Thursday, February 23, 2012

Thankful Thursday - Miracle on Ice

I remember exactly where I was on February 22, 1980. I was glued to the television watching history being made. Herb Brooks and The US team made up of 20 young amatuer and collegiate hockey players from the United States dared an all professional team from the Soviet Union, which was considered the best hockey team in the world, in what is widely regarded as one of the greatest upsets in sports history.  It wasn't the first time they had met.

The Soviet Bear

The Soviet professional team was a true bear to play. In various exhibition games played against American and Canadian professionals in the NHL, Soviet teams went 5 wins, 3 losses and a tie. When their Olympic Team played the NHL All-stars, the blanked the NHL players 6-0. Then, just 3 weeks before the historic match-up in Lake Placid, The two National Olympic Teams met for an exhibition match at Madison Square Gardens.

Pressure was built up higher than normal between the two superpowers. In December of 1979, the Soviet Army had invaded the country of Afganistan and the United States denounced the move publicly and then President Jimmy Carter was considering the US Boycotting the Summer Games in Moscow (which did end up happening).

The results of the matchup were devestating. The Soviets buried the American team, 10-3. The young team of amateurs just didn't seem up to the task of fighting off the physically bigger and more experienced Soviet team. After the February 9th exhibition game, many felt that the US might not even medal in the sport at the Olympics.

Raised Eyebrows

Herb Brooks and the American team didn't let their experience deter them. It was just an exhibition and gave them an opportunity to see the Soviet team's strengths and weaknesses. When Olympic play began, the American team brought a physical and cohesive game to the ice. In their first game, underdogs against Sweden, they earned a 2-2 draw in the last 27 seconds, by leaving the goal untended and pressing the attack with the goalie pushing in.

Moving forward in game play, Czechoslovakia was the next game. The Czechs were considered to be second only to the Soviet Union and so the two Warsaw Pact nations were considered to have the Gold and the Silver Medals already in the bag. Team USA responded to this by soundly and stunningly defeating the Czechs 7-3. The team had managed their first two games and then cruised by the next 3 games without a problem, beating Norway, Romania and West Germany to advance to the medal round with Sweden. The Soviets advanced with Finland and the stage was set.

"Do You Believe In Miracles?"

22 February 1980 - 5pm EST
A capacity home-team crowd filled the Field House with patriotic songs and US Flags everywhere. Like most of the rest of the country, I had to wait until the tape delay played later to find out the outcome of the game. But these were the days before instant news via the internet. It wouldn't matter, I'd have watched it again and again. The game was intense, the first period battling back and forth, the US answering for every shot the Soviets scored. It was like watching a whole different team from the Madison Square Gardens game.

The second period was dominated by the Soviet team, pounding shot after shot at the American goalie. 12 times, the Soviets shot and time after time Jim Craig deflected shots. But eventuality caught up and on a power play, one of the Soviet shots got through. The second period ended with the Soviets up 3-2.

The third period was probably the most explosive period in hockey. A penalty sent one Soviet player to the penalty box and Team USA used the opportunity, scoring twice. With just 10 minutes left in the game, the US had the lead. They would never relinquish it. The Soviets started going wild with an intense desire to recapture the lead. Wild shot after wild shot rang toward the US Goalie and Craig just kept defending his territory. Finally, Team USA regained control of the puck with seconds left. Al Michaels famously counting down the last seconds of the game, "11 seconds, you've got 10 seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow, up to Silk. 5 seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles? YES!"

Contrary to what a lot of people thing, this was not the game for the Gold Medal. But even though it was not the Gold Medal game, it certainly overshadowed the later game against Finland in which Team USA overcame a late deficit to win 4-2. For all intents and purposes, the US-USSR game, the Miracle on Ice, was the difinitve game of the 1980 Olympics and even today reigns as the International Ice Hockey Federation's top story of the 20th century. It defined what can be done and defied all the odds. It is an inspirational story of what can be done when you challenge the word impossible.

Thank you, Team USA. You inspired me, you inspired us and you inspired yourselves to go beyond the word impossible.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Turkey Mountain to Tulsa Harbor? More like Tulsa Horror...

They want to do this...

... To this

In the last couple of days, Tulsa area runners have had a bit of a shock. One of the most beloved areas for trail running, trail biking and horseback riding is under assault by a developer who wants to build an amusement park on it. Turkey Mountain is no stranger to controversy.
In the past it has been a location for drug deals and other shady activities. But Tulsans have fought to care for this area and in recent years it has been cleaned up and cared for, more regularly patrolled and is, today, a center for the health-conscious, with it's series of trails frequented by 80,000 people a year.

