The Nerd Herd

Meet The Nerds

Sarah Rhodes Biography

Sara Rhodes

Sara Rhodes was born and raised a nerd, thanks to her parents. Father Ken’s love of Star Wars, mother Nancy’s love of books, and the family trips to the Walt Disney World Resort had Sara started down the nerd path. She has a rather intense love of sports, which included 10 years as a competitive swimmer, 13 years of various other competitive sports, and at least a bazillion of house spent watching her beloved Chicago and Illini teams. Graduating with a degree in Literature and a minor in Cinema Studies in 2003 from the University of Illinois, she has blurred the lines between jock and smarty-pants. She finds just as much passion in the words of Shakespeare and Bronte as she does watching the Blackhawks beat the Blues. As many swimmers turn runners do, she does nothing but eat her way through the day. In fact, her sister, Lindsey, helped invent a new name for Sunday. Fat Kid Sunday (copyright pending) has extended beyond the Rhodes family, but the values remain the same. Sundays are about eating delicious food, taking naps in front of whatever sporting event is on, and enjoying a day in sweats. The Nerd Herd has embraced Fat Kid Sunday.

She resides with her husband, Jack, in Champaign Illinois along with her cat, Ophelia. Jack proposed to Sara on a day now known as Epic Thursday. Nerd Erinn presided over Jack and Sara’s nuptials on May 3, 2015, in St. Charles, MO.

Jamison Reynolds

Jamison Reynolds

Jamison never had a chance.  One of his earliest memories is sitting in his grandfather’s little old yellow Toyota pickup, spending hours in the driveway pretending to be Han Solo while his Grandpa was always Chewy.  Destined for nerdness, over the years he would expand his nerd portfolio to include Yankees nerd, theater nerd, Springsteen nerd, Disney nerd, WVU Mountaineers nerd, politics nerd, craft beer nerd and eventually running nerd.  He is also bilingual, mastering both English and Snark.

Originally from the Jersey Shore, he moved to West Virginia in 1997 so he could, as he puts it, “get a cheap degree and get out of there”.  During his 1st class on the 1st day he met another nerd.  She hated Jamison.  Jamison made fun of her.  That lasted freshman year.  Then one day during a summer job on campus, that nerd heard Jamison playing “In My Life” on the lobby piano. Jamison and April have now been together for 16 years, married 13 and are raising two future nerds, Patrick and Benjamin, in West Virginia.  He never left. “It ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive.” – Bruce Springsteen, Badlands


Joelle Paxton Bio

Joelle Paxton

Joelle tried incredibly hard to be the sporty girl when she was growing up.  But unfortunately was born fairly graceless and awkward.  So she gave up in Middle School and embraced what she really was supposed to be, a geek/nerd.  She fully embraced her geeky/nerdiness and went all out.  Books were just the start and she is still known to be an incurable bookworm to this day.  But books led to many other geeky/nerdy things including technical theatre, costuming, LARPing and a love for all things Steampunk.

LARPing led to Joelle meeting her future husband Mike.  Mike matched her geeky/nerdiness for geeky/nerdiness.  He became a runner to lose weight and become healthier and finished his first half marathon in 2011.  This inspired her to try speed walking and eventually running.  While, running has never been and probably never will be a true passion for her, she does enjoy it for fitness and health as long as the weather is nice.  But you are more likely to find her curled up with her kitties reading a good book, like right now.



Julie Olsen

Julie Olson

Julie Olson was born and raised in Minnesota, but escaped to Walt Disney World nearly every winter with her family. 24 hours in a car with five other people gives you a lot of time to read books, play the spelling game, and study the atlas while wishing you were anywhere but in a station wagon. She spent 15 years of her life as a competitive swimmer and then made the slow transition to runner. She discovered that she still really likes racing (even though she hates training) and enjoys eating a diet of mostly carbohydrates, which makes running kind of perfect. She also enjoys triathlons with the exception of the bike part. She is currently working on completing a half marathon in all 50 states and is planning on doing her first Half Ironman triathlon in 2014.

Julie has a history degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and works as a paralegal. While she has grown older, she refuses to grow up. A massive case of ADHD means she has a short attention span but a love for many things including cupcakes, the Discovery Channel, roller coasters, fairy tales, the Minnesota Twins, zoos, traveling, Scrabble, shiny objects, science experiments, movie trivia, books, and anything Disney.



Erinn Exline Casazza

Erinn Exline Casazza

Erinn Exline Casazza may be the worst kind of nerd because she never really knew she was one until recent years. Sure, she played trumpet from fifth grade through her senior year, but isn’t that what all the cool kids did? Didn’t every little girl aspire to go to the National Spelling Bee and then cried when she lost first place in the state finals in 8th grade? Was Erinn a cheerleader? Nope, she left after school to go to her classical ballet classes. And it wasn’t nerdy for a 16–year-old in a pre-“Glee” era to know all the words to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s catalogue, was it?

If none of that indicated Erinn’s nerdiness, maybe her good grades and perfect attendance (except those 3 days with chicken pox in 4th grade) should have clued her in to her nerditude. No, not until she joined an online running team and found the other nerds listed here did she and her inner nerd come together in peace. Erinn found the Nerd Herd. Or it found her. And she couldn’t be happier.

