“To have a friend is to be a friend”

My mother’s famous line was ” to have a friend is to be a friend.” No one could embody that statement more than Hot Harry Kirsch. All of us in the North Park Running and Cycling community lost a friend tonight when we heard the news that Hot Harry had ” run his last mile at 8:30 PM.” With his family around him, he passed quietly and peacefully.

Hot Harry was an icon in the running scene in Pittsburgh. As a marine, and a retired trolley/bus driver, Harry began running in earnest in his 50s and over the course of his life he ran over 50 marathons including his beloved Marine Corps Marathon. Organizing bus trips to Washington D.C for years, Harry supported the Marines by bringing hundreds of runners together to hear the Marine at the top of the hill shouting,” Pain is fleeting, pride is forever.” Harry ran countless Boston Marathons , one of which in 1987, I was fortunate enough to be his room mate. Harry was always supportive to first time marathoners with his cheery disposition and friendly ways. He encouraged veteran runners as well in advance of events and in the glow of the finish line.

For years, runners who parked at Stone Field in North Park finished their runs seeing the familiar open trunk on Harry’s car filled with bottles of drinks and cups that Harry would provide not only on race days but every day of running in the park. He had a way of gathering people and generating enthusiasm and even started the first running club in the park -Hot Harry’s North Park Runners. At events nationwide, runners would often see the singlet of the club at events and inquire about Hot Harry. The North Park runners were only too happy to oblige in telling the tales of the retired bus driver who attracted so many runners to his fold.

Harry loved the ladies and ran often with a group of accomplished women runners many of whom were national class. They loved Harry and made a point to run with him whenever they could.

Harry also attracted the characters. Doc Chuck, Merz, and a host of others whom he named. Big nose Bill, Sad Bill, Bushy Debbie, 10 Mile Bill, the Pretty Boys,and many, many more who all claimed Harry as their fearless leader. He would invite all the runners and their families to picnics at his farm in Evans City and we all would see Harry giving the kids tractor rides tirelessly into the evening. Harry loved the Park and enjoyed every moment meeting new people and welcoming them and encouraging them to join in his community. He drank a lot of coffee. Boy did he like coffee!!

Hot Harry was truly a friend to all of us in the North Park running community. He made the effort to be there for all of us and not only in the fun times of after work running and the weekend races, but there for us in sad times as well. Harry valued the friendships and made an effort to contact people who were hurting and people who were injured, sick, or just having a bad day. When you saw that smile and his familiar,” Heyyyyyyyyy” , you know that no matter what was going on in your life, Harry would make you smile and make you feel that things were better in your world.

Second Corinthians 5 says that we all will abandon our earthly bodies and take on the new bodies that we will have for eternity in heaven. I believe that Harry willingly left this world and his earthly body behind, with all of its mileage and marathons, and strapped on a new pair of celestial NIKE shoes and streaked toward the finish line at the pearly gates. There he was welcomed with the statement” well done my good and faithful servant.” Thanks for everything Harry. We will miss you.

The Night Visitor

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This time of year, I kind of switch gears and get away from the mountain bike, and transition to skiing,running trails, or hauling out the snowshoes. I have always been a runner at night in the winter and it is a solitary pursuit whether running around the lake in our local park, or running trails.img_1227 I am not anti-social this time of year, but it is nice to go out at night with the headlamp and spend some time by myself. I enjoy my own company. I talk to myself. Sometimes I get answers. It gives me time to think and to enjoy the winter weather. There is nothing like a run with the softly falling snow accompanied by my Pandora Christmas selections on the I-Phone. In the old days, it was the Sony Walkman with tapes. But I move ahead with technology- kicking and screaming. img_1232

There were many nights that I had the chance to contemplate Christmas and the true meaning of the birth of Christ. I always had fond memories of nativity scenes or the “creche” because of a wonderful story that I watched as a kid- ” Amahl and the Night Visitors.” carnegie_presepio It was re-broadcasted in 1963 from its original 1951 production on the Hallmark Hall of Fame. Although the story is fictional with the shepherd boy and the Magi, the opera by Carlo Menotti was based on biblical truth. I was always fascinated with that production on TV and thought of it often when I would see a creche. Perhaps one of my favorite nativity scene locations was in the grove right near my run starting point at Stone Field in North Park. It was always nice to finish a run and walk up to the grove which was decorated by Allegheny County Parks and Recreation. The star was perched at the apex of the roof of the grove and the floor was coated with hay and the walls lined with hay bales. The Magi, the shepherds, the angels all were present with Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus. A brilliant display especially on cold, snowy, winter nights around Christmas time.

