Archive for category sports

More Daredevils

These hikers I can relate to…only because I once walked– and sometimes crawled–on a similar ridge that was like a knife edge maybe 100-200 feet high. The Pacific Ocean was on either side of the rise in northern California. And there was a trail that others with more confidence would walk along. My companions called me crazy, waited in the flat areas and yelled at me for making THEM nervous. But I wouldn’t have died if I’d fallen. Just broken some bones and maybe drowned in the powerful surf. Oh to be young like that again…or actually, I am glad I did it and survived and know that my sense of balance isn’t what it used to be.

This next clip of city thrill-seekers does convince me that some people really are nuts. But I am sure it was pretty thrilling. Not everyone can make it to a mountain in the wilderness. So you use what the city has to offer:

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Fearless Spirits Inspire And Humble Us

What kind of humans take these risks? Check out this unicyclist (around 45 seconds in) riding inches from certain death. For what? Is it even a thrill to this kind of person? He can’t be too scared from the danger…or he wouldn’t do it. Does he simply think he is invincible? A superman who would never be in an accident?

This website has lots of other dare devils in action. Here is one of a parkour guy walking around the high parts of a building he managed to sneak into. No fear of heights or a slip to his death.

It certainly motivates me to test my limits…a little bit. But never to this extent. Is it purely genetic? These kids are alone…not trying to show off to buddies who are goading them. It really is insane!!! They definitely must love doing it…

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Cycle for Survival Raises $30 Million

starting the ride with grandchildren(my right and behind) and friends

starting the ride with grandchildren (my right and behind) and friends

On March 13th, I was spinning for the 6th time in the annual Cycle for Survival fundraiser. Another $30 million was raised for Memorial Sloan Kettering to study rare cancers and hopefully cure them…or at least make the illness less painful for patients. This year’s total was up from $25 million last year…bringing the total to $105 million, since these events started in 2007. This year over 27,000 riders in maybe 15 cities rode to raise funds.

I was again really tired after my 50-minute ride. I barely trained before the big day. And then I played tennis four days in the following week. I was exhausted…only playing tennis so much, because groups needed subs two of those days.

But I realized later that I was also mentally and emotionally drained this year. Too painful to be reminded so intensely that my son-in-law Evan was not there as in previous years to cheer on his friends and family like last year or to actually ride for four hours as he did almost all of the previous years. I really missed him. I again couldn’t help getting into the loud music and following the trainer’s “orders” to climb up the hill out of the saddle. I had practiced that technique 2-3 times an hour when I trained at home. We must have done it 15-20 times at the event for real. It hurt.

But knowing that Evan was gone since last July was just too upsetting. My enthusiasm was false.

I love to tell the story of how last year Evan couldn’t ride, because he had just had back surgery. So he stood and clapped and cheered for four hours to keep the rest of us riding eagerly and ignoring our weariness. I know that I couldn’t have been that strong. After the Event, there was no family snack in a nearby restaurant. I assumed Evan was just too tired and went home to recover. Later I learned he had gone right home…but only to pick up his suitcase and escort his University of Pennsylvania city-planning students from JFK to Brasilia, where they spent a couple of weeks working on an actual design project for the government. What a guy!

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73-Year-Old John Maultsby Completes 50 Marathons In All 50 States

What I like most about this man’s accomplishment is not that he ran all those races. Not even that he didn’t start distance running until his late 50s and finished his first marathon at 60. No, what stands out for me is that he created this goal for himself that has so much meaning to him that it keeps him going and in shape and in training. Just recently someone said how fortunate it is to be excited about “anything.” My friend Joe always says that not too many people are passionate. Well this runner certainly is, and it’s motivating him to reach his goals.

Now that he is completed a marathon in every state, he wants to run one in every continent. Isn’t Antarctica a continent? How you going to run 26 miles there, Man?

John Maultsby completes his 50th marathon in 50 different states

John Maultsby completes his 50th marathon in 50 different states

Finishing just one marathon in your lifetime is something to be pretty proud of, but for 73-year-old John Maultsby, it just wasn’t enough.

Last November, Maultsby championed a feat few can lay claim to. He finished running a string of 50 marathons–one in every state.

Maultsby was cheered on by a crowd that included his wife, mother, and three daughters as he crossed the finish line at a New Hampshire race.

Maultsby’s daughter, Mabel, said that John had always been a runner, but took up distance running in his late 50s to help lower his blood pressure. He also adopted a vegan diet and soon started running long distances.

His first marathon was at age 60. It was during his first race, when he saw a man wearing a shirt that said “50 States Finisher,” that John thought he too could accomplish the feat.

It’s taken 13 years, but John finally completed his nationwide goal and now plans on running marathons on every continent. He’s run seven marathons this year alone and has run the Boston Marathon nine times.

“He’s so motivated,” Mabel said. “I’m so inspired by his motivation … by his balls-to-the-wall attitude…he still looks like the man he was in his late 50s!”

