Wednesday, February 25, 2009

running legends

there are certain stories that athletes tell one another. stories handed down from one generation of competitor to the next.

the stories are conveyed in ways sometimes written, sometimes verbal, but always with an air of solemnity and reverence, and invariably with a quiet understanding assumed to only exist between those who have lived the same experiences.

the stories are meant to pass on lessons and expectations of performance, of passion, of dedication, of discipline, of effort, and ultimately, of inspiration. of qualities and ideals that every athlete should aspire to.

in so doing, the stories become messages, from all those who have come before to all those who have come since, about what it meant for them to live, and about what it should mean for those who still do.

this is one of them:
the story is written by Kenny Moore, a former Sports Illustrated writer and Olympic athlete. it's about his competitor and personal friend, Mamo Wolde, who ran for Ethiopia in several Olympics starting in the 1960s. i originally came across this story in a 2004 issue of Runner's World. they don't appear to have it in their on-line archives, but i found the story again at the above website.

it's not a happy story. in fact, it's quite sad.

Mamo Wolde, a member of the Ethiopian army and Emperor Haile Selassie's palace guard, came to world acclaim at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, where he won the gold medal in the men's marathon. despite his subsequent fame, he was arrested in 1993 for allegedly participating in the Red Terror executions under the regime of Ethiopia's Mengistu Haile Mariam.

he steadfastly maintained his innocence throughout his trial and subsequent imprisonment. his plight, along with many other detainees of the Ethiopian civil war, became the focus of international humanitarian efforts including human rights groups such as Amnesty International and individual athletes, including his fellow competitors from the 1968 Olympic marathon, Frank Shorter and Kenny Moore.

when he was finally released in 2002, Wolde expressed only gratitude for his freedom, saying "i bear no malice towards anyone."

what should have been a joyous time, however, soon turned tragic. a few months after his release, he died from complications of a liver disease he had acquired while in prison. the loss to the sports and human rights worlds was large.

for some useful references, you can check out:
i should note the better details, and the better story, are in Kenny Moore's article, which is about as touching a tribute as anyone has ever written about an athlete. for that matter, it's about as poignant anything anyone has ever written for any human being.

which is why i guess i like this story, and maybe the reason i think about it from time to time--like right now.

because it isn't just a story about athletics. or athletes. or running. or competition. or performance. in truth, it's not really about any of those things at all.

it's really a story about humanity, and about what that word means in the face of chaos and insanity and brutality and suffering--about what that word means in the midst of utter darkness.

and because of this, it's a lesson of just how special and deep and profound and moving human life can be, and of how bright the light of its incandescent majesty truly is. it is as supreme as the sacred...which is what, in its most sublime moments, it actually is.

and that's why i want to finish this post from a point in Mamo Wolde's glory, when he was young and triumphant, and his life as bright as the light of victory. it's a story in and of itself, and the kind that sends chills of wonder down your spine. it's from the 1968 Olympics, when he took the mantle of Ethiopian marathon running from the legendary Abebe Bikila. any runner, any athlete, will appreciate this story--but so will any human being aware of things greater than themselves and of the transformative nature of singular moments in time.

i'll quote Kenny Moore's article here, since it tells it best:

There's a story all Ethiopia treasures, in which I now learn I had a bit part. It's how their primal champion, Abebe Bikila, having won the 1960 Rome Olympic marathon barefoot (symbolically avenging Mussolini's invasion of Ethiopia in the 1930's), and having won the 1964 Tokyo Olympic marathon in a world record, then set out in the thin air of Mexico City in 1968 to win three Olympics in a row.

Your narrator, then 24, green and idolatrous, ran at Bikila's side in the early miles, through a claustrophobic gantlet of screaming, clutching Mejicanos locos. Once, Bikila, protecting his line before a turn, even gave me an elbow. I wanted to say there was no way I'd ever drive him into that crowd, but knew no Amharic. He had tape above one knee.

Any Ethiopian child can tell you too that Bikila was running hurt. After ten miles, he turned and beckoned to an ebony wraith of a teammate, Mamo Wolde, the 10,000-meter silver medalist and a fellow officer in Emperor Haile Selassie's palace guard. Wolde wove through the pack to Bikila's side. I wouldn't know for 34 years what they said, but it was:

Bikila: "Lieutenant Wolde."

