Saturday, December 31, 2011

#381: Peeking Around the Bend

What's around the bend in Pennsyltucky?
In a way, it's a pity that we celebrate New Year's Eve by getting drunk. This is such a great day to be awake; to be mindful. 2011 was full of things worth remembering for me. And next year is so rich with possibilities.
In some ways, 2011 was a hard year, but even through the pain, we were blessed. We lost a lot of people we love, particularly our beloved brother Doug who fought cancer with such courage and faithfulness. Near the end of his battle, he spoke the words that just may go on my tombstone. He was lying in the hospital when he was told of a friend who had given his heart to Jesus in church that morning, Doug wept and whispered, "It's all going to be worth it." And so it is.

We lost our house, after a long game of chicken with Wells Fargo. The experience was sometimes painful, more often, it was just a pain, but we were blessed to have the support of our friend Donna, a realtor and a saint, (yes, it is possible.) I also have to thank Judge Scorsone who stood between us and the bank's lawyers long enough for us to complete the short sale of the property. And most important of all, our brothers and sisters, Bob, Bobbie, and Paul, who helped us to find a new "place for our stuff." We lost a house, but thanks to them, we were able to keep our home intact.

Me and my little licensed head-shrinker.
After delaying her studies for almost a year, while she was busy keeping me alive, Mrs. P finally got the chance to prepare for her LCSW, the credential that would make her a fully licensed clinical social worker. She lost weekends and nights of sleep with her head in the books. We even took DVDs with us on road trips so she could study in the car. Mrs P loves her kids and their families, and spends hours writing reports, assessments, and care plans for them. She drives hundreds of miles some weeks to visit them. All that study had to be crammed into the few cracks remaining in her regular schedule. And when the moment of truth came, she aced her exam. She's got a new title, and a new sheepskin for the wall. We have to get her new letter paper, but it's worth it.

Taz is as close to a lap dog as we're likely to get.
Our family grew in 2011. Maggie and Kizzie love our new house. They have thier own suite of rooms that we call "Cat Land." They are free to roam, lounge, and eat without canine harassment. Jake, our 10 pound puppy, turned in to a full grown Golden this year. He's a big boy now, but he can still break my heart with those brown eyes. Clare came to us from a family that should never have taken her in the first place. She runs her big brother ragged, and they frighten the neighbor children with their fierce wrangling, but we have high hopes that as she continues to grow, she may eventually develop a brain. Taz came just after Thanksgiving. He is a Blue Heeler, the smallest of our pack, but the toughest. Taz likes to yell when Jake and Clare are wrestling. We aren't sure if he's telling them to stop, or urging them to kill one another. We do know that he is sweet natured and the most athletic of all of us. He taught Clare to jump the baby gate into the Cat Land, so now we have two gates stacked on top of one another. And of course, there's Brady. He isn't our dog, but he's an honorary member of the pack. He's a thirteen-year-old Golden who spends most of time sleeping, or barking hoarsely for reasons we can never really make out. He grew up being treated like an actual dog, but in his retirement, God sent the Pennsy family to spoil him. We do our best.

With Erin. 30 years and still a beauty.
We traveled to Pennsylvania twice this fall. It was my first time home since I got sick, and I didn't realize how much I missed the forests and hills of Western PA. My 30th college reunion was full of joy and tears with old friends Jeff, Joellen, Marcia, and Erin. So was my first, live Steeler game for which I am ever grateful to my old high school classmate, Skip. He gave me a day I will never forget, and can never repay. I got to taste Mum's cooking again, to sleep in Gramma's house, to hold my sisters in my arms, and to run the dirt roads we used to walk when I was a child.

2011 was the year the doc told me I didn't have cancer any more. I resolved to live the life we had all fought so hard to save. I croaked and strangled pretty girls in No Way to Treat a Lady, my first musical in years. Played a melancholy old queen in the world premier of Stephen Metcalf's The Happy Hour. Returned to my beloved Actors' Guild in Glengarry Glen Ross, and End Days. And I got to play in the park again, with a turn as William, Lord Hastings in Richard III. I got my first gig as an acting teacher at our community college, which I loved. I'll act again in the spring, right after the marathon.

Jake and the Fat Man.
Oh yeah, that. The Fat Man is running the Pittsburgh Marathon on May 6. The reality of it hasn't quite set in, yet. I'm not sure it will until somewhere around mile 18 of the race. This time last year, I walked a mile and felt like I had won a gold medal. I ran a 3K in March, a couple of 5Ks in the Spring, then my first 10K on July 4. I got it into my head that I could finish a half-marathon, and in October, Mrs P cheered as I crossed the finish line. While I trained for that race, people contributed over $3500 to One for the Five, a project to honor fallen cancer fighters, and to raise money for the Markey Cancer Foundation. Soon, I'll be launching two more projects, one to help Actors' Guild, and one to help fund LIVESTRONG at the YMCA.

I never went to the YMCA when I was growing up. I was a Boy Scout. When I heard about a program at the Y to help cancer survivors improve their fitness, I jumped at it. I was expecting a free gym membership for three months. I got much more. The Y gave me what it has given so many people over the years: a place to exercise; a chance to meet friends; a way to discover a sense of purpose and value. I can say without shame or sentiment that I love the people I have met at  the Y. Love them so much that when my program was over, I went to the boss and asked for a job. For the first time in my life, I'm actually a little disappointed when I wake up and realize I have the day off.

What's next? I'm going to start studying to become a trainer at the Y. I'm going to run another half, and my first full marathon. I'll be playing in a production of Camus' Calligula this June. Mrs P and I are finally going to get rid of all the extra stuff we've been storing in boxes since we moved from Brooklyn. And of course, I'll be fighting any and all impulses to adopt any more animals. (On a related note, we'll be replacing the carpet in the den, as soon as Clare gives us the go-ahead.)

With some of the LS@theY team for the Reindeer Ramble.
So, in all sobriety I can say I'm the happiest Pennsy I've ever been. I love my wife more than ever. I have work that excites me. I have passion that makes me look forward to ten miles of asphalt on a chilly Bluegrass morning. I can't stop thanking God for giving me this second (or third? or fourth? or umpteenth?) chance to live.

2011? It was a very good year. 2012? Gonna be even better. Let's love it together, huh?


Wednesday, December 28, 2011

#380: A Runner's Circuit Strength Workout

Today's workout.

