I'm an Ironman; No seriously, I'm an Ironman

1978

During the awards ceremony for a Hawaii running race, a debate ensues among competitors about who is more fit — swimmers, runners or other athletes. One of the participants, Navy Commander John Collins and his wife Judy, dream up a race to settle the argument. They propose combining three existing races together, to be completed in succession: the Waikiki Roughwater Swim (2.4 miles), the Around-Oahu Bike Race (112 miles, originally a two-day event) and the Honolulu Marathon (26.2 miles). “Whoever finishes first we’ll call the Ironman,” said Collins. Fifteen men participate in the initial event held on February 18; 12 complete the race, led by the first Ironman, Gordon Haller. His winning time: 11 hours, 46 minutes and 58 seconds.


Comm.10 with Professor Cole; This was my first college course and I took it at UCLA in Westwood during spring semester of my high school senior year. I absolutely loved that course and at the same time, I was stunned at how different the scholastic expectations were moving from high school to college. I got a “B”. I was coming from a secondary educational background where I really just sort of coasted through without ever really cracking a book. I’m sure my parents are rolling over in their graves cursing me out for that one.

Eventually, both Professor Jeffrey Cole and I succumbed to the dark side with me continuing my education and he becoming the Director of the Annenberg School‘s Center for the Digital Future across town at USC. In that course at UCLA, however, I recall that one of the topics we discussed was brand creation and those brands that had become so commonplace as to have become the everyday term used to describe the activities that they were associated with. For example, at fifteen years old, I don’t remember if I knew that Xerox was a company, but I did know what it meant to Xerox my report card before my parents saw it. I’m not sure I even knew what a photocopy was at that point. Kleenex was something you used to blow your nose in, only uptight snobby adults used the term tissue. Jacuzzi was what you jumped into after skiing; a spa was a place the affluent went to lose weight like Canyon Ranch, and on and on. I’m not sure why that stuck with me but it always has and I’ve been keenly sensitive to the importance of brand ever since, and thankfully my career has kept me involved in messaging and brand optimization throughout that time.

So why am I posting these college recollections on a blog about triathlon? Well the lessons learned in Professor Cole’s course have come fully to light in the current debate around the Ironman brand. What began in 1978 with a few guys planning a self supported race to see which discipline created the best overall athlete – swimmers, cyclists or runners – has turned into a multi-million dollar industry where brand police and attorneys fight ruthlessly to protect the Ironman brand.

A few years back, my alma mater’s triathlon team wanted to use a dot on their triathlon club’s logo and they were told that they would be receiving a cease and desist letter if they did, and it wasn’t even an M-dot, the logo most widely recognized with Ironman races. Just the dot itself was verboten. Right or wrong, the tri-club decided not to press the issue and went another direction.

Recently in Triathlete Magazine, Charlie Yu posted another brilliant opinion. He is known for opining that you don’t deserve an Ironman logo M-Dot tattoo unless you’ve qualified, raced and finished the Kona World Ironman Championships. This time around, he was interviewed by Dave Wallach who is a veteran of official Ironman races but not Kona, and Charlie is quoted as telling this reporter:

“If you want to call yourself an Ironman, I’m not going to say you’re not, however, I’m not going to consider you an Ironman, but go ahead.”

Such is the silliness of it all.

In Connecticut, there is a winter local road running race series called the Boston Build-up Series. The races are held every other weekend throughout the winter progressing from a 10K and culminating in the Boston Blow-out 30K in Fairfield, CT. The race series is designed to prepare athletes for the Boston Marathon. At these races it is not uncommon to see race participants pulling CycleOps trainers out of the trunks of their cars to spin on their bikes prior to the start of the race. The participants in these races are serious – Army marathon and triathlon team members, Boston qualifiers and Ironman finishers. The attitude is created long before anyone toes the start line through the team outfits worn, the body paint displayed or the decals on the back windows of the vehicles in the parking lot. Here athletes wear M-dot tattoos as if they were gang tattoos identifying them as members of an elite group, those who had trained for and completed an Ironman race.

