Author Archives: Jeff C

Superheroes III for Child Advocates of Houston

 

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This was year three for the Child Advocates Superhero Run.  This year it was “Presented by” my friends (and founding sponsors of the event) at MRE Consulting, and “Powered by” Houston-based Direct Energy.  The dual title-sponsorship plan was a shameless and transparent ploy to maximize the amount we could raise for the very worthwhile cause.

Thanks to the generosity of those title sponsors and several others (many of whom are friends of mine with an amazing tolerance for having their arms twisted), to hardworking staff and volunteers, and to enthusiastic and well-costumed runners, we’ve raised a total of over $250,000 for Child Advocates in the three years’ events.

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I’ve explained my support and commitment for Child Advocates in prior years’ posts (here and here).  I’ll repeat myself a bit here, though, because I want people to hear it.  Child Advocates recruits, trains and supports a small army of about 750 volunteer Advocates, each one generally assigned to a handful of kids in CPS custody.  The Advocates’ primary role is to work with the kids, parents, relatives, neighbors, and counselors to help CPS and the Courts to figure out how to resolve each child’s unique situation and get them — somehow — safely out of CPS custody and into a safe home.  The mission is to break the “cycle” of child abuse — where abused kids too often grow up to be abusive parents.  A relatively-small expenditure at such critical points in those kids’ lives can truly change everything for them.  It’s a great cause. Child Advocates is almost thirty years old, so there are now many thousands of heartwarming stories of how Advocates have changed (and even saved) lives.

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Blythe and Tyler

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Blythe and Tyler, with The Very Reverend Iaian Torrance (Stealth smart-phone picture showing the view from the Proud Uncle’s section at the Huntington Library in San Marino)

 

Life never turns out the way you imagined it, and sometimes that’s a very good thing.  My nephew, Tyler, grew up in Fort Gibson, Oklahoma, and after college he found his way to Chicago to try his hand at improv comedy.  There he met Blythe Haaga, a California girl (a Princeton grad) who’d moved to Chicago for the same reason.  Saturday they got married in Pasadena, California, and they’ve already moved to New York City while Tyler gets a masters degree from Columbia.

 

As Tyler said in his vows, Blythe is smart, she’s pretty, she’s cool, and she’s funny.  And now — maybe best of all — she’s family.

 

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Heather and Paul Haaga at the rehearsal dinner. Notice JB and Joyce Cotner (my mom and dad) to the right.

 

Fortunately for all concerned, I was NOT the wedding photographer.  That task was well handled by an actual professional, as you can see HERE.   As you can also see in those pictures, the wedding and reception were spectacular, thanks to Blythe and her parents, Heather and Paul Haaga.

 

The rehearsal dinner had an OKLAHOMA! theme.  Tyler told everyone to dress like they would if they were going to a barbeque where a country band was playing.  Which made sense, because it was essentially a barbecue where a country band was playing.  I didn’t get my camera out ’til the dinner was over.

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Blythe with Tyler’s “Pepaw,” Jim Parker of Tamaha, OK.

 

With a little help from our new California friends, Bill and Jana  threw a helluva party.   The band did a fine rendition of Okie From Muskogee — recall that the song contrasts the lifestyles of Oklahomans against that of Californians — except that they sang all the lines in random order.

You know you’re a long ways from Texas or Oklahoma when anyone relies on me to teach them to two-step.

 

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Click HERE for another pageful of pictures from the rehearsal dinner/hoedown.

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Blythe and Tyler’s OKLAHOMA-themed rehearsal dinner

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Jana (my sister) and Bill Parker

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Tyler Parker and Blythe Haaga — now sometimes known as “Mr. & Mrs. Tyler Parker”

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It was a busy week.  On Thursday, they paid tribute to their mutual improvisational comedy roots by hosting an improv show with about 25 of their improv-world friends from Chicago, LA, and elsewhere.  It was hilarious.

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Some of the comedy was even true or touching (like the story of their second date, where Tyler could not find his car after a Bull’s game and then didn’t have cash for a cab to get them both home).