John believes he “looks older than he feels,” Mabel says, adding that he’s still very much “young at heart.”

As for the secret to staying in shape in his 70s? “The secret to longevity is happiness and a very supportive family,” Mabel said. “He’s trying to keep positive and always keeping goals. That’s what’s kept him going all this time.”

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Alan Eustace Sky Dives From Record Breaking 25 Miles

Alan Eustace rises to record balloon height hanging in his space suit

Alan Eustace rises to record balloon height hanging in his space suit

Well records are made to be broken. I wrote about Felix Baumgartner’s highest-ever balloon ascent in 2012, when he reached 127,851 feet, which is almost 24 miles. It was an exciting and televised event that was called the Red Bull Stratos and had Felix rising inside a capsule that he opened and jumped out of.

But I learned recently that last April 14th, Google executive Alan Eustace rose higher, suspended from another balloon in his space suit as part of the Paragon StratEx (stratospheric explorer) project. Alan released himself at 135,899 feet and made it back safely after a free fall descent and then a parachute.

You can learn more at the StratEx web site and also in this NY Times article .

For a little over two hours, the balloon ascended at speeds up to 1,600 feet per minute to an altitude of more than 25 miles. Mr. Eustace dangled underneath in a specially designed spacesuit with an elaborate life-support system. He returned to earth just 15 minutes after starting his fall.

“It was amazing,” he said. “It was beautiful. You could see the darkness of space and you could see the layers of atmosphere, which I had never seen before.”

Mr. Eustace cut himself loose from the balloon with the aid of a small explosive device and plummeted toward the earth at speeds that peaked at 822 miles per hour, setting off a small sonic boom heard by people on the ground.

Below is the short video available, and a longer documentary is in production. I learned about this achievement from one of the team members who was involved, and her enthusiasm and pride were very exciting to encounter first hand.

Imagine what it must have been like for Alan to say, “Well guys, I am going to take a few days off from work to jump into the atmosphere from 25 miles up. Hope I see you on Monday!”

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Awkward Lingo And Acupuncture

Funny to read in the December 21 post that Jason is also suffering from “tennis elbow.” My injury is from too much tennis. His is from strenuous arm wrestling. But I never heard of “arm wrestling elbow.” He is lucky that he can continue training during his inflammation.

For months now I have been advised to either have surgery or take Cortisone injections. I did neither. But I also didn’t stop playing–just cut back and learned a two-handed backhand. I did have five iontophoresis treatments, in which a medicine solution is poured on a patch that has an electric current sent through it that forces the liquid by osmosis to penetrate the skin and the muscle. Each session was about 20 minutes.

The therapist also used acupuncture at the same time for three sessions. During the second time, the muscle sort of jolted or popped or released when the needles were inserted. I don’t recall having acupuncture before. My father was a big believer in acupuncture long before it was legal in this country. He had an acupuncture doll showing where the meridians are and may have been one of the only chiropractors in the US in the 1950s who used his thumbs on the pressure points.

I wasn’t totally cured, but the discomfort is much much less. Unfortunately I have held off for months now using weights and doing push ups, so my upper body muscles have really dwindled.

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Adapt Or Die

One of my greatest strengths–no brag, just fact–is my ability to alter my actions as my circumstances change. I have done it in business by creating new products to serve new markets or killing products that were in dying markets. I am now in my fifth or sixth career, learning new skills in the evenings to move out of fading or limited industries. I have relocated to the country from Manhattan, when I decided the Big Apple was too congested. I stopped eating high-cholesterol foods, when I discovered my blood fat was approaching likely heart attack levels. Somehow I can adapt. Not everyone can. Not sure it’s a gift…but it’s definitely a blessing.

Since I acquired a tennis elbow from too much activity, I have felt discomfort or pain in my arm every time I hit a backhand. A one-hand backhand. I love the beauty of the one-hander. I like being part of this minority: Just one in five professional male players uses the one-hander. 80% of pro and Challenger male players use a two-hander. Only two women of the top 50 WTA pros use a one-hander. From being pretty much the only way to hit a backhand prior to 1970, the shot has gradually been eclipsed by the sturdier, more dependable double-hander.

Whatever the reasons, I discovered that when I used two hands for a backhand, there was hardly any pain in my backhand shots. Voila! This was a terrific discovery. So for the last four matches, after not playing but once in two weeks over Thanksgiving holidays, I tried two hands. I hit some real slow loopers that often went out, but sometimes stayed in. At least I could do it. Fun without pain.

Yesterday I took a lesson and was able to practice a two-hander for the first time. Fifteen minutes. And some of the shots were pretty good. In and low and a bit of pop. I was adapting again. Giving up on the beauty of a one-hander and adding a another obstacle to my game. I had to forget about my 8-9 years of tennis playing and start acquiring a new skill in addition to all the other techniques I am struggling to master…actually not master, just execute better.

