Monday, October 16, 2017

Remembering Allen “Bruno” Brunacini

I first met Bruno when he was the assistant fire chief at Phoenix. We were attending a conference in College Park, sponsored by the US Fire Administration. I believe that the year was around 1977. He was the heir-apparent and asked me about coming to Phoenix to consult on a fitness program. Bruno would go on to achieve near heroic proportions as a mover and shaker in the North American fire service.

Our paths would routinely cross over the decades. His list of accomplishments would extend far beyond the limitations of this Blog. A huge tree on the horizon has fallen. The changes in thinking about everything from Customer Service, Accountability, Incident Command and more, as result of his creativity are epic. I’m not sure that there’s another sole that can fill his boots.
Image result for alan brunacini
Chief Allen “Bruno” Brunacini

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The “Cal Ripken” of the Firefighter Combat Challenge Streak Continues

I first met Walt White back in the last century when he was a firefighter with the American River Fire Protection District. It would have been around 1990 and we had just launched the On•Target fitness initiative. Our mobile teaching teams roamed the nation, conducting 40-hour certification programs, largely based on the learning objectives of the American College of Sports Medicine.

Walt was one of the first to avail himself of this program. As soon as the Firefighter Combat Challenge was launched, Walt was a member of the American River team.

This past week in Tyler, Walt, now the Chief of the Sacramento FD was there, keeping his streak alive. His time was faster than his original run some 26 years ago!

Chief Walter White, Sacramento FD and Dr. Paul Davis

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Underwater Recovery Efforts in Carlsbad

CFD Dive Team Members recover the Challenge’s Shipping Container
Well, this is a new one. We’re packing up and one of our Keiser-fabricated roller storage boxes is missing. These shipping containers weigh north of 400 pounds (181kg). They’re eight feet long, four feet wide and 2 feet tall.

It’s highly unlikely that someone put it in the back of their pickup truck and made off with it.

So, what do you do? Call the fire department. The event in Carlsbad is adjacent to a widened area of the Pecos River. There’s a dam that’s created a lake and the very real possibility is that the box is at the bottom.

With sonar equipment, the box is located in 2 feet of silt. This is going to take some serious recovery equipment. Equipment that CFD has. Their underwater recovery team brings in the airbags.

The crew of 9 brought the box to the top; no worse for wear, the box was quickly loaded and restored to its rightful place in the back of the semi.

Monday, September 25, 2017

“Organic” in the Context of What’s a Legitimate Team

The barriers to entry for the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge are manifold and steep. I greatly appreciate the dedication and investment in time and resources (read: money) that are made each year to field a team and play in multiple locales.

For starters, it takes a spark plug to ignite the excitement and recruitment of other similarly situated firefighters. Scheduling workouts, time off and other logistics are not insignificant. Just making that first step in commitment is a major decision point. This not pickup softball on a Sunday morning. 

This is an amateur sport, with no way to recover the costs for fielding a team. What we have by way of rewards are some Firefighter Combat Challenge bling, recognition within the small circle of other fitness affectionadoes and, perhaps the citizens in the community in which you serve. 

To allow smaller departments the opportunity to field a team, we broadened the description of what constitutes a “Team” for the purpose of recognizing medal stand finishes. The debate has been on-going, for almost as long as our two-plus decades. 

We’ve had teams from the biggest FD (FDNY) to some single house, volunteer departments. At one point, it was proffered that every member of a team would have to show their pay stub to demonstrate homogeneity. 

The Mutual Aid concept took hold but quickly began to spiral out of control. Case in point: Missoula, a pretty small department, but bigger than most that had a member from the Missoula Rural FPD was what was in mind within in the definition. 

But, let’s take the greater Washington, DC area. After 9-11, we now have a mutual aid agreement that encompasses a firefighter population that’s north of 5,000. Think of the talent pool that could be mined for the production of an all-star team. Clearly, this is not what was intended under the strict interpretation of Mutual Aid. 