...and this

...and this

But now land developer Jimmy DeJarnette wants to throw away all that work by the citizens of Tulsa and put in an 80 acre "entertainment complex" including an amusement park, hotel resort and a racing museum. Touting jobs and tax dollars and calling it "the crown jewel of the Arkansas River", DeJarnette doesn't say anything about the disruption of lives in the community on the side of Turkey Mountain. He doesn't say anything about how trail runners will be affected. In fact, Mr. DeJarnette doesn't even seem interested, refusing to come out to a town hall meeting to hear and address concerns raised by his proposal. More disturbing to me personally, is that Jimmy DeJarnette seems upset that Tulsans would object to using Turkey Mountain for his "gift" as he calls it. It makes me wonder just what his real motivation is.

Would you like this to be a Ferris wheel?


Below is a letter I have written to my district council woman. I hope she takes note and realizes that there are so many more of us out there!

The Honorable Karen Gilbert
Member, Tulsa City Council District 5

Dear Council Member Gilbert,
I have been following the recent developments with the proposed "Tulsa Harbor" development and have become rather upset by some of the things that have been said. In the past few years, Tulsa has made incredible strides in working to become a healthier city. In 2008, the Centers for Disease Control established the Healthy Communities Program. Since it's establishment, only 134 communities have been selected to join this group. in 2010, Tulsa was selected to be included in the membership of this elite group of communities which are committed to turning the tide of such chronic diseases as diabetes, heart disease and obesity. Since that time, through various projects with the River Parks Association and a growing number of volunteers, we have seen the improvement, clean up and use of the River Trails including those at Turkey Mountain and an increase in the quality of life for many Tulsans, including myself and many of those I know.

Now, we have Mr. Jimmy DeJarnette coming in and offering a "gift" of an amusement park on what should be the crowning jewel of Tulsa's own Healthy Communities Program. But Mr. DeJarnette won't come out to the public meeting and answer the concerns of the community he is so desiring to give this "gift" to. Mr. DeJarnette also seemed to be very annoyed by the very prospect that perhaps Tulsans might not be interested in his "gift". And Mr. DeJarnette has said he will not seek a different site for his "gift". It should give one pause to consider just whose good Mr. DeJarnette has in mind with the proposed project.
I understand the desire to have an amusement park nearby. It has not been that long ago that Tulsa had Bells in the midtown area. However, having an amusement park built needs to be carefully considered for placement, not just so that the park fits in with the landscape, but also so that it fits in with the people, the citizens of Tulsa. We, as a city, are getting healthier. Taking away one of the prime centers for that change would be counterproductive. It would be taking several steps backward in one of the most important areas of our life here in Tulsa. Please help us, the citizens of Tulsa, to continue moving forward, not backward.
Thank you for your time,

Robert W. Ray

Leave Turkey Mountain Alone, Mr. DeJarnette!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Hills have I's - "Granny Down and Git 'er Done"

Well, once again, I have lived up to the name of this blog, rising long before dawn and getting ready for a big run. 9 miles. That figure loomed at me this morning as an unknown. Sure, I'd done more before. But not since my disasterous attempt at the Rt. 66. And not with the kind of hills I was about to face.

Today was the third training run in a row that I didn't have breakfast. So, when I got going at just before 0530 this morning, I was pretty quick to break into my nutrition for the day. Let me say that I had a plan for tackling these hills I'd only heard rumors about. And that included taking a more laid back approach than usual. I started off more slowly and it wasn't until 0615 that I started using my alarm for my 4 and 1 walk/run rotation. This gave me a bit more energy for the hills.

I actually ended up taking the hills in the opposite order this morning, failing to read the map properly until I was on top of the first one. The loop at 106th Street was the harder of the two sets of hills, not just for the steep grades, but because there were simply more hills. And like clockwork (hehe), my alarm goes off about half way up the introductory hill at that location. The only way I could keep "running" was to shorten my stride and just pump the best I could. Even then, I ended up only making about 45 seconds of the 1 minute. At this point, it was still dark and I didn't really have a full appreciation of the hill. I'm really glad of that.

