An Inspiration: Gary Hall Jr.

It is easy to let obstacles slow you down or even stop you. Hell, there are phenomenal amounts of worldly and personal negative forces impacting each of us every day. The economy and the stock market are down, people are out of work and/or losing their homes, there are more places in the world than we can count where neighbors are killing neighbors in record numbers and the hopes for peace are slim. We each face our own declining physical conditions, injuries or illnesses or maybe the decline of someone we love.

That is why when famous people can inspire through there actions against personal adversity I believe the word should be spread.

I was aware  of but did not know much about Gary Hall Jr. He is a swimmer. Was an Olympic quality swimmer with 5 golds and 10 total medals. Maybe not at the Michael Phelps other worldliness level but pretty terrific. I also remember that he was often outspoken and a bit of a maverick (a real one, not the Sarah P made for TV kind).

After his first Olympics he developed Type 1 diabetes. It could have finished his career. Several doctors told him so. It certainly would change his life forever. He could have let the labels determine his life. From Olympic Hero to Diabetic. He chose not to.

He found a way to continue to follow his desired path while dealing with his disease. He did not let the disease define him. It was not easy. Testing his blood sugar at least 8 times a day going to every hour on race days. Five or six glucose injections daily. Diabetes is a disease that never lets you forget that it is with you.

A lesser person would have not gone on to compete and win medals in two more Olympics. A lesser person would not devote time not only to fund raising and making inspirational speeches but also to touch kids every day on a personal basis to help them see that as hard as their condition is there is a life to be had.

Gary Hall Jr. makes the 48 Facets Mensch hall of fame.

Read more about him at SI.Com

Cirrhosis, And Strokes and Bleeding… Oh My!

I wish this was Oz and I could click the heels of my ruby slippers and things would go back to the way they were. No such luck. My Mom has been in the hospital since July 4. In addition to cirrhosis of the liver, a bad dude when traveling alone, it was discovered that she had a minor stoke (not her first) some number of days before we convinced her to go to the hospital.

Fast forward 15 days and while she is still looking like a starving refugee  and her speech is slow she has been moved to the rehab wing and is getting physical and speech therapy with the idea that in two weeks or so she would be in shape to go home. Maybe walk a little. maybe be able to get outside more than she had been. With some in-home care and therapy perhaps some quality of life. Presumably for years to come. At least that was where my head was.

Today i thought I was lucky because I caught an early flight and got home at 9 pm instead of 11:30. Some lucky day. My sister caught me on the way home to tell me that Mom was back in the regular hospital ward. They could not wake her this morning and that she was low on blood. They put in 3 pints which seemed to help. No blood on the outside means internal bleeding to non-medical types like me. They don’t know why, where the blood is leaking from or even when they will do the tests to figure all of this out. Are they out of their freakin’ minds? Do the test NOW!

Hospitals are not good places to stay if life is your goal. Just after they loaded one of the transfusions my sister realized Mom’s arm was weird colors and bloated. She has had arms thinner than toothpicks so something was wrong. Oh. Mistake. The blood was being pumped into her arm and not the vein. Sorry.

With cirrhosis of the liver, not all the toxins being produced are being filtered. No doc has said this to us but a nurse friend tells us that the toxins are shooting through her body.

Not much to do but scream, cry and wait. I keep hoping that there is some measure of treatment that will give her a few more years. No one has told us otherwise but…

Oasis For the Soul

When things seem to be crashing and the stress and pressures become overwhelming it becomes critical to find some peace for at least a few moments to build back your reserve for more of the same. Typically, I resort to curling up in the fetal position in a dark room. The problem with the virtual womb is it feels drastic. Comatose is not as healing as distraction.

After a rough work week and a morning in the ER with a sick mom, I was crashing. I was lucky to have two oases to visit in the past 24 hours.

First, Friday night at  Fitzgerald’s  28th Great American Music Festival. I wrote about this last year. The Festival is 4 days of nonstop music. I knew I needed distraction after spending much of the day in the ER. What I did not know was whether even music, which I love, could get through the thick wall of numb misery that had built up.

We arrived around 6:30. It was a beautiful evening. At first I could hear but not feel the music.  Eventually, slowly at first, it began to seem through. Between the quality of the music and the quirkiness of a couple of the artists I did finally notice a little body swaying, toe tapping and even a faint smile. 

The second oasis was on my bike the next morning. I had difficulty explaining to my wife why I HAD to ride the next morning. This was not truly a choice to be made.  Since my plan had been to ride Friday and Sunday, riding on Saturday somewhat messed up our plans for the day.

In the state I was in I NEEDED the physical exertion and the solitude of a long ride.  I was in luck. It was the perfect riding day. Sunny, a touch cool, barely any wind and few people out on the bike paths. In order to inconvenience my family as little as possible the alarm went off at 6:30. I leaped out of bed–at 7– and was riding by 7:40.

I had my iPod with me and would normally choose to be accompanied by tunes. Not that morning. It was quiet out. Little but the sound of the breeze and shifting gears. Little car or people noise. Riding without music connect me more to the act of riding. In pseudo-zen terms I was one with the ride. 3 hours and 27 minutes, 52.5 miles later some more of the toxins of the past days had been expunged.

