The Will to Win

What is it about the Olympics that glues us to the TV every four years? Is it the pageantry of the opening ceremonies? Is it the personal stories of the athletes that make them compelling in our living rooms? Is it the exotic venues that the IOC selects every four years? Perhaps as ABC once stated, is it ” The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.” For me, it is all of the above and I must admit that I am addicted to the Olympics. download

Even though the commentary and interviews might be lacking from the color people at NBC, the stories are what interest me. The personal sacrifice of the athletes to get to this point in their career. The missed social lives, the early morning training and dedication to compete. These are the stories that make me an Olympic fan. Last night I watched the daughter of two friends of mine compete in the women’s freestyle relay. Allison Schmitt was a young girl when she left Pittsburgh due to her father Ralph’s new job with Ford in Michigan. We miss Gail and Ralph at North Park where we all were part of Hot Harry’s North Park Runners. But all of us North Parkers were glued to the set to see the gold medal gleaming from her neck last night at the awards ceremony. Aside from her record of 3 golds, 1 silver, and 1 bronze in the London Games, Allison won her second medal of these Rio games with three other equally talented ladies bringing it home for the US. Impressive to me was the fact that during the presentation ceremony, they all sang the National Anthem. What an inspiring moment and what a picture of dedicated young ladies thrilled with victory and proud of their country. MTZSPDEC77XA8WFS_768x432

Equally impressive to me at the Olympics is the jubilation of the athletes who compete. They might not win a medal but the joy on their faces as they complete their events and the camaraderie between them at the conclusion is exemplary of the Olympic spirit. Edith Thys Morgan, who has a really good blog on ski racing called RacerEX, says it best when she says that when you compete in the Olympics, you are forever an Olympian. She should know, she competed as a US Ski Team member at the Calgary Games. It is akin to the Marines who say, you are a Marine, not a former Marine. You are an Olympian for life. I feel for the folks who were not able to go. My friend Mac Martin who was a national class road cycling competitor was not able to go to Moscow because of the Jimmy Carter boycott. No athlete should be denied their Olympic opportunity because of politics. Sue Haywood was denied at the Athens Games in Women’s Mountain Biking because of a scoring mistake by the governing body of US Cycling. A terrible tragedy that can never be rectified. As an aging weekend warrior athlete, I have so much respect for Olympic caliber athletes because in my own small way, I can appreciate the dedication, the pain and suffering and the joy of competing. The other remarkable thing about the athletes is their normal girl/boy next door attitude during the interviews. They are people just like you and me, as I learned when I met Joan Benoit Samuelson years ago at the Boston Marathon. You could not meet a more unassuming athlete than Joan. Her victory in the inaugural Women’s Olympic Marathon was indeed impressive but her humble attitude was the most impressive to me. maine-joan-benoit-samuelson

I had the opportunity to attend the Winter Games in Lake Placid back in 1980. I had the good fortune of receiving 900 dollars face value of tickets from my cousin Bill Carroll who worked for Coke at the time. The Durfees and I saw a lot of events that year and as a hopeless romantic, I was impressed with the atmosphere of the Olympics and the beauty of the High Peaks region in the Adirondacks. As we stood in line to get the bus into the village from the parking lot one day, it was wicked cold. But all I could think about was being at the Olympics as I remarked how beautiful the Olympic flame was with the peaks in the background. The guy behind me remarked that he wanted to ” sit his a#$ in that flame right now” and kind of burst my bubble of enjoyment. But we all laughed as we boarded the bus, freezing to death but excited to spend another day at the venues. I saw Eric Heiden win all of his golds in speed skating and noted the Russians who stood in awe of this amazing American athlete resplendent in his gold speed suit. 1081918_10_147x110

So, in the midst of all the political turmoil going on in the country and the world right now, it is relieving to me to be able to turn off the news and tune in to NBC to once again view the events of the Rio Olympics. The world takes a break for two weeks as the athletes and the world come together to celebrate the Olympic spirit. From the march of the refugee team to a standing ovation, to the excellence of our ladies gymnastics team( arguably the best ever), to Melo and his record scoring in men’s basketball without a jaded bone in his body appreciating representing his country, to the closing ceremonies, the Olympics are just so cool. Tune in if you have not already. Thanks for reading.