Ironman has simply become synonymous with endurance. Ironman is the new marathon. But marathon wasn’t a brand, it was a race, a distance that needed to be covered, and in its simplicity, covering 26.2 miles was considered a marathon and anyone who covered that measured distance was considered a marathoner. In triathlon, it is perceived to be very different. Ironman is not just a term to describe those who have completed a multi-sport event consisting of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike and a 26.2-mile run. Instead it apparently only applies to those who actually paid hundreds of dollars to enter, race and complete an official WTC Ironman race. Even then according to folks like Charlie Yu,  you really aren’t an Ironman until you finish Kona.

With Ironman becoming the new marathon, more and more people are signing up and attempting this feat. This also means that it has become nearly impossible to guarantee your entry into this race unless you physically live in a town where the races are held or are wealthy enough to pay the costs necessary to travel to and attend the race in the prior year. By doing this you earn the right to wake up at 5am the day after the race and get in line with the hundreds of others who also want to make sure they have an opportunity to register for the following year’s race. Forget online registration.  For this year’s race, Ironman Lake Placid sold out in mere minutes, and as far as we can tell, Ironman Wisconsin never even had any slots to offer online because so many people registered in person on the morning following the race. The line on Monday morning at 7:00am serpentined throughout the hallways of the convention center with many hopeful registrants spilling outside into the cold rain. Some current year participants, completed their race, showered and then slept on the hallway floors of the convention center so that they wouldn’t be locked out of competing in the following year. Does anyone else see something wrong with this? Ironman has become a must-do activity to check off of the outdoor enthusiast’s checklist for their life. Which of course begs the question, what does it mean to be an Ironman?

Is it enough to have persevered the experience of training for six months or more to be able to complete the 140.6-mile course under the cut-off times? Or is it the M-Dot tattoo, or is it the ability to call yourself an Ironman? And if it’s the latter, then why does the commercial event itself dictate the completion of this goal rather than completing the distance as it does for a marathon?

Predictably, an underground swell has been created against the high cost of this opportunity as well as the notion that to be an Ironman one needs to have completed a sanctioned WTC Ironman race. Websites such as 140dot6.com have popped up to promote underground triathlons and other endurance events. This website launched the day before Ironman Madison in September of last year and already the site has 144 members. Brett Blanker, one of the site’s co-founders, hippie podfather and host of Zen and the Art of Triathlon has completed two separate self supported Ironman races in the past three years. After he completed his first “official” Ironman race at Wisconsin this year, he claimed that IM-Moo, while challenging, was significantly easier than completing the same distance on his own, with no aid stations, bottle exchanges, special needs bags, wetsuit strippers or thousands of fans cheering him on every step of the way. Another frequent contributor to TriScoop.com, CindyJo has come out strongly against even training in groups, stating that Ironman is a race that you do alone, by yourself to test your own limits and capabilities. If you are going to race alone, then get used to it by training alone. Ironman was originally about you against the elements. And yet, for some reason, the triathlon society, or at least some members of it, seem to place the value on the brand more than the experience. Somebody, please tell me why this is so.

Don’t get me wrong, I do think there is something special and different about jumping into the water for a mass start of a 10+ hour race with 2,500 of your closest friends. The mental stress of an official Ironman race is undeniable. But the mental side of completing that same distance on your own, when nobody is around to watch if you decided to take a nap on the side of the road, or cut the distance short, or finish up tomorrow, may be even stronger. I do believe that certain events should be left untarnished. For example, I believe that the Boston Marathon should not offer charity slots and only those that qualify should participate. Similarly, I believe that the Ironman World Championships should be for Ironman World Champions. But in the end, Ironman and marathoner should be terms used to describe those who have achieved their accomplishments and these terms should not be used exclusively to tie these accomplishments to whether or not you have contributed to the economic benefit of a race organizer. As far as I’m concerned, if you put in the 140.6-mile distance and want to call yourself an Ironman, get painted with an M-dot tattoo, or place a 140.6 sticker on your rear window, who am I to say you shouldn’t?

