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Posts tagged ‘hero’

The Best Of Us All

As I write this, Luis Urzua has just stepped from a small metal cylinder onto the rocky ground above the San Jose Mine in the Chilean desert. Urzua, foreman and leader of the 33 miners trapped for nearly 70 days after a collapse sealed the only exit to the mine, was the last of the miners to be rescued – like the captain of a ship, he refused to leave until all of his charges had preceded him. As he exited the Fenix 2 rescue capsule that brought freedom to the trapped miners, he was bathed in the bright lights of media cameras and washed over with the loving embrace of a world of rapt witnesses.

Like the rest of the world, I was unable to turn away from the coverage. Cynics and conspiracy theorists will decry the tight control and choreography of the event by the Chilean government, who dictated everything from where the media could be to the t-shirt-and-custom-Oakley-sunglasses wardrobe each miner wore to the surface, but even the harshest critic was stunned when the government began to stream live video from within the survival chamber deep underground – just as the first rescue capsule arrived. Over the next day, miner after miner made the ride to the surface to be met with fresh air, family members, and the Chilean president. Some cried, some prayed, some exalted – all were elated. It was human theater on the grandest of scales.

We salute you, amigo ...

Commentary and coverage of this event can be found everywhere, so I’ll spare you the same talk of the heroic miners, their stoic families, and the hard-working team (including American drillers brought in from Afganistan to dig the escape tunnel) – all of which is true. To me, everything that is right and good about this wonderful outcome is personified by Manuel Gonzalez. A mine rescue expert, it was Gonzalez who first strapped himself into the untested rescue capsule for the first ride down 2,000 feet to the miners below. At a time when so much was being done to bring the miners out of the mine, it was Gonzalez – much like the heroic FDNY rescuers of the World Trade Center – who volunteered to take that ride into the unknown. Imagine for a moment what that must have been like – 15 minutes in a metal tube scant inches wider than your shoulders, surrounded by millions of tons of rocks with no control over your descent. It’s the stuff of nightmares – and hero tales.

To say the miners’ lives will never be the same is the silliest of understatements – hell, there’s already discussion about who should play them in the movie version of the rescue – but all of us who joined together in this worldwide event are changed forever. I was too young to appreciate the enormity of the first footsteps on the moon, but I have no doubt that this rescue will resonate through the ages in much the same way. It showed what can be done when everyone puts aside the petty issues of the day and brings all they have to bear on a challenge of momentous proportions. We are reminded once again that there is no issue that cannot be resolved, no problem that cannot be solved, no challenge that cannot be met if we apply the best of us all.

One last image for the ages:

And You Think Your Feet Hurt …

Ah, Labor Day – that big end-of-the-summer holiday weekend. One last shot to fire up the barbecue, pound down a beer and run on the beach. I can’t speak to your individual food or drink intake this weekend, but I’m confident you can’t touch Christian Burke when it comes to the beach running thing.

Burke, an ultramarathon athlete from Hermosa Beach, decided to run between the Manhattan Beach and Hermosa Beach piers on Sunday – a challenging run in the deep beach sand for the best of us. But where we might have stopped after one transit to rest and recuperate, Burke kept going … and going … and going … for a full 24 hours!

Burke’s daughter attends Hermosa Beach schools which, like most public school systems, face a budgetary crisis these days. Burke decided to take his love of his daughter and his skills as an athlete and combine the two to raise money for the school system by trying to break the Guinness World Record for distance running in soft sand during a twenty-four hour period.

It wasn’t just sand Burke was running in. He was running in abrasive Southern California sand along the Strand wall. Burke ran in that area to raise awareness among the onlookers from Fiesta Hermosa and hopefully raise more money.

It might have worked. Gary, homeless in Hermosa, dropped his last dollar in the big donations jar after witnessing Burke struggle back and forth.

After Burke finished his 24th and final lap just before noon Monday, about 24 hours after he started, TV camera crews, friends, supporters and even Mayor Michael DiVirgilio were on hand to greet and congratulate him.

Burke invited all to attend a celebratory after-party at the Union Cattle Co. But before he headed off to shower, he collapsed in a camping chair under his tent and reflected on his accomplishment.

“The hardest part was the last two laps,” Burke said. “As soon as I started thinking about the end that’s when it began to get a bit dramatic and my brain began to shut off.

“I didn’t know what it would be like to run that distance in sand. Nobody knew, right? Well, it was as unforgiving as I expected it to be. But you know, coming out here and doing it and seeing for myself, it was a handful. It was tough.”

