Hanging out in the main square of krakow

The Year of #Winning*

* Ironically, I was actually in the Top 50 (of 76,000+) contestants for Charlie Sheen’s Tiger Blood Intern back in 2011. But that’s not what this piece is about.

2012 was a very crazy year for me. I started the year on the Millenium Bridge in London, watching fireworks for New Years Eve with a group of girls I had just met hours before. A few weeks later, I packed up my life in Michigan and moved to New York City, fulfilling the dream I’ve had since I was ten years old. I wasn’t moving without prospects; I was fully employed and staying with my family in Brooklyn until I found my first apartment.

For 22 years of my life, I have entered a variety of random contests and sweepstakes. I won once: I entered to win a trip to Switzerland from Loacker wafers, and I got a red zipup hoodie in the mail.

Yay. Just what I always wanted. A zipup.

In 2012, everything changed. My wins started off relatively small. In February, I entered a contest from The Next Web to receive a “VIP” pass to Common Pitch for Social Media Week NYC 2012. I was picked, along with 19 other locals, to ride on a party bus from Midtown to the Brooklyn Bowl to watch entrepreneurs pitch their startups that were changing the world. Along with that, at Brooklyn Bowl we’d be in the VIP section, unlimited food and drinks and a premium spot to watch the presenters. Oh, and free all night bowling.

I was in good company, too. I sat next to a writer for the New York Times, met developers for major companies, and was led by the director of SMWNYC himself, Ben Scheim. But this was only the beginning.

We started our bus ride through Midtown to Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The bus pulled over into a dark alley, and immediately all of us were questioning, “Why are we stopping? What’s going on?” The door opened, and two men in dark overcoats stepped on to the bus.


The magicians performed several tricks in the slight of hand card category. I anxiously waited, hoping they would pick me to assist in a trick. At the end of their performance, filled with ooh’s and ah’s, they announced their last trick would involved a brand new Nokia Lumia 900. They took the phone out of the box and gave it to a person on the bus. They asked someone else to call the number. It rang and everything seemed normal. The magicians looked to me and said, “Alright. We’re going to call this phone again, and it’s going to describe you, the winner of the phone.”

I’m sorry, what?!

The phone rang again and this time it was let to go to voicemail. On the speaker came one of the magicians, “The winner of the phone is wearing a dark grey shirt with white flowers, has blonde hair, and her name is Alex.”

And that’s how I won a brand new Lumia 900.

In June, a friend of mine announced that the PR firm she was working for was running a contest with Hilton Garden Inn. The “Life’s Ultimate To-Do List” sweepstakes offered 10 lucky winners a trip anywhere in the world (that a Hilton Garden Inn exists) with a two night stay, airfare, and $2,000 spending money. To enter, you had to write a 420 character or less statement about where you wanted to go and why you deserved to win. An optional picture attachment was also acceptable.

I chose to write about Poland:

My grandfather, Philip White, and his family went into hiding in a small town in Poland during WWII to avoid slaughter for being Jewish. Living under a haystack, they survived for six years. In 1948, Philip moved to the US, married, and had two children. Unfortunately, he was murdered in 1989, before my brother (named Philip in his honor) and I were born. I want us to have the chance to learn about our Polish roots and discover the stories he was never able to tell us.

* My brother and I at his high school graduation, the photo I submitted for my entry

I never expected to win. Sure, my story seemed compelling, but I would bet there are plenty of other people who have worthwhile stories to tell. I completely forgot about the contest, as weeks passed with no news.

The last week of July, I received an email at 9am on a Friday morning. “This is your final notice. You have been selected as a grand prize winner of the Hilton Garden Inn’s ‘Life’s Ultimate To-Do List’ contest.”

I sat in my cube unable to move, unable to think for a solid five minutes. I then burst into tears and spun around in my chair. I checked my spam inbox and there were several messages from the head of Emanate PR on behalf of Hilton. I don’t know how this one message got through, but I am extremely thankful that it did. You better believe I more actively check my spam now.

And that’s how I won a trip for two to Krakow, Poland.

Toward the middle of October, a close friend of mine alerted me to an event called NASA Social. All entrants had to do was enter a name and email, and a random group of people would be selected to be among an elite group that got exclusive access to the shuttle Atlantis on the week of its move from the VAB (Vehicle Assembly Building) to its final resting place in a brand new building. In July 2011, I had been picked in the lottery to puchase tickets to see Atlantis and the final shuttle launch (ever).

“You have to enter! You win everything!”

I thought for sure this time, my luck was bound to run out. There was no way I could win a trip to Poland and win a pass to be in NASA Social. It couldn’t happen.

Sure enough, two weeks before the event, I received an email that said, “Congratulations! You have been selected to attend the NASA Social on Nov. 1-2 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.” I called my friend laughing and said, “You won’t believe this.”

This prize did not come with airfare or hotel stay. It was just the exclusive access, everything else was on us. But how many people get to meet the deputy of social media for NASA? Getting to the event had a whole other set of problems, as Hurricane Sandy hit two nights before our flight. But that’s another story.

And that’s how I won a pass for NASA Social.

Three big wins (four, if you count the pass to Common Pitch) helped make 2012 one of the best years of my life. Granted, I couldn’t use the Nokia phone due to my cell phone plan, and yes I had to pay a hefty tax for my Poland Prize. That being said, I’d do it all again in a heartbeat.

Anyone know of any good contests out there? I’ve got an itch to scratch.