As always, race with purpose.

Cheers

 

Feed the Warrior! Feed the warrior twenty pounds!

This weekend was the first serious training weekend of the season for me with a 45-mile time trial on Saturday, followed by a 17-mile run at Rockefeller Park on Sunday. No bricks yet, still too early and I’m still focused on building the foundation to tolerate the increased volume and intensity that this training demands.Cindy gave me “the speech” that apparently included the double blind results of a survey of our friends and family members who apparently all agree that I look like a coked-out-old druggie at 175lbs and much younger and healthier at 200lbs. She said “I hope you aren’t planning on dropping all of that weight like you did back in 2004.” Followed by, “Others are reading your blog and I know that’s what you…..” and she didn’t even finish the sentence. I could tell she was struggling how to incorporate all of the advice that her friends must have told her about how to approach me on this subject, especially in only my second week off of chocolate. Insert motive for domestic murder-suicide here. Yeah, sure it’s easier to stay with my natural weight, which at only 10 hours of training a week can probably hover around 200 pounds. Ten hours a week?, you’re thinking? Lord forbid that I ever have a serious injury where I have to stop working out for an extended period of time.

Claire Standish: What’s your name?
John Bender: What’s yours?
Claire Standish: Claire.
John Bender: Claire?
Claire Standish: Claire. It’s a family name.
John Bender: Oh, it’s a fat girl’s name.
Claire Standish: Oh, thank you.
John Bender: You’re welcome.
Claire Standish: I’m not fat.
John Bender: Well not at present, but I can see you really pushing maximum density. See I’m not sure if you know this, but there are two kinds of fat people: there’s fat people that were born to be fat, and there’s fat people that were once thin but became fat… so when you look at ‘em you can sorta see that thin person inside.

This week, I’m in the gawkies, you know that funny period where you’ve made adjustments that you know should be working but your body is fighting you, because quite frankly, it likes the chocolate and sugar more than you do. Daily, my weight fluctuates anywhere between 194 and 200 at any point during each day, on the same scale. Hey maybe that’s a reason not to check so often, but at this point, it’s kind of like a game, “Hey, what if I cycle for an hour, how much water will I lose? What if I starve myself? What if I hold as much fluid in my bladder for as long as I can? How much does a bowl movement actually weigh? Insert scenes of Matthew Modine in a sauna wearing a sweat suit in the movie Vision Quest.

I know what you’re thinking, “What if you get sick?” See, now I’ve already thought about that years ago and you already have to know where I’m going with this one. Coming off of a virus, we always look great! When I started as a trainer back in college, I took genetics for the sole reason of trying to see if I could come up with a way to create a virus that only affected women from the hips down. Seriously, you know I’m right. I’d be a gazziolionaire if I had figured out that one. I even went around asking women if they would be cool puking and feeling violently ill for a full week if it meant that they’d lose pounds around their core, hips and thighs and unanimously they all answered “YES!”

Getting back to me, carrying my ass up 2,000 feet of climbing like I did today is sure a heck of a lot easier at 175 pounds, and based on my calculations will account for a full two hours of difference in my Ironman finishing times. Two hours!

So like most conversations Cindy and I have, I nodded my head understandingly and she went and reorganized something in frustration. Hmm, I’ll have to think about how to handle this one to get down to competition weight while still maintaining balance in the Abingdon house.

Moving on: This weekend I got to meet up with a few members of the Westchester Cycle Club Triathlon group. Mostly made up of women, this group was not light on enthusiasm, nor was it light on ADHD. When asked about nutrition, my first recommendation was going to be a Cytomax-ritalin cocktail. This group makes TriScoop look focused – hey look there’s a bird, shiny object, shiny object. All kidding aside, they are really a great group of people who are mostly first or second year triathletes, and in the short amount of time we had, we got to know each other’s backgrounds and see if there were any common threads that would possibly create an environment where they could train together to increase their enjoyment of the sport and feed their co-dependencies. Cind-Jo would be reeling right now. “You race alone, so train alone!”