When not nerding around with the herd, Erinn enjoys baking cupcakes, traveling like a nerd (educational trips are the best!), and planning trips, parties, etc. with a Clark Griswold-esque enthusiasm. She is a Disney enthusiast. She loves pop music and wishes she had been old enough to be Whitesnake’s video vixen back in the day. A born and bred West Virginia girl, she proudly cheers on her WVU Mountaineers and sings “Country Roads” at any given opportunity. Erinn lives in Morgantown, W.Va., with her husband, Mike, and their rambunctious beagle mix, Lilo.


Christine Griffin

Christine Griffin

Christine’s propensity for nerdiness began to show at a young age. Having taught herself to read before she finished preschool, she never really stood a chance at becoming anything but a nerd. True to nerd form, she has been “slavishly devoted to academic pursuits” ever since. Christine began running not only to get healthier, but also as a guilt-free excuse to escape from the rigors of law school a few times a week.

Christine earned her Bachelor’s degree at Boston University, majoring in sociology and minoring in Spanish. She is currently a third year law student at Suffolk University Law School and will graduate in May. She also works part-time as a paralegal at a family law firm. Christine will spend the summer of 2013 like a true nerd, studying for the Massachusetts Bar Exam.When not cooped up in the law library or working, Christine enjoys baking, reading, traveling, Zumba, spending time with her three dogs, and all things Disney.



April Shimp-Reynolds

April Reynolds

April Reynolds,like many, was probably born a little on the nerdy side. She grew up in the hills of West Virginia so there was little entertainment outside of story hour at the county library. And there it began. By the time she was in school, one of her favorite things was literary week, where the students dressed as their favorite characters, her’s being Alice in Wonderland and Nancy Drew. Then there was math field day, and after winning her first county title in the fourth grade, there was no turning back. The road to complete nerdiness stretched out before her in glittering variables, algorithms, and periodic tables.

By high school April had taken on new roles of band geek, Disney dork, broadcasting personality (not AV club, thank you), and summer camper at the WV Govenor’s School for Science and Math and the Govenor’s Honors Academy. The nerdiness continued into college where she spent her summers registering incoming freshmen students and educating them about campus highlights as told by SNL’s Mary Katherine Gallagher. It was that performance, and maybe the knee socks and short plaid skirt, of the awkward Catholic school girl that won the heart of her future husband and fellow nerd, Jamison.

Nowadays, April spends her time working as a Labor and Delivery nurse, teaching childbirth education, raising two hilarious boys and two rambunctious dogs, and playing Wendy to all the Lost Boys in her life. She isn’t as committed to running as some of her teammates, but she can walk with purpose and cover the same ground. She enjoys yoga, making jewelry, crafting, reading, sleeping, baked goods, Disney trips, craft beer, Pinterest, and being adorkable.


Christina Altavesta of The Nerd Herd

Christina Altavesta

Meet Christina Altavesta. She was born and raised in the Boston area. Christina was on the path to nerd-hood from day one. Her very first vacation was at the tender age of 6 months. Where to you ask… Disney World of course. She and her family continued to travel to Disney 2 times every year. Those trips left their mark, as she is justifiably a Disney Addict. She has fond memories of asking for homework to bring on vacation. Flights to the World consisted of reading, math worksheets
and miscellaneous history assignments. One of her fondest memories consists of showering through the numerous parking lots in Disney to find all 50 state’s license plates for a summer break project. Christina’s dedication to school has led her to a degree in Nursing. In undergrad she was involved in student government and was VP of her class. She is currently pursuing a Master’s Degree in Nursing.

Sports have always come naturally to Christina. She has dabbled in just about everything. Just recently has she found her love of running. With multiple half marathons under her belt, she is training for a full marathon and the Tough Mudder.


Brad Garfinkel of The Nerd Herd

Brad Garfinkel

Brad’s road to nerdism was obvious to everyone but Brad! Was it the nickname Brainiac that was given to Brad in high school? Was it that most of Brad’s junior and senior high school days were spent planted in front of his trusty Commodore 64 when the cool kids were out socializing? Was it that his first car was a Yugo (ask him about the story behind the Yugo)? Was it that he dressed like a cross between a skater and a hard rock kid yet he didn’t skate and the closest he got to rocking out was his gnarly mullet? Was it that teachers would ask Brad to teach them to use their computers? Was it that Brad’s families favorite place to vacation was visiting his grandparents in Florida and going to Walt Disney World which he began doing in 1974? Was it that later in life Brad bought the Star Wars episode 1, 2, and 3 toys and still has them in their original packaging stored in his basement?

Brad is a nerd through and through. Brad was the typical kid that didn’t fit in. Brad was a member of the computer club and art club in high school while also helping the football team get better by being a live tackling dummy at a whopping 120 pounds. Brad didn’t get excited about getting into the football game. Brad got excited about getting to dress in uniform for the game even when it meant that he was helping to keep the bench warm.

