Blogs > From The Bleacher Seats

A roundup of news on sporting events, people and places in Southeast Michigan by columnist Jim Evans.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Running for the health of it

It was three years ago when Stephanie Kauffman learned about the Mind Over Matter (MOM) 5k run/walk.
Honestly, it was not the distance that made her sprint toward the starting line.
No, it was rationale behind the event.
On Saturday, May 4, the eighth annual MOM race will be held in Starr-Jaycee Park in Royal Oak. The park is on 13 Mile Road between Crooks and Main Street. The cost is $30 for those 18 and older, and $25 for participants younger than that. Runners 12 and under are free if accompanied by a registered adult. Same-day registration and packet pick up for pre-registered participants will begin at 8 a.m. on race day. The 5k is scheduled to start at 10.
Since the event’s inception, more than $90,000 has been raised for mental health research and suicide prevention.
The race evolved out of enveloping grief. Royal Oak resident Gail Boledovich, a loving mother of four, took her life on May 1, 2005 after a struggle with schizophrenia. By way of dealing with the pain, guilt and confusion surrounding suicide, the kids realized a way to both honor their mother and help others. The next year, the MOM 5k debuted.
According to the, over 30,000 people die each year from suicide, making it the 11th leading cause of death in America. Among teenagers and young adults ages 15-24, suicide is the third leading cause of death. Over 90 percent deaths from suicide are attributed to mental health conditions such as depression, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, etc. These statistics are staggering yet, due to the stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide, many victims and families are forced to fight their painful battles in private.
Kauffman will not only participate in the event, she will also be the featured speaker.

“I was diagnosed with depression when I was seven. My parents had gotten divorced, and my school work was suffering. I was having a hard time concentrating. My mom thought I should see a counselor.
“When I was 16, I started to have serious mental health issues myself,” said Kauffman.
Here’s an entry from Kauffman’s own website:
My name is Stephanie and I have suffered with depression, anxiety, and mental illness since I was very young. I struggled for a very long time and spent a lot of time in psychiatric hospitals and treatment centers ... Someone once told me the saying, “Once you realize that what you are doing is causing you more harm than good, that is when you will stop doing it.” It took me many years, and I finally realized it. I was not happy and that was not how I wanted to live. I punished myself by doing self-destructive behaviors and spent much time contemplating suicide ...I spent my teens and 20′s giving into my mental illness, and finally now, at age 29, I have taken my life back. Obstacles often come my way, however I am able to deal with them now. I am so happy to be alive! I don’t do destructive behaviors. I don’t think about suicide.”
Kauffman has already written one book, “Living on the Border.” She is in the process of writing another. She will be at Starr-Jaycee Park on Saturday. So will upwards of 1,000 others. They will be from Oakland County. They will be from Macomb County. They will be from beyond those borders.
They will be there to support the Boledovich family; Paul, Lisa, Trisha and Julie. They will be there for all sorts of reasons. To support their own family members; to support friends; to support those they have never met before.
They will gather at Starr-Jaycee Park to try to take a couple of swipes with the eraser at the stigma that still exists for the mentally ill.
“There are so many people struggling with physical illnesses. You want to support their causes. My own mother died of leukemia. I am always involved in walks and runs to benefit cancer research,” said Kauffman.
“But there is still that stigma about mental illnesses, and there are countless people struggling with it. One of the worst things about mental illness is the feeling there’s nobody you can talk to.”
That won’t be the case Saturday. It is a 5k. It is conversation. How many steps does it take to cover 3.1 miles? Even the smallest steps count for something.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

