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Mike Wardian, The Ultimate Running Man

Forrest Gump was one my favorite movies of all time.   Now a real Forrest Gump like man is the king of long distance running.   His name is Mike Wardian from Arlington, Virginia and he even has the Gump look.   With little or no news coverage, Mr. Wardian ran and won seven marathons on seven continents in seven days.  When I heard about this, I had no idea that would be even possible when you think of seven days and seven continents.   Did he have a Lear jet?  How did he sleep?   And how does a guy stay in a plane for hours and get off and run a marathon, crazy stuff.  His wins came in Antarctica, Chile, Miami, Madrid, Dubai, Sydney and Marrakech.   During that worldwide race, he averaged a 2:45:56 time for the seven races beating a field of twenty three men and women.    On day eight he ran another 16.6 to get to 200 miles. Read More →

Iditarod 2016, The Last Great Race on Earth

First there was the Yukon Quest held in February then followed by the Iditarod, the most storied race in dog sledding and incomparable to any other race in the world.  The Alaskan race is one that spans 1000 miles through some the most roughest and beautiful terrain that Mother Nature can offer.   The biggest obstacle beside the trail itself is the temperatures that plummet below zero degrees Fahrenheit and winds that cause loss of visibility.  The race begins in Anchorage in south central Alaska to Nome on western Bering Sea coast.

This is an event for all of Alaska and it’s so embraced in its culture and history. The race pits man and animal against nature in the wildest that Alaska will present.   The Iditarod trail is now a National Historic Trail which began as a mail and supply route from coastal towns of Seward and Knik to the outlying mining camps.  Not only did the trail get so dependent on the dog sleds because of mining but to bring medical supplies to fight off Diphtheria which ravaged Nome.   Through the years the town and villages relied heavily on their services that one could see why they are part of lore of Alaska. The race also was way for the sled dog culture to be preserved and the Alaskan huskies which were being phased out by snowmobiles.

The race itself is very unique in the way mushers and their dog teams maneuver through the geography.   The mushers come all over the world to compete even though the winnings are sparse in comparison to the winners in other sports.  Most of the mushers rely on financial sponsoring and assistance to be able to afford the teams of dogs.  A lot planning and strategy goes into this race along with year round training.

This year’s field has brought together teams from all over the world. The team that persevered in the end was Dallas Seavey, who set a new Iditarod time of 8 days, 11 hours, 20 minutes and 11 seconds.  He beat his dad, Mitch Seavey by 45 minutes.   This is Dallas’ fourth Iditarod victory and a follow up to last year.   It appears Dallas is on his way to being the most celebrated musher of all time because he is only twenty five years and looks like he can do this for another twenty years.   The take home prize was $75,000 and new truck which may seem meager capered to other sports but that number keeps getting higher every year.

This year had its troubles aside for the lack of snow in Anchorage, a tragic crash when a snow mobile ran into a couple of teams of dogs and killed one and injured others.   The accident happened at night and the driver admitted he shouldn’t have been out driving. He was charged with various counts of criminal misdoings.  In addition, a lot of the mushers were ill prior to race start with various degrees of flu and cold symptoms.  Twelve mushers out of the starting 85 have to quit.  Seavey said he felt horrible when the race started and didn’t feel somewhat better until the second half of the race.

Of course we have the dog athletes that are beloved by their owners and are treated with the utmost care and respect.   The lead dogs of Dallas Seavey’s team are Reef and Tide.  At his victory speech Seavey credits his dogs for pulling him through the nights due to his illness and his fatigue that was a battle through the whole race.   This is just one reason the Iditarod is a great race like no other in the world.

To see the way the towns along the trail embrace the mushers and dogs is really special. You have to remember that this is Alaska in the winter and the population in these towns is not booming with people.  The citizens come out of the wild winter to celebrate and cheer on their participants. I love seeing that this event is still going strong almost a hundred years later, kind reminds me of the other great race in the world, the Tour de France.

