Wheelchair Tennis Anyone?
Jan 15, 2022Posted by james

Popularity continues to rise for recreational and competitive sports that engage youth and adults with disabilities. Their training and skillsets are rising, too.

One of the oldest adaptive sports is wheelchair tennis. It has been on the court for more than 40 years.

Dana Mathewson is a top-ranking American wheelchair tennis player. She competes at the U.S. Open. She has represented the country on World Cup teams and she has won a gold medal in doubles and a bronze medal in singles at the Pan-American Games. Dana had been a soccer player, but, at age 10, she was diagnosed with a rare neurological disease. One day she was running on the field and then, suddenly, she was paralyzed from the waist down. Anyone with a disability or other hardship who plays a sport is, according to Dana, a very resilient person. She sees that resilience and the competitive spirit in many men, women and youth who play basketball, race or ski from a wheelchair, or participate in hockey from a sled.

The rules for wheelchair tennis are the same as for the conventional game. The one exception is that two bounces of the ball are permitted if players require additional time to maneuver on the court. When using the chair, a move to the left or right requires the player to turn the chair and push forward. A player isn’t able to side-step or cross-step.

Players hit tough shots. When on the receiving side, they must quickly steer their chair, often moving in a figure eight, so they can track the ball and position themselves to return a shot. Some of the most talented tennis stars, such as Novak Djokovic and Frances Tiafoe, have tried the adaptive version of tennis and discovered that the game is difficult to play from a wheelchair.

Besides all the routine daily challenges off the court, tennis players with disabilities also face an additional challenge that the rest of us who play tennis, or attempt to play, never experience on the court. A player can blow a tire. When this mechanical mishap occurs at a tournament, players rely on a wheelchair repair technician who is available at courtside.

Mike Zangari is one of the more well-known technicians. He is a wheelchair tennis pioneer. He played for 35 years and he also played wheelchair basketball. At the major tennis events, Mike repairs the lightweight, high-end titanium chairs that cost thousands of dollars. For years, he has joined with young stars such as Dana to showcase the sport and create competitive opportunities for adults and children around the world.

A Child’s Baseball Hero
Jan 01, 2022Posted by james

The following was written a long time ago. I don’t know who wrote it or when it was written. I also don’t know the name of the child in the story. But, we all know “The Babe.” He was magical. I wish that I had seen him play.

This story about kindness has not been edited.

_______

Babe Ruth had hit 714 home runs during his baseball career and was playing one of his last full major league games. It was the Braves vs. the Reds in Cincinnati. But the great Bambino was no longer as agile as he had been. He fumbled the ball and threw badly, and in one inning alone his errors were responsible for most of the five runs scored by Cincinnati.

As the Babe walked off the field and headed toward the dugout after the third out, a crescendo of yelling and booing reached his ears. Just then a boy jumped over the railing onto the playing field. With tears streaming down his face, he threw his arms around the legs of his hero.

Ruth didn’t hesitate for a second. He picked up the boy, hugged him and set him down on his feet, patting his head gently. The noise from the stands came to an abrupt halt. Suddenly, there was no more booing. In fact, a hush fell over the entire ballpark. In those brief moments, the fans saw two heroes: Ruth, who, in spite of his dismal day on the field, could still care about a little boy; and the small lad, who cared about the feelings of another human being. Both had melted the hearts of the crowd.

Anonymous

Suzanne Is Hot To Trot
Dec 15, 2021Posted by james

Did you ever hear about dressage? Some call it horse ballet. Others refer to it as dancing with your horse. It is an Olympic sport.

Suzanne Ament, a professor of history at Radford University in Virginia, made her own history outside the classroom earlier this year as the winner of the Spring Fling Schooling Dressage Show at the Lloyd Harbor Equestrian Center here on Long Island. Suzanne is blind. She said that similar to the relationship with a Seeing Eye dog, comradery with a horse has provided her with confidence. She also said that the riding experience, including the show, has been filled with fun.