In Boston, terror came at 26.2 miles

Elation intersects with devastation.
That was a nagging thought as I watched the horror from Boston on Monday.
Completing a marathon is not like finishing a one-mile fun run. It's not a 5K or a 10K or even a half marathon.
Not to diminish any of those distances, but completing a marathon entails embracing an entire lifestyle.
It's a wife who says it is all right to be gone for hours at a time to train. It's a husband who is willing to watch the kids while you put in your weekly long runs. It is chewing on Power Bars and not chips and Doritos; swigging energy drinks and not Mountain Dew.
It’s dedication and on Patriots Day in Boston, it became devastation.
Distance runners talk about hitting the wall. That’s not something constructed of bricks and mortar, but it carries the same impact. The wall usually looms about 20 miles out, when all of a sudden your body and brain rebel. It’s that moment when a runner goes from feeling pretty good to feeling pretty darn awful. It’s also a time when a decision has to be made; should I pull off the road and put myself up on blocks, or should I tough my way through the remaining 6.2 miles?
Mostly, runners tough it out. That is why the elation of the finish line looms so large. You’ve arm wrestled with introspection, and won. It is a feeling you’ll never forget.
That recollection became decidedly different in Boston on Monday. Two bombs near the finish line, detonated about 12 seconds apart, killed three people and injured 176 others. Those injured included 17 who were still in critical condition as of Monday afternoon, according to the Boston Globe.
Only two of the three people who died have been identified. Both were there to cheer on the runners. Eight-year-old Martin Richard was near the finish line with his mom, dad, brother and sister. While his father, Bill, is a runner, he was not entered in the marathon. His mother and sister were seriously injured in the blast. His brother was unharmed.
A second victim, Krystle Campbell, 29, was called “the most lovable girl,” by her father, William. “She helped everybody, and I’m just so shocked right now. We’re just devastated,” according to NBC News.
It’s tragically appropriate that those two were there to support the runners. There’s a camaraderie in the running community that is unique.
I’ve run several marathons, and I have done all of them with friends and training partners. The pact we made going in was to never leave anyone behind. Judging by the clock, that doesn’t always work to your advantage. During one marathon, a pal hit the wall at about 18 miles. The rest of us turned around and saw him walking.
“Joe has the hood up,” we said. We didn’t leave him in the rearview mirror. We just slowed down and towed him along for the final eight miles. Who cares what our finishing time was? We were in this together.
Another time, Jeff was nursing an injury. He thought he’d hold up through the marathon, but that turned out to be wildly optimistic. At about the midway point of the race, he broke down. So we started setting small goes. Let’s get to that light pole. Then let’s get to the next light pole. We did not set any speed records, but we finished.
There’s something mildly heroic about finishing any marathon. You’ve got to have a certain mental toughness to deal with the doubt that you undoubtedly will encounter. That’s why all these tales of heroism coming out of Boston don’t surprise me. The runners who kept jogging right to the hospital to donate blood. Others who tore off parts of their clothing so they could make tourniquets for the badly wounded.
The photograph of the man in the cowboy hat comforting a man whose legs appeared mangled. The photograph of former New England Patriots offensive lineman Joe Andruzzi carrying a female victim to a nearby ambulance.
The story of race volunteer John Gannon, who drove down Charles Street, calling out to ask if stranded runners needed a ride or a phone to borrow. He took two carloads to Harvard Square and a third to the Newton Marriott hotel.
From elation to devastation. Sure that is part of the story of the 2013 Boston Marathon. So is the toll of three dead and 176 injured. But there is more to that equation. Tally the number of marathon finishers. Tally the number of impromptu heroes. Tally the action of all the first-responders; the doctors and nurses.
I prefer to embrace that total.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Turning a cold shoulder to high school spring sports

