Tuesday, June 28, 2016

I Still Pray with My Legs: 8 Lessons from ARVD

Since 2010 I am reminded of something on this day: I am bionic. That should make me feel badass...superhuman...even futuristic? Instead, it is one of the greatest sources of humility in my life (I have several!). I'd like to say that my ICD reminds me of my humanity and my limitations, but the irony is that the very thing it's connected to, my heart reminds me of that truth just as often. The Creator knew what He was doing when he tied literal and metaphorical matters into the same organ.
This is me. It's scary to think too much about, but it's pretty cool too.
In the six years since my diagnosis of ARVD, I have had to let go of many things but I have gained others. Some of the greatest gifts I still hold were given to me at the hardest time—when I was diagnosed and implanted. So in honor of that miracle—and it is one—here are the lessons I learned from an eight day stay at CPMC hospital. There's one for each day.

1. The Miracle is Diagnosis
I show the documentary "Venus and Serena" in Sports and Spirituality every semester; it is utterly captivating. I've written about it many times and I have given the DVD to about three different friends. The unsuspecting viewer is in for much more than a film featuring the triumph of two black sisters from Compton, CA and the success they never should have had. No, it rounds out these two great athletes: they are fashoinistas, shrewd business women; they are best friends and they have had their fair share of injuries and health concerns. 

In addition to various injuries, in the mid-2000s Venus was forced to withdraw from many tournaments due to incessant fatigue, joint pain and what she believed to be a viral illness. Fortunately for Venus, her doctor was able to determine she has an autoimmune disease known as Sjogren's syndrome. 

As I watched this part of her story unfold, I said to myself "the miracle is diagnosis." I don't know if I made that up or learned it from someone, but I consider it a poignant truth. By changing her diet dramatically and adapting a "new normal," Venus was able to return to the tour again.

Once you know what you have, you can work with it. You learn what you can and can't do...or more realistically what you should and shouldn't do. You know how to proceed. I lived with uncertainly for nearly five years about my heart health. I used to joke that I didn't want to be one of those people who dies on the golf course. The sad and scary truth is that I could have been. Once you know you cannot not know. I implore anyone who has questions about their health to work with their physician and others to get answers. #MiracleDX

2. I believe in the Communion of saints
The communion of saints one of my favorite topics to write about only because I have seen saints at work so often in my life. June 22, 2010 is one of those times. Before I went on that fateful run that sent me into cardiac arrest, I went for a brief walk that took me past what was my grandparents' home at 35 Ashbury Street. I hadn't done that in years; I called my mom to tell her where I was and we discussed a few of our memories from their home. Less than 30 minutes later I was in an ambulance heading to the ICU. I will never be able to prove it as true, but I believe my Grandma was with me that day. 

As my heart rate climbed to 275, I stayed calm. I determined I should call 911 at the right time. Cyclists with cell phones passed me at that moment and stayed with me until the EMT arrived on the scene. You can call it luck, but I see my grandma's hand in all of this. 
one of my favorite photos of my mom and grandma
Jim Heft writes, through belief in the Communion of saints, we recognize that "Even though people die, we stay in touch with them and they with us. How is this possible? It is possible through Baptism by which we enter into the death and resurrection of Jesus. Even though Jesus died, he rose from the dead, remaining even more present than when he was on earth to all who believed in him. We live in Christ. Those who have died believing in Christ remain alive in him.Therefore, whether dead or alive, we are connected in love. So when your grandmother who loved you very much dies, we believe that she now continues in heaven to love who she loved on earth, but with much greater intensity and depth and selflessness."

My grandma believed in Christ. She loved God and loved her family—especially my mom. Though she died long ago, her love remains. And St. Ignatius has said "love is shown in deeds more than in words." My greatest memories of my grandma are those of her great love in action—playing cards with me and letting me win, teaching me how to make pie crust from scratch, singing Irish folk songs and more. On this day, she was working in ways I can't explain.

