Posts Tagged With: sports

A Bag of Ass

17362917_10210828317876893_2968130807892576018_nIt’s been an entire week since I ran the Tough Mudder NOLA, and I’m still blowing mud out of my nose. I’d call that success.

The TM guys said that this year, they had upped their game. I can attest, Tough Mudder 2.0 is a beast. New obstacles. Improved old obstacles. And more mud!

I’m not going to lie, when my team and I crossed the finish line back in 2015, we were ready to run again. This time, I don’t think any of us wanted any more of this course.

The NOLA trail snaked for 10.9 miles across acres of old sugar cane fields, and through sparse woods. I grew up in cane country. The smell of the sugar mill is not one you want to wear to a black tie affair.Bagasse

Once cane is crushed and drained of its sweet nectar, it is thrown into huge piles outside the mill and left to ferment and rot. It’s called bagasse (pronounced bag-ass), which I believe it’s French for “bag of ass,” because that’s what it smells like.

Now, imagine thick, gumbo mud churned to cake-batter and smelling of bagasse. I was a kid again!

The re-magined Everest2.0 is a leg-slayer. 2014_training_everest_420x220px_1The run-up is shorter, and steeper. If you want to make it to the top, don’t stop churning your legs — even when the mountain falls away from you.

Then, swing wildly for one of the dozen or so outstretched arms of your fellow mudders waiting to pull you up.

If you miss, it’s a short, humiliating slide down the Everest’s muddy face all the way back to base camp for a short rest, and another run at it.13116039_10154117816772790_3498648781963682248_oPyramid Scheme is a blast, as long as you don’t mind strangers grabbing any body part available to heave their muddy carcasses over you. I want to apologize to the woman who’s crotch I may have grabbed on my way to the top. That’s what happens when someone is hanging upside-down and her legs look like a fork in the branches of that big oak tree from your childhood.

She was a good sport and yelled at me, “Just get your ass to the top! I can’t hang here all day!”race_3517_photo_50969411

Standing at the base if an eight foot, mud wall with no foot-holds to help me out of the chest-deep goop I was wading through, I thought, “This is gonna be fun.” Mile of Mud is one of the trademarks of Tough Mudder. This year, it was the slickest, nastiest, most fun on the course, and we got to do it TWICE.

But the best thing about a TM is the mudder to your left and the one to your right. Your team is every single mudder on the course. You’re all in this mad, muddy dash together, and the only way you’ll make it through is with the help of the dudes around you.

And THAT is what Tough Mudder is all about. Now hit the showers. You smell like a bag of ass.17362575_10210828317716889_3419742437002249856_n

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Return to Everest

o-MOUNT-EVEREST-BRAWL-facebookIt started as a whisper, somewhere in the distance, a nagging call among my team. You need to do this. . . Again. The voice was seductive, like the siren’s songs that draws sailors to the sea, only this whispered echo was calling us home.

There was much to do: Gear to clean. Weights to lift. Miles to run. Diets to perfect. In short, we were in no shape to return to Everest. But it was April. Our ascent wasn’t until March. That gave us an entire year to prepare for the grueling trek up the face of an obstacle that has stolen the hopes and dreams of so many.

Preparations the first time around had almost killed us, but they paid off in every member of our team scaling the monolithic half-pipe that is the single toughest Tough Mudder obstacle.

14232489_10208956828370825_7740601966627015887_nWe were all two years older now, and one member of our team was AWOL. (Actually, he’s now a Marine, scaling much tougher obstacles.) Still, we were determined to meet the challenge as any Legionnaire would: With lots of help from our friends.

Then, the historic floods of August 2016 took our home. It could not take our drive.

Training would have to wait while we rebuilt our lives from the ground up. Healthy diets would have to be put aside for something we could eat single-handed on the fly with a hammer in our free hand. Running? Only if dashes to the lumber yard for more sheetrock mud counts.

DSC_0249Last time I scaled Everest, I was in perhaps the best shape of my life. This time, with only two months to prepare, I enter the fray 10 pounds heavier, and a full minute off my mile pace.

Now, with two days left before we get muddy, that siren call blares like a trumpet in our ears.

Rebuilding your life from the ground up in just three months throws up every mental road block anyone can imagine. The crushing blow of learning your home will have to be demolished, the joy of learning it will not, daunting five-hour work sessions after a full nine on your day job, sixteen-hour days on the weekend, sheetrock dust — pounds and pounds of sheetrock dust settled on your skin and in your lungs, decisions on everything from walls to be moved to cabinet pulls.

We may enter this trial slower and heavier, but we enter it stronger. Mudder Nation, prepare for Team Geezer!

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Sounds like ego talking.

Those were the words that sealed my fate. Actually, I had every reason not to get involved. With all I had been through in the last year, no one would have blamed me. Work had been a beast. My family had lost everything in a flood last August. My diet had been crap. Hell, I had only been back in the gym for two months.

crossfit 2But my trainer knew right where to hit me. And she guilted me into joining the 2017 CrossFit Open.

For those who are not part of the cult. The Open is this ridiculous competition to see who is the fittest person in the land. And it is brutal.

