My Race Course Is Cooler Than Yours

Students Run LA (SRLA) provides a six-month long-distance running program to prepare middle and high school students to enter and complete the Los Angeles Marathon.  Students run with their leaders three to four times a week and attend community races that bring all the SRLA groups together.  Team leaders also prepare in their role as an SRLA leader by attending a Leaders Training Conference.  Over the six month period, students participate in a 5K, 10K, 15K, two half marathons, and an 18-mile run, culminating with the Los Angeles Marathon.  The program provides students with a safe, supervised program of exercise, mentoring and goal setting, a healthy and constructive alternative to involvement in gangs, use of illegal substances, and sitting in front of the television.  The students learn that hard work and persistence leads to success.

I’m fortunate that I am able to crash their runs, especially their 15K at Universal Studios Backlot.

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Shout Out To Billy

I am now a fan of freestyle wrestling.

I had the opportunity to watch the World Cup Men’s Freestyle Wrestling this past weekend.  Prior to Saturday, the only things I knew about freestyle wrestling were 1) it was at the ancient Olympic Games, 2) the International Olympic Committee almost removed it from the program, and 3) my friend Dan wrestled in high school.

But 3 minutes into watching wrestling, I was hooked.

I didn’t know the rules but it was easy enough to understand after one round: competitors were supposed to stay within the circle and were awarded various points based on the attacks and holds.  At the end of the 6 minutes, whomever has the most points win.  However, a competitor may win even before the 6-minute mark if they have 11 points more than their opponent.  For example, in one round, Iran shut out Turkey with 11-0 points just after the 5-minute mark.

Wrestling is pure and simple.  You don’t need an expensive helmet like football, bats and balls like baseball, or a boat like rowing.  Although they compete on mats and wear uniforms and shoes, in its simplest form, you only need space and an opponent to compete.  The sports is a competition of strength and strategy.

And now, my shut out to Billy Baldwin.  Many people were involved in the process but perhaps because Hollywood got involved, the issue that wrestling might be removed from the Olympic program actually made it on the news.  Fortunately, their efforts were successful and wrestling was reinstated for the 2020 Olympic Games.  More importantly, Billy Baldwin brought wrestling back to the forefront.  The attention the sport received brought back its relevance.

Wrestling is relevant because, unlike baseball, American football, and dressage, it is recognized throughout the world and it is accessible.  The closest other sport is probably soccer– the real futbol.  Wrestling, like other international sports, brings diplomacy.  Last Saturday, I witnessed athletes representing countries on the opposing sides of politics on the same mat– even the same circle. Prior to each session, they lined-up facing each other, then greeted each other, and shook hands. Before each weight division began a round, they respectfully acknowledged each other before the timer began.

Billy Baldwin, through his efforts– fight– in ensuring wrestling continued to be a part of the Olympic program, also reminded the world of why wrestling is a true and important sport.  Wrestling is displays athleticism and the true spirit of sports.

Iran v. Turkey; Armenia v. India
Iran v. Turkey; Armenia v. India
How is this guy able to maintain his balance on one leg while the other dude is pushing him out???
How is this guy able to maintain his balance on one leg while the other dude is pushing him out???
Iran wins the round.
Iran wins the round.

Thanks, Kids!

I love golf. Some say I am obsessed. I have The Masters marked on my calendar so I can follow and watch it on t.v., attend local tournaments, and watch the final day of major tournaments on t.v. The PGA Tour app is probably one of the most used apps on my iPad and my phone. For about a year and a half, I traveled 20+ miles south on the 405 Freeway at 5:00 am to meet up with friends so that we could be on the course by 6:00 am. I had to make the long drive because they all lived in the same area and I was the only one who lived away. We had to be on the course early because they were all married and had to be home by 10:00 am to do chores and other duties that parents with kids have to do. Point is: I LOVE golf.

Tiger Woods World Challenge

So when I hurt my back in March 2013, I was devastated. I couldn’t play golf. Actually, I couldn’t get up. I was bed-ridden and had to roll out of bed. I waited a couple of weeks for it to heal and, when Western medicine was just working, I went Eastern and got an acupuncture. I didn’t believe in it but I was desperate. I just wanted to play golf. After a couple or so of treatments, my back healed completely and I became a believer. But my head did not.

Although I continued to watch tournaments, I have not really played. Since my injury, I only played twice on an executive course and once on a regulation. The only reason I played on a regulation course was because the Groupon was expiring. I watched people played golf. I went on my golf site visits and longed to play. But I felt insecure. Holding the club felt unfamiliar. I had to think through every shot and none of the shots felt right. It was as if I was just lucky to actually hit the ball and have the ball go up in the air. The shots never felt right.

And then there were these kids today. We’ll call them Joseph and John.

