Sunday, November 6, 2011

Citizen Wittrock

Back in September I applied to be a member of the 2011 Fall Citizen’s Academy with the Sun Prairie Police Department. After a background check, I was approved, and class officially began on Thursday, Sept. 22.

Over the past eight weeks I have learned about various aspects of police life, including building searches, drugs and gangs. The curriculum included hands-on experience as well, such as when it was time to head to the Deerfield Indoor Shooting Range for some target practice, to the Columbus Speedway for Emergency Vehicle Operator Course [EVOC] driving or to the downtown police station for my

ride-along with Sun Prairie Police Officer Mike Hartman.

The experience has definitely been an eye-opener for me. During a dispatch ride-along, one of the Sun Prairie dispatchers, Tina Gebhard, made the comment that traffic stops and domestic abuse calls are the two most dangerous times for an officer.

“You never know who is in the car or if they have weapons,” Gebhard told me.

Although I never really stopped to think about it before, it makes sense.
An officer pulls over a vehicle and not knowing who or what is in the vehicle, makes an approach. While most traffic stops are routine, with law-abiding and rational citizens such as myself, the potential for danger is there, which is why Sun Prairie dispatchers keep in contact with officers during calls.

“My most important duty here is ensuring that everyone goes home safe at night,” Gebhard added.

Even though I have enjoyed everything, my favorite parts were when I was able to actually try the things out for myself, such as when I got to do vehicle maneuvers and obstacle courses in EVOC driving, or when my class headed to the range for target practice. Defense and Arrest Techniques [DAAT] training was also a blast - it’s not often you get to drop a police officer and former Marine.

I’m not going to rehash every last bit of it, because 1) it would be a lot of typing and 2) I’ve already done that during my weekly articles for the Sun Prairie Star.

If you want a more in-depth review of my experiences as Citizen Wittrock, click on the following links:
Firearms and EVOC driving:
Gangs, Drugs and How to Stay Safe:
Defense and Arrest Techniques [DAAT] and Sun Prairie dispatch:
OWI, Detective Bureau and Internet Crimes:
Sun Prairie EMS/FIre:

My graduation ceremony is scheduled for Thursday, Nov. 10. It’s sure to be a blast, and we will find out who won the Golden Cone Award - given to the person who hit the most cones during EVOC driving Oct. 1.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Pox on Politicians

The other day while watching the news, I heard that Republican legislators, headed by Rep. Voss, want to change the state’s recall policy. Recent policy states elected officials can be recaled for any reason, but a petition with the names of 25 percent of individuals within the representative’s district - and the names have to be collected within 60 days. To me, collecting that amount of signatures - literally thousands, sometimes tens of thousands of names - in two months - seems like it would be challenge enough for the process.

Republicans however, want to make it so a representative can only be recalled if they have committed a felony or an ethical violation.

This proposed change reeks of political agenda and party-pandering. To me, it doesn’t matter if it is Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal. Either way, I would not support the move.

We the people - We the People select who we want representating us not just as President of the United States, but in all offices, from Congress representatives and state senators, to district assemblymen and women.

When Governor Scott Walker presented his union-busting, collective bargaining stripping bill to the people, an outry went out and thousands from all over the state - teachers, police, firefighters, the common man - flocked to the Capital to protest. Within a few months, recall efforts were underway for both Republican and Democrat senators, and in the end, Democrats picked up two seats, not enough for the three needed to gain majority, but it wasn’t in vain.

It is the people who elect their representatives, the people who pledge their hard-earned money to fund the campaigns. I understand the frustration with the $44 million spent on the recent recalls, but stripping even more rights from the voting public of Wisconsin is not right. If constituents feel their lawmakers have let them down in some way, are no longer representing their best interests - whatever that may be - they should have every right to try to recall him or her.

This bill isn’t to prevent another rampaging recall effort from occurring in the future, it’s to limit a party takeover - because our Assemblymen and women, both Republican and Democrat - are incapable of working together. Public officials represent us, and showing intollerance and an unwillingness to work together for the betterment of our county, state and nation is a poor message to send to everyone.

Step up politicians, put aside your petty differences, and work to address an actual growing problem: how to fix our declining economy, growing unemployment rates and budget deficit, while not completely turning a cold shoulder to the most needy. Leave the party-pandering in the dust, please.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Path of the Warrior

I know it’s been a couple months since my last post. I’ve been busy, so sue me. Thankfully, enough has happened lately where all I need to worry about is what to write about first.

Anyway, Saturday, Sept. 17 I traveled to Twin Lakes, Wis. for Warrior Dash. It was a 3.2 mile run, with 10 obstacles, including 8-12 foot walls,a 16-foot rope wall, crawling under barbed wire and a mesh net, leaping over fire and crawling through a mud pit.