I made it the rest of the way up that hill before my alarm went off, only to look another hill square in the face. Ok, in honesty, it wasn't another hil but a continuation of the one I'd started, but the grade was a bit less and I had a short flat spot that gave me a bit of a respite. Back on it and my alarm went off again. Yikes, this was really wearing me out. I cut the alarm off again at the 45 second mark in order to conserve energy. I was really using it up. I finished the climb and took a quick rest break. Liquids and nutrition intake and then back at it. Continuing down 106th there were a couple of small hills which didn't bother me too much and then I got to the turnaround. By this time it was starting to get light and I was able to realize the full difficulty I was facing, just getting turned around. My alarm went off just as I started the downhill portion on the Hidden Oaks turnaround. Well, I guess it was time to catch up on my running because it made the full minute and I was still on the downhill.
Now people who know me know I hate downhill. Downhill is, to me, the hardest part of running. It is harder on my knees than any other kind of running (except stairs) and at my weight... well, lets just say it isn't nice. But here I was running down hill and a pretty steep grade at that. To stop might just be to risk injury, so I continue to run in the "gear" I'm in, maintaining my speed until I get to the bottom. Finally, I get there, I guess I ended up doing a full 2 minutes of running. Guess I made up for the two shorter runs. But reaching the bottom only meant I had to climb back up and so I chugged along going back up. After all of that, it was time to get off this set of hills and get on with the rest of the course. I'd gone the first 4 miles.
There was a good half mile of flat running to get to the second set of hills. If I'd have followed the course correctly, I'd have gotten here first, in the dark. Initially, I wasn't worried about it. It didn't look too bad. Not at half a mie it didn't. That changed as I got closer. And it was at that point that people started catching up to me, too. Remember, though. I was coming up on 5 miles... they were coming up on 3. I turned and headed up the hill. It wasn't as steep as the ones at 106th, but the hill at 111th was longer. Similarly, though, it, too, had a flat spot for a little recovery. This was a good thing as I needed every break I could get at this point. I was chugging. I got to the turnaround and only a few people had been there before me this morning. I was feeling accomplished but tired and I still had 4 more miles to go, so I took a quick break, took off my right shoe which had been bothering me and did what adjustments I could. Put it back on and cinched it down so it wouldn't wiggle so much and trooped on. Coming down off the hill was again, not quite as much struggle as I had thought it would be. I came off it actually fairly strong with a quick rest break at about 2/3 of the way down. I drained the last of my carried fluids (I was past the water stop early and they hadn't been set up yet), got up and trotted the rest of the way down the hill. I was feeling pretty good, although my knees were a but on the sore side. On the way down, David Sargent caught me speeding and I was asked if I had any advice on taking the hill. My reply was "Granny down and git 'er done." In case you don't know, its an old truck driver's term for using a lower gear to climb a steep grade in the mountains. You select the lowest gear you can make it up with because if you miss a gear shifting, you're gonna go back down backwards. Not a pretty sight.

Finally, I was free of the big hills and I just had 3 and a half more miles to go. I filled up at the water stop and headed out for the last part feeling very accomplished. Then I hit mile 7 and man, the weight of the effort up the hills started taking it's toll. I had put out such effort and used up so much of my energy store that I was runnning out. I hadn't "hit the wall", but I knew I was starting to struggle. I just kept on saying to my self "Just another 2 miles," "Just another 1 and a half miles," "Just another mile." Struggling through, I finally made it back to the finish. I was beat and beat up, but I made it. I finished the 9 miles I set out to do. I finished it with my first true confidence in being able to go the distance. Today was 3 more miles than I have gone since that fateful day in November of last year and was certainly more hilly than I have done in a long time. Now I have the hills!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Thankful Thursday - This Side of the Dirt

For today's Thankful Thursday post I am breaking with the current pattern. I had thought about not posting anything, but then being that today is Thursday and I am thankful about this, I am going to post about what happened to me this week and why I am thankful. This post will be short because of this.

After the Poker Run on Saturday, I developed a slight cough, which worsened over the remainder of the weekend. Because I had a VA doctor's appointment first thing Monday morning, I basically didn't worry about it too much.

Going in for my appointment, the Vamps had to stick me twice to get the right vein and extract the blood they needed for my usual panel. Then the wait began. Since it was a fasting lab, I then strolled down to the snack bar there at the VA and got some breakfast and I sat down to study some. Times like these seem to build inspiration and this was no different. I got a lot out of my study time and it passed the time quickly so that before I knew it, it was time for my doctor's appointment. The nurse called me in and checked my vitals. Blood pressure was a little high, but since my foot and elbow have been hurting me and my cough was getting worse, we decided it could be due to those things. At that point, she offered me a flu shot and a pneumonia vaccine.

Now, my cough had been getting worse and I was beginning to have a lot of chest congestion, so I was concerned about the possibility of contracting pneumonia. On top of that, it was just a bit over a year ago that my mom passed away due to complications with pneumonia. So I decided to err on the side of caution and consented to the pneumonia vaccine. So she gave it to me and then I waited briefly to see the doc.

The doc had good news for me. First and foremost, my A1C (Long-term blood sugar - what they use to diagnose diabetes) was lower. It had been as high as 6.3 which was just .1 away from a diagnosis of diabetes. But with a lot of work, I had brought it down below 6 by my last checkup, just a few short months ago. Well, Monday's reading was 5.7. Which is within the normal range! And this is even though I had not been taking my Metformin (Diabetic drug) for the past 6 weeks!!

To go along with that, I also had a better result on the cholesterol tests as well! I was really beginning to like that. Then he looked at my elbow and said that it was tennis elbow, so something that can be recovered from without too much difficulty. He ordered a strap for my arm from the VA's Prosthetics shop and said to try to take it easy on the arm and it should heal fine. Finally, he looked at my foot. He sent me to x-ray for the foot, but didn't think it was going to be anything major. He agreed that it did not sound like plantar faciitis. Again, more good news.

