Don’t Give up the Ship

   One of my all time heroes in American History is Commodore Oliver “Hazard” Perry of the U.S.Navy whose command was  during the War of 1812.  When you read about Perry, you discover that he had a very distinguished naval career prior to and following the Battle of Lake Erie.  His battle flag read,” Don’t Give up the Ship” in deference to his great friend Captain James Lawrence who commanded the original frigate in peril during the battle.  Lawrence was a fatality, but the command shifted to the frigate Niagra where Perry took over and eventually defeated the British Navy forcing them to surrender.  His famous line,” We have met the enemy and they are ours”  is a testament to the tenacity of an outgunned, undermanned U.S.Navy whose leadership under Perry was able to take on and defeat the most powerful navy in the world.  

     During my travels to Rochester, NY or Toledo, Ohio, I always had my road bike with me and made a point to stop and ride at Presque Isle on Lake Erie.  There is a monument there dedicated to the construction of the ships that made up Perry’s command during the War of 1812, in and around Presque Isle and the bay. A similar monument and visitors center is situated at Put In Bay in Ohio.  One of the famous Lake Erie Islands, Put In Bay is easily accessed by the ferry   at Port Clinton, Ohio. I always took a ride on the ferry, rode my bike along the quiet roads on the island and always stopped at the monument and took in the video presentation of the Battle of Lake Erie at the visitors center which is managed by the National Park Service.  .  The presentation by the Park Rangers is worth the listen and it is always a must on any trip to Put In Bay.  The scenic roads around Presque Isle in Erie, Pa and the country roads of the Lake Erie islands always remind me of my youth when my folks took us to the lKing James 2012photo800px-DONT_GIVE_UP_THE_SHIP_flag.svg264px-BattleofLakeErie489px-Portrait_of_Oliver_Hazard_Perry%2C_1818ake for vacation. As I peddle along and see the cottages along the routes, it reminds me of a time gone by with swims in the lake, penny candy, and evenings along the shore looking at the stars.  

     But perhaps my most recent memories are again centered around this famous battle flag….” Don’t Give Up the Ship.”  When my son Jack played AAU Basketball as a grade school kid, we always had tournaments in Erie, Pa.  I always took the boys and the parents down to this little restaurant on the bay which had good seafood but more importantly to me, had this flag proudly displayed behind the bar.  As we all assembled around the bar waiting for our table, I took the opportunity to tell the boys the story of the Battle of Lake Erie and the courageous actions of one Oliver “Hazard” Perry.  ” Don’t Give up the Ship” was a rallying cry for our teams as we faced teams from all over the east and Canada in the AAU Tournaments.  We saw talented players who were much bigger and faster than our guys and we knew we had to face them in the next round.  As I began to get carried away with my enthusiasm for the Battle and the success of the frigate Niagra, I would encourage the boys to not give up the ship and remember the heroics of Perry and his men.  As their eyes widened with my overachieving enthusiasm, I was able to incite a little courage and oftentimes our Davids defeated the Goliaths on the basketball courts and we advanced to the final rounds.  I like to think that my speech in front of that flag was enough to attain the victory and that the boys were encouraged enough to play their hearts out.  Well, in reality, I can’t take credit for that for sure.  But a little encouragement goes a long way and helps to fuel the fire of competition.  As the years went by, I repeated the story to several of my son’s teams and when they were juniors in high school and in their last years of AAU Tournaments, it got to the point where my son preempted my speech by saying,” Don’t say it Dad!!!”  ” We have all heard it and we know…………..Don’t Give up the Ship.”  We all laughed but I looked at that flag with a fire in my eyes for our team and for my hero- Oliver” Hazard” Perry.  

