Sunday, September 26, 2010

This triathlete thanks you with all my heart

Damn Yankees is a musical comedy, and is a modern retelling of the Faust legend set during the 1950s in Washington, D.C., during a time when the New York Yankees dominated Major League Baseball. The musical is based on Douglas Wallop's novel, "The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant". The Washington Senators were perennial losers at the hands of the Yankees, consequently, the players made a deal with the devil to assist them in making a pennant run. One of the musical's classic songs has the players singing about the need to have heart, miles and miles of heart in fact. Well, when it came to having heart, the players were talking about their emotional commitment, but when it comes to competing in a triathlon, you better have both, for miles and miles, too.

Months before I was faced with what was a life threatening event, I competed in the Scioto River, Duathlon, in Prospect, Ohio. What I remember most about that particular race were the headwinds. After the race, I recall that they must have been stronger than usual, because my back hurt, and that ordinarily wouldn't have been an issue. It improved quickly, but for the rest of the summer, it would flare up and prevent me from running with any degree of regularity. Consequently, when I was out for my usual runs, I recall that the hills became more and more difficult. I distinctly remember thinking that I previously had been able to run those hills, without significant difficulty. Naturally, I just thought that I was suffering from under training , and not from some more serious affliction. After all, I was getting older.

Because of the ongoing back pain, the relative fatigue, and the inability to prepare properly, I decided, early in the summer, to do the Lobsterman Triathlon in Freeport, Maine, instead of the Survival of Shawangunks (SOS). My parents would be celebrating their 57th wedding anniversary, so it made logical sense to head for NE and enjoy a nice Fall weekend on the Maine coast and celebrate the occasion with the family. The Lobsterman was truly a terrific race, both with respect to the venue, and the race organizers couldn't have ordered up a more perfect day. The conditions were ideal, and of course, the race was only part of a very memorable anniversary celebration.

Little did I know then that the Lobsterman would be my last for awhile. The following week, after a run with my daughter, I developed a chill, one that I will never forget. I thought that I had finally overdone it and was coming down with the flu. I even told several of my patients that they probably had the same "viral" illness, however, no one ever wants to contract the "flu" I had, let me tell you.

Fortunately, I did have the good sense to call my dear friend and colleague who had previously agreed to see me, if I ever got really sick. When I called, I said that I think that I've got the "flu", but it's not like any flu I've ever had. As my color turned grayer with each passing day, the staff and patients alike, became more concerned, but when the lab work, EKG, and chest x-ray were all completed, that's when I got concerned. As my doctor digested the findings, his radar went up and he then solicited the help of the local Cardiologist. That's about the same time they directly admitted me to the hospital, and the chills set in so badly that the bed was shaking beneath me.

This all occurred just so matter of fact, but at times too, seemed almost surreal. Most definitely, and there was no denying it, I was really sick with endocarditis; but because of the miracle of antibiotics, I survived. It turns out that my congenital, bicuspid aortic valve had failed and had become infected. Once the infection was eradicated, I later underwent a successful valve replacement, and today, I enjoy a normal lifestyle, including participating in some triathlons.

Yes, the marvels of modern medicine have produced some miraculous results, and in this case, I am living proof attesting to that. As for all the individuals involved with giving me my life back, I thank you and will be forever grateful. Naturally, I say all of this from the bottom of my heart, and thankfully, I still can!

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Toy Story's Real Legacy

Pixar's latest animated movie, Toy Story 3, is the third in a series of very clever movies which depict life through the eyes of Andy's toys. Anyone who has seen them, would fondly recall some of the toys that we all played with when we were kids. The main characters, Woody and Buzz, instantly became household favorites following the release of the first movie. In the latest saga, Andy has grown into a young man and faces the reality of having to make some choices regarding his childhood "friends" as he prepares to head off for college. There are several delightfully entertaining features about this movie which, in my opinion, make it a sentimental classic, but what plucked on my emotional heart strings most was the personal commitment that all the characters had to each other. However, since the movie was focused on toys, I will start with some of my recollections of the toys we had at home.

Having 3 brothers, it always seemed that we had plenty of "boy" toys around. We had Tonka trucks of every variety, and with them, we daily reshaped the landscape below the grove of lilacs along our driveway. But if we weren't digging trenches or constructing roadways, we were readying the balsa wood airplanes for takeoff. Unlike Andy, our generation didn't have the luxury of the radio controlled vehicles, but had they been available, I can assure you that we would have had our own motor pool of cars. When we weren't in the dirt, we were leading a convoy of Marines into combat with our Anzio Invaders, with air coverage from our fleet of airplanes. Our parachute men provided us with hours of entertainment. Once, one of our parachutists was carried off by an updraft, never to be seen again. We had the Radio Flyer, red wagons hauling anything from kids to yard waste. Of course, there were multitudes of round orbs too, either to kick, hit, or heave at the basket. Occasionally, those spheres would end up on the roof, in the trees, or perhaps even through a window. Naturally, that's when the fun would end.

