Monday, January 19, 2015

Lucy


One of the many unfair things about the world is the relatively short life span of a dog. The average time man's best friend gets on this earth is 12 years. I'm not asking for 75 years, like a human, but 12? C'mon, God! For as much joy as they bring us, and as much joy as they get out of being here, dogs get a raw deal when it comes to life expectancy.

My dog, Lucy, passed away this weekend. She lived to be 15, so I guess I'll take that. She beat the average. But I would have liked another 15 with her.

She had been extremely healthy for most of her life, but in November she tore the ligaments in her left knee. I worried about surgery on a dog that old, and my vet advised me to wait a few weeks to see if she would adapt to the injury while we managed the pain with meds. By mid-January, amazingly, she was almost back to normal. We were taking our daily walks, she was doing everything she normally did around the house (with the exception of going up and down stairs). Life was, for the most part, regular again.

Just as I thought we had gotten past the knee injury something hit us out of left field: seizures. The first one happened early last Wednesday morning. In her bed, which is right next to mine, she started groaning. When I turned on the light, she was stretched out and shaking. She had wet her bed, too. Then she sat there, seemingly in shock. The next morning, there was another one—it happened in my arms, as I was carrying her down the stairs (like I had each morning since her injury). The next day, I took her to the vet.

Lucy was an Australian Cattle Dog (known as a Heeler in these parts). They are a smart, robust breed. They are almost never sick, but because they are so active and don’t know how to slow down, they are prone to injury. Lucy was always on the go, physically and mentally. Some dogs sleep all day, but Lucy seemed to abhor sleep. Instead, she relished being on guard at all times, watching over me and her home. She wanted to be around me at all times. When I would leave the house, she’d look at me as if to say “Oh my God, I can’t believe you’re about to betray me by leaving again!” Then, like all dogs, when I would come home she acted as if it was the single greatest thing to ever happen to any dog—and she reacted this way all 10,235 times I walked though the front door.

The last thing Lucy ever wanted to do was run away from home. I could leave the front door open for a week and she wouldn’t even think about fleeing. Once, my neighbor was keeping her for me because I was going to be gone all day. While in my neighbor’s back yard, Lucy dug under the fence, escaped down the alley, turned the corner, came back up the street, walked to my house, and sat on the front step until I came home. How many dogs would do that?

Lucy was a runner. Not a distance runner, but a sprinter. In her younger years, I must have heard “that’s the fastest dog I’ve ever seen” at least a thousand times as I was playing fetch with her at the park. One year at work we held the “Ticket’s Fastest Dog” contest on the track at Lone Star Park. Lucy won. What made Lucy’s victory even more impressive was the fact that upon hearing the starting gun she turned and started licking the face of the girl who was holding her, giving the other dogs a big head start, which she soon closed down. That was her first and last official race, so she retired undefeated, 1-0.

I probably should have entered her in some of those agility contests, although I worried about her having too much athletic success too soon and it ruining her, like Michelle Wei. Not only did she have great speed, but she could cut on a dime, a la Barry Sanders, and she had a vertical of about six feet. She was also a swimmer—I took her to Galveston a lot, where I’d throw a tennis ball as far out into the water as I could, and she’d retrieve it, diving over and under the breakers to get to it. She could do that all day.

Something happened one day which showed me that Lucy always had my back—literally—and it’s one of my best memories of her. We drove to her favorite place, the park. I opened the car door and she jumped out, as always, and started running around and sniffing things. I leaned into the car to get her ball out of the backseat. When I turned back around to face the park, there was a giant Rottweiler standing right in front of me. He seemed friendly enough, but before I could process what he wanted, Lucy came out of nowhere, at warp speed, and got between me and the Rottweiler—then went for the neck of the Rottweiler to drive him back and away from me. The Rottweiler, who probably weighed 100 pounds to Lucy’s 40, turned and ran away. Job done, she came back over to me and stood guard to make sure nobody else messed with her owner. I always felt safe with Lucy around.

Lucy was a rescue dog. Friends of mine had found her as a puppy, in the rain, on Skillman, at night, with no collar or chip. They couldn’t keep her, and since I had just moved into my first house, and had a yard, and loved dogs, I decided to take her. I would like to think I gave her a good life. I was home from work most days late morning, so we spent afternoons and evenings together. She ate well. She had a soft place to sit in every room. She got to run at the park or go for walks every day. She played in the ocean and hiked in the mountains. I think it was good ride.

Because of her age, I should have been more prepared for the end. I wasn’t. I had convinced myself that Lucy was so healthy that she would live to be 18, maybe 20, especially since she had adapted so well to her knee injury. But, in reality, she was dealing with not only a bad knee, but arthritis in her spine, failing vision and hearing, and, in the end, something that was lurking in her system that finally manifested in seizures. Ultimately, it was just too much, even for a tough, resilient old girl like her.

