Thursday, May 20, 2010

A level playing field...

College and professional sports are very quick to abuse and distort words that otherwise would have a deeper meaning - inspirational, hero, warrior to name just a few. Growing up surrounded by sports, I didn't really notice it, but once I started working in college athletics, it became abundantly clear. Particularly when I was tempted to call a comeback effort heroic.

In contrast, today's stories do actually feature athletes who have done something inspirational, and it wasn't hitting a 32-foot jumper at the buzzer to send the game into a second overtime.

College golf doesn't garner that many headlines, especially if it's NAIA college golf. But Yahoo! Sports featured a golfer very worthy of the attention (thanks for the story tip-off, Blair). University of St. Francis' Grant Whybark had the opportunity to lock up individual and team spots in the NAIA National Championship. But Whybark did something completely against the competitive drive athletes are supposed to possess - he deliberately shanked a drive so Olivet Nazarene's Seth Doran could go to Nationals too.

Awhile back, I did a post on Natalie Randolph, the Calvin Coolidge Senior High School head football coach. She is one of a handful of women nationwide who head up high school football programs. Randolph has more than held her own in the tests administered by outsiders and a few of her own players. But what has caught the attention of the New York Times this time around is Randolph's commitment to her players in the classroom.

I'm a little sick of professional athletes who whine about how tough their lives are or who only give 10 percent a la Hanley Ramirez. They should take a page from Rafal Krolczyk, a high school boys gymnast on the Niles' West junior varsity team, featured by the Chicago Tribune. "No Fall" Rafal, a moniker he picked up from teammates, competes in the pommel horse for Niles West, an event regarded as one of the hardest events to master. None of this distinguishes Krolczyk from thousands of other high school gymnasts. What does make him stand out from the crowd is that he does this (with full support from family and teammates) despite having cerebral palsy.

A lot of athletes out there do overcome personal hardships to compete at a high level. They even made "The Blind Side" out of Baltimore Raven Michael Oher's story. Now, as a Hokie by association, I naturally view askance anything that comes out of the University of Miami. But this time I really appreciated the Miami Herald story on Saints rookie Jimmy Graham.

Signed away to a group home at 11, Graham survived a rocky childhood after being taken in by a woman who could barely afford it but couldn't walk away from him. He went on to earn dual degrees in five years from Miami while playing four years of basketball (and one year of football) where he was known for his tenacious rebounding and defense. Now with the Saints, Graham hopes to reach out to troubled kids in New Orleans.

(Photo courtesy of The Chicago Tribune)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Up in the air...

I have a tremendous fear of falling from heights. So I suppose it goes without saying that I hate flying and airplanes in general. The irony there is I love to travel. Perhaps I ought to try a cruise...Anyway, with this fact in mind, I also suppose today's blog topic is thus unlikely, at least for me.

Like a lot of people, I have a bucket list. Nothing formal, just things I keep in my head that I'd like to get done in my life. Needless to say sky-diving is not on that list, particularly not after this story. However, despite the outcome, Dave Hartsock can never be called anything but a hero.

According to CBS, Shirley Dygert hired him as a sky-diving instructor when she decided to shake up her life a little. Neither she nor Hartsock knew that trip out of the plane was going to change both their lives more than a little. After a parachute malfunction, Hartsock switched positions with Dygert before they hit the ground, taking the brunt of the impact and saving her from the paralysis he now suffers.

I've had enough issues in airports and on planes to know better than to jump out of one that functions perfectly well. Unfortunately the 92 passengers and 11 crew members of Flight 8U771 did not have a choice when their airbus failed to land properly at Tripoli International Airport on Wednesday.

But details are still emerging about the miraculous survival of eight year-old Ruben van Assouw, the sole survivor of yesterday's crash, according to CNN. The Dutch boy seems to have suffered only broken bones in his lower limbs.

(Photo courtesy of CBS News)

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Way in advance of Memorial Day...

For once it seems like of all the current disasters in the world, none of the headlines are focused on the military. Which I suppose is a round about way of looking for good news. Over the last two weeks I found some actual, straight-up good news stories out of the US Armed Forces.

I wanted to use this first one last week since it came out on my blog day, but I didn't have anything related, so I held it.

The Boston Globe reported the US Navy has quietly allowed women to begin serving in the submarine forces. Recently I've been reading Tom Brokaw's "The Greatest Generation," which honors folks who fought in World War II. Several of the chapters in that book focus on the women who wrought quite an upheaval on the policy of females in the military. Now, there weren't any women in subs then (or officially recognized as in combat for that matter), but women in the submarine service is one of the last barriers to be broken.

According to the Globe, "the Navy plans to start by assigning three female officers each in eight different crews of guided-missile attack submarines and ballistic missile submarines." The reasoning being these types of subs are the easiest (read: cheapest) to retro-fit to accommodate living quarters for women. I'm a little claustrophobic, so I would never want to do this, but good luck to 'em!

One thing the members of the Greatest Generation and today's military have in common is the call to serve. I mean, you'd really need a strong sense of duty to put yourself in the line of fire for others. And as you read profiles of soldiers and sailors and such, you find out exactly how many of the people who answered that call are genuinely good and decent human beings. One such good Samaritan found himself in the headlines a week or so back. The New York Daily News posted a story on Army medic and Iraq vet John Stone, who performed the Heimlich maneuver on Toby Weiss at a Yankees game and saved the rabbi's wife's life.

Clearly these men and women who do so much for us at home and abroad deserve as much as we can give them when they're done serving. The Houston Chronicle has a story on Meredith Iler, a fundraising superwoman who is contributing in a major way to easing those vets' transitions back to civilian life. She founded Helping a Hero, a company that raises money and collects land and work donations to build handicap-accessible homes for severely injured war veterans. The veterans end up being responsible for $50,000 of the purchase price. President of her own public relations firm, Iler donates 50 hours a week to Helping a Hero and has built 18 homes since 2005 and raised money for eight more.

(Photo courtesy of the New York Daily News)