Starting at noon Sunday, Burke completed 24 laps between the piers, covering 83.04 miles; the old record of 62.28 miles was shattered around 3AM. Money was raised both by donations from visitors to the nearby Fiesta Hermosa and from those who paid for the privilige of joining Burke on one of his laps. As for Burke himself, his feet are sore and blistered, but he still mustered enough strength to attend the after-event party.

If you’d like to donate to Christian Burke’s Hermosa24 effort, you can do so at hermosa24.com.

Dude, You Wish You Could Go Out With This Much Style …

Those of us who travel on business understand and appreciate what a difficult, frustrating prospect it can be when you have to fly from one city to another. The post-9/11 changes to travel regulations make it hard enough, and the miserly squeeze being placed on passengers by the airlines doesn’t help. Add to that mix a couple of rude passengers who think it’s all about them, and it’s a wonder you don’t see more people going nuts on airliners.

By all accounts, yesterday’s JetBlue Flight 1052 from Pittsburgh to New York’s JFK Airport was your typical commuter flight – lots of folks headed to the big city, each with their own agendas and plans, wanting nothing more than to get the flight behind them. Among those charged with the passengers’ safety and service was flight attendant Steven Slater, a 20-year veteran flight attendant who had recently rejoined JetBlue after five years away. Perhaps the time off wasn’t as rewarding as he’d hoped, or perhaps wiping up after a cabinful of rude, ungrateful passengers wasn’t as exciting as he remembered. All we really know is that after getting into a disagreement with an unruly passenger, he made his last flight an a JetBlue employee memorable for all onboard.

After he was bonked in the head by a bag, Steven Slater stunned passengers by spewing profanity and ranting about quitting as the flight from Pittsburgh pulled up to the gate about noon.

“To the f—–g a–hole who told me to f–k off, it’s been a good 20 years,” Slater, 38, purred, cops said. “I’ve had it. That’s it,” he added, a passenger said.

The mad-as-hell steward grabbed a couple of brewskis and popped one open before activating the emergency exit, witnesses told airport employees.

After tossing his two carry-on bags on the slide, he followed them to the tarmac.

Slater then walked to the AirTrain, stripped off his company tie and flung it off as bemused passengers watched.

“I wish we could all quit our jobs like that,” said passenger Phil Catelinet, 36, of Brooklyn, who was on the flight and the AirTrain.

“He seemed kind of happy about it. He was like, ‘I just quit my job.’ “

Slater calmly exited the airport and headed home, where he was taken into custody later in the day. In a court appearance this morning, he was charged with charged with criminal mischief, reckless endangerment and criminal trespass, and his bail set at $2500.

Interestingly, the majority of reaction towards Slater’s actions, while not necessarily endorsing his unorthodox exit, tends to be at least supportive of his frustration. As you might expect in this day and age, there are YouTube tributes and Facebook fan pages. There’s even talk of a reality show, presuming he ever gets another job.

Look, punching out of a plane isn’t a good idea, even on the tarmac. But after twenty years of dealing with self-centered jackholes day in and day out, it’s hard to blame the guy for finally snapping.

Got a hunch we haven’t heard the last on this one … stay tuned …

Au Revoir, Lance!

Another Tour de France is in the books, and while it should be noted that Alberto Contador successfully defended his title from last year (giving him three in the last four years), this race will be remembered as the last ride of a legend.

I don’t think you can overestimate the impact of Lance Armstrong on the sport of cycling. Professional cycling has always been big in Europe, where the Grand Tours all exist, but outside the region there was scant attention paid. Even when Greg LeMond made his splash in the late ’80s, winning three Tours de France, the spotlight on the sport was brief.

Armstrong was always different. A triathlete by training who seemingly was too bulky to be a successful cyclist, Armstrong nevertheless was a rising star in the early ’90s, winning stages of the Tour in ’93 and ’95 as well as the national and world Cycling Championships in 1993. Riding for the powerful Motorola team in 1996, he surprisingly dropped of the Tour de France during Stage 7, and later was able to place no higher than sixth in the two races he entered in the Atlanta Olympics that fall. It was only a few weeks later that he was diagnosed with his now-famous cancer.

Lance’s survival, recovery and subsequent dominance of his sport are well-documented. Considered by most to be fortunate if he survived Stage 3 testicular cancer, Armstrong rebuilt his ravaged body into that of a cyclist and won a record seven consecutive Tour de France events. After several years away from the sport, he returned last year with the Astana team – joining Contador and many of his US Postal Service / Discovery Channel teammates and managers – and placed a very respectable third. Opting to form his own team away from Contador, Armstrong brought his new Team Radio Shack to France hoping to improve on last year’s result and possibly add to his win total.