What the hell.

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Danny MacAskill On Spanish Rooftops

I love Danny’s amazing cycling talent. A friend suggested I should take up this startling sport. Not yet…maybe later.

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Theo Sanson’s Relaxed Sunday Slackline Stroll

The story I read about this slackline walk started off with a nice question about how you spent your weekend? Raking leaves? Drinking beer? “But even if you’re fearless, we guarantee whatever it was can’t come close to the insanity of Théo Sanson’s Sunday stroll—along 500 meters of ribbon-thin slack line between two ridiculously high points in Castle Valley, Utah. Yes, it’s a new world record, and no, you probably wouldn’t ever consider trying it yourself.”

Here is another video in which Theo talks about his spiritual attitude that allows him to walk on his line. He says your mind and body and spirit are closely connected, and all have to be in balance. Also that your soul is your connection to the infinite. You must contemplate to have a calm body if your mind is uneasy…and vice versa.

In this video you can also see more clearly that he is attached to the line, so that if he falls, he only hangs a few feet below the slack line. Not to take away any credit for his achievements…

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Skydiver Dangles Dangerously After Jumpsuit Catches On Plane

After my buddy Joe jumped from a plane at 10,000 feet, he said that the hardest part was getting in position to jump by moving from the cramped cockpit and over the struts. Here is a story about how precarious it can be:

A skydiver in Peru is lucky to be alive after he got caught on the plane while trying to jump out.

Fernando Gava’s jumpsuit got stuck to the plane’s step according to Maurice Mathey, a friend who recorded the frightening footage.

Gava dangled precariously upside down for about 30 minutes while the plane circled at an altitude of about 10,000 feet.

Finally, Gava used a knife to cut himself loose.

Once he was free of the plane, he released his parachute without incident. His only injury was a cut to his hand from the knife.

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Joe Adler Parachutes 10,000 Feet To Celebrate Birthday

is he praying before jumping?

is he praying before jumping?

Although my friend Joe Adler still works energetically seven days a week, he is really not very athletic. In fact, his physical activities only include walking up and down one flight of stairs and strolling infrequently around a lake wearing Heavy Hands. But for his 75th birthday, he decided to set a record and wrote the following:

I don’t usually acknowledge birthdays — but yesterday I decided to commemorate the day by jumping from a perfectly good plane at 10,000 feet — with the added handicap of an almost perfect stranger strapped to my back!

flying like a bird

flying like a bird

After filling out the paperwork, they advised me that anything could happen — including “injury or death” — with no legal recourse on my part.
I was then asked to view a video where the developer of the Tandem system vowed that no system, no equipment, no instructor is perfect.

Here’s are some stills from my Leap of Faith — not easy for an avowed Atheist!
And here is the video .

fearless and relaxed like a pro

fearless and relaxed like a pro

When I was in the army, I jumped five times to earn my wings. But these were combat style from just 1200 feet and attached to a clothesline. My brother made 66 jumps between military and civilian. But his highest freefall was a “mere” 6500 feet. And that is why in our little group, Joe is the recordholder and champion!

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Linda Widrich Cycled Across America In 1969

Linda Widrich in 1969

Linda Widrich in 1969

Yesterday’s story about women motorcyclists reminded me of Linda Widrich Weitz…a high-school classsmate from Miami Beach who graduated with me in 1958. She may not have been a “badass,” like the women bikers in yesterday’s post, but she was ahead of her time!

“I owned several bikes beginning in 1964 when I moved to NYC and rode until 1971. I didn’t like buses or subways – taxis were $$$ and one had to wait for an available one. I was in Central Park one day and a gang of bikers drove through. I went to Better Ideas In Motion in midtown and bought my first bike. And that began my love affair with bikes. I wanted to compete in the bike scrambles in Fishkill and other nearby places but women weren’t permitted. It was a wonderful period in my journey!

“In 1969 I went to Woodstock with my boyfriend. We attached a trailer to his Firebird – nailed parallel boards onto the floor to hold the (motorcycle’s) tires in place – and got to within 17 miles of Yasgur’s farm where the road was deadlocked with abandoned cars. We pulled off the road – left the car and trailer – and rode in the rest of the way. To sleep we rode back to the trailer and threw a tarp over it to stay dry. It was an AWESOME experience. And the MUSIC …mind blowing!

“Sometime after seeing (the movie) Easy Rider, I got the bug to just get on my bike and ride. I quit my job, packed up my bike with my sleeping bag, and took off for a two-month, cross-country trip from NY to California. This adventure afforded me the opportunity to see our country and meet people in a way I could not have imagined.

“It seems like several lifetimes ago. Sometimes I get a bug and want to buy a bike but I know it’s not the right thing for me to do at age 75 living in Miami Beach with the world’s worst drivers. I envy your being able to get on your bike and ride…enjoy!”

