Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Most Valuable Slayer

Flexi Wheeler. What can you say about Flexi that hasn't already been said by Popular Mechanics (page 101) in September of 1984? …1984? That's right. In an article entitled "Flexi-wheeler to anywhere" it was written, "This eight wheeled monster does tricks that would turn lesser vehicles into wrecks." They weren't really talking about the woman that embodies the name "Flexi Wheeler" on the flat track roller derby circuit 26 years later, but definitely could have been. The one thing that doesn't really parallel in that statement is "monster." Sometimes larger than life, always outspoken, and a force to be reckoned with on the track, you either love Flexi or you don't, but monster?
Everyone has their moments and Flexi is no exception, but over the course of the last few years I have gotten to know Ms. Wheeler as a member of the Hellions of Troy Roller Derby League and found her to have quite the heart. She was the first Hellion I met when Shannon, aka Sonic Euthanizer, joined the team. I didn't know what to make of this woman skating around in next to nothing. I felt pretty intimidated. Look at the size of her muscles and then take a look at me. She could tear a scrawny runner like me in half. That intimidation disappeared as soon as she came over half way through the practice and introduced herself. "Hey your girl's gonna be pretty good," she said to me as she grabbed some water and took off another layer of clothing. We made our introductions and chatted a bit about the Hellions before she went back out on the floor. What struck me was, when she spoke of the team and the women of which it was comprised, was the passion that could be read in her voice. Over two years later I still hear that passion. She has big aspirations for the team that she helped to start. She has faith in her teammates, talks highly of them, and is eager to share her love of derby. I have seen her wear many hats, or should I say helmets (she has quite a few,) as a team member. Sponsorship, public relations, recruitment, coaching, fierce competitor; she has done it all at one point or another. Flexi Wheeler bleeds pink and green.
Last weekend (10/16) saw the Hellions hold their first ever intraleague bout that saw half the team as vampires and the other as zombies in the spirit of Halloween. Sonic was a vampire and Flexi a zombie. Both sides played pretty aggressive with neither side going easy on the other because they are teammates. They played as hard as they would if they were up against any other leagues team. In the second half of the bout the zombies got a break in what was an otherwise even match-up when Flexi had an impressive 20 point power jam. Those 20 points were the exact margin of victory for the zombies. It was great bout to watch and to see how much the team has grown in both size and ability and think back to that frosty winter day that I attended that first practice.
Later that evening, when making our rounds at the after party and saying our goodbyes, Shannon and I were speaking with Sinful Pleasures, who bench coached for the vampires, and Flexi about the bout and Shannon's new league (we recently moved too far away for her to continue to commute to Hellions practices.) As always Flexi showed nothing but support and excitement for Shannon. She congratulated her on being selected as MVP for the vampire team and wished her luck. Over the course of that conversation I learned that Flexi has never been selected as a bout MVP. It was a fact that had me a bit surprised. I realized that night on the drive home, after reflecting on the number of girls she has coached, played with, and inspired both on and off the rink, that she is an MVP. She is an MVP of the Hellions of Troy and for the sport of roller derby.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Can you dig it? (James Brown from Plattsburgh, NY, YOU are a Tinman!)

The human spirit is an amazing thing. I have, in my life, been witness to a few examples of just how strong someone's can be. Recently I was fortunate enough to make my way to Lake Placid to be a spectator/cheerleader for this year's installment of the Ironman. For those of you uninitiated in Ironman competition, it is a "race" of 140.6 miles broken down into a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bicycle, and a 26.2 mile run. The word race is one I use lightly because for many of those who enter it is not so much a race as a matter of survival. I imagine that for the average person entering and preparing for this event can be quite daunting. For my friend James, who's deployment to Afghanistan left him little time to prepare, I can only think that this is a giant understatement. To make up for lost time and lack of experience (he had never swam as far in open water or run a marathon prior to the Ironman) he entered numerous events through out the spring and early summer to race himself into shape. After crashing or flatting on the bike portion of every race, his publicly stated goal was just to make it through the Ironman without any of the same problems. Add the lack of training/experience with the technical difficulties and I am sure, even if he never said it out loud, that he was more than a little apprehensive as the big day rapidly approached. When July 25th arrived, friends and family dispersed to different parts of the race course to cheer James along. Without giving a play by play I will just say that he made it through the swim comfortably and avoided any issues while on the bike leg. It seemed as if luck was on James' side that day. He was on pace for a good time and all of us who went to support his effort were pretty excited for him. In the excitement an unnamed person let it slip that his secret goal was to finish in under twelve hours. It seemed very doable as he transitioned into the run. He looked strong and comfortable. That illusion was soon shattered by a phone call from my dad who volunteers out on the run course with a groups of guys from the local ATV club. James was cramping in his legs pretty bad and his pace had dropped dramatically. We waited in town for him to reappear as the minutes ticked by. The coveted twelve hour mark was rapidly approaching. When I finally caught sight of him rounding onto the last hill that led onto Lake Placid's main drag he was sporting a grimace and his run was more of a hopping limp than a stride. I let loose with the supportive yelling from the sidelines. He could still make it but he would have to push past the pain and do so for the remaining few miles. My brother, his wife Rebecca, Seth, Shea, and Simon, his sons, and his parents all joined in. I don't think that there wasn't a person around who didn't hear us. When he passed we all made our way into the finishing area and waited again as time continued to slip away. My palms filled with sweat and my childhood wish for Jedi mind powers kicked into overdrive as I tried to mentally will his legs to keep moving. Just as I was beginning to fear that he wouldn't make it he came around the corner with a painful hitch and entered the finishing arena with less than two minutes to go. My brother and I screamed to the point of losing our voices and scared a few people in the process. He was going to do it. In the face of adversity he pushed on and dug deep inside himself to find the strength to continue. 11:59:03. Several weeks later when I think back I still get cold chills. James has, at several points, said that he could never have done it without all the support and that my brother, Matthew, and I were a big part of him reaching his goal. I don't agree though. Like the band America said, "Oz never gave nothin' to the Tinman that he didn't already have." I do agree with that. He always had it in him, he just needed to dig deep to find it.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Rise and Shine.

