You are now an Ironman!

With the right training and dedication, everyday men and women are accomplishing this extraordinary feat

By Sue Baldani

Crossing that red carpet and hearing Mike Reilly, the official voice of Ironman worldwide, proclaim “You are now an Ironman!” is an unforgettable experience. “It’s just electric,” says Erika Smiley, who completed her first Ironman in November at the age of 48. “There’s music cranking and everybody’s cheering and yelling – it’s an amazing experience.”

While many of the participants who compete in triathlons are superior athletes, others are moms, dads, brothers, sisters and even grandmothers and grandfathers. “When my dad turned 50, I think that’s when he did his first triathlon,” says Ryan Ross, who completed his first race 11 years ago at the age of 24.

“In 2011, I moved to New York and I saw a guy running the New York Marathon. Plenty of people run this marathon, but this guy didn’t have any arms or legs. He was using prosthetics and there were other people in wheelchairs. It was really inspiring and I thought ‘I have to do something like this.’”

Ryan, who lives in Mendham, has now competed in approximately 14 triathlons including both Ironman and Olympic (which are shorter) in places like London, Copenhagen, Estonia and in the U.S. He usually finishes a full Ironman in 12 to 13 hours (professionals can do it in about eight hours, he says). 

Neither Erika, who lives in Indiana and is the director of business development for City Lifestyle, nor Ryan, who is in residential real estate, would consider themselves fitness fanatics. “I started running about 14 years ago after I had my second child to get out of the house and relieve stress,” says Erika. “I would run a block, walk a block, run a block, walk a block, and that built up to where I could do a 5K. After that, I was hooked and thought, ‘Maybe I can do a 10K, maybe I can do a half-marathon, maybe I can do a full marathon,’ and so on.”

Ten years ago, she ran a full marathon, and afterwards decided to train for a triathlon. “I ended up doing five or six of them and actually did a half Ironman as well. After that, I took a break.”

During the COVID pandemic, she felt the need to do something meaningful, so she started to train for a full Ironman, which is a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, plus a 26.2 mile run. The competition, held in Panama City, Florida, took her 16 hours and 36 minutes to finish.

“You have to finish each event at a certain time, so I was really nervous because I’m slow. You have until 12:30 at night and I finished right around midnight, so I only had about 30 minutes left.”

For those wishing to take part in a triathlon, organizing a training schedule and budgeting your time is critical, says Ryan. Erika agrees, “It takes a lot of training, but you can have a job and have kids and do it. It’s really just putting in the time and building up. I bought a book with a 30-week training plan. It’s not about being perfect, though, it’s about being consistent.”

You also have to make sure you have the right type of bike, the right shoes and have somewhere to swim, explains Ryan. For this last part, that often means joining a gym with a pool. Financial budgeting is also important. In addition to the needs above, there are travel expenses, lodging costs, race fees, and more. 

Nutrition is also extremely important, and nutrition training plans are available to make sure you’re getting enough micronutrients and electrolytes. Salt is also a big component. “I’ve never had really bad cramps because I religiously take in salt while training and competing,” he says. He sets alarms on his Garmin watch to remind him to hydrate every five miles as well because once you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.

Finishing an Ironman is not just great for us physically, but mentally too. “Anytime you commit to doing something this big and finish it, it really gives you the confidence that there’s really nothing in the world you can’t handle,” says Erika.

Want to become a triathlete or even an Ironman (or woman)? Here are some resources:

Find a triathlon in/near NJ:

Training plans:

Plan your bike ride:

Zwift Smart Trainer:

Strava heat map (to find where to ride/run/bike):

Facebook site for beginner triathletes:

Ryan’s custom training log:

Written for Morris City Lifestyle magazine in New Jersey.

Fly in Style

Charter your own private jet and skip the commercial travel hassles

By Sue Baldani

With all the chaos at the airports lately, you might find your enthusiasm to travel, whether for business or pleasure, waning. After all, you have to get to the airport hours before takeoff, wait in long lines, and then possibly be told that your flight has been delayed or canceled. It can be extremely frustrating.

Now, imagine showing up at an airport and being escorted immediately into a comfortable, luxurious private plane and taking off within minutes. Short Hills Aviation, located at Morristown Airport, makes this happen for travelers every day. While some of its clients are musicians on tour and actors flying out for a screen test in California, many others are just regular people who don’t want to deal with the stress and time constraints of flying commercially.

