Monday, December 03, 2012

It's the only possible explanation

Over the past few years cycling has become my primary method of exercise. It's not nearly as hard on my knees and feet as running, and it's something I can do on my own. And most of my rides are not on roads with a lot of traffic, so it provides some level of peace and quiet.

Now, I still like playing in team sports like softball and basketball, but neither of them provides much of a cardiovascular workout. And they are definitely much harder on the knees and feet than cycling.

When I do my road rides I usually do long distances at moderate (AKA slow) speeds. (I save the faster speeds for my shorter trail rides.) Typically, the shortest road ride I do is 40 miles. When I'm on these rides I pass other riders occasionally, but I get passed a lot more often.

I've been passed by men and women, younger and older, people in much better shape, and people who could stand to lose a pound or two (or thirty). On one ride I was even passed by a man in his 60's who had three broken ribs.

I've been passed by people on bikes costing several thousand dollars and others on bikes they got at Target. I've even been passed by someone riding a bike that had fenders and a basket. Thankfully, they didn't have streamers on the handlebar.

I've thought about why I get passed so often. I thought perhaps it's because I'm doing such long distances and need to pace myself, or that I'm trying to maintain a moderately high heart rate for a long duration. Perhaps I'm just enjoying the time outside, and I'm in no hurry to finish.

But, after much thought I finally came to the only real possible explanation for me being passed by all these other riders.

Obviously, they are all using performance-enhancing drugs.

Obviously.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

I'm more of a horrible warning

In February of 1992 I was transferred to Austin by IBM. I didn't know anyone outside of work and had a lot of free time, so I decided to do some volunteer work. In August of that same year I joined Big Brothers/Big Sisters. I was matched with Chris, a 10 year old boy who lived with his mom in south Austin.

Chris and I tried to do something every week. We played laser tag (and made a little girl cry). We bowled. Terribly. We played football and basketball. We watched movies. We went roller skating. (Or in my case, roller falling.) We went sailing. We went camping. And we once got "lectured" by an employee at the Austin Children's Museum for knocking over several stacks of building blocks. (It should be noted that we were the ones who stacked the blocks in the first place.)

I watched his middle school football games, I taught him how to drive a manual transmission, I went to his high school graduation.

And last weekend, I flew to Colorado to attend his wedding.

We haven't seen each other in a few years, and the event was a couple of states away, but I wouldn't have dared to miss it. Chris and his bride Sierra had a beautiful wedding, surrounded by their friends and family. It was an honor to be invited.

As I watched the ceremony, I reflected on our match. Chris was always a good kid, didn't get into a lot of trouble (despite my best efforts), studied a little here and there, was friendly and gregarious. And he's turned into a fine young man.

He also taught me patience and how much I enjoy working with kids. It's because of our match that I went on to coach sixteen seasons of youth soccer and three seasons of youth basketball (so far).

His mom once asked me if I considered myself a role model. I joked at the time, "No, I'm more of a horrible warning."

And if she asked me that question today my answer would still be no. All I had to do was spend time with a good kid.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

That's the first good call you've made all game!

Growing up I played a lot of sports. I wasn't necessarily any good at any of them, but I played. Sometimes. :) And with all the sports I played in my youth my parents made it to almost every game. There were times when they couldn't miss work, especially with the occasional 10:00 AM basketball game during the week, but those were rare. Bottom line, they supported all of their kids in all of their activities.

But sometimes Dad was a little too enthusiastic with his support.

My sophomore year in high school I played on the junior varsity basketball team. Well, I didn't really play that much, but - as I've said about other sports - I was part of the 20/20 club: late in the game, if we were up by 20 or down by 20, I got to go in.

One game, we were playing a rival school in their gym. Varsity games required UIL-sanctioned referees, but JV games didn't have that requirement. So, the opposing team's Jr. High coaches were refereeing the game.

And the game wasn't exactly called fairly. There were times when our players were being punched and no fouls were called. However, if one of our players even looked at one their player cross-eyed a foul was called.