3. Just Show Up
One of the corporal works of mercy is to "Visit the Sick." I understand why. When your health is compromised, you are viscerally hungry for love and friendship. I remember taking to the kindness of certain nurses as though it were a drug and when friends came, so did a litany of distractions, laughs, questions, stories, gifts, treats and more. I still remember what some friends brought with them, like magazines I never would have purchased for myself, but enjoyed reading. Thank you Kealy for purchasing that issue of Vanity Fair. It's sad to say, but the transgressions of Tiger Woods passed a good chunk of time quite quickly. Or, if you know me, you know I'm a big believer in banana bread. Who knew it was my most welcome post-surgery meal? Thanks Betsy! When my family showed up, I remember I could be myself. I didn't have to talk. I could be testy or unpleasant, happy or sad. I didn't have to put on a face of courage or of fear. You never forget those who "Just Show Up" when you are sick.

4. Stay with Me
I can't hear the 2014 Pop hit "Stay with Me" and NOT think of the late SportsCenter host, Stuart Scott. Though Sam Smith's monster hit was overplayed on the radio, it aptly served as the background of Scott's biopic at the 2014 ESPY awards.

Those same words also remind me of a choice my mom made and didn't think twice about. I went in for surgery at 8:00 a.m. and the surgery lasted seven hours. I was transported back to my room and when I woke up, I saw my Mom sitting there and looking at me. I had no idea how much her presence would mean to me. The night before, I told my dad not to come; he and my mom didn't both need to be there. I figured I would come out of the surgery and be fine by my lonesome. To see my mom, smiling and at peace that I came out okay made my heart swell.

It's one thing to show up, it's another to stay. Thanks Mom.

5. You'll never be lonely with a good book
In 1983, we visited our family in Ireland where my appendix decided to rupture and remain as medical waste on the Emerald Isle. It couldn't have been fun for my brother and sister to have their nine-year old sister in the hospital for five days. I'm not sure how my parents managed it all, but they did. When everyone left to return to the Bed and Breakfast at night, I remember feeling a little bit lonely and scared, but not entirely so. And that's because I had a picture book of kittens. 

I was reminded of that book when my nine-year old niece Grace saw a poster of those furry cuties and yelled out "KITTENS!" with glee. I was transported back to that time and place when I felt comforted by something as simple as a good book, even if it's a picture book.

Laura Bush who is an only child said she never felt depressed or lonely growing up because she loves to read. Her words have stayed with me because I think they are true. I don't know if I already had it or if a friend brought it (Skol?) but I read John Daly's autobiography "My Life in and Out of the Rough" from start to finish. Eight days at CPMC hospital and I'm happy to report, it was hard to feel lonely with a big guy, big personality like JD and all the other magazines and articles friends brought. It nourished my mind and my heart. 

6. Stories nourish us
Any extended stay in an unwanted place is likely to build character, teach virtue and test one's humanity. But I also think it will yield a fair share of good stories. My stint in the hospital prompted good ones and sad ones. Regardless, they are mine to tell.

One the hardest stories I hold is about Jill Costello, a young woman I worked with coaching novice crew at St, Ignatius. Jill died the night before I was scheduled to have my surgery. I can't forget the e-mail our Father president wrote about her passing. I read it alone in my room, praying with the image of Jill in her mother's arms when I was interrupted by an unwelcome surprise. A nurse asked me to sign waivers about the implantation of my ICD, informing me of the risks involved with it. I didn't think I would need an ICD. I was hoping for an ablation and a quick procedure. The doctors knew much more.

Jill's death gave me the grace to accept a new life. She has given thousands of people thousands of gifts. For many with battle lung cancer, she has given an important face to a disease that is riddled with stigma (due to cigarette smoking. Jill was a non-smoker). I still feel connected to Jill in a profound way. She left me a grace—to live as she did, even though she no longer could (see Communion of saints).  I share her story with all of my students today. I know it is one of the most important ones that they hear. 