Imagine me sitting in my cubicle
at work typing away on my
computer dressed like this

Finally I am done with the VA and head to work, feeling pretty well with the world. Monday night, I notice a slight fever, but not too bad. The papers they gave me with the vaccine said I could expect that. By the time I woke up Tuesday, I have a full blown fever and chills. I also have a huge lump on my arm where they gave me the shot. It's about the size of a baseball!! I'm not feeling good, so I bundle up and head in to work, I've missed enough time from Monday. At work, I don't shed my sweater, I also wear my running cap and my running gloves, just trying to stay warm. The fever is really burning - But at least it helps keep my mind off of the fact that it is the 14th.

Can you see the baseball?
While at work, I call the nurse at the VA and advise them of how things are going, about my fever and chills and the baseball in my arm. She doesn't like it and suggests that I come in. I tell her that I'm at work in Claremore and it just isn't feasible for me to make it in, but should my symptoms worsen or continue to persist, I'd be in in the morning. I leave for the day, having only eaten some breakfast, and head straight home for the bed.

Tuesday night was the worst. My fever continued to rise. 101F when I left for work. a little over 102 by the time I got home. At about 11pm Tuesday night, my fever spiked at 103.9. I was just about to make my way to the ER. I decided to give it an hour and if it didn't get better, I'd go. I asked for prayer and I prayed the best I could under the feverish and nearly delusional conditions. Finally, at about a quarter til midnight, I started sweating. I continued to stay huddled under the covers for a while and let it sweat out. Finally, I check my temp. down to just over 100F. I didn't like that, but I could live with it. I started getting my faculties back and I also was able to eat a little for the first time since 8am.

Wednesday morning, I get up and head back the VA. When I check in with the nurse and told her what had happened, she said she didn't think it would get that bad. Then when I showed her my arm, she said she never expected that. I think she thought I was exaggerating, especially since I didn't want to come in the previous day. Finally, the doctor took a look at it and put me on a steroid regime for extreme allergic reaction. They also charted the vaccine as an allergy and he told me to stay home for a day. The nurse said that when the fever hit 103.9F, I should have headed to the ER. She said that it could have been much worse. Judging by the looks and her reactions, I think she was surprised I was even still breathing, but she didn't say so. By Wednesday evening, I was feeling good enough to get out of the house for a short time, so I went to church. I was a bit short tempered, but that is likely a symptom of the fever. The fever finally broke sometime overnight and I am finally down to my normal temp.

Yes, those are blisters

Oh... and one more thing before I go... the results from the x-rays - a small bone spur in the elbow, which could periodically cause some problems, but shouldn't normally.  and on my foot... a couple of small heel spurs, but not any change from the last time I had my foot x-rayed back a couple of years ago for my turf toe, which has not bothered me in almost a year now.  YAY!

So all this to say one thing. This Thankful Thursday, I am thankful to be on this side of the dirt!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Another cold day in... errrr, on the trails...

Sunrise - Looks so much warmer than it really is
Well, I had grand plans to be out way before anyone else and run a bunch of extra miles... ok, only 2 extra miles, but in this weather, you might could count extra just for being there. Starting temps were 13 degrees Fahrenheit, with winds steady at 15 miles per hour gusting to 25. That made the wind chill average about 0 to -4. Ahhh, reminds me of my days in the Arctic.

Anyway, I had grand plans, but they were interrupted by a couple of problems. First, apparently, someone hit a telephone last night which caused the electricity to go out. The other problem I faced was that I could not find the route and send it to my phone as I normally do. So, between those two problems, I arrived at the Amphitheater just before 7am and got started almost immediately.

The Pedestrian Bridge - Note the flag flapping in the stiff wind
The route ended up being a simple out and back, starting off due south on the river trail. So for the first 2 miles, I had the wind at my back. I had really layered up, but even then, I could feel it biting through my clothes. Still, onward I went. I continued to use my phone and alarm to run the 4 and 1 walk to run ratio and things were going real good. The morning sun was behind the clouds with the red glow just breaking through at the horizon as I started. I hoped there wouldn't be anything more than wind and cold to contend with.

The 4 and 1 pace moved me quickly along and before i knew it, I was coming up on the Pedestrian Bridge. I bid my new 'friend', the bridge adieu as I passed it, continuing south. I was again on a part of the trails that I had never been on. Running down by the Power Plant was an interesting experience. I stopped off and watched the river run for a minute or so while I had part of my nutrition and enjoyed the roar, a roar I've not often had opportunity to listen to.
The Soccer Field at the Turn Around

Getting started again, I found that the place where I had stopped was not very far from the turnaround point. Cresting the hill, I saw a familiar sight. A place that I had started runs from with someone else. It made me feel a bit warmer inside to see the familiar place. I went down and stopped at the water stop and noted just how cold it was from the ice on the water cooler.