Live Long and Prosper

“Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. It’s 5 year mission:to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”

-Captain James Kirk220px-STWink_Eye

I have always been fascinated with space. I have an entry level telescope and have always been a star gazer. Therefore, I am so excited that the new Star Trek movie is coming out soon. Star Trek Beyond! I will be in the front row. Why you ask? I was a Trekkie from way back. At Allegheny College, we had a whole dorm lobby filled with Trekkies after dinner watching back to back Star Trek re-runs on the Cleveland affiliate station. I watched the originals in the 60s and then when I was in college, it was great entertainment before we had to go back to the dorm room and grind for another test or complete another paper. Star Trek was always interesting because Gene Roddenberry created it as a modern day version of the old Gulliver’s Travels. We all became interested in the characters- Captain Kirk, Sulu, Bones McCoy, Scotty( beam me up), Chekov, and the iconic Vulcan, Mr. Spock. color_nimoy_headshot

Spock was played by Leonard Nimoy who did a masterful job creating the character who was basically a rational thinking alien who was also part human. His history is well explained in the series but he was the right hand man to Captain Kirk. Spock was always in control contrasting the emotional Captain. I used to love the Vulcan mind warp when Spock could delve into the recesses of your mind with a touch to your shoulder. He also could put you out with the same shoulder grab. He was larger than life. He was a Vulcan, and I met him one day, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

My sister was living in New York City in the 80s hosting a TV show called Romper Room. Black and White mirror picture I would visit her and we would take in Broadway shows and classic New York places to eat. One night before we were to go to a show, we stopped to get something to eat at Sardi’s. This was a spot that a lot of Broadway show people would frequent and actors would frequent between show times. There are pictures all over the walls of famous folks and as I was perusing the photos, I noticed a familiar figure sitting in a booth to my left. It was Spock!!!! I whispered to my sister and we both acknowledged the presence of Leonard Nimoy. I wanted to say hello and tell him how much I enjoyed his character over all of the years but I didn’t want to bother him. Somehow, I needed to make a connection and I remembered that I had seen him play Malvolio in the Pittsburgh Public Theater production of Shakespeare’s iconic “Twelfth Night.”TwelfthNight_01 He did a great job and I sheepishly approached his table and introduced myself. I told him how much I appreciated his performance at the Public and mentioned nothing about Star Trek. To my great surprise, he beamed!!! He said,” You saw that production in Pittsburgh?” I acknowledged in the affirmative and he invited me and ┬ámy sister to sit down and have a drink with him and his lovely wife. We blushed and said that we were headed to a show and could not stay but he asked me more questions about Pittsburgh and how much he enjoyed his time there. I think the guy was so surprised that someone recognized him outside of his classical character and he was anxious to have more conversation about it. He was so gracious as was his wife, and thanked us for stopping to say hello. I am so happy I didn’t say something stupid or embarrassing about him being a Vulcan. ” Hey Spock – where are your ears?” Or some other random comment that I am sure he has heard thousands of times.

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One thing I have learned about famous people is that in general, they are just people like you and me. Sometimes they are surprised about the depth of their notoriety and are almost embarrassed by it. Most famous people whom I have met are actually quite humble and although we think of them as larger than life, they really are just plain folks who have had remarkable achievements. They value their privacy but in some cases, they long to discuss topics outside of their notoriety. Everyone likes their privacy and I am sure that many famous celebrities guard their’s with a fervor. However, sometimes you make a connection where you are welcomed and interesting conversations are the result and the celebrity feels engaged and not used with a “selfie” or some other bothersome annoyance. Such was the case with Mr. Nimoy. No one will ever replace him as the Vulcan Spock. But on one night at Sardi’s in New York, he was recognized for a performance in keeping with his extensive training as an actor. Mr. Nimoy is no longer with us but his words still ring encouragement- “live long and prosper.” Thanks for reading.

Enjoy the Olympics

Lake Placid 1980 Winter Olympics  Olympic Video News Medals1625378_10_147x1101081918_10_147x110Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics - Olympic Tickets, Schedules, Games, Newsus%20ski%20team.finals2013 In February, the world will take another breather from the political and social pressure and focus on an event that happens every four years- The Winter Olympics. The Russians are the host of the 2014 Games in Sochi which will again be a spectaclar event shown to all of us on the NBC network. There have been the usual misgivings about whether Russia is ready to host and whether all the construction and supposed environmental issues have been put to rest. But to be sure, Vladmir Putin will make sure that it is all done well. He is not only a strong willed guy but he is also an avid skier. The Winter Olympics will not only be a showcase to the world for Russian commerce and tourism, but it will be a financial boom to an area that is starting to take it’s place on the main stage of winter destinations. One thing for sure, it is an event not to be missed. NBC will have expanded coverage of many events that are not familiar to many viewers, but if you take the time to appreciate the hard work and dedication of the athletes, and that this is the pinacle oftentimes of their careers, you can really enjoy the stories and events that make up the Winter Olympiad.