 

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Joyce and J.B. Cotner, my mom and dad

 

For me, another highlight of the week was the opportunity to hang out with my Mom and Dad a bit.  They drove their Airstream from eastern Oklahoma to the outskirts of LA, where I met them (after flying into LAX).  Early in the week, we walked the streets of Bakersfield (on Buck Owens Avenue) and then headed for California’s giant Sequoias.  We “lunched” on the beach in Malibu and prowled the Rose Bowl flea market, and they got a taste of big-city Southern California life.  And they sure polished up well for the wedding!  (Yes, that’s J.B. Cotner in a suit; and yes, I tied his tie).

There are also pictures of Jim Parker (Tyler’s other grandpa) above and in the grid below.  Bill Parker (Tyler’s dad) drove him out to LA in Jim’s truck.  I’m pretty sure this is this the furthest and the longest Jim has ever been away from eastern Oklahoma.  He seemed to enjoy it as much as Tyler and Blythe enjoyed having him.

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I’m ordinarily not too big on wedding ceremonies.  I’ve threatened my nieces for years that I wouldn’t even come to theirs if they got married before they were 25 or so.  But Tyler and Blythe’s West Coast wedding week was a great experience for all of us, bringing together family (old and new) and friends in ways that few events ever could.  I shed a tear or two seeing my 6’4″ baby nephew shed several as he watched his bride walk up the aisle.  And I glowed with pride as I heard so many people gush about Blythe and Tyler all week long.  Of course we lost of bit of him Saturday, but we gained much more.  Welcome to the family, Blythe!

 

 

Leadville Marathon 2015

(Photo credits here: Mike Short, Scott Humphries, me, and Athlinks!)

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The path up to Mosquito Pass goes above 13,000 feet in elevation, and gives a sweeping view back to the west.

 

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Scott (left) and me, minutes after the finish

The outstanding feature of this year’s Leadville marathon was the snow.  In Central Colorado the week before the event, I was snowed on once and hailed on a number of times.  The marathon itself had to be re-routed from its traditional course because one section had 8 feet of snow on the trail — in late June!!  Part of the “problem,” of course, is that Leadville is at 10,200 feet in elevation, and the marathon takes you above 13,000 feet (as the picture above hints).  And it was a big year for snow in the area.  Marathon organizers dug out a path up the Mosquito Pass (the signature summit of the event) that sometimes consisted of a narrow (muddy, rocky) passage with 4-5 feet of snow on each side.  Another long stretch of “trail” was more like running a riverbed, given the amount of water coming downhill at the runners’ feet.

This was my second Leadville marathon — a 26-mile, 6-hour effort with 6,000 feet of climbs on rugged paths in ridiculously thin air.   Even so (and believe it or not), it’s about the shortest, quickest, easiest event they do in Leadville (as prior years’ posts here, here, here, and here reflect).  My prior Leadville marathon in 2012 had a MUCH more interesting and amusing finish, but at least my time this year (5:53) was one minute faster– despite the water and snow in the trail.  Even better, my inveterate biking and triathlon buddy Scott Humphries got his first taste of Colorado trail running.  I needed him to get his feet wet (literally and figuratively) so I could lobby him to join me on even-crazier Leadville quests that may be all but inevitable in years to come.

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Double Ironman trip: South Africa and Taiwan (via Hong Kong and Macau): But there’s still so much to be done

My Ironman trip around the world — with Scott Humphries and Shane Merz.  Imagine getting the chance to spend almost three weeks circling the globe with a couple of your best friends — yukking it up, exploring two continents, and — oh yes — doing two Ironman triathlons without coming home in between.

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Hong Kong at Night, from Kowloon looking south.  A stopover after Ironman South Africa and before Ironman Taiwan.

 

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Shark Rock Pier, Nelson Mandela Bay, Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

 

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Scott Humphries, me, and Shane Merz in Hong Kong.

 

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Kenting, Taiwan. The last few steps of the six-continents Ironman plan.

