“You Own This”

When I began this blog my intended goal was to preach the benefits of human potential, or the power of positive thinking. I still preach allot but not much on positive thinking. In fact, I find myself struggling to stay positive in a transformative government. You see, I don’t want the country transformed. What I see coming is something everyone will hate, even the notorious millennium generation. They are just too young and idyllic to understand now.

I received an e-mail from my young son living in Texas. He isn’t so young anymore, but he is my baby. Mike, it turns out, is a better writer and a better motivator than his dad will ever dream of being.  Mike has three kids, all are gems.(This is where I preach about how great my grand kids are. I do so only because they are). Mike’s three kids are all swimmers. I mean swimmers who get up at 5:00 am to go to the pool to workout before school, and then they go to the pool after school to work out, They spend their weekends at swim meets, they live for swimming, academics, and music. I spoke to Mike last week and he told me that he was taking his daughter Abbey to a swim meet at Texas A&M. His wife Lisa was taking Danny to a swim meet closer to home.

This morning I told myself that I will have to call and get details of how they did. As I sat waiting for Peg’s foot to soak after a surgery I found his e-mail. I read it and tears of joy streamed down my face. Here is Mike’s account of  Abbey’s swim meet at Texas A&M last Saturday.

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1650 meters.  

5413.39 feet.
Just over 1 mile.
For swimmers, the 1650 is the ultimate endurance and conditioning race….66 laps.
 
 
Your grand daughter Abbey competed in her first 1650 meter free style event this weekend at Texas A&M University Champions Swim Meet.  Her coach told her that she would experience several emotions during this race: pain, anguish, quitting, crying, asking “why am I doing this?”  He also told her that she would experience physical signs, burning legs, burning arms, burning lungs, thumbing heart.  He was telling her what she didn’t want to hear, the truth.  I was lucky enough to be on deck timing for this event for Abbey.  I know better than to interrupt per pre-swim ritual and concentration, so I sat there watching her psych herself up for the pain.  Before getting on the block, she looked at me, and I told her: “You own this”.  She proceeded to get on the block, and prepare for the start.
 
The horn sounded, and she was off.  She looked very strong, and very consistent with her breathing.  Every 4 strokes of her arms, I’d see her head turn and come up for air.  Her split times were very consistent, almost to the tenth of a second.  She looked like a finely tuned engine in the water.  After 20 laps, she was still keeping her splits.  Her breathing pattern was not as consistent, sometimes going four strokes, sometimes 2, sometimes 3.  It’s obvious the burn had started.  
 
After 40 laps, her splits were amazingly consistent with the start of the race.  Her breathing was not as in synch, but she looked strong.  After 60 laps, her pace was still on.  By this point, I think I was feeling more emotions than she was.  She had told me she had 2 goals for this race, the first, to finish, the second, to finish in under 20 minutes.  As the last few laps were counted, down, she still maintained her initial pace.  
 
After the 66th lap, she came in strong, touched the wall, and I hit the button on the stop watch.  I looked down to see Abbey needed any help getting out of the pool.  She stayed in the water for a moment, so I gazed down at the stop watch.  She finished the race in 18:53:33!!!  That is an AA time for this event.  My mouth dropped open. I looked up and saw her drying off.  She wanted to see the time, so I showed it to her.  She looked at me and smiled, then went off to get her post-race talk with Coach Trent.  
 
I asked her if she had gone through those waves of emotions like her coach mentioned, and she said “not really”.  Then she told me “it wasn’t that bad”.
 
Here is a picture of the facility at Texas A&M, as well as her “reloading” on a nice big chocolate brownie after lunch.  You can still see how red she is in the picture.  This was at least 30 minutes after the event.  She actually went back into the warm down pool and swam a bit to cool down after the 1650!!
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A Golden Nugget

Once in a while life hands you a golden nugget. Last Sunday, Peg and I were at the Frankfort Farmer’s Market when the nugget appeared as a kid riding a pedal tractor down a painted track. We went right to it. The Will County Farm Bureau was there with a kiddie tractor-pull competition. They hitched a replica weight sled to a red Farmall pedal-car tractor, and joined fifty feet of 4×8 plywood sheets to make the track.  The big boys from the Farm Bureau did a great job of announcing the event. They rewarded each kid with a  ribbon and a prize to the winner. One thing I learned is that kids with short legs had an advantage. The tractor was a bit small for long-legged kids who couldn’t extend their legs into full stoke on the pedals.  Another thing became obvious, that is, the amount of weight placed on the sled makes a huge difference in the amount of effort required to pull it.