Wolde: "Captain Bikila."

Bikila: "I'm not finishing this race."

Wolde: "Sorry, sir."

Bikila: "But Lieutenant, you will win this race."

Wolde: "Sir, yes sir."

Bikila: "Don't let me down."

Wolde, thinking some runners were out of sight ahead, took off. None was, but until the tape touched his chest, he couldn't be sure. He won relieved, by a masterful three minutes...

...I was in the stadium tunnel, a weeping nurse spraying my feet with merthiolate, when Abebe Bikila emerged from an ambulance. He caught Wolde's eye, came to attention and saluted. Wolde's victory meant his country hadn't produced a lone prodigy, but a succession. Wolde had made the marathon Ethiopia's own.

as a final note, if you want to find more stories of running, check out this one--it'll give you many things to think about:

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


we have holes in our lives. holes composed of our own suffering. holes made by others, holes self-inflicted upon ourselves. holes created from misdeeds, mistakes, happenstance. holes borne in sorrow, shame, anger, anguish, frustration, regret. holes so many, so large, so deep, so painful, we feel our lives run through with them, until we are more empty than we are substance.

they take their toll. a few more than others.

our instinct is to fix them. heal them. fill them in.

so that they don't hurt us again. so that the road ahead and behind and before us can be made clear. in the knowledge that the world around us was is will can be should be must be made right.

thing is, they can't be filled. not all of them. there are too many. too large. too deep. and no matter how much we care, no matter how much we try, the reality is that they will always be there. and the longer we stay to fill them, the more they'll consume our lives. they'll consume all of it.

and then want more.

and the reality will be that they will always be there.

because the world around us was is will never be right. because reality is a race of life, and no reality no race no life is ever perfect, and no reality no race no life is ever right.

even as much as we try to make it so.

in the end, all you can do is to accept them as markers in your life. milestones. signposts. of lessons learned. of experiences earned. of places you have been.

maybe you can fill in the ones that can be filled. but the rest...the rest are for someone or something or some god to resolve in some way sometime somewhere. somehow.

and then the best thing you can do, the one thing you must do, is to move on.

because there's a reality to confront.

because there's a race to finish.

because there's a life to live.

and they all can be should be must be made right.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

playlist: (anti) valentine 2009

i don't want to hear about your valentine's.

i really don't.

i don't want to hear about how happy you are, how great things are, how special love is, how wonderful life is, how you're celebrating this day, how you're marking this day, how you're remembering this day.

i really don't.

not because i'm bitter, not because i'm jealous, not because i'm lonely. not even because i'm mr. bad attitude this morning. but because i just don't want to think about what this day means right now.

i really don't.

because i know what it means.

it means all the relationships that have come before. all the memories of what happened. all the wreckage they left behind...and the carnage it inflicted.

the hurt then. the hurt now. the hurt that you know runs far deeper than the physical, beyond even the emotional, farther than even the spiritual. so far that you know it be one of those truths from which not even the soul can hope to hide. the hurt that lasts a lifetime, and then even to forever. the hurt that changed you.

and that you carry with you every day.

even though you won't, don't, can't want to.

you carry it with you.

every day.

i really don't want to hear about valentine's. yours, mine, or anyone else's.

i really don't.

all i really want to do right now is to just be alone.

all i really want to do right now is to just hide from this day, and try to forget everything about it--and, more importantly, all the memories it brings.

all i really want to do right now is to just go for the longest, most excruciating, most painful, most agonizing workout possible, with the hope that maybe the physical torture will purge the greater suffering of emotions and the greater agonies of the soul remembered with so much sorrow in my mind.

and then i want to find some music that manifests what i feel and echoes what i think and reflects what i dream, so that i can find--if even only for a few brief moments of melody--solace in the comfort of hearing other voices just like mine:

voices all singing the same song, with the same stories, with the same memories, of anguish, heartache, and regret.

voices that let me know i am one of many in a crowd that knows just what love really means.

voices that let me know that i am not alone.

god, i hate valentine's day.

james blunt: same mistake

james blunt: goodbye my lover

amber pacific: fall back into my life

jack's mannequin: mixed tape

jack's mannequin: dark blue

jack's mannequin: bruised

every avenue: where were you

every avenue: think of you later

we the kings: secret valentine

Sunday, February 08, 2009

it's not about the weight

well, if there was ever a reason to avoid a sport that requires you gain weight--any weight (as opposed to quality weight)--this is probably it.

