Fast Freddie

The first time I skied with Fred Siget was in Snowshoe, West Virginia with Larry Walsh of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. I had some limited training but had experience as a ski instructor. So, as my maiden voyage with a visually impaired skier, I had the original blind skier in our area in front of me headed down Cupp Run. Right turn, left turn, right turn, stay, stay………..all of a sudden the only tree in play was before me as I yelled “crash” and Fred sat down on his way to running into the only tree within hundreds of yards. I felt so bad, but Fred dusted himself off with a smile and said, ” Pat- don’t worry about it at all. This will be one of many.” And we continued down the slope. This began a 40 year friendship with the one and only Fast Freddie Siget.

Fred lost his vision as a result of an accident with a high pressure hose when he was a volunteer fireman. As devastating as this injury was, he was undaunted. He became the first computer programmer for Koppers Corporation that was visually impaired. He continued dancing, and he learned to ski with guys like Larry Walsh, Jim Conley, Lynne(Kravetz) Hartnett, Shorty Leco and Micky Hutchko. People who took the time to work with Fred and make him into a pretty good skier by the time I came along. Fred always had ideas on how to make things easier for blind skiers and how to improve guiding techniques. He was the first guy I knew that purchased a transmitter where the guide had a microphone and he had an ear piece which made calling out commands easier and understandable with snowmaking machines roaring in the background. I used it one time standing on top of a slope and calling commands to Fred as he skied by himself down to the chairlift. With his” Blind Skier” jacket on, people were shocked viewing his run. In the bar afterwards, we had some fun with Herman Dupre the owner of Seven Springs Mountain Resort. I put the microphone on and guided Fred over in front of Herman and told him to tell Herman how much he admired his red flannel shirt. Herman was stunned and later remarked to me laughing that he was starting to “get hot thinking about all the free passes I gave to Fred and now he is telling me how much he likes my shirt!” Hilarious.

Fred was a bus driver in the old days and always missed driving. One night after skiing, I asked Fred if he wanted to drive again. He was puzzled. I took him to the upper parking lot at Seven Springs and guided him into the drivers seat of my Blazer and let him have the wheel. I gave him commands like skiing. Right turn, left turn, stay straight, …the smile on his face was priceless. Then we did some donuts and the laughter was infectious. Fred never forgot that night.

Fred was always anxious to help new guides. He put himself at risk during the training but always felt that it was worth it not only to train guides that could assist him, but to help the other visually impaired skiers who were beginning to show up at the BOLD( Blind Outdoor Leisure Development) outings at Seven Springs.

Fred was a local legend due to his skiing. People knew him and admired him as they skied past him or saw him making turns from the chairlift. They knew him in Vail, Colorado where he skied regularly with the Mon Valley and Pittsburgh Ski Clubs. But perhaps the most compelling thing about Fred was his kindness and appreciation for his fellow skiers and guides. He always remembered your birthday and when he called me, he sang, ” Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you, get plastered, you bastard, Happy Birthday to you.” That made me laugh out loud every year. He would always ask about my wife Janet, and my son Jack. Jack would ski with us when he was a young guy and Fred always was interested in how he was doing in school and in his sports. Fred always thought about other people. He was popular for his skiing for sure, but as a person, you could not get a better guy who was always interested in others and never talked much about himself.

We lost Fred this fall at 94 years of age. Although he had an amazing life, we will miss him. I always think of him when I see people who have heartache in their lives or something that has tragically shaped their future. Fred never let his accident slow him down. He always said that he did more as a visually impaired individual than he ever did before losing his sight. He took a perceived bad thing and turned it into opportunity. Shouldn’t we all learn from that lesson? R.I.P Fred, I will miss you for sure. Thanks for reading folks.

The Bike and the Box Turtle

So, I am pounding up the Bathtub Trail, kind of clearing my head on a solo mountain bike ride this week and I come upon a box turtle right in the middle of the trail. I did something unusual- I stopped. I checked him out and marveled at the way the color of his shell blended in with the rapidly changing leaves all around me. I looked at the texture of his shell and thought to myself, what a wonderful Creator who weaved this beautiful ecosystem we have to enjoy right in my own county park. As I made my way up the trail, I noticed the diversity of the leaves that were beginning to cover the ground. Flaming red maple leaves, brilliant yellow oak leaves, multicolored ash, chestnut, and other species of deciduous trees that spread their foliage like a patchwork blanket before me. Fall has arrived and I am contentedly happy.