 

I watched the event to the end. Attending a local tractor-pull is on my bucket list of things to do. I’m not sure the kiddie pull qualifies as having seen one though. The kids did their best and I loved seeing them compete, it reminded me of all the days and events I ran for kids during the Boy Scout era of my life.

If you are not familiar with tractor pulling, here is a video of a highly modified tractor in a German big boys competition.

Simple Amusements-Part Two

Ice Skating in Beijing

Image by IvanWalsh.com via Flickr

This is another story about the things we did as kids in the nineteen fifties to stay amused.

ICE SKATING

            Winter was always fun when we could get out to play.  When the snow came,  we spent our time making snow men, forts, or igloos.  We also tossed snowballs at each other. I have to confess that I never really finished an igloo.  The closest I came was to  build walls then put boards over the top to make a roof, and piled snow on top of the boards to make it look like an official igloo.

When the temperature dropped into the twenty’s, Father Horvath the pastor of Our Lady of Hungary parish, had the school yard flooded to make a skating area.  Kids came from all around to go skating.  I begged to borrow skates so I could join in.  Typically, the skates I used were too large for my feet, and my ankles bent out.  People told me that “my ankles aren’t strong enough.”  Years later, I learned that a loosely fit skate causes the ankle to bend. In order to keep ankles from bending out, the skate shoe must fit snugly.

Sometimes I had hockey-skates, sometimes figure-skates, but never racing-skates.  I fell in love with the idea of figure skating, and dreamed that I was a great figure skater. The truth is that I didn’t know where to start.  I read a lot of books about figure skating. Figure skaters use special skates with a curved blade.  Most of the time I owned hockey skates.

At recess, and at lunch time, the boys played ice hockey.  We used tree branches, and wooden poles for hockey-sticks. A rock served as a puck.  None of us knew the rules, we just knew that the object was to get the puck into the goal. The goal was an opening formed by two rocks spaced apart.  When it snowed on top of the ice, everyone ran home to get a shovel. We cleared the school yard. Sometimes the snow was heavy. If so, we cleared only a space large enough to play hockey.

The public school flooded their playgrounds too. They also had lights for night skating. I often went to Perry school to skate after dark.  Only the brave skated in the dark at Our Lady of Hungary. Seeing all the pot holes was too hard. Hitting a hole in the ice is sure to cause a fall, and ice is very hard, falling hurts.

I Lost, I Miss, I Will, I Must

A Canada Goose flying at Burnaby Lake Regional...

Image via Wikipedia

Today is the first day of the rest of my life.

Sometime during this past summer I lost the drive, the will, the dreams, the fantasies of living. I must recover all of it. How? With hard work, and relentless determination. With endless lists of goals, to do’s, and dreams. If I don’t, I’ll just fade away and melt into the couch while playing solitaire and listening to reality shows.

I miss the walks while shuffling my feet through piles of crinkly leaves. I miss the sights, sounds, and scents of the fresh cool air of autumn. I miss the unscheduled jaunts through the countryside burning gas, just to visit places I’ve seen so many times before. I miss driving a hundred miles to Jasper-Pulaski to spy on the Sand Hill Cranes in migration, or to the Horicon Marsh to wonder at the amazing Canada geese congregating by the thousands in preparation for their long journey south. I miss the colors of trees changing before their winter sleep. I miss hiking the horse trails of Palos. I miss writing about experiences that so affect my psyche.

I will begin the rebirth by making a list of all the things I miss so much. I will schedule regular early morning walks during the sun rise. I will pray. I will meditate. I will refresh my mind with novels. I will talk with friends. I will work my lists, and flood my mind with positive affirmations. I will chronicle the transformation.