I dunno. If she could ride daily in New York City, how much worse could Miami Beach be? But what a trip she took! She was a real free spirit and lived one of her dreams early on…

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Women On Motorcycle Front Seats

Nina Kaplan

Nina Kaplan

Rode my motorcycle home from the repair shop today and remembered this story about badass women on motorcycles…who are driving, rather than just being a showpiece on the back:

Motorcycling is primarily a male-dominated industry. Women, historically in motorcycling, have been used as more of an accessory in motorcycling. I just think with what’s going on politically, and just how progressive parts of the country are, a powerful woman is starting to become a more trendy woman. It’s starting to be cool, you know.

I don’t know if you’ve seen Maybeline’s new girl [Ruby Rose], but she’s this tatted chick, she’s very androgynous, she has short hair. She just looks like a badass. You can see [the shift] happening in popular culture. It’s really cool to see, and I think that’s totally translating to the motorcycling industry as well.

Imogen Lehtonen

Imogen Lehtonen

And I think that the photos that we’re seeing, these kind of all women’s motorcycle events, campaigns of Harley Davidson featuring all women are just kind of proof that things are starting to shift.

Who’d have guessed that as women see themselves differently, it’s affecting where they sit on a bike? Or that they are buying more motorcycles themselves. Especially as they see other women (and photos of them) who are riding around on the front. Empowerment creates change.

The story is about women who motorcycled across the country and also took pics of other women driving bikes of their own. They followed the roads taken 100 years ago by Effie Hotchkiss and her mother, who were the first women to complete a cross-country motorcycle trip.

Nina Kaplan up close

Nina Kaplan up close

Jenny Czinder

Jenny Czinder

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Did I Overdue It?

From August 12th to September 4th is 24 days. I am proud to say that I played tennis 18 times. Hardly tired. Thrilled I could do it. At the end, on the day of my “big” tournament match (that I lost), my arm was hurting. Poor backhand technique, maybe a strain, tennis elbow or just too much of a push.

Since then I have held off playing some times, hate the idea that I might be out for weeks or months, doing exercises, resting…until I am invited to sub. Can’t just stop for two weeks and really give it a rest. Love the game too much. Afraid of not being able to play.

Great to have passions. Stupid to risk serious injury. But I write these words after playing last night and not being smart enough to cancel tomorrow’s scheduled game.

Why are we all so silly???

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Wrong Attitude For Winning

I have to laugh at myself yet again. Played in the B-level doubles quarter finals, attempting to defend our championship from the year before. Won the first set in a tie break, 7-5. At the beginning of the second set, I told my opponents that I felt sorry for them, losing such a close contest. WRONG! I remembered that I should have NO SYMPATHY, but a killer instinct instead. Too late…

We lost the next set 1-6…and the momentum. Up 2-0 in the third, then up 4-3 and serving. Then lost 4-6. I wish I could blame it all on my partner. But that wouldn’t be honest. I played poorly. Missed too many shots or hit “winners” that were returned. I felt awful.

My friends tried to cheer me up, but I was really disappointed. Then one kicked me in my emotional butt and reminded me about the refugees trying to reach Europe. I stopped feeling sorry for myself right away.

The first year I published my book of commercial photography, one talent was really pissed that the colors on his page were not satisfactory to him. He ranted and raved. At one point of frustration with his attitude, I pointed out that life could be worse, “Think of the boat people,” (who were drowning as they left Vietnam and Cambodia in flimsy, overloaded crafts). I never forgot his response: “Fuck the boat people! I don’t give a damn about them. I just want my page printed better!!!

How we all distort our priorities. Even me. I immediately felt better after being reminded about the refugees pouring into Europe these days. You’d think I could simply enjoy being able to play in a tennis match just days after hearing and writing here about an acquaintance who died six months or so after retirement and just two weeks after discovering he was sick. It’s not always that easy. We all have our thoughts and misplaced values…

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Life And Tennis Update

Well that was a big gap in writing anything. Longest since I started this site in April 2009. I was definitely in a funk about all the sad personal events as well as the global crises. But there is mostly good news.

I went to a second cardiologist who gave me a special new test for coronary disease and learned in 15 minutes that my blockages are right in the mid-point for people my age. In fact some arteries are only 15-20% blocked, while others are 30-40% blocked. Invasive surgery to look with a camera and possibly put in a stent is only done if the blockage is 80-90%. So no surgery necessary. That was a relief.

Being given the go-ahead to play as much tennis as I wanted–or could–I accepted invitations to substitute in other games in addition to my twice-a-week regular dates. But I overdid it a bit, playing six times in six days (twice–morning and afternoon–one day for 4+ hours total). That week stretched out to 10 times in 12 days, and I admit that I am sore and tired. The biggest problem is the 80-degree plus heat…because playing in the cooler, late afternoons (6 pm) is much easier.

