Tuesday, April 12, 2016

This Is My Fight Song

T. S. Eliot once said that "good writers borrow, great writers steal." Actually I wrote that shortly after I invented my time machine but TS Eliot took it shortly afterwards and has been getting credit ever since. A rudimentary look at this blog and its titles in particular shows that a whole lot of it, like today's start is quotes. Some are from speeches or nods to writing. I am even secure enough to quote artists and poets. But the vast majority of them are from songs, this online adventure often feeling like the soundtrack of my life. People ask where I get my song since so many that I quote are so old (like from the 80's and 90's). There's a simple reason for that and it's that I pretty much never listen to the radio so any more modern songs are because of something I saw in a movie  or show and I end up downloading the song. 

But recently, in February, I was inspired by Justin Bieber (you're welcome to judge me for that... how you're judging me, let's just say it probably reflects how I'd judge you in return). I was in the shuttle for the Coaches vs Cancer event and they had the radio on and it was playing a song that said "My momma don't like you and she likes everyone." That particular day I didn't catch anything else or know who the artist was but I realized I was sounding more like my grandpa and thought "What are the kids listening to these days?!" This event was after all something for young adult cancer basketball players that had been billed to people 18-35. I was the oldest person that met the criterion and therefore the oldest in the van and everyone else seemed to know the tune and know a lot more about Justin Bieber than I did. So I made a resolution to be cooler and to listen to the radio when I was in my car on the current hits station till the finals...Let's just say that while there were some good songs, I've made peace with being old quickly and just putting on my own old tunes.

But even if it led to listening to all those songs, I still appreciated the Coaches vs Cancer experience. I practiced basketball for the first time in a couple of decades (my skill level reflected that). Still I wanted to go in with that you can't teach height, you can show hustle. Me and a local Livestrong Friend got to do an interview or two before we went with local stations promoting it. I sent the one where I was actually playing to the Doctor that did my surgery with a gigantic thank you. I was at Duke during March Madness and that positive energy there helped the recovery. They were out of it by the time I won it but I still cheered for them in my own way. My doctor wrote back a nice note (classy guy, 5 years post surgery still corresponds on a personal level anytime I write) and he loved that the video showed us both wearing Duke gear. Somehow the fact that we're both still fighting cancer in our own way, still standing was a great March highlight. The round by round bracket ended up raising $700,000 for the American Cancer Society and some of the highlights ended being in a commercial. Me and all the others who did it stepped into it for that purpose but because it was used for media purposes for infiniti we all ended up getting some payments according to the Screen Actors Guild (does getting paid for that make me able to put professional basketball player or professional actor on my resume??). The checks came in various amounts  for it being used on cable on broadcast etc at different time. Once upon a time I received a staff of different bills from being in one place for cancer things and this time I received a stack of checks for being in one place. The checks have already been put towards debt but maybe these nods to Duke, march madness all show how the universe is kind enough to balance itself out. The game itself was on April 1st so I was wondering if the craziness of all this was not just some really elaborate April Fool's joke since it was beyond March Madness. 

We were asked to write a thank you note to the sponsors and even here a week removed, I'm not sure what I'm most grateful for. It's a long list of blessings: getting to step into NRG for the first time not as spectators but as athletes, getting to be spectators during the Final Four Semifinals and what has to be one of the greatest March Madness Finals ever when Villanova sank that shot. Still, that cannot compare to the things we won't get to spectate, what that money raised will mean there will be less people sidelined by cancer in any form shape or manner. I used to volunteer for a "Post-Polio" group in high school that helped people who had gone through polio with the side effect but I've never seen polio because we've all but eradicated. I hope somewhere not too far in the future there's some high school kid whose talking to previous cancer patients who doesn't quiet have a concept of how cancer used to affect so many people since it's not really around anymore as a disease. Still for me the greatest thing in life is still relationships and the friendships that have come out of this far extend the parts of our bodies that were damaged. One of the teammates went home and proposed. Another went home because despite having testicular cancer, his wife was now pregnant and his swimmers worked. Another had his twins recently born in his hands shortly after the game. Others brought their wives or fathers. And hanging out with enough young people with cancer made me, an old man realize that maybe it was time to grow up enough to at least be open to going to prom. We had to play against each other and yeah we kept the score but in the end I think that was not the biggest win. The progress and work was done. I even had some fun switching roles with the coach Jim Harrick who has an NCAA ring!

Still I got home and showed Kiana the commercial which she thought was kind of cool. That is the beauty of raising a little girl who gets fascinated by birds and flowers and only a little impressed by the media stuff; I'm not sure which one of us has the better perspective on it. She had been sick the weekend I was gone, nothing too serious but enough to where the girl who usually sleeps in the top bunk was sleeping in the bottom to keep tissues and a trash can for that coughing and mucus that builds up as you lay down. We both had 10k's that weekend. I was running the Longhorn Run that I'd encouraged people to do the 10k for several years but had never actually done it... Gotta put your money where your mouth once in a while. Kiana was doing the Cap 10k which was going to be her hilliest run yet. For both, the weather was looking hot and humid. 