Tiger Woods Learning Center

This afternoon, I visited the Tiger Woods Learning Center (TWLC) for work, as we funded TWLC for their Player Development Program.  The mission of the TWLC is to provide unique experiences and innovative educational opportunities for youth. The golf program is utilized as a vehicle to complement the educational enrichment programs offered at TWLC.

TWLC’s facility includes a 35,000 square-foot educational center, a driving range, and a putting green course.  The educational center was designed to have a college campus feel. In addition to the physical design, the curriculum is such that students have to register for classes at specific times of the year, like students enrolling at the beginning of each quarter.  Each afternoon begins with Power Hour, which is when they do homework. For the remainder of the afternoon, they attend activity/ies that they are enrolled in.  Activities offered range math and science to design and communications.  Older kids also participate in college prep.  And of course, there is golf.  Students must participate in the other enrichment activities before they can play golf.

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The activity I observed was Golfology.  Most, if not all of the students in Golfology were in the Player Development Program that we funded.  The students, like most of the students I encountered in TWLC, were like mini and better version of adults. Most of them were in polo or collared shirts and they greeted you! These mini adults looked at you in the eye, shook your hands, and greeted you!

They start the session in an auditorium.
They start the session in an auditorium.

Much like a college, the class began in an auditorium. The instructor checked in with the participants and discussed the focus for the day. Today, the focus was the pitch swing. After the short discussion, the class of about 15 students headed to the driving range. Through the generosity of local donors, each participant had his or her own set of clubs. At the driving range, the group once again gathered and the instructor showed them what the swing should look like. The students then paired up and went to a mat.

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The instructor who was showing me around introduced me to a few of the students. He encouraged me to talk to the students and ask them questions. Speaking to adults and the ability to effectively community are skills they are teaching the students that they should be practicing. He then gave me an Attack wedge and a bucket of balls and told me to hit. I told him that I was scared because I only knew how to hit with my club, that I didn’t know how to hit with the club he gave me, and that… well, I came up with other excuses. He walked away and told me to ask the students for help.

So these kids…

There were two kids: one was Level II (intermediate) and the other was Level III (advanced; allowed to play in tournaments). They came up to my mat and encouraged me. They reminded me how to stand, swing position, and how to hit the ball . Level III/Joseph was more the mechanical instructor and Level II/John was the encouraging/sports psychologist one. I followed their instructions and swung the club.  I may have closed my eyes but when Iooked, I saw that the ball went straight! I did it again and it went straight again! I tried a different stance– like a bunker shot stance– and the ball went where it was supposed to! I tried a few more times and the ball kept going in the direction I aimed! I can play! I still know how! Holding a club felt right again. Making the connection with the ball felt right again.

Happy Me

I left TWLC ecstatic.  Thanks to Joseph and John, I have a renewed confidence in my golf game and I’m excited to play again. But more importantly, Joseph, John, and the other mini adults at TWLC are great reminders that there’s a lot we can learn from young people. Whether in golf or in other aspects of life, we just need to be open and really listen. At the very least, their energy and excitement are infectious.  Now I feel like I, too, can do anything! Well, at least golf.


Going Around and Around, Very, Very Fast

Imagine a NASCAR track, but the banking is at a 45-degree angle and beyond.   And instead of cars, imagine bicycles without brakes racing around that track.  The track is a velodrome, and the sport is track cycling.  It’s fast, furious and Kate Wilson is one of the best at it.

Kate Wilson, a senior at Summit View School, is a nationally-recognized track cyclist. She is a member of the Connie Cycling Junior Racing Team, based at the L.A. Velodrome at the Home Depot Center in Carson.  Coached by Olympian Connie Paraskevin, Kate started in 2006 and has medaled more than a few times.  Most recently, Kate, along with a teammate, won the gold medal in the Women’s Madison Event at USA Cycling’s 2011 Elite Track Championship.  Kate also competed in the Junior Track Nationals in Texas and was one of the 16 cyclists who represented the United States at the Junior World Track Championships in Moscow.  In addition to track cycling, Kate also competes in road racing.  She is on the NOW and Novartis for MS Development Team.  She also competes in biathlon, a sport that combines cross-country skiing and shooting.  This last winter, Kate placed first in her division at the Mammoth Biathlon.  And before cycling and biathlon, Kate played soccer for a club and for her high school.

All these sports and school! But perhaps athleticism is in her genes.  Kate’s mom, Jan Palchikoff, is an Olympian in rowing.  Her father, Dr. Wayne Wilson, is a renowned sports historian and is the Vice President of Education Services at the LA84 Foundation, a private foundation established with part of the surplus from the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.  Dr. Wilson also competed and placed in the side horse event at his state’s high school gymnastics championship.  When I ran into their family at Mammoth last winter, I ended up on a cross-country skiing adventure.  Their love for sport is quite contagious.

