Meet Tracy Hale: Top-notch DC guide, AE tour manager, and now... Marine Corps Marathon runner!

This October marks a major milestone for Academic Expeditions staffer Tracy Hale as she completed her dream goal of running the Marine Corps Marathon. We chatted with her to get the full scoop:AEFeaturedStaff Tracy02

Q: Tracy, tell me about your background as a runner; had you done any races prior to signing up for the Marine Corps Marathon? What was the longest distance you had run?

TH: I ran two half marathons, and my boyfriend Brett and I liked to run a five miler together every year. I used to live a pretty unhealthy lifestyle, but in my mid-30s I started running, joined boot camp for women, and signed up for my first 5K. That first 5K race was tough. I thought I would die, huffing and puffing the whole way, but I became addicted to it. I loved races—the excitement of it, pushing myself… I wasn’t running to win but to cross the finish line. I loved the feeling of accomplishment after completing a race and proving to myself that even though I was getting older I could still do it.

Q: Why this race?

TH: The Marine Corps Marathon has always been on my bucket list. I was usually guiding in DC on marathon day. My group and I would see the runners and stop and cheer them on for 5 or 10 minutes, and I would say, “That will be me one day.” 

This year, a friend of mine who knew that I had been wanting to run a marathon asked me to enter the race with her and raise money to help build a community playground. The Marine Corps Marathon is also called “The People’s Marathon” because it’s the largest marathon in the world that does not offer prize money. It promotes physical fitness and attracts community fundraisers and people from everywhere. There’s tons of fundraising associated with this marathon. You can read more about MCM’s history here.

We ran in support of RunningBrooke, a local nonprofit that believes kids do better when physically active, and since some neighborhoods don’t have a place for kids to play, they build and renovate playgrounds and parks in “playground deserts” throughout the city. Brooke, the woman who started the organization, used to be a heavy smoker. After 9/11 she was inspired to run her first marathon, and she just accomplished her 101st marathon! Brooke has run on every continent, and the Marine Corps Marathon was her 100th race. All fundraising goes to communities. RunningBrooke has a very small overhead, it’s just her and two other people. So my friend and I raised money while training to run.

Q: How much money did you raise? 

TH: I raised $1000. Balancing work while training for the marathon was difficult. Next time I think I’d use more mass media because while working and training at the same time was a challenge, asking for money was even more difficult than running the marathon! 

Q: It takes a lot of discipline to keep training when you have a busy schedule. What motivated you to stick with it?

TH: Pressure. I kept thinking, “what if I don’t end up running,” and that was motivation to keep going. Then in the middle of peak training, I got an injury and couldn’t run for 30 days. From mid-July to mid-August, I had to take time off from running to recover from IT Band Syndrome. During that time, I cross-trained to keep fit. It was nerve-wracking to have an injury so close to the race. But I was bound and determined to do it, even if I had to walk the whole thing. Plus, I had told everybody I was doing it so I had to see it through! I couldn’t not do it!! 

Q: How often do you typically run?

TH: I run anywhere from 4 days a week or more. It’s the only time when my brain shuts down, not having to think about anything, just listening to the pounding of your feet, everything else goes away. Then I come back and do day-to-day stuff. 

Q: What was it like to run the Marine Corps Marathon?

AEFeaturedStaff Tracy01TH: Running is relaxation… running a marathon is not!! Brett would meet me every 5 or 10 miles and cheer me on. Mile 10, I was thinking, “Okay...” Mile 15, I was looking at the Washington Monument, which was great but I was starting to feel it. Mile 18, I was crossing the 14th Street Bridge and thought, “Oh no.” As we were crossing the bridge, we saw the Coast Guard booth down in the water. We could tell the guard was getting ready to say something, he was waving to us and shouted, “You all better not stop! Keep going! You’ve got a ways to go!!” 

Mile 24 was cool, coming around the Pentagon and starting to see Arlington National Cemetery. It was pretty moving because when you’re running with everyone next to you, amputees, people in wheelchairs and the people pushing them… you look at them and think “a little bit of pain’s not going to hurt.” At the end of the marathon, it was just very moving and getting emotional. You train all these months and you’re near the end and it’s almost over and you’re like “Wow.” It’s hard to explain, it’s emotional. 

Q: What motivated you to carry on when you were tired?

