Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Bay to Breakers: A Fresh Perspective

One of my very favorite yearly events in the city of San Francisco is the spring Bay to Breakers race. The event features a serious racing component, with cash prizes and competition from elite runners from all around the world. But the real attraction is always the 60,000+ other attendees, many in costume, some wearing nothing more than their shoes, all running, walking or pulling kegs of beer across this great City to their final destination of Golden Gate Park.

I ran this often-gruelling course the past two years, and walked it two years before then. This year, due to my persistent, nagging hamstring injury, I decided to volunteer as an EMT for the Red Cross. This was the best way, I believed, to be involved in the event and to help others without reaggravating the injury.

My unit of four was dispatched as a mobile team between the finish line and the Polo Grounds party. Fortunately for us, naked runners were required to cover up by the finish line, so we were spared the fat, old, bald men with flapping cellulite that is all too common at this event. The only display we saw, much to my friend and team lead Matthew's delight, was a rather perky set of breasts from a not-too-shabby-looking female.

We were very busy. Lots and lots of people with blisters, sore muscles, abrasions and bleeding wounds that needed attention. Because of the large amount of walk-up business, we ended up staying put; just downstream of the Jesus freaks on their megaphones telling us we all were sinners and were going to Hell if we didn't get over our pornography addictions.

The costumes were elaborate, the mood was happy (despite the Jesus freaks), and the sun made an appearance from behind the pre-race rain clouds. The greatest participant I saw, however, was someone who reminded me of a man I blogged about last week. This Bay to Breakers participant was just like him, in his resiliency and determination to meet his goal, despite his physical limitations.

Seven and a half miles, with a horrendously steep 12 degree grade around mile 2. And this man overcame it, complete with his cheery clown costume and his artificial leg.

Hats off to you, whoever you may be. You are my hero.

Links to my previous Bay to Breakers stories: [2005 2004 2002]

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Human Spirit Prevails

One of my favorite activities at the beginning of a day is to go to the gym. Whether I am pedalling furiously on the stationary bike, pulling the chain on the rower, or exuberantly lifting weights, the gym is one routine that I have always enjoyed. It is both energizing and exhausting, and so very satisfying when I sit at my desk afterwards, with a hot cup of coffee and and a protein bar, ready to start my day.

One morning last week was just like many others. I was on the rowing machine, steadily pulling and retreating, trying my hardest to keep up with my pre-injury pace. I was in the zone, as I normally am, barely noticing the man on the machine beside me. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw that his movements were somewhat jerky, and he had a rather short pull length. I didn't think much of it, as that is oftentimes the perogative of the user. Until I looked more closely.

He had an artificial leg.

From mid-thigh to foot, his right leg was a man-made entity, not quite able to extend fully to the motion of the rower. The man sporting it was pulling furiously, sweat dripping off his forehead, pushing himself to the very limit in the last few minutes of his exercise.

"It's making me sweat just watching you !", I said jokingly, as he finished his workout.

He laughed, and we chatted for a short time. He mentioned that the limb was difficult to get used to. From this, I surmised that injury was recent.

I can only imagine the emotional trauma he must be feeling ! For many, losing a limb is akin to a death sentence. He was able to walk on the artificial one, albeit awkwardly. Who knows if it rendered him unable to perform at whatever job or profession he has. Many people in this situation can sink into a deep depression, mourning the loss of their previous life, forever lamenting what could have been.

This man chose not to.

Even with the few words we exchanged, I saw a fire in him. A zest for life that could not be broken by the removal of his limb. A passion and tenacity that may have wavered, but was never beaten. That passion, I'm sure, is what brought him to the gym, and what kept him on that machine; draining every last reserve of energy, pushing harder and farther until finally his goal was reached.

There is no breaking the human spirit. This, I now know for sure.

"Take care," he said, as he headed off to the free weights.

You too.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


My sister's wedding. A romantic setting it was, a large banquet hall, with tastefully low lighting and gentle music from the sound system. I was busy setting up the computer and projector equipment, bustling around to stay on schedule, when he snuck up behind me and handed me a rose. A beautiful red rose in a wine glass half-filled with water. I stopped in my tracks, rendered speechless by the tender display of affection.

He then whispered, "Why don't you come back to my house later ? I'll give you a sticker that says 'I love you.'"

This, from David.

5 years old.

It'll be a lucky young lady in a few years who accepts that sticker.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Pain at the Pump

One of the hottest issues in the news over the past several weeks has been the skyrocketing price of gas. Nationwide, the average is nearing $3 a gallon; here, in the Bay Area, I have seen it top $3.45. Everyone who drives a vehicle, which is almost the entire population here, has been greatly impacted by this. The price of filling one's tank has risen by over 30% in the past few years. This has greatly increased the amount one must shell out at the pump to get around.

After Hurricane Katrina, when gas prices rose to record levels, an amazing thing started happening. People started changing their habits. The gas-guzzling SUVs were parked. Travel was reduced. Public transit use increased. And, more than ever, the great benefits of energy-saving hybrid vehicles are at the forefront of the public's mind. The sales of these vehicles, as so eloquently displayed by Rakesh, have increased dramatically in the past several months. This is all directly related to the record inflation of the price of fuel.

People are changing their habits. This is a good thing.

Previously, the American appetite for big, bigger and even bigger was insatiable. SUV sales were through the roof, and not exclusively for those with large families and lots of cargo. These huge vehicles invariably have pitiful gas mileage, waste natural resources, and pollute the environment at an alarming rate. Still, the American public could not get enough of the pavement-pounding, largely-empty, social-status behemoths. Until the cost of fueling them hit the drivers right where it hurts. Their wallets.

Today's American society is that of waste and excess. No amount of begging and pleading for social and environmental responsibility will change this fundamental characteristic. The only thing that effects change, so it seems, is to make it cost more to be wasteful.

We're still not there yet. According to a Kelly Blue Book study, only 27% of potential buyers would consider a smaller vehicle to reduce fuel consumption. 22% said they would not sacrifice anything (power, size, brand name or price) for greater fuel economy. This is troubling, but I'm not sure it won't improve. I'd like to see the same study done in 6 months, with the gas prices the way they are now. I think the current price structure might elicit a greater change.

Even so, a noticeable number of people are parking their SUVs and large trucks, and driving smaller cars. Some are trading in their large pavement pounders for smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles. New buyers are considering fuel mileage as a gating factor for their decisions. This is what we want, not only for the environment, but to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. It is a step in the right direction, on all fronts.

However, there is a downside. The recent astronomical increase in the price of gas has hit the entire country, including those with low, limited or fixed income. Those with lower-paying jobs are finding it more difficult and costly to travel to work. Many may find it prohibitive.

Bill Frist's proposal for a $100 gas rebate across the country is completely useless and counter-productive for the SUV-driving, latte-sipping high-rollers. But it may be a welcome relief for those that can barely afford to feed and clothe their families. Yes, it's not a permanent solution. Yes, it doesn't curb the exponential growth of the price of gas. But by targeting low and fixed-income people, it can make a small difference, if only to temporarily help them through a difficult situation.

I is inconceivable to me how someone could make the comment in the proposal article that $100 would only be two gas tanks in a 15 mpg Sequoia. People that can afford to drive such a wasteful and expensive vehicle do not need a rebate. They need an attitude adjustment. And a more efficient method of transportation.

Perhaps, the current gas price situation will make that happen.
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