Watching her demise over the last five days was awful. This best friend of mine, who had always been so alert and full of energy, was suddenly struggling to do everything. It’s one of the things about being human or animal that really sucks: having a will to live, but having a body that disagrees. Sometimes the will to live wins a battle here and there, but ultimately, the failing body always wins the war.

Lucy spent her last weekend at home. Her health was going south in a hurry. The seizures were taking their toll. On Sunday, I had to make the difficult decision to put her down. An owner is caught in that terrible middle of wanting to wait long enough to see if the pet will improve, but not waiting so long as to prolong the pet's agony. I hope I got it right, for her sake.

I was able to spend the last 36 hours of her life by her side. I rarely got more than an arm's length from her. I didn't shower, I ordered delivery meals, and I slept next to her. We had one last weekend together to say our goodbyes. Her vet, Manny, graciously made a house call on Sunday evening to put her to sleep. She went quietly and peacefully, and in her own bed in her own home. Her final few hours were hard to watch, but at least I was with her, my hand never leaving her soft black and grey coat.

I was by her side when she took her final breath. I didn't think I'd be able to handle that moment, but I'm really glad I was with her. There was a beauty to seeing her misery brought to an end.

I’m going to miss her incredibly. She was my constant companion for 15 years. She never got mad at me, never ran away, never disappointed me. She was a loyal, wonderful dog. I will probably never have children, so Lucy was the closest thing to a child that I will ever know. I loved her completely. I cried a lot over the weekend, and more today as I came home from work for the first time to a house with no Lucy. As I walk around and see the places where she used to sit, sleep, eat, and greet, I find myself longing to see her come into the room one last time.

In her final days, I held her and petted her as much as I could. After a seizure, I would spoon her to comfort her. She always had my back, and I hope she knew that I always had hers, too—right to the end.

Monday, November 17, 2014

The Internet is Making the World an Angry Place


On The Ticket, our shows broadcast live each day for anywhere from two to four-and-a-half hours. In the case of the morning show, that's over 1100 hours each year of live radio. Much of it, because of the nature of the medium, is done on the fly. Therefore, we make mistakes. All of us do. That's why we have a segment each week called "The Emergency Brake of the Week," which highlights our gaffes. Like a quarterback who makes bad throws, our hope is to limit our mistakes. In baseball, perfect games are rare. In radio, perfect broadcasts are also rare. But that's ok--unless you check your email or Twitter or Facebook, where mistakes are not acceptable. Example:

Me, during a college football segment: "Mississippi State has beaten four ranked teams this season..."

(30 seconds later on Twitter)

@PigBoy: "Mississippi State has beaten five ranked teams, not four, you fucking idiot"

@MomasBoy82: "Hey dick face, the Bulldogs have beaten six ranked teams. Do your homework, then go die"

@LittleBenjisChewToy: "Junior, you suck. The Bulldogs have beaten three ranked teams. Stop giving them so much credit, you SEC-loving asshole"

@TooMuchTude: "Hey Junior, you Big 12 homer, Miss St has beaten seven ranked teams this year. I hate you"

Last week on the show, I theorized that the internet is making the world angrier. Society has always had an angry edge to it, but the internet has given that anger a new platform to be heard and to be spread--nothing has ever helped fuel the fire of ill-will more quickly or efficiently. You will be hard-pressed to post something on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram without someone wanting to tear it down by slinging a snarky, negative, or even violent remark your way. Comment sections on websites are also a haven for hate. I moderate all comments on this blog because, well, it's my blog. If someone disagrees with something I've written, I allow them to tell me why, as long as they can do it in a civil tone. But if someone simply wants to post "You suck donkey balls" for no reason, I don't allow the comment. I see no reason to.

Mark Cuban coined the genius phrase "Twitter muscles," referring to the anonymous millions who say things online that they would never say in person. In many, anonymity creates bravado, and I think that nameless/faceless world shows just how angry a lot of people really are. Maybe it's because the pressures of modern society are increasing--we don't sleep much, we don't eat well, and keeping up with your neighbor is more important that ever. Economic times have been tough, which has led to unemployment or underemployment, which has led to frustration. How do you release that frustration? By going on Twitter and telling others how much they suck, so that, for a brief moment, they will feel your misery, and you won't be alone in that misery. Perhaps you feel empowered because someone heard your voice. After being bullied by life, you suddenly get to be the bully, if only for the few seconds it took to type "you're a moron" and hit send. But it doesn't end there, because once you hit send your problems don't follow that message out into space--they stay with you, which means you must flip the bully role again. And so the anger spreads.