Exercise Set 1/Set 2 Duration Rest
Squat 38/34 (72) 1:00 0:15
Pushup 40/30 (70) 1:00 0:15
Lunge (Right & Left) 12/11 (23) 1:00 0:15
Plank 1/1 1:00 0:15
Swiss Ball Leg Curl 31/31 (62) 1:00 0:15
Russian Twist (upper body) 26/32 (58) 1:00 0:15
Pull ups (Assisted) 9/9 (18) 1:00 0:15
Dips (Assisted) 20/21 (41) 1:00 0:15

Swiss Ball Leg Curl 
Here's how the circuit works. 5 minute warm-up on the cross trainer machine. I did as many reps of each exercise as I could in 60 seconds with a 15 second rest between exercises. When I finished the circuit, I did 10 minutes on the cross trainer, then repeated. Finished up with another 10 minutes on the machine, then a nice easy walking cool down on the treadmill.

I like this workout for a couple of reasons.
  • It's fast. Each circuit only takes 10 minutes. 
  • It's comprehensive. You get a complete body workout in a very short time.
  • It's easy to track improvement. Just shoot for more reps than you were able to complete last time.
  • It's functional. These are movements from life, not just stuff some gym rat made up to make your muscles bulge.
  • Nearly every movement places demands on the core muscles of the abdomen and lower back. 
  • It's a good workout for the muscles above the waist that support running.
  • These are all body-weight exercises. No special equipment required at home besides a swiss ball. (Dips can be done on a stool. Pull ups... I'm working on that.)
  • I managed to keep my heart rate in the 120-130 range through the whole thing, so it's a pretty decent cardio conditioning exercise, too.

Russian Twist
I love the weight room, but as my marathon training gets rolling in earnest, I want an efficient workout plan that isn't going to leave me too tired to run the next day. I'll try this three times a week for four weeks, and see if I like the results.


Sunday, December 25, 2011

#379: A Christmas Day Run

Nephew.. keep Christmas in your own way, and let me keep it in mine. - A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens.

So here's how I kept Christmas this year:

32° 10.01mi/2:07:47 @ 9:15. AGL/ParkersMill Loop. Adidas Grey. 5:00 run/0:45 walk. Splits: 12:53 12:11 12:12 12:15 12:33 12:54 12:55 13:17 13:18 13:10.. Once you're off the highway, this is a beautiful course. Hills, farms, horses, South Elkhorn Creek. Perfect Christmas run.
It was still dark when the dogs woke me. I let them out and bundled up next to Mrs P for a few extra minutes. Before long, Clare started yipping and a smoke alarm started the chirp that tells you it's time to remove the battery and forget to replace it until the time changes again. I got up and fumbled with the thing for a while, then let the dogs back into the house and gave them breakfast. Put on a pot of coffee. Pulled on the running clothes I had laid out last night. Made some toast.

Even under the best circumstances, it's a bit of a chore to get Mrs P up and moving on Sunday morning. Of course, last night we were at church until late, then we came home and made our final preparations for Santa's arrival, (just in case, you know?) I was pretty confident she would be sleeping in this Christmas. The dogs returned to their naps, and I opened up to find a route for the morning. There is a road near our home I've been wanting to run, but it's pretty narrow and I worry about traffic. I figured Christmas morning was likely to be a low volume time, so I laid it out. 10 miles. Rolling hils. Country roads. Just my style.

While I was there, I did a search and checked out the route for the Pittsburgh Marathon. Man, it looks so brutal. There's a nearly 200 ft climb from mile 11 to mile 12. That's steeper than anything I've ever tried to run. I'm going to need to spend some time in the mountains this winter.

Once the sun had come out and the temperature had risen to a balmy 32°, I put on my warm-up suit and reflective vest and hit the road. The morning was just beautiful. The steely gray sky gradually warmed to clear blue as the day warmed my face. The first 3 miles are along a highway that I have driven many times. It's such a different perspective when you run. At one point, a bunny loped along ahead of me, by the side of the road. I'm not sure if he was running away, or trying to coax a tortoise into a race. We had fun for a few yards, anyway. My route took me past my beloved Actors' Guild, then turned toward farmland. This little road follows the banks of South Elkhorn Creek for a while, then climbs up toward Bluegrass Airport. Running past horse farms on a sunny morning is heavenly. Doing it on Christmas morning defies any language I can put together. I can't explain this, but when I'm running, I find the smell of horse manure in a field to be so exhilarating. It smells of earth and life and it's just so... I don't know... pure, you know? 

It got me thinking about Joseph. Poor, old, quiet Joseph. He had to walk a long way, a lot longer than I ran this morning. He had a young finance who had turned up mysteriously pregnant. He had a dream telling him he should marry her anyway. Now, he had the Romans calling him back to Bethlehem for a "census," whatever that meant. Probably more taxes. This was no way to start the winter. Then, when he finally dragged his little family into town, they couldn't find a bed. Wound up sleeping in the barn. Surrounded by animals. The smell of horse manure. I wonder if the carpenter from Nazareth took any comfort from that. Sitting there awake while his wife delivered somebody's child in the straw. Smelling the animals. Hearing their breathing and shuffling feet. And once it was all over, and Mary slept with the child on her breast. Did Joseph put his head down in the straw and look up at the stars, breathing in the earthy smells of the stable, wondering what just happened, and what it would mean for him and his bride-to-be? Before long, Joseph would be walking again, the Gospels tell us. This time, he walked all the way to Egypt while Herod hunted for the little boy hidden in swaddling clothes, riding in his mother's arms on a donkey laden with gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Myrrh. Just what a newborn needs. Maybe he could sell it when they got to Egypt to buy some tools. I wonder if Joseph had any hope in his heart, in the midst of all that confusion. He was doing his best to do the right thing, and it was turning out to be more difficult than anyone could have anticipated. He would marry the girl. He would raise the boy. He would pretend nothing was wrong, that he couldn't hear the snickers, that it didn't hurt to know his wife had been unfaithful. He did it for the sake of the child; for the sake of the woman. He did the right thing. And in a way, Joseph taught his son how to do the right thing; even when it hurt; even when it made no sense; even when it cost more than anyone could have imagined. 