I love watching the Olympics. Not only because I am a winter sports nut but also I can appreciate the dedication that goes into putting on an event like this and the efforts of the athletes who participate. Unfortunately, this is lost on some local sportswriters who show their ignorance by writing articles that demean the Olympics. When your frame of reference is only football, basketball and baseball, you really should not be reporting on an event with which you have no familiarity. If you visit major metro areas, there are writers who are experts contributing to an enthusiastic reporting of the games. Also,in the cities that have winter sports as part of their infrastructure of tourism, you have this same feeling of support for the events. I have had the experience of writing to the editors of my local rag because their reports on the games have been jaded and lacking the proper information. One guy had the gaul to call the sporting events “games” and that they really are not sporting events. I responded that perhaps football games, baseball games and basketball games are played by gamers and not athletes? I informed him that if he ever took the time to attend a winter sports event, he would see athletic prowess in every sense of the word. A downhill skier rocketing down an icy slope at 70-90 MPH with legs like a fullback is hardly a gamer. A skater performing a triple axel or a hockey player digging it out in the corner against a tough Eastern European team is an athlete. Cross country skiing takes every bit of strength and aerobic capacity to compete at the international level with the athletes absolutely spent at the finish line. I threw a bone at the guy and said that I would maybe consider curling a game, but nothing else. This is the same guy who said that Tiger Woods was not an athlete because he wore pleated pants. I guess my point is to the local sportswriters to get informed and jump on the Olympic bandwagon instead of pooh pooing something that most of the world embraces. Ignorance is revealing in local sports writing and it always happens around the Winter Olympics.

I had the good fortune of attending the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid. My cousin worked for Coke at the time and gave me $900.00 worth of tickets. My friends, the Durfees, and I attended most of the events but the hottest ticket was hockey. We could not trade or buy any tickets and ended up watching the Miracle on Ice in a bar across the street from the hockey venue. We stood at the top of the ski jumps and my heart was in my mouth as I imagined sliding down that steep pitch and jumping into the abyss only to land to the applause of the thousands of spectators attending those events. Ice dancing, figure skating, cross country skiing were all on our agenda as we made our way through the Olympic Village every day. It was real cold at those Olympics which was typical for the Adirondacks in February. When we arrived at the parking area and were waiting in monstrous lines to catch a school bus to the events, the cold really sunk in and as I admired the Olympic Flame in the distance, the guy next to me who had a distinct Brooklyn accent said,” I’d like to sit my ass in that flame right about now.” We all laughed heartly at that one and the comraderie made the cold bearable. Trading pins was the rage and it became a mission to try to get as many supplier, and team pins as possible. We had the good fortune to see Eric Heiden win all of his speed skating medals and it was amusing to see the Russians hunkering in fear as they saw him take the oval in his gold Descente speed suit. I tried the skates out at the Oval one other year and believe me, it is hard to stand up on those things let alone fly around the rink like Heiden did. He was an impressive athlete who went on to cycling fame with the 7-11 Team and eventually made it through med school and now practices medicine out in California. I met him at a road race one time when we all were staying at the same hotel as the 7-11 team. Even though he had lost some upper body mass, his legs still would be the envy of the Incredible Hulk. You could not meet a nicer guy and for some local sports hack to call what he did a game, is appalling.

If you ever get the chance to attend the spectacle that is the Olympics, don’t pass it up. The energy in the Oympic Village, the opening and closing ceremonies, the pins, the athletes walking around and being accessible for conversation, is something you will never forget. This winter, in February, take the time to watch the events. It is amazing to see athletes participating in short track speed skating, skiing, ice dancing, hockey, and the reported stories of how they sacrificed to get to the Olympics and realize their dreams. Some of them realized and some of them dashed with the agony of defeat. It is a spectacle to embrace. Don’t get caught up in a local rag who publishes writings of some uninformed and jaded reporter. Look for publications and internet stories that are informative and promote the goodwill that is the Olympic Games and foster the Olympic Spirit. Hey, the world needs a break every once in a while to compete against each other in sport and not on the economic or military platform. Enjoy the Olympics and thanks for reading.

The Power of the Magic Mirror

Black and White mirror pictureGrannyCatmollymccloskey ” Magic Mirror tell me today, did all my friends have fun at play?” This was the ending sentence of the daily query from Miss Molly to her children all over the country through her Magic Mirror on the TV program- “Romper Room and Friends.” My sister Molly was in fact, Miss Molly on the show back in the 80s when it was first syndicated nationally out of WOR- TV in New York. My sister was a Carnegie Mellon grad who majored in Music Theatre and following graduation was hired by the Claster family to be the new teacher on the show. The interesting thing is that I took her to New York for auditions and the last thing she auditioned for was the musical” The Best Little Whore House in Texas.” The following last minute audition was for the Romper Room role and she was hired. What a contrast in auditions.