Usually I try to ride for a good workout and push myself, even on solo rides. But this day was reserved for more pleasant riding, kind of like mobilized hiking enjoying the natural world all around me. At this time of year, the trails are usually dry and you can pretty much ride as fast as you can and feel “in the zone” as you rail the corners and pound up the hills. This is the time when most of us are in peak shape and the euphoria that you feel after a fast paced ride is intoxicating. But, there are days in the fall when I like to just ride the bike for relaxed transportation in a world that is peaceful, welcoming, and shelters you from the pressures of the real world. The changing leaves are all around and along with the shorter evenings, the cooler temperatures, and the smell of the tannin in the leaves displays something that Western Pa. has in it’s bag of tricks to entice travelers and natives alike. If you are out in it, close your eyes and take a deep breath of that musty, woodsy, cool air into your lungs. Only at this time of year does it smell like that. Summer fragrances, winter blasts of cold air,spring evening smells, are all good eye closing intakes, but the fall air is the best.

The mountain trails in our Laurel Highlands are coming alive with color, and arm warmers, vests, tights, are all practical wear as the cooler temperatures welcome in the coming winter season.

But back to the box turtle. Instead of using him as a speed bump, I took the time to examine him and notice how he fits in. The diversity of the changing flora seem to welcome him as part of their patchwork of color. The buck are starting to surface and as they stare at you with their fully grown racks, they are part of this diversified animal kingdom that makes up the forest in the mountains and parks of Western Pa. Turkey, grouse, groundhogs, raccoons, birds of all species, including the majestic osprey and red tail hawk, are busy preparing for the long winter ahead. Bald eagles are visible in the mountains and their wingspans continually amaze me as I stop to take in their flight pattern in the ridges to the east. I see open chestnut pods releasing their treasure to the scurrying squirrels and chipmunks. Acorns,and seeds of all kinds are being scooped up by very busy little rodents who take great chances using the trails full of hikers and mountain bikers. The come perilously close to losing their life as they dodge the knobby tires of the many bikes on the trails.

But as my mind wandered, I thought about how all of this fits together. The trees, the leaves, the animals, all form the ecosystem that we call the forest. As I ride along, not in anaerobic debt, I take in the smells, the sounds, and the sights of a changing natural world. Yet it is one entity created out of a patchwork of diversity. Kind of makes you think doesn’t it? Enjoy the fall. Thanks for reading.

Mr. Ozanam

I first met Darelle Porter when he and Maurice Montgomery coached my son’s AAU basketball team in high school. I was introduced to basketball when Jack was in grade school, and then on to high school and culminating in a wonderful experience with the DeJuan Blair All Stars- the AAU team. Looking at the picture above, you can see Darelle dunking on Alonzo Mourning back in the late 80s when he was a Division 1 star player at Pitt. I am an outdoors guy and basketball was foreign to me as I had never spent much time in a gym, much less know anything about basketball. I stuck out like a sore thumb in my flannel shirts and Bean boots. But I learned a lot from Darelle and Alvis Rodgers during our time up at the Ammon Rec Center in Pittsburgh’s Hill District and at the various tournaments that the DeJuan Blair and the Metro team played regionally and nationally. To have a Division 1 star coach the team and give the outdoors guy instruction was special, but that is not the story I want to tell here. Darelle’s passion is kids. More than any records at Pitt, more than any times as a Division 1 coach, Darelle’s heart is with the Ozanam Program whose mission statement is ” We are committed to making a difference in the lives of the youth we serve.”

I first learned about Ozanam when I saw the after school basketball program up at Ammon. As executive director of Ozanam, Darelle has a lot to do coordinating after school basketball, after school homework tutoring for high school kids, dinner programs at the Rec center, and a general care for the welfare of kids entering a critical time in their lives. There are many ” make it or break it” moments in the inner city and kids can easily be steered in the wrong direction. The Ozanam After School Program makes it possible for kids to learn in a friendly environment, enjoy a nutritious hot meal, and get expert instruction on homework or applying for college scholarships and admissions.

The impressive thing about Darelle is that as busy as he is, he personally handles all the training on the court with all the kids in the program. His passion is kids and basketball and he is there every day, after school, and in the summer promoting skill development and team work along with Alvis Rodgers and Karen Hall who was a former U.N.L.V. star and NCAA Div 1 coach.

The grade school programs are generally centered around the Rec center and as the kids move on to high school, Darelle makes a point to take groups to college campuses and cultural events throughout the east. He is one busy person but the smile on his face leads one to believe that he really enjoys his work and has a passion for the physical and educational welfare of the children and young adults that he serves.

