Dear Family and Friends …
I just dropped Carli off at the Colorado Springs airport (Saturday, Dec. 27), so now I can start a very late holiday letter.
Carli was home for a week. She heads back up to Seattle for a day and then goes to Southern California for her swim team’s winter training. She goes to Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma. Last February her team won its first conference championship in 18 years; Carli swam six lifetime bests and contributed many valuable points.
This fall she became a TA, a teacher’s assistant, for the freshman World History class. She actually lectured for one class. Hopefully, none of the parents of the students found one that a first-semester sophomore was teaching that day. She grades homework and conducts study groups for the class. She still serves as an Admissions Ambassador and she is the President of the local history nerds club or something.
She had a one-on-one meeting with the President of the school to talk about possible scholarships that she might pursue. Dr. Krise once lived in Colorado Springs, working at the Air Force Academy. So when the President and his wife attended a swim meet, Carli went up into the stands to chat, since they’re buddies now. Carli apologized to her coach; swimmers aren’t supposed to talk to anyone in the stands during a meet, but the coach said he’d make an exception for the President of the school.
On Monday (today, Dec. 29), I’ll be taking Rose and Sam to the Denver airport. They are headed to Phoenix where they will celebrate Nana’s birthday, New Year’s Eve and take in the Fiesta Bowl at the Arizona Cardinals’ stadium in Glendale. Rose’s alma mater, the University of Arizona, will take on Boise State in what is clearly an unfair non-neutral site. Rose and Sam have followed the Wildcats all season.
Sam played football this fall in his freshman year of high school. At 15, he stands six feet tall and weighs somewhere around 250. He told me the other day that he benched 210. I don’t believe him. He wants to get to 220 because that’s what they bench at the NFL Combine. Sam’s team got loads better this year compared to his middle school teams. A new coach took over the high school program and turned everything around. The freshmen won most of their games by wide margins and the varsity made it to the state playoffs for the first time in years.
In the old days Sam didn’t always have the best coaches. In park and rec, the coaches would yell numerous, sometimes contradictory, instructions on each play. Don’t jump. Watch the ball. Penetrate. Watch the fake. Watch the pass. Etc.
Now I’ve never been a football coach, but I am a bit of an efficiency nut, so I just started yelling, “Watch for every conceivable possibility!”
I try to be supportive.
But football is a very tough sport and due to a number of kids getting hurt, Sam had the opportunity to dress for the final regular season game and the state playoff game in Fort Collins.
Now he’s getting up at 6 a.m. to workout and lift weights, preparing for next fall … in December.
Rose started 2014 doing three jobs. She gave one of them up, but she still coaches the little guys at the Falfins Swim Team, two of her 10-year-olds rank among the best in the state. She continues to teach swim lessons and she’s taken on a couple consulting gigs, working with the Skating Club of Boston and USA Swimming for a ‘Women in Coaching’ seminar. So I guess she’s still working three jobs. She, of course, is looking forward to seeing everyone in Phoenix, especially her mom and sister Beany. The three of them went to Las Vegas this year for Beany’s birthday and West Virginia for the annual Italian Festival.
With Carli, Sam and Rose gone next week, it will just be me and Gina and the dogs. We plan to catch up on episodes of our favorite show to watch together, ‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine,’ watch the movie, ‘The Fault in our Stars’ – Gina and I have read the book – and ‘Into the Woods.’ And work out. We’re going to work out. After two years of trying to juggle both swimming and performing in the winter theatre show, while taking IB classes, Gina is focusing more on swimming and classes this year. And while she’s not doing Ramantics, the winter show, she continues to perform in the top choir, Singsations. Gina loves music. She went to her first concert ever this year, Arctic Monkeys, and it just happened to be at Red Rocks, an outdoor amphitheater, which is about the coolest place to see a show.
Carli and Gina also got to see Miranda Sings, a YouTuber who is slowly crossing over into the mainstream. She’s recently appeared on ‘The Tonight Show’ with Jimmy Fallon and ‘Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee’ with Jerry Seinfeld. They not only saw her perform, but they got to meet her backstage.
The dogs are fine. Kirby is still adorable and is often found attached to my side. Rocky hurt a knuckle on his back right paw and the doctor thinks he might have arthritis in his left front shoulder. They both continue to enjoy napping.