Looking at that scene at the end of a run was comforting to me and I noticed a lot of other runners, walkers, and hikers in the park making the trek up through the field to the grove. Children were amazed and even the dogs seemed to be silent in reverence to the serene scene in our county’s largest park. It has been several years since that nativity scene or creche has been present in that grove. As we all know, there is controversy about separation of church and state and due to nationally recognized litigation, the grove is now an empty, silent, space this time of year. img_1229

Now I am not one to get political or controversial on my blog at all. I also hold any opinions to myself on Facebook posts. But I must say that I miss that creche in the park and the wonderful job that the County did on the presentation each year in that grove. I also believe there are many people who feel the same way as I do. We miss it – that’s all. We are not here to debate the first amendment but rather reminisce on the nice feeling that was present on those winter nights at the end of a solitary, contemplative run. Christmas has many meanings to different people. For me it is a celebration of my faith and the wondrous miracle that took place 2000 years ago. I never see the creche as a graven image, but rather a reminder of the humility of Christ as He came among us.

So, I continue to run, in the solitary darkness. I watched the space shuttle soar overhead last night in the presence of hundreds of stars that can be seen from the darkness of our beautiful county park. For those of you who celebrate Christmas, I wish you a blessed time with your family and friends. Enjoy the season and thanks for reading.

Creche picture courtesy of Carnegie Museum.

The End of the Trail

Two and a half years ago, my wife Janet said to me,” You have all these stories in your head, why don’t you write them down?” ” You should start a blog.” I thought that was a good idea and on January 1st, 2013, I started what became ” The Chronicles of McCloskey- the Zany Stories and Adventures of the 58 year old kid.”photo I wanted to chronicle my outdoor adventures over the years with skiing, cycling, hiking, and some other blended adventures. It was a lot of fun and I learned a lot from writing the blog. I learned not only the mechanics of writing and publishing the blog, but I learned about what was important to me in my past life. In fact,there is a company in Rochester, NY that publishes blogs into a nice coffee table book which I proudly have displayed in my living room. They did a great job and it is amazing to see 176 posts all collected – pictures and all, sitting on my coffee table. I wanted it for posterity and also hoping that my son Jack would read it someday. He is not really interested in the great outdoors and has not read much of the Chronicles, if at all. But someday, he might take a look and be entertained by the mishaps and adventures of his old man. I hope so.
But now, it is time to close the book on the Chronicles of McCloskey. After posting twice per week the first year and once per week in the remaining year and a half, I really have told most of my stories and collected most of my thoughts with regards to exercise and outdoor activities. Frankly, I am out of gas and anything posted beyond this point would be repetitive or perhaps sub standard in my own definition. These 176 posts will be out in cyber space forever and the hope is that some of them might inspire someone to try something new, continue with their current exercise program, or have a laugh at my expense. I enjoyed the writing, but my ulterior motive was that if I can do it, most people can also do it. I have not climbed Everest, kiteboarded in the Indian Ocean, ridden a motorcycle on most of the roads in Alaska, or anything like that. But I have had some interesting adventures and my main motive was to inspire someone to get off the couch and get into the great outdoors with some really great pastimes.
Finally, as the 60 year old kid continues on in life, I will still pursue my passions with a fire in my belly for powder turns, fast groomer turns, fun rides on great trails, and more adventures with my wonderful wife and son. My good friend Eric and our pals will be in on the mix, but the important thing to me is now that I have chronicled the past, I move on to the future. I am in the fourth quarter of life, but most games are won or lost in the fourth quarter. Age is irrelevant if you can avoid catastrophic illness and keep in shape and just continue to do what you love to do. I want to thank all of the 668 folks who so nicely followed my blog either on Facebook, email, or WordPress. I would also like to thank Word Press for their support over these last two and half years. Who knows, maybe I will write something else someday? But thank you all for indulging what has been a wonderful hobby and I wish you God’s continued blessings in your lives. 70019150-SLD-001-0028 Thanks for reading.

What constitutes World Class?