Next challenge of course is to improve my game…a constant in my life.

Ten minutes ago I learned that a man I knew and respected–but haven’t spoken to in 11 years–retired at age 65 last June, only to discover in January this year that he had cancer. Didn’t even know it…and then he died two weeks later! So sad, so terrifying.

This is how life is…it’s not extraordinary. Today and last week the global stock markets are falling in huge ways, people are losing their life savings, there is panic and regret and fear of the future. Completely understandable.

All the more reason to enjoy and accomplish, while we have the chance. You can’t put off all the good times for the future, because you may not have a future. It’s just the way it is…

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Confronting Death And Illness

Bella resting

Bella resting

It’s been a confronting month with regards to health and exercise. I am still doing 5-15 minutes of something, whether push ups, flys, etc: yesterday was 1318 consecutive days. I have also been playing tennis 3-5 times a week…even 6 times one week this month.

But I also didn’t pass my annual physical EKG automatically…a PVC (premature ventricular contraction) that necessitated two stress tests, the second with radioactive isotopes to look at my heart muscle with a cat scan. The cardiologist meeting is coming up July 1st, but it sounds like it’s NOT life threatening. She said I could continue playing tennis and to just watch out for symptoms greater than being out of breath for 5-10 seconds after a tough point. One player told me it takes him a minute or two to recover.

I only needed to raise my heart rate during the tests to 124 before quitting after one more minute of fast walking. I went to 170 and 155, which was terrific for my age group. I also started taking a baby aspirin a day, and after two weeks of this, I will have had more of those pills than in my entire life. I do like the citrus flavor.

However I really mind being normal and having health issues like everyone else I know. I am not used to it. I am spoiled. I have been blessed with good genes and also consciously avoiding bad foods and habits. In fact my cholesterol went down again to 187 from 196 last year, 218 in 2008, and 237 in 2005, when I first learned I had a problem. Changing my diet and exercising more often has really paid off. But I still have a slight abnormal blockage in one artery it appears.

I know, I know…it’s better than most guys my age. And nothing worth mentioning compared to others with far more serious illnesses, like cancer. Even my dog has cancer, has received chemo treatments for months and has not eaten for almost two weeks now. I thought we might put her down this morning, but we decided to wait another day. These sick friends and relatives have upset me terribly. I have been down and in a funk, though not depressed. It’s so sad, and I hate feeling helpless.

My dog breed’s life expectancy is 12-13 years. Bella is 12 1/2, so she is right on schedule and has had a great life. I can live with her demise more easily. When my father died at 88, I felt like he had also enjoyed a good run. And I have already had 74 years, so I won’t complain. Though when I had my birthday in April, I realized I may have “just” another 10-15 years…until I was shook up in May by my physical.

But it is very upsetting when friends in their early 50s become seriously ill, like one who died a few years ago at 54. I know Life is not fair, but it still pisses me off to see randomness in action. Living is such an uncertain and fragile adventure. Another friend fell two weeks ago and landed on her chest and knees. No broken bones, but she might have hit her head and been seriously injured. Two days ago I fell over a curb inside a restaurant, where it was dark and there was a gap between the potted plants. Luckily I landed on my knees and hand and didn’t shatter my right, tennis wrist.

I never forget that I could be living in a war zone, or starving, or lacking water. My friends from California who stayed with me this weekend were thrilled to take a shower that lasted more than three minutes. We must all savor the good moments.

Bella on Father's Day

Bella on Father’s Day

I will miss many of those I had with Bella, as she chased tennis balls I hit and flushed pheasants I often missed. She has been a loving friend and companion. As the android said in Blade Runner: “Time to die…”

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Insane City Cycling Race In Chile

Positively insane, terrifying, admirable! You cannot believe that people do this kind of downhill street cycling.

This happens on the streets of Valparaiso, Chile. The Valparaiso Cerro Abajo Race is a legendary urban bike race and is more extreme than skydiving out of an exploding F-18 piloted by Charlie Sheen. The rider must brave jumps, stray dogs, and flights of stairs along the steep downhill path. The first person perspective provided by the excellent helmet cam lets us take in every glorious and frightening detail. Do yourself a favor and watch this one in full screen mode.

Also, check out this still-photo roundup from the 2011 race, which was won by Filip Polc

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How To Celebrate Your Birthday

Yesterday was my 74th birthday. I sat around the house enjoying family and friends. It snowed, I ate poached salmon and wine and carrot cake. Very sweet. Buttttttttt…..

For her 100th birthday, Georgina Harwood jumped out of a plane! It was her third (tandem) jump since she was 92! Now granted that I jumped out of planes five times in the army, when I was 22. So I could say, “Been there, done that.” But I won’t. Georgina earns a “tip of the hat, m’lady…”

And that wasn’t all. Two weeks later, this South African great-grandmother dove in a cage to see sharks up close. She said it was “the experience of a lifetime. Exhilarating.”