To get out ahead of this thing, if you’re thinking of gerrymandering to get some super-star that’s not in your zip code, you’re probably not playing within the spirit of the rules. If in doubt, check first to avoid embarrassment.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Your Cell Phone Is 10 Times Dirtier Than a Toilet Seat. Here's What to Do About It

Aug 23, 2017

Image result for iphone 7

Abigail Abrams
Time Magazine, Health Section

Most people don’t give a second thought to using their cell phone everywhere, from their morning commute to the dinner table to the doctor’s office. But research shows that cell phones are far dirtier than most people think, and the more germs they collect, the more germs you touch.

In fact, your own hand is the biggest culprit when it comes to putting filth on your phone. Americans check their phones about 47 times per day, according to a survey by Deloitte, which affords plenty of opportunities for microorganisms to move from your fingers to your phone.

“Because people are always carrying their cell phones even in situations where they would normally wash their hands before doing anything, cell phones do tend to get pretty gross,” says Emily Martin, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. Research has varied on just how many germs are crawling on the average cell phone, but a recent study found more than 17,000 bacterial gene copies on the phones of high school students. Scientists at the University of Arizona have found that cell phones carry 10 times more bacteria than most toilet seats.

Human skin is naturally covered in microbes that don’t usually have any negative health consequences, and that natural bacteria, plus the oils on your hands, get passed on to your phone every time you check a text or send an email. It follows that most of the organisms found on phones are not pathogens that will make you sick, Martin says. Staphylococcus might be present, for example, but it’s not typically the kind that will give you a staph infection.

But some bacteria should concern you. “We’re not walking through a sterile environment, so if you touch a surface there could be something on that," says Susan Whittier, director of clinical microbiology at New York-Presbyterian and Columbia University Medical Center. "There are lots of environmental contaminants."

Studies have found serious pathogens on cell phones, including Streptococcus, MRSA, and even E. coli. Just having these microbes on your phone won’t automatically make you sick, Whittier says, but you still don't want to let them enter your system. Viruses can also spread on phones if one person is sick with strep throat or influenza and coughs on their cell phone before handing it off to a friend.

Fortunately, there are easy ways to avoid some germs. One of the worst places to use your phone is in the bathroom, Martin and Whittier both agree. When toilets flush, they spread germs everywhere, which is how phones end up with fecal bacteria like E. coli. “Taking a cell phone into the bathroom and then leaving with it is kind of like going in, not washing your hands and then coming back out," Martin says. "It’s the same level of concern."

Keeping your phone out of the bathroom will help, but if you want to clean your phone, a few different methods will work. Many people just wipe their phones with a soft microfiber cloth, which will remove many of the germs. For a deeper clean, Whittier recommends using a combination of 60% water and 40% rubbing alcohol. Mix the ingredients together, and then dip a cloth in the solution before wiping it gently across your phone. Unless you’re sick, doing this a few times each month is plenty, Whittier says. Stay away from liquid or spray cleaners, which can damage your phone.

Still, the best advice has more to do with you than the phone. Wash your hands several times a day, the experts say, and you’ll likely be just fine.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Reflections on the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge®

Here you go Paul – thanks for the opportunity to share my thoughts! Jim
Dr. Paul Davis, Conor Pietrangelo and B/C Jim Pietrangelo, Pouder Fire Authority, Ft. Collins, CO
Boy how the years fly by while working in the fire service. For those of you that have been around for awhile, you know what I’m talking about. I’m not sure it’s the 24-hour shift schedule, or the amazing things we get to do and see, or the camaraderie we experience with our brothers and sisters that create that perception. It was painfully obvious to my senses when I recently attended a regional Firefighter Combat Challenge (FCC) in Longmont, Colorado. The piercing sound of the warble starting horn, the distinct “clank” of the mallet hitting a Keiser beam, and most notably, the rapid rise of my heartbeat when I saw the SCBA staging tent; you know what I mean by that!

The last time I set foot on the sight of a Firefighter Combat Challenge event was 14 years ago in Ottawa. It was the world championships and I was interviewing competitors on the course for the television broadcast. Prior to firefighting, I worked in the television news business. I started competing in the FCC as a rookie with the Poudre Fire Authority (PFA) in Fort Collins in 1994. My first competition was at Rocks Community College in Denver, Colorado. The top individual times in the world then were near the lower 2- minute range. The stairs and tower were constructed from scaffolding by volunteers and were really steep! The Keiser Sled took 10-15 hits to move the beam the required distance. A warmed up mallet head helped move the beam faster along with a clean track (no bead dust from the mallet head). Running around the cones was not allowed. It kind of sounds like the old sob story our parents would tell us about their youth; walking 3 miles to school, uphill, while wading through 3 feet of snow and blizzards, etc., etc.! The course was truly more difficult back then and it took a couple of years to learn how to prepare for the “toughest two-minutes in sports”. I competed up until 2003 when injuries from a motorcycle wreck ended my run. That was a tough time for me as I somehow knew I would no longer be able to physically do the things I often took for granted.