I made it home just as Mrs P was wrapping the last present. She got a set of Harry Potter DVD's. I got two books on marathons by Jeff Galloway and Grete Waitz. We went out to Hunan for dinner, but didn't have the Chinese Turkey. Now, as I type, three dogs are stretched out on the floor, Clare is curled up in my chair, Kizzie is sleeping on a blanket in front of the heating vent in our bedroom, and Maggie is rolled up in a ball on our bed. Mrs P is reading. It's as perfect a Christmas as I can imagine. I hope old Joseph got to enjoy one or two in his life. That's the best part about Christmas. It's the night Hope was born.
He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms.
Peace, and Merry Christmas

Saturday, December 24, 2011

#378: The Law of the Pack

Mom always tried to get me to write thank you notes. For reasons I cannot explain, I resisted her efforts. Wicked child. I didn't know what to say. As if "Thank You," just wasn't original enough somehow.

I've always wanted to be impressive. Umpteen years ago, this blog started under the title PennsyltuckianI started blogging to share my deep insights into God, the Universe, and Everything with a world that was starving for my wisdom and eloquence. The more I wrote, the less impressed I grew with myself. The more words I typed, the more I realized how little I really had to say. The truth is, I didn't know squat about God, the Universe, or Anything. Fortunately, God's wisdom had a course of graduate studies in mind for me. I'm still not nearly as original, wise, or insightful as I want to be, but I do have a PhD in Gratitude. Here's an extract from my dissertation.

I am grateful for the Pack. I live in a world that idolizes the lone wolf, the man who can stand on his own two feet. He think for himself, takes care of his own, minds his business, and keeps his own counsel. I tried so long to be that man.

We had cats for years. Lions live together, but most cats are lonely people. Given her 'druthers, Maggie and Kizzie would spend their whole lives curled up in a warm spot, purring quietly, contemplating the mysteries of the universe and occasionally taunting the dogs through the baby gate. Their encounters with each other can be civil and affectionate, even tender, but they always carry a tinder-box in their back pocket.  They will hop up onto the bed when the mood strikes them, but neither is much for hugging. You can love a cat with all your heart, but the cat will always her limits.

Leader of the Pack?
Dogs live in the Pack. They hunt together, sleep together, raise their pups together. The dogs in my life have shown me how to love without limits. We play in the rain. We run in the grass. They have welcomed me into their world, though I can't do a thing for them except scoop dry nasty chunks of food into a bowl a couple times a day. It's a poor substitute for the game they were created to hunt and share in the wild, but they are grateful. I love all the creatures who share my home, but I will never be "one of the cats." The dogs have taken me in as one of their own. They even let me think I'm in charge from time to time.

Humans are slow, weak creatures. Compared to our brothers and sisters in the wild, we are not fast or strong. We can't see our food or smell danger. Our claws are short and brittle, our teeth flat and dull. The one advantage a human has is a brain. We're smart. And our ancestors were smart enough to realize that the only way for us to survive was if we lived together. We learned the law of the Pack. Mrs P likes to tell me, "Everything we do is better when we do it together." As always, she is right.

"We are the Duck!"
When I lost my job, I found a group of people struggling together to make it in the world. We traveled in small groups, trying to sell insurance to people who, for the most part, didn't want to see our faces, let alone buy our products. It could have been a lonely, depressing life - and the truth is, I sucked at selling insurance - but I found a pack who cared about one another. We understood one another's struggles, and when one of us was in trouble, the rest of us were willing to come to their aid. A few succeeded in the business, most of us didn't, but all of us found strength and love in that strange, wonderful Pack.

Stolen image, but this is what crazy feels like.
When I lost my mind, Mrs P knew she couldn't pull me back to sanity by herself, and that I couldn't help myself, either. She took me to the nut house. I spent 10 days there, taking pills, walking the halls, living without shoelaces or a belt. Afterwards, I was in an outpatient program for a month. I met with shrinks and counselors and social workers and big burly types who always showed up when one of us got out of hand. Those people were great. But the most important part of my healing happened in the big room in the middle of the ward, when all the professionals were in their offices doing paperwork, and the nuts would sit together and share our stories. We were depressed housewives, battered lovers, broken-hearted soldiers, grieving orphans. We had been fired, raped, dumped on, cheated on, and born with wired crossed in our heads. Most of us knew what it was to face the choice between life and death, and many of us had tried to choose death. Some of us had days when the pain of getting out of bed was just too great. One by one, we would stop by their room, like a little den, and offer to listen. We didn't have to ask how they were doing. We knew. All we could offer was our presence. The safety of the pack. There were no miracle cures in the nut house. We all went in crippled, and we all came out limping, but we were all a little stronger for the time we had spent together.

If you've been following FMR, you know my cancer story. I'm always blabbing about it. I wonder if people get sick of hearing it. But then I think of the people who might need to hear: the people who stare at the ceiling in the dark, worrying about a cough or a lump or a spot of blood that shouldn't be there; the people waiting for the results of tests that will change their lives; the people who haven't yet decided whether to fight or give up; the ones whose hope is fading; the weary cancer fighters who feel like old lions, left behind to die; the ones who love people with cancer, who don't know how to help and don't know how to keep fighting. Most of the people who hear my story won't need to hear it, but some will. That's my job. They are my Pack.

The Strong Eight - cancer warriors
My Wife. My Mother. My sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles. The friends who call and pray. The strangers who weep and nod in recognition. The church that never gave up on me, when I gave up on it. The theatre who played on my behalf and welcomed me back when the time was right. The Head and Neck Support group who shared my whole healing journey with me, from puking and oxygen tanks to my first half-marathon. The men and women at the YMCA, some vets of the cancer wars, some simply people who loved us, who came together to sweat and laugh and cry for joy at the life we have been given. The lady at the gas station who told me she was having a great day because "I'm a ten year breast cancer survivor." The man who had just had his prostate removed and was afraid he would never make love again. A guy who won the Tour de France seven times. A woman who had just been told she had started her third relapse of ovarian cancer. The people who take the time to read FMR. They are my Pack. You are my Pack.

And so this is Christmas: The Feast of the Incarnation. Believe what you want. Celebrate how you like. In my house, we celebrate the day God turned to creation and whispered, "You are my Pack. I am one of you. We are more whole when we are together. You are the source of love in my life, and I am yours. We each have our own stories. We live our own lives. But our lives are better because we are together."


God is with us.

And we are with one another.

The Law of the Pack.

Thanks be to God.



Friday, December 23, 2011

#377: Don't Wait Till You Get Cancer

Don't wait till you get cancer,
To decide why you want to stay alive,
To live as if you mattered,
To embrace what is precious.

Don't wait till you look Death in his unblinking eyes,
To start living,
As if every moment were a chance,
To help a miracle happen.

Before you need an army standing by your side,
Fighting for your life,
As if your life were worth the trouble,
Start fighting for yourself.

