Monday, August 19, 2019

X-C Already?!?

This Saturday marks the beginning of the Florida high school cross country season.  It's a head scratcher.  There's little question as to the identity of the tip top girl in Southwest Florida.  Cantebury junior Jessica Edwards is by far and away the best distance runner in the area, boy or girl.

Questions surround the identity of the boy that will fill the rather large shoes vacated by Estero's Hugh Brittenham, now at Florida, beginning what one hopes will be an epic collegiate career.  Right now only two names pop into my head as to Hugh's heir apparent.  One would be Brittenham's Estero teammate, sophomore Kolton Pickard, the other is Fort Myers junior Liam Holston.

Something tells me another boy will pop up out of nowhere to take some races.  Brady Gibson, a senior from Naples, is a top notch talent and Estero junior Colton Tucker could rebound from a somewhat lackluster track season.  Besides the aforementioned Pickard among the young guns is Fort Myers sophomore Colson Palmer and Cantebury freshman Charlie Meagher.

Finding a state medalist among any of the half dozen or so boys that will dominate the Southwest Florida racing scene is another question.  Pickard and Holston could sneak into the top 20 at the Class 3A race.  Meagher may have the best chances because he will be racing the lesser depths of Class 1A.

Edwards should dominate the girl's side.  She will try to show that a top middle distance talent can shine at 5,000 meters.  I believe she has the strength and speed to capture the Class 1A state title.  Naples has a trio of outstanding cross country runners returning, Zoe Dantonio, Jillian Dempsey and Morgan Vickaryous.  Fort Myers returns a state medalist in senior Stephanie Ormsby.  It wouldn't surprise me if Estero senior Mia Perez brings the heat this season as well.

When it comes to singling out the top teams, it will be a story of the usual suspects.  Fort Myers, Estero and Naples should produce squads good enough to make it to State on both the boys and girls side.  The big question surrounds the Naples High School girls team.  Naples appears to be a lock to finish in the top five.  In Florida, only two teams take home trophies at State.  The Golden Eagles need to lop off another 30 seconds per girl to have a shot at taking home the hardware.  With the depth of returning runners Naples could make it happen.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

My Marathon Journeys: St. George 1989

The ghosts of 1988 will always stay with me.  The death of two friends and the slow deterioration of my work and personal life.  1989 started off with promise.  I was working on putting my head on straight.  I was training smart and racing smarter.

By the spring of 1989 I was back in a bad place.  It would take a lot of work with setbacks before I began to feel my way through my misery.  I found solace in running.  I found hope in friends like Craig Davidson, a Phoenix running  legend, who worked hard at putting good thoughts in my head.

Craig loves running marathons.  By now he's topped 250 and still going.  He wanted me to join him in October 1989 at a marathon that he was particularly found of in St. George, Utah.  I had basically done zero training from May until August.  My tip-top condition in the early winter was going to have to help me get through the rigors of a marathon.  Plus, I had never run two marathons in a calendar year.

I raced an early August 8K in 31:25, more than three minutes over my PR.  A couple of weeks later I slogged out a 20K in just under 6:50 pace. The week before St. George, Craig and I ran a 10K.  Craig was well under 35 minutes.  I ran 37:54.  I was far from tip top shape but it told me I was in good enough condition to break three hours.

I remember piling into a van with Craig and three of our other Saturday training partners. It was a monotonous drive through the desert and I wondered what I had gotten myself into.  We were going to drive straight to St. George and spend the night.  We'd get up at 4:30 a.m. to pile onto buses that would take us up to the start of the race.

Craig had told me it was a downhill race.  I had no idea just how downhill.  In the darkness I had no sense of the terrain.  We drove for about 45 minutes and were dumped out in the middle of nowhere.  There were about three thousand other runners freezing their asses off in the desert.  It was pitch black with a few barrels burning with fire to offer scant warmth to our frozen bodies.

Still dark, the gun went off and off I went with Craig.  In the darkness he quickly disappeared.  I hit the first mile in 6:25.  The sky was beginning to brighten about ten minutes into the race and I could see the beautiful desert landscape and realized we were on our way to a gentle descent to mile seven.

I was running easily at 6:20 pace until the massive volcanic hill that greets runners for a one mile slog uphill to mile eight. I was well over seven minutes for it.  I was hurting and beginning to doubt that I would run 2:55 and possibly not even break three hours.

Then the urge to go hit me.  A porta-potty saved the day at mile 10 and I spent one minute expelling what I had consumed the night before.  Despite the rolling hills up to the half marathon spot I was still moving fairly well hitting the half in 1:25:12.  I was thinking it's not if, but when will the wheels fall off.

