Here’s What You Missed: West Virginia @ Texas Tech

Most people think of South Florida as an area people “move to” rather than a place where they “are from.” Back in the day, you rarely met a true South Florida native.

That’s not the case with my family. My mother was born in Miami and lived there nearly her entire life. She left the area for a few years in her mid-20s but moved back when I was just 3 years old. My grandparents, aunts and uncles are all South Floridians, and I, myself, lived there for 20 years.

Because of that, I had no choice but to root for the hometown Dolphins. Dan Marino … Larry Csonka … Jason Taylor, the list of successful Miami players is lengthy, and most fans have a difficult time choosing one all-time favorite. Not me. My list is short. One name: Zack Thomas.

Representing.
Representing.

I have owned several Dolphins jerseys over the years, and while the color has altered between white and turquoise and most recently orange, the number on the jersey is always the same: 54. In fact, last year I found a Zach Thomas kid’s jersey on eBay and bought it for my son! I had to do it.

So last weekend was especially cool because for the first time in my career I would visit Thomas’s former college, Texas Tech, as the Red Raiders welcomed West Virginia to town. From 1993-1995, Thomas —a first-team, All-American — instilled fear in offenses, recording 390 tackles. Thomas played in the NFL for 13 years, retiring in 2001 after signing a one-day contract worth $1 to retire as a member of the Miami Dolphins. Next weekend, Thomas’ name will be added to the Texas Tech Football Ring of Honor at Jones AT&T stadium. I just might have to wear my #54 jersey to work next week!

So, here are a few stories you may have missed from West Virginia’s 48-17 win over Texas Tech on Saturday.

The most obvious storyline was the relationship between the head coaches. Kliff Kingsbury and Dana Holgorson are both from the Mike Leach coaching tree. Holgorson both played and coached under Leach while Kingsbury was Leach’s star quarterback at Texas Tech for four years. The Holgorson-Kingsbury ties however don’t stop there. In 2008, Kingsbury and Holgorsen shared an apartment while working on Kevin Sumlin’s University of Houston staff, and while both coaches admitted that their friendship has changed since they started playing each other in the Big 12, they still consider each other close friends. So, what did Mike Leach think about the matchup? What about the way Holgorson’s offensive attack has evolved from “air-raid” to the ground? Well, I reached out to Coach Leach and received the below response through Washington State’s sports information office.

Me: What is your interest in West Virginia-Texas Tech game?
Leach: “I’m strictly interested in the Washington State/ UCLA game.”
Me: How much do you see your influence in the offensive game plan for both teams?
Leach: “Just two really well-organized teams that were great assistants for me and do a really good job organizing the teams that they have.”
Me: What do you think about the way Holgorson has adapted his offense?
Leach: “I think some of it’s adapting to what his resources are there … Dana always did have a conservative streak about him, but I think he does a good job featuring the abilities of his team.”

Speaking of “featuring the abilities of your team,” we can all agree that the “air raid” doesn’t work without a quarterback who has the ability to “sling the rock,” right? Well, Texas Tech certainly has that in junior Patrick Mahomes.

Mahomes with his dad.
Mahomes with his dad.

Kingsbury told us, “Pat is the most humble badass I’ve been around,” and that’s saying a lot for a guy who has coached and played with some high profile QBs.

Mahomes is the son of former MLB player Pat Mahomes, and has spent almost his entire life around professional athletes. He witnessed first hand the good and the bad that comes with having talent, money and a lot of fame.

Mahomes told me the person who influenced him the most, outside of his father, is his godfather, Latroy Hawkins! Hawkins, who spent 21 years in the major leagues playing for 11 different teams. The right-hander taught Patrick Mahomes that a long career requires taking care of both your body and those around you. Treat people right!

Mahomes has been nursing a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder since the team’s 55-19 win over Kansas two weeks ago. Despite throwing for more than 500 yards Oct. 8 in a 44-38 loss to Kansas State, athletic trainers told me he’s fighting through a great deal of pain. Mahomes has been limited in practice and has been receiving a steady dose of therapy, including dry needling, soft tissue and underwater treadmill training. After an unsuccessful first series on Saturday, and some inaccurate incomplete passes, athletic trainers surrounded Mahomes and created a curtain of towels around him while placing pads on his shoulder and hooking him up to electric stim. I was told this was a “precautionary” measure and was not something he would have to receive after every offensive series.

This is a story about a boy and his football. The boy is Shelton Gibson and his football is Vicky. Yes, I said Vicky. Prior to the 2015 season, in an attempt to reduce his wide receiver drops, West Virginia quarteback Skylar Howard threw Gibson a football and told him to “never put it down.”