     I have always been a fan of the underdog.  The little guys on a team, the kid that always strikes out, the kid with little talent but a lot of heart, the friend who has lost his job, the divorced friend who is trying to find peace, the downtrodden, the parents facing a child’s medical procedure with a life in the balance.  These are the people in our lives who need encouragement.  These are the people who need a friend at the times when it might not be convenient.  These are the folks whose name I write on my pad at work so that I don’t forget to give them a call or get together with them.  My memory is a little sketchy these days.  But these are the folks whose hope needs restored.  My mom always said to have a friend is to be a friend.  She was so right.  Encouragement is the fuel for recovery and whether we invite a person to dinner, ride bikes, ski, hike, or any activity in which conversation can be shared, it is well worth it and no matter how badly the person is defeated, the care of a friend saying,” Don’t Give up the Ship” is appreciated and may turn the tide for that person………..just like the Battle of Lake Erie.  Call a friend today.  Thanks for reading.  

“The Faceplant”

IMG_2349root If you examine the photo above, (click on the title of this blog if you don’t see it), you will see what I would term as one of the great face plants of all time. This is my friend Scott Root who was leading a mountain bike race down in West Virginia when he had a slight collision with another rider that sent him flying and tacoed his wheel. You can see this in the flying debris above Scott’s head. Now I have been over a lot of handlebars in my time both on the road and on a mountain bike and also have caught an edge on skis that sent me careening on my face down a snowy slope, but I have never seen a plant as heinous as this. Interestingly Scott survived and actually drove himself home and was nursing what he termed as “hole” in his shoulder. He had the foresight to go see a doctor the next day but somehow managed his pain after the race and on the long drive back from the mountains of West Virginia.

I tell you all of this not only to give you appreciation of the collossal face plant, but also to tell you a little bit about Scott Root. I first ran into Scott years ago when he was an outstanding swimmer and a terrific athlete even at a young age. We are contemporaries and his prowess as a swimmer was well known in the AAU circles. He went on to a very successful high school and college career and I ran into him years later when he entered the fray of mountain bike racing. ” Weren’t you the Scott Root that I knew years ago as a swimmer?” The affirmative answer also led to many discussions which included the fact that Scott was the silver medalist in the World Masters Mountain Bike Race in Quebec a number of years ago. He is a very successful local and regional racer and to this day still races in the Expert Category rather than compete with the Masters who are his contemporaries. Point being that Scott still rides and races at a very high level despite the fact that he is a contemporary of the 59 year old kid. Some of us have kept up riding and staying in shape because it is important for good health. Scott takes it one step further by staying in race shape and never letting his guard down over the years.

Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwin refer to the classics bike racers as “hard men of the peloton.” If you look at my post from last week, you will see George Hincapie competing in Paris Roubaix and he surely was one of the “hard men of the peloton.” Scott Root would qualify as one of the hard men around here. Not many guys could pick themselves up after a face plant like that and get home with a “hole” in their shoulder and not seek medical help until the next day. Not many guys his age can ride at that level against a much younger competition and still win and place in most Expert Races. Not many guys are that dedicated that they commute to work on a bike in all kinds of winter weather and searing summer temperatures. Scott does and remains a very fit individual. There is a lesson here. I always try to encourage folks to get involved with outdoor pursuits and even at my age, you can keep doing what you have been doing as long as you are consistent and nothing catastrophic happens to you. Ratchet it up a level and some of you can continue to ride, run, ski hard and do it at a very high level. Ratchet it up one more level, and you continue to train and race like Scott and keep being competitive at an older age. No matter where you find yourself, keeping fit and testing your limits, can be an enlightening and productive way to spend your off time. You would be amazed to see the older athletes out there today competing and just partaking in high level outdoor pursuits. You don’t quit playing because you get old, you get old because you quit playing. You don’t have to be a “hard man of the peleton” but you also don’t have to let age dictate your fun or lack thereof.

One other comment on the “Faceplant”. Many of us have faceplants in life that do not happen over the bar of a bicycle or on a pair of skis. Some of us have things going real well and then all of a sudden we have a job loss, the loss of a spouse, issues with children, aging parents, any number of things that can lead to a virtual faceplant but a tough experience nonetheless. Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it. Can you survive the faceplants in life? I have had my share both literally and figuratively but I always find that having a positive attitude and counting my blessings in life help me through these “plants”. Never underestimate the power of thankfulness and prayer as you go through life’s faceplants. You may not be banging your head off the asphalt like Scotty here but if you take his attitude and get up to fight another day, you can be a “hard man” in your own right aided by the experience of a fall and the courage to face another challenge- day by day. Keep riding, running, skiing, swimming, whatever floats your boat and thanks for reading and following the blog.