check it out:
if the link doesn't work, i've put the full text of the article below.

there was only 1 time when i had coaches who insisted i gain weight, and that was for track & field sprints (100m and 200m). even then, the coaches constantly stressed the need for quality weight, meaning weight that was contributing to what they considered to be the ultimate purpose of an athlete's body: power output. this required maximum energy under maximum efficiency. for short-time frames of anaerobic competition (which is what a sprint is), this in turn meant more muscle (preferably fast-twitch) and less fat. essentially, the ideal was to become nothing more than muscles with lungs and a heart (and your mind was a bonus).

all the other sports i've done (including triathlon), the emphasis was actually on losing weight, but with the purpose still being to maximize energy with maximum efficiency. for long-term time frames of aerobic competition (which is what an endurance sport is), this in turn meant more muscle (preferably slow-twitch) and less fat. again, the ideal was still to become nothing more than muscles with lungs and a heart (and this time, losing your mind was a bonus).

i sometimes got really frustrated with the constant emphasis on weight, muscle, fat, and the training and nutrition involved to get to the desired weight, muscle, and fat. i would often look on enviously as some other athletes in certain other sports (like football, baseball, golf, to name a few) got to each whatever they wanted, at least, whatever they wanted relative to what i was mandated. i was seriously jealous.

but after reading this article, i'm certainly not jealous anymore. just read it. makes me glad my coaches really got me knuckle under regarding weight (and i mean quality weight), muscle, fat, and the training and nutrition involved to get to the desired weight (and i mean quality weight), muscle, and fat.

it's certainly helped me avoid the fate these guys have suffered. god help them.

Beefy football linemen fight fat after leaving field

When football career ends, some players battle weight issues
By Madison Park

(CNN) -- Football players guzzle protein shakes, down steaks and lift weights. They train and gain weight, hoping to build mass under the careful eye of the team's coaches, nutritionists and gurus.

"It was a scripted lifestyle where they tell you how to eat, how to take care of yourself, how much body fat you should have," said Chuck Smith, a former defensive end for the Atlanta Falcons and the Carolina Panthers.

But once their glory days are over, they have the same problem as millions of other Americans: They're fat.

"When I trained, they told us to eat all you can eat," said Smith, who played in Super Bowl XXXIII with the Falcons. "Drink beer, eat peanut butter to gain weight. All those eating habits were great for football. But when I got done, no question I had to make adjustments."

Without scheduled practices, meals, and games on Sunday, it became tougher to keep in shape.

When players were younger, they had the opposite problem.

Many tried to gain weight, believing that bigger is better. But as they age and retire from football, many are seeing that "big" is causing problems.

Smith, who weighed 274 pounds during his professional days, often had four plates of food in one sitting "to keep my weight up." After retirement, Smith had to unlearn those habits.

"I had to retrain my thinking," he said. "I don't need to be full. I don't have to stuff myself to feel comfortable. That took a long time. You stuff yourself to gain weight, then you get out of shape."

Smith learned he had high cholesterol (he had to take Lipitor), and his blood pressure was climbing, too.

"I had to take the bon-bons out of my mouth," said Smith, 39. "I had to empower myself. Strength coaches, nutritionists aren't going to take care of me. Guys have to empower themselves to take care of themselves."

Smith is now a fitness trainer at Defensive Line Incorporated, where he works with football players. Through healthy foods and workouts, he trimmed his body fat, lowered his cholesterol and shed 50 pounds.

Some players understand the risks, said Dr. Archie Roberts, a former National Football League quarterback and retired cardiac surgeon.

"They understand that if they stay 250, 300, 350 pounds as they age, that's going to shorten their life span and cause them more health problems," he said. "Others don't get it and they're unable -- for whatever reason -- to lose the weight, and they will suffer the consequences, just like anybody else in the general population carrying too much weight."

Diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol are all cardiovascular risks associated with obesity.

Roberts heads the Living Heart Foundation, a nonprofit promoting health for former football players. For five years, he has conducted research to determine whether former football players are at added risk for heart problems (they're not).

After left tackle Bob Whitfield retired from the New York Giants in 2007, he gained 20 pounds. The 37-year-old Pro-Bowler is trying to lose 40 pounds, which would bring him to 290 pounds, the lowest he has weighed since ninth grade.