TH: Looking at everyone else who should be having issues and realizing that if they’re out here, you can be out here. Some runners literally had prosthetic limbs. It was just phenomenal. You know their legs had to be hurting because it’s not even a natural surface. Some runners were missing arms, there were guys and girls with missing legs. Running with them was such an inspiration. 

Q: Was there anything about the marathon that surprised you?

TH: I was just so thrilled I didn’t lose any toenails!! After my first half marathon, the next day I was drinking coffee on my porch and looking down at my toes I saw a toenail sticking straight up! 

Q: What was it like crossing the finish line?

TH: My family and Brett’s sister and brother-in-law were at the finish line. Right when I was coming up the hill at Iwo Jima, I was so exhausted but I didn’t want to walk across the finish line. I wanted to keep running. My family started screaming my name and I looked over and thought, “Okay, I’ve got to finish now.” My brother-in-law said it looked like I kicked it into high gear and literally ran past people with a burst of speed that he was totally shocked with. I just wanted to run because it was so awesome. 

Marines were lining both sides of the finish line and giving everyone high-fives. I high-fived every one and said “thank you for your service.” I crossed the finish line and they put a big medal around my neck, and I was just trying to hold the tears back. It was probably one of the most special moments of my life. It was that cool. And it didn’t hurt that marines were all so cute. My race time was 5:39:04.

Afterwards my family and I went out to lunch because I hadn’t really eaten anything, just animal crackers and stuff during the race. I got the biggest burger! I was so hungry it was ridiculous!! 

Q: What top tip would you give to someone about to run their first marathon?

TH: Definitely do it! Start training early, and take it easy because it takes time. You need to commit to running 4 or 5 times a week, but it’s worth it. For anyone running their first marathon, the Marine Corps Marathon is just awesome. Anyone should run it.


Please continue reading below to see some of our previously highlighted staff.



Andrew Selinka, Managing Director, visits Ethiopia, an ancient land that provides insight on our modern cultural conflicts.

EthiopiaMy recent Professional Development Tour to Ethiopia (sponsored by the National Tour Association and Ethiopian Ministry of Tourism) was everything and nothing I expected.

Each moment brought new insights into the magic that the people, the culture and the rich history and traditions offer to the traveler. Ethiopia is immediately and decisively foreign and unique yet also familiar and welcoming.

My expectations were guarded and my goals unsure even though I loved being there from the start.

I knew I wanted to create a unique educational travel program that we could offer and was looking for that special moment that would become my inspirational genesis.

Our company, Academic Expeditions, specializes in high quality custom educational student tours so I had an idea of what I was looking for but not sure what specific demographic I would focus on. All of the other tour operators on the tour specialized in adult and family travel programs so my perspective was quite different as I imagined student groups traveling in our tour footsteps.

That inspirational moment for me came in beautiful and fascinating Lalibela, a town in Northern Ethiopia that is famous for its 11 monolithic rock cut churches and is one of Ethiopia's holiest cities.

EthiopiaStoneI immediately knew that I wanted to bring University students or adults here to study the rich history of religious tolerance that this country offers. We offer several University Chaplaincy departments around the country unique in depth tours that show a glimpse into multi faith coexistence.

Our partnering branch Discovery Expeditions, was birthed out of our Academic Expeditions team for this very vision, to offer immersive group travel opportunities off the beaten path to adults, families, and non-traditional students who may not fall into the same network or community that generates our successful domestic student tours.

Ethiopia was an amazing example of this and we look forward to creating and offering these insightful tours soon.

Andrew Selinka,
Managing Director
Academic Expeditions & Discovery Expeditions




Living out the National Archives on a Personal Level

By: Isaiah Mosteller

Somehow, I became the “archivist” for our family. Usually, it’s some older person in a family, cognizant of their years slipping away, who takes on the task of documenting family history, genealogy, photos and video. But for me, my interest in archiving my family history came while I was still young and without yet any wife or children to pass it on to. I believe it is no coincidence that this “fascination with my roots” emerged at the same time that I emerged as a tour guide for our American History.

At the same time that I was leading American’s young people to important historical sights, saying “this is why we preserve these places, structures and artifacts!” I was seeking out the important artifacts and information of my own family. I traced my forefather’s name back through Kansas, Indiana, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and into Germany. I raided through old albums and shoeboxes of photos tucked into closets and forgotten spaces. I compiled scattered home movies off 8mm reels and unlabeled VHS tapes. I scanned the photos into digital form and burned the home movies onto DVDs.