IRONMAN PANGEA: SIX CONTINENTS. Some years ago, after finishing our first Ironman (in Brazil), my friends (Scott Humphries, Shane Merz) and I got the bright idea to complete an Ironman triathlon on every continent. The quest required a couple of trips to Europe, retreated briefly to Ironman Texas, and made a trek to Scott’s native Australia. There isn’t actually such an event in Antarctica, so we were down to two remaining continents — Africa and Asia.   Someone (me, I fear) got the further bright idea that we should finish off those two continents with two back-to-back races, in a single two-week period without coming home in between: Ironman South Africa (in Port Elizabeth), then the inaugural Ironman Taiwan (in Kenting, the tropical southern tip of Taiwan).

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Scott celebrating his Taiwan finish

 

COLUMBUS WAS RIGHT – OR WAS IT GALILEO? OR…PYTHAGORAS?:  I knew this already, but for the first time I was able to verify for myself that the Earth is round. We left Houston headed eastbound toward South Africa, then eventually got home via Hong Kong, and Taipei from the west.   There were nine flight legs in all, plus a bus, a couple of ferries, a handful of trains, five hotels, and more taxis and shuttle vans than I could count. The logistical absurdity of the adventure required schlepping 100 pounds each of triathlon gear (bicycles, cases, wetsuits, etc.) literally around the world.

 

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Shane on the bike in Taiwan

IRON AGE MATH: L = M50-54. Competitions like this are done in age and gender groupings – usually five-year gaps like M (Men) 30-34 (years old), M35-39, and so on. So sixty-year-old females (F60-64) compete against one another – not really against 25-year-old (M25-29) men — although we’re all on the same course at the same time.   For this purpose, you are considered to be whatever age you BECOME during the calendar year. So even if you don’t turn 30 until November, you’re treated as being 30 all year long.

August 2015 will bring a very round-numbered birthday for me, so I was in the “M50-54” age group. Gulp. Seeing “The Big 5-0” associated with my name for the first time was a little startling, but seeing it in this context took some of the sting off.  In fact I’d be more proud of those race finishes if I were, for example, M70-74. (I sometimes claim to be 82 years old because – modesty aside – I look pretty good for an 82-year-old.) Besides, the 50-year old group is often just as fast as even much younger men; the patience and wisdom to pace one’s self is a strong virtue in such events.

I think I’m going to use the more elegant Roman numeral, “L” to denote my age (Come August, that is. I’m still XLIX for another couple of months, thankyouverymuch).

 

20150326_153228_resizedWHO CAN GO THE DISTANCE? WE’LL FIND OUT, IN THE LONG RUN: The races themselves? An Ironman event is a 2.4 mile offshore ocean swim, a 112 mile bike race, then a 26.2 mile (marathon distance) run – all in one day with just 5 minutes or so in between to change your shoes. It usually takes us around 13 hours – starting at sunrise and usually finishing in the dark. The hilly South African bike course was especially brutal (imagine mixing 5,000 feet of vertical climb and nasty winds into those mileages), but at least the area’s much-discussed great white sharks resisted the allure of the nearly 2,000 black-wetsuit-clad swimmers out in Nelson Mandela Bay. (Before the start, the race announcer told us we might be “lucky” enough to see dolphins swimming near us in the bay, so we should look for their dorsal fins. I had a mild suspicion that this was an ingenious fib to prevent widespread panic should anyone spot a shark out there making an otherwise-harmless appearance.)

Taiwan was hot but less windy, and the water was crystal clear for our South China Sea swim. Most important, we all finished both events in good health and even better spirits. The Continental Ironman Quest is complete!

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Shane and Scott at the Big Buddha just outside Hong Kong.

 

GOOD FRIENDS, GOOD HEALTH,  AND GOOD FORTUNE: There’s no way any of this intercontinental athletic foolishness would ever be happening (for me) without my two very close friends Scott Humphries and Shane Merz. (You’ve surely heard these names before, e.g., here and here and here . . . ). It does not escape my notice that Scott and Shane have jobs, wives, and kids. How they pull this off, I do not know.  We did a lot of philosophizing during the trek — maybe we were influenced by the those big meditating Buddhas?  One overarching observation:  we were extraordinarily fortunate to have good health and good friends, together with the ability, the means and the freedom to roam and see the world in a way only a tiny fraction of earth’s inhabitants have done through all of its history.