Mile 14 was 6:49 and I figured it was the beginning of the end as I arrived at the first massive downhill.  A giddy runner flew by me and said, "It can't hurt any worse!"  It hit my like a thunderbolt.  No, it can't hurt any worse!  Off I went in pursuit of the giddy runner and I quickly caught him and headed to mile 15 which I clocked in 6:24.  Mile 16 was 6:00 and mile 17 was 6:13.

The sub 6:20 pace continued as I gloried in the gorgeous scenery of the red rock canyon we were running through.  Even as I enjoyed the landscape I had enough in me to punch mile 21, the start of the last big downhill in 5:53.

It wasn't until mile 24 that I started to slow.  I finished out the last three miles at 6:40 pace.  I was stunned when I hit the finish line in a new personal best of 2:48:50.  I wasn't in shape to run that fast.

I suddenly stumbled upon an old Kansas City training partner Gary Hansen who had broken 2:39.  Gary and I were about the same ability.  It dawned on me that if I did some serious training I could break 2:40.

It was an eye opening experience.  I knew with a reasonable amount of training I too could break 2:40.  The seed was planted and St. George was going onto my 1991 race calendar. 

Saturday, July 20, 2019

50th

Tonight marks the 50th anniversary of man's first steps upon the moon and it brings back some memories that I want to share.  Among them the customer who came into the store today and laughed about the anniversary and made it clear that the landings never happened.  I'm old enough to know it did.  I watched it on live television.  The science is out there to prove that it happened.  Scientists bounce lasers off reflectors left behind on the moon by two of NASA's lunar missions to measure the distance between the earth and the moon.

I was 12-years-old and living in Abilene, Kansas.  The family gathered around a black and white RCA television to watch the events of July 20, 1969 unfold on a Sunday.  The landing was exhilarating, the wait for the walk was agonizing.  It happened after dusk.  We diligently watched Walter Cronkite with Wally Schirra, one of the original Mercury 7 astronauts, walk us through the events as they unfolded.
After that one small step I remember going outside and a neighbor, Greg Morgensen, hauling out his telescope and we gazed on the full moon in wonderment.  That night, those events, are a moment that one never forgets, like the assassinations of both Kennedys, or the night President Nixon resigned.  It will stay with me forever.

A family member played some role in the mission to the moon.  My Uncle Bob Walters, worked for the University Kansas in the space/technology building.  Uncle Bob said they were involved with the moon mission but would never discuss its details due to some supposed secrecy.  I wish in later years that I had talked to him about what exact role the university played before his passing.

The only other moon related experience that has stuck with me is when I had a chance to meet Neil Armstrong, the commander of Apollo 11 and the first man to step on the moon.  I had just moved to Phoenix, Arizona and was producing the 10 p.m. for the CBS station.  The company that owned us was throwing some sort of big party at the station.

The station was owned by Taft Broadcasting and by that time Neil Armstrong was on the board of directors for the company.  I am uncertain as to why the party was being held.  But I was there, in one of the station's massive, unused studios where all of the big wigs were drinking cocktails.

Armstrong was introduced to the gathering.  All that I remember is that I felt awe and was too shy to go up to him and speak to him.  I may have gotten to shake his hand.  I don't remember so I doubt that I did.  I'm fairly certain I had to leave in short order to get back to work, but I did see the man, flesh and bones, a true American hero.

I've thought a lot in this last week about the moon missions.  The program was heavily criticized because of its expense.  I think it's boneheaded to do so.  The science that came out of the moon program enhanced our lives.  The computers, the miniaturization, the jobs, it all made for a better America.

Monday, July 1, 2019

Wow, Just Wow

I took my time to ponder, consider and ruminate over the amazing season of track and field that was produced by the high school athletes who attend high schools across Lee County.  Anyone who reads this blog knows that I focus mainly on distance runners, but I must give a tip of the cap to the incredible senior season from Fort Myers High's Jacob Lemmon.

I have a soft spot in my heart for throwers.  My cousin Doug Knop was a multiple Big 8 champion in the discus and was an All-American at Kansas while being a long time school record holder.  Lemmon stepped his game up leading the nation for most of the season with a state record toss of 209 feet, six inches.  The Virginia bound thrower became a more than adequate shot putter this year and added a second gold medal at State in that event.

Then there were the sprinters from Dunbar.  Seneca Milledge will join Lemmon at Virginia.  Besides snagging 100 meter gold at State he and his Tiger teammates blazed a stunning 40.27 4 x 100 relay to take another gold in Jacksonville.  Milledge assets, his incredible physique, makes him susceptible to breaking down.  Otherwise I have little doubt he would have had a monster season in the long jump and been a force at 200 meters.  He is simply an amazing sprinter.