Brad attended community college on a scholarship for 2 years while working at a nerdy vitamin store before moving on to be a supervisor at a record store (Libby – a record is a round disc that when combined with a turntable and a needle, plays music). Brad went onto Shippensburg University where he majored in Government, socializing, and Lambda Chi Alpha Fraternity. Brad joined the lacrosse team and played 2 seasons where he actually realized he had a little bit of athletic ability. Brad met his wonderful now wife Cindy after they moved across the street from one another during their senior year. Cindy graduated college with a double major and honors. Brad was happy just to barely graduate. Brad and Cindy were clearly meant to be nerds together as her mom and dad have had a vacation home just outside of Walt Disney World since the early 1990’s.

Brad started running January 1, 2008 for one reason and one reason only. Brad started running so he could squeeze in one more trip to Walt Disney World and to run up Main Street, USA and out through the castle. The running experiment was meant to be a short-term project. Instead, Brad has lost 30 pounds, has graduated from nerdy couch potato and now logs an average of 1200 miles a year on the road and trail. Brad has completed 12 marathons, 1 ultra-marathon and 30 half marathons since hitting the road 5 years ago.

Brad is a Vice President and Regional Manager with a bank in Central Pennsylvania. Brad and Cindy have a 9-year-old daughter Julia who is closing in on her 30th trip to Walt Disney World.

When Brad is not spending time with Cindy and Julia or traveling to Walt Disney World, he can be found with some type of Apple gadget within reach. Brad still loves anything related to computers and electronics. Brad enjoys craft beers and is an avid Orioles, Redskins and Penn State fan.

Brad says one of his most memorable experiences as a father was introducing his daughter Julia to episodes 4, 5, 6 of Star Wars. They didn’t just watch the movie, they sat on the floor and played with his original 35+ year old Star Wars figures as he passed the torch of his beloved movies to his daughter.

Nerds rule!


Dan Rajnik

Dan Rajnik

Unlike many WDW nerds who possess the loving childhood memories of meeting Mickey, flying Dumbo, or fighting pirates on the Spanish main, Dan did not embrace his inner Disney World Nerdiness until he took his first trip to WDW with his then girlfriend (now wife) in 1998.  All it took was spending his first day at Dixie Landings (now Port Orleans French Quarter) and he was hooked on the pixie dust.  Since that first trip, the one-time Walt Disney World Mom’s Panel finalist, has been back countless times for vacation, business, and most recently, to run in the runDisney Marathon Weekend running events.  In addition to his Walt Disney World nerdiness, Dan likes to nerd-out on other favorites, like history, craft beer/wine and his latest odd obsession – trying to live a more “Paleo” lifestyle.  Don’t be surprised if we see some blogging by Dan on these topics, especially his pursuit to be the ideal Primal Runner!




Jeff Heller…aka “Chief”

Jeff grew up a little more on the dorky side rather than the nerdy side. Raised in New Jersey, as theonly child of bicycle store owners, Jeff was an active child. He liked BMX racing, playing baseball, andrunning. And while he has been a HUGE Star Wars fanboy (ask him to hear his Chewie), he didn’t getinto his Nerdy side until high school. While not the “model student”, Jeff was – and still is – a mathwhiz. In high school, he earned the nickname “Geometry Whiz Kid.” If that isn’t nerdy, I don’t know what is!

It was also in high school that Jeff’s love of running truly emerged. He was a cross-country athlete,preferring long-term stamina and distance over speed. He still uses this as his claim to fame when running today. “I ran cross-country in high school…I got this.” Jeff has even formulated his own “Jeff Heller Training Plan”…do NOT try this at home…which entails little to no training. The Herd is very familiar with Jeff’s non-training plan and is constantly wondering how he is still mobile after his countless races, Goofy Challenges, and most recently, the Dopey Challenge.

After high school, Jeff joined the Navy so he could sail the seven seas with like-minded seamen. It was shortly after joining the military that Jeff met his AMAZING (Nerdtastic) wife, Erika. While they still travel from time to time (home is where the Navy send you), they call Virginia Beach home.


Erika...aka “Lady Heller”

Erika…aka “Lady Heller”

Erika was born to be a Nerd. She taught herself to read by the age of two, cried when she couldn’t go to school with her big sister at the age of three, and ran away to a bookstore at the age of four. Erika’s mom encouraged the school system to allow her to start school early since she was so bright. And all throughout school, Erika was a straight-A student and took advanced classes.

But it wasn’t all reading, writing, and ‘rithmetic for her. Erika was also an avid ball player…baseball and softball. Being a huge tomboy, Erika started playing baseball and continued to do so until she was finally told at age 10 that she “had to play with the girls”. So, begrudgingly, she did…and never looked back. Erika played for a variety of local leagues, the school teams, and more. She was truly the model student: She was smart, funny, friendly, and athletic.

It wasn’t until Erika entered college that she stopped playing ball. Starting off school as a pre-veterinary medicine major, the tides changed for Erika during a student internship. And that was when her love of teaching emerged. After 5 years of school, Erika earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Education, with minors in English and Social Studies. (If that doesn’t scream NERD, nothing will.) For the past 11 years now, Erika has been teaching middle school English and Social Studies trying to instill a love for learning in our future generations.