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Evening in Hong Kong

 

JIMMY BUFFETT GETS INVOLVED:  Our Ironman-related travels had already taken us to some amazing places:  Zurich, Rio, Sydney, Germany, the Caribbean, Hawaii and more. This time, we had a week to mostly “kill” between the two races – mixing some sightseeing in among short workouts to stay in shape. We spent four days in Hong Kong and two in Macau, China (a former Portuguese colony with Las Vegas-sized casinos where we watched a guy playing US$100,000 hands of Baccarat).

We rode from Hong Kong island to Macau (on the Chinese mainland) via the high-speed express ferry; we chuckled that it was a “fast boat to China.”  That phrase is a line from Jimmy Buffett song, “Last Mango in Paris.”   In the song, a man reminisces to Buffett about his life of international adventures, then finishes, “But Jimmy, there’s still so much to be done.” I adopted the phrase as a motto of the trip.

This is the year I turn L years old. The six-continents Ironman quest is complete — but there’s still so much to be done.

 

 

Mandalay, Myanmar: Maha Muni and more

The last of a dozen or so posts from a long stay in Burma. The first was here.

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Only males can approach the golden Maha Muni Buddha in Mandalay. It’s one of just a handful of Buddha statues actually cast during the human Buddha’s lifetime. Supposedly Buddha himself gave it a hug, and some Buddhists think his soul lives on in there. It’s one of their most sacred relics, so it’s especially odd that even the most devout and dutiful Buddhist women of Mandalay are never allowed to go into the chamber and see it up close, while a non-believing American male was free to wander up, take some pictures, hang out, touch the statue, and more.

 

When you go up on the platform, the custom is that you take some pieces of gold leaf and press them onto the statute. That’s what all those wart-like bumps are on Buddha’s body: gold! The individual sheets gold leaf is so thin they’re hard to handle; you can buy a few tiny sheets (bigger than a postage stamp) for a couple of bucks. But the centuries of pilgrims adding gold to the Buddha have made its body a barely-recognizable blob. I pressed myself back against the side walls to try for better photographs, then dutifully pressed my slivers of gold leaf onto big Buddha’s shoulder and headed down the stairs.

 

Though the semi-belief that the statue is “alive” with Buddha’s soul inside mostly conflicts with Theravada Buddhist teaching, the monks nonetheless brush the thing’s teeth and wash its face once a day. Can’t hurt, right?  At a minimum, surely it’s good karma.

 

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Burma has been governed for decades by a fairly oppressive military junta, so my perceptions of their army were anything but kind and gentle. It was striking, then, to see this soldier spending his day off and some of his surely-modest salary to bring a tiny handful of flowers as an offering to the Maha Muni. He was also nice enough to stand still for a photograph.

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Even the local craft and industry revolved around Buddha. Just a few blocks from Maha Muni was Marble Street – home to dozens of businesses and hundreds of craftsmen dedicated to carving, polishing and selling Buddha statues out of big chunks of marble. Junior craftsmen carved the bodies, leaving the carving of the face for a master artist to do later – thus the blockhead Buddhas you see in the pictures.

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The Shwe ba Daung (aka Po Win Daung; aka Pho Win Daung) caves are a couple of hours west of Mandalay (a little west of Monywa, the place where we left our boat on the Chindwin), but my photography of the caves didn’t seem to warrant a blog post all their own.   There are hundreds of caves in the complex – large and small – most with big carved stone Buddhas and many with elaborately painted walls. They’re mostly 400 to 800 years old. Those Buddhas were carved in place (they’re bigger than the caves’ doorways): the cave-diggers just left the existing stone in place in the shape of the Buddhas and carved out the open space of the caves around it.

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I packed my camera bags after seeing the sun set at U Bein bridge in Mandalay, so that’s my final image from a great photography trip to Burma.

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