A few like Carolyn, Johnny and Jill were really sweet and definitely like deer in the headlights and reminded me that I can get a little intense sometimes. Essentially, as I was providing a few of the basics, Johnny furiously scribbled down every word, Jill tried to understand what the hell I was talking about and Carolyn sat patiently trying to figure out when anyone would stop talking long enough so she could ask a question. Javier, sitting next to me, rolled his eyes, waiting to ask the only question he cared about, “Does anyone in this group actually want to get together to train, or are we simply going to be another tri-group that gets together to talk about triathlon?” In short, the session was a little like the video at the top of this entry. Notice Lance’s calm exterior as he requests “Hey Kevin, you mind showing this nice customer how to kill the coward within?” You have to love that.

Lance: “You want to feed the warrior?”

Customer: “Hunh?”

Lance: “Feed the warrior twenty pounds! Feed the warrior by training the body to respond to the mind.”

Customer: “Yeah, I was just thinking of maybe getting into a little light cardio.”

Lance: “Hey Kevin, you mind showing this nice customer how to kill the coward within?”

To the WCC Triathletes looking to complete and not compete, the reality is probably somewhere in between the two.

Cheers.

42:32 We're off and Running – Boston Build-up 10K

AGK at 2008 Boston Build-up10K

Coach Adam accelerates to finish the 2008 Boston build-up 10K

Reversing the trend of recent years, I finished my first diagnostic race of the year, the Boston Build-up 10K in 42:32, a 6:51 min/mile pace. While I’m still almost a full minute off of my targeted running pace, I’m pretty encouraged given two factors. The first is that the prior two years I’ve run this hilly 10K course in times of 43:23 and 45:08 in 2006 and 2007 respectively, and the second is that I ran this race at 196 lbs, so using the pace to weight indicator, It’s not a horrible result.

The other thing I’m pleased with this morning is that I did not consume any refined sugar last night before going to sleep. To provide a little bit of context, I’m a total sugar addict, and specifically chocolate makes me absolutely crazy. I’ve had periods where I have not eaten chocolate for years because of how it affects me both physically and mentally. With all of the stuff I went through with Wally, I’ve been completely binging from Halloween through the new year, so going to sleep with the shakes, while not fun, was a pretty positive activity for me. Of course it doesn’t make me a very fun person to be around right now but that’s temporary and it’ll be well worth it. I have 20 pounds to drop to effectively compete in July and September and changing my nutritional habits and behaviors is critical.

Back to the Build-up, I was extremely pleased to see that our Race with Purpose athletes were close to the top of their games following the holiday break finishing in a fairly tight little group near the front of the field. As usual, Josh was the first to finish and got a little bit of a wake-up call that he needs to increase his volume and consistency to start preparing for Boston in April. That is going to be one heck of a race and I’m looking forward helping those folks succeed there as they have everywhere else.

Tom Storey resisted every terrific reason not to show up and race, including having raced a 50K the day before and put in a terrific performance of his own, finishing closely behind me. Way to go, Tom!

Cara from In Transit Duo

Lastly, I was so excited to meet Cara from In Transit Duo, a terrific podcast and website hosted by two triathletes from Arkansas and Connecticut. In Transit Duo provides a look at the triathlete lifestyle from the women’s point of view. It also focuses on the travel aspects of multi-sport racing and provides really valuable take-a-ways for the listener. Cara came up to me after the race and introduced herself. She also took a picture of a bunch of RwPers which was really sweet because we didn’t have a camera of our own. Cara and I have met virtually through TriScoop and given that we live about 90 minutes from each other, I’m hopeful we’ll find times to connect and train or race together this season.

I think that’s it for now; the next Build-up will be in two weeks in Ridgefield, CT. It’s my favorite race of the series and includes an out and back course with a steep climb going into the turn around that really will give me a sense as to how strong my legs are and if all of the cycling I’ve been doing has helped my leg strength and power. My plan is to actually ride my trainer for 60-90 minutes prior to the start of the race which means I’ll be racing pre-fatigued but isn’t that what Ironman is all about?