20120610 NC Mama Daddy visit 26A few years ago, I came across an invaluable item that I feared had been lost. I saw it once years ago when I was little, but when I asked about it years later, no one knew where it ended up. But by happenstance, I found it in my Aunt and Uncle’s safe: my grandfather’s scrapbook and photo album. There was his graduation photo, his track badge, his World War I medal, his poem he wrote for his “yet unknown” wife, and many pictures of his contemporary relatives, including his grandparents who first moved the family to Kansas years before. It was like finding my grandfather’s Facebook profile from a time gone by.

Frederick Perry Mosteller "Pappy" was born in 1896 and died in 1959 well before I was born. His scrapbook is particularly fascinating because he created it in the 1910’s before he married, before he fathered 15 children and became forever known as “Pappy.” By the time my dad was born (the twelfth in 1941) they say he seemed more hardened and serious. But his youthful scrapbook shows him a romantic, humorous, and in touch with his extended family, even though he himself was orphaned at a young age.

When I take groups to the National Archives in DC, I often compare it to a “safe” that the students may have back home, where important family documents, such as birth certificates, are held. The Archives is where our nation preserves and protects our important documents, such as our national birth certificate, the Declaration of Independence. We all know this is important, but unfortunately, many people, in millions of homes across America do not apply the same appreciation to their family treasures, and so much gets lost to time and forgetfulness. To me, on a personal level, Pappy’s scrapbook is worth more, and says more about my life, than the Declaration of Independence. I would hate for it to be lost and forgotten again.

Fortunately, if Pappy’s scrapbook were to be lost or somehow destroyed, it would not be completely lost this time. I have scanned the entire book into digital form. While it can be argued that fast-changing technology (hard copy film, prints and letters giving way to intangible megabytes) has made it all the more easy for family documentation to be lost and forgotten, I say that technology can be used wisely to preserve and share those very things. The world needs more “archivist” who take an interest in seeking out, documenting and preserving their own personal family history. And, I am convinced that is the young people who need to step up. The older people in your family may be the ones with the hard copy resources and knowledge and interest in preservation, but it is the young people who know how to use today’s technological resources that often intimidate the older generations.

If you are a student getting ready for one of our historical expeditions to the Eastern US, consider scanning some of your old family photos and creating your own personal family archives. Print off an extra copy of a relative who served in war, and come ready to leave it at the appropriate memorial in DC. This will help attach your personal history to the broader history of our nation. You can even expand your use of technology into a great fundraiser – scanning old photos into digital form for other people. You’d be doing them a great service, and they could support you in making a historical trip!

History is often called the “biography of great men” but there are many great men and women whose biographies never get told. They are the extensions of our family – our parents and our grandparents, and their grandparents. Their stories are every bit as dramatic and historic, and on a personal level, more valuable than the Declaration of Independence.

Isaiah is the Director of Education, and frequent guide, for Academic Expeditions.

To investigate possibilities for fundraisers that not only help cover your trip costs, but reinforce the themes of your trip, visit our Fundraising Page.



Daniel Minchew, one of our truly great guides!

DanielDaniel Minchew, a guide for Academic Expeditions, first got his toes in the tour business when he worked as a young man for the US Senate. Being the lowest on the totem pole, Daniel spent most of his time leading tours through the US Capitol building and he actually loved it. But his full time guiding career began in 1990 when a Washington, DC tour company was short on guides and was in a bind. Even though Daniel had never guided people around the city outside of the Capitol building, he agreed to help them in their tight pinch. He realized that he really enjoyed guiding and was a profession he wanted to pursue, resulting in him becoming a certified Washington, DC guide as soon as the group’s tour was completed.

Daniel still continues to guide because “it’s fun” and the interaction with many interesting people from all over the world. No matter how many times he has seen the sights, he gets a thrill everywhere he goes in Washington, DC because there is always something different. It is evident that Daniel truly loves guiding, as he is leading groups roughly three hundred days in 2011 – and not because he has to but by choice.