The People Builder

Charles MartinCharles MartinCharles Martin Our former pastor at our church used to say that there were two kinds of people in this world. Drainers- those who would absolutely suck the life out of you with their needy attitude and desperate conversations. You would try to help, but the drainers in life won’t listen and seem to wallow in their misfortunes and pass on the misery in heaps to anyone with a sympathetic ear. They drain the life out of you to the point where you are exhausted in trying to help. Then there are the people builders- those folks who always have a smile on their face, volunteer to help you, listen to you, be a friend, encourage you, and in general, build you up in the modern day troubled world. Charlie Martin was a people builder.

I first met Charlie through the Ski School at Seven Springs Resort. Charlie was always involved in a lot of outdoor activities but he really sunk his teeth into skiing and wanted to be the best teacher he could be. His people building attitude was apparent in his thirst to share his enthsiasm and knowledge to his students. Charlie taught people to do a lot of things but ski instruction was how I first came across this really bright and enthusiastic man. The process to be a ski instructor is not an easy one,especially if you take the time and effort to become certified under the PSIA( Professional Ski Instructors of America). A lot of guys who teach skiing don’t make the effort to get educated and simply are a warm body in a ski school jacket. Not Charlie. He and Art Bonavoglia worked hard to get their Level II pins and then had the vision and the quest to pursue the highest certification- that of being a Level III instructor. Charlie and Art would go to the Castkills and take private tutoring from Mermer Blakeslee who was a PSIA Examiner. They not only attended the regular update clinics and specialty clinics offered by the organization, but were so enthused that they pursued this private instruction from one of the best in the business. This was not unusual behavior for Charlie. Once he made up his mind to do something, he did it and pursued it with a passion.

I saw Charlie a few years ago at our church with a guitar in his hand and discovered that one of his many volunteer activities was to be a part of the student ministry at the church. His infectious smile and really great sense of humor not only showed through in his singing and playing, but his attention to students and people in general at the church was exemplary. It could be a horrible weather day coming into church, but Charlie was always there greeting people with that big bearded smile and making them feel that they were the most special person attending the service that day.

I was not as close to Charlie as Art and some of the other guys in church and in the ski school, but I thought enough of him that when he had a stroke a little while ago, I made it my business to dash into Allegheny General Hospital to see him. Not out of any obligated reason but because a guy like Charlie who gave so much of his life to others, would perhaps appreciate someone coming into see him and building him up like he did for so many. When I came into his room, his twinkling eyes lit up and even though he had some paralysis and some speech issues, you could tell that he was locked into you with his attention. We conversed as if nothing was wrong and I told him that a guy like him would make a full recovery and his wife Colleen concurred in her strong positive way. Charlie walked me to the door and even though he could not talk, our eyes met and I knew he was on his way to recovery. What a shock when I found out that he had died a couple of days later.

Looking at Charlie that day and all through his life, it was apparent that he knew where he was going in life and in the life beyond. When you smile like that and give yourself unconditionally to people, you know the source of your salvation and you spread that good news to all that come into your path. Charlie was a kidder. Tim Sweeney told me the other day that he came to the church for Charlie’s funeral but the receptionist at the church said he was a week early. Tim said he laughed on the way out because Charlie had got him again with one of his pranks. You could just see him up there laughing down at Tim saying………….gotcha!!! Big bearded smile!!!

People like Charlie Martin are a rare breed. Not many folks would pursue a passion like Charlie. He loved life and all that it had to offer. He loved people and encouraged them to take up new sports and activities and volunteered enthusiastically to get them involved. He always looked for advice and with me, he asked all the time about his skiing. It was disarming because when I would start to discuss the subject with him, his smile made me laugh and say,” No I am serious Charlie.” He knew I was but was anxious for my opinion and wanted me to know that he was having a lot of fun too.