My dad likes to yell. Especially at sporting events. He doesn't usually yell at the players, especially if they're kids, but he will yell at an umpire or referee. A lot. During this game, Dad voiced his displeasure, loudly and with much cursing.

At which point, the ref called a technical foul on my dad, the spectator.

Dad yelled down at the ref, "That's the first bleeping good call you've made all bleeping game!"

And he got a second technical foul.

Our coach then started yelling, got three technical fouls called on him, and was ejected from the game. And out of concern for our safety he took the team with him. We hadn't even made it to halftime.

As the team was riding back home on the bus, I thought about the game and came to this conclusion:

That really was the first good call they had made all game.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

I gave her a C-

Back before the internet, e-mail, unlimited long distance, and text messages people used to write letters. By hand. And I still have every letter ever written to me (and to me and my incredibly handsome twin brother Ron).

Except two.

One of them was a "Dear John" letter I received from a girl I was dating while I was in college. She lived back home so maintaining a long distance relationship wasn't easy in the time before instant communication (that was free). I wasn't that surprised by the letter, but it wasn't anything I wanted to be reminded of, so I threw that one away.

The second letter was from a friend I met on a cruise in the mid-90's, who I will call Meagan. I was on the cruise with a couple of buddies, and she was there with some friends of hers. She had a boyfriend back home, but he was unable to come on the cruise. Her group and my group were pretty much the only ones our age that weren't married, so all of us spent a lot of time together during the week-long cruise.

A few months after the cruise was over I got a birthday card from Meagan. (October 7th. Shop early, shop often.) She wrote a very sweet message inside. It was nothing other than friendly, so I mentioned it to one of her friends (who I also remained friends with after the cruise).

A few weeks later I got an angry letter from Meagan. She was very upset that I had told other people about the card, said some mean things about my character, and told me to never speak to her again.

I was confused. I didn't think there was anything private in that birthday message, so I thought there might be more to her anger than what was mentioned in the letter. A mature person would have contacted her to find out the real reason for the anger, resolve the issue, and maintain our friendship.

I was not that person.

Instead, I took the letter she had written me, and I circled all of the spelling and grammar errors, added some notes in the margin, graded it, and mailed it back to her. I had no idea if she was going to read it or even open it, but I mailed it anyway.

What grade did I give her? I gave her a C-.

EPILOGUE: Ten years ago I decided to track down a few people I had wronged over the years and apologize, and Meagan was one of those people. She responded, explaining what really had upset her back then, and it wasn't the letter. In fact, it had more to do with something outside of our friendship. And for the past ten years she has been one of my dearest friends.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

The sweet sound of grace

John Newton was a wretched man. He was born in Britain in the 1700's. His mother died just before he turned 7, and he later joined his father at sea at the age of 11. After his father retired, he began sailing with a merchant ship. He was later pressed into service for the Royal Navy, was caught attempting to desert and was flogged in front of the crew. He later transferred to a slave ship bound for West Africa.

While on the slave ship, John was such a problem for the crew that they left him in West Africa with a slave dealer. The dealer gave him to his wife, who abused and mistreated him along with her other slaves. He was later rescued by a sea captain sent by John's father to find him.

John Newton was a wretched man. But while sailing back to England, his spiritual conversion began when the ship he was sailing on was miraculously saved from sinking after he called out to God. Although he began reading the Bible and avoided gambling and profanity, it took several years before he finally renounced the slave trade and apologized for being an active instrument in that business.

He later became an evangelical lay minister, and he was eventually ordained as a priest. He was a popular speaker and was sought out for advice by young churchmen on religious matters. While serving in Olney he wrote several hymns that were later published. One hymn, "Faith's Review and Expectation" as it was called at the time, began with this familiar line:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.


John Newton was a wretched man. But despite the wickedness of his youth, he was saved by God's amazing grace. He knew the depths he had sunk, and he knew the gift of that grace. He didn't write that it saved a wretch like you. He wrote that it saved a wretch like him.

"Amazing Grace" became one of the most recognizable songs in the English-speaking world, performed in one form or another an estimated 10 million times each year. And each time it is performed the same words are sung: That saved a wretch like me.

