Overheard on the Run in the Year Just Past

Sports 2012
July’s Swim Across America in Gardiner’s Bay was described by Sinead FitzGibbon as “one of the most important sports events on the East End” Jack Graves

    As 2012 began, Dr. Paul Weinhold, a sports psychologist, said that “The best are confident — in any sport. They’re not adding an enormous amount of pressure on themselves because they’ve already incorporated into themselves the knowledge that they will not always be perfect. It makes no difference whether you’re an athlete or a surgeon or a musician. . . . They want to be focused, confident, to quiet the mind.”



    In February, Larry Keller, who had set a state — and East Hampton High School — discus record of 175 feet, 7.5 inches in 1994, said that he had used “the same visualization I used with the discus” as he lay paralyzed in a hospital bed, with depression nipping at his heels following a horrific car accident in July 2009.
    “The doctors told me I might never walk again. I thought that may be, but I told them, ‘Don’t ever say that to me again,’ and I started looking for ways to get back.”
    He took his first steps five weeks after the accident. He is now able to stand and walk on flat ground with the help of a cane. . . . An Action Trackchair, a cross between a conventional wheelchair and a small tank whose treads conquer mud and sand, has enabled him to get back where he loves to be, on the beach at Ditch Plain in the sun and with his girlfriend, Sharyn Marks.



    In March, Abby Roden, whose mother, Theresa, oversees the I-Tri program here that uses triathletic training and self-esteem workshops to empower the minds and bodies of early adolescent girls, said she would not only like to see the program extended from the Springs and Montauk Schools to East Hampton High School, but also throughout the world.



    Also that month, Pete Spagnoli, who made it to the top of Mount McKinley on his second try, said, “Compared to the last trip [in 2009], this was perfect. It was cold and it snowed, but we were able to progress steadily. We didn’t get stuck in our tents this time. . . . As you go up it gets harder.”
    The summit of Mount McKinley was about the size of his living room rug, the physical therapist said. “You’re freezing and exhausted, but euphoric. It’s an unbelievable feeling. You’re on top of the world, in the clouds. There’s a marker and a prayer flag. Scott [Pleban, a member of the climbing party] was going to take a photo of me, but my camera was frozen.”



    “You can see how they take to it,” said Whitney Reidlinger, an occupational therapist at the Springs School, as 60 young bowlers with disabilities participated in a Special Olympics tournament at East Hampton Bowl in mid-March. “They very much like the competition and the socialization, which helps them develop independence. Some of them two years ago had to have others put their shoes on and to carry the ball. Now, they can do these things themselves.”
    “They’ll have just about everything at the track and field meet in May but the hurdles. Sprints, the shot-put, the long jump, the high jump. . . . In one of the meets I was at a blind athlete, tethered to a guide rope, ran the 800!”



    In April, Zvile Ngo, a native of Lithuania who recently began to compete in the figures category in body building competitions, said, “I’m trying to improve every day. I want people to see that everything is possible. I was a skinny, closed, shy person, and I did it. . . . I just want to help people . . . it’s just the beginning for me.”



    Later that month, after he’d won the Trip of a Lifetime raffle following the East Hampton Coaches Association’s golf outing at the South Fork Country Club, John Pizzo gave the trip for two to any one of this country’s 13 major sporting events — or to Hawaii, the Caribbean, or Alaska — to Matt Maloney, who he knew was soon to be married.
    “He’s such a sports nut though that I think I’ll let his wife choose,” said Pizzo. “Otherwise, they may wind up in a basketball court on their honeymoon.”



    The day after May 23, World Turtle Day, Larry Penny said in his nature column, “When the fabulist Aesop matched the turtle against the hare in a race two millenniums ago, he must have known something about turtles that hadn’t come to light in the world of science until the middle of the last century. Turtles may not move as fast as rabbits, but they outlive them by scores of years. Thus, if the race is long enough, the turtle will always win in the end.”



    Kousaku Yokota, a 65-year-old international karate master who gave a weekend seminar at John Turnbull Sensei’s dojo in Southampton in May, said that faithful practice furthered self-realization and helped the karateka [karate practitioner] face down his biggest enemy — himself.
    “When you’re older you do the movements more efficiently,” the eighth-degree black belt said. “The key part is breathing. That’s very important. And daily practice of the forms and stretching. I try to flow like water,” he said, with a smile, when his interviewer said he’d seen his movements so described.
    “Sometimes, at our dojo we flow like molasses,” Turnbull Sensei interjected, with a laugh.



    At East Hampton High School’s athletic awards dinner in early June, J.C. Barrientos, a star on the high school’s county-champion soccer team, was hailed, in addition, for having a few days before saved the life of a drowning man at the Driftwood ocean resort where he was working as a cabana boy.
    “If it weren’t for J.C., that man would be dead,” John Ryan Sr., who, with his son, John Jr., oversees lifeguard training here, said. “The ocean was rough that day. A couple of our ocean rescue guys had to struggle swimming from Indian Wells to Atlantic. I’m convinced that if J.C. hadn’t had the presence of mind to take that torpedo out [200 yards into the ocean] with him, one of them would have died.”
    “All the credit goes to the kid,” said Randy Hoffman, an advanced emergency medical technician whose bag valve oxygen delivery machine restored the victim’s breathing.



    Amy Winters, an ultra-distance competitor who is a below-the-knee amputee, the result of a motorcycle accident when she was 21, said at the Turbo triathlon to raise money for the I-Tri program here at the end of June that “everybody faces something in life, a crisis that presents you with a choice. Do you give up or do you move on?”



    Leslie Andrews, a golf pro at Montauk Downs whose book, “Even Par,” encourages women in the business world to get into the game, said, “Anyone can learn to play golf during the course of three months with a little persistence. . . . Grab a 5-iron and carpe diem.”



    At the Swim Across America cancer-research fund-raising event on Gardiner’s Bay in July, Sinead FitzGibbon, an Irish-born physical therapist who won among the 5K women, said on emerging from the water that “this is one of the most important sports events on the East End. There’s a rare sense of community here. We’re doing it for the sport, which can be likened to moving meditation, and for the spirit.”
    Swimming was interesting too, she said, because, with the purging of wasteful motion one could more efficiently and thus more swiftly glide through the water. “It’s sort of a metaphor for life,” she said with a smile.



    In recalling Andy Neidnig, the inveterate runner, who died in August at the age of 93, Howard Lebwith said, “I remember after that New York marathon where he broke the record, he just kept running — he didn’t know how to get home on the subway.”
    During an interview on the occasion of his 90th birthday, when this writer said he was still playing tennis, Neidnig said, “Good, don’t stop. Nature takes care of that. Meanwhile, don’t think about it.”



    At East Hampton High School’s inaugural Hall of Fame ceremony in September, “one of the great days in Bonac sports history,” in the words of Jim Nicoletti, the 19-member selection committee’s president, the University of Tennessee and Spanish premier league basketball star, Howard Wood, who led East Hampton to a 42-2 record in the 1976 and ’77 seasons, said, “I wish all of you could have one time in your lives to feel what I’m feeling here today.”
    Another honoree, Ellamae Gurney, who captained the 1994 field hockey, basketball, and softball teams, spoke winningly as well. “My teammates,” she said at one point, “passed me the ball and I passed the ball to them and that’s what it’s about.”