When you wake up in the morning
And the day begins, no matter how much you dread it,
Trust that there is something wonderful in it,
Just because you woke up.

Sweat the small stuff,
A friend's broken heart, A stranger's tear,
As if you were meeting the most important person in the universe,
Because that's just what you are doing.

 Being broken is not a sin,
Staying broken is;
Find your portion of strength
And healing will follow.

Pour yourself out to the world,
And you will be an empty vessel;
Fill yourself to overflowing,
Become a fountain of blessing.

God created everything and called it good,
Take Him at His word;
You are a beloved creation,
Made in the image of holiness.

Don't wait till you get cancer,
To stop hurting yourself,
To ask "Why?"
To pick your battles,
To dance your dance;

What you want to love,
Where your heart will be,
What you want to become,
Whom you will serve;

Life from your Maker,
Humility from your victories,
Compassion from your suffering;

Hope to the fearful one,
Comfort to the sufferer,
Company to the lonely,
Courage to the battered.

Cancer changed my life;
I am a better man than I have ever been;
I know now what I have always known;
I've stopped living as if there are more important things than love.

Don't wait till you get cancer,
To live;
Don't waste another second of your beautiful life;
Every moment is a chance,
To help a miracle happen.



Monday, December 19, 2011

#376: You Only Get One Chance at your First Marathon

Pennsyltucky dreaming...
I now have 26.2 reasons to look forward to the new year. I sent the money in, and I’m registered to run the Pittsburgh Marathon on May 6. It is a long way, but then, so was 13.1. And 6.2. And 3.1. I thought 1.8 was going to kill me. And then there was that morning I had to stop and rest after crossing the street. A full marathon is a long way. But I know I can run one step. I’ll just keep doing that. Am I nervous? Yeah. Do I have a plan? Also, yeah.

I’m using a program from Galloway TrainingPrograms. It’s designed to prepare a first-timer to finish the race without injury and without swearing to never run another one. No speed records. No near-death experiences. No puking. After all, since it’s my first, no matter what time I get is going to be a personal best.

I’m doing two training runs a week to build strength and maintain conditioning, with a Long Slow Run (LSR) on the weekends. That will give my old joints plenty of time to recover between workouts. On Monday and Wednesday, I’ll be cross-training (XT). XT is the work you do because you’re too crazy to take a day off, but you don’t want to kill yourself. At least that’s how I understand it.

I have a lot of options for XT: weight lifting, circuit training, swimming, spinning, body-weight training, Pilates, TRX. I intend to mix them up to keep things interesting. I have three goals in cross-training.

1.      Continue building my endurance. Nothing matters more in long distance running. It doesn’t matter how fast you can run if you can’t keep going all the way to the end.
2.      Build core strength. Not just my abs. The skin around my belly is so stretched out, I don’t ever expect to see a six-pack, but I do need a strong center. That includes the whole abdominal girdle, stomach, sides, butt, and lower back. It’s important to give the running muscles a recovery day, so I won’t be doing so much leg work while I’m training for the race.
3.      Dump some ballast. I want to get my weight down about 15 pounds. When I’m climbing up that hill to Oakland, I don’t want to carry more than I have to.
4.      Get pretty. This is my vanity goal. I want to look better in a tee-shirt. I tend to overlook bench presses and curls and such movements because they’re so isolated. I’m going to take the opportunity to focus more on my upper body: arms, shoulders, chest, and back. I confess, there is a macho man hiding inside me, longing to come out and kick sand in cancer’s face.

I also have the Run the BluegrassHalf-Marathon tucked into my calendar on March 31. That fits nicely into my schedule as a tune-up for the big one. There’s also something poetic about running races in Kentucky and Pennsylvania this spring that warms my Pennsyltucky heart.

I’m planning a major fundraiser to go along with this race. I’ll have more to tell you about that later. I’ll only get one chance to run my first marathon, and I want to make the most of it. As always, FMR will be a big part of that journey.

I look forward to traveling with you.


Friday, November 4, 2011

#375: Casting Call for Actors' Guild Runners and Walkers

Do you love Actors' Guild of Lexington? Ever wish you could do more to support their work? Can you run or walk 1.8 miles? Do you like to show off by using phrases like "leverage your network," "viral marketing," and "grassroots philanthropy?" Here's the chance you've been waiting for.

After the success we enjoyed with One for the Five, Team Pennsy is launching a new fund raising effort on January 1 called Keeping the Dream Alive. We'll be training for the Shamrock Shuffle 3K on St Patrick's Day in downtown Lexington. This is a really fun race, an reachable distance, and the kind of lunatic, emerald-clad crowd you would expect on St Paddy's morning. Your registration fee (which is cheap - last year, early registration was $18)  supports Habitat for Humanity, a great cause here in the Bluegrass.

Our efforts will piggy-back on theirs. As a team member, you'll have your own page on, just like the one we used to raise $3555 for the Markey Cancer Foundation. Then you can contact your friends, family, or strangers on the street to solicit contributions that help Actors' Guild's work. It's fun. It's easy. And it's good for you. Can't beat that.

But before we start raising money, we need to put a team together. If you would like to join us on the street on March 17, 2012, all you have to do is...
  • Go to the Keeping the Dream Alive and join Team Pennsy. Crowdrise has lots of tools to help you get started. And of course, I'm just full of sage advice that's absolutely free. 
  • Registration for the 2012 race opens in December. Once we're all signed up and ready to go, we'll begin our campaign early next year. 
I'm really excited at the prospect of building on the generosity and energy or the Lexington theatre community. You were there when I needed you. Now we can be there for each other.


Monday, October 31, 2011

#374: Scan-ziety: The Fear of Finding Out

Available at Hope and Dreams Designs
Once you've had a positive biopsy for cancer, you can never look at tests the same way again. So I was awake at 3:30 this morning, thinking about my upcoming colonoscopy.

I don't have any symptoms or warning signs. It just seemed to me that it was time to do the thing. I know too many people who waited too long to have it done. I don't want any surprises. On the other hand, finding out is not that pleasant a process.

I first experienced Scan-ziety while waiting for results from the CT scan they ran a month after my last radiation treatment. It seemed to take for ever for the week between the test and the appointment with the doc to pass. I had already spent four weeks wondering if we had gotten it all. Now, somebody out there knew, some radiologist or something, and they weren't telling me. I remember working hard to stay positive, but that didn't stop the haunting thoughts. What if I still have cancer? What if it spread somewhere else? What if my family and I have to go through another few months like we just survived?