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Surfboards, Dog Sleds and Toyotas Rule

When the Super Bowl hoopla ends, the media coverage landscape expands and all of the other cool things in sports finally get more publicity. The three I want to mention are the Yukon Quest Dog Sled race in Alaska, the Titans of Mavericks Surfing Contest and the Daytona 500. All of these epic events are arguably the marquee events in their sport.  The Yukon Quest is the 1000 mile dog sled race from Fairbanks, Alaska to Whitehorse in Yukon Territory.  The Titans of Mavericks is the most intense big wave surfing contest that happens in Half Moon Bay, California. Lastly, the Daytona 500 which every racing fan loves more than any other road race.

The Titans of Mavericks surf competition is of course the world famous and long running spectacle held in Half Moon Bay, California. The epic waves that are enormous 30 to 50 foot high behemoths full of spirit and unpredictability are only ridden by a select few.  Almost every surfer has a wipe out in the competition and depending how bad your spill sometimes determines how well you will do in the competition.   Nic Lamb an American for Northern California outlasted 23 competitors and a big wipe out to capture the $120,000 purse.

If you don’t know much about the Mavericks event and you are curious about surfing or like watching like most of us, you can find plenty of documentaries and YouTube clips to get the feel of the event. The event has grown beyond cult status to a must see event for surf fans and even curious lookee loos.   The 24 contestants were given 48 hours to get to there from all around the world.  Last year there wasn’t an event because the waves never got to the size that warrants the competition.   This year the waves were consistently coming in at 35 to 40 feet all day.

The next on my list is the Yukon Quest held in Alaska and the Yukon Territory which just finished up on February 15th.   The Yukon race is the granddaddy of all sled dog races and it too separates the well prepared and trained from the lesser.  It is a 1000 journey through all kinds of conditions of weather and terrain.  It is a true test of capacity of humans and canines and a tribute to the strength of ancient bond that unites them.   Of course the Quest is not the most compelling of spectator event s but more of a scene to be part of as the towns of the north embrace their competitors and the beloved sport  as their own.

This year’s winner was Hugh Neff an Alaskan musher who crossed the finish line 9 days after starting the race. The 48 year musher won it once before in 2012 and this year he remarkably lead the majority of the race.   This year, the contestants had to withstand blizzards, equipment failures and sick dogs in this grueling race.  The winners take this year was $35,000 out of pool of $115,000.  It doesn’t seem like a lot compared to other sports but then again, only the few and special can endure such an event.   The history of this event is a good read so check it out there is plenty of information on the internet.

Last but not least is the Daytona 500.  First we had the man versus wave in Mavericks, second we have man and dog versus the elements of the Yukon and now man and machine to persevere  against other men and machines.   The Daytona 500 took place on February 21st and the winner was Denny Hamlin in  one the closest finishes ever captured on video.  It looks like he won by less than 1 foot coming in at top speed, certainly  the closest in Daytona 500 history.  Hamlin beat out Martin Truex both driving Toyotas which was part of their domination in this year’s event.    The victory was also a first at Daytona for Joe Gibbs racing whose been competing here for 23 years.

What makes the Daytona 500 the Super Bowl of auto racing is the fact that it is always held in February and it the first official NASCAR race of the season. It gets the most viewership than any other racing event, even the INDY 500 and it offers the biggest purse as well.  It is very prestigious to win since its inception in 1959.  Daytona International Speedway is sacred ground in racing and Richard Petty owns the most victories (7) and Chevrolet has the most wins with 23.

As you notice these are not mainstream sports with the slight exception of the Daytona 500 but it too doesn’t get the full recognition as the other 4 and 5 sports.   There is something cool to follow for all sports fans  even if it is hard to find on the television, you always know you can find it on the internet.   These sports usually take place in that small window of media absence when the NFL is not ruling the airwaves.  Next year, check in with one of these events and you will find it a breath of fresh air from the typical offerings.