On a personal note, I got Darelle and Maurice involved volunteering at the Ronald McDonald House in Pittsburgh and both the AAU Team and the Ozanam After School Program became involved serving meals to the families of the children who were getting critical care at Children’s Hospital. Darelle and the Ozanam ASP still are involved and enjoying Darelle’s Italian Ice which he brings to every event. He has a side business selling Italian Ice all through the city at different venues and his stands are manned by kids in the Ozanam Program. The energy that he brings is amazing and the value of a job for the kids is not lost on the community.

As I learned from our involvement in basketball, there is a lot more to it than just the game. Coaches like Darelle, Maurice, Alvis Rodgers-another Div 1 standout at Wake Forest, and Karen are inspirational. It is not just about winning and losing. It is all about team work, personal development, family gatherings and discussions at the tournaments, and binding people together. In this day and age, programs like AAU and the Ozanam Center bring unity and not division. People like Darelle make a difference and devote their lives to a higher cause.

Ozanam needs your help. To continue to make a difference in the lives of the youth they serve, financial help is needed. If you would like to participate, you can log on to http://www.ozanaminc.org and make a donation. Programs like this are extremely valuable and need to be supported by the community. People like Darelle need to keep up the good work that they do. Ozanam makes a difference. You can too. Thanks for reading.

A Natural Cause

A number of years ago, my wife Janet and I were strolling through Sausalito, California when we came upon a gallery featuring the artwork of Grace Slick. Now, I was a huge fan of the Jefferson Airplane when I was younger and Grace fronted the band with her sultry yet powerful voice. I was pleasantly surprised to see that she was also a very talented painter held in great esteem in the Bay Area. People surprise you. Not that you think they are not capable, but it is a pleasant surprise to see folks from one genre of accomplishment, move into another with relative ease. Case in point- my friend Angelo Ross.

I first met Angelo while we both were ski instructors and he was making his way up the PSIA ladder to his current position as a Development Team member of the Educational Staff. Angelo always took ski instruction seriously along with his main line of work as an Environmental Science teacher at Greensburg Salem High School here in Western Pa. I also ride mountain bikes with Angelo and on a recent trip to West Virginia, he told me about yet another passion that has turned into a very interesting business.

You see, Angelo is a talented artist whose work has developed over the years and now is featured on athletic and casual wear.

The story goes that Angelo became acquainted with the equally talented folks at Commonwealth Press in Pittsburgh who saw the value of his work and mentioned to him that they should begin the process of marketing Angelo’s art work on casual and athletic wear. Thus was the birth of http://www.naturalcause.org One of the interesting things about this is that Angelo is marketing his art work through the medium of clothing, but he has another cause in mind besides pure mercantilism. You see, he lives Environmental Science – his passion, and therefore is dedicated to furthering the goals of local environmental causes like the Youghiogheny Defense Fund. This is part of the Mountain Watershed Project http://www.mtwatershed.com which preserves the environmental integrity of the Youghiogheny River among other waterways in our region. Whitewater rafting and fishing are prominent in these waterways and Angelo is dedicated to preserving these for generations to come. A portion of all proceeds that he generates through Natural Cause goes to organizations like these. Another cause for his generosity and passion is the Mt. Davis Challenge bicycle race, run in conjunction with the Confluence Tourism Association which promotes recreational activity in the Laurel Highlands. Jim Sota runs the event and it has been a successful race for many years. Angelo supports the cause. The man walks the walk and does not just talk the talk.

I am continually amazed by people. You know them through one area of your life and then you realize that there is much more to this person than you thought. People have abilities that cross over in their lives and it is refreshing to see that a young guy who you know from skiing and mountain biking has such a passion and such a talent and that he is creative enough to market it and donate to causes that reflect his passion.

I love hearing the stories like Natural Cause. I like to hear how they were created and how the business is doing. There is a lot of negativity swirling around these days and I make it my business to always be positive and encouraging. It is great when I see positive attitude and generosity come from others like Angelo. Natural Cause is a breath of fresh air to our local environmental causes and I hope that you all will go to his website http://www.naturalcause.org, view Angelo’s art work, and order some product. You can wear it with pride knowing that your money has been well spent and that the beneficiary of your generosity are the watersheds, trails, and events that make our region so special. Well done Angelo Ross!!! Thanks for reading.

Whether to weather the weather?

I have always been fascinated with weather. I can remember times watching a lightning storm dance over the ocean, or ripple a cornfield with fingers of electricity that lit up the darkened sky against a mountainous backdrop. Nature’s fury can be dangerous with tornadoes, and hurricanes. In our neck of the woods, there is a tornado alley this time of year just north of where I live and I have seen the destruction that occurs when a tornado or a micro-burst ravages trees and buildings. My wife and I are glued to the TV when a hurricane story begins on the Weather Channel.