It starts on the home gym, or Box level. More than 300,000 athletes from around the world hit their home gym or garage to do the same exact workout. Stuff like cleans, and snatches, and deadlifts, or squats, or combo moves like squat snatches. Then the sadists at CrossFit’s home office throw in pullups, or double-unders, or burpees to take the wind right out of you.

It sucks.

What’s worse, there are judges who can make you do it all over again if you don’t do it right. Even worse than that, it is timed, and scored.

crossfit4The day of the first workout, I dropped my 20 bucks in the pot and signed my name on the death waiver. Then, I started making excuses.Shit, I’m 52 years old; I’m lucky to roll my ass out of bed in the morning. I haven’t worked out in months. I’m still training for a half-marathon, so I’m always tired. This is just for fun, a benchmark for when I can train like I want to. . . 
Through three of the five workouts in this first round, I’ve learned a couple things about myself. Competition is a great motivator, at least for me.There’s nothing quite like knowing people are going to see your results to push you to get in one more rep. No matter how much it sucks.

Wind is my strong suit. It must be all the running I’m doing. Those wind-sucking exercises could not suck more, but I seem to recover from them pretty quickly. (I never thought weighted lunges would be part of my recovery.)

crossfit1I’m a lot stronger than I thought. It’s not that I cruise through my regular workouts, I just never had an idea of how hard I could push myself. Hell, before last week, I had never done a squat snatch in my life. I thought I’d pass at 75 pounds. I actually didn’t time out until the I hit two rounds at 115.

I need to push harder. Even though my workouts are scaled (because I’m old and broken), I’m not dead.

Two workouts left, and I start training for next year.

Oh yeah, and Ego, is still the best way to motivate me.

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Bottle Caps and Big Games

As a journalist, I’m not impressed by much. I’ve sat in more Governor’s offices than Principal’s offices, interviewed more inflated egos, shot more starlets than I care to admit. Musicians? Yep, Sweet Sweet Connie Hamzy might even be jealous.

hankThis week, as home run king Hank Aaron celebrated his 80th birthday, it reminded me of the time I almost interviewed one of my childhood heros.

It was Spring of 1997. I was working as a chief photographer for WPMI-TV in Hank’s hometown of Mobile, Al. All of LA — that’s Lower Alabama for the uninitiated — was abuzz with the success of Mobile’s triple-A baseball team the Bay Bears. The team had been founded a few years earlier, and the large crowds it drew had eventually led city big wigs to build a brand new, state-of-the-art ball park for the Bay Bears to call home. When it came time to name the stadium, there was only one logical choice — the most famous baseball player ever to call Mobile home.

Rumor had it Hammerin Hank himself would be present for the naming and the opening, but no one knew when he’d be in town. The day before the home opener in the brand new stadium, my bosses thought it would be cool if we could score an interview with the home run king. It was an assignment everyone in the newsroom was drooling over. I mean, who wouldn’t be jazzed to earn a little facetime with a living legend?

hank-aaron_wide-7c51172b23855dc98abc965eadc58d90a0c932a8-s6-c30Growing up in Louisiana, we weren’t a big baseball family. SEC football rules the day, but I remember sitting in the living room with my dad and watching as  Hank smacked #715 into the Braves bullpen in the fourth inning of the Braves 1974 home opener. We jumped and cheered and watched those two idiots rush the field and run the bases with him.

The assignment to track down Mobile’s favorite son fell to reporter Dave Straker and me. I had no idea where we would start. I figured the Braves media office, or some type of sports agent agency. Dave had an ace up his sleeve that I didn’t know about. He knew the address of Hanks parents.

It was a modest home in a seedy section of the city. Even after all of their son’s fame, Herbert and Estella Aaron had decided not to move from the family home. I sent Dave to knock on the door while I grabbed a few shots of the house. It was my way of forcing him to take the rejection. To  both of our surprise, Herbert came out to talk.

Hank, he said, would be flying in for the opening then jetting right out. There would be no time for interviews, but I rolled the camera as Mr. Dave worked his charm. Herbert regaled us with a few stories from Hank’s childhood and of the threats both Hank and the family received durning the run-up to Hank’s record-breaking hit.

Right before we broke down, Herbert asked us if we would like to hear a story about Hank that he had never seen reported. What journalist wouldn’t want scoop on one of the most famous sports figures ever? So Herbert stepped to the side and pointed at the windows on his home. He told us Hank and his brothers loved to play baseball in the front yard. They had broken so many windows on that house, that He and Estella had been forced to take the baseball from them.

Without a ball to practice with, Hank and his brothers did what any other kid with a passion for the game would do. They improvised. Hank and his brothers would search roadsides and garbage cans for pop bottle tops. When their pockets were full, they’s hurl the little tin discs for each other to hit. The ridges on the edges of the caps would cause them to dip, dive, and curve wildly, but they refused to stop practicing. Herbert credits those bottle caps with Hank’s success as a hitter.

I never did get to meet Hank Aaron — another photog got the opening night story — but I like to think the half-hour Mr. Dave and I spent with Herbert Aaron and the story we got sort of makes up for it. I mean, where else have you heard the story of Hank Aaron and His Bottle Caps.

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