Yes, that's ice on the outside
 Having only started about an hour before, while I was at the water stop and the quick run over to the turnaround 50 meters further south and back, people were starting to catch up to me. So after a few minutes of running my mouth, I decided to get moving again. Before long, I was passing familiar people... I can't say faces, because many of the faces were shrouded by various kerchiefs and masks. a couple of people looked like fugitives from a ninja convention or the latest GI Joe movie with only their eyes visible through the black mask.

I doubled up on almost everything

I guess I was moving pretty good despite the wind in my face. I only stopped twice on the way back before the bench within sight of the finish. Neither stop was very long, but just enough to stretch out my legs, which had tried to cramp up at the water stop. I had some gatorade, so I finished it off between the two stops. I even got a good job after coming over the last big hill. Still running the 4 and 1. Finally, I pass under the 23rd street bridge and past the boat house. I stop at the bench and catch my breath. Up and at it, the last stretch and my alarm goes off, right on cue. I finish my run and check my time. I've finished in 2 hours and 19 minutes! It was a very good run for such cold temps.  Later, I found out that it was only a 4 mile run, cut short due to the cold weather.  But that doesn't take away from the great run.

Derek's Monster Cinnamon Roll at Tally's

 Finally, had breakfast with some of my crazy running family!  It was a blast, but the adventure of the day cut it short for me.  I left feeling tired and yet very accomplished.  I have proven to myself beyond a shadow of a doubt that I can still work and play in the near Arctic temperatures that I once lived in and today, along with the runs of the last 6 weeks have allowed me to count what happened at the Rt66 as an anomaly and put it behind me once and for all.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

A Very Honorable Man: Today's Thankful Thursday Post

From the time we are born, we, as human beings, are learning -- Often by trial and error. This is the way we learn to walk. We get up, take a step, fall down. Then we get back up and do it again. What happens when we fall a long way and get hurt in the process? It takes either a certain level of character or a certain level of stupidity to keep on trying when you painfully fail at something, especially when all the "experts" are telling you it can't be done. Character, Commitment, Honor and Strength... not just of muscle, but of mind, heart and soul. These are the things that bring us tales of the impossible. The stories that inspire us.

Everybody needs inspiration from time to time. Some of us need it on a daily basis. Sometimes in my life, I have had trouble coming to grips with such things. I've always tried to be self-sufficient, usually to my own detriment. Sometimes we have to look outside ourselves and find those men and women who inspire us. And when we find someone whose struggles and accomplishments have really inspired us, then we should share their stories for others who may be needing that inspiration in a tough spot. When the pain of running gets too tough, I am thankful for the inspiration of this next hero and Man of Honor.
Today, my Thankful Thursday post is about:

Master Chief Carl Brashear, USN 1931-2006

So much has been written about Carl Brashear that it is so easy to consider just copying and pasting the information in here. But people of his stature deserve so much more. Carl Brashear was the first African-American to attend and graduate from the US Navy's Diving and Salvage School and become the first African-American US Navy Diver. If that was all, he'd be a hero to a lot of people. But he went on to become the first African-American US Navy Master Diver, as well. But that was only after Navy Diver Carl Brashear became the first amputee diver to be re-certified by the US Navy as a diver.

Brashear joined the Navy at a time when racism was still heavily ensconced in the US Military. Despite the grand accomplishments of such groups as the Tuskegee Airmen and individuals like Navy Cross Awardee Dorie Miller, the US Navy had to be ordered to desegregate in 1948. But racism and prejudice continued to be prevalent for more than a decade after.

When he submitted his first request to attend diving school, the Navy that they did not have any "colored" divers. Brashears reply, "The Navy's about ready to have one!" After several repeat requests, Brashears reported to the US Navy Diving & Salvage School in Bayonne, NJ in 1954. Because of being born to a sharecropper in rural Kentucky, Brashears dropped out of school to help on the farm and only had a 7th grade education. The school showed Brashear that there was more than just the physical difficulties of diving, but there was also a heavy burden of science to working in the deep that he would have to master.

Many applicants washed out of the program without any extraordinary difficulties, but Brashear also had to fight the racial bigotry and hatred of not only the staff and instructors, but of many of his fellow students. Threats were almost a constant for him. But there was also support. It was enough to keep Brashear going and he graduated from the school and became a Navy Diver.
Things went well for Brashear for the next 10 years. In 1966, he was set to make the next big leap in his career when a B52 carrying live nuclear weapons collided with it's refueling aircraft off the coast of Spain, dropping its payload of 4 nuclear bombs out of the sky. Three of the devices landed in a farm field. The fourth was dropped into the ocean and required a deep sea salvage diver to locate. At that time, Brashear was serving aboard the USS Hoist and that ship was called in to locate and recover the final bomb.