Speaking of the Weather Channel, I always envied Jim Cantore’s job.

Jim Cantore

I always wanted to be the reporter hanging on for dear life in my Weather Channel Gore Tex outfit. I saw myself clinging to a light pole in a hurricane, 100+ MPH winds, garbage cans flying by my head, debris everywhere bringing the storm into the comfortable living rooms all across America. Pat McCloskey reporting live from Tampa, Florida, Niles, Ohio, or Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. It’s crazy but I would love that job. Always wanted to be a storm chaser too. Looking for the tornado waiting to be born.

In addition to being fascinated by weather events, I love to be out in it. I have my Gore Tex outfits and am completely waterproof when I ski in torrential rainfall. The snow is soft and great even though the water is cascading down my goggles like a Yosemite waterfall. This spring has been particularly wet here in the east and if you don’t get out to enjoy your outdoor activities because of weather, you don’t get out much. I have ridden my mountain bike more days this spring in foul weather than I can remember, but as my friend Mark ” the Shark” Sauers says,” There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing choices.”

The funny thing about being out in the foul weather is that once you make the effort, you are glad you did even though most people would think you have lost your mind. I can remember having my best results back in my weekend warrior days when the skies would open up on an mountain bike race course or during a road race. Most people either quit or didn’t bother to start. The ones who persevered sometimes didn’t have the attitude to continue like the guy changing his shirt here at the NORBAs at Seven Springs. He had enough when the skies opened up for a third time – concurrent with each lap. Mac Martin, a legend in cycling, taught me to persevere in bad conditions. He always said that if you think you are suffering, the other guy is suffering worse. Just continue on. I can remember going over the handle bars in Month of Mud races where it snowed 6 inches during the race. But grinding it out despite the crashes, paid off in the end. A little suffering for the weekend warrior taught me lessons in competition. You have to outlast the bastards.

Those days are gone now but I still make it a point to get out no matter what the weather is doing. I have skied in raging snowstorms and seen some amazing snow events. I have ridden on the road and trails in torrential rain and snow and coming back half frozen or soaked to the bone, I still have a smile on my face. Sure the sunshine is great, but look what you miss if you let weather ruin your fun. If you have the mindset that you go out no matter what, you will be happy you did instead of sitting on the couch. Get the gear- it is worth it no matter what you pay. If you suit up correctly, you can enjoy nature at it’s grumpiest. Experience the muffled silence of a snowstorm in the woods. Enjoy the smells of the green forests during a rain storm. The fragrance of the blossoms blooming in the humid air of the woods is better than any department store perfume counter. The soft tapping of rain on the leaves of the canopy is relaxing and even though things can get a bit sloppy, the experience of that soft rain is rewarding. Be like the Shark, no matter what, get out. No such thing as bad weather. Thanks for reading.

Virtual Reality. Really?

One of the more enjoyable evenings that I ever had was when I was in Yosemite a few years back and went to the evening star gazing event. As I reclined on the huge tarp that was laid on the ground, I looked up and saw the most amazing celestial show that I had ever witnessed. It was so dark, which allowed the visual of millions of stars and planets accompanied by shooting stars that rocketed across the sky every couple of seconds. The ooohs and the ahhhs eclipsed the park ranger narrative. But he was used to it as he remarked that the spectacular night sky was way more interesting than him.

Along with a suggestion by my star gazing friend, Viola Christy, I purchased an entry level telescope and began searching the heavens back home for planets and stars. I can remember texting my son to come and look because I had Saturn in the the view finder as well as a full moon another night, and his response was,” Dad- I can see it 50 times better on the Internet.” But I replied, ” Yes Jack- but this is real. It is small and barely detectable, but it is the real thing and not a picture.” It was kind of lost on him.

I must say that with the younger generation, there is an attraction to virtual reality and many millenials today would rather play a video game like Madden, than actually participate in the ┬ásport itself. My son calls it “E-Sports” and no doubt it is gaining huge notoriety and millions and millions of dollars as a business. But is it really a sport? We have this debate all the time and my point is that it is important to get out and do something physical rather than spending all your spare time in a virtual physical activity world. At the risk of sounding like the old guy in his bathrobe yelling at kids to get off his lawn, ( as my friend Jeff Mihalsky laughingly says), it is a generational thing I guess. But at least my son plays sports and is active, even though the virtual world is still in his wheelhouse in his college years.