Yes, all of the Toy Story movies have provided a wonderful glimpse into the lives of those storied toys, and the subject matter proved to be very entertaining too. They have served as a wonderful reminder of a more carefree time in our lives, our youth. Additionally, this last one links them all together, but more importantly, it captures the essence of life, it reminds us that we all must grow up. With that, we are faced with those critical decisions, just like Andy, and how we handle those choices may, to some extent, define our future. Likely, you have heard of the term legacy.

The definition of LEGACY:
1. a gift by will especially of money or other personal property : bequest
2. something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past

Toy Story's real legacy lies with how we look at our own lives, as in the material goods we have and will pass on or with the memories that we have created with the ones we love. Both are priceless in their own way, but remember, in the end, the memories are all we can take with us to "infinity and beyond", so pass it along!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Trash talkin' is downright fun

In this era of sports fanaticism, I suspect that most people have heard the term, trash talk. It has been associated with comments which are considered disparaging, taunting, or boastful, especially between opponents trying to intimidate each other. Some players utilize this as a means of psychologically rendering their opponents helpless, and unfortunately, performance enhancing drugs or PED have contributed to some this behavior. However, I think that many times it is simply part of that heightened emotional state, and therefore, it is just part of the "game". However, when it comes to one of my nephews, our trash talk has become part of our "male bonding" relationship, and I wouldn't want it any other way.

Several years ago, as part of the family summer vacation in Maine, we organized our own triathlon for the younger members of the family. Since many of them had been so supportive of their Uncle, I thought that it was time they accepted my invitation to participate in one for themselves. Because of my nephew's competitive nature, he quickly identified himself as one who really relished the challenge. We'd discuss training strategies, the equipment, and the various transitions, and of course, the "trash talking" was all included as part of the experience. For one reason or another, my nephew and I have yet to compete head to head, although I know who would win anyway. Regardless, we have continued to taunt each other, and I am more committed than ever to have him strut his stuff and put his money where his mouth is next year. Just remember, your Uncle is ready anytime, anywhere; you simply choose the place and time and I'll be there.

Trash talking does seem to have its place in the realm of competitive sports, and heavens, if you listen to the politicians these days, you'd swear that they were trash talking too. A good friend of mine mentioned a book about the art of gamesmanship, and according to the author, the psyche and subsequent performance of an individual may be greatly influenced through this form of verbal jousting. There does appear to be some relationship.

However, trash talk doesn't obfuscate the truth; my nephew is a bright young "man" who also loves to participate in sports, just like his uncle. He is his team's quarterback and a pitcher in his Little League, just like his uncle was, and if you ask me, the competition better watch out, because they are "going down". To my nephew as he celebrates his 12th birthday, Happy Birthday. However, I would just like remind him that he isn't going down this time, but in fact, he most definitely is on the way up, at least with respect to his age. But next year, "you are going down" when we finally compete in the triathlon, and that's the fact Jack!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Perfect Pitch

Have you ever heard the expression, "perfect pitch"? Absolute pitch (AP), widely referred to as perfect pitch, is the ability of a person to identify or re-create a given musical note without the benefit of an external reference. Of course, there also is relative pitch which requires some reference as the initial starting point in identifying the notes that follow. For instance, a choir director might use a pitch pipe to provide that initial starting note. Many experts believe that perfect pitch has a genetic basis while relative pitch, most likely, is a learned behavior and comes from repetitive listening skills. I have my own theory on this which suggests that it is a combination of both, so I thought I just might share that.

My mother has many attributes, including a remarkable tolerance for the antics of her 8 children. However, in addition to her academic achievements, she was an accomplished pianist and accordion player. Frequently, she'd play the accordion at our birthday parties while singing the traditional birthday jingles, and when her Singing Belles group gathered and were without their usual pianist, she'd would "pitch" in to play. Although she had multiple musical talents, her children were, shall we say, more "flat" than "sharp" when it came to our musical gifts. However, since our youth, several members of the family have gone on to cultivate those previously dormant talents.

Naturally, having musical skills, my mother anticipated that at least one of her children would develop an interest in music too. No one really took up an instrument seriously until my older brother took piano lessons when he was about 10. During one of his "practice" sessions, he evidently consistently misplayed one of the notes. From the kitchen, my mother, who was listening, corrected him and shouted that he was off by a half step. In spite of her many distractions, she maintained the same "perfect" pitch, whether it was at the piano, singing, on the accordion, or running the household.