And there are countless others. I think of the $1000 ambulance ride from St. Mary's hospital to CPMC. I shared what was essentially a very expensive taxi ride with my good friend and colleague Naj. We both thought the EMTs were adorable (one was a lefty!) and they got a big kick out of us too. After they left us, Naj said "you know they think we are together." I'm sure she's right; I'll take that as a compliment ;-)

And my favorite story comes from t....

7. Champions come from the heart
His very best story is from when he won
the British Open. Talk to Clinton or
take the photo? 
I can't wait to watch the "30 for 30" about John Daly that should be released soon. I already know a lot of what it will share. I'm didn't know what someone could be addicted to M&Ms among 10 other addictions he holds. Regardless, the a theme from his autobiography also served as the title of my reflection about my diagnosis in 2010. I'll let those words speak for what I learned six years ago and those I've posted today affirm many of those sentiments.

8. I still pray with my legs
Rabbi Abraham Heschel has written "I pray with my legs as I walk." I always prayed as I ran, when I ran. The two were one in the same. Today it's different, and it's still hard to believe that it's something I no longer do... so I'll share my "Love Letter to Running" tomorrow. 

But I recently heard a great quote by Dr. Martin Luther King that touched my heart.
If you can't fly, then run.
If you can't run, then walk.

If you can't walk, then crawl.
But whatever you do, keep moving forward.

It's not a bad way for any one of us to live our lives. Keep moving forward. Do so with other people, and please know you'll meet some remarkable people along the way.

Photo Credits


Sunday, June 19, 2016

What Happens When You Surprise Yourself: A Case for Dustin Johnson

When is the last time you surprised yourself? It's a strange question, but there's something to it. Our friends and family know who we are, and hopefully, we do too! Typically, our personal interests, preferences and political, moral or religious leanings are of little to no surprise, until well—they are. And over the course of the past year, I have surprised myself in recognizing my favorite player on the PGA tour. It's a man I hope wins his first US Open: Dustin Johnson.
On paper, there is very little reason for DJ to serve as my favorite. For all intensive purposes it should be Jordan Spieth. Educated at a Jesuit High school, Spieth's dad and his mom were D1 college athletes. He uses the word "we" when he speaks of his team, his caddie was a teacher and he's as clean as he looks. DJ? well...

I remember reading more about him with complete disgust in the January 26. 2015 issue of Sports Illustrated. The article, "Dustin Johnson Has New Outlook, with Assist from Wayne Gretzky"  reported that in August 2014, Johnson failed his third test for recreational drugs—two of which were from cocaine. His P.R. team denied that he was suspended and argued apologetically that he was taking a personal leave. He took a similar hiatus two years prior.

Johnson and his now wife, Paulina Gretzky, the son of "The Great One," gave birth to their
Though I know why they did this,
I'm not sure it's ok
son, in January 2015. She has always been fond of posting provocative photos of herself in her latest bikini and it's hard to argue if someone were to do so--she shouldn't be the one. But selfies, her desire to promote her post-pregnancy body via Instagram and her appearance on the cover of Golf Digest just don't resonate with me. (NB: I have read she has taken up golf...)

I know I would have been frustrated if he had been in my classroom. In SI, he said,
“I knew how to get what I wanted,” he says. He wasn’t a great student at Dutch Fork High near Columbia, S.C., or at Coastal Carolina University. Instead, he took perverse pride in doing the minimum. “I could’ve made the time and got straight A’s,” he admits, “but I did just enough to make sure I was eligible to play golf.”
I've never appreciated those that say they could earn a 4.0 if they had only applied themselves. I am suspicious of their claims. Do they really know how hard it is to do that? And,
Along the way he has had two significant legal issues. At 16, he was involved in the burglary of a handgun that was used in a murder. (He testified at trial, paid restitution for the burglary and was pardoned.) And in 2009 he was arrested for DUI. (The charge was dismissed, but he pleaded guilty to reckless driving.) The legal issues, the suspicious breaks from the Tour, the careless play on the golf course -- after being penalized at the 2010 PGA for grounding his club in a bunker, he said he had neglected to read the local rules sheet -- make skeptics question whether he can change.
If you are watching this year's US Open at Oakmont, you know that the question of change has plagued Johnson beyond his personal life. Putting for eagle on the 18th hole, he missed it and the next one. His 3-putt on the final hole at Chambers Bay gave the 115th US Open title to Jordan Spieth. 
So what's the appeal in Dustin Johnson? Why is he my favorite player on the tour? I wish I could tell you it's an appeal to his humanity, but it's not. I don't identify to any part of his—though I am confident many others do...and that's a good thing. People I know and love have struggled with substance abuse. Though I find a DUI to be a true crime, I know people who have made that mistake—more than once. It's so scary. No, I like DJ for what he brings to golf: his sheer athleticism.