Gibson with 'Vanessa'
Gibson with ‘Vanessa’

Gibson listened, and for the next year, he carried the football everywhere. Class, dinner and while he slept, “Vicky” was always cradled tight. The only time he would leave her alone was during practice and games, when she would sit in his locker waiting for his return. I reached out to Gibson to find out if he still has Vicky and was told, “She disappeared at the end of the season.” Gibson believes his former teammate, Wendell Smallwood, who was a fifth-round selection by the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL Draft, brought her along when he moved to Philadelphia. I reached out to Smallwood to ask about the location of Vicky, and he told me “Yes, it is true. Vicky has a new home!” While Gibson is without his dear Vicky in 2016, he does have a new football, Vicky’s sister, Vanessa; however, he leaves her at home most of the time so she won’t go missing as well. (*It seems as if ‘Vicky’ worked for Smallwood over the weekend as he returned a kick 86 yards for a touchdown against the Washington Redskins.)

And finally, I have to admit I am a sucker for stories about student-athletes who find success after overcoming obstacles, especially when the obstacle is so difficult you could easily use it as an excuse for not succeeding. I have a personal attachment to these stories because when I was 9 years old I was diagnosed with scoliosis. I was forced to stop all physical activity, and ultimately, I had corrective surgery. Two rods were placed on either side of my spine, and doctors told me I would most likely have limitations, especially when it came to strenuous activities. That was 30 years ago, and since, I have run two marathons, completed 10 triathlons (including a half Ironman) and given birth to twin boys. What limitations? I can imagine that West Virginia running back Justin Crawford has asked himself the same question. Crawford, according to the West Virginia coaches, “lays it all on the line,” and that’s no surprise when you hear his personal story. He is a husband and two-time dad. While playing at the junior college, he supported his family by working at fast-food restaurants.

When the rest of his teammates were resting their bodies, he would be standing on his feet serving food. When he arrived in Morgantown, prior to the start of pre-season camp, he was working at Taco Bell until his coaches told him he wouldn’t be able to juggle both. The physical demand was too much. “You do what you have to do for your family,” Jackson has said, and now he is using that same work ethic to impress his football family on Saturdays.

This weekend we’re off to Los Angeles! I love being in LA and can’t wait to see Utah play the Bruins on Saturday! See you then.

Here’s What You Missed: Red River Showdown

Every team has a rival, and every sport has a rivalry game. These games are defined by history, hate and respect, and in my opinion, all three of those elements must exist in order for it to be a true rivalry.

I have been covering sports for 15 years, and in that time, I’ve been fortunate to sit on the sidelines for several intense rivalry games: Duke-Carolina, Kentucky-Louisville, UCLA-USC … When these teams take the field or court, they don’t care about current records, past games or star players. For a few hours, all that matters is the name on the front of the jersey, and that name creates an invisible line of division and disdain. This weekend, I was able to add another rivalry game to my resume: The Red River Showdown at the historic Cotton Bowl.

One intriguing element to this game is that the players understand the history of Oklahoma versus Texas. The majority of them grew up on “either side of the river.” They watched linebacker Brian Bosworth spew venom towards the “burnt orange,” and they watched running back Ricky Williams demolish the Oklahoma defensive line. Oftentimes, rivalry games become internally diluted within athletic programs because of cross-country recruiting, but that’s not the case with the Red River matchup. They get it. They really get it, and after this weekend, I get it, too!

Let’s start with the quarterbacks. Both Baker Mayfield and Shane Buechele grew up in the shadow of the Red River. Mayfield, who now calls Norman his home, went to Lake Travis High School in Austin, Tx.

Mayfield's jersey hanging in his high school.
Mayfield’s jersey hanging in his high school.
His jersey hangs in his high school coach’s office just 20 miles from the University of Texas campus. Mayfield’s former Coach Hank Carter told me Mayfield stops by the school from time to time to chat with current players (his last visit was just a few weeks ago prior to the TCU game).
I asked Carter, “How many kids at the school would be rooting for Mayfield, and how many would be rooting for Texas?” He said, “We have a few kids whose parents work at UT so they’re definitely pulling for the ‘Horns. But, there’s also a large group of Baker fans.” Good to know some folks in Austin were celebrating after Saturday’s game!

For Shane Buechele, the intensity of the rivalry hits closer to home … literally. Buechele has four siblings, and all of them are Oklahoma fans.

The Buechele Christmas card.
The Buechele Christmas card.
Yup, his brother Tanner is an OU fan, his sister Amber is a junior at Oklahoma, brother Jordan is a graduate and Garrett was a star baseball player who helped lead the Sooners to the College World Series.
Take a look at the family’s Christmas card … talk about being outnumbered!