Perhaps few will remember though, but in spite of my own personal musical shortcomings, I actually had perfect pitch for at least one day. Unfortunately for my mother, it was not associated with a musical score. When I was in Little League, I actually struck out 18 men in a 6 inning game. As I recall, there were a few miscues which could have affected that statistic, but in the end, 18 possible outs , all strike outs. More importantly, we won the game 9-4. This was as close as I would ever come to having the "perfect pitch" my mother had in mind.

As you can see, my siblings and I weren't exactly what you'd call musically gifted. However, today my sister plays the piano, another plays the fiddle, 2 sing in their church choirs, and my brother plays and sings in a band. As a family we have, shall we say, a first degree of "relative" pitch, although some was not so musical; as for my Mom however, well she is still absolutely perfect!

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Life is just a series of crossroads

The definition of crossroads:
  • 1. A road that intersects another road.
  • 2. crossroads (used with a sing. or pl. verb)
  • a. A place where two or more roads meet.
  • b. A small, usually rural community situated at an intersection of two or more more roads: asked for directions at a remote crossroads.
  • c. A place that is centrally located.
  • d. A crucial point. See Synonyms at crisis.
Certainly, each of us has come to one of life's crossroads and been then faced with decision of which way to turn. Sometimes, the direction to go is quite obvious, but there are times when the choice isn't so clear. However, when we were kids, we had the Crossroads Plaza, not only did we know where to go, we had memorized it, from top to bottom.

The old Mammoth Mart Department store served as a regular stopping spot for the family when we were younger. It was your prototypical department store, elevator music in the background, racks and racks of clothing, including shoes, and of course, the Sporting Goods department. MM had a cousin, J.M. Fields, however, that store was in Haverhill, so it was less convenient when we were in a hurry. JMF had the donut man though, and this "baker man" could cut the dough and pop the rings into the air and catch them on his thumb. Boy, weren't we all fascinated by his skills? JMF became the now infamous, "Building 19", quite well known amongst the bargain hunters in the family.

Mammoth Mart, however, was our "local" store, and of course, this long predated the era of malls and shopping super centers. They even had "lay away", but what I remember most about the store wasn't even the store, it was the sign at the crossroad on the way.
  • Cross Roads Plaza
  • Mammoth Mart, discount dept. store
  • Bottled Liquors
  • Car Wash
Yes, life is full of its share of crossroads, but the real dilemma lies in knowing which direction is best when you get there. Some choices are clear, but it's the others which create indecision and uncertainty, and that's when you hope there are clear signs pointing the way. Even then, you need to have enough faith in yourself, and hopefully the support of family and friends, to make the choice. Otherwise, when the light turns green, you may not have enough courage to proceed forward, and then you are right back where you started. Little did we know then that the Crossroads Plaza would have taught us such a valuable lesson; I guess you could say that the path you select sure may have "Mammoth" consequences, and in this case, there was a store full!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Man's Best Friend

In the Peanut's classic Christmas cartoon movie, Charlie Brown reacts to one of Snoopy's antics by saying, "man's best friend". However, he does this in a rather sarcastic tone, as Snoopy was not dutifully "pawing" all over his master with love and affection. Unlike Charlie Brown, many of us have had pooches who were, quite literally, part of the family. In fact, some pets are treated quite royally, compared to their biped counterparts. As you can guess, I have several stories about some "furry" best friends that I need to share.

We had at least 2 when we were growing up, Dusty and Shep. Dusty was a busy brown and black puppy who was quite energetic. He met with an early demise, however, as he contracted distemper, something that today may have been avoided because of an available vaccine. Several years elapsed before Shep came along. My parents had a family acquaintance who had a litter of collie puppies, and they offered one of them to us. Shep was adopted into the family, and became a regular at the dinner table, as well as in front of the TV with the gang. Of course, there were the usual encounters with skunks or other socially unacceptable "characters", but we dealt with those issues on an as needed basis.

My brother's family recently celebrated the arrival of their newest family member, Buck. He's a cute little guy who hails from the Midwest, generally considered a source of good "stock", just ask Mom. Time will tell what his contribution will be, but if he behaves like his predecessors, Hank and Rascal, the family will be delighted with the addition.

Yes, there were others too, Lucy and Libby, Waldo of Essex and his brother, Buddy, Hazard pay and Ruby, and not to be overlooked, even though they were cats, George and Kippy, and Pete the rabbit that round out the list of family, housebroken quadrupeds. The love and attention that these "beasts" receive is not unlike that of our more verbal family members and on occasion, even more. However, where would we be without some of these best friends? It's hard to say, but for the most part, this special group of best friends give us "paws", but certainly not for concern!