Cheers

2008 Begins: Boston Build-up 10K

Boston Build-up 10K Course Map

January 6th and by my accounts the year has begun and I’m under 200 days from Ironman USA in Lake Placid, my first test of a return to competition. To kick things off, this morning I head about 40 mins north into Connecticut to race for the first time in 2008, a 10K which is the first in a progressive series known as the Boston Build-up series.

The series is designed to prepare athletes for the upcoming Boston marathon in April, but the series looks more like a reunion of armed services personell and hard core triathletes using the hills of Connecticut to prepare for their upcoming race season. 140.6 stickers decorate the majority of the cars and SUV’s in the parking lots, participants “warm-up” for an hour or more on their bikes sitting on trainers that are now portable enough to take with you to the beach or a road race.

The venerable US Army marathon and triathlon teams regularly participate in this series due to its close proximity to West Point, and these folks are fast, super fast. I remember finishing off last season with a race at the Westchester triathlon, an Escape from Alcatraz triathlon and the podium was chock full of army folks in every age category, save for two spots for two Race with Purpose athletes – we so desperately need to get these guys suited up in their RwP orange uniforms. Avi, Erin and I are having a phone call this evening to figure out how to do just that, but Dana and Michelle and Nathan and others should not be standing on the podium in 2008 in anything else but their RwP tri-outfits. Given that we also have a large group going up to do Tupper Lake this season, we only have a few months to get all of this done, so I’m excited that we’ll get cracking on this today.

So I’m off for the first race of the season. I’m too heavy, too slow and too unfocused, but then again that’s what starting is all about. The one thing I do know is that once I start running and the cold air begins to sear my lungs, I’ll quickly remember how much I enjoy knowing that as difficult this is for me, it is equally difficult for the folks next to me and I know how to suffer.

Previously, I’ve finished this race in a slow 43:23 or a 6:59 min/mile pace in 2006 and an even slower 45:08 or a 7:15 min/mile pace in 2007. Like all of the Boston Build-up courses this is hilly with ascents between miles 3.5 and 4 and then again between miles 5 and 5.5 on Flax Hill Road. This goes back to Javier’s 1st law: Avoid all streets with the words “hill” in them. The goal for this series is simple. Do as well as you can early on and then try and hold as much of that pace as you can as the distances increase through the upcoming 15K, 20K, 25K, and 30K races. The harder you train, the greater the chance to reduce the slippage of pace as the distances increase. Partly this is because these courses are hilly, partly because most of us have over indulged and we’ll be getting back into shape and partly it’s because we’ll remember how to race, how to go fast, and how much raw fun it is to taste metal at the end of a race signifying that you gave it your all and left nothing else on the road. That can be done equally well at 7:15′s or 6:15′s. We’ll just have to see what the day brings.

See you out there on the road.

December 31st – We remember

Wally wondering what comes next

As we head into a new year, I am doing my best to leave unproductive traits in the past. One of those unproductive traits is an unwillingness to cross the “t’s” and dot the “i’s” on items that I don’t necessarily want to keep front and center in my life. By correcting this, I hopefully improve completeness of communication and acknowledge those who have contributed their time and effort on my behalf. While I know it is the right thing to do, up until this evening, I couldn’t bring myself to go back to that very ugly place, the death of our cat and family member, Wally.

My last posting on Wally’s situation occurred on Thanksgiving shortly after the Rockland Road Runners Turkey trot. Cindy and I spent the following week continuing to fight on Wally’ behalf even after his death. What follows is a post that I wrote originally on November 26th but simply couldn’t bring myself to publish. Since then friends have asked me what finally happened and I have been reticent to tell them. Additionally, people like Bob Lorsch, Robert Strang, and Bruce Doniger really went out of their way on our behalf and they deserve to be recognized for their efforts. To our old and new friends and family members who have repeatedly demonstrated that humanity does exist in the way that it was intended, both Cindy and I hope that we will someday be able to properly or adequately thank you. Publishing this, is our first step toward trying to do just that.