I can't look at Dustin Johnson and not see him as a wide receiver or a tight end. I wonder how many people in South Carolina wish he had played for the Gamecocks. I love the fact that he hits the ball off the tee further than anyone on the tour; his average is 309.5 yards. When I see him tee off, I recall the number of splash hits of a different kind he had  at AT&T Park when the US Open was at the Olympic Club in San Francisco. I'm sure when he threw out the first pitch later that night that the Giants pitching staff took a decent look at his stuff. We still need help in mid-relief. Pete Thamel wrote
Last fall Johnson started by getting his body right. He was carrying 220 pounds -- “not a good 220” -- on his 6' 4" frame, so he dropped 20 through daily workouts with his trainer and has since put on 13 pounds of muscle. In sessions with his life coach and clinicians, Johnson discovered that he didn’t handle stress and anxiety well. “My way of getting rid of it was drinking or partying,” he says. “Yeah, that might work for that day or the next week, but eventually everything keeps piling up.” Johnson has sought other releases, from skiing to fishing to free diving.
Only recently did I learn about free diving. #badass. I'd love to see him play basketball, but really, I'm just glad he's on the PGA tour.
For too long, the image of professional golfers was one middle aged men in plaid pants. Today's player is young, he is not only physically fit and strong but mentally resilient. I question if he is using Performance Enhancement Drugs, but I also know today's equipment allows them to hit farther than ever. 

Because golf is an individual sport, it's not unnatural to look for reasons to identify with an athlete. If we're Irish, we may be partial to those players from the Emerald Isle. Perhaps you love Bubba Watson because you too grew up outside of a country club and never had a formal lesson. Maybe you and your favorite player share an alma mater. Walking through the clubhouse at Stanford, I couldn't help but think the list of Cardinal players is impressive: Tom Watson, Tiger Woods and Michelle Wie among them.

But as I've seen in Dustin Johnson, maybe you follow an athlete because of the reason you know about them in the first place: you like what they do in their sport and how they do it. Perhaps you surrender their personal story and stay with the professional one. I realize that's not an easy thing to do, but it must be what loyalists of Tiger Woods say. And maybe in the process of cheering for an unlikely pro athlete, you learn some unexpected things about yourself...

Other thoughts on DJ
  • Anyone can stand behind the athlete that always wins. Johnson is known for coming unbelievably close (more than once) and something goes wrong. In all honesty, that's not hard for me to relate to!
  • When I told my seniors that he is my favorite player, about 7 boys in each class looked at me and one another and gave a collective "yeah!" with appropriate head nod. 
  • Johnson's younger brother Austin is his caddie. 
  • "Never before has someone moved forward with so little effort." Quote by my friend Paul after watching DJ at the Masters. 
  • Is it just me or would Bradley Cooper play him in a golf movie?

Friday, June 17, 2016

Far-Sighted and Near-Sighted Vision in Sports

At my recent eye exam, I was reminded that our vision changes because our eyes do. My right eye is very weak and has a stigmatism. My left eye is much stronger but in the past few years has degenerated from 20/30 vision to 20/50. How I wish I was like my friend who discovered she was over-corrected in her prescription for contacts. Her sight was blurred because the change in her eyes made her vision stronger. Her words made me think about what else makes our vision stronger. Recent events in the wide world of sports has given me plenty of examples beyond good health, a healthy diet of carrots and dark, leafy greens, hydration, and limited sun exposure. Life experiences, age and wisdom each influence add to the mix.