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Before September 11, 2001, this day was just like any other day on the calendar. However, following the tragic events of that morning, 911 has become synonymous with terrorism. Initially, the reports I received were that somebody crashed into Wall Street, however, that proved to be inaccurate. I remember my reaction when I first heard this news, and I assumed, incorrectly, that it was simply an angry investor. Unfortunately, the world is painfully aware of what actually happened.

As we remember the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, let us be forever mindful that it is but a few, who have done so much, to so many. Remember, we now live in a global society, and therefore, our neighbors live next door, as well as across the sea. Newton's third Law of Motion states, "For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction", however, Newton wasn't considering anger or violence when he stated those laws from his observations. It is my observation that kindness might go a long way as an appropriate form of retaliation, so I propose we "kill'em" with kindness instead. Now that's an equal and "opposite" reaction and one that we all can live with peacefully!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

SOS, a call of distress anyway you look at it

SOS is the commonly used description for the international Morse code distress signal (· · · — — — · · ·). This distress signal was first adopted by the German government in radio regulations effective April 1, 1905, and became the worldwide standard under the second International Radiotelegraphic Convention, which was signed on November 3, 1906 and became effective on July 1, 1908. SOS remained the maritime radio distress signal until 1999, when it was replaced by the Global Maritime Distress Safety System. SOS is still recognized as a visual distress signal. When you talk about distress, then you have to include the SOS of triathlons, Survival of Shawangunks.

Years ago, I read about a triathlon that, frankly, sounded like it was just for die hard, crazy triathletes. However, that was my reaction when I first learned of the distances associated with the Ironman triathlon too, but that ultimately seemed "reasonable" with greater experience and fewer brain cells. Well, in 2001 I thought that it was time to head to triathlon's SOS. The race directors don't even permit you to register, unless you have completed a Half Ironman distance within 2 years and under 7 hours, all within reach for this IM finisher. I qualified by completing the Eagleman triathlon in Cambridge, Maryland in June and was on my to "The Gunks" for the September event.

Several family members made the trek to New Paltz, NY, and we had a glorious day, sunny and just right for a morning bike, run, swim, run, swim, run, swim, and final run to the top of the Mohonk Mountain overlook. It all ended about 6-7 hours later, when we had the good fortune of sitting down to a chicken barbecue. Each of the participants was given a finisher's plaque commemorating the event, very cool indeed.

Yes, I have been fortunate to have participated in dozens of triathlons over the years, starting with my first at the Lawrence YMCA's triathlon in 1985. The distances may vary, but the feeling of exhilaration after completing each one has been the same, awesome. I am just so grateful that I have been a part of the triathlon movement, both literally and figuratively. There have been a few personal achievements along the way, but most importantly, it's been the involvement of both family and friends that has made it all worthwhile. If it wasn't for that, I'd be putting a message in bottle right now and sending out an SOS, and thankfully, the only distress call that I get from doing triathlons these days comes from my tired, old body!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

"Tippy canoe" revisited

"Tippecanoe and Tyler too", originally published as "Tip and Ty", was a very popular and influential campaign song of the Whig Party's colorful Log Cabin Campaign in the 1840 United States presidential election. Its lyrics sung the praises of Whig candidates William Henry Harrison (the "hero of Tippecanoe" who had engaged the Shawnee with Tenskwatawa and his brother, Tecumseh) and John Tyler, while denigrating incumbent Democrat Martin Van Buren. Most individuals familiar with American history would certainly recognize this campaign slogan, but few historians would likely remember the lesser known revisionist version of "tippy canoe" which came years later, but also involved a "tribe" of brothers.

After years of negotiation with my father, we finally convinced him that we needed a canoe for navigating some of the local rivers. He acquiesced and my brothers picked out an aluminum gem at Fernald's on the Parker River along old Route 1A. It was an immediate hit, as we took it out on the waterways to investigate some of the more remote local backwoods areas. Of course, we had to wear our life jackets and use the buddy system when we were out, because if we had "boat", safety would have to come first.

As part of our early safety training, my brothers and I figured that we needed to master our man overboard rescue techniques, so we started by throwing each other overboard. After considerable practice at this maneuver, we opted to try our hand at balancing while changing positions. Naturally, the best way to do this was done while standing on the rails at each end of the canoe. We rocked the canoe while trying to maintain our balance at either end, and as you'd imagine, we fell overboard several times doing that. What training would be complete without testing our skills righting the canoe once we turned it over? So we had to do that for awhile too. How else were we going to be prepared for these unlikely but potentially dangerous mishaps?