During the recovery, a tow line snapped taking a piece of pipe with it. As the pipe whipped across the deck, it hit Brashear in the left leg just below the knee with such force that it nearly severed it. After being stabilized aboard ship, he was moved to a naval hospital where his leg was restored. However, there was a lot of damage and facing a long and painful recovery with no guarantee of regaining full function of his leg and a significant danger of gangrene, Brashear convinced doctors to amputate.

Brashear had done more than many men could hope to do and achieved more than most could hope to achieve, but he had not attained his goal of being a Master Diver. Refusing to go to a hearing that would have declared his physical state to be such that he would be medically retired, Carl Brashear worked hard to prove that he was medically fit to remain in service. It was an uphill battle the entire way, having to appeal to Navy brass in Washington in order to get a hearing that wasn't predisposed to putting him out of service and would actually give himself a change to prove he could do it.

Finally with a chance to prove himself once again, Brashear pushed himself. "Sometimes I would come back from a run, and my artificial leg would have a puddle of blood from my stump," Brashear said in 2002 when he was inducted into the Gallery of Great Black Kentuckians. "I wouldn’t go to sick bay because they would have taken me out of the program." In April of 1968, Carl Brashear was finally recertified, becoming the first amputee to be certified as a diver by the US Navy. By 1970, he had achieved his dream of becoming the first African-American US Navy Master Diver. Retiring from the Navy in 1979 as a Master Chief Petty Officer and Master diver, Brashear went on to work for the Navy as a civilian, finally retiring from all government work in 1993.

Carl Brashear was the subject of and the technical advisor for the movie made about his life, Men of Honor, starring Cuba Gooding Jr. as Brashear, Gooding would later say that Brashear was "the strongest man I have ever met." His story was selected for the US Naval Institute Oral History Program in 1989. Carl Maxie Brashear died of respiratory and hear failure on 25 July 2006.

"It's not a sin to be knocked down. It's a sin to stay down." ~ Carl M. Brashear
My thanks goes out to this Man of Honor. Carl Brashear, thank you for inspiring me!

Monday, February 6, 2012

Oh, How I Hate Downhills

This is primarily a running blog, so this may, at first, seem a bit out of place. But they tell me that running is 90% mental and only 10% physical. I'm not sure about those figures, but I will quote a pilot friend of mine who once told me that "Attitude determines altitude." And if that is true, the past few days I've been skimming the trees.

Back on Saturday, I had a great run and was feeling pretty good about life. Some days it seems like every time I get to feeling good, life has to stick it's nose in. Most of the time, I just ignore it and move on. But since Saturday, it has just gotten under my skin and I feel whiny today. Someone told me I should keep my blog real and so here you are reading about my whininess.
So, setting this up, the past 8 days or so have been a struggle with my emotions and clear thought for a variety of reasons. Last Monday, I was feeling pretty good and was kinda up on life. Tuesday I was so far down in the dumps that I didn't even want to get out of bed. Wednesday, things felt almost even and then the slow, sinking decent began.

Things were going downhill. By Friday, I was such a wreck that I barely ate and was barely drinking my water, too. With a lot of prayer and help, I made it through the day. Now part of what has had me so stressed out has been a class I have been taking.

Since last year, I have been taking courses through Global University School of Ministry and I've been doing very well. Eight 1 month long courses a year designed to prepare a student, education-wise, for ministry. Last year's coursework behind me and this year's started off well enough. I've maintained straight A's through last month's test. But the first problem came up when they had to order the materials for this month's test. For over 2 weeks, I worried about the book arriving. Finally, 14 days before the test, I received my materials and started studying.
So last week, I decided I needed to dedicate the time I usually spend cross-training in order to get through the coursework. I spent a lot of time studying and trying to get ready. It wasn't easy with the emotional roller coaster and mental fuzziness I was experiencing and that came to a head Friday night. I tried to study, but in the end, there was just too much material to cover in the time I had and I ended up calling it a night, so that I could get up early and run and then go to OKC for the test.

Saturday morning started off great and I had a great run (See the previous blog post for details). But it was only a brief respite from this downhill I've been on. Finally, I got done with my run, got to OKC and took my test. I didn't do very good. It didn't help my mood. Trying to fast forward through the rest of this morass, I wallowed in my self-pity the rest of the day. Sunday services were good, but between services, I found out that one of my running friends totalled her car. I think that hit me harder than I expected. I've been tracing back through my own wreck 13 years ago when I rolled my big rig since then. I thought I'd put that behind me. After Sunday night service, I tried to go home and rest, but rest was elusive. Finally, I fell off into a fitful sleep. Waking up this morning, I actually did not want to go to work -- this has not happened to me since I started here and it isn't because of work, but just because I had no desire to face the day. Finally getting the day started, I started thinking about some of the things I've done and said in the past. Things that I regret how they came out. Things that have cost me dearly. I have tried, especially in the past few years, to live my life without regret. But there is one thing that I wish I had said differently.