Speaking of numbers, how about Dede Westbrook and his five touchdowns in the last two weeks? Bob Stoops has said, “Westbrook has finally recovered from a nagging injury” and you have to imagine there is a sense of relief amongst Sooner fans, who spent the first few weeks of the season wondering who would replace Sterling Shepard now that he’s playing on Sundays with the New York Giants. Why not Westbrook? After all, he was mentored by Shepherd and still refers to him as “a brother.” Westbrook told me (through the Oklahoma SID) that he spends holidays with Shepherd and his family and talks to him every week before his games. Shepherd even sends word of encouragement to the rest of the receiver group though Westbrook. This week’s message was simple: “Go out and get a win.” The respect between the players is mutual as Shepard tweeted after the game, “Tried to tell y’all Dede is the truth!”

Here are some sideline observations from Oklahoma’s 45-40 victory:
In most stadiums, teams have separate entrances to the locker room, which allows separation from the players while entering and exiting the field. This eliminates emotions from spilling over into the tunnels.

Texas making their way into locker room after warm-ups.
Texas making their way into locker room after warm-ups.
This isn’t the case with the Cotton Bowl. The Texas players had to wait for Oklahoma to vacate the field before they could leave.I was standing a few feet away as they corralled the Texas players after warm-ups. The coaches and security guards literally had to hold the players back. The player’s energy reminded me of a shaken can of soda … just waiting to explode. The players were yelling, and the fans above were responding. It was electric.

A few weeks ago, Oklahoma tight end Mark Andrews looked as if he was poised to have a breakout season; however, the last few weeks he has struggled and his frustration is obvious. On Saturday, after consecutive dropped balls, a handful of his offensive teammates walked over to Andrews and offered words of encouragement. Joe Mixon, Westbrook and Samaje Perine were just a few. I wasn’t able to pick up on all the conversations but did hear Mayfield telling him, “You are here for a reason, and you are on that field for a reason. Shake it off and go show everyone what you can do.” It was a great display of leadership by Mayfield.

And finally, for me the weekend really started Friday evening when I joined my analyst Joel Klatt for his Facebook Live “Breaking The Huddle” broadcast.

Breaking the Huddle with Klatt.
Breaking the Huddle with Klatt.
We were live from the Texas State Fair surrounded by fans, fried food and livestock, but the best part of the show were the guests that joined us — Bosworth and former Texas quarterback Vince Young. Listening to the two talk about this game and their experiences playing in it was a sports fan’s dream and certainly a highlight of my career.

We are back in the state of Texas next week in Lubbock! It will be my first trip to Texas Tech as West Virginia comes to town. Both head coaches – Kliff Kinbsury and Dana Holgorsen — come from the Mike Leach coaching/player tree so there’s sure to be a lot of exciting offensive plays!

See you then.

Keep Moving Forward

Original Article ran on Ironman Website: Finish Line Road: Shannon Spake

My interest in triathlons began the summer of 2012. I was covering NASCAR for ESPN, and learned that a few of the drivers were training for a triathlon. Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, and others were going to jump on a plane after the July race at Daytona, fly to Charleston, S.C., and compete in a sprint triathlon. I was very familiar with the full-distance triathlons that IRONMAN put on, but I had no idea there were shorter distance races. I was interested but wasn’t exactly ready to commit.

That commitment finally came two years later, when I finally signed up, trained and competed in my first Sprint triathlon. Since then, I have slowly increased the distance, and last Sunday officially became part of the Ironman family finishing the Raleigh 70.3 event in 06:43:37 — slower than I hoped, but I did it!

My race started at exactly 7:56 a.m. on Sunday morning when my feet left the sandy bottom of Jordan Lake, my arms began to move in a circular motion and I made my way toward the orange turn buoy in the distance, mentally reviewing my race plan for what seemed like the hundredth time that day.

Pre-race. Prepping my bike with 2,500 other athletes.
Pre-race. Prepping my bike with 2,500 other athletes.

The 1.2-mile swim was to be my warm up for the day; “ease into it” my coach had instructed. So, I focused on my breathing and pace while navigating the choppy water that at times had me feeling like the Cornelia Marie rocking back and forth over the waves of the Bering Sea. The words “Keep your head down, sight, breathe, move forward,” were on a mental loop in my brain for the entire 48 minutes of my swim. In fact, the only time I stopped swimming was when a guy, who was struggling with the waves even more than I was, kicked me in the stomach. I assessed the damage, realized it startled me more than it hurt, and I moved on. Other than the kick, and some poorly timed breaths resulting in a mouthful of water, the swim was a success.

Exiting Jordan Lake. Hey, at least I'm smiling.
Exiting Jordan Lake. Hey, at least I’m smiling.

Up next: 56 miles on the bike. By the way, if you have a race checklist with all of the items you need for race day, make sure your bike is on the list. My family and I were an hour and a half into our drive from Charlotte to Raleigh when we realized we forgot my bike at home. Yes, I forgot my bike! Thankfully, I’m now able to laugh at the situation because at the time I was so mad thought my head might pop off.