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Back From Viewing Japanese Cherry Blossoms

Shinbashi Street is lit up at night for more cherry-blossom viewing

Shinbashi Street is lit up at night for more cherry-blossom viewing

Have returned home after two weeks in Japan, and still jet lagging. Went to visit my son who lives there. Always a challenge to do my daily exercises, especially when traveling 30 hours door-to-door. Am now at 1240 consecutive days.

One day I climbed too many steps of a shrine to the top of the “mountain.” Did it with my daughter, so we bonded in a tiring effort. Took about two hours round trip. Another day our family walked five miles looking at parks, temples and streets festooned with blossoming cherry trees.

Here are some photos:

walking down at last at the Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto

walking down at last at the Fushimi Inari shrine in Kyoto

dressing in kimonos is common in Kyoto

dressing in kimonos is common in Kyoto

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Judgements About Risk And Death

Yesterday’s article about Alex Honnold stimulated many interesting reader comments. Those below are particularly poignant…and even hilarious

ernieh1
Queens, NY

Life is defined by risk. Every time you enter a crosswalk at a busy time of the day, you take a risk. Buy a pack of chicken parts from the meat counter, you take a risk. Sell Apple stock short, you take a risk. So in everyone’s life, the various risks that they take in to survive, or even to find that elusive, probably non-existent thing called “happiness,” is defined by risks.

So any single life is in fact, a “basket” or collection of risks one takes, and those risks define who you are in a fundamental way. What I see is that Mr. Honnold has invested nearly all of his “risk-capital” into one spectacular risk that defines his life the way he wants to live it.

People may think that he is being selfish by not dedicating his life to “helping others,” but that ignores that fact that by pursuing this particular dream or obsession, he is taking a path 180 degrees opposite to that of all the others whose self-interested agendas end up causing misery to others. So by not causing misery to others, he is helping others. “Do no harm.”

I read him as a modern mystic, a fundamentally spiritual man, a monk of mountain-climbing if you will. As such, he has my admiration. The closest I have come to attaining that kind of mystical transcendence by defying the laws of gravity, was when I flew motorless gliders (soaring planes), as a much younger, and if you will, more foolish person.

Now I just meditate on solid ground, but still a mystic of sorts.

Crazy Me
NYC

The world in which we live was made over the last 10,000 years or so by people who were not afraid to fail and not afraid to die. Progress requires going into the unknown and going into the unknown requires risk. There is no such thing as a safe risk. If the next great climber starts on his journey toward doing the impossible as Alex is currently doing because of this article, good for him or her. Freedom allows this next climber to make decisions for himself or herself and to live with the successes and, perhaps, to die with the failures. It is their choice. Good for them whatever their decision.

I broke my leg skiing once. My choice and my fault. No blame goes to the great skiers of the world.

I just made a contribution to the U.S. Bobsled and Skeleton team. I know one of the rider’s families and she, like so many of our elite athletes in non-revenue generating sports, can use the support. She flies head first down mountains. Has she been hurt? Yep! Does she get back on the sled? Yep. Does she amaze me? Yep. Is she intelligent enough to make a decision about whether doing this is a good idea? You bet. If she wins her dream is the reward her’s or mine? Hers. All hers. And I will cheer until I am hoarse. If the unthinkable happens and she dies, will I admire her less? Not a bit.

You go boys and you go girls. Show us how to manage the fear that paralyzes we lesser humans and go do the impossible.

Will
New York

To characterize Alex Honnold as “one of the two or three best rock climbers on earth” is, with respect to the author, completely the wrong way to put what Alex does, and I’m a little disappointed that the article barely touches on the psychology of free soloing.

There are many, many rock climbers who are more technically proficient than Alex is (including Kevin Jorgenson and Tommy Caldwell), and are able to climb much harder routes than Alex free solos. However, unlike Alex, they climb with a rope that protects them from falling to their deaths should they make a mistake (which is an extraordinarily sensible thing to have). They have the luxury of not having their climbing mentality impacted by the constant possibility of death. Climbers far “better” than Alex would never be able to climb the comparatively “easy” routes that Alex does, because they just cannot suppress panic/fear the way Alex does — that is, 100.0000% of the time. If you free solo and only seize up from fear of dying one out of every million steps, you’re dead.

What Alex does is beyond “rock climbing.” Free soloing at the level Alex does takes world-class technical climbing skill, for sure, but what matters far more is a mentality to either ignore or perfectly suppress the built in fear-death evolutionary instinct that we’re all supposed to have. For the rest of us, what Alex does is incomprehensible, in the most literal sense of the word.

Ask Save
San Diego, CA

There are old climbers and there are bold climbers, but there are no old bold climbers. Enjoy this while he lasts. Climbing is a ton of fun and a great way to stay in shape, achieve mental clarity, and enjoy the great outdoors. It’s a bummer to see such a great publication glorify unsafe climbers though. NYTimes next “inspiring” article should highlight the world’s best Russian roulette player.

