Category Archives: Sports and Events

Friday Night Heroes

 In a small town like Vian, Oklahoma, no tradition is stronger.  Nothing brings the community together – and nothing brings the community to life – like a high school football game.

I’ve never worn a pair of shoulder pads or a pair of cleats.  Even so, Friday night football was a big focus of my high school experience long ago in Vian (just like Saturday football was a centerpiece of college life at OU).  I got to see a Vian football game last Friday night.  I was glad to see that very little had changed in the past 30 years.

I went to Friday’s game to watch #40 Rowdy Simon (Sr., FB/LB) and #5 Rylee Simon (Soph., LB/QB).  Their dad, my cousin Joe Paul Simon, was a Vian football hero back in the 1980s (much like his dad had been in the 1960s).  It’s no surprise that Rowdy and Rylee are following in those cleated footsteps.

As the pictures show, Senior fullback Rowdy had some big runs (one TD scored and a second TD called back).  Sophomore Rylee is the backup quarterback.  But both of them are also starting linebackers (Rylee in the middle; Rowdy outside):  Imagine what a great experience it must be to stand out there shoulder-to-shoulder with your brother.  Then try to imagine how excited their Dad gets.

The 2012 Vian Wolverines are (again) ranked in the top handful of teams in Oklahoma in 2A football.  Friday night they made short work of Class 3A Spiro — scoring 55 points while holding Spiro scoreless until the last seconds of the game.  Keep an eye on the Wolverines this season.

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In high school in the 1980s, I took football pictures for the yearbook and newspaper — standing on the sidelines in my band uniform and trading the camera for a trumpet at halftime.  But that was 30 years ago, so my football photography skills are now a little rusty.  Friday night, I could barely get my camera to my eye before a young Wolverine would dash right past me on the way to the goal line.  And I’d forgotten how to shoot with both eyes open, so I was nearly flattened more than once by players barreling across the sideline while I had my eye in the viewfinder (one diving Spiro tackler actually kicked me in the shin). 

That mischievous-looking ballboy (below) in the black #1 jersey is River Simon — Rowdy and Rylee’s younger brother.  Rest assured that River will be taking the field for Vian High in the years ahead. 

 

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One more thing:  I researched it, and it turns out that Rowdy, Rylee, River and their little sister Rebel are not actually my “second cousins,” as I’d always thought.  They’re my “first cousins once removed” because our connection is via my grandparents and they’re from a different generation.  But in Sequoyah County, no one says “first cousin once removed,” so I’ll pretend they’re second cousins.

 

Another Hotter’n Hell Hundred

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For the small group of my friends that makes the annual late-August pilgrimage to Wichita Falls, Texas for its Hotter’n Hell Hundred (“HHH”) bike ride, the weekend is all about tradition.   Like we’ve done for almost all of the past nine years, we got rooms at the La Quinta up near the airport, ate Friday dinner at El Chico, had pre-race breakfast at the What-a-Burger across the street, got in the starting line at the same spot on Scott Street at around 6:40a.m., regrouped after the ride listening to the bands in the same corner of the same big tent, went for a cool post-ride swim back at the La Quinta, then headed out for an early Saturday night dinner at Olive Garden, with dessert at the Braum’s on Kemp Street.  Every year.  Just like that.  Somehow every year’s bike ride is unique, but the agenda for the rest of the weekend is practically set in stone.  Why mess with such obvious perfection?!

A few years back, we would train all summer for Wichita Falls’ Hotter’n Hell Hundred (100-mile road bike ride).  This year, after finishing the much-tougher Leadville 100 on mountain bikes earlier in the month, we relied on leftover fitness:  our HHH training consisted of about two rides each – just enough to remember the slightly different feel of a skinny-tired road bike and brace ourselves for West Texas heat.  All the traditions were intact, though we had one new development:  Shane’s wife Michele came along and rode the full 100-mile trek.  She did a fine job of tolerating our idiosyncrasies and pretending she hadn’t heard our old HHH war stories a hundred times already.