The recent visit in Longmont brought back a lot of memories for me. The best memories will always center on the people I met and competed against. It was great to see Dr. Paul Davis again and to see that his vision for a world class competition is still going strong. He’s been a big supporter of the fire service for many years and has not aged a bit since the last time I saw him in Ottawa. Paul’s vision and drive to create something that showcased the fire service has helped strengthen relationships between firefighters and their communities. I’ll never forget the “senior” competitors like the friendly and funny Larry Vandenberg and the first 60-year-old world record holder, Roy Davis.

Watching them compete was simply inspiring. Competing against some of the best in the world was an honor. I ran against 3-time world champion Brian Spalding from Casper, Wyoming. I finally beat him in 1998 at a regional competition and most of the credit goes to him, Mike Vogt and the rest of the Casper team that mentored us back then. We had a great relationship with Casper because of PFA firefighter and one-time world champion, Dave Minchow. Dave used to work at Casper in the 1980s. I met Dave shortly after I graduated from the fire academy. I’ll never forget the phone call I received from him my rookie year, a week after I had graduated from the fire academy. He called me “Peter D’ Angelo” and challenged me to do the FCC with him that summer. I took him up on his offer and never regretted it.

Some other memories and people that come to mind during my challenge tenure; Mark Millward from Delta, BC “Men in Black”, drinking a beer prior to his run against me (and wouldn’t you know, he beat me) and kissing everyone on the cheek; beating Kevin Voyles in a 1998 regional only to find out after I crossed the finish line that I was penalized 2-seconds and had to settle for second place; watching Vince Rafferty from Colorado pick up Rescue Randy and carry it across the finish line; witnessing Juliet Draper’s world record run; the incredibly fast teams from Missoula and Overland Park; running into Ken Griffey Jr. in the elevator at the Vegas world championships in the MGM and mistaking him for a basketball player at UNLV; drinking with competitors at the Irish bar in Ybor City and introducing my teammates to the Hare Krishna on the street corner; hanging with Doug Hall and Bobby Russell from Overland Park; and finally, standing in that damn SCBA tent waiting to start my run against my competitor with my resting heartrate at 160! 

There were some difficult memories as well. The Line of Duty Death of Houston firefighter and FCC competitor Kimberly Smith, who was killed during a fire at a MacDonald’s restaurant in 2000. And Division Chief and two-time champion Brent Cooper of North Las Vegas who lost his battle with cancer in 2000, just a few months prior to the world championships in Las Vegas. 

The most profound memories for me will always surround the relationships that we made with our fellow firefighters and competitors. These were special friendships that were built through sharing the agony of training and competing for one of the toughest competitions around. Similar to the way we build relationships as a team when solving the most difficult emergency incidents we respond to. Unfortunately, as time passes by, we lose touch with those folks who’ve helped build those fond memories. For those of you still competing, hang on to those memories through documentation, photographs and phone calls to one another. Maybe Paul could host an “alumni” event of which would bring back some of the original competitors.

Every year I continue to mull over the possibility of coming back to compete again. Injuries and limited time to train for the FCC continue to push back on that dream. It seems my mid-life crisis rears its ugly head from time to time, wanting to show my 13-year old son, Connor, that with hard work comes success. He wasn’t born when I last competed, so I recently dug out some old VHS tapes that contained a number of my challenge runs. He asked if I would do it again and if I could win the 50-year old competition. I told him it wasn’t so much about wanting to win, but more about the journey it takes to cross the finish line; and sharing that feeling with others who have gone through a similar path of arduous training and focus to be the best that they can be.

Jim Pietrangelo
Battalion Chief
Poudre Fire Authority
Fort Collins, Colorado
FCC Competitor 1994-2003

Thursday, August 24, 2017

A Parting Note from a Challenge Legend

Image result for Bill Pietrantonio

Hey Doc,

I will not be competing anymore and I wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for you have done for me and the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge.