As it turned out, all my fears were unfounded. No new growth. Meet my new best friend, "NED," (No Evidence of Disease.) Finally, a happy ending.

It is my impression that when a person goes to war, they never really come all the way home again. Being in a firefight changes them in ways that can never be undone. Cancer is a little like that. Surviving teaches you a lot about your own strength, your own courage. When I'm working out with my LIVESTRONG friends at the gym, and things get really tough, I sometimes joke, "It's not as hard as chemo." Sometimes we all laugh, but often somebody will just nod grit their teeth, and get back to work. Nothing in an exercise class is that hard. Not once you've kicked cancer's ass. Still...

It is always there. The Possibility. Smoking? Drinking? Sexual promiscuity? Obesity? Small potatoes. Nothing puts you in a higher risk group than having had cancer once already. I met a woman at the Y last week who was on her third relapse of ovarian cancer. One of my friends is waiting to find out if she's on her fourth. The Possibility.

You wonder, will the next one be harder? Harder than surviving? Harder than coming back? Harder than a half marathon? You wonder and you worry and you watch the numbers change on the alarm clock and finally you get up and start writing about it because thinking about something else just seems impossible at the moment.

OK, let's face it. There's a lot you can say that's funny about a colonoscopy. Not in good taste, perhaps, but funny. I'm sure that in come Wednesday evening, I'll have plenty of humorous anecdotes about the prep, the procedure, and my recovery from anesthesia which is always a laugh riot. I'll write one of those posts that makes Mum roll her eyes and Mrs P say something like, "Hmmm. Not one of my favorites." We'll all have a chuckle. To tell the truth, I'm not exactly consumed with the drama of the thing, even now.

I'm just thinking about it.

Living with it.

The Possibility.

It may never arrive. It won't ever really go away. But it better think twice before coming back to our house.

We've already kicked its ass once.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

#373: Numbers, Numbers, Numbers


1/20/08 4/27/08 7/20/08 4/16/10*3/17/11 7/1/1110/23/11 Change
Weight 405 366 357397 292262261 (1)
BMI 49.3 44.5 42.9 48.435.532 31.8(0.2)

Body Fat %
43.8 31.1 31.4 29.1 24.523.7(0.8)

Lean Mass
228 231 245 207 1981991

Resting HR
87 70 68 64 6258(4)

19 18 18 17.25 1616NC

59.5 55.5 59.5 55 5252NC
Chest 58 57 58 50 46.547.51
L Biceps 15.5 16 18 13.51313 NC
R Biceps 16 16.5 19 14 13141
L Forearm 12.5 12.25 13 11.5 1111NC
R Forearm 13 13 13.75 12 1111.50.5
Waist 59 52 50.5 6046 4341(2)
Hips 61.5 57.5 56.5 51 48.548(0.5)
L Thigh 29.5 30 26 27.52725.5 (1.5)
R Thigh 30 30 26 28 2724(3)
L Calf 20.25 20 20 1818 18NC
R Calf 20.5 20 20 181817.5 (0.5)
*4/16/2010 was the day Pennsy was diagnosed with Cancer.

This update is based on my measurements from Sunday morning, before the Iron Horse.The changes continue, but have slowed down considerably. I plan to spend the rest of the year giving much more attention to the weight room. I want to build some more upper body strength and cut some weight before I start training for the spring races.

68 degrees. 4.17 mi/59:14 @ 2:30(est). Legacy out and back. Red Pegasus. 3:00 run/1:00 walk. PERFECT day. EZ recovery run.
Today's run was an easy recovery jog on the Legacy trail. I deliberately slowed down every time I felt myself starting to slip into my familiar, 11:00/mi pace. I also started experimenting with more frequent and longer walk breaks. The Nike+ site is down, so I don't have split times, but I'm sure they were level. It's the easiest 4 miles I've ever run, and my legs felt a lot better after I was finished. I still had quite a bit of lingering soreness from Sunday's race. I did a little reading, and it seems I did not walk as much as I should have after the half. But this little jog helped a lot.

3 sets / 15 reps / Super sets / 1:15 rest between sets
Exercise Weight
Squats 135
Seated Cable Row 170
Supine Hip Extension  40
Dumbbell Push Press 20
Dumbbell Rotational Lunge 20
Swiss Ball Crunch

OK, here's how this workout goes... You do one set of squats, then one of rows, then squats, then rows, etc. Once you've done three sets of each, you move on to the next "super-set." this is part of the Fat Loss program from Schuler and Cosgrove's New Rules of Lifting. You know how crunches feel a little wussy sometimes? By the time you get to the crunches at the end of this workout, you have a lot more respect for those little sit-up things. The way I was grunting and groaning, you'd have thought I was pushing a broken down truck.

I didn't intend to do all this today, but I vegged yesterday, and wanted to get back on schedule. I'm looking forward to some exhausting, undramatic days at the gym.

And speaking of the gym... I just got word, I've been hired to work at the Y where I've been working out all summer. I'm so excited to start. I'm hoping I'll be of use... might ever be able to steer some survivors toward the program. And I'll always have an excuse to be at the gym! Fall is shaping up...


Monday, October 24, 2011

#372: The Iron Horse Half Marathon

It isn't going to be easy to write about this race. There's a lot about it that I don't really remember. I think I was just so caught up in the moment that I forgot to keep mental notes. Here are a few scenes that I managed to hang on to.

Saturday Night
I've been concentrating on eating more carbohydrates for a couple of days. Tonight, I want to eat light so I don't have a belly full when it's time to run. The only thing worse than not having a port-a-potty nearby when you need one is having to sit on that 40 degree seat at 7:30 in the morning.

I've chosen my gear for the race. I'll wear the Adidas. The Nikes are prettier, but my best runs are all in these gray trail runners, and I almost never get blisters when I wear them. I'll wear my new, UK blue compression shorts under the black and gold Livestrong shorts. I'll decide on the tights in the morning. I picked them up for about $12 at Meijer and they look like they'll be just as good as the $60 ones on eBay. The brown jersey work gloves for my hands. The white wrist bands and sweat band. The fancy Feetures socks. Other than my shoes, they're the most expensive thing I'm wearing. If they take good care of my tootsies, they'll be worth it.

Pin my number on the front of my shirt. Pin the Once for the Five banner I've created on the back. I have it tucked into a zip lock bag so I don't smear it during the race.

Bed time. Shower. Powder and tape the feet. I put a half-inch wide strip over the end of the three middle toes, then wrap a 1 inch strip around each one. One wrap. No seams. No overlaps. No bumps. At 9:00, I kiss Mrs P good night, turn out the light, and stare into the dark wishing I could get up and start the race right now.