Wally waiting at the door

November 26, 2007

Positive change is borne by the sacrifice of innocents

And so it was with Wally. To recount the activities of the past six days would be a struggle for me. I’m simply exhausted, as is Cindy. The good news, if there is such a thing as good news, is that Wally’s head has been reunited with his body. Yes, we had to struggle and bend wills to do this but in the end we have succeeded in battling for our dear friend who was not able to do so himself. The goal now is to take back what was taken from us, not Wally’s head, but our ability to quietly reflect, remember and mourn the loss of our dear family member.

Before I go on, I have to state that this experience created multiple opportunities for us to test all of our values, our beliefs and any concepts we previously held of right and wrong, fairness, common sense, the greater good, community, death, public health, purpose, friendship, family, trust, faith and will. We spent every minute of our Thanksgiving weekend chasing down any avenue that we could to rectify the situation hoping something would stick. We reached out to vets, pet advocacy groups, medical ethics associations, the media, friends, attorneys, lobbyists, large economic contributors, and politicians including Mayor Bloomberg himself. For everyone who contributed their thoughts, suggestions, prayers and contacts, both Cindy and I will never forget.

This is the second time in less than a year that my friends and extended family have come to my aid, the first time unsolicited and this time without perhaps understanding the importance as to why. Still they supported us unquestionably and in many cases without any realistic hope of success. We were told by every agency, every public employee, every vet that there was no way we would ever get Wally’s head back, and yet we pushed on. I reflected more than once on a conversation between my friends Timmy Higgins and Barry Schneider who reminded me in Chicago in October that “no” was just the opening of a conversation to allow you to get what your want or to do what you know needs to be done. As gruesome, as barbaric as this action was, I heard the word “no” relentlessly – so many times in the past six days that I think I don’t need to hear it ever again the rest of my life. In the end, however it was Bob Lorsch who once again came to the rescue of those who could no longer fight for themselves. Protecting and fighting on behalf of those who cannot has always been a core belief of Bob’s, and we were so very lucky to have him on our side.

Through this experience, I have gone to places in this city that you’ll never want to visit. I have called on favors and given out countless more. And in the end, I have learned more about NYC bureaucracy than I ever wanted to learn.

Again not wanting to bury the lead, I’ll begin with the cast of characters who were involved in some way and without whom, we would have been able to succeed in what others have described as our quixotic quest.

  • Shisheer Bhatta
  • Dr. Philip Fox
  • Dr. Ed Butts
  • Norma Torres
  • Robert Strang
  • Nat Smith
  • Bruce Doniger
  • Lydia and Claudia Delman
  • Robert Lorsch

The unfortunate part is that without these people, we would not have retrieved Wally’s head and while it doesn’t change the fact that our cat died after a brave and horrible battle, our memory of him would have been severely changed. We owe these people our utmost gratitude, but the average pet owner shouldn’t have to rely on the notion that we were lucky enough to know a guy who knew a guy who knew a guy who knew the head of NYC Department of Health to do something that was simply common sense and founded in the core principles of humanity. In the end, the decision to retrieve Wally’s head lay with one person, Norma Torres. But it took phone calls and e-mails from her former boss, and from countless others on our behalf to do what was undeniably right. We are incredibly grateful that Norma was a person with compassion and acted as a human being first and a bureaucrat second. As it was, to retrieve Wally’s head, we had to go to the Bureau of Labs in NYC, one of the most secure buildings in the city. Armed guards outside of the building and inside of the building made us jump through a series of hoops before we were led upstairs to a cold gray lab where an Indian lab tech was keeping Wally’s head in a small brown cardboard box in a seemingly ordinary refrigerator. He frowned when I came in as if my actions were an unwelcome disruption in his normal routine. I asked him why they couldn’t return the heads of the animals after they completed their barbaric rabies tests, obviously if they came up negative. His response was, that they’ve already been in this building and in this lab. Basically he was saying that once inside the lab anything could be contaminated, to which I asked him, how did he go home at night and shouldn’t they be careful not to mix the potential rabies specimens with the other viruses and agents that they test? He simply didn’t get it, didn’t understand, and quite frankly didn’t care. He said that if it wasn’t for the high powered players intervening on our behalf, he never would have done this for us. It was clear that he was happy that it was all over. To complete the picture of his lack of sensitivity, he took the cardboard box and placed it into a plastic bag for me to carry – a Chinese food take-out bag that he pulled out of his trash can. Beyond the irony of that, I can promise you that Wally would have never settled for anything less than Tiffany & Co..