Although my time wasn’t the best (42:03.35), I did make my goal - I did not walk a single step and only stopped when I had to wait my turn at the obstacles.

At the end of the day Saturday I finished 4,632 out of 6,657 finishers, and 214 out of 321 female finishers age 20-24. All things considered, I didn’t do that bad, and I had A LOT of fun. After the mud pit and crossing the finishing line, my foot slipped and I actually went all the way down in the mud. I joked about it and was like well, that’s the way to finish the race! Lol.

After the race, I went through Warrior Wash - everybody lined up to get hosed down by the Randall Fire Department. I just went come on, on some level isn’t it every women’s fantasy to get hosed down by a firefighter? No? Oh well, guess it’s just me. Sadly I missed out on signing a guy’s nipple - guess there’s always next year.

By the end, I was covered head to toe in mud. There was a tiny bit of open space on my face and a space on the upper back of my T-shirt that was clean, but that was it.

It was a great challenge, and now I know that I can handle anything - watch out Tough Mudder 2012 - you’re next!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The just may be a reason for everything...

I was talking with a friend the other day, and we got to talking about some of the ups and downs of life and some of the things we had each gone through growing up. As I sat there with my friend, I found myself wondering if maybe there was a reason I went through the hard, painful life experiences that seem to come up one after another.
The more religious individuals out there will tell you "God never gives you more than you can take." Well my response always was, "Well, just how strong does he want me to be?!" But now, I find myself wondering if maybe the reason for all my trials and my pain isn't becoming clear.
I caught a glimpse and noticed that my friend was struggling more than I, and the more I think about it, the more I find myself thinking that maybe the reason for all my trials was so that I could have strength enough for my friend and myself. I'm not sure how things will fall, but I plan on exploring this thought line further. The journey begins...

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Moving Up!

Alright, I promised everyone like two weeks ago that I would post my good news, so for those of you that care and haven’t figured it out yet, I recently got promoted at work. I started June 9, 2010 as the Regional Reporter for the Sun Prairie Star. Over the past few months, I have worked hard covering city and county meetings.

In early April, our Associate Editor, Gina Covelli, accepted the position as the Managing Editor for The Herald-Independent in Cottage Grove. After the news came in, my boss offered me her position, and I accepted. Now instead of covering city and county news, I am responsible for writing lifestyle feature articles and doing the layout for the Lifestyle section.

It’s more responsibility and more hours, but it’s also a step up the career ladder, so I’m excited, and I think I’ll do well in the position, even though I’m a little slow at putting the layout together. But hey, I’ve only got two issues by myself under my belt, so it’s to be expected.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Get up, get out, get going!

In this week's column, I'd like to address the growing divide and disinterest in local government. A lot of attention has been paid to what is going on at the state government level lately because of Governor Scott Walker's budget repair bill and his proposed biennial budget, but local and county governmental bodies have remained largely unnoticed, at least from what I have seen.

As a reporter for the Sun Prairie Star, I cover the Dane County Board of Supervisors and the majority of Sun Prairie city meetings. When it comes to city meetings, attendance is pretty much non-existent. Whenever I attend Transit or Tourism Commission meetings, the only ones in attendance are board members, myself and individuals presenting to the board, if any. The Sun Prairie City Council Committee of the Whole meetings aren't any better. Occasionally a resident or two might attend, but that usually only happens when an issue pertains to them, such as when the committee discussed changing parking regulations for recreational vehicles [RVs].

I can't really speak to the actual City Council meetings, as that is something my boss covers, but the couple I attended were sparsely attended, with maybe 1-4 people there. Again, the only exception was the meeting a couple weeks ago when they approved changing the RV parking ordinance.

And Dane County Board? Pitiful. Now, I realize that the meeting is televised, but I find it disgraceful that 98 percent of the time, I am the ONLY media outlet actually in attendance at the meetings. Usually a couple Madison media outlets have a brief about the meeting in the couple days following the meeting, so I can only assume there are a couple reporters watching the meeting from home with a glass of wine.

Residents aren't any better. Unless there is a “hot button” issue or someone is being honored, residents don't bother showing up. Yes, there was an instance back in November when the county was proposing cutting funding for Human Services in the 2011 budget process when more than 100 residents showed up to oppose it, but most of the time between 0-12 people show up – a dozen out of the county's 488,000 residents.