Sunday Morning
5:00 AM, and the alarm goes off. I've been watching the numbers change since about 4:30. Jake, Clare, and I go out to the yard for a pee. Well, you know, I watch and they... never mind. The moon is beautiful, a sliver turned on its back like a glowing bowl in the sky. Standing there in my pajamas, I realize that yes, I will be wearing my tights today. It is about 38 degrees outside.

A Gift from Eric
Turn on the coffee. Toast an English Muffin. Check the email and Facebook. A friend send a contribution over night. One for the Five,  our fundraiser on Crowdrise is sitting at $3480. If no more comes in, I'll throw in the last 20 bucks after the race. Eric sent me a graphic he created that was inspired either by John Updike, Pink Floyd, or Eminem. I download it as my desktop background at once.

Lots of good wishes from friends. I've promised to carry them all in my heart. I'll actually be carrying them in a little plastic bag pinned to the back of my tee-shirt, but I've decided that still counts.

Get out the jar of Aquaphor to grease my feet before I put on socks. Tape the nipples. Damn. Forgot to shave again. That's going to hurt coming off.

At 6:00, Mrs P stirs. I've told her I want to leave by 6:30 so we can park and I can warm up. She is a remarkably good sport about it. Double check to make sure the camera is in my bag with dry, post-race clothes. Feed the dogs. Hit the road.

Sunrise over Midway
A few miles outside of Midway, I notice that there are lots of headlights behind us. They all make the left turn off of Leestown Road into town. It occurs to me that this is the last time I will lead this race, so I may as well enjoy it. In town, the scene is eerie. Police direct traffic in the headlights. People in sweats and warm up suits, and a few Viking souls in short are jogging around or stamping their feet in place. Lots of people sipping coffee. We drive around town for a couple of minutes, finally settling on a parking spot on Main Street. Mrs P give me a kiss. sets her alarm for 7:50, and curls up in a blanket on the front seat.

I walk down the street, toward the starting line. There are already a couple hundred people gathered. Some are chatting and smiling. Some are staring with that, "What the hell am I doing awake in the cold in short pants?" look in their eyes. The sound of port-a-potty doors slams echoes across the square. Poor girls.

I begin trotting gently around the square. My body starts waking from my feet up. No little aches or pains. Everything seems to be working as it should. My arms are a little chilly under my warm-up suit. I'm glad I threw a long sleeved technical shirt into my bag. Of course, after resolving not to wear anything new for the race, I'm now going to be running in tights and a shirt that just came out of their wrappers. Thank goodness for baby powder and adhesive tape.

The Land of the Sparkle People
At around 7:30, I make my way back to the car. I pull off my warm-ups, strip off my white cotton shirt, and put on my racing top. Sweat band for my head. Wrist bands to hold the sleeves closed. Gloves to keep me warm and to use for handkerchiefs along the way. The cold I brought home with me from Pittsburgh is not bothering me too much, but my nose is running and shows no signs of slowing down. Got to remember not to shake any hands till I take my gloves off.

I settle into what seems like the back of the pack at the starting line. Before long, several hundred more runners are behind me. I should move back, but the road is plenty wide enough for them to blow past me. Just before the start, Mrs P appears, camera in hand. She is so proud of me. It feels terrific. The flash of her camera lights up the whole crowd. Seems like everybody is wearing something that's reflective.

There is no gun at the start.
I guess they figured that 1300 people in the front yard is enough to ask the good folks of Midway to endure at 8:00 on a Sunday morning. The elite runners head out, and we mortals follow behind. It only takes me about a minute to get to the starting line. I am way too far up in the pack. Race etiquette dictates that the slow-pokes stay to the rear. So does common sense. I need to start slowly if I'm going to make it to the end. The tide of stronger runners carries me along through the first mile about a minute and a half faster than I planned to go. I put the brakes on and find a lower gear.

What the Well-Dressed Marathoner is
Wearing this Year
As we pass the beautiful campus of Midway college, the road is filled with runners as far as I can see. This is one of my favorite moments in a race. We are a river, flowing through the countryside in our brightly colored clothes. We wear crazy hats. A couple of people are in costumes. A handful of us imagine we can actually win this race, but the rest are here to share this thing that we love with a few hundred friends and strangers. Soon, the pack will begin to string out as the stronger runners pull out ahead, but for now, we are a crazy quilt of panting, sweating joy. It's great to be alive.

I start to hear beeping all around me. I am not the only Run/Walk devotee in the crowd. One fellow is running for 30 seconds and walking for 30 seconds. He is funny at first, but then the sound gets a little annoying. 30/30 seems kind of excessive. How is he ever going to finish? After about five minutes, he disappears around a turn up ahead and I never see him again. I'm going to have to try shorter intervals for my next race.

From time to time, I tuck in behind another runner whose pace seems to match mine. After about two miles I've settled in to the 12min/mile pace that I planned. I have a good enough feel for it that I know when to let a runner go when they're pulling me along too fast. I make friends with another Galloway runner from Chicago who is doing 60/60 intervals. We run along together for most of the middle of the race.

At the half-way point...
...there are people by the side of the road cheering the runners on. A cowbell thunks in the morning air. I guess most of the townsfolk are awake by now. I run through a scheduled walk break during this stretch, the only time during the race that I skip one. My ego wouldn't let me stop in front of all these nice people. Hope I don't regret it later.

The second half of the race is made up of long rolling hills. I think to myself that they should re-name this race the "Just One More" half marathon. I keep whispering "just one more" to myself, which tickles me, and helps me get to the top.

I'm feeling strong at mile 8, and start testing my legs a little. I slowly pull away from my companion from Chicago. I'm just going a few second faster, but if feels really good. "I eat hills," I think to myself. I'm looking for just the right combination of confidence and humility.

The humility part is easy. The leaders have long since begun passing me going the other direction. As a matter of fact, the winner finished before I got to the half-way point. I never even saw him. I start seeing other people from John's Striders. We point and smile and call each other's names. It lifts my spirits. Never even occurs to me how much faster these runners are than I am.

After the 10 mile sign...
...I really am on my own. I see a few runners ahead of me, but don't hear any footsteps behind. I won't have anybody to help me pace these last three miles. I'll have to just trust my training and put one foot in front of the other. The sun is up, now. The thoroughbreds raise their heads up from grazing to watch me curiously as I trot past. "You call that running?" they seem to ask. Another reason to smile. At least I don't have to carry anybody.

