Tuesday, August 12, 2014

10 Years After

August 12, 2004, I went to bed with a sense of dread.  How I slept, I don't know.  I have blogged before about Hurricane Charley.  Outside of the Hyatt Disaster in Kansas City, this was certainly the biggest local news story that I ever covered.  That Thursday night 10 years ago, I went to bed hoping Charley's forecast track kept it headed to Tampa.  My biggest contribution to our coverage would come that fateful Friday.  I told our News Director at WINK, John Emmert, that we needed to bring Mike Walcher and our satellite truck back from Tampa.  We agreed that Charlotte County would be the best place to set up shop.  Little did we know.

Hurricane Charley slammed into Southwest Florida the afternoon of Friday August 13, 2004 gouging a path across Sanibel and Captiva Islands before roaring up the Peace River bringing devastation to Pine Island, Cape Coral and much of Charlotte County.  Mike Walcher sat in the middle of it with his photographer and engineer Pat Senna watching the Charlotte County Sheriff's Office fall down around them.  I can only imagine the terror.

I know I was terrified for a time.  When it became clear that Charley was turning, about mid-morning that Friday, I feared the storm would bulldoze it's way over the heart of Lee County.  I was genuinely scared shitless.  The newsroom was gripped by fear.  WINK TV sat right next to the Caloosahatchee River so any storm surge could have left us several feet under water  Before we blocked the newsroom doors and sandbagged them, about an hour before Charley hit with its full fury, I went outside.  That somehow helped dispel my fear.

Once the storm hit my, anxiety level dropped tremendously. It was a big blow to be sure but it wasn't as frightening as it could have been. The worst of it had passed to our north. Mike Walcher and his photographer and Dan Bowens and his photographer experienced the worst of it as they were both located in Charlotte County. Both did wonderful work as did all of our other reporters out in the field who risked their lives to report on the storm... Trey Radel, Tim Wetzel, Melissa Keeney, Holly Wagner, Abigail Bleck, Candace Rotolo, and Judd Cribbs all stand out in my mind from that frantic day. We had a dedicated group of photographers like Darren Whitehead, Randy Hansen, Matt Lucht, Melissa Martz, Sean Peden, Tom Urban, Mike Levine, Andrew Miller and a couple of other guys whose names escape me. Even the sports guys, Brian Simon and Clayton Ferraro pitched in.

When the storm started to subside, it was a mad scramble.  Cell phone service was worse than spotty.  I don't think we had a true sense of how bad it was because by the time it was truly safe to venture out in Charlotte County, sunlight was fading.  I remember we had to abandon a live truck on U.S. 41 because it was simply to dangerous to drive it down the highway for fear of hitting power lines.  Looking back I know we were very, very lucky that no one was hurt.

On a personal level it was hell waiting for a phone call from my wife.  Phone lines were down.  She managed to get to our neighborhood grocery store, find a pay phone about an hour after it settled down.  Everywhere in our neighborhood there was damage.  We were very fortunate.  Charley claimed a couple of tree limbs but we didn't suffer the roof damage that many of our neighbors did.

As the night ground on, sometime after midnight and suggested to my boss that we had done all that we could do.  Power was out everywhere.  We were broadcasting on radio but it was so dangerous out that moving crews was risky and you couldn't see any damage in the dark.  So we went off the air for five hours to let our crews re-charge.  I went to a nearby hotel on a whim, knowing there would be no electricity, but I desperately wanted a bed, even if it was just for three hours.  Around 4 a.m. I heard the AC kick on and rested easily.

We went back at it at 5 a.m., fortunate to have the only helicopter in the market.  The video when it started coming in was indescribable.  It was difficult to recognize anything.  It looked like a tornado 10 miles wide had rolled up the Peace River through Charlotte County.  I was just too busy trying to stay on top of our crews, taking phone calls, juggling satellite shots and placating tired producers to really soak it all in.

I didn't get to go home until Sunday.  Emmert felt bad for me and let me go and see for myself that my wife and stepson were okay.  I didn't stay at home for another day.  Spending all day working in air conditioning and sleeping in a non-air conditioned house wasn't an option. 

Charley was followed by three more hurricanes in the span of six weeks.  We were lucky that Ivan skipped us altogether and slammed into Pensacola area.  Frances and Jeannie just scraped by Southwest Florida, but that's another story.

Charley took a massive toll on my health and the health of John Emmert.  I know that John made a couple of trips to the hospital due to the stress on his heart.  I was having issues with diverticulitis which was on exacerbated by the storms.  I kept getting sick after every storm.  Come December on a vacation getaway to New Orleans my stomach let go and I spent two weeks in the hospital there.