Ned Barnett is a mainstay of the HHH traditions, but unfortunately he’s not in any of these pictures.  He actually did a separate race (finishing #15 of about 150 racers in his class), so we never saw him on the course or at the finish.  Happily, he did join us at El Chico and Olive Garden, where he brings his own body-is-temple bike racer food. 

Race Across the Sky: The Leadville Trail 100 Mountain Bike Race

If you can finish Leadville’s 100-mile mountain bike race in less than 12 hours, they award you a belt buckle.  And the faster you finish; the bigger the buckle*  It’s a great tradition and a fun souvenir that’s a nice reminder of the town’s rugged western past.  A half dozen or so great friends and I earned buckles in Leadville last weekend.  Though none of us ordinarily wear big belt buckles, that hard-earned hardware is now among our most cherished possessions.

I just had one of the best weeks of my life.  More than once, I was positively giddy.  More than once, I was misty-eyed.  And more than once, I was in a fair amount of pain.  Starting something like a 100-mile mountain bike race can be overwhelming.  It’s a strange mixture of fear and dread, excitement and adventure, camaraderie, competition, and adrenaline.  I was expecting at least 11 hours on the bike, which was longer than I’d ever spent on a tiny cycling saddle.

After several days spent preparing for the race with an amazing group of close friends, we all crossed the starting line of the Leadville Trail 100 last Saturday morning with 100 miles (and several hours) of mountains, trails and rocks in front of us.  By dinner time, we had all finished – mostly-safely and mostly ahead of our self-imposed goals and schedules.  For us, that’s victory.

Leadville, Colorado is the highest-elevation city in America, and its annual 100-mile LT100 race is considered one of the toughest in America.  Floyd Landis and Lance Armstrong have come here and lost, though Lance came back in 2009 and won the thing.  Last week, Lance showed up in Leadville on Friday and told us that the Leadville race may be the hardest thing he’d ever done (which is saying a lot).  I can relate.   As I said after it was over, I had seven hours of the most fun I’ve ever had on a bike (bear in mind, though:  my race lasted eleven hours).

We were TEAM MRE, sponsored and outfitted by MRE Consulting — the company founded by my friends (and fellow riders) Mike Short and Shane Merz.   That’s Shane in the first picture below (I grabbed a camera and took this shot just seconds after he crossed the finish line).   Don’t worry; he recovered just fine.  Mike is pictured a little further down with his teenage daughter Emily.  I’d never seen Emily smile as big as she did when her Dad came across the finish line.  Somehow Mike had lost his helmet out there somewhere.  Some MRE executives (including COO Bjorn Hagelmann, pictured in the safari hat) were even on hand as a support crew, selflessly delivering Gatorade and food to us at key spots on the race course.  Spouses, friends and kids were on hand to help, clap and cheer.

 

As with most of the crazier things I get into, longtime friend Scott Humphries was on hand.  He usually beats me in races, but this time the acclimation from my high-altitude summer gave me a tiny 65-second advantage at the end of an 11+ hour day.  Since that’s about the time that it takes to stop and pee, or drink a Gatorade, or hug your kids (him) or parents (me) on the roadside, I think we’ll call this one a dead heat.  Ned Barnett led all Houstonians (me, Scott, Shane, Mike, Caj Boatright and Greg Binion) on our team, improving his 2011 performance by more than an hour.

 

 We had a couple of ringers:  last winter in Costa Rica, I’d met and hung out with Peter Thomsen and his wife, Jana, both of Santa Cruz, California.  It turns out that Peter is a stellar mountainbiker.  Crazy good — something I didn’t even fully appreciate when I invited him to join us in Leadville.  Then when a last-minute opening came up on our Team, we called Peter’s Santa Cruz buddy Zach Brown.  Zach bought a new bike, flew out, couch-surfed, saddled up, and turned in an impressive bike performance — all while adding plenty of fun and class to the mix.