Mom was in town for the weekend so I got to get away for the first one while everyone slept in (Kiana is not a morning girl, making her get up to watch one race and do another would have resulted in revolt!). Because my parents were in town I moved all the stuff to where I was staying (Kiana's room) and forgot the plugs. Both my iPod and watch were on very low battery. The battery would run out the iPod as I entered the loneliest section of the race in which I heard a song being played on the side I didn't know till the last couple of months, "this is my fight song." Well... let's just say that's what played in my head the last couple of miles. As always I was gunning for a PR but couldn't quite hold it on a course with some serious hills and missed it by a few seconds per mile, a little over twenty seconds total. Still, I was the first non student placer and there were students from both of the classes I've gotten to speak to this year who came up and said hi as I showed them what the T-shirt said that I was in for the Long (horn) run. Even got to take a picture with the mascot during the awards presentation. Call me a simple man but that was as exciting as some of the celebrities I got to meet during the Final Four weekend. 

Kiana getting up the next morning she still had some snot. I tried to teach her how to blow snot rockets while running. The weather was rough and she had gotten the option of bowing out of the Cap 10k race (that got an immediate no). I asked her if she wanted to  try to PR or just run this one. since her first race in over 2 years she has not ever missed a PR. I mean I'm still Pr'ing once in a while but that kind of streak is unbelievable to me. So I paced her on her hilliest race yet while wearing a weight vest. Truth is she was struggling, pretty much the entire time. At the halfway point, I asked her if she wanted to ease up cause we'd have to speed up a little to get her fastest. She said let's keep trying. There was someone dressed in a Spiderman costume around there and clearly seeing her struggle I tried to make her laugh or at least distract her. She actually kept going back and forth with "spiderman" and I was like see Spiderman's not a good runner, that's why he uses those web things to move fast cause he can't run very well (small smile). Another good adult said, "that's not a little girl cause I don't get beat by little girl. That's wonder woman!)" (small smile). She actually got talked to more partly I think cause it was clear she was trying but more than likely cause it's the biggest race she's ever been a part of (20K+). I was impressed with her politeness even in the midst of the pain. Somewhere between wanting to pick her up and carry her in I just said, "sweetheart sometimes when you work hard it's supposed to hurt." Perhaps not my best choice of words because she started crying then (not like sobbing but those it hurts tears; I've done that during races more than most places cause there you can't tell if it's tears or sweat). There was a lady who saw it and said "you're almost done; crying's not an option." I'm not sure it was any wiser choice of words but I said "Crying's okay; quitting's not." That is my parental and life philosophy that all of our emotions, sadness, frustration, anger all serve their purpose which is why they are built into the system but I concede that saying that towards the end of a tough 10k may not be my wisest move. Then unexpectedly a big smile came across her face and she said "Did you see that sign?" There were tons of signs so upon asking for clarification she said the one that said "Go, random stranger, go" and she followed up with, "next time we go cheer a race let's make a sign that says that." The smile didn't last till the end of the race but it lasted a bit and somehow I think it was the fuel that got her to her fastest 10k ever by just about 20 seconds despite tough conditions internally and externally. Pam Leblanc, a reporter turned friend caught a picture of us shortly after the finish line, where you can see the smile I usually have after a tough race. It's a look that you're not sure whether the happiness is covering the exhaustion or the other way around. Three years ago she wrote a story about how I was doing that race but couldn't do it with a stroller but I'd go on to PR. Let me just say that this picture and this race meant far more than the one in the paper ever will. Let's just say we stuck around the kid's zone as long as Kiana wanted afterwards and then we enjoyed brunch at a restaurant and Netflix when we got home. 

I'm amused at how hard we work to impress strangers on social media sometimes. The age of selfies and following, trying to rack up more followers or hearts or likes is something I don't completely comprehend (says the guy who posts his journal on the internet). But there was something that I said to our assistant coach when he was asked if he'd been touched by cancer and he said no. My reaction was simple, "It is exactly those types of people that are necessary for us to beat cancer." While I stand by that neither self nor strangers shouldn't come before family and friends (we do that often and call it work obligations, hobbies etc), humanity's best chance is when we're open to other people's experiences from next to them or even by the sidelines cheering a random stranger. It seems all of my social media posts or blog posts pretty much say the same thing (hang out with people you care about, get some exercise). It's that kind of logic why I don't entirely get the popularity of one of the songs from the radio "This is my fight song" because if you have to have a song that says it that basic how clever is that, why should something that corny or cheesy  be catchy? But sometimes basics and fundamentals of connection help. You can do it a little tongue in cheek like SNL and remind yourself that "I'm smart enough, I'm good enough and doggone it people like me." But I am thankful for both myself and for Kiana that everyone once in a while there's someone on the side of the road with the right sign or the right song for a stranger. And I loved that even as she was smiling from it before her race was over, she was wanting to make that sign and go cheer a race with it. So I hope that once in a while we also get to be that stranger, those angels unaware and perhaps,

Like a small boat
On the ocean
Sending big waves
Into motion
Like how a single word
Can make a heart open
I might only have one match
But I can make an explosion

If you're wondering where I got that poem from above, well I wrote it. Don't believe me, ask TS Eliot. 

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