Ironman Achieves Goals At Special Olympics
Sep 15, 2021Posted by james

Chris Nikic is a Special Olympics athlete. Just about a year ago, he became the first person with Down syndrome to complete an Ironman triathlon (2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bicycle ride and a marathon).

Once he passed the finish line, Chris’ Instagram post read “Goal set and achieved.” The post continued: “Best part of all. New family and friends. All about awareness and inclusion. Awareness for Down syndrome and Special Olympics. Inclusion for all of us with all of you.”

Guinness World Records noted the achievement. So did the Special Olympics: “As the sun barely began to rise at 5:52am on Saturday morning, 7 November 2020, Special Olympics Florida athlete Chris Nikic and his Unified partner and coach Dan Grieb, entered the water in Panama City at the start of the IRONMAN Florida triathlon. Sixteen hours and 46 minutes later, as the nighttime darkness settled in, Chris crossed the finish line and made history as the first person with Down syndrome to finish a full IRONMAN race.”

From Maitland, Chris was 21 when he completed the Panama City Beach competition. He had to complete the swim in the Gulf of Mexico, the bike ride through Panama City Beach and the 26.2-mile marathon run along the beach within 17 hours. He finished in a total time of 16 hours 46 minutes nine seconds.

Chris faced several unexpected challenges along the way. He was attacked by ants during a nutrition stop and fell from his bike several times. With blood dripping from his knee, he showed sportsmanship and grit by continuing to push forward. To prepare for the grueling challenge, Chris and his father developed the one percent better training principle. Chris aimed to improve one percent – faster and stronger – each day.

The work and the triathlon were more than just athletics, a finish line and celebration of victory for Chris. According to his father, the challenge served as Chris’ platform to become one step closer to his goal of living a life of inclusion and leadership.

Remembering 9/11
Sep 01, 2021Posted by james

Bernie Williams has often wondered about the woman from the armory.

In the years since his retirement from baseball, whenever someone would ask him about his most memorable moment in pinstripes, the New York Yankees center fielder would recall a day following September 11, 2001. It has been 20 years, and while many people and nations continue to attempt to harm the United States, 9/11 and the annual commemorations continue to reveal the best in people.

Though stricken with grief and anger, many Americans then and now vowed to uphold President George W. Bush’s words that “These acts shatter steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve.”

A few days after the attack, Bernie was part of a contingent of Yankees who visited several sites around the city engaged in relief and recovery efforts. The first stop was the 69th Regiment Armory on Lexington Avenue between East 25th and 26th streets. Bernie was unsure about what he could do to help and if ballplayers should have even entered the location. He then met a Red Cross volunteer who had been working around the clock.

Bernie told her that he just didn’t know what to say, adding “but can I give you a hug?”

The snapshot of that moment has remained with Bernie, a vivid memory with each passing anniversary. The moment, Bernie thought, also possibly was recalled often by the woman. She likely knew who gave her a hug. But, Bernie did not know her name.

Bernie’s personal manager reviewed tens of thousands of pictures to learn that Eva Usadi was at the armory that day. Two years ago, Eva and Bernie reconnected at the 9/11 Museum.

“It was a real hug. I felt it in my heart,” recalled Eva in an article. “I felt his warmth and his compassion and that he saw something in me that I didn’t even know that I needed. That is a moment that I will never forget, and I’ve spoken of it often to friends and family.”

The events of 9/11 shaped each of their futures. We know that Bernie, professionally, played a number of more successful years for the Yankees and since has focused on his music and charitable programs. Eva, meanwhile, dedicated her life to treating people with post-traumatic stress disorder, founding Trauma and Resiliency Resources, Inc., a nonprofit not too far from the armory that aims to end military veteran suicides.

Italy Has Awakened!
Aug 15, 2021Posted by james

Campioni d’Europa! Campioni d’Europa!

The chant rose louder and louder a little more than a month ago in every Italian neighborhood from Boston to Los Angeles. The chant certainly was much louder on the other side of the ocean, shaking a nation in joy as Italy’s national team, Azzurri, defeated England for the European Football Championship.

For Italy, the country where soccer is considered a religion, it was a victory with many meanings. Primarily, it was a win for Southern Europe against Northern Europe. Also, it delivered immeasurable happiness to the first European country to be devastated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

On the field, the victory symbolized triumph of David over Goliath. The English invented soccer, and, according to some people, the country’s national team benefited from some arbitral favor in the semifinal against Denmark to reach the final match. The English had a team of international stars. Its roster featured a market value of more than US$1 billion while the Italian team consisted of young and unknown players. Azzurri’s players were considered wingmen, outsiders and underdogs. Prior to the tournament, English newspapers ranked Italy as a mediocre team that should not even dream of reaching the final.