I hate hurricanes.  I pray that I never have to cover another one.  Too bad the newsroom that I work in now that is filled with green reporters don't feel the same way. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014


I'm watching gym class on ESPN2, also called CrossFit.  It stands right up there with Tough Mudders and Spartan runs in my list of meaningless sports.  Except in this sport, it's painfully obvious that more than half of the competitors are loaded with steroids.

Since when did gym class become a sport?  And worse still, anyone engaged in this so-called sport is begging to get injured.  I can't imagine the toll it would take on anyone over the age of 40 who tries doing this. 

Seriously, if you want to get in shape and enjoy a well-rounded body, run, bike, swim and lift weights.  It's a simple formula.  I have a neighbor who just past the big 5-0 and he's lost a ton of weight and looks healthy by simply doing core weight training, watching what he eats and running three or four times a week.

What's worse is that any consideration of these CrossFit competitors being great athletes is laughable.  I would love to see a good collegiate decathlete like Curtis Beach give one of these Cross-Fit competitions a go.  Beach doesn't even rank in the world's top ten but he would blow away any of these guys.

The best thing that could happen to a CrossFitter would be an encounter with the late Ralph Wedd.  He was my PE teacher in the 9th grade at South Junior High.  I think Mr. Wedd would ruin any of these so-called CrossFit athletes in just one of his 50 minute PE classes.  These muscle-bound Venice Beach rejects would be crying for their mommies after the third round of calisthenics under Mr. Wedd's watchful eye.

Why is ESPN2 showing me this garbage when they could be televising the World Series of Poker?  Now that's a sport worth watching! 

Sunday, July 13, 2014

CSN&Y 1974

40 years ago on a hot July day, the 18th to be exact, I rolled up to Royals Stadium with a running rival, Curtis Martin, for an amazing day of music.  Little did I know that I was witnessing a tour of historic proportions.  Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young were making the first stadium tour in the history of rock and roll.

I remember drinking a lot of beer and smoking a little pot.  It was blazing hot sitting somewhere in the middle of the diamond, at about 2nd base.  The massive stage was set up in the middle of center field.  Jesse Colin Young opened the show.  His set was mostly forgettable, save for his greatest hit "Get Together."

The Beach Boys took the stage next, probably around 6 p.m.  They rocked the house.  I wasn't much of a fan, but Mike Love, Bruce Johnston, Al Jardine and the Wilson brothers, Carl and Dennis, brought their "A" game.  They were great.  I've seen them three times since that show and they were very good but it simply wasn't the same.  It felt like they were trying to prove something to the crowd. 

When CSN&Y finally hit the stage, the sun had taken its toll and I had sobered up.  They played for well over 2 hours.  The show is mostly a blur now.  I was there mainly because I wanted to see Neil Young.  He refused to play until the crowd quieted down, and sat down, for his acoustic portion of the show.  He played the epic "Ambulance Blues", and a couple of my favorites, "Long May You Run" and "Only Love Can Break Your Heart."  David Crosby's "Almost Cut My Hair" left a strong impression as well.  They were good damn good. 

So it was great to hear a monster release of that summer of 74 tour.  I give credit to Graham Nash for making it happen.  I suspect it only happened because the set is decidedly Neil Young heavy.  You can feel the cocaine coursing through their veins when you listen to the music, especially Stephen Stills on the opening number, "Love the One Your With."  The music doesn't measure up to their other live offering from that era, "4 Way Street."  I think it's partly due to the drugs and the fact that this new release doesn't have any overdubs.

It's a great palate cleanser after listening to Neil Young's latest release, "A Letter Home."  It's a low-fi offering of Neil traipsing through some covers.  It's quite frankly embarrassing, especially in light of his push for better digital sound with his Pono project.  I would love to hear these songs recorded in  a real studio.  Instead, Neil fucks his fans over one more time, (yes, I'm talking about 2012's Americana) by recording these great songs in a portable recording booth owned by Jack White. 

I love Neil Young, but when he records crap, which 2 of his last 3 projects have been, he owes to his hardcore fans to do a better job of opening his vaults.  Archive 2 needs to come along and soon.  Thank goodness for Graham Nash.  Because of his efforts, I can enjoy Neil at his best.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014


Summer is here and with a vengeance.  Running in southwest Florida during the same presents a whole set of challenges that other parts of the U.S. simply don't face.  It's a combination of heat, humidity and the threat of lightning.  The heat and humidity I can take, but the lightning a whole different matter.