Our Passions
I always tell my students that (most) everyone knows how to run, but not everyone is a runner. I query, When does someone become a runner? Some shy from labels, but I believe it's a question of identity, one of commitment and understanding. I write this because I now consider myself to be a golfer. 

When I joined the Olympic Club in 2013, my commitment to the game got a significant boost. I've been a long time fan of the PGA and the Majors are among my favorite sporting events. But sometime in the past year, something clicked. Perhaps it was my losing that raw fear of the game—not knowing if I would make regular contact with that 1.6" ball but I've witnessed a shift. And my new identity was revealed  in one of the most unlikely places: baseball.

I've attended hundreds of baseball games in my life. A loyal San Francisco Giants fan since my youth, I've seen a lot, including the cycle, but playing golf has changed how I see contact in the game. I have a much more accurate sense of how far the ball will travel, where it may draw or fade, how the wind will affect where it will land in the outfield, or beyond. My new vision caught me by surprise, a pleasant one. 

Playing on the Lakeside course on Sunday, my friend and I were paired with a Father-Son duo. I looked at the son and knowingly asked, "did you play baseball?" I enjoyed watching his ball with that perspective in mind.

What we are passionate can't help but color how we see other aspects of our life. Pay attention to what carries over.

Millions of people struggle with back pain. I am now one of them.

As a runner, I always had a fair amount of lower back pain. The pounding of the pavement isn't just hard on one's knees. But last year, I did something to my right lumbar (?) and now ice, Alleve, Ibuprofen and stretching are a regular part of my daily life. When I first hurt it, at times it was so bad that it was hard to stand, sleep, and obviously, play golf. 

With time, rest and ice, the pain diminished—but every now and then it recurs. I lost a lot of golf but I gained empathy. I came to understand how people can become addicted to pain killers, to alcohol (it certainly cut the pain), and can get depressed. It should be of little surprise that  was reminded of that struggle when I watched Andre Igoudala during Game 6 of the NBA Finals. 
As written for SI.com
Early in the game, Iguodala had his back worked on during a timeout, and was forced to leave the game for a short period. He returned, but was seen hobbling on the floor. Still, he remained in the contest.
My respect and admiration for Iggy is sky-high. His defense against LeBron in the 2015 Finals is what led to the Warriors victory and his MVP award. But I also knew what a back injury does and as much as he wanted to give more, the body had other plans in mind.

Far-Sighted vs. Near Sighted
For some reason, my ability to see where her golf ball lands drives my friend Lisa crazy. She has said more than once "you don't even look and you know where it is." What she doesn't realize is that I am far-sighted. I can barely read the type face in Sports Illustrated these days and yet, I can see her golf ball sail 180 yards down the fair way with ease. 

It's tough to gauge how each one of us sees the world. We each carry a bias and as a sports fan, I try to balance by subjective point of view with an objective outlook—or to relate it to vision, I seek to consider a near-sighted view with a far-sighted one. We gain from each.
I write this because I am a LeBron James fan. Apart from "The Decision," I can't figure out a reason not to be. A four-time MVP in the NBA, James is an incredible athlete and competitor. Honestly, I won't even waste the time or effort to make a case for LeBron....I'll let his body of work speak for itself. But in the NBA Finals, my vision has helped me see something I don't like: LeBron's behavior on the court is increasingly more unsportsmanlike.

I know the pressure is on. No one wants another title, and one for NorthEast Ohio in the way James does, but with each additional game, as his reaction to calls, the way he is going after certain players and the refs leaves me unimpressed. In the 4th quarter of Game 6, he went after Steph, and my brother, who plays a lot of street basketball to this day, admitted what LeBron did was a "punk move." Warrior fans have created a mime about LeBron crying more that Riley Curry. It's funny because the cutie pie Riley is wearing Ray Ban aviators...and because it's more true than not.