The nice thing about having a sister with some notoriety, especially in the New York City area, is that we usually got a lot of nice perks with restaurant seating, tickets to Broadway shows, and the general satisfaction for me to see my little sister being asked for autographs and posing for pictures with kids of all ages. The neat thing is that Molly was always Molly and never let it go to her head. She was as gracious with strangers as she would be to any of her friends and relatives. I made it a habit to visit her and we would have a great time hitting all the great shows and restaurants and attractions that New York City has to offer. She and her husband Ray lived in Brooklyn at the time and it was always a fun experience for me to come in from the provinces and see the big city. Molly knew how to get around and always told me,” Quit looking up and around Pat, you look like a tourist.” She knew how to give a great hip check to someone trying to squeeze into a cab before us. After the guy would be off balance, she would say,” Get in Pat and don’t look back.” She was sweet and a nice girl but got worldly in a hurry living in the Gotham. Her driving was more aggressive than I remember and still is to this day. I guess you have to survive over there.

So one time, I came in to visit Molly and Ray and had my road bike with me to compete in an event that I saw advertised in Velo News, a magazine for cycling races and events. The event was called “The Bronx Biathlon” which entailed a road bike race followed by a running race- no swimming. The venue was a series of closed off parkways in the Bronx which were well marked and attracted a large participation from a variety of New Yorkers. I saw serious tri-athletes, road racers, and runners whose game faces were on and were competitive as one could imagine a New Yorker could be. The bikes were first rate with tri- bars, some disc wheels which were new at the time, and of course the obligatory Campy or Shimano Dura-Ace for components. My bike was no slouch at the time with my 3 Rensho frame and Shimano Dura Ace componentry. But being New York, there were also the competitors who were there just for fun with their beach cruisers or banana seat bikes. The outfits were a hoot with cutoff black Megadeath T-Shirts, black jeans, black tennis shoes, and the random long stainless steel chain connecting their wallets to their black belt loops. In their best Tony Montana impersonations, they tried to fit in but even the guy from the province of Pittsburgh knew they were out of their league.

The gun went off and my sister and Ray were my support squad giving me splits and postion reports along the way. It was interesting to be riding on an empty expressway in the middle of the most famous city in the world. I eventually made my way up to the competitive group and the run transition was where I became focused on an age group award. As the runnning portion of the race was winding down, I saw Ray who told me that based on the color of the race numbers which indicated age groups, he thought I was in second or third place and I stepped up my pace to try to win one of the Tag Heuer watches that were the prize. Imagine my disappointment when I found out I was fourth and they gave the overall winner two watches because he won overall and won my age group. To this day, I was amazed that they didn’t go one more deep because of his overall win. But I comfort myself with the fact that they were probably Tag Heuer watches that were most likely purchased at some corner stand on Madison Avenue. The knock off capital of the world.

As I got cleaned up and we watched the final awards, we went back to my sister’s car only to find that she had locked the keys in the car. So now, the crowds are thinning and the Megadeath guys are eyeing up my bike and giving us the evil eye. I approached a police officer, one of New York’s finest, an asked for some assistance with a “slim jim.” He coldly told me “no” and to call the Triple A. I looked at him with disdain and asked,” So you are going to let Miss Molly stand here an not be able to get home because you won’t make the effort to get into her car?” Yes- I pulled the card much to my sister’s disgust. But, the officer recognized Molly and said,” Holy s@#$, it is you!!!” He got on the radio and all of a sudden two squad cars, an emergency vehicle, a fire vehicle and another safety vehicle arrived within minutes and it was amazing to see how many officers and paramedics were working feverishly to open the door of the car. Afterwards there were the pictures and the promises by Molly to get all of their kids on the show and to Molly’s credit, she delivered. The children of New York’s finest were all on the show and what could have been an urban disaster turned into a nice affair with children from different parts of the city assembling with their dads on the set of Romper Room.

As I flew back that night on People’s Express( remember that dump of an airline?), I thought about the day, the life in New York, and the happiness that Molly spread to many children every day on a national basis. She saw a lot of kids in that mirror back then and the Bronx Biathlon was a great memory not because of the race, but because of the kindness and generosity shown all around us that day. New Yorkers are a special breed and my sister is a special lady. Thanks for reading.