I was given a couple of visions from God a couple of years ago, one and then the other. The first one was that I was to run the Ironman in Kona. The second, well, it was more private. I was once asked how I would chose between my training for the Ironman or this other. I said that while it would devastatingly break my heart, I would have to go with the first thing God told me to do. I thought it was right to do what God said. I have only realized after the fact that my real answer is that I would pray for guidance and do what God directed me to do then. For if I had done that, I would have realized that God often tells us to do something to motivate us to better ourselves, then gives us further direction that may change what we thought He first told us.

It's like the sickly young man who God told to push against the boulder. Years and years later, the man saw God and bowed his head, saying, "Lord, I have failed you." God looks at the man and says, "In what way have you failed me, my son?" The man, continuing to look down, points to the rock and says, "Lord, I have not moved that rock even one inch in all the time you have told me to push against it." God smiles a reassuring smile and says, "My son, I never told you to move it. Only to push against it. And look at what you have become for your effort. You are strong, your muscles are bulging. You are tanned from being outside. You are no longer sickly but healthy. You have not failed Me."

Maybe now that I have gotten this out, I can start my uphill climb. I sure hope so. The view from the valley is rather limited.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Great Run today!

For the first time in months, I managed to get out for a run close to the time I had intended. Up at 0430 this morning, I managed to get everything sorted from a cold start (I didn't set my stuff up like normal last night -- was busy trying to get ready for my test this morning) and make it to our start point at the River Parks Ampetheater by a quarter of 6... Only 15 minutes late.

Temperatures were mild and in the upper 40s for my start, so I was able to dress a bit lighter. Headlamp in place and all set, I was off and going.

For some reason, I hadn't disarmed the alarm on my phone, so 5 minutes later, it went off to the tune of COPS, "Bad boys bad boys, whacha gonna do..." I figured what the heck and started running to the song. I took tiny steps so I'd be in synch witht he song and let the alarm go for a full minute, then slowed back to a walk and hit the snooze. 4 minutes ater, it went off again and I decided I'd just keep doing this as long as the alarm went off. The 4 minutes in between were good for my recovery, but the tiny strides didn't hurt me or get me going too fast.

I got through the first mile that way and really wasn't making a lot of time, hanging out at about the same pace as last week's 5 mile jaunt. But I also hadn't realy hit any hills yet. That was about to change. Now I have a saying that I came up with back when I first started running, and there is ony one person who knows the true origin of this saying... "Uphill is for running, downhill is for skiing." Well, today seemed no exception as my cell phone's alarm seemed to go off every time I was heading up a hill, even some of the monsters on today's course.

And so it was as I climbed away from Veteran's park and started mile 2. I suppose it is because of this that my stride changed significantly. I know this, not because I was aware of it at the time, but only after I crossed Mile 2, when I noticed that I had moved faster -- a lot faster, to the tune of 5 minutes. After a 33 minute first mile, I clocked only 28 minutes on the second mile! Even after stopping to have a bit of Gatorade and site for a minute. That felt good, but with me having to drive to OKC immediately after the run today, I figured I needed to make sure I had something left. So I slowed back down to my previous pace and carried on. I had half my nutrition just before mile 3 and was able to refill my empty bottle with some more Gatorade just after I rounded that turnaround.

On the way back, I was within of minute of my estimated times at various landmarks. Again, it was feeling pretty good. My legs were doing great, but at mile 5 my feet tried to carmp a little. Still, it was not bad and after a minute or so of stretching and finishing off my Nutrition bar, I was back off and headding back across the river. I am amazed at how much energy I had, even in the final stretch. I could tell, however, that my foot was starting to hurt and I was beginning to tire as my run sections got slower and sloppier. Coming down off the hill, I ran into the Couch to 5k group, Derek England leading them. I was in a run segment (one of only 2 on the entire course that was downhill) and was still able to say hi and talk for a minute. I stopped one last time for a quick break as I closed in on the Ampitheater. My foot was really talking to me and it just seemed prudent. But on the way to the bench, I was chatting with one of the C25k runners and just really enjoyed talking about running to her.

Finally, I made it back to the start and took a few minutes to relax and get some pretzels and some more Gatorade. Then I had to get going and move on home for a superquick change and grab my stuff for my test and drive over to OKC. I did better on the running than the test, but still managed to pass. Not nearly as happy with my score, but since they didn't send me my class materials until half way through the course, I guess I can let myself off the hook this time. Can't go back and change it anyway, so onward and upward.

***Didn't get any pics during this run, it was dark for a lot of it, anyway. But I'll drive by later and take a few handy shots of the route and update this blog later.***

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Fighting Back: My Thankful Thursday

Heroes - A person of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his or her brave deeds and noble qualities. Heroes inspire us. They take us to places we never thought possible. Sometimes, they show us that the impossible is really possible. Heroes never seek to be heroes, but they also aren't willing to back down in the face of terrible odds.