Hopefully, you have come into contact with some people builders in your life. They make wonderful friends, confidants, they are fun to be with in outdoor pursuits, and most of all, you feel envigorated and encouraged and a better person for being with them and being their friend. Avoid the drainers. Look for guys like Charlie. He will always be remembered and will always be with us in many ways. Thanks for reading and think snow.

Be a little part of History

2013-02-05-the-bowlIMG_0084photophotoTannenbaum-T-barGoogle Image Result for Many years ago, I had the pleasure of hearing Toni Matt tell the story about his famous Inferno ski race down Tuckerman Ravine in 1939. Toni was born in St. Anton, Austria the hallowed ground of ski racing and ski instruction and when he came to America, he entered this famous race up in New Hampshire against all of the hotshot Dartmouth ski racers and won because he straightlined the Headwall of Tuckerman Ravine. This was a feat that had never been done let alone in a race and the National Ski Hall of Fame recorded the account on the evening that I heard Toni tell the tale. Interestingly, 1939 was a pivotal year in American skiing. Some of the first rope tows went up that year in Woodstock,Vermont, Seven Springs, Pa. and Fish Hill up in Western New York state. People were starting to get enthused about sliding on a pair of skis and the late 30s prior to the big war, were the seed years of skiing in this country. Post World War II, the 10th Mountain Division veterans founded some of the larger ski areas out west including Vail. There are several accounts written about the 10th and their exploits against the Nazis in Italy and how their adept skiing skills not only helped them in the battles in Europe but also fueled their passion to create modern day ski areas.

I have always liked history particularly the founding years of our country. But it is also interesting to look at the history of my favorite sport in America. If you ask anyone who plays golf, they can tell you about the famous courses and their history in this country. The Opens, the Masters, how they don’t take out the wooden floor in the men’s grill at Oakmont Country Club because the spike marks belonged to such luminaries as Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus. If you have a passion for your sport, you know the history and appreciate the efforts of those who have gone before you. The old saying that “you don’t know where you are going if you don’t know where you have been”, applies to American History as well as the history of sport. I love looking at the old pictures of the wooden skis( I owned several pairs and skied on them as told in my last post.) I love seeing how the early days of stretch pants, leather boots, cable bindings shaped the sport and respect the passion of those who took the time and effort to market skiing.

I had the pleasure of skiing Holimont this past week up in Western New York. The private club was founded in 1962 and has been a haven to ski enthusiasts ever since. The members are avid skiers, racers, and take pride in their club. You can feel the passion of the members in the way that they meet each week with their crock pots, lunches in the lodge, promoting events that foster their love for the sport of skiing. They let non members like me ski during the week and it is quite evident that this club is well run with excellent grooming, lifts and dedicated instructors and patrollers who are eager to converse about skiing at Holimont.

History has a great way of telling the story about those who had the vision to build a hunting lodge like Adolph Dupre did at Seven Springs here in Pa. How he built the rope tow for his customers out of an old truck engine, some truck wheels that served as the rotating wheels on the tow, and a heavy duty rope that he fashioned himself. These stories pervade all of those startups in 1939 and if you look at the pictures above, you will see the history unfolded. Those Holiday Valley Queens were somebody’s girlfriend, wife or eventually mother who told the story about the fun times that they had back in the early sixties with the snow carnivals. Don’t you just love that fur hat? Not quite sure what those guys were doing with the parachutes on their backs but it looked like fun with their wooden skis and leather boots. Well we have stories like that as well and I am sure that as the years go on, my wife and son and his family someday will see the old pictures of our skiing exploits and talk about our little bit of history on the slopes. If you have the passion for a sport, take pictures, talk it up to someone who would like to try, and encourage them to be a little part of history for someone down the road looking at how it was done. I think my ski outfits and equipment are pretty state of the art. But no doubt someone looking at them in the future will ask,” Wow- what does grampa have on his feet and what on earth is he wearing?” Hey, that old relic grampa will be a little part of ski history. Think snow and thanks for reading.