Life. A lot of ups and downs. Hopefully more ups. Lately, I just can't seem to shake the feeling that I am the fat kid on the see-saw. When someone comes along to finally buoy my weight, they jump off as I reach the top only to send me plummeting down to bruise my rear. I get just enough of the fresh air up above so that I get a sense of what I am missing as I choke down the dirt littered air kicked up by my fall. Yeah, yeah, I know, the grass is always greener on the other side. A good portion of the time I would agree. It is getting hard, though, not to notice the scorched yard at my feet. Heck, I don't even want to be on the other side. What I would like is a little organic compost and some water to liven up the sod or at the very least something to prop my end of the teeter-totter.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

This Award Goes Out To…

It has been a long time again. I know. There has been a lot to write about but when it comes time to put pen to the pad there just isn’t the motivation. Don’t get me wrong. It is not everyday that the cutest, most perfect child in the history of the universe is born, but I would rather spend the time with her and Shannon than write what is most likely to be read by only a handful of people. So what is different about today? Well for starters they are both sleeping and I just got home from a run and don’t want to wake them. Shannon doesn’t get much sleep since Olivia was born (at home, drug free in case you were wondering.) The biggest reason is that I am 27 short hours from the start of what I feel is the most important race that I have ever run in my life. I’ve put in a lot of miles getting ready. I don’t remember being this on edge about competing since the day of the cross-country national qualifier race my senior year of college. That day I broke down in tears as I was doing my final strides before the start. The pressure I put on my self to do well, the work that it took to get to that moment, and the possibility that it could have been my last cross-country race finally became too much. I did okay that day. I probably would have not advanced on my own if the team hadn’t won and qualified as a group for nationals. The marathon, though a very individual event from an outsider’s viewpoint, is very much a team sport. That is why I am taking some time out of what little I have left to prepare to write this. I would like to thank the team of people that make what I am about to do possible. If I do not mention you please do not take offense. I value your encouragement and support more than you could know. I only have a little time and there are a number of individuals that I just could not have done this with out. So in no order of importance and with out further ado…

Mark Elmore. Your guidance, insight, patience, weekly workouts, and most importantly your friendship have been the foundation for this journey I find myself on after meeting you almost 25 years ago. I wish more people could feel your influence and your passion for our sport.

Shannon Drowne. You are my wife, best friend, and the best thing to ever happen to me. Your undying belief in me, and your support keep me going. I, more than anyone, know the sacrifices you make. I hope that I can do the same for you soon and make all your derby dreams come true.

Kashmire. My feline daughter (RIP,) I find strength in your memory. Whatever the outcome tomorrow, I feel it will still be a victory and I dedicate it in your honor. I miss you everyday.

Matthew Drowne. My little brother with a heart bigger than anyone I know. If Boston were at the South Pole you would be there. You are a better runner than me and I hope that some day soon we can show everyone what you can really do.

James Brown. I don’t know what I did to deserve a friend like you. You see something in me that I am not even sure I do. Thank you so very much for that. Now if only you believed me when I told you what I see in you. I wish you the best of luck in Lake Placid.

Daniel and Brenda Drowne. My parents. I can’t say enough. You make ridiculously long trips to catch a glimpse of me for 15-20 seconds. I can hear dad a half mile away. Everyone needs support like that. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Like an Academy Award winner giving an acceptance speech, I could go on until the guy behind the curtain cues the music and gets a well-dressed individual to escort my butt off the stage. Unfortunately I only have a little time left to get ready for the storm that is The Boston Marathon. I know that probably everyone reading this has already done so, but wish me luck. Boston here I come.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Driving Down Memory Lane

As I write this I find myself sitting in the passenger side of my wife’s car on another trip north to Plattsburgh for work tomorrow. Not too much longer and the only time I will be making this trip is to see friends and family. It is a time that I am eagerly anticipating. The better part of a year has flown by. Some of it was good and some of it not so. I think that as a result of this time I have grown as an individual. I have learned more about myself, witnessed the strength of my marriage, and felt a small shift in my beliefs about the nature of the universe. On the eve of the birth of my first human child I hope, as so many parents before me have, that I can pass on what I have learned. At the same time I want to avoid being that parent that projects my image of what I think should be on my daughter (or in the event that we are wrong; son.) I want her to grow and form her own point of view based on her own experiences and choices. When she is my age I hope that she can reflect on her youth in that magical 1970’s Technicolor of memories and remember Shannon and I as positive and supportive, not overbearing and overprotective. I would very much like for those years to be filled with events worth looking back on with nostalgia. I am sure that no parent would ever wish anything other than that, but that doesn’t stop me from wishing it just the same. So until then; here is to a future past hopefully teeming with love.