Yet we love to complain. We complain about Walker, and the Wisconsin Legislature, about cuts to schools, libraries, state aid to municipalities, how come our taxes keep going up? What people don't realize is the connection between everything. The federal government gives aid to states for projects, the states give money in the form of shared revenue to county governments. County governments then decide how that shared revenue will be distributed among the local municipalities and the municipalities decide what is important for their city, town or village.

To me, the lack of people showing interest in their local governmental bodies says “we don't care about what happens in our town. Just make all the decisions without our input. After all, you know what is best.”

Now I'l admit, I never once attended a city meeting in my hometown of Antigo, Wis., so I can't tell you what it is like in the north end of the state. However, as part of my journalistic education at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, I had to attend Whitewater Common Council meetings for Professor Sam Martino's Reporting Public Affairs class.

In truth, the majority of people that showed up to those meetings were from our class, which had roughly 24 students, plus the teacher. However, at every single meeting I went to, I noticed between 5-15 residents in attendance, sometimes more. While even that does not sound like a lot, you have to remember that of the city's 14,000 population, roughly 10,000 are university students. So in a city of technically 4,000 people, 5-15 people is decent compared to other places.

I'm going to be completely honest here. I find the increasing trend of ignoring our own local governments to be very disappointing. With everything that goes on in our own lives, how can we think that what the government, be it local, state or federal, does not affect us and our everyday lives?

So as my title says, get up, get out and get going!

Related articles:

How Walker's biennial budget will impact Dane County:

How Walker's biennial budget will impact Wisconsin libraries:

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


Yes, yes, I’m aware. I haven’t had a blog posting in oh, about three months now. Frankly, with everything that has been going on, I’ve been more than a tad bit busy, so I’ll be brief. So far this year, I’ve:

• Attended the Monster Truck Nationals at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison;

• Did the Polar Plunge in Madison (which was pretty gross. Next year I’m back to jumping in Whitewater);

• Covered a bit of the craziness that went on at the Capitol the past five weeks;

• Learned one friend is moving. He has decided to be a deusche and deal with it by cutting me out of his life; and

• Learned another friend is going to be spending the next six years in prison;

Like I said, brief. Now, onto the main event!

On March 12, the UW-Whitewater Warhawk Karate Club traveled to Dubuque, Iowa (well technically Peosta, Iowa) for its annual martial arts tournament. I traveled with the team last year, but at the time decided to represent Halama’s Martial Arts. This year I have decided to cast off those shackles and consider myself dedicated to the Warhawk Karate Club.

Anyway, my weekend stared out crazy, as I worked until about 7 p.m. Friday and then picked up some chicken from Buck n’ Honey for supper before heading home to pack. I don’t know if it is because I am a woman or what, but it took forever to pack, and I actually wound up staying up until 12:45 a.m., and then waking up again at 2:30 a.m. Why, you may ask? Well, simple. Because we were leaving from Whitewater at 6 a.m. and I neede to be on the road by 4:30 a.m. in order to ensure I had enough time to get there, meet everyone and head out. Skipping ahead through the boring drive over details (I rode up in an actual former police car), we got there a little after 9 a.m. and the tournament began at 10.

I must admit, I didn’t get to watch my teammates a lot until the very end of the tournament, which was disappointing. Instead, I wound up helping out with tallying scoring in between my events. However, I did get to see some white belt sparring (good job Mike, Alex and Zach), the black belt sparring and Pete’s weapons form (the things that guy can do with a stick, lol).

Of course us Warhawks dominated, bringing home 16 trophies between 14 participants. Our own Laura Kiskunas walked away champion in the ladies forms and sparring. It was quite nervewracking in sparring as I wound up facing her in the championship match. Despite being up 4-0 at one point, I could not seem to clinche that last point and wound up losing 5-4. I think I got too caught up with “Oh my God! I’m beating Laura. Somebody call NASA because the Earth must be imploding!”

Anywho, Laura captured first in sparring and forms for the women (the division did not include red and black belts), and after sudden death in forms, I came in third.

After the competition (and after getting my butt spanked by David, along with half of the team) we hit up Buffalo Wild Wings for food before drinks at the hotel. Although not quite as many people as last year, we still had about 18 people squashed into two hotel rooms.

I could go into more detail about the goings-on at the hotel that night, because it definitely is a night that I’m going to remember, but I shan’t. The craziness stays within the group, lol.

Next blog: The growing disconnect in local government (hey, they can’t all be fun...but they are interesting.)

Sunday, January 2, 2011

2010 Highlights

Well, another year has come and gone, and I have had many firsts this year. From finishing school to my first tandem skydive, I have slowly begun to come out of my shell and start living my life to the fullest. 