Most of the sane runners I know here try to get their runs in before 7 a.m.  You beat the heat and generally only have a moderate amount of humidity to deal with during the time just before dawn.  I have never been much of a morning runner.  I prefer hitting the roads late in the afternoon.

The only time I did morning runs on a regular basis is when I lived in Phoenix.  You had to run before 10 a.m. during the summer in Phoenix or face death.  I would generally run sometime between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. and take a quick nap before going to work at 2 p.m.  I would usually supplement the morning run with a light workout when I got home.  It could get unbearably hot and this was long before it became fashionable to carry water. 

I decided to run 6 miles this afternoon at 5 p.m.  A thunderstorm had just blown through so I was hoping to catch the cool side of the storm.  Unfortunately another set of storms blew up 20 miles to my east leaving me in unrelenting sun with the maddening humidity fluffing off the storms to the east. 

It was 95 degrees with a dewpoint of 75.  The feels like is well over triple digits.  I got through the first couple of miles and enjoyed something that resembled a breeze as I headed north along the trails from the storms brewing along the interstate.  I realized that 5 miles would be a better option because I knew the breeze would disappear when I turned around to head home.

That's when the slow roast started.  I ran some of the slowest miles that I've run since I had stomach surgery almost a decade ago.  It made me reflect back that it was exactly 10 years ago when I could still actually run something resembling fast.

10 years ago this month I ran a 4 mile race in Eugene, Oregon averaging 6:50 per mile.  I wasn't in what I considered good shape at the time.  Then we had a summer filled with hurricanes in southwest Florida and it ruined my health and didn't do much for my running.

As I muddle through the heat and humidity I reflected back to running in this kind of heat 10 years ago, going along at 7:45 pace for 5 miles and feeling a pain deep in my guts.  It made running almost impossible, almost.  A few months later and 4 hurricanes later my guts would let go and my running was never really the same. 

The fact that I can still pound out miles and actually managed a marathon again, after four surgeries, is really pretty amazing.  I never thought I would be able to run more than 10 miles because of the danger that dehydration posed to my stomach.  Somehow I've managed to keep training, enduring the heat and humidity, without blowing out my guts, again. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Hot Mess

We're on the backside of one of the coolest springs we've ever seen in our 11 years in Southwest Florida and of course I waited until last weekend to run a race.  I just wasn't motivated for the most part of the spring.  Coming off my injury in January my training while steady, was painfully slow.  It felt terrible to waste such a great winter and spring but my heart just wasn't in it.

I had really wanted to run a 5K in April.  The urge to sleep in on Saturdays overwhelmed my desire to race.  Then came May and there really aren't many good races to run.  Even though I had Memorial Day off, I skipped that race too.  The desire to sleep in was just too strong.

So finally, last Saturday, I entered the Fort Myers Track Club's Membership Run.  It was just a mile from the house so it meant I could get the maximum amount of z's in, before heading over to lace em' up.  The Czarina came along and so did the son-in-law Vlad. 
I was just hoping to run in the mid-24's, which is what I was running in much cooler weather last fall.  It wasn't humid, but I can tell you by the last mile of that 5K I was roasting.  As you can see in the picture I managed to meet my goal.  The Czarina finished about 3 minutes behind me, the son-in-law 1 minute ahead.  He was within reaching distance for the first mile but my slow fade did me in.  I think I could take him in a half marathon but who knows.

Anyway, it felt good to get one under the belt after 6 months of race avoidance.  I doubt that I will run anymore races this summer (yes, they actually exist in our summer sweat box) because I don't want to drown in a pool of my own perspiration.  I swear I'll be back in sub 22 minute shape by next fall, really!

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Nearly Forgotten Coach

As fans of track and field, fans of sport, are looking back at what happened 50 years ago tonight, when Jim Ryun became the first high school runner to run a sub-4 minute miler.  You'll read nothing from the man who guided him to this astounding feat.  In a couple of weeks Bob Timmons will turn 90.  He is almost invisible, largely due to his diminished mental state.

My relationship with Timmie is complicated.  39 years ago I was busting my ass trying to keep up with the tough regine required to run at the University of Kansas.  I lasted about six weeks before getting kicked off the KU cross country team by Timmie. I cried like a baby when he told me, "Come back when you get in shape." I had quit the last part of a tough workout the day before, after battling a case of diarreha all day. It was one of the toughest things I've ever experienced in my life, certainly the toughest at that point at age 18.

I wasn't in the kind of shape that I should have been to try and run for KU. What's sad is that now at that same ability level if I was to walk on at Kansas, I would be a member of their varsity. My how the program has fallen.

