday Break

Jan. 3, 2011

By Matt Winkeljohn

Sting Daily

Class doesn’t begin until next Monday at Georgia Tech, yet Mary Kate DuBard and her comrades will begin grinding today as track and field practice resumes. For Dubard, calling it a grind is a grand understatement.

She spent two weeks over semester break with her boyfriend, Thomas Pilliod, and his family sailing the Caribbean and sight-seeing on a trip that sounds like all the Indiana Jones movies rolled into one.

“I’d say it definitely is [going to be a difficult transition],” said the sophomore from Rock Hill, S.C. “After a week, I’ll get back into the positives, but it’s cold here, and our first run was today. I haven’t really gotten over the fact that it’s over.”

Pilliod, who was on the men’s track and field team last year before breaking away to focus on becoming the best tri-athlete than he can become, and his family are big into SCUBA. With their urging and assistance, Dubard became SCUBA certified, and it paid off on her vacation.

They all traveled to Belize, on the eastern coach of Central America, and launched on a unique odyssey.

“We chartered a sailboat; that was our home for nine days. The captain knew the area up and down, he took us to all the atolls, and they have the second-largest barrier reef down there,” Dubard said. “We pretty much dove every day. One day, we dove three times. Every night, we were kind of anchored in between islands or on the backside of an island or atoll.

“The captain knew where to stay so the boat wouldn’t rock. Every night that we were anchored, we were in a position where we could get in our dinghy and go ashore to eat in a small town if we wanted.”

Training was not forgotten. Dubard said she ran six days a week. That’s a good thing, as the indoor season resumes this weekend at Clemson, although that meet may not be on Dubard’s schedule as the track and field teams tend to split up and fan out to different competitions in the indoor season.

“We would run sometimes downtown, and along the beaches,” she said. “Some of the atolls are really small with as few as two people living on them, and it would get kind of boring running on them because of how small they were.”

Between a few day trips to land, and three longer trips after the sailing portion of the itinerary was complete, Dubard and Pilliod got an eye-full.

“We saw Mayan ruins in Guatemala, and that was amazing. We went zip-lining, and . . . went in a cave where you had to swim through water, and get up in crevices where you could see all the ceramics from how ever many years ago. Unbelievable.” The trip did not include Disney World, but it had an amusement park feel at the finish. The final day brought a trip where everybody hopped on tubes and floated for a couple hours down a river and through a few caves.

Now, back to work; between the cross country season, the indoor track season and the outdoor season that follows, Dubard and her teammates stay busy. She’s not complaining.

“It’s nice to have a break in the summer, and the short break after cross country, but being able to race basically year-round . . . makes you want to put in your work,” said Dubard, who typically runs the 5K and 3K in the indoor season, with perhaps an indoor mile mixed in on occasion. “You’re always training for something rather than just training, like in some sports.

“You work hard so that eventually you can enjoy things like that trip. They were all-around awesome trips. Overall, it was the trip of a lifetime.”

If you’ve been on a journey like this one, well, more power to you. If you made an extravagant holiday trip, let me know about it at


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