And that is the sweet sound of grace.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

We held them to 63

When I was a sophomore in high school I played slot receiver on the junior varsity football team. One week, when we were playing a big rival, several of our starters were moved up to varsity, leaving 13 players on the junior varsity. We called ourselves the Baker's Dozen.

As you might expect, when you're playing with only 13 players, including the backup quarterback (who was the starting running back), the backup running back (to replace the one now playing quarterback), and a couple of backup linemen, the game is not going to go well. And it didn't.

During the first half, the left guard blew out his knee. We didn't have any backup linemen, so I had to move to guard for the remainder of the game. I weighed 120 pounds, so I was a bit over-matched.

Later, after being punched by the guy he was blocking several times (in full view of the referee) our left tackle finally punched him back and was thrown out of the game (as was the guy on the other team). One of our wide receivers had to take his place, and he weighed less than I did. And unlike me, he had never played on the line before. He also didn't know any of the blocking assignments, so before each play he would ask me who he should block. I would point to one of the players lined up near him and say, "Block that guy."

Since we had two lineman on the left side who were much smaller than the opposing side, and since our quarterback was a runner and not a thrower, our entire offense consisted of running plays to the right side. We were very easy to stop. I'm not sure if we got a first down the rest of the game.

And since all 11 starters on offense also had to play defense, we were very easy to score on. In fact, the opposing team kept their starters in the entire game, running up the score. They were attempting to score 70 or more points.

But we held them to 63.

EPILOGUE: The following year, when I was on the varsity football team, this rival team was favored by 14 points when we played them. We won by 29.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Just Keep Pedaling

Over the past few years of cycling I've learned a few things.

First, always look behind you before you spit. Or clear your nose. You never know when another cyclist (or a vehicle) is coming up behind you, and you want to make sure the coast is clear before you do either. And I certainly hope any rider in front of me offers the same courtesy.

The second thing to remember about cycling: it is a metaphor for life.

Riding is an activity that is often solitary. Other people may come along for a time, but often it's just you and your thoughts. Or thought, as the case may be. There are hills and valleys, sunny days and rainy days, injuries and accidents, and days with struggles and days without.

And then there's the wind. A strong headwind on a ride can make you feel like you're actually going backward. But a strong tailwind can make you feel like you're flying.

In life, you may get married and divorced, have kids, send them off to be on their own, but there will be times of solitude. There are ups and downs, good days and bad days, illness, and days with struggles and days without.

And there are days where you feel people or forces are pushing against you ... you feel your headwind. It feels like you'll never get ahead, no matter what you do. And then there are days where you feel like you're on top of the world, like there's nothing you can't do. You feel your tailwind.

The interesting thing about a tailwind is that you don't always know it's there. We like to think of ourselves as self-sufficient, that we don't need any help. But often, an unseen someone or something was there all along, pushing us and guiding us.

With a headwind, you always know it's there. You can feel it when someone or some force is keeping you from moving forward, and it's a struggle to continue. But no matter which wind you have on your ride or in your life the most important thing I've learned is this:

Just keep pedaling.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

I resolve to not make any resolutions

I don't make New Year's resolutions. I like to make my goals on an as-needed basis and not just one time at the beginning of the year. Plus, as any health club employee will tell you, most resolutions don't make it past the first two weeks of the year anyway.

However, last year I did set a couple of goals for myself for 2011. In 2010 I started riding my bicycle more frequently. I finished the year with over 1100 miles. I even rode a 100 mile ride for the first time since 1997, and completed it (see Outlaw Bike Tour 100).

So for 2011 I set some more ambitious goals. I wanted to ride a minimum of 150 miles for each month, and at least 1800 miles for the year. I also wanted to complete two 100 mile bike rides.

The monthly minimum was easy March through May when I was out of work because I could ride several days a week. But when the sunsets got earlier late in the year it got a little more difficult to find the time to ride. However, I did make my 150 mile minimum every month, ranging in distance from 150.14 miles in December to 300.22 miles in March, averaging 204.17 miles per month.