I have probably had the same experience that many of you have when I have encountered what we call world class athletes or individuals. I categorize the experience in one of four ways. First- I am sure we have all met world class individuals whose reputation precedes them. For instance, I have had the distinct pleasure of meeting people like Arnold Palmer, Art Rooney Sr., Olympian Frank Shorter, childhood heroes like Roberto Clemente, Vernon Law, Bill Virdon, and other Pittsburgh Pirates of a bygone era. They were larger than life and when I met them, I was a bit in awe because of their reputations. golf_e_arnold_576
The second type of encounter is what I would call seeing the world class athlete in action. We have all seen pro football and baseball games and marvel at the athleticism of these individuals from the seats in stadiums. I have been fortunate enough to see Tiger Woods on the practice tee at PGA events. I have seen World Cup skiers like the Crazy Canucks at the Hahnenkamm downhill ski race in Austria.Erik Guay - Race - Atomic USA I have seen the women and men at the World Cups. I will never forget seeing Perine Pelen of the French National team take a slalom section unlike anything that I would have ever imagined. So fast and fluid. I had the pleasure of caddying for Ben Crenshaw at the US Open Qualifier at Shannopin Country Club when he was a student at the University of Texas. To see him hit a golf ball and tote his bag while witnessing intense focus on the golf course was enlightening. I was a marshall at the US Open when an extremely focused Johnny Miller won and set the course record at Oakmont.14d7c856-bf4a-4b95-ada5-4359dd6b415c I have witnessed Lance Armstrong ride up Sycamore Street in the Thrift Drug Classic here in Pittsburgh several years ago before his cancer. My brother in law who said to me,” I thought you quit riding bikes when you were 14″ marveled at the athleticism and conditioning of the world class cyclists at this event. It opened his eyes for sure seeing that he only thought athletes put on pads and hit people.
Ratchet up the experience one more notch and I have been fortunate enough to participate in an event or a venue where I have witnessed a world class athlete perform with me alongside. I had the pleasure of riding with Greg LeMond at charity cycling events.DSC00468 80 miles a day with the 3 time Tour de France champion. He was not in TDF shape at all and older, but you could still see the strength in his thighs on the flats and the speed at which he took turns on the road. I have skied behind Phil Mahre the ex World Cup ski race champion and Olympic gold medalist. It was amazing to me to see his really strong turns skiing right behind him. No skidding, just pure carved turns leaving trenches in the snow behind him. His strength was amazing. Riding the chairlift with him was enjoyable as he told tales of the World Cup and the U.S. Ski Team.hqdefault I have raced in club road cycling criterium races where people like Matt Eaton ( former US National Champion and Britain’s Milk Race champion) come flying by me on the inside giving me pointers and instructions as he led the pack. The club races often combined classes and it gave us normal racers a chance to ride with the good guys. It was amazing to witness the speed and technical ability in which they took the turns in the race with a tight pack of riders all around.
So what actually makes an athlete world class? Like “epic” and “extreme”, “world class”, is often overused but a truly world class athlete is an individual that has devoted his or her life to their sport. They are often singularly focused and have been willing to make personal sacrifices in order to achieve their goals. Oftentimes, their focus has caused them to be selfish or self serving but in order to achieve, sometimes you have to have that “take no prisoners” attitude in order to be successful. But in my mind, a truly world class athlete or individual is one who can encompass all the attributes of athleticism but has a perspective on the world around them which supports their efforts. Take Joan Benoit Samuelson- the 1984 Olympic Marathon Women’s gold medalist.maine-joan-benoit-samuelson I had the good fortune of meeting her at the Boston Marathon Nike Expo. She had been in the booth a long time and when I finally made it through the line to meet her, I told her that her former ski racing coach Jace Pasquale said hello. Joan stopped whatever she was doing and was truly interested in how Jace was doing. We chatted for what seemed an eternity only about Jace. Joan was not focused on her reputation or accomplishments, only what was going on in the life of her old ski coach. She was so pleasant and unassuming that I walked away thinking to myself,” what a nice, non- self centered person.”
There are a lot of world class athletes like Joan Benoit Samuelson who use their talents and reputations to serve others. Joan is involved in many charitable causes in New England. There are also those athletes who do not focus on life outside of their sport. The impressive thing to me is to meet or see in action those that do care and think about life outside their athletic box. We may not have the talent, time, or willingness to be a world class athlete. But in my mind, we can be a world class person by caring for someone in need, being a friend to someone who is down in the dumps, sharing our knowledge about our favorite sport or hobby with someone who is just starting out. To me, we can be world class by caring. That is a trait that is not limited to athletes but can be applied to all of us who have a world class attitude towards others with whom we come in contact. Be world class!! Thanks for reading.