Mile 11
I had planned to really press the tempo from here. I try stepping on the gas, but my legs are getting heavy. I'll keep on taking my walk breaks every 4 minutes. Suddenly 2 miles seems like a very long way.

Mile 12.
Angels Behind Me
A young man in black Adidas shorts sails past me. Where the devil has he been hiding? I have to admire his discipline. I wish I had saved a little more for this last mile. My thighs feel like they are made of stone. My strides are no longer automatic. Each one requires a conscious decision. "Lift. Pull. Put it down. Lift. Pull. Put it down." I struggle to hold my form. My upper body wants to slump forward, but I know that will just make me jam my legs into the pavement and wear me out even faster. I feel the doubt weighing on me. Is this "the wall" that the marathoners talk about?

Then, I remember the sign on my back. The reason I'm running. I remember the Five. With each stride, each time my right foot lands, I begin chanting their names. "Doug. Alan. Catherine. Elvin." I remember Alan's email, thanking me for my blog and how it gave him strength during his chemo. I remember Catherine's son telling me how hard she had prayed for me. Elvin shaking off the fog of the tumor in his brain and struggling to his feet to walk me to the door at his mamma's funeral. Doug smiling on his death-bed, telling us, "It's all going to be worth it." "Doug. Alan. Catherine. Elvin."
"We did it."

They ran with me. They breathed for me. I felt their hands lifting me from behind, lightening my legs, lifting my feet, pumping my arms. A fireman waved me into the last turn. "Three tenths of a mile to go!" he shouted. "Three city blocks," I thought to myself.  "Doug. Alan, Catherine. Elvin." The clock at the finish line read 2:39:50. I was going to break 2:40. I called their names out loud. Mrs P was there with the camera and burst into tears when I sprinted through the arch. "Doug. Alan. Catherine. Elvin...We did it."

A man handed me a bottle of water.
Mrs P ran weeping across the finisher's corral and gave me a sweaty, snotty, tear-soaked kiss. We walked together in the morning sunshine, her holding my now glove-less hand, me waiting for my eyes to focus. A lady approached me and reached toward my face. She hung a finisher's medal around my neck. "I heard you," Mrs P whispered. "I heard you calling their names."

One knick-knack you won't be seeing on eBay
When I got home, I checked online and saw that two folks, one a stranger, one an old friend hand made contributions while I was running. One for the Five had raised $3555 for the Markey Cancer Foundation. I called Mum. I gave a victory howl on Facebook. I drank a smoothie and some chocolate milk. Then I went to sleep. For a long time.

For the Five... for Them All
13.1 miles.
Look, lots of people run half marathons. You see the stickers on car bumpers all over town. It isn't that big a deal. Unless you run one. It's something you can be proud of without bragging. You don't need anyone to know. Because you know. You did it. You can do it.

26.2 miles is a very, very long way. I don't know if I'll ever run a full marathon. But I really want to. Because I've never liked myself quite as much as I did in the morning sunshine of Midway Kentucky with my beard filled with snot and a medal hanging around my neck. It's a feeling I'm going to carry with me for a long time.

Doug. Alan. Catherine. Elvin.

We did it.


Saturday, October 22, 2011

#371: Homecoming Part 2: At the Confluence

Pennsy at "The Confluence"
There are some words in our language that are so loaded with meaning that they carry their own context with them.  "Harbinger" is one. When you hear "harbinger," you think of robins heralding spring. If you're a football fan, "confluence" is another one of those words. There's only one reason for any sports announcer to use the word in a sentence, and it goes like this...
This evening, Ladies and Gentlemen, two teams will meet at the confluence of the Allegheny, the Monongahela, and the Ohio rivers in a battle for AFC supremacy as the Baltimore Ravens visit the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football!
We called it "The Point. I doubt if any of those sportscasters even know what a confluence is. They certainly never know how to pronounce "Monongahela," but they are right about one thing... This is a place where giants meet. And last Sunday, I got a chance to walk among them.

The alarm went off at 5:00 AM. For a 1:00 kickoff. And I was already awake. Mrs P groaned softly, mumbling something about driving carefully and having a good time. I pulled on my black and gold turtleneck and hooded sweatshirt, then made my way down the steep steps of Mum's house to the kitchen. Coffee. Poppy seed cake. English muffin. I looked up at the clock over the sink and tried to do the math. If I left now, I could be at Skip's house by 7:00 AM. For a 1:00 kickoff. What the heck. I had nothing else to do.

The road to Gramma's house
It was pitch black, country black outside when I steered my little Honda down the two lanes of state route 66 toward New Bethlehem. The GPS chattered helpfully, but I didn't need it. I've know these twists and hills since before I could talk. We would drive up into the mountains on Friday and visit with Gramma and Grampa Cole till Sunday after the noon meal that they called "dinner." Then we'd pile into the station wagon, Mum would cry, and we would head back home to Pittsburgh.

Unless the Steelers were on TV.

If they were playing, We would settle down in the living room, Grampa in his big vinyl recliner with the little round burns in the arms and a pack of Camel cigarettes. Dad sat on the couch with his Bel-Airs. My sister and I rolled on the floor, usually arguing about something, while the little men on the black and white console TV ran around losing football games to teams led by players like Bart Starr, Johnny Unitas, and Joe Namath. Grampa would joke about how bad we were. The Pirates were the only decent team in town. Gramma and Mum would sit in the dining room with Aunt Grace or Aunt Marylin playing cards or gossiping. After the game, which the Steelers always lost, we said our goodbyes and Dad steered the big Pontiac Tempest wagon down state route 66 toward home.

So, yeah. I knew the way.

Skip playing college ball at Davidson... not too shabby
When we were in high school, our basketball team made a rare appearance in the WPIAL tournament downtown at the Civic Arena. The Pittsburgh Press interviewed our coach, and he talked about our star, "Downtown Skippy Brown." He was trying to coin a catchy nickname, but I don't think it ever took. The nickname I remember was "Wilhelm." Don't know if that's right or not, but in German class, Frau Grubesky gave us all German names like "Max" or "Friederich." Mine, oddly enough, was "Robert." If I remember right, Skip's was "Wilhelm." He was a hard kid to ignore in the halls of Keystone Oaks. When I had my growth spurt, I shot up to 6'-3" over the summer. Skip kept going till he hit 6"-10". When pestered about it, he always claimed to be 5'-8". He still does. He was a skinny, gawky kid, like most really tall teens, and the day the class bully, who had some success in the Golden Gloves took a poke at him in gym class, it didn't take long for word to spread around the school that skinny Skippy Brown had kicked the lunk-head's ass. He may have looked like a toothpick, but he was tough as re-bar. Still is.