This was the case for Mario Dudzinski, managing member of Short Hills Aviation. “I was in the [United States] Air Force, and I was an air traffic controller. When I left the profession, I became a real estate developer, and as I grew my business, my travel needs became cumbersome. It was always two or three days out of the office when it could have been a one day trip if better air mobility was available.”

At one point, his company decided to charter an airplane for a year, and it was such a positive experience that, in 2000, the business purchased its own airplane. “Once we bought it and started flying it ourselves, we realized there was a great demand out there for air charter,” he says.

In 2004, Short Hills Aviation was founded. Its fleet consists of eight top-of-the-line Dassault Falcons, which have exceptional cabin comfort, advanced technology, and superior efficiency. Couples can choose a small jet for a short hop to one of the islands for a romantic getaway, while a group of Wall Street executives can opt for a mid-size plane in order to attend an important meeting in Boston. If family members and friends want to travel non-stop to their favorite European city while enjoying first-class service and amenities all the way, its largest plane, which can hold up to 14 people, is an excellent choice. Pets can also go along for the ride.

“We have one client who has a giant poodle,” says Mario. “He walks out to the airplane by himself, goes up to the steps, picks his seat, jumps up, and doesn’t move. The only thing he’s missing is a smoking pipe and reading glasses.”

Not only do clients get in the air faster than at a commercial airport, but they get to their destinations quicker as well. “Our jets fly faster and higher than most airlines, so if we took off from Morristown and you took off from Newark and both planes were going to the same place, we’re going to get there about 35 minutes before you.” Short Hills Aviation handles, on average, about a hundred flights a month. 

Due to the type of clientele it serves, privacy is of utmost importance. “You can actually come into our facility, get on your plane and never be seen by the public,” he says. “We have two private gates that you must pass through to get to the tarmac area. Once the airplane taxis out, it’s not really visible from the roadways until it’s ready to take off.”

Short Hills Aviation also employs its own mechanics and every airplane has its own crew chief. “So, one guy is responsible for every nut and rivet in the airplane, plus he has a sub-assembly team under him.” Dassault Falcon also holds the unequivocal private jet safety record in the industry.

If someone already has his or her own plane, they can manage that airplane as well. “There are a myriad of regulations that must be complied with, and the average well-heeled individual owner probably doesn’t have the depth of knowledge nor the time available to manage an airplane correctly,” says Mario. “There’s a mountain of paperwork per flight as well as routine and recurring maintenance scenarios that can be very complicated, expensive and time consuming.”

The company is also now looking to establish a West Coast operation to expand the convenience and luxury of private charters even more. To find out more or to reserve your own private jet for your next trip, go to

Written for Chatham & Short Hills Lifestyle magazine in New Jersey.

Scotch Plains Rescue Squad’s Annual Pancake Breakfast

Enjoy great food, win fun prizes and meet your neighbors

The Scotch Plains Rescue Squad’s 13th annual Pancake Breakfast will take place on Sunday, April 23, 2023, from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. at its building located at 1916 Bartle Avenue. This event is hosted by the Scotch Plains Rescue Squad Auxiliary, which raises funds for the volunteer squad. 

All-you-can-eat pancakes and sausage, along with coffee and juice, will be offered for just a $7.00 per person entry fee (children 5 and under eat free). There will also be a raffle for baskets, which are filled with gifts and goodies donated by the community and area businesses.

It’s clear by the number of people who attend that it’s something the community looks forward to every year. So, come out with your family and friends and enjoy a hearty, delicious breakfast along with good conversation.  It’s a nice way to spend a Sunday morning and give back at the same time. And for those with mobility issues, downstairs dining will be available.

The Scotch Plains Rescue Squad Auxiliary meets once a month, and its grass roots function is to assist the Squad in many capacities – from holding fundraisers and providing meals during crises to performing outreach to squad and fellow auxiliary members. Members also attend town functions, such as fairs, concerts and holiday events, in order to connect with the community and promote Squad interests.

If you are interested in becoming a member of the Auxiliary, come by the Squad building one evening to pick up an application, or go to

Contributing Author:  Susan Baldani, a life member of the Scotch Plains Rescue Squad.

The Magical World of Fiction

How one local best-selling author is entertaining us on paper and on screen

By Sue Baldani

Books have the ability to transport us into other worlds. They can bring us joy, comfort, knowledge and hope. When one our favorite books is made into a television show or movie, it’s a chance to see the characters and plots we love in action.

Local author Jenny Hale, who has penned over 22 novels, with another coming out for Christmas, has entertained us for the last 10 years with stories created by her imagination and put down on paper. We’ve also had the fortune of watching some of her characters come to life.