Alas, that was not to be. Age has a way of catching up with us all, even elite athletes – and for them, often in the most public of moments. For Lance, age caught up with the now-38-yr-old cyclist on the first mountain stage of this year’s Tour, where a combination of mechanical failure, bad luck and old legs left him far behind the much younger leaders. To his credit, he rode out the Tour, even challenging for the win of a mountain stage later in the race, but the comeback is over and an amazing career is at an end.

Back to Contador for a moment. If you’re into conspiracy theory, here’s an interesting one for you. Contador won his first of three Tours in 2007 riding for the now-Armstrong-less Discovery Team and manager Johan Bruyneel. His second win came alongside Armstrong and with Bruyneel leading the Astana team. This year, while Bruyneel, Armstrong and Team Radio Shack took the team victory in the Tour, Contador was the overall classification winner for Astana – his “Kobe without Shaq” moment, if you will. Now that Lance has hung up his spandex shorts for the last time, TRS and Bruyneel need a leader – and Contador, riding for the perpetually underfunded Astana team, might be just the guy.

I’m just sayin’ …

Victory To Remember

I think we all knew the big story of the Masters would whether the famous golfer with wife trouble would win the Masters – we just didn’t think it’s be the other one.

In many ways, Phil Mickelson is everything Tiger Woods is not: Tiger has a chiseled physique; Phil has man boobs. Tiger has a smooth, precise game; Phil prides himself on punching it out of the cabbage. Tiger’s best asset on the course is his brain; Phil’s biggest albatross on the course is his brain. They do share a couple of traits, however – both are at the top of the world golf rankings and both have beautiful blonde wives.

Both golfers came to Augusta with something to prove, but for entirely different reasons. While Tiger was taking time off tour to recover from having cheated … and cheated … and cheated … on his wife Elin, Phil was taking time off to be with his cancer-stricken wife, Amy. A fixture on tour following her husband down the fairway with their kids, Amy’s illness forced Phil to miss time last season – and he lost more when his mother was diagnosed with her own case of breast cancer months later. Amazingly, Phil’s game flourished despite the missed time, and he captured the season-ending Tour Championship last September.

Although he played several events prior to the Masters, there was nothing in Lefty’s performance that would lead you to believe he would be competitive. But with Amy on the course for the first time in a year, Phil played like someone from whom a huge burden had been lifted. While Tiger got all the press coverage and performed understandably erratic, Mickelson played solid golf throughout, remaining close to the lead through the first three rounds. It wasn’t until he went eagle-eagle-birdie on the back side of his third round that people started to really notice him, and when Lee Westwood collapsed on Sunday Mickelson was able to cruise to a relatively easy victory and his third green jacket.

Phil is a pretty level-headed guy, but there was no holding back the tears this time – a third Masters victory (and first major since 2006) with his wife alongside was more than he could take, and who could blame him. Unlike the controversy swirling about Tiger Woods, which was entirely of his own making, Phil dealt with external challenges with character and grace, understanding that his place was with the ones he loved in their times of need. Anyone not touched by this victory really needs to take a look inside and wonder what they’re made of.

UPDATE: Just in case you thought all the emotion of the moment might overshadow Mickelsons playful nature, here’s a shot of the 2010 Masters champion with his family at the drive-thru window of a Krispy Kreme donut shop the morning after – and yes, that’s the green jacket … ūüėÄ

Rock Star Rescue Crew

It’s been a week since the massive earthquake destroyed Port-Au-Prince in Haiti, and there hasn’t been a lot of good news coming out of the region. ¬†Aid trickles in, hampered more by a lack of infrastructure in country than any lack of sympathy by the world. ¬†Bodies remain in the streets and crushed in buildings, and the smoke rising from burning corpse piles can be seen in many locations around town. ¬†As the reality of the devastation sinks in, the task ahead for Haiti – and those who will have to step in to rebuild it – is daunting.

One bright spot amid the darkness is well-known to those of us in SoCal. ¬†The Los Angeles County Fire Department’s Heavy Rescue Task Force is one of the best in the world when it comes to dealing with the aftermath of earthquakes, having prepared to face the inevitable “Big One” here in SoCal. ¬†When the first rescuers hit the ground in Haiti, the lack of resources and organization stymied their efforts, but not CRT2 – they came fully staffed, supplied and prepared. ¬†Once a flatbed truck had been appropriated, they were a mobile rescue unit, moving site to site and applying their expertise to pull victim after victim out of the rubble.