Hate has always been a part of human history. The Egyptian people probably ripped Moses constantly, writing "Moses is a douchebag" on a scroll and passing it around town. But the scroll system was much slower than today's internet (unless you still have dial-up). These days, the hate can spread around the world in the blink of an angry eye. Everyone now has a platform, and your opinion can go viral in seconds. A recent study reviewed in the Washington Post showed that hateful or negative tweets are much more likely to be re-tweeted than joyful or encouraging tweets. Part of society feeds on anger, and I get the feeling it's a larger part of society than we would like to think.

Talk radio is partly to blame. Our job is to cast a critical eye on what we observe. Sadly, a terrible mistake by an athlete gets people talking much more than an athlete's positive performance, and talk radio can certainly stir up a hornet's nest. However, one difference from the internet storm is that radio hosts (or newspaper columnists or television commentators) are authoring their opinions in their own name. We, at the very least, can be held accountable for something negative we might say because we are not anonymous. Plus, we are governed by the FCC, which means our language can only get so filthy, which helps keep the volatility of a comment somewhat in check. I like to think that I've become more aware of the weight that my opinions might carry, and whom they might negatively impact, than I was in the earlier part of my career as a talk show host. I believe I've mellowed, but at the same time I've noticed the world around me getting angrier.

Not all of the feedback we receive is negative. Much of it is complimentary of the job we do, and for that feedback I'm grateful. Some of it is even forgiving and understanding, which restores my faith in humanity. But so much of it can be negative, and the negative has a way of sticking with you longer than the positive. And I'm a small fish--I can't imagine the incredible hatred that President Obama or President Bush or Alex Rodriguez or Lance Armstrong has had to put up with over the years. Many days I wonder how they do it.

I'm not asking for anyone to feel sorry for me because I get hateful tweets. I realize feedback is a part of a public job, and, as Troy Aikman once said about criticism, "I'm a big boy, I can handle it." It's just the increasingly violent tone of the criticism that has me wondering about our collective blood pressure.

Since the internet is truly a modern-day Wild West, it's not likely that the hatred will recede any time soon. It's illegal to beat someone up, or vandalize someone's property, so many will continue to take out their life frustrations (whatever the cause may be) by getting angry online. It's not against the law to call a politician an asshole in a comments section, but if you've got any kind of conscience, it should make you feel worse, not better, to be a part of the hate.

And, if you at all disagree with anything I've written here, you can shove it up your ass.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

A Long Day


After finishing the Buffalo Springs Half Ironman last June, I swore I would never even think about doing a full Ironman.

Last Sunday, I did a full Ironman.

One of the great things God gives us is the ability to forget trauma. That day at Buffalo Springs was traumatic. I pushed too hard on the bike, and paid for it on the run. Like LeBron, I had massive cramps that brought me to a halt. I had to walk much of the half-marathon. I didn't see how anyone could do a full Ironman. But, gradually, I started to forget about how rough an experience it had been. I kept swimming, riding, and running. And then, last fall, I signed up for Ironman Coeur d'Alene (IMCDA) in Idaho, which would roll around June 29th of 2014. Plenty of time to train, and to forget.

I've got several buddies who have raced IMCDA, and they all loved it. They were right to rave about it--the town and course are beautiful. The organization is top-notch. The volunteers--4,000 of them--are hard working and ridiculously friendly.

The Ironman distance has always fascinated me. It was born from a barroom argument in Hawaii in 1977 over who were the better athletes: swimmers, cyclists, or runners. So, one man decided that the next year, 1978, they would hold a race that combined the distances and routes of the Waikiki Rough Water Swim Race (2.4 miles), the Around Oahu Bike Race (112 miles), and the Honolulu Marathon (26.2 miles). They would race the courses for those events consecutively, in that order, and if you could finish, you would be called an Ironman. A handful of men raced that first Ironman, and Gordon Haller won in just under 12 hours. The event and sport quickly grew from there, and is experiencing its biggest-ever growth spurt today. Since first reading about the Ironman in one of my bike magazines (after famous cyclist John Howard won the race in 1981), I've always wondered if I could finish the distance. Since I've been riding all of my life, running marathons the last seven years, and swimming the last two years, and since I'm not getting any younger, and since I had forgotten about the pain of Buffalo Springs, I decided the time was right for me to tackle the Ironman.

IMCDA is not the easiest Ironman course, with 5,000 feet of climbing on the bike leg, and four long hills on the run. But the weather is almost always good, and that was the most important factor for me, since, like LeBron (he and I are very similar athletically, in case you haven't noticed), my body doesn't function well in the heat, even though I train in Texas. I hate to think how bad I'd be in the heat if I trained in Alaska all the time.