Hotblack Desiato
Magrathea

Good grief these comments depress me. Apparently the only acceptable activity for many these days is one that helps society and involves little risk, which pretty much means that everyone has to be a ticket taker at a merry-go-round. Even then you could get conked on the head by a wooden horse. What to do?

Mark F
Philly

This guy is going to die. He should not be given ANY admiration for the choices in his life — and for the countless choices on vertical rocks he continues to covet and make, climb after climb — that defy logic, commonsense, and, up to now, odds.

There is nothing to admire about choosing death, which will come as the result of one slip or miscalculated move.

No parent, child, spouse, or family dog would — without serious and genuine reservation — support such repeated purposeless risks. Outside of his own personal journey, what’s the point for his family or community?

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Alex Honnold Challenges Death Each Time He Plays

Here are excerpted paragraphs from an amazing and long story about Alex Honnold, one of the world’s two or three greatest rock face climbers. And he does what is called free soloing: no ropes of any kind, neither to help him up or to prevent a fall. He risks death every time. What stands out for me is not just what he does, but that he does not seem to have any fear about doing it. Especially when I am merely trying to not tense up in a game, when I am serving a tennis ball. Both times watching the video I felt my palms go sweaty. Terrifying.

Unroped climbing is, of course, the oldest kind, but ropes and hardware can provide such a reliable safety net that nearly all climbers now use them. This is typically done in pairs, with one climber tied to each end of the rope, moving one at a time.

But using gear slows progress. A roped pair, taking turns climbing and fussing with all that equipment, might spend six hours on a climb that a free-soloist floats up in 30 minutes — focusing purely on the pleasure of movement, the tactile sensation of hands on rock. On cliffs where even elite climbers employ complicated rope systems, the free-soloist wears only shorts, a T-shirt, a pair of climbing shoes and a bag of gymnast’s chalk to keep the hands dry. Honnold has free-soloed the longest, most challenging climbs ever, including the 2,500-foot northwest face of Half Dome in Yosemite Valley, where some of the handholds are so small that no average climber could cling for an instant, roped or otherwise. Most peculiar of all, even to elite rock climbers, Honnold does this without apparent fear, as if falling were not possible.

At one level, free-soloing can be seen as the most extreme expression of the same progression: One generation aid-climbs a route, the next climbs it in record time, the next free-climbs it, then it’s time for someone to climb it without ropes. But free-soloing is so much more dangerous and frightening, even to highly experienced climbers, that a vast majority want no part of it.

Climbers know that fear itself can cause a climber to panic on the side of a cliff. To get a sense of the experience, try a thought experiment: Picture hanging from a pull-up bar in a playground, with your toes inches off the ground, and feel the calm security of your grip. Now imagine standing on the edge of a skyscraper with that same pull-up bar suspended at eye level two feet in front of you. Lean forward to grab that bar and let your feet swing free, so that you’re hanging by your hands. Look down. How’s your grip now?

Even if you have perfect confidence in your climbing ability and perfect emotional control in the face of danger, as Honnold appears to, most climbers fear the unexpected: the handhold that suddenly breaks, the bird that erupts from a hidden nest. I was once 50 feet up a Yosemite cliff when thousands of biting ants poured out of the rock to attack my bare arms and legs. Free-soloists also die with alarming regularity.

When I asked Honnold’s mother how she tolerated her son’s climbing life, she told me that at some point she realized that she couldn’t live with worrying all the time. “Alex is the only one on the planet who knows what Alex can do, and I’ve had to learn to just trust that.”

Honnold enters death-fall territory with the same casual deliberateness that someone might apply to arranging knickknacks in a bedroom.

The world’s greatest climbers struggle to make sense of this mysterious sang-froid. “Most of us think dying is a really serious, scary thing, but I don’t think Alex does,” says Caldwell, who has climbed extensively with Honnold and considers him a close friend. “He’s wired a little differently from everybody else. The risk excites him, and he knows it’s super badass, but he doesn’t allow himself to go beyond that in his mind. The other great free-soloists always talk about this conversation with death. Alex is like, ‘I’m not going to fall, it’s no big deal.’ That’s what makes him so good.”

“If I have a particular gift, it’s a mental one,” Honnold wrote. “The ability to keep it together where others might freak out. . . . Whether or not we’re sponsored, the mountains are calling, and we must go.”