The bike ride went pretty smoothly. “Take it slow, respect the ride, save it for the run”… was just some of the advice that circled in my head as I closely monitored my heart rate and nutrition throughout the ride. One energy gel every 30 minutes, salt every 15 minutes, one bottle of fluid every hour, and try to keep your heart rate between zones two and three.
For three and a half hours. I stuck to the plan, and as the Raleigh skyline came into view, I felt good. I was also thankful that I escaped the long ride without joining the steady stream of cyclists standing or sitting on the side of the road with mechanical or physical issues. I was one of the lucky ones.

Riding.
Riding.

As I made my way towards T2, I saw my family for the first time that day. My kids jumped up and down and screamed: “Go, Mommy, go!” While my husband’s proud smile peaked out from underneath the camera he was using to capture every moment. He was still taking pictures as I began the run segment of the race. I waved and flashed a huge smile. What I didn’t realize at the time was it would be the last time I smiled until I crossed the finish line.

“It’s cool, you got this,” I told myself as I looked down at my watch and tried to hit a nine minute pace, but before my legs could acclimate to the concrete below them, my stomach cramped, and I felt the intensity of the sun beating down on my shoulders. I quickly realized the next 13.1 miles were not going to happen as quickly as I hoped.

My biggest fans!
My biggest fans!

The next 2 hours, 19 minutes and 12 seconds went something like this. Run, walk, pour water on my head, drink. Repeat a dozen times. By the way, kudos to the race director for setting up food and water stations every mile, and thank you to the upbeat and supportive volunteers along the way. You gave me the strength to take it: One. Mile. At. A. Time!

As I approached the last mile of the race, my stomach felt better, I had settled into a pace around 10:18, and the sound of my sneakers sloshing with water had become comical. Then, I heard a new sound. Cheers. Celebration. It was the finish line. I was almost there. I made it.

With the inflatable IRONMAN finish line arch in sight, I glanced down and noticed the woman in front of me was in my age group. If I crossed the finish line in front of her, I would move up one more spot in the finishing order. So, of course, I found another gear and crossed the line first. I will be reminded of that moment whenever I look at my official finisher’s photo, which reveals a look of intensity rather than a smile of joy.

My Intense finish line photo!
My Intense finish line photo!

By now, I have had a little over a week to reflect on the challenges and sacrifices it took to get me across that finish line, and the question I have asked myself many times is “Would I do it again?” The answer is “Yes!” However, I can assure you that wasn’t the answer after the race as I proudly looked down at the “finishers” medal around my neck. In fact, last week I swore there was no way I would do another one, but as I have reflected on the day I have remembered why I decided to sign up for that first race two years ago, how much I love competing in the events and all of the amazing people I have met along the way. When I think about those things, three words cross my mind: sign me up!

Additionally, I am thankful I got to choose my race bib number, #1021. This number is special to me because it’s my 91-year-old grandfather’s birthday. My Papa, a World War II veteran and Silver Star recipient, was part of the Army’s first organized airborne unit. In 1944, he fought in the Battle of Leyte, where 3,500 Americans lost their lives. He has always been the kindest and most generous man, and it was really cool to be able to honor him with those four little numbers.

With my Papa on his 90th birthday.
With my Papa on his 90th birthday.

The Road to Raleigh 70.3

My triathlon journey began the Summer of 2014. That was when, for the first time since 2007, my work schedule slowed significantly, and I (gasp) had the entire summer off! As I sat looking at my empty calendar I thought, “This would be a perfect time to try that triathlon thing!” What I didn’t realize was the “triathlon thing” would soon not only fill the vastness of my lazy summer days, but it would also become an enormous part of my life.

My interest began while covering NASCAR for ESPN. I heard that a few drivers were dabbling in tri’s and thought it sounded fun! I was a competitive swimmer most of my life and ran two full 26.2 mile marathons in 2005 and 2006. As far as the bike thing, come on, how hard could that be? I mean, who hasn’t ridden a bike?! Well, I was WAY wrong because not only has the bike challenged and frustrated me, at times it’s been downright scary!

I bought a used bike, signed up for a race, downloaded my very first training plan, and 16 weeks later, I was crossing the finish line of my first Sprint distance race. Since then I have upgraded my bike, competed in six more triathlons (Sprint and Olympic distance) and officially spent more time with my various Garmin devices then I have with my husband and children.

My first bike. She was a heavy one!
My first bike. She was a heavy one!

I’ve trained in freezing temperatures, oppressive heat, rain, snow and everything in between. When traveling for work, treadmills and stationary bikes are my best friends, and I’ve probably consumed more protein bars and electrolyte powders in three years than a normal person will their entire life. I’ve had a herniated disc, tendinitis of the Achilles, sciatic nerve pain, pulled muscles and ear infections, and I’ve come to rely on acupuncture, anti-inflammatories, muscle rollers and heating pads for daily relief just so I can physically and mentally battle my way through 2-a-days, tempo runs and brick workouts that can last up to four hours.