Race day morning, the temps were perfect. It was going to be a cloudy day, with 50's and 60's in the forecast. However, when I woke up, I could hear the wind howling. I looked out the window, and the flags were stiff. I got down to the race start, on the shores of Lake Coeur d'Alene, and the normally placid lake looked like an ocean with it's choppy conditions.

The swim is not my strength. I was hoping to finish the 2.4 miles in about 1 hour, 30 minutes. The gun went off, and the racers, all wearing wetsuits to protect from the 60 degree water, were funneled through a start shoot and into the drink. I tried not to think about how much it was going to suck, and instead just get on with the task at hand. If, at any time during the race, you stop to think about the enormity of the event, you can't handle it. You have to break it down to small races within the race. I just kept trying to swim to the next buoy, or the next turn.

The swim was tough for the good swimmers, and really tough for us slower swimmers. Going into the wind took forever--the water so choppy that it felt like you were getting nowhere. Plus, the rough water made for chaos. There were swimmers getting disoriented and going the wrong way, swimmers stopping to hang onto the kayaks to gather their wits, and swimmers (like me) who were getting surprised by big waves and accidentally swallowing part of the lake. I exited the water after 1:48--I was swimming for almost two hours! I was already well behind my projected pace for the race. I was so happy to get out of the water, though, I could have vomited.


The bike leg wasn't any easier, even though it's my comfort zone. The winds were brutal. I was almost blown off the road three different times by 30 mph cross-gusts on the descents. There were long, uphill stretches straight into the wind, which killed a lot of hopes, including mine. At mile 80, I faced my first big crisis: I wanted to quit. I had all of my excuses ready. I was way behind on my projected bike time, and overall race time. I was getting worn down and demoralized by the wind and climbs, and I couldn't imagine still having to run a marathon. I was going to do a U-turn and ride back into town and notify an official that I was done. I argued with myself for 10 minutes, and, in the end, I made a gentleman's agreement with myself, deciding I would at least complete the bike leg and see how I felt. So I did--finishing about 45 minutes slower than I thought I would, which I didn't like, but I wasn't able to do anything about it.

In the transition area, I made another deal with myself: run the first two miles of the marathon, and see how you feel. If it's bad, you can then quit. So I started running, and I felt OK. I ran two more miles, then two more. I was running very slowly, but I was running. My friend Grant, a veteran triathlete, told me once to "just keep running, because your slowest run is faster than your fastest walk." I kept thinking about that, and kept running. Instead of thinking about running 26.2 miles, I took it one mile at a time, just telling myself to run to each aid station (which were one mile apart along the run course), and then spend a minute walking through the station, partly for a rest, and partly to make sure I ate and drank enough. (Each aid station is packed with volunteers offering you water, sports drink, gels, bars, chips, pretzels, chicken broth, bananas, cookies--all to help fuel your body, and I ate all of it).

By the halfway point of the run, I was dead. I again had to talk myself out of quitting. I eventually figured that I'd come this far, done all of the training, and would probably never do another one of these stupid events again, so I might as well finish, even if I have to walk the rest of the way. My goal time was long gone, but I didn't care--I just wanted to finish. Besides, I had purchased an Ironman t-shirt the day before, and so I had to finish or I could never wear that shirt! Funny, the little things we come up with to keep us going.

I passed the time on the run by checking out the scenery, and it was breathtaking (or, perhaps it was the running that was taking my breath). I saw an incredible sunset over the lake. That's how long I was out on the course--I saw the entire day pass, all while racing.

During the second half of the marathon, I was still running, save for a few pee breaks, and some walking up the big hills. I ran 90% of the 26.2, but it still took me 5:30, so you can imagine how slowly I was running. I must have looked really, really ugly. I thought I could run the marathon leg in about 4:30, so again, I fell short of my goal, but again, I wasn't counting on the rough conditions on the swim and bike legs.

I finally made it to the finishing straight, and the crowds were amazing--it was like I was winning the race. There were thousands of people lining both sides of the road in downtown CDA, and they were loud (and, by this time of the evening, also drunk). As I crossed the finish line (after 14 hours!), I heard the race announcer say "Craig Miller from Dallas, Texas, you are an Ironman!" Pretty cool moment.


Looking back, I honestly don't know how I did it. That event is a testament to the human spirit. On the run, I was passed by 68 year old men and 62 year old women (everyone's age is written on their calf so other racers will know who is in their age group). But, I was passing 30 year old guys who looked to be in better shape than me. You never know what the body can do when the mind decides to push it.

There were almost 2500 starters at IMCDA this year, and about 500 didn't finish (a high DNF rate of 20%), I'm guessing because of the harsh conditions. My time was right in the middle, ranking about 1100th. I was about two hours slower than I thought I'd be, but I finished.

My long-time racing buddy Dave sent me this quote after the day was done, from Calvin Coolidge, which sums up the spirit of the Ironman:

"Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."