Daytona 500 Photo Credit – www.thedailybeast.com

 

 

 

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Conor McGregor, The Unstoppable Force

Beyond the brash showmanship lies a young man punching and kicking his way his to the UFC Feather Weight Championship. The much anticipated championship fight on December 15th against Jose’Aldo was done in a 13 second flurry, the fastest championship knockout in UFC history. Aldo attacked first and landed one punch but McGregor countered with a hard right that connected and floored Aldo.  McGregor pounced and finished with a couple of hammer blows.  Unsurprisingly, that is the style that McGregor uses, fast and furious but with precision hits.  There is no wasted energy, dancing and prancing and long grind out floor work, he gets the job done as quickly as he can.

The biggest weapon in his arsenal is his powerful and quick straight left hand that is like an air hammer. If he doesn’t smack you with that knuckle sandwich, there is a good chance he will land a kick upside your noggin with a wheel kick. The record shows it, 19 -2 spanning UFC and CWFC (Cage Warriors Fighting Championship) with 17 knockouts.

McGregor is just peaking as a fighter and will most defiantly be in the mix for a few years or as long as he can keep healthy. Now that he is on top, everybody will want a piece of him and to shut up him up.  No doubt he talks a big game and that is part of the scene when you sign on to fight him, but you better have good plan to beat him.  You will sustain blows and if you fend off most of them you might have an opportunity to grapple, if that is your game.

McGregor is the biggest show in town for UFC, taking that mantle away Ronda Rousey who is still smarting from her loss to Holm.   The challenge now is to find worthy opponents who will keep the train moving forward.  The world is in the palm of his hand now and it’s exciting for UFCto  have another big time celebrity in their fold.   I don’t know what motivates him now, there will be bigger paychecks or maybe he just wants build more of the legend and the brand.   Whatever he does, he’s got the mojo going forward.  Cheers to Conor McGregor!

Photo www.ibtimes.com

The Rugby World Cup versus Dan Marino

I thoroughly enjoyed watching the Rugby World Cup match on Sunday with New Zealand and South Africa. These two teams have a storied rivalry and the match on Sunday was close and hard-fought.  The New Zealand All Blacks battled their way to a 20-18 victory which propelled them into the final against Australia.  The Rugby World Cup has been played in the United Kingdom for the past month and the last two teams standing will play on Saturday, October 31st.

For those of you not knowing much about the World Cup or rugby in general, it is worth a watch to try and understand its beauty. Yes, there is beauty underneath the physicality and display of brute strength.  Like American football, in rugby, one team tries to advance the ball over a goal line or try to kick the ball through the goal post uprights.  The beauty of rugby is the free-flowing nature of the play which is sometimes frantic and sometimes a testament of wills.  I will not go into the rules and subtleties of the game but if you watch for at least 10 minutes you will get the basic premise.  Read More →

Sports Roll On Through Sweltering Heat

I was at the park today and it was 100 degrees outside and a youth soccer team was practicing. These were kids ranging in ages 7 to 8 years old.  The coach had them running drills and jogging while he was barking out commands.  The coach (Sargent Slaughter) had no water cooler, no shade cover and was nowhere near a tree.  Was this some kind of boot camp for kids that their parents thought would toughen them up?  I wasn’t pleased with this type of coaching but then again, I am not coaching youth soccer.   I just wonder if these kids will start hating this coach and dreading soccer after this type of behavior.  Read More →

Football is Everywhere

The NFL training camps are in full swing and the season only a month away.  Just to let you know that football is played in various forms in other parts of the world.  In Ireland its Gaelic football and in Australia they play Australian Rules Football (Footy) and not to mention rugby that is played worldwide.  In fact, the Rugby World Cup is coming up in September in England. If you are not that familiar with the way football is played everywhere else in the world except America and Canada, then you owe to yourself to check it out.  The games are faster with less wasted time for beer commercials and instant replay.  The all have contact and tackling which appeals to the US fan and there is great athleticism on display throughout the games.  The biggest difference is the size of the players, no three hundred and fifty pound lineman are running down the field passing and kicking the ball. The Australia Rule Football League is serious stuff, with the most high speed body contact of the three.  I did forget to mention that the players on these squads are using minimal padding and protection.  Even though I wouldn’t want a three hundred pound lineman pounding me down into the turf, I also couldn’t take a fierce Aussie crashing into me in midair. The crowds are just as boisterous and go bonkers on scores like the NFL fans.  If I ever make it over to Ireland it would be a tossup for which sport I would want to see first, Gaelic football or Hurling.  Treat yourself and go down to 20060924185206_rugbyan Irish pub and check out some of this action.