The professor entered the Long Island competition to raise awareness for visually impaired riding and for para-dressage, in which the sport is adapted for riders with disabilities. Suzanne firmly believes that her disability doesn’t place her in the vulnerable situation to fall from a horse. But she and other horse lovers who are visually impaired encounter obstacles not known to other riders. Stables often don’t wish to accommodate riders who aren’t sighted. This possibly might be an insurance issue but also many stable owners and wranglers aren’t equipped or trained to engage people with compromised vision.

The professor of Russian and world history currently is with her fourth Seeing Eye dog. Suzanne has relied on a service dog since 1986. Long before that, when Suzanne was in third grade, she became interested in horses but that passion waned as she pursued her education and began losing her sight. When Suzanne married 10 years ago, she and her husband wanted to share an enjoyable activity. She suggested tandem bicycle riding. He wasn’t interested but they did try horse riding. From that experience, Suzanne gradually returned to serious riding and then to dressage.

The couple now own two horses, Zippy and Hank, and Suzanne enjoys her time in the barn to feed, groom and clean the horses. She finds it relaxing. Comparing the care with that of her dog, Suzanne said it’s similar but just a lot bigger.

A Really Big Equality “Shew”
Dec 01, 2021Posted by james

Ed Sullivan was one of the most famous and beloved television presenters in American history. As the host of the long-running The Ed Sullivan Show, he won hearts across the world for his exceptional talent to select the biggest stars of the future to appear on his show.

Ed was from Harlem. His Irish-American family flourished with the love of music and entertainment. From an early age, Ed’s first taste of the big stage came in roles on the school baseball, basketball and football teams. His teamwork would define his character throughout his life.

Ed befriended teammates and opponents of all races, and he would become a champion of anti-racism. His athletic career during his early years also was steeped in romance—and later in tragedy. Ed and Olympic swimmer Sybil Bauer became engaged but she died from cancer at the age of 23.

About two years after losing Sybil, Ed met Sylvia Weinstein. When her Jewish parents didn’t approve, she pretended that Ed’s surname was Solomon. Though the family learned the truth, the couple married during 1930. At the time, Sybil didn’t realize that her husband was destined to become one of the biggest stars of all time.

After settling down, Ed gradually segued from sports reporting to the news and entertainment industry. He wrote columns for the Evening Graphic and then the New York Daily News that focused on theatre and entertainment gossip.

By 1941, Ed was so popular that he was invited by CBS to host a television program. The opportunity led to The Ed Sullivan Show. Creating the foundation for the show, Ed incorporated the lessons from his youth when he first became aware of the importance of tolerance and inclusion. For a while, he was the only presenter to showcase African-American entertainers such as The Supremes, James Brown, Nat King Cole, Marvin Gaye, Lena Horn, Ray Charles and Louis Armstrong.

Despite opposition and criticism, Ed refused to listen to the prejudice toward these and other entertainers. He continued to provide them with a platform to showcase their talents. One performer became a dear friend. When singer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson died, Ed paid for his funeral expenses.

From sports to entertainment, Ed provided the world a huge lesson about equality and anti-racism. More people need to know about this magnificent chapter of the Ed Sullivan story and share it across today’s media platforms.

Championing Doc Adams For The Baseball Hall Of Fame
Nov 15, 2021Posted by james

Marjorie Adams left us earlier this year. For most of her adult life, she tirelessly promoted the candidacy of her great-grandfather, Daniel Adams, for the Baseball Hall of Fame.

He was known as Doc, receiving the nickname following graduation from Harvard during 1838. He became Marjorie’s consuming passion. She promoted him on a website, at conferences, at Society for American Baseball Research meetings and at vintage baseball festivals where fans play and celebrate the sport as it was known during the 19th century. She nicknamed herself Cranky for “cranks,” a contemporary term for fans.

During 2014, Marjorie said that baseball, as the national pastime, must ensure the accuracy of its historical records. She wanted them to know that Doc was a baseball founding father.