But, according to an Italian journalist, “Italy, which often is denigrated, provided lessons in democracy, efficiency, beauty, fantasy and team spirit to all of Europe with its victory at Wembley.”

The journalist then commented on the strength and intelligence of the team to reach its goal and showcase the nation’s redemption after its war-like destruction from a virus. On the field, Azzurri demonstrated its strength by first winning the three matches in the group against Turkey, Switzerland and Wales. Then, the team defeated Austria in the round of 16. Azzurri marched on by defeating Belgium (number one in the world in the FIFAFederation Internationale de Football Association) in the quarter finals. A win over formidable Spain in the semifinals was capped by defeating the host country in the final on penalties.

After almost two years in which the pandemic sowed terror and created a social depression throughout the nation, Azzurri allowed Italians again to joyfully sing its national anthem with emphasis on the words “L’Italia s’è desta” – Italy has awakened!

The Player Who Got Away From Rickey
Aug 01, 2021Posted by james

As a young man, he starred in basketball at Lafayette High School in Brooklyn. He also played baseball for an amateur team in the Coney Island Sports League, informally known as the Ice Cream League, and then enrolled at the University of Cincinnati to pursue a career as an architect.

Sports, though, tugged at him. He played for his school’s varsity baseball team as a freshman. He struck out 51 batters in 31 innings with his fastball.

He had a tryout with the New York Giants at the Polo Grounds. He was so nervous that he forgot to bring his glove. His pitches were wild and the Giants passed on him. He then traveled to Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, where Branch Rickey watched with a scout. A former major league catcher crouched behind the plate. The young man threw harder and harder until one pitch broke the catcher’s thumb though it was protected by the mitt.

Rickey said that he thought the pitcher had the best arm he had ever seen in the game, and considered providing the young man with a generous signing package of approximately $15,000.

The star of the Ice Cream League and Lafayette High School chose to think about it. He went home and then decided to try out with the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field. The team’s chief scout, Al Campanis, stood in the batter’s box. The moment was memorable, with the scout indicating that only twice did the hair on the back of his neck stand straight up. The first was when he saw Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel and the second was when he saw that fastball.

The young pitcher, who received a $20,000 package from the Dodgers, figured that at least it would cover tuition for college if baseball timed out too soon. His arm finally forced him to retire as a young man, but not until his sports career lasted longer than he had expected and hoped. He had pitched so dominantly that he quickly entered the game’s Hall of Fame.

For one of the few times in baseball, Branch Rickey did not get his player. The man who promoted Jackie Robinson, despite all the backlash hitting him square on the jaw as he tried to right a wrong in the game and society, just could not sign one of the few Jewish players at the time.

Sandy Koufax would take Rickey’s former Dodgers, though mostly in Los Angeles now, to new heights during the 1960s.

A Girl’s Dream Comes True 60 Years Later
Jul 15, 2021Posted by james

Sixty years after declaring that the dugout was no place for a girl, the Yankees rectified their error and a fan’s dream finally came true.

During the 1961 baseball season, 10-year-old Gwen Goldman wrote to her favorite team. She asked to be a bat girl. In a letter, the Yankees declined her request. Gwen kept the letter.

“While we agree with you that girls are certainly as capable as boys, and no doubt would be an attractive addition on the playing field, I am sure you can understand that in a game dominated by men a young lady such as yourself would feel out of place in a dugout,” wrote then team General Manager Roy Hamey.

Since that time, girls and women have applied for positions and have achieved success in Major League Baseball. Charley Finley, one-time owner of the Athletics, introduced girls to snag foul balls during games. Women are in management positions, with the Yankees featuring two successful woman assistant general managers. Women have owned or run teams. Women also have been slotted in many other positions from the low minors to the majors.

Not too long ago, Gwen’s daughter, Abby, sent the letter from 60 years ago to the current Yankees general manager. Brian Cashman then wrote a new letter Gwen, stating that she finally could fulfill her childhood dream.

“Despite the fact that six decades have passed since you first aspired to hold down the position as a New York Yankees Bat Girl,” wrote Brian, “it is not too late to reward and recognize the ambition you showed in writing that letter to us as a 10-year-old girl.”