Personally, I think that there is a time and place for everything and relaxing with a video game is ok as long as it does not take over your life. I think it is really important for parents to expose their kids to all kinds of activities, whether they be hobbies, or individual or team sports. The outdoors are a wonderful education. Whether it is hiking, riding a bike, skiing, skating, the fresh air is great and the outdoor vision of the change of the seasons and activities has always attracted me. I never played Pac Man – I just did things outdoors. But that is me. But I do regret hearing that local grade schools sometimes cannot field a football team because no one tried out. Maybe the concussion concern is more apparent today, but more likely it is that the kids would rather play a video game than practice and play ball. Just a different attraction, I suppose.

For me, there is nothing like that night in Yosemite. I also like the occasional camping trip where I can smell the night air from my dome tent. Deep powder skiing days with brilliant sunshine. Mountain vistas. Riding an epic trail with friends. The camaraderie is real and you can actually enjoy it with others who value the outdoors like you do.

It is interesting to hear that video gaming is social. People actually make friends on X-Box Live even though they have never physically met them. But for me, the value of friends is to interact with them and see their emotions, their joy, their disappointments, their efforts in climbing a hill, making a three point shot, hitting a great fairway wood, skiing a great line and witnessing the event live.

Nothing wrong with gaming mind you, but for me, virtual reality is not really…..real. The real thing is that moon in the view finder, that wicked crash that I had last night on the mountain bike, the executed carved ski turn,that beautiful model airplane and how it flies, the chess match, breathing the salt air at the beach. Life is to be lived. Not virtually lived. Just my two cents. Thanks for reading.

Q.D.L. ( Quality Days Left)

My friend Jeff Chetlin( pictured here front and center in the orange shorts) said to me the other day on a MTB ride,” Paddy- I want you to get in your Jeep and think about what I am saying. I want you to think about quality days left.” He said, ” Today is a quality day. Sunshine, a long ride with friends, beers and lunch in the parking lot sitting around on soccer chairs, enjoying each other’s company after a great ride ” That is a quality day.” ” How many of these days do we have left?”
I thought about that on the way home and as Jeff also said, we really don’t know how many of these quality days we do have left. He is ten years younger than me but still, we don’t know. I asked the same question basically to my ski crowd a few weeks ago. ” How much longer do you think we will be able to ski the chutes, rip GS turns, and ski at a high level comparatively speaking?” The general consensus was if we kept ourselves in shape, didn’t get injured( longer recovery at an older age), and nothing catastrophic happened, we should be able to ski like this into our 70s. We saw a guy at Snowbasin one year making beautiful GS turns on the groomers at high speed…..at 75 years young. So back to Chetlin. He has ideas on how he wants to utilize his QDL.

Jeff seems to think that he needs to someday soon move to Bend, Oregon to pursue his dream of maximizing QDL. In many ways, his environment dictates and contributes to his QDL. He is questioning whether he wants to spend the rest of his active years in Pennsylvania or make the move to his favorite place out west. We all currently travel to ski trips and mountain bike trips but aside from those great days, our QDL are currently here in the Keystone State. But in my mind- that is ok. All of our friends are here with the exception of a few, and life is what you make of it, right? So I thought more about it and asked myself in my Jeep, what do I think is a quality day? Well, I have this positive way of viewing things and really, every day is a gift. When we wake up and are blessed with another healthy day, it is a quality day to me. I know that the epic mountain bike rides with friends and epic ski days with friends are quality days, but I think about every day being a quality day. No matter the weather, no matter what the circumstances, if you are blessed with friends, a good work environment, and a wonderful spouse, you have quality days. A great quality day is spent with my wife Janet. We need to value each and every day because we have each other currently in good health.
We will always value each other no matter what, but we need to maximize that time together. I am sure that Jeff feels that way about his wife Julie who is his partner in everything that he does.
So, I can dream about quality days left out west in some great location. But currently I live in Pittsburgh and must make the QDL alive and well right here. Again, the travel QDL are important and always will be memorable, but days like we had last Saturday with our MTB crew, riding in the spring sunshine, sitting around and telling stories in our soccer chairs, and sipping a cold brew, that is a quality day for sure. How many do we have left? Only the Lord knows that for sure. But my goal is to make every day a quality day, no matter what the day presents. I know what Jeff means about life in Bend. And, he may attain that goal soon. But for the time being, I am looking forward to the Coopers Gap Epic Ride in a few weeks at State College with the Chetlins and looking forward to more fun times with my Janet in whatever we do. Thanks for reading and maximize your QDL.