According to John Thorn, the official baseball historian, the game’s early history was a lie, or folklore, for a long time. Abner Doubleday mistakenly had been seen as the inventor of baseball for many years. Alexander Cartwright, who played a role in the development of the sport, was credited with some of the innovations for the game. These are documented on his plaque in the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. The innovations, however, actually were developed by Doc.

During the 1990s, an article by John in “Elysian Fields Quarterly,” a baseball journal, helped Marjorie see her great-grandfather as an important “builder” of the game rather than just “Daniel, the baseball guy,” as he was known throughout the country and within the Adams family.

Doc began his passion for baseball by playing for the pioneering New York Knickerbockers Base Ball Club during 1845. While on the team, he created the shortstop position (as a relay man from the outfield) and during 1857 he made his most critical contributions to a rulemaking congress. Doc chaired that group and he codified some of the basics of the modern game by setting the distance between bases at 90 feet, the length of a game at nine innings and the number of men on the field at nine.

Most of Doc’s accomplishments remained unknown for decades to those inside the game. But, during 2015, John presented information about Doc to a member of the Pre-Integration Era Committee of the Hall of Fame. This committee votes for players, managers, referees and executives for the Hall of Fame. Doc was placed on the committee’s ballot.

Doc fell two votes short when the committee gathered that year but the media created a buzz about his contributions to the game. Then, Marjorie located new documentary evidence of Doc’s role in baseball history—three surviving pages of “Laws of Baseball” that he wrote and that provided a physical record of his rules at the 1857 convention. Those pages were sold at auction for $ 3.26 million.

Doc continues to wait for his entry into the Hall of Fame. Many other fans have championed Marjorie’s mission. On her behalf and for her great-grandfather, they will continue to lobby for Doc’s proper recognition in Cooperstown.

Reunited On The Ice Launches Confidence
Nov 01, 2021Posted by james

His confidence on the ice was low. It could not sink lower. Professional scouts were concerned about his skating abilities, causing Brennan Othmann to doubt himself as he continued to accumulate bad habits. Brennan was 15 at the time and the family took action.

When Brennan was in kindergarten in Ontario, he had been in Lisa Clark’s skating group during school lunch breaks. They would enjoy lunch together before each training session. Brennan was a good listener, with his eyes focused on her as she taught the skills of skating.

As Brennan grew older and become more involved with hockey, the family and Lisa lost touch. Though he enjoyed a successful 2018-19 season with a prominent team that was undefeated, Brennan repeatedly was told that he needed to work on his stride and posture. His mom rushed to the rescue when she realized that her son needed to get back on the ice with Lisa, who featured a nine-week program with six hour-long sessions each day. Brennan worked with the noon to 1 p.m. group and often remained for another session.

The reunion convinced Brennan to invest in power-skating, those drills without pucks dreaded by all hockey players from age five to 35. Each time he and Lisa skated, Brennan’s confidence soared to new heights. Lisa encouraged him to believe in himself as much as she believed in him. She brought a smile to his face every day on the ice—even on the tough days.

The drills helped Brennan achieve a successful rookie 2019-20 season with the Flint Firebirds. He scored 17 goals and 33 points in 55 games as a 16-year-old, ranking third in goals among all under-17 OHL players. For 2020-21, with EHC Olten in the second-tier Swiss League, Brennan posted 18 points in 34 games.

The reunion of Brennan and Lisa placed the young man’s hockey career back on the ice. Only a few months ago, he was the 16th overall draft pick by the New York Rangers in the 2021 NHL draft. Lisa watched the draft and celebrated Brennan’s selection.

“You get tears in your eyes and you think, man, I started with this kid three years ago and even when he was five years old,” said Lisa. “And then you watch them, you think about the struggles, and all the corrections and all the time and the effort that you both put into it — I don’t even know what to say.”

Following his first NHL training camp, Brennan has returned to the OHL to fine-tune his hockey skills. Scouts and coaches expect to see him in the NHL in the near future.