"You don't want to be the person at the buffet and people look at you crazy," Whitfield said. "Overall, you want to have a healthier lifestyle. It doesn't mean you want to be muscled up. ... I don't want to be the biggest man in the room anymore."

Looking back at his career, Whitfield doesn't think his size made him a better player.

"When that mass gets too heavy, you decline, you can't accelerate, you don't have as much force," he said. "I never felt that being bigger gives you a competitive advantage. I put it on flexibility, the explosive nature of your movements."

Several decades ago, 300-pound players were a rarity; now, the league has more than 500, Roberts said.

Decades ago, the Washington Redskins' offensive line was known for its size and dominance.

"They had the largest line in the NFL, called the Hogs, 20 years ago," said Dr. Ben Levine, director of the Institute for Exercise and Environmental Medicine at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, and professor of medicine. "If you go back and look at their size, they're about the size of the running backs today. The impression was these guys were massive, huge. They couldn't play in the NFL today. They're too small."

Smith said he wasn't forced to gain weight, but perceptions exist on how a player should look based on his position. That "needs to change in the NFL," he said.

Being faster, stronger and more aggressive is more important than size, Smith said. He drew an analogy to airline stewardesses: "We want her to be tall and slim so she can walk down the aisles. Now is there really a difference between a 135-pound woman and a 150? Well, maybe a little bit different in the hips, but the same effectiveness happens when she does her job."

He added, "I'm a classic example that size doesn't matter."

But that's not what young, aspiring players think.

Jackie Buell, director of sports nutrition at Ohio State University, said she encounters players who seek to gain as much as 30 pounds by next season and seldom care whether it's fat or muscle.

Buell's research examined 70 college linemen and found that nearly half have metabolic syndrome, meaning that the players have at least three of the five risk factors of developing diabetes and heart disease. Her next project is to explore whether junior high and high school football players are developing metabolic syndrome.

"My fear is, these young men have this metabolic profile, what happens when they stop working out intensively?" Buell said.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

avoiding work (blue, like a rainy day, like a bridge over troubled water)

a friend of mine died this past week.

not a good friend (we only got to know each other in the past year), not a close friend (we only related as compatriots and comrades), but a friend nonetheless (at least, to a degree that any other word just does not seem appropriate). someone i've worked with, and come to know...and in a way more than just another human being (as in: just another one of many of the teeming masses i see and interact with, willingly or otherwise, on a daily basis), but as a person (as in: a name, a face, a personality, a body, a mind, a soul, living, breathing, talking, looking at you in the eye and shaking your hand and slapping you on the back and sharing a drink and talking, really talking, the way only friends--in whatever sense of what we may think we mean in that word--ever really do).

something that doesn't happen enough in this world.

not enough at all.

and which makes it all the more poignant, all the more painful, all the more tragic, when it is lost.

when they are lost.

it was pretty sudden. unexpected. a shock, really.

one moment there.

the next moment gone.

with just an announcement from an acquaintance and a request from the family for privacy.

which i will respect.

what is this like? what am i feeling? what can i say?





it's like having a part of you removed, with not even the chance to see it or feel it or hear it or know it being done. like having a part of you removed, and then being told that it was done.

it's left me feeling a little blue.

and not really motivated to do much else except just look out the window and watch the rain streaking down the pane.

and not doing much of anything else.

there's a line from Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth, when he discusses the near-death of his then-6-year-old son and the impact it had on his Senate career: you just don't care much kind of put things in entire month of priorities...*poof*, gone.

it's kind of like that now.

just don't really want to do much of anything.

let alone work, let alone study, let alone train.

let alone anything.

except maybe this:

Aretha Franklin (wow, Aretha playing the piano, and playing it well...and with so much soul...which is pretty much what we all need right about now):

Eva Cassidy (not the greatest singer of our time--see above--but definitely a very nice, very good, very powerful, very perfect version of this song nonetheless):

Elvis Presley (hey, it's the King, what else do you need to say?):

Simon & Garfunkel (the 1st version i ever heard, and in my mind, still probably one of the best):

yeah, that's right. browsing Youtube, and looking for all the versions of this song that i know. and playing them ad nauseum.

don't know why.

it just seems kind of right, right about now.