Wally with the Tiffany-colored eyes

This entire episode was avoidable. It’s as simple as that. It started with Dr. Valerie Parker not doing her job and not taking adequate precautions to ensure that the lab techs at the Animal Medical Center were wearing protective clothing whole an obviously sick and unhappy cat was having his lungs poked with needles. If she had done this, especially after Cindy and I pleaded with her to make sure that she would, this never would have happened. When Cindy finally called her and told her what happened, this doctor did not even know that cutting off the animal’s head was part of the procedure. This ignorance and apathy is unconscionable. Then it goes to the lab tech herself who completed the forms to notify the department of animal health that she had been scratched. No shit! Cat’s scratch. That’s what they do and if you haven’t figured it out and properly protect yourself then you shouldn’t be in this line of work. Until these people are faced with the consequences of their actions and trained accordingly, they’ll keep behaving this way and others will suffer. The response we received from the administrators at AMC was that was the process. That’s the same answer we received from the Department of Animal Health. I’m pretty much sick of that answer.

Hollywood has made hundreds of million of dollars showing what happens when you take the human factor out of a process, and I guess it’s my curse that all parts of my professional life revolve around the simple concept that all change relies on people. This was an example where the protocols – the Department of Health’s fancy and much more rigid word for processes – were created to reduce or eliminate human involvement and presumably human error. Similarly, countless examples have been shown how doing this is a poor and inadequate replacement for proper training and effective management.

As a coach, I pride myself in my ability to make halftime changes, to adapt to changing circumstances and to innovate and improvise where it makes sense to do so. The elements encountered along this path are built on policies and while policies have their champions, I’ve never been a fan of them. I’ve also never been a fan of rules because I find rules to be a poor excuse for guidance in the absence of intelligence and common sense. I’m a much bigger fan of guiding principles based on core values, supported by intelligent people with a healthy balance of logic and human emotions.

I had a recent conversation with a family member of Cindy’s. She works in the public school system and finds me to be an enigma at best and a dissident at worst. I suppose she is right. I am a disrupter, but not just to disrupt, but because times change and conditions vary and to do things as individuals or groups that harm humanity regardless of the underlying premise makes no sense to me.

Policies and rules are made by people, and people have a lens through which they view the world. They make mistakes and often cannot envision implications beyond the facts and circumstances of their condition. So when someone comes in and questions the premise behind a rule or policy the easy way out is to simply say, “No”. I have found in most cases, when I ask why a policy is in place, who is it meant to protect, what behaviors is it meant to promote and what conditions may not be included in the original interpretation, I am met with either blind ignorance, a quick fabrication without basis or substantiation, or most often, the sardonic, who cares look, and it’s always been done that way and I’m sure they had their reasons explanation.

Wally Pacing in the Autumn of his life

So it was that Wally took on the NYC Department of Health without even knowing that he would. Just as if we were running a marathon, Cindy and I continue to do the same thing, we take one step after another. As I work in my office I look up frequently at a photo of Wally that sits on my desk. It’s a photo of him as the twenty pound brute that we knew and loved courtesy of a generous gift from our friend Erin. Each night before we go to sleep, we can be seen staring at a photo of Wally as a kitten. We close our eyes and we think of Wally. We see his face and feel his coat. We hear him purring in our ears and feel him drooling on our faces as he so often would in his own way to get as close to us as possible. And we realize that he is now beyond pain and torture, that he is beyond the confines of his own sick and failing body. Regardless of what they have done to him, he is at peace. Good night mean kitty. Good night.

Wally finally at peace