A patient of my father's had provided us with a lovely setting for our basic training session. In fact, she extended us an invitation to "practice" our skills anytime we wanted to come out to the lake because I think she rather enjoyed the waterfront entertainment that we provided. As for the historical reference, that's about where the similarities end. However, if you had heard about the fun we had out on the lake and what a sight it truly was, you would have wanted "Ta-come-see" us "tippy canoe" too!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

No Room At The Inn

Arguably, the most recognized story ever told involved a certain couple who were informed that there was no room for them at the inn. Instead, they calmly went off to a stable, and from there, I suspect most people are familiar with the turn of events of that famous night. The simplicity is wrought with symbolism, and has been debated for years. However, it certainly illustrates several key issues. If you are tired enough, you probably can sleep just about anywhere, and perhaps most importantly, humble beginnings don't necessarily predict the importance or magnitude of the final outcome. As my parents celebrate their 64th wedding anniversary, I'd like to recall the story of their first night, as it has been retold to me.

My parents were married on September 7th, 1946 at St. Clement's church across the street from her Bristol Road home in Somerville, Massachusetts. The pictures I have seen captured the spirit of the day, lots of happy, smiling faces. The bridal party consisted of my mother's school friends, one of my father's brothers, and several of my Mom's brothers. In those days, it was hard getting everyone together, primarily because of the distance, but whoever was invited and could get there, did. Following the wedding service, the invited guests made their way to Longfellow's Wayside Inn in Sudbury, MA., not too far from the campus of Regis where Mom went to college. Evidently, the reception was a great success, but according to a reliable inside source, the groom picked up the tab for the orchestra, as there was a slight shortage of available funds.

Following the usual send off from the family and friends, the newlyweds headed out of town for the quaint New England community of North Conway, only their reservations for the honeymoon suite were lost. Instead of a romantic first night, the couple were directed to a local funeral home where there was a room available for rent. Indeed, there probably were few "souls" looking for lodging at the local funeral parlor that night. I understand that the inn did have a room for them the next day. Naturally, during their stay the young bride wanted to impress her new husband, so she washed his socks in the local stream, only to have the color run onto the Inn's nice white towels. Not exactly the outcome she had desired, but nonetheless, the good faith gesture was appreciated and clearly not to be forgotten.

Yes. There are times in a marriage when the inn may be full, the reservations misplaced, not enough money to pay the bills, or a whole host of other calamities. However, it is how each couple deals with the adversity they face that truly tests the strength of their commitment and resolve. If it isn't obvious, my parents had all the ingredients to get past those initial obstacles and a whole lot more. How else could two people stay happily married for 64 years? Happy Anniversary Mom and Dad, and remember, your family will always "keep the light on" for our two most treasured guests!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Little Red House

The housing crisis of the last 2 years has been the subject of much debate and how it has impacted the economy. Evidently, lenders had plenty of liquid capital to loan prospective buyers, but many of the customary safeguards were overlooked. Years ago, many home buyers were expected to put at least 20% down and show a lengthy work history and an adequate income, to get approved. Shrewd investors can recognize a bargain when they see one, but can remain reluctant to take the chance, regardless. However, those savvy enough to do both, may just bring "home" the house, and when we were kids, my mother did just that.

Have you ever seen a house being moved? It is a rather impressive sight, to say the least, and the engineering involved to get the structure prepared for transport, is equally impressive. Picture this. You are 3-4 years old and you see this huge flat bed truck pull onto your street with a red sided, single story structure. What young boy wouldn't be fascinated by a sight like this? Men and trucks, it was a perfect world on that sunny day. Well, when they asked where they could find the "S's" residence, I realized that I'd have a front row seat for the "barn raising".

My mother had purchased the "little red house" at an auction and paid cash, no financing for this real estate tycoon. I recall that the price of moving it was actually greater than what she paid for it. She had the men position it on cinder blocks at the end of the driveway, and that's where it stayed for the next 20 years. She had us paint it from time to time, and we put flower boxes up, rested wagon wheels from Black River against it, and even put the proverbial, white picket fence around its base. It served as bike and garden tool storage, had a ramp for easy access, and when we were really creative, it became the "little red school house" for all of us.

Yes, the little red house was a fixture in our back yard at Estes Street for many years, like a swing set would have been for most families with young kids. It served us well, but more importantly, it was a symbol of my mother's ingenuity and vision. She created "self storage" long before anyone else had crafted the concept, and that is why she has always been at the head of her class. Just ask the folks at St. Clements or at Regis, where they referred to her as the "valedictorian", but we just simply call her Mom. We love you Madre!