I am aware that Steph was thrown out of the game because upon being charged for his sixth foul of the game he threw his mouthpiece. My far sighted vision sees that as comical. Up close, it's not much different.

C.S. Lewis had it right when he said, “What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.” Our passions, life challenges, our gut instincts shape how we see what we see. Ultimately, our vision changes and will continue to change....because we do

Go Dubs

Photo Credits
Steph and LeBron
Iggy: from SI.com article

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Rule #1 for Taking the High Road

As tempting as it is, I am not writing a "Dear LeBron" letter or an open one to King James. The purpose of this posting is to reflect upon one of my favorite ideals, one that I call my athletes and own self to time and again: taking the high road.
With every action, there is a reaction. We choose how we will respond to a question, a challenge, a problem or in LeBron's case, name calling. When we succeed it's hard to contain our enthusiasm and keep the celebration far from excessive. At other times, it's not easy to let emotions of anger, frustration and disgust get the best of us, especially if prodded or provoked.  Thus, when given the choice, we ought to take the high road or as Ron Burgundy would have it, "stay classy." 

Though scripture does not mention "the high road" and why good people must take it, in Paul's letters he urges the people of Corinth to "strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gift, the Way of Love. But I shall show you a more excellent way" or as the Notre Dame Folk Choir sings it "to set your heart on the higher gifts." (1 Corinthians 12:31)

Some spiritual gifts are better than others, some pathways are straighter, narrower and higher.  So when we set our sights on greater gifts or choose to take the higher road, we are exercising the virtue of love. Love has many iterations; no wonder the Greeks have so many words for it. And for me to try to connect taking the higher road as an act of love to what transpired in the NBA Finals feels like a stretch—a big one. It's an emotional game. This is the final series. Competitive greats love the game, but they love winning (maybe even more!). Hence the conflict between LeBron and Draymond on the hardwood.
And this is what LeBron had to say about it in his post-game interview—a series of questions and answers in response to comments made by Green's teammate, Klay Thompson. The Yahoo interview includes the transcript
LEBRON JAMES: I’m not going to comment on what Klay said, because I know where it can go from this sit- in. It’s so hard to take the high road. I’ve been doing it for 13 years. It’s so hard to continue to do it, and I’m going to do it again.At the end of the day, we’ve got to go out and show up and play better tomorrow night; and if we don’t, then they’re going to be back-to-back champion, and that’s it.But I’ve taken the high road again.
I think it's important to take the high road, I think it's critical for coaches to model this and for players to choose it. However, in order to take the high road, one must know a little bit about what that means. Love has something to do with it and yes, focusing on our spiritual gifts does too, but I'm pretty sure that one of the primary rules about taking the higher road is that you don't tell others you are taking it. One need not mention how difficult it is or for how long you have been taking it. Defeats the point, no?
Here is where I find a much stronger connection to Scripture. When Jesus taught about Giving Alms and how to pray, He said the following in Matthew 6:1-8:

“[But] take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites* do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.  
“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
LeBron, you played a remarkable game last night. The Warriors lost to your team because you and your teammate Kyrie Irving were unstoppable with 41 points each. But I'm not convinced you took the high road in Game 4 (personally I think you deserved a flagrant). 

And, I believe the people of Cleveland, happy as they are to have you back, would sincerely question if you have taken the high road for the past 13 years. In the article "I'm Coming Home" you wrote 'Remember when I was sitting up there at the Boys and Girls Club in 2010? I was thinking, This is really tough. I could feel it. I was leaving something I had spent a long time creating. If I had to do it over again, I'd obviously do things differently, but I'd still have left." Taking the high road involves not just what you do, but how you do it. Though Miami confirmed you were a champion, the road you took to get there was a low one.
The road of the NBA Finals heads back to Cleveland, known as the "Mistake on the Lake" and the "armpit of the United States." And yet the most recent "3o for 30 documentary" refers to it as something else: Believeland.  

Thank you LeBron for helping me believe not only what we are called to do, but how we should do it. 