To summarize, here is a list of my top 2010 highlights:


Ouch! My first serious injury: 

Jan. 7 started out like any regular day. My last Christmas break was coming to a close, and I decided to take advantage of it by furthering my martial arts training with Halama’s Martial Arts, in Wausau. Each class ends with a few bouts of sparring, and that night was no exception. 

Now, my instructor always said to try the more complicated kicks when sparring against a lower belt because higher belts will be able to evade them. So I decided to try a tornado kick against Denise, a yellow belt. During the kick, there is one brief window when both feet are in the air. Unfortunately, at that point Denise hit me with a front kick. As a result, I landed sideways and fell and next thing I know, I can barely walk. After three months, I finally got the correct diagnosis: a sprain in my achilles tendon. It took almost a year, but is finally healed.


Polar Plunge: 

For the first time, I participated in the Polar Plunge for Special Olympics. My mother told me that I should probably reconsider after my injury, but it was something I had wanted to do for years, but never knew about in time. I participated in the Polar Plunge in Whitewater, where participants jumped into a large pool instead of Lake Cravath, due in large part to the fact the lake is pretty gross. I wound up raising more than $350 for Special Olympics, and although I was jumping into a pool instead of a lake, it was still really cold, although not quite as bad as I thought it was going to be. 


Dubuque Tournament: 

I participated in my first martial arts tournament this past March in Dubuque, Iowa, and although I traveled with the Warhawk Karate Club, I represented Halama’s Martial Arts. It was different than I expected. The form judges only knew the black belt forms, so if I had made a mistake, they wouldn’t know. I also participated in the sparring tournament. It was point sparring, which was a little different than I was used to, but I tried my best.

As fun as the tournament was, that night was even better. Even though there were 23 of us, everyone wound up staying in a two-room joining suite. Twenty-three people, two rooms, four beds, it was quite smushed. Everyone was kind of just piled up together, like a litter of kittens. Of course, I didn’t really expect anything else with members of the UW-Whitewater Warhawk Karate Club. They really are the most wonderful and amusing group of people I have ever had the privilege of meeting.


Testing, my first motorcycle ride and just a little trouble:

Yet another accomplishment and another first. After months of training, I finally received my blue tips through Halama’s Martial Arts on April 1 - no fooling! My test included my form, sahm-jong, all the basics, free sparring and board breaking with a back dash side kick.                       

Afterwards, Mr. Ben Bryden, one of the black belts at Halama’s Martial Arts, gave me my first ever motorcycle ride. In my opinion, that stemmed my personal movement to overcome my fears and live life outside of my comfort zone.  In the end, it was one of the most exciting and thrilling experiences of my life, the wind whipping through my hair, the speed of the ride - it was so freeing.

At the end of the month, I had a chance to see Whitewater’s campus from a bird’s eye view. I’m not going to specify just where, or who, I was with, but let’s just say I had a chance to go adventuring on some campus rooftops in the middle of the night. I was at least two stories up at the peak, looking down on campus and I remember thinking, five years in college and I here is a whole part of life, of this city, I never knew. It definitely put a whole new perspective on things, an exciting perspective, knowing that I was seeing the university in a whole new way - a way most people never get a chance to see or appreciate. It was quite an eye-opener.


Officially done with school - Graduation day: 

Looking back, it’s hard to believe I am completely done with school. It seems like just yesterday I was a freshman, staying out late, occasionally skipping classes, hanging out with the boys of 1st floor Bigelow. Then all of a sudden, five years passed in a flash. All too soon, its’s May 15, 2010, I’m decked out in my cap and gown, crossing that stage, shaking Chancellor Telfer’s hand, smiling for the camera and taking my seat in the crowd. 

Even though it’s been more than seven months since graduation, it’s weird - on some level I still feel like I’m in college, like I will be going back to school any day now, but I know I’m not. Life really does pass by in the blink of an eye, so treasure every moment.


Officially a part of the workforce: 

Despite the poor economy, I happened upon a piece of luck. After graduation, I packed up and moved back in with my parents. Thankfully, it was very temporary. 

On Friday, June 4, I traveled to Sun Prairie, Wis. to interview for the Regional Reporter position at the Sun Prairie Star. My second actual job interview, I had no idea how long I could expect to wait before hearing back. Imagine my surprise then, when on Monday, June 7, I received a call back offering me the job. I was so shocked I couldn’t breathe, and a friend was like “Rachel, calm down, breathe.” 

They needed me right away, so the very next day I packed up the stuff I needed, loaded it into the back of my parent’s car and drove down to Madison, trying desperately to find a friend to crash with until I could find my own place. Thankfully, my friend Kyle agreed to let me stay a few weeks until I could find a place to stay and get moved in.

