Friday, September 26, 2008

This boy's dream come true

You'll pardon me while I tell a long story, won't you?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008 is a day I won't forget and I'll get back to it, but first...

To understand what growing up a boy in the 1970s in Indiana meant, you have to imagine a time before all the daily hustle and bustle, before all the distractions, before all internet, satellite, DSL, DVD, VCR, and cable TV (5 channels on the dial), when there were fewer and simpler pleasures. I would consider myself a fairly typical Indiana boy then as we marked the passing of time by the major sporting mileposts which primarily revolved around basketball season and the once-a-year spectacle that is the Indy 500.

The start of basketball season was always exciting (basketball was truly king then around here) as was the end of the season for both high school and college had tournaments which commanded the utmost attention. The movie Hoosiers actually captures much of the spirit of how basketball was appreciated even into the late 70s. Soon after basketball season ended, thoughts turned from the bleak Indiana winters to fleeting hopes of spring. With spring meant one thing - soon school would be out for the summer, the Indy 500 would take place, and summer begins it's full charge.

I grew up following basketball and the Indy 500 as if it was my duty as a Hoosier. The Indy 500 was particularly special since it was the only truly world class event to be held in this state each and every year. I didn't fully realize what that meant until later in life. Annually, my father and I would make time to watch the race on TV together which I thoroughly enjoyed. He also told me stories of his many trips to the races in the mid-60s through his last trip in 1975. I was getting to the age when I would beg him to go every year and felt I was old enough to enjoy it completely. In May of 1979, my father relented and my chance came to see it in person.

In an instant that day, this 12 year-old was forever hooked. The traditional ceremonial build-up heard annually on the radio so many times now gave way to the overwhelming attack on all senses when the cars came by for the first race lap. One moment so powerful that even today I cannot fully describe the experience.

Flash forward to two days ago. Through a series of fortunate incidents, I was able to participate in the Indy Racing Experience single-seater program which meant I was strapped into a genuine Indycar, given the command to start the engine, and allowed to drive as fast as I dare around the famous speedway for 4 laps (albeit following an actual Indycar driver in a lead car who gave the visual driving line and with the car given only fourth gear for running). When the engine fired and I released the clutch, pulling away from the pits under my own command, I was in a place I would've never believed and only dreamed about as a kid.

I am driving an Indycar at the most famous racecourse in the world - the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

I'll spare the many details of how it felt, sounded, smelled, and looked. Suffice to say it was simply one of the best days of my life. I was doing something I had imagined as a kid on a bike, in a wagon, in a go-kart, in anything with wheels, but was certain could never happen. To take the wheel that beautiful morning in Indianapolis and drive, was truly this boy's dream come true.

I've attached a picture below which they took immediately after getting out of the seat. If you look at my face, you can almost see that 12 year-old boy inside, gleaming with delight.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Fave Sports Moments II

Tom Watson - 1982 - chip in at the 17th, final round, US Open at Pebble Beach

As a young man with much interest in golf at the time, watching live this day brought another moment where one player inspired many with a display of guts, guile, and faith despite playing a ragged-edged final round of Major Championship golf.

Nicklaus started the final day mid-pack, but with birdies on 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 and finished his round in 69 and took the clubhouse lead while Watson had 3 holes remaining. Watson's back 9 was something to behold, both for the terrible predicaments he was getting into every hole and for the amazing plays and putts to save pars and bogeys. The par 4 16th which empties near Carmel Bay on the Pacific Ocean gave Watson trouble as he made a miracle bogey after pitching sideways from a fairway bunker, barely making the green in 3, and two-putting from over 60 feet on a treacherous, multiple-breaking green.

The 17th is the first of the course's two famous finishing holes - a 200 yard par 3 with a devilishly narrow green that hugs the ocean and is battered by coastal winds. Watson's 2-iron was slightly left and deep of the pin in the thick Open rough. A misplay from here would've almost guaranteed bogey or worse, making his shrinking lead totally evaporate. His caddy was reported to have said, "Get it close", to which Watson replied, "Get it close? Hell, I'm going to make it." A few tense moments later, his chopping stroke found the ball which pitched forward from the fringe and then quickly curled to the right and into the hole like a scared rabbit.

The crowd roar deafened the TV microphones and he promptly stepped to the 18th and birdied that famous par 5 which follows the coastline. He beat Nicklaus by 2 that day, but with his gutsy display, won the hearts of many who still weren't yet ready to see Nicklaus begin to fade from prominence.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Fave Sports Moments I


Maybe it's the advent of the NFL season or that summer is winding down or because I typically eat quiet lunches alone, but recently I've had these odd recollections of sports moments pop into my head. I'm not sure why they've started showing up, but it made me think of several that are my favorites.

Over the next few weeks, I'll be smattering in a few moments that have stood out to me. Not sure why anyone would really care about them except for me, but I'm still going to post them. Ah, narcissism.

Without further adieu and in no particular order...

Julius Erving - circa 1982: The moment when Dr. J appeared to defy gravity
It strikes me as odd how many are not familiar with Dr. J or his style of basketball (likely a factor of how time passes). Many things he did were incredible for their time and in the attached YouTube link at approximately 2:40 into the video, what may be his most famous move is shown from 3 different angles.

I can remember watching this game live and remember talking about it with my friends with whom I played basketball in junior high. I was totally dumbfounded when it occurred live and still to this day find the move amazing. I remember thinking there was no way anyone could emulate that move in the gym the next week.

I also recall thinking that it wasn't anything remotely close to what our coaches taught us or even showed any admiration for, making me understand that just because a particular method has success, doesn't mean that it can't be made better or more beautiful. It also made me aware that to get to a higher place, means first mastering the fundamentals, then allowing your creativity to guide you from there.

Watching Dr. J and how he played, made me for the first time, consider athletics as a possible physical and moving artform, and giving freeform play as credible a place in learning as rigid schooling of the fundamentals.