But I gravitate toward distance and middle distance runners.  Those of you who follow my blog know that I had great expectations for this outdoor season and I was waiting to write about it expecting some big results in June from the state's best middle distance runner.  Estero's Hugh Brittenham capped an outstanding high school career completing a difficult double at the Florida State Championships. Brittenham scored double gold running 4:14.73 and 1:52.4 in the 1,600 and 800.

We all expected Hugh to compete in the post season and make a run at a sub 1:50 800.  But I will praise Brittenham and his coach Brian Olitsky for deciding to end the season early, on a high note.  Last season Brittenham was running on fumes when he ran both the Brooks and New Balance post season meets.  Instead, he's spending the summer getting ready for cross country at the University of Florida.

The Oliveira twins didn't disappoint either.  Neither Sierra or Moriah captured individual gold but their efforts led Evangelical Christian to a team title at State and both ran on winning 4x800 and 4x1600 relay teams.  Sierra ran a PR at 800 meters in a superb 2:11.04 to finish second.  Moriah ran an astounding 53.70 to finish 2nd in the open 400. Both young women will be seniors next year.  We should see more fireworks.

The best single performance of the year belonged to double state champion Jessica Edwards of Cantebury.  She ran a monster PR to hold off Sierra Oliveira in winning the 800 clocking a national class time of 2:08.40.  Edwards also captured gold in the 1,600 running 5:06.78.  Edwards had a couple of tantalizing attempts at a sub 5 minute 1,600, a barrier that will most certainly be broken next year.

2020 promises to be wide open on the boys side of the distance scene while Edwards and Oliveira will duke it out over the middle distances.  Can either of these outstanding runners clock a 2:05?  I wouldn't be surprised if either or both did.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Bruce

I'm getting tired of writing about work friends who have left us.  A man who was probably one of my closest friends in the television news business died this week.  Bruce Lindsay was a larger than life personality who ran the assignment desk at WDAF in Kansas City for years. 

Bruce and I started at WDAF at about the same time.  He was older and knew the city like the back of his hand.  His contacts with local law enforcement were the stuff of legend.  Bruce broke more big stories thanks to those contacts than anybody I ever worked with in K.C.  If something was in the air Bruce would say, let me use the source-o-phone and make a call.
  
Bruce was wise enough to know who was answering calls on the detectives desk at KCPD and would have me make the call for him if it was someone who didn't like him.  He would advise me as how to talk to the detective and more often than not the result was a story.  I know he pissed off somebody at the department for the information he got about legendary Kansas City serial killer, Bob Berdella.

Bruce and I spent a lot of after work hours together listening to jazz.  We would go somewhere for live music or hit a popular bar with an incredible collection of jazz records for a beer.  Milton's Tap Room was a one of kind place for a one of a kind man like Bruce.  

Bruce loved his guns.  He collected them, lots of them.  He brought them to work when he shouldn't have.  I think his love of guns was only topped by his love of music and his three daughters.  

No one put on a show at the assignment desk like Bruce.  He would spout lines from his favorite movies, particularly "Full Metal Jacket," and regale anyone who would listen about his time as a Marine.  If it wasn't for a bad spine I think Bruce would have served 20 in the Corps. 

When I returned to Kansas City after a three year stint in Phoenix, Bruce pulled me aside after I had been back on the job for a couple of months.  He confessed that my re-hire had made him mad.  He thought I was an asshole but he could see that I had changed and was happy that I had come home to Channel 4.  I think it's the nicest thing has anybody ever told me.

Then there were the nicknames.  Bruce had nicknames for everyone, mine, Rink, became Stink or Stink Boy Brown depending on his mood.  Sportscaster Frank Boal became the Boal Weevil, anchor Cynthia Smith was dubbed the News Hawk.  He was indiscriminate with his nicknames and they were always spot on.

During my last couple of years at FOX 4, Bruce and I delighted in terrorizing the new associate producers.  I would whisper to them that Bruce had served time for murder at Brushy Mountain Prison in Tennessee so it was best not to anger him.  Given his usual sour disposition the AP's would take my stories as gospel.  

The last 30 years of his life were unfair.  His woes started with a lawn mower accident that cost him a finger.  His bad back would lead to several medical complications. Those issues led to a whole slew of other problems that didn't make for a life that he deserved. 