Once again, my loving Mom and Dad were my heroes.  Remember what I said above about getting misty-eyed?  They had their truck and ATV lined up to chase and cheer me every hour or two along the course.  To help me spot her quickly, Mom sported a feather boa in MRE Team colors.  It’d be impossible to quit trying when you know your Mom and Dad travelled 1000 miles to watch you cross the finish line.

Truth is, a little more than a year ago, neither Scott, Shane, Mike, Ned or I even owned a mountain bike, or had much of an idea how to ride one in real mountains.  We were road bikers and triathletes.  In a celebratory mood the day after the race, Scott announced:  “Jeffry, I believe we are now ‘mountain bikers.'”  I had to agree, but then asked the critical question:  “Yup, but what are we gonna be next year?”

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Photo Credits:  Obviously I was mostly biking, not photographing.  I regret that I don’t have more pictures of Ned, Caj, Peter, Zach and Greg — they finished before I did and had already changed out of their jerseys before I got ‘hold of my camera.   Fortunately, Jana Thomsen, Stacy Humphries, and the on-course photo service “Zazoosh” got several good pictures.  Lots of the shots in the grid above are by those guys, and I think all the cameras got passed around after the finish — even pro-photographer Peter took a few after his finish.  Forgive me for not sorting out exactly who took which picture.  And forgive me for including more pictures of myself than I’m usually comfortable with. 

* Full disclosure:  The faster you finish, the bigger the belt buckle you’re awarded.  The very-big buckle in the close-up picture above belongs to friend/teammate/Californian Peter Thomsen, who is a mountainbiking badass — a whole order of magnitude above me.  The rest of the team earned buckles a bit smaller and with less gold.  Of course ours are waaaay more tasteful….but his made a better picture.

 

 

 

 

Rocky Mountain Highest: Leadville, CO

I’ve been without a WIFI connection for a couple of weeks!  Forgive the delayed posts.

 

If you’re looking for America’s highest post office, head for Leadville, Colorado —  America’s highest town.  Depending on just what and where you measure, it’s around 10,200 feet in elevation.  The town also boasts (literally) the country’s highest airport.  Mt. Elbert, the highest peak in Colorado (14,440 ft), looms over the south side of town; Mt. Massive (the second highest at just 14,428) is just west of town.  Around here, thin air and isolation are selling points and badges of honor.

There’s plenty of evidence in Leadville of a past that was both grander and rougher.  The town started in the 1800s as a mining “boom” town.  It’s just got 3,000 or so people now, but it allegedly had 10 times that population (and 100 saloons!?!) in the 1880s.  Back then Oscar Wilde lectured in the city’s Tabor Opera House (probably with Leadville residents (unsinkable) Molly Brown and maybe Doc Holiday in the audience).  At the same time, thousands of men braved sub-zero temperatures, using mule and muscle to drag tons of silver-laden ore out of the mines that surround the city.

 

 

130 years later, there’s still a lot going on in now-tiny Leadville.  The first weekend in August was “Boom Days,” celebrating Leadville’s past with gritty mining competitions (see the jackhammer and sledgehammer pictures) on one end of downtown and a lacy Victorian costume contest on the other.  These are two very different crowds.  Meanwhile, a 22-mile pack burro race shut down Highway 24 through the middle of town.  This being Colorado — there’s always a laid-back “hippie” crowd around town, too, and on most summer days there are a dozen or so leather-shrouded Harley riders cruising the streets.  Talk about diversity.

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Yet another crowd (this one with spandex shorts, carbon fiber bikes, and Gatorade) swarms the town in the summer, gearing up for  arguably the biggest mountain bike race in the country – the Leadville MTB 100 “Race Across the Sky”.  Like the Leadville Marathon I did a couple of months back, it starts at 10,200 feet and generally just goes higher and higher from there.  That’s why I was in town, along with a half dozen or so good friends.  More news on the bike race in a day or so when the pictures get compiled.