My favorite training tool! The Garmin 920Xt
My favorite training tool! The Garmin 920Xt

Anyone who has trained for a race, regardless of the distance, can relate. It’s a sacrifice to get to the finish line, it takes commitment and follow thru that many aren’t interest in tackling. It tests you, and at times, it will break your will; but for many, that sacrifice is worth it because we realize the sport isn’t selfish. It gives back!

My days are crazy busy, but they are also coordinated and scheduled. My lack of speed leads to many frustrating training sessions, but when the workout is completed, I am full of pride. The daily exhaustion is overwhelming, but when I catch my breath and realize what I’ve accomplished, I feel powerful as hell. Long bike rides, hundreds of hours in the pool are boring and mind-numbing, but I have also met some amazing people who I have no doubt will be lifelong friends!

Just after the swim. I am always thinking "thank God that's over!"
Just after the swim. I am always thinking “thank God that’s over!”

As tough as things can be, the flipside to all the sacrifices are endless. The benefits invaluable. There are so many positives, and because of those, I can honestly say I am the selfish partner in my relationship with triathlons. I get more than I give!

Of course, that will be tested this weekend as I tackle my longest distance yet —70.3 miles. A Half-Ironman. I’m nervous, anxious and excited. My family will be there cheering me on, and I can’t wait to glance over and see their proud faces as I cross the finish line — after all this is their race too. My husband and kids have sacrificed just as much over the last six months (maybe more) and on Sunday, all of that hard work will (hopefully) pay off.

Then I will rest….just long enough to sign up for another race of course!

Wish me luck!

The best race support ever!
The best race support ever!

Xander Rocks!

Well, boys and girls, this past week was most definitely something folks in the media refer to as a “busy news week.” Between the Steve Spurrier’s “resignation” announcement, Steve Sarkisian and Randy Edsall’s termination and Will Grier’s failed drug test, the stories have practically written themselves. It’s been an all-you-can eat buffet for sports commentators, plenty of talking points and topics to debate, enough to fill everyone’s time slots and columns.

Like most, I, too, have formed my own opinions on all of the above, and like most, I have probably invested too much time and energy discussing the stories with friends and family. But, the topics warranted the extra attention and will no doubt continue to be talking points well into the off -season. Right now, though, I have something more important to share with you. Something that means more to me than a failed drug test or a disappointing season.

It’s the story about a boy named Xander.

My husband has known Xander’s father, Brian, since the 5th grade, and over the years, we have become very close with both he and his wife, Denise. We have shared weddings, birthdays, holidays and the annual pig roast at their house ─ which is really just an excuse to get everyone together to drink Brian’s homemade beer!

Like us, Brian and Denise have two children: The youngest is a little girl, and the oldest a 8-year-old named Xander. Our children have known each other since birth, and while we could always have made a little more time to get the families together, we consider them some of our closest friends.

Xander and his family.
Xander and his family.

For Brian and Denise, the last eight months have been the most difficult of their lives. It’s been a living hell because on February 12th, a doctor told them their son had a brain tumor. While doctors were able to remove 98% of the tumor, 2% remained embedded in Xander’s brain stem and spinal fluid ─ he was ultimately diagnosed with an extremely aggressive form of Medulloblastoma.

Xander is only 8-years-old, and words like chemotherapy, radiation and gene-targeted therapy are a part of his daily vocabulary. He should be in school, running around on the playground bragging to his friends about what he’s going to be for Halloween. Instead, he’s in a hospital fighting for his life.

As a parent of young children, my mind is unable to fully grasp the emotions my friends undoubtedly experienced when they heard the word cancer. And, I have no way to remotely understand the fear and helplessness they feel trying to protect their baby from a disease they can’t control. But, what Brian and Denise have been able to control is their strength.

Xander with my kids at his fundraiser.
Xander with my kids at his fundraiser.

While most marriages might fall apart in such a devastating time, their love for each has seemingly strengthened. Despite the adversity, they continue to use words like power, confidence and miracle…even during some of the most difficult hours. Brian and Denise have also unselfishly remained committed to updating their family and friends on Xander’s condition and continue to express their gratitude for the prayers that, according to Brian, have “kept us going and have the power to help make miracles happen.”

This past Sunday morning, Xander was admitted to the hospital after having a severe seizure. He was heavily sedated and intubated so doctors could remove fluid from his brain. As difficult as it was to type the words, Brian wrote this on his Facebook page:

“Despite all of the adversity and negativity, we can do this, and we will! My son is alive!…Xander is going to wake up, we will get the breathing tube out, we will monitor him, we will get a home health nurse to help us, we will continue his treatment, we will manage his symptoms, we will keep him out of the hospital, and we will get him well. Thank you all for your love and support throughout this journey. We will never give up.”

Xander
Xander

On Monday, the tube was removed. Xander opened his eyes and smiled! A small miracle for a little boy and his amazing family.