Bruce Lindsay was a difficult man who lived a difficult life.  But he brought a joy and an uproar that kept the newsroom alive and humming.  His passion for music will always stay with me, as will the Jazz in the Night poster that he gave me some 30 years ago.  It's sad that he left us probably not knowing how many lives he touched and how many people loved him.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Dasha

Who is Dasha Dorofeev?  She is an eight-year-old getting ready for the third grade.  Dasha is a gymnast.  She speaks fluent Russian, but that's because mom and dad brought her here from Riga, Latvia when she was just age two.

Eight days ago Dasha, her mother Natasha and sister Masha were in a horrific car crash during a driving rain storm.  The crash broke Natasha's shoulder and left her with two collapsed lungs.  Masha survived with a slight concussion and a scratch on her arm.  Dasha was trapped in the wreckage and San Carlos Park firefighters cut her out of the car to save her life.

Dasha was taken by helicopter to Lee Memorial Hospital and then transferred by ground to Tampa General which has a pediatric unit that can handle neurological crises.  She was incubated and heavily sedated.  By Monday the breathing tube was removed and the recovery process began.

The last eight days have been a blur.  I have been in Fort Myers the entire time save for two trips to Tampa.  My first responsibility was to take care of Masha while mom recovered.  My first trip came on Wednesday after I retrieved Natasha from the hospital and the other this weekend to take my wife Tatyana out for dinner and a much needed cocktail.

Vlad, Natasha and Tatyana take turns sitting with Dasha around the clock. The progress is measured in teeny, tiny increments of hope.  A hug here, a kiss there, and finally a giggle plus a trip down the hallway to put together a puzzle.

Seeing Dasha is like seeing a severe stroke victim.  She struggles to focus but she fights mightily to do so.  She has yet to speak.  It may take weeks for that to happen.  But she has accomplished the impossible in a matter of days.

For grandma, mom and dad the days have no meaning.  Masha has gone to Sarasota to stay with a friend, a great getaway from the grind of watching her sister.  I don't know how she will rebound from all of this.  I don't know how any of us will recover.  But we will and so will Dasha. 

Friday, May 24, 2019

Tim

Tim Richardson was a local television news star.  At least that's the way I thought of him as a teenager growing up in Lawrence, Kansas watching Kansas City television.  Tim worked at KMBC.  He was a consumer reporter who helped people.  The charisma just oozed off the screen. 

So I was awestruck when I first met Tim.  I was working at KMBC as an intern in the spring of 1978.  By this time Tim had left television news and if my memory serves me correctly he was working for the city of Kansas City, Kansas at the time. 

I didn't have strong feelings about many of the on-air people at the start my career.  Tim was out of the business but he had left his mark on this impressionable young journalist.  I felt the same way about Charles Gray, who had migrated to radio by the time I started at Channel 9.  And I eventually felt that way about his replacement at KMBC, the larger than life Larry Moore.

I learned tonight that Tim Richardson had died.  The news left me crushed.  I don't know why.  Losing people who had an impact on your life is part of living life.  But Tim left a deep impression on me.

It's probably because I got to know Tim when he returned to television at WDAF TV.  I soon found out that Tim like most heroes, had his weaknesses.  But he was a special man, with incredible ties to the community at large.

I always felt that Tim was looking out for me.  He would even fetch me a meal from Gates BBQ and makes sure my beef sandwich was lean.  I think we had a bond because I gave him respect that few of the other producers at the station gave him.

Tim could be slippery and could be prone to not pushing to do his best work.  That angered the other producers.  I was tolerant of his unusual work habits because I knew that when I needed him, when it was important, Tim Richardson would come through for me.  He would get the story.

Tim was a dapper, hip man of the town. One day I came to work one day in a pink dress shirt.  He quizzed me about whether wearing pink would in some way mask my masculinity.  I assured him that it didn't and it wasn't before too long that Tim had purchased a pink dress shirt.

I remember when Tim had learned that Kansas City Chiefs great Buck Buchanan was dying from lung cancer.  Tim and talked about whether we should break the news.  Tim spoke with the Buchanan family who pleaded with us to wait, that when the time was right they would give us the scoop.  Tim trusted me with the information knowing I wouldn't share it until the time was right.

It wasn't a month or so later that the Kansas City Star broke the Buchanan news and we were beaten out of a big story.  Tim showed me something in that moment.  He wasn't angry.  It was just part of the job and that you just had to push forward and do the best with the hand you were dealt.

Tim wasn't the best reporter I worked with and he certainly had his faults.  But I always enjoyed working with him.  I savored his company whether it was a beer after work or a quick lunch together at Gates.  I wish I could be with him one last time for a beef and a half with fries.