On Wednesday, June 9, I had my first day of work. It was such a whirlwind - I had my job interview, got offered the position and started work in a five-day span. Every day I’m thankful for my job. I take it as high praise that I got the position, especially considering the poor economy and competitive journalism job market.


My first skydive! 

In what might very well have been the most insane and life-changing decision of my life, I decided to go skydiving this past summer. On Saturday, July 17 2010, I headed to AtmosphAir Skydiving School in Jefferson, Wis. to conquer my biggest fear - falling from heights. I’m not going to go into too much detail because I already did that in a previous blog, but it was the most intense, amazing, exhilarating and life-changing experience of my life. There is nothing quite like willingly paying someone to take you up 12,000 feet in the air and then jump out, with nothing but a parachute on your back and air below you. I have since gone three more times and hope to one day get certified to jump solo. Fly on!


Troublesome Calvin. 

At the end of August, I adopted a kitten, whom I named Calvin, from the Jefferson Humane Society. A little troublemaker, he stole my heart when I held him in my arms and he gently put his front paw up on my lips as if to say, “shhh, shhh, don’t say anything. Just adopt me,” and looked up at me with those big amber eyes of his. About a week later, he was mine. Roughly 2.5 months old when I got him, he quickly turned my life upside down, waking me up 2-3 times during the night, playing with my toes and fingers, pouncing on me unexpectedly. But in the four months I’ve had him, he has calmed down quite a bit and is mommy’s good little boy...most of the time. 


Aaaah, I'm Over the Edge!

While not a new experience entirely, I rappelled down the Hilton Hotel in Madison for Special Olympics of Wisconsin’s Over the Edge Media Day. While inside the building, I put on all the equipment: the gloves, the hat, the harness, everything, and then went on the roof to first practice rappelling down just one floor. Once my practice rappel was over, I climbed back in the window, feeling pretty badass. In my head, I was thinking “I feel like I’m breaking into a museum to steal the crown diamond before rappelling down the side of the building. Cool!” And while no crime was actually committed, it was pretty amazing to see everything from up high. The people were specs, the cars were like toys, and I couldn’t believe I had a chance to rappel down an actual building - it was something I had jokingly talked about doing for years. The first step was the hardest, but once it is over, it’s easy sailing, er, ahem, rappelling. 


Best birthday ever! 

Although I spent my actual birthday at Cardinal’s Nest in Sun Prairie and Nitty Gritty in Madison throwing down some free drinks, the real party wasn’t until a couple days later, when some friends and I went skydiving Oct. 10. 

We met at 9 a.m. in the morning at AtmosphAir, and after the class, went one by one up in the planes for some freefalling fun. My fourth skydive, my tandem instructor and I hung onto the outside of the plane, let go and then did three backflips in the air before stabilizing. As with my third jump, I was able to keep an eye on the altimeter and pull the cord to deploy the canopy at 6,000 feet. So much fun and I cannot wait for them to open again in April.


A Slithery Friend

Well, they can’t all be huge accomplishments, but even the small ones are cause for celebration. This time, I held a ball python in my hands. It was still a baby, only about a foot and a half long, but I’m not exactly fond of the slithery creatures. Just in case it was capable of sensing fear, I tried to calm myself down and take deep breaths, but whenever the snake turned around and fixed me with those beady eyes...(shudder). There is something so primal about snakes, like no matter how many years pass, they will never change, never evolve. Anyway, I survived my encounter and am braver for it.

November was also the month I met my first friend in Sun Prairie, Jena. After a grueling work day and after listening to a five-hour budget meeting for the paper, I went to Cardinal’s Nest for a relaxing drink, where I met her. Although we haven’t known each other long, she’s proved to be a good friend, and I’m thankful I met her.


What a shock! 

December was quite a shocking month, in more ways than one. On Wednesday, Dec. 22, I attended the Dane County Sheriff Office’s Use of Force presentation. Now, I know I just published a whole long blog about it, so I will be brief. While there, I had a chance to feel the keen sting of a Taser and try out the Fire Arms Training Simulator (FATS). While the simulator was a lot of fun, the Taser shot was extremely painful. Not all life’s experiences are pleasant, but they all add up to the person we will eventually become. Similarly, even though the Taser shot was not pleasant, it was another chance for me to step out of my comfort zone and experience life. However my life ends up, no one will ever be able to say it was boring!

The UW-Whitewater Warhawk Football team also played the Mt. Union Raiders for the Division III National Football Championship title for the sixth straight year Dec. 18, 2010. The Warhawks came out victorious, 31-21. The Warhawks will be going into next season on a 30-game winning streak, currently the longest in the NCAA.