Everyone has heroes, although some of us have trouble identifying ours. I was that way for a long time... trying so hard to figure out who really was a hero to me, not in a general sense. I mean I think that anyone who volunteers to put their life on the line for others is a hero. Police, Firefighters, Soldiers and Sailors all fit this bill. But there are an elite few that really inspire me by their example, their courage and commitment. There are only a handful of people out there whose heroism has touched me in a personal way. The stories of their triumphs help me to push forward, even when I feel like I have nothing left. That's what heroes do. That's who heroes are. And that's why I am thankful for each and every one of them.

My Thankful Thursday post is inpired by:

Rocky Bleier, Pittsburg Steelers Linebacker 1968, 1971-1980

In 1968, Robert "Rocky" Bleier was drafted into the Pittsburg Steelers football organization after a sterling performance in college with the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. But that wouldn't be his only draft. After playing his rookie season, Bleier was drafted by the US Army and ended up with the 196th Light Infantry Brigade patrolling in Heip Duc. During a patrol, his company, moving to rescue another company that had been ambushed, was ambushed themselves. Bleier soon found himself shot in the leg. Before long, Rocky had even more to worry about, as a grenade, bouncing off another, landed nearby and went off. The blast sent shrapnel through his foot. In no time, every member of his company was either killed or wounded.

Bleier crawled through the rice paddies trying to get away. He was also carried for a distance on a poncho, but the extra weight was too much for men with other wounds and he was set down while some of his fellow soldiers went for a chopper.

In Rocky's own words: "A few minutes later, I saw a black hand reach down to pick me up. This man put me over his shoulder and carried me the rest of the way to the helicopter. Racism was never more turbulent than back in the 60s, but in those rice paddies, we were colorblind. We were Americans. I never found out his name. I thought for sure someone would come forward, but to this day no one ever did."

After 14 hours, Bleier's injuries were finally able to be treated. Bleier was evacuated to Tokyo where he underwent surgery to remove the shrapnel from his foot. Over 100 pieces of metal were removed and during recovery, Bleier's thoughts started drifting back to playing football. He asked his doctors when he'd be able to play again and the replies were heart-rending. One doctor told him that playing football on a professional level was going to be impossible, that he might be able to walk again with some degree of normalcy would be a struggle but possible. The other doctor told him to forget about playing football, there was just too much damage to his foot.

Not long after that difficult news, Rocky Bleier received a postcard from Steelers owner Art Rooney: "Rock - the team's not doing well. We need you. Art Rooney" Three weeks after his first surgery, he was transferred to Ft. Riley, Kansas to begin his recovery. In January of 1970, he underwent a second surgery to remove bone spurs and free ligament from scar tissue. After the surgery, Bleier was declared 40% disabled by the Veteran's Administration. This was unsatisfying to Bleier, Art Rooney had said the team needed him.

Not willing to give up, Bleier used shock therapy, stretched with large rubber bands, lifted weights and ran sprints every day. On the weekends, he would run stairs at K-State's stadium with weights on his ankles.

"I just wanted to play football more than anything else in the world," recalled Bleier. "I was a bachelor. Football was my life and my dream at the time. Nothing else mattered. I loved the game so much. I didn't want to look back later in life and regret not giving the game every ounce I had."

Less than 6 months after his second surgery, he reported to the Steelers training camp. After some discussion between Head Coach Chuck Noll and owner Art Rooney, Bleier was accepted back and placed on the Injured Reserve list, where he continued to concentrate on his rehabilitation. Rooney paid for a 3rd operation, where the Steelers Team Doctor instead of Army doctors removed even more shrapnel and ripped apart scar tissue to give the halfback more flexibility. He kept up with a rigorous workout, continuing to punish himself and push himself as the painful road to recovery continued. Bleier worked hard, but ended up pulling a hamstring in training camp for the next season. Bleier was put on waivers, but didn't let it stop him from trying, even as he moved from the team's playing field to the office, working with the team's scouting department and on the taxi squad.

Bleier came back to camp in 1972 and his performance dropped jaws. His benchmark 40 yard dash had IMPROVED from before his injury. The hard work was paying off. He made the regular squad and became a Special Teams spectacular. In the offseason, he hit the weight room and bulked up, being able to bench press 440 pounds. In 1974, he started in the backfield with Franco Harris and became an indelible part of a dynasty. In Superbowl XIII in 1979, Bleier and the Steelers went head to head with the Dallas Cowboys and his efforts were legendary.  On a team with other football greats, Rocky Bleier holds his own. Mean Joe Green, Franco Harris, Terry Bradshaw... and Rocky Bleier, who was their teammate and inspiration.

In 1969, Rocky Bleier was awarded the Purple Heart for being wounded in action and the Bronze Star for heroism in the face of the enemy. When he retired in 1980 after Superbowl XIV, he was awarded his 4th Superbowl Champion's Ring. Through all the pain and injuries, he never stopped, never quit.

And today, I am thankful to Rocky Bleier for being one of my inspirations.