Topping it all off, camped out west of town were none other than Joyce and J.B. Cotner (my mom and dad!).  One day when we were doing a practice ride of the toughest climb on the bike race course (climbing up to Columbine Pass at 12,400 ft), there sat Mom and Dad at the summit on a red ATV, waiting for us.  To say that my Mom and Dad are troopers would be a terrible understatement.  I’d convinced my Dad to come to Leadville by telling him we needed to come up with a strategy to win next year’s burro race (me as runner, him a burro trainer).   Crazier things do happen — especially in Leadville.

In the photo grid above:  The big green rock is part of the mining competition.  Yes, that’s an attractive young woman operating the 120 lb. jackhammer.  Do not mess with her.  The two-man sledgehammer (“double jack”) competition requires more trust in one’s teammate than I have for any of my friends — no offense guys.  The two men in the sledgehammer pictures apparently set an unofficial state record — chiseling a 27-inch hole in 10 minutes.  You don’t ride the burros in the burro race — you lead/push/drive/drag them 22 miles.  The winner makes it back to town in about four hours.  Apparently Leadville is the second leg of Colorado’s “Triple Crown” of pack burro racing.  That’s my Mom and Dad above (in red and blue) downtown watching the burro race and parade.  And that’s also them with me (bottom) behind their ATV at the top of Columbine; they’re showing off their preferred means of high-mountain transport and I’m showing mine.  If you pay attention to such things: I do have a fabulous bike (Specialized Epic S-Works 26; full suspension and weighs less than many road bikes) — because I need all the help I can get. 

I threw in some shots of the mountains around Leadville.  I didn’t really dedicate the time it takes to get really good mountain photos (scouting locations then waiting on perfect weather and light), so these do not do Leadville justice in the “majestic views” category.  Hopefully you can still get a sense of the landscape. 

(Bottom photo by Peter Thomsen, using whatever little camera he’d stuffed into his bike jersey).

 

 

 

 

Ironman Switzerland 2012: Conquering Europe

 

Despite a half dozen very chilly 20-minute rain storms, and despite more steep hills on the bike course than the brochures might have led one to believe, Scott Humphries can officially check Ironman Switzerland off his list.  I know he was nervous jumping into the swim.  He had to be, given his prior experience triathloning in a European lake (story here).  You can see from the picture below what an Ironman start looks like.  And just like the race in Frankfurt in 2010, half the field seemed to be 6’4” German guys.  But his swim couldn’t have gone more smoothly.  In fact, he finished the race with a personal record – beating his prior best time by about five minutes.

SWIM:

 

 

BIKE:

RUN:

 

Judging from the looks of him, though, there were some very low moments during the bike section.  We saw him after one chilly shower, and I swear his eye sockets were powder blue.  I’d stuck an extra rain jacket in my pocket for him, but initially he had refused to him take it.  The second time around (the time with the blue eye sockets), he eagerly asked if I still had it.  After the race was over, I heard someone ask him what was the most memorable moment of the day, and his only-half-serious response was “When Cotner pulled that white jacket out of his pocket!”  Unfortunately, he later left the jacket with his bike and wound up shivering again on the marathon run.

But he’s tough.  And he puts it all out there when he races.  The outcome was never really in doubt.   I love that first picture above – taken just seconds after he crossed the finish line as he first hugged his wife Stacy over the railing.  It’s worth comparing the prerace pictures (including the ones in my last post), with those two finish line pictures with Stacy:  obviously the Ironman can be a humbling experience.  That funny Swiss-cross muscle-flexing shot (below, at bottom) was about 20 minutes later after his swagger had recovered – humility can be a fleeting thing, apparently.

 

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As usual, the picture that includes me was taken by a random stranger willing to dedicate 20 seconds to doing us a favor.  There are a couple of shots of total strangers in the grid above (e.g., flag carrier at the finish, girl on lakshore).  I spent the day driving the “chase” car with Shane, Michele and Stacy.  We intercepted Scott about 20 times during the course of the race, including sightings in several small towns 20+ miles from Zurich.  We got wet, tired, and hungry, but we never got lost.  For reasons I cannot possibly explain, Stacy asked me to take her picture “in the corn.”  So I did.  If you want to see a couple of pictures of Stacy in Corn, click here