I will. No, I must succeed, or I am Freddie the Leaf gone to fade into the earth.

Quads Desperately Seeking Oxygen

Presta valve

Image via Wikipedia

A fantastic idea popped into my mind yesterday, why not take a bike ride tomorrow? It stayed with me throughout the rest of the Saturday and was playing in my mind as I fell asleep. It helped to watch the 2011 Tour de France pre-show too.

This morning, I looked out the window at the 2011 Monet Vision. Yes, sunshine powers the flowers without a cloud in the sky. I quickly trot to my office to look out at the flag, it lay still against the poll. The weather-station shows nice warm temperature. No more excuses, I told myself. Your back hurts even though you have not been on a bike in a year. The bike is not the reason. It is the perfect fair-weather day suited for the fair-weather outdoorsman I have become. Go for it!

2011 Monet Vision

A quick rearrangement of garden stuff in the garage allowed me to reach the bike hanging from the ceiling since last year. Be careful, don’t strain your back taking it down. Do the back wheel first. Easy does it. Yes! Now carefully lift the front wheel off the hook. It is down and my back still feels good.

I hear Bill Lang instructing me at Effective Cycling class, “Remember the ABC’s.”

Before every ride, check “A” air in the tires, “B” brakes are engaging, “C” chain is lube’d and moves freely.

Air, yes find the pump. Ah there it is in the corner. Oh crap, the fitting no longer holds pressure on the Presta side. Go find the adapter so you can use the Shrader side . Now that is a problem. Where is it? Look in the tool box where you keep bike stuff. Where is that? Start in the basement. Ten minutes later the adapter is on the tire and I’m pumping carefully. I don’t want the tire to blow off the rim. The tires are old and brittle. The last thing I want to do is blow it off the rim. Keep checking the tire for bumps and make sure it seats properly on the rim.

Good, the tires have the proper air-pressure, now check the brakes. Yep they are working. The rear pads need replacement, but they’ll make it through today. Wheel the bike out to the lawn and spray the chain with WD-40. Backpedaling the chain is difficult. Move the shifter to align the chain with the gears. Okay the chain is free. Now spray the chain and pump the pedal at the same time to spread the oil.

Ready to ride? No, what’s wrong now? Shoes, I have to find my cycling shoes. I dig through seven pairs of shoes piled in the closet. I find my Shimanos and loosen the laces. My feet have spread in the last few years, but they still feel good as long as I keep the laces loose. Almost ready, A quick dash to my desk to find the Cateye. Boy there is too much stuff in this drawer, it is time to purge. There it is.

I  put on the helmet, adjust the mirror, give Grandma Peggy a quick kiss and out the door I go.

Oops, where are my gloves? Without gloves my hands will burn on a day like this. Look in the top drawer of the cabinet in the garage. Yes, they are still there from last year. Okay, now I’m ready.

Just pedal easy and enjoy the day. My legs automatically go to ninety revolutions a minute. That is not easy, I tell myself, but that is the pace my legs like to move. Downshift dummy. That’s better. The street heading to the Old Plank Road Trail (OPRT) is slightly uphill. Normally, this grade would not need a downshift, but today is different. I move down two gears and make it easier. By the time I reach the stop sign I am out of breath. Thankfully, I coast down to the trail without pedaling.

There was a day just a few years ago when bicycling the OPRT was a daily routine. The trail is twenty miles from one end to the other, and would take three hours to complete at a leisurely pace. There is no way, I could do that today.

At the end of the downhill to the trail, I turn east toward Harlem Avenue. This section of the OPRT is my favorite. The trail, a converted railroad track bed is straight, but somewhat rolling in gentle long downhills and uphills.  It passes through a forested area bounded by Prestwick Country Club on the south and Lincoln Estates on the north. The sunlight finds a way through the trees to form dapples of light. The only time a wind affects a rider is when it is east-west. Today, there is merely a gentle breeze which is not felt at all.

There is a lot of traffic on the trail today. I come upon a young man ahead of me, “On your left,” I holler, and then pass him. I can’t believe I passed a young guy, I thought. There must still be some fire left in these legs. Then I hear him say, “hello, I’m riding on the trail. . . ”  Damn, he slowed down to answer his cell phone. A few minutes later he passes me like I am standing still.