I was also able to complete two 100 mile bike rides (see Are we there yet? and Much more than first place). And with all of my rides I totaled 2450.05 miles for the year.

So, for next year I hope to improve on those numbers. I've set a monthly minimum of 200 miles and a yearly total of 2600 miles, and I want to ride three 100 mile bike rides. It looks like I have my work cut out for me this year.

Hopefully I won't give up within the first two weeks.

2011 Totals
Number of rides: 84
Distance: 2,450.05 mi
Avg Distance: 29.17 mi
Max Distance: 101.92 mi
Estimated Calories: 158,544 C
Time: 174:28:33 h:m:s
Avg Time: 2:04:38 h:m:s
Max Time: 6:08:41 h:m:s
Avg Speed: 14.0 mph
Max Speed: 37.9 mph
Avg HR: 136 bpm
Max HR: 179 bpm

Monday, November 28, 2011

Front row seats aren't that important

In the late 80's, the music scene was ruled by the hair bands: Mötley Crüe, Def Leppard, Poison, Cinderella, RATT and of course, Bon Jovi. In 1986 Bon Jovi released Slippery When Wet, their best-selling album (12 million sold in the US), which included such hits as You Give Love a Bad Name, Wanted Dead or Alive and Livin' on a Prayer. In 1988 they released New Jersey, which spawned five Top 10 singles, a record for a hard rock album.

To promote that album, Bon Jovi embarked on the Bad Medicine Tour, visiting more than 22 countries and performing more than 232 shows, including exotic Lubbock, Texas where my incredibly handsome twin brother Ron and I were attending college. We invited our friends Greg and "Two Beer" Brad, and the four of us headed to the show at Lubbock Coliseum.

Lubbock Coliseum was an interesting venue, used for Texas Tech basketball games (at that time), livestock shows and concerts. Concerts there were general admission, which meant seats on the floor were first-come, first-serve, and you could push yourself as close to the stage as you wanted. It also meant you had to keep your feet or run the risk of getting trampled by the crowd.

And the Bon Jovi concert was packed. The four of us were several dozen rows back, but the band had scaffolding that went out above the crowd, and Jon (he and I are on a first-name basis) would walk out and sing to those of us in the back. However, our friend Greg wanted to see how close to the front he could get and off he disappeared into the crowd.

About an hour later, we see him making his way back to our group, and his shirt is covered in sweat. We asked, "How close to the front did you get?"

He replied, "Oh, I got all the way against the rail. It took me 15 minutes to get there, and I stayed there for 30 minutes, but then I had leave. With everyone pushing me against the rail I thought I was going to pass out, so I made my way back here."

Looking at his sweat-soaked shirt we thought he might have gotten over-heated so we asked, "Was it too hot being in that crowd? Your shirt is covered in sweat."

Greg looked down at the sweat on his shirt and replied, "Oh, it's not mine."

You know, we were fine staying where we were.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

I may have been too early

I am notoriously early for everything. To me, showing up on time is showing up late. I show up early for interviews, appointments and dates. I have been known to show up so early for functions I have to sit in my car for 15-20 minutes before I "arrive" at a more reasonable time.

I had one friend who had parties at his house, and I was always the first one to arrive. To keep from being the first to arrive every single time I purposely showed up for one of his parties an hour late, and I was still there first.

I had another friend who always showed up at the theater so late we would miss the first few minutes of a movie, so I started telling him a start time 30 minutes before the actual start time to ensure that he would actually show up on time. And even then he still showed up late sometimes.

But there was one time I may have been too early.

Back in 2000 my 1 year old car was due for registration. The state inspection wasn't due for another month, but I wanted them both to occur at the same time in future years, so I took my car in for inspection a month early.

When I pulled into the service center and told the employee I was there for my state inspection I was fully expecting to get some grief. So, with a somewhat snotty attitude I added, "And yes, I know I'm a month early."

The employee looked at my sticker and said, "Sir, you're a year early." (Apparently, the inspection for brand new cars is good for two years instead of the usual one.)

Perhaps I should have waited in my car to arrive at a more reasonable time.