It has been a special part of my life. I have met a tremendous number of fantastic firefighters who truly appreciate what it means to be a firefighter.

I wish you, the crew and all the competitors all best this year and in the future.

Thanks again.

Bill Pietrantonio
P.S. keep up the great work and dedication.

Here’s a “rant” that Bill sent me some time back:
I thought I would get a jump on this topic with an old guys view. First and foremost, I believe that no limitations should be imposed other than running together prior to nationals and worlds. We can debate counties, states, mutual aid districts, paychecks and whatever else we can come up with forever. The fact remains that there is no common denominator between fire departments. The size of the departments are different- counties are 5 square miles to 20,000 sq miles, and different populations. No one thing is equal except the firefighter. He is, and will always be not only the equal component but most importantly the DECIDING FACTOR.

I have never seen a STACKED TEAM. What I have seen are teams with more resources... such as an entire course to train on, sponsorships, dept. support and the desire to compete. These are significant advantages that are never factored into a race. The military teams frequently have everything at their disposal to train with. Yet does anyone bitch? No. Why? Because it is a non-issue. We all run against the course and the clock. If you want a better time, you work and train harder with the resources you have available.

I am old school... one man does not make a TEAM. Hard work and trust in our guys make a TEAM better than limitations on who can be on your team. That is school yard bull. These guys do not go to an incident and say, “I can't handle this because I do not have so-and-so from the next county because he is the best roof man in the state.” No; they adapt and overcome. The foundation of firefighting which the challenge imitates is to test our skills. Part of the test is to use your resources to the best of your ability to accomplish the goal.

Sorry about the rant, but it seems that some people want to stack the deck by limiting the competition instead of working hard. Two examples of how hard work makes a difference... John McGee..aka "Next time better time." The man never complained even after by pass surgery. He always worked hard to be better. Roy Davis: Roy was an average runner until about the age 57. He then went on a workout program that some of the young guns could not do. That made him a superstar. Dedication, determination and hard work put Roy in a category of his own. I’m sure that you know more guys that have similar stories.

Keep the tradition; let guys work and earn the not give it away.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Protecting the Southern Border

A few years ago, I was part of an 8-member team consisting of Border Patrol Agents and Occupational Health Physiologists that would study job-related injuries in the Border Patrol. Over the span of this one-year project, I spent one month walking the border in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas with Agents.

At the time the Workers' Comp rate for Agents was worse than the US Marine Corps. I wondered why? That is, until I actually saw the environment in which Agents worked.

This is not traditional law enforcement; it's more like foot-based infantry in some of the world's most inhospitable environment. Everything out there can hurt you. Poisonous snakes that bite. Plant life that will cut, poke, scrape and irritate. And, of course, insects.

There's a lot of talk about building a wall. The estimated cost is huge. This video provides a perspective that I doubt most Americans are aware of.

This is a video shot on the Southern Border in California. Read the description for more information. A 360° View of the Mexico-US Border

The U.S.-Mexico Border, Then and Now

I don't have much to add to the commentary; these Agents tell it pretty much like it is.

A section of the wall near El Paso

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Commentary from a Rookie

Ed Lyell and new-found friend and Coach: Ken Helgerson
Dr Paul,

I have been working full time in Fire and Emergency Medical Service for 29 Years and this January I came to a point in my Career where I no longer felt much Brotherhood in the Fire Service and felt like I no longer mattered within My Fire Department. Physically I was completing multiple 100 Mile Ultramarathons and Triathlons along with Open Water Swimming. I found this was not much help with the specific skills we do and I was in terrible Fire Service Shape. Also, I saw that Internally my body was fighting early stages of Heart Disease and Pre Diabetes. All of these together I knew I needed to do something drastic to be able to make it to Retirement and Beyond.

So at 47, I decided to train and compete in my first Firefighter Combat Challenge at FDIC.

In training, I found little or no support from My Brother Firefighters some of who were former competitors. Troy Brown at My Department helped me transform my workouts to build the strength needed to complete the event. The first time I actually ran the whole course was at FDIC.