“The Sherpa”

photophotophotophotoGoogle Image Result for One of the things that you may have gathered from reading my blog posts is that I live in guilt ridden hell. Growing up Catholic among other things, I have always tried to keep the peace around my house and also keeping the peace on an everyday basis. I am not a confrontational person and usually I would rather inconvenience myself to get the job done, and make sure everyone is happy. That is why I call myself – “The Sherpa.”

If you look at the picture of the gentleman above with the huge pack and the smile on his face, you will see an actual Sherpa. This tribe of individuals is indiginous to the mountainous regions of the Tibetan Himalaya and they are hard working folks who haul all the gear, tents, luggage for alpine climbing expeditions in the Himalaya. I am sure you have seen and read about these individuals and their feats of strength always amazed me as they made it to the summits with those tremendous loads that they carry. I have always admired the Sherpas and have read a lot about them. In my Walter Mitty way, I am a Sherpa. Take skiing for instance. When I was first married, my wife Janet skied but I wanted to make sure that she always came with me so I took it upon myself to carry her boots and mine in a backback. I hauled her skis on my shoulders along with mine and often walked to the lodge loaded down with equipment. Not that she would not do it, but I wanted to minimize inconvenience. When Jack came along, I bought a bigger pack and loaded three pairs of boots in the pack and hauled three sets of skis on my shoulders and asked them timidly to take the poles. I took it upon myself to help them with their ski boots in the lodge or if we had the opportunity to park near the trail head, I would help them put the boots on kneeling on the frozen ground to minimize any inconvenience or possible complaints due to the definite “pain in the ass factor”of skiing. The sport can be tedious at times schlepping all of the gear in the cold, getting everyone ready with the usual litany of making sure that we had all of the equipment. I was the equipment manager as well as the Sherpa and it worked out well even though I was sweating like a wild man before I took my first turn- even in arctic conditions.

Sometimes, my nieces and nephews would come along and the process became a little more involved with more Himalayan quality schlepps to the slopes. But the smiles were worth it and if there was any inconvenience experienced, I took care of it. Like when my son wanted me to take his socks off because he didn’t like them in the ski boots. I stopped where I was, got down on my hands and knees and took the socks off and he skied the rest of his day with bare feet in the boots. Taking the boots off at the end of the day, they were steaming like a cooling tower at a power plant. Amazing about kids but whatever it took for comfort, that was my motto.

Perhaps the ultimate Sherpa experience besides my family ski outings was the time that I had 13 visually impaired skiers to look after at the National Blind Skiing Championships( read about it in my post-February 17th,2013) I took two of our guys with me but because of weather and a lack of volunteers, I was put in charge of 13 competitors. Congo lines to dinner and the slopes were the norm and my Sherpa skills were sharpened by hauling all of their equipment to the slopes and making sure that I had it all in the van at the end of the day. All of this in below zero temps in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Sherpa family experiences did not take a hiatus in the summer. Hauling beach chairs, umbrellas, pack and plays, coolers, and all sorts of beach toys became a ritual in the early days of the McCloskeys at the beach. Things are a little better now that Jack is grown but the guilt ridden hell still pervades as I haul all of it into the garage after a trip just like in the old days.

One thing you learn being an aspiring Sherpa is that you get used to frozen fingers, bloody knuckles, balancing unwieldy loads, and doing it all with a positive, ” ain’t this great to be out here” attitude. My family likes to do the things that I do to an extent. But they are not as maniacal about the outdoor pursuits as I am. So I have always taken that into consideration as I try to make these outings as pleasant as possible. I am sure many of you have had similar experiences with getting the kids to the mountains or the beach. But I will tell you one thing, every loaded up day on my back was well worth the smiles of my family. Being a Sherpa has been well worth the while. Someday, it will probably be round two with grandchildren. I am hoping the back holds out. Otherwise, I may have to go to the Tengboche Monastary for some guidance by the Tibetan monks to encourage me to keep hauling and keep smiling. Thanks for reading.