So, during a game a few weeks ago, Gwen served as a Yankees honorary bat girl and threw the game’s ceremonial first pitch.

“The Yankees have just been so gracious to honor me with this…and to see that girls can stand here, and we can be bat girls, too, and we can be in the front office,” said Gwen, who wore the full uniform of the team she loved as a child.

Gwen had attended games with her father. When she was away at summer camp, he mailed to her newspapers clippings about her team. Gwen now hopes that her story will inspire young women, including her daughters and granddaughter, to chase their dreams.

Putting In The Work On Land And In The Water
Jul 01, 2021Posted by james

Though it’s summer, Curran Skoglund is out of the pool. Competitively, that is.

Curran comes from a swimming family, but at an early age he preferred to become a runner. Eventually, though, he caught on and caught up for the time he missed in the pool, becoming one of the top swimmers in New York State Section 1. Curran swam for Suffern High School in Rockland County. He was team captain during senior year, graduating with a 3.84 grade point average and with countless strokes to the honor roll.

The swimmer still likes to run, and he treads the land as much as he plies the water. Curran was team captain of his school’s cross-country team during his senior year. As a volunteer firefighter, I guess he also knows how to combine land with water.

Curran believes in keeping a solid and organized schedule to balance his studies, sports activities and life. He just plans each day be telling himself that he will have a good day. He gives each day everything he can and does his best during each moment.

Now that his next step is college, Curran’s focus is to become an athletic trainer. He also hopes to join the school’s swim and/or track teams.

While waiting to start his higher education, Curran recently provided some advice to future Rockland high school scholar-athletes: “Put in the work. For me, that’s always how it’s been. Try your best. Don’t go halfway, if you really want it, you gotta own it and go for it.”

Fields Are Filled With Beautiful People
Jun 15, 2021Posted by james

Everyone enjoyed opening day during May for the Beautiful People baseball league in Orange County. Following the lifting of COVID restrictions, players were able to have some outdoor fun, see old friends, meet other players for the first time and return to the large grass field, the rubberized field and the tee-ball field.

Beautiful People is pleased, as we all are, to begin to place the pandemic far away from the ballpark. The 14-year-old charity unites athletes, parents and volunteers. It is part of the national adaptive baseball Miracle League. The local organization recently added soccer, basketball and cheerleading to its programs.

For some athletes, such as Parimala, this was their first time on these ball fields and possibly their initial exposure to baseball. Meanwhile, a boy in a Day-Glo orange shirt quickly donned a helmet, clutched his bat and ran with old friends toward one of the fields. Elsa, a black lab service dog accompanied nine-year-old Kenny to most places on the field but stood back and only watched as the boy spun his motorized wheelchair to catch the ball when he played first base.

The 120 athletes in the league are from towns throughout Orange but also from Sullivan County and New Jersey. They have autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, epilepsy and other health concerns. The games are not just for children. Since programs for older youth and adults are limited, the players’ ages range from six to 32.

Beautiful People attempted a variety of virtual programs over the last year. Some were more successful than other online activities. The goal was to keep the community engaged during the pandemic and provide a vital outlet and release for the athletes and their parents.

COVID reduced the number of “buddies” to shadow the players now that they are back on the field. The preferred ratio of adults to players at Beautiful People is one-to-one but that is not possible right now. The loss of volunteers is an issue that all nonprofits have endured during the pandemic. League organizers hope the ratio quickly will adjust during the coming months.

It’s one step at a time, with the first day on the fields on a warm Sunday featuring plenty of whoops and cheers.

It’s nice to be back!

Everyone Into The Pool Despite COVID-19
Jun 01, 2021Posted by james

The last year affected high school sports across the country. Games on the field, on the court and on the ice were postponed, rescheduled or cancelled. The pool, too, was not immune to the effects of the virus.

The girls swim team at Our Lady of Lourdes High School is grateful to nearby Beacon High School. The latter opened its pool to swimmers from four Dutchess County high schools while many schools and colleges closed pools to outsiders.

“From the bottom of my heart thank you very much” [for saving the season], said Lourdes senior swimmer Katie Thorn about Beacon’s coaches and school officials. “I don’t think they understand how much it meant to us to swim again. The swim team is like a family.”

Girls swimming is a fall sport in New York. The season was moved to March as schedules were juggled due to the pandemic. Lourdes competes in the New York State Public High School Athletic Association. The team was permitted 90 minutes for practices or meets six days per week at the public high school. Quarantine for an extended period always was a concern but the team avoided this obstacle.