Spring sports are fickle.
That is because the Michigan weather is, too.
We start out the high school season wearing three layers of Carhartt.
We wind up in shorts and T-shirts.
Wool caps and mittens are the stuff of April. Hawaiian Tropic concludes things in early June.
There’s nothing greater than bringing a folding chair and loitering behind a chain link fence along one of the foul lines while a baseball game or softball game is being played.
There’s nothing worse than bringing a folding chair and loitering behind a chain link fence along one of the foul lines while a baseball or softball game is being played.
It all depends on the weather.
The Boys of Summer have goosebumps. The Girls of Summer are in mittens. Such is the plight of a high school athlete. Thus is the life of a devoted mom and dad, grandma and grandpa, girlfriend or boyfriend. All can be found huddled in the bleachers. Their loyalty comes with sniffles and Kleenex.
Cotchety sports writers are hardly immune.
The older I get, the more cold blooded I become. These days, I have a space heater under my desk at work. It blasts about nine months of the year. Even when the thermostat in the office is set at a balmy 68.
I used to laugh at my grandparents. Get them out of the 85 degree temperatures in West Palm, and they used to start shivering. I’d look at my visiting grandpa and he’d be wearing  a sweater in mid-summer. Next to him would be my grandma wrapped in a knitted shawl.
My juvenile derision serves me right. It was 50 degrees today. I am working inside wearing a shirt and sweater and am contemplating yanking on my down jacket.
Play ball! cries the umpire. Postpone the game! cries the sports writer.
The ump is wearing a chest protector. I have on thermal underwear.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Play ball! Tigers open at Comerica Park

I remember an Opening Day story I did years ago.
I talked to a blind woman who was a huge fan of the Tigers. She absolutely adored baseball.
That meant she also loved broadcasters Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey. They were her conduit to the game.
She’d been sightless her entire life, so she had never actually seen a Tigers’ game. She had never walked into the stadium from the drab concrete jungle of Michigan and Trumbull that surrounded it and been immediately bedazzled by the lush greenery confronting her.
But she had seen plenty of baseball in her mind’s eye. She had heard the crack of the bat on her transistor radio and envisioned that feverish activity that ensued. The batter racing to first and the shortstop scooping up the grounder on the second hop.

Opening Day was the beginning of the best time of year for her. She’d sit in her living room and listen to the radio and cringe when Norm Cash struck out and laugh when Willie Horton sent a ball soaring into the left field seats. She marveled when Denny McLain struck another batter out, and jumped up in joy when Kirk Gibson sent another ball into the upper deck seats in right.
It’s been years, and I have no idea where that woman is today. She might not even be alive. She might be listening to Ernie Harwell do games, though. He’s broadcasting for the angels, you know. Not those that reside in Anaheim, either.
Opening Day stories don’t all sit in the box seats at Tiger Stadium or Comerica Park.
Tiger fans don’t always get their seats through the box office or on Stub Hub.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Opening Day and other memories

There’s a picture tacked up in my cubicle.
It’s of Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey. It is autographed by Ernie.
I am not much for autographs. They are nothing more than signatures as far as I am concerned.
But this is a little different. I love the photo. It’s Ernie and Paul in the broadcast booth at Tiger Stadium. They are looking toward the photographer and the field occupies the background.

I like it because it brings back memories. Not just of Ernie and Paul, but of baseball at the old stadium. Now I am not the nostalgic type. Tiger Stadium’s time had come. In its later manifestation, it was peeling and flaking and walking in the dank concourse was like traversing a dungeon. Also, how many poles can you find yourself behind as you watch a game?
But my affection for the place came mainly because it was part of my growing up. The first time I walked into Tiger Stadium, I was wearing a little league uniform and a Rawlings mitt on my right hand. The last time I walked in, I had kids of my own. In between, there was plenty of time spent in the stadium; from box seats to the center field bleachers to the press box. I saw Mark Fidrych and Ron LeFlore and Al Kaline and Norm Cash. I saw Carl Yaztrzemski, Mickey Mantle, Rod Carew and Reggie Jackson. I ripped out some sod in ’68 and was in the press box when Kirk Gibson launched those home runs in ’84. I was on a bus heading back to the Renaissance Center when the car was overturned and in flames with Bubba hefting the bottle of Jack Daniels or whatever he was drinking in that infamous photo.
So there you go. There were peanuts bought from the guy who used to hawk them at Michigan and Trumbull and cheeseburgers scarfed down at Nemos. There were beers downed at Hoot Robinson’s place both before and after the game.
I am not sure I loved Tiger Stadium as much as what it represented. It was summer and it was growing up and it was being a grown up.
That is why I love the photo of Ernie and Paul. It represents so much more. The Tigers will play their home opener against the Yankees Friday at Comerica Park.
More memories will be made. You can put your signature on that.