At FDIC I was overwhelmed by the Pride and Brotherhood that I and my wife Rieko felt. Immediately at warm ups, Brothers were pulling me aside and giving me suggestions and walking me through the course.

When I lined up to start, little did I know that the Brother standing next to me would become my Mentor and Guide through this journey.

While I was trying to survive my first time out Ken Helgerson finished in Personal Record time joining the Lion’s Den. The next thing I know is Ken is by my side every step of the way and as I fell at the end I could hear Ken and Mike Word yelling "Pull, Pull, Pull!" and somehow Rescue Randy and I made it across the line. In that moment my Life has changed forever!

Since FDIC Ken has been in constant contact and I had the honor to compete with him as part of a Tandem Team in Longmont, Colorado. The Lessons he gave me has got me hooked on the Tandem event in addition to the Individual. Though I learned my lesson at Sulphur Springs, Texas that three Tandems in a day can be tough.

Social Media has been a fantastic place to exchange training suggestions and critique. Matt Baca has been my online and in-person mentor along with so many others.

I have completed Seven events this Year and to memorialize my Lucky 7 I got the Firefighter Combat Challenge Tattoo as a constant Reminder of the Pride and Brotherhood that the challenge celebrates.

Over the last Seven events I have truly discovered the Jacobs Ladder of Learning that Ken Helgerson described. Each time I compete I learn something new to improve my performance and I look forward to one day Joining the Lions Den!

Thank You, Dr. Paul for creating this life changing event. I truly appreciate it.

Kind Regards,

Edward Lyell
Federal Fire San Diego

The Japanese characters are “Firefighter”

Friday, August 11, 2017

A Testimonial from Jim Neville

Jim Neville, retired from Morton Grove, IL paid us a visit at the Boulder County Fair just a couple of weeks ago. He brought with him some of his Challenge Bling pictured below. At some urging several years ago, I asked Jim to give me a quick synopsis of what the Challenge meant to him. His remarks from 2008 are posted below:

Hi Paul,

Jim Neville Finished in Third Place in the Over 50 Category in 1999
Thank you for being persistent, and sorry I have not had a chance to get to my emails very frequently to respond to you. To have an interview is going to be tough but I want to respond to you on my thoughts of the Challenge by email. Where do you start, 16 years is a long time. I got so that I was fast enough to be competitive but not fast enough to be in the elite, needless to say, it was a great career, my only regret is I wish you would have come up with it sooner. I am going to retire this year 08 with 29 yrs, we are in the process of getting things moved, so it is a very busy time.

The Challenge has been nothing but positive for my career. It has been a tool to help me stay focused on my job. Career advancement from firefighter/paramedic, Lieutenant, District Chief, to college from 2-year junior college, 4-year Bachelors in Fire Science, 2 year Masters in Management Degree. I think I told you I had written a number of papers through out my college career on the Challenge, and do you think that I could find one of them, cause I would send one to you, they got to be packed away in one of these boxes somewhere, but what I can tell you is that I got A's on them.

The Challenge has helped me to stay fit and to see the value of physical fitness for the rest of my life. It helped me to survive in New Orleans (Slidell) for three weeks without much sleep, once again the value of physical fitness. I qualified for the finals that year and I wanted to compete real bad, but the priority was New Orleans, that‘s our job.

The Crüe- what can I say, they are the best. If there is anything that I can say or do to help them get a raise then so be it cause they are so well worth it. The 16 years I have competed they have been very professional and have worked very hard at the different sites to keep the show going, my hats off to them. Rick Payne, John Forsberg, these guys took me under their wing when I was competing by myself, both former competitors and lifelong friends, they exemplify the true challenge spirit and the fire service. Clint Lamb a great competitor and friend. Bill Edwards a southern boy that gets after it and I'm proud to know him. Rex- what can I say about Rex, It is an honor to know him. To watch him work tirelessly and with passion at this last Finals was truly inspirational to me; he is truly the mouthpiece for the challenge and my lifelong friend.

Now to get down to what this email is all about. The Firefighter Combat Challenge has passed all barriers, Age, Race, Gender, (18-60+), (Brown, White, Black), (Male, Female),  (Short-Tall), anyone who steps onto the course my hat goes off to them and I would be proud to work right along side everyone of them.