During the Timmons era at Kansas, the program for most of the time was top notch. His predecessor, Bill Easton, had turned Kansas into a national power. Easton lost his job, due in part to Bob Timmons and a high school phenom he had coached, Jim Ryun.

Timmon's former athlete had decided to attend Oregon State. Timmons, who had become Easton's assistant during Ryun's senior year in high school, was handed KU's head job after Easton was fired for some minor transgression. Suddenly Ryun was Kansas bound, and the rest is history.

Ryun had a wonderful career at Kansas. The program continued to flourish for the next 15 years with the Jayhawks winning a handful national titles in track and field. They were unbeatable in the old Big 8. But Timmons reign had one glaring weakness. There were no more Jim Ryun's.

By and large distance runners from Kansas never lived up to the potential they had shown in high school. A few did, Kent McDonald, one of my old training partners, was an All-American and finished second at the old AAU nationals one year. Bill Lundberg was another standout who went on to coach.  George Mason, a high school nobody, flourished under Timmons.   I could name three or four others but the point is, none of his distance runners at Kansas, ever won a national title, or made an Olympic team, except for Ryun.

Timmons had made his name as a great high school swim coach and later on as a track and field coach. He put his swim coach philosophy to use in track and created two legendary high school milers, Ryun and Archie San Romani, Junior. But his workout regiment was brutal. I experienced it first hand. A few runners, like McDonald, learned to coast through some of the workouts, in order to stay fresh and competitive. But very few did and some simply burned out.

For a long time I despised Bob Timmons. I blamed him harshly for KU's fading fortunes in track and field at the start of the 1980's. He had faults, but at heart he was and is a good and caring man. And as I grew older, more sober, I began to realize that my bad feelings were a waste of time. I began to value the experience that I had with Coach Timmons and became thankful for that eventful day when he kicked me off the team.

I became so grateful in fact that I produced a documentary about Timmons and his prized prodigy Jim Ryun in 1996. Most people probably assumed I did it as a tribute to Ryun, a world record holder in the mile and an Olympic silver medalist. But the real reason I did it was to give Timmons the credit he deserved for putting Jim on the path to greatness. It was my way of making amends to the man, even though he never knew (at least I don't think he knew) that I had harbored such ill will for him.

Five years ago Runner's World magazine published a hit piece about Bob Timmons. Coach was very old and had terrible lapses of memory. I saw him two years before the article and he didn't even recognize me. You could literally see the fog in his eyes. I don't know what the point of the article was. All it did was dredge up a lot of bad memories for athletes who had suffered at the hands of Timmons more than 20 years ago. Ben Paynter, the author, did his homework. But in the end, the work is meanspirited

I later learned the impetus for the article came from a hatefilled, self-pitying former Kansas runner.  Timmons is really defenseless at this point in his life. His triumphs far outweigh whatever failures Paynter tried to foist the readers of Runner's World.  You can click here to read it if you care.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Aunt Betty

Death comes to us all.  It's the harshest reality of life.  When those we love and admire leave this earth, it becomes incumbent upon us to remember, to carry their spirit, to cherish it and nourish it and when possible, share it with the ones you love.

I met Betty Longhofer about 53 years ago.  Aunt Betty was married to Kenneth Longhofer, a hard scrabble, hard working, farmer who worked the rocky wheat fields on the edge of the Flint Hills in North Central Kansas.  Kenneth died too soon, a victim of the cigarettes, the harsh farm chemicals and the circumstances that come with the farm life.  He's been gone more than 25 years.  Betty left us this Monday.

Kenneth always seemed hard and uncompromising to me, but there was something to that hard edge to forced you to admire his tenacity.  Betty was soft around the edges and gave him balance.  She had an unvarnished charm and Midwestern sensibility that was the essence of the wisdom that you find in farm families across the great plains.

Together they raised three amazing children, Kenny, a farmer, Rita, who tried her hand at a singing career, and Keith, my running buddy out of the farm, now a veterinarian.  They are all whip smart, with a strong sense of family and a sense of humor that sneaks up on you in like a Greg Maddox fastball.  Being with anyone of my cousins is always a first rate exercise in the lost art of conversation.

As for my Aunt Betty, I remember her non-judgemental acceptance of a very odd and very picky eating little boy.  She never made me feel bad about the way I was.  Betty had a heart that accepted people at for who they were, as long as their hearts were in the right place.  And it would go without saying that nothing will ever replace Aunt Betty's ice tea.  It must have been the well water.  A well that couldn't have possibly been as deep as her heart.

I will carry her with me forever.