"It's in your blood..."
Skip has been a volunteer fire-fighter for over 30 years. His grandfather was a city fireman, and use to take him down to the station house to climb on the truck and meet the rough men who risked their lived to keep the smokiest city in the world from bursting into flame. "It's in your blood," he says. He always wanted to be a fireman. I can't imagine a more reassuring figure coming through the smoke to rescue me than this gentle giant. His heart is even bigger than he is.

So it was not really surprising when I got the message on Facebook. He had Steeler season tickets. If I agreed to beat cancer, he would take me to a game. I called cancer and let him know that the deal was done. I had better things to do than die this year.

I arrived at Skip's front door around 7:45 AM. For a 1:00 kick-off. After a decent interval, I called and Karen answered the phone. Skip was in the shower. I told them I was about half an hour away, and drove off for a little tour around the neighborhood. The South Hills of Pittsburgh are like nowhere else I've ever been. Houses aren't built on these hills, they are carved into them. Here, you might have to climb 10 steps to get from the street to the ground floor. My dad grew up in a five room shot-gun house on the South Side and none of the rooms was on the same level. He knew people with coal mines in their basements. In their basements! As I drove the perennial lousy pavement of Pittsburgh, I fell in love with my hometown all over again. It is not a pretty town, not by a long shot. But it is a beautiful one. This city makes you tough. You learn to climb up the mountains and to enjoy sliding down the other side in the snow that never seems to go away. The city was built by entrepreneurs and union workers and robber barons and immigrants who were willing to dig in and make a life for themselves in a place where a lot of sensible people would stop, enjoy the view, and then move on to flatter, friendlier places. In my heart, Pittsburgh is the capital of Pennsyltucky. Coal and steel. That's who we are.

Pennsy and the Chief... No, I don't mind if you smoke...
When I finally got up the nerve to stop in front of Skip's house, he was coming out the front door to greet me, wearing Antonio Brown's #84 on a black Steeler home jersey. He extended his hand, and I plowed right past it, offering him one of my patented Pennsy welcome hugs. I'm sort of used to wrapping people up in my arms. Hugging Skip is like being embraced by a grown-up when you're 8 years old. It wasn't to be the first time I'd feel that way. I spent a lot of time that day following his footsteps and peeking out around from behind him to see what was going on. We went inside and I met their handsome pit-lab mix whose name I seem to remember was Winston, but I'm not sure if that's right or not. Karen introduced herself and welcomed me. Then we went downstairs into what Skip calls his "museum." First thing you see is his handsome son, in annual 8x10's lined up on the wall. The school pictures show a boy growing into a man who mercifully favors his Momma. Skip's office is a shrine to Pittsburgh sports. The walls are covered with autographed photos and memorabilia from the Pens, the Bucs, and the Steelers, as well as trophies his grandfather took from the Germans in WWI and a collection of fire-fighter collectibles. A bushel of Terrible Towels hangs from the rafters. The chair is a handsome black leather number with you-know-what emblazoned on the back. This is not the home of a "fan." This is the home of a devotee, a lover of tradition and greatness. It is a little nook in what they call Steeler Nation. It's a great place to hang out.

All the way from Mexico City...
Steeler Nation knows no boundaries.
We shared a few stories as I thumbed through a couple of albums filled with autographs, photos, cards, tickets. I showed skip the Terrible Towel I had tucked into my sweat shirt pocket. We said good bye to Karen and Winston, and hopped into his SUV for the drive through the Liberty Tubes and into town. Skip's family has had Steeler tickets for 50 years, so he has the routine down. Just over the bridge a man greeted us and waved us into a small parking lot outside of a business that was closed for the weekend. Skip introduced me as his old friend who was seeing his first Steeler game today. The man wished me well, took Skip's $30, and sent us on our way up the hill toward Heinz Field. We walked through the parking lots filled with tailgaters. The air was filled with the smells of burgers, keilbassa, brats, and fried onions. One table was laden with about 20 gallons of top shelf liquor. Next to it was one covered in home made brownies and cans of pop. Black and gold were the only colors. Except for the Mexican flag flown by two fans who had flown up from Mexico City to see their first game at Heinz Field. They had been fans for years, they said. I took their pictures with my big friend, and we made our way to the Great Hall. Here, beneath the bleachers, all the greats are enshrined, from Ernie Stautner to Ron Woodson. Giant replicas of the six super-bowl trophies line the center of the hall, and the place is filled with parents and kids passing the stories down.
Canton? Go north and turn left.

The first glimpse I got of the field took my breath away. Heinz field is supposed to be the worst surface in the NFL for visiting players. Just like the streets of Pittsburgh, you have to live here to love it. I looked out from the North end zone, the open side of the stadium, the side that cost Jeff Reed his job, and felt my eyes mist over. Heath Miller and Heinz Ward ran routes toward the end zone as Charlie Batch lofted rainbows to them, one after another. Lawrence Timmons and Lamarr Woodley ran sprints toward us under the cool gray sky. If you want to know the truth, I could have left right then and been happy.

Skip's seats are ridiculous. 25 yard line. Behind the Steeler bench. 10 rows back. to get much closer, you'd have to put on a helmet. Everybody seems to know him. That's because Skip treats everybody like an old friend. He knows their names and their kids names. He always introduces me. Everyone is glad to meet me and knows I'm going to have a great time. We stand and I sing the national anthem, our black and gold caps over our hearts. This is not the kind of stadium where people mill around chatting during the anthem. When the young woman finishes, my neighbor says admiringly, "That was a great job. She didn't junk it up." We know steel in Pittsburgh, and we know scrap. The came begins, and it becomes obvious to me that there's going to be a problem. When I raise my arm and twirl my towel, it is just about level with Skip's head. I whack him in the back of the noggin with nearly every wave. He never says a word.

Skip knocking the lid off of Pennsy's bucket list...
And yes, we are both standing...
At half-time, I am frozen in my seat. I contemplate the possibility of actually sleeping here tonight. This is something like Skip's 500th Steeler game. "I wish there was some way for me to tell you what I'm feeling right now, Skip." He grins, "I can see how you're feeling." "I'll remember this day, as long as I live."

And I will.

By the way, We beat the Jacksonville Jag-offs 17-13. Icing on the cake.


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