I know we all have extremely busy lives, and at times, fight to just make it through the day. But if you have a moment today or tomorrow or even next week, please send a prayer or positive thought Xander’s way, and if you leave a comment below on this blog…I will make sure Xander’s parents see it!

Brady’s Magic

I have identical twin boys who will turn 6-years old in January. While my kids look very much alike (to everyone else except me, that is), their personalities are drastically different. For example, my son Brady loves magic. I’m not talking about pull a rabbit out of a hat, penny behind the ear kind of magic, I’m talking about Peter Pan, Jackie Paper, Pixie dust kind of magic.

While his brother Liam has the occasional “Wow moment,” Brady spends about 99% of the day in imagination overdrive. Here’s how his mind works: On my birthday Brady gave me a stick. Yup, a regular stick, but to Brady the stick was anything but ordinary. It was magic. I remember him picking it up, examining his discovery and then marching over to me with it in his little hand and in his proudest voice he said, “Mommy, this is for you, it’s a soft stick. Rub it on your arm, and it will make everything better!”

My birthday was in July, and I still have that stick in my purse…I bring it everywhere.

My birthday Stick
My birthday Stick

Sadly, I know Brady’s going to outgrow this stage. It’s inevitable. I know one day he’ll find that stick in my purse and think I’m a crazy lady for carrying it around so long — but in the meantime, I’m going to try to find every opportunity to create magical moments in his little world. I had that opportunity this summer when I created a Treasure Island.

We live on a lake in the Charlotte area, and at least once a week we load up our pontoon boat and head out to one of the lake’s small islands. Before the summer began, I bought a large bag of costume jewelry, mostly rings. Red, blue and purple pieces of large gaudy plastic, but to my sons these rings were treasures. As soon as we dropped anchor, my boys and I would jump off the boat and run onto the sand. They would turn their back, and I would throw the rings on the ground and yell, “Honey, what is that right there?” The look on Brady’s face when he discovered the rings was priceless. Pure joy!

Found on Treasure Island!
Found on Treasure Island!

The boys never caught me in the act. They have no idea the treasures came from me, and I hope they never do.

Now before you go thinking I’m a complete overachieving parent, I assure you I’m not! Raising kids is damn hard, and I have mad respect for all the stay-at-home mommies and daddies who make it look easy. You are my heroes because there are many days I feel as if the walls are closing in on me. I have contemplated grabbing the garbage can and tossing every single Power Ranger toy and Pokeman card scattered around my house, and yes way too many times I’ve rushed through a bedtime story because “Mommy is spent, and she needs to go to bed.”

Sometimes. I need a reminder to stop and see the magic.

This summer as I was preparing for the NBA draft, I read a blog entry by Frank Kaminsky in which he referred to a passage from his favorite book Boy’s Life. The passage spoke about the magic of childhood and how that magic influences the adult you will become. Reading it opened my eyes. It made me think a lot about small moments with my kids. Moments that will one day vanish forever.

The other night, Brady came up to our bedroom around 3 a.m. crying about a bad dream. After I calmed him down, I brought him back to his bed and tucked him in. Normally I would head right back to bed, but this night I decided to sit there for a few minutes longer. I stroked Brady’s hair and watched his little eyes flutter as he started to drift off. Then it happened. Brady’s eyes popped open, he looked at me and said, “Mommy, I love you so much,” then he puckered his little lip and gave me the sweetest kiss. As he fell back to sleep, I thought about how close I came to missing that moment.

With Brady on a "Mommy date day"
With Brady on a “Mommy date day”

I’m not a perfect parent. I’m not as present as I should be. But who is? I try to remind myself that the laundry will get folded, my football prep will get done and so what if we have leftovers for dinner three nights in a row. I try to remind myself to stop, for just a second, because I never know what kind of magic is waiting just beyond that moment.

If you’d like to read Kaminsky’s post, along with the Boy’s Life passage you can find it here! The Moose Basketball: On Wisconsin Forever

With Kaminsky and Okafor the day before the NBA draft
With Kaminsky and Okafor the day before the NBA draft

Freedom

I grew up in South Florida, Broward County. In 2013, the population was right around 1.2 million people. That’s double the amount of people that occupy the county I live in now!

Many of my friends growing up, myself included, were from divorced families. We had minimal supervision while our parents worked long days and late nights and some, my mom included, had more than one job. We were latchkey kids. 90’s style.

Now don’t get me wrong, I totally understand that adolescent struggles are a normal part of everyone’s life. If you don’t have at least one painful memory from your teenage years, consider yourself blessed! But I think if you ask anyone who was raised in a big city, they’ll you the struggles are different. Life is tougher: Faster. My friends and I dealt with things I hope my own children never have to experience.