I went to Petco with Gina and Carli to get the dogs some shots. A woman explained that the heartworm test checks for hookworms, roundworms and tapeworms.
Naturally, I had to ask, like a goofy David Letterman, “Does it also look for them fishin’ worms?”
I get a stunned look. And I said, “I’m sorry. Never mind.” She leaves.
Gina scolds me, “Dad, she was talking to you about our dogs’ health and you interrupted her … (she begins imitating me) … ‘Does it cover fishin’ worms?’” (When she imitates me, I sound really stupid.)
I started laughing so hard I couldn’t stop, tears pouring out my eyes, but I had to get it together; the woman was returning with our order.
When she left, Gina looking puzzled, imitates me again, saying, “So it DOESN’T cover fishin’ worms?”
Gina is funny.
Like Rocky, I saw a doctor about a bad wheel. Turns out that I suffered a micro tear in the fibers on the Achilles tendon at the point of insertion in the heel bone of my right foot. It’s called Insertional Achilles Tendinitis, which is funny because anytime anything hurts I call it, tendonitis. My incessant hiking up Barr Trail caused the injury, but the tear happened when I bent over to pick up my shoe in the closet. I’ve got to stop bending over. Last year I tore my hamstring when I slightly bent my knees preparing to bowl.
I also developed spurs in my left ankle that like to rub together. That feels great. The doctor said that’s due to hiking up steep inclines. So like my dog Rocky, I was given an anti-inflammatory.
But I have plenty to be grateful for starting with my family. And I had a pretty epic year …
I had a little hummingbird nest the size of a golf ball just outside my office window. I got to watch hummingbird babies tended to by their mom and dad. That was pretty cool.
I spent 23 days in northern Italy with the U.S. women’s volleyball team, who won their first-ever World Championship gold medal, traveling to Verona, Modena and Milan. I had two dinners with Camillo Cametti, an old friend from my swimming days, who lives in Verona. I saw the Duomo Cathedral and a Marc Chagall Retrospective art exhibition in the former Royal Palace.
I also got set on fire.
I was in the lunch line in the Modena hotel. I was eating healthy on the trip and I was serving myself a bowl of soup. I tried closing the giant soup container, but when I let go of the handle, the top flung back open. It made a loud noise that captured everyone’s attention. It also knocked over the sterno can that was heating the soup. The team’s libero, Kayla Banwarth said, “The table’s on fire.” I looked down and sure enough the bowl of peppers was on fire and, according to the doctor, so was a large portion of the table.
I didn’t notice that, I did notice a warm sensation near my waist. I said quietly to no one in particular. “I’m on fire too.” And before I could even look down, my hands sprung into action, swiping the fire out.
Fortunately, the high-tech team shirt I was wearing not only wicks away moisture, but also is apparently flame retardant.
The next day the team’s coach, Karch Kiraly, said to me, “If I were you, I’d keep my distance.” And I said the only thing I could have said.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be careful from now on. Set me on fire once, shame on you. Set me on fire twice, shame on me.”
Like I said, I was trying to eat healthy, so one day I was bragging to Karch about how I’ve had a salad at every single lunch and dinner on the trip.
That’s when the team doctor chimes in, “I don’t think it counts when you put French fries on your salad.”
I replied heatedly, “It most certainly does too count!”
While I was Italy, my son stood in for me at the Tour de Cure Champions Dinner and then rode in his first Tour in my place, after years of volunteering on ride day. That was a highlight for me.
This year I was in Italy on the day of the Tour de Cure, so I rented a bike with the team doctor, Dr. Andrew Gregory, and we tooled around on a bike path on a river, through a small town with cobblestones and alongside Lake Garda for a couple of hours. That was awesome.
A few weeks later, on the final day of fundraising, I received 10 donations that allowed me to raised $2,170 for the American Diabetes Association … and put me over $12,000 in the last six years. That was a humbling day for sure.
On the 25th Anniversary of my first CoSIDA Convention for sports information directors, where I interviewed for and got my University of Florida internship, I went back to CoSIDA and spoke to the attendees. I was reunited with Mark Reinhiller, one of my fellow Florida interns, who I hadn’t seen since Gainesville; and Doug Vance and Joe Browning, two of the guys who stayed in the Athletes’ Village with me at the 1991 Pan American Games.