Slicing the White Carpet

Franklin Park-20130307-00105makingcorduroy_es12800px-Stok_narciarski_w_Przemy%C5%9Blu_-_Ratrak Skiing is an easy sport to learn. I know a lot of people who have said to me that they would like to learn but are either afraid, or believe that they are too clumsy, uncoordinated, or too old to learn. My response to them is that they should allow me to teach them because I have taught visually impaired skiers for 34 years and “if I can get them to ski, surely I can teach you”. We have a good chuckle about that but the truth of the matter is that……it is the truth. Skiing is not a hard sport to learn and I would encourage anyone who wants to ski to take a lesson and do it right. The Polar Vortex has set the stage for a good winter and now is the time to experience the thrill of skiing if you have the notion to do so.

Skiing was not always as easy as it is today. If you look at the picture of me as a young lad above, you will see wooden skis, cable bindings, and double lace boots. The edges on these skis were not very sharp and snowmaking had not yet been developed to any great extent, so we had to rely on natural snow which eventually turned to icy conditions here in the east. Skiing on this equipment was survival and the technique was basically to try to up unweight and get the skis across the fall line the best way we could. Lots of skidding on the icy conditions and not much support with the leather boots. But we didn’t know any better and loved getting out on the snow even if we had to make the best of conditions and survive multiple crashes and spills. As equipment developed, metal skis and plastic rigid boots became the norm and the turns became more stylish and control was becoming a reality. Edges were sharp, control on the ice became better and the elementary beginnings of carved turns were starting to be seen on the slopes.

Fast forward to today and you see shaped skis which are a lot shorter than the ones that we used back in the day. The nice thing about a ski with shape is that the tip is wide and the tail is wide and the waist of the ski is more narrow allowing the ski to be tipped on edge facilitating an easy turn to the right or the left when pressured by flexed ankles. In the beginner area, you can see real progress with this new equipment because it is easier to control and the equipment makes it a breeze to execute beginner moves on the slopes. People make real progress with today’s equipment and make their way to more advanced trails and slopes because of this new technology.

Take a look at the snow groomers above. That technology along with snowmaking has made the sport of skiing even easier to learn. Each evening, the grooming crew take these machines and make white carpets out of bumpy, icy slopes. The hydraulic tillers on the back of the tracked vehicles break up ice, moguls, and other imperfections on the trail. The end result is what skiers refer to as corduroy which you see in the above picture. This is great for beginners on trails and for intermediate skiers on intermediate trails. But as much as experienced skiers love the challenges of powder, steep chutes, and skiing in the trees, there is something about facing a slope early in the morning that has been groomed to perfection. For those who have mastered the art of a carved turn, this sight is appealing in that the skier pushes off with his/her poles, flexes his/her ankles in his/her boots, and tips the edges towards the new turn. When you move your center of mass towards the new turn and slice the ski edges from tip to tail in the radius of the turn that you choose, the arc that is formed in the snow is putting a slice in that nice white carpet. Good skiers can feel the pressured ski slicing those turns and know when any skidding occurs resulting in a determination and concentration to make the following turns perectly carved. If it weren’t for the expensive grooming equipment, and the shape of the skis, and the confident forward postition of the skier, slicing the white carpet might not be possible. Good skiers can feel when a ski carves perfectly and today’s equipment is so good compared to equipment from yesterday, that everyone has a chance to move up one level in their skiing.

The reason that I have gone into detail of the ski turn is to encourage those of you who have not tried skiing to give it a go. Winter is wonderful and there are a lot of options in outdoor winter activity. But in my mind, there is nothing quite like waking on a winter morning, having a good breakfast, taking in a picturesque view of the mountains, and launching into a series of great turns on the white carpet. Whether you are a beginner making wedge turns, an intermdeiate skidding in a wide track parallel stance, or a racer carving it up on the carpet, the thrill is the same. Skiing is an exhilarating sport and anyone who is reasonably athletic can be a proficient skier in a reasonable amount of time. Take a lesson and learn the right way. But make the effort, you will not be disappointed. Thank you for reading and think snow.