Jenny didn’t start out to be a best-selling author. “I wasn’t one of those people who grew up wanting to be an author, but I’ve always gravitated towards the written word,” she says. “I’m creative in a lot of ways, and writing was just one outlet for me. I was on staff at my high school newspaper and I wrote poetry in high school for fun, but the idea of writing novels didn’t really occur to me until adulthood.”

When it did, she was a busy wife and mom with two young boys and a career as an elementary school teacher. “I needed a break at the end of the night, so when my kids went to bed, I would write,” says Jenny. “I read books all the time, so I thought I could write one. The first time I tried, it was awful and never saw the light of day! So, I went back to reading and that’s when I started to teach myself how to do it.”

Jenny placed her first book, Coming Home for Christmas, with a digital publisher in London and from there it soared in the charts. Nina Weinman, a screenwriter for Hallmark, was looking for a Christmas book and noticed it. She took it to a Christmas party and passed it around to see if everyone else liked it. They absolutely did.

So amazingly, the first novel she ever published was turned into a Hallmark movie. The second one chosen by Hallmark was Christmas Wishes and Mistletoe Kisses.

Jenny describes her style of writing as very down home, relaxed, heartwarming, and friendly. She wants people to feel hope as they’re reading. “There’s never really a villain. The conflict is more about two good people wanting two different things.”

Ideas come to her in many ways. “Living near Nashville, whenever I go to a songwriter night, I really want to have my laptop with me because sometimes the pathway just opens as they’re telling their stories and singing their songs. Sometimes it can be the simplest thing. There was this lady in a coffee shop who spilled something right on her chest, and she was frustrated while wiping it off. I grabbed onto that persona and in that moment created a character. I love making and building up these characters, and making sure the guys are swoon-worthy,” she says, laughing.

Living in Franklin with her husband, two boys, and a labradoodle, some of her books have been set locally. “It Started With Christmas takes place in Leiper’s Fork and The Memory Keeper is set in Franklin. I also have a couple of Christmas books that are set in a fictional town in the mountains of Tennessee.”

She is originally from Southern Virginia, so a lot of her books also take place in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. “Growing up, that’s where we went on vacation all the time. I have some set in Richmond too, which was about 20 minutes away from where I lived.”

In addition to writing, Jenny also enjoys the publishing side of the industry, and in 2020, she started her own publishing company, Harpeth Road Press, which focuses on romantic fiction. It was named after the Harpeth River that flows around Nashville. “I wanted to be in on the marketing and the cover design and branding, and, as an author, I couldn’t do that with a traditional publisher.” She now publishes her own books as well as other authors’ works.  

The Memory Keeper was her first book published under Harpeth Road Press, and The Magic of Sea Glass was just released in March under its label. The book is about an event planner who loses her fiancé and can’t seem to go on with her career or the life she’d built with him. So, she makes an impulsive decision to sell her half of the business and spend the summer among the Outer Banks. There, she helps take care of an old inn along with its elderly owner. What she doesn’t expect to find is a story hidden away in a string of sea glass that will change her life forever.

To find out more about this book and others, go to and

Written for Franklin Lifestyle magazine in Tennessee.

How Can I Make Money by Decluttering My Household?

Sell, refurbish and donate your no longer wanted or needed items 

By Sue Baldani

Facebook Marketplace and other websites/apps

From clothing and furniture to games, sports equipment and more, posting items on Marketplace is an easy way to rid yourself of unwanted and unneeded merchandise, make money and create more space in your home, garage or yard. Sites like Poshmark and Vestiaire Collective are also great avenues to provide cash (or an economical way to change up your wardrobe.) 

Consignment shops

These are not the thrift stores you remember from years past. Many will buy everything from Gap t-shirts and jeans to high couture evening gowns, shoes and purses. When something sells, you’ll get a percentage of the proceeds.

Repurpose, refinish and resell

If you’re handy, building furniture from cast off wood, or sanding and staining old but sturdy pieces of furniture found in an attic or at a garage sale can be a one-time money maker or a new source of income. Buyers are often looking for something unique to display in their homes or businesses.

Garage/yard/estate sales

Have people come to you and browse through your and your family’s no longer needed or wanted items. For a successful event, clean merchandise, organize similar items on tables and other tidy display surfaces, and have everything priced for a quick sale.

Donating to local charities

While this option won’t generate cash, donating pays in other ways. It provides the joy and satisfaction of knowing other people who are less fortunate are able to obtain much-wanted items for themselves, their families and even their pets.

Written for Franklin Lifestyle magazine in Tennessee.