The reality hasn’t changed. Mom is still in the hospital and i have tons of work to do. But, visiting an oasis now and then helps me face my realities for another day.

Cubs Win! Cubs Win!

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That’s the cry of the Cub’s announcers after every win. They have been able to do that 84 times so far this season. Within a short time after #84, the Brewers failed to get #82 and my Cubbies are in the playoffs.

Historically, this is a very low number for a playoff bound team. Yes the hated St. Louis Cardinals took the World series last year after winning only 83 games during the regular season but that is the exception. We are not exactly rolling into the playoffs on a hot streak like most of the teams that seem like they will make it this year.

But for one moment I am going to be a fan instead of the realist I usually am.

My Cubs will join the 2004 Red Sox and the  2005 White Sox as a team to win their first World Series in a 100 years. As my 16 year old son has told me all season, “ya gotta believe, Dad.” For now, I believe!

 CUBS WIN! CUBS WIN! 

Count Your Blessings; Say Your Prayers

Some more perspective for anyone having an irritating day and complaining about it.

I have a friend who has had a difficult pregnancy. She gave birth to a son, her first child last week. Brett came 14 weeks early and weighed 2 pounds. I can eat sandwiches bigger than that. He will be in the hospital, if all goes well, for most of the 14 weeks he should have stayed inside his mom. Count your blessings.

Say your prayers. Let’s hope that this has a happy ending. Both Mother and Father are good people. Having a premature baby is dramatically hard. I cannot imagine how my friend will go on with her life if this should take a turn for the worse.

No complaining about little things. Not today.

Miles To Go

With less than two months and about 8 training days to go before my second attempt to complete my first century ride I am hopeful but not overconfident. I have been riding 50+ miles for each of the past 4 weekends.

These last two were beyond perfection for biking. Temps in the upper seventies with sunshine and a mild wind. I have ridden 62 and 56 miles respectively over these last 2 weekends.

This past Sunday in need of something to refresh my riding spirit I took the southern route for the first time this season. This takes me along the lake through Lincoln Park, past Oak Street Beach and the museum campus to the south side of Chicago. This is a gorgeous ride through park and lakefront. The only downside is that the stretch through Lincoln Park and Oak Street Beach is the heart of yuppieville. Having once been one, it is not yuppiedom itself I have distain for but for the total self absorption of the people running, roller blading, walking and walking dogs–typically without a leash. This stretch of park has both a 2 lane bike path and a running path and yet people need to run/walk side-by-side or suddenly change direction without looking to see who may be about to run them over. It can be nerve racking which takes away from the zen of riding in such attractive scenery. However, Sunday was my lucky day. The people traffic was light and I sailed through to my favorite riding spot in Chicago.

The ride from just south of the museums to 70th street is paved path with a tenth of the people inhabiting the north side. You view the bright blue water of the lake punctuated occasionally by beachfront or stylish old buildings. Round trip is 16 miles of biking bliss. At the south end is the South Shore Country club. I do not know a good golf course when I see one but I do know that just past the entrance is a beautiful flower garden. A great place for a short rest and rehydration.

Days like this make the days filled with work and airports worthwhile.

An Island of Hope

In a sea of bad news from around the world, I came across this tiny island of hope. For a year now the Urban Prep Charter Academy has been offering a different path to young African-American males in one of the poorest and violent neighborhoods in Chicago.

If success is to be defined by the lives that these boys to young men eventually lead, it is too early to tell whether the Academy will be successful. Progress is being made.

Can you imagine living in a neighborhood where regularly shootings occur, people have little money and selling drugs is the best vocational opportunity for bright, strong, ambitious teenagers? I can’t. 

Urban Prep is the only all boys high school in the Chicago public schools system.  Its freshman class was generally reading at a sixth grade level.  The staff wants their boys to expand the notions of what a black man can become to include scholar, gentleman, and leader. They established a creed for the boys to learn and live by, at least at school. One difficulty for the boys is that the creed exists in the school but not in the rest of their world. Its students are ridiculed on the way to school because of the uniform the must wear  and are called gay for attending an all boys school.  The opportunity for violence outside the school is high.

And yet, the attitudes and behaviors are beginning to change. Lets hope that this grand experiment succeeds and multiplies. 

I have included the entire creed.  These are words appropriate for all teenage boys-to-men. 

We are the young men of Urban Prep.
We are college bound.
We are exceptional — not because we say it, but because we work hard at it.
We will not falter in the face of any obstacle placed before us.
We are dedicated, committed and focused.
We never succumb to mediocrity, uncertainty or fear.
We never fail because we never give up.
We make no excuses.
We choose to live honestly, nonviolently and honorably.
We respect ourselves and, in doing so, respect all people.
We have a future for which we are accountable.
We have a responsibility to our families, community and world.
We are our brothers’ keepers.
We believe in ourselves.
We believe in each other.
We believe in Urban Prep.
WE BELIEVE.