If you see Kate and her family in the neighborhood, my advice to you is to start stretching. Because before you know it, you’ll find yourself participating in some kind of really, really fast sport.

Putt Putt Invitational Closing Credits

Ain’t no party like a putt putt party, ’cause a Pilar Putt Putt Party don’t stop! Once again, I had amazing birthday celebration, thanks to old and new friends. This year’s birthday theme was golf– because I love golf. Until I messed up my back two months ago (I did not stretch and seriously pulled a muscle or two), I was pretty obsessive about it. Thank you to my friends for being a part of the celebration and letting me play party planner.

Also, thanks to the folks below for helping me make my vision come to fruition:

Brian Haggett, General Manager of Arroyo Seco Golf Course
I called, told him about the Pilar Putt Putt Invitational. Within 15 minutes, he e-mailed me the options and saved the date on the calendar. I just had to check in a week before to give him the head count. It could not have been easier. By the way, it was also inexpensive.

Patrick Oplinger, Anderson Trophy
I walked in, picked a trophy, and had it 10 minutes later. He also took a picture and e-mailed it to me so that I can post and “promote” (Facebook) the trophy and party immediately.

Stan’s Donuts
I don’t know his name, but when I told him my vision– donut holes covered with sprinkles so they looked like golf balls– he understood. I came in the afternoon before the event and they were able to have it ready for me by 10 am the next day. If you happen to stop by Stan’s in Westwood, please tell him that you were a part of the putt putt invitational. No, you’re not going to get a discount. But it would just be nice since Stan’s really helped me out.

Last but not least…
My good friend Aileen Martinez, a contributing photographer for Venice Paparazzi, VOLUNTEERED to be the official photographer.

And special shout to my good friend Tonya Gray, former marketing manager for Southwest Airlines, who lent her event planning expertise. More importantly, she flew in from AZ last Saturday and endured L.A. traffic as we went from one craft store to another.

*Note: Most of the pictures below are from my humble camera and the nicer pictures are from special guest J. Allen.  You will know which ones are from my little Kodak 7-point whatever pixel and which ones are from a Canon DSLR.

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Marathon, A Gateway Sport

I have completed 10 marathons. And half-marathons in between. But it’s not what you think. I am not a super athlete by any means. In school, I was picked second-to-last; I sucked at sports but my salvation was that I was not completely uncool and I was fun. In middle school, I participated in track and field. My events were the 4×100 meter relay and the discus. At one meet, we were one runner short for the 1600 meter; Ms. Anderson asked if I wanted to try it. I did. I did not know you were suppose to pace yourself. When everyone finished, I still had at least one-half lap to go.

Fast-forward 10+ years.

I was dating someone and then we broke up. There was a time for sorrow and reflection– and then you just have to move on; not necessarily get over it, but move on.  Since my ex and I had a routine of talking and hanging out after a workday, I wanted–needed– to create a new habit. I did not want to get into the habit of moping and crying and self-pity.  I decided to just go for long walks and get some fresh air until I could figure out what new habit I might focus on.

After three days into my new fill-in activity, I got bored.  Walking took too long so I started running. I was not a runner. I was not in shape and had not participated in sports since middle school track.  Maybe because it was ingrained in my head as an ethnic studies student and as someone who had worked in nonprofit, but I remembered that in tackling lofty goals, agenda, or plans, the best approach was incremental change.  With incremental change, I could build upon small victories that could eventually amount to a systems change.  Small– but still measurable– outcomes was the way to go.  I decided that I would walk a block, run a block, maybe walk two blocks, run two, and so on.  My long-term goal was to sign up for a 5K run/walk.

A month or so later, I built up my stride and strength and was able to run longer. I started running 3 miles on a regular basis and then found myself running 5 miles. One day, my BFF jokingly said that I should just run a marathon. I was running so much I figured, why not? Exactly a year after the break up, I ran and finished the L.A. Marathon.

And I was hooked.  Marathon running was my gateway sport. Despite my ability, or lack thereof, I was addicted.  I stayed in Friday nights (and I was in my mid-20s) so I could get up and run my long distances at 6:30 a.m. on Saturdays.  I needed to do at least one half and one full marathon a year.  To date, I have completed at least 10 of each and a slew of 5K and 10Ks. In between training for long distance running, I also dabbled in other sports, including snowboarding and golf.  Earlier this year, I signed up and completed a sprint triathlon, only learning how to swim a few weeks before the event. Nothing like signing up, paying the hefty registration fee, and announcing on Facebook to hold myself accountable.

In the past few years, I have really learned that the best way to live life is that when it gives you lemons, don’t just stop at making lemonade.  See if you can also make lemon meringue pie, lemon cookies, lemon cake, and maybe even franchise. Life is really what you make of it.