Some were harmless. Like riding public transportation, a.k.a. “The City Bus,” to elementary and middle school, often times sitting next an adult who was on their way to work or on their way home from the bar! Or “cruising” the Fort Lauderdale strip, sitting in the back of a friend’s low rider truck drinking beer at 15 years old (remember the trucks that were so low the driver had to drop you and your friends at the entrance of your neighborhood because they couldn’t make it over the speed bumps?) Not an ideal situation for a young kid but harmless none-the-less.

Other aspects were far more dangerous: We had riots in my high school, gangs occupied almost every neighboring town and there was a regular threat of gun violence. But, what I’ve realized over the years is that all of my experiences made me tougher and, ultimately, more focused. I see those same qualities in many of the athletes, who also grew up in the South Florida area, I meet today.

A few weeks ago, I visited my alma mater, Florida Atlantic University. The Sports Information Director asked me to come down and chat with his student athletes. He was hoping my story, one that took me through the halls of FAU, and onto the sidelines for ESPN, would motivate his kids heading into the new school year. What I didn’t realize was that I was about to get my own lesson in motivation from a football player named Freedom Whitfield.

My first Jersey
My first Jersey

Before I spoke to the kids, a handful of us were involved in a few rounds of “Rock, Paper, Scissors”…just a fun game to set the mood of the night. I was paired up with Whitfield, a Senior Linebacker and team captain. Someone told me I should ask him how he got his first name. So, of course, I did.

“My mom was arrested when she was pregnant with me, and I was born in jail,” Freedom said, “so that’s how she picked my name.” Freedom went on to tell me how his mother was in jail for the first 13 years of his life. His father got out of prison this past July. He went to live with his grandmother, but she passed away when he was 7 years old and then he was on his own. He spent the next few years living with friends, sleeping on couches.

While Freedom was telling me about his childhood and the unthinkable things he had to deal with, I thought about my own children’s innocence. My sons are a year younger than Freedom was when he found himself alone. How scared would they be in that situation? Could they survive?

The turning point for Freedom came in high school when his strength and conditioning coach gave him a choice: Play football or hang with his friends on streets. Freedom pushed forward. He decided his past was not going to be his future. Why stop fighting now?

Next spring, Freedom will earn his college degree in Public Administration, and his resume will include four years of Division 1 football. “I look back at my past and I know how blessed I am to be where I am” Freedom told me. So what’s next for Freedom? Well, before I left FAU to head back to my hotel I asked him if he plans to play in the NFL, he quietly nodded his head and said, “Yes Ma’am, that’s the plan.”

You know what…I believe him!

Right after I lost Rock, Paper Scissors to Freedom
Right after I lost Rock, Paper Scissors to Freedom
Coach Schnellenberger's statue
Coach Schnellenberger’s statue

Jalen Ramsey’s Hoverboard

Writing this blog has made me braver. How? Well, not only am I sharing my life experiences with those who read it, but it also has me actively looking for activities that would make for an interesting post. I’m always asking myself, “What’s something fun I can do, while covering this particular team? What’s something I can write about later?”

Last week, it was Gassers with Coach Matt Rhule at Temple, this week it was attempting to ride a hoverboard (or otherwise known as an electric scooter).

Let me set the stage: Every week, as part of my game preparation, I request to talk with one Defensive and one Offensive player. Most of the time, these conversations take place over the phone, but if I have the chance to meet with the player in person, I take it. I had this opportunity on Thursday.

After landing in Tallahassee, I made my way to the FSU athletic facility to have a quick meeting with the team’s Left Tackle, Roderick Johnson, and Cornerback, Jalen Ramsey. Johnson came into the meeting room first, and we chatted for about 15 minutes. As we were wrapping up, Ramsey entered the room “gracefully” riding THIS contraption.

Hover Now, I was raised in the 1980’s and back then Marty McFly’s hoverboard was something every little boy and girl hoped would become a reality!

Whatever Ramsey was on looked really cool, and the conversation that followed went something like this:

Me: “Is that a hoverboard?”
Ramsey: “Yes, sort of.”
Me: “Is it difficult to ride?”
Ramsey: “No, not really.”
Me: “Can I try?”

Let me stop there for a moment. Remember what I just said, how writing this blog has made me braver? Well, this was one of those moments because when I told my husband I asked to ride a hoverboard, he immediately said “Oh no.” You see, balance and coordination are not my greatest assets. Despite that, I thought: How difficult can this really be? After all, I run triathlons and marathons. I can do this!

Note to self: You can’t!

That’s right, it took me approximately five seconds to go from an upright standing position on the board to the ground, and the trip down was anything but graceful!

Unfortunately, no one captured the moment on video, but it went something like this: Two football players, the Director of Football Communication and football SID gasping and rushing to help me up as I laughed and said, “I’m ok, I’m ok.”

So a big thanks to Jalen Ramsey for allowing me test drive AND test crash his hoverboard, and thanks to all four of the guys for being complete gentlemen when I busted my “you know what” in front of them.