Photo Credits

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Truth and The Story Behind "The High Five"

Truth has a funny way of revealing itself, of being made known and understood. Truth is truth, whether or not I agree with it (that's another thing that's funny about truth). I've encountered truth through literature, art, Scripture, prayer, the classroom and in unlikely places too. I've found truth on the N Judah Muni line, in Yosemite Valley, and in a yearbook inscription. The other way I've found truth is in one of the simplest and most basic gestures—the high five. Here's the story...or stories. 
When I was in high school I could not wait for the distribution of yearbooks and the ritual of signing them. This was an important tradition to me. I was anxious to read what certain people might say. I was hoping others—certain boys—would ask to sign mine. I remember taking home the yearbooks of good friends because I had a near treatise of memories to recall.

Having an older brother, I also couldn't wait for the opportunity to look through his for several reasons. One, Mark attended De La Salle, an all boys' school. Though we largely went to "one school with two administrations," my high school, Carondelet had a separate yearbook. Thanks to him, I got to look through their annual. Two, as his annoying younger sister, I wanted to know what his friends wrote. My sister and I would tease him about what certain girls said and the phone numbers he got.   

I love this photo because it captures an "hell yeah" type of high-five. sometimes that's how you feel...
To this day, I can recall certain witty or creative messages. and a strange one. It said, "We mock what we don't understand." Why my brother's friend wrote this, I'm not sure—it's a bit sardonic for a yearbook posting—no? However, it has stayed with me and I think that's because it points to a certain truth. He's on to something. If we truly understand a person, a place, an idea, I don't know that we mock it (...although that's not entirely impossible). And I was reminded of it last week when a friend put down what I consider to be a positive, fun hand gesture: the high five. 

She said "the high five is lame. I think it is so overused and have don't have a lot of respect for people who use them." I had heard similar complaints about "The Wave" but never the high five.

I consider the high five a fundamental extension of our humanity. I can recall my nieces at 16 months learning to high five. We loved it. I think of the times I crave "a little of that human touch" (thank you Bruce Springsteen) and how in those moments, the high-five is relatively sufficient. For example, I've been excited to see my seniors after a big game or an big moment. A hug isn't entirely appropriate—however, a timely high five is. 
I think Iggy is giving Klay a big "oh yeah" type of high five here.
I think of many iterations of this hand slap and the degrees of emotion that characterize each one. Sorry folks, but when Klay Thompson drained that 3-pointer with 1:35 left in Game 6 to put the Warriors up by 3 against OKC, I reached across to Amy—a friend I've had since high school—and I gave her a high-ten with so much power and attitude, you would have thought I made the shot. (I'm sure there was a massive overbite going on at that moment too). No, in my world, there was no need to make an argument for the high five.

As I was thinking of the memorable high fives, of why and how it's fun, of a world without them, or making my case for them, another co-worker asked us if we had seen the "30 for 30" Short: The High Five.  We hadn't. He debriefed us on the story...I think you should watch it now.
I watched it and found myself totally unprepared—emotionally—for what lies behind this simple extension of one palm—raised in the air—as it meets another. Former LA Dodger, Dusty Baker who was in on the inception of the high five said "sometimes you don't know why you do the things you do, especially when you're extremely happy—you just respond to each other." That's part of how the high five was born....but there's more to it. My friend Elizabeth who once mocked the high five said "I have a whole new respect for the high five. Although, I will say I am an amateur high fiver due to my past reservations. Thanks for sharing Sean!" #truth

The conclusion of the video honors Glenn Burke, the inventor of the high five with these words: "A newspaper reporter tracked him down years after he had retired, and they asked him about the high five, he said "think about the feeling you get when you give the high five. I had that feeling years before anybody else." There's another type of truth in that. 

I hope when I get to heaven—pending God's approval—that I'm greeted with a high five from Dawn Hanson—my grade school track coach, Clarence Clemons, St. Peter and the inventor of it: Glenn Burke. RIP

Photo Credits
The High Five: Glenn Burke

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Dear Sports Fans: What you need to know about the Golden State Warriors...