The six days in the water provided the girls with some sense of normalcy during this unusual time. While the Warriors lost the first four meets, the team completed the dual-meet season with a 4-6 record.

All dual and invitational swimming meets were conducted virtually. Masks were worn until swimmers were on the starting blocks. Swimmers competed in their home pools with times entered into a computer system to determine individual and team winners. The season allowed four Lourdes swimmers to qualify for individual events and the Lourdes relays at the Section 1 championships.

“It was an odd season,” concluded one-time Lourdes swimmer and third-year head coach Tom Bubel. A very common statement during an unusual year that has been repeated thousands of times nationwide by athletes, parents, coaches and officials.

Positive Changes For Girls, Women In Sports
May 15, 2021Posted by james

At age 17, Mary Cain was one of the top runners in the world. She was the youngest U.S. athlete to compete on a world championship team. However, soon after joining a training program, her health deteriorated as did a promising professional career. Mary said that her coaches forced her to lose weight, which affected her menstrual cycle and caused stress-related injuries that included five broken bones.

Mary began to dread the sport she had loved since she was in fifth grade as her physical, emotional and mental health spiraled beyond her control. She developed an eating disorder, started to cut herself and developed suicidal thoughts. The all-male coaching staff at the program did not include a certified sports psychologist or a certified nutritionist to support the athletes. The head coach suggested that Mary obtain a subscription for birth control pills to help her lose weight. She said her mental health was damaged by the coaches who berated and humiliated her in front of other athletes.

Since leaving the program, Mary has spoken at sports forums to address the treatment of women concerning body image (she said this is more of a societal issue and that a lighter weight is more attached to a woman’s appearance and meaning). She said that weight issues permeate professional sports; it still matters for men, she said, “but the dialogue is different” for them.

Many additional women athletes supported Mary’s claims. The sponsor of that training program reviewed and investigated the issues. To date, results have included more women coaches for that program and investment in research to understand the impact of elite sports training on girls and women.

Mary has said that her goal is to ensure that no other athletes, particularly girls and women, have to go through similar suffering to improve their standing in a sport. She feels teams and training programs need to provide more support for young athletes that includes mental health counselors and trained sports psychologists who are separate from the coaching staffs. She also has called for additional certified training for coaches who work with young athletes.

Women’s sports have enjoyed many advances during the last several decades. But, there are so many more steps that are required to support girls and women that will allow them to excel at and fully enjoy their chosen sports.

Striking Out Stars Nothing To Sneeze At
May 01, 2021Posted by james

Eddie Feigner never played a major league baseball game. But he became famous as a barnstorming showman with his four-man softball team.

Eddie’s team, known as the King and His Court, traveled around the world, similar to basketball’s Harlem Globetrotters. Along with Eddie, the team only fielded a catcher, first baseman and shortstop. Spanning more than five decades beginning during 1946, the team played approximately 10,000 games in all 50 states and more than 100 countries for 200 million fans. Many from Long Island, Queens, Brooklyn, The Bronx and Westchester recall seeing Eddie hold court.

The former U.S. Marine, whose pitches were clocked as fast as 104 miles per hour, was known for throwing from behind his back, between his legs while kneeing and blindfolded. A 2002 list of the 10 greatest pitchers featured Eddie along with Major League Baseball Hall of Famers Walter Johnson and Sandy Koufax.

Eddie’s most impressive feat may have been when he struck out six straight major league hitters during an exhibition game at Dodger Stadium during 1967. The batters were the top stars of the time—Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente, Brooks Robinson, Willie McCovey, Maury Wills and Harmon Killebrew. Each player won a Most Valuable Player award during the 1960s, and all but Maury are enshrined in the Hall of Fame.

To honor his service as a U.S. Marine, Eddie and his team often played against military personnel at bases and on the decks of aircraft carriers. Considerable amounts of ticket profits were donated to charity. Following Operation Desert Storm, Eddie placed veteran support as the chief charity for game proceeds.

Eddie made light of his relative unknown status in the sports world. When Sports Illustrated named him the most underrated athlete of his time during 1972, he replied, “I’m a pipsqueak because I’m caught in a nothing game. It’s like being a world-champion nose-blower.”

Eddie has been gone for about 14 years, but he remains vivid in the memories of so many fans and the many others he helped with the proceeds from the games.