I pass the point where Busia Barbara had her heart attack. It still bothers me every time I do. This year marks the tenth anniversary of that fateful day in August when she had the Widower-Maker. Except she made the mistake of hanging on for two years after. Not a good time in her life.

At Harlem Avenue, I feel good, but decide to turn around per plan. No sense in overdoing it on the first ride.

The ride back feels less stressful. The sciatic fire running through my  right gluteus (ass) has toned down to a warm remembrance of trouble to come.  The pain in the left patella which began in the garden a month ago, is not going away, but sends a signal on each bend of the knee. The lyrics of a song pop into my mind,

Those were the days my friend

We thought they’d never end

We’d sing and dance forever and a day

We’d live the life we choose

For we were young and sure to have our way.

The song keeps me spinning as I pass a mother pushing a buggy with her toddlers. Next, I move way over to pass a woman walking two shaggy little dogs.  Two young riders pass. They are bent over the bars making time on their Sunday workout. A skater swinging her legs wide from side to side making time as she comes toward me. She slows a bit as we cross by each other.

The trees end and the trial opens into the Prairie Park on the edge of Frankfort. Kids are fishing from the pier, and the traffic of people walking dogs increases.

A crowd of bikers waits for traffic to allow them to cross White Street. I catch them and tailgate across to the Briedert Green. Morning shoppers crowd the trail at the Farmer’s Market. This is my western turnaround point. and I am glad to leave the trail. I take the back roads just north of the Trail.

I feel good, but the song keeps looping through the mind as my quads burn desperately seeking oxygen.

I arrive home forty-three minutes and seven miles later. In the good old days, I wouldn’t have returned until I had a metric century(62 miles) under my belt.

“Those were the days my friend . . .”

Strato-Cruiser aka Grumpy-Mobile

How did the amateur get chainwheel grease there?

Can you find the Grumpy-Mobile in there?

Junior Year-Missing the Ball or Hitting the Net

 After spending a year convalescing from the polio my being thirsted for involvement in everything that I could get into at Mendel.  I needed to make up for lost time.  Although the polio kept me from playing football I participated by going to the games.  During the second half of sophomore year I became buddies with Stan Kantor, an old rival from Burnside. Stan is one of the tough guys from Avalon Avenue who went to Perry School. He and his neighbors liked to think they were meaner and tougher than the rest of us on Avalon. We were about the same height and weight.  At Mendel, I learned that Stan was one of the nicest guys I ever met. He played quarterback position on the football team.

Father Theis started a booster club which I joined.  We designed and painted posters advertising the football games.  We hung the posters all around school to promote attendance at the games.  Some of my posters were good enough to hang in places where the hall traffic was the heaviest all day long.

My ability to do the posters got me recognized in the school club scene, and Father O’Neil invited me to join the year book staff as art editor.  On the yearbook I met some really nice guys who became great friends.  One of them is Jim Geil.  He and I became inseparable for several years after. Jim and I still correspond regularly by e-mail. because there are eighteen hundred miles between us.

The school dedicated a new chapel and monastery in time for the start of Junior year.  The monastery led me into a new opportunity.  One day, an announcement came over the PA about a job.  I applied, and got the job as the monastery phone receptionist.

In the new monastery, each priest had a room with a pager.  All of the calls came to a single phone in a small cell at the front door. The cell had a desk, a chair, a phone and a large light board on the wall. Each priest’s name was on the board.  If the priest was in, and the light next to his name was on, he took calls.  When the phone rang, I answered it, and determined who the caller wanted.  I placed the caller on hold, and buzzed the priest.  He answered and I announced which line his call was on. The priests let me know when they left the building, and I took messages.   The job required that I be on duty four hours a day from four until eight.  This meant that I got to screw-off after class until four.  Sometimes I walked up to Michigan Avenue.  Most of the time, I did homework, worked on a poster, or the year book.