Can’t Race Without The Money
Oct 15, 2021Posted by james

Jackie Heinricher is a professional racecar driver and a biotech executive. A few years ago, she formulated an all-star team. No, not in the biotech industry. She created a team of women drivers.

Jackie anticipated that millions of dollars would be needed to run a team. She was confident that companies owned by women, or run by women, or interested in marketing their products to women, would become the sponsors to steer the program.

However, not one woman stepped up to become associated with her team of lady drivers. The team received its primary sponsorship from Caterpillar, the construction equipment manufacturer. During January 2019, Heinricher Racing made its debut in the GT Daytona Class of sports car racing in the International Motor Sports Association. The Henricher team was the first to complete a season with only women drivers. It finished the season in the top 10.

Among the team’s drivers were Katherine Legge (owns a track record at Laguna Seca in Northern California), Simona De Silvestro (with a podium finish in the IndyCar series) and Jackie (first woman to compete in the Lamborghini Super Trofeo; for 2017, she and Pippa Mann were the first all-women team in the Trofeo series, taking third in the pro-am event).

Caterpillar did not sponsor the team for the 2020 season. As Jackie tried to find a new sponsor, another team attracted her drivers. While women have succeeded elsewhere in the sport, finding sponsors, possibly the most difficult part of racing, has remained a barrier for women, who, as drivers, are often seen as gimmicks rather than serious competitors. Caterpillar later told Jackie in an email that one of its reasons for parting ways with her team was her inability to get its car into LeMans.

Part of the difficulty for women drivers to attract sponsors could be that women remain a small percentage of the racing audience. The National Hot Rod Association, by comparison, maintains a long history of women champions and fans, but its following is much smaller than the racing audience.

Jackie remains determined to introduce more women into the top ranks of racing. She has mentored Loni Unser, the fourth-generation progeny of the Unser racing dynasty, and she has her eyes on other young female drivers. To make this a success, Jackie needs to attract sponsors and girl drivers who win.

Call Me Indian
Oct 01, 2021Posted by james

Frederick “Fred” Sasakamoose was a hockey player. Most in our corner of the world probably never heard about him. Fred died late last year.

Let me convey some information about Fred and his early tragic and later marvelous life. Born during 1933, he became a Canadian professional hockey player. Fred was one of the first Canadian Indigenous players in the National Hockey League. He played 11 games with the Chicago Black Hawks during the 1953-1954 season. For the rest of his career, which lasted until 1960, he played in the minor leagues.

To get as far as he did as a pro player, Fred was encouraged to improve himself by a Montreal priest. He developed an extraordinary left-handed shot. First, though, he had to overcome sexual assault from classmates when he was just nine years old along with unjustified punishments by school officials. Though he became a star player on the school team, he left at the age of 15 and feared for his safety if he returned to school. With the help of the priest, Fred was visited by a hockey scout who opened the door for the young player to join the junior Moose Jaw Canucks.

After scoring 31 goals for the Canucks, Fred was named the Western Canada Junior Hockey League most valuable player. This earned him the brief time in the NHL. When his hockey career ended, Fred became involved in Indigenous affairs.

Fred served as chief of the Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation in Saskatchewan. He became involved in the development of sports programs for the children, using his fame to promote opportunities for youth in sports that included hockey, track and field, soccer and basketball. Fred later was recognized for his work, inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame, the Canadian Native Hockey Hall of Fame and other halls and organizations. He also was named a member of the Order of Canada (the second highest honor for merit in the system of orders, decorations and medals in that country).

Fred succumbed to the virus that has plagued so many families the last two years. At the time of his passing, Fred’s memoir, Call Me Indian, was receiving final edits prior to publication. The book’s description includes: “This isn’t just a hockey story; Sasakamoose’s groundbreaking memoir sheds piercing light on Canadian history and Indigenous politics, and follows this extraordinary man’s journey to reclaim pride in an identity and a heritage that had previously been used against him.”

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.