Dear Sports Fans,
There is something you must know about the Golden State Warriors. No it's not that they are the tenth team in NBA history to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the conference finals (in a 7-game series). I'm not talking about their point guard—the unanimous choice for MVP who now ranks at No. 34 on ESPN's list of the world's most famous athletes. It's something I'm not entirely surprised to have read or learned and yet it's just one more reason to love legendary 73-game winning team. Here it is: the Dubs are fans of women's sports. 
As sports fans, we know a lot about our favorite teams. My good Lord, I can tell you where Coach Steve Kerr gets his morning coffee and where he plays golf. I now know that Draymond Green has an 8-year old daughter and may talk to his former college coach, Tom Izzo more that Izzo's wife does. I love that the Warriors attend chapel before games and that they pull pranks on one another. Indeed we learn a lot about the interests and habits of star athletes and coaches. But do we know who they admire? In addition to his parents Sonya and Dell—who sit in the stands at nearly every game—who else does Steph look up to? Who do the Dubs follow? Thanks to several distinctive articles, I can answer these questions.

Draymond Green, the who graced the cover on the May 23, 2016 issue of Sports Illustrated is also the subject of a lengthy piece by Lee Jenkins. In "The Giant Killer: Draymond Green dares you to define him," Jenkins writes
He chills out by watching basketball—specifically women’s basketball. “In the NBA there’s always a guy who is only around because he can jump,” Green says. “He doesn’t have a clue about the fundamentals. I learn more from the WNBA. They know how to dribble, how to pivot, how to use the shot fake.” 
Those who know basketball are not surprised by Day Day's comments. When I shared this with a colleague, a basketball coach, he immediately quipped "Klay Thompson is a regular at WNBA games." Glad to hear it. I wonder if he's friends with Jerian Grant, another fan of female athletics and the WNBA. 

But it's not just their own sport that the Warriors follow. The number one women's golfer in the world "Lydia Ko dropped by the Golden State Warriors practice facility to promote April's Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic at Lake Merced Golf Club in San Francisco."  According to the article "On the Beat" by Alan Shipnuck, an excellent golf writer, "When Ko's managers first approached the Warriors the reception was lukewarm...until Curry caught wind and said he was dying to met her. 'And if Steph gets excited about something' said one team official, 'then we get excited too."I wonder if Steph, a talented and competitive golfer holding a 2-handicap, asked Ko for some tips to improve his game. I look forward to watching him play at the American Century Celebrity Golf Tournament this summer.
But Steph isn't the only LPGA fan. The surprise starter in Game 7 against Oklahoma City, the same player who was named the 2016 Finals MVP, Andre Igoudala claims to be a huge fan of women's golf. He said "I watch it all the time time. I bet I can name to top five in the World Ranking." To which the crowd said, "prove it."
He shot back, "Inbee is number two, Lexi [Thompson] just took over number three. Behind her is Stacy Lewis. The fifth spot belongs too..."
"You forgot number one," said Shipnuck.
Andre laughed and said "She's standing right there."

I play a lot of golf. The PGA is one of my very favorite sports to watch. I coach a girls' golf team and I don't think I could have named the top five golfers in the world. Iggy, we already love you for so many reasons, you surprise us all the time and your following of the LPGA is no exception. I can't wait to watch you defend LeBron... again. 

A friend and I recalled a funny memory from our childhood. In the 1980s, Virginia Slims, a cigarette brand that targeted female smokers sponsored a very popular professional women's tennis tourney (strange to think now of smokers and sports going hand in hand). I was able to serve as a ball girl when it was held at the Oakland Coliseum, known today as Oracle Arena. I still remember standing on the court behind Mary Jo Fernandez and Gabriella Sabatini. I would love to know if there were any Golden State Warriors in attendance. Unfortunately, part of me thinks not. But as their motto suggests "You've Come a Long Way Baby." That goes for both the Dubs...and women's sports.

Photo Credits
Ko and Iggy

VA Slims
Steph and Lydia