I’m really sorry I don’t have the video of me falling, we all could have had a great laugh reliving that moment, but I did take the below video of Ramsey hoverboarding through the halls of the Athletic department. No doubt about his coordination!

#TempleTough

So while preparing for my first college football game of the season, I read that Temple Head Coach Matt Rhule has his players run Gassers at the end of a practice. I also learned that Coach Rhule runs them too! So I asked Rich Burg, Temple’s Sports and Information director, if his head Strength and Conditioning coach, Jeremy Scott (seen in the video with the stopwatch), would put me through a short workout when I arrived in Philly on Thursday. Rich emailed me and said, “Coach Rhule’s going to do them with you!” Bonus!!!

Full disclosure, I arrived at practice 15 minutes before the Gassers, straight off the airplane. No warm-up at all! The first few feet of Gasser number one I thought, “Oh no, I’m going to pull a muscle.” Luckily, I didn’t!

By the way, I have a new respect for football players who have to run Gassers in full pads, post practice. We only did five total, and I was huffing and puffing. Thanks Coach Rhule for being a good sport and taking the time to get a little workout in!

Now excuse me while I go ice my hamstrings…I have some stadium stairs to run tomorrow! And yes, I know I run like a girl!

The "Morning after Gassers" stair run. 97 Flights at The Linc
The “Morning after Gassers” stair run. 97 Flights at The Linc

THE FINISH LINE

When I tell people I compete in triathlons, I almost always get the same reaction — their eyes widen, their heads shake back and forth, they get a look of disbelief on their face and they almost always say, “What…triathlons? You’re crazy!” It’s a pretty common reaction, and one I completely understand. In fact, this past Saturday morning as I prepared to compete in my 3rd and final race of the season, I asked myself that very question.

It was 6 a.m., and the sun was still 45 minutes from making an appearance. My husband and I racked our bikes, staged our gear for efficient transitions, grabbed our swim caps and goggles and made our way down to the lakefront which, because of the early start time, was engulfed in total darkness. We could barely make out the outlines of the other racers, many of whom were relying on the lights from their GPS watches to avoid stepping on rocks or small debris from the trees. My husband and I waited as long as we could before entering the water to warm-up, but because the sun was still minutes away from breaking through the clouds, warm-up was more like a moonlight swim.

Pre-race picture! Check out the darkness behind me!
Pre-race picture! Check out the darkness behind me!

Now I’m a “glass half full” kind of gal, so I couldn’t help but giggle at the absurdity of the situation. “What an adventure,” I thought. However, my internal optimism was quieted when I thought to myself: “What in the world am I doing here?”

So, why do I do it? I mean, I spend enough time and money on endurance racing so I better have a good answer, right? Well, I do have an answer — I love the journey and am captivated by the “The Process” (as Alabama head coach Nick Saban would say) of what it takes to get to the finish line.

Finishing the race.
Finishing the race.

Think about it. At some point, every athlete who joined me Saturday morning made the decision to sign up for this race. They set their goals and then spent months training to reach that goal, and along the way they had to overcome mental blocks, injuries and other outside elements — bugs, snow, heat, rain, cramps and fatigue, you name it, we’ve all trained through it!

And the training, well that’s the easy part! Because regardless of how physically and mentally prepared you are on race morning, anything can (and often does happen). I’ve dealt with a dropped chain and bugs flying into my helmet. I’ve seen elite athletes, who could run circles around me, sitting on the side of the road with leg cramps. Men and women who’ve spent thousands of dollars on fancy high-tech bikes pulled over on the side of the road with a parts failure or a flat just a few miles into the ride. I watched a girl sob uncontrollably on mile 24 of The New York City marathon, as the physical pain tried to break her mental strength. But you know what, she pushed on!

Every time I pass someone whose race “journey” is interrupted, I think about what it takes to correct, refocus and move forward. What’s their motivation? Because it’s different for everyone.

This past summer, I competed in three triathlons, and each time I had a different motivation. One weekend, I swam with a woman whose head was shaved indicating her fight against cancer. The next race, I was determined to beat my husband’s best time (still haven’t accomplish that one), and this past Saturday my motivation was an 11-year-old named Alyssa. Alyssa and I went back and forth during the bike and swim, encouraging each other with a “great job” or a “you’re kicking butt” as we exchanged the lead spot. And just when I thought I had her beat, she blew past me with a half mile remaining in the run and ended up beating me. Yeah, yeah, I know I got beat by an 11-year-old….but hey, maybe I was her motivation too!

So as I get ready for my first College football game of the season, I can’t help by thing of the journey that lies ahead for all teams. They all start the season with the same expectations — to get to the finish line. And just like triathlons, you never know what the challenges the “journey” will bring. Because at some point, each and every player will have to ask themselves the question: “What is my motivation?”

With Alyssa after the race!
With Alyssa after the race!