Daniel has many exceptional memories from guiding over the years. Learning the story behind one boy’s struggle to make it on a trip was very heart touching and rewarding.  This boy was from a non-affluent community in the southern United States who could not afford to travel to Washington, DC. However, in addition to scholarships, some of his teachers helped by teaming up and gathering money to buy him underwear, new clothes, and five disposable cameras. The young boy was ecstatic. The group’s first stop upon arrival to the big city was at the Museum of American History. The boy jumped off the bus and the first thing he does is take a picture of the grass on the National Mall. Daniel asks the boy why his first picture was of the grass, and the boy explains to Daniel that he never thought in a million years that he would ever be there and he wanted a picture to prove his once in a lifetime experience.  Moments like this are why Daniel enjoys guiding so much, for it is amazing to have the opportunity to take part in this boy’s once in a lifetime experience.

Then there was the time when Daniel took fifty students to the Barack Obama inauguration. The students were from all over the country and this was the first time any of them had met one another, but they all had the common tie of being Obama supporters. They all departed the hotel at four o’clock in the morning to head to the National Mall. However, it became a little dicey when they managed to establish a location to view the inauguration near a group of adults all wearing McCain/Palin buttons. However, it turned out that the group was not there to protest but to show respect for the presidential winner. The students and adults all made friends and ended up Facebooking one another afterwards. Experiences like this shows the power of democracy.

Through the years Daniel has guided for many tour companies and his expertise is very often in high demand.  We at Academic Expeditions are happy to have a special relationship with him of mutual respect – we recognize his passion and skills while he recognizes the quality and personalized touch we give to our groups.  It is a natural fit that has him working with us often, and a natural choice that he would be one of our guides we should highlight.  Should you get a chance to travel with Daniel, you’ll find his physical and intellectual energy just seem to increase with time and you’re apt to catch his contagious curiosity for our American history represented up and down the East coast.


Experiencing Colombia’s new tourism slogan in person, “The risk is that you'll want to stay.”

By: Isaiah Mosteller

While much of South America has boomed in tourism from Machu Picchu to Patagonia, the wonderful country of Colombia has been a victim of bad press with images of drug lords, kidnappings, and para-military rebels. Yes, the nation has had its pockets of unrest, but I kept hearing from friends who had actually traveled there reports of charming cities and exceptional friendly people. I’ve made a habit recently of visiting a new destination in Latin America each year, for the sake of adventure and to continue refining my Spanish skills, and in 2010, a cheap flight to Bogota tipped the scales in favor of Colombia, to check the “risks” out for myself. I even added an additional element of “risk” when I made an appointment to get some major dental work done down there that I had avoided for years in the States due to the extreme costs. Apart from seeing natural landscapes, historic cities and mingling with other traveling backpackers, I really wanted to meet Colombians themselves. I was able to do this with the help of friends-of-friends, networking on-line via, and even my dentist and his family welcomed me in. Indeed, while the sites and activities were rewarding, my favorite aspect of my trip was the people who befriended me, took me into their homes, and took pride in making sure I enjoyed their country. So, I did travel and return home safely (with a new smile, too) and so the only published “risk” that I can say is accurate in my experience, is the one that Colombia’s Tourism Ministry has cleverly adopted as their slogan: “El riesgo es que te quieras quedar.” (The risk is that you’ll want to stay.) And to that, I say: “De acuerdo.” I agree.
Isaiah with one of his hosts in Villa de Leyeva, Colombia
As a professional in the field of group tourism, I often ask myself how can a set group of travelers go beyond the insular trappings of their own familiarity and the limits of a designed itinerary and get a taste of the personal and cultural exchange that so many of us love who travel solo on a flexible schedule? And I also ask how do we balance a desire for adventure with our high standards of safety and amenities? These are delicate balances for sure, but it has to do with “risk,” knowing what they legitimately are and differentiating how they can be good and bad for you. I have traveled and lived in “risky” circumstances, but it is not because I’m care-free, I’m actually very strategic and a lover of efficiency and order. I do my research and prepare for the worst and avoid legitimate dangers, which actually frees me up to embrace the unexpected when it does come. I like to say I’ve experienced more spontaneity in my life and in the tours I lead because I plan for it, putting myself and my charges in the right context to be surprised. And thus we learn about ourselves, as history also teaches: the world would be even more “risky”, if there were no risk-takers.

Isaiah Mosteller is the Director of Education at Academic Expeditions. Read his staff bio along with our other staff at our "Our Team" page.

Check out our Latin America Destinations page to learn more about potential trips to Colombia and other Spanish-speaking countries.

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Tracy Hale, Tour Manager and Guide, completes her dream goal of running the Marine Corps Marathon.

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