Because it was clear that they were among the more effective groups in those chaotic first days, they attracted significant media attention. ¬†Several SoCal news crews are in Port-Au-Prince, and have been documenting the efforts of their local team, but even CNN’s Anderson Cooper has followed the team around, turning them into something of a media sensation, particularly with the attention that came with their rescue of the “singing woman” earlier this week:

Ironically, as the team works to save lives in Haiti, SoCal faces one of its biggest challenges in years as a series of nasty rainstorms moves into the area.  The good news is that there are plenty of Urban Search and Rescue teams left here to get the job done.

You can follow the ongoing efforts of CA-TF2 at the LACFD’s Daily Briefings page.

And of course, if you haven’t already – and even if you have, if you can – click on the banner at the top of any SCMO page to donate to the Red Cross Haiti relief effort. They’re gonna need a lot of help for a very long time.

Thank You

Today is Veteran’s Day in America (Remembrance Day in Canada), and no matter your political leanings, you should take time today to thank those who have taken up arms on behalf.¬† It doesn’t really matter if you believe in war, warfare, warfighters or the current conflicts we find ourselves in – the plain facts are that without those who have given up domestic lives to fight all those battles over there, you wouldn’t enjoy the privileges and freedoms you have over here.¬†

Conflict is an unfortunate thing.¬† I think we’d all like to live in a Utopian world where we all just got along, but so long as there are limited resources and unlimited egos that’s not likely to happen.¬† People will disagree and sometimes, those disagreements will lead to wars.¬† Hell, this country wouldn’t exist as it does today without war and the territories acquired as a result.¬† Even today, as people look back and try to rewrite our history in a manner that is more politically palatable, no one is suggesting that we should return California to the Spanish or Louisana to the French.¬† War is what formed this country and sometimes, war will be necessary to preserve it.

Today, we are involved in two wars in faraway lands, wars that are not popular or even seen by many as justified.¬† Debating the need for war is a necessary and patriotic duty, and should always be respected.¬† But even as we disagree on the battle, we should be united in our support for those who fight.¬† They are not there by choice – they are meeting an obligation and doing a job that I guarantee you don’t want to do.¬† We must always remain steadfast in our unanimous respect for those who wear the uniform of our country, no matter where they may be.

Here’s a thought:¬† Let’s take some of the billions being funneled to car companies and financial institutions and homeowners who overspent their means and redirect it to supporting our military and their families.¬† If my tax dollars are going to go somewhere, at least then it’ll be for something I’ll be proud to support …

They Definitely Got The Right Guy

One of the genuine treasures of Southern California is the annual Pasadena Tournament of Roses. Now in it’s 121st year, the world-famous parade will roll down Colorado Boulevard on New Year’s morning, followed by the Rose Bowl that afternoon. As part of the Bowl Championship Series, the Rose Bowl will also play host to the BCS Championship Game a week later.

Each year, the tournament organizers choose a theme for the event, followed by the selection of an individual to serve as the Grand Marshall who exemplifies the concept of the theme. The theme for the 2010 parade is “A Cut Above The Rest,” and yesterday the grand marshall was named – someone who personifies that theme about as much as you possibly could: Captain Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot of USAirways Flight 1549 who last January successfully splash-landed his Airbus in the Hudson River.

Sully’s a low-key guy who seems genuinely bemused by all the attention he’s received in the months since his famously short flight. He recently returned to flying after dealing with all the press associated with the accident, and has a book and Discovery special in the works. As far as I’m concerned, he’s earned every honor and perk that could come his way – and this is just one more.

After riding in the parade, Sully will toss the coin at the Rose Bowl, and presumably a week later at the Championship Game. He’ll be surrounded by the best that college football can produce – and they’d all be well-advised to take a moment from their own attempts to gain fame to look at a man who’s genuinely earned it.

The Skies Get A Little Friendlier …

Good news for all you business flyers – Sully’s back!

Captain Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, hailed as the “Hero of the Hudson” for his skillful emergency landing of a USAirways A320 airliner on New York’s Hudson River last January, will return to the cockpit after the first of the year. He’s getting a well deserved promotion, too – he’ll be serving as a “management pilot” and will be part of the airlines’ operation safety management team.

“The months since January 15 have been very full, and my family and I have had some unforgettable experiences,” Sullenberger said in a prepared statement. “However, I have missed working with my colleagues at US Airways and I am eager to get back in the cockpit with my fellow pilots in the months ahead. In my new role, I will continue to be the same kind of advocate for aviation safety that I have been for several decades.”

If you saw any of the many interviews with Sullenberger after the incident, you already know the cat’s as cool as the back side of the pillow. ¬†This is just the kind of level-headed, even-keeled leader you want in your cockpit and your boardroom, and kudos to USAirways for having the good sense to allow him to keep flying.