A group of six little kids are at the door for Halloween. The little kid in back is wearing a jersey. “Dallas Cowboys?” He smiles and nods. “I don’t like the Cowboys.” He’s only five, so I add, “but I like you.” One-by-one the kids come to the door, the little boy with the jersey is last. He might be four.
I see that he’s wearing #94 and say, “You’re DeMarcus Ware, aren’t you?” He smiles and nods again.
“You get extra candy.”
(DeMarcus Ware plays for the Broncos now; he was just named to the Pro Bowl.)
I voted in November. It took five minutes. Here’s how it went down. In the polling place, I found a sign that said, “Voters Start Here.” I got in that line. Not too many people in that line, in fact, I was next.
I said to a man close by, “What’s that line over there for?” There were about 25-30 people in line. He said, “They’re in line to register to vote.”
I thought, “Oh, I’m already registered to vote.”
So I went to the counter, gave the guy my driver’s license and said, “Am I supposed to go in that line?” And he said, “Noooooo.” Just like that. Thirty seconds later I’m in the voting booth arena, and somebody asks me, “How did you get through that line so fast, we’ve been here for about an hour?”
“Just lucky I guess.”
Thirty seconds later, the voting volunteer asked, “Okay, who’s next?”
A man had just finished voting. It was the same man I spoke to about the line. He proclaimed loudly, “The guy who just butted in front of the entire line.”
He was talking about me.
All five of us went to a cabin in Leadville this summer. Leadville is a mountain town surrounded by fourteeners, 14,000-foot mountains. There was no cell phone reception in the cabin, no texting, posting, etc. We barbequed, made smores, ate yellow watermelon, played cards and watched movies and lived to tell about it. Sam and I went for a walk in the middle of the night wearing headlamps. We stopped to take a selfie when I saw a third light in the frame. I thought, ‘Oh my god, who is following us out here in the middle of nowhere?’ It was the full moon.
We also drove to Minnesota for Thanksgiving. It felt like Planes, Trains & Automobiles, except there was one Steve Martin (me) and three John Candy’s (Rose, Sam and Gina). I’d have to say that Thanksgiving Day was the most fun I’ve had in a long time. I had never had Fireball before.
I texted my brother Dave later, “Sam said that he wants to be like Uncle Dave when he grows up. ‘He’s good at drinking shots.’”
On the way home from Minnesota, Sam drove on the interstate for the first time. That was interesting. Rose also drove. She got caught speeding in Iowa. Those Iowa police … they are sticklers. Rose found a fun zombie burger joint in West Des Moines for dinner. The next day she took the wheel again as we were leaving Nebraska heading for Colorado.
She looks down at the gas gauge. “Charlie, your gas light is on!?!”
Ordinarily, running nearly empty is no big deal. You just get off at the next exit and gas up, but we were in the middle of 76, a highway that traverses a grand expanse of nothingness. There are civilized towns at the beginning and end and nothing in the middle. We were in the middle. We were going to run out of gas in the middle of nowhere.
Fortunately, moments after discovering that we were out of gas and before we could really start to panic, I saw one of those blue services sign that usually feature hotel and restaurant logos, maybe a Starbucks, this one just had one word, GAS.
We pull off the highway. The road winds right to the top of a small hill. I could see forever in all directions. I do not see a gas station, but a couple blocks over we see a roadside café and look … it appears that there is a gas pump. We pull up to the pump, but there’s a problem … it’s all pump and no handles. Shit!
I think, “Well, we’ll go inside and ask where the nearest gas station … hey wait, there’s another pump over there.”
Someone is filling up. There are three pumps, but only two of the six handles remain to dispense the gas. I go into pay. It’s a little shop of sorts. The shelves are 98 percent devoid of goods. The woman behind the counter tells me that people leave the handles in their gas tank and drive off. “I guess he’s waiting for all of them to break before replacing them,” she says.
“Well, I can’t tell you how happy I am that you are here and you have gas.”
We had to wait until the other guy finished before we could start, so we did and then we continued the drive home, singing ‘Blue moon of Kentucky keep on shining.’
Special Bonus Content
The Final Word
Waitress warning me about my mimosa: ‘Now be careful … you can eat that pineapple, but remember it’s been soaking in vodka for the last three weeks.’
Me: ‘That’s okay, so have I.’
Charlie | Rose | Carli | Gina | Sam | Kirby | Rocky
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