Kelly Slater, Not Just a Surf God

Kelly Slater is one of the best athletes ever to come out of the United States, and he is not really a household name.  Why is that?  Because he rides waves and he is not one seek out the media, the media finds him.  He is not only the most decorated surfer since it has been a considered a competitive sport but also a great ambassador and philanthropist.   What else could you ask for in a professional athlete?

Slater excels in a professional sport that doesn’t pay millions and millions for performance.  As of 2015 has earned around four million in purses since his start in 1990.  Yes that is 1990, Slater is forty three years old and still kicking butt.  He is a true role model for any athlete that takes his craft seriously with dedication, respect and passion.  One doesn’t realize what it takes physically to compete as a pro surfer which requires tremendous strength, balance and most of all confidence in your skills.

Slater has been ranked number one on the ASP World Tour eleven times and won more tour events than anybody.  He was the youngest to be crowned at the age of 20 and the oldest at the age of 39. He has surfed the world over and over and has found his favorite places to be Pipeline in Oahu, Hawaii and Kirra in Australia.

Slater was born on February 1, 1972 in Cocoa Beach Florida, where he still owns a home.   He became obsessed with surfing at an early age and became really good in his early teens.  He was able to turn pro in high school and was soon traveling the world.

In addition to being an immortal surf god, Slater is a fine guitar player, a +2 handicap golfer, practices Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, and has been in countless television shows and movies. As you see he uses his mind and body to a high potential and lives his life to his own drummer.

Slater supports a number of charities such as Reef Check, which mission is protecting reefs in California. Slater is on the Board of Advisors for the Ocean Advocacy Advisory Board and the Sea Shepherd Conversation Society. He is also a fundraiser and spokesperson for suicide prevention awareness.  He has surfed in events for Surfers against Suicide.

Lastly, in 2010 he was honored by the US House of Representatives for his outstanding and unprecedented achievements in the world of surfing and for being an ambassador of the sport and excellent role model.  Kelly Slater is definitely one rare individual that keeps excelling when others retire at much earlier age.  What an inspiring guy for us older folks and role model for all of the youngsters.

 

No Deflate Gate Here…Just Rugby

Pantini: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist

After writing about the Tour de France,I still wanted to complete my research about the event.  My research led me to a good documentary now on Netflix called, “Pantani: The Accidental Death of a Cyclist.”   It’s documentary on the life and timespantani_ed by his Italian countrymen as he was king of the cycling world for a few years.

Not only does the film capture the life of Pantani, the viewer gets to see incredible footage of European cycling events.  You get to see the beautiful landscapes of the French countryside as the racers come pedaling through.  Next moment you are seeing  amazing crowd shots as the riders are racing through the narrow streets to adoring fans.  A lot of the footage seems to be taken by individuals on bikes or cars and looks amazingly like “Go Pro” footage.  I really enjoyed the perspective of the hill climbs and the strategy employed by the riders.

The life of Marco Pantani is one of that reaches tremendous highs and lows.  The pinnacle taking place in 1998 when he won both the Giro d’Italia and the Tour de France, never done in the world of professional cycling.  The lowest is the brutal crash with a car in 1995 that left him with multiple fractures in his legs.  Another high was his inspiring comeback to win two stages of the Tour de France in 1997.

The most troubling aspect of Pantani’s career is the doping allegations that plagued him from 1999 on.  Pantani passed away in 2004 believably from the result of a cocaine overdose.  He will always be remembered as one of the best hill climbers of his era in professional road bicycle racing.  In addition, he was a fan favorite known for his colorful and endearing personality.  Lastly, the film will give you a voyeuristic look into the life of a cyclist and the world class events they compete in.