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One-Finger Pull Up

Who knew that this was do-able? This video shows how Magnus Midtbo trains for wall and rock face climbing. I looked for this pull up accomplishment after reading about climber Alex Honnold, who could do a one-finger pull up by age 16. I realized climbers needed strong fingers…but this is insane…

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Another Cycle For Survival

Well I did it! Rode in this year’s Cycle for Survival event and helped raise $24,750,000. My Team Evan raised $54,000+ with the addition of our new California group. That’s $76 million since 2007, all for rare cancer research. And from 230 riders the first year to 20,000 in 2015.

riding next to my granddaughter Avery

riding next to my granddaughter Avery

The first 10 minutes were surprisingly hard for me, and I panicked that I wouldn’t be able to cycle for an hour. But then it gradually became easier and demanded less effort. Especially after the half hour mark. I got into the zone, spurred on by the loud music, cheerleaders, instructors’ urgings, and some younger riders around me who were pedaling at twice my speed. I was even howling passionately with the crowd

After the race with Evan and my grandson, Dylan

After the race with Evan and my grandson, Dylan

The hardest part is standing up out of the saddle to climb an imaginary hill. I’d practiced that for a minute here and there at home. But the boot camp, drill instructors had us going up and down every 20 seconds at times. It was exhausting at first…and painful. I could have just stayed seated and pedaled gently the whole time. But I didn’t want to cycle like that. I was determined. I survived my own mini-challenge.

crazy mad cheerleaders keep the riders pumped

crazy mad cheerleaders keep the riders pumped

Thank you all for your contributions and words of encouragement. They really helped motivate me. Now I can put away the bike for another year…

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How To Upgrade Your Life By Improving Your Tennis

Once again I find myself attempting to modify my tennis performance and seeing analogous challenges and obstacles off the court in my daily life. It shouldn’t be so hard to make changes in both worlds…but it is. I think I understand why. But I can’t accept it.

For example I watch tennis coach videos and take lessons in which I have been told for years to “keep eye on ball” and follow through. I struggle with both instructions. I look to see where the ball is going more than 65% of the time before I hit it, EVEN WHEN SERVING! And right from the beginning I was taught to complete my forehand with the racket touching my left shoulder…but it often ends up pointing over the net three feet in front of my body.

Ridiculous. But the facts.

Now I can blame improper muscle memory, ADD, eagerness to see the results, lack of concentration. I can say I started playing too late in life, haven’t practiced each stroke 10,000 times, or had a messed up childhood. A neuroscientist on the radio the other day said that if you lacked certain “normal” parts of your upbringing, the circuits in your brain don’t wire up so stably that you will function successfully as a late teen. If, for example, you were raised by a single parent, there is a greater likelihood of depression and suicide.

Other less traumatic early experiences certainly influence how we turn out as adults. However I believe we can overcome those childhood neural wirings. How to do that more easily and faster is the challenge I am facing.

Hitting a better forehand is not in the same league as suicide. Nor is my difficulty in resisting sugar. Others smoke, take harmful drugs, drink excessively, blurt out words they regret, abuse people though they know it is wrong. We learn what we “should” do. So why can’t we stop ourselves from taking actions that are bad for us or harmful to others.

There is a whole school of thought suggesting that the mind and body are connected. If you are having trouble with the former, affect it by focusing on the latter. For example if you are anxious, you can go to a shrink. But alternatively you can plunk your body on the floor, breathe slowly and meditate. That might also calm you down.

My forehand problem is already a body problem, and I see that the mental input is having almost no lasting effect. Changing old ingrained habits is way too difficult. Creating a new muscle memory pattern is a better approach, but it also needs to be accompanied by thousands of repetitions. I don’t see that the brain can change the body’s motions with only a new idea. I wish it could.

One coach says you have to take tiny steps that are more like progressive drills. Practice a bit of the stroke…then another fragment…still a third piece and then put them all together in a smooth motion.

Stopping smoking or drinking or eating too much food by going cold turkey (just ceasing all of the habit suddenly) is generally thought too difficult. Winding down the undesired action by cutting back gradually is a common approach. However I continue to read that people who lose weight generally put it back on. It’s too hard to give up those overlarge portions over time.

Why is that? Do we really as a culture eat excessively, because we want to be heavy, sick, unable to move comfortably and eager to shorten our lives with bad diets? We dull our senses to remove ourselves from the pain of the world…But those drinks relax us as well, make life more pleasant and less anxious. Some drugs actually enhance our senses.

So just hearing the words…even knowing and believing that you should change your actions… doesn’t seem like enough to easily do the trick. On the other hand, with education and media attention, some people have stopped smoking…or smoking as much…and others have changed their diets to become healthier. Millions haven’t.

The conclusion is that verbal advice usually doesn’t alter the recipient’s behavior permanently, even if change is a serious goal. It doesn’t happen in life and it is proving abysmally hard in tennis. If I can find the magic connection in which words and thoughts can modify my tennis actions, I will have a real edge in improving my behavior off the court.

For now I know to keep trying, believe that it is possible, practice small drills to create new muscle memory, cheer the few successes, never give up and accept that it takes years to do anything right. Then I will have a great tennis stroke and can start working on the rest of my life.

Now if I live to 100, everything will be perfect. Or I will die before I am perfect, but proud that I kept making the effort.

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