The Challenge inspires confidence (I can do this and my time can get faster) from competitors and hope (maybe if I get out of the Barco lounger and improve my physical fitness, maybe it will be a lifelong health habit improvement for me) for would be competitors. The Challenge has helped the public and village employers to accept, hey he's 60+, he or she is short, hey that's a female, and what's the difference if he or she is black, white or brown because they are proving they can do it, and as a competitor you don't see any barriers because you understand the training and commitment it takes to compete.

Paul excuse me for rambling, but I get a little passionate about the Challenge, and excuse the spelling cause my spell check doesn't work and my dictionary is in a box somewhere.

The Challenge is raising it another notch and I am proud to have known you and to have been a part of it.

God's speed my friend and Happy New Year

Jim Neville

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Interesting U.S. Facts

#1 In more than half of all states, the highest paid public employee is a football coach.

#2 It costs the U.S. government 1.8 cents to mint a penny and 9.4 cents to mint a nickel.

#3 Almost half of all Americans (47 percent) do not put a single penny from their paychecks into savings.
#4 Apple corporation has more cash than the U.S. Treasury.
#5 Alaska is 429 times larger than Rhode Island, but R.I. has a much larger population.

#6 Alaska has a longer coastline than all the other 49 states combined.

#7 The city of Juneau, Alaska, measures about 3,000 square miles. It's larger than the entire state of Delaware.

#8 When LBJ's "War on Poverty" began, less than 10 percent of all U.S. children were growing up in single-parent households. Today, that number is 33 percent.

#9 In 1950, less than 5 pct. of babies in the US were born to unmarried parents. Today, that number is over 40 pct.

#10 The poverty rate of households led by married couples is 6.8 pct. For homes led by female single parents, the poverty rate is 37.1 percent.

#11 In 2013, women earned 60 percent of all bachelor's degrees awarded in the USA.

#12 According to the CDC, 34.6 percent of all men in the U.S. are obese.

#13 The average supermarket in the US wastes about 3,000 lbs of food each year; and, about 20 pct. of garbage in our landfills is food.

#14 Recent survey: 81 pct. of Russians now have a negative view of the US - much higher than during the Cold War era.

#15 Montana has three times more cows than people.

#16 The grizzly bear remains the official state animal of CA., but none have been seen there since 1922. They are plentiful in Mississippi and other southern states.

#17 A survey found that "A steady job" is the number one thing that American women look for in a husband; and, 75 pct. of them would have serious problems dating unemployed men.

#18 According to a study by Economist Carl Frey and Engineer Michael Osborne, up to 47 pct. of jobs in the U.S. may be lost to computers, robots and other technology.

#19 The only state where coffee is grown commercially: Hawaii.

#20 The original name of the city of Atlanta was "Terminus."

#21 The state with the most millionaires per capita is Maryland.

#22 One survey of 50-year-old U.S. men found that only 12 pct. said "I'm very happy."

#23 The U.S. has 845 motor vehicles for every 1,000 people.

#24 Nearly half of all U.S. homes have NO emergency supplies. Even fewer have fire extinguishers.

#25 There are three U.S. towns named "Santa Claus."

#26 There's a town in Michigan named "Hell."

#27 If you have NO debt and have $10 in your wallet, you're wealthier than 25 pct. of all Americans.

#28 By age 18, U.S. children have seen about 40,000 murders on television.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

From the Kingdom of Kuwait

This marks the third season that members of the fire service from the Kingdom and or Oil Company of Kuwait have participated in the Scott Firefighter Combat Challenge.

In Apopka, Florida, two representatives of Kuwait competed in our event there. The following week, they also traveled to Virginia Beach.

Here are the places and times for our Kuwaiti friends:
Apoka, FL, May 12, 2017
Colonel Yousef Al Qallaf: 2:09.26
Khaled Kanaan: 2:33.43
In Virginia Beach, May 19 (Where these photos were taken)
Yousef: 1:42.91 (3rd Place Individual)
Khaled: 2:35.77

I was pleasantly surprised with the presentation pictured below. The Kuwaiti's historically renowned for their intrepid sailing skills have adopted the image of a sailboat as their county's "branding-logo."

We look forward to seeing the full contingent in Louisville this year.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Putting Things in Perspective...Dr. Charles Krauthammer, Washington Post

Why do they even play the game?

