Sherry Stanfa-Stanley wasn’t going to let a storm blowing in ruin her debut as Rocksy at a UT soccer match last fall.“It’ll add to the excitement,” she said and disappeared into the Findlay Athletic Complex on Scott Park Campus to receive a crash course on being the mascot.
Minutes later, she emerged suited up and ready for action.
Entering the field, Rocksy befriended a small dog, mingled with the crowd, and gave high-fives. She embraced a young fan who ran back to the bleachers and yelled, “Mama, I got to hug Rocksy!”
Then the Blue Crew arrived and Rocksy joined them. She threw her arms in the air and cheered. She danced. She rang a bell.
When the rain started to come down, Rocksy waved and blew kisses to the Rocket faithful as she left.
Being Rocksy was just one of many adventures Stanfa-Stanley embarked upon in 2013. The director of communication and fund stewardship at the UT Foundation decided to challenge herself with a new experience every week for one year as she approached age 52. “The 52/52 Project” launched in May.
Since then, Stanfa-Stanley has:
• Auditioned for “Survivor”;
• Taken a belly-dancing lesson;• Given up caffeine for one week;
• Shopped at an adult bookstore;
• Spent 24 hours with nuns at a convent in Joliet, Ill.;
• Zip-lined at Hocking Hills State Park in Logan, Ohio;
• Visited a nude beach in Florida — and took her 75-year-old mother, Gloria Stanfa, a retired UT secretary, who said, “Be sure to mention I was clothed”;
• Rode with police officers on patrol;
• Plunged into the Maumee River in Waterville for the polar bear dip on New Year’s Day;
• Performed as a mime outside a shopping center in Newport, Ky.; and
• Crashed a wedding reception — and caught the bride’s bouquet.
“I think a lot of people feel very complacent in their lives and even though they might be comfortable, I think people would like to shake up things a little bit,” Stanfa-Stanley said.
It was a solo trip to Italy to visit her son who had a summer assistantship in 2011 that hurtled her out of that rut.
“I had done half the trip traveling through Italy by myself,” she recalled. “I realized if I can do this, there’s probably a lot of things I can do if I went outside my comfort zone, pushed my boundaries. I think that’s what kind of led into it. I came back a lot more courageous and willing to put myself out there.”
Stanfa-Stanley has been putting her sense of humor and deft writing style out there. For the past four years, she’s shared witty, thoughtful observations on her blog. She’s been featured on HumorPress.com and received a national fellowship from the Midwest Writers Workshop.Last year, a piece she wrote was included in a humor anthology, Fifty Shades of Funny: Hook-ups, Break-ups and Crack-ups, which was co-edited by her sister, DC Stanfa, a 1982 UT alumna.
“I was working on some writing and thinking of some ideas for a new book, and it just came to me: I turn 52, it just all seemed to come together,” Stanfa-Stanley said. “And I don’t know if this is the case subconsciously — my dad died at 53. Maybe there’s something to that: Live your life and live it well because you never know.”
It’s the unknown she finds thrilling.
“I think the first couple times you go outside your comfort zone, it’s really terrifying, but it’s really kind of liberating. And you never know what’s going to happen, that’s the thing: It’s not always going to be what you expect.”
Like how she loved zip-lining after hyperventilating on the platform.
“That police ride-along didn’t turn out as I expected,” Stanfa-Stanley said. “I thought I was just riding along and all of a sudden I’m at this raid with the vice squad and SWAT team. So you never know what to expect when you put yourself out there.”2014 promises more escapades: stock car racing, spending the night at a haunted prison, taking the next flight out of the airport with no reservations or plans, performing standup comedy.
“I’m going to a frat party, which, of course, I did back in my day, but this will be totally different because I probably won’t hit on any of the guys,” the 1983 UT graduate joked.
She’s only hit one roadblock: “Nobody will let me babysit their triplets,” Stanfa-Stanley said. “I haven’t been turned down for anything else. It’s surprising what people will let you do if you just ask.”
Three of her stories from “The 52/52 Project” were published on The Rumpus, http://utole.do/rumpus, and she is writing a book detailing her exploits.
“I’ve learned that I’m capable of, well, things I probably shouldn’t be,” Stanfa-Stanley said and laughed. “Seriously, in making these little changes, you change everything. You change your whole attitude; you change your whole outlook. And I’ve learned the anticipation of any experience is usually worse than the reality.”
Her heady heroism is inspiring. Consider posts on the project Facebook wall: “You have more courage and guts than most people our age.” “Sherry, your stories are like opening a present!”
“It’s never too late to change your life,” Stanfa-Stanley said.