In the spring, I tried out for baseball and made the fourth string.  Father Burns placed me at third base.  Throughout the time I played sandlot baseball, I always played second base. Third base was never my position but I was happy to play.  I fielded the ball very well; in fact, I robbed some hot-shot hitters of line drives by spearing the ball on the fly.  My reactions were very good.  unfortunately for me, I didn’t have the strength to throw the ball to first base on the fly.

I also tried out for the tennis and made that.  I often played against myself by stroking the ball against the wall of the handball court at Palmer Park. It was another way  to fill time after school before answering phones.  I never played a real game of tennis with anyone so when I joined the team I had to learn the rules as well as the strokes and the serve. That is when I met Jim Murphy.  We became lifetime friends, and roomed together in college. Jim also stood up at my wedding.

Although I played tennis well in practice I never won a match in competition. Years later I realized why.  During a match, I was so worried about making a mistake, I kept seeing myself missing the ball or hitting it into the net.  That problem stayed with me until my forties when I finally realized the power of positive visualization, that is, “see it in your mind and believe it”.  Why did it take me so long to realize that?

By the end of Junior year things were starting to come together for me.  The effects of the polio were still there, but my sports and weight lifting helped me overcome any handicap that I had.  Life was good.

Life Can Change in a Moment

The summer after freshman year in high school was one of my best. My level of activity was high. I had achieved a new level of ability and confidence. I filled the days with activity that involved my grammar school friends. During the school year we were not able to spend time with each other as before because of all our school activities. Some of my friends got jobs that kept them from hanging around as much. My own job was becoming more a part of my life. Mr. Tumey increased my hours, so I worked several days during the week, and on Saturday too. In between all the grocery work, I caddied at Ravisloe Country Club as often as I could. In spite of all the activities, the old gang met in the evenings after supper. We hung out at each other’s homes, at the corner store, or at the soda fountain. On most nights, I got home by 10 p.m. After ten we collected on someone’s front porch for a while. I played golf often with Joe Barath, Rich Makowski and Jack Adams. Most of the time, we rode to Jackson Park golf course on the street car; clubs and all.

The newspapers headlined stories about the polio epidemic almost daily. Mom kept me away from the beaches and crowded places where I might come in contact with the virus. Our gang wasn’t big for beaches anyway, although we did occasionally take the streetcar to Rainbow Beach near 75th Street.

The summer of 1953 was hot and dry. I rode my bike to and from Tumey’s, and pedaled anywhere I needed to go in the neighborhood. If a friend was with me I let him sit on the top tube while I pedaled. The big basket hanging off the front made it impossible to ride someone on the handlebars.

In August, I celebrated my fifteenth birthday. School was only a few weeks away and I dreamed about trying out for football. A lot of my friends were going to do the same at their schools. On the Monday after my birthday, I remember playing eighteen holes of golf with my buddies in the morning. We got home by noon. After lunch, I rode to Tumey’s on an intensely hot sunny afternoon, and delivered groceries until closing. The temperature was in the ninety’s during the ride home. After supper I went to hang with my friends. That night we had a great time socializing, and stayed out on the porch until eleven. Finally, I went to bed. The next day was another work day.

I slept late, and woke up with a giant headache. My throat hurt so bad it hurt to swallow. When I rolled out of bed, my neck was stiff, and so sore I couldn’t move my head. Mom came to check on me. She felt my forehead and declared that I had a fever. I went back to sleep. When I didn’t get out of bed at noon she checked my temp with the glass thermometer. She called Dr. Horner to ask for advice. He said he would come over after his office hours.

Dr. Horner’s office was on 79th and Cottage Grove Avenue so it wasn’t far for him to come by car. My neck kept getting stiffer and stiffer, my throat was on fire, and I ached from head to toe with the fever. Bright light from the window made my head hurt more. I slept most of the day. The doctor arrived around supper and examined me. He took Mom outside to talk. He told her that I had polio and needed to be hospitalized immediately. It took a couple of hours, but that night an ambulance took me to Contagious Disease Hospital at 26th and California.

By the time I got my ride in the ambulance, I didn’t care what was happening. The fever made me delirious. Visions of football tryout looped continuously through my mind . . .

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