In mathematics, when you’re convinced of some eternal truth but can’t quite prove it, you offer it as a hypothesis (with a portentous capital H) and invite the world, future generations if need be, to prove you right or wrong. Often, a cash prize is attached.

In that spirit, but without the cash, I offer the Krauthammer Conjecture: In sports, the pleasure of winning is less than the pain of losing. By any Benthamite pleasure/pain calculation, the sum is less than zero. A net negative of suffering. Which makes you wonder why anybody plays at all.

Winning is great. You get to hoot and holler, hoist the trophy, shower in champagne, ride the open parade car and boycott the White House victory ceremony (choose your cause).

But, as most who have engaged in competitive sports know, there’s nothing to match the amplitude of emotion brought by losing. When the Cleveland Cavaliers lost the 2015 NBA Finals to Golden State, LeBron James sat motionless in the locker room, staring straight ahead, still wearing his game jersey, for 45 minutes after the final buzzer.

Here was a guy immensely wealthy, widely admired, at the peak of his powers — yet stricken, inconsolable. So it was for Ralph Branca, who gave up Bobby Thomson’s shot heard ’round the world in 1951. So too for Royals shortstop Freddie Patek, a (literal) picture of dejection sitting alone in the dugout with his head down after his team lost the 1977 pennant to the New York Yankees.

In 1986, the “Today Show” commemorated the 30th anniversary of Don Larsen pitching the only perfect game in World Series history. They invited Larsen and his battery mate, Yogi Berra. And Dale Mitchell, the man who made the last out. Mitchell was not amused. “I ain’t flying 2,000 miles to talk about striking out,” he fumed. And anyway, the called third strike was high and outside. It had been 30 years and Mitchell was still mad. (Justly so. Even the Yankee fielders acknowledged that the final pitch was outside the strike zone.)

For every moment of triumph, there is an unequal and opposite feeling of despair. Take that iconic photograph of Muhammad Ali standing triumphantly over the prostrate, semiconscious wreckage of Sonny Liston. Great photo. Now think of Liston. Do the pleasure/pain calculus.

And we are talking here about professional athletes — not even the legions of Little Leaguers, freshly eliminated from the playoffs, sobbing and sniffling their way home, assuaged only by gallons of Baskin-Robbins.

Any parent can attest to the Krauthammer Conjecture. What surprises is how often it applies to battle-hardened professionals making millions.

I don’t feel sorry for them. They can drown their sorrows in the Olympic-sized infinity pool that graces their Florida estate. (No state income tax.) I am merely fascinated that, despite their other substantial compensations, some of them really do care. Most interestingly, often the very best.

Max Scherzer, ace pitcher for the Washington Nationals, makes $30 million a year. On the mound, forget the money. His will to win is scary. Every time he registers a strikeout, he stalks off the mound, circling, head down, as if he’s just brought down a mastodon.

On June 6, tiring as he approached victory, he began growling — yes, like a hungry tiger — at Chase Utley as he came to the plate. “It was beautiful,” was the headline of the blog entry by The Post’s Scott Allen. Nats broadcaster and former ballplayer F.P. Santangelo was so thrilled by the sheer madness of it that he said “I want to run down there and put a uni on . . . I mean, I’ve got goose bumps right now.”

When Scherzer gets like that, managers are actually afraid to go out and tell him he’s done. He goes Mad Max. In one such instance last year, as Scherzer labored, manager Dusty Baker came out to the mound. Scherzer glared.

“He asked me how I was feeling,” Scherzer recounted, “and I said I still feel strong . . . I still got one more hitter in me.”

Asked Baker, demanding visual confirmation: “Which eye should I look at?”

Scherzer, who famously has one blue and one brown eye, shot back: “Look in the [expletive] brown eye!”

“That’s the pitching one,” he jokingly told reporters after the game.

Baker left him in.

After losing her first ever UFC match, mixed martial artist Ronda Rousey confessed that she was in the corner of the medical room, “literally sitting there thinking about killing myself. In that exact second, I’m like, ‘I’m nothing.’ ” It doesn’t get lower than that.

Said Vince Lombardi, “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.” To which I add — conjecture — yes, but losing is worse.

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